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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesPrince Fortunatus - Chapter 1. A Rehearsal
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Prince Fortunatus - Chapter 1. A Rehearsal Post by :mohausa Category :Long Stories Author :William Black Date :May 2012 Read :859

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Prince Fortunatus - Chapter 1. A Rehearsal


When the curtain fell on the last act of "The Squire's Daughter," the comedy-opera that had taken all musical London by storm, a tall and elegant young English matron and her still taller brother rose from their places in the private box they had been occupying, and made ready to depart; and he had just assisted her to put on her long-skirted coat of rose-red plush when an attendant made his appearance.

"Mr. Moore's compliments, your ladyship, and will you please to step this way?"

The box was close to the stage. Lady Adela Cunyngham and her brother, Lord Rockminster, followed their guide through a narrow little door, and almost at once found themselves in the wings, amid the usual motley crowd of gas-men, scene-shifters, dressers, and the like. But the company were still fronting the footlights; for there had been a general recall, and the curtain had gone up again; and probably, during this brief second of scrutiny, it may have seemed odd to these two strangers to find themselves looking, not at rows of smiling faces on the stage, but at the backs of the heads of the performers. However, the curtain once more came down; the great wedding-party in the squire's hall grew suddenly quite business-like and went their several ways as if they had no longer any concern with one another; and then it was that the squire's daughter herself--a piquant little person she was, in a magnificent costume of richly flowered white satin, and with a portentous head-gear of powdered hair and brilliants and strings of pearls--was brought forward by a handsome young gentleman who wore a tied wig, a laced coat and ruffles, satin knee-breeches, shining silken stockings, and silver-buckled shoes.

"Lady Adela," said he, "let me introduce you to Miss Burgoyne. Miss Burgoyne has been kind enough to say she will take you into her room for a little while, until I get off my war-paint. I sha'n't keep you more than a few minutes."

"It is very good of you," said the tall young matron in the crimson coat to this gorgeous little white bride, whose lips were brilliant with cherry-paste, and whose bright and frank eyes were surrounded by such a mighty mass of make-up.

"Not at all," she answered, pleasantly enough, and therewith she led the way down some steps into a long, white-tiled corridor, from which branched the various dressing-rooms. "I'm afraid I can't give you any tea now; but there's some lemonade, of my own making--it has become very popular in the theatre--you would hardly believe the number of callers I have of an evening."

By this time Lionel Moore, who was responsible for these strangers being in the theatre, had gone quickly off to his own dressing-room to change his attire, so that when the two ladies reached a certain half-open door where the prima-donna's maid was waiting for her, Lord Rockminster naturally hung back and would have remained without. Miss Burgoyne instantly turned to him.

"Oh, but you may come in too!" she said, with great complaisance.

Somewhat timorously he followed these two into a prettily furnished little sitting-room, where he was bidden to take a seat and regale himself with lemonade, if he was so minded; and then Miss Burgoyne drew aside the curtain of an inner apartment, and said to her other guest:

"_You may come in here, if you like. Mr. Moore said you wished to know about stage make-up and that kind of thing--I will show you all the dreadful secrets--Jane!" Thereupon these three disappeared behind the curtain, and Lord Rockminster was left alone.

But Lord Rockminster liked being left alone. He was a great thinker, who rarely revealed his thoughts, but who was quite happy in possessing them. He could sit for an hour at a club-window, calmly gazing out into the street, and be perfectly content. It is true that the pale tobacco-tinge that overspread the young man's fair complexion seemed to speak of an out-of-door life; but he had long ago emancipated himself from the tyranny of field-sports. That thraldom had begun early with him, as with most of his class. He had hardly been out of his Eton jacket when gillies and water-bailiffs got hold of him, and made him thrash salmon-pools with a seventeen-foot rod until his back was breaking; and then keepers and foresters had taken possession of him, and compelled him to crawl for miles up wet gullies and across peat-hags, and then put a rifle in his hand, expecting him to hit a bewildering object on the other side of a corrie when, as a matter of fact, his heart was like to burst with excitement and fear. But the young man had some strength of character. He rebelled; he refused to be driven like a slave any longer; he struck for freedom and won it. There was still much travelling to be encountered; but when he had got that over, when he had seen everything and done everything, and there was nothing more to do or to see, then he became master of himself and conducted himself accordingly. Contemplation, accompanied by a cigarette, was now his chief good. What his meditations were no one knew, but they sufficed unto himself. He had attained Nirvana. He lived in a region of perpetual thought.

But there was one active quality that Lord Rockminster certainly did possess: he was a most devoted brother, as all the town knew. He was never tired of going about with his three beautiful sisters, or with any one of them; he would fetch and carry for them with the most amiable assiduity; "Rock" they called him, as if he were a retriever. Then the fact that they followed very different pursuits made all the greater demand on his consideration. His youngest sister, Lady Rosamund Bourne, painted indefatigably in both water and oils, and had more than once exhibited in Suffolk Street; Lady Sybil devoted herself to music, and was a well-known figure at charitable concerts; while the eldest sister, Lady Adela, considered literature and the drama as more particularly under her protection, nor had she ceased to interest herself in these graceful arts when she married Sir Hugh Cunyngham, of the Braes, that famous breeder of polled cattle. The natural consequence of all this was that Lord Rockminster found himself called to a never-ending series of concerts, theatres, private views, and the like, and always with one or other of his beautiful, tall sisters as his companion; while on a certain occasion (for it was whispered that Lady Adela Cunyngham was engaged in the composition of a novel, and her brother was the soul of good-nature) he had even gone the length of asking a publisher to dine at his club. And here he was seated in an actress's room, alone, while his sister was inspecting powder-puffs, washes, patches, and paste jewelry; and not only that, but they were about to take an actor home to supper with them. What he thought about it all he never said. He sat and stroked his small yellow moustache; his eyes was absent; and on his handsome, almost Greek, features there dwelt a perfect and continuous calm.

Presently the door was opened, and the smart-looking young baritone who had stolen away the hearts of half the women in London made his appearance. He was a young fellow of about eight-and-twenty, pleasant-featured, his complexion almost colorless, his eyes gray with dark lashes, his eyebrows also dark. In figure he was slight and wiry rather than muscular; but where he gave evidence of strength was in his magnificent throat and in the set of his head and shoulders. It may be added that he possessed, what few stage-singers appear to possess, a remarkably well-formed leg--a firm-knit calf tapering to a small ankle and a shapely foot; but, as he had now doffed his professional silken stockings and silver-buckled shoes for ordinary evening wear, his merits in this respect were mostly concealed.

No sooner had he begun to talk to Lord Rockminster than the sound of his voice summoned forth from the inner apartment Lady Adela, who, with many expressions of thanks, bade good-night to the prima-donna, and put herself under charge of the young baritone.

"My sisters are at the Mellords' to-night," said she, as she accompanied him along the corridor and up the steps and through the now almost deserted wings. "They were dining there, and we left them as we came to the theatre, and promised to pick them up on our way home. There will be a bit of a crush, I suppose; you won't mind coming in for a few minutes, will you, Mr. Moore?"

"I don't know Mrs. Mellord," said he, with becoming modesty.

"But everybody knows you--that is the great point," said this tall young Englishwoman, who looked very gracious and charming, and who, when she turned to talk to her companion, had a quick, responsive smile ever ready in her clear, intelligent, gray-blue eyes. "Oh, yes, you must come. It is one of the prettiest houses in London; and Mrs. Mellord is one of the nicest women. We will get Sybil and Rose away as soon as we can; and I shouldn't at all wonder if we found Georgie Lestrange and her brother there too. Oh, almost certain, I should say. Then we could carry them off to supper, and after that Pastora might try over her duet with Damon. But as regards the Mellords, Mr. Moore," said she, with a pleasant smile, as he handed her into her brougham, which had been brought round to the stage-door, "I shall consider you to be under my protection, and I will take care no one shall ask you to sing."

"But you know, Lady Adela, I am always delighted to sing for any friend of yours," said he, promptly enough; and then, when he and Lord Rockminster had entered the carriage, and the footman had shut the door and got on the box, away they drove through the busy midnight world of London.

It did not take them long to get from the New Theatre to the house of the famous Academician; and here, late as it was, they found plenty of people still arriving, a small crowd of onlookers scanning the various groups as they crossed the pavement. On this hot night in May, it seemed pleasantly cool to get into the great hall of white and black marble, where the miniature lake, on which floated an alabaster swan, was all banked round with flowers; and when Lady Adela had dispossessed herself of her long plush coat, it was evident she had dressed for the reception before going to the theatre, for now she appeared in a costume of silver-gray satin with a very considerable train, while there were diamond stars in her light brown hair, and at her bosom a bunch of deep crimson roses. At the head of the stairs they encountered Mrs. Mellord, who received the famous young baritone with the most marked kindness. Indeed, he seemed to be known to a considerable number of the people who were assembled in these spacious rooms of white and gold; while those who were not personally acquainted with him easily recognized him, for were not his photographs in every stationer's window in London? The Ladies Sybil and Rosamund Bourne they found in the studio, talking to the great Academician himself. These two young ladies were even taller, as they likewise were fairer in complexion, than their married sister; moreover, they were much more dignified in demeanor than she was, though that may have merely arisen from maidenly reserve. But when Mr. Mellord exhibited at the Royal Academy his much-talked-of picture of the three sisters, most people seemed to think that though the two younger ladies might have carried off the palm for their handsome, pale, regularly cut features and their calm, observant eyes, there was something in the bright, vivacious look of the eldest that outweighed these advantages; while in society, and especially as a hostess in her own house, the charm of Lady Adela's manner, and her quick, sympathetic, engaging ways made her a universal favorite. And one was tempted, in amazement, to ask how it came about that a woman so alert and intelligent, so conversant with the world, so ready to note the ridiculous side of things, could not understand what a poor and lamentable figure she made as an amateur authoress? But had the Lady Sybil any less confidence in her musical attainments, when she would undertake to play a duet with one of the most distinguished of professional musicians, she on the violin, he at the piano? And here, at this very moment, was Lady Rosamund talking to by far and away the greatest painter in England, and there was a picture before them on an easel, and she was saying to him, with perfect coolness,

"Why, I see you use cadmium yellow, Mr. Mellord! I _never do."

Somehow an impression got abroad through these brilliant rooms that Mr. Moore was going to sing; and at length Mrs. Mellord came to the young man and frankly preferred her request.

"Oh, yes," said he, most good-naturedly.

"The serenade?" she ventured to hint.

"Oh, not the serenade!" said he, with a laugh. "Every butcher's boy in the streets whistles it."

"All England is singing it--and a good thing, too," she made answer; and then she said, with some emphasis: "I am sure no one rejoices more than myself at the great popularity of 'The Squire's Daughter.' I am very glad to see that a comedy-opera may be based on the best traditions of English music; and I hope we shall have a great deal less of the Offenbach tinkle-tankle."

"The serenade, if you like, then," said he, with, careless good-humor; what did it matter to him?

"And whom shall I get to play an accompaniment for you?"

"Oh, you needn't trouble; I can do that for myself--"

"But you must make one young lady supremely happy," said she, with insidious flattery.

He glanced round the studio.

"I see Miss Lestrange over there--she has played it for me before--without the music, I mean."

"Then I'll go and fetch her," said the indefatigable hostess; and now everybody seemed to know that Mr. Lionel Moore was about to sing "The Starry Night."

Miss Georgie Lestrange was no sooner appealed to than she came through the crowd, smiling and laughing. She was an exceedingly pretty lass, with fresh-complexioned cheeks, a pert and attractive nose, a winsome mouth, and merry blue eyes that were hardly made grave by the _pince-nez that she habitually wore. She was very prettily dressed, too--in blue-and-silver brocade, with a high Medici collar of silver lace, puffed sleeves with twisted cords of silver, and silver fillets binding the abundant masses of her ruddy-golden hair. She sat down at the piano, and the first notes of the accompaniment deepened the silence that now prevailed, not only in this big studio, but throughout the communicating rooms.

Probably there was not a human being in the place who had not heard this serenade sung a dozen times over, for it was the most popular air of the most popular piece then being played in London; but there was some kind of novelty in listening to the same notes that had thrilled through the theatre (rather, that had sent their passionate appeal up to a certain mysterious balcony, in the dim moonlight of the stage) now pulsating through the hushed silence of these modern rooms. Lionel Moore was not a baritone of altogether rare and exceptional gifts, otherwise he might hardly have been content with even the popularity and the substantial rewards of comic opera; but he had a very excellent voice for all that, of high range, and with a resonant and finely sympathetic _timbre that seemed easily to find its way (according to all accounts) to the feminine heart. And the music of this serenade was really admirable, of subtle and delicate quality, and yet full of the simplest melody, and perhaps none the less to be appreciated that it seemed to suggest a careful study of the best English composers. The words were conventional enough, of course; but then the whole story of "The Squire's Daughter" was as artificial as the wigs and powder and patches of the performers; and even now, when Harry Thornhill, bereft of all his gay silk and lace and ruffles, and become plain Mr. Lionel Moore, in ordinary evening dress, sang to Miss Georgie Lestrange's accompaniment, the crowd did not think of the words--they were entranced by the music. "The starry night"--this is how Harry Thornhill, in the opera, addresses Grace Mainwaring, he standing in the moonlit garden and looking up to her window--

"The starry night brings me no rest;
My ardent love now stands confessed;
Appear, my sweet, and shame the skies,
That have no splendor,
That have no splendor like thine eyes!"

The serenade was followed by a general murmur of approbation, rather than by any loud applause; but the pretty Mrs. Mellord came up to the singer and was most profuse of thanks. Prudently, however, he moved away from the piano, being accompanied by Miss Georgie Lestrange, who seemed rather pleased with the prominence this position gave her; and very soon a surreptitious message reached them both that they were wanted below. When they went down into the hall they found that Lady Adela had got her party collected, including Miss Lestrange's brother Percy; thereupon the four ladies got into the brougham and drove off, while the three gentlemen proposed to follow on foot, and have a cigarette the while. It was a pleasantly warm night, and they had no farther to go than Sir Hugh Cunyngham's house, which is one of the large garden-surrounded mansions on the summit of Campden Hill.

When at length they arrived there and had entered by the wooden gate, the semicircular carriage-drive, lit by two solitary lamps, and the front of the house itself, half-hidden among the black trees, seemed somewhat sombre and repellent at this silent hour of the morning; but they found a more cheerful radiance streaming out from the hall-door, which had been left open for them; and when they went into the large dining-room, where the ladies had already assembled, there was no lack of either light or color there, for all the candles were ablaze, and the long table was brilliant with silver and Venetian glass and flowers. And, indeed, this proved to be a very merry and talkative supper-party; for, as soon as supper was served, the servants were sent off to bed; Lord Rockminster constituted himself butler, and Percy Lestrange handed round the pheasants' eggs and asparagus and such things; so that there was no alien ear in the room. Lionel Moore, being less familiar with the house, was exempted from these duties; in truth, it was rather the women-folk who waited upon him--and petted him as he was used to be petted, wherever that fortunate young man happened to go.

However, it was not supper that was chiefly occupying the attention of this band of eager chatterers (from whom the silent Lord Rockminster, walking gravely round the table with a large jug of champagne-cup in his hand, must honorably be distinguished), it was the contemplated production of a little musical entertainment called "The Chaplet," by Dr. Boyce, which they were about to attempt, out-of-doors, on some afternoon still to be fixed, and before a select concourse of friends. And the most vivacious of the talkers was the red-headed and merry-eyed young maiden in blue silver and brocade, who seemed incapable of keeping her rosebud of a mouth closed for more than a minute at a time.

"I do think it's awfully hard on me," she was protesting. "Look how I'm handicapped! Everybody knows that Pastora was played by Kitty Olive; and everybody will say, 'That Lestrange girl has cheek, hasn't she? thinks she can play Kitty Olive's parts!' And you know Pastora is always calling attention to her fascinating appearance."

"Georgie, you're fishing for compliments!" the young matron said, severely.

"No, I'm not, Adela," said Miss Lestrange, who, indeed, looked as charming as any Kitty Olive could ever have done. "Then there's another thing: fancy my having to sing a duet with Mr. Moore! It's all very well for you to sing a song off your own bat--"

"That _would be difficult, Georgie," Lady Adela observed.

"Oh, you know what I mean. But when you come to sing in conjunction with an artist like Mr. Moore, what then? They will say it is mere presumption, when my little squeak of a voice gets drowned altogether."

"If you give any weight to a professional opinion, Miss Lestrange," the young baritone said, "I can assure you you sing your part in that duet--or in anything else I've heard you sing--very well indeed. Very well indeed."

"Ah, now Georgie's happy," said Lady Adela, with a laugh, as the blushing damsel cast down her eyes. "Well, I propose that we all go into the drawing-room, and we'll hear for ourselves how Pastora and Damon sing together. You may make as much noise as ever you like; the children are in Hampshire; Hugh is in Scotland; the servants are out of hearing; and our neighbors are a long way off."

This suggestion, coming from the lady of the house, was of the nature of a command, and so they leisurely trooped into the great drawing-room, where the candles were still burning. But there was something else than these artificial lights that attracted the sharp eyes of Miss Georgie Lestrange the moment she entered this new apartment. There was a curious, wan kind of color about the curtains and the French windows that did not seem natural to the room. She walked quickly forward, drew the lace hangings aside, and then, suddenly, she exclaimed,

"Why, it's almost daylight! Look here, Adela, why shouldn't we have a rehearsal of the whole piece, from end to end--a real rehearsal, this time, on the lawn? and Rose can tell us all how we are to stand, and Mr. Moore will show us what we should do besides merely speaking the lines."

This bold proposal was greeted with general acclaim, and instantly there was a bustle of preparation. Lady Sybil began to tune her violin by the side of the open piano; Lady Rosamund, who was at once scene-painter and stage-manager, as it were, got out some sheets of drawing-paper, on which she had sketched the various groups; and Lady Adela brought forth the MS. books of the play, which had been prepared under the careful (and necessary) supervision of Lionel Moore.

"Rockminster will have to figure as the audience," his eldest sister said, as she was looping up her long train of silver-gray satin preparatory to going out.

"That is a part _I could play to perfection," put in Miss Lestrange's brother.

"Oh, no," Lady Adela remonstrated. "You may be wanted for Palaemon. You see, this is how it stands. The young shepherd was originally played at Drury Lane by a boy--and in Dublin by an actress; it is a boy's part, indeed. Well, you know, we thought Cis Yorke would snap at it; and she was eager enough at first; but"--and here Lady Adela smiled demurely--"I think her courage gave way. The boy's dress looked charming as Rose sketched it for her--and the long cloak made it quite proper, you know--and very picturesque, too--but--but I think she's frightened. We can't count on her. So we may have to call on you for Palaemon, Mr. Lestrange."

"And I have taken the liberty of cutting out the song, for it's rather stupid," said Lionel Moore, "so you've only got a few lines to repeat."

"The fewer the better," replied Mr. Percy Lestrange, who was possibly right in considering that, with his far-from-regular features and his red hair and moustache, his appearance as a handsome young swain should not have too much prominence given it.

Notwithstanding that it had been Miss Lestrange's audacious proposal that they should go masquerading in the open air, she was a wise young virgin, and she took care before going out to thrust a soft silk handkerchief into the square opening of her dress; the Ladies Sybil and Rosamund followed her example by drawing lace scarfs round their necks and shoulders; it was the young matron who was reprehensibly careless, and who, when the French windows were thrown open, went forth boldly, and without any wrap at all, into the cool air of the dawn. But for a second, as they stood on the little stone balcony above the steps leading down to the garden, this group of revellers were struck silent. The world looked so strange around them. In the mysterious gray light, that had no sort of kindly warmth in it, the grass of the lawn and the surrounding trees seemed coldly and intensely green; and cold and intense, with no richness of hue at all, were the colors of the flowers in the various plots and beds. Not a bird chirped as yet. Not a leaf stirred. But in this ghostly twilight the solitary gas lamps were beginning to show pale; and in the southern heavens the silver sickle of the moon, stealing over to the west, seemed to be taking the night with it, and leaving these faintly lilac skies to welcome the uprising of the new day.

At first, indeed, there was something curiously uncanny--something unearthly and phantasmal almost--in the spectacle of these figures, the women in white, the men in black, moving through this wan light; and their voices sounded strangely in the dead silence; but ere long a soft saffron tinge began to show itself in the east; one or two scraps of cloud in the violet skies caught a faint touch of the coming dawn; there was a more generous tone on the masses of foliage, on the flower-beds, and on the grass; and now the cheerful chirping of the birds had begun among the leaves. And what more beautiful surroundings could have been imagined for the production of any pastoral entertainment? The wide lawn was bounded on one side by a dense thicket of elms and limes and chestnuts, and on the other by a tall, dark hedge of holly; while here and there was a weeping-willow, round the stem of which a circular seat had been constructed, the pendulous branches enclosing a sort of rustic bower. As this fantastic performance went forward, the skies overhead slowly became more luminous; there was a sense of warmth and clear daylight beginning to tell; the birds were singing and chattering and calling everywhere; and the sweet, pure air of the morning, as it stirred, and no more than stirred, the trembling leaves, brought with it a scent of mignonette that seemed to speak of the coming of June.

Laura, in the person of Lady Adela Cunyngham, had reproached the faithless Damon (who was no other than Mr. Lionel Moore)--

"Ungrateful Damon, is it come to this?
Are these the happy scenes of promis'd bliss?
Ne'er hope, vain Laura, future peace to prove;
Content ne'er harbors with neglected love."

--and Damon had replied (not mumbling his lines, as a privileged actor sometimes does at rehearsal, but addressing them properly to the hapless Laura)--

"Consider, fair, the ever-restless pow'r,
Shifts with the breeze, and changes with the hour:
Above restraint, he scorns a fixt abode,
And on his silken plumes flies forth the rambling god."

Then Lady Sybil took out her violin from its case and drew the bow across the strings.

"We'll let you off the song, if you like, Mr. Moore," Lady Adela said to the young baritone, but in a very half-hearted kind of way.

"Oh, no," said he, pleasantly, "perhaps this may be my only rehearsal."

"The audience," observed Lord Rockminster, who, at a little distance, was lying back in a garden-chair, smoking a cigarette--"the audience would distinctly prefer to have the song sung."

Lady Sybil again gave him the key-note from the violin; and, without further accompaniment, he thus addressed his forsaken sweetheart:

"You say at your feet that I wept in despair,
And vow'd that no angel was ever so fair?
How could you believe all the nonsense I spoke?
What know we of angels? I meant it in joke,
I meant it in joke;
What know we of angels? I meant it in joke."

When, in his rich, vibrating notes, he had sung the two verses, all the ladies rewarded him by clapping their hands, which was an exceedingly wrong thing to do, considering that they formed no part of the audience. Then _Damon says,

"To-day Demaetus gives a rural treat,
And I once more my chosen friends must meet:
Farewell, sweet damsel, and remember this,
Dull repetition deadens all our bliss."

And Laura sadly answers,

"Where baleful cypress forms a gloomy shade,
And yelling spectres haunt the dreary glade,
Unknown to all, my lonesome steps I'll bend,
There weep my suff'rings, and my fate attend."

Here Laura ought to sing the song "Vain is every fond endeavor;" but Lady Adela said to the violinist,

"No, never mind, Syb; no one wants to hear _me sing, until the necessity of the case arises. Let's get on to the feast; I think that will be very popular; for we must have lots of shepherds and shepherdesses; and the people will be delighted to recognize their friends. Where's your sketch, Rose? I would have groups round each of the willows, and occasional figures coming backwards and forwards through those rhododendrons."

"You must leave the principal performers plenty of stage," Lionel Moore interposed, laughing. "You mustn't hem us in with supers, however picturesque their dress may be."

And so they went on discussing their arrangements, while the refulgent day was everywhere declaring itself, though as yet no sound of the far-off world could reach this isolated garden. Nor was there any direct sunshine falling into it; but a beautiful warmth of color now shone on the young green of the elms and chestnuts and hawthorns, and on one or two tall-branching, trembling poplars just coming into leaf; while the tulip-beds--the stars, the crescents, the ovals, and squares--were each a mass of brilliant vermilion, of rose, of pale lemon, of crimson and orange, or clearest gold. This new-found dawn seemed wholly to belong to the birds. Perhaps it was their universal chirping and carolling that concealed the distant echo of the highways; for surely the heavily-laden wains were now making in for Covent Garden? At all events there was nothing here but this continuous bird-clamor and the voices of these modern nymphs and swains as they went this way and that over the velvet-smooth lawn.

And now the bewitching Pastora appears upon the scene (but would Mrs. Clive have worn a gold _pince-nez at rehearsal?) and she has just quarrelled with her lover Palaemon--

"Insulting boy! I'll tear him from my mind;
Ah! would my fortune could a husband find!
And just in time, young Damon comes this way,
A handsome youth he is, and rich, they say."

The butterfly-hearted Damon responds at once:

"Vouchsafe, sweet maid, to hear a wretched swain,
Who, lost in wonder, hugs the pleasing chain:
For you in sighs I hail the rising day,
To you at eve I sing the lovesick lay;
Then take my love, my homage as your due--
The Devil's in her, if all this won't do." (_Aside._

It must be confessed that the pretty and smiling and blushing Miss Georgie Lestrange looked just a little self-conscious as she had to listen to this extremely frank declaration; but she had the part of the coquettish Pastora to play; and Pastora, as soon as she discovers that Damon has no thought of marriage, naturally declines to have anything to do with him. And here came in the duet which had first suggested this escapade:

"_You say at your feet that I wept in despair.
And voic'd that no angel was ever so fair;
How could you believe all the nonsense I spoke?
What know we of angels? I meant it in joke
I meant it in joke.
What know we of angels? I meant it in joke._")

"DAMON. From flow'r to flow'r, his joy to change,
Flits yonder wanton bee;
From fair to fair thus will I range,
And I'll be ever free.
From fair to fair thus will I range,
And I'll be ever free.

"PASTORA. You little birds attentive view,
That hop from tree to tree;
I'll copy them, I'll copy you,
For I'll be ever free.

"DUETTO. Then let's divide to east and west
Since we shall ne'er agree;
And try who keeps their promise best
And who's the longest free.
Let's try who keeps their promise best
And who's the longest free."

And again the audience made bold to clap their hands; for Miss Georgie Lestrange, despite her self-depreciation, sang very well indeed; and of course Lionel Moore knew how to moderate his voice, so that the combination was entirely pleasing. The further progress of the little comedy needs not to be described here; it has only to be said that the injured Laura is in the end restored to her repentant lover; and that a final duet between her and Damon closes the piece with the most praiseworthy sentiments:

"For their honor and faith be our virgins renown'd,
Nor false to his vows one young shepherd he found;
Be their moments all guided by virtue and truth,
To preserve in their age what they gain'd in their youth,
To preserve in their age what they gain'd in their youth."

Lord Rockminster rose from his chair, stretched his long legs, and threw away his cigarette.

"Very well done," said he, slowly. "Congratulate all of you."

"This is the first time I ever saw Rockminster sit out a morning performance," observed Percy Lestrange, with a playful grin.

"As for you young things," the mistress of the house said to her girl-guests, as they were all trooping in by the French windows again, "you must hurry home and get in-doors before the servants are up. I don't want this frolic to be talked about all over the town."

"A frolic, indeed!" Miss Georgie protested, as her brother was putting her cloak round her shoulders. "I don't call it a frolic at all. I call it very serious business; and I'm looking forward to winning the deepest gratitude of the English public--or at least as much of the English public as you can cram into your garden, my dear."

Then, as soon as the light wraps and dust-coats had been distributed and donned, the members of the gay little party said good-bye to Lady Adela in the front hall, and went down the carriage sweep to the gate. Here there was a division; for the Lestranges were going north by Holland Lane to Notting Hill; while Lord Rockminster and his two sisters, making for Palace Gardens Terrace, walked with Lionel Moore only as far as Campden Hill Road; thereafter he pursued his journey to Piccadilly alone.

And even now London was not fully awake, though the sun was touching the topmost branches of the trees, and here and there a high window, struck by the level rays, flashed back a gleam of gold. In this neighborhood the thoroughfares were quite deserted; silence reigned over those sleeping houses; the air was sweet and cool; now and again a stirring of wind brought a scent of summer--blossom from within the garden-enclosures. It is true that when he got down into Kensington Road he found a long procession of wagons slowly making their way into the great city; but this dull, drowsy noise was not ungrateful; in much content and idly he walked away eastward, looking in from time to time at the beautiful greensward of Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park. He was in no hurry. He liked the stillness, the gracious coolness and quietude of the morning, after the hot and feverish nights at the theatre. When at length he reached his lodging in Piccadilly, let himself in with his latch-key, and went up-stairs to his rooms, he did not go to bed at once. He drew an easy-chair to the front window, threw himself into it, lit a cigarette, and stared absently across to the branching elms and grassy undulations of the Green Park. Perhaps he was thinking of the pretty, fantastic little comedy that had just been performed up in that garden at Campden Hill--like some dream-picture out of Boccaccio. And if he chanced to recall the fact that the actor who originally played the part of Damon, at Drury Lane, some hundred and forty years ago, married in real life an earl's daughter, that was but a passing fancy. Of Lord Fareborough's three daughters, it was neither Lady Sybil nor Lady Rosamund, it was the married sister, Lady Adela Cunyngham, who had constituted herself his particular friend.

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