"God," he cried, "God forgive me!" And with that, the confusion of his senses passed away, and he regained his self- possession in a moment.
To his surprise Geraldine had disappeared. There was no one in the card-room but his destined butcher consulting with the President, and the young man of the cream tarts, who slipped up to the Prince, and whispered in his ear:-
"I would give a million, if I had it, for your luck."
His Highness could not help reflecting, as the young man departed, that he would have sold his opportunity for a much more moderate sum.
The whispered conference now came to an end. The holder of the ace of clubs left the room with a look of intelligence, and the President, approaching the unfortunate Prince, proffered him his hand.
"I am pleased to have met you, sir," said he, "and pleased to have been in a position to do you this trifling service. At least, you cannot complain of delay. On the second evening - what a stroke of luck!"
The Prince endeavoured in vain to articulate something in response, but his mouth was dry and his tongue seemed paralysed.
"You feel a little sickish?" asked the President, with some show of solicitude. "Most gentlemen do. Will you take a little brandy?"
The Prince signified in the affirmative, and the other immediately filled some of the spirit into a tumbler.
"Poor old Malthy!" ejaculated the President, as the Prince drained the glass. "He drank near upon a pint, and little enough good it seemed to do him!"
"I am more amenable to treatment," said the Prince, a good deal revived. "I am my own man again at once, as you perceive. And so, let me ask you, what are my directions?"
"You will proceed along the Strand in the direction of the City, and on the left-hand pavement, until you meet the gentleman who has just left the room. He will continue your instructions, and him you will have the kindness to obey; the authority of the club is vested in his person for the night. And now," added the President, "I wish you a pleasant walk."
Florizel acknowledged the salutation rather awkwardly, and took his leave. He passed through the smoking-room, where the bulk of the players were still consuming champagne, some of which he had himself ordered and paid for; and he was surprised to find himself cursing them in his heart. He put on his hat and greatcoat in the cabinet, and selected his umbrella from a corner. The familiarity of these acts, and the thought that he was about them for the last time, betrayed him into a fit of laughter which sounded unpleasantly in his own ears. He conceived a reluctance to leave the cabinet, and turned instead to the window. The sight of the lamps and the darkness recalled him to himself.
"Come, come, I must be a man," he thought, "and tear myself away."
At the corner of Box Court three men fell upon Prince Florizel and he was unceremoniously thrust into a carriage, which at once drove rapidly away. There was already an occupant.
"Will your Highness pardon my zeal?" said a well known voice.
The Prince threw himself upon the Colonel's neck in a passion of relief.
"How can I ever thank you?" he cried. "And how was this effected?"
Although he had been willing to march upon his doom, he was overjoyed to yield to friendly violence, and return once more to life and hope.
"You can thank me effectually enough," replied the Colonel, "by avoiding all such dangers in the future. And as for your second question, all has been managed by the simplest means. I arranged this afternoon with a celebrated detective. Secrecy has been promised and paid for. Your own servants have been principally engaged in the affair. The house in Box Court has been surrounded since nightfall, and this, which is one of your own carriages, has been awaiting you for nearly an hour."
"And the miserable creature who was to have slain me - what of him?" inquired the Prince.
"He was pinioned as he left the club," replied the Colonel, "and now awaits your sentence at the Palace, where he will soon be joined by his accomplices."
"Geraldine," said the Prince, "you have saved me against my explicit orders, and you have done well.