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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesPrince Fortunatus - Chapter 23. A Memorable Day
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Prince Fortunatus - Chapter 23. A Memorable Day Post by :nceea Category :Long Stories Author :William Black Date :May 2012 Read :1936

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Prince Fortunatus - Chapter 23. A Memorable Day


"...But do you know, dear Maurice, that you propose marrying a beggar; and, more than that, a most unabashed beggar, as you will be saying to yourself presently? The fact is, immediately after you left this afternoon, the post brought me a letter from Sister Alexandra, who tells me that two of her small children, suffering from hip-disease, must be sent home, for the doctors say they are getting no better, and the beds in the ward are wanted. They are not fit to be sent home, she writes; then all the country holiday money collected last summer has been spent, and what is she to do? Well, I have told her to send them on to me, and I shall take my chance of finding the L5 that will be necessary. The fact is, I happen to know one of the poor little things--Grace Wilson her name is, the dearest little mite. But the truth is, dear Maurice, I haven't a penny? for I have overdrawn the small allowance that comes to me quarterly, and spent it all. Now don't be vexed that I ask you, _so soon_, for a little help; a sovereign will do, if Linn will give another; and Linn has always been very good to me in this way, though for some time back I have been ashamed to take anything from him. The doctor grumbles, but gives me five shillings whenever I ask him; Auntie will give me the same; and the rest I can get from our friends and acquaintances about here. Don't be impatient with me, dear Maurice; and some day I will take you down to Whitechapel and show you the very prettiest sight in the whole world--and that is Sister Alexandra with her fifty children...."

Maurice Mangan read this passage as he was driving in a hansom along Pall Mall, on his way to call on Lionel. The previous portion of the letter, which more intimately concerned herself and himself, he had read several times over before coming out, studying every phrase of it as if it were an individual treasure, and trying to listen for the sound of her voice in every sentence. And as for this more practical matter, why, although he was rather a poor man, he thought he was not going to allow Frances to wander about in search of grudging shillings and half-crowns so long as he himself could come to her aid; so at the foot of St. James Street he stopped the hansom, went into the telegraph-office, and sent off the following message: "Five pounds will reach you to-morrow morning. You cannot refuse my first gift in our new relationship.--Maurice." And thereafter he went on to Piccadilly--feeling richer, indeed, rather than poorer.

When he rang the bell at Lionel's lodgings, it was with no very clear idea of the message or counsel he was bringing with him; but the news he now received put all these things out of his head. The house-porter appeared, looking somewhat concerned.

"Yes, sir, Mr. Moore is up-stairs; but I'm afraid he's very unwell."

"What is the matter?" Maurice asked, instantly.

"He must have got wet coming home last night, sir; and he has caught a bad cold. I've just been for Dr. Whitsen, and he will be here at twelve."

"But Dr. Whitsen is a throat doctor."

"Yes, sir; but it is always his throat Mr. Moore is most anxious about; and when he found himself husky this morning, he would take nothing but a raw egg beaten up and a little port-wine negus; and now he won't speak--he will only write on a piece of paper. He is saving himself for the theatre to-night, sir, I think that is it; but would you like to go up and see him?"

"Oh, yes, I will go up and see him," Mangan said; and without more ado he ascended the stairs and made his way into Lionel's bedroom.

He found his friend under a perfect mountain of clothes that had been heaped upon him; and certainly he was not shivering now--on the contrary, his face was flushed and hot, and his eyes singularly bright and restless. As soon as Lionel saw who this new-comer was, he made a sign that a block of paper and a pencil lying on the table should be brought to him; and, turning slightly, he put the paper on the pillow and wrote:

"I'm nursing my voice--hope to be all right by night--are you busy to-day, Maurice?"

"No; there is no House on Saturday," Maurice made answer.

"I wish you would stay by me," Lionel wrote, with rather a shaky hand. "I'm in dreadful trouble. I undertook to pay Percival Miles L1100 and Lord Rockminster L300 to-day without fail; and I haven't a farthing, and don't know where to send or what to do."

"Oh, never mind about money!" Maurice said, almost impatiently, for there was something about the young man's appearance he did not at all like. "Why should you worry about that? The important business is for you to get well."

"I tell you I _must pay Rockminster to-day," the trembling pencil scrawled. "He was the only one of them who stood my friend. I tell you I _must pay him--if I have to get up and go out and seek for the money myself."

"Nonsense!" Mangan exclaimed. "What do people care about a day or two, when they hear you are ill? However, you needn't worry, Linn. As for that other sum you mention, well, that is beyond me--I couldn't lay my hands on it at once; but as for the three hundred pounds, I will lend you that--so set your mind at rest on that point."

"And you'll give it into Lord Rockminster's own hands--_this day?_"

"Surely it will be quite the same if I send the check by a commissionaire; he must get it sooner or later."

The earnest, restless eyes looked strangely supplicating.

"Into his own hands, Maurice!"

"Very well, very well," Mangan had just time to say, for here was the doctor.

Dr. Whitsen examined his patient with the customary professional calm and reticence; asked a few questions, which Lionel answered with such husky voice as was left him; and then he said,

"Yes, you have caught a severe chill, and your system is feverish generally; the throat is distinctly congested--"

"But to-night, doctor--the theatre--to-night!" Lionel broke in, excitedly. "Surely by eight o'clock--"

"Oh, quite impossible; not to be thought of," the doctor responded, with decision.

"Why can't you do something to tide me over, for the one night?" the young man said, with appealing and almost pathetic eyes. "I've never disappointed the public once before, never once; and if I could only get over to-night, there's the long rest to-morrow and Monday."

"Come, come," said the doctor, soothingly, "you must not excite yourself about a mere trifle. You know it is no uncommon thing, and the public don't resent it; they would be most unreasonable if they did. Singers are but mortal like themselves. No, no, you must put that out of your mind altogether."

Lionel turned to Maurice.

"Maurice," he said, in that husky voice, and yet with a curious, subdued eagerness, "telegraph to Lehmann at once--at once. Doyle is all right; he has sung the part often enough. And will you send a note to Doyle; he can go into my dressing-room and take any of my things he wants; Lingard has the keys. And a telegram to mother, in case she should see something in the newspapers; tell her there is nothing the matter--only a trifling cold--"

"Really, Mr. Moore," said the doctor, interposing, "you must have a little care; you must calm yourself. I am sure your friend will attend to all these matters for you, but in the meantime you must exercise the greatest self-control, or you may do your throat some serious injury. Why should you be disturbed by so common an incident in professional life? Your substitute will do well enough, and the public will greet you with all the greater favor on your return."

"It never happened before," the young man said, in lower tones. "I never had to give in before."

"Now tell me," Dr. Whitsen continued. "Dr. Ballardyce is your usual medical attendant, is he not?"

"I know him very well; he is an old friend of mine, but I've never had occasion to trouble him much," was the answer, given with some greater care and reserve.

"I will call on him as I go by, and if possible we will come down together in the afternoon," the doctor said; and then Maurice fetched him writing materials from the other room, and he sat down at the little table. Before he went, he gave some general directions; then the two friends were left alone.

Lionel took up the pencil again, and turned to the block of paper.

"The L300, Maurice," his trembling fingers scrawled, showing how his mind was still torturing itself with those obligations.

"Oh, that's all right," Maurice answered, lightly. "You give me Lord Rockminster's address, and I'll take the check to him myself as soon as the doctors have been here in the afternoon. Don't you worry about that, Linn, or about anything; for you know you mustn't increase that feverishness, or we shall have you a right-down, _bona-fide patient on our hands; and then when will you get back to the theatre again? I am going out now to telegraph to Lehmann. But I don't think I need alarm the Winstead people; you see, they don't read the Sunday papers; and, indeed, if I send a note now to Francie, she will get it the first thing in the morning. Linn," he continued, after a moment's hesitation, "are you too much upset by your own affairs to listen to a bit of news? I came with the intention of telling you, but perhaps I'd better wait until you get over these present troubles."

Lionel looked at him, with those bright, restless eyes, for a second or two, as if to gather something from his expression; and then he wrote:

"Is it about Francie?"

Maurice nodded; it was enough. Lionel stretched out his hot hand and took that of his companion.

"I am glad," he said, in a low voice. And then, after a moment or two's thinking, he turned to his writing again: "Well, it _is hard, Maurice. I have been looking forward to this for many a day, and have been wondering how I should congratulate you both. And I get the news now--when I'm ruined. I haven't enough money even to buy a wedding-present for Francie!"

"Do you think she will mind that?" Mangan said, cheerfully. "But I'm going to send her your good wishes, Linn--now, when I write. And look here, if she should come up to see you, or your father and mother--for it is quite possible the doctors may insist on your giving your voice a rest for a considerable while--well, if they should come up from Winstead, mind you say nothing about your monetary troubles. They needn't be mentioned to anybody, nor need they worry you; I dare say I shall be able to get something more done; it will be all right. Only, if the Winstead people should come up, don't you say anything to them about these monetary affairs, or connect me with them; for it might put me into an awkward position--you understand?"

And the last words Lionel wrote on the block of paper before Mangan went out to execute his various commissions were these:

"You are a good friend, Maurice."

When the doctors arrived in the afternoon, Mangan had come back. They found Lionel complaining of acute headache and a burning thirst; his skin hot and dry; pulse full and quick; also, he seemed drowsy and heavy, though his eyes retained their restless brightness. There could be no doubt, as they privately informed Maurice, he was in the first stages of a violent fever; and the best thing that could be done was to get in a professional nurse at once. Yes, Mr. Mangan might communicate with his friends; his father, being himself a doctor, would judge whether it were worth while coming up just then; but, of course, it would be inadvisable to have a lot of relations crowding the sick-room. Obviously, the immediate cause of the fever was the chill caught on the previous night, but there might have been predisposing causes; and everything calculated to excite the mind unduly was to be kept away from him. As for the throat, there were no dangerous symptoms as yet; the simple congestion would probably disappear, when the fever abated, with a return to health; but the people at the theatre might as well know that it would be a long time before Mr. Moore could return to his duties. Dr. Ballardyce would see at once about having a professional nurse sent; meanwhile, quiet, rest, and the absence of mental disturbance were the great things. And so the two augurs departed.

The moment that Mangan returned to Lionel's room, the latter glanced at him quickly and furtively.

"Are they gone, Maurice?" he whispered.


"And the check--for Lord Rockminster?"

"There it is, already drawn out," was the answer, as the slip of lilac paper was unfolded; "but I can't take it to him until the nurse comes--certainly not."

"She may be an hour, Maurice," Lionel said, restlessly. "I don't want anybody to wait on me. If you think it necessary, call up Mrs. Jenkins, and she can sit in the next room; the bell here is enough. Oh, my head!--my head!"--and he turned away, wearily.

Maurice saw well enough that he would never rest until this money was paid, so he called up the house-porter's wife and gave her some instructions, and forthwith set off for the address in Palace Gardens Terrace which Lionel had given him. When he arrived there, he was informed that his lordship was not at home. He pressed his inquiries; he said his business was of the utmost importance; and at last he elicited, after considerable waiting, that, though no one in the house could say whither Lord Rockminster had gone, it was understood that he was dining at the Universities Club that evening. With this information Mangan returned to Piccadilly. He found the nurse already arrived and installed. He pacified Lionel with the news; for, if he went along to the Universities Club at half-past eight, he must surely be able to place the money in Lord Rockminster's own hands.

"Maurice, you're awfully kind," his friend murmured. "And you've had nothing to eat all day. Tell Mrs. Jenkins to get you something--"

"Oh, that's all right," Mangan said, carelessly. "I'll just scribble a line to Francie, to tell her what the doctors have said; and I'll take that down to the post myself. Then I'll get something to eat and come back here; and at half-past eight I'm going along to Pall Mall, where I'm certain to catch Lord Rockminster--so that it's all quite right and straight, you see."

But, as it chanced, when he went along to the Universities that evening, he found he had missed his man--by only a minute or two. He was surprised and troubled; he knew how Lionel would fret. The hall-porter did not know whither Lord Rockminster had gone; that is to say, he almost certainly did know, but it was not his business to tell. Luckily, at this same moment, there was a young fellow leaving the club, and, as he was lighting his cigar, he heard Maurice's inquiries--and perhaps was rather struck by his appearance, which was certainly not that of a sheriff's officer.

"I think I can tell you where they have gone, sir," said the young man, good-naturedly. "Some of them had an early dinner to-night, to go up to the billiard handicap at the Palm-Tree; I fancy Lord Rockminster was of the party, and that you will find him there."

This information proved correct. Mangan went up to the Palm-Tree Club in St. James Street and sent in his card. Almost directly he was invited to step up-stairs to the billiard-room. Just as he entered the door, he saw Lord Rockminster leave the raised bench where he had been seated by the side of a very artificial-looking palm-tree stem, and the next moment the two men were face to face.

"How do you do, Mr. Mangan?" Lord Rockminster said, in his usual impassive way. "You remember I had the pleasure of meeting you at my sister's. What is the matter with your friend Mr. Moore?--I see by the evening paper he is not to appear to-night."

"He is far from well--a chill followed by a fever," Mangan answered. "I have just come from him, with a message for you."

"Oh, really," said the young nobleman. "Ah, I dare say I know; but I assure you it is quite unnecessary. Tell him not to mind. When a fellow's ill, why should he be troubled?"

Maurice had taken out his pocket-book, and was searching for the lilac slip.

"But here is the check, Lord Rockminster; and nothing would do him but that I must give it into your own hands."

"Oh, really."

Lord Rockminster took the check, and happened to glance at it.

"Ah, I see this is drawn out by yourself, Mr. Mangan," he said. "I presume--eh--that you have lent Mr. Moore the money?"

Maurice hesitated, but there was no prevarication handy.

"If you ask the question, it is so. However, I suppose it is all the same."

"All the same?--yes," Lord Rockminster said, slowly; "with only this difference, that before he owed me the money, and now he owes it to you. I don't see any necessity for that arrangement. I haven't asked him for it; I sha'n't ask him for it until he is quite ready and able to pay; why, therefore, should he borrow from you? Take back your check, Mr. Mangan; I understand what you were willing to do for your friend; I assure you it is quite uncalled for."

But Maurice refused. He explained all the circumstances of the case--Lionel's feverish condition, his fretting about the debt, the necessity for keeping his mind pacified, and so on; and at last Lord Rockminster said,

"Very well; you can tell him you have given me the check. At the same time you can't compel me to pay it into my bankers'; and I don't see why I should take three hundred pounds of your money when you don't owe me any. When Mr. Moore gets perfectly well again, you can tell him he still owes me three hundred pounds--and he can take his own time about paying it." And with that Maurice took his leave, Lord Rockminster going down the stair with him and out to the hall-door, where he bade him good-bye.

When he returned to Piccadilly, he said to the nurse,

"I suppose you can sleep at a moment's notice?"

"Pretty well, sir," she answered, with a demure professional smile.

"Then you'd better find out this room that Mrs. Jenkins has got for you, and lie down for a few hours. I sha'n't be leaving until after midnight--perhaps one or two o'clock. Then, when I go, you can have this sofa here; and I shall be back early in the morning, to give you another rest."

"Thank you, sir."

He went into the adjoining room.

"Headache any better, Linn, my boy?" he asked, stooping over the bed.

There was no answer for a second or two; then the eyes were opened, showing a drowsy, pained expression.

"Did you see him, Maurice?"

"Oh, yes, that's all settled," Mangan said, cheerfully. "I can't say there is much of the grasping creditor about your friend. I could hardly persuade him to take the check at all, after I had hunted him from place to place. What made you so desperately punctilious, Linn? You don't imagine he would have talked about it to any women-folk, even supposing you had not paid up? Is that it? No, no, you can't imagine he would do anything of that kind; I should call him a thoroughly good fellow, if one might be so familiar with his betters. However, I don't want you to say anything; you mustn't speak; I'm going to talk to you." He drew in a chair to the bedside and sat down. "Now I wish you to understand. You've got a mortal bad cold, which may develop into a fever; and you have a slightly congested throat; altogether you must consider yourself an invalid, old man; and it may be some time before you can get back to the theatre. Now the first thing for you is peace of mind; you're not to worry about anything; you've got to dismiss every possible care and vexation."

"It's all you know, Maurice," the sick man said, with a wearied sigh.

"Oh, I know more than you think. We'll just take one thing at a time. About this eleven hundred pounds for example. You are aware I am not, strictly speaking, a Croesus, yet I have made my little economies, and they are tied up in one or two fairly safe things. Well, now--Oh, be quiet, Linn, and let me have it out! Something happened to me yesterday that more than ever convinced me of the worthlessness of riches. You know the coppice that goes up from Winstead station. At the farther end there is a gate. At that gate yesterday I heard a dozen words--twenty or thirty, perhaps--that were of more value to me than Pactolus in full flood or all the money heaped up in Aladdin's cave. And now I am so puffed up with joy and pride that I am going still further to despise my wealth--my hoards and vast accumulations; and on Monday, if I can, I am going to get you that eleven hundred pounds, just as sure as ever was--"

"Maurice--you have to think of Francie," Lionel said, in his husky, low voice. And here Mangan paused for a second or two.

"Well," said he, more thoughtfully, "what happened yesterday certainly involves responsibilities; but these haven't been assumed yet; and the nearest duty is the one to be considered. I don't know whether I shall tell Francie; I may, or I may not; but I am certain that if I do she will approve--certain as that I am alive."

"I won't rob Francie," said Lionel, with a little moan of weariness or pain.

"You can't rob her of what she hasn't got," Mangan said, promptly. "I know this, that if Francie knew you were in these straits and worrying about it, she would instantly come up and offer you her own little money--which is not a very large fortune, as I understand; and I also know that you would refuse it."

"A dose of prussic acid first," Lionel murmured, to himself.

"Prussic acid!--Bosh!" said Maurice. "What is the use of talking rubbish! Well, I'm not going to let you talk at all. I'm going to read you the news out of the evening papers until you go to sleep."

When Dr. Ballardyce called next morning, he found that the fever had gained apace; all the symptoms were aggravated--the temperature, in especial, had seriously increased. The sick man lay drowsily indifferent, now and again moaning slightly; but sometimes he would waken up, and then there was a curiously anxious and restless look in his eyes. The nurse said she was afraid he had not been asleep at all, though occasionally he had appeared to be asleep. When the doctor left again, she was sent to bed, and Maurice Mangan took her place in the sitting-room.

That was an extraordinary Sunday, long to be remembered. Anything more hopelessly dismal than the outlook from those Piccadilly windows it was impossible to imagine. The gale of Friday had blown itself out in rain; and that had been followed by stagnant weather and a continuous drizzle; so that the trees in the Green Park opposite looked like black phantoms in the vague gray mist; while everything seemed wet and clammy and cold. Maurice paced up and down the room, his feet shod in noiseless slippers; or he gazed out on that melancholy spectacle until he thought of suicide; or again he would go into the adjoining apartment, to see how his friend was getting on or whether he wanted anything. But as the day wore on, matters became a little brisker; for there were numerous callers, and some of them waited to have a special message sent down to them; while others, knowing Mangan, and learning that he was in charge of the invalid, came up to have a word with himself. Baskets of flowers began to arrive, too; and these, of course, must have come from private conservatories. No one was allowed to enter the sick-room; but Maurice carried thither the news of all this kindly remembrance and sympathy, as something that might be grateful to his patient.

"You've got a tremendous number of friends, Linn, and no mistake," he said. "Many a great statesman or poet might envy you."

"I suppose it is in the papers?" Lionel asked, without raising his head.

"In one or two of the late editions last evening, and in most of to-day's papers; but to-morrow it will be all over the country. I have had several London correspondents here this afternoon."

"All over the country?" Lionel repeated, absently, and then he lay still for a second or two. "No use--no use!" he moaned, in so low a voice that Mangan could hardly hear. And then again he looked up wearily.

"Come here, Maurice. I want to--to ask you something. If--if I were to die--do you think--they would put it in any of the papers abroad?"

"Nonsense--what are you talking about?" Maurice exclaimed, in a simulated anger. "Talking of dying--because you've got a feverish cold; that's not like you, Linn! You're not going to frighten your people when they come up from Winstead, by talking like that?"

"Don't let them come up," was all he said, and shut his eyes again.

Among the callers that afternoon who, learning that Mr. Mangan was up-stairs, came personally to make inquiries, was Miss Burgoyne, who was accompanied by her brother.

"What is the matter?" she said, briefly, to Maurice. "One never can trust what is in the newspapers."

He told her.


"That depends," he said, in a low voice, as they stood together at the window. "I hope not. But I suppose the fever will have to run its course."

"It will be some time before he can be back at the theatre?"

"It will be a very long time. There is some slight congestion of the throat as well. When he pulls through with the fever, he will most likely be sent abroad, for rest to his throat."

She considered for a second or two; then she said, with a matter-of-fact air:

"They needn't make a fuss about that. His throat will be all right. It is only repeated congestions that seriously affect the membrane; and he has been exceptionally lucky--or exceptionally strong, perhaps. Who is his doctor?"

"Dr. Ballardyce."

"Don't know him."

"Then there's Dr. Whitsen."

"Oh, _that's all right--_he'll do. It's the voice that's the important thing; the general system must take its chance. Well, tell him I'm very sorry. I suppose there's nothing one can send him?"

"Thank you, I don't think there is anything. Look at the flowers and grapes and things there--already--and this is Sunday."

She glanced at those gifts with open disdain.

"Very easy for rich folks to show their sympathy by sending an order to their head-gardener!"

"I will tell him that you called, and left kind messages for him."

"Yes, tell him that. And tell him Doyle does very well--fairly well--though he's as nervous as a pantomime-girl hoisted in a transformation-scene. If I were you," continued this extremely practical young lady, "I wouldn't tell any of the newspaper men that it may be a considerable time before Mr. Moore is back. Nobody likes to lose touch of the public more than he can help, you know; and if they're always expecting you back, that's something. Good-bye!"

Maurice accompanied her down-stairs and to the door; then he returned to the sitting-room and to his private meditations. For this brief interview had been of the keenest interest to him; he had studied every expression of her face, listened to every intonation of her voice; almost forced, in spite of himself, to admire her magnificent nerve. But now, of course, in recalling all these things, he was thinking of Francie; as a man invariably does when he places the one woman of the world on a pedestal, that all the rest of her sex may be compared with her; and even his extorted admiration of the prima-donna's coolness and self-possession and business-like tact did not prevent his rejoicing at the thought that Francie and Miss Burgoyne were poles asunder.

That evening Maurice was startled. He had gone very quietly into the sick-room, just to see how his patient was getting on, and found him breathing heavily and also restlessly muttering to himself. Perhaps even the slight noise of his entrance had attracted the notice of one abnormally sensitive; at all events, Lionel opened his eyes, which were no longer drowsy, but eager and excited, and said,

"Maurice, have you not sent for Nina yet?"

"For Nina?"

"Oh, yes, yes," Lionel went on, as quickly as his laboring breath would allow. "How can I go abroad without saying good-bye to Nina? Tell Jenkins to go down to Sloane Street at once--at once, Maurice--before she leaves for the theatre. I have been waiting for her all day--I heard the people coming up--one after another--but not Nina. And I cannot go without saying good-bye. I want to tell her something. She must make friends with Miss Burgoyne, now she has got into the theatre. Lehmann will give her a better part by and by--oh, yes, I'll see to that for Nina--and I must write to Pandiani, to tell him of her success--"

"Oh, but that's all settled, Linn," his friend broke in, perceiving the situation at once. "Now you just keep quiet, and it will be all perfectly arranged--perfectly. Of course I know you are glad your old friend and companion has got a place in the theatre."

"Yes, she was my friend--she was my friend once," he said, and he looked appealingly at Maurice? "but--but I sometimes think--sometimes it is my head--that there is something wrong. Can you tell me, Maurice? There is something--I don't know what--but it troubles me--I cannot tell what it is. When she was here to-day, she would not speak to me. She came and looked. She stood by the door there. She had on the black dress and the crimson bonnet--but she had forgotten her music. I thought, perhaps, she was going down to the theatre--but why wouldn't she speak to me, Maurice? She did not look angry--she looked like--like--oh, just like Nina--and I could not ask her why she would not say anything--my throat was so bad--"

"Yes, I know that, Linn," Maurice said, gently, "and that is why you mustn't talk any more now. You must lie still and rest, so that you may take your place in the theatre again--"

"But haven't they told you I am never going to the theatre again?" he said, eagerly. "Oh, no; as soon as I can I am going away abroad--I am going away all over the world--to find some one. You said she was my friend and my good comrade--do you think I could let her be away in some distant place, and all alone? I could not rest in my grave! It may be Malta, or Cairo, or Australia, or San Francisco; but that is what I am set on. I have thought of it so long that--that I think my head has got tired, and my heart a little bit broken, as they say, only I never believed in that. Never mind, Maurice, I am going away to find Nina--ah, that will be a surprise some day--a surprise just as when she first came here--into the room--in the black dress and the crimson bonnet--_la cianciosella_, she was going away again!--she was always so proud and easily offended--always the _cianciosella_!"

He turned a little, and moaned, and lay still; and Maurice, fearing that his presence would only add to this delirious excitement, was about to slip from the room, when his sick friend called him back.

"Maurice, don't forget this now! When she comes again, you must stand by her at the door there, and tell her not to be frightened: I am not so very ill. Tell Nina not to be frightened. She used not to be frightened. Ask her to remember the afternoons when I had the broken ankle--she and Sabetta Debernardi used to come nearly every day--and Sabetta brought her zither--and Nina and I played dominoes. Maurice, you never heard Nina sing to herself--just to herself, not thinking--and sometimes Sabetta would play a _barcarola_--oh, there was one that Nina used to sing sometimes--'_Da la parte de Castelo_--_ziraremo mio tesoro_--_mio tesoro!_--_la passara el Bucintoro_--_per condur el Dose in mar'_--I heard it last night again--but--but all stringed instruments--and the sound of wind and waves--it was so strange and terrible--when I was listening for Nina's voice. I think it was at Capri--along the shores--but it was night-time--and I could not hear Nina because of the wind and the waves. Oh, it was terrible, Maurice! The sea was roaring all round the shores--and it was so black--only I thought if the water were about to come up and drown me, it might--it might take me away somewhere--I don't know where--perhaps to the place where Nina's ship went down in the dark. Why did she go away, Maurice?--why did she go away from us all?--the poor _cianciosella_!"

These rambling, wearied, broken utterances were suddenly arrested: there was a tapping at the outer door--and Lionel turned frightened, anxious eyes on his friend.

"I'll go and see who it is," Mangan said, quietly. "Meanwhile you must lie perfectly quiet and still, Linn, and be sure that everything will come right."

In the next room, at the open door, he found the reporter of a daily newspaper which was in the habit of devoting a column every Monday morning to music and musicians. He was bidden to enter. He said he wished to have the last authentic news of the condition of the popular young baritone, for of course there would be some talk, especially in "the profession," about Mr. Moore's non-appearance on the preceding night.

"Well," said Maurice, in an undertone, "don't publish anything alarming, you know, for he has friends and relatives who are naturally anxious. The fever has increased somewhat; that is the usual thing; a nervous fever must run its course. And to-night he has been slightly delirious--"

"Oh, delirious?" said the reporter, with a quick look.

"Slightly--slightly--just wandering a little in his feverishness. I wouldn't make much of it. The public don't care for medical details. When the crisis of the fever comes, there will be something more definite to mention."

"If all goes well, when do you expect he will be able to return to the New Theatre?"

"That," said Maurice, remembering Miss Burgoyne's hint, "it is quite impossible to say."

"Thanks," said the reporter. "Good-night." And therewith Mangan returned to the sick-room.

He found that Lionel had forgotten all about having been startled into silence by the tapping at the outer door. His heated brain was busy with other bewildering possibilities now.

"Maurice--Maurice!" he said, eagerly. "It is near the time--quick, quick!--get me the box--behind the music--on the piano--"

"Look here, Linn," said his friend, with some affectation of asperity, "you must really calm yourself and be silent, or I shall have to go and sit in the other room. You are straining your throat every time you speak, and exciting yourself as well."

"Ah, and it is my last chance!" Lionel said, piteously, and with burning eyes. "If you only knew, Maurice, you would not refuse!"

"Well, tell me quietly what you want," Mangan said.

"The box--on the top of the piano," Lionel made answer, in a low voice, but his eyes were tremblingly anxious. "Quick, Maurice!"

Mangan went and without any difficulty found the box that held Nina's trinkets, and returned with it.

"Open it!" Lionel said, clearly striving to conceal his excitement. "Yes, yes--put those other things aside--yes, that is it--the two cups--take them separate; it isn't twelve yet, is it? No, no; there will be time; now put them on the table by the window there--yes, that is it--now pour some wine into them--never mind what, Maurice, only be quick!"

Well, he could not refuse this appeal; he thought that most likely the yielding to these incoherent wishes would prove the best means of pacifying the fevered mind; so he went into the next room and brought back some wine, and half filled the two tiny goblets.

"Now, wait, Maurice," Lionel said, slowly, and in a still lower voice, though his eyes were afire. "Wait and watch--closely, closely--don't breathe or speak. It is near twelve. Watch! Do not take your eyes off them; and at twelve o'clock, when you see one of the cups move, then you must seize it--seize it, and seize Nina's hand!--and hold her fast! Oh, I can tell you she will not leave us any more--not when I have spoken to her and told her how cruel it was of her to go away. I do not know where she is now; but at twelve, all of a sudden, there will be a kind of trembling of the air--that is Nina--for she has been here before; how long to twelve now, Maurice?" he asked, eagerly.

"Oh, it is a long time till twelve yet," his friend said. "I think, if I were you, I would try to sleep for an hour or two; and I'll go into the other room so as not to disturb you."

"No, no, Maurice," Lionel said, with panting vehemence. "You must not stir! It is quite near, I tell you--it is close on twelve--watch the cups, Maurice, and be ready to spring up and seize her hand and hold her fast. Quite near twelve--surely I hear something--it is something outside the window--like stringed instruments--and waves, dark waves--no, no! Maurice, Maurice! it is in the next room!--it is some one sobbing!--it is Nina!--Nina!"

He uttered a loud shriek and struggled wildly to raise himself; but Maurice, with gentle pressure and persuasive words, got him to lie still.

"It is past twelve now, Linn; and you see there has been nothing. We must wait; and some day we will find out all about Nina for you. Of course you would like to know about your old companion. Oh, we'll find her, rest assured!"

Lionel had turned away, and was lying moaning and muttering to himself. The only phrase his companion could make out was something about "a wide, wide sea--and all dark."

But Maurice, finding him now comparatively quiet, stealthily put back the various trinkets into the box and carried it into the other room. And then, hearing no further sound, he remained there--remained until the nurse came down to take his place.

He told her what had occurred; but she was familiar with these things, and doubtless knew much better than himself how to deal with such emergencies. At the street-door he paused to light his pipe--his first smoke that day, and surely well-earned. Then he went away through the dark thoroughfares down to Westminster, not without much pity and sadness in his mind, also perhaps with some curious speculations--as to the lot of poor, luckless mortals, their errors and redeeming virtues, and the vagrant and cruel buffetings of fate.

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Prince Fortunatus - Chapter 24. Friends In Need Prince Fortunatus - Chapter 24. Friends In Need

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CHAPTER XXIV. FRIENDS IN NEEDOn the Monday morning matters were so serious that Mangan telegraphed down to Winstead; but the old doctor and his wife and Francie were already on their way to town. When they arrived in Piccadilly, and went into the sick-room, Lionel did not know them; most likely he merely confused them with the crowding phantoms of his brain. He was now in a high state of fever, but the delirium was not violent; he lay murmuring and moaning, and it was only chance phrases they could catch--about some one being lost--and a wide and dark sea--and so

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CHAPTER XXII. PRIUS DEMENTATWhen Maurice Mangan left the train at Winstead, and climbed out of the deep chalk cutting in which the station is buried, and emerged upon the open downs, he found himself in a very different world from that he had left. Far away behind him lay the great city (even now the dusky dome of St. Paul's was visible across the level swathes of landscape), with its miry ways and teeming population and continuous thunder of traffic; while here were the windy skies of a wild March morning and swaying trees and cawing rooks and air that was