The Ghost: A Modern Fantasy (Chapter 3)

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Chapter 3

As I left the box in the wake of Sir Cyril and Mr. Nolan, Sullivan
jumped up to follow us, and the last words I heard were from Emmeline.

"Sullivan, stay here. You shall not go near that woman," she exclaimed
in feverish and appealing tones: excitement had once more overtaken
her. And Sullivan stayed.

"Berger here?" Sir Cyril asked hurriedly of Nolan.

"Yes, sir."

"Send some one for him. I'll get him to take Alresca's part. He'll
have to sing it in French, but that won't matter. We'll make a new
start at the duet."

"But Rosa?" said Nolan.

"Rosa! She's not hurt, is she?"

"No, sir. But she's upset."

"What the devil is she upset about?"

"The accident. She's practically useless. We shall never persuade her
to sing again to-night."

"Oh, damn!" Sir Cyril exclaimed. And then quite quietly: "Well, run
and tell 'em, then. Shove yourself in front of the curtain, my lad,
and make a speech. Say it's nothing serious, but just sufficient to
stop the performance. Apologize, grovel, flatter 'em, appeal to their
generosity--you know."

"Yes, Sir Cyril."

And Nolan disappeared on his mission of appeasing the audience.

We had traversed the flagged corridor. Sir Cyril opened a narrow door
at the end.

"Follow me," he called out. "This passage is quite dark, but quite

It was not a passage; it was a tunnel. I followed the sound of his
footsteps, my hands outstretched to feel a wall on either side. It
seemed a long way, but suddenly we stepped into twilight. There was a
flight of steps which we descended, and at the foot of the steps a
mutilated commissionaire, ornamented with medals, on guard.

"Where is Monsieur Alresca?" Sir Cyril demanded.

"Behind the back-cloth, where he fell, sir," answered the
commissionaire, saluting.

I hurried after Sir Cyril, and found myself amid a most extraordinary
scene of noise and confusion on the immense stage. The entire
personnel of the house seemed to be present: a crowd apparently
consisting of thousands of people, and which really did comprise some
hundreds. Never before had I had such a clear conception of the
elaborate human machinery necessary to the production of even a
comparatively simple lyric work like "Lohengrin." Richly clad pages
and maids of honor, all white and gold and rouge, mingled with
shirt-sleeved carpenters and scene-shifters in a hysterical rabble;
chorus-masters, footmen in livery, loungers in evening dress, girls in
picture hats, members of the orchestra with instruments under their
arms, and even children, added variety to the throng. And, round
about, gigantic "flats" of wood and painted canvas rose to the flies,
where their summits were lost in a maze of ropes and pulleys. Beams of
light, making visible great clouds of dust, shot forth from hidden
sources. Voices came down from the roof, and from far below ascended
the steady pulsation of a dynamo. I was bewildered.

Sir Cyril pushed ahead, without saying a word, without even
remonstrating when his minions omitted to make way for him. Right at
the back of the stage, and almost in the centre, the crowd was much
thicker. And at last, having penetrated it, we came upon a sight which
I am not likely to forget. Rosa, in all the splendor of the bridal
costume, had passed her arms under Alresca's armpits, and so raised
his head and shoulders against her breast. She was gazing into the
face of the spangled knight, and the tears were falling from her eyes
into his.

"My poor Alresca! My poor Alresca!" she kept murmuring.

Pressing on these two were a distinguished group consisting of the
King, the Herald, Ortrud, Telramund, and several more. And Ortrud was
cautiously feeling Alresca's limbs with her jewel-laden fingers. I saw
instantly that Alresca was unconscious.

"Please put him down, mademoiselle."

These were the first words that I ever spoke to Rosetta Rosa, and, out
of sheer acute nervousness, I uttered them roughly, in a tone of
surly command. I was astonished at myself. I was astonished at my own
voice. She glanced up at me and hesitated. No doubt she was
unaccustomed to such curt orders.

"Please put him down at once," I repeated, trying to assume a bland,
calm, professional, authoritative manner, and not in the least
succeeding. "It is highly dangerous to lift an unconscious person from
a recumbent position."

Why I should have talked like an article in a medical dictionary
instead of like a human being I cannot imagine.

"This is a doctor--Mr. Carl Foster," Sir Cyril explained smoothly, and
she laid Alresca's head gently on the bare planks of the floor.

"Will everyone kindly stand aside, and I will examine him."

No one moved. The King continued his kingly examination of the prone
form. Not a fold of Ortrud's magnificent black robe was disturbed.
Then Sir Cyril translated my request into French and into German, and
these legendary figures of the Middle Ages withdrew a little, fixing
themselves with difficulty into the common multitude that pressed on
them from without. I made them retreat still further. Rosetta Rosa
moved gravely to one side.

Almost immediately Alresca opened his eyes, and murmured faintly, "My

I knelt down, but not before Rosa had sprung forward at the sound of
his voice, and kneeling close by my side had clasped his hand. I tried
to order her away, but my tongue could not form the words. I could
only look at her mutely, and there must have been an effective appeal
in my eyes, for she got up, nodding an acquiescence, and stood silent
and tense a yard from Alresca's feet. With a violent effort I nerved
myself to perform my work. The voice of Nolan, speaking to the
audience, and then a few sympathetic cheers, came vaguely from the
other side of the big curtain, and then the orchestra began to play
the National Anthem.

The left thigh was broken near the knee-joint. So much I ascertained
at once. As I manipulated the limb to catch the sound of the crepitus
the injured man screamed, and he was continually in very severe pain.
He did not, however, again lose consciousness.

"I must have a stretcher, and he must be carried to a room. I can't
do anything here," I said to Sir Cyril. "And you had better send for a
first-rate surgeon. Sir Francis Shorter would do very well--102
Manchester Square, I think the address is. Tell him it's a broken
thigh. It will be a serious case."

"Let me send for my doctor--Professor Eugene Churt," Rosa said. "No
one could be more skilful."

"Pardon me," I protested, "Professor Churt is a physician of great
authority, but he is not a surgeon, and here he would be useless."

She bowed--humbly, as I thought.

With such materials as came to hand I bound Alresca's legs together,
making as usual the sound leg fulfil the function of a splint to the
other one, and he was placed on a stretcher. It was my first case, and
it is impossible for me to describe my shyness and awkwardness as the
men who were to carry the stretcher to the dressing-room looked
silently to me for instructions.

"Now," I said, "take short steps, keep your knees bent, but don't on
any account keep step. As gently as you can--all together--lift."

Rosa followed the little procession as it slowly passed through the
chaotic anarchy of the stage. Alresca was groaning, his eyes closed.
Suddenly he opened them, and it seemed as though he caught sight of
her for the first time. He lifted his head, and the sweat stood in
drops on his brow.

"Send her away!" he cried sharply, in an agony which was as much
mental as physical. "She is fatal to me."

The bearers stopped in alarm at this startling outburst; but I ordered
them forward, and turned to Rosa. She had covered her face with her
hands, and was sobbing.

"Please go away," I said. "It is very important he should not be

Without quite intending to do so, I touched her on the shoulder.

"Alresca doesn't mean that!" she stammered.

Her blue eyes were fixed on me, luminous through her tears, and I
feasted on all the lovely curves of that incomparable oval which was
her face.

"I am sure he doesn't," I answered. "But you had better go, hadn't

"Yes," she said, "I will go."

"Forgive my urgency," I murmured. Then she drew back and vanished in
the throng.

In the calm of the untidy dressing-room, with the aid of Alresca's
valet, I made my patient as comfortable as possible on a couch. And
then I had one of the many surprises of my life. The door opened, and
old Toddy entered. No inhabitant of the city of Edinburgh would need
explanations on the subject of Toddy MacWhister. The first surgeon of
Scotland, his figure is familiar from one end of the town to the
other--and even as far as Leith and Portobello. I trembled. And my
reason for trembling was that the celebrated bald expert had quite
recently examined me for my Final in surgery. On that dread occasion I
had made one bad blunder, so ridiculous that Toddy's mood had passed
suddenly from grim ferociousness to wild northern hilarity. I think I
am among the few persons in the world who have seen and heard Toddy
MacWhister laugh.

I hoped that he would not remember me, but, like many great men, he
had a disconcertingly good memory for faces.

"Ah!" he said, "I've seen ye before."

"You have, sir."

"You are the callant who told me that the medulla oblongata--"

"Please--" I entreated.

Perhaps he would not have let me off had not Sir Cyril stood
immediately behind him. The impresario explained that Toddy MacWhister
(the impresario did not so describe him) had been in the audience, and
had offered his services.

"What is it?" asked Toddy, approaching Alresca.

"Fracture of the femur."

"Simple, of course."

"Yes, sir, but so far as I can judge, of a somewhat peculiar nature.
I've sent round to King's College Hospital for splints and bandages."

Toddy took off his coat.

"We sha'n't need ye, Sir Cyril," said he casually.

And Sir Cyril departed.

In an hour the limb was set--a masterly display of skill--and, except
to give orders, Toddy had scarcely spoken another word. As he was
washing his hands in a corner of the dressing-room he beckoned to me.

"How was it caused?" he whispered.

"No one seems to know, sir."

"Doesn't matter much, anyway! Let him lie a wee bit, and then get him
home. Ye'll have no trouble with him, but there'll be no more warbling
and cutting capers for him this yet awhile."

And Toddy, too, went. He had showed not the least curiosity as to
Alresca's personality, and I very much doubt whether he had taken the
trouble to differentiate between the finest tenor in Europe and a
chorus-singer. For Toddy, Alresca was simply an individual who sang
and cut capers.

I made the necessary dispositions for the transport of Alresca in an
hour's time to his flat in the Devonshire Mansion, and then I sat down
near him. He was white and weak, but perfectly conscious. He had
proved himself to be an admirable patient. Even in the very crisis of
the setting his personal distinction and his remarkable and finished
politeness had suffered no eclipse. And now he lay there, with his
silky mustache disarranged and his hair damp, exactly as I had once
seen him on the couch in the garden by the sea in the third act of
"Tristan," the picture of nobility. He could not move, for the
sufficient reason that a strong splint ran from his armpit to his
ankle, but his arms were free, and he raised his left hand, and
beckoned me with an irresistible gesture to come quite close to him.

I smiled encouragingly and obeyed.

"My kind friend," he murmured, "I know not your name."

His English was not the English of an Englishman, but it was beautiful
in its exotic quaintness.

"My name is Carl Foster," I said. "It will be better for you not to

He made another gesture of protest with that wonderful left hand of

"Monsieur Foster, I must talk to Mademoiselle Rosa."

"Impossible," I replied. "It really is essential that you should keep

"Kind friend, grant me this wish. When I have seen her I shall be
better. It will do me much good."

There was such a desire in his eyes, such a persuasive plaintiveness
in his voice, that, against my judgment, I yielded.

"Very well," I said. "But I am afraid I can only let you see her for
five minutes."

The hand waved compliance, and I told the valet to go and inquire for

"She is here, sir," said the valet on opening the door. I jumped up.
There she was, standing on the door-mat in the narrow passage! Yet I
had been out of the room twice, once to speak to Sir Cyril Smart, and
once to answer an inquiry from my cousin Sullivan, and I had not seen

She was still in the bridal costume of Elsa, and she seemed to be
waiting for permission to enter. I went outside to her, closing the

"Sir Cyril would not let me come," she said. "But I have escaped him.
I was just wondering if I dared peep in. How is he?"

"He is getting on splendidly," I answered. "And he wants to have a
little chat with you."

"And may he?"

"If you will promise to be very, very ordinary, and not to excite

"I promise," she said with earnestness.

"Remember," I added, "quite a little, tiny chat!"

She nodded and went in, I following. Upon catching sight of her,
Alresca's face broke into an exquisite, sad smile. Then he gave his
valet a glance, and the valet crept from the room. I, as in
professional duty bound, remained. The most I could do was to retire
as far from the couch, and pretend to busy myself with the rolling up
of spare bandages.

"My poor Rosa," I heard Alresca begin.

The girl had dropped to her knees by his side, and taken his hand.

"How did it happen, Alresca? Tell me."

"I cannot tell you! I saw--saw something, and I fell, and caught my
leg against some timber, and I don't remember any more."

"Saw something? What did you see?"

There was a silence.

"Were you frightened?" Rosa continued softly.

Then another silence.

"Yes," said Alresca at length, "I was frightened."

"What was it?"

"I say I cannot tell you. I do not know."

"You are keeping something from me, Alresca," she exclaimed

I was on the point of interfering in order to bring the colloquy to an
end, but I hesitated. They appeared to have forgotten that I was

"How so?" said Alresca in a curious whisper. "I have nothing to keep
from you, my dear child."

"Yes," she said, "you are keeping something from me. This afternoon
you told Sir Cyril that you were expecting a misfortune. Well, the
misfortune has occurred to you. How did you guess that it was coming?
Then, to-night, as they were carrying you away on that stretcher, do
you remember what you said?"

"What did I say?"

"You remember, don't you?" Rosa faltered.

"I remember," he admitted. "But that was nonsense. I didn't know what
I was saying. My poor Rosa, I was delirious. And that is just why I
wished to see you--in order to explain to you that that was nonsense.
You must forget what I said. Remember only that I love you."

("So Emmeline was right," I reflected.) Abruptly Rosa stood up.

"You must not love me, Alresca," she said in a shaking voice. "You ask
me to forget something; I will try. You, too, must forget
something--your love."

"But last night," he cried, in accents of an almost intolerable
pathos--"last night, when I hinted--you did not--did not speak like
this, Rosetta."

I rose. I had surely no alternative but to separate them. If I allowed
the interview to be prolonged the consequences to my patient might be
extremely serious. Yet again I hesitated. It was the sound of Rosa's
sobbing that arrested me.

Once more she dropped to her knees.

"Alresca!" she moaned.

He seized her hand and kissed it.

And then I came forward, summoning all my courage to assert the
doctor's authority. And in the same instant Alresca's features, which
had been the image of intense joy, wholly changed their expression,
and were transformed into the embodiment of fear. With a look of
frightful terror he pointed with one white hand to the blank wall
opposite. He tried to sit up, but the splint prevented him. Then his
head fell back.

"It is there!" he moaned. "Fatal! My Rosa--"

The words died in his mouth, and he swooned.

As for Rosetta Rosa, I led her from the room.

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