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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesPrince Fortunatus - Chapter 26. Towards The Dawn
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Prince Fortunatus - Chapter 26. Towards The Dawn Post by :Rich_Holder Category :Long Stories Author :William Black Date :May 2012 Read :969

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Prince Fortunatus - Chapter 26. Towards The Dawn

CHAPTER XXVI. TOWARDS THE DAWN

On the Tuesday about midday, according to her promise, Miss Burgoyne called and again preferred her request. And, short of a downright lie, Mangan saw no way of refusing her.

"At the same time," he said, in the cold manner which he unconsciously adopted towards this young lady, "you must remember he is far from strong yet; and I hope you have nothing to say to him that would cause agitation, or even involve his speaking much. His voice has to be taken care of, as well as his general condition."

"Oh, you may trust me for that," said she, with decision. "Do you think _I don't know how important that is?"

Miss Burgoyne went into the room. Lionel was still in bed, but propped up in a sitting posture; and to keep his arms and shoulders warm he had donned a gorgeous smoking-jacket, the fantastic colors of which were hardly in keeping with his character as invalid. He knew of her arrival, and had laid aside the paper he had been reading.

"I am so glad to know you are getting on so satisfactorily," said Miss Burgoyne, in her most pleasant way. "And they tell me your voice will be all right too. Of course you must exercise great caution; it will be some time before you can begin your _vocalises again."

"How is Doyle doing?" he asked, in a fairly clear voice.

"Oh, pretty well," said she, but in rather a dissatisfied fashion. "It is difficult to say what it is that is wanting--he looks well, acts well, sings well--a very good performance altogether--and yet--it is respectable, and nothing more. He really has a good voice, as you know, and thoroughly well trained; but it seems to me as if there were in his singing everything but the one thing--everything but the thrill that makes your breath stop at times. However," added Miss Burgoyne, out of her complaisance, "the public will wait a long time before they find any one to sing 'The Starry Night' as you sang it, and as I hope you'll be singing it again before long."

She was silent for a second or two; she seemed to have something to say, and yet to hesitate about saying it.

"I hear you are going to Italy when you are strong enough to travel?" she observed, at last.

"That is what they advise."

"You will be away for some time?"

"I suppose so."

And again she sat silent for a little while, pulling at the fringe of her rose-lined sun-shade.

"Well, Lionel," she said, at length, with downcast eyes, "there is something I have been thinking about for a long time back, and if you are going away very soon, and perhaps for a considerable while, I ought to tell you. It may be a relief to you as well as to me; indeed, I think it will; if I had imagined what I have to say would vex you in any way, you may be sure I wouldn't come at such a time as this. But to be frank--that engagement--do you think we entered upon it with any kind of wisdom, or with any fair prospect of happiness? Now if I trouble you or hurt your feelings in any way, you can stop me with a single word," she interposed, and she ventured to look up a little and to address him more directly. "The truth is, I was flattered by such a proposal--naturally--and rather lost my head, perhaps, when I ought to have asked myself what was the true state of our feelings towards each other. Of course, it was I who was in the wrong; I ought to have considered. And I must say you have behaved most honorably throughout; you never showed the least sign of a wish to break the engagement, even when we had our little quarrels, and you may have received some provocation. But after all, Lionel, I think you must admit that our relations have not been quite--quite--what you might expect between two people looking forward to spending their lives together."

She paused here--perhaps to give him an opportunity of signifying his assent. But he refused to do that. He uttered not a word. It was for her to say what was in her mind--if she wished to be released.

"I am quite sure that even now, even after what I have just told you," she continued, "you would be willing to keep your word. But--but would it be wise? Just think. Esteem and regard and respect there would always be between us, I hope; but--but is that enough? Of course you may tell me that as you are willing to fulfil your part of the engagement, so I should be on my side; and I don't say that I am not; if you challenged me and could convince me that your happiness depended on it, you would see whether I would draw back. But you have heard me so far without a word of protest. I have not wounded you. Perhaps you will be as glad to be free as I shall be--I don't mean glad, Lionel," she hastily put in, "except in the sense of being free from an obligation that might prove disastrous to both of us. Now, Lionel, what do you say? You see I have been quite candid; and I hope you won't think I have spoken out of any unkindness or ill-feeling."

He answered her at last,

"I agree with every word you have said."

A quick flush swept across Miss Burgoyne's forehead; but probably he could not have told what that meant, even if he had been looking; and he was not.

"I hope you won't think me unkind," she repeated. "I am sure it will be better for both of us to have that tie broken. If I had not thought that it would be as grateful to you as to me to be released, be sure I would not have come and spoken to you while you were lying on a sick-bed. Now, I promised Mr. Mangan not to talk too much nor to agitate you," said she, as she rose, and smoothed her sun-shade, and made ready to depart. "I hope you will get strong and well very soon; and that you will come back to the New Theatre with your voice as splendid as ever." But still she lingered a little. She felt that her immediate departure might seem too abrupt; it would look as if she had secured the object of her visit, and was therefore ready to run away at once. So she chatted a little further, and looked at the photographs on the wall; and again she hoped he would be well soon and back at the theatre. At last she said, "Well, good-bye." Gave him her gloved hand for a second; then she went out and was joined by her brother. Mangan saw them both down-stairs, and returned to Lionel's room.

"Had her ladyship any important communication to make?" he asked, in his careless way.

"She proposed that our engagement should be broken off--and I consented," said Lionel, simply.

Mangan, who was going to the window, suddenly stood stock-still and stared, as if he had not heard aright.

"And it is broken off?" he exclaimed.

"Yes."

There was a dead silence. Presently Maurice said,

"Well, that is the best piece of news I have received for many a day--for you don't seem heartbroken, Linn. And now--have you any plans?--perhaps you have hardly had time?--"

He was looking at Lionel--wondering whether the same idea was in both their heads--and yet afraid to speak.

"Maurice," Lionel said, presently, with some hesitation, "tell me--could I ask Nina--look at me--such a wreck--could I ask her to become my wife? It's about Capri I am thinking--we could go together there, when I am a bit stronger--"

There was a flash of satisfaction in the deep-set, friendly gray eyes.

"This is what I expected, Linn. Well, put the question to herself--and the sooner the better!"

"Yes, but--" Lionel said, as if afraid.

"Oh, I know," Maurice said, confidently. "Tell Nina that you are not yet quite recovered--that you have need of her care--and she will go to the world's end with you. Only you must get married first, for the sake of appearances."

"What will she say, Maurice?" he asked again, as if there were some curious doubt, or perhaps merely timidity, in his mind.

"I think I know, but I am not going to tell," his friend answered, lightly. "I am off up-stairs now. I will send Nina down; but without a word of warning. You'll have to lead up to it yourself--and good-luck to you, my boy!" And therewith Maurice departed to seek out Nina in the chamber above; and as he went up the stairs he was saying to himself, "Well, well; and so Miss Burgoyne did that of her own free will? I may have done the young woman some injustice. Perhaps she is not so selfish and hard after all. Wish I had been more civil to her."

Meanwhile Miss Burgoyne and her brother were walking in the direction of Regent Street.

"Now, Jim," she said, with almost a gay air, "I have just completed a most delicate and difficult negotiation, and I feel quite exhausted. You must take me into a restaurant and give me the very nicest and neatest bit of luncheon you can possibly devise--all pretty little trifles, for we mustn't interfere with dinner; and I am going to see how you can do it--"

"Well, but, Katie," he said, frowning, "where do you suppose--"

"Oh, don't he stupid!" she exclaimed, slipping her purse into his hand. "I am going to judge of your _savoir faire_; I will see whether you get a nice table; whether you order the proper things; whether you command sufficient attention--"

"I was never taught to bully waiters," said he.

"To bully waiters!--is that your notion of _savoir faire_?" she answered, lightly. "My dear Jim, the bullying of a waiter is the most obvious and outward sign of the ingrained, incurable cad. No, no. That is what I do not expect of you, Jim. And I am going to leave the whole affair in your hands; for while you are ordering for me a most elegant little luncheon, I have an extremely important letter to send off."

So it was that when brother and sister were seated at a small table on the ground-floor of a well-known Regent Street restaurant, Miss Burgoyne had writing materials brought her, and she wrote her letter while Jim was in shy confabulation with the waiter. It was not a lengthened epistle; it ran so:

"Tuesday.

"DEAR PERCY.--Let it be as you wish.

"Your loving

"KATE.

"P.S. When shall you be in town? Come and see me."


She folded and enclosed and addressed the letter; but she did not give it to the waiter to post. It was of too great moment for that. She put it in her pocket; she would herself see it safely despatched.

Well, for a boy, Jim had not done so badly; though, to be sure, his sister did not seem to pay much attention to these delicacies. Her brain was too busy. As she trifled with this thing or that, or sipped a little wine, she said,

"Jim, I know what the dream of your life is--it's to go to a big pheasant-shoot."

"Oh, is it?" he said, with the scorn born of superior knowledge. "Not much. I've tried my hand at pheasants. I know what they are. It's all very well for those fellows in the papers to talk about the easy shooting--the slaughter--the tame birds--and all that bosh; fellows who couldn't hit a stuffed cockatoo at twenty yards. No, thanks; I know what pheasants are--the beasts!"

"Well, what kind of shooting would you really like?" said this indulgent sister.

"I'll tell you," he said, with his face brightening. "I should like to have the run of a good rabbit-warren, and to be allowed to wander about entirely by myself, with a gun and a spaniel. No keeper looking on and worrying and criticising--that's my idea."

"All right," said she, "I think I can promise you that."

"You?" he said, looking at her, and wondering if she had gone out of her wits.

"Yes," she answered, sweetly. "Don't you think there will be plenty of rabbits about a place like Petmansworth?"

"And what then?"

"Well, I'm going to marry Sir Percival Miles," said Miss Kate, with much serene complacency.

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