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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Serio-comic Governess - Chapter 17
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The Serio-comic Governess - Chapter 17 Post by :blakekr Category :Long Stories Author :Israel Zangwill Date :May 2012 Read :1583

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The Serio-comic Governess - Chapter 17

CHAPTER XVII

Would she ever get through her three Halls? It did not seem as if she had strength for the Half-and-Half itself. She nerved herself to the task, and knew, not merely from the shrieks of delight, that she had surpassed herself. Happy and flushed she flung herself into her waiting cab.

She had the 9.45 turn at her second and most fashionable Hall--a Hall where the chairman had been replaced by programme numbers--and then would come her third and last appearance at 10.35. It was strange to think that in another hour Nelly O'Neill's career would be over. It seemed like murdering her. Yes, Eileen O'Keeffe would be her murderess. Well, why not murder what lay between one and happiness? As she waited at the wings, just before going on, while the orchestra played her opening bars, she glanced diagonally at the packed stalls, and her heart stood still. There in the second row sat Colonel Doherty, smoking a big cheroot. Instinctively she made the sign of the cross; then swayed back and was caught by the man who changed the programme-numbers.

"Is No. 9 come?" she gasped.

"I think so; aren't you well, Miss O'Neill?"

"For God's sake, give me breathing space," she said, with a last wild peep at the Colonel. Yes, there was no mistaking him after the three new portraits he had sent her. He was in cheerful conversation with a stout, sallow gentleman of the Anglo-Indian stage-type. Both were in immaculate evening-dress and wore white orchids. How fortunate she had refused to send any photograph in return, pleading ugliness but really afraid of theatrical sketches that might find their way to the officers' mess!

The band stopped, changed its tune, No. 9 appeared on the board; there was a murmur of confusion.

"No, by Heaven, I'll face the music," she said with grim humour. She almost hustled the hastening juggler out of the way. She was in a whirlwind of excitement. So he was there--well, so much the better. He had saved her from lying. He had given her an easy way of confessing. Words were so inadequate, he should see the reality: the stage to-night would be her confessional. She would extenuate nothing. She would throw herself furiously into the fun and racket; go to her broadest limits, else the confession would be inadequate. Then ... if he survived the shock ... why then, perhaps, she'd insist on going on with this double life...! He had risen in his seat. No, no, he must not go away, she could not risk the juggler boring him.

"I'm better; I mustn't be late at my next shop," she murmured apologetically as the number and the music were changed back.

"Ah, she's come--she was late," came the murmurs of the audience as it stirred in excited expectation.

She flung on roguish, feverish, diabolical, seductive in low-cut bodice pranked with flowers. It was a frenzy of impromptu extravagance, dazzling even the orchestra; each line accentuated by new gesture, the verses supplemented by new monologue; a miracle of chic and improvisation, and the house rose at it. Out of the mist before her eyes thunder seemed to come in great roars and crashes. She almost groped her way to the wing.

She was recalled. The mist cleared. She bowed direct at him, smiling defiance from her sparkling eyes. He was applauding with his hands, his stick, his lungs! Was it possible?--yes, he had not recognised her!

Now came a new revulsion. Again she felt herself saved. She sang her other songs straight at him, and exaggerated them equally, half to tempt Providence, half as a bold way of keeping Eileen still concealed. She heard his companion chuckling, "By Jove, Willie, she's mashed on you," as she threw a farewell kiss towards him. Then she hurried to her dressing-room and took out his letter. She had transferred it to the pocket of her theatrical gown, but had not as yet found time to finish it. Even before she re-perused it, another emotion had begun to possess her, a rush of resentment. So this was how he amused himself while waiting to clasp her in his arms! How would he ever live through the hours till Sunday afternoon, forsooth! She was jealous of the applause he lavished on Nelly O'Neill, incensed at his levity, at his immaculate evening-dress, at his white orchid. How dare he be so gay and debonair? Her anger rose as she read his protestations, his romantic professions. "O my darling, I shall sit up all night, thinking of you, re-reading all your dear letters, recalling our past, picturing our future. In short, as old Landor puts it:--


"'A night of memories and of sighs
I consecrate to thee.'"


She crumpled the paper in her hand. There was a knock at the door; Fossy poked his head in. He had risen in the world of Halls, even as Nelly O'Neill.

"Might I present two friends of mine? They want so much to know you."

"You know I never see anybody, and that I have to hurry off."

"Then, I was to give you this bouquet."

He handed in a costly floral mass. Amid it lay a card, "Colonel Doherty." She crumpled his letter more viciously.

"Tell them I can give them ten minutes only. Oh, Fossy, it's an amusing Show, isn't it?"

"It was a rattling good show," said Fossy, half puzzled. "Come in, boys."

Entered the Anglo-Indian twain with shining faces and shirt-fronts, cheroots politely lowered.

"Oh, smoke away, gentlemen," cried Nelly O'Neill, facing them in all the dazzle of her flesh and the crudity of her stage-paint, and her over-lustrous eyes, "don't mind me. Which of you is the Colonel?"

The stout, sallow gentleman jocosely pushed his tall flaxen-haired companion forward. "Oh, I knew the Major was out of it," he grinned.

"Not at all, Major," said Nelly. "I only wanted to know which I had to thank for these lovely flowers."

"You have yourself to thank," said the Colonel, smartly. "By Jove! You gave us a treat. London was worth coming back to."

"Ah, you've been away from London?"

"Just back this very day from India--"

"And of course the first thing after a good dinner is the good old Friv--" put in the Major.

"Thank you, Major," said Fossy. "That's handsome of you. And now I'll leave you to Miss O'Neill."

"That's handsomer still," said the Colonel. And the three men guffawed. Eileen felt sick.

The Major began to talk of the music-halls of India; the Colonel chimed in. They treated her as a comrade, told her anecdotes of the _coulisses of Calcutta. The Colonel retailed a jest of the bazaars.

"I permit smoke, not smoking-room stories," she said severely. At which the twain poked each other shriekingly in the ribs. After that Eileen let the Colonel have rope enough to hang himself with, though she felt it cutting cruelly into her own flesh. It was an orgie of the eternal masculine, spiced with the aroma of costly cigars.

"I'm so sorry," she said, when she had let them have a quarter of an hour's run. "I really must fly." And she seized the bouquet, and carefully adjusted his card in the glowing mass. "Won't you come and have tea with me to-morrow? About four."

The Colonel winced. "I fear I have another appointment."

"Oh, rot! I'll bring him," said the Major. "Where do you hang out?"

"22 Oxbridge,"--her hesitation was barely perceptible--"Crescent."

The Colonel started. "Do you know it, Colonel?" She looked at him ingenuously.

"No, but how odd! My other appointment is at 22 Oxbridge Terrace."

"How funny!" laughed Eileen. "Just round the corner. Then you'll be able to kill two ladies with one cab." And she fled from the Major's cachinnation.

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