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'You don't want me? Very well.'
Stay, Lance,' said Felix, whose reproofs had never before been received by Lance in this manner, 'I wish you to understand. You offered your services under a generous impulse last year, when I was overdone and perplexed; but I doubted then if it were not a mistake. You had come to be very valuable, more so than any mere hireling could be, and I am very thankful to you; but if you are to be like what you have been for a month past, you are doing some harm to the business and a great deal to yourself, and you had better choose some line that you can be hearty in.'
I hardly know.'
Such work as yours has been of late is the
A message came in at the moment, and by the time Felix had answered it, Lance had vanished, rather to his vexation and uneasiness. He went up to supper, the first family meeting where there had been time to talk over the humours of the day before. Edgar was full of fun; and the report Cherry had been writing for the 'Pursuivant' was read aloud in the family conclave, and freely canvassed, but Lance, though he put in a word or two here and there, was much quieter than usual; and when all the others moved back into the drawing-room, he touched Robina's arm, and kept her with him in the dark room.
'What should you say, Bob, if I got out of it all ?' was his first word.
'Out of it all!'
Ay. Felix thinks me no loss, and I've got a chance.'
'Oh!' a long interrogative not well pleased sound it was, not answered at once; and Robina added,
Does Mr. Miles want an
"Tisn't that sort. You saw the gentleman that came down with Edgar and the Hugarians?'
'Yes, his name is Allen, he is manager of the National Minstrelsy,' Edgar said.
He has got a lease of a concert-room in town, and
he would give me five pounds a week to sing two nights a week through the season!'
'Lance!' Robina could only stand breathless.
'I'll tell you all about it. You know Edgar came and called me just at dinner-time.'
'I know, and Felix got no dinner at all except a sandwich that Wilmet sent down.'
'Well, that was his own fault.
However, there they were at the Fortinbras Arms, in the best blue room, just come down to breakfast.'
'Who? The Hungarians?'
Mr. Allen and M. Prebel were waiting for the lady, to ring and have the hot things up. What a stunner she is, to be sure! the finest woman I ever saw in my life, and such pretty ways when she can't find an English word, I should think a queen must be just like her.'
'Yes, if she is waited for in that way. Did you get anything to eat, then, Lance ?'
'Didn't we, though? Why, they had asked us to breakfast ; and such a breakfast I never set eyes on-devilled kidneys, and pie with truffles in it, and pine-apple jam-and wine! They asked for wines that Reid the waiter had never heard of-nor, it is my belief, Mr. Jones either.'
'But is this all to come out of their expenses that are paid for them ?'
You're getting like W. W., I declare, Bobbie. I never thought of that; but I'll go up to Reid, and find out the worth of my own share, and wipe that out. Well, they were uncommonly kind and civil. Edgar's quite at home with them, you know; talks French like a house on fire, or German-I don't know which it was, but she made it sound as pretty as could be, and I should soon pick it up. I had no notion what they were at, but Edgar said she wanted to hear me sing that song of Sullivan's again, and I could not help doing it; and then she smiled and bowed and thanked, and Mr. Allen made remarks, about my wanting lightness and style, said it came of singing too much cathedral music.'
O Lance, wasn't that like the Little Master saying Montjoie St. Denis?'
'Nonsense! He's no more like the Little Master than you
are; Edgar says he's as respectable as
'Where would you live?'
' With Edgar. Then I could make up the difference to Fee; and what I could save, with Edgar's picture, will take us to Italy. And there I could get finished up first-rate.'
'You've not settled it so ?'
'Why, no. The first thing that struck me was that it was awfully cool by Felix, to say all this without notice to him, and I told them as much; but then they said they didn't want to inconvenience Felix, and wouldn't want me till March.'
'Just as if you were his servant.'
In that light, so I am.'
"You don't really think of doing it, Lance?'
'I don't mean one thing or the other yet, Robin! Here's Felix one side telling us that he's very much obliged to me, but I am worse than no use at all; and Edgar and this Allen on the other, saying that here's the line that I am cut out for.'
'But Felix can only mean when you are gone mad after the concert.'
' And who is to help getting mad, when their life is all dulness and botheration? Edgar told me it would be so—and now Felix himself declares it was a mistake my ever working here.'
Felix must have been terribly displeased, to say so.'
'I believe he was indeed! but I couldn't help it. How can one mind foolscap and satin wove, and all the rest of it, when there are such glorious things beyond?'
'O Lance, I never heard you say "couldn't help it" before!'
Now, Robin, say in three words. Do you want me to be a mere counter-jumper all my life?'
There, you see what you really feel about it. Now-without coming to such a point as Sims Reeves, or Joachim, or—' (and Lance's face was full of infinite possibility), 'I could with the most
ordinary luck get up high enough to have a handsome maintenance; and at any rate, I should live with what is life to mehave time to study the science-be a composer, maybe—and get into a society that is not all inferior. I hate the isolation we live
in here—not a real lady out of one's own family to be friendly with one.'
'But I don't think ladies are so with musical people.' 'Maybe not, but they are a strong, cultivated, refined society of their own, able to take care of themselves. What now, Robin, can't you speak? What is it now?'
'I was only thinking of what you said last time Edgar asked you.'
'I hadn't seen London then, I knew nothing about it. The very Sundays there are different things from what they are in this deadly lively place.'
'That's as you make them. Besides, that makes no difference as to that other thing you said.'
'What?' (A little crossly.)
About the cathedral and the stage,' whispered Robina, hanging her head.
'One doesn't want all that one ever said when one was a highflown ass to be thrown in one's teeth,' said Lance, angrily. 'Oh!' but otherwise Robina held her tongue.
Presently Lance began again persuasively. You see this is only training, after all, Bobbie; I may take to sacred music, oratorios or anything else, when once I have got thoroughly taught ; and I can only do that by living on my own voice. I must lay by enough to take me to Italy, and when I have learnt there, then I can turn to anything.'
you think you ever would lay by?'
That was rather a cutting question, for Lance, though never in debt, never could keep a sixpence in his pocket.
'I could if I had a real object.'
Only I don't think it would wholly depend on yourself,' said sensible Robina. I suppose they don't pay by the week; and then if the concern should not answer?'
'That's sheer impossibility. There isn't a safer man in London than Allen. It is a much more profitable investment than old Pur,'
'Then if you lived with Edgar, you don't know how much you might have to go shares for."
Thereupon Lance broke out into absolute anger against Robina for her unkindness to Edgar, talking much of the want of charity of people who lived at home, and thought everything beyond their ken must be wicked. She ventured to ask what Felix thought of it, and was told in return that Felix was not only not his father, but though the best fellow in the world, had no more knowledge of it than a child in petticoats. It was for the good of Felix, and everyone else, that they should not all hang about at home in the stodge and mire.
How long this might have gone on there is no saying, but Felix's voice was heard calling to them in preparation for evening prayers. When Robina heard Lance's voice rise in all its sweetness in the Evening Hymn, her heart was so full of yearning pain and disappointment, that she could hardly hold back her tears till she could kneel and hide her face in her hands.
She had this comfort. She did not understand from Lance that he had accepted, and he certainly did not join Edgar that night in the kitchen, but, saying he was tired out, he went at once to bed.
On Saturday she had not one private moment with him, but on the other hand, neither she hoped had Edgar; for the work both of the press and of the shop happened to be unusually heavy, and neither he nor Felix had a moment to spare; and Edgar spent the evening with some friends in the town.
Sunday afternoon, the family hour for walks and talks, poured with rain, and thereby was favourable to letters to Fulbert. Indeed, Angela's commencement of some sacred music was stopped, by the general voice entreating her to wait till the letters were finished. Lance, who never wrote to anybody but Fulbert, had resumed the practice ever since he had received an affectionate letter called forth by his illness, and was now busy with his, little blotty portfolio; while Robina, having no Sunday correspondent, was half reading, half watching Stella explaining pictures to Theodore.
Presently Lance stretched across, and silently put a sheet of note-paper into her lap, hushing her by a sign. It had been