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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesPrince Fortunatus - Chapter 21. In A Den Of Lions, And Thereafter
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Prince Fortunatus - Chapter 21. In A Den Of Lions, And Thereafter Post by :Morningwing Category :Long Stories Author :William Black Date :May 2012 Read :3189

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Prince Fortunatus - Chapter 21. In A Den Of Lions, And Thereafter

CHAPTER XXI. IN A DEN OF LIONS, AND THEREAFTER

When Maurice Mangan, according to appointment, called at Lionel's rooms on the evening of Lady Adela Cunyngham's dinner-party, he was surprised to find his friend seated in front of the fire, wrapped up in a dressing-gown.

"Linn, what's the matter with you?" he exclaimed, looking at him. "Are you ill? What have you been doing to yourself?"

"Oh, nothing," was the answer. "I have been rather worried and out of sorts lately, that is all. And I can't go to that dinner to-night, Maurice. Will you make my excuses for me, like a good fellow? Tell Lady Adela I'm awfully sorry--"

"I'm sure I sha'n't do anything of the sort," Mangan said, promptly. "Do you think I am going to leave you here all by yourself? You know why I accepted the invitation: mere curiosity; I wanted to see you among those people--I wanted to describe to Miss Francie how you looked when you were being adored--"

"My dear chap, you would have seen nothing of the sort," Lionel said. "To-night there is to be a shining galaxy of genius, and each particular star will be eager to absorb all the adoration that is going. Authors, actors, painters, musicians--that kind of people; kid-gloved Bohemia."

"Come, Linn; rouse yourself, man," his friend protested. "You'll do no good moping here by the fire. There's still time for you to dress; I came early in case you might want to walk up to Campden Hill. And you shouldn't disappoint your friends, if this is to be so great an occasion."

"I suppose you're right," Lionel said, and he rose wearily, "though I would twenty times rather go to bed. You can find a book for yourself, Maurice; I sha'n't keep you many minutes," and with that he disappeared into his dressing-room.

A four-wheeler carried them up to Campden Hill; a welcome glow of light shone forth on the carriage-drive and the dark bushes. As they entered and crossed the wide hall, they were preceded by a young lady whose name was at the same moment announced at the door of the drawing-room--"Miss Gabrielle Grey."

"Oh, really," said Mangan to his companion, as they were leaving their coats and hats. "I always thought 'Gabrielle Grey' was the pseudonym of an elderly clergyman's widow, or somebody of that kind."

"But who is Miss Gabriel Grey?"

"You mean to say you have never even heard of her? Oh, she writes novels--very popular, too, and very deservedly so, for that kind of thing--excellent in tone, highly moral, and stuffed full of High-Church sentiment; and I can tell you this, Linn, my boy, that for a lady novelist to have plenty of High-Church sentiment at her command is about equivalent to holding four of a kind at poker--and that's an illustration you'll understand. Now come and introduce me to my hostess, and tell me who all the people are."

Lady Adela received both Lionel and his friend in the most kindly manner.

"What a charming photograph that is of you in evening dress," she said to Lionel. "Really, I've had to lock away my copy of it; girls are such thieves nowadays; they think nothing of picking up what pleases them and popping it in their pockets." And therewith Lady Adela turned to Mr. Quirk, with whom she had been talking; and the new-comers passed on, and found themselves in a corner from whence they could survey the room.

The first glance revealed to Lionel that, if all the talents were there, the "quality" was conspicuously absent.

"I know hardly anybody here," he said, in an undertone, to Mangan.

"Oh, I know some of them," was the answer, also in an undertone. "Rather small lions--I think she might have done better with proper guidance. But perhaps this is only a beginning. Isn't your friend Quirk a picture? Who is the remarkably handsome girl just beyond?"

"That's Lady Adela's sister, Lady Sybil."

"The composer? I see; that's why she's talking to that portentous old ass, Schweinkopf, the musical critic. Then there's Miss Gabrielle Grey--poor thing! she's not very pretty--'I was not good enough for man, and so am given to'--publishers. By Jove, there's Ichabod--standing by the door; don't you know him?--Egerton--but they call him Ichabod at the Garrick. Now, what could our hostess expect to get out of Ichabod? He has nothing left to him but biting his nails like the senile Pope or Pagan in the 'Pilgrim's Progress.'"

"What does he do?"

"He is a reviewer, _et proeterea nihil_. Some twenty years ago he wrote two or three novels, but people wouldn't look at them, and so he became morose about the public taste and modern literature. In fact, there has been no English literature--for twenty years; this is his wail and moan whenever an editor allows him to lift up his voice. It was feeble on the part of your friend to ask Ichabod; she won't get anything out of him. I can see a reason for most of the others--those whom I know; but Ichabod is hopeless."

Mangan suddenly ceased these careless comments; his attention was arrested by the entrance of a tall young lady who came in very quietly--without being announced even.

"I say, who's that?" he exclaimed, under his breath.

And Lionel had been startled too; for he had convinced himself ere he came that Honnor Cunyngham was certain to be in Scotland. But there she was, as distinguished-looking, as self-possessed as ever; her glance direct and simple and calm, though she seemed to hesitate for a moment as if seeking for some one whom she might know in the crowd. From the fact of her not having been announced, Lionel guessed that she was staying in the house; perhaps, indeed, she had been in the drawing-room before. He hardly knew what to do. He forgot to answer his friend's question. If dinner were to be happily announced now, would it not save her from some embarrassment if he and she could go in their separate ways without meeting? and thereafter he could leave without returning to the drawing-room. Yet, if she were staying in the house, she must have known that he was coming?

All this swift consideration was the work of a single second; the next second Miss Honnor's eyes had fallen upon the young man; and immediately and in the most natural way in the world she came across the room to him. It is true that there was a slight touch of color visible on the gracious forehead when she offered him her hand; but there was no other sign of self-consciousness; and she said, quite quietly and simply,

"It is some time since we have met, Mr. Moore; but, of course, I notice your name in the papers frequently."

"I hardly expected to see you here to-night," he said, in reply. "I thought you would be off to Scotland for the salmon-fishing."

"I go to-morrow night," she made answer.

At the same moment Lord Rockminster came up, holding a bit of folded paper furtively in his hand; the faithful brother looked perplexed, for he had to remember the names of these various strangers; but here at least were two whom he did know.

"Mr. Moore, will you take Miss Cunyngham in to dinner?" he murmured, as he went by; so that Lionel found there would have been no escape for him in any case. But now that the first little awkwardness of their meeting was over, there was nothing else. Miss Cunyngham spoke to him quite pleasantly and naturally--though she did not meet his eyes much. Meantime dinner was announced, and Lord Rockminster led the way with a trim little elderly lady whom Lionel afterwards discovered to be (for she told him as much) the London correspondent of a famous Parisian journal devoted to fashions and the _beau monde_.

And here he was, seated side by side with Honnor Cunyngham, talking to her, listening to her, and with no sort of perturbation whatever. He began to ask himself whether he had ever been in love with her--whether he had not rather been in love with her way of life and its surroundings. He was thinking not so much of her as her departure on the morrow, and the scenes that lay beyond. Why had he not L10,000 a year--L5000--nay, L1000 a year--and freedom? Why could he not warm his soul with the consciousness that the salmon-rods were all packed and waiting in the hall; that new casting-lines had been put in the fly-book; that only the short drive up to Euston and a single black night lay between him and all the wide wonder of the world that would open out thereafter? Forth from the darkness into a whiter light--a larger day--a sweeter air; for now we are among the russet beech-hedges, the deep-green pines, the purple hills touched here and there with snow; and the far-stretching landscape is shining in the morning sun; and the peewits are wheeling hither and thither in the blue. Then we are thundering through rocky chasms and watching the roaring brown torrent beneath; or panting or struggling away up the lonely altitudes of Drumouchter; and again merrily racing and chasing down into the spacious valley of the Spey. And what for the end?--the long, still strath after leaving Invershin--the penetration into the more secret solitudes--the peaks of Coulmore and Suilven in the west--and here the Aivron making a murmuring music over its golden gravel! There is a smell of peat in the air; there are children's voices about the keepers' cottages; and here is the handsome old Robert, rejoiced that the year has opened again and Miss Honnor come back! "Well, Robert, you must come in and have a dram, and I will show you the tackle I've brought with me." "I am not wishing for a dram, Miss Honnor, so much as I am glad to see you back again, ay, and looking so well!"

"Mr. Moore," she said (and she startled him out of his reverie), "do you ever give a little dinner-party at your rooms?"

"Well, seldom," he said. "You see, I have only the one evening in the week; and I have generally some engagement or other."

(Illustration: "_There was a slight touch of color visible on the gracious forehead when she offered him her hand._")

"I should like to send you a salmon, if it would be of any use to you," she went on to say.

"Thank you very much; I would rather see you hook and land it than have the compliment of its being sent to me twenty times over. I was thinking this very minute of the Aivron, and your getting down to the ford the day after to-morrow, and old Robert being there to welcome you. I envy him--and you. Are you to be all by yourself at the lodge?"

"For the present, yes," Miss Honnor said. "My brother and Captain Waveney come at the beginning of April. Of course it is rather hazardous going just now; the river might be frozen over for a fortnight at a time; but that seldom happens. And in ordinarily mild weather it is very beautiful up there--the most beautiful time of the year, I think; the birch-woods are all of the clearest lilac, and the brackens turned to deep crimson; then the bent grass on the higher hills--what they call deer's hair--is a mass of gold. And I don't in the least mind being alone in the evening--in fact, I enjoy it. It is a splendid time for reading. There is not a sound. Caroline comes in from time to time to pile on more peats and sweep the hearth; then she goes out again; and you sit in an easy-chair with your back to the lamp; and if you've got an interesting book, what more company do you want? Then it's very early to bed in Strathaivron; and I've got a room that looks both ways--across the strath and down; and sometimes there is moonlight making the windows blue; or if there isn't, you can lie and look at the soft red light thrown out by the peat, until the silence is too much for you, and you are asleep before you have had time to think of it. Now tell me about yourself," she suddenly said. "I hope the constant work and the long and depressing winter have not told on you. It must have been very unpleasant getting home so late at night during the fogs."

He would rather she had continued talking about the far Aivron and the Geinig; he did not care to come back to the theatre and Kate Burgoyne.

"One gets used to everything, I suppose," he said.

"But still it must be gratifying to you to be in so successful a piece--to be aware of the delight you are giving, evening after evening, to so many people," Miss Honnor reminded him. "By the way, how is the pretty Italian girl--the young lady you said you had known in Naples?"

"She has left the New Theatre," he said, not lifting his eyes.

"Oh, really. Then I'm sure that must have been unfortunate for the operetta; for she had such a beautiful voice--she sang so exquisitely--and besides that there was go much refinement and grace in everything she did. I remember mother was so particularly struck with her; we have often spoken of her since; her manner on the stage was so charming--so gentle and graceful--it had a curious fascination that was irresistible. And I confess I was delighted with the little touch of foreign accent; perhaps if she had not been so very pretty, one would have been less ready to be pleased with everything. And where is she now, Mr. Moore?"

"I'm sure I don't know," Lionel said, rather unwillingly; he would rather not have been questioned.

"And is that how friendships in the theatre are kept up?" Miss Honnor said, reproachfully. "But it is all very well for us idle folk to talk. I suppose you are all far too busy to give much time to correspondence."

"No, we have not much time for letter-writing," he said, absently.

Indeed, it was well for him that he had this companion who could talk to him in her quiet, low tones; for he was out of spirits and inclined to be silent; and certainly he had no wish to join in the frothy discussion which Octavius Quirk had started at the upper end of the table. Mr. Mellord, the famous Academician, had taken in Lady Adela to dinner; but she had placed Mr. Quirk on her left hand; and from this position of authority he was roaring away like any sucking-dove and challenging everybody to dispute his windy platitudes. Lord Rockminster, down at the other end, mute and in safety, was looking on at this motley little assemblage, and probably wondering what his three gifted sisters would do next. It was hard that he had no Miss Georgie Lestrange to amuse him; perhaps Miss Georgie had been considered ineligible for admission into this intellectual coterie. Poor man!--and to think he might have been dining in solitary comfort at his club, at a quiet little table, with two candles, and a Sunday paper propped up by the water-bottle! But he betrayed no impatience; he sat and looked and meditated.

However, when dinner was over and the ladies had left the room, he had to go and take his sister's place, so that he found himself in the thick of the babble. Mr. Quirk was no longer goring spiders' webs; he was now attacking a solid and substantial subject--nothing less than the condition of the British army; and a pretty poor opinion he seemed to have of it. As it chanced, the only person who had seen service was Lord Rockminster (at Knightsbridge), but he did not choose to open his mouth, so that Mr. Quirk had it all his way--except when Maurice Mangan thought it worth while to give him a cuff or a kick, just by way of reminding him that he was mortal. Ichabod, in silence, stuck to the port wine. Quincey Hooper, the American journalist, drew in a chair by the side of Lord Rockminster and humbly fawned. And meanwhile Quirk, head downward, so to speak, charged rank and file, and sent them flying; arose again and swept the heads off officers; and was just about to annihilate the volunteers when Mangan interrupted him.

"Oh, you expect too much," he said, in his slow and half-contemptuous fashion. "The British soldier is not over well-educated, I admit; but you needn't try him by an impossible standard. I dare say you are thinking of ancient days when a Roman general could address his troops in Latin and make quite sure of being understood; but you can't expect Tommy Atkins to be so learned. And our generals, as you say, may chiefly distinguish themselves at reviews; but the reviews they seem to me to be too fond of are those published monthly. As for the volunteers--"

"You will have a joke about them, too, I suppose," Quirk retorted. "An excellent subject for a joke--the safety of the country! A capital subject for a merry jest; Nero fiddling with Rome in flames--"

"I beg your pardon? Nero never did anything of the kind," Mangan observed, with a perfectly diabolical inconsequence, "for violins weren't invented in those days."

This was too much for Mr. Quirk; he would not resume argument with such a trifler; nor, indeed, was there any opportunity; for Lord Rockminster now suggested they should go into the drawing-room--and Ichabod had to leave that decanter of port.

Now, if Maurice Mangan had come to this house to see how Lionel was feted and caressed by "the great"--in order that he might carry the tale down to Winstead to please the old folk and Miss Francie--he was doomed to disappointment. There were very few of "the great" present, to begin with; and those who were paid no particular attention to Lionel Moore. It was Octavius Quirk who appeared to be the hero of the evening, so far as the attention devoted to him by Lady Adela and her immediate little circle was concerned. But Maurice himself was not wholly left neglected. When tea was brought in, his hostess came over to where he was standing.

"Won't you sit down, Mr. Mangan?--I want to talk to you about something of very great importance--importance to me, that is, for you know how vain young authors are. You have heard of my new book?--yes, I thought Mr. Moore must have told you. Well, it's all ready, except the title-page. I am not quite settled about the title yet; and you literary gentlemen are so quick and clever with suggestions--I am sure you will give me good advice. And I've had a number of different titles printed, to see how they look in type; what do you think of this one? At present it seems to be the favorite; it was Mr. Quirk's suggestion--"

She showed him a slip with "North and South" printed on it in large letters.

"I don't like it at all," Mangan said, frankly. "People will think the book has something to do with the American civil war. However, don't take my opinion at all. My connection with literature is almost infinitesimal--I'm merely a newspaper hack, you know."

"What you say about the title is _quite right? and I am _so much obliged to you, Mr. Mangan," Lady Adela said, with almost pathetic emphasis. "The American war, of course; I never thought of that!"

"What is Ichabod's choice?--I beg your pardon, I mean have you shown the titles to Mr. Egerton?"

"I'm afraid he doesn't approve of any of them," said Lady Adela, sadly turning over the slips.

"No, I suppose not; good titles went out with good fiction--when he ceased to write novels a number of years ago. May I look at the others?"

She handed him the slips.

"Well, now, there is one that in my poor opinion would be rather effective--'Lotus and Lily'--a pretty sound--"

"Yes--perhaps," said Lady Adela, doubtfully, "but then, you see, it has not much connection with the book. The worst of it is that all the novel is printed--all but the three title-pages. Otherwise I might have called my heroine Lily--"

"But I fear you could not have called your hero Lotus," said Mangan, gravely. "Not very well. However, it is no use speculating on that now, as you say. What is the next one?--'Transformation.' Of course you know that Hawthorne wrote a book under that title, Lady Adela?"

"Yes," said she, cheerfully. "But there's no copyright in America; so why shouldn't I take the title if it suits?"

He hesitated; there seemed to be some ethical point here; but he fell back on base expediency.

"It is a mistake for two authors to use the same title--I'm sure it is," said he. "Look at the confusion. The reviewers might pass over your novel, thinking it was only a new edition of Hawthorne's book."

"Yes, that's quite true," said Lady Adela, thoughtfully.

"Well, here is one," he continued. "'Sicily and South Kensington;' that's odd; that's new; that might take the popular fancy."

"Do you know, that is a favorite of my own," Lady Adela said, with a slight eagerness, "for it really describes the book. You understand, Mr. Mangan, all the first part is about the South of Italy; and then I come to London and try to describe everything that is just going on round about us. I have put _everything in; so that really--though I shouldn't praise myself--but it isn't praise at all, Mr. Mangan, it is merely telling you what I have aimed at--and really any one taking up my poor little book some hundred years hence might very fairly assume that it was a correct picture of all that was going on in the reign of Queen Victoria. I do not say that it is well done; not at all; that would be self-praise; but I do think it may have some little historical value. Modern life is so busy, so hurried, and so complex that it is difficult to form any impression of it as a whole; I take up book after book, written by living authors with whom I shouldn't dream of comparing myself, and yet I see how small a circle their characters work in. You would think the world consisted of only eight or ten people, and that there was hardly room for them to move. They never get away from one another; they don't mix in the crowd; there is no crowd. But here in my poor way I am trying to show what a panorama London is; always changing; occupations, desires, struggles following one another in breathless rapidity; in short, I want to show modern life as it is, not as it is dreamed of by clever authors who live in a study. Now that is my excuse, Mr. Mangan, for being such a dreadful bore; and I am _so much obliged to you for your kind advice about the title; it is so easy for clever people to be kind--just a word, and it's done. Thank you," said she, as he took her cup from her and placed it on the table; and then, before she left him, she ventured to say, with a charming modesty, "I'm sure you will forgive me, Mr. Mangan, but if I were to send you a copy of the book, might I hope that you would find ten minutes to glance over it?"

"I am certain I shall read it with very great interest," said he; and that was strictly true, for this Lady Adela Cunyngham completely puzzled him; she seemed so extraordinary a combination of a clever woman of the world and an awful fool.

And Lionel? Well, he had got introduced to Miss Gabrielle Grey, whom he found to be a very quiet, shy, pensive sort of creature, not posing as a distinguished person at all. He dared not talk to her of her books, for he did not even know the names of them; but he let her understand that he knew she was an authoress, and it seemed to please her to know that her fame had penetrated into the mysterious regions behind the footlights. She began to question him, in a timid sort of way, about his experiences--whether stage-fright was difficult to get over--whether he thought that the immediate and enthusiastic approbation of the public was a beneficial stimulant--whether the continuous excitement of the emotional nature tended to render it callous, or, on the other hand, more sensitive and sympathetic--and so forth. Was she dimly looking forward to the conquest of a new domain, where the young ladies of the rectory and the vicarage might be induced fearfully to follow her? But Lionel did not linger long in that drawing-room. He got Maurice Mangan away as soon as he could; they slipped out unobserved--especially as there were plenty of new-comers now arriving. When they had passed down through the back garden to the gate, the one lit a cigarette, and the other a pipe; and together they wended their way towards Kensington Road and Piccadilly.

"Why," said Mangan, "I shall have quite a favorable report to carry down to Winstead. I did not see you treated with any of that unwholesome adulation I have heard so much of!"

"I am almost a stranger in the house now," Lionel said, briefly.

"Why?"

"Oh, various circumstances, of late."

"They did not even ask you to sing," his friend said, in accents of some surprise.

"They dared not. Didn't you see that most of the people were strangers? How could Lady Adela be sure that she was not wounding somebody's susceptibilities by having operatic music on a Sunday evening? She knew nothing at all about half those people; they were merely names to her, that she had collected round her in order that she might count herself in among the arts."

"That ill-conditioned brute Quirk seemed to me to be dominating the whole thing," said Mangan, rather testily. "It's an awful price to pay for a few puffs. I wonder a woman like that can bear him to come near her, but she pets the baboon as if he were a King Charles spaniel. Linnie, my boy, you're no longer first favorite. I can see that; self-interest has proved too strong; the flattering little review, the complimentary little notice, has ousted you. It isn't you who are privileged to meet my Lady Morgan in the street--

'And then to gammon her, in the _Examiner_,
With a paragraph short and sweet.'


Well, now, tell me about that very striking-looking girl, or woman, rather, whom you took in to dinner. I asked you who she was when she came into the room."

"That was Miss Honnor Cunyngham."

"Not the salmon-fishing young lady I have heard you speak of?"

"Yes."

"Why, she didn't look like that," said Mangan, thoughtfully. "Not the least. She has got a splendid forehead--powerful and clear--and almost too much character about the square brows and the calm eyes. I should have taken her to be a strongly intellectual woman, of the finer and more reticent type. Well, well, a salmon-fisher!"

"Why shouldn't she be both?"

"Why, indeed?" said Maurice, absently; and therewith he relapsed (as was frequently his wont) into silence, and in silence the two friends pursued their way eastwards to Lionel's rooms.

But when they had arrived at their destination, when soda-water had been produced and opened, and when Mangan was lying back in an easy-chair, regarding his friend, he resumed the conversation.

"I should have thought going to see those people to-night would have brightened you up a little," he began, "but you seem thoroughly out of sorts, Linn. What is the matter? Overwork or worry? I should not think overwork; I've never seen your theatre-business prove too much for you. Worry? What about, then?"

"There may be different things," Lionel said, evasively, as he brought over the spirit case. "I haven't been sleeping well of late--lying awake even if I don't go to bed till three or four; and I get a singing in my ears sometimes that is bothersome. Oh, never mind me; I'm all right."

"But I'm going to mind you, for you are not all right. Is it money?"

"No, no."

"What, then? There is something seriously worrying you."

"Oh, there are several things," Lionel exclaimed, forced at last into confession. "I can't think what has become of Nina Ross, that's one thing; if I only knew she was safe and well, I don't think I should mind the other things. No, not a bit. But there was something about her going away that I can't explain to you, only I--I was responsible in a sort of way; and Nina and I were always such good friends and companions. Well, it's no use talking about that. Then there's another little detail," he added, with an air of indifference: "I'm engaged to be married."

Mangan stared at him.

"Engaged to be married?" he repeated, as if he had not heard aright. "To whom?"

"Miss Burgoyne."

"Miss Burgoyne--of the New Theatre?"

"The same."

"Are you out of your senses, Linn!" Maurice cried, angrily.

"No, I don't think so," he said, and he went to the mantelpiece for a cigarette.

"How did it come about?" demanded Maurice, again.

"Oh, I don't know. It isn't of much consequence, is it?" Lionel answered, carelessly.

Then Maurice instantly reflected that, if this thing were really done, it was not for him to protest.

"Of course I say nothing against the young lady--certainly not. I thought she was very pleasant the night I was introduced to her, and nice-looking too. But I had no idea you were taken in that quarter, Linn; none--hence the surprise. I used to think you were in the happy position which Landor declared impossible. What were the lines? I haven't seen them for twenty years, but they were something like this:

'Fair maiden, when I look on thee,
I wish that I were young and free;
But both at once, ah, who could be?'


I thought you were 'both at once'--and very well content. But supposing you have given up your freedom, why should that vex and trouble you? The engagement time is said to be the happiest period of a man's life; what is wrong in your case?"

Lionel took a turn or two up and down the room.

"Well, I will tell you the truth, Maurice," he blurted out, at last. "I got engaged to her in a fit of restlessness or caprice, or some such ridiculous nonsense, and I don't regret it; I mean, I am willing to stand by it; but that is not enough for her, and I can look forward to nothing but a perpetual series of differences and quarrels. She expects me to play Harry Thornhill off the stage, I suppose."

Mangan looked at him for some time.

"Even between friends," he said, slowly, "there are some things it is difficult to talk about with safety. Of course you know what an outsider would say: that you had got into a devil of a mess; that you had blundered into an engagement with a woman whom you find you don't want to marry."

"Well, is there anything uncommon in that?" Lionel demanded. "Is that an unusual experience in human life? But I don't admit as much, in my case. I am quite willing to marry her, so long as she keeps her temper, and doesn't expect me to play the fool. I dare say we shall get on well enough, like other people, after the fateful deed is done. In the meantime," he added, with a forced laugh--"in the meantime, I find myself now and again wishing I was a sailor brave and bold, careering round the Cape of Good Hope in a gale of wind, and with no loftier aspiration in my mind than a pint of rum and a well-filled pipe."

"Faith, I think that's just where you ought to be," said Mangan, dryly, "instead of in this town of London, at the present moment. I declare you've quite bewildered me. If you had told me you were engaged to that tall salmon-fishing girl--you used to talk about her a good deal, you know--or to that fascinating young Italian creature--and I've seen before now how easily the gentle friend and companion can be transformed into a sweetheart--I should have been ready with all kinds of pretty speeches and good wishes. But Miss Burgoyne of the New Theatre? Linn, my boy, I've discovered what's the matter with you, and I can prescribe an absolutely certain cure."

"What is it?"

"The cure? You have partly suggested it yourself. You must go at once and take your passage in a sailing ship for Australia. You can stay there for a time and examine the colony; of course you'll write a book about it, like everybody else. Then you make your way to San Francisco, and accept a three-months' engagement there. You come on to New York, and accept a three-months' engagement there. And when you return to England you will find that all your troubles have vanished, and that you are once again the Linn Moore we all of us used to know."

A wild fancy flashed through Lionel's brain; what if in these far wanderings he were suddenly to encounter Nina? In vain--in vain; Nina had become for him but a shadow, a ghost, with no voice to call to him from any sphere.

"You would have me run away?--I don't see how I can do that," he said, quietly; and then he abruptly changed the subject. "What did you think of Lady Adela?"

"Well, to tell you the truth, I've been wondering whether she were at the same time a smart and clever woman and an abject fool, or whether she were simply smart and clever and thought me an abject fool. It must be either one or the other. She played the literary _ingenue very well--a little too openly, perhaps. I'm curious about her book--"

"Oh, don't judge of her by her book!" Lionel exclaimed. "That isn't fair. Her book you may very likely consider foolish--not at all. I suppose her head is a little bit turned by the things that Quirk and those fellows have been writing about her; but that's only natural. And if she showed her hand a little too freely in trying to interest you in her novel, you must remember how eager she is to succeed. You'll do what you can for her book--won't you, Maurice?"

Maurice Mangan, on his way home that night, had other things to think of than Lady Adela's poor little book. He saw clearly enough the embroilment into which Lionel had landed himself; but he could not see so clearly how he was to get out of it. One question he forgot to ask: what had induced that mood of petulance or recklessness, or both combined, in which Lionel had wilfully and madly pledged all his future life? However, the thing was done; here was his friend going forward to a _mariage de convenance (where there was very little _convenance_, to be sure) with a sort of careless indifference, if not of bravado; while his bride, on the other hand, might surely be pardoned if she resented, and indignantly resented, his attitude towards her. What kind of prospect was this for two young people? Maurice thought that on the very first opportunity he would go away down to Winstead and talk the matter over with Francie; who than she more capable of advising in aught concerning Lionel's welfare?

Notwithstanding his intercession with Maurice on behalf of Lady Adela's forthcoming novel, Lionel did not seem disposed to resume the friendly relations with the people up at Campden Hill which had formerly existed. He did not even call after the dinner-party. If Mr. Octavius Quirk were for the moment installed as chief favorite, he had no wish to interfere with him; there were plenty of other houses open, if one chose to go. But the fact is, Lionel now spent many afternoons and nearly every evening at the Garden Club; whist before dinner, poker after supper, being the established rule. Moreover, a new element had been introduced, as far as he was concerned. Mr. Percival Miles had been elected a member of the club, and had forthwith presented himself in the card-room, where he at once distinguished himself by his bold and intrepid play. The curious thing was that, while openly professing a kind of cold acquaintanceship, it was invariably against Lionel Moore that he made his most determined stand; with the other players he might play an ordinarily discreet and cautious game; but when Moore could be challenged, this pale-faced young man never failed promptly to seize the opportunity. And the worst of it was that he had extraordinary luck, both in the run of the cards and in his manoeuvres.

"What is that young whipper-snapper up to?" Lionel said to himself, after a particularly bad night (and morning) as he sat staring into the dead ashes of his fireplace. "He wanted to take my life--until my good angel interfered and saved me. Now does he want to break me financially? By Jove! they're coming near to doing it among them. I shall have to go to Moss to-morrow for another L250. Well, what does it matter? The luck must turn some time. If it doesn't?--if it doesn't?--then there may come the trip before the mast, as the final panacea, according to Maurice. Australia?--there would be freedom there, and perhaps forgetfulness."

As he was passing into his bedroom he chanced to observe a package that was lying on a chair, and for a second he glanced at the handwriting of the address. It was Miss Burgoyne's. What could she want with him now? He cut the string, and opened the parcel; behold, here was the brown-and-scarlet woollen vest that she had knitted for him with her own fair hands. Why these impatiently down-drawn brows? A true lover would have passionately kissed this tender token of affection, and bethought him of all the hours and half-hours and quarters of an hour during which she had been employed in her pretty task, no doubt thinking of him all the time. Alas! the love-gift was almost angrily thrown on to the chair again--and he went into his own room.

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