It was necessary as a mere act of humanity to humour her. ‘I will read it willingly,’ said Henry, ’if you will go upstairs to bed. You shall hear what I think of it to-morrow morning. Our heads will be clearer, we shall be better able to make the fourth act in the morning.’
The chambermaid came in while he was speaking. ’I am afraid the lady is ill,’ Henry whispered. ‘Take her up to her room.’ The woman looked at the Countess and whispered back, ’Shall we send for a doctor, sir?’
Henry advised taking her upstairs first, and then asking the manager’s opinion. There was great difficulty in persuading her to rise, and accept the support of the chambermaid’s arm. It was only by reiterated promises to read the play that night, and to make the fourth act in the morning, that Henry prevailed on the Countess to return to her room.
Left to himself, he began to feel a certain languid curiosity in relation to the manuscript. He looked over the pages, reading a line here and a line there. Suddenly he changed colour as he read— and looked up from the manuscript like a man bewildered. ‘Good God! what does this mean?’ he said to himself.
His eyes turned nervously to the door by which Agnes had left him. She might return to the drawing-room, she might want to see what the Countess had written. He looked back again at the passage which had startled him—considered with himself for a moment— and, snatching up the unfinished play, suddenly and softly left the room.
Entering his own room on the upper floor, Henry placed the manuscript on his table, open at the first leaf. His nerves were unquestionably shaken; his hand trembled as he turned the pages, he started at chance noises on the staircase of the hotel.
The scenario, or outline, of the Countess’s play began with no formal prefatory phrases. She presented herself and her work with the easy familiarity of an old friend.
’Allow me, dear Mr. Francis Westwick, to introduce to you the persons in my proposed Play. Behold them, arranged symmetrically in a line.
’My Lord. The Baron. The Courier. The Doctor. The Countess.
’I don’t trouble myself, you see, to invest fictitious family names. My characters are sufficiently distinguished by their social titles, and by the striking contrast which they present one with another.
The First Act opens—
’No! Before I open the First Act, I must announce, injustice to myself, that this Play is entirely the work of my own invention. I scorn to borrow from actual events; and, what is more extraordinary still, I have not stolen one of my ideas from the Modern French drama. As the manager of an English theatre, you will naturally refuse to believe this. It doesn’t matter. Nothing matters—except the opening of my first act.