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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesPrince Fortunatus - Chapter 20. In Direr Straits
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Prince Fortunatus - Chapter 20. In Direr Straits Post by :crochet50 Category :Long Stories Author :William Black Date :May 2012 Read :3660

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Prince Fortunatus - Chapter 20. In Direr Straits

CHAPTER XX. IN DIRER STRAITS

Now, when a young man, in whatever wayward mood of petulance or defiance or wounded self-love, chooses to play tricks with his own fate, he is pretty sure to discover that sooner or later he has himself to reckon with--his other and saner self that will arise and refuse to be silenced. And this awakening came almost directly to Lionel Moore. Even as he went down to the theatre that same evening, he began to wonder whether Miss Burgoyne would really be wearing the ring he had given her. Or would she not rather consider the whole affair a joke?--not a very clever joke, indeed, but at least something to be put on one side and forgotten. She had been inclined to laugh at the idea of two people becoming engaged to each other in the middle of the London streets. A life-pledge offered and accepted in front of a window in Piccadilly!--why, such was the way of comic opera, not of the actual world. Jests of that kind were all very well in the theatre, but they were best confined to the stage. And would not Miss Burgoyne understand that on a momentary impulse he had yielded to a fit of half-sullen recklessness, and would she not be quite ready and willing to release him?

But when, according to custom, he went into her room that evening, he soon became aware that Miss Burgoyne did not at all treat this matter as a jest.

"See!" she said to him, with a becoming shyness--and she showed him how cleverly she had covered her engagement-ring with a little band of flesh-tinted india-rubber, "No one will be able to see it? and I sha'n't have to take it off at all. Why, I could play Galatea, and not a human being would notice that the statue was wearing a ring!"

She seemed very proud and pleased and happy, though she spoke in an undertone, for Jane was within earshot. As for him, he did not say anything. Of course he was bound to stand by what he had done and suffer the consequences, whatever they might be. When he left the room and went up-stairs into the wings, it was in a vague sort of stupefaction; but here were the immediate exigencies of the stage, and perhaps it was better not to look too far ahead.

But it was with just a little sense of shame that he found, when the piece was over, and they were ready to leave the theatre, that Miss Burgoyne expected him to accompany her on her way home. If only he had had sufficient courage, he might have said to her,

"Look here; we are engaged to be married, and I'm not going to back out; I will fulfil my promise whenever you please. But for goodness' sake don't expect me to play the lover--off the stage as well as on. Sweethearting is a silly sort of business; don't we have enough every evening before the footlights? Let us conduct ourselves as rational human creatures--when we're not paid to make fools of ourselves. What good will it do if I drive home with you in this hansom? Do you expect me to put my arm round your waist? No, thanks; there isn't much novelty in that kind of thing for Grace Mainwaring and Harry Thornhill."

And when eventually they did arrive in Edgeware Road, she could not induce him to enter the house and have some bit of supper with herself and her brother Jim.

"What are you going to do to-morrow, then?" she asked. "Will you call for me in the morning and go to church with me?"

"I don't think I shall stir out to-morrow," he said, "I feel rather out of sorts; and I fancy I may try what a day in bed will do."

"How can you expect to be well if you sit up all night playing cards?" she demanded, with reason on her side. "However, there's to be no more of that now. So you won't come in--not for a quarter of an hour?"

She rang the bell.

"Oh, Lionel, by the way, do you think Jim should know?" she asked, with her eyes cast down in maiden modesty.

"Just as you like," he answered.

"Why, you don't seem to take any interest!" she exclaimed, with a pout. "I wonder what Percy Miles will say when he hears of it. Oh, my goodness, I'm afraid to think!"

"What he will say won't matter very much," Lionel remarked, indifferently.

"Poor boy! I'm sorry for him," she said, apparently with a little compunction, perhaps even regret.

The door was opened by her brother.

"Sure you won't come in?" she finally asked. "Well, I shall be at home all to-morrow afternoon, if you happen to be up in this direction. Good-night!"

"Good-night," said he, taking her outstretched hand for a second; then he turned and walked away. There had not been much love-making--so far.

But he did not go straight to his lodgings. He wandered away aimlessly through the dark streets. He felt sick at heart--not especially because of this imbroglio into which he had walked with open eyes, for that did not seem to matter much, one way or the other. But everything appeared to have gone wrong with him since Nina had left; and the worst of it was that he was gradually ceasing to care how things went, right or wrong. At this moment, for example, he ought to have been thinking of the situation he had created for himself, and resolving either to get out of it before more harm was done, or to loyally fulfil his contract by cultivating what affection for Miss Burgoyne was possible in the circumstances. But he was not thinking of Miss Burgoyne at all. He was thinking of Nina. He was thinking how hard it was that whenever his fancy went in search of her--away to Malta, to Australia, to the United States, as it might be--he could not hope to find a Nina whom he could recognize. For she would be quite changed now. His imagination could not picture to himself a Nina grown grave and sad-eyed, perhaps furtively hiding her sorrow, fearing to encounter her friends. The Nina whom he had always known was a light-hearted and laughing companion, eagerly talkative, a smile on her parted lips, affection, kindliness ever present in her shining, soft, dark eyes. Sometimes silent, too; sometimes, again, singing a fragment of one of the old familiar folk-songs of her youth. What was that one with the refrain, "_Io te voglio bene assaje, e tu non pienz' a me_"?--

"La notta tutte dormeno,
E io che buo dormire!
Pensanno a Nenna mia
Mme sent' ascevoli.
Li quarte d' ora sonano
A uno, a doje e tre...
Io te voglio bene assaje,
E tu non pienz' a me!"


--Look, now, at this beautiful morning--the wide bay all of silver and azure--Vesuvius sending its column of dusky smoke into the cloudless sky--the little steamer churning up the clear as it starts away from the quay. Ah, we have escaped from you, good Maestro Pandiani? there shall be no grumblings and incessant repetitions to-day? no, nor odors of onions coming up the narrow and dirty stairs: here is the open world, all shining, and the sweet air blowing by, and Battista trying to sell his useless canes, and the minstrels playing "Santa Lucia" most sentimentally, as though they had never played it before. Whither, then, Nina? To Castellamare or Sorrento, with their pink and yellow houses, their terraces and gardens, their vine-smothered bowers, or rather to the filmy island out yonder, that seems to move and tremble in the heat? A couple of words in their own tongue suffice to silence the importunate coral-girls; we climb the never-ending steps; behold, a cool and gracious balcony, with windows looking far out over the quivering plain of the sea. Then the soup, and the boiled corn, and the _caccia-cavallo_--you Neapolitan girl!--and nothing will serve you but that orris-scented stuff that you fondly believe to be honest wine. You will permit a cigarette? Then shall we descend to the beach again, and get into a boat, and lie down, and find ourselves shot into the Blue Grotto--find ourselves floating between heaven and earth in a hollow-sounding globe of azure flame?... Dreams--dreams! "_Io te voglio bene assaje, e tu non pienz' a me!_"

During the first period of Miss Burgoyne's engagement to Lionel Moore, all went well. Jane, her dresser, had quite a wonderful time of it; her assiduous and arduous ministrations were received with the greatest good-nature; now she was never told, if she hurt her mistress in lacing up a dress, that she deserved to have her face slapped. Miss Burgoyne was amiability itself towards the whole company, so far as she had any relations with them: and at her little receptions in the evening she was all brightness and merriment, even when she had to join in the conversation from behind the heavy _portiere_. Whether this small coterie in the theatre guessed at the true state of affairs, it is hard to say; but at least Miss Burgoyne did not trouble herself much about concealment. She called her affianced lover "Lionel," no matter who chanced to be present; and she would ask him to help her to hand the tea, just as if he already belonged to her. Moreover, she told him that Mr. Percival Miles had some suspicion of what had happened.

"Not that I would admit anything definite," said the young lady. "There will be time enough for that. And I did not want a scene. But I'm sorry. It does seem a pity that so much devotion should meet with no requital."

"Devotion!" said Lionel.

"Oh, of course you don't know what devotion is. Your fashionable friends have taught you what good form is; you are _blase_, indifferent; it's not women, it's cards, that interest you. You have no fresh feeling left," continued this _ingenue of the greenroom. "You have been so spoiled--"

"I see he's up at the Garden Club," said Lionel, to change the subject.

"Who?"

"The young gentleman you were just speaking of."

"Percy Miles? What does he want with an all-night club?"

"I'm sure I don't know."

"Ah, well, I suppose he is not likely to get in," she said, turning to the tall mirror. "Percy is very nice--just the nicest boy I know--but I'm afraid he is not particularly clever. He has written some verses in one or two magazines--of course you can't expect me to criticise them severely, considering who was the 'only begetter' of them--"

"Oh, that has nothing to do with it," Lionel interrupted again. "He is sure to get in. There's no qualification at the Garden, so long as you're all right socially. There are plenty such as he in the club already."

"But why does he want to get in?" she said, wheeling round. "Why should he want to sit up all night playing cards? Now tell me honestly, Lionel, it isn't your doing! You didn't ask him to join, did you? You can't be treasuring up any feeling of vengeance--"

"Oh, nonsense; I had nothing to do with it. I saw his name in the candidates' book quite by accident. And the election is by committee--he'll get in all right. What does he want with it?--oh, I don't know. Perhaps he has been disappointed in love and seeks for a little consolation in card-playing."

"Yes, you always sneer at love--because you don't know anything about it," she said, snappishly. "Or perhaps you are an extinct volcano. I suppose you have sighed your heart out like a furnace--and for a foreigner, I'll be bound!"

Nay, it was hardly to be wondered at that Miss Burgoyne should be indignant with so lukewarm and reluctant a lover, who received her coy advances with coldness, and was only decently civil to her when they talked of wholly indifferent matters. The mischief of it was that, in casting about for some key to the odd situation, she took it into her head to become jealous of Nina; and many were the bitter things she managed to say about foreigners generally, and about Italians in particular, and Italian singers, and so forth. Of course Miss Ross was never openly mentioned, but Lionel understood well enough at whom these covert innuendoes were hurled; and sometimes his eyes burned with a fire far other than that which should be in a lover's eyes when contemplating his mistress. Indeed, it was a dangerous amusement for Miss Burgoyne to indulge in. It was easy to wound; it might be less easy to efface the memory of those wounds. And then there was a kind of devilish ingenuity about her occult taunts. For example, she dared not say that doubtless Miss Nina Ross had gone away back to Naples, and had taken up with a sweetheart, with whom she was now walking about; but she described the sort of young man calculated to capture the fancy of an Italian girl.

"The seedy swell of Naples or Rome--he is irresistible to the Italian girl," she said, on one occasion. "You know him; his shirt open at the neck down almost to his chest--his trousers tight at the knee and enormously wide at the foot--a poncho-looking kind of cloak, with a greasy Astrachan collar--a tall French hat, rather shabby--a face the color of paste--an odor of cigarettes and garlic--dirty hands--and a cane. I suppose the theatre is too expensive, so he goes to the public gardens, and strolls up and down, and takes off his hat with a sweep to people he pretends to recognize; or perhaps he sits in front of a _cafe_, with a glass of cheap brandy before him, an evening journal in his hands, and a toothpick in his mouth."

"You seem to have made his very particular acquaintance," said he, with a touch of scorn. "Did he give you his arm when you were walking together in the public gardens?"

"Give _me his arm?" she exclaimed. "I would not allow such a creature to come within twenty yards of me! I prefer people who use soap."

"What a pity it is they can't invent soap for purifying the mind!" he said, venomously; and he went out, and spoke no more to her during the rest of that evening.

Matters went from bad to worse: for Miss Burgoyne, finding nothing else that could account for his habitual depression of spirits, his occasional irritability and obvious indifference towards herself, made bold to assume that he was secretly, even if unconsciously, fretting over Nina's absence; and her jealousy grew more and more angry and vindictive, until it carried her beyond all bounds. For now she began to say disparaging or malicious things about Miss Ross, and that without subterfuge. At last there came a climax.

She had sent for him (for he did not invariably go into her room before the beginning of the last act, as once he had done), and, as she was still in the inner apartment, he took a chair, and stretched out his legs, and flicked a spot or two of dust from his silver-buckled shoes.

"What hour did you get home _this morning?" she called to him, in rather a saucy tone.

"I don't know exactly."

"And don't care. You are leading a pretty life," she went on, rather indiscreetly, for Jane was with her. "Distraction! Distraction from what? You sit up all night; you eat supper at all hours of the morning; you get dyspepsia and indigestion; and of course you become low-spirited--then there must be distraction. If you would lead a wholesome life you wouldn't need any distraction."

"Oh, don't worry!" he said, impatiently.

"What's come over that Italian friend of yours--that Miss Ross?"

"I don't know."

"You've never heard anything of her?"

"No--nothing."

"Don't you call that rather cool on her part? You introduce her to this theatre, you get her an engagement, you befriend her in every way, and all of a sudden she bolts, without a thank you!"

"I presume Miss Ross is the best judge of her own actions," said he, stiffly.

"Oh, you needn't be so touchy!" said Grace Thornhill, as she came forth in all the splendor of her bridal array, and at once proceeded to the mirror. "But I can quite understand your not liking having been treated in that fashion. People often are deceived in their friends, aren't they? And there's nothing so horrid as ingratitude. Certainly she ought to have been grateful to you, considering the fuss you made about her--the whole company remarked it!"

He did not answer; he did not even look her way; but there was an angry cloud gathering on his brows.

"No; very ungrateful, I call it," she continued, in the same dangerously supercilious tone. "You take up some creature you know nothing about and befriend her, and even make a spectacle of yourself through the way you run after her, and all at once she says, 'Good-bye? I've had enough of you'--and that's all the explanation you have!"

"Oh, leave Miss Ross alone, will you?" he said, in accents that might have warned her.

Perhaps she was unheeding; perhaps she was stung into retort; at all events, she turned and faced him.

"Leave her alone?" she said, with a flash of defiance in her look. "It is you who ought to leave her alone! She has cheated you--why should you show temper? Why should you sulk with every one, simply because an Italian organ-grinder has shown you what she thinks of you? Oh, I suppose the heavens must fall, because you've lost your pretty plaything--that made a laughing-stock of you? You don't even know where she is--I can tell you!--wandering along in front of the pavement at Brighton, in a green petticoat and a yellow handkerchief on her head, and singing to a concertina! That's about it, I should think; and very likely the seedy swell is waiting for her in their lodgings--waiting for her to bring the money home!"

Lionel rose; he said not a word; but the pallor of his face and the fire in his eyes were terrible to see. Plainly enough she saw them; but she was only half-terrified; she seemed aroused to a sort of whirlwind of passion.

"Oh, say it!" she cried. "Why don't you say it? Do you think I don't see it in your eyes? '_I hate you!_'--that's what you want to say; and you haven't the courage--you're a man, and you haven't the courage!"

That look did not depart from his face; but he stood in silence for a second, as if considering whether he should speak. His self-control infuriated her all the more.

"Do you think I care?" she exclaimed, with panting breath. "Do you think I care whether you hate me or not--whether you go sighing all day after your painted Italian doll? And do you imagine I want to wear this thing--that it is for this I will put up with every kind of insult and neglect? Not I!"

She pulled the bit of india-rubber from her finger; she dragged off the engagement-ring and dashed it on the floor in front of his feet--while her eyes sparkled with rage, and the cherry-paste hardly concealed the whiteness of her lips.

"Take it--and give it to the organ-grinder!" she called, in the madness of her rage.

He did not even look whither the ring had rolled. Without a single word he quite calmly turned and opened the door and passed outside. Nay, he was so considerate as to leave the door open for her; for he knew she would be wanted on the stage directly. He himself went up into the wings--in his gay costume of satin and silk and powdered wig and ruffles.

Had the audience only known, during the last act of this comedy, what fierce passions were agitating the breasts of the two chief performers in this pretty play, they might have looked on with added interest. How could they tell that the gallant and dashing Harry Thornhill was in his secret heart filled with anger and disdain whenever he came near his charming sweetheart? how could they divine that the coquettish Grace Mainwaring was not thinking of her wiles and graces at all, but was on the road to a most piteous repentance? The one was saying to himself, "Very well, let the vixen go to the devil; a happy riddance!" and the other was saying, "Oh, dear me, what have I done?--why did he put me in such a passion?" But the public in the stalls were all unknowing. They looked on and laughed, or looked on and sat solemn and stolid, as happened to be their nature; and then they slightly clapped their pale-gloved hands, and rose and donned their cloaks and coats. They had forgotten what the piece was about by the time they reached their broughams.

Later on, at the stage-door, whither a four-wheeler had been brought for her, Miss Burgoyne lingered. Presently Lionel came along. He would have passed her, but she intercepted him; and in the dusk outside she thrust forth her hand.

"Will you forgive me, Lionel? I ask your forgiveness," she said, in an undertone that was suggestive of tears. "I don't know what made me say such things--I didn't mean them--I'm very sorry. See," she continued, and in the dull lamp-light she showed him her ungloved hand, with the engagement-ring in its former place--"I have put on the ring again. Of course, you are hurt and offended; but you are more forgiving than a woman--a man should be. I will never say a word against her again; I should have remembered how you were companions before she came to England; and I can understand your affection for her, and your--your regret about her going away. Now will you be generous?--will you forgive me?"

"Oh, yes, that's all right," he said--as he was bound to say.

"But that's not enough. Will you come now and have some supper with Jim and me, and we'll talk about everything--except that one thing?"

"No, thanks, I can't; I have an engagement," he made answer.

She hesitated for a moment. Then she offered him her hand again.

"Well, at all events, bygones are to be bygones," she said. "And to-morrow I'm going to begin to knit a woollen vest for you, that you can slip on before you come out. Good-night, dearest!"

"Good-night," he said; and he opened the door of the cab for her and told the cabman her address; then--rather slowly and absently--he set out for the Garden Club.

The first person he beheld at the Garden Club was Octavius Quirk--of course at the supper-table.

"Going to Lady Adela's on the 3d?" said the bilious-looking Quirk, in a gay manner.

"I should want to be asked first," was Lionel's simple rejoinder.

"Ah!" said the other, complacently, "I heard you had not been much there lately. A charming house--most interesting--quite delightful to see people of their station so eagerly devoted to the arts. Music, painting, literature--all the elegancies of life--and all touched with a light and graceful hand. You should read some of Lady Adela's descriptions in her new book--not seen it?--no?--ah, well, it will be out before long for the general world to read. As I was saying, her descriptions of places abroad are simply charming--charming. There's where the practised traveller comes in; no heavy and laborious work; the striking peculiarities hit off with the most delicate appreciation: the _fine fleur of difference noted everywhere. Your bourgeois goes and rams his bull's head against everything he meets; he's in wonderment and ecstacy almost before he lands; he stares with astonishment at a fisherwoman on Calais pier and weeps maudlin tears over the masonry of the Sainte Chapelle. Then Lady Adela's style--marvellous, marvellous. I give you my word as an expert! Full of distinction; choice; fastidious; penetrated everywhere by a certain _je ne sais quoi of dexterity and aptitude; each word charged with color, as a critic might say. You have not seen any of the sheets?" continued Mr. Quirk, with his mouth full of steak and olives. "Dear me! You haven't quarrelled with Lady Adela, have you? I did hear there was some little disappointment that you did not get Lady Sybil's 'Soldiers' Marching Song' introduced at the New Theatre; but I dare say the composer wouldn't have his operetta interfered with. Even you are not all-powerful. However, Lady Adela is unreasonable if she has taken offence: I will see that it is put right."

"I wouldn't trouble you--thanks!" said Lionel, rather coldly; and then, having eaten a biscuit and drank a glass of claret and water, he went up-stairs to the card-room.

There were two tables occupied--one party playing whist, the other poker; to the latter Lionel idly made his way.

"Coming in, Moore?"

"Oh, yes, I'll come in. What are you playing?"

"Usual thing: sixpenny ante and five-shilling limit."

"Let's have it a shilling ante and a sovereign limit," he proposed, as they made room for him at the table, and to this they agreed, and the game began.

At first Lionel could get no hands at all, but he never went out; sometimes he drew four cards to an ace or a queen, sometimes he took the whole five; while his losses, if steady, were not material. Occasionally he bluffed, and got a small pot; but it was risky, as he was distinctly in a run of bad luck. At last he was dealt nine, ten, knave, queen, ace, in different suite. This looked better.

"How many?" asked the dealer.

"I will take one card, if you please," he said, throwing away the ace.

He glanced at the card, as he put it into his hand: it was a king; he had a straight. Then he watched what the others were taking. The player on his left also asked for one--a doubtful intimation. His next neighbor asked for two--probably he had three of a kind. The dealer threw up his cards. The age had already taken three--no doubt he had started with the common or garden pair.

It was Lionel's turn to bet.

"Well," said he, "I will just go five shillings on this little lot."

"I will see your five shillings and go a sovereign better," said his neighbor.

"That's twenty-five shillings for me to come in," said he who had taken two cards. "Well, I'll raise you another sovereign."

The age went out.

"Two sovereigns against me," said Lionel "Very well, then, I'll just raise you another."

"And another."

This frightened the third player, who incontinently retired. There were now left in only Lionel and his antagonist, and each had drawn but one card. Now the guessing came in. Had the player been drawing to two pairs, or to fill a flush or a straight; had he got a full hand; or was he left with his two pairs; or, again, had he failed to fill, and was he betting on a perfectly worthless lot? At all events the two combatants kept hammering away at each other, until there was a goodly pile of gold on the table, and the interest of the silent onlookers was proportionately increased. Were both bluffing and each afraid to call the other? Or was it that cruel and horrible combination--a full hand betting against four of a kind?

"I call you," said Lionel's enemy, at length, as he put down the last sovereign he had on the table.

"A straight," was Lionel's answer, as he showed his cards.

"Not good enough, my boy," said the other, as he calmly ranged a flush of diamonds before him.

"Take away the money, Johnny," said Lionel, as if it were a matter of no moment. "Or wait a second; I'll go you double or quits."

But here there was an almost general protest.

"Oh, what's the use of that, Moore? It was the duke who brought that nonsense in, and it ought to be stopped; it spoils the game. Stick to the legitimate thing. When you once begin that stupidity, there's no stopping it."

However, the player whom Lionel had challenged had no mind to deny him.

"For the whole pot, or for what you put in?" he asked.

"Either--whichever you like," Lionel said, carelessly.

"We'll say the whole pot, then: either I give you what's on the table, or you double it," the lucky young gentleman made answer, as he proceeded to count the sovereigns and chips--there was L28 in all. "Will you call to me? Very well. What do you say this is?"--spinning a sovereign.

"I say it's a head," Lionel replied.

"You've made a mistake, then--very sorry," said the other, as he raked in his own money.

"I owe you twenty-eight pounds, Johnny," Lionel said, without more ado; and he took out his note-book and jotted it down. Then they went on again.

Now the game of poker is played in calm; happy is he who can preserve a perfectly expressionless face through all its vicissitudes. But the game of whiskey-poker (which is no game) is played amid vacuous excitement and strong language and derisive laughter--especially towards four in the morning. The whole of this little party seemed ready to go; in fact, they had all risen and were standing round the table; but nevertheless they remained, while successive hands were dealt, face upwards. At first only a sovereign each was staked, then two, then three, then four, then five--and there a line was drawn. But in staking five sovereigns every time, with four to one against you, a considerable amount of money can be lost; and Lionel had been in ill-luck all the sitting. He did not, however, seem to mind his losses, so long as the fierce spirit of gambling could be kept up; and it was with no desperate effort at recovering his money that he was always for increasing the stakes. He would have sat down at the table and gone on indefinitely with this frantic plunging, but that his companions declared they must go directly; at last three of them solemnly swore they would have only one round more. There were then left in only Lionel and the young fellow who had won his L28 early in the evening.

"Johnny, I'll go you once for twenty pounds," Lionel said.

"Done with you."

"I say, you fellows," protested one of the bystanders, "you'll smash up this club--you'll have the police shutting it up as a gambling-hell. Besides, you're breaking the rules; you'll have the committee expelling you."

"What rules?" Lionel's opponent asked, wheeling round.

"The amount of the stakes, for one thing; and playing after three o'clock, for another," was the answer.

"I'll bet you ten pounds there's no limit as to time in the rules of this club--I mean as regards card-playing," the young man said, boldly.

"I take you."

The bell was rung; a waiter was sent to fetch a List of Members; and then he who had accepted the bet read out these solemn words:

"Rule XIX. No higher stakes than guinea points shall ever be played for, nor shall any card or billiard playing be permitted in the club after 3 A.M."

"There's your confounded money; what a fool of a club to let you stay here all night if you like, and to stop card-playing at three!" He turned to Lionel. "Well, Moore, what did you say: twenty pounds? I'll just make it thirty, if you like, and see if I can't get back that ten."

"Right with you, Johnny."

The young man dealt the two hands: he found he had a pair of fours, Lionel nothing but a king. The winner took over the loser's I.O.U. for the L30, and then said,

"Well, now, I'll go you double or quits."

"Oh, certainly," said Lionel, "if you like. But I don't think you should. You are the winner; stick to what you've got."

"Oh, I'll give you a chance to get it all back," the young man said; and this time Lionel dealt the cards. And again the latter lost--having to substitute an I.O.U. for L60 for its predecessor.

"Well, now, I'll give you one more chance," the winner said, with a laugh.

"I'm hanged if you shall, Johnny!" said one of the bystanders; and he had the courage to intervene and snatch up the cards. "Come away to your beds, boys, and stop that nonsense! You've lost enough, Moore; and this fellow would go on till Doomsday."

But that insatiate young man was not to be beaten, after all. When they were separating in the street below he drew Lionel aside.

"Look here, old man, why should we be deprived of our final little flutter? I want to give you a chance of getting back the whole thing."

"Not at all, my good fellow," Lionel said, with a smile. "Why don't you keep the money and rest content? Do you think I grudge it to you?"

"Come--an absolutely last double or quits," said the other, and he pulled out a coin from his pocket and put it between his two palms. "Heads or tails?--and then go home happy!"

"Well, since you challenge me, I'll go this once more, and this once more only. I call a tail."

The upper hand was removed: in the dull lamp-light the dusky gold coin was examined.

"It's a head," said Lionel, "so that's all right, and it's you who are to go home happy. I'll settle up with you to-morrow evening. Do you want this hansom?--I don't: I think I'd rather walk. Good-night, Johnny."

It was a long price to pay for a few hours of distraction and forgetfulness; still, he had had these; and the loss of the money, _per se_, did not affect him much. He walked away home. When he reached his rooms, there were some letters for him lying on the table; he took them and looked at them; he noticed one handwriting that used to be rather more familiar. This letter he opened first.

AIVRON LODGE, CAMPDEN HILL, _Feb. 23.

"MY DEAR MR. MOORE,--It is really quite shocking the way you have neglected us of late, and I, at least, cannot imagine any reason. Perhaps we have both been in fault. My sisters and I have all been very busy, in our several ways; and then it is awkward you should have only the one Sunday evening free. But there, let _bygones be _bygones_, and come and dine with us on Sunday, March 3, at 8. Forgive the short notice; I've had some trouble in trying to secure one, or two people whom I don't know very well, and I couldn't fix earlier. The fact is, I want it to be an _intellectual little dinner; and who could represent music and the drama so fitly as yourself? I want only people with brains at it--perhaps you wouldn't include Rockminster in that category, but I must have him to help me, as my husband is away in Scotland looking after his beasts. Now do be good-natured, dear Mr. Moore, and say you will come.

"And I am going to try your goodness another way. You remember speaking to me about a friend of yours who was connected with newspapers, and who knew some of the London correspondents of the provincial journals? Could you oblige me with his address and the correct spelling of his name? I presume he would not consider it out of the way if I wrote to him as being a friend of yours, and enclosed a card of invitation. I want to have _all the _talents_--that is, all of them I can get to come and honor the house of a mere novice and beginner. I did not catch either your friend's surname or his Christian name.

Ever yours sincerely, ADELA CUNYNGHAM."


He tossed the letter on to the table.

"I wonder," he said to himself, "how much of that is meant for me, and how much for Maurice Mangan and newspaper paragraphs."

But it was high time to get to bed; and that he did without any serious fretting over his losses at the Garden Club. These had amounted, on the whole gamble, to nearly L170; which might have made him pause. For did he not owe responsibilities elsewhere? If he went on at this rate (he ought to have been asking himself) whence was likely to come the money for the plenishing of a certain small household--an elegant little establishment towards which Miss Kate Burgoyne was no doubt now looking forward with pleased and expectant eyes.

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