And then he made a compromise with his own weakness and irresolution. He would not go to Cecil Street, since by so doing he would be offering a tacit insult to the woman he had pledged himself to marry, but he would, he must see Bella, himself unseen and his presence unsuspected, and this he could effect easily by going to the Empire.
The notion pleased him, and that self-same evening he carried it out.
Bella was worse. She could no longer deceive herself. It was only by a superhuman effort that she could pull herself together sufficiently to sing the one song which was all her part consisted of now.
After she had got into her pretty sea-green skirts of lace and tulle and shimmering silk, like so much sea foam, she had to lie still and, let the poor over-strained lungs and heart recover themselves, and then, when the summons came she called up a smile to her wan face and pluckily did her best.
But that night she looked up at Saidie after the last ribbon was in its place.
“I’ll have to throw up the sponge, after all,” she said wearily; “it is beyond me. They are right and I was wrong,—I must have a rest.”
Saidie muttered something in reply, but when the door closed upon her sister, she sighed.
“She is bad; there is no denying it,” remarked the dresser, who was busily stroking out the roses which were to garland Saidie’s dress. “It gives me a turn every time I see her go on the stage.”
“She looks worse than she really is,” returned Saidie; “sometimes she is as brisk and lively as you like—she so soon gets tired.”
“She is a tidy sight worse than ‘tired,’ and it strikes me her voice was weak like to-night. Did you notice it, Miss?”
“Oh, she varies so. I guess she would be as right as any of us the moment she was on the boards.”
Nevertheless, although she was not going to confess it, Saidie was troubled and uneasy. There was something in Bella’s face she had not seen before, and it frightened her—a little. She stood at the wings with a quick-beating heart, but the next moment laughed at her own fears.
Bella was singing her very best. Not a falter in the clear, bell-like tones, and her face was smiling and radiant.
And then—her eyes fastened themselves on a box in the grand tier; with a scared expression she shrank back a little, and her lip quivered, but with a mighty effort she controlled herself and caught up the refrain again—carolled a word or two, faltered, swayed helplessly, uncertainly forward, and fell headlong on the stage.
They were round her in a second, lifting her gently and tenderly. Her head had fallen back and a thin stream of blood was welling over the laces at her bosom.
“She is dead!” cried Saidie. “Oh, will someone fetch a doctor, quick!”
But almost before the words were spoken he was there, and when Bella opened her eyes they fell on the grave, anxious, kindly face of the man whose wife she had been.