Once a Week (magazine)/Series 1/Volume 8/Eleanor's victory - Part 4
BY THE AUTHOR OF “AURORA FLOYD,” “LADY AUDLEY’S SECRET,” &c.
CHAPTER IV. WAITING.
Miss Vane walked very slowly homeward through the hot, breathless summer night. She was too sorrowful, too much depressed by the sudden disappointment which had fallen like a dark shadow upon the close of the day which had begun so brightly, to be embarrassed by any uncomfortable sense of her loneliness in the crowded thoroughfare.
No one molested or assailed her—she walked serene in her youth and innocence; though the full radiance of the lamplight rarely fell upon her face without some passing glance of admiration resting there also. She never once thought that her father had done wrong in leaving her to walk alone through that crowded Parisian street. In the unselfishness of her loving nature she scarcely remembered her disappointment about the theatre: not even when she passed the brilliantly lighted edifice, and looked, a little wistfully perhaps, at the crowd upon the threshold.
She was uneasy and unhappy about her father, because in all her Chelsea experiences she remembered evil to have resulted from his going out late at night; vague and mysterious trouble, the nature of which he had never revealed to her, but whose effects had haunted him and depressed him for many dreary days. He had been sometimes, indeed, very often, poorer after a late absence from his shabby Chelsea lodging; he had been now and then richer; but he had always been alike remorseful and miserable after those occasional nights of dissipation.
His daughter was sorrowful therefore after painting with him. She knew that, in spite of his declaration that he would be home at eleven, it would be between one and two in the morning when he returned; not tipsy—no, thank Heaven, he was no drunkard—but with a nervous, wretched, half- demented manner, which was perhaps more sad to see than any ordinary intoxication.
“I was in hopes papa would always stay at home with me now that I am grown up,” the young lady thought very sadly. “When I was little, of course it was different; I couldn’t amuse him. Though we were very happy sometimes then; and I could play écarté, or cribbage, or whist with two dummies. If I can get on very well with my education at Madame Marly’s, and then get a situation as morning governess for a large salary—morning governesses do get high salaries sometimes—how happy papa and I might be.”
Her spirits revived under the influence of cheering thoughts such as these. I have said before that it was scarcely possible for her to be long unhappy. Her step grew lighter and faster as she walked homeward. The glory of the gas lights brightened with the brightening of her hopes. She no longer felt her loneliness in the indifferent crowd. She began to linger now and then before some of the most attractive of the shops, with almost the same intense rapture and delight that she had felt in the morning.
She was standing before a book-stall, or rather an open shop perhaps, reading the titles of the paper-covered romances with the full glare of the shadeless gas lights on her face, when she was startled by a loud, hearty English voice, which exclaimed without one murmur of warning or preparation:
“Don’t tell me that this tall young woman with the golden curls, is Miss Eleanor Vandeleur Vane, of Regent Gardens, King’s Road, Chelsea, London, Middlesex. Please don’t tell me anything of the kind, for I can’t possibly believe anybody but Jack-and-the-beanstalk could have grown at such a rate.”
Eleanor Vane turned round with her face lit up with smiles to greet this noisy gentleman.
“Oh, Dick,” she cried, putting both her hands into the broad palm held out before her, “is it really you? Who would have thought of seeing you in Paris?”
“Or you, Miss Vane? We heard you were at school at Brixton.”
“Yes, Dick,” the young lady answered; “but I have come home now. Papa lives here, you know, and I am going to a finishing school in the Bois de Boulogne, and then I am going to be a morning governess, and live with papa always.”
“You are a great deal too pretty for a governess,” said the young man, looking admiringly at the bright face lifted up to him; “your mistress would snub you. Miss Vane, you’d better—”
“Try our shop.”
“What, be a scene-painter, Dick?” cried Eleanor, laughing. “It would be funny for a woman to be a scene-painter.”
“Of course, Miss Vane. But nobody talked of scene-painting. You don’t suppose I’d ask you to stand on the top of a ladder to put in skies and backgrounds, do you? There are other occupations at the Royal Waterloo Phœnix besides scene-painting. But I don’t want to talk to you about that: I know how savage your poor old dad used to be when we talked of the Phœnix. What do you think I am over here for?”
“Why, they’re doing a great drama in eight acts and thirty-two tableaux at the Porte St. Martin, Raoul l’Empoisonneur it’s called, Ralph the Poisoner, and I’m over here to pick up the music, sketch the scenery and effects, and translate the play. Something like versatility there, I think, for five-and-thirty shillings a week.”
“Dear Richard, you were always so clever.”
“To be sure; it runs in the family.”
“And the Signora, she is well, I hope?”
“Pretty well; the teaching goes on tant bon que mauvais, as our friends over here say. The Clementi is a little thinner in tone than when you heard it last, and a little further off concert pitch; but as most of my aunt’s pupils sing flat, that’s rather an advantage than otherwise. But where are you going, Miss Vane? because, wherever it is, I’d better see you there. If we stand before this book-stall any longer, the proprietor may think we’re going to buy something, and as the Parisians don’t seem a buying people, the delusion might be too much for his nerves. Where shall I take you, Miss Vane?”
“To the Rue l’Archevêque, if you please, behind the Madeleine. Do you know it?”
“Better than I know myself. Miss V. The Signora lived in that direction when I was a boy. But how is it that you are all alone in the streets at this time of night?”
“Papa had an appointment with two gentlemen, and he—”
“And he left you to walk home alone. Then he still—”
“Still what, Richard?”
The young man had stopped hesitatingly, and looking furtively at Eleanor.
“He still stays out late at night sometimes: a bad habit. Miss Vane. I was in hopes he would have been cured of it by this time; especially as there are no dens in the Palais Royal, now-a-days.”
“No dens in the Palais Royal,” cried Eleanor. “What do you mean?”
“Nothing, my dear Miss Nelly, except that Paris used to be a very wild and wicked place.”
“But it isn’t now?”
“Oh dear, no. Our modern Lutetia is a very paradise of innocent delights, whose citizens enjoy themselves virtuously under the sheltering dictatorialism of a paternal government. You don’t understand me—well, never mind, you are still the bright-faced child you were in the King’s Road, Chelsea, only taller and prettier—that’s all.”
Miss Vane had taken her companion’s arm, and they were walking away towards the Madeleine by this time; the young lady clinging to her new friend almost as confidingly as she had done to her father.
I don’t think the confidence was misplaced. This young man, with the loud voice and the somewhat reckless manner, was only assistant scene-painter and second violin player at a transpontine theatre. He was bound by no tie of relationship to the beautiful girl hanging upon his arm. Indeed, his acquaintance with Mr. Vane and his daughter had been of that accidental and desultory kind out of which the friendships of poor people generally arise.
The young man had lodged with his aunt in the same house that for nearly six years had sheltered the proud old spendthrift and his motherless child, and some of Eleanor’s earliest memories were of Signora Piccirillo and her nephew Richard Thornton. She had received her first lessons upon, the pianoforte from the kind Signora, whose Neapolitan husband had died years and years before, leaving her nothing but an Italian name, which looked very imposing at the top of the circulars which the music-mistress was wont to distribute amongst her pupils.
Richard Thornton, at eight-and-twenty, seemed a very elderly person in the eyes of the school-girl of fifteen. She could remember him years, and years, and years ago, as it seemed to her, sitting in his shirt sleeves through the long summer afternoons, under the shadow of the scarlet runners in the little garden at Chelsea, smoking dirty clay pipes and practising popular melodies upon his fiddle. Her father had thought him a nuisance, and had been lofty and reserved in his patronage of the young man; but to Eleanor, Dick had been the most delightful of playfellows, the wisest of counsellors, the most learned of instructors. Whatever Richard did. Miss Vane insisted upon also doing, humbly following the genius she admired, with little toddling steps, along the brilliant pathway his talents adorned.
I am afraid she had learned to play “God save the Queen,” and “Rory O’More,” upon Richard’s violin, before she had mastered Haydn’s “Surprise,” or “Ah, vous dirai-je, Maman?” upon the Signora’s shabby old grand piano. She smeared her pinafores with poor Dick’s water-colours, and insisted upon producing replicas of the young scene-painter’s sketches, with all the houses lopsided, and the trunks of all the trees gouty. If Dick kept rabbits or silkworms, there was no greater happiness for Miss Vane than to accompany him to Covent Garden market in quest of cabbage or mulberry leaves. I do not mean that she ever deserted her father for the society of her friend; but there were times when Mr. Vane absented himself from his little girl; long days, in which the old man strolled about the streets of the West-end, on the look-out for the men he had known in his prosperity, with the hope of borrowing a pound or two, or a handful of loose silver, for the love of Auld Lang Syne; and longer nights, in which the old man disappeared from the Chelsea lodging for many dreary hours.
Then it was that Eleanor Vane was thrown into the companionship of the Signora and her nephew. Then it was that she read Richard’s books and periodicals, that she revelled in “Jack Sheppard,” and gloated over “Wagner, the Wehr Wolf.” Then it was that she played upon the young man’s violin, and copied his pictures, and destroyed his water-colours, and gorged his rabbits and silkworms, and loved and tormented, and admired him, after the manner of some beautiful younger sister, who had dropped from the clouds to be his companion.
This is how these two stood towards each other. They had not met for three years until to-night, and in the interim Miss Eleanor Vane had grown from a hoyden of twelve into a tall, slender young damsel of fifteen.
“You were so altered, Miss Vane,” Richard said, as they walked along the boulevard, “that I can’t help wondering how it was I knew you.”
“And you’re not altered a bit, Dick,” answered the young lady, “but don’t call me Miss Vane—it sounds as if you were laughing at me. Call me Nell, as you used to do, at Chelsea. Do you know, Dick, I contrived to go to Chelsea once last summer. It was against papa’s wish, you know, that I should let them find out where I came from at Brixton; because, you see, Chelsea, or at least the King’s Road, sounds vulgar, papa thought. Indeed, I believe he said he lived in Cadogan Place, when the Miss Bennetts asked him the question. He explained it to me afterwards, you know, poor dear; and it wasn’t exactly a story, for he had lodged there for a fortnight once, just after his marriage with mamma, and when he was beginning to get poor. So I was obliged to manage so cleverly to get to Regent’s Gardens, Dick, and when I did get there you were gone, and the Signora’s rooms were to let, and there was a nasty cross old woman in our lodgings, and the scarlet runners in the garden were so neglected, and I saw your rabbit-hutches, all broken and forgotten in the corner by the dust-hole, but the rabbits were gone. The dear old place seemed so changed, Dick, though Mr. and Mrs. Migson were very kind, and very pleased to see me, but they couldn’t tell me where you and the Signora were living.”
“No, we moved two or three times after leaving Regent’s Gardens. You see we’re obliged to study the pupils, Nell, rather than our own convenience. Chelsea was a long way from the Waterloo Phœnix, in spite of the short cuts; but wherever the Signora’s pupils are thickest, we’re obliged to pitch our tents. They’re thickest about Tottenham-court Road and Euston Square way now: so we’re living in the Pilasters, Dudley Street.”
“The Pilasters! That sounds quite grand, Dick.”
“Yes, doesn’t it? Magnifique et pas cher. We’ve a chimney-sweep next door but one, and no end of mangles. The Pilasters would be very nice, if we’d two sides of the way, but unfortunately we haven’t; the other side’s stables. It isn’t my prejudices make me object to that; but the grooms make such an abominable noise cleaning down their horses, and I wake every morning out of a dream in which it’s Boxing-night, and my transformation scene is getting the goose.”
The young man laughed cheerily, and guided his companion across the road to the other side of the boulevard. It was past ten o’clock when they reached the corner of the Rue l’Archevêque, and the butcher’s shop was closed.
Eleanor knew that she had only to push open the little side door, and that she would find the key of her father’s rooms in the custody of the butcher’s wife. She was very tired, almost ready to drop, poor girl, for she had walked a long way since alighting at the Palais Royal with her father; but she was almost sorry that she had reached her destination. The sense of her loneliness returned, now that she was to part with her old friend.
“Thank you very much for seeing me home, Dick,” she said, shaking hands with the young scene-painter. “It was very selfish of me to bring you so far out of your way.”
“Selfish of you! Why, you don’t suppose I’d let you prowl about the streets by yourself, Nell?”
Eleanor’s face flushed as her friend said this: there was a reproach to her father implied in the speech.
“It was my own fault that I was so late,” she said. “It was only just nine when papa left me; but I loitered a little, looking at the shops. I shall see you again, Dick, I hope. But of course I shall, for you’ll come and see papa, won’t you? How long do you stay in Paris?”
“About a week, I suppose. I’ve a week’s leave of absence, and double salary, besides my expenses. They know the value of a clever man at the Phœnix, Miss Vane.”
“And where are you staying, Dick?”
“At the Hôtel des Deux Mondes, near the markets. I’ve an apartment in convenient proximity to the sky, if I want to study atmospheric effects. And so you live here, Nell?”
“Yes, those are our windows.”
Eleanor pointed to the open sashes of the entresol: the fluffy worsted curtains were drawn, but the windows were wide open.
“And you expect your papa home—”
“At eleven o’clock at the latest,” she said.
Richard Thornton sighed. He remembered Mr. Vane’s habits, and he remembered that the little girl in pinafores had been wont to keep abnormal hours in her long watches for her father’s coming. He had often found her, on his return from the transpontine theatre at one or two o’clock, with the door of the little sitting-room ajar, waiting patiently for the old man’s coming.
“You won’t sit up for your papa, Nell,” he said, as he shook hands with her.
“Oh, no, papa told me not to sit up.”
“Good night, then. You look tired, Nell. I’ll call to-morrow, and I’ll take you to the theatre, if your papa will let you go, and you shall see ‘Raoul l’Empoisonneur.’ Such a scene, Nell, in the seventh act. The stage divided into eight compartments, with eight different actions going on simultaneously, and five murders before the fall of the curtain. It’s a great piece, and ought to make Spavin and Cromshaw’s fortune.”
“And yours, Dick.”
“Oh, yes, Cromshaw will shake me by the hand in that delightful, gentlemanly manner of his: and Spavin—why Spavin will give me a five-pound note for my adaptation of ‘Raoul,’ and tell every member of the company, in confidence, that all the great scenes have been written in by him, and that the piece was utter rubbish till he reconstructed it.”
“Yes, Nell, poorer than the gentleman who wrote the almanack, I dare say. But never mind, Nell. I don’t think the game of life pays for much expenditure in the way of illumination. I think the wisest people are those who take existence easily. Spavin’s wealth can’t give him anything better than diamond studs and a phaeton. The virtuous peasant, Nell, who can slap his chest, and defy his enemies to pick a hole in his green baize jerkin, gets the best of it in the long run, I dare say.”
“But I wish you were rich, Dick, for the Signora’s sake,” Eleanor said, gently.
“So do I, Nelly. I wish I was lessee of the Phœnix, and I’d bring you out as Juliet, with new palace arches for the ball-room, and a lime-light in the balcony scene. But, good night, my dear; I mustn’t keep you standing here, like this, though parting is such sweet sorrow, that I really shouldn’t have the heart to go away to-night if I didn’t mean to call to-morrow. That line’s rattier longer than the original, Nell, isn’t it?”
Eleanor Vane laughed heartily at her old friend’s random talk, as she wished him good night. All the light-heartedness of her careless childhood seemed to return to her in Richard Thornton’s society. Her childhood had not been an unhappy one, remember; for in all her father’s troubles, he had so contrived as to keep his head above water, somehow or other, and the influence of his over-sanguine spirit had kept Eleanor bright and hopeful under every temporary cloud in the domestic sky.
But the sense of her loneliness came back as she pushed open the door and entered the dark passage at the side of the shop. The butcher’s wife came out at the sound of her footstep, and gave her the key, with some kindly word of greeting which Eleanor scarcely understood.
She could only say, “Bon soir, madame,” in her school-girl French, as she dragged herself slowly up the little winding stair, thoroughly worn out, physically and mentally, by this time.
The little entresol seemed terribly close and stifling. She drew back the curtains, and looked out through the open window, but even the street itself seemed oppressively hot in the moonless, airless August night.
Eleanor found half a wax candle in a flat china candlestick, and a box of matches, set ready for her. She lighted this candle, and then flung off her bonnet and mantle, before she sat down near the window.
“I shall have a very short time to wait, if papa comes home at eleven o’clock,” she thought.
Alas! she remembered in her old childish experiences, that he had never come home at the promised hour. How often, ah, how often, she had waited, counting the weary hours upon the church clocks,—there was one which chimed the quarters; and trembling sometimes at those strange sounds which break the night silence of every house. How often she had “hoped against hope,” that he might, for this once, return at the time he had promised.
She took the candle in her hand and looked about for a book. She wanted to wile away the dreary interval which she knew must elapse before her father’s return. She found a novel of Paul Féval’s, in a dirty and tattered cover, on the little marble-topped writing-table. The leaves were crumpled, and smeared with stains and splotches of grease, for it was Mr. Vane’s habit to amuse himself with a work of fiction while he took his matutinal roll and coffee. He had taken to novel reading in his frivolous old age, and was as fond of a sentimental story as any school-girl,—as his daughter herself.
Miss Vane drew the lumbering little table to the open window, and sat down before it, with her candle close to her elbow, and the tattered book spread out before her. No breath of air flickered the flame of her candle, or ruffled the golden hair swept back from her brow.
The passers-by upon the opposite side of the street—they were few and far between by this time—looked up at the lighted window, and saw a pretty picture by the dim glimmer of that solitary candle. The picture of a girl, serene in her youth and innocence, bending over her book: her pale muslin dress and yellow hair faintly visible in the subdued light.
The rattle of wheels and the cries of coachmen sounded far off upon the Boulevard, and in the Rue de Rivoli, and only made the silence more palpable in the Rue de l’Archevêque. Now and then a carriage came into that quiet corner, and Eleanor Vane looked up from her book, breathless, eager, expectant, fondly hoping that her father might have come back to her in some hired vehicle; but the solitary carriage always rolled away, until the sound of its wheels mixed with the rattle of the distant wheels upon the Boulevards.
There were clocks in the distance that struck the quarters. How long those quarters seemed! Paul Féval was very interesting no doubt. There was an awful mystery in those greasy tattered pages; a ghastly mystery about two drowned young women, treacherously made away with, as it seemed, upon the shore of a dreary river overshadowed by willows. There were villains and rascals paramount throughout this delightful romance; and there was mystery and murder enough for half a dozen novels. But Eleanor’s thoughts wandered away from the page. The dreary river-bank, and the ghostly pollard-willows, the drowned young women, and the ubiquitous villain, all mingled themselves with her anxious thoughts about her father; and the trouble in the book seemed to become a part of the trouble in her own mind, adding its dismal weight to her anxieties.
There were splotchy engravings scattered here and there through the pages of Monsieur Féval’s romance, and Eleanor fancied by-and-by that the villain in these pictures was like the sulky stranger who had followed her father and the Frenchman away towards the Barrière Saint Antoine.
She fancied this, although she had scarcely seen that silent stranger’s face. He had kept it, as it seemed, purposely averted, and she had only caught one glimpse of the restless black eyes under the shadow of his hat, and the thick moustache that shrouded his mouth. There is always something mysterious and unpleasant in the idea of anything that has been hidden from us, however trivial and insignificant that thing may be. Eleanor Vane, growing more and more nervous as the slow hours crept away, began to worry herself with the vivid recollection of that one brief glimpse in which she had seen the silent stranger’s face.
“He cannot have a good countenance,” she thought, “or the recollection of it would not make me so uncomfortable. How rude he was, too! I did not much like the Frenchman, but at least he was polite. The other man was very disagreeable. I hope he is not a friend of papa’s.” And then she returned to the drowned young women, and the water-side, and the willows; trying in vain to bury herself in the romance, and not to listen so eagerly for the striking of the quarters. Sometimes she thought, “Before I turn over to the next page, papa will be home,” or, “Before I can finish this chapter I shall hear his step upon the stairs.”
Breathless though the night was, there were many sounds that disturbed and mocked this anxious watcher. Sometimes the door below shook—as if by some mysterious agency, there being no wind—and Eleanor fancied that her father’s hand was on the latch. Sometimes the stairs creaked, and she started from her chair, eager to run and receive him, and firmly believing that he was stealing stealthily up to his apartments, anxious not to disturb the sleepers. She had known his cautious footfall sound exactly thus in her old days’ midnight watches.
But all these sounds were only miserable delusions. Quarter after quarter, each quarter longer than the last, hour after hour, struck from the clocks distant and near. The rattling of the wheels upon the Boulevards had died gradually away, and at last had ceased altogether.
It was long past four, and Eleanor had pushed aside her book altogether. It was daylight,—grey, cold, morning, chill and dismal after the oppressive August night, and she stood now in the window watching the empty street.
But still the quarters chimed from the distant clocks; those distant chimes had become terribly distinct now in the early morning stillness. But the silence was not long-lived. The rumble of waggon wheels sounded far away in the Rue St. Honoré. The rush and clatter of a detachment of cavalry clashed upon the asphalte of the Place de la Concorde. The early sound of a horn called out some wretched recruits to perform their morning exercise in the court-yards of the Louvre. The cheerful voices of workpeople echoed in the streets, dogs were barking, birds singing, the yellow sun mounting in a cloudless heaven.
But there were no signs of the coming of George Vane with the morning sunlight, and as the day grew older and brighter, the anxious face of the pale watcher at the open window only grew paler and more anxious.
CHAPTER VI. THE BLACK BUILDING BY THE RIVER.
Richard Thornton was by no means an early riser. He was generally one of the last of those gentlemen who shuffled into the orchestra at the ten o’clock rehearsal of a new melodrama, in which all the effect of a murder or an abduction depended upon the pizzicato twittering of violins, and the introduction of explosive chords at particular crises in the action of the piece. Mr. Thornton was a sluggard, who complained most bitterly of the heartlessness of stage-managers and prompter’s minions in the shape of unresting call-boys, who seemed to take a malicious delight in nailing cruel slips of paper to the door-post of the Phœnix; terrible mandates, wherein the Full Band was called at ten; “no ten minutes;” the meaning of this last mysterious clause being that the ten minutes’ grace which is usually accorded to the tardy performer shall on this occasion be cut off and done away with.
But Richard was out for a holiday now. The eyes of Messrs. Spavin and Cromshaw would fain have followed him in his Parisian wanderings, to see that he did double work for his double wage; but the proprietors of the Royal Waterloo Phœnix not being blest with the gift of clairvoyance, Mr. Thornton defied and snapped his fingers at them, secure in the consciousness of his own value.
“If J. T. Jumballs, the author of all the original dramas they’ve done at the Phœnix for the last ten years, understood French, he’d do ‘Raoul’ for two pound ten,” thought Richard, as he stood before his looking-glass in the blazing August sunshine, rubbing his chin contemplatively and wondering whether the bristles would be too strong if he let them stop till another morning.
If the honest truth is to be recorded, it must be acknowledged that Mr. Thornton was by no means too scrupulous in the performance of his toilet. He had a habit of forgetting to shave until his chin was covered by an appearance of red stubble, dappled here and there by patches of blue and brown, for his beard was wont to crop up in unexpected hues, which surprised even himself. He sympathised with the great lexicographer in not having any overstrained partiality for clean linen, and, indeed, usually wore a coloured shirt, the bosom of which was arabesqued with stray splashes of whitewash and distemper, to say nothing of occasional meandering evidences of the numerous pints of porter imbibed by the young artist during his day’s labour. When Mr. Thornton bought a new suit of clothes he put them on, and wore them continuously, and ate and drank and painted in them until they were so worn and frayed, and enfeebled by ill treatment, that they began to drop away from him in rusty fragments like the withered leaves which fall from a sturdy young oak. There were people who declared that Mr. Thornton slept in his ordinary costume, but of course this was a cruel slander.
To walk eight or nine miles a-day to and fro between the place of your abode and the scene of your occupation; to paint the best part of the scenery for a large theatre in which new pieces are brought out pretty frequently; to play second fiddle, and attend early rehearsals upon cold mornings; to jot down the music cues in a melodrama, or accompany Mr. Grigsby in his new comic song, or Madame Rosalbini in her latest cachuca, and to adapt a French drama, now and then, by way of adding a few extra pounds to your income, is not exactly to lead an idle life: so perhaps poor Richard Thornton may be forgiven if his friends had occasion to laugh at his indifference upon the subject of soap and water. They even went so far as to call him “Dirty Dick,” in their more facetious moments; but I don’t think the obnoxious soubriquet wounded Richard’s feelings. Everybody liked him and respected him as a generous-hearted, genial-tempered, honourable-minded fellow, who would scarcely have told a lie to save his life, and who scorned to drink a pint of beer that he couldn’t pay for, or to accept a favour which he didn’t mean to return.
People at the Phœnix knew that Richard Thornton’s father had been a gentleman, and that the young man had a certain pride of his own. He was the only man in the theatre who neither abused nor flattered his employers. The carpenters and gasmen touched their caps when they talked to him, though he was shabbier than any of those employés; the little ballet girls were fond of him, and came to tell him their troubles when the cruel stage-manager had put their names down for shilling fines in a horrible book which was to be seen on the treasury table every Saturday morning. The old cleaners of the theatre told Mr. Thornton about their rheumatic knee-joints, and came to him for sympathy after dreary hours of scouring. He had patience with and compassion for every one. People knew that he was kind and tender-hearted, for his pencil initials always appeared in some obscure corner of every subscription list against a sum which was bulky when taken in relation to the amount of his salary. People knew that he was brave, for he had once threatened to fling Mr. Spavin into the pit, when that gentleman had made some insinuation impeaching Richard’s honour as to the unfair use of gold-leaf in the Enchanted Caves of Azure Deep. They knew that he was dutiful, and kind, and true to the old music-mistress with whom he lived, and whom he helped to support. They knew that when other men made light of sacred things, and were witty and philosophical upon very solemn subjects, Richard Thornton would leave the assembly gravely and quietly, how eloquent or lively soever he might have been before. People knew all this, and were respectful to the young scene-painter, in spite of the rainbow smears of paint upon his shabby coat, and the occasional fringe of mud upon the frayed edges of his trousers.
Upon this august morning Mr. Thornton made very short work of his toilet.
“I won’t go out to breakfast,” he thought, “though I can get two courses and a dessert in the Palais Royal, to say nothing of half a bottle of sour claret, for fifteen pence. I’ll get some coffee and rolls, and go to work at some of the scenes for ‘Raoul.’”
He rang a bell near his bed, pushed a table to the window which looked out into the quadrangle of the hotel, and sat down with a battered tin box of water-colours and a few squares of Bristol board before him. He had to ring several times before one of the waiters condescended to answer his summons, but he worked away cheerily, smoking as he worked, at a careful water-coloured copy of a rough pencil-sketch which he had made a couple of nights before in the pit of the theatre.
He didn’t leave off to eat his breakfast when it came, by-and-by, but buttered his rolls and drank his coffee in the pauses of his work, only laying down his brush for a minute or so at a time. The scene was a street in old Paris, the houses very dark and brown, with over-hanging latticed windows, exterior staircases, practicable bridges, and all sorts of devices which called for the employment of a great deal of glue and pasteboard in Richard’s model. This scene was only one out of eight, and the young scene-painter wanted to take perfect models of all the eight scenes back to the Phœnix. He had M. Michel Lévy’s sixty centimes edition of the new play spread open before him, and referred to it now and again as he painted.
“Humph! Enter Raoul down staircase in flat. Raoul’s a doctor, and the house with the staircase is his. The house at the corner belongs to Gobemouche, the comic barber, and the practicable lattice is Madeline’s. She’ll come to her window by-and-by to talk to the doctor, whom she thinks a very excellent man; though he’s been giving her mild doses of aqua tofana for the last three weeks. Catherine de’ Medicis comes over the practicable bridge, presently, disguised as a nun. I wonder how many melodramas poor Catherine has appeared in since she left this mortal stage. Did she ever do anything except poison people, I wonder, while she was alive? She never does at the Porte Saint Martin, or on the Surrey side of the Thames. I must sketch the costumes, by-and-bye. Raoul in black velvet and scarlet tights, a pointed beard, straight eyebrows, short black hair,—austere and dignified. Cromshaw will do Raoul, of course, and Spavin will play the light-comedy soldier who gets drunk, and tears off Catherine’s velvet mask in the last scene. Yes, that’ll be a great scene on our side of the water. Charles the Ninth—he’s a muff, so anybody can play him—has just finished reading the arsenicated edition of a treatise on hawking, closes the last page of the book, feels the first spasm. Catherine, disguised as a nun, has been followed by Spavin—by the comedy-soldier, I mean—to the Louvre, after a conversation having been overheard between her and Raoul. The King, in the agonies of spasmodic affection, asks who has murdered him. ‘That woman—that sorceress—that fiend in human form!’ cries the soldier, snatching the mask from Catherine’s face.—‘Merciful Heaven, it is my mother!’ shrieks the King, falling dead with a final spasm. That ‘it is my mother!’ ought to be good for three rounds of applause, at least. I dare say Spavin will have the speech transferred from the King’s part to his own. ‘Merciful Heaven, it is his mother!’ would do just as well.”
Poor Richard Thornton, not having risen very early, worked on till past five o’clock in the afternoon before his model was finished. He got up with a sigh of relief when the pasteboard presentment of the old Parisian street stood out upon the little table, square and perfect.
He filled his pipe and walked up and down before the table, smoking and admiring his work in an innocent rapture.
“Poor Nelly,” he thought presently. “I promised I would call in the Rue l’Archevêque to-day, to pay my respects to the old chap. Not that he’d particularly care to see me, I dare say; but Nell is such a darling. If she asked me to stand on my head, and do poor old Goffie’s gnome-fly business, I think I should try and do it. However, it is too late to call upon Mr. Vandeleur Vane to-day, so I must put that off till to-morrow. I must drop in again at half-price at the Porte Saint Martin, to have another look at the scene in eight compartments. That’ll be rather a poser for the machinist at the Phœnix, I flatter myself. Yes, I must have one more look at it, and—Ah! by-the-bye, there’s the Morgue!”
Mr. Thornton finished his pipe and rubbed his chin with a reflective air.
“Yes, I must have a look at the Morgue before I go,” he thought; “I promised that old nuisance J. T. Jumballs that I’d refresh my memory about the Morgue. He’s doing a great drama in which one half of the dramatis personæ recognise the other half dead on the marble slabs. He’s never been across the Channel, and I think his notions of the Morgue are somewhat foggy. He fancies it’s about as big as Westminster Abbey, I know, and he wants the governors to give him the whole depth of the stage for his great scene, and set it obliquely, like the Assyrian hall in ‘Sardanapalus,’ so as to give the idea of illimitable extent. I’m to paint the scene for him. ‘The interior of the Morgue by lamplight. The meeting of the living and the dead.’ That’ll be rather a strong line for the bill, at any rate. I’ll go and have some dinner in the Palais Royal, and then go down and have a look at the gloomy place. An exterior wouldn’t be bad, with Notre Dame in the distance, but an interior—Bah! J. T. J. is a clever fellow, but I wish his genius didn’t lie so much in the charnel-house.”
He put on his hat, left his room, locked the door, and ran down the polished staircase whistling merrily as he went. He was glad to be released from his work, pleased at the prospect of a few hours’ idleness in the foreign city. Many people, inhabitants and visitors, thought Paris dull, dreary, and deserted in this hot August weather, but it was a delightful change from the Pilasters and the primeval solitudes of Northumberland Square, that quaint, grim, quadrangle of big houses, whose prim middle-class inhabitants looked coldly over their smart wire window-blinds at poor Richard’s shabby coat.
Mr. Thornton got an excellent dinner at a great bustling restaurateur’s in the Palais Royal, where for two francs one might dine upon all the delicacies of the season, in a splendid saloon, enlivened by the martial braying of a brass band in the garden below.
The carte du jour almost bewildered Richard by its extent and grandeur, and he chose haphazard from the catalogue of soups which the obliging waiter gabbled over for his instruction. He read all the pleasing by-laws touching the non-division of dinners, and the admissibility of exchanges in the way of a dish for a dessert, or a dessert for a dish, by payment of a few extra centimes. He saw that almost all the diners hid themselves behind great wedges of orange-coloured melon at an early stage of the banquet, and generally wound up with a small white washing-basin of lobster salad, the preparation of which was a matter of slow and solemn care and thought. He ordered his dinner in humble imitation of these accomplished habitués, and got very good value for his two francs, and then paid his money, bowed to the graceful lady who sat in splendid attire in a very bower of salads and desserts, and went down a broad staircase that led into a street behind the Palais Royal, and thence to the Rue Richelieu.
He treated himself to a cup of coffee and a cigar at a café in the Place de la Bourse, and then strolled slowly away towards the Seine, smoking, and dawdling to look at this and that as he walked along. It was nearly eight o’clock therefore when he emerged, from some narrow street, upon the quay, and made his way towards that bridge beneath whose shadow the Morgue hides, like some foul and unhallowed thing. He did not much like the task which Mr. Jumballs had imposed upon him, but he was too good-natured to refuse compliance with the transpontine dramatist’s desire, and far too conscientious to break a promise once made, however disagreeable the performance of that promise might prove.
He walked on resolutely, therefore, towards the black, shed-like building.
“I hope there are no bodies there to-night,” he thought. “One glance round the place will show me all I want to see. I hope there are no poor dead creatures there to-night.”
He stopped before going in and looked at a couple of women who were standing near, chattering together with no little gesticulation.
He asked one of these women the question, Were there any bodies in the Morgue?
Yes,—the women both answered with one voice. There had not long been brought the body of a gentleman, an officer it was thought, poisoned in a gaming-house. A murder, perhaps, or a suicide; no one knew which.
Richard Thornton shrugged his shoulders as he turned away from the idle gossips.
“Some people would call me a coward if they knew how I dislike going into this place,” he thought.
He threw away his cigar, took off his hat, and slowly crossed the dark threshold of the Parisian dead-house.
When he came out again, which was not until after the lapse of at least a quarter of an hour, his face was almost as white as the face of the corpse he had left within. He went upon the bridge, scarcely knowing where he went, and walking like a man who walks in his sleep.
Not more than half a dozen yards from the Morgue he came suddenly upon the lonely figure of a girl, whose arm rested on the parapet of the bridge and whose pale face was turned towards the towers of Notre Dame.
She looked up as he approached, and called him by his name.
“You here, Eleanor,” he cried. “Come away, child; come away, for pity’s sake!”