“I will pay you a fortnight’s salary in lieu of longer notice; and if you are desirous of returning to your friends in the States, perhaps something might be arranged.”
“I have no friends here or there,” said Bella simply; “my profession is all I have.”
“Well, well, we’ll give it a week’s trial. If at the end of that time you are sufficiently recovered to do your work properly, well and good; but if not, you must really consider your engagement at an end.”
All this time Mrs. Doss had said nothing. Bella had talked so volubly and so fast, there had really been no chance of getting in a word; and when the manager rose to his feet to intimate that the interview was at an end, there was nothing to be done but to follow Bella out into the street.
“There!” she cried triumphantly, “I told you I would bring him to his senses. You saw how soon he caved in. It is not a question of my health at all; you may bet your bottom dollar I have an enemy, but I flatter myself I’ve routed him.”
Her breath was coming in gasps and she spoke with difficulty. Now that the excitement was over and the necessity for bearing up at an end, there came the reaction.
“I think I had better go home and lie down,” she said, “or I shall not be at my post to-night, and I must, you know, I must.”
“Poor child, I could fairly have cried,” said kindly Mrs. Doss to her spouse after Bella had been safely escorted home.
“I’m not satisfied with you, old girl,” said Mr. Doss, shaking his head mournfully. “I can’t ‘elp thinking you might ha’ managed things better. If Bella Blackall goes on a singing at the Hempire, you mark my words, she’ll sing herself into ’eaven.”
A week went by slowly: the hours crept like snails, and yet the days were surely slipping away, bringing nearer and nearer the one which was to give Sir John Chetwynd his second wife.
He had hardly seen Lady Ethel since the evening when she had yielded a coy assent to his not (it must be confessed) very amorous request that she would fix an early day for their nuptials, and his state of mind was anything but an enviable one. If ever a man was torn two ways, halting between prudence and worldly consideration on one side and the force and power of a love which he had honestly believed was laid for ever in its grave, that man was Sir John. The idea of seeing Bella again did not occur to him for some days, but when it fastened on him he could not shake it off. It was stronger than himself. He excused his temptation by the condition of her health, though in his heart of hearts he knew well enough that this was not sufficiently critical to serve for a reason.
Twice he seized his hat with the intention of going to her, then laid it aside, angry and disgusted with his own weakness.
His profession no longer occupied his thoughts to the exclusion of every other topic. He sat for hours buried in the newly awakened memories that that one brief glimpse of her had conjured up, unable, unwilling to rouse himself.