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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesPrince Fortunatus - Chapter 19. Entrapped
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Prince Fortunatus - Chapter 19. Entrapped Post by :pro-marketers Category :Long Stories Author :William Black Date :May 2012 Read :3222

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Prince Fortunatus - Chapter 19. Entrapped


There were two young gentlemen standing with their backs to the fire in the supper-room of the Garden Club. They were rather good-looking young men, very carefully shaven and shorn, gray-eyed, fair-moustached; and, indeed, they were so extremely like each other that it might have been hard to distinguish between them but that one chewed a toothpick and the other a cigarette. Both were in evening dress, and both still wore the overcoat and crush-hat in which they had come into the club. They could talk freely, without risk of being overheard; for the members along there at the supper-table were all listening, with much laughter, to a professional entertainer, who, unlike the proverbial clown released from the pantomime, was never so merry and amusing as when diverting a select little circle of friends with his own marvellous adventures.

"It's about time for Lionel Moore to make his appearance," said one of the two companions, glancing at the clock.

"I would rather have anybody else, if it comes to that," said the other, peevishly. "Moore spoils the game all to bits. You never know where to have him--"

"Yes, that's just where he finds his salvation," continued he of the toothpick. "Mind you, that wild play has its advantages. He gets caught now and again, but he catches you at times. You make sure he is bluffing, you raise him and raise him, then you call him--and find he has three aces! And I will say this for Moore--he's a capital loser. He doesn't seem to mind losing a bit, so long as you keep on. You would think he was a millionaire; only a millionaire would have an eye on every chip, I suppose. What salary do they give him at the New Theatre?"

(Illustration: "_He threw his arms on the table before him, and hid his face_")

"Fifty pounds a week, I've heard say; but people tell such lies. Even fifty pounds a week won't hold out if he goes on like that. What I maintain is that it isn't good poker. For one thing, I object to 'straddling' altogether; it's simply a stupid way of raising the stakes; of course, the straddler has the advantage of coming in last, but then look at the disadvantage of having to bet first. No, I don't object to betting before the draw; that's sensible; there's some skill and judgment in that; but straddling is simply stupid. You ought to make it easy for every one to come in; that's the proper game; frighten them out afterwards if you can." And then he added, gloomily, "That fellow Moore is a regular bull in a china-shop."

"I suspect he has been raking over a few of your chips, Bertie," his companion said, with a placid grin.

Just as he was speaking, Lionel entered the room, and, having ordered some supper, took a seat at the table. One of those young gentlemen, throwing away his toothpick, came and sat down opposite him.

"Big house to-night, as usual?" he asked.

"Full," was the answer. "I dare say when the archangel blows his trump, "The Squire's Daughter" will still be advertised in the bills all over the town. I don't see why it should stop before then."

"It would be a sudden change for the company, wouldn't it?" the young man on the other side of the table said. "Fancy, now, a music-hall singer--no disrespect to you, Moore--I mean a music-hall comic--fancy his finding himself all at once in heaven; don't you think he'd feel deuced awkward? He wouldn't be quite at home, would he?--want to get back to Mr. Chairman and the chorus in the gallery, eh, what?--'pon my soul, it would make a capital picture if you could get a fellow with plenty of imagination to do it--quite tragic, don't you know--you'd have the poor devil's face just full of misery--not knowing where to go or what to do--"

"The British public would be inclined to rise and rend that painter," said Lionel, carelessly; this young man was useful as a poker-player, but otherwise not interesting.

Two or three members now came in; and by the time Lionel had finished his frugal supper there was a chosen band of five ready to go up-stairs and set to work with the cards. There was some ordering of lemon-squashes and further cigarettes; new packs were brought by the waiter; the players took their places; and the game was opened. With a sixpenny "ante" and a ten-shilling "limit," the amusement could have been kept mild enough by any one who preferred it should remain so.

But the usual thing happened. Now and again a fierce fight would ensue between two good hands, and that seemed to arouse a spirit of general emulation and eagerness; the play grew more bold; bets apart from the game were laid by individual players between themselves. The putting up of the "ante" became a mere farce, for every one came in as a matter of course, even if he had to draw five cards; and already the piles of chips on the table had undergone serious diminution or augmentation--in the latter case there was a glimmer of gold among the bits of ivory. There was no visible excitement, however; perhaps a player caught bluffing might smile a little--that was all.

Lionel had been pretty fortunate, considering his wild style of play; but then his very recklessness stood him in good stead when he chanced to have a fair hand--his reputation for bluffing leading on his opponents. And then an extraordinary bit of luck had befallen him. On this occasion the first hand dealt him contained three queens, a seven, and a five. To make the other players imagine he had either two pairs or was drawing to a flush, he threw away only one of the two useless cards--the five, as it chanced; but his satisfaction (which he bravely endeavored to conceal) may be imagined when he found that the single card dealt him in its place was a seven--he therefore had a full hand! When it came to his turn, instead of beginning cautiously, as an ordinary player would have done, he boldly raised the bet ten shillings. But that frightened nobody. His game was known; they imagined he had either two pairs or had failed to fill his flush and was merely bluffing. When, however, there was another raise of ten shillings from the opposite side of the table, that was a very different matter; one by one the others dropped out, leaving these two in. And then it went on:

"Well, I'll just see your ten shillings and raise you another ten."

"And another ten."

"And another ten."

"And another ten."

Of course, universal attention was now concentrated on this duel. Probably four out of five of the players were of opinion that Lionel Moore was bluffing; that, at least, was certainly the opinion of his antagonist, who kept raising and raising without a qualm. At length both of them had to borrow money to go on with; but still the duel continued, and still the pile of gold and chips in the middle of the table grew and increased.

"And another ten."

"And another ten."

Not a word of encouragement or dissuasion was uttered by any one of the onlookers; they sat silent and amused, wondering which of the two was about to be smitten under the fifth rib. And at last it was Lionel's opponent who gave in.

"On this occasion," said he, depositing his half-sovereign, "I will simply gaze; what have you got?"

"Well, I have got a full hand," Lionel answered, putting down his hand on the table.

"That is good enough," the other said, stolidly. "Take away the money."

After this dire combat, the game fell flat a little; but interest was soon revived by a round of Jack-pots; and here again Lionel was in good luck. Indeed, when the players rose from the table about three o'clock, he might have come away a winner of close on L40 had not some reckless person called out something about whiskey poker. Now whiskey poker is the very stupidest form of gambling that the mind of man has ever conceived, though at the end of the evening some folk hunger after it as a kind of final fillip. Each person puts down a certain sum--it may be a sovereign, it may be five sovereigns; poker hands are dealt out, the cards being displayed face upwards on the table; there is no drawing; whoever has the best hand simply annexes the pool. It looks like a game, but it is not a game; it is merely cutting the cards; but, as the stakes can be doubled or trebled each round, the jaded appetite for gambling finds here a potent and fiery stimulant just as the party breaks up. Lionel was not anxious to get away with the money he had won. It was he who proposed to increase the stakes to L10 from each player--which the rest of them, to their credit be it said, refused to do. In the end, when they went to get their hats and coats before issuing into the morning air, some one happened to ask Lionel how he had come off on the whole night; and he replied that he did not think he had either won or lost anything to speak of. He hardly knew. Certainly he did not seem to care.

The dawn was not yet. The gas-lamps shone in the murky thoroughfares as he set out for Piccadilly--alone. The others all went away in hansoms; he preferred to walk. And even when he reached his rooms, he did not go to bed at once; he sat up thinking, a prey to a strange sort of restlessness that had of late taken possession of him. For this young man's gay and happy butterfly-life was entirely gone. The tragic disappearance of Nina, followed by the sudden shattering of all his visionary hopes in connection with Honnor Cunyngham, had left him in a troubled, anxious, morbid state that he himself, perhaps, could not well have accounted for. Then the sense of solitariness that he had experienced when he found that Nina had so unexpectedly vanished from his ken had been intensified since he had taken to declining invitations from his fashionable friends, and spending his nights in the aimless distraction of gambling at the Garden Club. Was there a touch of hurt pride in his withdrawal from the society of those who in former days used to be called "the great"? At least he discovered this, that if he did wish to withdraw from their society, nothing in the world was easier. They did not importune him. He was free to go his own way. Perhaps this also wounded him; perhaps it was to revenge himself that he sought to increase his popularity with the crowd; at night he sang with a sort of bravado to bring down the house; in the day-time it comforted him to perceive from a distance in that or the other window a goodly display of his photographs, which he had learned to recognize from afar. But in whatever direction these wayward moods drew him or tossed him, there was ever this all-pervading disquiet, and a haunting regret that almost savored of remorse, and a sick impatience of the slow-passing and lonely hours.

He had given up all hopes of hearing from Nina now or of gaining any news of her. Pandiani had nothing to tell him. The Signorina Antonia Rossi had not written to any of her Neapolitan friends, so far as could be ascertained, since the previous December; certainly she had not presented herself here in Naples to seek any engagement. The old _maestro_, in praying his illustrious and celebrated correspondent to accept his respectful submissions, likewise begged of him, should anything be learned with regard to the Signorina Rossi, to communicate farther. There was no hope in that quarter.

But one morning Estelle made a new suggestion.

"There is something I have recalled; yes, it is perhaps of not great importance; yet perhaps again," she said. "One day Nina and I, we were speaking of this thing and the other, and she said it was right and proper that a young lady should have a _dot_--what is the English?--no matter. She said the young lady should bring something towards the--the management; and she asked how she or I could do that. Then comes her plan. She was thinking of it before she arrives in England. It was to go to America--to be engaged for concerts--oh, they pay large, large salaries, if you have a good voice--and Nina would take engagements for all the big cities, until she got over to San Francisco, and from there to Australia--a great tour--a long time--but at the end, then she has the little fortune, and she is independent, whatever happens. Marriage?--well, perhaps not, but she is independent. Yes, it was Nina's plan to go away on that long tour; but she comes to England--she is engaged at the New Theatre--she practises her little economies--but not so as it would be in America, and now, now if she wishes to go away for a long, long time, is it not America? She goes on the long voyage; she forgets--what she wishes to forget. Her singing, it is constant occupation; she must work; and they welcome a good voice there--she will have friends. Do you consider it not possible? Yes, it is possible--for that is to go entirely away, and there is no danger of any one interfering."

"It's just frightful to think of," he said, "if what you imagine is correct. Fancy her crossing the Atlantic all by herself--landing in New York unknown to any human being there--"

"Ah, but do you fear for Nina?" Estelle cried. "No, no--she has courage--she has self-reliance, even in despair--she will have made preparations for all. Everywhere she has her passport--in her voice. 'I am Miss Ross, from the New Theatre, London,' she says. 'How do we know that you are Miss Ross?' 'Give me a sheet of music, then.' Perhaps it is in a theatre or a concert-room. Nina sings. 'Thank you, mademoiselle, it is enough; what are the terms you wish for an engagement?' Then it is finished, and Nina has all her plans made for her by the management; and she goes from one town to the other, far away perhaps; perhaps she has not much time to think of England. So much the better; poor Nina!"

And for a while he took an eager interest in the American newspapers. Such of them as he could get hold of he read diligently--particularly the columns in which concerts and musical entertainments were announced or reported. But there was no mention of Miss Ross, or of any new singer whom he could identify with her. Gradually he lost all hope in that direction also. He did not forget Nina. He could not; but he grew to think that--whether she were in America, or in Australia, or in whatever far land she might be--she had gone away forever. Her abrupt disappearance was no momentary withdrawal; she had sundered their familiar association, their close comradeship, that was never to be resumed; according to the old and sad refrain, it was "Adieu for evermore, my dear, and adieu for evermore!" Well, for him there were still crowded houses, with their dull thunders of applause; and there were cards and betting to send the one feverish hour flying after the other; and there were the lonely walks through the London streets in the daytime--when the hours did _not fly so quickly. He had carefully put away those trinkets that Nina had returned to him; he would fain have forgotten their existence.

And then there was Miss Burgoyne. Miss Burgoyne could be very brisk and cheerful when she chose; and she now seemed bent on showing Mr. Lionel Moore the sunnier side of her character. In truth, she was most assiduously kind to the young man, even when she scolded him about the life he was leading. Her room and its mild refreshments were always at his disposal. She begged for his photograph, and, having got it, she told him to write something very nice and pretty at the foot of it; why should formalities be used between people so intimately and constantly associated? On more than one occasion she substituted a real rose (which was not nearly so effective, however) for the millinery blossom which Grace Mainwaring had to drop from the balcony to her lover below; and of course Lionel had to treasure the flower and keep it in water, until the hot and gassy atmosphere of his dressing-room killed it. Once or twice she called him Lionel, by way of pretty inadvertence.

There came an afternoon when the fog that had lain all day over London deepened and deepened until in the evening the streets were become almost impassable. The various members of the company, setting out in good time, managed to reach the theatre--though there were breathless accounts of adventures and escapes as this one or that hurried through the wings and down into the dressing-room corridor; but the public, not being paid to come forth on such a night, for the most part preferred the snugness and safety of their own homes, so that the house was but half filled, and the faces of the scant audience were more dusky than ever--were almost invisible--beyond the blaze of the footlights. And as the performance proceeded, Miss Burgoyne professed to become more and more alarmed. Dreadful reports came in from without. All traffic was suspended. It was scarcely possible to cross a street. Even the policemen, familiar with the thoroughfares, hardly dared leave the pavement to escort a bewildered traveller to the other side.

When Lionel, having dressed for the last act, went into Miss Burgoyne's room, he found her (apparently) very much perturbed.

"Have you heard? It's worse than ever!" she called to him from the inner apartment.

"So they say."

"Whatever am I to do?" she exclaimed, her anxiety proving too much for her grammar.

"Well, I think you couldn't do better than stop where you are," Harry Thornhill made answer, carelessly.

"Stop where I am? It's impossible! My brother Jim would go frantic. He would make sure I was run over or drowned or something, and be off to the police-stations."

"Oh, no, he wouldn't? he wouldn't stir out on such a night, if he had any sense."

"Not if he thought his sister was lost? That's all you know. There are some people who do have a little affection in their nature," said Miss Burgoyne, as she drew aside the curtain and came forth, and went to the tall glass. "But surely I can get a four-wheeled cab, Mr. Moore? I will give the man a sovereign to take me safe home. And even then it will be dreadful. I get so frightened in a bad fog--absolutely terrified--and especially at night. Supposing the man were to lose his way? Or he might be drunk? I wish I had asked Jim to come down for me. There's Miss Constance's mother never misses a single night; I wonder who she thinks is going to run away with that puny-faced creature!"

"Oh, if you are at all afraid to make the venture alone, I will go with you," said he. "I don't suppose I can see farther in a fog than any one else; but if you are nervous about being alone, you'd better let me accompany you."

"Will you?" she said, suddenly wheeling round, and bestowing upon him a glance of obvious gratitude. "That is indeed kind of you! Now I don't care for all the fogs in Christendom. But really and truly," she added--"really and truly you must tell me if I am taking you away from any other engagement."

"Not at all," he said, idly. "I had thought of going up to the Garden Club for some supper, but it isn't the sort of night for anybody to be wandering about. When I've left you in the Edgeware Road, I can find my way to my rooms easily. Once in Park Lane, I could go blindfold."

And very proud and pleased was Miss Burgoyne to accept his escort--that is to say, when he had, with an immense amount of trouble, brought a four-wheeled cab, accompanied by two link-boys with blazing torches, up to the stage-door. And when they had started off on their unknown journey through this thick chaos, she did not minimize the fears she otherwise should have suffered; this was thanking him by implication. As for the route chosen by the cabman, or rather by the link-boys, neither he nor she had the faintest idea what it was. Outside they could see nothing but the gold and crimson of the torches flaring through the densely yellow fog; while the grating of the wheels against the curb told them that their driver was keeping as close as he could to the pavement. Then they would find themselves leaving that guidance, and blindly adventuring out into the open thoroughfare to avoid some obstacle--some spectral wain or omnibus got hopelessly stranded; while there were muffled cries and calls here, there, and everywhere. They went at a snail's pace, of course. Once, at a corner, the near wheels got on the pavement; the cab tilted over; Miss Burgoyne shrieked aloud and clung to her companion; then there was a heavy bump, and the venerable vehicle resumed its slow progress. Suddenly they beheld a cluster of dim, nebulous, phantom lights high up in air.

"This must be Oxford Circus, surely," Lionel said.

He put his head out of the window and called to the cabman.

"Where are we now, cabby?"

"Blessed if I know, sir!" was the husky answer, coming from under the heavy folds of a cravat.

"Boy," he called again, "where are we? Is this Oxford Circus?"

"No, no, sir," responded the sharp voice of the London _gamin_. "We ain't 'alf way up Regent Street yet!"

He shut the window.

"At this rate, goodness only knows when you'll ever get home," he said to her. "You should have stopped at the theatre."

"Oh, I don't mind," said she, cheerfully. "It's an adventure. It's something to be talked of afterwards. I shouldn't wonder if the theatrical papers got hold of it--just the kind of paragraph to go the round--Harry Thornhill and Grace Mainwaring lost in a fog together. No, I don't mind. I'm very well off. But fancy some of those poor girls about the theatre, who must be trying to get home on foot. No four-wheeled cabs for them; no companion to keep up their spirits. I sha'n't forget your kindness, Mr. Moore."

Indeed, Lionel was much more anxious than she was. He would rather have done without that paragraph in the newspapers. All his senses were on the rack; and yet he could make out absolutely nothing of his whereabouts in this formless void of a world, with its opaque atmosphere, its distant calls, inquiries, warnings, its murky lamp-lights that only became visible when they were over one's head. Miss Burgoyne seemed to be well content, to be amused even. She liked to see her name in the newspapers. There would be a pretty little paragraph to get quoted in gossippy columns, even if she and her more anxious fellow-adventurer did not reach home till breakfast-time.

The link-boys certainly deserved the very substantial reward that Lionel bestowed on them; for when, after what seemed interminable hours--with all kinds of stoppages and inquiries in this Egyptian darkness--the cab came to a final halt, and when Miss Burgoyne had been piloted across the pavement, she declared that here, indubitably, was her own door. Indeed, at this very moment it was opened, and there was a glimmer of a candle in the passage.

"No, Mr. Moore," she said, distinctly, when Lionel came back after paying the cabman, "you are not going off like that, certainly not. You must be starving; you must come up-stairs and have something to eat and drink." "Jim," she said, addressing her brother, who was standing there, candle in hand, "have you left any supper for us?"

"I haven't touched a thing yet," said he. "I've been waiting for you I don't know how long."

"There's a truly heroic brother!" exclaimed the young lady, as she pulled Lionel into the little lobby and shut the door. "What's enough for two is enough for three. Come along, Mr. Moore; and now you've got safely into a house, I think you'd much better have Jim's room for the night--or the morning, rather? I'm sure Jim won't mind taking the sofa."

"I? Not I!" said her brother, blowing out the candle as they entered the lamp-lit room.

It was a pretty room, and, with its blazing fire, looked very warm and snug after the cold, raw night without. Miss Burgoyne threw off her cloak and hat, and set to work to supplement the supper that was already laid on the central table. Her brother Jim--who was a dawdling, good-natured-looking lad of about fifteen, clad in a marvellous costume of cricketing trousers, a "blazer" of overpowering blue and yellow stripes, and an Egyptian fez set far back on his forehead--helped her to explore the contents of the cupboard; and very soon the three of them were seated at a comfortable and most welcome little banquet. Indeed, the charming little feast was almost sumptuous; insomuch that Lionel was inclined to ask himself whether Miss Burgoyne, who was an astute young lady, had not foreseen the possibility of this small supper-party before leaving home in the afternoon. The ousters, for example: did Miss Burgoyne order a dozen ousters for herself alone every evening?--for her brother declared that he never touched, and would not touch, any such thing. Lionel observed that his own photograph, which he had recently given her, had been accorded the place of honor on the mantel-shelf; another portrait of him, which she had bought, stood on the piano. But why these trivial suspicions, when she was so kind and hospitable and considerate? She pressed things on him; she herself filled up his glass; she was as merry as possible, and talkative and good-humored.

"Just to think we've known each other so long, and you've never been in my house before!" she said. "That's a portrait of my younger sister you're looking at--isn't she pretty? It's a pastel--Miss Corkran's. Of course she is not allowed to sit up for me; only Jim does that; he keeps me company at supper-time, for I couldn't sit down all by myself, could I, in the middle of the night? Oh, yes, you must have some more. I know gentlemen are afraid of champagne in a house looked after by a woman; but that's all right; that was sent me as a Christmas present by Mr. Lehmann."

"It is excellent," Lionel assured her, "but I must keep my head clear if I am to find my way into Park Lane; after that, it will be easy enough getting home."

"But there's Jim's room," she exclaimed.

"Oh, no, thank you," he said; "I shall get down there without any trouble."

And then she went to a cabinet that formed part of a book-case, and returned with a cigar-box in her hand.

"I am not so sure of these," she said. "They are some I got when papa was last in town, and he seemed to think them tolerable."

"Oh, but I sha'n't smoke, thanks; no, no, I couldn't think of it!" he protested. "You'll soon be coming down again to breakfast."

"To please me, Mr. Moore," she said, somewhat authoritatively. "I assure you there's nothing in the world I like so much as the smell of cigars."

What was she going to say next? But he took a cigar and lit it, and again she filled up his glass, which he had not emptied; and they set to talking about the Royal Academy of Music, while she nibbled Lychee nuts, and her brother Jim subsided into a French novel. Miss Burgoyne was a sharp and shrewd observer; she had had a sufficiently varied career, and had come through some amusing experiences. She talked well, but on this evening, or morning, rather, always on the good-natured side; if she described the foibles of any one with whom she had come in contact, it was with a laugh. Lionel was inclined to forget that outer world of thick, cold fog, so warm and pleasant was the bright and pretty room, so easily the time seemed to pass.

However, he had to tear himself away in the end. She insisted on his having a muffler of Jim's to wrap round his throat; both she and her brother went down-stairs to see him out; and then, with a hasty good-bye, he plunged into the dark. He had some difficulty in crossing to the top of Park Lane, for there were wagons come in from the country waiting for the daylight to give them some chance of moving on; but eventually he found himself in the well-known thoroughfare, and thereafter had not much trouble in getting down to his rooms in Piccadilly. This time he went to bed without sitting up in front of the fire in aimless reverie.

This was not the last he was to hear of that adventure. Two days afterwards the foreshadowed paragraph appeared in an evening paper; and from thence it was copied into all the weekly periodicals that deal more or less directly with theatrical affairs. It was headed "'The Squire's Daughter' in Wednesday Night's Fog," and gave a minute and somewhat highly colored account of Miss Burgoyne's experiences on the night in question; while the fact of her having been escorted by Mr. Lionel Moore was pointed to as another instance of the way in which professional people were always ready to help one another. That this account emanated in the first place from Miss Burgoyne herself, there could be no doubt whatever; for there were certain incidents--as, for example, the cab wheels getting up on the pavement and the near upsetting of the vehicle--which were only known to herself and her companion; but Lionel did not in his own mind accuse her of having directly instigated its publication. He thought it was more likely one of the advertising tricks of Mr. Lehmann, who was always trying to keep the chief members of his company well before the public. It was the first time, certainly, that he, Lionel, had had his name coupled (unprofessionally) with that of Miss Burgoyne in the columns of a newspaper; but was that of any consequence? People might think what they liked. He had grown a little reckless and careless of late.

(Illustration: "_And again she filled up his glass, which he had not emptied._")

But a much more important event was now about to happen which the theatrical papers would have been glad to get for their weekly gossip, had the persons chiefly concerned thought fit. Just at this time there was being formed in London, under distinguished patronage, a loan-collection of arms and embroideries of the Middle Ages, and there was to be a Private View on the Saturday preceding the opening of the exhibition to the public. Among others, Miss Burgoyne received a couple of cards of invitation, whereupon she came to Lionel, told him that her brother Jim was going to see some football match on that day, explained that she was very anxious to have a look at the precious needle-work, and virtually asked him to take her to the show. Lionel hung back; the crowd at this Private View was sure to include a number of fashionable folk; there might be one or two people there whom he would rather not meet. But Miss Burgoyne was gently persuasive, not to say pertinacious; he could not well refuse; finally it was arranged he should call for her about half past one o'clock on the Saturday, so that they might have a look round before the crush began in the afternoon.

Trust an actress to know how to dress for any possible occasion! When he called for her, he found her attired in a most charming costume; though, to be sure, when she was at last ready to go, he may have thought her furs a trifle too magnificent for her height. They drove in a hansom to Bond Street. There were few people in the rooms, certainly no one whom he knew; she could study those gorgeous treasures of embroidery from Italy and the East, he could examine the swords and daggers and coats of mail, as they pleased. And when they had lightly glanced round the rooms, he was for getting away again; but she was bent on remaining until the world should arrive, and declared that she had not half exhausted the interest of the various cases.

As it chanced, the first persons he saw whom he knew were Miss Georgie Lestrange and her brother; and Miss Georgie, not perceiving that any one was with him (for Miss Burgoyne was at the moment feasting her eyes on some rich-hued Persian stuffs), came up to him.

"Why, Mr. Moore, you have quite disappeared of late," the ruddy-haired damsel said, quite reproachfully. "Where have you been? What have you been doing?"

"Don't you ever read the newspapers, Miss Lestrange?" he said. "I have been advertised as being on view every night at the New Theatre."

"Oh, I don't mean that. Lady Adela says you have quite forsaken her."

"Is Lady Adela to be here this afternoon?" he asked, in an off-hand way.

"Oh, certainly," replied Miss Georgie. "She is going everywhere just now, in order to put everything into her new novel. It is to be a perfectly complete picture of London life as we see it around us."

"That is, the London between Bond Street and Campden Hill?"

"Oh, well, all London is too big for one canvas. You must cut it into sections. I dare say she will take up Whitechapel in her next book."

Miss Burgoyne turned from the glass case to seek her companion, and seemed a little surprised to find him talking to these two strangers. It was the swiftest glance; but Miss Georgie divined the situation in an instant.

"Good-bye for the present," she said, and she and her brother passed on.

And now he was more anxious than ever to get away. If Lady Adela and her sisters were coming to this exhibition, was it not highly probable that Honnor Cunyngham might be of the party? He did not wish to meet any one of them; especially did he not care to meet them while he was acting as escort to Miss Burgoyne. There were reasons which he could hardly define; he only knew that the clicking of the turnstile on the stair was an alarming sound, and that he regarded each new group of visitors, as they came into the room, with a furtive apprehension.

"Oh, very well," Miss Burgoyne said, at length, "let us go." And on the staircase she again said: "What is it? Are you afraid of meeting the mamma of some girl you've jilted? Or some man to whom you owe money for cards? Ah, Master Lionel, when are you going to reform and lead a steady and respectable life?"

He breathed more freely when he was outside; here, in the crowd, if he met any one to whom he did not wish to speak, he could be engaged with his companion and pass on without recognition. He proposed to Miss Burgoyne that they should walk home, by way of Piccadilly and Park Lane, and that young lady cheerfully assented. It was quite a pleasant afternoon, for London in midwinter. The setting sun shone with a dull-copper lustre along the fronts of the tall buildings, and over the trees of the Green Park hung clouds that were glorified by the intervening red-hued mists. The air was crisp and cold--what a blessing it was to be able to breathe!

Lionel was silent and absorbed; he only said, "Yes?" "Really!" "Indeed!" in answer to the vivacious chatter of his companion, who was in the most animated spirits. His brows were drawn down; his look was more sombre than it ought to have been, considering who was with him. Perhaps he was thinking of the crowded rooms they had recently left, and of the friends who might now be arriving there, from whom he had voluntarily isolated himself. Had they, had any one of them, counselled him to keep within his own sphere? Well, he had taken that advice; here he was--walking with Miss Burgoyne!

All of a sudden that young lady stopped and turned to the window of a jeweller's shop; and of course he followed. No wonder her eyes had been attracted; here were all kinds of beautiful things and splendors--tiaras, coronets, necklaces, pendants, bracelets, earrings, bangles, brooches--set with all manner of precious stones, the clear, radiant diamond, the purple amethyst, the sea-green emerald, the mystic opal, the blue-black sapphire, the clouded pearl. Her raptured vision wandered from tray to tray, but it was a comparatively trifling article that finally claimed her attention--a tiny finger-ring set with small rubies and brilliants.

"Oh, do look at this!" she said to her companion. "Did you ever see such a love of a ring?--what a perfect engagement-ring it would make!"

Then what mad, half-sullen, half-petulant, and wholly reckless impulse sprang into his brain!

"Well, will you wear that as an engagement-ring, if I give it to you?" he asked.

She looked up, startled, amused, but not displeased.

"Why, really--really--that _is a question to ask!" she exclaimed.

"Come along in and see if it fits your finger--come along!" and therewith Miss Burgoyne, a little bewildered and still inclined to laugh, found herself at the jeweller's counter. Was it a joke? Oh, certainly not. Lionel was quite serious and matter of fact. The tray was produced. The ring was taken out. For a moment she hesitated as to which finger to try it on, but overcame that shyness and placed it on the third finger of her left hand and said it fitted admirably.

"Just keep it where it is, then," he said; and then he added a word or two to the jeweller, whom he knew; and he and his companion left the shop.

"Oh, Lionel, what an idea!" said Miss Burgoyne, with her eyes bent modestly on the pavement. "If I had fancied you knew that man, do you think I would ever have entered the place? What must he think? What would any one think?--an engagement in the middle of the streets of London!"

"Plenty of witnesses to the ceremony, that's all," said he, lightly.

Nay, was there not a curious sense of possession, now that he walked alongside this little, bright person in the magnificent furs? He had acquired something by this simple transaction; he would be less lonely now; he would mate with his kind. But he did not choose to look far into the future. Here he was walking along Piccadilly, with a cheerful and smiling and prettily costumed young lady by his side who had just been so kind as to accept an engagement-ring from him, and what more could he want?

"Lionel," she said, still with modestly downcast eyes, "this mustn't be known to any human being--no, not to a single human being--not yet, I mean. I will get a strip of white india-rubber to cover the ring, so that no one shall be able to see it on the stage."

Perhaps he recalled the fact that recently she had been wearing another ring similarly concealed from the public gaze; or perhaps he had forgotten that little circumstance. What did it matter? Did anything matter? He only knew he had pledged himself to marry Kate Burgoyne--enough.

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