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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesPrince Fortunatus - Chapter 24. Friends In Need
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Prince Fortunatus - Chapter 24. Friends In Need Post by :Michelleneous Category :Long Stories Author :William Black Date :May 2012 Read :3526

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Prince Fortunatus - Chapter 24. Friends In Need

CHAPTER XXIV. FRIENDS IN NEED

On 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 forth. Sometimes he fancied that Nina was standing at the door, and he would appeal piteously to her, and then sink back with a sigh, as if convinced once more that it was only a vision. The Winstead people took apartments for themselves at a hotel in Half-Moon Street; but of course they spent nearly all their time in this sitting-room, where they could do little but listen to the reports of the doctors, and wait and hope.

In the afternoon Mangan said,

"Francie, you're not used to sitting in-doors all day; won't you come out for a little stroll in the Park over there?"

"And I'm sure you want a breath of fresh air as much as any one, Mr. Mangan," the old lady said. "What would my boy have done without you all this time?"

Francie at once and obediently put on her things, and she and Maurice went down-stairs and crossed the street and entered the Park, where they could walk up and down the unfrequented ways and talk as they pleased.

"I suppose you will be going down to the House of Commons almost directly?" she asked.

"Oh, no," he answered. "I've begged off. I could not think of getting to work while Linn is so ill as that."

"Do you know what I have been thinking all day, Maurice?" she said, gently. "When I saw you with the doctors, and when I heard of all you have done since Saturday morning--well, I could not help thinking that there must be something fine about Lionel to have secured him such a friend."

He looked at her with some surprise.

"But you have been his friend--all these years!" he said.

"Ah, that's different; we were brought up together. Tell me--the Nina he is always talking about--I suppose that is the Italian girl who was at the theatre, and whom he knew in Naples--he used to write home about her--"

(Illustration: "_He uttered a loud shriek, and struggled wildly to raise himself._")

"Yes," he said; "and it is only now I am beginning to understand something of the situation. I do believe mental distress has had as much to do with bringing on this fever as anything else; the chill may have been only an accident that developed it. I told you when I saw him, before he was struck down, how he seemed to be all at sixes and sevens with himself--everything wrong--worried, harassed, and sick of life, though he would hardly explain anything; he was always too proud to ask for pity. Well, now, I am piecing together a story, out of these incoherent appeals and recollections that come into his delirium; and if I am right, it is a sad enough one, for it seems to me so hopeless. I believe he was all the time in love with that Nina--Miss Ross--and did not know it; for their association, their companionship, was so constant, so like an intimate friendship. Then there seems to have been some misunderstanding, and she went away unexpectedly--there is a box of jewels and trinkets on the top of the piano, and I am certain these were what she sent back to him when she left. I don't think he has the slightest idea where she is; and that is troubling him more than anything else--"

"But, Maurice," said Francie, instantly, "could we not find out where she is?--surely she would come and see him and pacify his mind; it would just make all the difference! Surely we could find out where she is!"

Mangan hesitated; it was not the first time this idea had occurred to himself.

"I am afraid," said he, "that, even if we knew where she was, it would be rather awkward to approach her. There may have been something about her going away that prevented Linn from trying to find her out. For one thing, his engagement to Miss Burgoyne. I believe he blundered into that in a sort of reckless despair; but there it is; and there it is likely to be, unfortunately--"

"But surely, surely, Maurice," said Francie, "Miss Ross would not make that any obstacle if she knew that her coming would give peace and rest to one who is dangerously ill. Surely she would not think of such a thing at such a time--"

"And then again," he said, "the chances are all against our finding her, if she wishes to remain concealed, or even absent. Linn talks of Malta, of Australia, of San Francisco, and so on; but I don't believe he has the slightest idea where she is. No, I'm afraid it's no use thinking of it; the crisis of the fever will be here before any such thing could be tried."

Then he said, presently,

"I had a visit from Miss Burgoyne yesterday afternoon."

"I suppose she was terribly distressed," Francie said, naturally enough.

"Oh, no. On the contrary, she was remarkably cool and composed. I almost admired her self-possession. She does not think Lionel's throat will suffer; and no doubt she trusts to his sound constitution to pull him through the fever; so perhaps there is not much reason that she should betray any anxiety. Oh, yes, she was very brave about it--and--and business-like. At the same time I confess to a sort of prejudice in favor of feminine women. I think a little touch of femininity might improve Miss Burgoyne, for example. However, she knows she is in possession; and if Linn pulls through all right, there she is, waiting for him."

It seemed to Francie that her companion had managed to form a pretty strong dislike towards that young lady, considering how little he could possibly know of her.

"I suppose one ought not to contemplate such things," he continued, "but if Linn were to come out of the fever with the loss of his voice, I suspect he would have little trouble in freeing himself from that engagement with Miss Burgoyne."

"But surely a woman could not be so base as to keep a man to an unwilling engagement!" Francie protested, as she had protested before.

"I don't know about that," her companion said. "As I told you, Miss Burgoyne is a business-like person. Linn, with his handsome figure and his fine voice, with his popularity and social position, is a very desirable match for her; but Linn become a nobody--his voice gone--his social success along with it--would be something entirely different. At the same time, Dr. Whitsen agrees with her in thinking there won't be any permanent injury; it is the fever that is the serious thing."

They went back to the house; the reports were no better. And all that night Lionel's fevered imaginings did not cease. He was haunted now by visions of cruelties and sufferings being inflicted on some one he knew in a far-distant land; he pleaded with the torturers; he called for help; sometimes he said she was dead and released, and there was no more need for him to go away in a ship to seek for her. The wearied brain could get no rest at all. Daylight came, and still he lay there, moaning and murmuring to himself. But help was at hand.

Between ten and eleven, Dr. Ballardyce, who had paid his usual morning visit, was going away, and Maurice, as his custom was, went down-stairs with him to hear the last word. He said good-bye to the doctor and opened the door for him; and just as he did so he found before him a young woman who was about to ring the bell. She glanced up with frightened eyes; he was no less startled; and then, with a hurried "I beg your pardon," she turned to go away. But Maurice was by her side in a moment--bareheaded as he was.

"Miss Ross!" he exclaimed--for surely, surely, he could not have mistaken the pale olive face and the beautiful, soft, dark, lustrous eyes; nay, he made bold to put his hand on her arm, so determined was he to detain her.

"I--I only wished to hear how he was--but--but not that he should know," Nina said (she was all trembling, and her lips were pale).

"Oh, yes," Mangan said. "But you must not go away--I have something to tell you--come in-doors! You know he is seriously ill--you cannot refuse!"

There was but an intervening step or two; she timidly followed and entered the little hall; and he closed the door after them.

"Is he so very ill?" she said, in a low voice. "I saw it in the newspapers--I could not wait--but he is not to know that I came--"

"But--but I have something to say to you," he answered her, somewhat breathlessly, for he was uncertain what to do; he only knew that she must not go. "Yes, he is very ill--and distressed--his brain is excited--and we want to calm him. Surely you will come and speak to him--"

She shrank back involuntarily, and there was a pathetic fear in the large, timid eyes.

"Me? No--no!" she said. "Ah, no, I could not do that! Is he so very ill?"

Tears stood in the long, black lashes, and she turned her head away.

"But you don't understand," Maurice said, eagerly. "All the way through this illness, it is about you he has been grieving; you have never been out of his thoughts; and if you saw his distress, I know you would do anything in your power to quiet him a little. It is what his cousin said yesterday. 'If we could only find Miss Ross,' she said, 'that would be everything; that would bring him rest; he would be satisfied that she was well, and remembering him, and not gone away forever.' I never expected to see you; I thought it was useless trying to find you; but now--now--you cannot be so cruel as to refuse him this comfort! You would be sorry if you saw him. Perhaps he might not recognize you--probably not. But if you could persuade him that you really were in London--that you would come some other day soon to see him again--I know that would pacify him, just when peace of mind is all-important. Now, can you refuse?"

"No, no," Nina said, in a low voice; "you will do with me what you like. It is no matter--what it is to me. Do with me as you please." And then again she turned her large, dark eyes upon him, as if to make sure he was not deceiving her. "Did you say that--that he remembered me--that he had asked for me?"

"Remember you! If you only could have heard the piteous way he has talked of you--always and always--and of your going away. I have such a lot I could tell you! He had those loving-cups filled one night--there was some fancy in his head he could call you back--"

She was sobbing a little; but she bravely dried her tears, and said,

"Tell me what I am to do."

But that was precisely what he did not know himself--for a moment. He considered.

"Come up-stairs," he said. "His family are there. I will tell him a visitor has called to see him. He often thinks you are there, but that you won't speak to him. Well, you will just say a few words, to convince him, and as quietly as you can, and come out again. Perhaps he will take it all as a matter of course; and that will be well; and I will tell him you will come again, after he has had some sleep. Of course you must be very calm too; there must be no excitement."

"No, no," Nina murmured, in the same low voice, and she followed him up-stairs.

On entering the sitting-room she glanced apprehensively at those strangers; but Francie, divining in an instant who she was and why Maurice had brought her hither, immediately came to her and pressed her hand, in silence.

Maurice went into the sick-room.

"Linn," said he, cheerfully, "I've brought you a visitor; but she can't stay very long; she will come again some other time. You've always been asking about Miss Ross, and why she didn't come to see you; well, here she is!"

Lionel slowly opened his tired eyes and looked towards the door; but he seemed to take no interest in the girl who was standing there, pale, trembling, and quite forgetting all she had been enjoined to do. Lionel, with those restless, fatigued eyes, regarded her for but a second--then he turned away, shaking his head. He had seen that illusory phantom so often!

"Linn," said his friend, reproachfully, "when Miss Ross comes to see you, are you not going to say a word to her?"

It was Nina herself who interrupted him. She uttered a little cry of appeal and pity--"Leo!" She went quickly forward, and threw herself on her knees by the bedside, and seized his hand, and bathed it with her hot tears. "Leo, do you not know me! I am Nina! If you wish me to come back--see! see!--I am here! I kiss your hand--it is Nina!"

He looked at her strangely, and turned with bewildered eyes to Maurice.

"Maurice, is it twelve o'clock? Has she really come this time? Did you hear her speak just now? Is it Nina--at last! at last!"

With her head still bowed down, and her whole frame shaken with her sobbing, but still clasping his hand, she murmured to him some phrase--Maurice guessed it was in the familiar Neapolitan dialect; for Lionel presently said to her--slowly, because of his heavy breathing:

"Ah, you are still _la cianciosella_!--but you have come back--and not to go away. I have forgotten so many things. My head is not well. But wait a little while, Nina--wait a little while--"

"Oh, yes, Leo," she said, and she rose and dried her eyes, with her head turned aside somewhat. "I will wait until you have plenty of time to tell me. I shall come and see you whenever you want me."

She looked at Maurice humbly for directions; his eyes plainly said--yes, it was time she should withdraw. She went into the other room--rather blindly, as it seemed to her--and she sank into a chair, still trembling and exhausted; but Francie was by her side in a moment.

"Did he know you?" she asked in an undertone.

"Yes, I think," Nina answered. "But oh, he looks so strange--so different. He has suffered. It is terrible; but I am glad that I came--"

"It is so kind of you--for I see you are so tired!" said Francie, in her gentle way. "Perhaps you have been travelling?"

"Only last night--but I did not sleep any--"

"Shall I get you some tea?" was the next inquiry.

But here the old doctor, who had been stealthily moving about the room, interfered, and produced a biscuit-box and a decanter of port wine and a glass; while the old lady begged Miss Ross to take off her cloak and remain with them a little while. At this moment Mangan came out from the sick-room.

"Doctor," said he in a whisper, "you must go in presently; I think you'll see a difference. He is quite pleased and content--talking to himself a little, but not complaining any more. Twice he has said, 'Maurice, Nina has spoken at last.'"

There was a tinkle of a bell; Maurice answered it with the swiftness of a nurse in a hospital. He returned in a minute, looking a little puzzled.

"He wants to make quite sure you have been here," he said to Nina, in the same undertone; "and I told him you were in the next room, but that you were tired, and could not see him just now. No, I don't think it would do for you to go back at present--what do you say, doctor?--he seems so much more tranquil, and it would be a pity to run any risk. But if you could just let him know you were here--he might hear your talking to us--that would be no harm--"

(Illustration: "_She threw herself on her knees by the bedside and seized his hand._")

"I know how to tell Leo that I am here," Nina said, simply; and she went to the piano and opened it. Then, with the most exquisite softness, she began to play some familiar Neapolitan airs--slowly and gently, so that they must have sounded in the sick-chamber like mere echoes of song coming from across wide waters. And would he not understand that it was Nina who was speaking to him; that she was only a few yards from him; and not the ghostly Nina who had so often come to the sick-room door and remained there strangely silent, but the wilful, gentle, capricious, warm-hearted _cianciosella who had kissed his hand but a little while ago, and wept over it, amid her bitter sobs. These were love-songs for the most part that she was playing; but that was neither here nor there; the soft, rippling notes were more like the sound of a trickling waterfall in some still summer solitude. "_Cannetella, oje Cannete!_" "_Chello che tu me dice, Nenna, non boglio fa._" "_Io te voglio bene assaje, e tu non pienz' a me!_" He would know it was Nina who was playing for him--until slowly and more slowly, and gently and more gently, the velvet-soft notes gradually ceased, and at length there was silence.

Old Mrs. Moore went over to the girl and patted her affectionately on the shoulder and kissed her.

"Lionel has told us a great deal about you," the old lady said; "even when he was in Naples we seemed to know you quite well; and now I hope we shall be friends."

And Nina made answer, with downcast eyes:

"Whenever you wish it, madame, I shall be glad to come and play a little--if he cares to hear the Neapolitan airs that he used to know in former days."

Yes, there was no doubt that this opportune visit had made a great difference in Lionel's condition; for, though the fever did not abate--and could not be expected to abate until the crisis had been reached, there were no more of those agonized pleadings and murmurings that showed such deep distress of mind. Frequently, indeed, he seemed to know nothing of what had occurred; he would talk of Nina as being in Naples or as having gone down to the theatre; but all the same he was more tranquil. As for Nina, she said she would do just as they wished. She had arrived in London that morning, and had gone to Mrs. Grey's, in Sloane Street, and engaged a room. She could go down there now, and wait until she was sent for, if they thought it would please Lionel to know that one of his former companions had come to see him. She put it very prettily and modestly; it was only as an old ally and comrade of Lionel's that she was here; perhaps he might be glad to know of her presence. Or, if they thought that might disturb him, she would not come back at all; she would be content to hear, from time to time, how the fever was going on, if she might be permitted to call and ask the people below.

It was Maurice who answered her.

"If you don't mind, Miss Ross," said he, "I should like you to be here just as much as ever you found convenient. I keep telling Lionel you are in the next room; and that, at any moment he wants, you will play some of those Neapolitan airs for him; and he seems satisfied. It has been the worst part of his delirium that he fancied you were away in some distant place and were being cruelly ill-used, and he has excited himself dreadfully about it. Well, we don't want that to come back; and if at any moment I can say, 'But look!--here is Nina'--I beg your pardon!" said Mangan, blushing furiously, and looking as sheepish as a caught school-boy. "I mean if I could say to him, 'Look! here is Miss Ross, perfectly safe and well,' that would pacify him."

"And if you are fatigued after your journey," said Dr. Moore, who was a firm believer in the fine, old-fashioned fortifying theory, "we shall be having our midday meal by and by, in a room up-stairs, and I'm sure we'll make you heartily welcome."

"And I think, my dear," said the mother, rising from her chair and taking the girl kindly by the hand, "that if you and I and Francie were to go up there now we should be more out of the way; and there would be no chance of our talking being heard."

It was at this plain but substantial midday meal, served in an up-stairs room, that Nina incidentally told them something of her adventures and experiences during the past six months, though, of course, nothing was said about her reasons for leaving London. Maurice happened to inquire where it was that she had heard of Lionel's illness.

"In Glasgow," said Nina. "I saw about it in a newspaper yesterday; I came up by the train last night, because--because--" here some slight color appeared in the pale, clear complexion--"because if an old friend is very ill one wishes to be near." And perhaps it was to escape from this little embarrassment that she proceeded to say: "Oh, they are so kind, the Glasgow people; I have never seen such domesticity." She glanced at Maurice, as if to see whether the word was right; then she went on. "When I was engaged by the director of the Saturday Evening Concerts he told me that they had to change their singers frequently; that if I wished to remain in Glasgow or Edinburgh I must sing at private concerts and give lessons to have continual employment. And there was not much difficulty; oh, they are so enthusiastic, the Scotch people, about music!--to sing in the St. Andrew's Hall or the City Hall--and especially if you sing one of their own Scotch songs--the enthusiasm, the applause--it is like fire going through the nerves. Well, it is very pleasant, but it is not enough employment, even though I get one or two other engagements, like the Edinburgh Orchestral Festival. No, it is not enough; but then I began to sing at musical evenings, in the fashionable private houses, and also to give lessons in the daytime; and then it was I began to know the kindness of that people, their consideration, their benignitance to a stranger, their good-humor, and good wishes to you. Oh, a little brusque sometimes, the father of a family, perhaps; the lady of the house and her daughters--never! More than once a lady has said to me, 'What, are you all alone in this big town?--my daughters will call for you to-morrow and take you to the Botanic Gardens; and after you will come back to tea.' Or, again, they have shown me photographs of a beautiful large house--like a castle, almost--on the side of a hill, among trees; and they say, 'That is our house in the summer; it is by the sea; if you are here in the summer, you must come and stay with us, and you will play lawn-tennis with the girls and go boating with them and fishing all day; then every evening we will have a little concert--'"

"I beg your pardon," interposed the blunt-tongued doctor, "but do you call that Scotch hospitality, Miss Ross?--to invite a professional singer to their houses and get her services for nothing?"

"Ah, no, no, you mistake," said Nina, putting up the palm of her right hand for a second. "You mistake. I was offered terms as well--generous, oh, yes, very generous; but it was not that that impressed me--it was their kindness--their admitting me into their domesticity--I have found the mother as kind to me as to her own daughters. No airs of patronage; they did not say, 'You are a foreigner; we cannot trust you;' they said, 'You are alone; come into our family, and be friends with us.' But not at once; no, no; for at first I did not know any one--"

"I should think it would be easy for you to make friends anywhere," said Francie, in her gentle fashion.

They did not linger long over that meal; it was hardly a time for feasting; indeed, Maurice had gone down before the others, to hear the nurse's report. She had nothing to say; the sick-room had been so still, she had not even ventured in, hoping the patient was asleep.

That afternoon there were many callers; and Mangan, who went down to such of them as wanted to have special intelligence, was pleased in a way. "Well," he would say to himself, as he went up and down the stairs, "the public have a little gratitude, after all, and even mere acquaintances do think of you occasionally. It is something. But if you should go under, if you should drop out from amid the universal forward-hurrying throng, what then? If you have done something that can be mentioned, in art or letters or science, the newspapers may toss you a paragraph; or if you have been a notorious criminal or charlatan or windbag, they may even devote a leader to you; but the multitude--what time have they to think? A careless eye glances at the couple of obituary lines that have been paid for by relatives; then onwards again. Perhaps, here and there, one solitary heart is struck deep, and remembers; but the ordinary crowd of one's acquaintances--what time have they? Good-bye, friend!--but we are in such a hurry!" Nevertheless, he was glad to tell Lionel of these callers, and of their flowers and cards and messages and what not.

On this Tuesday afternoon Miss Burgoyne also called; but, hearing that there were some relations come, she would not go up-stairs. Maurice went down to see her.

"What brought on this fever?" she asked, after the usual inquiries.

"A variety of causes, I should imagine," he answered. "The immediate one was a severe chill."

"They say he has lost all his money and is deeply in debt," she observed.

"Who says?" he demanded--too sharply, for he did not like this woman.

"Oh, I have heard of it," she answered.

"It is not true then. I don't know of his being in debt at all; if he is, he has friends who will see him through until he gets all right again."

"Oh, well," she said, apparently much relieved, "it is of no great consequence, so long as his voice is not touched. With his voice he can always retrieve himself and keep well ahead. They do tell such stories. Thank you, Mr. Mangan. Good-bye."

"Good-bye," said he, with unnecessary coldness; why should a disciple of Marcus Aurelius take umbrage at any manifestation of our common human nature?

She turned for a moment as he opened the door for her.

"Tell him I called; and that his portrait and mine are to appear in this week's _Footlights_--in the same number."

"Very well."

"Good-bye!"

When Dr. Ballardyce came that evening to make his usual examination, his report was of a twofold character: the fever was still ravaging the now enfeebled constitution--the temperature, in especial, being seriously high; but the patient seemed much calmer in mind.

"Indeed," said the doctor to Maurice, at the foot of the stairs, as he was going away, "I should say that for the moment the delirium was quite gone. But I did not speak much to him. Quiet is the great thing--sleep above all."

Then Maurice told him what had happened during the day, and asked him whether, supposing they found Lionel quite sane and sensible, it would be advisable to tell him that Miss Ross was in the house, or even ask her to go and see him.

"Well, I should say not--not unless he appears to be troubled again. His present tranquillity of mind is everything that could be wished; I would not try any unnecessary experiment. Probably he does not know now that he has even seen her. Sometimes they have a vague recollection of something having happened; more frequently the whole thing is forgotten. Wait till we see how the fever goes; when he is convalescent--perhaps then."

But Maurice, on his own responsibility, went into the sick-room after the doctor had left--went in on tip-toe, lest Lionel should be asleep. He was not asleep. He looked at Mangan.

"Maurice, come here," he said, in a hard-laboring voice.

"You're not to talk, Linn," his friend answered, with a fine affectation of carelessness. "I merely looked in to see how you were getting on. There's no news. The government seem to be in a mess, but even their own friends are ashamed of their vacillation. They're talking of still another lyric theatre; you'll have to save up your voice, Linn--by Jove! you fellows will be in tremendous request. What else? Oh, nothing. There's been a plucky thing done by a servant-girl in rescuing two children from a fire--if there's a little testimonial to her, I'm in with my humble guinea. But there's nothing in the papers--I'm glad I'm not a leader-writer."

He went and got some more water for a jug of white lilies that stood on the table, and began to put things a little straight--as if he were a woman.

"Maurice!"

"You're not to talk, Linn, I tell you!"

"I must--just a word," Lionel said, and Mangan was forced to listen. "What does the doctor really say?"

"About you?--oh, you're going on first-rate! Only you've to keep still and quiet and not trouble about anything."

"What day is this?"

"Why, Tuesday."

He thought for a little.

"It--it was a Saturday I was taken ill? I have forgotten so many things. But--but there's this, Maurice; if anything happens to me--the piano in the next room--it belongs to me--you will give that to Francie for her wedding-present. I would have--given her something more, but you know. And if you ever hear of Nina Rossi, will you ask her to--to take some of the things in a box you'll find on the top of the piano--they all belonged to her--if she won't take them all back, she must take some--as a--as a keepsake. She ought to do that. Perhaps she won't think I treated her so badly--when it's all over--"

He lay back exhausted with this effort.

"Oh, stuff and nonsense, Linn!" his friend exclaimed, in apparent anger. "What's the use of talking like that! You know you were worried into this illness, and I want to explain to you that you needn't worry any longer, that you've nothing to do but get well! Now listen--and be quiet. To begin with, Lord Rockminster has got his three hundred pounds--"

"I remember about that--it was awfully good of you, Maurice--"

"Be quiet. Then there's that diabolical eleven hundred pounds. Well, things have to be faced," continued Mangan, with a matter-of-fact air. "It's no use sighing and groaning when you or your friends are in a pickle; you've just got to make the best of it. Very well. Do you see this slip of paper?--this is a check for eleven hundred pounds, drawn out and signed by me, Maurice Mangan, barrister-at-law, and author of several important works not yet written. I took it up this afternoon to that young fellow's rooms in Bruton Street, to get a receipt for the money, for I thought that would satisfy you better; but I found he was in Paris. Never mind. There is the check, and I am going to post it directly, so that he will get it the moment he returns--"

"Maurice, you must ask Francie."

"I will not ask Francie," his friend said, promptly. "Francie must attend to her own affairs until she has acquired the legal right to control me and mine. You needn't make a fuss about a little thing like that, Linn. I can easily make it up; in fact, I may say I have already secured a means of making it up, as a telegram I received this very afternoon informs me. Here is the story: I can talk to you, if you may not talk to me, and I want you to know that everything is straight and clear and arranged. About ten days ago I had a letter from a syndicate in the North asking me if I could write for them a weekly article--not a London correspondent's news-letter--but a series of comments on the important subjects of the day, outside politics. Outside politics, of course; for I dare say they will supply this article to sixty or eighty country papers. Very well. You know what a lazy wretch I am; I declined. Then yesterday, when I was dawdling about the house here, it suddenly occurred to me that after all I couldn't do better than sit down and write to my enterprising friends in the North, and tell them that they could have that weekly column of enlightenment, if they hadn't engaged any one else, and if they were prepared to pay well enough for it. This afternoon comes their answer; here it is: 'Offer still open? will four hundred suit you?' Four hundred pounds a year will suit me very well."

"Maurice, you're taking on all that additional work on my account," Lionel managed to say, by way of feeble protest.

"I am taking it on to cure myself of atrocious habits of indolence. And look at the educational process. I shall have to read all the important new books, and attend the Private Views, and examine the working local government; bless you! I shall become a compendium of information on every possible modern subject. Then think of the power I shall wield; let Quirk and his gang beware!--I shall be able to kick those log-rollers all over the country--there will be a buffet for them here, and a buffet for them there, until they'll go to their mothers and ask, with tears in their eyes, why they ever were born. Or will it be worth while? No. They are hardly important enough; the public don't heed them. But the four hundred pounds is remarkably important--to any one looking forward to having an extravagant spendthrift of a wife on his hands, and so you see, Linn, everything promises well. And I will say good-night to you now--though I am not leaving the house yet--oh, no!--you can send the nurse for me if you want me. _Schlaf' wohl!_"

The sick man murmured something unintelligible in reply, and then lay still.

Now Maurice Mangan had spoken of his dawdling about this house; but the fact was that he had his hands full from morning till night. The mere correspondence he had to answer was considerable. Then there were the visitors and the doctors to be received, and the nurse to be looked after, and the anxious mother to be appeased and reassured. Indeed, on this evening, the old lady, hearing that her son was sensible, begged and entreated to be allowed to go in and talk to him, and it took both her husband and Maurice to dissuade her.

"You see," said Mangan, "he's used to me; he doesn't mind my going in and out; but if he finds you have all come up from Winstead, he may be suddenly alarmed. Better wait until the crisis is over--then you may take the place of the nurse whenever you like."

Shortly thereafter the old people and Francie left for their hotel; then Maurice had to see about Nina, whom they had left in the up-stairs room.

"Just as you wish," she said, with a kind of pathetic humility in her eyes. "If I can be of any service, I will stay all the night; a chair, here, will be enough for me. Indeed, I should be glad to be allowed--"

"No, no," said he, "at present you could not be of any use; you must get away home and have a sound night's rest after your travelling. I have just called the nurse; she will be down in a minute. And if you will put on your things I will send for a four-wheeled cab for you; or I will walk along with you until we get one."

All day long Nina had betrayed no outward anxiety; she had merely listened intently to every word, watched intently the expression of every face, as the doctors came and went. And now, as Mangan shut the door behind them, he did not care to discuss the chances of the fever; it was a subject all too uncertain and too serious for a few farewell words. But there was one point on which, delicate as it might be, he felt bound to question her.

"Miss Ross," said he, "I hope you won't think me impertinent. You must consider I represent Lionel. I am in his place. Very well; he would probably ask you, in coming so suddenly to London, whether you were quite sufficiently provided with funds--you see I am quite blunt about it--for your lodgings and cabs and so forth. I know he would ask you, and you wouldn't be angry; well, consider that I ask you in his place."

"I thank you," said Nina, in a low voice. "I understand. It is what Leo would do--yes--he was always like that. But I have plenty. I have brought everything with me. I do not go back to Glasgow."

"No?" said he, and then, rather hesitatingly, for it was dangerous ground, he added, "Wasn't it strange that, with you singing at those public concerts in Glasgow, Lionel should never have seen your name in the papers--should never have guessed where you were?"

"I took another name--Signorina Teresa I was," Nina said, simply.

"So you are not going back to Glasgow?" he asked again.

"No. The concert season is about over there. Besides," she added, rather sadly, "I have been--a little--a little homesick. The people there were very kind to me, but I was much alone. So now--when Lionel is over the worst of the fever--when he promises to get well--when you say to me I can be of no more use--then I return to Naples to my friends."

"Oh, to Naples? But what to do there?" he made bold to ask.

"Ah, who knows?" said Nina, in so low a voice that he could hardly hear.

He put her safely into a four-wheeled cab; then went back to Lionel's rooms to see that all arrangements were made for the night; finally he set out for his own chambers in Westminster. No, it had not been a dawdling day for him at all; on the contrary, he had not had time to glance at a single newspaper, and now, as he got some hot drink for himself and lit his pipe and hauled in an easy-chair to the fire, he thought he would look over the evening journals. And about the first paragraph he saw was headed, "Death of Sir Barrington Miles, M.P." Well, it was a bit of a coincidence, he considered; nothing more; the L1100 had been paid, and, apart from that circumstance, it must be confessed, his interest in the Miles family was of the slightest. Only he wondered what the young man was doing in Paris, with his father so near the point of death.

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