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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Serio-comic Governess - Chapter 18
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The Serio-comic Governess - Chapter 18 Post by :blakekr Category :Long Stories Author :Israel Zangwill Date :May 2012 Read :2508

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The Serio-comic Governess - Chapter 18

CHAPTER XVIII

She had missed her turn at the third Hall, but she did not care. She went on and gave a spiritless performance. It fell dead, but she cared less. Her head throbbed with a dozen possibilities. She was still undiscovered. As she sat resting on her couch ere resuming her work-a-day gown, her nerves stretched to snapping point, and old Irish songs crooning themselves irrelevantly in her brain, a telegram was handed her.

"He has found out," she thought, going hot and cold. She tore open the pink envelope... and burst into a shriek of laughter. The dresser rushed in, wondering. Nelly O'Neill merely held her sides, jollity embodied. "Oh, the Show, the Show!" she gasped, the tears streaking her painted cheeks.

The telegram that hung between her fingers in two sheets ran: "Reply prepaid. I don't know the ways of the stage so I send you this as a sure way of reaching you to ask when and where I may have the pleasure of calling upon your friend, Miss O'Keeffe, and renewing the study of Plato.--Robert Maper, Hotel Belgravia."

"Any answer, miss?" said the imperturbable doorkeeper.

The answer flashed irresistibly into her mind as he spoke. Oh, she would play up to Bob Maper. Doubtless he imagined her fallen to the level of her _metier_, though he wasn't insulting. She scribbled hastily: "Robert Maper, Hotel Belgravia. I am waiting at the Hall for you. Come and take me to supper.--EILEEN O'NEILL." She gave instructions he was to be admitted. Then she relapsed into her hysteric amusement. "Oh, the merry master of marionettes, the night my love comes from beyond the seas, you send me to supper with Robert Maper." She waited with impatience. Now that the long-dreaded discovery had come, she was consumed with curiosity as to its effect upon the discoverer. At last she remembered to wash off the rouge and the messes necessary for stage-perspective. Her winsome face came back to her in the mirror, angelic by contrast, and while she was looking wonderingly at this mystic flashing mask of hers, there was a knock, and in another instant she was looking into the eyes burning unchanged under the white marble mantel-piece.

"Ah, there you are!" she said gaily, and shook his hand as though they had met the evening before. "Where shall we go?"

He accepted the situation. "I don't know--I thought you would know."

"I don't--I never supped with a man in my life."

He flushed with complex pleasure and surprise. "Really! Oh, Eileen!"

"Hush! Call me Nelly, if you must be Christian. I suppose you think you may, now."

"I--I beg your pardon," he stammered, disconcerted.

"Don't look so gaspy--poor little thing! It shall be thrown back into the water. Will you carry my bouquet?"

"With pleasure." He grasped it eagerly, and carried it towards the stage door and a hansom.

"It wanted only that," she said. "Oh, the Show, the Show!"

"I don't understand you."

"Do I understand myself?" They got into the hansom. "Where shall we go?" she repeated.

"Places all close at twelve on Saturday night."

"Ah, do they? Your hotel also?"

"No, of course one may eat at one's own hotel. If you don't mind going there--"

"If _you don't mind, rather."

"I? Who is my censor?"

"Ah, the word admits I'm discreditable. Never mind, Bob. See how Christian I am."

"No, no, I've felt it was all my doing. Indirectly I drove you to it--oh, how you have weighed on me!"

"Really, I'd quite forgotten you."

He winced and gasped. "Hotel Belgravia," he called up through the trap-door.

"Very strange you should find me," she said, as they glided through the flashing London night.

"Not in the least. I knew you blindfold, so to speak. You forget how I used to stand outside the drawing-room, listening to your singing."

"Eavesdropper!" she murmured. But he struck a tender chord--all the tender chords of her twilight playing that now rose up softly and floated around her.

"Eavesdropper if you like, who heard nothing that was not beautiful. And so I hadn't to _look for you. As a matter of fact, I wasn't looking but consulting my programme to know who number eleven was, when you began to sing."

"If you _had looked you wouldn't have recognised me," she said, smiling.

"Probably not. The stage get-up would have blurred my memories."

She began to like him again: the oddness of it all was appealing. "Nevertheless," she said, "it is strange you should just find me to-night, for I--"

"No, it isn't," he interrupted eagerly. "I've been every night this week."

"Ah, eavesdropping again," she said, touched.

"I wanted to be absolutely sure--and then I couldn't pluck up courage to write to you."

"But you did to-night?"

"You looked so tired--I felt I wanted to protect you."

A sob came into her throat, but she managed to say coldly, "Was I very bad?"

"To one who had seen you the other nights," he said with complimentary candour.

She laughed. "How is your mother?"

"Oh, she's very well, thank you. She lives in London now."

"Then your father has retired from--"

"He is dead,--didn't you hear?"

"No." Eileen sat in shocked silence. "I am sorry," she murmured at length. But underneath this mild shock she was conscious--as they rolled on without speaking--of a new ease that had come into her life: some immense relaxation of tension. "A hunted criminal must breathe more calmly when he is caught," she thought.

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CHAPTER XIX"Lucky I'm in evening dress," she said, loosening her cloak as they went through a corridor, shimmering with dresses and diamonds, to a crowded supper-room. "But you're always in evening dress, surely." "I might have been in tights." And she had a malicious self-wounding pleasure in watching him gasp. She hurried into a revelation of her exact position, as soon as they had secured a just-vacated little table in a window niche. She omitted only Colonel Doherty. He listened breathlessly. "And nobody knows you are Eileen O'Keeffe, I mean Nelly O'Neill?" She laughed. "You see _you don't know which I
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CHAPTER XVIIWould 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
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