Page:Court Royal.djvu/227

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up her mind to be with Palma. She went first to the theatre to ascertain where the actress lived; the house was not far distant. She hastened thither. On her way down the street she passed Lord Saltcombe. His face was raised, he was looking at a window whence a yellow light shone through a drawn blind. Shadows passed over the surface of the blind. A gas lamp was near, and the face of Lord Saltcombe was illumined. It was full of agony—it was the face of a man in despair. She walked by, then turned and came back to him; his suffering face filled her with pity. She said in a low tone, ‘Lord Saltcombe, I am going in to nurse her. Ask no questions at the door. I will give you signs at the window: when I hold up my hands, have hope; when I hold them down, her case is very bad; when I hold them out, and you see against the blind the black shadow of a cross—she is dead.’

He nodded. He did not recognise her, he did not look at her. He did not wonder who she was that knew him by name. He tried to thank her. He could not.

Then she went on. If she had been refused admission she would have thrust herself in. Joanna was not one to take a refusal.

She was conducted to the room where lay the poor woman. Cotton-wool and oil covered her wounds. The face was uninjured. She moaned and tossed her head from side to side on the pillow. The paint was on the cheeks, the antimony darkened the eyes, but tears had washed the white powder away in long furrows. Beneath the paint the flame of fever burnt in her cheeks. Joanna took a sponge and washed her face. The cool water soothed the sufferer for a moment, then she began again to moan and turn her head with a mechanical regularity from side to side. She seemed imperfectly conscious. Her fellow-actress was at her side; the honest sympathetic tears had washed her face into a strange mottle. She had hold of Palma’s hand, and patted and kissed it, and spoke to her cheering words of promise of health.

‘You’ll be all right to-morrow. You know you are going to take the world by storm with your Lady of Lyons. There! don’t be down. It is only a trifle. You did Juliet regular splendid—first-class to-night.’

‘You may go,’ said Joanna. ‘You are out of place here, and do not understand the management of the sick. Leave her to me. I am sent to her.’

‘Are you experienced, girl?’ asked the surgeon.