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   Chapter 6 COMIC OPERA

Leonora By Arnold Bennett Characters: 38024

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05

Early one evening a few weeks later, Leonora, half attired for the gala night of the operatic performance, was again delicately fingering her hair in that large bedroom whose mirrors daily reflected the leisured process of her toilette. Her black skirt trimmed with yellow made a sudden sharp contrast with the pale tints of her corset and her long bare arms. The bodice lay like a trifling fragment on the blue-green eiderdown of her bed, a pair of satin shoes glistened in front of the fire, and two chairs bore the discarded finery of the day. The dressing-table was littered with silver and ivory. A faint and charming odour of violets mingled mysteriously with the warmth of the fire as Leonora moved away from the pier-glass between the two curtained windows where the light was centred, and with accustomed hands picked up the bodice apparently so frail that a touch might have ruined it.

The door was brusquely opened, and some one entered.

'Not dressed, Rose?' said Leonora, a little startled. 'We ought to be going in ten minutes.'

'Oh, mother! I mustn't go. I mustn't really!'

The tall slightly-stooping girl, with her flat figure, her plain shabby serge frock, her tired white face, and the sinister glance of the idealist in her great, fretful eyes, seemed to stand there and accuse the whole of Leonora's existence. Utterly absorbed in the imminent examination, her brain a welter of sterile facts, Rose found all the seriousness of life in dates, irregular participles, algebraic symbols, chemical formulas, the altitudes of mountains, and the areas of inland seas. To the cruelty of the too earnest enthusiast she added the cruelty of youth, and it was with a merciless justice that she judged everyone with whom she came into opposition.

'But, my dear, you'll be ill if you keep on like this. And you know what your father said.'

Rose smiled, bitterly superior, at the misguided creature whose horizons were bounded by domesticity on one side and by dress on the other.

'I shall not be ill, mother,' she said firmly, sniffing at the scent in the room. 'I can't help it. I must work at my chemistry again to-night. Father knows perfectly well that chemistry is my weak point. I must work. I just came in to tell you.'

She departed slowly, as it were daring her mother to protest further.

Leonora sighed, overpowered by a feeling of impotence. What could she do, what could any person do, when challenged by an individuality at once so harsh and so impassioned? She finished her toilette with minute care, but she had lost her pleasure in it. The sense of the contrariety of things deepened in her. She looked round the circle of her environment and saw hope and gladness nowhere. John's affairs were perhaps running more smoothly, but who could tell? The shameful fact that the house was mortgaged remained always with her. And she was intimately conscious of a soilure, a moral stain, as the result of her recent contacts with the man of business in her husband. Why had she not been able to keep femininely aloof from those puzzling and repellent matters, ignorant of them, innocent of them? And Ethel, too! Twelve days of the office had culminated for Ethel in a slight illness, which Doctor Hawley described as lack of tone. Her father had said airily that she must resume her clerkship in due season, but the entire household well knew that she would not do so, and that the experiment was one of the failures which invariably followed John's interference in domestic concerns. As for Milly's housekeeping, it was an admitted absurdity. Millicent had lived of late solely for the opera, and John resented any preoccupation which detached the girls' interest from their home. When Ethel recovered in the nick of time to attend the final rehearsals, he grew sarcastic, and irrelevantly made cutting remarks about the letter from Paris which Ethel had never translated and which she thought he had forgotten. Finally he said he probably could not go to the opera at all, and that at best he might look in at it for half an hour. He was careful to disclaim all interest in the performance.

Carpenter had driven the two girls to the Town Hall at seven o'clock, and at a quarter to eight he returned to fetch his mistress. Enveloped in her fur cloak, Leonora climbed silently into the cart.

'I did hear,' said Carpenter, respectfully gossiping, 'as Mr. Twemlow was gone back to America; but I seed him yesterday as I was coming back from taking the mester to that there manufacturers' meeting at Knype.... Wonderful like his mother he is, mum.'

'Oh, indeed!' said Leonora.

Her first impatient querulous thought was that she would have preferred Mr. Twemlow to be in America.

The illuminated windows of the Town Hall, and the knot of excited people at the principal portico, gave her a sort of preliminary intimation that the eternal quest for romance was still active on earth, though she might have abandoned it. In the corridor she met Uncle Meshach, wearing an antique frock-coat. His eye caught hers with quiet satisfaction. There was no sign in his wrinkled face of their last interview.

'Your aunt's not very well,' he answered her inquiry. 'She wasn't equal to coming, she said. I bid her go to bed. So I'm all alone.'

'Come and sit by me,' Leonora suggested. 'I have two spare tickets.'

'Nay, I think not,' he faintly protested.

'Yes, do,' she said, 'you must.'

As his trembling thin hands stole away her cloak, disclosing the perfection and dark magnificence of her toilette, and as she perceived in his features the admiration of a connoisseur, and in the eyes of other women envy and astonishment, she began to forget her despondencies. She lived again. She believed again in the possibility of joy. And perhaps it was not strange that her thought travelled at once to Ethel-Ethel whom she had not questioned further about her lover, Ethel whom till then she had figured as the wretched victim of love, but whom now she saw wistfully as love's elect.

* * *

The front seats of the auditorium were filled with all that was dashing, and much that was solidly serious, in Bursley. Hoarded wealth, whose religion was spotless kitchens and cash down, sat side by side with flightiness and the habit of living by credit on rather more than one's income. The members of the Society had exerted themselves in advance to impress upon the public mind that the entertainment would be nothing if not fashionable and brilliant; and they had succeeded. There was not a single young man, and scarcely an old one, but wore evening-dress, and the frocks of the women made a garden of radiant blossoms. Supreme among the eminent dandies who acted as stewards in that part of the house was Harry Burgess, straight out of Conduit Street, W., with a mien plainly indicating that every reserved seat had been sold two days before. From the second seats the sterling middle classes, half envy and half disdain, examined the glittering ostentation in front of them; they had no illusions concerning it; their knowledge of financial realities was exact. Up in the gloom of the balcony the crowded faces of the unimportant and the obscure rose tier above tier to the organ-loft. Here was Florence Gardner, come incognito to deride; here was Fred Ryley, thief of an evening's time; and here were sundry dressmakers who experienced the thrill of the creative artist as they gazed at their confections below.

The entire audience was nervous, critical, and excited: partly because nearly every unit of it boasted a relative or an intimate friend in the Society, and partly because, as an entity representing the town, it had the trepidations natural to a mother who is about to hear her child say a piece at a party. It hoped, but it feared. If any outsider had remarked that the youthful Bursley Operatic Society could not expect even to approach the achievements of its remarkable elder sister at Hanbridge, the audience would have chafed under that invidious suggestion. Nevertheless it could not believe that its native talent would be really worth hearing. And yet rumours of a surprising excellence were afloat. The excitement was intensified by the tuning of instruments in the orchestra, by certain preliminary experiments of a too anxious gasman, and most of all by a delay in beginning.

At length the Mayor entered, alone; the interesting absence of the Mayoress had some connection with a silver cradle that day ordered from Birmingham as a civic gift.

'Well, Burgess,' the Mayor whispered benevolently, 'what sort of a show are we to have?'

'You will see, Mr. Mayor,' said Harry, whose confident smile expressed the spirit of the Society.

Then the conductor-the man to whom twenty instrumentalists and thirty singers looked for guidance, help, encouragement, and the nullifying of mistakes otherwise disastrous; the man on whose nerve and animating enthusiasm depended the reputation of the Society and of Bursley-tapped his baton and stilled the chatter of the audience with a glance. The footlights went up, the lights of the chandelier went down, and almost before any one was aware of the fact the overture had commenced. There could be no withdrawal now; the die was cast; the boats were burnt. In the artistic history of Bursley a decisive moment had arrived.

In a very few seconds people began to realise, slowly, timidly, but surely, that after all they were listening to a real orchestra. The mere volume of sound startled them; the verve and decision of the players filled them with confidence; the bright grace of the well-known airs laid them under a spell. They looked diffidently at each other, as if to say: 'This is not so bad, you know.' And when the finale was reached, with its prodigious succession of crescendos, and its irresistible melody somehow swimming strongly through a wild sea of tone, the audience forgot its pose of critical aloofness and became unaffectedly human. The last three bars of the overture were smothered in applause.

The conductor, as pale as though he had seen a ghost, turned and bowed stiffly. 'Put that in your pipe and smoke it,' his unrelaxing features said to the audience; and also: 'If you have ever heard the thing better played in the Five Towns, be good enough to inform me where!'

There was a hesitation, the brief murmur of a hidden voice, and the curtains of the fit-up stage swung apart and disclosed the roseate environs of Castle Bunthorne, ornamented by those famous maidens who were dying for love of its ?sthetic owner. The audience made no attempt to grasp the situation of the characters until it had satisfactorily settled the private identity of each. That done, it applied itself to the sympathetic comprehension of the feelings of a dozen young women who appeared to spend their whole existence in statuesque poses and plaintive but nonsensical lyricism. It failed, honestly; and even when the action descended from song to banal dialogue, it was not reassured. 'Silly' was the unspoken epithet on a hundred tongues, despite the delicate persuasion of the music, the virginal charm of the maidens, and the illuminated richness of costumes and scene. The audience understood as little of the operatic convention as of the ?stheticism caricatured in the roseate environs of Castle Bunthorne. A number of people present had never been in a theatre, either for lack of opportunity or from a moral objection to theatres. Many others, who seldom missed a melodrama at the Hanbridge Theatre Royal, avoided operas by virtue of the infallible instinct which caused them to recoil from anything exotic enough to disturb the calm of their lifelong mental lethargy. As for the minority which was accustomed to opera, including the still smaller minority which had seen Patience itself, it assumed the right that evening critically to examine the convention anew, to reconsider it unintimidated by the crushing prestige of the Savoy or of D'Oyly Carte's No. 1 Touring Company. And for the most part it found in the convention small basis of common sense.

Then Patience appeared on the eminence. She was a dairymaid, and she could not understand the philosophy prevalent in the roseate environs of Castle Bunthorne. The audience hailed her with joy and relief. The dairymaid and her costume were pretty in a familiar way which it could appreciate. She was extremely young, adorably impudent, airy, tripping, and supple as a circus-rider. She had marvellous confidence. 'We are friends, are we not, you and I?' her gestures seemed to say to the audience. And with the utmost complacency she gazed at herself in the eyes of the audience as in a mirror. Her opening song renewed the triumph of the overture. It was recognisably a ballad, and depended on nothing external for its effectiveness. It gave the bewildered listeners something to take hold of, and in return for this gift they acclaimed and continued to acclaim. Milly glanced coolly at the conductor, who winked back his permission, and the next moment the Bursley Operatic Society tasted the delight of its first encore. The pert fascinations of the heroine, the bravery of the Colonel and his guards, the clowning of Bunthorne, combined with the continuous seduction of the music and the scene, very quickly induced the audience to accept without reserve this amazing intrigue of logical absurdities which was being unrolled before it. The opera ceased to appear preposterous; the convention had won, and the audience had lost. Small slips in delivery were unnoticed, big ones condoned, and nervousness encouraged to depart. The performance became a homogeneous whole, in which the excellence of the best far more than atoned for the clumsy mediocrity of the worst. When the curtains fell amid storms of applause and cut off the stage, the audience perceived suddenly, like a revelation, that the young men and women whom it knew so well in private life had been creating something-an illusion, an ecstasy, a mood-which transcended the sum total of their personalities. It was this miracle, but dimly apprehended perhaps, which left the audience impressed, and eager for the next act.

* * *

'That madam will go her own road,' said Uncle Meshach under cover of the clapping.

Leonora's smile was embarrassed. 'What do you mean?' she asked him.

He bent his head towards her, looking into her face with a sort of generous cynicism.

'I mean she'll go her own road,' he repeated.

And then, observing that most of the men were leaving their seats, he told Leonora that he should step across to the Tiger if she would let him. As he passed out, leaning forward on a stick lightly clutched in the left hand, several people demanded his opinion about the spectacle. 'Nay, nay--' he replied again and again, waving one after another out of his course.

In the bar-parlour of the Tiger, the young blades, the genuine fast men, the deliberate middle-aged persons who took one glass only, and the regular nightly customers, mingled together in a dense and noisy crowd under a canopy of smoke. The barmaid and her assistant enjoyed their brief minutes of feverish contact with the great world. Behind the counter, walled in by a rampart of dress-shirts, they conjured with bottles, glasses, and taps, heard and answered ten men at once, reckoned change by a magic beyond arithmetic, peered between shoulders to catch the orders of their particular friends, and at the same time acquired detailed information as to the progress of the opera. Late comers who, forcing a way into the room, saw the multitude of men drinking and smoking, and the unapproachable white faces of these two girls distantly flowering in the haze and the odour, had that saturnalian sensation of seeing life which is peculiar to saloons during the entr'actes of theatrical entertainments. The success of the opera, and of that chit Millicent Stanway, formed the staple of the eager conversation, though here and there a sober couple would be discussing the tramcars or the quinquennial assessment exactly as if Gilbert and Sullivan had never been born. It appeared that Milly had a future, that she was the best Patience yet seen in the district amateur or professional, that any burlesque manager would jump at her, that in five years, if she liked, she might be getting a hundred a week, and that Dolly Chose, the idol of the Tivoli and the Pavilion, had not half her style. It also appeared that Milly had no brains of her own, that the leading man had taught her all her business, that her voice was thin and a trifle throaty, that she was too vulgar for the true Savoy tradition, and that in five years she would have gone off to nothing. But the optimists carried the argument. Sundry men who had seen Meshach in the second row of the stalls expressed a keen desire to ask the old bachelor point-blank what he thought of his nephew's daughter; but Meshach did not happen to come into the Tiger.

When the crowd had thinned somewhat, Harry Burgess entered hurriedly and called for a whisky and potass, which the barmaid, who fancied him, served on the instant.

'I wanted to get a wreath,' he confided to her. 'But Pointon's is closed.'

'Why, Mr. Burgess,' she said smiling, 'there's a lot of flowers in the coffee-room, and with them and the leaves off that laurel down the yard, and a bit of wire, I could make you one in no time.'

'Can you?' He seemed doubtful.

'Can I!' she exclaimed. 'I should think I could, and a beauty! As soon as these gentleman are gone--'

'It's awfully kind of you,' said Harry, brightening. 'Can you send it round to me at the artists' entrance in half an hour?'

She nodded, beaming at the prospect. The manufacture of that wreath would be a source of colloquial gratification to her for days.

Harry politely responded to such remarks as 'Devilish good show, Burgess,' drank in one gulp another whisky and potass, and hastened away. The remainder of the company soon followed; the barmaid disappeared from the bar, and her assistant was left languidly to watch a solitary pair of topers who would certainly not leave till the clock showed eleven.

* * *

The auditorium during the entr'acte was more ceremonious, but not less noisy, than the bar-parlour of the Tiger. The pleasant warmth, the sudden increase of light after the fall of the curtain, the certainty of a success, and the consciousness of sharing in the brilliance of that success-all these things raised the spirits, and produced the loquacity of an intoxication. The individuality of each person was set free from its customary prison and joyously displayed its best side to the company. The universal chatter amounted to a din.

But Leonora, cut off by empty seats on either hand, sat silent. She was glad to be able to do so. She would have liked to be at home in solitude, to think. For she was, if not unhappy, at any rate disturbed and dubious. She felt embarrassed amid this glare and t

his bright murmur of conversation, as though she were being watched, discussed, and criticised. She was the mother of the star, responsible for the star, guilty of all the star's indiscretions. And it was a timorous, reluctant pride which she took in her daughter's success. The truth was that Milly had astonished and frightened her. When Ethel and Milly were allowed to join the Society, the possible results of the permission had not been foreseen. Both Leonora and John had thought of the girls as modest members of the chorus in an affair unmistakably and confessedly amateur. Ethel had kept within the anticipation. But here was Milly an actress, exploiting herself with unconstrained gestures and arch glances and twirlings of her short skirt, to a crowded and miscellaneous audience. Leonora did not like it; her susceptibilities were outraged. She blushed at this amazing public contradiction of Milly's bringing-up. It seemed to her as if she had never known the real Milly, and knew her now for the first time. What would the other mothers think? What would all Hillport think secretly, and say openly behind the backs of the Stanways? The girl was as innocent as a fawn, she had the free grace of extreme youth; no one could utter a word against her. But she was rouged, her lips were painted, several times she had shown her knees, and she seemed incapable of shyness. She was at home on the stage, she faced a thousand people with a pert, a brazen attitude, and said, 'Look at me; enjoy me, as I enjoy your fervent glances; I am here to tickle your fancy.' Patience! She was no more Patience than she was Sister Dora or a heroine of Charlotte Yonge's. She was the eternal unashamed doll, who twists 'men' round her little finger, and smiles on them, always with an instinct for finance.

'Quite a score for Milly!' said a polite voice in Leonora's ear. It was Mrs. Burgess, who sat in the next row.

'Do you think so?' Leonora replied, perceptibly reddening.

'Oh, yes!' said Mrs. Burgess with smooth insistence. 'And dear Ethel is very sweet in the chorus, too.'

Leonora tried to fix her thoughts on the grateful figure of mild, nervous, passionate Ethel, the child of her deepest affection.

She turned sharply. Arthur Twemlow was standing in the shadow of the side-aisle near the door. She knew he was there before her eyes saw him. He was evidently rather at a loss, unnoticed, and irresolute. He caught sight of her and bowed. She said to herself that she wished to be alone in her embarrassment, that she could not bear to talk to any one; nevertheless, she raised her finger, and beckoned to him, while striving hard to refrain from doing so. He approached at once. 'He is not in America,' she reflected in sudden agitation, 'He is here, actually here. In an instant we shall speak.'

'I quite understood you had gone back to New York,' she said, looking at him, as he stood in front of her, with the upward feminine appealing gesture that men love.

'What!' he exclaimed. 'Without saying good-bye? No! And how are you all? It seems just about a year since I saw you last.'

'All well, thanks,' she said, smiling. 'Won't you sit here? It's John's seat, but he isn't coming.'

'Then you are alone?' He seemed to apologise for the rest of his sex.

She told him that Uncle Meshach was with her, and would return directly. When he asked how the opera was going, and she learnt that, being detained at Knype, he had not seen the first act, she was relieved. He would make the discovery concerning Millicent gradually, and by her side; it was better so, she thought-less disconcerting. In a slight pause of their talk she was startled to feel her heart beating like a hammer against her corsage. Her eyes had brightened. She conversed rapidly, pleased to be talking, pleased at his sympathetic responsiveness, ignoring the audience, and also forgetting the uneasy preoccupations of her recent solitude. The men returned from the Tiger and elsewhere, all except Uncle Meshach. The lights were lowered. The conductor's stick curtly demanded silence and attention. She sank back in her seat.

'A peremptory conductor!' remarked Twemlow in a whisper.

'Yes,' she laughed. And this simple exchange of thought, effected, as it were, surreptitiously in the gloom and contrary to the rules, gave her a distinct sensation of joy.

Then began, in Bursley Town Hall, a scene similar to the scenes which have rendered famous the historic stages of European capitals. The verve and personal charm of a young débutante determined to triumph, and the enthusiasm of an audience proudly conscious that it was making a reputation, reacted upon and intensified each other to such a degree that the atmosphere became electric, delirious, magical. Not a soul in the auditorium or on the stage but what lived consummately during those minutes-some creatively, like the conductor and Millicent; some agonised with jealousy, like Florence Gardner and a few of the chorus; one maternally in tumultuous distress of spirit; and the great na?ve mass yielding with rapture to a sensuous spell.

The outstanding defect in the libretto of Patience is the decentralisation of interest in the second act. The alert ones who remembered that in that act the heroine has only one song, and certain passages of dialogue not remarkable for dramatic force, had predicted that Millicent would inevitably lose ground as the evening advanced. They were, however, deceived. Her delivery of the phrase 'I am miserable beyond description' brought the house down by its coquettish artificiality; and the renowned ballad, 'Love is a plaintive song,' established her unforgettably in the affections of the audience. Her 'exit weeping' was a tremendous stroke, though all knew that she meant them to see that these tears were simply a delightful pretence. The opera came to a standstill while she responded to an imperative call. She bowed, laughing, and then, suddenly affecting to cry again, ran off, with the result that she had to return.

'D--n it! She hasn't got much to learn, has she?' the conductor murmured to the first violin, a professional from Manchester.

But her greatest efforts she reserved for the difficult and critical prose conversations which now alone remained to her, those dialogues which seem merely to exist for the purpose of separating the numbers allotted to all the other principals. It was as though, during the entr'acte, surrounded by the paint-pots, the intrigues, and the wild confusion of the dressing-room, Millicent had been able to commune with herself, and to foresee and take arms against the peril of an anti-climax. By sheer force, ingenuity, vivacity, flippancy, and sauciness, she lifted her lines to the level, and above the level, of the rest of the piece. She carried the audience with her; she knew it; all her colleagues knew it, and if they chafed they chafed in secret. The performance went better and better as the end approached. The audience had long since ceased to notice defects; only the conductor, the leader, and a few discerning members of the troupe were aware that a catastrophe had been escaped by pure luck two minutes before the descent of the curtains.

And at that descent the walls of the Town Hall, which had echoed to political tirades, the solemn recitatives of oratorios, the mercantile uproar of bazaars, the banal compliments of prize-givings, the arid utterances of lecturers on science and art, and the moans of sinners stricken with a sense of guilt at religious revivals-those walls resounded to a gay and frenzied ovation which is memorable in the town for its ungoverned transports of approval. The Operatic Society as a whole was first acclaimed, all the performers posing in rank on the stage. Then, as the deafening applause showed no sign of diminution, the curtains were drawn back instead of being raised again, and the principals, beginning with the humblest, paraded in pairs in front of the footlights. Milly and her fortunate cavalier came last. The cavalier advanced two paces, took Milly's hand, signed to her to cross over, and retired. The child was left solitary on the stage-solitary, but unabashed, glowing with delight, and smiling as pertly as ever. The leader of the orchestra stood up and handed her a wreath, which she accepted like an oath of fealty; and the wreath, hurriedly manufactured by the barmaid of the Tiger out of some cut flowers and the old laurel tree in the Tiger yard, became, when Milly grasped it, a mysterious and impressive symbol. Many persons in the audience wanted to cry as they beheld this vision of the proud, confident, triumphant child holding the wreath, while the fierce upward ray of the footlights illuminated her small chin and her quivering nostrils. She tripped off backwards, with a gesture of farewell. The applause continued. Would she return? Not if the ferocious jealousies behind could have paralysed her as she hesitated in the wings. But the world was on her side that night; she responded again, she kissed her hands to her world, and disappeared still kissing them; and the evening was finished.

* * *

'Well,' said Twemlow calmly, 'I guess you've got an actress in the family.'

Leonora and he remained in their seats, waiting till the press of people in the aisles should have thinned, and also, so far as Leonora was concerned, to avoid the necessity of replying to remarks about Milly. The atmosphere was still charged with excitement, but Leonora observed that Arthur Twemlow did not share it. Though he had applauded vigorously, there had been no trace of emotional transport in his demeanour. He spoke at once, immediately the lights were turned up, giving her no chance to collect herself.

'But do you think so?' she said. She remembered she had made the same foolish reply to Mrs. Burgess. With Twemlow she wished to be unconventional and sincere, but she could not succeed.

'Don't you?' He seemed to regard the situation as rather amusing.

'You surely can't mean that she would do for the stage?'

'Ask any one here whether she isn't born for it,' he answered.

'This is only an amateurs' affair,' Leonora argued.

'And she's only an amateur. But she won't be an amateur long.'

'But a girl like Milly can't be clever enough--'

'It depends on what you call clever. She's got the gift of making the audience hug itself. You'll see.'

'See Milly on the stage?' Leonora asked uneasily. 'I hope not.'

'Why, my dear lady? Isn't she built for it? Doesn't she enjoy it? Isn't she at home there? What's the matter with the stage anyhow?'

'Her father would never hear of such a thing,' said Leonora. Towards the close of the opera she had seen John, in morning attire, propped against a side-wall and peering at the stage and his daughter with a bewildered, bored, unsympathetic air.

'Ah!' Twemlow ejaculated grimly.

A moment later, as he was putting her cloak over her shoulders, he said in a different, kinder, more soothing tone: 'I guess I know just how you feel.'

She looked at him, raising her eyebrows, and smiling with melancholy amusement.

In the corridor, Stanway came hurrying up to them, obviously excited.

'Oh, you're here, Nora!' he burst out. 'I've been hunting for you everywhere. I've just been told that a messenger came for Uncle Meshach a the interval to say that Aunt Hannah was ill. Do you know anything about it?'

'No,' she said. 'Uncle only told me that aunt wasn't equal to coming. I wondered where uncle had got to.'

'Well,' Stanway continued, 'you'd better go to Church Street at once, and see after things.'

Leonora seemed to hesitate.

'As quick as you can,' he said with irritation and increasing excitement. 'Don't waste a moment. It may be serious. I'll drive the girls home, and then I'll come and fetch you.'

'If Mrs. Stanway cares, I will walk down with her,' said Arthur Twemlow.

'Yes, do, Twemlow, there's a good chap,' he welcomed the idea. And with that he wafted them impulsively into the street.

Then Stanway stood waiting by his equipage for Ethel and Milly. He spoke to no one, but examined the harness critically, and put some curt question to Carpenter about the breeching. It was a chilly night, and the glare of the lamps showed that Prince steamed a little under his rug. Ten minutes elapsed before Ethel came.

'Here we are, father,' she said with pleasant satisfaction. 'Where's mother?'

'I should think so!' he returned. 'The horse taking cold, and me waiting and waiting. Your mother's had to go to Aunt Hannah's. What's become of Milly?' He was losing his temper.

Milly had to traverse the whole length of the corridor. The Mayor heartily congratulated her. The middle-aged violinist from Manchester spoke to her amiably as one public artist to another, and the conductor, who was with him, told her, in an unusual and indiscreet mood of candour, that she had simply made the show. Others expressed the same thought in more words. Near the entrance stood Harry Burgess, patently expectant. He was flushed, and looked handsomely dandiacal and rakish as he rolled a cigarette in those quick fingers of his. He meant to explain to her that the happy idea of the wreath was his own.

He accosted her unceremoniously, confidently, but she drew away, with a magnificent touch of haughtiness.

'Good-night, Harry,' she said coldly, and passed on.

The rash and conceited boy had not divined, as he should have done, that a prima donna is a prima donna, whether on the stage in a brilliant costume, or traversing a dingy corridor in the plain blue serge and simple hat of a manufacturer's daughter aged eighteen. Offering no reply to her formal salutation, he remained quite still for a moment, and then swaggered off to the Tiger.

'Look here, my girl,' said Stanway furiously to his youngest. 'Do you suppose we're going to wait for you all night? Jump in.'

Milly's lips did not move, but she faced the rude blusterer with a frigid, angry, insolent gaze. And her girlish eyes said: 'You've got me under your thumb now, you horrid beast! But never mind! Long after you are dead and buried and rotten, I shall be famous and pretty and rich, and if you are remembered it will only be because you were my father. Do your worst, odious man; you can't kill me!'

And all the way home the cruel, just, unmerciful thoughts of insulted youth mingled with the generous and beautiful sensations of her triumph.

* * *

'Nay, it's all over,' said Meshach when Twemlow and Leonora entered.

'What!' Leonora exclaimed, glancing quickly at Arthur Twemlow as if for support in a crisis.

'Doctor's gone but just this minute. Her's gotten over it.'

For a moment she had thought that Aunt Hannah was dead. John's anxious excitement had communicated itself to her; she had imagined the worst possibilities. Now the sensation of relief took her unawares, and she was obliged to sit down suddenly.

In the little parlour wizened Meshach sat by the hob as he always sat, warming one hand at the fire, and looking round sideways at the tall visitors in their rich evening attire. Leonora heard Twemlow say something about a heart attack, and the thick hard veins on Aunt Hannah's wrist.

'Ay!' Meshach went on, employing the old dialect, a sign with him of unusual agitation. 'I brought Dr. Hawley with me, he was at yon show. And when us got here Hannah was lying on th' floor, just there, with her head on this 'ere hearthrug. Susan, th' woman, told us as th' missis said she felt as if she were falling down, and then down her falls. She was staring hard at th' ceiling, with eyes fit to burst, and her face as white as a sheet. Doctor lifts her up and puts her in a chair. Bless us! How her did gasp! And her lips were blue. "Hannah!" I says. Her heard but her couldna' answer. Her limbs were all of a tremble. Then her sighed, and fetched up a long breath or two. "Where am I, Meshach?" her says, "what's amiss?" Doctor told her for stick her tongue out, and her could do that, and he put a candle to her eyes. Her's in bed now. Susan's sitting with her.'

'I'll go up and see if I can do anything,' said Leonora, rising.

'No,' Meshach stopped her. 'You'll happen excite her. Doctor said her was to go to sleep, and he's to send in a soothing draught. There's no danger-not now-not till next time. Her mun take care, mun Hannah.'

'Then it is the heart?' Leonora asked.

'Ay! It's the heart.'

Twemlow and Leonora sat silent, embarrassed in the little parlour with its antimacassars, its stiff chairs, its high mantelpiece, and the glass partition which seemed to swallow up like a pit the rays from the hissing gas-jet over the table. The image of the diminutive frail creature concealed upstairs obsessed them, and Leonora felt guilty because she had been unwittingly absorbed in the gaiety of the opera while Aunt Hannah was in such danger.

'I doubt I munna' tap that again,' Meshach remarked with a short dry plaintive laugh, pointing to the pewter platter on the mantelpiece by means of which he was accustomed to summon his sister when he wanted her.

The visitors looked at each other; Leonora's eyes were moist.

'But isn't there anything I can do, uncle?' she demanded.

'I'll see if her's asleep. Sit thee still,' said Meshach, and he crept out of the room, and up the creaking stair.

'Poor old fellow!' Twemlow murmured, glancing at his watch.

'What time is it?' she asked, for the sake of saying something. 'It's no use me staying.'

'Five to eleven. If I run off at once I can catch the last train. Good-night. Tell Mr. Myatt, will you?'

She took his hand with a feeling of intimacy.

It seemed to her that they had shared many emotions that night.

'I'll let you out,' she suggested, and in the obscurity of the narrow lobby they came into contact and shook hands again; she could not at first find the upper latch of the door,

'I shall be seeing you all soon,' he said in a low voice, on the step. She nodded and closed the door softly.

She thought how simple, agreeable, reliable, honest, good-natured, and sympathetic he was.

'Her's sleeping like a babby,' Meshach stated, returning to the parlour. He lighted his pipe, and through the smoke looked at Leonora in her dark magnificent dress.

Then John arrived, pompous and elaborately calm; but he had driven Prince to Hillport and back in twenty-five minutes. John listened to the recital of events.

'You're sure there's no danger now?' He could disguise neither his present relief nor his fear for the future.

'Thou'rt all right yet, nephew,' said Meshach with an ironic inflection, as he gazed into the dying fire. 'Her may live another ten year. And I might flit to-morrow. Thou'rt too anxious, my lad. Keep it down.'

John, deeply offended, made no reply.

'Why shouldn't I be anxious?' he exclaimed angrily as they drove home. 'Whose fault is it if I am? Does he expect me not to be?'

* * *

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