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Title: A Nest of Linnets
Author: Moore, Frank Frankfort
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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A Nest of Linnets



[_Frontispiece_: "Dick--Dick," she gasped, "a dreadful thing has
happened!"                                         [_page_ 350.]



    A Nest of Linnets

    BY FRANK FRANKFORT MOORE
    AUTHOR OF "I FORBID THE
    BANNS," "THE JESSAMY BRIDE,"
    "THE FATAL GIFT," "ACCORDING
    TO PLATO," ETC., ETC.

    WITH 16 ILLUSTRATIONS
    BY J. JELLICOE

    _London_: HUTCHINSON & CO
    PATERNOSTER ROW      1901

    PRINTED BY
    HAZELL, WATSON, AND VINEY, LD.
    LONDON AND AYLESBURY.



A NEST OF LINNETS



CHAPTER I


"This will never do, Betsy," said Mr. Linley, shaking his head. "Sir
Joshua calls you Saint Cecilia, but 'twere a misnomer if you do not
sing the phrase better than you have just sung it. 'She drew an angel
down': let that be in your mind, my dear. There is no celestial being
that would move a pinion to help a maiden who implored its aid in so
half-hearted a way. Let us try again. One, two, three----"

    "'Angels, ever bright and fair,'"

sang Miss Linley.

Her father sprang from the harpsichord.

"Gracious powers, madam! the angels are not in the next room--they are
not even in Pierrepont Street, take my word for it; they are in heaven,
and heaven, let me tell you, is a very long way from Bath!" he cried.
"Give forth the 'Angels' as if you meant to storm the ears of heaven
with your cry. Think of it, girl--think that you are lost, eternally
lost, unless you can obtain help that is not of earth. Stun their ears,
madam, with the suddenness of your imploration, and let the voice come
from your heart. Betsy, that smile is not in the music. If Maestro
Handel had meant a smile to illuminate the part, take my word for it
he would have signified it by a bar of demi-semi-quavers, followed by
semi-quavers and quavers. Good heavens, madam! do you hope to improve
upon Handel?"

"Ah, father, do not ask too much of me to-night; I am tired--anxious.
Why, only last week a highwayman----"

Miss Linley glanced, eagerly listening, toward the window, as if she
fully expected to see the mask of a highwayman peering between the
blinds.

"Betsy, I am ashamed of you!" said her father. "What stuff is this? Is
there any highwayman fool enough to collect fiddles? Do you fancy that
a boy with a fiddle tucked under his arm is in any peril of a bullet?"

"But they may affright the child."

"Child? Child? Who is the child? What! Do you think that because you
have not seen your brother since he was fourteen, the four years that
have passed can have made no impression on him?"

"I suppose he will have grown."

"You may be sure that he will be able to defend himself without drawing
either his sword or his fiddle. To your singing, Betsy. Go back to the
recitative."

"It would be a terrible thing to find that he had outgrown his
affection for us. I have heard that in Italy----"

"Still harping on my daughter's brother! Come, Miss Linnet, you shall
have your chance. You shall fancy that your prayer is uttered on behalf
of your brother.

    'Angels, ever bright and fair,
    Take, oh, take _him_ to your care.'

Now shall the angels hear for certain. Come, child; one, two----"

    "'Angels----'"

sang Miss Linley.

"Brava!" cried her father _sotto voce_, as the sound thrilled through
the room and there was a suggestion of an answering vibration from the
voice of the harpsichord.

    "'Angels, ever bright and fair,
    Take, oh, take me----'"

The harpsichord jingled alone. The girl's voice failed. She threw
herself into a chair, and, covering her face with her hands, burst into
a passion of sobbing.

"Oh, if he does not arrive after all--if some accident has
happened--if--if----"

The apprehensions which she was too much overcome to name were
emphasised in the glance that she cast at her father. Her eyes, the
most marvellous wells of deep tenderness that ever woman possessed, at
all times suggested a certain pathetic emotion of fear, causing every
man who looked into their depths to seek to be her protector from the
danger they seemed to foresee; but at this moment they appeared to look
straight into the face of disaster.

"If I could translate that expression of your face into music, I should
be the greatest musician alive," said her father.

In a second the girl was on her feet, uttering a little sound of
contempt. She began pacing the floor excitedly, her long white muslin
dress flowing from her high waist in waves.

"Ah, always this art--always this art!" she cried. "Always the
imitation--always the pitiful attempt to arouse an artificial emotion
in others, and never to have an hour of true emotion oneself, never an
hour of real life, never an hour apart from the artifices of Art,--that
is the life which you would have me to lead. I hate it! I hate it! Oh,
better a day--an hour--a minute of true tenderness than a long lifetime
spent in shamming emotion!"

"Shamming? Shamming? Oh, my Elizabeth!" said the musician in a voice
full of reproach.

"Shamming! Shamming!" she cried. "I think that there is no greater
sham than music. The art of singing is the art of shamming. I try to
awaken pity in the breast of my hearers by pretending that I am at the
point of death and anxious for the angels to carry me off, yet all the
time I care nothing for the angels, but a good deal for my brother Tom,
who is coming home to-night. Oh, father, father, do not try to teach
me any more of this tricking of people into tears by the sound of my
voice. Dear father, let me have this one evening to myself--to live in
my own world--my own world of true tears, of true feeling, of true joy.
Let me live until to-morrow the real life of the people about us, who
have not been cursed by Heaven with expressive voices and a knowledge
of the trick of drawing tears by a combination of notes."

She had flung herself down at his knees and was pressing one of his
hands to her face, kissing it.

"Betsy, you are not yourself this evening," he said in a voice that was
faltering on the threshold of a sob.

"Nay, nay; 'tis just this evening that I am myself," she cried. "Let me
continue to be myself just for one evening, dear father. Let me---- Ah!"

She had given a little start, then there was a breathless pause, then,
with a little cry of delight, she sprang to her feet and rushed to the
window.

Her father had rushed to the second window with just such another cry.

Hearing it she turned to him in amazement, with the edge of the blind
that she was in the act of raising still in her hand. She gave a laugh,
pointing a finger of her other hand at him, while she cried:

"Ah, you are a father after all!"

His head was within the blind, and he was shutting off with his hands
the light of the candles of the room while he peered into the darkness,
so that the reproach passed unheeded.

Before she had put her face to the pane her father had dropped the
blind that he was holding back.

"Good lud! how the lad has grown!" he said in an astonished whisper.

"Tom! 'tis Tom himself!" cried Betsy, turning from the window and
making for the door.

There was a sound of merry voices and many shouts of children's welcome
downstairs--a stamping of feet on the stairs, a stream of questions in
various tones of voice, a quiet answer or two, a children's quarrel in
the passage as a boy tried to run in front of a girl. Betsy flung wide
the door, crying:

"Tom, brother Tom!"

In another second he was in her arms, kissing her face and being kissed
by her without the exchange of a word.

The other members of the family of Linley stood by, the father slightly
nervous, fingering an invisible harpsichord, the brothers and sisters
callous only when they were not nudging one another lest any detail
of the pathetic scene of the meeting of the eldest brother and sister
should pass unnoticed.

"Hasn't he grown!" remarked Mrs. Linley. Some of the flour of the
pie which she had been making was on the front of her dress and one
of the sleeves. She had transferred a speck or two to her son's
travelling-cloak.

"He hasn't shaken hands with father yet," said Master Oziah with the
frankness of observant childhood.

"He doesn't mind; he's too big for father to thwack!" whispered Master
Willie.

"Oh, Tom!--but it was my fault--all my fault!" cried Betsy, releasing
her brother, and passing him on to their father almost with the air of
introducing the two.

For a moment the musician felt the aloofness of the artist.

"Father--_caro padre_!" said the boy, who had just returned from Italy.

"Son Tom," said the father, giving his cheek to be kissed, while he
pressed the hand that the boy held out to him.

"What has he brought us, I wonder?" remarked little Oziah to Willie in
a moderately low tone.

"Nothing that's useful, I hope," said Willie. "People have no business
bringing home useful presents."

"I can't believe that these big girls are the little sisters I left at
home when I set out on my travels," said Tom, when he had thrown off
his travelling-cloak. "Polly? Oh, she is very pretty--yes, in her own
way; and I daresay she is as pert as ever."

"And she needs all her pertness to keep her head above water in such a
household!" said Polly.

"But Betsy--oh, what an English sound Betsy has--far sweeter than
Bettina, I'll swear! Oh, _Bacco_, Betsy is our beauty," said Tom,
looking critically at the blushing girl before him.

"Psha! everybody knows that," said Polly. "We don't stand in need of a
traveller's opinion on so plain a matter."

"You, Tom, are as like Betsy now as two--two roses that have grown on
the same stem," said Mr. Linley.

"Then I cannot without boasting say another word about her beauty,"
laughed Tom, making a very Italian bow to the sister whom he loved.

He undoubtedly bore a striking resemblance to her. His complexion
was just as exquisitely transparent as hers, and his eyes had the
same expression, the same timorous look, that suggested the eyes of a
beautiful startled animal--the most wonderful eyes that had ever been
painted by Gainsborough.

"And her voice--has it also improved?" asked Tom, turning to their
father with the air of an impresario making an inquiry of a trusted
critic.

"Look at her face, boy; look in her eyes, and then you will know what
I mean when I say that her voice is no more than the expression of her
face made audible," said Mr. Linley. "Look well at her this evening, my
son; you will appreciate her beauty now that it is still fresh in your
eyes; to-morrow you will have begun to get used to it. Brothers cease
to be impressed with the beauty of their sisters almost as quickly as
husbands do with the beauty of their wives."

"Tom is so like Betsy, there is no danger of his forgetting that she is
beautiful," said Polly.

Tom gave a little frown, then a little laugh. His laugh was just as
sweet as Betsy's: both suggested a campanile.

"You have made her a great singer, I hear, sir," he remarked, when he
had kissed her again--this time on the hand.

"She was born a great singer: I have only made her a great artist,"
said the father. Then noticing her frown, he cried in quite another
tone: "But how is't with you, my fine fellow? Have you proved yourself
to be a genius or only an artist?"

"Ah, you remember how I replied to the bishop who had heard Betsy sing,
and thought it only civil to inquire if I was musical also: 'Yes, sir,
we are all geniuses'?"

"It has become the household jest," said Polly. "But my own belief is,
that mother is the only genius among us; you shall taste one of her
pies before you are an hour older. If you say that you tasted a better
one in all Italy, you will prove yourself no judge of cookery."

"I should eat that pie even if it should contain not four-and-twenty
blackbirds, but as many nightingales--or linnets. Ah, you remember,
Betsy, how the name 'Miss Linnet' remained with you? Who was it that
first called you Miss Linnet?"

"That were a question for the Society of Antiquaries," said Betsy,
"and the bird we are all thinking of is a pie. Hurry to your room, Tom,
or I vow there will not be left so much as a clove for you. You knew
Polly's appetite; well, it has improved to the extent of an octave and
a half since."

"_Corpo di Bacco!_ I have no inclination to play second fiddle to an
appetite of such compass!" cried Tom, hurrying from the room.

"I sing as Miss Cormorant in the bills when Betsy appears as Miss
Linnet," cried Polly from the lobby.

And then they all talked of Tom--all except the mother, who had gone
downstairs to the kitchen. How Tom had grown! How good it was of him to
remember through all the stress of foreign travel and foreign study,
the household characteristics of the Linleys, of 5, Pierrepont Street,
Bath! It seemed so strange--just as strange as if a stranger had come
into the house showing himself acquainted with the old family jests.
And he had not even forgotten that Polly was pert! Polly held her head
high at the thought that he had not forgotten her pertness. How noble
it was of him! And yet he must have had a great many more important
details to keep in his head.

Maria was thinking of the possibility of a brooch being among the
luggage of her newly returned brother--a real Italian brooch, with
perhaps a genuine yellow topaz in it, or perhaps a fascinating design
done in mosaic, or a shell cameo of the head of Diana, or some other
foreign goddess. Little Maria had been thinking of this brooch for some
weeks. At times she could scarcely hope that so great a treasure should
ever escape the notice of those lines of banditti, who, according to
reports that had reached her, contested the passage of any article of
value across the Italian frontier. But even admitting the possibility
of its safe arrival in England, would not the news of its coming be
passed round from highwayman to highwayman until the last chance of its
reaching her had fled? Then there were the perils of innkeepers, of
inquisitive postboys, of dishonest porters. She had heard of them all,
and thus was for weeks in a condition of nervousness quite unusual to
her. And now the dreadful thought came to her: "_Perhaps he has brought
the brooch to Polly, and only a book to me!_"

She looked with eager, searching eyes at Polly, and felt sure that she
detected on her sister's face the expression of a girl who has secret
intelligence that a brooch is about to be presented to her. She hoped
that she would be strong enough to resist the temptation to pinch
Polly. She had no confidence in Polly's self-control, however, should
the book fall to Polly's lot.

And thus they all trooped downstairs to supper, and the moment they had
seated themselves there arose one septet of joyful exclamations, for
between the knife and fork of every one lay a neat parcel wrapped up in
cotton-wool and silken paper.

And Maria's was a brooch--a beautiful mosaic design of the Pillar of
Trajan.

And nobody had received anything that could possibly be called useful,
so every one was happy.

And when Tom entered, after a dramatic interval, he was assailed on
all sides by exclamations of gratitude. But he put his fingers in his
ears for a few moments, and only removed them to be able more freely
to repel the attacks made upon him by the girls. He could only receive
one kiss at a time, though he did make a masterful attempt to take the
two elders as a _concerto allegro_ movement; the others he treated as a
_scherzo_. He had the lordly air of the patron who flings his guineas
about: the Italian jewellery had made a deep inroad upon a lira; but
he was a generous man, and he loved his family. But his mother, being
a thrifty soul--Mr. Foote thought her miserly--shook her head. She
felt that he had been too lavish, not knowing anything about Italian
jewellery.



CHAPTER II


"'The greatest singer in England.' Yes, that is what I heard," said
Tom, patting Betsy's hand, which he held affectionately in his own. He
had made quite an art of fondling hands, having been for four years in
Italy. The family had returned to the drawing-room after supper, but
as Mr. Linley and his son had begun to talk about music, the younger
members had escaped to another apartment, the better to push on a
nursery quarrel as to the respective value of their presents. The
novelty of a newly returned elder brother was beginning to decline;
he had eaten of the pie just as they had eaten of it, and now he was
beginning to talk quite easily of music, when they had fully expected
him to tell them some thrilling stories of Italian brigands full of
bloodshed.

"She has sung better than any singer in England," said the father;
"but that does not make her the greatest singer."

"Pacchierotti is the best critic in the world, and he told a company in
my hearing three months ago that there is no singer in England who can
compare with Miss Linley," said Tom. "Why, the great Agujari herself
allowed that in oratorio she could never produce the same impression as
our Miss Linnet."

"She spoke the truth, then, though she is an Italian," said Mr. Linley.

"Ah, let us talk about something else," cried Betsy. "Why should we
talk of music within the first hour of Tom's return to us? Surely we
might have one evening of pleasure."

Tom ceased fondling her hand and looked seriously into her face. And
now the expression in their eyes was not the same. The soft, beseeching
look that she cast at him was very different from the serious
glance--it had something of reproach in it--with which he regarded her.

"We talk of music because there is nothing else worth talking about in
the world," said he, and she saw with dismay the strange light that
burned in the depths of his eyes, while his glance passed suddenly
beyond her face--passed away from her face, from the room, from the
world altogether. She knew what that light meant, and she shuddered.
She had seen it in Mr. Garrick's face when he was playing in _Hamlet_;
she had seen it in Mr. Gainsborough's face when he was painting the
picture of her and her brother; she had seen it in the plain face of
little Dr. Goldsmith when he had repeated in her hearing the opening
lines of his sublime poem, "The Traveller"; she had seen it in the face
of Mr. Burke when he was making a speech. She knew what it meant--she
knew that that light was the light which men call genius, and she
shuddered. She knew that to have genius is only to have a greater
capacity for suffering than other men. What she did not know was that
people saw the same light in her eyes when she was singing, "I know
that my Redeemer liveth."

"What do you say?" cried the father, springing from his chair with a
hand upraised. "What do you say, my son?"

"I say, sir, that we talk of music because there is nothing else in the
world worth talking about," said Tom stoutly.

With a cry of delight the father threw himself into his son's arms.

"Thank God for that--thank God for that!" he murmured. "You have not
worked in vain, my boy; I have not prayed in vain. The truth has been
revealed to you. You are my son."

"Can any one doubt that this is the truth?" said the boy.

Betsy saw that he was careful to avoid looking in her direction. That
was why she felt that he was addressing her personally.

"No, no!" she said, catching his hand again. "No, no, dear Tom; no one
in this house will doubt that music is the only subject worth a word, a
thought. It is our life. Is there any better life? How we can gladden
the hearts of all who come near us! Even at Oxford--I have sung a great
deal at Oxford, you know--I have seen the tears upon the faces of those
men--the most learned men in the world. Just think of a poor ignorant
girl like myself being able to move a learned man to tears! Oh, there
is nothing worth a thought in the world save only music. Let me sing to
you now, Tom; you will be able to say if I have improved."

Tom's face glowed.

"We have wasted an hour over supper," he said, and there was actually
mournfulness in his voice. Happily his mother, the pie-maker, was not
present; she had run from the room at the first mention of music. "I
always think that eating is a huge waste of time. We might have been
singing an hour ago. And what think you of this new instrument--the
forte-piano--father? I have heard it affirmed that it will make even
the harpsichord become obsolete. I laughed, having heard you play the
harpsichord."

"Burney talks much about the forte-piano," said the father. "And Mr.
Bach, who has been giving his concerts in the Thatched House in St.
James's Street, has surprised us all by his playing upon its keyboard;
but, my son, 'tis less refined than my harpsichord."

"No one will ever be able to invent any instrument that will speak to
one as does your violin, Tom," said Betsy. "You need have no fear that
your occupation will soon be gone."

Tom smiled.

"The violin is the only instrument that has got a soul," said he. "Only
God can create a soul. Doubtless God could make another instrument with
a soul, to speak direct to the souls of men, but beyond doubt He has
not done so yet."

"And now you shall awaken all the soul which is in yours, and make it
reveal its celestial mysteries to us," said the father. "I am more than
anxious to learn how you have progressed. I dare swear that you have
not wasted your time in Italy?"

"Heaven only knows if I have done all that was in my power to do," said
the boy, after a curious pause.

He was staring at the furthest corner of the ceiling while he spoke.
Then he got upon his feet and walked across the room and back again
without speaking; then he threw himself down upon a sofa with a sigh.

"Now and again--only now and again--father, I think that I succeed
in reaching the soul of the thing," he said. "After long waiting and
working and longing I sometimes hear its voice speaking to me, and
then I feel that I am very near to God. Surely music is the voice of
God speaking to the soul of man--speaking its message of infinite
tenderness--gladness that is the gladness of heaven.... I think I have
heard it, but not always--only at rare intervals. And I took up the
violin when I was a child as if it were a simple thing--an ordinary
instrument, and not a thing of mystery--a living thing!"

"You have learned the truth since those days!" cried the delighted
father.

"The truth? Who is there alive that has learned the whole truth--the
whole mystery of the violin?" said the boy. "I think that I have crept
a little nearer to it during these years; that is all that I dare to
say."

"You are a musician," said the father, and the tears of joy that were
in his eyes were also in his voice. "The true musician is the one who
fears to speak with assurance. He is never without his doubts, his
fears, his hours of depression, as well as his moments of celestial
joy. I thank heaven that I am the father of a musician."

"I thought that I was a musician until I heard Pugnani," said the son.
"Hearing him showed me that I had not even crossed the threshold of the
temple. Shall I ever forget that day? I was sent by my master with a
message to his house on that hill where the olive-trees mingle with the
oranges and the vines. I remember how the red beams of the sun at its
setting swept across the Arno, and crept among the olives, and blazed
upon the oranges till they seemed like so many lamps half hidden among
the glossy foliage."

"Would that I had been with you!" said Betsy in a twilight voice.

"Ah, if you had but been with me, you would have learned more of music
in half an hour than you could acquire elsewhere in a lifetime," said
her brother.

"He played for you?" said the father.

"Yes, he played. The words are easily said. The villa is a lovely one,
and when I reached the entrance, walking through the orange-grove, the
sun had sunk, and from a solitary oleander a nightingale had begun to
sing in the blue twilight. I stood listening to it, and feeling how
truly Handel had interpreted the bird's song."

"Betsy shall sing you the _aria_ 'Sweet Bird' when you have told us
your story," said Mr. Linley.

"I entered during the first pause, for there was no bell to ring--my
master had told me not to look for a bell or to call for a servant;
the Maestro does not live as other men. The hall was empty; but I
had received my instructions to wait there, and I waited until a
man strolled in after me from the garden. He wore the common blouse
of the Italian peasant, and carried a pruning-knife in one hand and
a huge bunch of grapes in the other. I took him for a gardener,
and the low bow which he made to me confirmed this impression. In
replying to his courteous 'Buona sera, signore,' I told him that if
he should chance to find Signore Pugnani in the villa, I would thank
him greatly if he would let him know that I brought a message from
Maestro Grassi. 'Signore Pugnani will be here presently,' said he. I
thanked him, and, wishing to be civil, I said: 'His garden does you
great credit--you are, I venture to think, his gardener?' 'Alas! sir,'
said he, smiling, 'I am a much humbler person than his gardener. I
have, it is true, dared to cut a bunch of grapes, but I am even now
trembling at my boldness. I shall have to face the gardener before
night, for he is sure to miss it. You are one of Maestro Grassi's
pupils, sir?' he added; and when I assented, 'I, too, am learning to
play the violin,' he said. 'It is very creditable to you to wish to
master the instrument,' said I. 'You must have many opportunities in
this household of hearing good music. Your master is, I believe, one
of the greatest composers. I am overcome with admiration of his night
piece--_La Voce della Notte_, he has called it.' 'I have heard him
play it,' said he--'at least I think I recollect it. I fancy I should
recall it fully if you were to play a few bars of the prelude.' He
picked up a violin which, with its bow, was lying on a cushion on the
settee of the hall, and began tuning it. When he had satisfied himself
that the instrument was in tune, he handed it to me. 'Have you memory
sufficient to play a few bars of the _Andante_?' he inquired. 'Oh, I
can play the thing throughout,' said I eagerly. I prided myself on
having mastered the _Andante_, and I did not hesitate to play it. In
the dimness of that twilight in the hall, through which the scents of
the orange-trees floated--I can perceive the delicate perfume of that
Italian evening still--I played the _Andante_."

The narrator paused, and then, lying back in his chair, he laughed
heartily. His father smiled; his sister was grave.

"You played it creditably, I hope? You were in the presence of the
composer, I begin to see," said Mr. Linley.

"Of course the stranger was Signore Pugnani, but I did not know it
until he had taken the instrument from me," said the son. "He was
courteous in his compliments upon my performance. 'I am but a pupil
of that wonderful instrument,' said he, 'but I clearly perceive that
you treat it with reverence. Would I tire you if I were to submit
to your criticism my recollection of _La Voce della Notte_, sir?' I
replied, of course, that he should find in me an indulgent critic, and
I made up my mind to be indulgent. And then--then--he held the bow for
a long time over the string--I scarce knew when he began to make it
speak. I scarce knew whence the sound came. All the mystery of night
was in that single note; it was an impassioned cry for rest--the rest
brought by night. While it sounded I seemed to hear the far-off cry
of the whole creation that travaileth, yearning for the rest that is
the consummation of God's promises. Again he moved the bow, and that
wailing note increased.... Ah, how can I express the magic of that
playing?... I tell you that in a moment before my eyes the dim hall
was crowded with figures. I sat in amazement watching them. They were
laughing together in groups. Lovely girls in ravishing dishevelment
flung roses up to the roof of the hall, and the blooms, breaking there,
sent a shower of rosy perfumed petals quivering and dancing like
butterflies downward. Children ran to catch the frail falling flakes,
and clapped their hands. Men old and young sang in varying harmonies,
and at intervals of singing quaffed sparkling wine from cups of glass.
Suddenly, while all were in the act of drinking, the goblets fell with
a crash upon the pavement, and the red wine flowed like blood over the
mosaics of the floor. When the crash of the glasses had rung through
the hall there was a moment of deathly silence, and then, far away, I
heard once more the wailing of a great multitude. It drew closer and
closer until men, women, and children in the hall joined in that chorus
of ineffable sadness--that cry of the world for the rest which has been
promised. They lay on the pavement before my eyes, wailing--wailing....

"Silence followed. The hall became dark in a moment; I could not
have seen anything even if my eyes had been dry. They were not dry:
that second wail had moved me as I had never before been moved. The
darkness was stifling. I felt overwhelmed by it, but I could not stir.
I remained bound to my seat by a spell that I could not break. But
just as I felt myself struggling for breath, a long ray of moonlight
slipped aslant the pavement of the hall, and the atmosphere became
less dense. In a few moments the hall was filled with moonlight, and I
saw that, just where the light streamed, there was growing a tree--a
tree of golden fruit that shone in the moon's rays. A little way off a
fountain began to flash, and its sparkling drops fell musically into
the basin beneath the fantastic jets. All at once a nightingale burst
into rapturous song among the foliage. Ah, that song!--the soul of
tranquillity, of a yearning satisfied! While I listened in delight I
breathed the delicate dewy odours which seemed to come from the glossy
leaves that hid the nightingale from sight.

"I do not know how long I listened--how long I tasted of the delight
of that sensation of repose. I only know that I was on my feet
straining to catch the last exquisite notes that seemed to dwindle away
and become a part of the moonlight, when I heard a voice say:

"'I find that my memory is trustworthy. I have played the whole of the
_Voce_. I hope that I find in you a lenient critic, sir.'

"But I was on my knees at his feet, and unable to utter a word. Ah,
it is the recollection of that playing which makes me feel that, even
though I give up my life to the violin, I shall never pass beyond the
threshold of the study."

"Sir," said the father, "you have told us of the effect produced upon
your imagination by the playing of a great musician. But what you have
proved to us is not that Signore Pugnani is a great musician, but that
you are one. Give me your hand, my son; you are a great musician."

Betsy wiped her eyes and sighed.



CHAPTER III


It was some time before Tom caught up his violin and began to tune
it. His father had seated himself at the harpsichord, and Betsy had
astonished her brother by her singing of Handel's "Sweet Bird." He
affirmed that she was the greatest singer in the world. All that
Pacchierotti and the Agujari had said about her singing failed to do
full justice to it, he declared. He had heard singers in Italy who were
accounted great, but the greatest of them might sit at her feet with
profit.

"She will sing 'Angels, ever bright and fair' with true effect now, I
promise you," said the father, with a shrewd smile.

"Ah, yes! now--now!" said the girl; and before her father had touched
the keys of the harpsichord she had flashed into the recitative.

Her brother clasped his hands over his bosom, and, with his eyes fixed
on her face, listened in amazement. She had become the embodiment of
the music. She was the spirit of the song made visible. All the pure
maidenly ecstasy, all the virginal rapture was made visible. Before she
had ended the recitative, every one who ever heard that lovely singer
was prepared to hear the rustling of the angels' wings. It was the
greatest painter of the day who heard her sing the sublime melody, and
painted his greatest picture--one of the greatest pictures ever painted
in the world--from her.

"Saint Cecilia--Saint Cecilia, and none other," said Sir Joshua
Reynolds. "She sings and draws the angels down when she calls upon
them."

But the jingling harpsichord!

"It is unworthy of her," cried her father, taking his hands off the
keys before playing the prelude to the air.

In an instant her brother had caught up his violin; he had been tuning
it while they had been talking--and began to improvise an obbligato
with the confidence of a master of the instrument. And then with the
first sound of the harpsichord came that exquisite voice of passionate
imploration:

    "'Angels, ever bright and fair,
    Take, oh, take me to your care.'"

She had never sung it so well before. She had never before known
how beautiful it was. And now, while she sang, the violin obbligato
helping her onward, she became aware of distant angel-voices answering
her--soft and low they were at first, but gradually they drew nigh,
increasing in volume and intensity, until at the end of the first part
the air was thrilling with the sound of harps, and through all the
joyous confidence of the last phrases came that glorious harp-music,
now floating away into the distance, and anon flashing down with the
sound of mysterious musical voices in response to her singing. At the
last she could see the heavens opened above her, and a flood of melody
floated down, and then dwindled away when her voice had become silent.

There was a silence in the room. Even the father, who thought he knew
all the magic that could be accomplished on the fourth string, was dumb
with amazement and delight.

[Illustration:    "Angels, ever bright and fair,
                  Take, oh, take me to your care!"        [_page 24._]

"Ah, my sweet sister," said the violin-player, "your singing has led me
to perceive something of the beauty of that _aria_. I think I caught a
glimpse of the country to which it leads one. Thank you, my Betsy.
Neither of us can go very far beyond the point that we have reached
to-night."

"That point has never been reached in the world before!" cried the
father. "I know what has been done, and I give you my word that here,
in this room, a point of musical expression has been reached beyond
what the greatest of our musicians have ever aimed at."

"What Tom said when a child has turned out true," said Polly. "Yes, we
are all geniuses, and the half of Bath may be seen outside the house
enjoying a free concert."

Tom drew one of the blinds and looked out; there was a crowd of some
hundreds of persons in the street. The oil lamps shone upon the rich
brocades of ladies who had been in both the Assembly Rooms, and upon
the gold lace of the fine gentlemen who accompanied them. Richly
painted chairs had been set down on the pavement, and the roofs tilted
up to allow of the sound of the music reaching the occupants, whose
heads, white with powder, sometimes protruded beyond the lacquered
brass-work of the brim of their chairs. The linkboys stood with their
torches in the roadway, making a lurid background to the scene. The
moment that Tom drew back the blind, the yellow light from without
flared into the room.

"_Cielo!_" he cried, lifting up his hands, "Pierrepont Street is
turned into a concert-room."

"The only marvel is that we have not had several visitors," said his
father. "It was widely known through Bath that you were to return
to us this evening. I feared that we should not be allowed to have
a quiet hour or two to ourselves. The good folk here are as fond of
a new sensation as were the Athenians. How can we account for their
considerate behaviour to-night?"

Betsy laughed.

"I think I can account for it," she cried. "Look out again, Tom, and
try if you cannot see a Cerberus at the door."

"A Cerberus?" said he, peering out at the edge of the blind. "I' faith,
I do perceive something that suggests one of the great hounds which I
saw at the Hospice of St. Bernard--an enormous mass of vigilance, not
over-steady on his legs."

"A three-decker sort of man, rolling at anchor?" suggested Polly, the
pert one.

"An apt description," said Tom.

"I will not hear a word said against Dr. Johnson," cried Betsy. "He has
kept his promise. When I told him that you were coming home to-day,
he said: 'Madam, though your occupation as a singer entitles every
jackanapes to see you for half a crown, still, in order to inculcate
upon you the charm of a life of domesticity, I shall prevent your being
pestered with busybodies for one night. I shall take care that no eye
save that of Heaven sees you kiss your brother on his return.'"

"Dr. Johnson is not without a certain sense of what is delicate, though
he may be in one's company a long time before one becomes aware of it,"
said Mr. Linley.

"Betsy did not tell you what he said when she thanked him," cried
Polly. "But he rolled himself to one side, and pursed out his lips in a
dreadful way. 'Tell the truth, Miss Linnet,' said he at last. 'Tell the
truth: do you indeed welcome my offer, or do you not rather regret that
the young rascals--ay, and the old rascals too--will be deprived of the
opportunity of having their envy aroused by observing the favours you
bestow on the cold lips of a brother?' Those were his very words."

"And his very manner, I vow," laughed her father; and indeed Miss Polly
had given a very pretty imitation of the Johnsonian manner.

"Never mind," said Betsy. "If he only succeeds in keeping away Mrs.
Thrale, he deserves all our gratitude."

And it was actually Mrs. Thrale whom Dr. Johnson was trying to convince
that she had no right to enter the Linleys' house at that moment.

Hearing that Tom Linley was to return after an absence of four years in
Italy, and knowing the spirit of impudent curiosity that pervaded the
crowds of idlers in Bath, Dr. Johnson had posted himself at the door of
5, Pierrepont Street, when he learned that Tom had reached the house,
and he had prevented even those persons who had legitimate business
with Mr. Linley from intruding upon the family party.

He was having a difficult task with Mrs. Thrale, for the sprightly
little lady had made up her mind to visit the Linleys and have at least
one _bon mot_ respecting Tom circulated among the early visitors to the
Pump Room before any of her rival gossips had a chance of seeing the
youth. But she found herself confronted by the mighty form of Johnson a
few yards from the door of their house.

"Dear sir," she cried, "you are doing yeoman's service to the family
of Linley. Oh, the idle curiosity of the people here! How melancholy
is the position of a public character! Every fellow who has ever heard
Miss Linley sing fancies he is privileged to enter her house upon the
most sacred occasion; and as for your modish young woman, she looks
on the Linley family as she does upon the Roman baths--to be freely
visited as one of the sights of the place."

"Madam, you exaggerate," said Dr. Johnson. "The persons in Bath whose
inquisitiveness makes them disregardful of the decencies of life do not
number more than a dozen."

"Ah, sir," said the lady, "you are charitably disposed."

"Madam, to suggest that I am charitable were to suggest that I am
incapable of taking a just view of a very simple matter, and that, let
me tell you, madam, is something which no considerations of charity
will prevent my contesting."

"Dear sir," said Mrs. Thrale, "you will force me to appeal to your
charity at this time on behalf of Mr. Boswell. If you do not permit him
to enter the house and bring us a faithful report of young Mr. Linley,
a whole day may pass before the Pump Room knows anything of him."

"Psha! madam, do you know the Pump Room so indifferently as to fancy
that it will wait for any report of the young gentleman before forming
its own conclusions on the subject of his return?"

"Ah, Dr. Johnson, but Mr. Boswell is invariably so accurate in his
reports on everything," persisted the lady.

Little Mr. Boswell smirked between the cross-fires of the yellow
lamplight and the lurid links; he smirked and bowed low beneath the
force of the lady's compliment. He had not a nice ear either for
compliment or detraction: he failed to appreciate the whisper of a
zephyr of sarcasm.

But his huge patron was not Zephyrus, but Boreas.

"Madam," he cried, "I allow that Mr. Boswell is unimaginative enough
to be accurate; but he is a busybody, and I will not allow him to
cross this threshold. List to those sounds, Mrs. Thrale"--Polly in the
room upstairs had just begun to sing, with her two sisters, a glee of
Purcell--"list to those sounds. What! madam, would you have that nest
of linnets disturbed?"

"Is Saul also among the prophets? Oh, 'tis sure edifying to find Dr.
Johnson the patron of music," said the lady with double-edged sweetness.

"Madam, let me tell you that one cannot rightly be said to be a patron
of music," said Dr. Johnson. "Music is an abstraction. One may be a
patron of a musician or a painter--nay, I have even heard of a poet
having a patron, and dying of him too, because, like a gangrene that
proves fatal, he was not cut away in time."

"And just now you are the patron of the musicians, sir?" said the lady.

"Just now, madam, I am hungry and thirsty. I have a longing to be the
patron of your excellent cook, and the still more excellent custodian
of your tea-cupboard. Come, Mrs. Thrale, sweet though the sounds of
that hymn may be--if indeed it be a hymn and not a jig; but I hope it
is a hymn--take my word for it, madam, a hungry man would like better
to hear the rattle of crockery."

"Dear sir, I feel honoured," cried Mrs. Thrale. "But who will take
charge of your nest of linnets in the meantime?"

"Our friend Dr. Goldsmith will be proud of that duty, dear madam," said
Johnson.

"Madam," said Dr. Goldsmith, "I have my flute in my pocket; if any one
tries to enter this house, I swear that I shall play it, and if every
one does not fly then, a posse of police shall be sent for. You have
heard me play the flute, doctor?"

"Sir," said Johnson, "when I said that music was of all noises the
least disagreeable, I had not heard you play upon your flute."

"No, sir; for had you heard me, you would not have said 'least
disagreeable'--no, sir; _least_ would not have been the word," said
Goldsmith.

"Pan-pipes would be an appropriate instrument to such a satyr," said a
tall thin gentleman in an undertone to another, when Johnson and Mrs.
Thrale had walked away, and Goldsmith had begun to listen in ecstasy to
Tom Linley's playing of Pugnani's _nocturne_.

"Ah, friend Horry, you have never ceased to think ill of Dr. Goldsmith
since the night you sat beside him at the Academy dinner," said the
other gentleman.

"I think no ill of the man, George," said Horace Walpole. "Surely a
man may call another a scarecrow without malice, if t'other be a
scarecrow."

"'Tis marvellous how plain a fellow seems when he has got the better
of one in an argument," laughed George Selwyn, for he knew that
Walpole had not a good word to say for Goldsmith since the former had
boasted, on the narrowest ground, of having detected the forgeries of
Chatterton, thereby calling for a scathing word or two from Goldsmith,
who had just come from the room where the unfortunate boy was lying
dead.

The two wits walked on toward the house that Gilly Williams had taken
for a month; but before they had gone a dozen yards they were bowing
to the ground at the side of a gorgeous chair carried by men wearing
the livery of the Duchess of Devonshire, and having two footmen on each
side.

The beautiful lady whose head, blazing with jewels, appeared when the
hood was raised, caused her folded fan to describe a graceful curve in
the direction of Walpole, while she cried:

"You were not at the Assembly to-night, Mr. Walpole."

"Nay, your Grace, I have scarce left it: we are on the fringe of it
still," replied Walpole.

"Under Miss Linley's window," said the duchess.

"Wherever Miss Linley sings and the Duchess of Devonshire listens is
the Assembly," said George Selwyn.

"I have heard of one Orpheus who with his lute drew inanimate things
to listen to him," said the duchess; "Miss Linley seems to have equal
powers; for were it otherwise, I should not have seen my Lord Coventry
in Pierrepont Street to-night."

"Your Grace doubted whether the people flocked to Miss Linley's
concerts in the Assembly Rooms to hear her sing or to feast on her
beauty," said Walpole.

"Well, now I confess that I am answered," said her Grace, "for the
singer did not deign to appear even at a window. But I call it a case
of gross improvidence for a young woman to be so beautiful of feature,
and so divine of voice at the same time. Either of her attractions
should be enough for one in a humble position in life. I call it a
waste. Now tell me frankly, Mr. Selwyn, is Miss Linley as beautiful as
your friend Lady Coventry was--the first of them, I mean."

"Madam, there have been but three beautiful women in the world; the
first was Helen of Troy, the second was Maria Lady Coventry, and the
third is----"

"Miss Elizabeth Linley?" cried the duchess when George Selwyn made a
pause--a pause that invited a question--the pause of the professed
_raconteur_ who fully understands the punctuation of a sentence. "What?
Miss Elizabeth Linley?"

"Madam, the third is her Grace the Duchess of Devonshire," said Selwyn
with a bow.

"Oh, sir," cried the duchess, "you are unkind to offer me such a
compliment when I am enclosed in my chair. I protest that you have no
right to take me at such a disadvantage. Pray consider that I have sunk
to the ground at your feet in acknowledgment of your politeness. But
pray note the silence of Mr. Walpole."

"'Tis the silence of acquiescence, madam," said Selwyn.

"Pray let Mr. Walpole speak for himself, Selwyn," said the duchess.
"As a rule he is able to speak not only for himself, but for every one
else."

"'Twas but the verse of Mr. Dryden which came into my mind when George
spoke of his three beauties, duchess," said Walpole:

    "'The force of Nature could no further go;
    To make a third she joined the other two.'"

"'Tis the compliment of a scholar as well as a wit," said her Grace--"a
double-edged sword, keen as well as polished, which I vow there is no
resisting. What return can I make for such favours--a sweet nosegay of
favours in full bloom and tied with a riband of the finest brocade? The
flowers of compliment are ever more welcome when tied with a riband of
wit."

"O Queen, live for ever!" cried Selwyn.

"Nay, sir, that is not a reply to my question," said the duchess. "I
asked you what return I can make for your compliments?"

"True, madam, and I reply, 'O Queen, live for ever!' in other words,
give Mr. Gainsborough an order to paint your portrait," said Mr. Selwyn.

"Ah, now 'tis Mr. Gainsborough whom you are complimenting," said the
duchess. "Alas! that we poor women must be dependent for immortality
upon the pigments of a painter!"

"Your Grace is in the happy position of being independent of his
pigments except on his canvas," said Walpole. "But let me join my
entreaty to Mr. Selwyn's. Give to posterity a reflection of the
privilege which is enjoyed by us."

"I vow that the king I feel like to is King Herod," cried the duchess.

"And with great reason, madam," said Walpole: "we are the innocents
slain by your Grace's beauty."

"Nay, that was not the episode that was in my mind," laughed the lady.
"Nay, 'twas t'other one: I offered you a favour, and you, like the
daughter of Herodias, have demanded a human head--in pigment. But I
have pledged myself, and I will e'en send a note to Mr. Gainsborough in
the morning. What! the concert is over? Gentlemen, I trust that you are
satisfied with your night's work?"

"Madam, should it be known that it was George and myself who brought
about this happy accident, we should rest secure in the thought that we
too shall live among the immortals," cried Walpole.

"Future generations shall rise up and call us blessed," said Selwyn.

"And what will Mr. Gainsborough say?" asked the duchess.

"If he were a man like one of us, he would be in despair of ever being
able to execute the task which your Grace imposes on him," said Walpole.

"True, if he were not supported from one day to the next by the thought
of being for another hour in your Grace's presence," said Selwyn.

The beautiful lady held up both her hands in pretty protest, while she
cried:

"If I tarry here much longer, I shall find myself promising to give
sittings to Sir Joshua Reynolds and the full company of Academicians;
so a good-night to you pair of flatterers. Heaven grant that I get safe
home! Your _al fresco_ concert-goers jostle one horribly."

The two gentlemen bowed while her Grace's chair was borne on through
the sauntering crowd, for the house which had been the centre of the
gathering had now become silent, and the candles in the drawing-room
were extinguished. The clocks had chimed out the first quarter past
eleven--an hour when most Londoners were in bed; but Bath during the
eighteenth century was the latest town in England, and long after the
duchess's chair had been borne away, long after Walpole and his friend
had sauntered on to Gilly Williams's; long after Johnson had lectured
the saturnine brewer, Mr. Thrale, on the evil of Mr. Thrale's practice
of over-eating (Johnson himself was enough of an anchorite to limit
himself when at Streatham to fifteen peaches before breakfast, and an
equal number before dinner, and had never been known to swallow more
than twenty cups of tea at a sitting); long after Dr. Goldsmith had
worried poor Mr. Boswell by pretending to be taking a note of Dr.
Johnson's sayings for the day, having, as he affirmed, an eye to a
future biography of the great man; long after Miss Linley had knelt
down by her bedside to thank Providence for having restored her dear
brother to his home, even though Providence had seen fit to supplant
her in her brother's affection by an abstraction which he called his
Art; long after the night had closed upon all these incidents in the
beautiful city of Bath, some people were still sauntering through
Pierrepont Street.

From the left there sauntered a young man of good figure and excellent
carriage. He wore a cloak, and he had tilted his hat over his eyes, in
imitation of the prowling young man on the stage. He kept on the dark
side of the street and looked furtively round every now and again.
He slipped into a deep doorway when almost opposite the house of the
Linleys, and stood there with his eyes fixed on the highest windows.

"Sleep, beloved, sleep," he murmured, with a sentimental turn of his
head. "Sleep, knowing naught of the passion that burns in the heart of
thy faithful swain, who wakes to watch over thy slumbers."

He was so absorbed in his rhapsodising that he failed to notice the
approach of another young man from the opposite direction to that
from which he himself had come. The other was somewhat taller, and
his carriage was better displayed by the circumstance of his being
uncloaked, and of his walking frankly along the street until he too had
reached the dim doorway. Then with a glance up to the windows of the
Linleys' house, he too slipped into that doorway.

He started, finding that another person was there--a man who quickly
turned away his head and let his chin fall deep into the collar of his
cloak.

"What! Charles?" cried the newcomer. "Why, I left you at home going to
your bedroom half an hour ago. What, man, have you turned footpad that
you steal out in this fashion and wearing a cloak?"

"I trust, brother, that one may take a quiet walk without having to
give an explanation of its purport," said the first sulkily.

"To be sure--to be sure," said the other. "I suppose that Joseph,
even before he became a patriarch, took many a stroll in the cool of
the night through the streets of Thebes--or was it Memphis?--without
reproach."

"For that matter," cried the first, with some irritation in his voice,
"what was your motive in coming hither, brother Dick? Did not you say
that you were going to bed also?"

"I--oh, I only came out to search for you, Joseph--I mean Charles,"
said the second. "Yes, Jo--Charles, hearing you leave the house by the
back, I thought it the duty of a younger brother to see that you did
not get into any harm. Good heavens, brother! what would become of
the Sheridan family if the elder son were to fall among thieves? Do
you think that our patriarchal father would be satisfied if he were
shown his Joseph's cloak saturated with red claret? Come home, Joseph,
come home, I entreat of you. You can compose your sonnet to Betsy
Linley much more fluently at your desk at home. Besides, father has
a rhyming-dictionary--an indispensable work of reference to a lover,
Charles."

"What do you mean, Dick?" said Charles in an aggrieved voice--the
aggrieved voice afterwards assumed by the representative of the part of
Joseph in _The School for Scandal_. "Brother, I really am surprised to
find you making light of so estimable a family."

"As the Linleys or the Sheridans--which?" cried Dick. "Oh, man, come
home; the girl is asleep hours ago and dreaming of--of you, maybe,
Charles. Think of that, man--think of that--dreaming of you! Oh, if you
have any appreciation of a true lover's duty, you will hasten to your
bed to return the compliment by dreaming of her."

Mr. Richard Brinsley Sheridan put his arm through his brother's, and
Charles suffered himself to be led away to their house on the Terrace
Walks, protesting all the time that the man who rushed hastily to
conclusions was more to be execrated than the footpad, for the latter
was content when he had stolen a man's purse, whereas the other....

"True--true--quite true, Joseph," said Dick. "We can make another score
or two of those sentiments when we get home. Father has a copy of the
'Sentiments of all Nations' as well as a rhyming-dictionary."



CHAPTER IV


Betsy Linley awoke in the morning with a feeling of having been
disappointed about something, and she was disappointed with herself for
being so weak as to be conscious of such an impression. In short, she
was disappointed with herself for awaking in disappointment. She should
have felt gladness, only gladness, to think that the brother, who had
ever been so dear to her, had escaped all the perils of the years he
had spent among the artistic barbarians of Italy, all the perils of the
long journey through the land of brigands to land of highwaymen. No
other consideration should have produced any impression on her.

The previous morning she had awakened with the one thought dancing
before her, "He will be at home when I next wake in this house!" and it
seemed to her then that this was all she required to make her happy.
What more than this could she need? If he returned to her side safe and
well, what could anything else matter? There was nothing else in the
world of sufficient importance in comparison with such an occurrence to
be worth a thought. The feeling that he was near her would absorb every
thought of her heart, and nothing that might occur afterwards could
diminish from the joy of that thought.

Well, he had come--she had felt his kisses on her cheek, and for
an hour she had felt that he was her dear brother as he had been
in the old days. She felt sure that he would understand her, and,
understanding her, sympathise with her. But from the moment that he had
taken his violin out of its baize bag--he had nursed the instrument
on his knees, as a mother carries her baby, during the entire journey
from Italy--from the moment that she had seen that divine light in his
eyes, when he drew his bow across the strings, she knew that there was
a barrier between them. She felt as a sister feels when a well-beloved
only brother returns to her with a wife by his side.

His art--that was what he had brought home with him, and she saw that
it held possession of all his heart. She felt that she occupied quite
a secondary place in his affections compared with music--that he loved
music with the passionate devotion of a lover, while to her he could
only give the cold, calculable affection of a brother. She felt all
the sting of jealousy which an affectionate sister feels when her
brother, in her presence, looks into the eyes of the woman whom he
loves and puts his arm about her. She felt all the bitterness of the
step-daughter who sees her father smiling as he looks into the eyes of
his new wife.

She had hoped that Tom's home-coming would make her father less
exacting than he always had been in regard to her singing--that
Tom would take her part when she protested against being forced to
sing so constantly in public. Her nature was one of extraordinary
sensitiveness, and it was this fact that caused her to be the most
exquisite singer of her day. But then it was her possession of this
very sensitiveness that caused her to shrink from an audience. It
was with real terror that she faced the thousands of people whom her
singing delighted. The reflection that her singing delighted every
one who heard her gave her no pleasure, and the tumult of applause
which greeted her gave her no exultation; it only added to the terror
she felt on appearing on a platform. She wept in her room, refusing
anything to eat or drink for hours preceding an evening when she had to
sing in public. More than once she had actually fainted on reaching the
concert-room; and these were the occasions when she had thrilled every
one present with the divine charm of her voice.

She was the most sensitive instrument that ever the spirit of music
breathed through; but the cruelty of the matter was, that although
without this sensitiveness she would never have been able to move the
hearts of every man and woman who heard her sing, yet possessing it
unfitted her for the _rôle_ of a great singer.

This was the paradox of the life of this woman of genius. The most
cruel jest ever perpetrated by Nature was giving this creature the
divinest voice that ever made a mortal a little lower than the angels,
and at the same time decreeing that it should be an agony for her to
exercise her powers as infinitely less gifted women exercise their
talents.

It is all to be seen in her face as we can see it on the canvases of
Gainsborough and Reynolds--two of the greatest pictures ever painted by
the hand of man. If the face of Miss Linley in Gainsborough's picture
is divine, the face of Sir Joshua's "Saint Cecilia" is sublime. In both
one may perceive the shrinking of a sensitive soul from anything less
divine than itself.

And her father, an excellent man, who had made himself a musician
in spite of many difficulties, insisted on her singing in public as
frequently as he thought consistent with the preservation of her voice.
He was incapable of understanding such a nature as hers, and she had
this fact impressed upon her every day. He would tell her what Handel
meant to accomplish in certain of his numbers, and she would listen as
in a dream, and then sing the number in her own way, going to the very
soul of its mystery, and achieving an effect of which her father had
never dreamed. She used to wonder how any one could be content, as her
father was, to touch merely upon the surface of the matter and make no
attempt to reach the soul underlying it.

Every day she startled him by her revelation of the depths of Handel's
music--the blue profundity of his ocean, the immeasurable azure of
his heaven; and sometimes he could not avoid receiving the impression
that this daughter, whom he had taught the rudiments of his art,
knew a great deal more about it than he did; and he only recovered
his position as her master by pointing out her technical mistakes to
her: she had dwelt too long on a certain note; the crescendo in the
treatment of a certain phrase had not been gradual enough; her finish
had been staccato. She must go over the air again.

So it was that he worried her. He was trying to teach a nightingale to
sing by playing the flute to it. But the nightingale sang, in spite of
his instruction; the nightingale sang, sang, and longed all the time
for the wings of a dove, so that she might fly away and be at rest.

She knew that her father was incapable of understanding her
sensitiveness, and she had looked forward to the return of her brother,
who might help her father to understand. Alas! the instant she saw that
strange light in his eyes she knew that she had nothing to hope for
from him. And now she was putting on her clothes to begin another day
which should be as all the weary days which had gone before--a day of
toiling over exercises with her father at the harpsichord, so that her
voice should not be wanting in flexibility when she would appear before
an audience in the Assembly Rooms on the evening of the next day.

"Oh for the wings of a dove!" her heart was singing, when, pausing for
a moment, with her beautiful hair falling over her shoulders, she heard
the strains of her brother's violin floating from the room below. He
played the violin beautifully, but.... "Oh for the wings of a dove to
fly away and be at rest!"

       *       *       *       *       *

Mr. Garrick called upon them before they had left the music-room. The
children were delighted with Garrick, who could imitate, in such a
funny way, their father giving a lesson, and Dr. Johnson assisting
by the superiority of his lungs the excellence of his argument on
some very delicate question--say, the necessity for building a
hospital for spiders which had grown old and past work. This he made
the subject of an animated discussion between Dr. Johnson and Sir
Joshua Reynolds, keeping the whole family in fits of laughter at Dr.
Johnson's polysyllabic references to the industry of the spider, and
then bringing tears to their eyes at his picture of the heartlessness
of allowing a grey-haired spider to be cast upon the world in its
declining years. Of course the children appreciated the ludicrous
mistakes made by Sir Joshua, whose infirmity of deafness caused him
to assume that Johnson had said exactly the opposite to what he was
saying. And then he pretended that he heard a knock at the door. He
hastened to admit a gentleman with a very lugubrious face, and before
he had opened his mouth there was a cry of "Mr. Cumberland! Mr.
Cumberland!" In the truest style of Richard Cumberland, he hastened to
decry the whole spider family. Their spinning was grossly overrated, he
declared; for his part, he had known many spiders in his time, but he
had never known one that was a spinster.

This sort of fooling was what Garrick enjoyed better than anything
else, and he brought all his incomparable powers to bear upon it.
He played this form of comedy with the same supreme perfection that
he displayed in the tragedy of _Hamlet_. Even Tom Linley, who was
inclined to be coldly critical of such buffoonery, soon became aware
of the difference between the fooling of a man of genius and that of
an ordinary person. He laughed as heartily as his younger brothers and
sisters during the five minutes that Garrick was in the room.

"By the way," cried the actor when he was taking his leave (Mr. Linley
had just entered the room), "our friend Tom Sheridan goes to Ireland
to-morrow. He has been released from his little difficulties which sent
him to France. It seems that his chief creditor in Dublin actually
petitioned the court to grant Tom exemption from any liability to pay
what he owes. Is not that an ideal creditor for one to have? What
persuasive letters Tom must have written to him! But for that matter,
he could persuade the most obdurate man out of his most cherished
belief."

"Could he persuade you that his Hamlet is superior to yours, Mr.
Garrick?" said Linley with a twinkle.

"Well, sir, he might succeed in persuading me of that, but that would
be of little value to him, for he could persuade no one else in the
world of it. Just now he was trying to persuade me that his elder
son, Charles, is a man of parts, and that his second son, Dick, is a
nincompoop."

He gave a casual glance round the Linley circle; his eyes did not
rest for a longer space of time upon Elizabeth than upon any of the
others, but he did not fail to notice that a delicate pink had come
to her cheeks, and that for the second that elapsed before her eyes
fell there was an unusual sparkle in them. He did not need to look at
the girl again. He had learned enough to make him certain that she was
interested in at least one of the Sheridan family. But he was left
wondering which of them it was that interested her. He had sufficient
experience of the world, as well as of the Green Room, which he
believed to be a world in itself, to be well aware of the fact that a
beautiful girl may be as greatly interested in a nincompoop as in his
astuter brother; and this might mean that Miss Linley was interested in
Charles Sheridan rather than in Dick.

"And did he succeed in persuading you?" asked Linley.

"Faith, sir, he had no trouble persuading me to believe that if it
is a wise son who knows his own father, 'tis a wiser father than
Tom Sheridan that knows his own sons," said Garrick, giving another
glance round the circle. This time he saw Miss Linley's long lashes
flash from her cheek; but her eyes were not dancing, they were full of
mournfulness.

Garrick found that he would have to give time to the consideration of
what this expression of mournfulness meant.

"Tom was, as usual, combining the arts of devotion and elocution in
his household," continued the actor. "He holds that devotion is the
handmaid to elocution. He has morning prayer in his house, not only
because he is a good Churchman, but because he is an excellent teacher
of elocution. He makes his children learn Christian principles and
correct pronunciation at the same time."

"That is the system of the copybooks," said Linley. "By giving
headlines of notable virtue, they inculcate good principles as well as
good penmanship."

"I call it killing two birds with the one stone," said Polly.

"Mr. Sheridan is a copybook-heading sort of man in himself," cried
Garrick. "He is an admirable sentiment engraved in copper-plate. He
thinks that Heaven will pay more attention to a petition that is
pronounced according to the rules of Sheridan's dictionary than to
one which is founded on Johnson. This is how he says grace:--'For
these and all Thy mercies----' 'Observe, children, I say "mercies,"
not "murcies." There is not nearly enough attention given in England
to discriminating between the vowel sounds---- Observe I say "vowel
sounds," not "vowil sounds." I have now and again heard Mr. Garrick
say "vowil" instead of "vowel," which would almost lead me to believe
that he has more Irish blood in his veins than his shocking parsimony
would suggest. But for that matter, Mr. Garrick is constantly making
errors in his elocution---- Pray note that I say "errors," not
"errurs"--and the only wonder is that any educated audience can follow
the fellow. You perceive that I say "follow the fellow," not "folly the
feller,"--to be sure, it is folly to follow the fellow, but that is a
matter of taste, not truth. You mark me, Richard?' 'Faith, sir,' says
Richard, 'I am thinking more of swallowing than of following at the
present moment; but if you begin upon the rashers, I promise you that
I shall follow and say in the purest English, "For these and all Thy
mercies, make us to be truly thankful."' Thereat brother Charles shakes
his head, and says, 'You were remarking, sir, that the English are most
careless over their quantities.' 'That is because they have not had the
privilege of being born Irishmen,' says Dick; 'but we have, and for
this and all Thy mercies, make us to be truly thankful. Let me help
you to one of these excellent rashers, father.' Then the girls grin,
looking down at their plates. Brother Charles shakes his head over
Dick's levity, and the father puts on his best 'Cato' face, and remains
dignified and, like the breakfast, cold. But by the Lord Harry, I am
worse than Tom Sheridan; I am keeping you from your breakfast of sweet
sounds. There is Master Tom tuning his violin in a suggestive way.
Is it true what people say, Miss Polly, that the Linley family break
their fast on buttered fugues, dine off a sirloin of sonatas, and sup
off jugged symphonies, drinking mugs of oratorio, and every mug with a
Handel? Farewell, dear friends--farewell! 'Oh, now for ever, farewell
the tranquil mind, farewell content.'"

In a second he had become Othello, and the laughter was frozen on the
face of every one in the circle. This magician carried them at will
from world to world. They were powerless before him. He left them
gasping, looking at one another as if they had just awakened from a
dream.

"A genius!" murmured Mr. Linley, when Garrick had gone, and a long
silence followed in the room. "'Tis a doubtful privilege to be visited
by a genius. It unfits one for one's daily work."

"Nay, sir," cried Tom, "I would fain believe that the visits of a
genius are like those of an angel--that he brings us food, in the
strength of which we can face the terrors of a wilderness as the
prophet did--the wilderness of the commonplace."

"True--true," said his father. "Still, I think that 'tis just as well
for us all that the visits of a genius have the qualities which have
been ascribed to those of an angel. Now we shall begin our studies.
After all, Mr. Garrick only delayed us for twenty minutes. It might
have been much worse."

"Yes, it might have been Mr. Foote," said Polly.

"That would indeed have been much worse," said her father. "Mr. Foote
makes us laugh, and leaves us laughing; Mr. Garrick makes us laugh, and
leaves us thinking."

And then the lessons began.

Even the delight of hearing her brother play one of Bach's most
ethereal compositions for the violin and harpsichord failed to make
Betsy submissive to the ordeal from which she shrank. Her father seemed
especially exacting on this morning, but he was not so in reality; it
was only that Betsy felt more weary of the constant references to the
technicalities which her fine feeling now and again discarded, greatly
to the advantage of the composition which she was set to interpret,
but which her father, with all the rigid scruple of the made musician,
insisted on her observing.

And Tom, whom she had trusted to take her part, believing that he would
understand her feelings by considering his own--Tom stood by, coldly
acquiescing in her father's judgment in all questions of _technique_;
nay, he showed himself, by his criticism of her phrasing at one part of
an air from _Orféo_, more a slave to precision than was her father. She
had had some hope of Tom when he had begun to improvise that mysterious
accompaniment to her singing on the previous evening. Surely any one
who could so give himself up to his imagination as he had done would
understand how she should become impatient of the reins of _technique_!
Surely he would understand that there are moments when one can afford
to sing out of the fulness of one's heart rather than in strict
accordance with the suggestions of the composer!

Alas! Tom had failed her in her hour of need. He seemed to think that
the privilege of improvising should be enjoyed only by a player on the
violin, and that it would be the grossest presumption on the part of a
vocalist so to indulge her imagination. And thus, bringing weariness
and disappointment to the girl, the day wore away.

When the family dinner was over, there were numerous callers at the
house in Pierrepont Street. Among them there was an elderly gentleman
named Long, who was treated with marked civility by Mr. Linley.

When he had left the house, and Tom and Betsy were alone, the former,
after referring to some of the visitors, inquired:

"Who is that old gentleman whom you called Mr. Long?"

"He is nothing in particular; that is why I am going to marry him,"
said she.



CHAPTER V


Apparently Tom was not greatly startled by the declaration which his
sister had made to him. He was screwing up a new string which he had
just put on his violin, and he continued twanging it with his thumb as
he raised it to the proper note in the scale. She watched him, with his
head slightly turned to one side, and she heard the string creep up by
quarter-tones until at last it satisfied his fastidious ear. Then he
played pizzicato on all the strings for a while before he said:

"He is an old man, is he not?"

"He is the man whom I am going to marry," said she.

"He must be over fifty," said he.

"He is the man I am going to marry," said she.

"I saw by the papers that were sent to me from time to time that you
had many suitors," said he. "I did not pay much attention to the
papers, but now I recollect that some of them made sport of an elderly
admirer. I suppose Mr. Long was he?"

"I daresay. Mr. Long cannot help his age. 'Tis not more absurd for him
to be old than it is for me to be young. I suppose some newspapers
would think it no shame to slight me for being young."

He gave a passable imitation of an Italian's shrug--he had learned
something beyond the playing of the violin in Italy.

"_Che sarà sarà_," said he, and there was a shrug in his voice. "After
all, what does it matter whom one marries?"

"That's exactly what I say!" she cried, her quick ear catching his
cynical tone. "What does it matter? I must marry some one, and is it
not better for me to marry a man to whom I am indifferent than one whom
I detest?"

He mused for a few moments, and then he said:

"I have not given much thought to the matter, but I think I should
prefer marrying a woman who hated me rather than one who looked on me
with indifference. Never mind. I suppose this Mr. Long is rich?"

"He is very rich. I may be able to save Maria from having to be a
singer. I shall certainly save myself from continuing one."

His violin dropped upon his knees.

"What do you mean?" he cried. "It cannot be possible that it is your
wish to cease from singing in public?"

"That is the only reason I have for agreeing to marry any one," she
replied.

"_Dio mio!_ You--you--you, who can become the greatest singer in the
world; you, who have been given a voice such as might be envied by the
very greatest of lyric artists; you with an intelligence that could
not be surpassed, an imagination that actually stands in need of being
restrained; you, who have it in your power to sway the souls of men
and women as the tide of the sea sways the ships that are borne on its
surface--you talk of ceasing to sing! Psha! 'tis not in your power to
cease to sing. 'Tis laid upon you as a duty--a sacred duty."

"Ah, Tom--brother, cannot you understand something--a little--of
what I feel?" she cried almost piteously. "I looked forward to your
return with such happiness, and felt sure that you would understand
how it is that I shrink from coming forward on a platform to sing for
the amusement--for the gratification of every one who can afford
to pay half a crown to hear me--foolish men, and still more foolish
women, caring nothing for music. You and I have always thought of
music as something sacred, a gift of God, given to us as it is given
to the angels--to be used in the service of God. Idle curiosity,
fashion--foolish fashion, that is why they come to hear me sing. I
know it. I know it. I have overheard them chattering about me. The
Duchess of Devonshire, I overheard her say to Mrs. Crewe that she had
come to see if I was as beautiful as she--as beautiful as Mrs. Crewe!
And Mrs. Crewe said how lucky it was that they had an opportunity
of judging upon this point for so small a sum as half a guinea. And
there was I, compelled to stand up before them and sing, 'I know that
my Redeemer liveth,' while they smiled, criticising me through their
glasses, just as if I were a horse being put through its paces! Oh, my
brother, I felt all the time that I was degrading my gift, that I was
selling those precious words of comfort and joy and their wonderful
interpretation into music that goes straight to the soul of men and
women--selling them for money which I put into my own pocket! There
they sat smiling before me, and Mrs. Crewe said she did not like the
way my hair was dressed. I heard her whisper it just as I had sung
the first phrase of 'For now is Christ risen from the dead,' just as
the joy--the note of triumph that rings through the passage had begun
to sound through my heart as it always does! Oh, what humiliation! I
broke down; no one but myself knew it, for I sang the notes correctly
to the end--the notes, but not the music. It is one thing to sing notes
correctly and quite another to make music: the music is the spirit that
goes to the soul of those who listen, producing its effect upon them
either for good or bad. Alas! there was nothing spiritual in my singing
that night. I was telling them that our Redeemer had risen from the
dead, and they replied that they did not like the way my hair was
dressed! Oh, brother, can you wonder that I shrink with absolute terror
from coming before an audience--that all my longing is for a cottage
among trees, where I may sing as the birds sing, without caring whether
or not any one hears me?"

She was weeping in his arms before she had finished speaking. He was
deeply affected.

"My poor sister--my poor dear sister!" he said, caressing her hair;
"I feel for you with all my heart. You are too highly strung--you are
over-sensitive. What can I say to comfort you? How have you come to
allow yourself to be carried away by the foolishness of some members
of your audience? Good heavens! Think that if Handel had suffered
from such sensitiveness the world would to-day be without some of its
sublimest music!"

"How did he do it? I cannot understand how he could suffer his music
to be played and sung, knowing the people as he did," she said. "It is
all a mystery to me. It must have been an agony to him. But he was a
genius; it may be different with a genius. A genius may be able so to
absorb himself in his music that he becomes oblivious of the presence
of every one. Alas! I am not a genius--I am only a girl. I cannot
understand how Handel felt; I only know that I feel."

"And I feel for you," he said soothingly, as one addresses a frightened
child.

"You do--I think that you do; and you will join your voice to mine
in imploring our father to spare me the agony of appearing before an
audience? Oh, surely there is something to live for besides singing to
divert the people here! Surely Heaven has not given me a voice to make
me wretched! Has Heaven given me a voice instead of happiness?"

"Do you indeed fancy that you could find any happiness apart from
music?" said he. "If you do, you are not my sister. There is nothing in
the world that is worth a thought save only music."

"What, have you never loved?" she cried.

"Love--love! Ah, yes; 'tis a sentiment, a beautiful sentiment. I do
not say that it was created solely to give a musician a sentiment to
illustrate--I do not talk so wildly; but I do say that it lends itself
admirably to illustration at the hands of a competent musician; so that
if Heaven had decreed that it should exist for this purpose, I would
not hesitate to say that the object of its existence was a worthy one."

She put him away from her.

"I have talked to you to no purpose: you do not understand," she said.
"It is left to me to work out my own freedom, and I mean to do it by
marrying Mr. Long."

"I do not think that your feeling for Mr. Long would lend itself to
interpretation through the medium of music," said he, smiling, as he
picked up his violin.

She threw herself wearily into the chair that it vacated, and
listlessly, hopelessly, watched him screwing up another of the strings.

"Listen to me, Betsy," said he, after a pause filled up by his twanging
of the catgut: "I remember how good Bishop O'Beirne called you a link
between an angel and a woman. Pray do not let the link be snapped, for
in that case you would be all angel; let me talk to you as if there was
still something of the woman in your nature. Handel was a genius. Mr.
Garrick is a genius, too; each of them is the greatest in his own art
that the world has ever known. And yet you do not hear that either of
them thought as you do; you do not hear that Handel ever said that he
was degrading himself because he overheard some fool saying that his
suggestion of the hailstones in his treatment of the Plagues was only
worthy of the ingenuity of the carpenter of a theatre; we have never
heard that Mr. Garrick resolved to retire from Drury Lane stage because
some fools preferred Spranger Barry's Romeo to his."

"Ah, genius; but I am only a girl."

"Handel was a genius, and when he found that the public did not want
his operas, he showed himself quite ready to give them what they did
want. And yet there were as many fools and coxcombs in his day as there
are in ours. My dear sister, it is for you and me to do what we can
without minding what foolishness those who hear us may speak, being
incapable of understanding us. When I was at Florence I was present one
night at a great concert at which Maestro Pugnani was to play. Just
before he began, one of the princes entered the theatre, and began to
talk and jest in a loud tone with an officer who was in attendance.
It was clear that he was not quite sober, and he continued to make
himself offensive even after the Maestro had begun to play. We were
all very indignant, and we felt certain that Pugnani would retire from
the stage. He did not do so. When he had played his first movement, he
looked up to the royal box, and then he smiled down at us. I saw the
look that was upon his face, a look of determination--the look which
is on the face of a master of fence when he is about to engage a tyro.
In a second he had drawn his bow across the strings, and the jest that
the prince was in the act of uttering remained frozen on his lips. We
saw that--we saw the Maestro smile as he went on playing; he had the
prince in his grasp as surely as if he had had his hand on the fellow's
throat; he kept him enthralled for a quarter of an hour, and then,
without a pause, he went on to the _Andante_. Before he had reached the
second bar the prince was in tears. We saw that--yes, for a few bars,
but after that we could see nothing, for we also were in tears. At the
conclusion of that incomparable performance the Maestro left the stage,
smiling his smile of triumph. He had conquered that scoffer by the
sheer power of his genius. When he appeared later on he was wearing on
his breast the diamond order that the prince had worn.... Dear sister,
let that be an example to you. When you find that you have scoffers
among your hearers, you should feel yourself stimulated, rather than
discouraged. You should remember that you are the greatest singer in
the world, and that to be a great singer is to be able to sway at will
the souls of men. You sent me a copy of Dr. Goldsmith's lovely poem.
You remember that line in it, 'Those who went to scoff remained to
pray'! That is how it should be when you are singing."

"How can you liken me to these men--all of them geniuses?" she cried
with some measure of impatience. "Their life is their music; they live
in a world of their own, and it is a world the air of which I have
never breathed. It is the breath of their nostrils to face a great
audience: I have been told that they feel miserable if they see a
single vacant chair. But my life---- Ah, if I could but be allowed to
live in a cottage!"

"What folly!" he cried. "And you intend to marry this old man in order
to be released from the necessity to sing?"

"Is it an unworthy reason?" she asked. "I think 'tis not so. I shall be
a good wife to Mr. Long."

"Oh, what folly! You--a good wife! Heavens! a girl with such a voice as
you possess talking of becoming a good wife--a good wife--in a cottage,
counting the eggs, milking the cows!" He was almost fierce in his
scorn. "Is it possible that this is the sum of your ambition!"

"I ask for nothing better."

"As if there were any scarcity of good wives in the world! Any girl
may become a good wife, but only one in a generation can become a great
singer, and I tell you that you may be the greatest singer that lives.
'Tis not I alone who have said it, though I have heard the best in
Italy and I am capable of judging; no, 'tis your rivals who have said
it--and Mr. Garrick. Would he have offered such sums to get you to sing
at Drury Lane if he had not known that you were without an equal? And
you talk about a cottage! I tell you, my sister, if you were to give
up singing you would be guilty of a crime--the crime of spurning the
greatest gift that Heaven can bestow upon a human being!"

"Ah, no!" she said. "If Heaven had designed that I should sing in the
presence of all those frivolous people who pay their money to see me
as well as to hear me, should I not have been endowed also with that
talent which your maestro was able to exercise? Should I feel that
shrinking from the platform which I now feel every time I have to sing?
Should I not feel the pride which comes to every great musician on
stirring an audience to its depths?"

"You tell me that you feel not that pride?--that you remain unmoved, no
matter how greatly you have moved your hearers?"

"Weariness--only weariness, that is what I feel. My sole joy comes from
the thought that it is all over. Indeed, I can honestly tell you, my
brother, that when I get more applause than usual, I feel no pride, I
only feel oppressed by the thought that I have pleased so well that the
managers will be anxious to have me to sing soon again."

He looked at her with wonder in his eyes for a long time. Then he shook
his head, saying:

"You were wrong to fancy that I would understand you. I confess that
'tis beyond my power to sympathise with you in your weakness. I could
understand the nervousness of a girl such as you on coming forward
to sing an exacting part in an opera or an oratorio; but for one to
be endowed with such a gift as yours, and yet to feel--as you say you
do---- Oh, it is impossible for me to fathom such a mystery! 'Twere
unjust to blame you, but---- Oh, well, a girl is a queer thing. My
Maestro holds that every woman comes into the world not merely as
a portion of that mystery--Woman, but as an individual mystery in
herself. He might have founded his theory on you. But I will not say
a word of blame to you--no, not a word, unless you marry Mr. Long and
then give up singing."

"I will marry Mr. Long," she said after another pause.

She walked firmly to the door, and then upstairs to her room. Before
she had got to the top of the stairs she heard him play the first bars
of Bach's _Chaconne_ which he was practising.



CHAPTER VI


It was no new topic that found favour in the Pump Room on the morning
following the concert in the Assembly Rooms. Yes, Miss Linley had never
looked more beautiful and had never sung more beautifully. Most people
took the view that had been expressed by the Duchess of Devonshire, and
affirmed that it was quite improvident on the part of Nature to give
so exquisite a voice to so exquisite a creature. It was quite a new
departure, this combination of song and beauty. Nature had revealed her
system in the case of the nightingale--a divine voice coming from a
body that is no more attractive than that of a sparrow; and in the case
of the peacock--a beautiful creature with the shriek of a demon.

But Mr. Walpole, who had a whole night to think over a reply to the
suggestion made by her Grace, found himself quite equal to the task of
facing such persons as were ready--as he expected they would be--to
repeat the Duchess's phrase. People at Bath liked repeating the words
of a Duchess, just as people like to sit on a chair in which a Prince
has sat.

It seemed that her Grace had expressed her views regarding the
prodigality of Nature in the case of Elizabeth Linley more than
once before she had met Mr. Walpole, and more than once after that
_rencontre_, so that her phrases were vieing with the sparkle of the
waters the next morning.

"Have you heard what the Duchess of Devonshire said about Miss Linley,
Mr. Walpole?" cried Mrs. Thrale.

"Madam," said Mr. Walpole, "her Grace forgot that even Shakespeare is
enhanced when bound in fine levant."

"To be sure, sir," said the lady; "but in the case of a singer----"

"Madam, you have in your mind the nightingale and Dr. Goldsmith," said
Walpole. "But I do not mean to destroy the printing-press at Strawberry
Hill because a clown can read the types in the _Advertiser_ without a
qualm."

And Dr. Johnson, too, had his views on the subject of Nature and Miss
Linley.

"Sir," said Dr. Johnson, when his friend Beauclerk made an allusion to
the topic which was being turned into verse in half the garrets in Grub
Street, "sir, 'twere preposterous to assume that Nature works solely
for the gratification of such people as have ears. I am more gratified
to see Miss Linley sing than I should be to hear a less beautiful
songstress."

"Nature created Miss Linley to set my mind at rest on a matter which
has been puzzling me for years," said Dr. Goldsmith, when in the
company of his dear friends, the beautiful Miss Horneck and her sister,
Mrs. Bunbury.

"Then Miss Linley has not been created in vain," said Mr. Bunbury, who
was busy with his sketch-book.

"Nay, let us hear what is your puzzle which has been solved," cried
Mrs. Bunbury.

"I never could make out whether it was my beauty or my music that so
charmed the people among whom I travelled in Europe, but, listening to
Miss Linley last evening, the truth was revealed to me."

And while the two beautiful ladies held up their hands and laughed
merrily at the solemn face of their friend, Mr. Boswell, who had been
hiding behind one of Dr Johnson's legs, went off with another story of
Dr. Goldsmith's extraordinary vanity.

The next day it became known that the beautiful Miss Linley had
actually promised to marry the elderly gentleman who had been so
attentive to her for some months, thereby giving quite an impetus to
the business of the lampooner. Mr. Walter Long was the gentleman's
name, and he was known to have large estates in Wiltshire.

The news overwhelmed Bath.

"What, a third attraction accruing to Miss Linley!" cried the Duchess
of Devonshire with uplifted hands.

"Poor Miss Linley!" said George Selwyn.

"Poor Mr. Long!" said Horace Walpole.

"'Pon my word," said Garrick, when the news of Miss Linley's engagement
to Mr. Long was coupled with the information that she would not
sing after her marriage, "Linley is thrown away as a musician. Such
adroitness as he has shown in this matter should be sufficient to avert
ruin from many a manager of a play-house."

Indeed, the general opinion that prevailed among the cynical people,
who knew what an excellent man of business was Linley, and how
thoroughly he believed in the duty of his children to contribute to
their support, was either that he wished to add to the elements of
interest associated with his eldest daughter in order to make her more
attractive to the public who paid to hear her sing, or that he had made
an uncommonly good bargain with Mr. Long in respect of the compensation
which he should receive for the loss of his daughter's services. The
receipts of the next three concerts, people were ready to affirm,
were to be regarded as the basis of the negotiations respecting the sum
to be paid to him for the loss of his daughter.

[Illustration: The two beautiful ladies held up their hands and laughed
merrily.                                                   [_page 58._]

But while the cynical ones were talking the brutal truth, there were
blank looks on the faces of the many admirers of Miss Linley. She had
had suitors by the score in Bath, and it was understood that when she
sang for the first time at Oxford, she could have married the whole
University. A wit with a capacity for mensuration had calculated that
the amount of verses written to her upon this occasion would, if bound
in volume form, and the volumes placed side by side, be sufficient to
cover the quadrangle at Christ Church, and to leave as many over as
would conceal the bareness of any lobby at Magdalen.

The consternation among the poets on hearing that Miss Linley had given
her word to Mr. Long, was huge; and if all who threatened--through
the medium of elegiacs--to fling themselves into some whirling
stream (rhyming with their "vanish'd dream") had carried out this
determination, there would not have been enough poets left to carry on
the business of Bath.

The young bloods, who had been ready at any moment to throw themselves,
or their rivals, at her feet--whichever would please her best--were
full of rage at the thought of having been slighted by the lady, and
swore fearful oaths, and made strange vows that she should never
be united to Mr. Long. The elderly sparks, most of whom had been
deterred by certain considerations of rheumatism and stays, and other
infirmities, from kneeling to her, now looked very glum. They were
full of self-reproach now that they had found how easily she had been
won; and some of them were incautious enough to confide their feelings
to their friends, and these friends had no hesitation in ridiculing
them to other friends; and as the consciousness of a lost opportunity
usually makes a man rather touchy, there was a pretty fair share of
recrimination in Bath circles during these days, and more than one duel
was actually fought between friends of long standing; so that Miss
Linley's triumph was complete.

"What more has the girl to wish for?" cried Mrs. Crewe, when some one
had remarked that Elizabeth was looking a trifle unhappy. "She is
beautiful, she has the voice of an angel, she is likely to be a rich
widow before she is twenty, and she has made the best of friends ready
to cut each other's throats! Pray, what more does she look for that she
is still unhappy?"

"Is it not enough to make any young woman sad to think that she
must relinquish a score of suitors, and only to obtain one husband
in return?" said Mrs. Cholmondeley, who was of the party upon this
occasion.

"It does truly seem a ridiculous sacrifice, with very little
compensation," said another lady critic.

"The rejected suitors may find some consolation for their sufferings in
the reflection that Miss Linley is said to be looking unhappy," said
Mrs. Crewe.

"What! is't possible that she looks unhappy, although she is not yet
married, but only promised? I, for one, cannot believe it!" cried
another of the party.

"There goes a suitor who will need a great deal of consolation," said
Mrs. Thrale, as a small man in military undress walked past the group
with a scowl and a swagger. "Lud! Captain Mathews is so fond a lover I
doubt if he would feel completely happy even if he had proof that the
lady was crying her eyes out!"

"What! is't possible that the list of suitors included a person so
obviously ineligible as that Captain Mathews?" cried Mrs. Cholmondeley.

"My dear, you should know better than to suggest that the
ineligibility of any man is obvious," said Mrs. Thrale. "Did not
we all, up to this morning, regard Mr. Long as the most obviously
ineligible of all the lady's admirers?"

"He is certainly old enough to be her father," said Mrs. Cholmondeley.

"And a man who is old enough to be a young woman's father is certainly
old enough to be her husband; that is what we should have said, had we
made a right use of our experience of life--and love," said Mrs. Crewe.

"And some of us have had a good deal of both," remarked Mrs. Thrale,
looking vaguely into the distance, lest any one of her hearers might
fancy that her comment was meant to be personal, and not general.

But of course there was no lady within hearing who did not accept the
compliment as directed against herself. And whatever Mrs. Thrale's
experiences of life and love may have been, she had sufficient
knowledge of her own sex to be well aware that no vagueness of
generalisation on her part would prevent any one of her friends from
feeling assured that the lady had some one in her eye when she spoke.
That was why they all smiled consciously, and glanced down with an
excellent simulation of artlessness.

Before they had raised their eyes again, the sour-faced officer who had
been referred to by Mrs. Thrale as Captain Mathews, had returned from
his march across the gardens. He was about to pass the group when he
seemed to change his mind. He turned on his heel and swaggered up to
them.

"I dare swear, ladies, that you have been, like all the rest of our
friends in this place, discussing the latest freak of the beautiful
Miss Linley?" he said.

"On the contrary, sir, we have been discussing the engagement of Miss
Linley to Mr. Long," said Mrs. Thrale.

He stared at the lady for some moments. He had not yet mastered Mrs.
Thrale's conversational methods.

"What did I say?" he inquired after a pause. "Did not I suggest that
you were discussing her latest freak? Lord! 'tis a fine freak! Her
father has urged her to it. I shouldn't wonder if you have heard that I
was depressed by the news! Now, tell the truth, Mrs. Cholmondeley, did
not you hear it said that I was in despair?"

"Why, what on earth have you got to say to the matter, Captain
Mathews?" cried Mrs. Cholmondeley, with a pretty affectation of
amazement. She was a capital actress, though, of course, inferior to
her sister, Mrs. Margaret Woffington.

Captain Mathews looked more than a trifle upset by the lady's
suggestion. His laugh was hollow.

"Of course, nothing; 'tis nothing to me--nothing i' the world, I assure
you," he said. "But you know how malicious are our good friends in
Bath; you know how ready they are to attribute an indiscretion to----
Ah, you take me, Mrs. Crewe? You are a woman of the world."

"Oh, sir, you are a flatterer, I vow," said Mrs. Crewe. "Ah, yes,
Captain Mathews, I am ready to admit that all our friends are
malicious, but I give you my word that their malice never went the
length of hinting anything so preposterous as that you could have
expectations of finding favour in the eyes of Miss Linley."

"Preposterous? By the Lord, madam, were you a man who made use of such
a word---- But of course---- Oh yes, 'twas a preposterous notion; and
yet, madam, there are some in this town who do not think the notion of
a man of family and property aspiring to the hand of a beggarly music
mistress so preposterous."

Captain Mathews drew himself up, and swung his cane in long sweeps from
side to side, assuming a self-satisfied smile, as though he had made a
crushing reply to the lady's rather broad satire.

"True, sir," said Mrs. Crewe; "Mr. Walter Long is a man of family and
a man of property; that is possibly why no one has alluded to his
engagement with Miss Linley as preposterous."

"What, madam, do you mean to suggest that that old curmudgeon----
Heavens! the fellow is sixty if he is a day---- But I vow 'tis
nothing to me--nothing i' the world, I swear!" cried Mathews, with an
extravagant swagger by which he meant to show his complete indifference.

"Of course 'tis nothing to you, sir," said Mrs. Cholmondeley. "No one
ever fancied that it was anything to you."

"Seriously now, Mrs. Cholmondeley," said he, striking another attitude,
"can you fancy that I ever thought of that sly patriarch as my rival?"

"Indeed, sir, I could never believe that you would be so ungenerous as
to allude to a rival in such terms as you have applied to Mr. Long,"
said Mrs. Cholmondeley.

"A rival! my rival? Oh no, no!" he cried. "He is an old fool, but no
rival to me."

"Certainly no rival to you, sir," said Mrs. Thrale.

"I knew that I could depend on you, Mrs. Thrale," said Mathews warmly;
but noticing how the others in the group were smiling significantly, he
began to feel that he had not been quite quick enough in the attention
which he had given to the lady's words. It was being forced upon him
that he was not quite certain of shining in conversation with these
ladies who had a reputation for brilliancy to maintain.

He burst into a loud laugh, with one hand resting on his hip: his cane
was in his other; he was pointing it roguishly at Mrs. Thrale.

The ladies instantly became grave; they could not possibly continue
smiling while the man was laughing. But he soon became less exuberant
in his forced merriment, and it did not seem at all unnatural for the
wrinkles of his laughter to assume the design of a full-bodied scowl.
He struck his cane violently upon the ground, saying:

"If any man in Bath dares to say that this fellow Long took her away
from me he shall eat his words. And as for Mr. Long himself--well, let
him look to himself--let him look to himself. He has not yet married
Elizabeth Linley!"

He raised his cane as he spoke and struck it at an imaginary foe.

He did not see how it came that the ladies were in a paroxysm of
laughter; but had he been thoughtful enough to glance round, he would
have been enlightened on this point, for he would have seen just behind
him a small man giving a representation of one who is paralysed by
fear, his face haggard, his eyes dilated, and his knees trembling.

"I protest, Mr. Garrick, that you will be the death of us yet," said
Mrs. Crewe, when Mathews had stalked off, and the little man was
beginning to breathe again--heavily, and with an occasional sigh of
relief, though he still kept his eyes fixed upon the disappearing
figure.

Mrs. Cholmondeley fanned him daintily.

"Thank Heaven he is gone, and we are all safe!" gasped the actor.

"Had he turned round for a single moment he would have killed you, Mr.
Garrick, and all England would be mourning," said Mrs. Crewe.

"Why, what is this, madam?" said Garrick. "A moment ago and you were
accusing me of being the death of you, and now you go still further,
and accuse me of running a chance of being killed myself!"

"Were both catastrophes to occur, they would be no more than a fitting
overture to the tragedy on the threshold of which we stand at this
moment," said Mrs. Thrale. "Why, the tragedy of Penelope and her
suitors is like to be a trifle compared with that of Elizabeth Linley
and her admirers."

"I feel that slaughter is in the air," said Garrick. "Has Captain
Mathews a mind to be the Ulysses of the tragedy? In that case, I would
not have the suitors to be quite despondent. But beyond doubt 'tis
becoming a serious matter for Bath, this engagement of the sweetest
of our nest of linnets. For Bath, did I say? Nay, I might e'en have
said 'for England,' for of course you have heard that this is why Tom
Sheridan has fled to Ireland?"

"What do you mean, Mr. Garrick--Tom Sheridan? Oh, lud! you cannot mean
to suggest that he was among the suitors?" said Mrs. Cholmondeley.

"Why should he not occupy so honourable a position, madam?" said
Garrick. "He is, I have good reason to know, some years younger than
Mr. Long, and he is full of gratitude to Miss Linley for having made
his entertainments a success by singing at them. I ask you, Mrs.
Crewe, for I know that you are well acquainted with all these delicate
matters--I ask you, can a man show his gratitude to a lady in any more
satisfactory way than by begging her to marry him?"

"I should have to refer to my commonplace book to answer that question,
sir," said Mrs. Crewe; "but I can assure you that it has long ago been
decided that if a young woman be truly grateful to an elderly man for a
past kindness, she will certainly refuse to marry him when he asks her.
But you are not serious about Tom Sheridan?"

"Well, I admit that I have not yet been successful in getting any one
to accept my theory on this matter," replied Garrick. "But I know for
sure that Tom Sheridan has gone to Ireland, and why should any man go
to Ireland unless he has been refused by a lady in England? If the man
have importunate creditors in Ireland, of course my argument is vastly
strengthened."

"H'sh! here comes one of the sons," said Mrs. Thrale. "'Tis the
younger--Dick his name is. I vow that I had an idea that 'twas he who
was most favoured by the lovely Miss Linnet."

"Then take my word for it, madam, 'twas the father who was making
love to her," said Garrick. "Surely, 'tis no more than natural that a
right-thinking young woman should show some favour to the son of the
man who hopes to marry her! But pray do not cite me as an authority on
this point to Dick Sheridan. I own that I have strong hopes that Dick
will one day become a great dramatist. Should his father marry Miss
Linley, nothing could prevent Dick from becoming a great dramatist."

"Then let us hope that Miss Linley will marry Mr. Long, and so save
Dick Sheridan from the terrible fate that you predict for him, Mr.
Garrick," said Mrs. Thrale.

Before Garrick had thought out a fitting reply to the sprightly little
lady, young Mr. Sheridan had sauntered up to the group. He was dressed
with extreme care, and his carriage was so graceful--thanks to the
early instruction which he had received from Monsieur Angelo, who had
taught him to fence, as well as to dance--that he was a most attractive
figure. Though his features were not handsome, his face had a winning
expression, and he was entirely without self-consciousness. He had his
hat in his hand when he approached the ladies, and his salutation of
them was easy, but at the same time deferential.

"You have come at the right moment, Mr. Sheridan," said Mrs.
Cholmondeley. "Mr. Garrick has just been saying shocking things about
you."

"I am sorry that I came up, madam," said Sheridan. "Yes; for by doing
so I know that I anticipated an abler defence of myself than I have at
my command."

"Indeed, your reputation was quite safe in our keeping," said Mrs.
Cholmondeley.

"True," said Garrick: "Mrs. Cholmondeley, Mrs. Crewe, and Mrs. Thrale
are well known to constitute a medical board for an hospital for sickly
reputations: one is as safe in their keeping as one would be in a ward
at St. Thomas's."

"What! no safer than that?" cried Dick. "Oh, ladies! Mr. Garrick's
compliments are certainly not overwhelming."

"Nay, Dick, I exhausted my art in referring to you before you came
up; for I said that I had hopes that you would one day become a great
dramatist," said Garrick.

"That was going to the extreme limit of the art of flattery indeed,
sir," said Sheridan. "But one cannot become a great dramatist unless
one has the subject for a great drama. Can any one of you ladies supply
me with such a subject?"

"Pray try your hardest, Mrs. Crewe, if only to establish my reputation
as a prophet," said Garrick.

"What! are the ladies to take Drury Lane reputations into their
hospital?" cried Sheridan.

"Nay, sir, we are not the Board at an hospital for incurables," said
Mrs. Crewe. "But you ask for a subject for a play, do you not?"

"I am ever on that quest, madam."

"If 'tis the subject for a comedy you seek, all you have to do is to
look in the direction of the entrance to the gardens, and you will find
it," said Mrs. Crewe: "a charming and sprightly young woman marrying an
elderly gentleman."

Dick glanced toward the entrance to the gardens. Betsy Linley was
walking by the side of Mr. Long.

There was a pause before Dick said: "True, madam, there is a drama in
the situation; and the beauty of it is, that it may be treated from
the standpoint of tragedy, as well as comedy. Thank you, Mrs. Crewe; I
shall e'en haste to write it."

He turned about and hurried away, with only the most general bow.

"Good lud!" whispered Mrs. Crewe, "the lad is in love with Betsy
Linley, after all."



CHAPTER VII


Having satisfied herself on one point, the astute lady lost no time
making an attempt to satisfy herself on another point quite as
interesting: being convinced that Dick Sheridan had hurried away
because he was in love with Miss Linley, she was anxious to learn if
Miss Linley was in love with any one. The fact that Miss Linley was
walking by the side of the man whom it was announced she had promised
to marry, was not accepted by Mrs. Crewe as any indication of the
direction in which she should look for an answer to the question. Nay,
so astute an observer of life was this lady, that she made up her mind
in an instant not to assume at the outset of her investigation that,
because Betsy Linley had promised to marry Mr. Long, she was therefore
in love with some one else. She could remember instances of young women
being actually devoted to the men whom they had promised to marry. She
had an excellent memory.

She turned her eyes upon Betsy coming up the garden walk, but the
result of her observation was inconclusive; Mr. Long was at that
instant making some remark to the girl, and she had her head slightly
bent toward him, while she listened attentively--smilingly. Clearly
she had not noticed the abrupt departure of Dick Sheridan. There was
nothing in the attentive smile with which she was encouraging the
remark of Mr. Long.

"He does not look a day over sixty," said Mrs. Thrale.

"Nor a day under it," responded Mrs. Cholmondeley. Garrick was quoting
Shakespeare:

    "Here comes the lady; O so light a foot
    Will ne'er wear out the everlasting flint!"

And then Mr. Long and Miss Linley reached the group, and Betsy was
responding with exquisite blushes to the patronising smiles of
the ladies, who greeted her with effusion and Mr. Long with great
self-possession.

Mr. Long was, however, the most self-possessed of the group. There was
gravity as well as dignity in his acceptance of the congratulations of
the party.

"I am the most fortunate of men, indeed," he said, bowing low, and
touching the grass of the border with the sweep of his hat.

"Nay, Mr. Long, do not depreciate your own worth by talking of
fortune," said Mrs. Thrale.

"There is philosophy in your suggestion, madam," said he. "'Twas
feeble of me to make the attempt to fall in with the general tone of
the comments of my friends. Still, there is but one Miss Linley in the
world."

"And you are ungenerous enough, sir, to seek to deprive the world of
that one," cried Mrs. Thrale.

She had failed to perceive the tendency of his remark.

"What, Mrs. Thrale! is't possible that you are weak enough to look for
generosity in a lover?" said Garrick. "Good lud, madam! the very soul
of true love is the most ungenerous essence on earth."

"Ah, you see, madam, Mr. Garrick's love is of the earth earthy; but we
were talking of quite another kind of love, were we not?" said Mr. Long
readily, but not in a tone of badinage.

"We are very well content to be terrestrial," said Mrs. Crewe, lifting
her chin an inch or so in the air.

"I am more ambitious; that is why I am by the side of Miss Linley,"
said Mr. Long.

"Very prettily spoke, sir," said Garrick. "Miss Linley I have always
held to be celestial. Is not that so, Betsy?"

"Indeed, sir, you were good enough to offer me an engagement to sing at
Drury Lane," replied Betsy, with a smile.

Every one laughed, and Garrick gave a wonderful representation of a man
who is completely discomfited by an antagonist.

Mr. Long seemed to think that the moment was a favourable one for
resuming his stroll with Betsy; he had just taken her hand and was
in the act of bowing to the three beautiful ladies who were laughing
archly at Garrick, when a loud laugh that had no merriment in it
sounded at the further side of a line of shrubs, and Mathews reappeared.

Betsy, with a look of apprehension, started and took a step closer to
Mr. Long. Mr. Long's face beamed with pride at that moment, for the
girl's movement suggested her confidence in his power to protect her.
The ladies saw the expression that was on her face, and the glance that
he cast upon her, and there was not one of them who did not envy her,
although Mr. Long was sixty years old.

"Ha, Miss Linley! are you never to be found except in the company of
your grandfather?" cried Mathews, while still a few paces away from the
group. Then, pretending to become aware of the identity of Long at the
same moment, he roared with laughter.

"I swear to you, madam, I thought that you were in the company of your
grandfather," he cried. "Sure, my error was a natural one! I ask you,
Mrs. Thrale, if 'twas not natural that I should take this gentleman for
Miss Linley's grandfather?"

"Mr. Mathews," said Mrs. Thrale, "I have no opinion on such matters,
though I have my own idea of what constitutes a piece of impudence on
the part of a man."

"Ha, Grandfather Long, you hear that?" cried Mathews. "Mrs. Thrale says
she knows what impudence is."

"Then where is the need for you to give her examples of it, sir?" said
Long.

"Any fool could see that she had in her eye the case of an old man who
makes love to a young woman," said Mathews brutally.

"Only a fool would take my words in such a sense, Mr. Mathews," said
Mrs. Thrale.

"Nay, good madam, 'twas but my jest," said Mathews.

"Then let me tell you, sir, 'twas a very sorry jest," said Mrs. Thrale.

"I say 'twas a jest; at the same time, should any gentleman within
earshot feel himself aggrieved by my humour, he will not find Captain
Mathews slow to give him any satisfaction he may demand."

The fellow pursed out his lips, and struck the ground with his cane.

Mr. Long turned his back upon the man and entered smilingly into
conversation with Mrs. Cholmondeley. For a moment he was separated from
Betsy, and Mathews took advantage of that moment to get beside her.

"You are never going to be fool enough to marry a man old enough to be
your grandfather?" said he in a low voice.

She made a movement as if to get beside Mr. Long; but he adroitly
prevented her from carrying out her intention.

"You think I am the man to stand tamely by and see you marry him or any
one else?" he said, putting his face close to hers, his eyes glaring
into her own (he was imitating the attitude and the language of one of
the actors whom he had recently seen at the Bristol theatre).

[Illustration: "You think I am the man to stand tamely by and see you
marry him or any one else?"                              [_page 72._]

"Why should you be so chagrined, Captain Mathews?" she said. "There
are many girls far more worthy than I am who would feel flattered by
your attentions. I am sure you do not wish to persecute me."

She was, woman-like, hoping by temporising with the man to prevent an
open quarrel. He saw that he had succeeded in making her afraid of him.

"I set my heart on you, I set my soul on you, Betsy Linley, and you
know that your father and mother favoured me; you, and you only, stood
out against me." He had put his face closer to hers, causing her to
shrink back an inch or two. "But you will have me yet--you must--by the
Lord, you shall!" he resumed. "I swear to you that I have set my soul
upon you. Murder--what is murder to such a man as I have become through
you--all through the curse of your beauty! Do you think that I would
hold back my knife for the space of a second from the throat of any man
who was going to take you away from me? I swear to you that I would
kill him--kill him without mercy--and you--you too! My love is of that
sort. I would account killing you the next best thing to wedding you.
I'll do either the one or the other--make up your mind to that--make up
your mind to that! If you would save yourself--and him--and him, mind
you--you will take me; 'tis your only chance."

She was terrified, for she saw that he had reached that point in the
madness of his jealousy which was reached by Othello when he cried:

    "Blood, Iago--blood, blood!"

She had seen Garrick in the part, and had been thrilled by his awful
delivery of the words. Even now, in spite of her terror, she did not
fail to be struck with the marvellous accuracy of Garrick's art. She
was now face to face with the real thing--with the man in the clutch
of an overwhelming passion; and yet she was not more terrified than
she had been when Garrick's voice had become hoarse while uttering
those words of murder that had been put into the mouth of Othello by
Shakespeare.

"What is this madness that has come to you?" she cried. "Oh, you
must be quite mad! If you cared ever so little for me you would not
overwhelm me with terror."

"I don't know which would be the sweeter--killing you or wedding you,"
he said. He kept his eyes fixed upon hers for some seconds, and then
he added in a lower tone that chilled her: "By heavens! I do know
now--now!"

She gave a little cry. She had done her best to restrain it, for the
dread of a quarrel taking place between the men was upon her, and in an
instant Mr. Long had turned to her. Another instant and he had thrust
himself between her and Mathews and had taken her hand. He was not
looking at her, but straight into the face of Mathews.

"We must not be late, Miss Linley," he said quietly, "and unless
we hasten onward we shall not be in time to meet our friends at
Bath-Easton. Stand aside, sir, if you please."

Mathews instinctively took a couple of steps back, while Long, still
holding Betsy's hand, bent his head before the ladies and young Captain
Horneck, of the Guards, who had just appeared by the side of his
_fiancée_, Lord Albemarle's daughter.

There was a pause in the conversation passing round that little
group--an electric pause, it seemed; every one appeared to be waiting
for a thunderbolt to fall, for Mathews had a reputation for being an
element of the lurid in the atmosphere of Bath. For a few moments after
Long and Betsy had gone, he seemed uncertain what course to adopt; but
suddenly he appeared to have light granted to him. He bent his malacca
cane until he made both ends meet; then, with an oath, he hurried after
Long and Betsy.

He overtook them before they had gone twenty yards, but while he was
still some way behind them he called out:

"A word with you, Mr. Long, if you please."

Mr. Long turned round.

"I wish no words with you, sir," he said.

"But I wish some with you, sir," said Mathews, coming up to him, "I
wish to give you a word of warning. I wish you to hear me swear that
the day you wed Elizabeth Linley shall be your last on earth."

Long smiled in his face, and then in the terrified face of the girl by
his side.

"What a compliment Mr. Mathews pays to you, Miss Linley!" said he. "My
last day on earth--true; for thenceforth I shall be in heaven. Thank
you, Mr. Mathews."

"In heaven? No, by the Lord, you will find yourself not in heaven,
but----"

"You scoundrel! if you utter one more word I shall hand you over neck
and crop to the hangman," said Long. "You think that your braggadocio
airs have weight with me? I have but to raise my finger and the
handcuffs are about your wrists. I know more about your past life than
you seem to imagine, my good fellow. Now, get out of my way, or I shall
subject you to the humiliation of a public caning."

He grasped his cane firmly, and there was upon his face a look of
determination. Mathews took a step or two back. His jaw had fallen, and
the ferocity of his expression had become tempered by the terror that
appeared in his eyes. Mechanically he bowed, removing his hat while
Long and Betsy walked on. Then he stood staring after them, failing to
recover himself even though he could scarcely have avoided hearing the
laugh that broke from one of the ladies in the group which he had just
left. Some minutes had passed before he ceased gnawing the silver top
of his cane and stalked off in a direction opposite to that which Miss
Linley and Mr. Long had taken.

"A duel! oh no; there will be no duel," cried Garrick in reply to a
suggestion made by one of his group. "Oh no; I have studied men and
their motives to small purpose these thirty years if I could bring
myself to believe that Captain Mathews is the man to challenge Mr. Long
to a duel in such circumstances."

"What! Did not you see the way Mr. Long grasped his cane?" cried Mrs.
Cholmondeley.

"To be sure I did, my dear lady; that is why I am convinced that there
will be no duel," replied Garrick. "We did not hear what Mr. Long said
to the fellow, but we saw how he grasped his cane, and let me assure
you, madam, that the language of cane-grasping is a good deal more
intelligible than the English of our friend Dr. Johnson."

"If there be no duel I am sorry for Mr. Long," said Mrs. Thrale.

Her friends stared at her.

"I should rather be sorry for the elderly gentleman if he had to stand
up before a man twenty-five years his junior, with pistol or small
sword," said Mrs. Crewe.

"Ah, my dear, one must take a less superficial view of men and their
motives--an excellent phrase, Mr. Garrick--if one desire to arrive at
a complete understanding of both," said Mrs. Thrale. "I am sure that
so excellent an observer as Mrs. Crewe will, upon reflection, perceive
that the best chance an elderly gentleman has of captivating the heart
of a young woman is by fighting for her. Mr. Long is clearly aware of
this elementary truth. He is a brave man, and he is ready to risk his
life in order that he may have a chance of winning his lady."

"But he has won her already," said Mrs. Crewe.

"Nay, she has only promised to marry him," said Mrs. Thrale, with the
smile of the sapient one.

"It will be time enough for him to think of winning her after he has
married her," remarked Mrs. Cholmondeley.

"I would not be so sure of that," said Mrs. Thrale. "Procrastination in
a lover can be carried too far. Is not that your opinion, Mr. Garrick?"

"Madam, I feel like the negro who was choked when endeavouring to
swallow a diamond: I am so overwhelmed by the jewels of wisdom which
you have flung before me that I am incapable of expressing any
opinion," said Garrick.

"You are far from being complimentary to Mrs. Thrale if you suggest
that you have failed to assimilate her precious words, sir," said Mrs.
Cholmondeley.

"Nay, 'twas not the negro and the diamond that was in Mr. Garrick's
mind," said Mrs. Crewe. "'Twas Macbeth and his 'Amen.' We have seen
Macbeth's 'Amen' stick in your throat more than once, Mr. Garrick, and
I vow that when Mrs. Thrale asked you just now to say the word that
would hall-mark her wisdom, as it were, the same expression was on your
face."

"Madam, I would scorn to contradict a lady unless I differed from her,"
said Garrick; "but I repeat, there will be no duel."

"Why, who was talking about duels, sir?" inquired Mrs. Crewe. "Lud! Mr.
Garrick, duels was the topic of five minutes ago, and time at Bath is
precious."

"From duels to jewels is not a huge distance," said Mrs. Cholmondeley,
whose pronunciation was not quite free from the Irish brogue which
increased the fascination of her sister, Mrs. Woffington.



CHAPTER VIII


While the coldly gay circle were endeavouring--as most people do who
discuss the problems of life--to display their own cleverness in
whirling round the topic of the moment, Mr. Long and Miss Linley were
walking on through Sydney Gardens, neither of them so much as glancing
behind them to observe what had become of Mathews.

The expression of apprehension which had made Betsy's face pale with
the pink pallor of the blanch rose while Mr. Long was threatening
Mathews, had not quite vanished. She seemed to feel that all cause for
apprehension had not passed. Remembering the wild, savage way in which
he had addressed her--his furious threats and his fierce passion, it
seemed to her quite a miracle that he did not fly at Mr. Long's throat
before the latter had completed the sentence that he uttered, while
grasping his cane in that expressive way which had so appealed to the
imagination of Garrick. She had ever sought to allay by considerate
words the anger which Mathews had shown upon several occasions when she
had apparently favoured other suitors; her whole aim was to prevent his
quarrelling openly with any of her friends, forcing them to fight him;
and she had been successful in her aims to quite a remarkable degree.
She was thus amazed to find that, when Mr. Long assumed the aggressive
attitude, Mathews, so far from showing any disposition to fly at his
throat, became absolutely passive.

It was too much for her to believe all at once, that Mathews had no
intention of resenting the threats of Mr. Long; he might, she felt,
be too greatly astonished at the adoption of such an attitude by
an elderly man to be able to respond in his own way; but he would
assuredly recover himself in a few moments, and then....

She glanced behind her and saw that the man was actually hurrying away
in the direction of a distant exit from the gardens beyond the maze;
and then the expression of terror which had been on her face gave
way to one of astonishment. She looked at the man beside her; he was
smiling quite benignly. She smiled too at his smiling.

"I cannot understand," she cried, after giving a sigh of relief--"I
cannot understand how you succeeded with him. I felt sure when you had
spoken that he would.... Oh, he never spoke to me unless to utter a
threat, and yet----"

"And yet he became amenable in a moment to the force of one
insignificant threat on my part," said he, when she made a pause. "Ah,
dear child, you have no need to be astonished at so simple a matter.
The one argument which the habitual biter appreciates to the full is
the bite, therefore one should make one's teeth meet upon his flesh,
and all will be well. There is no need to be surprised at the sudden
departure of this fellow; what should cause surprise is his appearance
in your society. Pray, how did he ever contrive to gain such a degree
of intimacy with you as enabled him to address you as he did?"

"What! is he not an officer and a gentleman of property?" cried Betsy.

"He is both. Was no further passport necessary to obtain his admission
to your father's house?" asked Long.

She shook her head.

"I am afraid that my father has never been very particular in the
matter of admitting people to our house," she replied. "Ah! that is one
of the most distressing things about our life--the life of people who
are dependent on the good-will of the public for their daily bread: we
cannot afford to offend any one."

"You are thereby deprived of one of the greatest luxuries in life--the
pleasure of offending the offensive," said he, smiling. "But quite
apart from being cut off from this enjoyment, I really fail to see
how your father's profession--and yours--gives the right to every
adventurer to your society. It is one thing to be debarred the
privilege of hurting the feelings of those who should be subjected
to such treatment, and quite another to admit to your house every
visitor who may come thither with no further credentials than his own
impudence."

"That is what I have always felt," said she. "I have felt that that is
one of the greatest hardships of our life. But all our life is made up
of these things from which I shrink. Ah, I told you all this long ago."

"Yes, I shall not soon forget the hour when you opened your own sweet
maiden heart to me," said he. "I had long been lost in admiration of
your beauty and the unspeakable charm of your singing. I fancied more
than once, however, that I noticed in your manner a certain shrinking
from the favours which the public are ever ready to fling upon their
favourites--yes, for a time, until a fresher favourite comes before
them. I felt that that expression of timidity was the one thing by
which your beauty was capable of being enhanced, but I never doubted
for a moment that your shrinking from the gaze of the public was part
of your nature."

"It is indeed an unhappy part of my nature; but I have not been deaf
to the cruel comments which some people have made upon me in that
respect," said she, and her face became roseate at the recollection of
how her timidity had been referred to as affectation.

"I have heard such comments too; they came from women who were
overwhelmed by their jealousy of your beauty and your genius."

"Ah, no, not genius--I have no genius. My brother has genius. I know
what it is to have genius. Tom tells me that he is in no way impressed
by the presence of thousands listening to his playing on his violin.
Mr. Garrick--he, too, has genius, and he has acted for Polly and myself
quite as grandly as I have ever seen him act in his own play-house."

"Your definition of genius is founded on a somewhat arbitrary basis,
my dear. Indifference to the public does not invariably indicate
genius. I have heard it said by some who know, that David Garrick
spends the first ten minutes of his appearance on the stage every night
calculating the sum of money there is in the house. That is beside the
question. If you are not in the possession of genius, you have at your
command a possession even more subtle, more delicate, purer--you have
the sweetest soul that ever lived in woman, and every time you sing you
communicate some portion of it to your hearers."

She looked at him with some apprehension in her eyes.

"You promised me that I should never be forced to sing in public
again," she said. "Oh, surely you are not now going to tell me that you
take back your promise?"

"Nay, nay, let no such apprehension weigh upon you, dear child," said
he. "Our conversation has drifted far from its starting-place. We were
talking about that Mathews, and how easily he obtained admission to
your father's house. I wonder should I be wrong if I were to suggest
that he was the suitor who found most favour in the eyes of your
father?"

"For a time, only for a time," she cried quickly, as if anxious to
exculpate her father. "When my father became aware of how distasteful
Mr. Mathews was to me, he ceased urging me to accept his proposals. Oh,
I can assure you that my father has never been anxious for me to marry
any one."

"I can well believe that," said Long drily. Only a day had passed
since he had been sitting at a desk opposite to Mr. Linley, while the
latter explained to him, by the assistance of certain memoranda on
a sheet of paper, the exact amount of loss per annum, worked out to
shillings and pence, that the withdrawal of Betsy from the concert
platform would mean to her father. Mr. Long had been greatly interested
in the calculation, for it represented the sum which he had agreed to
pay to the devoted father by way of compensation for the loss of his
daughter's services. "And you--you have never been anxious to marry any
one?" he added.

There was a little pause before she said:

"I have never been strongly tempted. I have never had a sleepless night
thinking what answer I should give to the gentlemen who were good
enough to ask me to marry them."

"I feel flattered, my dear one," said he.

"Oh no, you have no need to do so," she cried almost eagerly, and he
perceived that she had a conscientious fear of his assuming that she
had disregarded many eligible suitors in favour of himself. "Oh no,
indeed! I do not believe that there was any offer made to me that
caused me a great pang to decline. Of course I was sorry--yes, once or
twice, when I really felt that they truly loved me; but---- Oh, why
should I have accepted any of them when to do so would only mean adding
to my fetters?"

"Ah, why indeed? A husband is sometimes a harder taskmaster than
a father. Even with your small experience of life, you must have
perceived this. Well, so much for the men who professed to love you;
but you must know that when we have talked about them we have dealt
with one class only; we have not yet touched upon those whom you loved."

Her face had become roseate, and it wore a troubled expression. He
laughed, and she saw that the expression on his face was that of a man
who is amused. Her quick ear had told her that there was no note of
jealousy in his laugh.

"Pray forgive me, my dear," he said. "Be assured that I have no
intention of extorting any confession from you. Believe me, my
child, I am glad of the evidence which you have given me--that sweet
confusion--that sweeter blush--of your having the heart of a girl. 'Tis
as natural for a girl to love as it is for her to laugh. If you had
assured me that you had never loved, I feel that I should not love you
as I do at this moment--as I have loved you from the first moment that
I looked upon your dear face."

"Ah, sir, I pray to God that I may one day love you as you should be
loved!" she cried, and he saw that tears were in her eyes.

"As I should be loved--I ask nothing more," he said. "That is what has
always been in my mind with regard to you. Have you marvelled that I
have not yet asked you to love me? I refrained, because I had told you
that my sole hope in regard to yourself was to make you happy; and I
knew that I should be making you unhappy if I were to impose upon you
the duty of loving me. Such curious creatures we are, that when love
exists only as a duty it ceases to be love. I pray to Heaven, Betsy,
that you may never come to think that it is your duty to love any
one--even a husband."

"Ah, you are too good to me--too considerate!" she cried. "Every time
that you speak to me as you have just spoken, you overwhelm me with
remorse."

"With remorse? Does that mean that you love some one else?"

"It means that I do not love you as I should--as you expect to be
loved--as you have a right to expect that I should."

"Ah, dear girl, how do you know how I expect to be loved?"

"I know well how you should be loved, and I fear that I have deceived
you."

"Nay, I never asked you if you loved me. If I had done so, and you had
answered 'Yes,' you would have made at least an attempt to deceive me.
I do not say, mind you, that I would have been deceived. I have been
speaking just now of what is natural in a girl. Do you think that I
fancy it is natural in a girl who is not yet twenty to fall in love
with a man who is more than thrice her age?"

"Surely 'tis not impossible?"

"Ah, the little note of hope that I detect in your inquiry shows me how
conscientious a young woman you are--how determined you are to give me
every chance, so to speak. But I do not wish you to think of me in that
way. I do not want you to try to love me."

"Not to try to love you--not to try?"

"Even so; because love to be love must come without your trying to
love. Is that too hard a saying for you, Miss Betsy?"

"It is not too hard a saying; what is hard is the matter to which it
refers--you would not have me do my best to love you?"

"Even so. Do you believe that you will find it so very hard to refrain
from such an attempt?"

"I have promised to marry you."

"And, believe me, I would not have you keep your promise unless you are
sure that you can love me without trying. You must try not to try."

She gave a laugh, but checked it abruptly before it had run its course.
She became graver than ever as she walked along by his side. She was
silent, and there was a dimness over her eyes which made their liquid
depths seem more profound.

"Pray tell me what there is on your mind, my Betsy," he said. "Tell me,
what is the thought which weighs upon you?"

"Alas!" she cried, "I did not know that you were so good a man."

"Nor am I," he said. "Believe me, I am not nearly so good as that; but
even if I were, is that any reason why the reflection should weigh you
down, or cause your eyes to become tremulous?"

She shook her head, but made no attempt to speak.

He did not urge her to speak. They had reached a green lane just
outside the gardens--a graceful acknowledgment of the privileges of
Nature on the outskirts of artificiality. There was a warm sigh of wild
thyme in the air. A bee hovered drowsily upon the scent. Two yellow
butterflies whirled in their dance above a bank of primroses.

He pointed them out to her.

"The butterflies have an aëry dance of their own, and so have the
dragon-flies," he said. "I have watched them by my lake. Did I tell you
that there is a tiny lake in my grounds? One can see its gleam from
the windows of the house. It is pleasant to stand at the top of the
terrace-steps and look across the greensward to the basin of my lake.
Very early in the summer morning the deer come to drink there; I have
seen the graceful creatures trooping through the dawn, and every now
and again a hind would stop for a moment to scratch its neck with a
delicate hind-foot, and then bound onward to join its brethren."

Still she did not speak. The butterflies fluttered past her face, but
she did not follow them with her eyes.

"Sweet one, I grow alarmed," he said; "pray tell me all that is on your
mind--in your heart. I think I can promise you that its weight will be
lessened when you have told me of it."

"Alas!" she said, "nothing can lessen my fault--my shame."

"That is a word which I will not allow any one to speak in connection
with you," he said. "You cannot frighten me, my dear; I have looked
into your eyes."

"I have been guilty--I am ashamed. I gave you my promise, not because
I loved you, or because I hoped to love you, but solely because
singing in public had become so great a terror to me that I welcomed
the earliest chance that came of freeing myself. Let me take back my
promise. I am unworthy of so good a man."

"And that is your whole confession?"

"Ah! is it not enough? I tell you that I gave you my promise only
because I was selfish. I was ready to sacrifice you so that I might
gain my own ends."

"Ah, surely that were to pay too heavy a price for your freedom!" said
he. "What! you were willing to submit to the rule of an elderly and
arbitrary husband so that you might escape from the irksome flatteries
of the crowds of discriminating people who have always delighted to do
you honour? Do you wonder that I ask you if you do not think that you
offered too high a price for what you hoped to gain?"

"Oh, if you could but know what I have felt, what I still feel about
this life which I have been forced to lead, you would pity me and
perhaps forgive me for the wrong which I offered to you! But no one
seems to understand that it is just because I feel singing to be so
great a gift, so divine a gift, that I shrink from exercising whatever
of that gift has been given to me by God, only for the amusement of
people who are incapable of understanding anything of the beauty--of
the real meaning of music. Oh, I tell you, Mr. Long, I have felt,
every time I have sung for such people, as if I were guilty of a great
profanation of something that is quite holy. Indeed, I tell you the
truth, and, knowing it, I think that you will forgive me for promising
to marry you in order to escape from a life that had become quite
intolerable to me."

She had put out an appealing hand to him, speaking her last sentence,
and he took it in both his own hands, looking tenderly into her face.

"My child," he said, "your confession reveals nothing to me. Can you
fancy for a moment that I have lived in the world for sixty years and
yet believe that I could be attractive to a young girl full of a young
girl's dreams of the joy of life, which is the joy of love? Some men of
my age undoubtedly are capable of cherishing such an illusion. People
refer to them as 'old fools.' I think that within the past two days
I have noticed on many faces the expression--a mingling of amusement
and indignation--worn by the faces of people who have just exclaimed,
or who are about to exclaim, 'Old fool!' Well, I may be an old fool
for trying an experiment which involves the assumption that looking at
happiness through another man's eyes is in itself the truest form of
happiness; but however this may be, I was not so senile as to believe
that when you honoured me by accepting my offer, you loved me with
the natural love of a young girl for a young man. You confided in me
upon one occasion when I pressed you to answer some questions which
I ventured to put to you, that it was a torture to you to face the
public, and that you were awaiting the return of your brother from
Italy, in great hope that he would be able to persuade your father
to permit your withdrawal from a career which, however brilliant it
promised to be, was more than distasteful to you. I confess to you, my
dear, that I thought I saw my chance in this circumstance, and I too
awaited the return of your brother with great interest. I knew that I
had it in my power to save you from all that you dreaded, and also to
save you from all that I dreaded--to save you from becoming the victim
of some such unscrupulous fellow as that Mathews. Well, I have great
hope that all I thought possible will be accomplished. So far, I can
assure you, I am satisfied with the progress of events toward the end
which I have always had in view--that end being to make you happy."

"But I want to make you happy; you are so good--so noble."

"I know you do, my child, and I have let you into the secret of the
only way by which you can make me happy."

"Oh no, no! you have not said a word about your own happiness--you have
talked about nothing but mine."

"Dear child, in talking about your happiness I have talked about my
own. In endeavouring to compass your happiness I have been altogether
selfish, for I have been seeking to realise my own. Now, my sweet one,
we shall talk no more on this subject. I only ask you to remember
that my aim is to see you happy. In what direction you may find that
happiness is a question which I dare not try to answer for you; you
will have to work out the answer for yourself."

He stooped over her hand and raised it to her lips. But hers lay limp
in his own. She gave him the idea that she did not quite accept this
closure of their conversation.

"You have not made me understand all that I think I should know," she
said. "My mind is still vague; you have not even said that you forgive
me for deceiving you, for agreeing to marry you when all that I hoped
for was, not to make you happy, but to escape from the life which I was
forced to lead."

"I positively refuse to say another word," he cried.

"But you forgive me--can you?"

"I could forgive you anything, my dear, except your persistency in the
belief that you stand in need of my forgiveness. Now we must hasten on
to our destination; and if you see any of the modish people nudge each
other whispering, 'Old fool!' as we pass, you will only smile, knowing
as you now do that they are the fools and that I am none."

She did not move from where she was standing, and a puzzled expression
was on her face--an unsatisfied expression--not, however, quite a
dissatisfied one. Once or twice her lips parted as if she were about to
speak, but some minutes had passed before she found her voice; then she
said:

"I do not understand more than one thing, and that is that you are the
best and noblest man who lives in the world, and that I shall never
deceive you."

"It is not in your nature to deceive any one," said he. "Some
people--they are, however, few--are so gifted by nature."



CHAPTER IX


When Richard Sheridan hastily left Sydney Gardens on the appearance of
Long with Betsy Linley by his side, causing thereby all the faculties
of subtle discrimination and of still more subtle deduction of at
least one of the ladies of the fascinating group to be awakened, he
sought neither the allurements of the gossip of the Pump Room nor the
distractions of the scandal of the Assembly Rooms. He felt a longing
for some place where he could hide himself from the eyes of all
men--some sanctuary on an island where he might eat his heart out, far
from the crowd who take a delight in making a mock of one who sits down
to such a banquet.

He had left his father's house after breakfast, determined that no
one whom he might meet should be able to perceive from his demeanour
anything of what he felt on the subject of Betsy Linley's engagement
to Mr. Long. He had heard the announcement of this engagement on the
previous evening when leaving the Concert Rooms where Betsy had sung
and her brother Tom had played, and it had come upon him with the
force of a great blow--a blow from which no recovery was possible for
him. That was why he had accepted the invitation of one of his friends
to supper, with cards to follow. For several months he had resisted
steadily the allurements of such forms of entertainment, for then the
reward which he held before himself for his abstinence was the winning
of the girl whom he had loved since he and she had been children
together. But now that his dream was broken he felt in that cynical
mood with which the plunge is congenial. He welcomed the opportunity of
plunging. When the waters had closed over his head, they would shut out
from his sight the odious vision which had followed his pleasant dreams
of past years.

He was the merriest, the wildest, the wittiest of the little party
of gay youths that night. His was the most gracefully cynical of
the banter which was directed against young Halhed--a youth who had
acquired quite a reputation at Oxford as the avowed but hopeless
lover of Miss Linley, and who was now rather overdoing the part of
the rejected swain, going the length of quoting Horace and Juvenal
on the subject of the lightness of woman's love, and being scarcely
able to conceal his gratification at the distinction conferred upon
him on being made the subject of the banter of his friends in general
and of young Sheridan in particular. Before midnight had come and the
first dozen of claret had gone, he was really not quite sure whether
it conferred greater distinction on a man to be the accepted or the
rejected lover of a young woman about whose beauty and accomplishments
every one raved. The _rôle_ of the Victim possessed several heroic
elements. He was quite certain, however, that in introducing a mildly
melancholy note regarding her heartlessness, he was conferring
distinction upon the lady.

But when Dick Sheridan had crept upstairs to his room--somewhat
unsteadily--after his bitterly merry night, he found that the bracing
effects of the plunge are temporary. He found that though the plunge
may alleviate, it is not curative--that the momentary alleviation which
it secures has to be paid for.

He lay awake for hours, his remorse for having been so weak as to
lapse from the straight path which he had laid out for himself since he
became conscious of his love for Betsy Linley, adding to the bitterness
of the reflection that he had lost her for ever.

When he awoke after a few hours of intermittent sleep, he had a sense
of his disaster; but with it came the resolution that he would let
no one suspect how hard hit he was by the announcement of Betsy's
engagement to marry Mr. Long--he would not even let the girl herself
suspect it. He would smile and shrug when people referred to the matter
in his presence. He would not be such a poor, weak creature as Halhed,
who went about bleating his plaint in every stranger's ear. He would
show himself to be more a man of the world than that.

He dressed with scrupulous care--he was not going to affect the loose
garters of the woeful lover--and sauntered out, swinging his cane
with the ease and nonchalance of the man of fashion; and he flattered
himself that the sharp and rapid repartee in which he indulged when he
joined the group in the gardens, would be sufficient to convince even
Garrick himself that he regarded the engagement of Miss Linley with
complete indifference. The moment, however, that the girl appeared with
Mr. Long at the entrance, he felt unable to sustain the _rôle_ any
longer: he felt that he must run away and hide himself in some secret
corner where he could see no one and where no one could see him. He
had not counted upon facing the girl so soon--he had not counted upon
witnessing the chastened pride of her successful lover in the presence
of the unsuccessful. He knew that he could not continue acting the part
which he had assumed: he knew that he should break down and be shamed
for evermore.

He hurried away without once glancing round, and his first impression
was that he must weep. He only bore up against this appalling impulse
until he reached his home. He entered the house whistling, and shouted
out a line or two of a merry song when on the stairs; but before the
echo of his voice had died away, he was lying on his bed in tears.

He felt that his part in the world had come to an end--that for him no
future but one of misery was possible. The hope which had sustained
him in the face of his struggles to make a name for himself had turned
to despair. She was not to be his. She was to go to another. She had
elected to go to a man who, he believed, with all a true lover's
suspicion of another's merits, was incapable of appreciating her
beauty--her beautiful nature--her lovely soul.

He was overwhelmed by the thought of the bare possibility of a thing so
monstrous being sanctioned by Providence. He despaired of the future of
a world in which it was possible for so monstrous a thing to occur. It
was no world for worthy lovers to live in--so much was perfectly clear
to him. He felt himself to be a worthy lover, for had he not resisted
temptations innumerable, during the years that he had loved Betsy, only
for her sake?

He had felt upon every occasion of resisting a temptation that he
was increasing his balance, so to speak, in his banking account with
Fate--paying another instalment, as it were, toward acquiring Betsy
Linley. He had worked for her as Jacob had worked for Rachel, but Fate
had turned out to him as unjust as Laban had been--nay, more unjust,
for he had not even a Leah given to him to console him; and, besides,
his Rachel was bestowed upon another.

How could he be otherwise than hopeless of a world so ill-governed as
to allow of such a gross injustice taking place?

The possible joys of the many temptations which he had resisted
appealed to his imagination. So one thinks what one could have done
with the sums with which one's banker has absconded; and the result
was to increase his bitterness. But perhaps what poor Dick felt most
bitterly of all was his inability to sustain the dignified _rôle_ of
a cynical man of the world with which he had started the day. The
reflection that he had completely broken down the moment that the
girl appeared even in the distance, and that he had given way to his
disappointment just as if he were nothing more than a schoolboy, was a
miserable one. He wept at the thought of his own weeping, and beat his
pillow wildly in vexation; and an hour had passed before he was able to
control himself.

He sprang from the bed with a derisive cry of "What a fool I am!--a
worse fool than Halhed! Good heavens! A girl!--she is nothing but a
girl; and where's the girl who is worth such self-abasement? I am a
man, and I'll show myself to be a man, even though she elect to marry
every dolt in Bath!"

He felt that if she had appeared in the lobby outside his door at that
moment, he would not break down. He would be able to smile upon her as
Mr. Walpole was accustomed to smile when saying something very wicked
and satirical. He knew that he was quite as witty and a good deal
readier than Horace Walpole; but even if he lacked something of the
polish which Walpole--sitting up all the night for the purpose--was
able to give to a phrase, he believed that he could still say enough to
let Betsy Linley learn what sort of a man he was. He would let her see
that he was a man of the world looking on with a tolerant, half-amused
smile and quite a disinterested manner at such incidents of life as
marrying and giving in marriage. Oh, the cynical things that could be
said about marriage! Some such things had, of course, already been said
by the wits, but they had not nearly exhausted the subject. It would
be left for him to show Miss Linley how supremely ridiculous was the
notion of two people believing--or rather pretending to believe--that
they could find satisfaction only in each other's society!

Oh, the notion of marriage was utterly ridiculous! What was it like?
Was it not the last refuge of the unimaginative? Or should he suggest
that marriage was the pasteboard façade of a palace of fools?

Oh yes, he felt quite equal to the task of saying a number of witty
things on the subject of marriage in general; but when he came to think
of all that might be said on the subject of a young woman's agreeing to
marry an old man, he felt actually embarrassed by the wealth of cynical
phrases which lent themselves to a definition of such an incident.

He kept pacing his room, becoming more cynical every moment, until he
had almost recovered his self-respect, and had forgotten that singular
lapse of his from the course which he had marked out for himself in the
morning--that lapse into the tears of true feeling from his elaborate
scheme of simulated indifference--when the dinner-bell sounded.

He cursed the clanging of the thing. He was in no humour for joining
the family circle: he knew that his sisters would delight in discussing
the topic of the hour, and as for his brother....

Then it occurred to him that, seeing he would have to face his
relations some time, he would excite their suspicion less were he
to meet them at once. He now believed himself to be quite equal to
sustaining the _rôle_ of the indifferent man of fashion in the presence
of his relations, though he had ignominiously failed to realise his
ideal after a certain point earlier in the day.

He dipped his face in a basin of water to remove every trace of
his weakness--the poor fellow actually believed that tears were an
indication of weakness--and he was surprised to find how easily the
marks were obliterated. He was comforted by the reflection that his
tears had been very superficial; they were not even skin deep,--so
that he had not, after all, been so foolish as he fancied--he had been
unjust to himself. He only needed a fresh ruffle to give a finishing
touch to his freshness.

He descended to the dining-room lazily, and entered languidly. He found
that the other members of the family had not been polite enough to wait
for him for the two minutes he had taken to complete his toilet. They
were deep in their leg of mutton, and the younger Miss Sheridan was
calling for another dish of potatoes. The big wooden bowl which, Irish
fashion, lay upon a silver ring, was still steaming, but it was empty.

"Bless my soul!" he exclaimed, entering the room, "I had no notion that
I was late. Upon my life, I meant only to have a doze of ten minutes,
but I must have slept for half an hour."

He yawned, and then stood before a mirror for a few moments, twitching
his front into shape.

"You came in pretty late last night," said his elder sister, cutting
another wedge from the already gaping wound in the leg of mutton before
her.

"Nay, sweet sister, you are wrong," he said with a laugh. "Nay, 'twas
not late last night, but early this morning I returned to my home.
Prithee, sister, is't outside the bounds of possibility for you to
provide us with a change of fare now and again? Mutton is doubtless
wholesome, and occasionally it is even succulent, but after the fourth
day of mutton, the most tolerant palate----"

"Have you heard that Betsy Linley is to marry old Mr. Long?" cried the
girl with the air of one making an effective retort.

He was about to indicate to her his complete self-possession by
inquiring what bearing Miss Linley and Mr. Long had upon the question
of the advisability of substituting veal for mutton now and again,
but he was clever enough to perceive that his attitude would become
convincing were he to appear less nonchalant; so after only an interval
of a few seconds, he dropped his fork, crying:

"What! what do you say? Betsy Linley and Mr. Long? Oh, lud!"

Then he threw himself back in his chair and roared with laughter. He
was amazed to find how easily he was able to laugh heartily--nay, how
greatly he was eased by his outburst of hearty laughter. He felt that
he was playing his part very well, and so indeed he was.

"Oh, lud! Oh, lud!" he managed to ejaculate between his paroxysms of
mirth. "Oh, lud! 'Crabbed age and youth!' Has not Mr. Linley set the
lyric to music? If not, he must lose no time in doing so, and Betsy
will sing it at all the concerts. I foresee another triumph for her.
He is sixty-five if he is a day--I'll swear it. But are you sure that
there is truth in the rumour? How many names have not been associated
with Miss Linley's during the last two years? Were not people rude
enough to mention Mathews's name with hers six months ago?"

"'Tis more than mere rumour this time," said his sister. "I wonder that
you did not hear all about the matter last night. Every one was talking
of it in the Rooms."

"Ah, you see, I was hurried off to that supper, confound it! and, as
you remarked, I did not get up in time for the Pump Room gossip," said
he glibly. "Ah, I should have gone to the Pump Room, if only for the
sake of studying the effect of this disastrous news upon the beaux!
'Twill be a blow to some of our friends--to some; but we need not
travel beyond the limits of the Sheridan family to become acquainted
with the effects of that blow." He pointed a finger toward his brother
Charles, who indeed was looking very glum over his mutton. "Oh, my
dear brother, you have my profound sympathy in your affliction. But,
prithee, be cheered, my Charles; do not let those doleful dumps get
hold of you at this time.

    'Shall I, wasting with despair,
    Sigh because a woman's fair?'

Surely not, sir. This is not our way, in these days--these unromantic
days.

    'If she be not fair to me
    What care I how fair she be?
      With a hey, nonny, nonny!'"

"Do not tease him, Dick," said Alicia. "Poor Charlie!"

"Poor Charlie!" cried Dick. "Nay, I never meant to go so far as to
call him 'Poor Charlie!' You have a strange notion of what constitutes
sympathy, my dear, if you fancy that our brother's wound is softened by
his being called 'Poor Charlie!' The cruel shepherdess did not send you
any softening message, Strephon?"

"She sent me no message," said Charles.

"Then she was less unkind than she might have been," said Dick. "The
woman who sends a kind message to the lover whom she has discarded is
as cruel as the Red Indian would be were he to scalp his victim and
then offer him as a solace a box of Canada Balsam for the healing of
the wound. Oh no, dear Charles, Miss Linley is not all unkind."

"Do you know, Dick, that once or twice I received the impression
that 'twas you yourself, and not Charles, that Betsy favoured?" said
Elizabeth.

"What! I--I? Oh, my dear, you flatter me at the expense of my elder
brother," laughed Dick. "Moreover, you cast an aspersion on the
taste, the discrimination, and the prudence of the young lady. Dear
sisters, take the advice of your brother, who knows this world and
its weaknesses, and when it comes to your turn to choose husbands,
marry nice elderly gentlemen with large fortunes, as your friend Miss
Linley is doing. Marriage should be regarded simply as an unavoidable
preliminary to a brilliant widowhood. And let me assure you, Eliza,
your widowhood will not be long averted if you provide your husband
with mutton as tough as that which you set before your brothers four
days out of the seven."



CHAPTER X


Dick Sheridan felt it to be a great relief to him to turn a laugh
against his brother in regard to the sudden step taken by Miss
Linley, which seemed to have disconcerted not only Charles, but half
the population of Bath as well. Dick could not bear to be suspected
of entertaining hopes on his own account as to Elizabeth Linley; he
possessed a certain amount of vanity--the vanity of a young man who
is the son of an extremely vain old man, and who, though gifted--or
cursed--with a certain wit in conversation, is still rather uncertain
about his future. It was this vanity which had caused him to keep as a
profound secret his attachment to Betsy: he could not have endured the
humiliation of taking a place among the rejected suitors, and he had
not so much vanity as made him unable to perceive that there was always
a possibility of his loving in vain.

He felt that, as his secret had hitherto escaped suspicion--and he
fancied that it had done so--he could best keep it concealed by
laughing at the men who, like his friend Halhed and his brother
Charles, had worn their heart upon their sleeve. The man who is ready
to laugh is not the man who is ready to love, most people think; and,
being aware of this, he made himself ready to laugh. Before the evening
had come, he had so many opportunities of laughing that he felt sure,
if he were to meet Betsy and her elderly lover, he would be able to
laugh in their faces.

He could not understand how it was that he had been so overcome in the
morning by an emotion which was certainly not one of laughter, when he
had seen Betsy in the distance.

It was really extraordinary how many young men showed their desire to
confide in him in the course of the afternoon. Some were even anxious
to read to him the verses which they had composed in celebration of
their rejection by Miss L-nl-y; and this showed him how well he had
kept his secret. His brother, who seemed, in spite of Dick's want of
sympathy, to take a very lenient view of Dick's attitude toward him,
was actually the first to approach him after dinner with the story of
his sufferings, and with an attempt to enshrine the deepest of them in
a pastoral poem which took the form of a dialogue between one Corydon
and his friend Damon, on the subject of the ill-treatment of both of
them by the shepherdess Phyllis, who, they both frankly admitted, was
as charming a vocalist as she was a beautiful nymph, and who dwelt on
the banks of a stream, to which all the country were in the habit of
flocking on account of its healing properties.

Charles inquired if his brother did not think that the allusions to the
vocalism of the young shepherdess and the incident of her living in the
neighbourhood of a medicinal spring were rather apt; and Dick, taking
the matter very seriously now, had no hesitation in expressing the
opinion that no unprejudiced critic could fail to perceive from these
data that the poet meant to refer to Miss Linley and to Bath. He was
not sure, however, that Miss Linley would, on reading the verses, be
stung to the quick. Dick did not think that as a rule young women were
deeply affected by classical allusions, however apt they might be. But
undoubtedly the verses were well intentioned, and quite equal in merit
to many that appeared in the _Advertiser_.

Poor Charles was forced to be content with such commendation. To be
sure, he took rather a higher view of the poem himself, and he said
that young Halhed had declared that some of the lines were quite equal
to any that Pope had written, and that Mr. Greville had assured him
that if he had not known that he, Charles, had composed the poem, he
would unhesitatingly have accepted it as the work of Dryden. Still, he
was much gratified by Dick's opinion that it was on an intellectual
level with the material which appeared in the Poet's Corner of the
_Advertiser_. He rather thought that he would go away for a while
to the country. Did not Dick think that the situation of the moment
necessitated his retirement from the frivolities of Bath for a month or
two?

After due consideration Dick replied that perhaps on the whole a month
or two in the country would do his brother some good; though, to be
sure, if he were missed from Bath, some people might be found ready to
say that he was overcome by the blow of his rejection by Miss Linley.
Charles's eyes gleamed at the prospect of being thus singled out for
distinction; and Dick knew why they were gleaming. He knew that his
brother would certainly hurry away to the seclusion of the country
before it would be too late--before people would cease talking of Miss
Linley and the desolation that her cruelty had wrought. He knew that
Charles would feel that, if people failed to associate the incident of
his withdrawal from Bath with the announcement of the choice of Miss
Linley, he might as well remain at his home.

"I shall go, Dick--I feel that I must go," murmured Charles. "Let
people say what they will, I must go. I have no doubt that tongues will
wag when it is known that I have gone. I would not make the attempt to
conceal the fact that I have gone, and I hope that you will never stoop
to pander with the truth in this matter, Richard."

"If you insist on my telling the truth, of course I shall do so; but
I see no reason why I should depart from an ordinary and reasonable
course of prevarication," said Dick, with a shrug.

"Not for the world!" cried Charles anxiously. "No, brother; the truth
must be told. I lay it upon you to tell the truth."

"'Twill be a strain at first," said Dick doubtfully--musingly, as if
balancing a point of great nicety in his mind. "Still, one should be
ready to make some sacrifice for one's brother: one should be ready
at his bidding to make a departure even from a long-cherished habit.
Yes, Charles, I love you so well that I'll e'en tell the truth at your
bidding."

"God bless you, Dick--God bless you!" said Charles with real tears in
his eyes and a tremolo note in his voice as he turned away. He never
could understand his brother's humour.

"Hasten and pack your bag, and get off at once, or people will cease
to be suspicious, and disbelieve me when I tell them the true story of
your wrongs," said Dick. "It would be very discouraging to me to find
that my deviation into the truth is not credited. You can send your
poem to the _Advertiser_ from the country; mind that you append to it
the name of your place of concealment."

Charles lagged. He seemed a little taken aback.

"The verses would lose half their value unless they were dated from
some place of concealment," Dick insisted.

"I perceive now that that is so," said Charles. "But, unhappily, it did
not occur to me when I sent the verses to the editor an hour ago."

"What! you have sent them already?" cried Dick. "Oh, dear brother,
you need no instruction from me as to the acting of the _rôle_ of the
complete lover. I will see that your grief receives the most respectful
attention in your absence. Let that thought make you happy. It will be
my study to see that you are referred to in the highest circles as the
unhappy swain. By the way, would you wish it to be understood that you
are Damon, or do you prefer to be associated with the sentiments of
Corydon?"

"I have not fully considered that question," said Charles seriously.

"What! Ah, well, perhaps it would be unreasonable to expect you to
make up your mind in a hurry. But since both the shepherds express the
sentiment of their grief with commendable unanimity, you cannot be
prejudiced by being associated with either."

Charles went away very thoughtfully.

       *       *       *       *       *

For the remainder of the afternoon Dick found himself advanced to the
position of confidant in relation to several other young men, and at
least two elderly gentlemen. He was amazed to find how closely the tale
poured into his sympathetic ear by every one of the young men resembled
that confided to him by his brother. And there was not one of them who
had not made some attempt to embody his sentiment in a pastoral poem.
All the poems were alike in their artificiality. He felt that he was
hearing, not six different poems read once over, but one indifferent
poem read six times over.

The elderly discarded swains who confided in him had also endeavoured
to express their views of their treatment on paper. One had written a
Pindaric ode on the subject, the other, who had a vivid recollection of
the earliest essays in the _Rambler_, had written an imaginary epistle
in the approved Johnsonian manner, beginning: "Sir, if no spectacle
is more pleasing to a person of sensibility than an artless maiden
dissembling her love by a blush of innocence, none is more offensive
than that of the practised coquette making the attempt to lure into her
toils an unsuspecting swain. Among the ancient writers few passages
are more memorable than the one in which, in sublime language, Homer
describes the effect of the song of the Sirens upon Ulysses. If the
right exercise of the gift of song be deserving of approval, assuredly
its employment as lure to the adventurous is a fitting subject for
reprobation."

The elderly gentleman, who was endeavouring to show to young Mr.
Sheridan how closely Miss Linley resembled one of the Sirens, did not
find a sympathetic listener.

"If Ulysses did not want to be made a fool of, why the deuce did he
shape his course within earshot of the Sirens?" said Dick. "I don't
suppose that they wanted him particularly, and the Mediterranean was
broad enough for him to give them a wide birth."

"What, sir! Would you presume to teach Homer how to deal with his
hero?" cried the interrupted author.

"I don't care a fig for Homer! You need not have paid your half-guinea,
and then you would not have been made a fool of by Miss Linley's
singing," said Dick.

"She has made no fool of me, sir," said the other tartly. "She did not
presume so far, Mr. Sheridan."

"I suppose it would have been an act of presumption on her part to
try to supplement Nature's handiwork," said Dick, with a smile so
enigmatical that the gentleman was left wondering if he meant to pay
him a compliment or the reverse.

Dick went away wondering also--wondering if he alone loved Betsy Linley
in very truth. The artificiality of all the professed lovers was
contemptible in his eyes. Was it possible, he asked himself, that not
one of these men, young or old, loved her sufficiently to be able to
conceal his affection within his own breast? There they were, writing
their artificial verses and still more artificial essays--looking about
for some one to make a confidant of in respect of the secret that each
should have locked up in his own bosom! Truly a paltry set of lovers
were these! Rhyme-hunters, phrase-hunters, conceit-hunters, and
nothing more. He, and he only, loved Betsy.

Had he carried his secrecy too far in that he had not confided, even
in her? he wondered. But had he kept his love a secret from her? Alas!
he felt that although he had never told her of his love, she was well
aware of its existence.

And yet she had promised to marry Mr. Long.

He began to feel very bitterly about her--about Mr. Long--about
womankind and mankind generally. He endeavoured as he entered the
Assembly Rooms, to recall some of the bitter things which had occurred
to him earlier in the day on the subject of the institution of
marriage. He would show people that he could be quite as cynical as any
of the Walpole set when it came to a definition of marriage.

But before he had drawn much consolation from such a reflection, he
heard behind him the most musical laugh that ever suggested to an
imaginative young man a moonlight effect upon a brook that rippled
through a glen. It was a laugh that had rippled through England and
made all the land joyous--it was the laugh of the beautiful Mrs.
Abington: and for a century it has rippled forth from the canvases of
Sir Joshua Reynolds, who painted her as Miss Prue and Roxalana.

Dick turned about and faced the charming creature, who, in the midst
of a sunlit cloud of iridescent satin brocade, an embroidered mist of
lace swirling about the bodice, stood there in the most graceful of
attitudes, her head poised like the head of a coquettish bird that
turns a single eye upon one, raising her closed fan in her right hand
to the dimple on her chin, the first two fingers of her left supporting
the other elbow.

"Heavens! what a ravishing picture! Is Mr. Gainsborough in the Rooms?"
cried young Mr. Sheridan in an outburst of admiration. He forgot all
the bitter things he had on his mind. He forgot the grudge that he
owed to the world: the world that included so joyous a creature as Mrs.
Abington could not be in a wholly deplorable condition. This is what
Mr. Sheridan thought at that particular moment, and that is what all
England thought from time to time, when the same lady exercised her
fascination over her audiences through the medium of a character in
some new comedy. No heart could be heavy for long when Mrs. Abington
was on the stage.

"Ah, sir," said she, "you are, I perceive, like the rest of your sex:
you confound the effect of a new gown with that of an attractive
face. You mix up a woman with her dress until you don't know which is
which. Mr. Gainsborough knows the difference. Ask him to paint me. 'I
will hang her brocade on a wig-stand and that will be enough for most
critics,' he will answer. They say that the Duchess of Devonshire has
induced him to paint her hat, and to eke out what little space remains
on the canvas with her grace's brocade. Oh, Mr. Gainsborough is the
only man who knows the woman from her dress!"

"Madam," said Dick, who had been whetting his wits all the time she had
been speaking, "madam, when I look at Mrs. Abington it is revealed to
me that a beautiful woman is a poem; her dress is merely the music to
which the poem is set."

She did not sink in a courtesy at the compliment; most women would have
done so, therefore Mrs. Abington refrained. She only gave an extra tilt
of an inch or thereabouts to her stately head, and allowed her fan to
droop forward until it was pointing with an expression of exquisite
roguishness at the young man's face.

"'Tis a pretty conceit, i' faith, Dick," said she, "and its greatest
charm lies in its adaptability to so many women. A song! quite true:
we have both seen women who were the merest doggerel; and as for the
music--oh, lud! I have seen women dress so that it would need a whole
orchestra to do them justice. For my own part, I aim no higher than the
compass of a harpsichord; and I hold that one whose garments suggest a
band is unfit for a private room. Music! I have seen women apparelled
in a flourish of trumpets, and others diaphanously draped in the thin
tones of a flute."

"'Twas a happy conceit that crossed my mind, since it has opened a vein
of such wit," said Dick. "But pray, my dear madam, tell us how it is
that Bath is blest."

"Bath blest! 'Tis the first I heard of it."

"Since Mrs. Abington has come hither. How is it possible that you have
been able to forsake Mr. Colman and Covent Garden!"

"Mr. Colman is a curmudgeon, and Covent Garden is--not so far removed
from Drury Lane."

"That means that you are not in any of the pieces this week?"

"Nan Cattley has it all her own way just now. All that she needs to
make her truly happy and to make Mr. Colman a bankrupt is to get rid of
Mrs. Bulkley."

"All Bath will rise up and thank her, since she has enabled Mrs.
Abington to come hither. Bath knows when it is blest."

"Then Bath is blest indeed--more than all mankind. Was it not Pope who
wrote, 'Man never is but always to be blest'?"

"I do believe that it was Pope who said it. Your voice sets a bald line
to music."

"Lud! Mr. Sheridan, your thoughts are running on music to-day. Why is
that, prithee? Is't possible that since Miss Linley has given up music
and has taken to marriage--a state from which music is perpetually
absent--you feel that 'tis laid on you as a duty to keep people
informed of the fact that there is music still in the world, even
though Miss Linley no longer sings? But perhaps you believe exactly the
opposite?"

"Just the opposite, madam?"

"Yes. Do you believe that there is no music in the world now that Miss
Linley has promised to marry Mr. Long?"

He felt that his time had come; he would show her that he could be as
cynical as the best of them--he meant the worst of them, only he did
not know it.

"Ah! my dear lady, you and I know well that the young woman who gives
up singing in favour of marriage exchanges melody for matrimony."

"Subtle," said the lady, with a critical closing of her eyes. "Too
subtle for the general ear. 'Tis a kind of claret wit, this of yours;
claret is not the beverage of the herd--they prefer rum. Melody on the
one side and matrimony on t'other."

"Madam, I am not talking to the crowd; on the contrary, I am addressing
Mrs. Abington," said young Mr. Sheridan, bowing with the true Angelo
air. Mr. Angelo's pupils were everywhere known by the spirit of their
bows.

The beautiful lady did not respond except by a smile; but then most
people with ability enough to discriminate would have acknowledged that
a smile from Mrs. Abington expressed much more than the lowest courtesy
from the next most beautiful woman could ever express; and they would
have been right. She smiled gently, looking at him with languorous eyes
for a few moments, and then the expression on her face changed somewhat
as she said slowly:

"What a pity 'tis that you still love her, Dick!"



CHAPTER XI


The roseate hue that fled over the face of young Mr. Sheridan, when the
lady had spoken, was scarcely that which would have tinted the features
of the hardened man of the world which he had felt himself to be--for
some hours. But all the same, it was vastly becoming to the face at
which the lady was looking; and that is just what the lady herself
thought. She would have given worlds to have been unworldly enough to
be able to blush so innocently as Dick Sheridan. But she knew that the
peculiarity of the blush of innocence is its innocence, whereas she was
the favourite actress of the day.

She kept her eyes fixed upon him, and that boyish blush remained fixed
upon his face. He was not self-possessed enough to look at her; but
even if he had been so, he would not have been able to see the jealousy
which her smile indifferently concealed.

"I protest, madam," he began. "I protest that I scarce understand the
force of your remark--your suggestion----"

"Ah, my poor Dick, 'tis not alone a lady that doth protest too much,"
said the play-actress. "What force do you fancy any protest coming
from you would have while the eloquent blood in your cheeks insists on
telling the truth? The eloquence of the blush, unlike most forms of
eloquence, is always truthful. Come along with me to one of the quiet
corners,--I dare swear that you know them all, you young rascal, in
spite of that blush of yours; come along, and you shall get me a glass
of ice."

She gave him her hand with a laugh, and he led her to a nook of shrubs
and festooned roses at the farther end of the Long Room. The Rooms were
beginning to receive the usual fashionable crowd, and the word had gone
round that Mrs. Abington was present, so that she tripped along between
bowing figures in velvet and lace and three-cocked hats brushing the
floor. She saw that her companion was proud of his position by her
side, and she knew that he had every reason to be so; she hoped that he
would remain proud of her. The man who is proud of being by the side of
one woman cannot continue thinking only of the other woman.

And all the time Dick Sheridan was hoping that the people who saw him
conducting the beautiful lady to that pleasant place which, like all
really pleasant places, held seats only for two, would say that he was
a gay young dog, and look on him with envious eyes.

It was, however, of the lady that people talked.

But then, people were always talking of Mrs. Abington--especially the
people who never talked _to_ her.

She was wise enough to refrain from ignoring the topic which had caused
him to blush.

"What a whim to take possession of such a young woman as Miss Linley!"
she cried. "Have you tried to account for it, Dick? Of course I was
in jest when I suggested that she had smitten you. 'Twas your elder
brother who was her victim, was it not?"

He was strong enough, though he himself thought it a sign of weakness,
to say at once:

"'Twas Charlie who fancied that he was in love with her; but 'twas I,
alas! who loved her."

Mrs. Abington's lips parted under the influence of her surprise. She
stared at him for some moments, and then she said:

"Dick Sheridan, you are a man; and a few minutes ago I thought that you
were only a boy."

"I have known her since my father brought me from Harrow to Bath," said
he mournfully. "She was only a child; but I know that I loved her then.
I have loved her ever since, God help me!"

"My poor Dick! and you told her of your love?"

"Once; we were both children. Then we were separated, and when we met
again everything was changed. I think it was her beauty that frightened
me."

"I can believe that. A girl's beauty brings many men to her feet;
but I am sure that those who are worthiest among men are too greatly
overcome by it to do more than remain her worshipper from afar. Have
you anything more to tell me?"

He shook his head. His eyes were fixed upon the floor.

"Ah, that is your history--a blank, my lord! a blank?" said she in the
pathetic tone of Viola. "Ah, Dick, she cannot have guessed your secret,
or she would have been content to wait until the time came for you to
reveal it to her."

"Pray do not torture me by suggesting what might have come about!"
he cried. "Psha! I have actually come to be one of her commonplace
swains--her Damons and her Corydons--at whom I have been laughing all
day."

"Laughing?"

"Well, yes, in a sort of way."

"Oh, I know that sort of laughter. 'Tis not pleasant to hear."

"Such a batch of commonplace lovers. They went about in search of a
confidant. And I find that I am as commonplace as any of the crew."

"Nay, friend Dick; 'twas your confidante who went in search of you.
I tell you, Dick, that when I heard two days ago that your Elizabeth
Linley had made up her mind to marry Mr. Long, I gave Mr. Colman
notice that I would not play during the rest of the week, and I posted
down here to do my best to comfort you, my poor boy! Oh, do not stare
so at me, Dick! I am as great a fool as any woman can be, and that is
saying much; and I would not have confessed this to you if you had
not been manly enough to tell me that you love her still. I can only
respond to your manliness, Dick, by my womanliness; but I have done it
now, and yet you are only bewildered."

"I am bewildered indeed," said Dick, and he spoke the truth. "I do not
quite understand what--that is, I do not quite understand you."

"Oh, do you fancy that I expected you to understand me when I do not
understand myself?" she cried, opening and closing her fan nervously
half a dozen times, and then giving the most scrupulous attention to
the design painted on the satin between the ivory ribs. "Ah, what a
fool a really wise woman--a woman of worldly wisdom--can be when her
turns comes, Dick!" she said, after a rather lengthy pause.

Dick was more bewildered than ever. His knowledge of women was never
very profound. He was slightly afraid of this enigma enwrapped--but not
too laboriously--in brocade and misty lace.

"I think that you are a very kind woman, Mrs. Abington,"
said he at last. "'Twas very kind of you to come here solely
because--because--well, solely out of the goodness of your own heart;
and if you call this being a fool----"

He was startled by her outburst of laughter--really merry, spontaneous
actress's laughter; it almost amounted to a paroxysm as she lay
back on the pretty gilded sofa in the most charming attitude of
self-abandonment. Joyous humour danced in her eyes--and tears as well;
and once again she had closed her fan and was pointing it at him quite
roguishly. And the tears that had been in her eyes dropped down upon
the roseate expanse of her bosom, and two others took the place in her
eyes of those that had fallen, and her bosom was tremulous.

He looked at her, and was more bewildered than ever. What did this
mingling of laughter and tears and mocking gestures and throbbing
pulses mean? Was the woman in earnest? Was the actress acting?

He felt himself as bewildered as he could imagine a man being whose
boat is suddenly capsized when sailing in what he fancies to be smooth
water, but finds to be a whirlpool.

He somehow had lost confidence in his own power of judgment. He was
forced to apply to her for an explanation of her attitude. But before
he had opened his lips, that whirlpool of a woman was spinning him
round on another course.

"My dear friend Dick," she said--her voice had acquired something of
the uncertainty of her bosom: there was a throb in it--a throb that had
something of the quality of a sob,--"oh, my dear Dick, I find that I
must be very plain with you, and so I tell you plainly, Dick, that the
sole reason I have in coming hither at this time is my regard for your
future."

"For my future? I cannot see----"

"Ah, there are a great many things that you cannot see, Dick--thank
God, thank God! Your future, dear sir, is what troubles me. Well, I
frankly allow that my own ambition in this life does not extend beyond
the play-house. I am an actress, that is my life; I do not want to be
accounted anything else by man or woman--only an actress. And I have
in my mind something of a comedy which you are to write. Have you not
confided to me your hopes of some day writing a comedy--not that
burletta stuff about Jupiter and the rest of them at which you have
been working, but a true comedy? Mr. Garrick says he knows you have far
more talent than Mr. Cumberland."

"Mr. Garrick is not extravagant in his eulogy," said Dick, becoming
interested.

"No, he does not go too far. At any rate, I believe in your powers,
Dick, if they are but allowed scope, and I have posted hither with
the idea I have formed of the comedy which you are to write for me
without delay. What say you to the notion of a young woman marrying
an old man? Oh, no! you need not start and frown, Dick, for 'tis not
your charmer and her elderly choice that I have in my mind, though I
allow that 'twas the hearing of them put the thing into my head. No,
a young woman, who has lived all her life in the country--she is very
pretty (of course I am to play the part); marries an elderly gentleman
(Shuter would play the husband), and forthwith launches out into all
the extravagances of town life, to the terrible dismay of the old
gentleman. 'Twill give you a fine opportunity of laughing at him for
an old fool, who finds out that he is married to a young wife, but not
sooner than she finds out that she is married to an old husband. Dick,
Dick, you don't laugh. Is it possible that you fail to catch the idea
of the comedy?"

"Oh, no! I catch the idea. I wonder what sort of a life they will have?
Only Betsy will never want to come to town. All that she seeks is to be
left in the solitude of the country."

"Who was talking of your Betsy?" cried the future Lady Teazle. "And
who is there that can say with any measure of certainty what a young
woman will be after she has married? Cannot you perceive that this
must be the moral of the comedy? The young woman who appears to her
elderly beau to be quite content with the joys of country life, and
to entertain no longing for any dissipation more extravagant than a
game of Pope Joan with the curate, becomes, when once she has secured
her husband, the leader of the wildest set about town, and perhaps
eventually allows herself to be led away by a plausible scoundrel----"
Dick sprang from his seat with clenched hands, and before a second had
elapsed Mrs. Abington was by his side, and her fingers were grasping
her fan so tightly that the ivory ribs crackled.

"You cannot get Betsy Linley out of your head, although she is no
longer for you," she said in a low voice. "You are living in a fool's
paradise, and are delighted to live there, although some woman may be
at your hand who loves you better than you have ever hoped to be loved
by Betsy Linley, and who would repay your love better than your dreams
of Betsy Linley ever suggested to you. Take care, sir, that in the
story of Miss Linley's future, the plausible scoundrel does not enter
with more disastrous effect that ever I intended him to play in my
little comedy! That is my warning to you, friend Dick. And now, tell me
who is that pretty fellow that is staring at us yonder? I swear that I
have rarely seen a prettier!"

Some moments had passed before Dick Sheridan had recovered himself
sufficiently to answer her. He glanced in the direction indicated by
her, and saw that Tom Linley was standing a little way off.

"'Tis Tom Linley," said Dick.

"One of the brothers?"

"The eldest. You have puzzled me, Mrs. Abington. I should like to know
just what you meant when----"

"And I should like to know that young gentleman. If you do not beckon
him hither and present him to me, I shall apply to Mr. Hale to perform
that friendly office for me."

[Illustration: Dick sprang from his seat with clenched hands.
                                                         [_page 116._]

"I must know what you meant by introducing the idea of a comedy----"

"And I insist on your introducing young Mr. Linley. What, sir! are you
fearful lest that pretty youth may become, under my tuition, a fitting
subject for another serious comedy? No, no; no further word will you
get from me. I have said far too much already. Go home, Dick, and try
to recall something of all the nonsense that I talked in your hearing,
and if you succeed, believe me, you will know more of woman and a
woman's comedy than you have acquired during all your life."

"Am I to believe----"

"You are to believe nothing except the sincerity of my desire to see
you the foremost dramatic writer of our time. To become a true writer
of comedy needs discipline as well as a knowledge of the world, Dick,
and discipline is sometimes galling, my friend. But I have hope of you,
Dick Sheridan, and that is why I mean to leave you alone just now and
seek out that young Mr. Linley, who is, I vow, a vastly pretty fellow
and as like his beautiful sister as Apollo was like Psyche."

She kissed the tips of her closed fan and made a motion as if she were
about to hasten to where Tom Linley was still standing; but Dick laid
his hand on her arm.

"You have puzzled me thoroughly," said he. "But you shall have your new
toy. He will be discipline enough for you, for Tom has long ago buried
his heart in his violin."



CHAPTER XII


Tom frowned when Dick suggested to him--in a delicate way, so that he
should not be frightened--that the beautiful Mrs. Abington was greatly
interested in him and had been gracious enough to give Dick permission
to present him to her. Tom frowned. It was not that he placed a
fictitious value upon himself; it was only that he could not be brought
to take an interest in anything outside his art. Talking to a woman,
however beautiful she might be, he regarded as a waste of time, unless
she talked to him of his art, or, better still, listened to him while
he talked of it.

"I came hither only to hear Mr. Bach's playing on the forte-piano," he
said. "I think he is over sanguine of the effects that new instrument
can produce, though I allow that he can do more with it than would be
possible with the harpsichord. Its tones are certainly richer."

"Rich as they are, they are not to be compared to the tones of Mrs.
Abington's voice," said Dick, taking him by the arm.

"Will she distract me, do you fancy? I do not like women who interfere
with my enjoyment of the music," said the musician. "Most women are a
great distraction."

"So it is rumoured," said Dick. "But Mrs. Abington---- Oh, you
confounded coxcomb! there is not a man in the Rooms who would not feel
himself transported to the seventh heaven at the prospect of five
minutes' conversation with this lady. Come along, sir, and do not shame
me and your own family by behaving like an insensible bear who will
only dance to music."

Tom suffered himself to be led to the lady.

She had watched with an amused smile the attitude of protest on the
part of the good-looking young man. She was greatly amused; but in the
course of her life she had had occasion to study the very young man,
and she rather fancied that she had acquired some knowledge of him and
his ways. He was an interesting study. She had found Dick Sheridan
extremely interesting even during the previous half hour--though she
had not begun her course of lessons with him. As a matter of fact, he
had been in the nursery when she had begun to take her lessons.

She would have been greatly surprised if young Linley had acquiesced
with any degree of eagerness in the suggestion made to him by Dick, and
she did not feel in the least hurt to notice his frown and his general
air of protest. She had once watched from the window of her cottage on
the Edgeware Road the breaking-in of a spirited young colt. She had
admired his protests; but before the day was done, the horse-breaker
had put the bit in his mouth and was trotting him quietly round the
field.

She had done something in the way of breaking in colts in her time, and
they had all begun by protesting.

"I saw that you were a musician the instant you appeared, Mr. Linley,"
she said. "I know that you are devoted to your art. Ah, sir, yours is
an art worthy of the devotion of a lifetime. Is there any art besides
music, Mr. Linley? I sometimes feel that there is none."

The large eyes of the young man glowed.

"There is none, madam," he said definitely.

His air of finality amused her greatly.

"I feel pleased that you agree with me," she said. "I have no patience
with such people as one meets at times--men who are ever ready to decry
the art which they themselves practise. I have known painters complain
bitterly that Heaven had not made them poets, and I have known poets
cry out against the fate that had not created them wits. Here is our
friend Mr. Sheridan, who is both a poet and a wit, and yet he is ready
to complain that Heaven has not made him a successful lover as well."

Young Mr. Sheridan cast upon the lady a reproachful glance, and went
off with a bow.

Mrs. Abington made room for Tom on her sofa. She sent him an invitation
from her eyes. It was a small sofa; but he was entirely free from
self-consciousness, and therefore he did not know what it was to be
shy. He seated himself by her side. A fold of her brocade flowed over
his feet. This did not embarrass him in the least.

He waited for her to talk. It did not occur to him that he should make
the attempt to be agreeable to her.

"'Twas a pretty conceit that of Mr. Sheridan's," said she musingly.
"But I am convinced that 'tis true. He said that you had buried your
heart into your violin, Mr. Linley. Yes, I am sure that that is the
truth; for were it otherwise how could the people who have heard you
play declare, as some have done to me, that when you play 'tis as if
you were drawing your bow across your heart-strings?"

"You have heard people say that?" he cried, leaning forward in
eagerness; he had allowed the sofa to support his shoulders up to this
point. "You have met some who heard me play? But I have only returned
from Italy a few days. I have only played once in Bath."

"You can only be upheld when you play in public by the thought that in
every audience there are some persons--few though they may be, still
they are there--who are capable of appreciating your playing--who are
capable of receiving the impressions which you seek to transfer to
them."

He looked at her with wide eyes, surprise, admiration, in his gaze.

"I never begin to play without such a thought," he cried. "That, as you
say, is the thought that upholds me, that uplifts me, that supports me.
I had it first from my dear Maestro. He used to urge us daily, 'Play
your best at all times; even though you fancy you are alone in the
room, be assured that the true musician can never be alone. Who can
tell what an audience the spirit world gives to him? He must remember
that his playing is not merely a distraction for the crowd in the
concert-room, it is an act of devotion--an act of worship.' That is
what the Maestro said, and every day I recall his words."

"They are words which no true artist should forget," said she. "The
sentiment which they convey should be the foundation of every art. We
cannot all build cathedrals to the glory of God, but it is in the power
of every true artist to raise a shrine--perhaps it is only a humble one
of lath and plaster, but it is still a sacred place if one puts one's
heart into it. That reflection is a dear consolation to me, Mr. Linley,
when I reflect sometimes that I am only an actress."

The boy was delighted. His face glowed. His heart burned.

"Dear madam," he cried, "do not depreciate your calling. Why, I have
heard even great musicians say that the most one could do in a lifetime
was to add a single note to the great symphony which Nature sings in
adoration of the Creator."

"Then I was unduly ambitious when I talked of a shrine," said she. "And
I am, I repeat, only an actress. Such as I can only utter a feeble
pipe--the trill of a robin. 'Tis you musicians whose works sound in the
ears of all ages. Time calls aloud to time through you, until the world
is girt about with a circle of glorious melody, and men live rejoicing
within its clasp. Ah, sir, what am I, to talk of shrine-building? What
am I in the presence of a great musician? Shrines? Oh, I can only think
of Handel as a builder of cathedrals. Every oratorio that he composed
seems to me comparable only to a great cathedral--glorious within and
without, massive in its structure, and here and there a spire tapering
up to the heaven itself, and yet with countless columns made beautiful
with the finest carving. Ah, Mr. Linley, if the music of _Messiah_ were
to be frozen before our eyes, would it not stand before us in the form
of St. Paul's?"

"I am overwhelmed by the grandeur of the thought," said he; and indeed
he spoke the truth. His eyes had grown larger and more lustrous than
ever while she had been speaking, and he could scarcely articulate
for emotion. So highly strung was his temperament that the force of a
striking poetic image affected him as it did few men. He had, as it
were, reduced all the possibilities of life to a musical scale, and
his thoughts swept over him as a bow sweeps over the strings of an
instrument until all are set quivering.

"A cathedral!" he murmured--"a cathedral!"

She could see that those eyes of his were looking at such a fabric as
she had suggested. He was gazing in admiration from pillar to dome,
and from the dome to the blue heaven above all. She had never before
come in contact with so emotional a nature--with so sensitive a soul.
She knew that what Dick Sheridan said was true: Tom Linley had hidden
his heart in his violin, and every breeze that touched the strings
caused his heart to vibrate in unison with the music they made. She had
only spoken to him on the subject of music, and already his face was
glowing--his heart was quivering.

Some minutes had gone by before he was able to ask her:

"When did you conceive that wonderful thought--the oratorio--the
cathedral? Ah, Handel spent his life building cathedrals!"

"It was when I had heard your sister sing in the greatest of all the
master's works," she replied. "Could any one hear Miss Linley sing 'I
know that my Redeemer liveth,' and remain unmoved? Ah, what a gift is
hers! I am certain that she is as sensible as you are of the precious
heritage that is hers."

"Alas!" he cried, "she has flung it away from her. She has no thought
of her responsibility. Nay, she is ready to sacrifice herself so that
she may never be asked to sing again."

"Is't possible? Good heavens! you cannot mean that 'tis her intention
to sing no more after she is married?"

"That is why she is marrying Mr. Long--to be saved from the necessity
of singing in public; those were her words--'to be saved.' Just think
of it! Oh, she can never have had any true love for music!"

"You think not? But perhaps she has given all her love to Mr. Long."

"She confessed to me--at least, she as good as confessed to me--that
she intended marrying Mr. Long only because he had promised that she
should not be asked to sing in public any more."

"She cannot care for this elderly lover of hers. Has she tried to make
you believe that she does?"

"She professes to be grateful to him for releasing her from her
bondage: those were her words also--'released from her bondage.' She
has always thought of her singing in public as a cruel bondage."

"Heavens! But why--why?"

"I protest I cannot understand her. She is nervous--I think that she
must be strangely nervous. She spends all the day in tears when she
is to sing in the evening, and she is like to faint when she walks
on the platform. And my sister Polly, who shares her room, told me
that on returning from singing, Betsy has wept half the night under
the influence of the thought that there were some people who remained
untouched by her singing."

"Singular! Good heavens! where would we be if we all had the same share
of sensibility? What, does she think that the plaudits of her audiences
are not loud enough or long enough?"

"She is utterly indifferent to applause. Indeed, she acknowledged to me
that she was better satisfied when she was coldly received than when
she succeeded in arousing people to a frenzy of delight, because then
'twas her hope that the managers would not be so anxious to engage her
again. Oh, Betsy is my despair."

"I can quite believe it. But you talked to her--reasoned with her?"

"Oh yes; I tried to make her feel as I do--that nothing in the world is
worth a moment's thought save only music."

"But even that argument did not prevail with her? Did she not confide
in you that she thought something else worth living for? Young girls
have their fancies, as you may have heard--oh yes, their fancies and
their loves. Has she been so foolish as to give her heart to any one,
do you think?"

"She is going to marry Mr. Long."

"Oh yes, but I was not talking on the subject of marriage; on the
contrary, I was speaking on the topic of love. She has had many
suitors. Do you fancy that she may love one of them?"

He gave a shrug and smiled.

"She has had no lack of suitors, but I don't think that she set her
heart on marrying any of them."

"Not even the poorest of them?"

He looked at her enquiringly.

"Do you know anything of her suitors?" he asked. "I have been in Italy
for some years, and so came in contact with none of them."

"You did not put any question to her on the subject on your return?"

Once again he lapsed into the habit of shrugging, which he had acquired
abroad.

"My dear madam," said he, "I was not sufficiently interested in the
matter to put any question to her touching so indifferent a topic. But
now that I come to think of it, I fancy she did say something to me
about love being--being--being something that deserved---- Let me see,
was it the word 'attention' that she employed? No, _consideration_; I
believe that was the word. Yes, she said that she had considered the
question of love."

"And with what result, sir? I protest that you interest me greatly,"
said Mrs. Abington. And indeed she had now become quite interested in
this boy with the large eyes so full of varying expression.

"Alas! madam, this is the point at which my treacherous memory fails
me," said he, after a little pause.

"Ah, is not that a pity, seeing that the point was one that promised to
be of interest?" said Mrs. Abington.

"I am afraid that I was not interested, madam," said he. "If she had
come to me with the result of her consideration of Mozart's additional
instrumental parts to _Messiah_ I feel sure that I would remember every
word; but---- I wonder what view you take of the instrumental parts
introduced by Mozart, Mrs. Abington? I should like to have your opinion
on this subject."

"And I should like to have your opinion on the subject of love, Mr.
Linley," said she in a slow voice, and letting her languorous eyes
rest for a second or two on his--for a second or two--no longer. She
recollected the horse-breaker; he did not force the bit into the mouth
of his colt all at once. He allowed the little animal to put his nose
down to the steel gradually. He did not frighten him by flashing it in
his face.

"I told Betsy what I thought about love," said he. "I told her that,
while I did not assert that the sentiment of love had been brought into
existence solely to give a musician an opportunity for illustrating it,
still it formed an excellent subject for a musician to illustrate."

"Indeed, you think well of love, Mr. Linley. Your views interest me
amazingly. I should like to hear further of them. Love lends itself
readily to the art of the musician? Yes, I should like to have this
point further explained to me. I wonder if you chance to have by you
any musical pieces by which you could demonstrate your theory."

"Oh, there is no lack of such works, I assure you."

"And I take it for granted that the only instrument that adequately
interprets them is the violin. The violin is surely the lover's choice
in an orchestra!"

"It is the only instrument that has a soul, madam. Other instruments
may have a heart: only the violin has a soul."

"That is what I have felt--all my life--all my life; but until now my
feeling was never put into words. Oh, it would be so good of you if you
would play at your next concert some of the music that illustrates your
theory. I wish to learn from you--indeed I do."

"I do not play in public for another week."

She gave an exclamation of impatience and then one of regret.

"'Tis too tiresome! I shall be back in London within the next day or
two, and we may never meet again."

Her long lashes were resting on her cheeks as she looked down at the
tip of one of her dainty shoes. He looked at her, and his artistic
appreciation compelled him to acknowledge that he had never before seen
such marvellously long lashes.

He followed the direction of her eyes, and his artistic feeling--he had
begun to feel--assured him that he had never seen a daintier foot.

"Why should it be impossible for us ever to meet again?" he asked.

"Ah! why--why, indeed?" she cried. "It has just occurred to me that if
you had half an hour to spare to-morrow, you might not grudge sharing
it with an old woman whose interest you have aroused on a question of
art. You shall bring your violin with you and demonstrate to me your
theory that love is particularly susceptible of being illustrated
through the medium of music. Oh, 'tis wholly a question of art--that is
why I am so interested in its solution."

"Why, madam, nothing could give me greater pleasure!" he cried. "I
shall go to you after dinner, and I promise you that I shall convince
you."

"You may have a hard task, sir. I give you warning that on any question
of art I am obstinate."

"Then my victory will be all the greater. Should I bring with me also a
sonata illustrating the approach of autumn--'tis by a German composer
of some distinction?"

"The approach of autumn?" said she. "Ah, I think we would do well to
defer the consideration of the chills as long as possible. We will
content ourselves with the approach of love, for the time being."

"Perhaps you are right," he said.

"The second house from the street in the Grand Parade is where I am
lodging," said she. "You will not be later than four o'clock, unless
you choose to come very much later and share my humble supper?" she
added.

But the boy said he thought that it would be wiser for him to go while
the daylight lasted.

And perhaps he was right.



CHAPTER XIII


It was not within the bounds of possibility that the fascinating Mrs.
Abington should remain for the rest of the evening seated by the
side of young Mr. Linley in the Assembly Rooms. It was, as a matter
of fact, thought very remarkable that she and he were permitted to
have so long a conversation without interruption. This circumstance,
however, did not prevent the young man's resenting deeply the intrusion
of Mr. Walpole and his friend Gilly Williams upon the artistic and
philosophical duologue in which he was taking, as he fancied, the
prominent part. (He did not doubt that philosophy as well as art formed
the subject of his discourse with the charming lady.)

He thought that he might tire out Mr. Walpole and his friend, who had
the bad taste to push themselves forward--they did not even think
it necessary to have philosophy and art as their excuse--to the
destruction of that seclusion which he had no trouble in perceiving
the lady loved dearly. He found, however, that Mr. Walpole and Mr.
Williams represented merely a beginning of the obtrusive elements
of the mixed society at Bath; for before they had got rid of more
than a few brilliant phrases embodying some neatly turned but empty
compliments--he was convinced that Mrs. Abington, the actress, was
just the sort of woman to detest compliments--quite a number of men,
well known in the world of art as well as of fashion (to say nothing
of philosophy), were bowing before her and delivering themselves of
further compliments in the ears of the lady.

There was Mr. George Selwyn, for instance, who had some coffee-house
jargon for her; its delivery necessitated his putting his face very
close to her ear, and when she heard it, she gave a delightful
simulation of a lady who is shocked--Tom actually believed that she
was shocked. And then that awkward little Dr. Goldsmith, who, strange
to say, was a great friend of Lord Clare and Bishop Percy and Captain
Horneck of the Guards, and others of the most fastidious people in
England--people who had it in their power to pick and choose their
associates--came up with some witticism so delicately tinged with irony
that no one laughed for several seconds. Dr. Goldsmith had to tell her
that he had received a letter from Mr. Colman in which he had promised
to put his new comedy in rehearsal immediately.

"That is good news for you, doctor," said the actress.

"For me? Nay, madam, 'tis not of myself I am thinking, but of you;
for the comedy contains a part--Kate Hardcastle is the name of the
heroine--which will make you famous. Oh yes, indeed, 'tis entirely on
your account I am gratified."

"Sir, poor Goldsmith is vainer even than I believed him to be," Tom
Linley heard the foolish little Scotchman, who followed Dr. Johnson
about in Bath as well as London, say to the huge man of letters; and
Tom thought that he was fully justified in making such a remark. He
was, therefore, all the more surprised to hear Johnson say, after
giving himself a roll or two:

"Sir, Dr. Goldsmith may at times have been deserving of reproof, not to
say reprobation, but it would be impossible for him to go so far as to
make your remark justifiable. It is not for such as you to say 'poor
Goldsmith!'"

Then quite a number of other notable people sauntered up, so that Mrs.
Abington became the centre of the most distinguished group in the
Long Room, and Tom, who did not see his way to protect her from these
inconsiderate obtruders, felt that he would not be acting properly were
he tacitly to countenance their attitude; so with a bow he stalked
away. What dull-witted wits were these, who were too dense to perceive
that the lady's most earnest desire was to be permitted to remain
unobserved!

He hastened to his home and spent the remainder of the night practising
over such musical selections as would tend, he hoped, to dissipate the
philosophical doubts which Mrs. Abington appeared to have in regard to
the relations existing between music and the sentiment of love.

Dick Sheridan did not leave the Assembly Rooms quite so soon. He
had boldly entered the place in order to get over the meeting with
Betsy Linley. He had felt sure that she would come to the Rooms this
evening; for it appeared to him that Mr. Long was anxious to parade his
prize--that was the phrase which was in Dick's mind--before the eyes of
the many suitors whom she had discarded in his favour. Dick felt that
he, for one, would not shrink from meeting her in a public place now;
it was necessary for him to make up for his shortcoming in the morning.

But while she remained away, he was conscious of the fact that Mrs.
Abington had given him something to think about. How was it possible
that she knew that he loved Betsy Linley? he wondered; and what did she
mean by suggesting that she had come down to Bath to say something that
should console him for having lost Betsy? What sudden friendship was
this which she professed for him? Why should she have assumed, unasked,
the part of his sympathiser? He had been frequently in her company
during the previous year, both in Bath and London; for she had taken
lessons in elocution from his father, and had naturally become intimate
with the Sheridan family. Besides, she had more than once helped to
drag his father from the brink of bankruptcy in Dublin, and lent the
prestige of her presence in some of his seasons at that very fickle
city; and for these favours Mr. Sheridan had been truly grateful, and
had ordered his family to receive her at all times as their good angel.

Dick remembered how his father had dwelt upon the phrase, "our good
angel," and he was thus led to wonder if it was her anxiety to act
consistently with this _rôle_ that had caused her to post to Bath
without a moment's delay in order that she might offer him consolation
in respect of Betsy.

He began to feel that he had not adequately expressed his gratitude
to her for all the trouble which she had taken on his behalf--for the
thoughtfulness which she had displayed in regard to him. He felt that
she had not been merely acting a part in this matter. Whatever he may
have suspected on this point at first, he could not doubt the sincerity
of the note that sounded through that confession of hers--she had
called it a confession, and she had called herself a fool. He did not
know much about women, but he knew that when a woman calls herself a
fool in earnest, she is very much in earnest.

But why should she have called herself a fool?

This was the question which had bewildered him before, and when it
recurred to him now, it produced the same effect upon him.

The more he tried to recall her words the more satisfied he became that
there was a good deal in the attitude of Mrs. Abington that he had not
yet mastered.

He turned and looked up the room to where she was sitting. She was not
looking in his direction. Her eyes were fixed upon the face of Tom
Linley, and she was listening with the most earnest attention to what
Tom was saying. She really seemed to be completely absorbed in Tom.

For a few minutes Dick felt jealous of the other youth. Why should this
lovely creature, who confessed that she had come from London solely to
say a word of comfort in his (Dick's) ear, become in a moment so deeply
absorbed in Tom Linley, who had no aspiration in the world except to
improve himself as a performer on the violin?

In spite of that sudden twinge--it could scarcely be called a pang--of
jealousy which he felt while watching Mrs. Abington giving all her
attention to Tom Linley, his bewilderment did not disperse. But to do
him justice, he had already ceased to think of her as a kind woman, and
this was one step--though he did not know it--toward his discovery of
the truth.

He did not get a chance to give further consideration to the question
of the lady's motives at that time, for his friend Halhed waylaid him
with a lugubrious face and a smile of infinite sickliness.

"You observe, Dick?" he said, nodding significantly.

"I observe much--a good deal more than I can understand," said Dick.
"But what do you observe--that I am observing?"

"What? Oh, you must notice it--everybody must notice it. I dare swear
that remarks are being made about it in every part of the Rooms," said
Halhed.

Dick frowned.

"Do you mean Mrs. Abington?" he asked. "Why, man, 'tis only her fancy
to give some slight attention to Tom Linley. She is an actress, and
she may be about to act the part of a boy. They are all wild to do
boys' parts. My father tells me that it was Mrs. Woffington who set the
fashion more than twenty years ago."

"Mrs. Abington! Who cares the toss of a penny what freaks Mrs. Abington
may indulge in?" sneered Mr. Halhed.

"No one, except fifty or sixty thousand playgoers in London," said
Dick. "But pray, what is on your mind, Nat? Who is there present apart
from her that calls for observation?"

"You are not so acute as I believed you to be, Dick, or you would
know that 'tis not of any one present people are talking. You should
have noticed that Miss Linley is absent, and that every one is saying
that she is ashamed to face me. She has reason for it, Dick. Do you
not allow that she treated me badly? Oh, you must allow so much; she
treated me cruelly, for I give you my word, Dick, that I never offended
her even by a look. I was not one of those presumptuous fools who made
love to her. No word of love did I ever breathe in her hearing. Do you
fancy that I am not speaking the truth, sir?"

"I do not doubt it, Nat--indeed I do not doubt it."

"Give me your hand, Dick; you are my friend. That is why I am perfectly
frank with you now, as I have always been. I was ever silent in her
presence, and I believed that she respected my silence; she must have
known that I was ready to lay my heart at her feet, I was so silent.
Ah, she is afraid to face me. She stays away."

"Nat, my friend, if you ask me for my opinion," said Dick, "I will
tell you without hesitation that if you saw there was great reason to
maintain silence in the presence of Miss Linley, the attitude is even
more becoming in her absence. Come, sir, be a man. Think that there's
as good fish in the sea as ever came out of it. Good heavens, man! am
I doomed to listen to the plaint of every foolish swain who believes
that he has been aggrieved by Miss Linley? I tell you plainly, Nat, you
must find another confidant. What! Have you no self-respect? Do you
think it is to your credit to go about, like a doctor at a funeral,
advertising your own failures? Oh, I have no patience with fellows like
you who have no backbone. And so good-evening to you, sir."

He turned about, leaving the young man overwhelmed with amazement,
for Dick had always shown himself to be most sympathetic--a man to
encourage confidences.

Strolling to another part of the Rooms, he felt himself tapped on
the shoulder. Looking round, he saw that he was beside a certain Mr.
Bousfield--a young gentleman of property who had been paying great
attention to Miss Linley.

"You see, she is not here--she has not the courage to come face to face
with me," said young Mr. Bousfield.

Dick looked at him from head to foot, and then with an exclamation ran
for the nearest door, and made his way home without glancing to right
or left, lest he should be confronted by some other men seeking to pour
their grievances into his ear. He thought that he had exhausted the
tale of the rejected lovers, but it seemed that when he had routed the
main body, a company of the reserves had come up, and he did not know
what strategy they might employ to force themselves upon him. He felt
relieved when he found himself safe at home.

But to say the truth, he was greatly disappointed at not meeting Betsy
face to face, when he felt sure of himself--when he felt sure that he
would be able to offer her his congratulations without faltering. He
had prepared himself for that meeting; and now he had begun to lose
confidence in his self-possession, having had a proof of his weakness
in the presence of Mrs. Abington. It was not satisfactory for him to
reflect upon the ease with which that lady had extorted from him his
confession that he was miserable because Betsy had promised to marry
another man. Although he had begun talking to her in the same spirit
that he had meant to adopt in regard to Betsy, yet she had only to
utter a single sentence, suggesting that she knew his secret, and
forthwith he had broken down, and, by confiding in her, had put himself
on a level with the full band of plaintive suitors who had gone about
boring him with the story of their disaster.

To be sure, Mrs. Abington had professed to stand in need of no
confession from him. She had--if she was to be believed--posted down to
Bath the moment she had heard that Betsy had given her promise to Mr.
Long, in order to tell Dick that she sympathised with him.

And if Mrs. Abington, living in London, was aware of his secret, might
it not be possible that it was known to numbers of people living in
Bath, who had far more frequent opportunities than could possibly be
available to her to become aware of the truth?

This question caused him a sleepless hour after he had gone to bed. He
could not endure the thought of being pointed at--of being whispered
at by busybodies as one of the rejected suitors. His vanity recoiled
from the thought of the bare possibility of his being relegated to so
ignoble a position. He made up his mind to go to Mrs. Abington the next
day and beg of her to keep his secret.

But, strangely enough, he became conscious of a curious reluctance--it
seemed a curious instinct of reluctance--to go to Mrs. Abington. The
truth was that what she had said to him when talking unreservedly and
sincerely had somewhat frightened him. He had not quite understood what
she meant when she had reproached herself for being a fool, and it was
because he did not understand her that he was--in a measure--afraid
of her. The young animal is invariably afraid of what it does not
understand. To do so is an elementary impulse of instinct. That is why
a dog is cowed when it sees a ghost; ghosts are unusual--very unusual;
and that is why men who have not gone through a course of astronomy
are terrified at the appearance of a comet.

And the more that Dick Sheridan tried to arrive at an understanding of
what the fascinating actress had said to him, the more frightened he
became. She had spoken with convincing sincerity. That was just where
the element of the unusual appeared, giving rise to his fears.

And then there was that little twinge--was it of jealousy?--which he
had felt on looking up the Room and seeing her lavishing her attention
upon Tom Linley.

He resolved that for the present, at any rate, he would not go near
Mrs. Abington.

But when was he to meet Betsy face to face?



CHAPTER XIV


It was not until he had dined the next day that the thought suddenly
came to him:

"Why should not I solve in the simplest way the problem of meeting
Betsy Linley, by seeking such a meeting myself? Why should not I go to
her at her father's house on the chance of finding her there?"

He wondered how it was that it had not occurred to him long ago to take
such a step. Surely, since his aim was to show her and the rest of the
world how little he was touched by the news of her having promised to
marry Mr. Long, no more effective step than this could be taken by him!

Of course her father would be in the room when he should meet
her--certainly Mr. Long would be there; perhaps Tom would be scraping
away at his violin, and Polly would be squalling--that was the
word which was in his mind when he thought of the likelihood of
Mary Linley's being engaged in practising some of her songs in the
music-room--Polly would be squalling at the top of her voice. But any
one, or all, of these incidents would only tend to make him more at
home--more at ease when meeting Betsy for the first time under the
changed conditions of her life. The Linleys' house in Pierrepont Street
would not seem like the same place to him if Polly's voice were not
ringing through it--if the children were not making a noise on the
stairs--if Mrs. Linley was not bustling about with a kitchen apron on,
or, in the moments of her leisure, with her knitting-needles clicking
over half a yard of worsted hose. Yes, he felt that he would be quite
at his ease under the usual conditions of the Linleys' house; and
that was why he took no pains to dress himself for the visit. With
an instinct of what was dramatically appropriate--he never lost this
instinct--he put on the old coat which he had been accustomed to wear
when he had enjoyed what Mr. Linley called the "freedom of the Guild of
Linley." That would show Betsy and the rest of them--though it didn't
matter about the rest of them--that, whoever had changed, he was still
the same.

He got his first surprise when the door was opened for him by Mrs.
Linley. She had on her working-apron, and her hands were not free from
a suspicion of flour. She beamed on Dick and wiped one of her hands on
her apron to greet him.

"Come within, Dick," she cried. "Come within, man; though there's no
one at home but Betsy and me. These are busy days with us, Dick, and
this is the first quiet hour we have had since Tom returned from Italy.
Of course you have heard the news--all Bath is talking of it, and I
shouldn't wonder if it had gone as far as the Wells! 'Tis great news,
to be sure; but it means a deal of extra house-work, and more pastry.
The children are all gone to Monsieur Badier's assembly. The boys
are taking part in the minuet, and Polly is to sing for the company
between the dances. Mr. Linley and Mr. Long are at Lawyer Stott's.
These settlements are always a trouble, though I will say that Mr. Long
is more than liberal in his views. Poor Betsy! What will the house be
without her, Dick? You will find her in the music-room. She sings every
day now, but not real singing--only for her own pleasure. There she
goes. Oh lud! why am I standing talking like this when I should be
turning my tartlets in the oven? Sniff, Dick, sniff! You have a fine
nose. Do you smell the smell of burning paste, or is it only a bit
over-crisp?"

Dick sniffed.

"I wouldn't be too sure of those tartlets, madam," said he. "But I
don't believe there is more than a brown sniff coming from the oven."

"Oh lud! if you can sniff the brown, you may swear that the paste
is black; you must make allowance for the distance the smell has to
travel. Go upstairs; you'll be able to track her by the sound."

The good woman was already at the farther end of the passage to her
kitchen before Dick had begun to mount the stairs.

The sound of Betsy's singing went through the house. The song was one
of Dr. Arne's, which he had always loved. But had he ever loved the
voice till now?

This was his thought while he stood outside the door of the music-room
waiting for the song to come to an end.

It seemed to him that her singing of that song had the magical power
of bringing before his eyes every day in the past that he had spent
near her. The day when he first saw her she had sung that very song.
It was at one of the entertainments given by his father in Bath, and
he had just left Harrow. Every phrase of that song which now came from
her lips renewed his boyish impressions of the girl, her beauty and
the witchery of her voice. He could see himself standing before her,
silent and shy, when she had come later in the day to have supper at
his father's house. He had been silent and shy, but she had been quite
self-possessed. It was upon that occasion that Mr. Burke referred to
the Linley family as a Nest of Linnets.

Dick remembered how he had wondered why it was that he himself had not
said that about the Linleys: why should it be left to Mr. Burke to say
it when it was exactly what was in his own mind?

He had loved her then. He recollected how he had struggled hard all
the next day to write a poem about her--a song that her father might
perhaps set to music to be sung by Betsy herself.

And then ... and then ... and then....

The ghosts of the sweet past days flitted before him while the sound of
that song enveloped him, and every spectral day shone white and bright
in his memory. For a time he failed to realise that they were merely
shadows flitting across his memory. They seemed to him full of life--a
heart beating in every one of them. Alas! it was only his own heart
that throbbed with those sweet recollections; for when the song faded
away and closed in silence, he felt that he was alone. The beautiful
creature of those old days had passed away from him and had left him
lonely. He had awakened from a dream.

He felt such a sadness come over him that he could not open the door
that separated them. He turned silently away, and was about to go down
the stairs, when suddenly the door opened and the girl took a step into
the lobby. She started, and gave an exclamation of surprise.

"What! is't you, Dick?" she cried. "Why, how was it that I failed to
hear you come? How is it that you are going down the stairs?"

His self-possession had fled at the moment of her appearance. He
faltered out something.

"You were singing, that was how you did not hear me come; and
then--then--well, I thought that--that maybe I should disturb you by
entering. Yes, you were singing."

"Oh, Dick!" she said, and there was a note of reproach in her voice.

She turned and walked back into the room. He followed her.

"I knew you would come, Dick," she cried, giving him both her hands.
"Oh, I knew that you were not one who would stay away! I looked for you
all yesterday, and I waited within the house all this morning. But you
have come now, Dick, and I am glad--you know that I am glad to see you.
Were we not always friends--the very best friends that could be, Dick?"

"Yes, I have come, dear Betsy," he said. "I have come to wish you--to
wish you happiness; indeed, I wish you all happiness--with all my
heart--with all my heart and soul, dear Betsy."

He saw her white figure before him through the mist of the tears
that sprung to his eyes. And at that moment there was really no
desire in his heart but that she should be entirely happy. Every
selfish wish--every sense of disappointment--every sense of wounded
vanity--every sense of self had dissolved in that mist of tears that
came to his eyes, but did not fall.

She was looking into his face, but she did not see that there were
tears in his eyes. Her own tears had sprung, and they did not remain in
her eyes; they were running down her face.

She could not speak. She could only hold his hands, and all the time
she was making a pitiful attempt to smile, only he could not see this.

They stood there silently for a long time. At last he felt her hold
upon his hands slacken. Still, there was a suddenness in her act of
letting them drop finally. With a sound like that of a little sob, she
turned away from him and stood before one of the windows looking out
upon the street.

He did not say a word. What word was there for him to say? He had no
thought of the clever, cynical things he had meant to say to her on
the subject of marriage. He did not at that moment even remember that
it had been his intention to say such words to her, so that he did
not loathe himself until he had gone home and remembered what his
intentions had been the previous day.

He stood silent in the middle of the room. Quite a long space of time
had elapsed before she turned to him, and now he could see the smile
that was upon her face.

"I knew you would come to see me, Dick," she said; "for I know that
there is no one in the world who would be gladder to see me happy than
you, Dick. And you--you will be happy too--you will give me a chance
some day of seeing you happy, will you not? It would make me so happy,
Dick."

He shook his head--that was his first impulse; but immediately
afterwards he said:

"Oh yes; why should not I be happy--one day, Betsy? Oh, don't take any
thought for me, dear; I dare say that I shall be able to--to---- What
is it that makes people happy, Betsy? Is it love--is it loving--is it
being loved?"

"Oh, Dick, there are surely plenty of things in the world besides
love!" said she.

"There are, but none of them is worth working for," said he. "There is
fame; you have that--you have enjoyed it for years----"

"Enjoyed it? Enjoyed---- Ah, Dick, I have promised to marry Mr. Long in
order to escape from it. Now you know why I have given him my promise.
It is because I cannot live the life that is imposed on me--because I
feel that if I were to continue leading this life I must one day throw
myself into the Avon, seeking for rest. I hate the fame which has put
my name into the mouth of every one. Oh, Dick, if you could know how
all these years my heart has been singing that one anthem, 'Oh for the
wings of a dove--the wings of a dove, to fly away and be at rest!' I
have heard the boys in the Abbey sing it, but they did not know what
the words meant. I know what they mean, and my heart has been singing
them all these years. My soul has been so filled with that longing
that there has been no room in it for any other thought--any other
aspiration. You can understand me, Dick--I know that you can understand
me. My father cannot. He loses patience with me; and Tom, from whom I
hoped so much, he is worse than my father. He has no thought in life
apart from his violin, and he is happy only when people are applauding
him."

"And Mr. Long--does he understand you?" asked Dick.

"Oh yes--yes; I feel that he does," said the girl. "Mr. Long is so
good--so kind--so considerate."

"Oh yes; and you are still ready to do him the injustice of marrying
him?" said Dick.

Her face flushed. She looked at him without speaking a word for some
moments, then she turned away from him and faced the window, out of
which she had been looking pensively.

He caught one of her hands from behind.

"Forgive me, dear Betsy, forgive me!" he cried passionately. "Oh, my
Betsy, I did not come here to add to the burden which you have to bear;
I did not mean to reproach you; only--you know--you know what is in
my heart, dear--what has been in my heart all these years! I did not
speak. What would have been the good of telling you? You knew it; you
knew all that was in my heart!"

"I knew--I knew," she said, and every word sounded like a sob.

He was still holding her hand, but she had not turned to him. He was
behind her.

"And I knew that you knew, and that gave me hope," he said. "I had
hopes that one day--some day---- Oh, why did my father treat me as he
did? Why did he take me from school and bring me here to spend my life
in idleness? He would not consent to my learning anything that would be
of use to me, that would have enabled me to earn bread for myself. Why
could not he have given me at least a chance of doing something--the
chances that other boys are given?"

He had flung her hand away from him and had gone passionately to the
farther end of the room, his hands clenched.

"What was the good of my hoping--dreaming--longing?" he continued,
speaking across the room. "It seemed that every one was to have a
chance except myself. But still, that did not prevent my loving you,
Betsy--loving you as none of the more fortunate ones could love you. It
was the one solace left to me, and you knew it; you knew that I loved
you always; you knew----"

"Oh, Dick, Dick, do not be cruel!" she cried. "Let me implore of you.
Oh, Dick, let us be to each other to-day as we used to be long ago when
we were children together. You remember how frank we used to be to each
other, telling each other everything? How could we be otherwise? We had
not learned any language but that of frankness. Dear Dick, I know what
was in your heart. You hoped, and I, too, hoped and hoped, until my
life became unendurable.... Ah, can you blame me because when my chance
of freedom came I accepted it? I promised to marry Mr. Long; but listen
to me, Dick: I give you my word that if you tell me that I was wrong I
will go to him and take back my promise."

He turned to her, and his hands instinctively clasped themselves.

"Oh, Betsy--my Betsy!" he cried; and then he was silent.

There was a long pause before she said, in a low but firm voice:

"Tell me what I am to do, Dick, and I will do it. I have given you my
word."

"Oh, my beloved!" he said. His hands were clasped. He was gazing at her
standing there before him in all the pathos of her beauty. He knew
that if he were to speak the word to her she would keep her promise to
him, and the word was trembling on his lips. The temptation to speak
it--to bring her back to him--almost overcame him. He looked at her--he
faltered--then, with a cry, he put up his hands to his face, shutting
her out from his sight, and flung himself into a chair with his head
bent and his hands still upon his face.

"God help me! God help me!" he cried through his tears.

"And me too, Dick; God help me!" she said. "Oh, I knew that I could
trust you, my Dick! I knew that you were noble--that you were equal to
that act of self-sacrifice: a greater act of self-sacrifice than mine.
You will not say the word; I knew that you would not say it."

She was kneeling beside his chair, and she had put an arm across his
shoulders--it was almost round his neck.

Still he sat there with his face down upon his hands.

"Dear Dick, the noblest life is that which is made up of
self-sacrifice," said she. "Yours is the strong and the noble life. But
mine---- Oh, I feel that if I were strong I would be able to submit to
my fate without murmuring. I would not seek to free myself from the
life which I have led--the life which I abhor. But I am weak--I know
it--I own it, and I feel that I cannot endure it any longer. The last
time that I sang in public must be my last time to sing. I made up my
mind that anything--death--would be preferable to such an ordeal. Oh,
Dick, can you blame me greatly if, when Mr. Long came to me, I welcomed
him as a slave welcomes the one who sets him free? I felt that he had
come to stand between me and death."

He put up his hand and took the hand which was resting on his shoulder,
her arm crossing his neck. He held it in all tenderness for some time,
his eyes looking into hers. Their faces were close together, but he
did not kiss her face. Their breath came with the sound of a sigh.

"Dear child," he said at last, "dear child--dear Betsy, I was selfish
even to say so much as I did to you--to say so much as even suggested a
reproach. But, thank God, I am strong enough to resist the temptation
which you put before me. I dare not ask you to change anything that
has happened. It has been decreed by Heaven that we are to walk in
different ways, and I hope with all my heart that you will have
happiness. I asked you just now whence happiness sprang to any one.
Dear Betsy, that question has been answered since I heard you speak.
Happiness comes by self-sacrifice. Happiness comes to those who seek
not their own good, but the good of others. That is why I can hope that
you will be happy, my dear one."

"Indeed, that is what is in my heart, Dick," she said. "I feel that
I can now do something for the ones I love--for my sisters--for my
brothers. Mr. Long is kind and generous. He will, I am assured, help us
all. Poor father is obliged to work so hard, and mother is a drudge. I
think that little Maria has a nature like mine, and I shall be able to
save her from all that I have gone through. And then, and then--well,
there is something else to take into account. You can guess what it is,
Dick?"

"Yes, I think I know what is on your mind, Betsy," he said. "You have
been pestered by suitors, and now you hope that you will have at least
a respite."

"A respite!" she cried. "Oh, Dick, I shall be safe for evermore. You
do not know what I have suffered. It would seem as if every man who
ever heard me sing considered that he had a right to send letters to
me--letters full of compliments--and every compliment was an insult to
me."

"Why did you not tell me?" he cried, starting up with clenched hands.
"Why did you not give me a hint of this? You know that I would have
made every rascal among them answer to me with his life for every
insult offered to you."

"I know that--that was why I kept everything a secret from you," she
said. "The thought that you would be in danger on my account---- Ah, I
know that blood has been shed already, and even now I do not feel safe.
Captain Mathews--he was the most persistent of my persecutors, and even
yet ... he uttered the most terrible threats against me only yesterday.
I do not feel secure."

"I will kill him--I swear to you that you have only to hold up your
finger, and I will kill him."

"I know it, dear Dick--I know it. But do you think that I would consent
to your running into danger for me? Oh, I would submit to anything
sooner than that you should be put in jeopardy of your life. But I have
told you all this that you may the more readily understand why I should
be filled with longing to go away and hide myself in some place where
there is calm and quiet--some place that has always been in my dreams.
It must have come to me with the hearing of the anthem, 'The Lord is
my Shepherd.' Oh, the vision of the green pastures beside the still
waters! Now you know all that there is to be known, and you will not
judge me too harshly, Dick?"



CHAPTER XV


He saw the appealing look upon her face, and he knew that he had never
seen so pitiful an expression before. Her fear was that he might judge
her hastily and harshly. Ah, how could she have such an apprehension so
far as he was concerned? He forgot while he looked into her face that
there had ever been in his heart any thought of bitterness against her.
It was impossible that he could even for a moment have entertained a
thought except of sympathy in regard to her.

Did there exist in all the world a girl with so gentle--so sensitive--a
nature as was hers? It would, he knew, have been impossible to make
most people in the world in which they lived--the shallow, cynical,
artificial world of fashion--understand how this girl should shrink
from everything that young women in their world hoped to achieve. He
knew that Elizabeth Linley was envied even by duchesses. There was no
woman too exalted to be incapable of looking on her with envy. Dick
Sheridan had heard from time to time the remarks which were made upon
her by the _grandes dames_ who frequented the Pump Room. The Duchess of
Argyll, who twenty years before, had taken St. James's by storm, when
she was only the younger of the two Miss Gunnings--she had now become
Mistress of the Robes and had been made a Peeress in her own right--he
heard this great lady say that Miss Linley was the most beautiful
young woman in England, and almost equal in this respect to what her
own sister, the Countess of Coventry, had been at her age.

And the Duchess of Devonshire--he had heard her say that she was quite
content to come to Bath to hear Miss Linley sing once only.

This was the verdict of the two greatest ladies in England, and he knew
that what the duchesses thought one day all England thought the next.
(The commendation which Miss Linley had received from the king himself
when she had sung to his Majesty and the Queen at Buckingham House was
not worth considering alongside that of the two great duchesses.)

Could any one believe that such a girl, envied as she was by all the
rest of womankind, should shrink from the applause which greeted
her every time that she sang--from the admiration which the most
distinguished people in England offered to her? Could any one but
himself understand the shrinking of that pure soul of hers from the
fame that was hers--the adulation of the fastidious? Could any one
believe that with all the world at her feet, her dearest wish--her most
earnest longing--was for the seclusion of the green pastures, for the
quiet that was to be found beside the still waters.

He looked at her, and felt a better man for looking at her. She
was one of those rare women who carry with them the power of
making their influence for good felt by all with whom they come in
contact. No one could be in her presence and remain the same. She
was a garden of roses. Dick Sheridan had come to her with his heart
full of bitterness--he had been treasuring up hard words to say to
her--treasuring up words of keen steel as though they were soft
gold; and yet before he had even come into her presence--while he
was still standing leaning up against the doorway, listening to her
singing--every hard word, every harsh thought had vanished. And now he
was standing before her wondering how he could ever have had a thought
of her except of tenderness and unselfish devotion. In her presence he
had ceased to think of himself. Her happiness--that was what he thought
of. He was quite content to take no account of himself in the world in
which her happiness was centred. And yet she suggested that there was a
possibility of his judging her harshly.

"What you have suffered!" he cried. "Is it the decree of Heaven that
those who are more than half divine should have more than double the
human capacity for suffering? That is the price which such as you
have to pay for a nature such as yours. And you ask me not to judge
you too harshly. Ah, my Betsy, you are judging me too harshly if you
fancy it possible that I could have any thought about you that was not
one of tenderness and affection. Tell me how I can serve you, tell me
how I can stand between you and the world--the world that can never
understand such a nature as yours. The world is human, and you are half
divine."

"Ah, no!" she cried. "If mine were such a nature, I should be strong
enough to endure the worst that could come to me. Alas! I am very
human."

"Show me some one who is very human, and I will show you some one who
is very nearly divine," said he. "What Bishop O'Beirne said about you
long ago is the truth; you are more than half an angel. That is why
people fail to understand you. I do not think that even I, who have
known you so long, have quite understood all the sweet unselfishness
of your nature until now. We are being divided now, dear Betsy. We are
like ships that meet and then sail separate ways; but whatever may
happen, I pray of you to think of me as one who understood you. I pray
of you to call for me at any time that you may stand in need of some
one to help you. You know that I will come from the farthest ends of
the earth to help you."

"I know it, Dick," she cried,--"I know it. A day may come when I shall
have only that thought to sustain me."

There was a silence between them. It lasted for some time, each looking
into the face of the other, and seeing there a very pale face--each
holding the hand of the other, and finding it very cold.

Suddenly the silence was broken by the sound of voices downstairs--the
voices and the laughter of children. Their feet sounded on the stairs.

In a quick impulse of the moment not to be resisted, the girl threw
herself into his arms and kissed him on each cheek--rapidly--almost
passionately. He held her close to him and kissed her on the lips. In
another instant they had separated; the door of the room was flung
wide, and the boys rushed in, followed scarcely less leisurely by Maria
and Polly. They all talked together, giving some of the more striking
details of the Dancing-Master's Assembly.

Polly, who was burning to make Dick acquainted with the opportunities
of the newest minuet, was unceremoniously elbowed aside by one of the
boys, who had a good deal to say on the subject of the refreshments.
The buns might certainly have been fresher, he asserted; and Dick
freely admitted his right to speak as one of the cognoscenti on the
subject of the bun. But the critic was in turn pulled aside by little
Maria, who had been presented with a cup of ice for the first time in
her life, and was (paradoxically) burning to record her impressions
on the subject of ice as a comestible. She admitted being startled
at first, but she indignantly denied the impeachment of one of her
frank brothers to the effect that she had been too frightened to
swallow the first spoonful, but had, without a voice, borrowed a
hasty handkerchief---- No, she had swallowed it, she declared, with a
vehemence that carried suspicion to all hearers--she had swallowed it,
and if she had not taken a second it was not because she was afraid,
but because she was not greedy, like--she was in no doubt as to the
identity of the greedy one of the party--the one who had eaten three
slices of plum cake, and had not refused, as would have been polite,
the fourth tumbler of lemonade. It was Master Oziah who accused himself
by excusing himself in respect of this transaction.

[Illustration: The door of the room was flung wide, and the boys rushed
in.                                                       [_page 152._]

Only three of the group were talking together, their voices becoming
somewhat shrill, when Tom entered, and in a moment silence dropped on
all. Tom had, since his return, given them to understand, upon many
occasions, that he would not overlook any boisterousness on their part.
He talked of nerves, and the young ones had stared at him. They had
never heard the word before, and at once jumped to the conclusion that
it was some foreign malady--perhaps Italian, and not unlikely to be a
variant on the plague or the black death--terrors which had now and
again been used by a nurse as a deterrent to their boisterousness.

Silence followed the entrance of Tom--silence and a nudge or two passed
faithfully round the group from rib to rib. Tom, on entering the room,
had suggestively left the door open--quite wide enough to allow of
the exit of all the youngsters in couples without inconveniencing
themselves.

He glanced significantly at the opening, and the hint was not lost upon
the children.

Only Polly remained in the room. Tom could, no doubt, have dispensed
with the society even of Polly; but that young lady had no intention
of being in any sense put out by her brother, though her father had
hitherto taken his part in any domestic difference, on the plea that
Tom was a genius.

She threw herself in a chair, displaying all her finery, and hoping
Dick would notice at least some portion of it.

"Tom has been visiting Mrs. Abington these three hours," said she, with
a nod to Dick.

"She took quite a fancy to Tom last night," said Dick. "But I had great
trouble inducing Tom to let me present him to her. I think I showed
some tact in excusing him by letting the lady know that he had buried
his heart under the bridge of his fiddle."

"You did not tell me that she is devoted to music--to the fiddle," said
Tom.

"'Tis the first I heard of it," said Dick. "I have heard of some of her
devotions, but the fiddle was not among the number."

"You probably never took the trouble to find out, and she is not the
sort of lady to obtrude her talents on an unwilling ear," said Tom.

"Oh!" remarked Dick.

"She is not such a lady," continued Tom. "But the truth is that she
possesses a fine and elevated judgment on musical matters."

"That means that she praised your playing up to the skies," suggested
Polly. "I have not lived in the house with musicians all these years to
no purpose."

Betsy and Dick laughed; but Tom ignored their laughter as well as
Polly's rudeness.

"I knew what a mind she had when she gave me her opinion on Handel last
night," said he. "'Handel spent all his life building cathedrals,' were
her words."

"And somebody else's words, I daresay, before they descended to her,"
remarked Polly. "But they are not true; at least, I never heard of
Handel's building any cathedral. Let us count all the cathedrals in
England, and you'll very soon see----"

Tom gave a contemptuous laugh.

"Of course, every one must know that she was alluding to the oratorios
of Handel," said he. "Has anything finer or more apt been said about
the oratorios, Dick?"

"The phrase is very apt--indeed, it is striking," acquiesced Dick.

This degree of praise by no means satisfied Tom. He gave an exclamation
that sounded almost derisive.

"Apt--striking--almost striking!" he cried. "_Cielo!_ have you no
appreciation of perfection? I tell you that nothing finer--nothing more
beautiful was ever said in the world."

"Oh, she must have been impressed by your playing," said Polly.

"Don't be a goose, Polly," said Betsy. Then she turned to her brother.
"Yes, dear Tom, any one who knows anything of Handel's methods will
allow that to suggest a parallel between one of his great oratorios and
a cathedral is--is--well, all that you say it is."

"Only one who is devoted to music and who understands its mysteries
could have so sublime a thought," said Tom. "I felt it to be a great
privilege to be permitted to play to such an audience this afternoon."

"For three mortal hours," whispered Polly.

"Three hours--immortal hours," said Tom. "But the time was all too
short."

"I am afraid that I shall never be a musician," said Polly, with a
stage sigh.

"What did you play for Mrs. Abington, Tom?" asked Betsy.

"I took some rolls of music with me," replied Tom; "but I found that
there was no need to have gone to such trouble. She wished to have it
explained to her how--how--never mind, 'twas a theory of mine--we
talked together about it--she and I--last night in the Long Room.
Mr. Walpole came up--Mr. Selwyn--Mr. Williams--they had fresh-made
epigrams--pleasantries taken from the French. They wearied her, but she
was too polite to yawn in their faces."

"No; she would not yawn in their faces," said Dick. "And what was the
subject of your theory, Tom? And how did it come that you had no need
for the rolls of music you took with you to her lodgings?"

"'Love and its Interpretation by Music'--that was the point upon which
she expressed the liveliest interest," said Tom.

"Oh, this is no place for me; I am too young," cried Polly demurely, as
she rose from her chair and went to the door.

"Polly has become insufferable," said Tom in a tone of irritation. "Of
course, any one who has studied music knows that it is a science."

"It is assuredly a science. Language is a science, I have often heard
my father assert; and since music can interpret the language of love
into phrases that can be easily understood, it must be granted a place
among the sciences," said Dick. "But is't possible that Mrs. Abington
would not listen to your demonstration of this science on your violin?"

"_Cielo!_ Why do you suggest that she would not listen?" cried Tom.

"Why, man, have you not just said that you had no need of the rolls of
music which you carried with you?" said Dick.

"Oh, I had no need for the printed music. I improvised for her,"
replied Tom.

"In the Italian fashion?" inquired Dick. "Well, I am certain that you
had a most sympathetic listener to your phrases of interpretation. She
is, as you say, devoted to--to--science."

"She was more than sympathetic," cried Tom. "Oh, it is a better
instruction for one to play to such a listener than to receive a lesson
from a Maestro."

"Mrs. Abington is undoubtedly fully qualified to give lessons," said
Dick. "I am sure you will learn much from her, Tom, if you give her
your attention."

And then Mr. Linley entered the room.



CHAPTER XVI


Dick stayed to supper with the Linley family; and in spite of the
thought that this was probably the last of many delightful suppers at
the house in Pierrepont Street--the reflection came to him often in the
course of the evening after a burst of merriment from the children, in
which Betsy and he joined, Tom being the only one to remain grave--he
felt quite happy. To be sure his happiness was tinged with melancholy;
but this fact did not cause it to be diminished--nay, his gentle
melancholy seemed only to have the qualities of a tender summer mist
at sunset, which makes the sun seem larger and gives it colour. The
gentle sadness of his reflections only impressed him more deeply with
a sense of his happiness--his happiness which arose from a sense of
self-sacrifice. In the presence of Betsy he had lost sight of himself,
as it were. He gave no thought to the certainty of his own lonely
future. He could only think of the possibility of happiness which
awaited his dear Betsy.

Mr. Long was not present at this supper: he had gone to his friends,
the Lambtons, at the Circus, Mr. Linley explained; and Dick fancied
that he saw a new light in Betsy's face when her father had presented
Mr. Long's apologies. But he did not mistake the meaning of what he
saw; he knew that whatever satisfaction she felt at that moment was due
solely to her reflection that he, Dick, would not now be subjected to
the restraint which Mr. Long's presence could scarcely fail to put on
him. He perceived that she was anxious that this farewell supper should
include no element that would interfere with his happiness. And he gave
her to understand that in this respect she need have no misgivings. The
children, who had always made a great friend of him, had never before
found him so merry--so full of stories: he had not really met an ogre
since he had last seen them; but he was in correspondence with one, and
hoped, upon the next occasion of his coming to Pierrepont Street, to be
able to let them know what his views were on many topics of interest.
And perhaps at the same time he might be able to tell them something of
the professional career of a pirate whom he knew, and who was making
quite a name for himself by his many acts of cold-blooded barbarity
in the Channel. Meantime he gave them a circumstantial account of the
night's work of a certain Irish fairy, who had attained some amount of
popularity in the old days, when the only industrious section of the
inhabitants were the fairies.

The children, consulting together in a corner of the room after supper,
came to Dick and communicated to him the result of a plebiscite as to
whether he or Mr. Garrick was the more entertaining; and they were
happy to let him know that, while opinion was divided as to which of
them could make the funniest faces when telling a story, there was
perfect unanimity on the question of the quality of the stories, those
told by Dick being far in advance of Mr. Garrick's, on account of
their seriousness. Mr. Garrick's stories were, Maria asserted, as the
mouthpiece of the group, far too ridiculous to be believed. But Dick's,
it appeared, were well up to the level of the nursery, being perfectly
plausible, especially those dealing with the Irish fairies.

Mrs. Linley was the only one of the party who was in a mood to regret
the absence of Mr. Long. She had taken special care that the pastry
should be of that type which appeals to gentlemen who are as a general
rule not partial to pastry. Mr. Long, she told Dick, had never avoided
her pastry--no, not even when it came in such a questionable shape as
an open tartlet, which Mr. Linley had often said might well make the
boldest tremble.

The good woman questioned very much if Mr. Long would partake at
the Lambtons' of any more wholesome fare than would have been at
his service had he returned to Pierrepont Street; for though it was
understood that the Lambtons had a French cook, who had once been in
the employment of Lord Durham, yet for her part she did not believe
that a Frenchman could cook a supper for an English palate,--palate
was not the word she made use of, but in gastronomy politeness ignores
precision.

After supper Betsy sang one song, her father smoked his pipe outside
the music-room, and, refraining from criticism, suffered her to sing it
after her own heart. He recognised the fact that she had now passed out
of the sphere of serious criticism: she had become an amateur, and an
amateur is one who sings for one's own satisfaction, regardless of the
feelings of others. Tom was not in the room either: he had gone to his
bedroom immediately after supper, and was playing on a muted violin; so
that Betsy was permitted to sing without the restraint of any musical
presence.

It was getting late when Dick took his leave of those members of the
family who remained out of bed, and he found that only for himself
and Betsy this leave-taking had any significance. They all begged him
to come back again soon--all except Betsy. She took his hand and was
silent. She did not even say "good-bye." He said "good-night" to every
one but Betsy. To her he said "good-bye."

He found that although the street was in darkness, there was a
suggestion of moonlight on the rims of the hills toward the east.
The moon was some days past the full and did not rise till within an
hour of midnight. Pierrepont Street was lighted by only one lamp, and
was quite silent. In the distance he could see the flaring links of
a few belated chairs. From another direction there came to his ears
the sounds of the singing of some revellers returning from supper and
probably on their way to the lodgings of one of their number, where
there would be a card-table.

Before these sounds had passed away into the distance he heard the
music that was being played in one of the houses in the South Parade,
where a dance was taking place. All the windows were lighted, and,
looking up, he saw a shadow or two on the blinds--shadows moving
to music--a graceful swaying with arched arms to and fro, and then
the sudden sweep of the courtesy and the swing of the bow with the
gold-laced hat skimming the floor. All the grace, the allurement, of
that lost poem of the eighteenth century--the Minuet--came before his
eyes with the motion of those shadows with the subdued blaze of a
hundred candles behind them.

"Shadows," he said, "these things are all shadows: there is no
substance in all this life; shadows fluttering for an hour in the light
of the candles, and then passing away to the land of shadows whence
they came."

He was in the true mood of the moralist. A gentle melancholy was upon
him; and he was outside the room with the dancers. The moralist is the
man who has not been asked to join in the dance. He walked on, and
before he had quite gone out of hearing of the fiddles, the moon had
risen above the edge of the hill and was moving among the fleecy clouds
that covered the sky, making irises along their edges.

He had intended to go home, but the night was congenial with his mood;
the moonlight had a touch of his melancholy: it was not garish, but
tenderly softened by the swimming clouds; so, feeling as if he had a
sympathetic companion, he strolled on for a couple of miles on the
Gloucester road, and then turned into a lane that led up the hill.
Arriving at the highest point, he seated himself on a low bank, whence
he could look down upon the lovely city bathed in that milk-white
moonlight.

In the moonlight it seemed to his eyes like the city of a dream. All
the enchantment of the first sweet sleep of night permeated it. It was
surely like a silver city of a mirage--a wonder of the desert, with
towers mingling with minarets and shadowy spires.

He did not feel unhappy. How could any one feel unhappy looking down
upon such a scene? And there beneath his eyes the mystery and the
magic of it all was added to, for the delicate veil of vapour which
had been hanging over the windings of the river began to crawl up the
banks, and, under the influence of the gentlest of breezes, to spread
itself abroad over the city. Looking down upon it, it seemed to be a
silent sea--the sea of a dream that comes without sound and floods the
visionary landscape, and then swims into the dreamy moonlight. Tower
and spire remained above the surface of the river mist--silver islands
rising out of a silver sea.

What was this mystery of moonlight that was spread abroad before his
eyes? he asked himself. What did it mean to him? Why had he been led
forth on this night to be a witness of its wonders?

Was he to learn on this night of nights something of the mystery of
life? Was he to learn that the destiny of man is worked out in many
phases unfamiliar to man?

One mystery of life had already been revealed to him this night: the
happiness of self-abnegation. She had taught him this--the one girl who
came into his life, and who would, he felt sure, ever remain a part of
his life, though it might be that he and she would never meet again as
they had been accustomed to meet during the previous two years--she had
taught him this, at least, and he felt that his life was not the same
since he had learned that lesson. He was conscious of the change. His
life was better. It was purified; he was living it, not for the joy of
life, not for the ambitions which he hitherto sought to realise, but
for the spiritual gain; and he was content even though that gain could
only be achieved at the sacrifice of all that he had once held most
dear.

And all the time that he was reflecting upon the change that had
come to him, the scene was changing under his eyes. The breeze that
had lifted the mist from the river and spread it abroad through the
by-ways of Bath, strengthened and swept those airy billows away into
nothingness, and the still fleecy clouds that had been floating
motionless about the moon began to feel the breath that came from the
west, bringing up somewhat denser, but still fleecy, masses. The moon
began to climb among the clouds, and now and again its disc was hidden
as it laboured upward.

He rose from his seat on the green bank, and began to make his way down
the lane to the London road. The night was very silent. The striking
of the clocks of the city was less clear than that of a bell in the
far distance. The barking of a dog came from one of the farms on the
opposite slope of the river. The bleating of sheep came fitfully and
faintly through the trees that concealed the meadow beyond the upward
curve of the road.

He reached the road and made some haste homeward. Hitherto he had seen
no wayfarer; but before he had gone more than a mile, he heard the
rumble of a vehicle in the distance, and a few minutes after, one of
the coaches came up and galloped past in a whirl of dust. Dick turned
aside to avoid the dust, and stood for a few minutes in the cover of a
small shrubbery. When he resumed his walk the coach was not only out of
sight, it was out of hearing as well.

But before he had gone on more than a hundred yards he was startled by
hearing another sound--the sound of a man's shout as if for help. It
came from the distance of the road in front of him, and it was repeated
more than once.

Dick stopped at the first cry, faint though it sounded, and listened
closely. After all, he thought, the sound might only come from a
shepherd driving his sheep from one pasturage to another; but the next
time it came his doubt vanished. He was running at the top of his speed
round where the road curved, and before he had gone far he saw three
men furiously lunging--the moonlight flashed on their blades--at what
seemed to him to be the iron gate between the carriage drive of a house
and the road. When he got closer to them, however, he saw that there
was a man behind the bars of the gate, and that while he was holding
the latch fast with his left hand, with the sword which he held in his
right he was cleverly parrying the thrusts of the others.

Without thinking of the likelihood of the men turning upon him if he
interfered with them--his Irish blood, which was now pretty hot in his
veins, prevented his entertaining the thought of danger to himself--he
whisked out his sword, and, with a shout to encourage the man behind
the gate, made for his antagonists. He never reached them. At the sound
of his voice they contented themselves with a vicious thrust or two
between the bars, and then turned and ran.

[Illustration: He whisked out his sword, and, with a shout to encourage
the man behind the gate, made for his antagonists.        [_page 164._]

But Dick's blood was up, and he gave chase to them without pausing to
see the condition of the man to whose relief he had come. The fugitives
ran for some distance along the road, and then jumped the ditch
where it was lowest and went headlong down the slope to the river. He
followed hard upon them; but a small, though dark, cloud blotted out
the moon for a couple of minutes, and he lost sight of them. When the
moonlight came again he could only see two of the men; and they were
still making for the river. Noting this, all his energies were strained
in an effort to cut them off--he did not pause to consider the chance
there was of the third man waiting in ambush to rush out on him when he
should be passing.

He gained upon the fugitives when racing down the slope, and he was
confident of getting within sword length of them when they should be
stopped by the river. But the next dozen yards showed him that they
would escape: a boat lay under the bank, and the fellows were making
for it.

He gathered himself together at the brink of the river and made a rush
at the hindmost man; but before Dick's sword reached him, the fellow
sprang forward and went headlong into the water. At the same instant
the other man threw himself into the boat, and the force of his leap
broke loose the boat's mooring-line and sent the small craft half-way
across the stream. Dick saw the man make a sudden grab over the side,
and then a head appeared above the water, and an arm was stretched up
to the gunwale. The boat drifted slowly across the stream, and Dick saw
the two men get safely to the opposite bank, where they quietly seated
themselves, the one who had been in the river squeezing the water from
his hair.

"You rascals!" cried Dick, between his gasps for breath. "You rascals!
I'll live to see you hanged for to-night's work."

"You'll do better if you save your breath to chase our employer," said
one of the men, and Dick knew from his speech that he was a common man.

"Who is your employer?" he shouted.

The man laughed, saying:

"Find him. He can't be very far off."

Dick ceased parleying with the fellow, and made his way slowly up the
sloping ground, looking carefully in every direction for the third man,
but not going out of his way to search for him, the truth being that he
began to feel that he had had his share in this adventure, the origin
of which was as completely unknown to him as its meaning.

He reached the road without catching a glimpse of the third fugitive;
and then he sheathed his sword and began to retrace his steps toward
the iron gate where the encounter had taken place. Now that the affair
had reached a certain point he had become sufficiently interested in it
to have a desire to know what it had all been about.

Before he had reached the place, however, he came upon a man in a
rather dishevelled condition, engaged in binding up his right hand with
shreds of his handkerchief.

He saw that the man was Mr. Walter Long.



CHAPTER XVII


"Heavens, Mr. Sheridan, it is to you I am indebted for my preservation
from those rascals!" said Mr. Long.

Dick took off his hat in acknowledgment of the compliment.

"May I venture to hope that you have not received any severe injuries,
sir? Your hand----"

Dick could see that there were some dark spots on the portions of the
handkerchief that Mr. Long had managed to tie about his wrist and his
knuckles.

"Only flesh wounds--scratches," said Mr. Long. "But you followed the
fellows, Mr. Sheridan? That was brave of you. My mind was greatly
relieved when I saw you returning. I am glad that you were not so
foolish as to rush into what may have been a trap. I suppose that, like
rats--other vermin--they escaped by the river?"

"Two of them escaped by the river--I followed them down to the very
brink, sir, and saw one of them safely into the water," said Dick. "His
companion went headlong into a boat and picked him up. The third I lost
sight of shortly after they turned aside from the road."

"Let them go," said Mr. Long. "'Twas God's mercy, Mr. Sheridan, that
you were within earshot when I called for help. They attacked me on the
road without a moment's warning."

"Footpads!" said Dick.

"H'm--perhaps footpads," said Mr. Long doubtfully.

"I never heard that they infested this road, sir," said Dick. "They
must be the lowest in practice at this work. The chance passengers so
far out of the city are not frequent after dusk."

"I have my suspicions," said Mr. Long. "I must have been followed
by those scoundrels--or they may have lain in wait for me. I was
supping with Mr. Lambton at his house on the Circus, and did not
leave until late. Then I ventured to take a walk of a mile, tempted
by the curiously beautiful night. I assure you I was not dreaming of
an attack; but it came. Luckily the fellows rushed out upon me from
the shrubbery along the carriage drive to that house, leaving the gate
ajar. I had barely time to parry the thrusts of the foremost of the
band, and by a disconcerting movement to get within the gate and close
it. I saw that my only chance lay in keeping the bars between us. I
will do them the justice to say that they also perceived that this was
the case. But they only lacerated my hand and wrist."

"You fought bravely and adroitly, sir," cried Dick.

"At the same time, Mr. Sheridan, I know that if you had not come up at
that instant I should now be a dead man," said Mr. Long.

"Oh no, sir; you would most probably have run some of them through
the body," said Dick. "Cowardly rascals they must be! They showed
themselves ready enough to run; they did not give me a chance of a
single thrust at any one of them."

"I sympathise with you, Mr. Sheridan," said Mr. Long. "But your sword
will be the less soiled. Five minutes--perhaps two--would have done
for me. A gate with bars is no effective barrier where the small sword
is concerned; and then---- Well, I'm not so young a man as I once was,
sir; I was heartily glad at your coming on the scene. If you are
walking back to the town I hope that I may claim your escort to my
house."

"I shall feel proud to walk with you, sir," replied Dick, with
alacrity. "But I venture to hope, sir, that you will see a surgeon
before you retire."

"I assure you there is no need, Mr. Sheridan. I have an excellent
servant; there is scarce a wound that he could not heal--he even
professes to deal with those of the heart; but there, I think, he
professes overmuch. I should like to put his skill to the test; so if
you have a friend who is in an evil case in any matter pertaining to
that organ, you have only to let me know. By the way, Mr. Sheridan, it
may sound ungenerously inquisitive on my part to inquire to what happy
accident I owe my life? Is it a usual custom with you to take a rural
walk after midnight? Pray, sir, rebuke my impertinence as it deserves
by refusing to answer me, if it so please you."

They had now begun to walk in the direction of Bath. The moon had risen
high in the sky, and no cloud was visible. The night was so clear that
Dick could not help feeling that the gentleman by his side saw his
blushes that followed the inquiry. For the first time Dick perceived
that he might have some little difficulty in explaining how it was
that he came to be outside Bath on foot at that hour. When he had set
out on his midnight stroll it had not occurred to him that he might
be asked to give an explanation as to the impulse that had sent him
forth. He hoped that Mr. Long did not notice his blush. It was only the
suddenness of the question that had caused it.

"I took the walk because I had something to--to--think over," he said,
without any particular readiness.

"Then you did well to walk at this hour and on such a night," said
Mr. Long. "For myself, I can say that I have never yet faced any
question that refused to be answered after a night's walk and a night's
thoughts. And now I will place myself on a confessional level with
you, by telling you before you ask--you are not so impertinent as to
ask--if it be habitual with me to take a midnight walk? I will answer
'No' to that question, sir, and tell you that my walk was due to a
certain want of confidence on my part in respect of Mr. Lambton's
excellent--too excellent French cook. I supped at Mr. Lambton's, as I
believe I mentioned?"

"Mr. Linley said you were going to Mr. Lambton's house, sir," said Dick.

"Oh, then you supped at the Linleys'?" said Mr. Long; "or did you
merely meet Mr. Linley in the course of the night after he left me?"

"I supped with the family, sir. Mrs. Linley has had the kindness to
treat me as one of the family. She expressed her regrets that you did
not come to eat her pastry. She also expressed her want of confidence
in Mr. Lambton's cook."

Mr. Long laughed.

"Our fears were not wholly groundless," he said. "I think I made
as frugal a supper as is possible in a house where a French cook
possessing some determination and four new dishes reigns in the
kitchen. And yet I own that an hour after supper, I--I--well, I felt
that a brisk walk of a mile might at least prevent my forming an
unjust judgment on the cook. On the whole, however, so far as I can
gather, I am inclined to believe that Mr. Lambton's cook is merciful
as he is powerful. Neither you nor I, Mr. Sheridan, can know into
what temptations to tyranny a first-class cook is led. He cannot
but be conscious of his own power; and yet Mr. Lambton's cook is, I
understand, as approachable as if he were an ordinary person like
one of ourselves. Nay, I have heard that some Cabinet Ministers are
infinitely more frigid to their colleagues than he is to the other
members of the Lambton household. There's a man for you! And yet
people say that the French nation---- But I have not asked you if Mrs.
Linley's pastry was as crisp as usual."

"It could scarcely be surpassed, sir, even if it had been made under
the superintendence of an university of cooks," replied Dick.

"Then it was not to get rid of the thoughts impelled by your supper
that you set out on your walk?" said Mr. Long. "I have heard it said
that no man can be a poet who has not been subjected to a course of
bad cooking. 'Tis a plausible theory. You have read the poem of the
great Italian, Dante, Mr. Sheridan? Well, sir, will any one have the
temerity to assert that it was not penned under the influence of a
series of terrible suppers? 'Twas but one step further, you will
see, from the supper to the Inferno? And there was Milton--well, he
follows the Biblical account of the curse falling upon humanity owing
to the indiscreet breakfast indulged in by the lady of the garden.
And John Bunyan--a great poet, sir, except when he tried his hand at
verse-making--his description of the terrors of that Slough of Despond
was most certainly written under the influence of a dinner in Bedford
gaol. But perhaps you do not think of being a poet, Mr. Sheridan?"

"I have had my dreams in that direction, sir," said Dick, and once
again he was led to hope that Mr. Long would not notice his blush. He
could not understand how it was that Mr. Long succeeded in getting him
to confess so much--more than he had ever confessed to another man.

"You have had your dreams, sir? I am glad to hear it. I would not give
much for a lad who has not, before he is twenty, had dreams of becoming
a poet. As a matter of fact, Mr. Sheridan, all men who do anything in
the world are poets before they are twenty. The practical men are the
men who have imagination; and to be a man of imagination is to be a
poet. Now you, Mr. Sheridan, will do something in the world, I fancy."

"Ah, sir, that was my hope--long ago--long ago."

"Long ago--long---- Heavens! you talk of long ago, when you cannot
have more than reached the age of twenty-one! Why, I am sixty, sir,
and do not venture to speak of long ago. Your life is all before you,
Mr. Sheridan; and permit me to say that 'twill be your own fault if it
be not a noble life--a notable life 'tis bound to be, considering your
parentage. Your mother was one of the most remarkable women of this
period of the century. Her novels possess extraordinary merit; I say
that, and I was a friend of Mr. Richardson. Your father's genius is
recognised. And think of the variety of his attainments. He is not only
a great actor, he is a scholar as well; but if he were neither the one
nor the other, he might still claim attention as a writer. His theories
respecting the importance of elocution are valuable. One has only to
hear you speak to become a convert to your father's theories. If you
some day obtain recognition as an orator, you will have to thank your
father for his admirable training of your voice. You intend, of course,
to enter yourself as a student for the Bar?"

"That was also my hope, sir; but I cannot persuade my father to give me
his permission to my studying for the Bar."

"What! does he wish you to enter the Church and become as distinguished
as your grandfather--one of the few friends and the many victims of the
Dean of St. Patrick's?"

"He does not seem to think it necessary for me to enter any profession,
Mr. Long. He says I have not sufficient ability to do credit to him and
the family--'tis in my brother Charles he has placed his hopes. He has
been striving for some time to secure for Charles an appointment under
the Government."

"I hope that he may be successful. And does he make no suggestion to
you in regard to your future?"

"None whatever. 'Twas my dear mother who insisted on my being sent to
Harrow, and I know that her intention was that I should in due time go
to Oxford. Unhappily for us all, however, she died before her hopes
were realised; and when my father returned from France with my sisters
and brothers, I was taken from Harrow and brought here to waste my
time. He seemed to think that I should be content to become a hanger-on
of some fine gentleman. That is why he has always encouraged me to
mingle only with people of title. Our bitterest quarrels--and we have
had some, Mr. Long--have been about the Linleys. He has so exaggerated
an opinion of the importance of our family, he thinks that it is not
fitting that we should associate with the Linleys because they sing in
public--because Mr. Linley is merely a teacher of music."

"You amaze me, Mr. Sheridan! Has your father never asked himself
wherein lies the difference between a man who teaches singing and one
who teaches elocution? I had no idea that he was so narrow in his
views. Why, he is worse than Dr. Johnson. 'Twas Dr. Johnson who declared
that if your father got a pension from the king, 'twas time that he
gave up his. That was a very narrow-minded theory to pretend to have--I
say 'pretend,' for when your father got his pension, the good Doctor
showed no intention of relinquishing his. Still, that contemptible
Mr. Boswell had no right repeating in every direction what Johnson
may have said in his haste. You have heard Mr. Garrick drawing on the
fool for the entertainment of a company? Every one knows that it was
Dr. Goldsmith's humour to say to Johnson, 'Why do you call me "Goldy,"
sir--"Goldy," when you are well aware that I haven't even silver in my
pocket?' And yet Garrick got Boswell to tell us the story t'other night
as proof positive of Dr. Goldsmith's vanity. But this is beside the
point, the point being that you would not give up the Linleys, however
narrow-minded your father was. Well, Mr. Sheridan, I do not say that
you were in the wrong. You have known Miss Linley for some years, have
you not?"

"Ever since we were children, sir."

"What! so long ago as that?" Mr. Long laughed, but quite
pleasantly--not as some people would have laughed at that moment. "Then
I hope, Mr. Sheridan, that you did not fail to offer the lady your
congratulations on having accepted the offer of marriage made to her a
few days ago? By the way, now that I come to think on it, the one to be
congratulated in this case is not the lady, but the gentleman. Is not
that your view of the matter?"

"I think, sir, that Miss Linley is the sweetest girl that lives in
the world, and that any man whom she loves is fortunate above all his
fellows."

"And I agree with you, with all my soul. The man whom Elizabeth Linley
loves is fortunate above all the rest of the world. What I am wondering
just at this moment, Mr. Sheridan, is whether that man be you or I.
Here we are at Millsom Street. I lodge in the last house, where I hope
you will be polite enough to call to-morrow to make inquiries after my
health. Pray do not forget that I owe my life to you. The man who saves
the life of another accepts a fearful responsibility. You will find
that out before you have done with me."

He was holding Dick by the hand. But Dick heard nothing of his
invitation delivered in so unconventional a formula. A previous phrase
of Mr. Long's had taken complete possession of his mind.

"I should like to know, sir, what you meant by saying--by suggesting
that--that----"

Dick's stammering was interrupted.

"Good heavens, Mr. Sheridan! you cannot be in earnest in demanding
an explanation of anything I say at this hour?" cried Mr. Long,
with uplifted hands. "This, sir, is accepting your responsibility a
little too seriously. You will be genteel enough to pay me a visit
to-morrow--that is, to-day, for 'tis more than an hour past midnight.
In the meantime, may I beg of you to--to ... that is, not to ...
ah, on second thoughts, I will not beg anything of you. Good-night,
good-night."

He took off his hat, and Dick mechanically raised his own. Mr. Long had
turned down the street, but Dick still remained at the corner. Mr. Long
had actually pulled the bell at the door of his house before Dick ran
to his side.

"Mr. Long," he cried, "it has just occurred to me that--that it might
be as well for you to say nothing to Miss Linley about the little
affair that happened to-night. You know that she is nervous, and to
hear that an attack was made upon you might prostrate her."

Mr. Long looked at him in a strangely penetrating way for some moments;
then he said:

"You have given expression to the request which I was about to make
to you just now. After a moment's consideration I withheld it: I
remembered that you were an Irishman, and therefore that there was no
need for me to ask you to remain silent in regard to an incident of
which you were the hero. Mr. Sheridan, I will respect your wishes. Miss
Linley shall not, unless I find reason to act differently, hear of your
heroism through me."

"Oh, sir--heroism! that is too strong a word," said Dick.

"Perhaps it is, considering that it was only my life that you saved.
Well, we shall say your good-fortune. Will you accept the compromise?"

"Gladly, sir: I shall always think of the incident as the most
fortunate of my life."

"And I hope that neither of us, nor Miss Linley, will ever have
occasion to think of it as otherwise; and so I wish you good-night
again, my dear boy--my dear boy."

He gave Dick his hand once more, and Dick felt his fingers pressed with
more warmth than he had ever received from his own father.

He rather wished that Mr. Long was his father.



CHAPTER XVIII


Dick Sheridan was conscious of a curious impression of elation while
lying awake recalling the somewhat exciting incident in which he had
played an important part. And when he thought over the details of the
occurrence, he felt glad that he was elated. He did himself the justice
to refrain from attributing his elation solely to the fact of his
having put some rascals to flight, and his having followed them with a
naked sword, anxious to run them through. Of course, he did not deny
that he found pleasure in the reflection that he had made the rascals
fly, and he was quite ready to allow that this pleasure was tinged with
regret that he had not been able to get the point of his weapon in
between some of their ribs. At the same time, however, he knew that he
was sincerely glad that he had been able to save the life of the man
who was taking Betsy Linley out of his life.

She had told him, when her hand was in his, that the joy of life was
not in living for oneself, but in bringing happiness to others; and he
had gone forth from her presence feeling that she had spoken the truth.
It was a truth that he had often heard before from the lips of teachers
of the elements of Christianity; but its enunciation had produced no
greater impression on him than the words of such teachers usually do
upon their hearers. All his thoughts had been for himself: seeking his
own pleasure--seeking to cut a good figure before the eyes of the
people who were around him. He had even gone to pay his visit to her
in the same spirit. He was anxious to cut the figure of a cynical man
of the world in her presence, and to show her that he was in no way
touched by the announcement that she had given her promise to marry Mr.
Long.

But in her presence he felt all the sweet influence of her nature; it
surrounded him as the scent of a rose-garden surrounds one who comes
among the flowers in June; he breathed it as one breathes the scent
of the roses. The fragrance of her presence permeated his life. Her
spirit became part of his spirit, and, sitting on the hill-slope, with
the mystery of the moonlight about him, he felt himself to be a new
man. The reality of the change that had come to him was soon put to
the test. The chance had been given to him of saving the life of the
man who was taking Betsy from him, and he had welcomed that chance. To
be sure, when he had run upon the men with his naked sword, he had not
known who it was that he was rescuing from his assailants; but he knew
now, and he felt that the reflection that he had saved his life for
Betsy was the greatest happiness he had ever known.

What would have happened if he had held back his hand at that time?

That question he asked of himself, and he had no difficulty in
answering it. He knew that, unless some miracle had happened, nothing
could have saved Mr. Long from being murdered. And in that case Betsy
would be freed from the obligation which she had accepted.

He knew all this, and he thanked Heaven in all sincerity that he had
been able to save the life of the man who stood between him and Betsy
Linley. He shuddered at the thought of the bare possibility of his
having failed to hear Mr. Long's cries for help; and he felt rejoiced
at the thought that he had done an unusual thing in wearing his sword
when going to pay his visit to Betsy. It was not customary to wear
swords in the afternoon at Bath, though, of course, they were carried
at night. But, when setting out to pay his call, Dick had fastened on
his sword, the fact being--though he tried not to include it in the
sequence of his thoughts while lying awake that night--that he had
meant to accept an invitation to supper and cards at which one of his
fashionable friends had hinted the previous evening. After offering
Betsy his congratulations, and making a few worldly-wise remarks on the
absurdity of marriage, it had been his intention to go to one of the
Assembly Rooms, and thence to the supper-party; and, as an early return
home was not among his calculations, he felt that it would be prudent
to wear his sword.

What a lucky chance it was that he had been so prudent! (He had so
successfully avoided thinking of his unworthy project that he had
come to attribute his carrying of the sword to his own prudence and
forethought.) Without a weapon, he himself, as well as Mr. Long, could
hardly have escaped from the footpads, who were undoubtedly most
desperate ruffians. And then, having settled the matter of his caution
and forethought--two attributes which he had certainly not inherited,
and which he could scarcely regard as inevitable to his nationality
as an Irishman, from whatever source his intentions regarding the
supper-party may have sprung--he went on to think of Mr. Long.

He had never exchanged more than half a dozen words with Mr. Long
during the six months that the latter had been in Bath, and he had
looked on him as quite an old fogey, possessing none of the brilliant
gifts of a man of fashion. None of the _bons mots_ of the dialogues
of scandal which circulated in the Pump-Room in the morning and
in the Assembly Rooms in the evening, having blown about the town
during the day, were attributed to him. None of the dainty plums of
malice--preserved in vinegar, not in sugar--which the ladies with
the rouge and patches passed round in their _bonbonnières_ at the
card-tables, came from him; and therefore Dick had never thought of him
except as a good-natured elderly gentleman. To have a reputation for
good-nature was of itself quite sufficient to exclude any one from the
most fashionable set in Bath.

It was really only when it was announced that he was the successful
suitor for the hand of Miss Linley, that people began to notice Mr.
Long, and then the form that their attention took consisted in their
alluding to him as an old fogey, if not an old fool.

Dick noticed that it was mostly the rejected suitors who so alluded
to him, and he thought that it showed an amazing amount of weakness
on their part: they were simply advertising their own failure--he had
said so to his friend Halhed the previous evening in the Long Room, and
he made up his mind that, whatever might happen and whatever he might
think, he would never betray his own chagrin by calling Mr. Long an old
fool.

Of course he could not but feel that it was an act of folly for a man
turned sixty to make up his mind to marry a beautiful girl not yet
twenty; he thought that he was equal to taking a dispassionate view of
the matter. But he would never be heard alluding to Mr. Long as an old
fool. He himself was not such a young fool as to give himself credit
for any generosity in maintaining an attitude of reticence on this
question; he was only determined not to show the same weakness as his
friends, who acknowledged Mr. Long to be their successful rival.

But now, after recalling the attitude of Mr. Long when recovering from
the effects of the attack made upon him by the three footpads--after
recalling the easy tone of his conversation, and the adroitness
with which he had obtained from Dick a good deal of information
about himself and his prospects, and more particularly his lack of
prospects, Dick came to the conclusion that for the first time in his
life he had been speaking to one who was indeed a man of the world--a
man who understood his fellow men and who could be humorously tolerant
of their weaknesses and their prejudices. He could not but feel,
however, that among the attributes of a man of the world which he
possessed, there was in parts of his conversation a certain element of
the enigmatical. For instance, when almost at the point of parting he
had said---- What were his exact words?

"_The man whom Elizabeth Linley loves is fortunate.... I am wondering
whether that man be you or I._"

Those were his very words, and they had puzzled Dick the moment they
were uttered. They puzzled him much more now that he recalled them.
They were certainly very strange words for such a man as Mr. Long
to say at such a time as he had said them. Did they mean that he
questioned whether Betsy loved him or Dick; or did he merely mean that
he was uncertain whether he or Dick was the more fortunate in regard to
some matter quite apart from the love of Elizabeth Linley--say, in the
matter of age, or in respect of the adventure in which they had both
been concerned? Did he mean that it was an open question whether the
man who saves another man's life or the one whose life has been saved
is the more fortunate?

To be sure, his remark about the good-fortune of a man was connected
solely with the question of the love of Elizabeth Linley, so that
his saying that he wondered whether the fortunate man was himself
or Dick, seemed to be simply equivalent to saying that he wondered
whether Elizabeth Linley loved himself, whom she had promised to
marry, or Dick, who was no more to her than other men. Still, it
might be susceptible of a different meaning; for instance.... Great
heavens! Could it be that Mr. Long was treating thus lightly the bare
possibility that the girl whom he hoped to marry had given all her
love to another man?

He could not believe this of such a man as Mr. Long. No; Dick felt
that his ear had been over-sensitive. He had allowed himself to be led
into a tortuous course of thought, only because Mr. Long had made a
pause of perhaps two seconds instead of four between his sentences. It
would, he felt, be ridiculous for him to base a theory upon so shallow
a foundation. It would be absurd for him to assume that Mr. Long meant
to suggest anything more than a casual reflection on a topic worn
threadbare in the pulpit--namely, the uncertainty of human happiness.

It was, however, one thing to assure himself that it would be
unreasonable to suppose that Mr. Long meant to suggest anything but
what was trite, but quite another to convince himself that his ear
had played him false; and this was how it came about that he had the
first sleepless night of his life, and that he startled his sisters by
coming down in good time to breakfast. His appearance was, in fact,
rather embarrassing to the housekeeper for the week: Alicia had heard
him enter the house at so late an hour that she took it for granted
he would not come down to breakfast before noon, and had given her
instructions to the cook on this basis. Dick had to face an empty plate
until his fish was made ready.

He inquired for his brother--was he the late one this morning?

"What! did not Charles tell you that he meant to go to the country?"
asked Alicia.

"Not he," replied Dick. "The country? Why should he go to the country
at this time?"

"Why, he said that you advised him to do so," cried Elizabeth. "You
know what is the only reason he could have for flying from Bath just
now. Poor Charlie! he feels that Betsy was not considerate toward him."

Dick laughed. He had quite forgotten that he had counselled his brother
to go away for a time. He had really been more in jest than in earnest
in the matter; but Charles had taken him very seriously, and had gone
off without an hour's delay to a farmhouse eight miles out of Bath,
on the Wells road. He was not slow to perceive what Dick had hinted
at--that a gratifying degree of prominence might be given to his name
if the fact became well known that he had been so greatly overcome by
the news of Miss Linley's having promised to marry another man as to
make it impossible for him to continue living in the same town with her.

"Poor Charlie!" said the elder Miss Sheridan in a tone that was meant
as a reproof to Dick for his levity--"poor Charlie! But we can keep the
matter a secret; we need not add to his humiliation, Dick, by talking
of his having gone away on account of Betsy's treatment of him."

Dick laughed more heartily still.

"My dear girl," he cried, "your suggestion is well meant, but poor
Charlie would not thank you if you were to act on it. Poor Charlie
knows perfectly well that he has now got a chance of attaining such
fame as may never come to him again so long as he lives. When the
fickle Phyllis rejects Strephon's advances and accepts those of Damon,
the Pastoral that commemorates the event confers immortality upon
Strephon the rejected, just as surely as if he had been the fortunate
lover. I can assure you that Bath, and Oxford too, I doubt not, are
just now crowded with Strephons anxious to be handed down to posterity
as the rejected swains. Take my word for it, poor Charlie would only
be chagrined if he thought that no notice whatever would be taken of
his forlorn condition as the rejected swain. Good heavens! wait until
Friday comes, and you scan the Poet's Corner of the _Advertiser_; if
you do not find poor Charlie making a bid for the immortality of the
doleful Strephon, I am greatly mistaken."

The girls stared at him.

"You are wrong--quite wrong, Dick," cried the elder. "Yes, you are.
Charlie begged of us to keep his departure a secret. He said he would
not have it known for the world."

Dick did not laugh again: on the contrary, he became solemn. He felt
that it would be heartless on his part to make the attempt to undermine
the simplicity of his sisters. But the fact that Charlie had taken such
elaborate precautions to give publicity to the news of his departure
caused Dick to have a higher opinion than he had up to that moment
possessed of his brother's knowledge of human nature.

And then, finding that Dick was silent--penitentially silent--the two
girls thought that the opportunity was a fitting one to give expression
to their views regarding the heartlessness of Betsy and the devotion
of Charlie. They had seen Mr. Long, and were ready to assert that poor
Charlie was quite as good as he was, without being nearly so old; and
Miss Sheridan went so far as to suggest that the family of Sheridan
were fortunate in that they were not called on to welcome Betsy Linley
as a stepmother.

Dick began to think, after this remark, that perhaps he had done his
sisters an injustice in assuming their entire simplicity.

[Illustration: Mrs. Abington was in her chair.         [_page 185._]



CHAPTER XIX


Mrs. Abington was in her chair. She had just been to see her friends
at Bath-Easton, and was hoping that she would be in time for service
at the Abbey. That was why she stopped Dick in the street. What did he
think? would she be in time for the service? She would be quite content
to accept Dick's opinion on the subject.

Dick looked at his watch.

"Madam," he said, after calculating a moment, "you will not be in time
for the Confession, which seems rather a pity; but I promise you that
you will be in good time for the Absolution, if you make haste, and
that will be to your advantage."

"Sir, you are a rude boor!" cried the lady very prettily.

"If so, madam, I am rude at my own expense," said he. "My words implied
a '_Nunc Dimittis_'."

"Now that I come to think on't, that is so," said she. "But I am sure
that you, being a man, must hold with me that the ideal Church is the
one that grants absolution without insisting on confession."

"I am a sound Churchman, Mrs. Abington," said he; "I will not
countenance the least suspicion of what is not orthodox."

"Psha! sir, that is equivalent to a confession that you like your
salads without vinegar," said she--"your punch without lemon--your
spice-cakes without spice--your charmer without a bit of Mother Eve."

"Madam," said he, "'tis now you who are orthodox--ay, up to the first
chapter of Genesis; but for my part, I adore your sex, from Genesis
until the Revelation comes."

"The Revelation? Do you mean until the revealing of the woman or the
Revelation of the Divine?"

"Mrs. Abington, I am orthodox: I cannot admit that there is any
difference between the two."

"You are a quibbler, I vow; but I would not hear your worst enemy
accuse you of being orthodox."

"You can silence such an aspersion, madam, by letting it be known that
you extended your friendship to me."

"More quibbling? I swear that 'tis a relief to have a simple chat with
young Mr. Linley, after all this battledore and shuttlecock with you
wits. Oh yes, Tom is a charming boy."

"I am told that he can illustrate the progress of a passion from
Genesis to the Revelation."

"Ay, sir; but with the Apocryphal books left out."

"You can hear passages from them read out in the Abbey."

"He has made me wild to learn the violin. But, I fear, alas! that
'twill be too much for me."

"Faith, Mrs. Abington, 'twill not be for want of strings to your bow,"
cried Dick, dropping the tone of the man of fashion and assuming the
good fellowship of the Irishman, even to his manner of raising his hat
and bowing; he hoped that the hint would be taken by the Irish chairmen
to lower the roof and resume their journey.

Mrs. Abington put up her hand to the roof.

"Tom is a charming boy," she cried, smiling the enigmatical smile of
Miss Prue. "Oh yes; 'twas you who said that his heart was buried in his
violin."

"I perceive that 'twas not a safe place of sepulture," said Dick.

"You said the truth when you told me that his heart was there," said
she. "Yes, I can hear the poor thing wail to be released every time
he draws his bow across the strings. You will come to see me at my
lodgings, will you not, Mr. Sheridan?"

"I will wait until your heart is buried beside Tom's within the frame
of his fiddle; 'twere not safe else," cried Dick. "Hasten to your
Abbey, or you will miss even the Blessing."

"Meantime, you will think out an epitaph to scratch into the varnish of
the violin."

"A simple _Resurgam_ will do, for, by the Lord Harry, your heart will
not rest long in one place, you beautiful creature!" cried Dick,
standing with his hat in his hand while the roof of the chair was
lowered on its hinges, and the chairmen went off with their fair burden.

Dick made up his mind that he would be in no haste to visit her at her
lodgings. She had made him somewhat afraid of her two nights before,
when she had lapsed into sincerity in the Assembly Rooms, and he had
not yet come to regard her as free from any element of danger to his
peace of mind. He felt, however, that he had accused her wrongfully
of the butterfly quality of fickleness: nearly forty-eight hours had
passed since she had thought it worth while to captivate Tom Linley,
and yet it seemed that she was still faithful to him.

But why should she think it worth her while to captivate Tom Linley?

Dick thought out this question while walking to Mr. Long's house, and
before he pulled the bell he had come to the conclusion that Mrs.
Abington was merely adapting to her own purposes the advice which
Angelo, the fencing-master, was accustomed to give to his pupils.
"Have a bout with the foils every day of your life, if only for ten
minutes with your little brother in the nursery," was the advice which
Angelo gave to pupils when urging on them the need to keep in constant
practice. Yes, Mrs. Abington must have heard him say that.

Tom Linley represented the young brother in the nursery. That was all
very well, so long as the fencing was done with foils; but it would be
an act of cruelty for an accomplished fencer to introduce rapiers into
the nursery. He hoped that little brother Tom would come unscathed out
of the encounter which represented to Mrs. Abington nothing more than a
laudable desire to keep her hand in.

Dick found Mr. Long alone in his sitting-room. His left hand was rather
more elaborately bandaged than it had been when Dick had seen it last.
But Mr. Long assured him that the wounds were quite trifling--mere
scratches, in fact, scarcely asking for the attention of a surgeon,
although his valet had on his own responsibility called in an excellent
young man, who could be trusted to do as little as possible to the
wounds and so give them a chance of healing speedily, and who also
could be trusted to hold his tongue in regard to the occurrence.

"I have been using the cudgel on my brains all the morning trying to
invent some plausible excuse for carrying a bandaged hand for a day
or two," said Mr. Long; "but up to the present I cannot boast of the
result. My dull ass will not mend his pace by beating. Can you come to
my help in this matter, as you did in the matter that placed me in need
of such a story? Come, Mr. Sheridan, you are a man of imagination and
resource."

"Alas, sir," said Dick, "all that I can offer to do is to bear
testimony to the truth of any inaccuracy you may find needful."

"Whatever story we may invent, it will not be believed in Bath--so much
is certain," said Mr. Long.

"I begin to think that, after all, we might as well tell the truth,"
said Dick.

"What! you think the case is so desperate as all that?" said Mr. Long.

"There is no better way of mystifying people than by telling the truth,
especially when it sounds improbable," said Dick.

"I give you my word, Mr. Sheridan, you seem to speak with the authority
of one who had tried what you suggest. Perhaps you may, under the
stress of circumstances, have been led into the tortuous paths of the
truth. Well, I think that, on the whole, we had better brazen the
matter out, and give all Bath a chance of disbelieving us. But if we
do so, we must also be prepared with a story to account for our being
on the road at so late an hour. Ah, you will find, Mr. Sheridan, that
telling the truth necessitates a great deal of tergiversation."

"I must confess, sir," said Dick, "I could scarcely hope to be believed
if I were to make the attempt to account for my midnight walk on the
simple ground of the fineness of the night."

"It would certainly be thought a very weak plea. Thank Heaven if I say
that I supped at Mr. Lambton's and thought it prudent to have a stroll
afterwards, I will be believed--at any rate, by such as know that Mr.
Lambton has a French cook."

"Then I think it would be as well if we were to make an agreement not
to mention my name in connection with the assault upon you; that will
save the need for my thinking out a moderately plausible story to
account for my presence on the scene."

"What! you would have me face all Bath with the story of having beaten
off three footpads single-handed? Oh no, Mr. Sheridan! Anything in
reason I am quite willing to state, but I have still some respect left
for our acquaintance in Bath, and I decline to lay such a trust in
their credulity. Why, sir, Falstaff's story of the knaves in Kendal
Green would seem rational compared with mine! The wits would dub me
Sir John the first day I appeared abroad after telling such a tale. And
the lampooners--that pitiful tribe who fancy that possessing Pope's
scurrility is the same thing as possessing his genius---- Ah, I hear
some of the doggerel--I could even make a quatrain or two myself on my
own valour! Well, we shall not trouble ourselves further on this matter
just now; we shall let our good friends take the first step. So soon as
we hear what story they invent to account for my wounds, we shall know
how much truth is needed; but we must economise our store. By the way,
Mr. Sheridan, I wonder, if one of us had been killed last night, would
Miss Linley be more distressed had it been you than if I had been the
victim?"

The suddenness of Mr. Long's remark produced upon Dick the same effect
as his remark of the previous night had done--that remark which Dick
had pondered over during his sleepless hours.

He had no reply ready for such a question as Mr. Long had suggested
to him--unless, indeed, Mr. Long would accept his unreadiness as a
reply--his unreadiness and the confused, downcast look on his face, of
which he himself was painfully conscious.

Some time had passed before Dick recovered himself sufficiently to be
able to glance at Mr. Long, and then the expression which Mr. Long wore
did not tend to make him feel more at ease. The smile which Dick saw on
his face was a curious one--a disconcerting one.

"My poor boy," said Mr. Long, "I have no right to plague you with
suggestions such as these. Still, I cannot help wondering if you are
yet reconciled to the thought of Miss Linley's having promised to marry
me?"

"I am reconciled, sir," said Dick in a low voice. "I was not so until
I went to see her yesterday. I went, I may as well confess to you, Mr.
Long, in a spirit of--of--no, not mockery; I could not think of myself
falling so low as to have a desire to mock her--no; I only meant to
show her that I did not mind--that I did not mind."

"And all the time you were eating your heart out? My poor boy, I can
appreciate what was in your mind, not merely because I am not without
imagination, but because I have an excellent memory. But you saw her,
and I do not think that you were quite the same man when you left her;
I cannot understand any man remaining unchanged in the presence of that
divine creature."

"She changed me. She made me to look on life differently from the way
in which I had previously thought of it. She made me to perceive what
'tis to have a soul. She made me see that the real life which is worthy
to be lived by a man is--is----"

"You can feel what it is, that is enough," said Mr. Long when Dick
paused, lacking the words to express what was in his heart. "'Tis
enough for a man to feel--only to the few is it given to put these
feelings into words, and those few we call poets. The poet is the
one who has the power to give expression to what the man feels. 'Tis
doing an injustice to men to suggest, as some people do, that all the
feeling is on the part of the poet. Have I interrupted your thoughts by
anticipating you, Mr. Sheridan?"

"You have said what was on my mind and in my heart--to-day," cried
Dick. "I was a fool to make the attempt to define what I felt. I am not
a poet."

"I am not so sure of that. Our friend Mr. Linley will tell you that the
pauses in music are quite as important as the combination of notes in
interpreting the emotions; and you have made some eloquent and touching
pauses, Mr. Sheridan. Believe me, my friend, those pauses did not speak
in vain to me, and now ... well, you took that long walk in the mystery
of the moonlight. Did that represent the final struggle with yourself,
my boy? When you found out that it was I whom you had rescued from
death, there was nothing in your heart but satisfaction? You were glad
that you had saved me for her?"

"God knows it--God knows it!" said Dick, with bent head.

"I knew it too, my boy. I knew that you had taken the first step on
that path to the new life which that sweet girl opened up before your
eyes--a life in which self plays but the part of the minister to the
happiness of others. And I ... it may occur to you that I can make
but an indifferent preacher on this subject, since it was I who asked
Miss Linley to give me her promise. There are some people who say that
marriage is the most pronounced form of selfishness in existence. I
fear that in addition to being called by a considerable number of
persons 'an old fool,' I am also called a 'selfish old fool.' Selfish;
yes, they call me selfish because, appreciating the nature of that
girl, and seeing how intolerable her position had become to her, mainly
through the persecution of the very people who now call me selfish and
ridiculous, I had the courage to ask her to give me the privilege of
freeing her from surroundings that were stifling to her nature. Is the
man who opens the door of its cage for the linnet impelled by selfish
motives? I think that he is not. But in any case, the carping and
criticism--the playful winks which I have seen exchanged between good
people when I have passed with Miss Linley by my side--the suggestive
nudges which I have noticed--I daresay you noticed them too----"

"I heard the remarks that were made when you appeared with her for the
first time," said Dick.

"I did not hear them; but I saw the expression on the faces of the
groups--that was enough for me. I had no difficulty in translating
that expression into words. But you, who know,--you who have learned
something of the nature of that girl----"

"Since yesterday--only since yesterday, sir."

"Even so--you, I say, knowing something of her nature, perceiving how
her father had simply come to see in her the means of filling his
purse--poor man! he was only acting according to his lights, and the
nest of linnets takes much feeding--you, Mr. Sheridan, recognising the
shrinking of that sweet creature from the public life which was being
forced upon her, will, I think, not be hard upon me because I came
forward to save her from all that was changing the beautiful spirit
with which she was endowed by Heaven, into something commonplace--as
commonplace as the musical education which her father was forcing
upon her. She did not pay full attention to the dotted quavers, he
told me one day in confidence, when I noticed the traces of tears
upon her face. Dotted quavers! Good heavens! think of the position
of the man who found fault with the song of the linnet on account of
its inattention to the dotted quavers!... Her father understood as
little of the spirituality of the linnet's song as did the fashionable
folk who crowded to her concerts, not because they loved the linnet's
song--not because it told them of the joy of the springtime come back
to make the world a delight--no, but only because Fashion had decreed
that it was fashionable to attend Miss Linley's concerts."

"Poor Betsy!"

"Poor Betsy! ay, and poor, poor Fashion! The child confided in me. So
terrible an effect had that life to which she was condemned upon her
that--you will scarce believe it--she was ready to become the prey of
any adventurer who might promise to release her from it."

"And I failed to see this--I failed to see this," said Dick. His voice
sounded like a moan of pain.

"You know the men who paid her attention--who were encouraged by her
father; you know some of them," continued Mr. Long. "One of them, who
was reported to be the owner of a fortune, found great favour in the
eyes of her father. He obtained easy access to the house, and he might
actually have prevailed upon her to run away with him, for there was no
lack of promises with him, if I had not come here. It was to save her
from him that I asked her to give me her promise; for I knew that he
had a wife already."

Dick started to his feet, his eyes blazing.

"The infamous hound!" he cried. "Who is he? What is his name? Only let
me know what is his name, that I may kill him."

"There is no need for me to mention his name," said Mr. Long; "there
is no immediate need for you to kill him or to give him a chance of
killing you."

"Can you sit there before me, and tell me that 'tis not the duty of
every man to do his best to rid the world of such a ruffian?" cried
Dick passionately.

"I will not take it upon me to define what is the duty of a man in
certain circumstances," said Mr. Long. "But I assure you that I should
be sorry to go so far as to assert that the world would not be well
rid of this particular ruffian; still, I know that the killing of him
just now would be to overwhelm one who, we know, shrinks from even a
publicity which is wholly honourable. There are doubtless many girls
who retain so much of the feminine animal in their nature as causes
them to delight to be made the subject of a fight between two men;
that is--unhappily, it seems to me, but that may be because I do not
understand all the principles of nature--an ordinary trait of the sex;
but--you and I--ah, we know something of her, do we not?"

"But a fellow who set himself to bring about her ruin---- He is not
still in Bath--you would not allow him to remain in Bath?"

"I have seen to that. I have reason to believe that he has fled. At
any rate, he has not been seen in public since I gave him a hint,
the purport of which he could scarcely mistake. We will talk no more
of him. I only referred to him as an instance of the dangers which, I
perceived, surrounded Miss Linley, and which led me to make a move for
her protection. I have been judged harshly. I was prepared for that.
Sometimes in this matter I have felt disposed to judge myself much more
harshly than any one else might feel. I wonder if you think that I
was justified in asking Miss Linley to give me her promise when I saw
that she was anxious to escape from a life which was killing her--when
I saw that she was anxious to save her sisters from the necessity to
appear in public and to sing for money--when I saw that she was set
on this, and on helping all the other members of her family. Do you
think that I was justified in asking her for her promise to marry me,
seeing all that I tell you I saw, and knowing something of her pure and
self-sacrificing nature?"

Dick was overcome by his own thoughts; but through all the discord in
which they enveloped him there rang out clearly one note:

"You saved her," he said. "You saved her; that is all that I can think.
Let me go away now."

He had spoken with his head bent, but his voice did not falter. And
then he leapt up from his chair and turned to the door.



CHAPTER XX


"Do not go yet, my boy," said Mr. Long. It was his voice that was
faltering. "Do not go until I have said all that is on my mind to say
to you."

"Can I hear more, sir? Is there anything more to be said?"

"Not much, but still something."

He motioned Dick back to his chair, and, after a pause, Dick resumed
his seat.

"I saved her, you said," continued Mr. Long. "It was in order to save
her that I asked her for that promise. Is that as noble a motive as
most men have when they ask a young woman to marry them? I think that
it is, whatever any one who knows the facts of this matter as you and
I know them may say. It may be said that it was despicable on my part
to take advantage of the longing for freedom of this dear caged linnet
of ours--that I took advantage of her inexperience of life to bind her
down to a marriage that would mean to her a far worse bondage than that
from which she hoped to escape."

"I am not one of those who say so, Mr. Long."

"I am certain of that. Still, she is a child, and I am an old man----
Ah, no! you need not be at the trouble to protest; I shall probably
live for twenty years yet; but when she was born I was old enough
to be her father. Can I expect to have the girl's love of that dear
girl? I am not so foolish as to entertain such a dream. I have her
gratitude, her respect, her regard, everything except her love. That is
impossible."

"I do not know that it is impossible, sir. She is not as other girls
are."

"It is impossible, my boy; I know it. It must be impossible, because I
have not asked her for her love. It is impossible for me to love her
with the love of a lover--with the love that is love. I did not offer
her love when I asked her for her promise."

Dick looked at the man with something akin to wonderment in his eyes.

Mr. Long rose from his chair and slowly walked to and fro some
half-dozen times. Then he went to one of the windows and looked out.
On the pavement a large number of notable persons were strolling. Mr.
Edmund Burke was there; he had arrived in Bath the previous evening,
and he was walking with Sir Joshua Reynolds and Miss Theophila Palmer.

The voices of the crowd outside only seemed to increase the silence in
the room.

But still Dick did not move from his place.

Then Mr. Long walked from the window to the chair which he had
occupied. He looked for a long time at Dick, as if debating with
himself what to say to him. The prolonged silence was almost
embarrassing to the younger man; but he felt that he was not called on
to speak. And still the elder man sat with his eyes fixed on him, but
with his thoughts far away, and still the faint sound of the laughter
and the voices in the Street came intermittently to the room.

"I have spoken somewhat enigmatically, Mr. Sheridan," said Mr. Long
after this long pause. "I shall do so no longer. I told you that it is
impossible for me to offer Miss Linley the love which I know you deem
impossible that any man should withhold from her. Why? you will ask.
My answer to you is that I have loved. It is difficult to make some
people believe that there is no past tense to the verb 'To love'; but
I do not think that I shall have such difficulty with you. The man who
says, 'I have loved,' is saying, if he speak the truth, 'I love.' Mr.
Sheridan, when I say to you, 'I have loved,' you know what I mean. It
was close upon forty years ago that I found her; and time has dealt
graciously with her; for while I have grown old, she is still young and
joyous and sweet. The laugh of the girl still rings through my heart
as it did forty years ago. There are no wrinkles on her fair face;
there is in her expression nothing of that fear of growing old which
I have seen and shuddered at in the faces of many women. Perpetual
youth--perpetual youth. God's best gift to any human being--it has been
bestowed upon her by the goodness of God; for those who die young have
been granted the gift of perpetual youth. Our wedding-day came, and on
that very day she was borne to the church in her wedding-dress, and
with the wedding-flowers about her. I stood beside her, and, instead of
hearing the Service for the Dead spoken as it was that day, I heard the
Marriage Service that was to have been said between us.... Forty years
ago ... and she is still young--unchanged--untouched by the terrors of
time; and I have been true to her--every day--every hour. I smile when
I think of her, and I know that she is smiling in return; I am joyous
at my table because I know that she is sitting opposite to me, and I
can walk through the woodlands which surround my house, taking pleasure
in observing all things of nature, feeling that she is by my side,
sharing in my happiness.... My boy, you, I know, can understand how it
is the truth that I have told you when I said that I could not ask our
dear Betsy to love me because I could not offer her that love which is
love."

"Do not tell her that--if you wish her to be happy," said Dick
suddenly, almost bluntly.

Mr. Long laid his hand--it was his wounded hand--with great tenderness
upon Dick's shoulder.

"You have shown me by that remark that what you seek to bring about
is her happiness," said he. "That is what I aim at. Whatever becomes
of us, she must be happy. Richard, take my word for it, this is the
true love--the love that is immortal--the love in the image of which
God created man, making him a little lower than the angels--this is
the glory with which He crowns him. You, my dear boy, have taken
one step toward that goal of glory if you have learned that love is
spiritual and that its aim is not one's own happiness but the happiness
of another. You love Betsy Linley; and it is left for you to show
what this love can accomplish in yourself. Love for love's sake--let
that be your motto. It will mean happiness to you, for it will mean
everything that makes a man a man: the trampling down of all that is
base in nature--the resisting of temptation--the facing of that stern
discipline of life which alone makes life noble and worthy to be lived.
And if she loves you----"

Dick started up.

"Ah, sir, for Heaven's sake do not suggest that to me now!" he cried.
"Can not you know that that is the thought which I have been doing my
best to suppress--to beat down--to bury out of sight----"

"There is no need for me to withhold what I have said; she may love
you, and that thought should be a grateful one to you. It should nerve
you, as such a thought has nerved many men, to do something worthy of
her love. Richard Sheridan, you would not have her love some one who is
unworthy of her love. You would not have her love a man who is wanting
in any of those elements that make a man worthy to be loved. Richard
Sheridan, if she loves you 'tis for you to determine whether she loves
a true man or one who is false to his manhood, which was made in the
image of Godhood. This is what a woman's love should mean to a man; and
this is love's reward, which comes to a man even though he may never
hold in his arms the one whom he loves--the one by whom he is beloved.
Dick, let this be my last word to you: whether that girl who is so dear
to us comes to me or to you, if you love her truly 'twill be a source
of good to you while you live, for your constant aim will be to live
worthy not only of her love, but worthy to love her. That is all I
have to say to you, and it is a good deal more than I have said to any
man who lives. But she must be happy, Dick; that is the bond there is
between you and me. We must make her happy, whether we do so by being
near her or by being apart from her."

He gave his hand to Dick, and the young man took it, and then left the
room without another word. He had only a vague idea of the finality, so
to speak, of what Mr. Long had said; and he knew that nothing that left
him with such vagueness in his mind could be final. But Mr. Long had
said enough to strengthen the impression which Dick had acquired of him
the previous night.

A few days before, Dick, with his knowledge of the world, would have
had no hesitation in ridiculing this principle of love for love's sake
which Mr. Long had impressed upon him; but now he was sensible for the
first time in his life of the reality of all that Mr. Long had said on
this subject. He became sensible of the spiritual element in love. Had
he not just been made aware of its existence? Had he not just come from
the presence of a man who had cherished a spiritual love through all
the years of a long lifetime, until it had become a part of his life,
influencing him in all his actions, as though it were a living thing?

As though it were a living thing? But it was surely a living thing.
This surely was the love which poets had sung of as being immortal!
It was purely spiritual, and therefore immortal. It was cherished for
its own sake, and the reward which it brought to one who was true
to it came solely in the act of cherishing it. The consciousness of
cherishing it--that was enough for such as were strong enough to
cherish it for its own sake; to take it into one's life, and to guard
one's life rigidly--jealously--because it is in one's life; to guard
one's life for its sake as one guards the casket that contains a great
treasure.

Dick felt that this was the sum of what Mr. Long had sought to impress
upon him, and he also felt that this great truth had long ago been
revealed to Betsy Linley. It was in the spirit of this spirit of love
that she had kissed him the previous evening; and now he felt that he
had no longing for any love but this. She had set his feet upon the way
to this goal, and he was assured that should he falter, should he look
back, she would be by his side to put a hand in his, to bid him take
courage and press forward to that goal which she had pointed out to him.

He did not at that time make even an attempt to consider such questions
as he would have suggested a few days before, to any one who might
have come to him telling him all that Mr. Long had just said in his
hearing. Mr. Long had encouraged him to love Betsy Linley--to continue
loving her; and he had not shrunk from suggesting the possibility of
the girl's returning his love. A few days before Dick would have been
inclined to ask any one who might have come to him telling him this, if
Mr. Long was encouraging another man to love the girl whom he himself
meant to marry. But now this seemed to him to be a point unworthy of
a thought. So deeply impressed was he by what Mr. Long had just said
to him, he could not give a thought to anything less spiritual. The
splendid light that came from that heaven to which his eyes had been
directed, so dazzled him with its effulgence as to make him incapable
of giving any attention to matters of detail.

It never occurred to him to ask himself if it was Mr. Long's intention
to marry Betsy immediately. Whatever answer might be given to such a
question, it could not possibly affect the reality of the religion of
love as stated by Mr. Long. Of this he was satisfied. He knew that
whoever might marry Betsy Linley, his own love for her had become part
of his life, and its influence upon his life was real.

He went to his home looking neither to the right hand nor the left, and
when he reached his room he was conscious of very different thoughts
from those which had been his a few mornings before, when he had thrown
himself on his bed in a passion of tears after seeing, though but for
a moment, Betsy by the side of Mr. Long in the gardens. At that time
the pangs that he felt--the vexation that he felt--were due, in a
large measure, to the blow which his vanity had sustained, and it was
his vanity that had suggested to him, with a view of recovering its
equilibrium, as it were, the advisability of his adopting the tone and
playing the _rôle_ of a cynical man of the world, who has seen the
foolishness--the ludicrous foolishness of what is called love.

But now--

Well, now he was kneeling by his bedside.



CHAPTER XXI


Dick was greatly surprised when, on going out to take the air the next
day, he was met by one of his acquaintance--a young Mr. Vere, who shook
him warmly by the hand, offering him his congratulations.

"'Twas very spirited of you so to take up the quarrel of your brother,
Mr. Sheridan; that is what every one in Bath is saying to-day," cried
Mr. Vere. "I give you my word, sir, there is not one who ventures to
assert that you were not fully justified in sending the challenge."

"'Tis most gratifying to me, I am sure, that people take so lenient
a view of an affair of which I have heard nothing up to the present
moment," said Dick.

"I refer to your duel, Mr. Sheridan. Surely that incident, trifling
though it may be to a gentleman of your experience, has not yet escaped
your memory?" said Vere.

"To tell you the truth, Mr. Vere," said Dick, "I have got a very short
memory for incidents that have not taken place. Pray, what duel do
you refer to, and what had I got to do with it? Pardon my curiosity,
sir; 'tis rather ridiculous, I allow, but my nature is sufficiently
inquiring to compel me to ask you if I was a principal in the duel or
merely one of the seconds. I hope you do not consider me impertinent in
putting such a question to you."

Mr. Vere stared at him for a few moments, and then laughed.

"You carry it off very well, I must confess," said he. "But there is no
need for you to affect such complete ignorance. I give you my word that
every one acquits you of blame in the matter--nay, I am assured that
the meeting was inevitable; but I doubt not there is no one more ready
than yourself to rejoice that your adversary was not severely wounded."

"'Tis a source of boundless satisfaction to me to learn so much from
your lips, sir," said Dick. "And if you could see your way to add to my
obligation by making me acquainted with the name of my antagonist, I
would never forget your kindness."

"Upon my soul, you carry it off very well! I dare swear that Mr.
Garrick, for all his reputation, could not do it much better," said
Mr. Vere. "But your acting is wasted, Mr. Sheridan; I tell you that
the general opinion in Bath is that your act was highly commendable.
Pray, Sheridan, tell me in confidence what was the exact nature of the
affront put upon your brother--apart, of course, from the question of
the lady; I promise you that 'twill go no further!"

"Look you here, Mr. Vere," said Dick, "I do not mind being made a fool
of up to a certain point--there is no positive disgrace in being a
fool in Bath, one finds oneself in such congenial company,--but I tell
you, sir, I will not suffer any one to go beyond a certain distance
with me, and you are going perilously close to my frontier with these
compliments of yours. Come, sir, tell me plainly, what do you mean by
suggesting that I have been concerned in a duel, and with whom do you
suggest I have been fighting?"

"What, sir, do you mean to say that you have not just fought a duel
with Mr. Long on behalf of your brother?"

"Yes, sir, I have no hesitation in affirming that I have fought no
duel with Mr. Long or with any one else, either on behalf of my brother
or any one else."

"Heavens! you surprise me, sir. Why, all Bath is talking----"

"Talking nonsense--that is the mother tongue of Bath; and so far as I
can gather, you do not stand in need of a course of lessons in this
particular language, Mr. Vere, and so I wish you good-morning, sir."

Mr. Vere's jaw fell. His usual alertness of manner disappeared before
Dick's energetic rebuff. He did not even retain sufficient presence of
mind to take off his hat when Dick made such a salutation, and walked
quietly on.

But when Dick had gone something less than twenty yards on his way,
a sudden thought seemed to strike young Vere. Hurrying after him, he
cried:

"Look here, Mr. Sheridan, if you did not fight Mr. Long, how does his
arm come to be wounded,--tell me that?"

"Mr. Vere," said Dick, stopping and turning to the other,--"Mr. Vere,
unless your story of Mr. Long's having sustained a wound be much more
accurate than much of what you have just been telling me, it stands in
great need of verification."

He walked on, leaving the young man to recover as best he could from
his astonishment.

But Dick had scarcely resumed his walk before he encountered his friend
Nat Halhed, who almost threw himself into Dick's arms, so great was his
emotion at that moment.

"My dear Dick--my dear Dick, you are unhurt!" he cried. "Thank Heaven
for that--thank Heaven! I hear on good authority that 'tis only a flesh
wound, and that he will be out of the house by the end of the week. But
'twas unkind of you not to ask me to be your friend in this affair,
Dick. Sure, you might have given me your confidence."

"I was afraid of that wagging tongue of yours, Nat," said Dick; "I was
afraid that you might be the dupe of some of the scandal-mongers who
have become the curse of Bath."

"Nay, Dick, this is unkind," said Nat reproachfully. "You know that I
am the soul of discretion, and that nothing would tempt me to talk of
any matter of the accuracy of which I was not fully assured."

"I know that you have just been repeating a story which had its origin
only in the imagination of some gossip-monger," said Dick.

"What--I--I? Pray, what story do you allude to?"

"To the story of my duel. I have been concerned in no duel. But mark my
words, Nat, if I hear much more about this business, I shall be engaged
in several duels."

"Do you mean to deny the fact of your having had an encounter with Mr.
Long two days ago--a secret encounter, because of his having accused
you of the attempt to turn away from him the affections of Miss Linley?"

Dick became pale with anger.

"I tell you what it is, sir," he cried; "I have had no encounter with
Mr. Long on any question; and let me add, for your benefit and the
benefit of your associates, that if any one wishes to provoke me to a
duel, he can accomplish his purpose best by asserting in my hearing
that I am capable of making such an attempt as that which you say has
been attributed to me. That is all I have to say to you, my friend Nat."

Halhed gasped, and Dick walked on.

Before many seconds had elapsed he heard Halhed's voice behind him.

"If you had no duel with Mr. Long, pray, how does he come to have that
ugly wound on his wrist?" cried the young man.

"Why not ask him?" said Dick. "What am I that I should be held
accountable for every scratch that one receives at Bath? Are there
not cats enough at Bath--in the Pump Room, and the Assembly Rooms,
and other schools for scandal--to account for all the scratches upon
a man's wrist or reputation that he may sustain in the course of the
season?"

He hastened on, leaving young Halhed still gasping.

It now appeared quite clear to Dick that the gossip-mongers had somehow
got to hear that Mr. Long had sustained a sword-wound on the wrist, and
they were not slow to invent a story possessing at least some elements
of romance to account for it. It seemed that a course of the waters had
as stimulating an effect upon the imagination as it had upon a sluggish
liver. Some of the visitors were such clever naturalists and had had
so large an experience of fossilised deposits, that they had become
adroit in the construction of a whole mammoth fabric if only a single
tooth were placed at their disposal. Dick had heard of such feats
being performed by persons who combined a knowledge of geology with an
acquaintance with zoology, supplementing the two by as much imagination
as was necessary to achieve any result at which they aimed. Learning
that Mr. Long had his left arm bound up, these professors of social
zoology had proved themselves fully equal to the task of accounting for
his wound.

What Dick could not understand was why they should associate him with
the imaginary duel. It was not until he heard his name called out by a
lady in a splendidly painted chair--the chair is still in existence,
though the splendidly painted occupant is no more than the dust of one
of the pigments used in painting a bit of a picture of the brilliant
society of a century and a half ago--and found that Mrs. Cholmondeley
was looking eagerly through the window, beckoning to him with her fan,
that he learned how it was that his name became mixed up with the story.

He bowed to the ground before the beautiful structure so elaborately
built up within the cramping limits of the chair; and the bearers, at a
signal from the lady, came to a halt and raised the roof on its hinges.

"Oh, Mr. Sheridan," she cried, "you gave us all such a shock! But we
are so glad that you are safe!"

"Safe, madam?" said he. "Heavens! what man in Bath can consider himself
safe when Mrs. Cholmondeley turns her eyes upon him? Dear madam, 'tis
sure ungenerous of you to jest at the expense of one of your most
willing victims."

"Jest, sir? I vow 'twould have been no jest to Bath if you had been
wounded instead of Mr. Long," cried Mrs. Cholmondeley. "And you kept
the whole business so secret too; you did not give any of us a chance
of interfering with you, you hot-headed young Achilles! Of course, you
did not inflict a severe wound upon the poor gentleman! We Irish are
generous by instinct. And 'twas like you to sit with him for more than
an hour yesterday, and then go straight home, never leaving the house
all the night, though you must have known that you would have been well
received at the Rooms had you put in an appearance there. But you ever
showed good taste, sir--that is another Irish trait."

"Madam," said he, "I cannot doubt that the infatuation which, alas! I
have never been able to conceal for the beautiful Mrs. Cholmondeley has
gained for me a reputation for taste; I trust, madam, that I did not
altogether forfeit it by omitting to visit the Rooms last night, where,
I hear, she was as usual the cynosure of the most brilliant circle."

"A truce to compliments, Mr. Sheridan," said she. "Young men shaped
after Apollo have no need for them. Compliments are the makeshifts
of the elderly to call away attention from their spindleshanks.
Confidences, and not compliments, are what we old women look for from
such as you; so prithee, Dick, tell me all about the matter--'twill go
no further, I promise you."

"At no more adorable shrine need I ever hope to confess my virtues,
madam," said he; "but in this matter----"

"Oh, sir, the man who has only virtues to confess soon ceases to
interest a confidante," said she. "But it may be that you consider
fighting a duel to be praiseworthy?"

"Let any one cast an aspersion upon Mrs. Cholmondeley in my presence,
and I shall prove that a duel is one of the cardinal virtues, madam,"
said Dick.

"'Twas not about me you fought Mr. Long at dawn yesterday," she cried.

"Madam, you may venture on that statement, being aware that Mr. Long is
alive to-day," said Dick.

"I perceive that you and he have entered into a compact to keep the
affair a secret," said she. "Well, though I think that you might make
an exception of me, I cannot but acknowledge that you have good taste
on your side."

"I have the mirror of good taste at my side when Mrs. Cholmondeley
honours me by stopping her chair while I am in the act of passing her,"
said Dick.

"Oh, sir, you are monstrous civil. But if you think that you can keep
the details of your duel secret at Bath, you compliment yourself rather
than your acquaintance in this town."

"Faith, Mrs. Cholmondeley, my acquaintance seem to know a good deal
more about this duel than I do," said Dick.

"You will make me lose patience with you," said she. "But I will be
content if you give me your word that you will not tell Mrs. Thrale or
Mrs. Crewe what has occurred. You will promise me, Dick? I should die
of chagrin if either of that gossiping pair were to come to me with a
circumstantial account of the duel."

"I can give you that promise with all my heart," said he. "But if you
assume that my reticence will prevent either of the ladies from being
able to give a circumstantial account of this incident, about which
every one seems to be talking, you will show that you know a good deal
less about them than you should."

"You are quite right; they are the grossest of the scandal-mongers--ay,
and the least scrupulous," she cried. "Why, it was only last night that
one of them--I shall leave you to guess which--asserted that she had
the evidence of her own eyes to prove to her that it was the younger of
the Sheridan sons, and not the elder, who was in love with Miss Linley,
although the other talked most of his passion. And by the Lord, sir,
she was right, if my eyesight be worth anything."

Dick was always on the alert--as, indeed, he required to be--when
engaged in conversation with Mrs. Cholmondeley and the other ladies of
the set to which she belonged; but the impudence of her suggestion,
made in so direct a fashion, startled him into a blush. He recovered
himself in a moment, however, and before her chairmen could comply with
her signal to take up the chair, he was smiling most vexatiously, while
he said:

"'Twere vain, dear madam, to make an attempt to dissemble before
such well-informed ladies. You are fully acquainted not only with
the particulars of a duel which never took place, but also with the
details of a passion which exists only in the imagination. Ah, Mrs.
Cholmondeley, we men are poor creatures in the presence of a lady with
much imagination and few scruples."

He bowed, with his hat in his hand.

"You do well to run away, sir," said the lady, with a malicious twinkle.

"'Tis the act of a wise man," said he. "The cat that only scratches a
man's hand, one may play with, but the cat that scratches a man's
heart should be handed over to the gamekeeper to nail upon the door. I,
however, prefer to run away."

He had gone backward, still bowing with profound respect, for half a
dozen yards, before she had recovered from the strongest rebuff she had
ever received.

Then she asked her chairmen, in a tone that had something of shrillness
in it, if they intended leaving her in the road for the rest of the day.

She was very angry, not only because she was conscious of having
received a rebuke which she had richly merited, but also because
she had failed to find out whether or not there was any truth in
the story of the duel between Mr. Long and Dick Sheridan, which had
been discussed all the day in the least trustworthy of the many
untrustworthy circles in Bath.

She herself had had her doubts as to the accuracy of the story. Mr.
Horace Walpole had shown himself to be too greatly interested in it
to allow of any reasonable person's accepting it without serious
misgivings; for she knew that the leading precept in Mr. Walpole's
ethics of scandal was, "Any story is good enough to hang an epigram
on." But in spite of the fact that Walpole was highly circumstantial
in his account of the duel, its origin, and its probable results, Mrs.
Cholmondeley thought that there might be something in it. This was why
she had stopped Dick so eagerly. She thought that she might trust to
her own adroitness to find out from him enough to place her friends in
the right or in the wrong in respect of the story; she would have liked
to have it in her power to put them in the wrong, but hers was not a
grasping nature: she would have been quite content to be able to put
them in the right.

Well, it was very provoking to be foiled by the cleverness of that
young Sheridan. He had been impudent, too, and had actually shown that
he resented her cultured curiosity on the subject of his affairs. This
she felt to be insufferable on the part of young Sheridan.

Happily, however, though she had learned nothing from him--except,
perhaps, that there were in existence some young men who objected to
their personal affairs being made the subject of public conversation
by people who knew nothing about them--she did not despair of being
able to make herself interesting to her friends when describing her
_rencontre_ with Dick; and, setting her imagination to work, she found
that she could serve up quite a palatable and dainty dish out of the
story of how she had overwhelmed him with confusion. She did not at
that moment remember what were the exact phrases she had employed to
compass this end, but she had every confidence in the power of her
imagination to suggest to her before the time for going to the Assembly
Rooms the well-balanced badinage which she had used to send him flying
from her in confusion.

And Dick, as he walked homeward, without feeling that he had vastly
enjoyed his walk, knew perfectly well just what was in the lady's mind.
He had no illusions on the subject of her scrupulousness. He was well
aware that she would not hesitate to give her circle any account that
suited her, respecting her meeting with him. He had an idea, however,
that the members of her circle would only believe as much of her story
as suited themselves. How much this was would be wholly dependent upon
the piquant elements introduced into the story by Mrs. Cholmondeley. He
knew enough of the world to know that people would give credence to the
more malicious of her suggestions without weighing the probability of
the matters on which they bore.

But what he thought about most was the reference which she had made
to Betsy and himself. Up to that time it was only the most jealous of
Betsy's many suitors who had looked on him as a rival. Very few persons
in Bath had discovered his secret, and it had certainly never been
spoken of seriously. An exceedingly poor man has always, he knew, a
better chance than the man of means of evading the vigilance of the
gossip-mongers; therefore he had escaped having the compliment paid to
him of being referred to as a possible suitor.

It was becoming clear to him, however, that there were some people in
Bath whose experience of life had led them to believe that the lack of
worldly means was not a certain deterrent to the aspirations of a young
man with talent--assuming that talent means making the most of one's
opportunities: a very worldly definition of talent, but not the less
acceptable on that account to the fashionable people of Bath.

The reflection that his secret was no longer one annoyed him, but not
greatly. His consciousness of vexation had disappeared before he turned
the corner of Orange Grove into Terrace Walk.

And then he entered his house and almost walked into the arms of Mrs.
Abington, who was waiting for him on the first lobby.

"Oh, Dick, Dick! safe--safe! Thank Heaven!" she cried, putting out both
her hands to him and catching him by the arms.

Her form of greeting him had about it more than the suggestion of a
clasp.



CHAPTER XXII


He was not angry--what was there to be angry about? The greeting of a
beautiful woman (with the suggestion of a clasp) when one expects to
meet only a sister may contain the elements of surprise, but rarely
those of vexation.

Dick was surprised--in fact, he was slightly alarmed, but he retained
his self-possession.

"Safe?" he cried. "Why should not I be safe, unless"--he recollected
that not half an hour before he had been greeted by a lady with the
same word, and he had replied to it with great glibness: could he do
better than repeat himself? He thought not--unless---- "Ah, madam, what
man is safe when such beauty----"

"Do not talk to me in that way. Is this a time for
compliments--empty--obvious--odious?" she cried, loosing his arms with
such suddenness as almost to suggest flinging them from her.

Before she went in a whirl into the room beyond the lobby, he had seen
that her face--it had come very close to his own at one moment--was
white.

He followed her slowly into the room.

"Forgive me, madam," he said. "Pray forgive me; I did not realise that
you were in earnest. I cannot understand. Some one else greeted me just
now with the same word--safe. Why----"

"And you made the same reply to me that you made to her, and doubtless
she was completely satisfied, and you paid me the compliment of taking
it for granted that the same compliment would repay me for all that I
have suffered? Dick, you are--oh, I have no words--you are--a man--I
know you--I know men."

"The retort is just. I assumed, for the moment, that you were like
other women. I was wrong. I see now that you were really concerned--for
some reason--for my safety; Mrs. Cholmondeley was not."

"Mrs. Cholmondeley? Who is Mrs. Cholmondeley that she should have any
thought for you? Curiosity--oh, yes--tattle--scandal--the material for
a pretty piece of scandal, no doubt--that's how she looked at the whole
affair. I know her--a woman--a very woman--I know women."

"I do not. I admit that I do not understand woman. I fancied---- But
every woman is a separate woman. She has an identity that is wholly her
own."

"That is the first step a man should take if he seek to understand us.
But philosophy--what is philosophy at such a moment as this? I cannot
take your safety philosophically, Dick--thank Heaven--thank Heaven!"

"That is wherein I differ from you. I take my safety philosophically; I
bear it with equanimity. Has it been imperilled? Not that I know of."

She looked at him; a puzzled expression was on her face.

"A young philosopher shows his wisdom only if he is a young fool," she
said. "But you are not so foolish as to be a philosopher at your time
of life, Dick. Equanimity--there's a word for you! But you never felt
in peril. Mr. Long is an old man. Do you fancy that Betsy Linley will
forgive you for fighting him?"

"Mrs. Abington," said Dick, "you have been like several other people
in this town--the victim of a very foolish and malicious piece of
gossip which seems to have been most persistently spread abroad. I have
been concerned in no duel, and I swear to you that for no earthly
consideration--not even if my own honour were in peril--would I fight
Mr. Long. I have a greater respect--a deeper affection--for Mr. Long
than I have for any living man."

The lady stood before him speechless. She was breathing hard. The hand
that she had laid upon the upper lace of her bodice rose and fell
several times before the expression that had been on her face gave
place to quite a different one. The new expression suggested something
more than relief, and so did the long sigh that caused her hand to
remain for some moments poised above her lace, like a white bird on the
curve of a white wave.

She sighed.

Then she gave a laugh--a laugh of pleasant derision--the tolerant
derision that one levels at oneself, saying, when things have turned
out all right, "_What a fool I have been!_" Those were her very words.

"What a fool I have been, Dick! I was told that---- But I was a fool to
believe anything that came from such a source! Did Mr. Walpole invent
the whole story merely out of malice? He is quite equal to it. Or was
it a woman? Most likely it came from a woman; but, lud, if you were to
try to find the woman who started the lie you would be overcome, for
there's not one of the whole set that wouldn't take a pleasure in't.
I'm so sorry, Dick! But the story at first was that you had received
an injury. What a state I was in! And then some one came with the news
that 'twas your opponent who was hurt. Oh, the liars! liars all! But
you are not hurt--I mean, you are in no way hurt, my Dick, by this
silly story?"

"Hurt? Why, I am overwhelmed with conceit at the thought that my
condition should cause so much concern to my friends," said Dick. "'Tis
a great feather in my cap that I should become all in a moment, and
without doing anything for it, the topic of the day in a town which
is fastidious in its choice of topics. You were talking a few nights
ago of my writing a comedy. Well, here is one scene in it ready-made.
Scene: A room in the house of Lady---- What shall we call her--Lady
Sneerwell or the Countess of Candour? The members of the Senate of
the College of Scandal have met. 'What, you have surely heard of the
duel? Oh, lud! is't possible that you have not heard it? Where can your
ladyship have been living? Oh, faith, 'tis but too true. They met in
Kingsmead Fields by the light of a lovely moon last night, and, after a
pass or two, Mr. Thompson's sword pierced the lungs of old Sir Simon,
and----' 'No, no, sir, you are wrong there; 'twas with pistols they
fought,' cries another gentleman, who enters hurriedly. 'Pistols, sir?
Swords, as I heard it.' 'Nay, sir, you cannot believe all you hear.
They fought with pistols, I give you my word. They exchanged seven
shots apiece, and two of the seconds and one of the surgeons fell
mortally wounded; it was the seventh broadside that struck a knot in
the third lowest branch of a pollard ash at one side of the ground, and
glancing off at an acute angle, passed through a thrush's nest in a
Westphalian poplar containing four eggs, three of them speckled and one
of them, strange to say, plain, all within six days and two hours of
incubation. The bullet smashed one of them, containing a fine hen bird,
to atoms, but without disturbing the mother, who continued sitting on
the clutch, and, touching the third button on the left-hand side of the
peach-coloured coat, made by Filby, of London, and not yet paid for,
of one of the onlookers, glanced off to the right shoe-buckle of Sir
Simon, and cut off the great toe of his left foot as clean as if it had
been done under the surgeon's knife.' 'Nay, sir, you are sure in error.
'Twas Mr. Thompson who sustained the wound, and let me tell, sir,
that 'twas his right ear that was cut off.' 'With respect, sir, 'twas
the elder gentleman.' 'Nay, sir, I should know; 'twas the younger, I
assure you.' 'Sir, you take too much upon you.' 'And you, sir, are a
jackanapes!' Enter Sir Simon and Mr. Thompson, arm in arm. There's the
scene ready for rehearsal. Oh, I should feel extremely obliged to my
kind traducers for suggesting it all to me."

Dick had bustled through the imaginary scene with the greatest
vivacity; and Mrs. Abington perceived that he did it very well and
that he had acquired something of the true spirit of comedy, though he
exaggerated everything, after the manner of the schoolboy who takes the
clown as his mentor. But after she had greeted his performance with a
laugh, she pouted and protested that he had offended her. She seated
herself on the sofa, and turned her head away from him with the air of
the offended lady.

Dick watched her performance critically, and fully appreciated the
delicacy of her comedy--all the more as he was elated with the scene
which he had just invented. He hoped that he would have a chance of
introducing something like it in a comedy, and he had such a chance
a few years later, nor did he forget to put Mrs. Abington on in that
scene.

"Why should you be offended, you beautiful creature?" he said, leaning
over her from behind.

"I am offended because you are making a mock of my concern for your
safety," she replied. "Oh, Dick, if you knew what I suffered, you would
not make a mock of me."

"Believe me, dear lady, 'twas not my intention to say a word in that
spirit," said he. "Nay, I give you my word that, however I may be
disposed to regard the remarks made by Mrs. Cholmondeley and the rest
of her set in respect of this ridiculous affair, I can only feel
touched--yes, deeply touched and honoured--by the concern you showed on
my behalf."

"No, you do not feel touched; you only think of me as a silly old
woman," she cried.

"Nay, you do me a great injustice," he said. "I was affected by what
you said to me on the evening of your arrival; it showed me how good
and kind was your heart, and now--well, I can say with truth that my
feeling has been increased by the additional evidence you have given me
of your--your kind heart."

"Ah, that is just the limit of your feeling for me!" she said in a low
voice--a voice that coaxed one into contradiction--while her eyes,
cast downward to the point of her dainty little shoe, coerced one into
contradiction.

Most men were quite content to be coaxed, but there were an obstinate
few who required coercion.

But she had a point still in reserve. She knew it to be irresistible in
an emergency.

Dick yielded to the coaxing of her voice.

"Nay," he said, "I have not yet expressed all that I feel of regard for
you, Mrs. Abington. I shall not make the attempt to do so."

"Regard? Regard? Regard is the feeling that a miss has for her
governess," said she. "You should have no special trouble expressing
your regard for me, sir. 'Tis usually done through the medium of a book
of poetry--schoolroom verses writ solely for the sake of the moral in
the last stanza. Will you buy me such a volume, Dick?"

"Now 'tis I who have reason to complain of being mocked," said he.

She started up and stood face to face with him. It seemed to him
that she was full of eagerness to say something. She had her fingers
interlaced in front of her; there was a tremulous movement about her
lips suggesting a flood of emotion about to be released in words.

And the flood came.

"Good-bye!" she said.

And then he understood her.

He took the hand which she had flung out to him and bowed his head down
to it.

There was a silence while he laid his lips upon it. And then she gave a
derisive laugh.

"You are the greatest fool I ever met in my life!" she cried. "You are
a fool, Dick. Any man is a fool who kisses a woman's hand when he might
kiss her lips."

"That is not as I have read the history of the world from the days of
Queen Dido of Carthage down to the days of Queen Diana of Poictiers,"
said Dick.

"And you call yourself an Irishman!" she cried, with affected scorn.

"As seldom as possible," he said. "Only when 'tis needful for me to
make an excuse for an indiscretion. I do not feel the need to call
myself one to-day."

"I have always paid you the compliment of thinking of you as very
human," she said.

"And now you have proved the value of your judgment," said he.

She took a step toward the door, still keeping her eyes upon his face.

"Human?" she said sadly. "Human, and yet you drive me from your
presence like this? That is where you err."

"To err is human," said he.

She was back again in a flash.

"Oh, Dick, are you not a fool?" she cried. "Why will you continue
troubling yourself about a girl who has passed away from you--who
treated you with indifference--when there are others within reach
who would make your fortune--who would spend all their time
thinking--thinking--thinking how to make you happy--and who would
succeed, too? Do you prefer a dream of love to the reality, Dick?"

"I do not understand you," said Dick. "Nay, do not make any further
attempt to enlighten my dulness, I entreat of you. I prefer remaining
in ignorance of your meaning, because I like you so well, Mrs.
Abington, and because I never mean to forget your kindness to me, and
because I think the woman of impulse is the most charming of all women;
I think her so charming that I hold in contempt the man who does not
stand between her and her impulses."

"And I hold in contempt the man who, when a young girl has given her
promise to marry another man, continues to love her and to remain
in her neighbourhood instead of behaving reasonably and as ordinary
self-respect should dictate. Self-respect, did I say? Let me rather
say as ordinary respect for the young woman should dictate. I have a
contempt for the man who fails to do the young woman the justice of
giving her a chance of forgetting him, as she should when she has made
up her mind to marry his rival. Richard Sheridan, if you were desirous
of treating Elizabeth Linley fairly you would leave Bath to-day and
not return until she has become the wife of Mr. Long and has gone with
him to his home and her home. I looked on you as a man of honour,
Dick--a man who liked to see fair play; but I am disappointed in you.
Your brother is a truer man than you are; he had the decency to take
himself off when he found that the girl had made her choice. That is
all I have to say to you, Master Richard Brinsley. I have spoken in a
moment of impulse, you will say, no doubt; and in that reflection you
will probably find a sufficient excuse for disregarding all that I have
said. Now good-bye to you, my friend. I never wish to see your face
again."

She flashed through the door before he could say a word; but for that
matter he had no word to say. He stood for a few moments where she had
left him in the middle of the room; then he seated himself on the sofa
where she had sat.

He was disturbed by what she had just said to him--more disturbed than
he was by the thought of all that she had said in the early part of
their interview, though that could not be said to have a tranquillising
influence upon a young man whose emotions were not always under his
control.

She had told him that if he had any self-respect--if he had any regard
for Betsy Linley, he would hasten away from Bath and not return until
she had left it.

That would be doing only what was fair to Betsy and to the man whom she
had promised to marry, Mrs. Abington had said; and Dick could not but
feel that there was some show of reason in this view of a matter that
concerned him deeply.

He wondered if she had not spoken wisely--if she had not given him
the most sensible advice possible, and at the same time the most
philosophical--the two are not always the same thing. To be sure, she
had assumed that Betsy Linley loved him, and that, therefore, his
presence near her could not fail to be a menace to the girl's peace of
mind--could not fail to tend to make her thoughts dwell upon the past
rather than to look into the future; and perhaps this was assuming too
much. He did not know that Betsy had ever loved him. But still Mrs.
Abington's words made their impression.

And then he began to think of the bitter words which she had spoken.
The room still seemed to ring with those words which had whirled from
her when she had stood with her hand on the door:

"_I never wish to see your face again!_"

Those were bitter words; and he felt that she meant them. She meant
them. He could not doubt that. Yes, she meant....

And then the door was thrown open, and before he could raise his head,
which was bent forward, his chin resting on one hand, she had flung
herself on her knees before him, and was kissing his face, holding a
hand on each of his cheeks, sobbing at the intervals.

[Illustration: "Oh, Dick--my own dear Dick, forgive me for what I have
said!"                                                   [_page 223._]

"Oh, Dick--my own dear Dick, forgive me for what I have said--forget
all that I have said! You are the only good man that I have met, Dick,
and I will not go back to London without knowing that you have forgiven
me. Say that you do, Dick; I am only a poor woman--it is so easy to
forgive a woman, is it not, Dick?"

He kissed her on the forehead, and then on one of her cheeks, where a
tear was glistening.

"You have no business with tears," said he.

But that was just where he made a mistake.



CHAPTER XXIII


Yes, but had she not given him good advice?

This was the question which she had left him to think over, and it was
one which excluded every other thought for some days.

She had suggested to him in her own way--he remembered the flashing
of her eyes and her attitude in front of him, with a denunciatory
forefinger pointed at him--that he was behaving basely by remaining in
Bath after Betsy Linley had given her promise to marry Mr. Long. He
should have shown his brother an example in this respect, rather than
have allowed his brother to make the first move.

He thought again, as he had thought before--in the interval between
Mrs. Abington's hasty exit from the room and her unexpected return
to him--that the value of this counsel was wholly dependent on the
assumption that Betsy loved him; and he felt that it would be a piece
of presumption on his part to take so much for granted. He reflected
that he had really no absolute proof that she had ever entertained
a thought of him as a lover. To be sure, when they were children
together they had been sweethearts; but since they had passed out of
that period, neither of them had ever referred to the promises of
constancy which they had exchanged. He could not deny to himself, nor
did he make the attempt to do so, that his affection for Betsy had
been continuous; but this was not a point that had any bearing upon the
question of whether he was doing right or wrong in remaining in Bath.

So far as he himself was concerned, he felt that, though he loved
Betsy as deeply as ever, he could trust himself to be near her. His
love had been chastened, purified, exalted since that evening when
she had kissed him and told him what love really was. He felt that he
had acquired a share of her unselfishness, a sense of the glory of
self-sacrifice.

He would stay.

He would not suggest that he had a doubt as to the stability of her
purpose. He would not suggest that his vanity was so great as to make
it impossible for him to conceive of her not being in love with him.
His flying from Bath at such a time would certainly tend to give her
pain. It would be equivalent to an impudent suggestion on his part--the
suggestion that his staying would be too much for her--the suggestion
that his flight would be an act of mercy shown by him to her.

He would stay.

He would not assume even in confidence with himself that Betsy loved
him; and as for himself, had not Mr. Long's parting words to him opened
up before his eyes a new vista of the influence of love--that love
which seeks not a reward--that love which is in itself the reward of
loving? Mr. Long had not urged him to abandon as an idle dream the love
that he had for Betsy Linley: he had rather exhorted him to continue
steadfast in his love, since its influence upon him would be wholly for
good.

He would stay.

And he did stay; and so did Mrs. Abington.

When she said good-bye to him, in a passion of repentant tears, he took
it for granted that she would return to London probably the next day;
but somehow, if that was her intention, she fell short of realising it.
She appeared every day on the Parade, and every evening either in one
of the Assembly Rooms or at a concert, with Tom Linley by her side.

Dick heard of her from day to day, and at first he was surprised to
learn that she was still in Bath; and then he became positively annoyed
that she should give people an opportunity of smiling as they did when
they talked about her and Tom Linley. The young man, who was reported
to be a most diligent student, was enlarging his course of study,
they said; but they rather thought that he was too ambitious. Was it
not usually thought prudent for any one who aspired to a knowledge of
Latin, not to begin with Catullus or Lucretius, but with a book chiefly
made up of cases and declensions? The most rational progress toward
Parnassus was by a _gradus_, or step, they said. But there was the
earnest young student beginning his knowledge of a language, previously
unknown to him, with the beautiful Mrs. Abington. Faith, 'twas like
setting Sappho before a youth who had not mastered the Greek alphabet;
'twas like offering a porter-house steak to a child before it has cut
its teeth, the less refined of the critics declared.

But however wise these criticisms may have been, at the end of a week
Mrs. Abington lingered on in Bath and young Mr. Linley lingered by her
side; and then the men of the world began to shrug their shoulders
and to talk--also in metaphors--of the whims of the actress. Had Mrs.
Abington's teeth become suddenly weak, they inquired, that she was
compelled to take to a diet of caudle? She had mastered many a tough
steak in her time, and had never been known to complain of toothache.
Surely she must find caudle to be very insipid!

The ladies were the hardest on her, of course; for every morning she
appeared in a new gown, and every evening in another, and they all
differed the one from the other, only as one star differs from another
in glory; and it was difficult to say which was the most becoming to
her, though this point was most widely discussed among the men who
knew nothing whatever about the matter, and showed their ignorance by
admiring a simple taffeta made for a hoop, but worn without one, quite
as much as that gorgeous brocade about which foaming torrents of lace
fell, called by ordinary people flounces.

The ladies sneered, for not one of these gowns could be imitated. They
knew that they could not be imitated, for they had tried, worrying
the life out of their maids in the fruitless attempt. They sneered.
What else could they do, after they had boxed the ears of their maids
in accordance with the best manners of the period before the trying
days of the French Revolution? They sneered, and the more imaginative
ones compared her to a confectioner's window, which is laid out with
infinite pains, though it is only attractive to the immature taste of
a child. That young Linley had really not got past the toffee stage,
they declared; always admitting, however, that he was a pretty lad, and
bemoaning his fate in being compelled to do the bidding of a lady of
such experience as Mrs. Abington.

And then they called her a harpy.

But Tom Linley felt very proud to be permitted to walk by the side of
so distinguished a lady; and he never seemed prouder of this privilege
than when he went with her to one of the Thursday receptions given
by Lady Miller at Bath-Easton, for every one of note seemed to be
promenading on the lawn, and there was a flowing stream of coaches and
chariots and curricles and chairs still on the road, bearing additional
visitors to eat the lady's cakes and to drink her tea, before taking
part in the serious business that called for their attention.

Tom had spent half the previous night in an attempt to produce a poem
that might have a chance of winning the chaplet, which was the prize
for the verses pronounced the best of the day. To be able to lay the
trophy at the feet of the lady in praise of whose beauty and virtue
he had composed his sonnet, after the fashion of the poet Petrarch,
whose works he had studied in Italy, would, he felt, be the greatest
happiness he could hope for in life.

The lady whose ingenuity in devising the literary contests at
Bath-Easton has caused her name to live when other names far more
deserving of immortality have been forgotten, has had ample injustice
done to her in every diary, and in most of the letters, of the period.
Of course Walpole's faun-like humour found in Lady Miller and her
entertainments a congenial topic. Whenever there was a woman to be
lied about, with wit and in polished periods, Walpole was the man to
undertake the business. He could make the most respectable of ladies
entertaining to his correspondents, and his sneers at the good women of
whose hospitality he seemed glad enough to partake, must have formed
very amusing reading when they were quite fresh. Even now, though the
world has become accustomed to the taste of frozen meat, his wit, when
taken out of the refrigerator, does not seem altogether insipid.

He ridiculed Lady Miller, after he had been entertained by her, with
exquisitely bad taste. She was vulgar, and she was forty. Chatty little
Miss Burney, too, believed her to be forty also,--actually forty; so
that it seemed inconceivable how, with such a charge hanging over her,
Lady Miller was able to fill her house and crowd her grounds month
after month with the most distinguished men and women in England.

[Illustration: Took from its depths the various manuscripts and read
them aloud.                                            [_page 229._]

The estimable Mrs. Delany, who fervently hoped that no friend of hers
would ever be painted by so dreadful an artist as Gainsborough--a hope
which, fortunately, was not realised, or the world would have lacked
one of its greatest pictures--was also unable to take a charitable
view of Lady Miller's age. But still the curious entertainment took
place every Thursday during the season, and was attended by every one
worth talking about, and by a good many persons who were talked about
without being worth it, in Bath and the region round about. Every one
who was considered eligible to enter the Assembly Rooms was qualified
to attend the ceremony of the urn at Bath-Easton.

This faint echo of the contests of the minnesingers originated with
a Greek vase which came into the possession of Lady Miller. Having
acquired this property, it seemed to have occurred to her that it would
be well to put it to some practical use, so she put it to a singularly
unpractical one. The vase was called an urn, and in it were deposited,
on the day of the ceremony, certain rhymed couplets bearing, with
varying degrees of directness, upon topics of the hour. The company
having gathered round the urn, which was placed on a pedestal, Lady
Miller or her husband took from its depths the various manuscripts
and read them aloud. Prizes were then awarded to the poems which a
committee considered best worthy of honour.

At first the entertainment was regarded with coldness: hearing copies
of verses read aloud, most of them of indifferent merit, failed as an
attraction; but so soon as it became known that some highly spiced
personalities were embodied in no less than three of the poems taken
from the urn one day, people began to perceive that the ceremony
might be well worth attending, and its popularity increased to such a
degree that few of the people possessing the slender qualification for
visiting Bath-Easton failed to put in an appearance every Thursday.

Dick Sheridan, who went with one of his sisters, noticed Tom Linley
scowling by the side of Mrs. Abington, for on the other side of the
lady was Dr. Goldsmith with his friend Lord Clare, and both were
distracting her attention from what he was saying to her regarding
Petrarca. She had professed an unbounded admiration for Petrarca, when
his verses were quoted in the language in which they were written. But
Dick saw that Tom had his revenge upon the others, for Dr. Johnson
came up with Mr. Edmund Burke, and before the broadsides of such
conversational frigates, what chance had a mere bumboat like Dr.
Goldsmith?

In the distance Dick saw Mrs. Thrale by the side of her husband, and
Dr. Burney had just joined them with Signor Piozzi--the accomplished
Italian whom Mrs. Thrale had mocked with marvellous effrontery while
he was playing the piano one day in Dr. Burney's house in St. Martin's
Street, off Leicester Fields. Dr. Burney had gravely rebuked her for
her impoliteness; but his doing so only made the little invisible imp
of Fate, who had been very hilarious over the lady's mimicry, as he sat
perched up on the cornice of the ceiling, almost choke himself with
chuckling.

Mrs. Thrale was now very polite to Signor Piozzi, and so also was Mr.
Thrale.

Then Miss Angelica Kauffmann, accompanied by Sir Joshua Reynolds
and Miss Theophila Palmer, hastened to greet Garrick, who had once
contributed a poem to the urn. Afterward, Mr. Richard Cumberland drew
nigh, and Garrick lost no time making him contribute to the amusement
of Miss Palmer.

"They tell me that Dr. Goldsmith's new play is a fine piece of work,
sir," said the actor.

"Oh no, sir, no. Believe me you have been misinformed, Mr. Garrick;
'tis a wretched thing, truly," cried Cumberland, who would not admit
that any one could write except himself.

"Nay, sir, I hear that it surpasses _The Good-Natured Man_, and that,
you will admit, was a very fine piece of work," said Garrick.

"What! _The Good-Natured Man?_ You surprise me, Mr. Garrick!"
said Cumberland. "Heavens, sir, 'twas a pitiful thing. You cannot
surely call to mind the scene with the bailiffs! Oh, sir, you must
be joking--yes, yes; I like to take the most charitable view of
everything, so I assume that you are joking."

"I know that your charitable views are your strong point, Mr.
Cumberland," said Garrick; "but you should not let them bias your
judgment. You should not say a word against Goldsmith, for people say
that he wrote _The Good-Natured Man_ after he had been a good deal in
your company."

"'Tis a calumny, sir--a calumny," said Cumberland warmly. "He was never
inspired by me to write _The Good-Natured Man_."

"Well, well, how people do talk!" said Garrick. "But I am glad to have
your denial on this point, though I must say that when I produced the
play I never heard it asserted that you had stood for the character."

With his accustomed adroitness Garrick led Cumberland on to talk of
many persons and their works, and for every person and every work he
had some words of condemnation. Sir Joshua, standing by placidly with
his ear-trumpet, saw that Miss Kauffmann was becoming indignant, so
he led her away, leaving Garrick to amuse Miss Palmer to his heart's
content.

While Dick watched the little comedy, he heard a greeting laugh behind
him, and, turning, he found himself face to face with Captain Mathews,
whom he had known for some time, and thoroughly disliked.

He was surprised to see the man, for he heard that he had left Bath the
day after it was announced that Betsy Linley was to marry Mr. Long. He
certainly had not been seen in public since that day.

"Will they come, Sheridan--will they come, do you think?" asked
Mathews, with a note of apprehension in his voice.

"I have no idea of whom you are speaking; but whoever they are, I think
I may safely prophesy that they will come," said Dick.

"Thank Heaven!" said Mathews. "You must know that I mean Miss Linley
and her grandfather, whom she is going to marry. But do you think that
the marriage will ever come off? Oh, a pretty set of lovers that girl
got around her--not a man of spirit among them all, or that old fool
Long would have got six inches of cold steel through his vitals! I am
the only man among them all, Sheridan--I am the only man of spirit left
in Bath, as you'll see this day, whether they come or not."

"What do you mean by that threat, sir?" said Dick quickly.

The man laughed.

"I haven't said aught to wound your feelings, have I?" he said. "Oh no!
I don't mean to say that you're not a fellow of spirit, Sheridan, only
you never loved Miss Linley as the others pretended to do. They showed
their spirit by slinking off, sir, just when they should have stayed.
You didn't see me slink off, Sheridan? No, I am here, and here I mean
to stay until the end of this affair has come, and it cannot be far off
after to-day. I tell you, Dick Sheridan, that I am not the man to lie
tamely down, as the rest of them did, and let Walter Long and Elizabeth
Linley walk over my body to the church portal!"

"You are pleased to talk in the strain of a riddle, and that, Mr.
Mathews, is an infernally dull strain, let me assure you," said Dick.
"Come, sir, if you have anything to say, say it out plainly, like a
man. But first I venture to remind you that Mr. Linley and his family
have been for years my friends, and also that Mr. Long honours me by
his friendship, and I promise you that anything you say of them that
verges on an affront I shall think it my duty to resent. Now, Mr.
Mathews, say what you have to say."

Mathews looked at him for some time; then he laughed as he had laughed
before.

"Your father is a play-actor, Mr. Sheridan," said he at last. "I have
seen him in more than one piece, both in Dublin and Bristol. He is
a fine actor. Well, go to him, and he will tell you that the way to
make a play a success is to keep the playgoers interested in it from
scene to scene, and the best way to do this is to tell them only a
little of the story at one time. Now, sir, consider that this scene
is the beginning of a comedy--maybe it will turn out a tragedy before
we have done with it--but this is the first scene; keep your eyes and
your ears open, and you will find it worth your while. By the Lord,
there they come at last! Curse it! the girl is getting lovelier every
day--every day! Such beauty is enough to make any man mad. Look at her,
Sheridan--look at her, and tell me if there is any man living that
would not run a risk of all the tortures of the lost to be near her!
Dick Sheridan, I don't love her--not I, not I: I hate her! Deep down in
my heart I tell you that I hate her. But there's no human being that
can tell the difference between the passion of love and the passion of
hate."

Dick saw that the man was not far removed from madness; but before he
could give him the warning which was in his mind to bestow upon him,
Mathews had turned about and hurried away to where people were grouping
themselves round the urn.

Mr. Long, with Betsy Linley by his side, was replying to the greetings
of some of their friends. He no longer carried his arm in a sling.



CHAPTER XXIV


Dick Sheridan looked on at the scene of bright colours before him on
the lawn; the newly erected imitation Greek temple was at the farther
end of one of the many vistas, and at regular intervals stood Greek
pediments of carven stone surmounted by busts of Greek poets. Among the
shrubberies were pedestals with grinning fauns, and an occasional nymph
with flying drapery. An Artemis with her dogs stood in the attitude of
pursuit between two laurels.

Dick felt strangely lonely, although he had frequently attended the
ceremony of the urn. His sister had gone to discharge the imaginary
duties of one of the priestesses of the urn, and was, with another
girl, engaged in twisting twigs of bay into a practicable wreath, her
companion showing her how it was necessary not to make the joining too
rigid, so that the wreath could be easily enlarged or diminished in
size to suit the circumference of the head of the victor; for it was
not to be taken for granted that the bays must go to the largest brow.

For a short time he watched the weaving of the wreath, and then he
looked across the lawn to where Betsy was talking to Dr. Burney,
Mr. Long standing close by with Dr. Delap, who had come from
Brighthelmstone to drink the waters. Mathews had disappeared as
suddenly as he had come upon the scene, but Dick made up his mind to
keep a watch for his return. The threats of which he had made use in
regard to Mr. Long and Betsy were vague, but their utterance by the
man at that time had startled Dick. The fellow might be mad, and yet
have, with all the cunning of a madman, concocted a plot that might
mean disaster to Betsy; but if he were narrowly watched his scheme of
revenge could doubtless be frustrated, and Dick felt that he would
never forgive himself if, after being forewarned, he should let Mathews
carry out his purpose, assuming that he meant mischief.

While he was watching for a possible reappearance of the man, Mr.
Linley came across the lawn to him, and drew him away in the direction
of the gods and goddesses of the shrubberies. Dick saw that there was
an expression of anxiety on his face. His manner, too, was nervous.

"Dick, I am in great trouble," he said in a low voice. "You can guess
what is its origin, I am sure?"

Dick had just seen Mr. Long and Betsy side by side. The match had not
been broken off. What trouble, then, could possess the girl's father?

"Indeed, sir, you surprise me," said Dick. "I see Betsy with Mr. Long,
and----"

"Oh, 'tis not about Betsy I am troubled," said Mr. Linley, "though,
Heaven knows, she has given me trouble enough in the past with her
whimsies about singing in public. If I had not been firm with her,
Dick, she would have given up singing a year ago. No, 'tis not about
her, but Tom, that I wish to speak to you. You have seen him to-day
with that woman--a play-actress?"

"I have seen him, sir. My father was a play-actor," said Dick quietly.

"Surely you know what I mean, Dick! Surely you know that it is not in
my thoughts to utter a word that would assume the form of a reproach
upon the theatre. No, Dick, no; that is not my intention. But you have
seen them together--Tom and Mrs. Abington? I don't say a word against
her, mind. She may lead a blameless life, though I have heard---- But
that is not to the point."

"Mrs. Abington is a very charming lady, Mr. Linley, and as for
propriety--Dr. Johnson himself has dined with her."

"Dr. Johnson--Dr. Johnson! Dr. Johnson is not to the point; he is old
enough to take care of himself and to protect himself from the wiles of
all the coquettes in England."

Dick laughed.

"Nature and the small-pox have given him great advantage over the
majority of men, sir. They have made him practically invulnerable."

"But Nature and Italy have done just the opposite for Tom; his soul is
capable of the deepest feeling, Dick, and he is open to every influence
that an accomplished woman of the world has at her command. That
creature--I mean that lady--Mrs. Abington--oh, she is undoubtedly a
charming creature!--that's where the danger lies. You know her, Dick;
tell me what it is that she means to do in regard to Tom."

"Oh, sir! she has taken a passing fancy to Tom--that's all. You know
what 'tis to possess the soul of an artist, sir. So far as I can
gather, that soul is full of whimsies. The only comforting thought in
connection with suchlike is that none of their whims lasts long. Their
inconstancy is their greatest charm. Mrs. Abington will soon have done
with Tom, sir."

"Thank Heaven--thank Heaven! The sooner the better, say I. Dick, a
fortnight ago Tom had no thought for anything save his violin. I felt
that he was actually too deeply absorbed in it: he would scarce give
himself time to take his meals, and he was at the point of falling
into a rage because I had given my consent to Betsy's retirement
from the concerts. He called me a traitor--a renegade--worse than a
Mohammedan--for allowing her to renounce the true faith; those were
his words, Dick. And yet, now, he has done nothing but improvise, and
that the most sickly stuff--lovelorn; and his poetry--he has bought a
rhyming-dictionary, and has turned the half of Petrarch's poems into
English."

"You take this little matter too seriously, believe me, Mr. Linley.
'Tis but a bubble of feeling, sir--an airy nothing. 'Twill float away
and leave not a trace behind."

"I hope so--with all my heart I hope so. You do not think that you
could do something to assist its flight, Dick?"

"Dear sir, I am convinced that any interference by me--yes, or even by
you, sir--would have just the opposite effect to what we hope for in
this matter."

"What, don't you think that you might bring the creat--the lady, I
mean--that you might bring her to reason?"

"The soul of an artist is susceptible to many influences--love, hate,
jealousy, criticism, a wet day, a gown that has been made a little
tight in the bodice, a gewgaw,--all these have great weight with the
soul of an artist; but reason has none. You must perceive, sir, that
if every one were reasonable there would be no artists. Mrs. Abington
is an artist in the comedy of love; she has curiosity, but 'tis of the
butterfly order--a sip here and a sip there among the flowers. Oh, the
flowers are nothing the worse for the curiosity of the butterfly. Tom
will be himself again when she flies off to another part of the garden."

"I have my fears, Dick. But I don't doubt that you take the most
sensible view of the matter. I believe that he has sent in a sonnet
in praise of her to the urn to-day. Petrarch is his model. If he is
awarded the prize he will lay it at her feet; they do these things in
Italy but here we are more prosaic. Are they beginning to read the
stuff?"

"We must not lose the chance of applauding Tom's sonnet," said Dick,
making a move toward the circle that was formed round the Greek urn,
from which Lady Miller, not looking so ridiculous as might have
been expected, in her white robes, as a priestess (the period was a
masquerade in itself, and the painters made the most of it), had just
taken one of the manuscripts, and was putting herself in an attitude to
read.

Mr. Linley saw this; but what Dick saw was that Mathews had reappeared,
and was standing on the outskirts of the circle, his eyes fixed upon
Betsy, with a poisonous smile about their corners.

Dick hastened across the lawn, and was in time to hear the second line
of the heroics which the lady had begun to read, not without a certain
amount of stumbling over unfamiliar words and an over-emphasising of
the epithets, which were numerous and safely commonplace.

"What is it that Mathews means to do?" that was the question which came
to Dick when he perceived the evil smile of the man, for he saw that it
was a smile anticipatory of triumph; and all the time that Lady Miller
was meandering through the poem, with its allusions to the deities
in the mythologies of Greece and Rome, and its rhymes of "fault" and
"thought," "smile" and "toil," with an Alexandrine for the third rhyme
of "isle," he was asking himself that question: "What is it that
Mathews means to do?"

He looked across the listening circle, and saw that Mr. Long also
had his eyes fixed upon the man, and that the same question had
been suggested to him. Mr. Long was watching and waiting. And then
he glanced away from Mathews and saw Dick. He smiled and nodded
pleasantly; but Dick had no difficulty in perceiving that behind these
courtesies Mr. Long was ill at ease.

And then the high-priestess extracted another poem from the urn. It
was written in precisely the same strain as the first; only the rhymes
were more palpably false--the same greater and lesser deities talked
about the condition of society at Olympus, which every one recognised
by the description as Prior Park; but just as it promised to become
delightfully, spitefully, personal, and therefore interesting, the poem
shuffled out on the spindleshanks of a reference to the need for clean
napkins for the glasses in the Pump Room.

This was very feeble, most people thought (the author was not among
them), even though the Pump Room was artfully disguised under the name
of the Fount of Helicon. There was a distinct impression of relief when
the third poem was found to be written as a lyric with a comfortable
jolt about it, to which Lady Miller, after two or three false starts,
accommodated her voice. It touched with light satire upon the question
of watering the roads, and as this was the topic of the hour, it was
received with abundant applause, and the general idea was, that unless
something extremely good awaited reading, this lyric would carry off a
prize.

The fourth poem turned out to be Tom Linley's sonnet in praise of Mrs.
Abington; and as every one knew Mrs. Abington, and as she herself
was present, and as no one was able to identify the translation of
Petrarch's beautiful sentiments, there seemed little doubt the poet's
ambition would be rewarded.

Tom flushed, and was more overcome than he had ever been when playing
before his largest audience. Mrs. Abington, too, gave a very pleasing
representation of the _ingénue_ fluttered with compliments which
she knows are thoroughly well deserved. She would have the people
believe that she was overwhelmed--that she was not at all pleased with
the publicity given to her in so unexpected a way, and the way she
shook her head at Tom should have conveyed to him the fact that she
considered him to be a very naughty boy--the result being that the
crowd perceived that Mrs. Abington was a very modest lady, and that
Garrick, who was something of a judge of such performances, was ready
to affirm that Mrs. Abington had a very light touch.

Then Lady Miller, after a few complimentary remarks upon Mrs.
Abington's style of dress, began to read the next poem. Having now read
four copies of verses, that fulness of expression with which she had
begun her labours, had disappeared from her voice, and she had read the
greater part of the sonnet in a purely mechanical way. It became clear
before she had got through more than five lines of the new rhymes, that
she had not the slightest idea what they were about. The stanzas were
quite illiterate and the merest doggerel; but, at the end of the first,
glances were exchanged around the circle, for the stanza was coarse in
every way, and it contained a pun upon the name Long that could only be
regarded as a studied insult to the gentleman bearing that name.

But it was plain that the high-priestess had not the remotest idea that
anything was particularly wrong with the poem. She looked up from the
paper with the smile with which she was accustomed to punctuate the
periods, and then began to read the second stanza.

She did not get further than the third line. The first two contained
a very gross allusion to an old man's marrying a young woman; but the
third was so coarse that even the apathetic reader was startled and
made a pause, during which she scanned the remainder of the manuscript,
and in doing so her face became crimson. She handed the sheet to her
husband, saying a few words to him, and then tried to gather up the
threads of her smile, so to speak.

"I think that I had better go on to the next poem," she said aloud.
"The writer of the last must have inadvertently sent us the wrong leaf.
He must have designed it for his favourite pothouse."

This expression of opinion was received with general applause. Yet no
one except Dick seemed to suspect Mathews of being the writer of the
doggerel. But in the mind of Dick there was no doubt on the matter. He
saw the triumphant leer on the man's face, and could scarcely restrain
himself from rushing at him and at least making an attempt to knock
him down. He only held himself back by the reflection that before
the evening had come, Mathews would have received a challenge from
him. He made up his mind to challenge him, as certain as his name was
Mathews. It would be in vain for people to assure him that this was not
his quarrel, but Mr. Long's; he would assert that, as the insult was
directed against a lady, in the presence of his (Dick's) sister, he was
quite entitled to take it on himself to punish the perpetrator.

He had glanced at Mr. Long when Lady Miller made her pause, and had
seen him smiling, while he addressed some words to Betsy, evidently
regarding the creases of her glove, for immediately afterwards she held
out her hand to him, and he straightened the little ripples on the silk.

Dick wondered if Mr. Long had failed to catch the insulting lines of
the doggerel before the high-priestess had become aware of what she had
been reading. Certainly he gave no sign of having caught their import.
Dick rather hoped that he had not; he had no desire to cede to Mr.
Long the part which he meant to play in this affair.

When he glanced again across the circle, he noticed that Mr. Long had
disappeared. And the voice of Lady Miller, with its wrong inflections
and its exaggerated emphasis on the adjectives, went on in its delivery
of the even lines of the new poem, which was all about Phoebus and
Phaeton, and Actæon and Apollo, and the Muses and Marsyas, though
nobody seemed to care what it was about. It was very long, and it led
nowhere. The circle gave it their silent inattention. Some yawned
behind polite hands; one or two whispered. The last lines came upon all
as a delightful surprise, for there was really no reason why it should
ever end, and for that matter there was no reason why it should ever
have begun.

This was, happily, the last of the contents of the urn. Most of the
_habitués_ of Bath-Easton felt that the day had been one of mediocrity;
the entertainment would have been even duller than ordinary if it had
not been for that shocking thing to which no one referred. Of course
Tom Linley was awarded the wreath of bays, which, with some ceremony,
the high-priestess laid upon his brows, making him look quite as
ridiculous as he felt.

"O lud!" whispered Mrs. Abington to Mr. Walpole, who had got beside
her, "O lud! if young gentlemen will write prize poems, they have a
heavy penalty to pay for it."

"Nay, my dear creature," said he, "'tis but fitting that the victim
calf should be decorated for the sacrificial altar."

"I admit the calf," said she, "but whose is the altar?"

"'Tis dedicated to Hymen or Hades; it rests with you to determine
which," said he, with one of his wicked leers. He was very like one
of the marble satyrs, she perceived--a Marsyas without his music. She
longed for an Apollo skilled in flaying.

[Illustration: Flogged the fellow as never horse had been flogged.
                                                         [_page 243._]

The ceremony over, congratulatory smiles were sent flying around the
listeners, and there was a general movement toward the house, full of
spontaneity.

"Ladies and gentlemen," came a voice from one side, and the movement
was arrested. People looked over their shoulders. O lud! was the
dulness of the day to be increased by speeches? they enquired.

"Ladies and gentlemen, you were grossly insulted just now by a wretch
who is a master of the arts of the brigand, though he meant his
poisoned knife for me alone. This is the blackguard, and I treat him as
such."

Before any one was aware of the fact that it was Mr. Long who was
speaking, he had his hand upon the collar of Captain Mathews, and
had swung him round by a certain jerk well known to wrestlers of the
old school. Forcing him, staggering, backward with one hand, with a
postillion's short whip, which he held in the other, he flogged the
fellow as never horse had been flogged. He cut strips off his garments
as neatly as if his weapon had been a pair of shears; a cut of the lash
made the blood spurt from one of his calves, another took a slice off
his small-clothes just above the knee--ludicrous but effective. His
coat parted at the back seams in the stress of the struggle, and a few
more cuts at the opening made shreds of his shirt and let free, as it
seemed, all the blood in his body. There was the shriek of females, and
this brought the men to their senses. They hastened to interpose. Mr.
Long sent his victim staggering against two or three of them. Mathews
trod on their toes, and they cursed him unaware, Mr. Long belabouring
away with a deftness that lacked neither style nor finish; and all the
time his knuckles were digging into Mathew's throat, until the wretch's
face became purple.

Half a dozen gentlemen launched themselves upon Mr. Long. He stepped
adroitly to one side, and let them have Mathews. They fell on him in a
heap, crushing out of his body whatever trifle of breath he retained.

Mr. Long politely assisted them to rise, affecting to wipe from their
garments the result of their contact with the grass. He was breathing
heavily, and his wig had become disordered.

He flung his whip--it was still serviceable--into a plantation, and
when he found his breath he said:

"I think I should like a dish of tea."



CHAPTER XXV


"If any one says that Mr. Long was not justified in his act, I tell
him he lies," remarked Dick grandly to the group who were propping up
Mathews in a sitting posture on the grass.

The wretch seemed ludicrously out of place on the lawn, and the
gentlemen who saw him there did not fail to perceive that the
expression on the faces of the stone satyrs was for the first time
appropriate. Had he been in the middle of a field of young wheat, he
might have relieved a less disreputable figure from duty.

"Who is there that says Mr. Long was not justified?" cried one of the
gentlemen; he was trying to remove a stain from his sleeve. "Good lud!
does the lad think that county gentlemen are to learn discrimination as
well as elocution from the Sheridan family?"

"The Sheridans take too much upon them," said another; he was unlucky
enough to have his wig trampled on by the huge foot of a first-class
county gentleman in the _melée_, and was inclined to be testy in
consequence. "Be advised, Mr. Sheridan, leave these matters to your
elders and betters."

Dick felt that he deserved the rebuke. His scarcely veiled threat
savoured of impertinence. He lifted his hat and walked away. No one
took any notice of him.

"By the Lord Harry, friend Long has a pair of arms that a man thirty
years younger might envy!" Dick heard one of the gentleman say.

"He will have a wife that a man forty years younger does envy," laughed
a second.

"I heard my father talk of the great strength of Mr. Long when he was
at his best," said a third. "Why, 'twas he that floored Devonshire
Paul, the wrestler, early in the forties, going to Barnstaple to do
it--'tis one of Sir Edmund's stories. Well, I dare swear that we
haven't seen the last of this business. How is the fellow? Bind him
over not to make a disturbance in the house."

Dick walked slowly to the villa. He found that the ladies who had
been so overcome by the sight of Mathews' blood were being carefully
attended to. Poor Tom Linley was sitting in a corner with his sister.
Tom looked very sulky. He was the hero of Parnassus, and yet no one
paid any attention to him. People were laughing and talking, some
in a loud tone, others in a whisper, not upon the subject of the
construction of the sonnet of Petrarch as distinguished from the
sonnet of Shakespeare, but upon the likelihood of a duel following the
exciting scene which they had witnessed. Tom sulked, and tried to avoid
seeing that Mrs. Abington was the centre of a group of gentlemen of
fashion, with whom she was exchanging quips, also on the subject of the
horsewhipping of Mathews.

Of course there would be a duel. Mathews held the king's commission
and wore the king's uniform. If he failed to send a challenge to the
man who had so publicly disgraced him, he need never show his face in
society again. That was the opinion which was universal among the party
in Lady Miller's drawing-room, and it was only modified by the rider
which some people appended to their verdict, to the effect that it was
quite surprising how Mathews had ever got a footing in Bath society.

Mr. Linley, who was by the side of his daughter when Dick entered,
was looking solemn. He was greatly perturbed by what had taken place,
and expressed the opinion that Mr. Long would have shown more wisdom
by refraining from noticing Mathew's insult than he had displayed by
avenging it, even though he had done so with remarkable success. Of
course there would be a duel, he said; and Mathews was probably a
first-class pistol-shot, though he had shown himself unable to contend
with Mr. Long when taken by surprise.

Poor Betsy was overwhelmed by the thought of such a possibility. She
appealed to Dick when he had come to her side. Was a duel inevitable?
Was there no alternative? Could she do nothing to prevent such a sequel
to the quarrel?

"Why should you be distressed at the possibility of a duel?" said Dick.
"There is no particular reason why Mr. Long should stand up against
that fellow; any gentleman who was present here to-day has a perfect
right to send a challenge to Mathews."

"Oh, that is only saying that some one else may be killed--some one
in addition to Mr. Long," cried Betsy. "Ah, why is it that disaster
follows an acquaintance with me? Why have I been doomed to bring
unhappiness upon so many people?"

Dick did not ransack his memory for an answer to her question--an
answer founded upon the records of history. He did not cite any of the
cases with which he was acquainted, of the unhappiness brought about by
the fatal dower of beauty.

"How can you accuse yourself in such a matter as this?" he said. "If
a rascal behaves with rascality, are you to blame yourself because he
tries to make you the victim? I will not hear so cruel, so unjust a
thing said about one who is more than blameless in this matter. Dear
Betsy, I know the sensibility of your heart, and how it causes you to
shrink from much that others would give worlds to accomplish; but you
must not be unjust to yourself."

This was poor pleading with the super-sensitiveness of a girl who could
never be brought to look on fame as the noblest of cravings--nay, who
was ready to sacrifice much in order to escape being famous.

"Bloodshed--bloodshed!" she murmured in great distress. "Oh, why did we
come here to-day? If we had remained at home, all might have been well.
Why cannot we go away to some place where we can live in freedom from
all these disturbing influences? Ah, here comes Mr. Long. How pale he
looks! Pray Heaven he has not been already hurt!"

Mr. Long, who had been repairing the slight disorderliness of his dress
in one of the bedrooms, had some difficulty in reaching Betsy, where
she sat remote from the crowd in the drawing-rooms. He had to wait for
the compliments which his friends offered to him on all sides. Every
one treated him with great respect, and many with deference. There did
not seem to be any difference of opinion among Lady Miller's guests as
to the propriety of his recent action; the only point which had been
seriously discussed was in regard to the postillion's whip. Where had
he got it? It was suggested on one side that he had brought it with
him; but some who knew affirmed that the whip had been hanging in
the hall, and that Mr. Long had, after the reading of the insulting
doggerel, hurried up to the house and got possession of the weapon
while the last poem was being lilted to the audience. At first, of
course, there were some people who thought that Mr. Long had acted
precipitately in assuming that Mathews had written the objectionable
stanzas; but Lady Miller acknowledged immediately on entering the house
that the manuscript was signed by Mathews, and thus complete unanimity
prevailed by the time Mr. Long had returned to the room.

Even on his way to Betsy he received a dozen offers from gentlemen
to act for him in the event of his receiving a challenge. Betsy was
somewhat cheered when she heard him say to one of them:

"You do me great honour, sir, but there will be no duel. I doubt if
there will even be a challenge."

She heard that with pleasure.

Dick heard it with amazement.

Could it be possible, he asked himself, that Mr. Long fancied that
Mathews, boor though he was, would be content to accept his public
horsewhipping as the final incident in the squalid comedy of his
suitorship for the hand of Miss Linley? If that was indeed his belief,
all that Dick could say was that he took a rather extraordinary view of
the matter.

But Betsy, not having any experience of questions of honour, but having
faith in the word of a man whom she respected, was reassured.

"Do say that again," she cried, when Mr. Long had come to her.

"What do you command me to say again, madam?" he inquired. "Oh, a duel?
Heavens, Mr. Sheridan, is't possible that you are here and have not yet
convinced Miss Linley that I shall not have to fight a duel?"

"Nay, sir," said Dick, "I have done my best to impress upon her that
there is no need for you to fight--that the quarrel belongs as much to
any gentleman who was present as it does to you."

"You will pardon me for saying that I do not think that that suggestion
would tend to place Miss Linley's mind at rest," said Mr. Long. "But
now I can give you my word that there will be no duel. If any one is
foolish enough to send a challenge to the rascal whom I treated to a
drubbing, he will do so without my knowledge and without my consent.
Dear child, I can give you my word that there will be no duel."

"I am satisfied," she said simply, with a grateful look up to his face.

"If you are satisfied, all the world is satisfactory," said Mr. Long.

But it did not appear as if Mr. Linley was quite satisfied.

"If there be no duel, sir, all that I can say is that 'tis not your
fault," he cried.

"Not my fault!--nay, just the contrary: 'tis to my credit," laughed Mr.
Long.

"I mean, sir, that you did your very best to provoke a duel," said Mr.
Linley with severity. Mr. Long was about to become his son-in-law, and
this he considered, gave him a right to object to any incident that
tended to jeopardise the connection.

"Oh, my dear sir," said Mr. Long, "can you really think that so
simple an incident as horsewhipping a man in a public place could be
considered by him a sufficient excuse for a challenge? Nay, sir, you
will find, I am persuaded, that Captain Mathews is not inclined to
take your view of this business. He will, I think, be satisfied to let
bygones be bygones."

Dick was dumb. The only ground on which he thought he could reconcile
Mr. Long's confident assertion of what any person with experience of
the world would consider incredible, was his desire to allay Betsy's
anxiety.

But Betsy's father apparently did not see so much as Dick. Though a
professional musician, he was not without his experience of quarrels.
He shook his head when Mr. Long had spoken with that airy confidence
which he had assumed, and said:

"I would fain hope that events will justify the confidence with which
you speak, sir; but to my mind it would seem as if----"

"Nay, dear sir, I will give you my assurance that I shall not be called
on to fight any duel over this matter," cried Mr. Long in the tone
of a man who has said the last word on a matter that has been under
discussion for some time. "I admit that before I took the unusual step
which I thought I was justified in adopting, I saw the risk that I was
running. A man who horsewhips his fellow-guest may be made to answer to
his host for so doing. I ran that risk, and I am happy to say that our
host did not take too severe a view of the occurrence. That puts an end
to any suspicion that one may entertain as to the likelihood of swords
being crossed or pistols unloaded to the detriment of my health. Let us
change the subject, if you please. It seems to me that enough attention
has not been given to Tom's beautiful sonnet. Dear friend Tom, you have
proved by the writing of that sonnet that you have already mastered the
elements of successful authorship. If all poets would choose a popular
subject for their songs, they would have no need to wear hats, for they
would be perpetually crowned with bays. May I ask the favour of a copy
of your sonnet, sir? I should like to have it printed to place beneath
my print of Sir Joshua's picture of Mrs. Abington?"

Tom was delighted. His mortification at the neglect which he had
received--was he not really the hero of the day?--vanished. His large
eyes shone with pleasure as he gave his promise to supply Mr. Long with
the copy which he desired.

Mr. Long, seeing that Betsy's large eyes, so wonderfully like those of
her brother, were also shining with pleasure, was quite satisfied.

Unfortunately, just as Tom was beginning to explain the difficulties
in the way of any one wishing to create a sonnet which was really a
sonnet, and not merely a fourteen-line poem, a number of people came up
to talk to his sister and Mr. Long, thus interrupting him. But neither
Betsy nor Dick failed to notice the vexed look which Mr. Long gave
to the boy, by way of assuring him that his discourse on the Italian
sonnet was something to be parted from only with a deep regret.

Dick, at the suggestion of Mr. Long, walked with Betsy round the
gardens, Mr. Long following with Miss Sheridan.

The walk was a silent one. It did not seem as if they had any topic in
common. They seemed to have nothing to talk about. But their silence
was not the silence of strangers; it was that which exists only between
the closest of friends. They had not had such a stroll side by side
since she had given her promise to Mr. Long. But how many walks they
had had together in the old days! Their thoughts flashed back to those
days on the perfume of the rosebuds. They had often walked among the
roses.

It was Dick who broke the silence.

"I do not think that a better man lives than Mr. Long," said he.

She sighed.

He glanced down at her in surprise. He was almost irritated by her sigh.

She did not speak.

"I do not believe that a better man lives in the world," he said with
emphasis. "Surely you do not think that he is to blame for what took
place here to-day, Betsy?"

"Oh, no, no! he behaved like--like a man," she replied at once. "And
he has given us his assurance that there will be no duel," she added
joyfully.

"Yes, he has given us that assurance," said Dick. "But even if there
were to be a duel, I have no doubt that he would show himself to be as
brave a man."

"But there will be no duel--he said so," she cried. "And to think of
that foolish rumour that went round the town, that you and he had
fought! I never believed it for a moment. It was senseless--cruel! The
gossips circulated the report simply because it was known that you had
been with him for more than an hour on the day after you had saved him
from his assailants."

Dick was once again surprised.

"How could you know that I had been with him on that night?" he
inquired.

"I know it--alas! I know it," she cried. "He is so
good--so--generous--so noble! Oh, I must love him--I must! Sometimes
I really think that I do love him.... And you saved his life, Dick.
It would be the basest ingratitude on my part if I did not love him
after that.... And the way he talks of your courage!--he told me how
bravely you pursued the wretches who had waylaid him. He is full of
your praises, Dick. Oh, I must love him! He is the worthiest man in
the world to be loved. And I believe that I do love him. I sometimes
believe that I do."

"My poor Betsy," he said, "I might give you counsel on this matter if
it would be of any value to you. Alas! dear, I know that nothing that
I could say to you would avail against the promptings of your own true
heart. It was you who first taught me the lesson which I think I have
since learned more fully--the lesson of the meaning of love. Who am I
that I should offer any counsel to such as you? I can only tell you
that I feel that Mr. Long is the best worthy of your love of all the
men in the world. But you yourself know that already."

"I do--indeed, I do know it," she cried eagerly. "And that is why I say
that I am sure, sometimes, that I do love him. I must--I must--only----
Oh, Dick, I am very unhappy!"

"My poor Betsy! my poor Betsy!"

That was all he could say.



CHAPTER XXVI


Several versions of the story of the exciting occurrence at the
Parnassus of Bath-Easton were in circulation during the next few days.
The fact that over fifty persons had witnessed the whole affair was
only a guarantee that there would be at least forty-nine different
versions of it. The consequence was that before two days had passed,
people in Bath were quarrelling over such details as whether Captain
Mathews had or had not made an attack upon Mr. Long with his cane, or
if it was really true that Miss Linley had been walking with Captain
Mathews, thereby arousing the jealousy of Mr. Long, and causing him
to assault the other. Before the second day had gone by, there was,
of course, a report that a duel had taken place, and the result was,
according to the various reports:

  (1) Captain Mathews had run Mr. Long through the body with a sword.

  (2) Captain Mathews had shot Mr. Long with a pistol.

  (3) Mr. Long had run Captain Mathews through the body with a sword.

  (4) Mr. Long had shot Captain Mathews with a pistol.

  (5) Mr. Long was dead.

  (6) Captain Mathews was dead.

  (7) Both Mr. Long and Captain Mathews were dead.

  (8) Neither of them had received a scratch.

  (9) There had been no fight, as Mr. Long had offered a handsome
  apology for his conduct, and had agreed to pay Mathews a thousand
  pounds by way of compensation.

These were only a few of the items of the Pump Room gossip, and every
item found its adherents.

The lampooners took their choice. It was immaterial to them whether
Mathews killed Long or Long killed Mathews; they treated the matter
with the cynicism of Iago in regard to the killing of Cassio. They
found that there was a good deal to be said in favour of every rumour,
and they said it through the medium of some very wretched verses.

Mr. Long seemed to be the only man in Bath who remained unaffected in
any way by the occurrence at Bath-Easton, about which, and its sequel,
every one was talking. He refused to be drawn into the controversy as
to whether he had attacked Mathews or been attacked by Mathews, and he
declined to take sides in the question of the identity of the one who
had been killed in the duel, though it might have been fancied that
this was a question which would have a certain amount of interest for
him. He refused to alter his mode of life in any degree. He appeared in
public places no less frequently, but no more frequently, than before,
and those people who had heard him affirm that there would be no duel,
began, when the third day had passed, to think that there was some
element in the quarrel with which they were unacquainted.

Dick Sheridan was greatly amazed, but extremely well pleased, when he
heard from Mr. Long's own lips that he had not received a communication
on behalf of the man whom he had horsewhipped. It was when he was
sitting at supper within his own house, with Dick sitting opposite to
him, on the fourth day after the incident, that he so informed Dick.

"I did not speak without a full knowledge of my man, when I affirmed
that there would be no duel," said Mr. Long. "I was not so sure in
regard to the challenge; but you see there is to be no challenge."

It so happened, however, that before they had risen from the table, a
gentleman arrived at the house on behalf of Captain Mathews, bearing a
challenge, and requesting to be put in communication with Mr. Long's
friend.

The gentleman's name was Major O'Teague. He was an Irishman, who lived
for two months out of the year at Bath, and the remaining ten months
no one knew where--perhaps in Ireland. No one knew in what regiment
he served, and no one cared to know. He himself was not communicative
on the matter, and he did not affect any particular uniform. He had,
however, been known to talk of his father's fighting in the Irish
Brigade at Fontenoy, and that led some people to believe that he had
won his rank in the same service.

When questioned on this point, he had replied that he always stood by
the side of Freedom and the Fair. The consensus of opinion was that
this sentiment did not materially assist one to identify the corps or
the country in which he had won distinction. He was, however, known to
be a good swordsman, and he always paid something on account to his
landlady, so Bath ceased to take an interest in his military career.
That he was carefully studied by young Mr. Sheridan there can be but
little doubt, though it was Mrs. Cholmondeley who pretended to forget
his name upon one occasion, and alluded to him as Major O'Trigger, an
accident which young Mr. Sheridan never forgot.

He was excessively polite--"No man is so polite unless he means
mischief," was the thought which came to Dick when Major O'Teague was
announced.

He addressed himself to Mr. Long, having declined, with a longing eye
and a reluctant voice, a glass of sherry.

"Sir," he said, "I come on a delicate mission"--he pronounced the
adjective "dilicate," for even the stress of Fontenoy and a course of
Bath waters failed to reduce the heritage of the Irish Brigade--and
gave a polite glance in the direction of Dick.

"Mr. Richard Brinsley Sheridan is my friend, sir," said Mr. Long. "He
is in my confidence, so that it is unnecessary for him to retire."

"Very well, sir," said the visitor. "I doubt not that Mr. Sheridan
is a man of honour: his name, anyway, is illustrious" (pronounced
"illusthrious") "in the roll of fame of Irishmen. I mind that my father,
the colonel, said that Owen Roe O'Neil Sheridan was a lieutenant in
Clare's regiment, and a very divil at that."

"I have no doubt that Mr. Richard Brinsley Sheridan is duly proud of
having at least one name in common with the lieutenant, sir," said Mr.
Long.

"And he would have every right, sir, let me tell you," said Major
O'Teague warmly. "My father knew that the boast of the Sheridans was
that before the trouble came upon them in Ireland there never had been
a wine-glass inside their castle."

"A family of water-drinkers, sir?" suggested Mr. Long.

"Nothing of the sort, sir; they drank their liquor out of tumblers,"
cried Major O'Teague. "Did y'ever hear tell"--the Major had elapsed
into the French idiom--"did y'ever hear tell of the answer that Brian
Oge O'Brian Sheridan made to the English officer that called at the
castle when the colonel's horse had been stolen, Mr. Sheridan?"

"Sir," said Dick with dignity, "these are family affairs, and I should
be reluctant to obtrude them on the attention of Mr. Long at this
time--though, of course, if you came to talk to him on this topic----"

"I ask your pardon, sir," said Major O'Teague fiercely. "I come on
business, not pleasure. Mr. Long, sir, I have been entrusted by my
friend, Captain Mathews, with a communication which I have no doubt
that, as a man of honour, you have been anticipating since that
unfortunate little affair at Bath-Easton."

With a low bow he handed Mr. Long a folded-up letter.

Mr. Long turned it over in his hands without opening it. A puzzled
expression was on his face. "I expected no communication from Mr.
Mathews, sir," said he. "Pray, Major O'Teague, are you certain that the
missive has not been wrongly directed to me?"

"What, sir," cried Major O'Teague, "do you tell me that after what
happened, after whaling another gentleman within an inch of his life,
and in the middle of the best company in Bath, you don't expect to hear
from him?"

"Is it possible that Mr. Mathews considers himself insulted, sir?"
asked Mr. Long.

The Irishman's jaw fell. He was stupefied. His lips moved, but it was a
long time before a word came.

"An insult--an ins---- Hivins above us, sir, where is it that y'have
lived at all?" he managed to say at last. "An insult--an ins----
Oh, the humour of it! Flaying a man alive with a postillion's whip;
not even a coachman's whip,--there's some dignity in a coachman's
whip,--but a common postillion's! sir, the degradation of the act
passes language, so it does. 'Tis an insult that can only be washed
out by blood--blood, sir--a river of blood! A river? A sea of blood,
sir--an ocean of blood! Egad, sir, 'tis a doubtful question, that
it is, if all great Neptune's ocean---- Ye've seen Mrs. Yates as
Lady Macbeth, I doubt not, Mr. Sheridan? A fine actress, sir, and an
accomplished lady----"

"I have never had that privilege, sir," said Dick. "You were making a
remark about great Neptune's ocean."

"And I'll make it again, by your leave, sir. I say that 'tis a nice
question if the wounds inflicted upon a gentleman's honour by the free
use of a low postillion's whip can be cauterised by all great Neptune's
ocean."

"'Tis a nice question, I doubt not, sir," said Dick.

"That's the conclusion my friend the captain and me came to before we
had more than talked the business half over, and so we determined that
it must be nipped in the bud," said Major O'Teague, with the fluency of
a practised rhetorician.

Meantime Mr. Long had opened the letter. The seal was about the size of
a crown piece, and the breaking of it was quite apocalyptic.

"'Tis true, Major O'Teague," said he mournfully. "Your friend has
been pleased to take offence at what was, after all, an unimportant
incident."

"Pray, sir, may I inquire if your notion is that a gentleman should
not take offence at anything less than getting his head cut off?"
said Major O'Teague with great suavity. "You think that a gentleman
shouldn't send a challenge unless the other gentleman has mortally
wounded him?"

"I like to take a charitable view of every matter, sir; and I give you
my word that I believed that Mr. Mathews had more discretion than to
challenge me to--to--may I say?--to show him my hand," said Mr. Long.

"To show him your hand, sir? I protest that I don't understand you at
all, Mr. Long," said Major O'Teague. "This is not a challenge to a
friendly game of cards, sir, let me assure you. When you show your hand
to my friend, I trust it's a couple of swords that'll be in it, or a
brace of pistols, which form a very gentlemanly diversion on the green
of a morning."

"Mr. Sheridan, I shall ask you to do me the honour of acting for me in
this unfortunate affair," said Mr. Long.

"Sir," cried Dick, "if you will allow me to take this quarrel on myself
I shall feel doubly honoured."

"'Tis reluctant I am to thrust forward my opinion uncalled for; but if
my own father--rest his sowl!--was to offer to cheat me out of a fight,
I'd have his life, if he was a thousand times my father," said Major
O'Teague.

"This quarrel is mine, Mr. Sheridan," said Mr. Long. "You and Major
O'Teague will settle the preliminaries in proper fashion. Have you ever
been concerned in an affair of this sort before, Major O'Teague, may I
ask?"

Major O'Teague staggered back till he was supported by the wainscot. He
stared at his questioner.

"Is it Major O'Teague that y'ask the question of?" he said in a whisper
that was not quite free from hoarseness. "Is it me--me--ever engaged in
an affair of honour?" He took out his handkerchief and wiped his brow.
Then he shook his head mournfully and turned his eyes devotionally to
the ceiling. "And this is fame!" he murmured. "Oh, my country! this is
fame!"

"By the way, sir, what is your country?" asked Mr. Long.

"My father fought at Fontenoy, and my mother was called in her young
days the Lily of the Loire, on account of her elegance and simplicity;
and if that doesn't make me an Irishman in the sight of Heaven, you may
call me anything you please. But I've been mistaken for an Englishman
before now," he added proudly, "and I might have been one too if it
hadn't been for my parentage."

"An Irish exile. The figure is a pathetic one, sir," said Mr. Long. "I
have met several in France."

"France was overrun with them, sir. But 'tis not so bad now as it used
to be," said Major O'Teague. "A good many of them have returned to
Ireland, and in a short time we'll hear that Ireland is overrun with
her own exiles."

"We shall be compelled in that case to withdraw our sympathy from
them and bestow it upon their country," said Mr. Long. "We can only
sympathise with expatriated patriots who live in banishment. With
exiles who refuse to die out of their own country we can have no
sympathy."

"My sentiments to a hair's breadth," cried Major O'Teague. "I declare
to hivins there's some Irish exiles that have never stirred out of
Ireland! But they're not the worst. Ireland has harboured many snakes
in her bosom from time to time, but the bitterest cup of them all has
been the one that burst into flower on a foreign shore, and, having
feathered its nest, crawled back to the old country to heap coals of
fire upon the head of her betrayers."

"The metamorphoses of the Irish snake--which I believed did not
exist--appear to have been numerous and confusing; but surely you will
take a glass of wine now, major?" said Mr. Long. "Pray pass Major
O'Teague the decanter, Mr. Sheridan."

Dick obeyed, and Major O'Teague's face, which one might have expected
to brighten, became unusually and, as it seemed, unnecessarily solemn.
He protested that he had no need for any refreshment--that so far
from regarding as irksome the duty which he had just discharged,
he considered it one of the greatest pleasures in life to bring a
challenge to a gentleman of Mr. Long's position. He only accepted the
hospitality of Mr. Long lest he should be accused of being a curmudgeon
if he refused.

"Gentlemen," he cried, raising his glass, "I drink to your very good
health and to our better acquaintance. I have been more or less
intimately concerned in the death of fourteen gentlemen, but there's
not one of them that won't say to-day, if y'ask him, that he was killed
in the most gentlemanly way, and in a style suitable to his position.
If you have anything to complain of on this score, Mr. Long, my name
is not O'Teague. Here's long life to you, sir."

"Without prejudice to the longevity of your friend Captain Mathews, I
suppose?" said Mr. Long.

"We'll drink to him later on, sir. The night's young yet," said Major
O'Teague, with a wink that had a good deal of slyness about it.



CHAPTER XXVII


Major O'Teague did not stay late. He apologised for hurrying away from
such excellent company; but the fact was that he had, in a thoughtless
hour, accepted an invitation to supper from a lady who was as beautiful
as she was virtuous--perhaps even more so. He hoped that Mr. Long would
pardon the precipitancy of his flight, and not attribute it to any
churlishness on his part.

Mr. Long did his best to reassure him on this point,--he had already
stayed for an hour, and had drunk a bottle and a half of claret and
half a tumbler of brandy "to steady the wine," he declared; and indeed
it seemed that the claret was a little shaky.

When they were alone Dick said:

"I was afraid, sir, that letter would come to you."

He shook his head with the air of a man who has had a varied experience
of men and their ways.

"I frankly confess that I was surprised to receive it," said Mr. Long.
"But I had made my calculations without allowing for such a possibility
as this Major O'Teague. Mathews had some remnant of discretion, and
that is why three days have passed before I receive his challenge."

"You think that Mathews would not have sent it of his own accord?" said
Dick.

"I am convinced of it," replied Mr. Long. "He knows something of what
I know about him, and he has given me the best evidence in the world
of his desire to get rid of me once and for all. But he would never
have sent me this challenge had it not been that that fire-eating Irish
adventurer got hold of him and talked him into a fighting mood. What
chance would a weak fool such as Mathews have against so belligerent
a personality as O'Teague? Heavens, sir, give the man an hour with
the most timorous of human beings, and I will guarantee that he will
transform him into a veritable swashbuckler. Mathews is a fool, and he
is probably aware of it by now--assuming that an hour and a half has
elapsed since O'Teague left him."

"If he had not challenged you, he need never have shown his face in
Bath again," said Dick.

"Oh, my dear Dick, you have not seen so much of Bath as I have," said
Mr. Long. "Bath will stand a great deal. Has it not stood Mathews for
several years?"

Dick made no reply; he was walking to and fro in the room in
considerable agitation. At last he stood before Mr. Long.

"Dear sir," he cried, "why will you not consent to my taking this
quarrel on myself? Why should you place your life in jeopardy for the
gratification of Mathews and his associates? Think, sir, that your life
is valuable; while mine--well, I can afford to risk it."

"My dear boy, you have risked your life once for me," said Mr. Long,
laying a hand on Dick's shoulder. "I cannot permit you to do so a
second time. But believe me, I shall run no risk in this matter. I give
you my word that I shall never stand up before that fellow. Why, when
his friend the major was juggling, but without the skill of a juggler,
with his metaphors just now, I was thinking out three separate and
distinct plans for making a duel impossible, however well-intentioned
Major O'Teague may be."

"Tell me but one of them, Mr. Long," said Dick.

"Nay, my friend, I debated the question of telling you when I had
worked out my plans of campaign, and I came to the conclusion that you
must know nothing of--of--of what I know," said Mr. Long. "You hope to
write a play one of these days? Well, sir, there is no discipline equal
to that of one's daily life for a man who aspires to write a comedy
dealing with the follies of the time. The comedy of the duel has never
been rightly dealt with. Behold your chance, sir."

Dick resumed the shaking of his head.

"Ah, sir, what I dread is the play which one means to be a comedy, but
which becomes in its development a tragedy."

"True, that is always to be dreaded," said Mr. Long. "And I allow that
Fate is not a consistent designer of plays. She mixes up comedy and
tragedy in such a tangle that her own shears alone can restore the
symmetry of the piece. When Fate puts on the mask of comedy the result
is very terrible. But we shall do our best to get her to play a leading
part on our side, in our company, and I promise you some diversion. Now
you must act in this little play as if you were no novice on the stage,
but as if, like Major O'Teague, you had played the part fourteen times.
At the outstart you must get rid of your nervousness. I tell you again,
the play is a comedy."

"I would not be nervous if I were playing the chief part, sir."

"What, you are still willing to play the leading character? That is
quite unlike a play-actor, Mr. Sheridan. Is't not very well known that
an actor would submit to anything rather than play a leading character?
Has your father never told you how anxious they all are to be cast for
the insignificant parts?"

Dick laughed.

"Oh, that, sir, is one of the best-known traits of the profession of
acting," he said. "But I should dearly like to have a shot at Captain
Mathews."

"He is a soldier, but I fear that he will not meet his death by so
honourable an agent," said Mr. Long. "No, if he dies by a shot it will
be fired at him by a platoon of men with muskets. Now, you will arrange
with Major O'Teague as to the time and place of the meeting. I have no
choice in regard to the weapons; but I wish to suggest as a suitable
ground the green paddock facing the iron gate where you came to my
assistance when I was attacked by the footpads."

"I do not see that the man can make any objection to so suitable a
place," said Dick.

"We shall see," said Mr. Long. "At any rate, it is my whim to meet him
there. You see, I was once very lucky in that neighbourhood, and I have
my superstitions."

Dick went home with a heavy heart. He could not understand why Mr.
Long should still persist in the belief that no duel would be fought.
He seemed to have acquired the idea that Mathews was a coward because
he had taken his horsewhipping so quietly; but Dick, having seen how
the fellow had been overpowered at the outset by the superior strength
of his opponent, knew perfectly well that he had had no choice in the
matter. He had displayed weakness, but not cowardice; and Dick had felt
certain that he was just the man to seek an opportunity of revenging
himself with the weapons of the duellist. He had believed all along
that Mathews would regard the realisation of his scheme as a matter of
life or death. If it became known that he had evaded calling out the
man who had so publicly insulted him, he would, of course, be compelled
to leave Bath. If, however, he succeeded in killing Mr. Long--and Dick
felt convinced that he would do his best to kill him--he would be able
to swagger about as the hero of the hour. That was the _rôle_ which
exactly suited him.

But would he have the chance of killing Mr. Long?

Before he slept, Dick had made up his mind that if Mathews killed Mr.
Long, he himself would either prevent his playing the _rôle_ of the
hero, or give him a double chance of playing it. The moment this duel
with Mr. Long was over he would send a challenge to Mathews. He felt
that he would have every right to do so. The horsewhipping which Mr.
Long had administered to the man was a sufficient punishment for his
insult; but Dick did not forget that the placing of the ribald verses
in the urn was a gross insult to every lady present on the lawn at
Bath-Easton, and he had long ago made up his mind that he would accept
the responsibility of avenging this special affront. All the sophistry
of his chivalrous nature backed up this resolution of his, until he had
no difficulty in feeling that he was the exponent of a sacred duty.
Was it to be placed in the power of any rascal, he asked an imaginary
objector, to insult a number of ladies in the shocking way that Mathews
had done, with impunity? Was that entire company to have no redress for
the gross conduct of the fellow?

Surely it was the privilege of every man with a spark of chivalry in
his nature--ordinary chivalry, mind, the ordinary spirit of manhood--to
do all that lay within his power to prevent a recurrence of such an
outrage upon civilised society as had been perpetrated. If no other
man thought fit to make a move toward so desirable an end, he, Richard
Brinsley Sheridan, thanked God that he saw his way clearly in the
matter; and the moment he had ceased to act for Mr. Long, he would take
action on his own behalf as the representative of the ladies on whose
fastidious ears the ribald lines had fallen. He fell asleep quite
easily, having made up his mind on this point.

He had an interview the next day with Major O'Teague, and found him
ready to agree to any suggestion made in regard to the meeting. The
only detail to which he took a momentary exception was in respect of
the ground.

"Hivins, Mr. Sheridan, aren't there many nice and tidy places more
adjacent than that paddock, where our friends can have an enjoyable
hour?" he said. "Faith, sir, I have always thought Bath singularly
favoured by Providence in this respect. A bountiful Hivin seems to have
designed it for the settlement of these little affairs. 'Tis singularly
complete in this way, as you may have remarked. Egad! you could kill
your man at the corner of any street. Doesn't it seem to be spurning
the gifts which Providence has laid at our very feet to go two miles
out into the country?"

But Mr. Sheridan had something of the sentimental Irishman in his
nature also, and so he was able to acknowledge frankly that it was on
the border-line of atheism for any one to assert that it was necessary
to go two miles out of Bath in order to conduct friendly hostilities;
still, he thought that the whim of an old gentleman should be respected.

"Mr. Long has lived in the country all his life, you see, Major
O'Teague, and that is no doubt why he makes it a point of sentiment
always to fight in the midst of a sylvan landscape, free from the
contaminating hand of man, you understand?" said Dick.

"'Tis a beautiful thought, sir," said Major O'Teague, raising his eyes
toward the ceiling. "And 'tis one that I can appreciate to the full,
Mr. Sheridan. Thank Hivin, a life of pretty rough campaigning among
pretty rough characters hasn't blunted my finer sensibilities. I feel
that we are bound to respect the whim of your friend just as if we
were his executors. 'Twould be just the same if he had expressed a
desire to be buried under a special tree--maybe one that he had climbed
for chestnuts when a boy, or courted the girl of his choice under when
a sthripling. He didn't say that he had a whim about being laid to rest
under a special tree, sir?"

"We haven't discussed that point yet, sir," said Dick. "The fact is, I
am rather a novice in this business, as you may have perceived, major."

"Don't apologise, sir; we must all make a beginning. 'Tis not your
fault, I'm sure, Mr. Sheridan, that y'haven't killed your man long
ago."

"You do me honour, sir," said Dick.

"Not I, sir. Can't I see with half an eye that y'have the spirit of an
annihilator beating within your bosom? 'Tis only your misfortune that
y'haven't been given your chance yet. But I hope that y'll mind that
you must make up for lost time."

"It will be my study, sir. I intend to begin without delay by calling
out your friend Captain Mathews when this little affair is over."

"Good luck to you, my boy!" cried Major O'Teague, enthusiastically
flinging out his hand to Dick. "Good luck to you, sir! If you'll allow
me to act for you, 'twill be the proudest day of my life."

"We shall talk the matter over when the first affair is settled. One
thing at a time has always been my motto," said Dick.

"I ask your pardon, Mr. Sheridan; I was a bit premature," said Major
O'Teague. "I won't inquire what your reasons are for fighting Mathews;
I never preshume to pry into the motives of gentlemen for whom I act. I
hold that 'twould be an insult to their intelligence to do so. Besides,
if one were to inquire into the rights and wrongs of every quarrel
before it takes place, all manhood would die out of England inside a
year. No, sir; after the fight is the time to inquire, just as after
dinner is the time for the speeches."

But when Major O'Teague called upon Dick the same evening, as courtesy
demanded, a wonderful smile came over his face while he said:

"What is there about that paddock opposite the iron gate by the
Gloucester Road that makes your friend insist on it as the place of
meeting?"

"I give you my word that I have no notion," replied Dick. "Why should
Captain Mathews object to it?"

"That's more than I can say, sir," said O'Teague. "But, by the Lord
Harry, I had a long job getting him to agree to that point. You should
have seen his face when I told him that we were to meet at that same
paddock. He turned as white as a sheet, and said that Mr. Long meant
to insult him by making such a suggestion. ''Tis not there that I'll
fight,' said he, quite livid. You'll excuse me introducing the special
oaths that he made use of, Mr. Sheridan?"

"I am quite sure that their omission is more excusable than their
utterance would be," said Dick. "But he consented to the ground at
last?"

"Ay, at last. But between the first hint of the matter and this 'at
last' a good deal of conversation occurred. 'Twas pretty near my
gentleman came to having a third affair pressed on him. For some reason
or other he wanted to fight nearer town. Well, to be sure, it would be
more homelike. I never did believe in the suburbs myself, and, besides,
'twill be very inconvenient for the spectators. Still----"

"My dear major," cried Dick, "I trust that there will be no spectators
beyond those gentlemen."

"What, sir, would you propose to exclude the public from this
entertainment? I hope that is not your idea of what is due to the
intelligent curiosity of the people of Bath? Asking your pardon, Mr.
Sheridan, I must say that you have no notion at all of fair play."

"You have had so much experience of these matters, Major O'Teague,
I have every confidence that under your guidance we can manage this
little business by ourselves, and without the need for the intrusion of
all the busybodies in Bath," said Dick.

"That may be true enough, Mr. Sheridan," said Major O'Teague, "but
let me remind you that the gentleman for whom I am acting got his
horsewhipping in public---- Why the mischief wasn't I there to see it?
I would have given a guinea for a place in the front row!"

Dick clearly perceived that the man was anxious to be the centre of a
crowd of onlookers; he was treating the duel from the standpoint of a
showman desirous of making plain his own ability as a stage-manager
of experience, and nothing would have pleased him better than to have
engaged Drury Lane for the spectacle.

For a moment or two Dick was annoyed; he was sorely tempted to say
something that would have been hurtful to Major O'Teague's feelings.
He restrained himself, however, and then he suddenly remembered--Major
O'Teague had given him no reason to forget it--that he was talking to
an Irishman. That was why he said in a confidential tone:

"I acknowledge the force of your argument, sir; but the fact is"--his
voice became a whisper--"there is a lady in the case. You will agree
with me in thinking that her feelings must be respected at any cost.
Major O'Teague, if the lady--I refrain from mentioning her name in
this connection--who has given Mr. Long her promise, were to hear of
his danger, the consequences might be very serious to her. We are both
Irishmen, sir."

"Sir," said Major O'Teague, "your thoughtfulness does you honour. No
one ever yet made an appeal to me on behalf of a beauteous creature
without success. The least wish of a lady is sacred in the eyes of
Major O'Teague. If the lady wishes, we'll set our men to fight at
midnight in a coal-cellar."



CHAPTER XXVIII


Somehow, in spite of Major O'Teague's promise of secrecy, the rumour
of the impending duel went round Bath, and Dick had to use all his
adroitness in replying to those of his friends who questioned him
on the subject in the course of the evening. But of course people
were not nearly so certain about this encounter as they had been
about the previous one--the one which did not take place. Young Mr.
Sheridan's imagination was quite equal to the strain put upon it by his
interrogators, and he was able to give each of them a different answer.
He assured some of them that he had excellent authority for believing
that there was to be a meeting between Mr. Long and Captain Mathews,
and that, in order to assure complete secrecy, it was to take place in
the Pump Room before the arrival of the visitors some morning--he hoped
to be able to find out the exact morning. Others he informed that it
had been agreed by the friends of Mr. Long and Captain Mathews that
they were to fight with pistols across the Avon at the next full moon;
while to such persons as wanted circumstantial news on the subject, he
gave the information in an undertone in a corner, that the fight was to
come off on the following Thursday, on the lawn at Bath-Easton, Captain
Mathews having declared that he would not be satisfied unless the same
people who had witnessed the insult that had been put upon him were
present to see him wipe it out. Dick even went the length of quoting
the first two lines of a poem which he himself was composing for Lady
Miller's urn, feeling convinced that the prize would be awarded to him
on account of its appropriateness. He meant to leave a blank in the
final line, he said, to be filled up at the last moment with the name
of the survivor.

The result of this unscrupulous exercise of his imagination was to
alienate from him several of his friends and to mystify the others; so
that, when he drove out with Mr. Long the next morning to the paddock
by the Gloucester Road, it was plain that the secret as to the place
of meeting had been well kept. Whatever might be said about Major
O'Teague, he had respected the plea for secrecy advanced by Dick,
though Dick knew that it must have gone to his heart to be deprived of
the crowd of spectators on whom he had reckoned.

Dick saw that the ground lent itself to secrecy. At one part of the
paddock there was a small plantation, and this screened off the greater
part of it from the road. Here the ground was flat, but only for about
half an acre; beyond this space there was a gradual rise into a wooded
knoll, which could also be reached by a narrow lane leading off the
road. Opposite the entrance to the paddock was the iron gate, behind
which Mr. Long had retreated on the night when he was attacked; and
now that Dick saw the place by daylight, he noticed that the gate gave
access to the weedy carriage drive of an unoccupied house.

"A capital covert for footpads," said Dick, when he stood by the side
of Mr. Long beyond the plantation in the paddock. "I daresay it was
just here that the fellows lay in wait for the approach of a victim."

"That was the conclusion to which I came," said Mr. Long. "And now here
are we waiting for them."

"For them?" said Dick.

"Well, for Mathews and his friend," said Mr. Long with a quiet laugh.

"Worse than any footpads," growled Dick, examining the ground just
beyond the belt of trees.

"I promise you that they shall have neither my money nor my life,
friend Dick," said Mr. Long, looking round as if in expectation of
seeing some one.

"We are before the appointed time," said Dick, framing an answer to his
inquiring look.

"We shall have the longer space to admire the prospect from yon knoll,"
said his friend. "I am minded to have a stroll round the paddock. I
promise you that I shall not disgrace you by running away."

He waved his hand to Dick, who accepted the gesture as an indication
that he desired to be alone. He busied himself about the ground while
Mr. Long strolled toward the hedge that ran alongside the narrow lane
skirting the paddock.

Dick fancied that he understood his desire to be alone for the brief
space left to him before the probable arrival of Mathews and O'Teague.
Could Mr. Long doubt for a moment that Mathews would do his best to
kill him? Surely not.

So, then, the next quarter of an hour would decide the question whether
he was to live or die. Dick remembered what Mr. Long had told him
respecting his early life--his early love--his enduring love. What had
his words been at that time?

"_Those who die young have been granted the gift of perpetual youth._"

He watched Mr. Long walking slowly and with bent head up the sloping
ground by the bramble hedge. He could believe that he was communing
with the one of whom he had never ceased to think as his companion--the
one who walked unseen by his side--whose gracious presence had never
ceased to influence him throughout his life. And then, all at once
the younger man became conscious of that invisible presence. Never
before had he been aware of such an impression. It was not shadowy. It
was not vague. It was not a suggestion of the imagination. It was an
impression as real as that of the early morning air which exhilarated
him--as vivid as that of the song of the skylark which had left its
nest at the upper part of the green meadow, and was singing while it
floated into the azure overhead. He felt as if he were standing beneath
outspread wings, and the consciousness was infinitely gracious to
him. All through the night and so far into the morning he had been in
great trouble of thought. The shocking possibilities of this duel had
suggested themselves to him every moment, and it was with a feeling
of profound depression that he had taken the case of pistols from the
carriage and entered the paddock.

But now, with the suddenness of entering a wide space of free air,
out of a narrow room of suffocating vapours--with the suddenness of
stepping into the sunlight out of a cell, his depression vanished. He
felt safe beneath the shadow of those gracious, outstretched wings.
Every suggestion that had come to him during the night, every thought
of the likelihood of disaster, disappeared.

_The dead are mightier than the living._

That was the thought which came to him now. He knew that the sense
of perfect security of which he was now aware, could not have been
imparted to him by any earthly presence; and looking across the green
meadow to where Mr. Long was standing motionless, Dick knew that he
also was living in this consciousness. And the cool scent of the
meadow grass filled the morning air, and high overhead the wings of
song spread forth by the ecstasy of the skylark winnowed the air. The
feeling of exhilaration of which Dick Sheridan was conscious, was such
as he had never known before.

       *       *       *       *       *

Looking up the paddock, Dick fancied that he saw a figure moving
stealthily among the fringe of trees; but he was not quite certain that
some one was there. A few sheep were in the meadow at the other side of
the hedge, and he thought it was quite possible that one of the flock
had strayed through a gap and had wandered among the trees. At any
rate he failed to see again any moving object in the same direction,
and he did not think it worth his while going across the ground to
make further investigations. He reflected that, after all, assuming
that some one was among the trees, it was out of his power to insist
on the withdrawal of such a person. He felt that, if it were to turn
out that the owner of the ground was there, the combatants might find
themselves ordered off the ground, for assuredly they were trespassers.
And then his reflections were broken by the noise of carriage wheels
on the road--sounds which ceased quite suddenly just when they were
being heard most distinctly. After a pause came the sound of voices and
a laugh or two. In a few moments Major O'Teague, with Mathews by his
side, and followed by two gentlemen--one of them was recognised by him
as Mr. Ditcher, the surgeon--appeared beyond the plantation.

Dick advanced to meet the party, but Mr. Long made no move. He was
still on the slope of the meadow, apparently giving a good deal of
attention to the distant view of the city of Bath.

"Sir," said Major O'Teague, "we're a trifle late, and an apology is jew
to you. I promise you that 'twill not occur again."

Dick had been extremely punctilious in the matter of taking off his
hat to the party, and he declined to replace it until every one was
covered. He assured Major O'Teague that no apology was necessary;
he did not believe that it was yet five minutes past the appointed
hour. Then Major O'Teague presented the only stranger of the party--a
gentleman named MacMahon--"a brother Irishman, Mr. Sheridan," he said,
in discharging this act of courtesy; "a lineal descendant of the great
FitzUrse who killed St. Thomas à Becket some years back; you may have
heard of the occurrence. 'Tis not every day that one has a chance of
killing a saint. Faith, I'm inclined to think that the practice has
become obsolete owing to the want of material. Any way, Bath is not the
place for any man to come to who seeks to emulate such a feat."

Mr. MacMahon said he was modest; he sought to kill neither saint nor
sinner. He hoped that Mr. Sheridan would not consider him an obtruder
upon the scene; if Mr. Sheridan took such a view of the case, he would,
he assured him, retire without a word of complaint.

Dick acknowledged his civility, and said that no friend of Major
O'Teague's would be out of place where an affair of honour was being
settled.

While these courtesies were being exchanged, Mathews stood silently by,
his teeth set, and his eyes fixed upon the distant figure of Mr. Long.
He turned suddenly while Dick and Mr. MacMahon were bowing to each
other, hat in hand.

"Is this a _fête champêtre_ or the rehearsal of a comedy?" he said. "If
my time is to be wasted---- Where is your man, Mr. Sheridan?--produce
your man, sir, if he be not afraid to show his face."

"I trust that no suggestion will be made to that effect, sir," said
Dick.

"No one will make it while I am on the ground, Mr. Sheridan," said
Major O'Teague. "If anybody here sees anything inappropriate in Mr.
Long spending a few minutes in meditation, that person differs from
me. Come, Mr. Sheridan, 'tis only for you and me to make any remarks.
Egad, sir! I compliment your friend on his choice of the ground. It
seems made for a jewel, so it does. That belt of trees shuts off the
road entirely, and if we place our men on the flat, that hill behind
us will give neither of them an unjew advantage. Sir, for one who is
unfortunate enough to have had no experience of these affairs, you have
shown an aptitude for the business that falls little short of jaynius."

He glanced at the ground and its surroundings with the easy confidence
of a general, and then marching to the right and left, cocked an eye in
the direction of the sun.

"There's no choice of places, that I can see; what do you say, Mr.
Sheridan?" he asked.

"So far as I can judge there is no question of choice," said Dick.
"That is, of course, with pistols; it would be another matter with
swords."

"I agree with you, sir. Then, with your leave, we will measure the
ground twenty paces from the line of trees."

A considerable space of time was occupied in these formalities, and
then came the question of the weapons. This was settled without
discussion--Major O'Teague proving as courteous as he had promised to
be; in fact, he thought it necessary to excuse his constant agreement
with Dick.

"If there was anything to disagree about, you may be sure that I'd do
it in the interest of Mr. Mathews, sir," he said; "but I give you my
word that there's nothing to allow any side the smallest advantage. And
now, sir, though it seems a pity to disturb the meditations of your
friend, I am afraid that the time has come for you to take that step. I
hope to Hivins that he won't think it in bad taste. But you're spared
the trouble: he is coming to us."

Mr. Long was walking quickly down the meadow, and when still a few
paces away, he raised his hat to Major O'Teague, but ignored Mathews,
who was standing some yards off.

"Major O'Teague," he said, "I have to inform you that I have been
giving the question of the projected duel my earnest thought, and the
conclusion that I have come to is that I am not called on to fight Mr.
Mathews."



CHAPTER XXIX


The words, spoken deliberately, but without any particular emphasis,
startled Dick quite as much as they did Major O'Teague.

"You're a coward, sir, and I will force you to fight me!" shouted
Mathews.

Dick took a couple of steps to the side of Mr. Long, and at the same
instant O'Teague took three to the side of Mathews.

"Hold your tongue, sir; leave me to manage this affair," said Major
O'Teague to his principal.

He took a step nearer Mr. Long.

"I'm afraid, sir," he said in a frigid tone and with a distinctly
English accent, which sounded very much more formal than the soft
Irish slur which came so easily to him--"I'm afraid that there's some
misunderstanding between us; but a little explanation will, I daresay,
tend to smooth away matters, and lead to such an amicable settlement
that the fight will take place as originally intended. Pray, sir, state
your reasons for saying that you're not called on to consummate the
jewel. Come, sir, your reasons."

"My reasons? This is one of them," said Mr. Long, pointing toward the
bramble hedge beside the lane.

So intent had every one been over the technicalities of the duel, none
had noticed a little figure standing there waiting for a signal--the
figure of a little boy. When Mr. Long raised his arm and pointed
toward him, he began to run to the group, and now all eyes were turned
upon him. He was a pretty child of perhaps eight or nine years of age,
and while he ran he kept calling out:

"Daddy, daddy, I'se come, I'se come!"

No one in the group moved, and the little boy ran toward Mathews
with outstretched arms. He had almost reached him before Mathews had
recovered from the astonishment that had left his face pale. He stepped
back, saying:

"Take the brat away! What demon brought him hither? Take him away, I
say, before I do him a hurt."

"'Tis not a demon that brings the like of that to men," said O'Teague.
Then, putting out his hands to the little boy, he cried, "Come hither,
my little man, and tell us what is your name."

The child stopped and gazed with wondering eyes at Major O'Teague, who
was kneeling on one knee, with inviting hands stretched forth.

"Mammy said for I to run to daddy," lisped the little fellow, and he
looked round, putting a tiny thumb in his mouth.

"Take the brat away, or I shall do it a hurt," shouted Mathews.

The child shrank back, and a frightened look came to his face.

"I'se good to-day, pappy," he said. "I'se very good. I'se did what
mammy told. She said, 'Go to pappy,' and I'se goed."

Mathews, his hands clenched, took a step in the direction of Mr. Long,
and Dick took a step in the direction of Mathews.

"Coward!" said the last named. "Coward! this is how you would shirk the
fight that you owe me. You have brought them here."

"Yes, I brought them here--all your family," said Mr. Long. "And--yes,
I own to being a coward; I own that I shrink from standing up with a
deadly weapon in my hand before the husband of an estimable lady and
the father of an innocent child. Captain Mathews, you are aware of the
fact that I am acquainted with some compromising incidents in your
past life. I do not wish you ill, sir. I implore of you to be advised
in time. Return to your home, and make an honest attempt to redeem the
past."

"I will--I will--when I have seen you lying dead at my feet,"
said Mathews. Then, turning to the others of the party, he cried:
"Gentlemen, are we here to be made fools of? Let the affair proceed, or
let Mr. Long and his friend make up their minds to be branded in public
as cowards and poltroons."

"Major O'Teague," said Dick, "you cannot possibly have known that
Captain Mathews, while professing honourable intentions in regard to a
lady in Bath, was all the time a married man?"

"I acknowledge that that is the truth, Mr. Sheridan," said Major
O'Teague; "but you'll pardon me if I say that I can't for the life of
me see what that disclosure has to do with the matter before us."

"What, sir, you don't think that a gentleman should be exempted from
fighting with so unscrupulous an adventurer as, on your own admission,
Captain Mathews has proved to be?" said Dick.

"Upon my soul, I don't, Mr. Sheridan," said O'Teague. "On the contrary,
sir, it appears to me that a man who behaved so dishonourably as my
friend Captain Mathews has done, makes a most suitable antagonist for a
gentleman of honour like Mr. Long or yourself, sir."

Mr. MacMahon, the stranger who had come to witness the fight, had taken
the little boy by the hand, and was leading him up the meadow away from
the men; and every now and again the child looked over his shoulder
with big, puzzled eyes. He was asking a perpetual question.

"Sir," said Dick, with great promptitude when O'Teague had
spoken--"Sir, I give you my word that I have no objection to fight
Captain Mathews myself."

"No," cried Mr. Long. "No laws of honour demand that a gentleman shall
stand up before a felon."

"True, sir," said Major O'Teague; "but you see, nothing that Captain
Mathews has yet done can be construed as an act of felony."

"Indeed, sir, Captain Mathews and I know better than that," said Mr.
Long.

"'Tis a lie--I swear that 'tis a foul lie!" shouted Mathews. "I admit
that years ago---- But there were no proofs that the girl did not die
by her own hands. She did it to be revenged upon me. Have you proofs?
If you have, pray produce them."

"I have proof enough to send you to the hangman," said Mr. Long.

"Sir," said Major O'Teague, "I did not come hither to listen to such
recrimination. You must be aware, Mr. Long, that you have seriously
compromised your position as a man of honour by making a vague charge
against your opponent a pretext for backing out of a fight with him.
If a man was a fool years ago--well, which of us hasn't been a fool at
some time of our life?"

"Sir," said Mr. Long, "I do not need to be instructed on points of
honour by you or any one else. I did not refer to your friend's felony
of four years ago, but to a much more recent act of his."

"Let us have your proofs, sir, or, by Hivins, my felonious friend will
have my assistance in branding you as a coward!" cried Major O'Teague.

Mr. Long was holding between his finger and thumb a small piece of lace
before the man had done speaking.

"This is my proof," he said.

Major O'Teague stared at him and then at Dick Sheridan. He saw that
Dick was as much puzzled as himself.

"In the name of all that's sensible----" he began.

"The fellow is a fool," cried Mathews. "Ay, a fool as well as a coward."

"In the name of all that's sensible, Mr. Long, tell us what it is you
mean at all," said O'Teague. "What in the name of all the Hivins do you
mean by showing us that rag?"

"This piece of lace is a souvenir that your friend left with me of our
last encounter. Look at the torn ruffle of his right sleeve, sir. I
think you will find that the rent needs for its repair this piece of
lace which I hold in my hand."

"Sir, I heard of no encounter," said Major O'Teague.

"Then you would do well to get your friend to acquaint you with some of
its details," said Mr. Long.

Major O'Teague, mystified to a point of distraction, turned to Mathews;
but he failed to catch his eye, the fact being that Mathews was gazing
at Mr. Long as a man gazes at another who has just amazed him by a
sudden revelation.

"Am I asleep or awake--that's what I want to know?" cried Major
O'Teague. "And I want to know it badly too, for what's the drift of all
these hints and all this aimless talk baffles me. Look you here, Mr.
Long, you tell me you crossed swords with Captain Mathews quite lately;
well, sir, if that is the truth, will you tell me why you should object
to fight with him now?"

"Sir," said Mr. Long, "Mr. Mathews was in the disguise of a footpad on
that road between those trees and the iron gate opposite, and I fought
for my life against him and his two confederates."

Major O'Teague did not allow any one to see how startled he was. He
stroked his chin and pursed out his lips. There was a long pause before
he said:

"And that is the evidence you bring forward of a very remarkable
affair, sir--that scrap of rag?"

"Psha! sir, I have as much evidence of that remarkable affair as would
suffice to hang the dean and chapter of a cathedral!" said Mr. Long.

"Pray give us an example of it, sir," said the major. "Juries in this
country don't hang even dogs, to say nothing of deans, on the evidence
of a scrap of rag."

"That's it," said Mathews; his voice was a trifle husky--he had not
had much practice in speaking for some minutes. "That's it!--Major
O'Teague, you are my friend: I ask no better friend. Let the fellow
produce his evidence."

"I will," said Mr. Long.

He took a few steps toward the trees around the knoll where Dick had
fancied he saw some figures moving. He raised a finger, and at this
signal two men clad in homespun hastened down the meadow.

Mathews' jaw fell.

"One of these men was Mathews' confederate, the other is an honester
man; he is the shepherd who lay concealed among the brambles yonder
when Mathews and his bravos waited for me in this very place. He saw
the fight, but having no weapon, he was wise enough to refrain from
interfering in what did not concern him. He was fortunate enough,
however, to pick up the shoe which came off Mathews' foot in his hasty
flight from my friend, Mr. Sheridan, so that----"

A shout of warning came from Major O'Teague's friend, MacMahon, and
the next second a sword went flashing through the air a dozen yards
away, and Dick Sheridan, breathing hard, stood with his own sword in
his hand. He had been just in time to disarm Mathews, who had drawn his
sword and rushed with it upon Mr. Long.

And while every one stood aghast for the moment, there came forth from
the plantation of trees a well-dressed lady, leading by the hand the
little boy who had been on the scene before. She walked slowly across
the meadow to the group, and every one looked at her.

The sword that had been jerked out of Mathews' hand remained nodding,
like a reed before the wind, with its hilt in the air, for the point
had penetrated the soft turf an inch or two, at such an acute angle as
made the steel top-heavy at the hilt.

No one had the presence of mind to call Mathews an assassin, but all
removed their hats at the approach of the lady.

She was smiling.

"Good-morning, gentlemen," she said, responding to their respectful
salutations. "I perceive that my dear husband has been at his tricks
again. He has been passing himself off at Bath as a gay bachelor, I
hear, and the people were fools enough to be taken in by him; and all
the time he was writing to me such loving letters, and sending them to
the North to be posted. He made out that he was recruiting in Kendal,
the sly rogue!"

She gave a laugh, pointing an upbraiding finger at Mathews. Clearly
she was not greatly put out by anything that had yet come under her
notice,--she seemed more inclined to regard the escapade of which
her husband was guilty, in the light of a piece of pleasantry, to be
referred to with smiles; but the only one of the party who responded to
her in a like spirit was Major O'Teague.

"O madam!" he cried, "he is indeed a sad dog--quite inexcusable,
madam--oh, altogether inexcusable! For I vow that, however leniently
disposed his friends may have been in regard to his freak before they
had seen the lady whom he forsook, they cannot condone his offence now
that they have been so happy as to make her acquaintance. Madam, the
man that could leave you for--for--the frivolities of Bath deserves no
sympathy."

[Illustration: A well-dressed lady ... walked slowly across the meadow
to the group.                                            [_page 288._]

"Sir, you are, I protest, vastly polite," said Mrs. Mathews; "but I am
sure you will not be hard upon poor Captain Mathews' frailties. 'Tis
his misfortune to be over-susceptible to the charms of new faces. Who
can blame him when the trait was born with him? After all, constancy is
an acquired virtue."

"True, madam, quite true," said Major O'Teague. "But, Mrs. Mathews, I
beg of you to permit me to say that if a gentleman who is fortunate
enough to be married to so charming a lady as yourself does not acquire
constancy, we may well distrust your theory."

"I vow, sir, you overwhelm a simple country-bred woman with your
flattery," said she. "But I see that Mr. Long and his friends are
feeling bored by our philosophy. Still, I should like to ask Mr. Long
if his experience can suggest better advice to a woman married to so
erratic a gentleman as Captain Mathews than to make the best of a bad
bargain? Lud, sir, to spend my days weeping on a bed because of my
husband's peccadilloes would only be to make myself miserable, without
improving him. After all, he doesn't annoy me much. I have a fortune
of my own and two sweet children, and he is a good deal from home,
so that I have much to be thankful for. Come along, captain: you see
that no one here wishes to fight with you. Perhaps at home you will
have a better chance. A husband, if he keeps his eyes open, can always
find some one at home to quarrel with. At the worst, there are always
servants to be sworn at. 'Tis a great ease to a man's mind to know that
he can always curse a groom or a wife or a dog without being called to
account. Come along, captain; you have still got your grooms and your
wife left to you. You know as well as I do that if you succeeded in
captivating a young beauty at Bath--though I haven't seen much of this
beauty--you would swear at her within the month as heartily as you do
at me."

Mathews looked quite ready to swear at her at that moment. He
restrained himself, however, and, after only a short pause, went
hastily to where his sword was still swaying on its point. He drew it
out of the wound it had made in the earth, and rammed it back into its
sheath. Then he took the shortest route to the gate; only when he was
passing the line of trees in the plantation did he turn and glance back
at the group whom he had left. The expression upon his face was one of
disappointed malice; no trace of repentance was to be seen there.

With a laugh, his wife followed him, the golden-haired little boy
running by her side. She cast an apologetic glance at the gentlemen,
and they all made profound bows.

"Major O'Teague, I ask your pardon, sir, for having caused you to come
here on a business which I knew must prove fruitless," said Mr. Long.

"Sir," said Major O'Teague, "I think that if there's to be an apology
it should come from me. But I give you my word of honour, sir, I had
no idea that the fellow was such a rascal: he has only been acquainted
with me for three days. I guessed that he was bad enough. But think of
that last _coup_ of his, sir--trying to run you through the body while
you were speaking! By my soul, Mr. Long, 'tis something of a pity that
he was obstructed in time, for 'twould be a pleasure to all of us to
see him hanged for such an act."

"I fear that I could not have shared that pleasure," said Mr. Long.

"And pray why not, sir, when you would know that the fellow was the
greatest rascal unhung?" cried Major O'Teague.

"Perhaps I am too tender-hearted, sir," said Mr. Long, "but truth
compels me to assure you that I could not bear to see a man hanged
merely for killing me."

"Faith, and you are mighty compassionate, sir," said Major O'Teague.
"I give you my word that there's no sight I would enjoy so much as
the hanging of the man that had killed me by a mortal wound when my
attention was diverted elsewhere."



CHAPTER XXX


Dick Sheridan believed that his ingenuity would be taxed to the
uttermost to invent plausible answers to satisfy the curiosity of
the many people who would be questioning him on the subject of Mr.
Long's meeting with Captain Mathews. When he had to make up so many
replies to the questions put to him regarding the duels that had never
been contemplated, what would he not have to do in respect of this
meeting, which had actually taken place, though without an exchange of
shots? His reasoning on this basis showed that he had but an imperfect
acquaintance with the methods of the good people of Bath. He should
have known that, having had two duels to talk about within the previous
fortnight, and having, moreover, found out that neither of these
encounters had taken place, they would lose all interest in duels real
or imaginary. But that was just the view the people of Bath took of
the incident. If any tale of the interrupted encounter--surely a most
piquant topic!--reached the ears of the gossips of the Pump Room and
the Parade, they were reticent on the subject. Not one question was
put to Dick respecting Mr. Long and Captain Mathews, the fact being
that all Bath was talking about quite another matter--namely, the
infatuation of Mrs. Abington.

What a freak it was to be sure! There was the most charming actress of
the day (her day had lasted a pretty long while), at whose feet had
sat in vain some of the most distinguished men then living, infatuated
with that young Linley, neglecting her engagements at Mr. Colman's
theatre, laughing at Mr. Cumberland, who had one of his most lugubrious
comedies ready for her to breathe into it the spirit of life, and all
on account of a youth who was certainly (they said) utterly incapable
of appreciating her varied charms.

Mr. Colman had posted down from London to reason with her: in spite of
his experience, he was still of the impression that a woman in love
would listen to reason--and that woman an actress too! He made a step
forward (he thought) in his knowledge of women and actresses, when he
had had a talk with Mrs. Abington.

And Mr. Cumberland---- But then, Mr. Cumberland knew nothing whatever
about the nature of men and women; he had taken the pains to prove this
by the production of a dozen comedies--so that when he tried to wheedle
her by obvious flatteries, she laughed in his face, and that annoyed
Mr. Cumberland greatly; for he thought that laughter was always out
of place except during the performance of one of his comedies, though
people said that that was the only time when laughter was impossible.

Poor Tom Linley (the men who envied him alluded to him as poor Tom
Linley) was having the finishing touch put to his education, all
sensible people agreed. The wits said that he would learn more of what
music meant by listening to Mrs. Abington's voice, than he would by
studying all the masters of harmony, from Palestrina to Handel.

Of course the scandal-mongers made a scandal out of this latest whim
of Mrs. Abington, but the lovely lady was so well accustomed to be the
centre of a cocoon of scandal (she had a good deal of the nature of the
butterfly about her), she did not mind. She only wondered what Dick
Sheridan thought of Tom Linley's being the hero of so fascinating a
scandal. She wondered how long it would be before Dick Sheridan would
become jealous of the position to which his friend had been advanced.
She judged of Dick Sheridan from her previous knowledge of him; but as
the days went on, she began to feel that a change had come over him.

And then Mrs. Abington became a little reckless; for whenever she and
Tom Linley were in the same room as Dick, her laugh was a little louder
than usual and a good deal less melodious; and the way she allowed her
eyes to rest on Tom's face when she knew that Dick was looking, was
rather too pictorial for everyday life, some people thought, and these
were the people who said, "Poor Tom Linley!"

But there came a day when Tom Linley was announced to play at a
concert. He was to take the violin part in a concerto, and to play in
two duets with the harpsichord; but these selections had to be omitted
from the programme, the fact being that Master Tom had that day gone
a-driving into the country with Mrs. Abington.

It was a very pretty scene in high comedy, that in which the actress
got the promise of the youth who had buried his heart in his violin, to
fling his music-book to the unmelodious winds in order to take up the
Book of Life and turn over its glowing pages with her. She had told him
that she wished to take a drive into the country the next day, and had
expressed the hope that he would act as her protector.

Of course he replied that it would be to him a trip to the Delectable
Mountains to be by her side, or something to that effect; but he
pointed playfully (now and again Tom could become playful, though never
in the artless spirit of Mrs. Abington) at the bill of the concert in
which his name figured.

What had the fact of his name being on the bill to do with the
question of his coming with her? she inquired in a sweetly simple way,
with artless open eyes.

"Good heavens, sweet lady, surely you must see that I cannot be at the
concert and in your carriage at the same time?" he cried.

"Did I assert that you could?" she asked. "All I did was to ask you to
be my protector to-morrow. I did not say a word about your going to the
concert. What is the concert to me--to you or me, Tom?"

"Nothing--oh, nothing!" he cried, and she allowed him to kiss her hand.
"'Tis nothing. Have not I proved it by refraining from attending a
single practice of the instruments, thereby making my father furious?"

"Then if the concert be nothing to you, am I something less than
nothing?" she cried.

"Ah, you are everything--everything, only---- Heavens, if I were to
absent myself my prospects would be ruined!"

"Ah, 'tis the old story!" sighed the lady,--there was more indignation
in her sigh than Mr. Burke could incorporate in one of his speeches on
the Marriage Act,--"the old story: a man's ambition against a woman's
affection! Go to your concert, sir, but never let me see your face
again."

"Dear child!" he cried,--he sometimes called her "dear child,"
because she was not (he thought) more than two years older than
himself,--"cannot you see that when my name is printed----"

"Do you presume to instruct me on these points, sir?" she cried. "Does
not all the world know that my name is down in every playbill that Mr.
Colman prints, as a member of his company? and yet---- But you have
taught me my duty. I shall go back to London to-morrow. I thank you,
sir, for having given me a lesson. O man, man! always cruel!--always
ready to slight the poor, trustful creature who gives up all for your
sake."

She dissolved into tears, and he was kneeling by her side, trying to
catch the hand which she withheld from him, and all the time swearing
that she was everything to him--his life, his soul, his hope, his
future....

       *       *       *       *       *

And so the pieces in which Tom Linley was to take part at the concert
were omitted from the performance, and the manager assured Mr. Linley
that his son's career, so far as Bath was concerned, was at an end.

Mr. Linley that evening--at one moment weeping in the arms of his
daughter, at another pacing the room declaring passionately that Tom
need never again look near his house, that he would turn him out neck
and crop into the street--said some severely accurate things about Mrs.
Abington and the stage generally, and the Linley household was in a
condition bordering on distraction.

But Mrs. Abington, sitting in an attitude of inimitable grace upon
her little gilded sofa, passing her fingers through Tom's curls as he
sat on a stool at her feet, was in no way disturbed by the condition
of things in Pierrepont Street, the fact being that she was just at
that moment thinking more of Mrs. Abington than of any one else in the
world. She knew that the next day every one in Bath would be talking
about the completeness of her conquest of the ardent young musical
genius who, it was well known, held the theory that there was nothing
in the world worth living for save only music. She wondered what
Dick Sheridan would think now. And she was quite right so far as her
speculations in regard to Bath were concerned. Every one was talking of
how she had been the ruin of Tom Linley, and most of the men who talked
of it, envied Tom most heartily; all the women who talked of it, envied
Mrs. Abington her taste in dress.

And as for Dick Sheridan--well, Dick was for quite an hour of that
morning doing his best to comfort Betsy Linley in the grief that had
overwhelmed her family. She had written to Dick to come to her, and he
had obeyed. He found her alone, and, though not in tears, very close
to the weeping point. He saw, when he had looked into her face, that
she had not slept all night for weeping. She never looked lovelier than
when bearing the signs of recent tears.

"O Dick, Dick, is not this dreadful?" she cried. "You have heard of
it--of course you have heard of it? All Bath is talking of it to-day."

Dick acknowledged that he had heard of Tom's disappointing the audience
at the concert-room the previous day, and of the roars of laughter
that had greeted the manager's announcement that Mr. Tom Linley had
unfortunately contracted a severe indisposition which would, the
doctors declared, prevent his appearing that day. He had not heard,
however, that the manager, smarting from the ridicule of the audience,
had told Mr. Linley that his son was to consider his career as a
musician closed, so far as Bath was concerned.

"But 'tis so indeed; father told us so," said Betsy. "Oh, poor father!
what he has been called on by Heaven to suffer! How dismal his early
life was! But he freed himself by his own genius from that life and
its associations, and then, just when happiness seemed at the point of
coming to him, he finds that he has instructed me in vain,--that was
a great blow to him, Dick--oh, what a disappointment! But what was it
compared to this? O Dick, Dick, something must be done to save Tom!"

"She will soon tire of his society," said Dick. "She is not a woman of
sentiment: when she finds that the topic of her conquest of Tom has
ceased to be talked about, she will release him."

"That is what you said to me long ago, and yet he is not released, and
people are talking more than ever," she cried.

"We must have patience, Betsy."

"What! do you suggest that we should do nothing--absolutely nothing? O
Dick, I looked for better advice from you! What comfort is it to the
friends of a prisoner immured in a dungeon to tell them that if they
have patience his prison bars will rust away and he will then be free?"

"Do you fancy that my going to Mrs. Abington to plead for him will have
any effect upon her? Do you really believe that all the eloquence of
man has any influence upon a woman with a whim?"

"Ah, she will listen to you--you will be able to persuade her. She
cares for you, Dick--I know that."

He looked at her wonderingly. How was it possible, he asked himself,
that she had found out Mrs. Abington's secret? He himself had not found
it out of his own accord, and he was a man. (He ventured to assume that
such secrets were more likely to be guessed by a man than by a woman.)

"She likes me--yes, I suppose--in a way," he said. "But I am not sure
that this fact would make her the more ready to abandon a whim of the
moment. On the contrary----"

"Ah, Dick, will you not help us?" she cried. "Surely if she cares about
you----"

"Dear Betsy, I think we should do well to avoid giving any
consideration to that particular point," said Dick hastily. "I will go
to Mrs. Abington and make an appeal to her, but 'twill not be on the
ground that she cares for me; in fact, I do not at this moment know on
what ground I can appeal to her."

"But you will go? Ah, I knew that we could depend on you to do your
best for us, Dick," said she, and there passed over her face a glimpse
of gladness--a flash of sunshine making more transparent the azure of
her eyes. "You are the one whom I can always trust, dear Dick, because
I know that you can always trust yourself."

"I have learned that from you, my Betsy; I can stand face to face with
you, and yet--I can trust myself."

"Ah, do not say that you learned it from me," she cried. She had
turned away from him suddenly and was looking pensively at the hand
which she had rested on the back of a chair. "If you could know what
is in my heart, Dick, you would not talk about learning anything from
me--alas--! alas!"

"You can trust your heart," he said--"you can trust your heart, for it
is true."

"Oh, do not talk in that way--for Heaven's sake, do not talk in that
way!" she cried. "My heart--true?--ah, I fancied that I could trust
myself--I fancied that I was strong, that I could do all that I had set
myself to do, but--ah, Dick, my heart, my poor heart! It is not strong,
it is not true, and the worst of it is that I--I myself--I cannot be
true to my heart, and I am too weak to be true to my resolution."

She was walking to and fro nervously, and now she threw herself into a
chair and put her hands up to her face.

He looked at her without moving, though it was in his heart to kneel
before her and, taking her hands in his own, pour out the tale of his
love to her. His heart whispered to him that she would at that moment
give him kiss for kiss. A month ago no power would have restrained him
from kneeling to her; but now he was under the control of another power
and a stronger than that which set his heart beating as it was beating.
He felt the controlling influence; but--well, he thought it would not
be wise to look at her any longer.

He turned away from where she was sitting; his hands were behind him
and his fingers locked together. He stood looking out of the window,
but seeing nothing. The room was very silent. He thought he heard a
movement behind him. He thought he heard her footfalls approaching him,
he thought he heard a sigh close to him--a sigh with the inflection
of a sob; but still he did not move--his fingers tightened about each
other. He would not turn round. His heart beat more wildly, and the
rhythm of its beats made up a siren-song hard to be resisted.

But there was another power upholding him in the struggle to which he
had nerved himself, and he knew that that power was love. He felt that
it was his love for her that saved him--that saved her. He did not turn
round.

And then there came dead silence.

He knew that she had gone.

In another moment he was kneeling beside the chair in which she had
sat, kissing the place where her hand had rested. It was still warm
from her touch, and he kissed it again and again, crying in a voice
tremulous not with passion, but with love:

"My beloved! my beloved! You have been true--true to true love--true to
the truest love!"



CHAPTER XXXI


With what story was he to go to her? What excuse was he to make for
interfering between her and the carrying out of her whims? How was he
to tell her that she was no longer to make a fool of the youth whom she
had taken a fancy to fool?

He found no answer to any of these questions which he asked himself.
But when he went on to ask himself if she would not have a right to
accuse him of impudence and presumption were he to go to her for the
purpose of remonstrating with her, he had no difficulty in finding an
answer.

He had never set about any business for which he had less aptitude than
this. He was sufficiently a man of the world to know that he was the
last person who should go to Mrs. Abington to remonstrate with her. The
man who interposes in a quarrel between a man and a wife is accounted a
fool; but a man who interposes between an actress and her lover is much
worse--he is a busybody, and he usually comes off as badly as does an
arbitrator, who reconciles two of his friends in order to become the
enemy of both.

Dick felt that not only would his mission be fruitless, he would be
regarded by both the actress and the lover with righteous rage. And
then he was a little afraid of Mrs. Abington. She had availed herself
to the uttermost of her opportunities of studying men, and she had,
he believed, acquired a knowledge of how to treat individual cases
without risk to herself, that was little short of marvellous. A woman
possessing such powers was one whom every sensible man feared; the
others fell in love with her. And he had promised to go to her upon a
mission that would have been odious to him if it had not been suggested
by Betsy Linley.

He could not explain to Betsy that there are certain lessons in
life that must be learned by all men who wish to be men, and that
these lessons cannot be learned from the study of books, but only
by experience, and that her brother was learning his lesson at the
sacrifice only of a few weeks of his time (he did not believe that at
the best--or was it the worst?--Mrs. Abington's caprice would last
longer than a week or two), at a period of his life that could by no
means be called critical. Betsy would not have understood, and he was
glad at the thought that she would not have understood.

When he had given himself up to thinking with what wisdom on his lips
he should go to Mrs. Abington, he did what a wise man would do--that
is, a moderately wise man; an entirely wise man would have stayed at
home--he went to her without a portfolio. He had no idea what he would
say to her; he had no policy to carry out. In dealing with a capricious
woman, so much depends on her caprice. About Mrs. Abington nothing was
steadfast except her capriciousness; and Dick felt that, in going to
her, his success would be dependent on his treatment of her caprice of
the moment.

He thought that the hour of his visit to her should be immediately
following the departure of Tom Linley from her presence. He took it for
granted that Tom would be paying her his usual afternoon visit, and he
was not astray. Passing her lodgings, he heard the long and melancholy
wail of a violin in which a young man has hidden his heart, turning the
instrument into an oubliette with air-holes, so that the moaning and
the wailing of the immured can be heard at some distance. On and on
went the moan of the imprisoned heart, until Dick felt that the lady
was paying a high price for her caprice, if she was compelled to listen
daily to such melodies.

No, this particular whim of hers could not possibly last longer than
a few more weeks, he thought, as he strolled by and waited for Tom to
leave the house. Tom stayed a long time; but Dick reflected that the
longer he stayed the better chance there would be of Mrs. Abington's
listening to reason. After the dolorous complaint of the catgut, even
reason, though usually unpalatable, would sound grateful to her ears.

In course of time Tom went away; Dick saw him go with his fiddle tucked
under his arm in its baize cover. A rapt look was on his face. He had a
double inspiration: he was a musical genius, and he was in love for the
first time.

"Surely you have the kindest heart of any woman in the whole world!"
cried Dick, when he had kissed her hand.

"Yes," she said, "I believe that I have--at times; but how have you
found me out? I fancied that I had done my best to conceal that fact
from you."

"Enough that I have found it out," said he.

"'Tis not enough, sir," she cried. "What! do you make an accusation
against a poor woman and then refuse to say on what grounds it is made?"

"'Tis a fault that carries its own punishment, madam," said he, "so I
will reproach you no further. Faith, there are few ladies nowadays who
lay themselves open to such a charge."

"All the greater reason why I should know your reasons for making me an
exception," said she.

He laughed, saying:

"Well, if you must know, I passed by this house a quarter of an hour
ago."

"That is evidence of your lack of a kind heart, Dick, not of my
possession of such a disqualification for success in the world," said
she.

"True; but I heard the wail of the catgut, and yet when I saw Tom
Linley just now his face wore a look of triumph, and so far as I could
see, his fiddle was intact."

"Psha! Dick, you should not cultivate that roundabout mode of speech
unless you mean to be taken for a poet. I was not thinking of Tom
Linley--'tis minutes since he was here. No, I had a fancy that you
called me kind-hearted because I did not reproach you for failing to
visit me once, though I have now been here several weeks."

"I was wrong--very wrong. But, you see, with Tom Linley----"

"Ah, poor Tom! Yes, he has certainly been here more than once. I have
really become quite fond of Tom. He is such a nice boy--surely the
handsomest boy that--that----"

"That was ever made a fool of," suggested Dick, when the lady paused.

"Well, we shall say that ever made a fool of himself--that frees every
one else from responsibility," laughed the lady. "Dick, the man who is
wise enough to make a fool of himself every now and again is indeed the
wise man. But Tom is a mighty pretty fellow. He is coming up to London,
too."

Dick's face became grave. He shook his head.

"That is past a jest," said he.

"Past a jest? Pray, who was talking of jesting?" she asked quite
gravely.

"Would you not regard his going to London in the light of a jest?" he
asked.

"Not I, sir!" she cried. "On the contrary, I have done my best to
dissuade him from such a project, knowing as I do, how serious a thing
it would be for him. But you boys are all equally self-willed, Dick;
I can do nothing with any of you. I am as the potter's clay in your
hands."

"How does Tom Linley mean to live when he goes to London?" he asked,
after a pause.

"Lud, sir! how should I know?" she cried very prettily, holding up her
hands.

"You do not mean to take him up to London with you to starve?" he said.

"And this is the man who swore just now that I had the kindest heart
among living women!" she cried. "Mr. Sheridan, did you come hither
to-day solely to talk about Tom Linley?"

"Yes," he said, "solely to talk about Tom Linley. My dear creature, I
shall have to throw myself on the kindness of your heart before I have
done, for I want to tell you the truth."

"You had much better refrain, sir, from venturing into such an
unexplored region," said she. "I have noticed that when people threaten
you with telling the truth they invariably become rude."

"It will not be rudeness on my part to suggest to you that it is not
quite fair for you to stake counters in a game where the other player
stakes gold."

"In other words?--pray let me have the interpretation of this fable."

"In other words, Tom Linley has staked his heart against--against----"

"Against what, sir? Against mine, do you say?--against my heart--my
kind heart? And you hold that my heart is a counter--something
spurious--something base?"

"Nay, madam, I was not so foolish as to fancy for a moment that your
heart had any connection with this game. But that is where you do not
play fair. You know that poor Tom Linley's heart is laid at your feet,
and yet----"

"And yet? Pray continue your criticism of the game, sir--I vow 'tis
vastly diverting. And yet---- Well, sir?"

"And yet--well, surely with your many conquests, Mrs. Abington, you
cannot set any store upon the devotion of Tom Linley!"

"Why should not I?" she cried. "Why should not I do so, if it so please
me? He is, I repeat, a delightful boy, and why I should not value his
devotion simply because I have had conquests and he has had none--that
is your argument, I think--I cannot at this moment perceive."

"If you had any real affection for him you would not seek to spoil his
career at the outset. The manager of the concerts told his father that
Tom need never hope to get a hearing in Bath so long as he lives. You
took him out driving with you when he should have been playing at the
concert. Ah, my dear madam, one who is so strong as you are should be
merciful."

"You come here to tell me that, do you? O Dick, you have, after all, no
true sense of comedy, though I fancied that none could surpass you in
that respect. Is't possible that you fail to see how ludicrous is your
appearance here to-day pleading to me for--for--what? You have not yet
told me what 'tis that you plead for."

"I plead with you to send Tom Linley back to the career which will
surely be his if you set him free. Dear madam, you can have no idea in
what anxiety his family are about him just now."

"They have been reading the parable of the one ewe lamb. They ask if
Mrs. Abington has not at her feet flocks and herds which she devours at
her leisure and when she has an appetite, and demand to know why she
should want their one ewe lamb. They have not the wit to perceive that
one may tire of beef and mutton, and so ask lamb by way of change. They
are not good housekeepers. Besides, now that I come to think on't, they
have more than one ewe lamb: are they not at the point of sacrificing
one of them--the flower of the flock?"

"Leaving parables out of the question, dear madam, let me ask you if
you do not think that it would be to the advantage of Tom Linley to
remain under the influence of his home for some years, free from the
distractions of the town? I have heard that he promises to become a
very great musician; but if----"

"You have some skill as a pleader, Dick. But I am thinking at this
moment what it is you hope to gain by bringing me to a sense of my own
iniquity in listening for an hour or two every day to the fiddling of a
youth who is fresh and natural and a genius to boot."

"What do I hope to gain?"

"Yes. I take it for granted that the eldest sister of the genius
implored of you to come to me: you would not be such a fool as to come
of your own accord. You know too much of the nature of women, Dick, to
believe that one would relinquish even the youngest and most innocent
of her adorers just when she had the satisfaction of learning that she
was looked on as dangerous--so few women attain the distinction of
being thought dangerous, though most of them aim at it."

Dick laughed approvingly; he felt that it would never do for him to
neglect any of the conciliatory arts of the pleader.

"Tom is, as you say, young and innocent, Mrs. Abington," he said
indulgently. "That is why I offer to you the parable of the
fisherman. A good fisherman--one who fishes for sport and not for the
fish-kettle--never fails to take the hook out of the jaws of a young
and innocent fish, and to send it back to its sorrowing relations."

"Faith, 'tis a pretty parable, Dick," said she. "But how if your
fisherman has been angling all the day for a fish on which he has set
his heart? Failing to catch it, is he to be greatly blamed if he retain
the little one which he has hooked, and try to make the most of it,
dangling it at the end of the line before the onlookers?"

"Nay. When he has in his basket all the fish that swim in the
river--when he----"

"Dick Sheridan," whispered the actress, going close to him and putting
her face closer still,--"Dick Sheridan, I will let Tom Linley go down
the stream if you will take his place."

He started back and felt himself flushing all over--the woman had
revealed herself; and she too was flushing through the force of her
revelation.

They stood there looking at each other, separated by only a few feet.
Some moments had passed before he said:

"Ah, you were born a coquette! Dangerous--you were born dangerous, you
beautiful creature! You would lure me on to make a fool of myself. Nay,
seriously, my dear madam----"

He did not act the part very well; she could have given him a lesson
as to the exact inflection of the phrases. But just then she was not
inclined to be a severe critic.

"Dick," she whispered, with tremulous tenderness, "is it so hard for
you to love me--to love me a little--not as I love you, Dick--I don't
expect so much as that--you are only a man, but still----"

"Stop! for Heaven's sake, stop! Ah, you do not know what you say--you
do not know what you ask!" he said.

"Alas! I know it but too well," she said, her voice broken by sobs.
"Dick, dear Dick, I can be a good woman for your sake. I know that I
am older than you by some years--oh, what do the years matter when
the heart has not grown old? Dick, there is not a grey hair in my
heart. I have been vain, I know; I have loved seeing men make fools of
themselves, but none of them all has ever made a fool of me. No, don't
tell me that I am making a fool of myself before you now! I am not--I
am not!"

"No--no, that is not what is in my heart," said he gently. The thought
that was in his heart at that moment was that though he had gone to her
to plead, it was she who was doing all the pleading with him.

"Am I unwomanly? Ah, my fault has been that I am too womanly."

"I do not know what it is that you suggest," he said slowly.

"Ah, Dick, do not overwhelm me with scorn. Say a word to me--speak
words to me, not icicles, that cut me as icicles cut one."

"I am thinking," he said. "You give me so much to think about. My first
thought is that you are a free woman. You can marry whomsoever you
will?"

"I am free," she said. "I can marry--one--one."

"You would not be afraid to marry that one?" said he.

"Afraid! Ah, my only fear would be that I could not do enough to make
him happy."

"Would you be afraid to marry me?" he said in a low voice.

"Ah, Dick, only for the reason that I have said!" she cried.

"You need not be afraid on that account. I shall be happy--I shall be
happy. Dear madam, I kiss your hand."

"O Dick, my own dear Dick! I shall make you happy--not so happy as you
have made me, but still---- No, no, Dick, not my hand, my cheeks--my
lips--all are yours, Dick, and you are mine--mine--at last--at last!"



CHAPTER XXXII


It was on the evening of the next day that Tom Linley entered the house
at Pierrepont Street, and ran upstairs and flung himself into the
music-room, where his father was giving Polly and Maria a lesson on a
part song. They had gone over the lines:

    "Sigh no more, ladies:
      Men were deceivers ever,
    One foot on sea and one on land,
      To one thing constant never."

"'Deceivers ever--deceivers ever,'" came Maria's pretty treble.

"'Sigh no more--sigh no more,'" whispered Polly in simple harmony, and
then their voices joined with Betsy's in the half-mocking bourdon--

    "With a hey nonny, nonny--"

when Tom entered and threw himself on the sofa. The singers ceased
their song and stared at him. He held his violin laid across his knees,
and then a sudden horror came over the girls, paralysing them where
they stood, for they saw that the violin was broken. Its long neck was
severed close to the body of the instrument, and hung down, suspended
by the strings, from his knees. It was as if they were looking at a
strangled infant--the droop of the severed neck had about it all the
limpness of death. It was ludicrously ghastly, and Tom was gazing at
the wreck with unspeculative eyes.

"Heavens above us! What has happened?" cried Mr. Linley.

"I broke it--God forgive me--I broke it in my anger!" sobbed Tom. "What
does it matter?" he cried, recovering himself. "'Tis not alone the
fiddle that is broken; my heart is broken, and I shall never touch the
instrument again!"

He flung it away from him, but Betsy saw that he took good care that
it should alight on the cushion of the sofa. The moan that came from
the headless trunk striking the soft place was distractingly human.
Maria had lately been reading of a decapitated prince whose head, after
the operation, had rolled off the sawdust, so that all could see the
disdainful expression on the face; and here was the decapitated violin
moaning.

She shuddered.

"It can be mended," said Mr. Linley, examining the wreck.

"I shall never play again," moaned Tom. "My heart is broken."

"Thank Heaven!" murmured his father.

Betsy went to her brother's side, and put an arm about his neck.

"You have come back to us, dear Tom," she said; "and you will never
go away from us again. We all here love you, Tom. Ah, you know that
nothing can change our love for you."

[Illustration: "Curse Dick Sheridan! he has done it all!" [_page 313._]

"Delilah--Delilah--traitress!" murmured Tom. "O Betsy, there has been
no deception like mine since the days of Delilah! She told me plainly
that she was tired of me--that she had never thought of me except as
a nice boy--she actually called me a pretty boy! And my playing--she
said that it was dreary--it gave her the vapours; she asked me to play
a jig--an Irish jig, too--Irish! I told her that sooner than see my
instrument desecrated I would break it across my knee. 'Virginius, the
Roman father!' she cried, pointing a finger at me. I always thought
her fingers shapely; but I saw then that they were not fingers, but
talons--talons!... and I broke my violin before her, and yet she
laughed.... O Delilah--Delilah!... But I shall set the scene to music
that shall wring her heart, if she have one. I see clearly how it can
be dealt with by a small orchestra. Handel fell lamentably short of
the truth when he wrote the music to Delilah. I have the prelude in my
mind. This is how it will go."

He mechanically stretched across the sofa for the violin. Crash went
the pegs, drooping with the neck by the catgut strings, against the
hollow body of the instrument. He started up as if he had become aware
of the disaster for the first time. For some moments he stood handling
the wreck, and then he laid it down very gently on the sofa. He went
with the bowed head of a father in the death-chamber of his child, to
the door; but when he had opened it, and was in the act of departing,
he turned and stood up straight like a man; his hands were clenched,
his eyes were blazing, while he cried:

"Curse Dick Sheridan! he has done it all. Curse him! Curse him!"

He banged the door behind him, leaving the girls white and awed. They
had never before witnessed a really tragic scene ending up with a
curse, and they felt that it was very awful.

"Yes," said Mr. Linley quietly, "we can all join in his prayer and say,
'Bless Dick Sheridan! Bless Dick Sheridan!'--that will be poor Tom's
prayer in another month--perhaps another week."

"Oh, no, no! not another week," said Betsy. "I should be sorry to think
that Tom could be himself within a week. Tom has too deep feeling for
that."

"Let us return to our lesson," said her father. "Dwell lightly on
'deceivers ever,' Maria; and I think, Betsy, you might give full value
to the minim rest before 'Sigh no more,' after the 'hey nonny!' I think
I see the delicate humour of the composer's treatment of the song
better now than I did ten minutes ago."

But the girls were too unnerved to be able to return to their lesson
just then. They remonstrated with their father.

"Well, perhaps one lesson in the day is enough," said he, "and Tom has
just had his."

       *       *       *       *       *

It was altogether very amusing and quite infamous, Bath said. Heavens!
the way in which that woman pursued her course, being on with a new
love quite two days before she was off with the old, was absolutely
shameless.

"A female comet with an ardent train--no fixed star in the firmament,"
said Mr. Walpole, when it was found that Mrs. Abington had discarded
Tom Linley and had taken on Dick Sheridan. It was found that she had
done so within an hour of Tom's dismissal.

"The comet has in all ages been looked on as a portent of disaster,"
said George Selwyn. "I wonder what does this particular heavenly body
portend?"

"I am no astrologer, but I dare swear that Mr. Cumberland's new comedy
will be damned," said Walpole.

"My dear Horry, the obvious needs no portent! 'Twould be a ridiculous
waste of fuel to send a comet flaring through the sky merely to let the
world know that Sir Joshua's macaw will lose his tail-feathers in the
moulting season," said Selwyn. "Mrs. Abington has not come to Bath for
a whole month solely to give Nan Cattley a chance of making the damning
of Cumberland's play a certainty."

"Nay, but her acting might save it if she were to return to town," said
Walpole.

"Then it must be our duty to keep her here," said Selwyn.

"'Tis two days since she found young Sheridan attractive," said
Walpole; "so that she is not the fickle creature some people have
called her."

"With economy she may be faithful to Dick Sheridan till the end of the
week," said Selwyn. "Can Bath furnish another swain with ruddy cheeks
and a glib tongue to follow him?"

The cynical pleasantries of the Walpole circle, dealing with the case
of Mrs. Abington and young Sheridan, were echoed by the inferior wits
of the Pump Room--for the flare of a comet affects other systems
besides the solar. Dick Sheridan was in as active attendance upon the
lady as Tom Linley had been even in the early days of his attachment
to her. He did not play the violin to her, and this fact, some people
declared, should not be lost sight of by those who were venturing to
assign a duration of just one week to this new caprice on the part of
the actress. There was no predicting the length of time that she might
remain faithful to a good-looking youth, provided that he refrained
from playing the violin to her--her constancy might even last out the
fortnight.

But these were the optimists.

Dick Sheridan knew perfectly well what the people were saying when they
shrugged their shoulders and smiled significantly as he went by with
Mrs. Abington; but he too shrugged his shoulders, and his smile also
had a significance of its own. He went everywhere with the lady, even
to her own house; but this was when she entertained some of her friends
to supper.

Once when by the side of Mrs. Abington in Spring Gardens he caught
sight of Betsy Linley in the distance. She was looking toward him
across the green lawn, and their eyes met. He fancied that there was
something of gratitude in the smile which she sent to him--he knew that
there was something of sadness in it; and then--he could not doubt
that the expression on her face was one of reproach--reproach and
indignation.

For a moment he omitted to reply to a casual question put to him by his
gay companion, and she quickly followed the direction of his eyes. She
saw Betsy and gave a laugh. She accepted the reproachful look in the
girl's eyes as a tribute to her own powers. She was not astute enough
to keep her satisfaction to herself.

"Lud!" she cried, "that young woman has strange notions of the duty of
a censorship. She is e'en reproving you, Dick, for being in my company.
That is like enough a woman to serve you for a lesson, my dear. A woman
has no sense of gratitude for a favour done to her by a man whom she
loves and whom she has discarded."

"Madam," said Dick, "it is not for such as we are to judge Miss Linley
by our standards: we are only men and women."

"That is all, praise Heaven!" cried the actress. "I claim to be nothing
more than a woman, and I don't know that one can be much better--ay, or
worse, Dick. God made me a woman, and I don't believe that He will be
hard on a woman for being womanly. If He had meant me to be an angel,
He would have given me wings, and then I should be angelic--and to be
angelic is to be insipid. But take my word for it, Miss Linley, though
she judge us from the standpoint of an angel, is just as much a woman
as the best of us--ay, or the worst of us. She is just as jealous of
me, thank God, as I am of her at this moment; and that's the last word
that you and I will have about Miss Linley."

Dick resolved that, so far as he was concerned, there should be no
need for another word on the subject of Miss Linley to pass between
them; and when he came to think over the matter, he was glad that so
much had already passed between them regarding Betsy. He had been
warned, from what Mrs. Abington had said, that she was under no
delusion respecting Betsy and himself. That same astuteness which she
had shown in reading the secret of his love for Betsy, had enabled her
to perceive that the fact of his having entered into an agreement with
herself did not in a moment cause him to forget Betsy Linley.

And thus, day by day, he was in attendance upon Mrs. Abington,
appearing by her side in all public places, and at many private suppers
and card-tables, so that a good many people looked on him as an
extremely fortunate young man.

As for Dick himself, he began to feel that he was indeed fortunate. Had
he not been able to do a great service to the only one whom he loved,
at a sacrifice of himself? He was proving his love to Betsy Linley by
marrying Mrs. Abington. Yes, he felt that he was fortunate.

But all these days he failed to call upon Mr. Long. The truth was that
it now and again occurred to him that Mr. Long might not understand
without more explanation than he was inclined to offer, the position
which he had taken up. He shrank from the duty--if he might call it a
duty--of making it plain to Mr. Long that he was marrying Mrs. Abington
in order that Betsy Linley might get back her brother. But there came
a day when he learned that Mr. Long was waiting on him, and he found
himself in the presence of that gentleman in the room in which he had
received Mrs. Abington a short time before.

Mr. Long greeted him cordially.

"You will pardon my obtruding upon you at this time, Mr. Sheridan,"
said he; "but I must confess that I thought it strange that we should
separate good friends a fortnight ago and then remain apart. Surely our
friendship promised better things than this, sir!"

Dick made up his mind to be bold. He smiled, examined the tips of his
fingers, and then said:

"I assure you, sir, that I retain all the liveliest sentiments of
regard for you. Dear sir, you have been kindness itself to me, and I
should be most ungrateful if I were to fail in my duty to you. But the
fact is, Mr. Long, that--that---- Ah well, sir, you will understand
my seeming neglect when I inform you that I have been successful
in engaging the affections of a lady to whom I have been devoted
for--for--some time. When I tell you the lady's name, sir, I know I
shall be the more easily excused."

"Do not tell me that the lady's name is Mrs. Abington," said Mr. Long
gravely.

"I am sorry--I mean I am glad--yes, I am glad, sir, that it is not in
my power to obey you in this matter," said Dick, still smiling, but
with more than a little self-consciousness. He was beginning to feel
uneasy beneath the grave, searching look of his visitor. "Yes, dear
sir, we are to be married very shortly, so that you will understand, I
am sure, that, just now, I do not count my time my own."

"You are to marry Mrs. Abington, the actress--the actress?" said Mr.
Long.

"Ah, sir, there is only one Mrs. Abington in the world, and--my father
is an actor," said Dick.

"And you expect to be happy with her as your wife?" said Mr. Long.

"If I am not, sir, it will be because I am not easily made happy;
'twill not be the lady's fault."

"Then I wish you every happiness, Mr. Sheridan."

Mr. Long rose from his chair and took up his hat.

"There is a forlorn hopefulness in your tone, sir, that has a chilling
effect upon me," said Dick. "May I ask why it should appear ridiculous
to expect that I should be happy--at least as happy as most wedded
folks are?"

"You have disappointed me, Dick, that is all I can say to you--you
have grievously disappointed me. That one who had ever loved Elizabeth
Linley could bring himself to marry---- I ask your pardon, sir; I
exceed my privileges as a friend. I have no right to express myself in
such terms. I have the honour to wish you a very good day, sir."

"Mr. Long," said Dick, "I seek for your good opinion more than that of
any man living. I pray of you to think the best of me--not the worst."

"And what is the best that you would have me think?" cried Mr. Long.
"Just state with some show of reason what you wish me to think of you,
and I promise that I will be influenced by what you say. You talked to
me of loving Elizabeth Linley."

"Nay, sir, 'twas you who talked to me of it. 'Twas you strange to
say--you, to whom Miss Linley has given her promise--'twas you who
talked to me of my love for her."

"I allow it. Alas! I believed--in my ignorance of men and of their
motives--in my ignorance of how men regard love--I prayed of you to
allow your love for her--her love for you--to urge you to achieve
something noble in life. I flattered myself that I had impressed upon
you the true nature of love--the sentiment that exalts, that ennobles,
that leads a man into deeds of self-sacrifice and devotion to duty; and
yet--you are ready to marry Mrs. Abington."

For a moment Dick was stung with a sense of the injustice that was
being done to him.

"I am ready to marry Mrs. Abington," he cried, "and you, sir, are ready
to marry Elizabeth Linley."

"You fool!" said Mr. Long, "I have no hope of marrying her. I knew too
well that she loved you, and--as I fancied--that you loved her, ever to
think of marrying her. My only hope was to see her happy--to look at
her happiness through another man's eyes--through your eyes, Dick--your
eyes. But now--alas! alas!"

He spoke rapidly, almost passionately, facing Dick. His breaking off
was abrupt; it seemed as if he had a great deal more to say, but that
words failed him unexpectedly. His lips were parted, his hand was
upraised, but he stopped short, saying:

"Alas! Alas!"

Then he turned quickly and walked out of the room.

Dick dropped into a chair.



CHAPTER XXXIII


In no house in Bath was Dick Sheridan's conduct regarded in the same
light as it was in the home of the Linleys. That was, of course,
because only by the Linley family was his conduct regarded as a
personal matter. His perfidy in professing a friendship for Tom,
while all the time he was contriving to take poor Tom's place in the
affections of Mrs. Abington, was referred to with great bitterness
by Tom's mother, and by Polly and Maria in wrathful whispers. They
referred to Tom daily as "poor Tom!"--sometimes "poor dear Tom!" All
their sympathy went forth for Tom in these days, and every one in the
household--not even excepting Mr. Linley and Betsy--felt that it was
necessary to treat him with the greatest tenderness. He was the victim
of an unhappy attachment to one who was unworthy of the inestimable
treasure of his young affections; and, in addition, he had been the
dupe of an unscrupulous man who had not hesitated to elbow him aside in
order to take his place. Surely one would be quite heartless who failed
to have the deepest sympathy with poor Tom, or to heap reprobation on
the head of his perfidious friend!

To be sure, Tom's attachment to Mrs. Abington had been a terror to the
household. The father had stormed about it, and the mother had wept
over it. The father had threatened in no undertone to turn Tom out of
the house, and the mother--with the true instincts of a woman and the
experience of a wife--had made her crispest _pâtés_ to tempt him to
stay at home. But Tom disregarded alike threats and tartlets, and his
sisters had sat daily in terror of a catastrophe. But the remembrance
of those awful days did not in the least tend to mitigate their
abhorrence of the perfidy of Dick Sheridan. They could not contain
their anger when one day they caught sight of him flaunting his success
in the face of all the people of Bath while he took the air by the side
of Mrs. Abington in her chariot.

Maria, with great tact, drew Tom away from the window on some pretext.
Her heart was beating in the excitement of the moment. If Tom had
chanced to see that sight it would, she felt, have been impossible
to predict what might happen. Tom was a man of spirit--so much was
certain--and he had brought home with him from Italy a stiletto with
beautiful jewels and pieces of coral set in the haft....

Mr. Linley only smiled when he was alone, and repeated in whispers
those words, "God bless Dick Sheridan!" He felt truly grateful to Dick,
but not quite so grateful as to make the attempt to force him upon
the family as their benefactor; and as for his flaunting it with Mrs.
Abington--well, that was Dick's own affair. He was not in the least
offended at his triumph. It was better for Dick Sheridan to make a fool
of himself than for Tom Linley to be made a fool of. That was what Mr.
Linley thought; and he helped Tom to mend his violin. Tom was ready
to begin the work just two days after his breaking of the instrument,
and when the glue had properly dried--before the touch of varnish that
he gave to the fractured part had ceased to perfume the room, he was
improvising that "Elegy to a Dead Love" which, later on, caused some of
his audience (women) at a concert to be moved to bitter tears. Love was
dead, and a musical elegy had been played over its grave, because Tom
Linley had been jilted by Mrs. Abington! And when Mr. Linley declared
that nothing more classical than that composition had been produced by
an English musician, Tom began to recover from the effects of his wound
as speedily as his violin had done. Only once did his sister Maria hear
him murmur, while he breathed hard and his eyes were alight with the
true fire of genius:

"A jig--an Irish jig! O heavens! an Irish jig!"

The expression on his face was one of bitterness--bitterness tempered
by the thought that he had produced an immortal work: the mortality of
his love had given him immortality.

But Betsy did not speak a word. Tom was too full of himself and of
setting his sorrow to rhythm to notice how often during every day
her eyes filled with tears. But one of her sisters who occupied the
same bedroom, had awakened once in the night hearing Betsy sob on her
pillow, and had asked her what was the matter--was it toothache? "Ah,
the ache! the ache!" Betsy had answered. The little girl had expressed
her sympathy with her sister's suffering, and had straightway fallen
asleep, forgetting in the morning that she had ever been awakened.

But Mr. Long was not among those who were insensible of any change in
Betsy. He did not fail to perceive that some trouble was upon her.
He wondered if it was the family trouble in regard to Tom's promise
that oppressed her, or was it due to something more closely affecting
herself?

After Tom had renounced the enchantress, and it might have been
expected that Betsy would become herself again, Mr. Long noticed that
she was more tristful than ever. He made up his mind that, failing to
find out by chance the cause of the change, he would ask her concerning
it. For some days, however, he had no chance of talking with her
apart from the members of her family. But at the end of a week, he
found her alone in the music-room. He had met Mr. Linley and his wife
on their way to look at a house in the Circus, which their improving
circumstances seemed to warrant their taking, and he perceived that
there was a likelihood of Betsy's being at home and alone. He knew that
he was fortunate when he heard the sound of her voice while he rang the
bell. She was singing, and he knew that now she rarely sang unless she
was alone.

She sprang from the harpsichord when he entered the room, and turned
away for a suspicious moment before greeting him.

"My dear child, why should you wipe the tears from your eyes?" he said,
retaining her hand. "Do you fancy that I am one of those people who
think tears a sign of weakness? Nay, you should know that I regard them
as an indication of strength--of womanliness, which is the strongest
influence that remains with us in the world."

"Ah, no, no! with me they are a proof of weakness," she cried
quickly--"weakness--weakness! Oh, I am in great trouble, Mr. Long,
because I am conscious daily of doing you a great wrong. But you will
bear with me--you will forgive me when I confess it to you?"

"Before you confess--before," he said. "But what can you have to
confess?"

"It is terrible--terrible, for though I have given you my promise to
marry you, I find that I cannot do it--I cannot do it."

She remained standing before him, but put both her hands up to her
face. The movement was ineffectual; her hands failed to conceal her
tears.

"Why?" he asked, after a pause.

There was another and a longer pause before she said:

"Because 'twere to do you a great wrong, sir. I believed when I gave
you my promise that I would be strong enough to keep it. But I find
that I am too weak. Oh, I am miserable on account of it! 'Tis not that
I have failed in my respect for you--in my regard--but I feel that
'twould be impossible. Oh, I cannot do it--I cannot marry you, Mr.
Long."

"You do not love me as a girl should love her lover?" said he, and he
was actually smiling.

She could not answer him. The truth seemed too cruel. She could only
put her hand in his. That was her instinct. She knew that she could
trust him to understand her.

"Yes, I see that you do not love me," said he; "and I too have to
confess that I cannot give to you the love of a lover."

Her eyes opened wide as she looked at him; there was deep pathos in her
look of innocent inquiry.

"You have found that your love is given to some one else?" he said,
with great gentleness.

A flush came to her face; she turned away her head.

"And I--I too have given all my love to another," he said still more
gently.

Quickly she turned to him again. She laid the hand which he was not
holding on the hand that held hers.

He led her to the sofa, and she seated herself, wondering.

"My Betsy," he said, "I hoped that I would never be led to do you a
wrong, and I hope that I did not wrong you when I asked you for the
promise which you gave me; but at that time, and before it, all my love
was given to another--another even younger than yourself."

A little coldness had come to her eyes. She drew back an inch from him.
He recognised how womanly was the movement.

"You will see her--one day; but I cannot show her to you now. I can
only show you her likeness."

He took out of an inner pocket a miniature enclosed in a plain red
gold case. It was attached to a black watered silk riband which he wore
round his neck. He looked at the picture for a long time before handing
it to her, which he did with a sigh.

She took the case in her hands, and saw that the picture was of a
girl's face, lovely in its spirituality, pathetic in its innocence.
The eyes were of the softest grey, and their expression had a certain
indefinable sadness in it, in spite of the smile that illuminated the
face.

"She is beautiful," said Betsy gently.

"Ah, she is more beautiful than that picture now," said he. "It was
painted forty years ago. She is more beautiful now."

"Only an angel could be more beautiful," said Betsy.

"That is true--only an angel. She is among the angels," said he. "Dear
child, it was Mr. Jackson, the organist of Exeter, who told me that
when you sang your face was like the face of one who is looking at an
angel. I wondered if I should think so when I saw you. I found that he
spoke the truth: I have seen you when you seemed to be looking into her
face. It was for her sake, my dear, that I wished to do something to
help you. I hoped that this privilege might be granted to me."

"And you have helped me--no one has helped me more."

"Have I helped you to understand yourself--to understand what love
means? That is sometimes the last thing that women understand."

"I think that you helped me to understand myself, and the result is,
pain--self-reproach."

[Illustration: She took the case in her hands.         [_page 326._]

"There is no need for either, Betsy. There is no need for pain, even
though the one whom you loved showed himself to be unworthy of you. Ah,
my dear, if you mourn until you find a man worthy of your love, you
will pass a melancholy lifetime. Listen to me, my sweet one, while I
tell you what was my dream. When I came here for the first time and
found you in the midst of danger, surrounded by unscrupulous men--men
who were as incapable of appreciating your real nature as--as--well,
as incapable as was your father; when I perceived that you were like a
white lily that slowly withers when brought out of the gladness of the
garden to be stifled by the air of a dark room; when I perceived that,
in order to avoid the shame of facing the public from the platform of a
concert-room, you might be led to give your hand to some one who would
lead you into misery and dishonour--then, for her sake--for the sake of
the angel whom I loved in my boyhood and whom I love now in the autumn
of my life--I made up my mind that I would try to help you."

"And you did--indeed, you did help me. Ah, I should have known what
you meant--I might have known how good and unselfish you were. 'Tis
true that sometimes I fancied--something like what you have told me
now. Yes, I felt that you were too fond of me to love me. That sounds
absurd, but I think you understand what I mean."

"You have put the sentiment into the best phrase: I was too fond of you
to be in love with you or to look for you to love me with the love of a
girl for her lover. I wondered who it was you did love in that way, and
I believed that the truth was revealed to me. I saw Dick Sheridan in
the same room with you, and I saw the light that came into your face."

"Alas--alas!"

"The chance that I told you of when he came to my help, enabled me
to see a good deal of him, and I felt sure that it would be given to
me to have my dearest wish realised--to see you happy by the side
of a man who adored you and who could appreciate the beauty of your
nature. Alas! I was disappointed. Instead of earning my respect by his
constancy to the sentiment of love--constancy to that ideal of love
which I believed he could appreciate--he has earned my contempt."

"Ah, no--not contempt!" she cried almost piteously.

"Why not contempt?" he said. "I tell you that in giving himself to that
woman--he confessed to me that he was going to marry her--he has earned
my contempt and yours."

"No, 'tis not true. I love him and he loves me!" she cried. "Ah, you
should spare him--you should spare him!"

"Why should I spare him? He is worthy only of contempt."

"No, no! he is to be pitied--only pitied. Do not be hard on him: he did
it because he loved me."



CHAPTER XXXIV


And now the girl was sitting looking up with dry eyes to the face of
the man who had sprung from her side the moment she had spoken, and
was standing a yard or two away from her. She saw that, although the
words which she had spoken had sent him to his feet in an instant, he
now felt that he had perhaps been too hasty. She saw that there was a
puzzled look on his face. She did not wait for him to put a question
to her. She perceived that her explanation needed to be explained. It
is unusual, she thought, for a man to ask a woman to marry him simply
because he loves another woman.

"Indeed, he did it all for me," she said. "I sent for him more than
a week ago to ask him to plead with Mrs. Abington to break with my
brother, whose infatuation for her was ruining his career, and he
promised to do this for me. The day that my brother returned I knew
what Dick Sheridan had done--all for me--all for me!"

"Is it possible that you suggest that the woman stipulated with him to
release your brother only if Dick Sheridan took his place?" he asked.

"I am as certain that she did so as if I had heard her making a compact
with him," said Betsy. "She had an old infatuation for Dick; Mr.
Garrick told my father so two days ago. Had I known that, I would not
have brought Dick here to beg of him to help us. But he came and this
is the result of his coming."

"I have treated him unjustly--God forgive me!" said Mr. Long. "I went
to him and--you can imagine what I said to him. But he did not say a
word about--about anything that you have told me."

"No, he would not do that. He showed me, when I stood before him,
how unselfish he could be. And yet once--once--ah, how long ago it
seems!--I had a feeling that his whole aim in life was to excel
others--to shine as a man of fashion. Like you, I did him an injustice."

"Ah, my dear, he had not then learned what 'tis to love. You it was,
my Betsy, who taught him that the spirit of love--the truest love--the
only love--is self-sacrifice."

"Then would to Heaven he had never learned the lesson!" cried the girl
passionately. "I have ruined his life, and my life is over! But what is
my life? It matters nothing about my life."

"Dear one," he said, "I cannot hear you say that. Nay, my Betsy, I
shall live to look on my happiness through his eyes. The position of
affairs, though desperate, is not irretrievable. You do not know the
world, my child. You do not know the sordid world. Thank Heaven that I
have money enough to compensate even the most avaricious of actresses
for depriving her of a caprice on which she had set her heart! Betsy,
all will yet come right: 'tis merely a question of money."

But her instinct was truer than all his worldly wisdom.

"Now you are doing her a great injustice," she said.

"Not I!" he cried. "Though I am pleased to think that I have never had
a proof of the exact extent of the rapacity of such as she, yet----"

She laid her hand upon his arm.

"Dear friend, remember that you are speaking of one of us," she said.

"One of you!--one of---- Heaven forbid! You are as far removed from her
as heaven is removed from--from Bath."

"Nay, nay, she is a woman; and indeed I think that between the best
of us and the worst there is no great gulf fixed. If you go to Mrs.
Abington on the errand which you have in your mind, you will be putting
upon her a gross affront--yes, and upon Dick Sheridan as well, and much
will be lost and nothing gained."

"Then I will not speak to her of money; I will make the appeal to her
generosity to set Dick free. Now, you shall not forbid me to make an
appeal to her generosity; to do so would be to put an affront on her
far more gross than you perceived in my first intention!"

He rose from where he was sitting on the sofa, and began pacing the
room thoughtfully. After some time he stopped before her, saying in a
low voice:

"Betsy, my child, I fear that I must confess that the design which I
had planned out for you, for bringing about your happiness, has been
frustrated. My hope was to save you from the evil fate which I feared
would overtake you, and the only way that seemed to me to promise well
was the one which I took. Was I wrong, dear one, to ask you to give me
that promise, knowing, as I did, that it would be a crime on my part to
hold you to it?"

"No, no--a thousand times no!" she cried. "You hoped to save me from
all that I abhorred, and you succeeded. Indeed you were right. If you
had not come to my help, who can tell what might have happened? I knew
not in what direction I had a friend who would be true to me, and you
know that my father favoured that man, Captain Mathews; he urged upon
me to listen to him.... Ah, you saved me!"

"But for what--for what have you been saved?" he said.

"I have been thinking much on that point for some days," she replied.
"I seem to have lived through many years of life in those singing days
of mine, and now the feeling that I have is a feeling of weariness. Oh,
I am tired--tired to death of the struggle--the artifices--the world!
How long ago is it since I heard the boys in the choir sing those
words, 'O for the wings of a dove to fly away and be at rest'? That
is the anthem which my heart is singing now. 'The wings of a dove.' I
want to be at rest--to take no part in the struggle going on in the
world--the sordid troubles--the jealousies that make life seem so
petty. Dear friend, I have my heart set upon a place of rest. Elizabeth
Sheridan told me of it--a place where the peace of God dwells for
evermore. It is a convent at Lille, in France, and its doors are open
to those wayfarers through the world whose feet have become weary, and
who seek rest. Will you lead me thither? I will trust to you to lead
me. I hear the voice that calls from there in the silence that follows
the ringing of the Angelus, 'Come unto Me, and I will give you rest.'
You will take me thither for the sake of her whom you love--her whose
face I looked upon. Oh, she--she has found rest! Would to God that I
had found the same rest!"

She flung herself down on her knees at the sofa, and buried her face in
her hands.

The man stood by without a word. He was too greatly overcome to be
capable of speech. Only now did he perceive how she had been suffering
in silence for weeks--only now, when she had broken down, unable to
control herself any longer. And he had no word of comfort to say to her.

He remained by her side in silence for some minutes (she had not risen
from her knees), and then left the room and the house.

He went straight in search of Dick Sheridan. He did not succeed in
finding him at home. Mr. Sheridan had gone out some hours before, the
maid said; and forthwith Mr. Long concluded that Dick was visiting Mrs.
Abington. His judgment was not at fault. Dick had been dining with
the lady; but he did not stay for more than half an hour afterwards,
consequently he was met by Mr. Long at the corner of York Street.

"I have been seeking you," said Mr. Long. "I have done you a great
injustice, sir, and I live only in the hope of being able to make
amends for my grossness of thought. You will grant me five minutes with
you in private, Mr. Sheridan?"

Dick raised his hat gravely, but without speaking, and Mr. Long walked
with him back to the Sheridans' house. Dick bowed him into the hall and
into the room which Mr. Sheridan the elder called his study. It was
obvious that the young man wished his visitor to understand that he was
being received with ceremony.

"I feel honoured by your attention, sir," he said, offering Mr. Long a
chair.

"O Dick, Dick," said Mr. Long, "I fear that I have made some terrible
mistakes; but I hope they may not prove irretrievable."

"So far as I am concerned, sir," said Dick, "the error into which you
fell need cause you no uneasiness. Indeed, I rather regret that you
have discovered your mistake as to my motives in--in the matter to
which you referred. I trust that you have not come hither to re-open
the subject, Mr. Long?"

"But that is just why I have come," said Mr. Long. "Dick, my boy, will
you not aid me to make matters come right?"

"Is there any need for one to trouble oneself in the attempt to control
the inevitable, sir?" asked Dick coldly. "Have you any reason to
complain of the direction in which matters have shaped themselves, Mr.
Long? Because I can assure you that I see no particular reason for
interference, so far as I am concerned. Here am I, a penniless man, a
man without a profession, brought in contact accidentally with people
of wealth and position. It was my father's wish that my brother and I
should cut a figure in this world of fashion to which he led us; but
unhappily, however meritorious may be one's ambition in this direction,
it needs a fortune to achieve it and another fortune to maintain it.
Now, sir, I trust that you perceive how great is the reason I have for
feeling satisfied at the turn for the better which my affairs have
taken. I am about to be married to a lady whose charms are acknowledged
all over England, and whose ability enables her to earn such sums of
money as should satisfy all but the most extravagant. Egad, sir! I
do not think that many people would be disposed to call me unlucky
or to suggest that my affairs stand in need of being shaped in a new
direction. Now, sir, I will listen to you with deference."

Mr. Long looked at him and there was no feeling except of pity in his
heart. He understood the impulse in which Dick had spoken. He could
appreciate the bitterness underlying all that he had said. But it was
also plain to him that Dick's pride would not allow him to sanction any
scheme that might be proposed for his release.

Mr. Long stood before him as silently as he had stood over Betsy when
she had been sobbing on her knees. What could he say to a man who took
up such an attitude as Dick had assumed? How could he tell Dick that
he was anxious to consult him in respect of the sum of money which he
meant to offer Mrs. Abington for his release? Dick's pride would, Mr.
Long knew, cause him to open the door, and to show his visitor into
the street whence he had come with such a suggestion.

It was plain to him that, however bitterly Dick Sheridan might feel the
humiliation of his position as the penniless young man about to marry
an actress who was at least ten years older than himself, and whose
reputation for beauty and taste was the only one that she retained, he
was too proud not to regard as a gross affront any suggestion to the
effect that he was about to make himself contemptible in the eyes of
honourable people.

"Dick," said he after a long pause--"Dick, it was Betsy who told me
that you had done this for her sake, and I am here now to say to
you that, whatever may happen, I honour you more than any man of my
acquaintance. I take pride in being your friend, Mr. Sheridan, if you
will allow me to think of myself as such."

"Sir," said Dick, "you do me great honour; but I cannot permit even so
valued a friend as yourself to suggest that, in taking this step, I was
actuated by any motive except of regard and esteem for the lady who is
about to honour me with her hand. I will have you know that, Mr. Long."

Mr. Long looked at the younger man, who stood up before him dignified
and self-respecting. But he did not fail to detect a shake in his voice
and, when he had ceased speaking, a quivering about his lips.

"Give me your hand, Dick Sheridan," he cried. "You are a man!"

He grasped the hand that Dick offered him, and held it for a long time
in his own, with his eyes fixed upon the young fellow's face. Dick's
eyes were cast down. It was not until Mr. Long had released his hand
that he said in a low tone:

"It was from you, sir, I learned what 'tis to be a man. God help me
if I fall short of all that I should be! Now, sir, pray leave me to
myself. Ah, will you not have pity on me and leave me? Cannot you
see that this moment is too much for me? Cannot you see that in your
presence the struggle in which I have taken part is telling on me? Ah,
go, for God's sake, go!"

His fingers were interlaced in front of him, and he was pacing the room
with bowed head.

"My poor boy--my brave boy, remember that whatever may happen I am your
friend," said Mr. Long, with his hand on the door.

Dick did not seem to hear him. He had thrown himself into a chair, and
his back was turned to the door. He was unaware of Mr. Long's departure.

       *       *       *       *       *

Mr. Long was a man of courage. On leaving Dick he made up his mind that
he would pay a visit to Mrs. Abington. But his bravery had its limits;
he did not pay the visit. Before he had reached the actress's lodgings
he had come to the conclusion that he was upon a fool's errand. What
could he say to her that would have the smallest influence upon her
determination to marry Dick Sheridan? It would be much more to the
point to consider what he could offer her to release Dick Sheridan, and
of this fact he was well aware, consequently he addressed himself to
the task of calculating his resources available for this purpose.

Money--he had said to Betsy that, in regard to such women as Mrs.
Abington, such a matter as he had to discuss with her was nothing
more than a question of figures. But Betsy's instinct had told her
that the rapacity of Mrs. Abington was something altogether different
from that with which other actresses with a liking for adventure were
accredited--or discredited; and Betsy was right. Mrs. Abington had
never, so far as he could remember--and he knew a good many of the
traits of the distinguished people of his time--been accused of having
a mercenary tendency. On the contrary, she was known to be generous
to a fault, and, unlike Mrs. Clive and Miss Bellamy, to refrain from
clamouring for a higher salary and more liberal benefits. To be sure,
she was the idol of the playgoers, and Mr. Colman paid her more than
Mr. Garrick had ever paid a member of his company, so that she had
little cause for complaint. But to have no cause for complaint and to
refrain from complaining did not mean exactly the same thing in the
minds of most actresses, Mr. Long knew; so that he could not but feel
that Mrs. Abington's reputation for generosity was well founded. She
would laugh at his offer of money, he now felt; and what else had he to
offer her in exchange for Dick Sheridan?

He had come to the end of his resources available for negotiation with
the lady when the question ceased to be one of money. He could not
pretend to himself that he would have any chance of success with her
were he merely to go to her with the assurance that Dick Sheridan and
Betsy Linley loved each other and would be happy together if she, Mrs.
Abington, were to release Dick from the promise she had obtained from
him. He knew that her generosity would not be equal to such a strain as
he should put upon it, were he to make such a suggestion to her. She
was a woman, and he had an idea that women have a tendency to place
an extravagant value upon what other women show themselves anxious
to possess. The fact that Miss Linley was in love with Dick Sheridan
would only cause Mrs. Abington to chuckle over the bargain she had made
with Dick. It seemed clear to him that he could gain nothing beyond
that chuckle by his visit to the actress. To be sure, she would take
care that it was a purely artistic suggestion of something rather more
than content, and it would be made worthy of the attention of the
most exalted order of critics; still, it would represent to Mr. Long
(he knew) something rather more humiliating than the failure of his
mission, and it was his fear of this chuckle that caused him to abandon
his enterprise and to shape his steps in the direction of his own house.

He opened the door of his parlour and found himself face to face with
Mrs. Abington!



CHAPTER XXXV


His first thought was, curiously, of the story he had heard of the man
who had left London to escape the plague and had found it waiting for
him at Highbury. He bowed to the ground.

"Madam," he said, "I have never before been so honoured. My poor
rooms---- But is this visit in accordance with the well-known
discretion of Mrs. Abington?"

"'Tis a great risk I run, sir," she cried, with a delightful uplifting
of two shapely arms and an expression of fear such as one assumes in
order to make a child laugh,--"oh yes, a terrible risk!--but I am
adventurous."

"And your example is stimulating to the timid, madam; that is why I beg
of you to be seated. Pray Heaven that that fiery young Mr. Sheridan be
not in the neighbourhood. Still, for five minutes of Mrs. Abington's
wit a more timid man than myself would run the chance of a duel with
Colonel Thornton himself."

This was scarcely the style of the conversation which he hoped to have
with the lady when he had been on his way to her lodgings; but one does
not adopt the same style with a person to whom one is about to make an
appeal, as one adopts with a person who is about to be an appellant;
and he felt sure that Mrs. Abington had come to him in this character.

"Dear sir, I protest that you overwhelm me with your compliments," she
cried. "The younger generation have much to learn in courtesy from the
one to which you and I belong, sir."

"Madam," he said, "you prove the contrary when you couple me with
yourself. What are all the compliments which my poor ingenuity could
discover compared with that 'you and I' which has just come from your
lips?"

"Nay, but I can prove that we belong to the same generation, sir; for
are not you marrying a lady of the same age as the gentleman who is to
be my husband?" she cried, with an exquisite assumption of archness.

"Against such profundity of logic 'twere vain to contend, Mrs.
Abington," he said. "I yield to it, more especially as you prove what I
have spent my years trying to prove to myself. Alas, madam! is it not
sad that old age should come down upon a man before he has succeeded in
convincing himself that he is still young?"

"Mr. Long," said the lady, "I couple myself with you for our mutual
protection."

"I acknowledge the honour, madam, but appreciate the danger," said he.

"Let me explain myself, sir."

"To explain yourself, Mrs. Abington, were to supply a key to the most
charming riddle of the century. Let me paraphrase Mr. Dryden:

    'A dame so charming that she seem'd to be
    Not one, but womankind's epitome.'"

"That is the wittiest turning of satire into comedy I have ever known,"
she cried. "And it makes my explanation easy. Mr. Long, I desire to
be your best friend; and when a woman professes a wish to be a man's
best friend, you may be sure that she wants him to stand in that
relationship to her. But you gathered, I know, that I was thinking at
least as much of myself as of you when I made you that offer."

"I give you credit for thinking most of the one worthiest of your
thoughts, Mrs. Abington," said he.

She took a step nearer to him.

"Mr. Long," she said in a lower tone, "these young people are very
well, and they make delightful companions for us, but they cannot
always be depended on."

"You mean that----"

"I mean that Dick Sheridan and Betsy Linley were once in love with each
other, and that they fancy they love each other still."

"That means that they _are_ to be depended on, does it not?"

"They may be depended on to lose no opportunity of making fools of
themselves if we allow them, Mr. Long."

"Does that mean that they may be trusted to marry, the one you, t'other
me?"

"It means that you would do well to keep an eye on Elizabeth Linley, or
you will lose her, sir."

"What is this?"

"'Tis the truth, Mr. Long. Only to-day there came to my ears the
whisper of preparations for an abduction having your Miss Linley for
its object--the hiring of relays of horses along the London road, and
so forth. My woman, an honest creature, gave me the hint; she had the
news in confidence."

"And in confidence transferred it to you, no doubt."

"I am not the woman to credit every rumour that the gossips of Bath set
in circulation; but this special rumour was so circumstantial that----"

"Ah, if 'twas circumstantial its falsity is assured," cried Mr. Long.
"Dear madam, can you really believe that Dick Sheridan would make
the attempt to run away with Miss Linley when he is still under an
engagement to marry you?"

"Psha, sir!" she cried, "I know but too well that his heart is still
with Miss Linley. Would my gentleman be so ready to answer my beck and
call--would he be so desperately punctilious in his discharge of all
the duties of lovership in respect to me, if he were not in love with
Miss Linley? Mr. Long, the husband who is punctilious in his treatment
of his wife is, you may be sure, not in love with her, and the lover
who---- Ah, sir! I have had my experiences, Heaven help me! and I am
now in the position of the doctor who knows the condition of a patient
the moment he looks into his face. Sir, I have had my finger on Dick
Sheridan's pulse, so to speak, for the past week, and though he has
tried hard to deceive me into the belief that he loves me, he has not
succeeded. I have seen through his attentions--his constant show of
devotion. O sir, I am a miserable woman! But I cannot lose him--I swear
to you that I shall not lose him! And you--would you be content to lose
her--to lose Elizabeth Linley?"

"I would be content to lose her if I were sure that she did not love
me," said Mr. Long.

"What? what? Ah, you do not love her!" she cried contemptuously.

"I love her so well as to have implicit confidence in her," said he.
"There will be no running away so far as Miss Linley is concerned--rest
assured of that, my dear madam, and take my word for it, Dick Sheridan
is too honourable to entertain such a design."

"Ah, honourable! what does honour mean to a man when he is in love--ay,
or to a woman either?" she cried.

"You are proving one of your contentions by entertaining such
suspicions," said he.

"They are well founded. Ah, when I think that he loved her so well as
to give up his life only for the sake of saving her from the pang of
seeing her brother made a fool of, I have a right to my suspicions.
He will never love me like that. When I think of it all, I feel
tempted--sometimes; the fit soon passes away, thank Heaven!--I feel
tempted to let him go to her--to let him be happy with her: she would
not let you stand in the way of her own happiness, you may be sure,
though she has promised to marry you."

"If you loved Dick Sheridan truly, madam, you would not stand between
him and happiness," said Mr. Long.

"And if you loved Miss Linley truly, you would not stand between her
and happiness," responded the actress, turning suddenly upon him with
the stage instinct of making an effective retort.

"Nor shall I," he cried. "Come, Mrs. Abington, let us make a compact
for their happiness. I will release Miss Linley if you will do the same
for Dick Sheridan."

"No--no--no!" Her voice had almost become a shriek, and it went through
the room without the interval of a second. Her head was craned forward;
her hands were clenched; her eyes were half closed.

So she remained for a long time after that shriek had come from her.
Then she drew a long breath. She kept her eyes fixed keenly upon his
face. She went back from him slowly, step by step.

Suddenly she made a quick movement toward him with her right hand
outstretched, as if about to clench a compact. But when his hand went
out to hers, she snatched her own back with a cry.

"No, no, I cannot do it--I cannot do it! I cannot give him up. I have
made him mine--mine he shall remain. You shall tempt me no further."

"He never was yours--he never shall be yours! You know it, woman, you
know it! That is the thought which is in your heart just now, and that
is the thought which makes your life a curse to you. Never yours--never
yours! By your side, but never yours--never yours!"

With a cry she covered her face with one hand, the other was on the
handle of the door. She staggered out.

       *       *       *       *       *

"Did ever man utter words of such cruelty?" said Mr. Long when he heard
the hall door close. "Poor creature! poor creature! And I trod on
her--I crushed her. God forgive me! God forgive me!"

       *       *       *       *       *

An hour later Mrs. Abington, shining out amid her jewels as a rose is
resplendent amid the diamonds of a spendthrift morning, welcomed the
arrival of Dick Sheridan with smiles and a gracious white hand for him
to kiss. He kissed the hand, and noticed that the lady was wearing a
gown which he had never before seen--something roseate and misty--the
waves of dawn, out of which the goddess Aphrodite was in the act of
rising; he saw her before him, and said so; he called her the Cyprian:
she had been called that so often that she understood quite well what
he meant.

"You have come in good time, my dear!" she cried. "If you had not come
early I would have gone to you."

"I got your note only a quarter of an hour ago," said he.

"'Twas only writ half an hour ago," she said, "and the express from
Mr. Colman arrived within the hour. Dear Dick, we must fly to London
post haste in the morning. They can do without me no longer. Mr. Colman
implores of me to come. Ruin stares him in the face. I must have some
pity for him."

"The humblest thing that crawls--even the manager of a theatre--claims
one's compassion now and again," said Dick. "Will you set out in the
morning?"

"At daybreak. You can pack your trunk before you sleep to-night, and
the chaise will pick it up and you astride of it when we start."

"Heavens, my dear madam! I heard nothing about my departure! Mr. Colman
does not venture to say that ruin stares him in the face if I remain in
Bath."

"Nay, he does not go so far. 'Tis only I who claim you. I shall need
your escort, Dick, and I shall make arrangements for your remaining in
London--some simple arrangements, Dick."

"The simpler they are the more difficult it is for me to accept them. I
do not think it would be wise for me to be your escort to London and in
London, enviable though the duty would be."

She started into a sitting posture. She had been reclining on her tiny
sofa.

"What is't you mean, sir?" she cried. "Surely if I find no fault with
the arrangement you need not do so. Scandal? Psha! My name has been
associated with more than one scandal in my time, and yet I do not
think that I am greatly the worse for it to-day."

"No," he said, "but you may be to-morrow. My dear sweet creature, I
perceive at once how much depends on our discretion just now; and if I
were, in the absence of my father in Dublin, to desert my sisters and
the household, people would call me a wretch, and they would be right,
too."

"People would call you a wretch--a wretch and--a poltroon--a--a
curmudgeon, and they would be right, too, were you to stay in Bath when
I--I--ask your protection on my journey to London," she cried.

He was silent. He did not even shake his head. He saw her diamonds
flashing ominously. Theirs was a summer lightning, denoting a storm
taking place out of sight--a storm that might rise over the horizon
at any moment. He became conscious of a highly charged atmosphere. A
flash or two came from her eyes.

"Why do you stand there dumb?" she said. "Do you not think me worthy of
a word, Dick?"

"Dear lady, you are worthy only of words that will give you pleasure;
that is why I am silent now," he said.

"You have but to say one word to give me the greatest pleasure that I
look for in this world, and I know that you will say it, Dick--my Dick."

"Alas--alas!" he said.

"That is not the word, Dick; you know that that is not the word I want
you to speak."

"That is the word which we should both say, my dear, if I were even to
breathe the word which you ask of me. Oh, you must surely see that it
would be impossible for me to forsake all that my father has entrusted
me with. My sisters are young. What sort of brother should I be were I
to leave them alone at a moment's notice? No, no! you will not ask me
to do it; you have always shown yourself to be full of sensibility. You
would hate me if I were to desert my sisters at such a time as this."

She looked at him straight in the eyes for a long time--it was a
searching, suspicious gaze. Then she gave a laugh--a scornful,
suspicious laugh. Her scorn was not intolerable; it was tempered by the
half-amused smile that flashed about the corners of her lips.

"It must be pleasant to have so strong a sense of duty, Dick," she
said,--"yes, very pleasant, when your duty and your inclination go hand
in hand; nay, perhaps their relationship is closer still. Inclination
puts an arm round the waist of duty, and so they go dancing down the
green mead--Oberon and Titania--only without a chance quarrel. But it
appears to me that if Betsy Linley were not in Bath your duty to your
sisters would somewhat relax. Listen to me, Dick. You are not so near
a holiday as you have been led to believe, for, by the Lord Harry, if
you refuse to come with me to London I shall remain at Bath, if only to
frustrate your plans. Ay, sir, I know more about your plans than you
may perhaps think."

"If you know anything of them whatsoever, your knowledge is wider than
mine," said he.

"Oh, go away--take yourself off. I am beginning to tire of you, Dick
Sheridan," she said, leaning back in an attitude of negligent _ennui_
between the sympathetic arms of her sofa.

"I do not need to be told to go a second time, madam," said Dick.

But before he reached the door the capricious creature had sprung from
her seat and flashed beside him.

"Dick, my Dick, I am a fool--oh, such a fool!" she cried. "But the
truth is that I am too fond of you, my beloved boy! Now, don't go,
Dick--or go if you please to go--you may do what you please; I will not
think anything of it. Oh, if you could only give me a little of your
love! Must she have all--all--all?"

"Do not be foolish, my dear," said he. "And you know as well as I do
that 'tis foolish to be jealous. Ah, you know that I am true to you. I
need not protest to you of my truth."

She looked at him steadfastly once more; and now there was no scorn in
her look--only a nervous anxiety.

"I think," said she, "that you are true to me, and that you detest
yourself on that account; because to be true to me involves your being
false to Betsy Linley. Oh, this constancy according to compact is no
virtue. Honesty is no virtue on the part of a man who is cast on a
desert island. But you will come with me to-morrow, Dick--my Dick?"

"Indeed, it is impossible," he replied. "I will leave you now. Think
over the matter till to-morrow, and you will agree with me, I am
convinced."

With an exclamation of impatience she went back to her sofa, wheeled
it suddenly round, and then seated herself in it with her back turned
to him.

He went behind her with a laugh.

"Good-bye, you beautiful, petulant, typical woman," he said. "Good-bye,
I will come to you to-morrow, when I am sure you will be polite enough
to turn your face to me."

She gave a pout and a shrug and picked up the newspaper which she had
been pretending to read at his entrance. She pretended to read it again.

He responded with another laugh of good-humour, not of derision, and
went to the door.

He shouted another "Good-bye!"

She made no answer. But when he had left the house she tore her
newspaper to shreds and snowed them on the carpet at her feet. Then she
put her face down to the pillow and wept, but only for a few minutes.
She was on her feet again and tugging at the bell-pull.

Her maid was at her side before the bell had ceased to sound.

"Are you sure that 'twas the evening of to-day that was named for the
rendezvous you told me of, Williams?" she asked.

"There is no mistake, madam," replied the woman. "If it were mere
gossip, I should never have mentioned it. Lud! if one gave attention to
all the gossip that one hears! But this is the truth. The chaise is to
wait on the London road, and the young lady is to be brought to it in a
chair at nine o'clock. 'Twill then be rather more than dusk."

"Good!" said Mrs. Abington. "You got the hint from your cousin--I think
you said he was your cousin--who is confidential servant to Allen, the
postmaster?"

[Illustration: "You will accompany me to the rendezvous on the London
road to-night, Williams."                               [_page 349._]

"Yes, madam--cousin on my mother's side. My mother married for the
second time into the Cookson family, and they thought a good deal
of themselves, through Cookson having been butler to a vicar; but they
really wasn't so much after all----"

"You will accompany me to the rendezvous on the London road to-night,
Williams. You will hire a fly, and when we get within sight of the
coach, the fly shall turn down one of the lanes, so as to excite no
suspicion. We shall get out and conceal ourselves among the bushes at
the roadside until the chair with my lady is brought up. I think that
we shall probably surprise them, Williams."

The maid simpered.

"And I shall wear the travelling-cloak that is quilted with the pink
satin. The chaise lamps will doubtless be lighted, and I have no desire
to look like a guy."

"I vow 'twill be quite an adventure, madam!" said the woman, simpering
very agreeably.

"You will see that nothing miscarries, my good Williams," said the
actress. "The most romantic adventures have been known to break down
before now through so foolish a thing as a lame horse."

"You may trust to me, madam," said the maid.

When she was alone, Mrs. Abington stood in the centre of the room, with
a smile that was not a smile on her face.

"A compact--a compact!" she muttered. "He fancied that I should be
blinded by his fidelity. Oh, his fidelity was touching--ay, up to that
last cheery 'good-bye' that he said at that door before going home to
complete the packing of his trunk. By the lud! if 'twere not for the
humiliation, I could e'en bring myself to let the pair of them run away
together and make fools of themselves. But I will show them that I am
not one to be hoodwinked."

       *       *       *       *       *

It was barely half-past nine that night when a fly dashed up to the
door of the Sheridans' house, and a lady wearing a travelling-cloak
lined with quilted pink satin sprang to the ground and battered at the
door of the house. She met Dick Sheridan in the hall.

"Dick--Dick," she gasped, "a dreadful thing has happened! O Dick, he
has got her in his power now--Mathews--a plot--a vile plot to abduct
her! He is on his way to London with her now in a chaise with four
horses."

"Woman, what do you mean? Good God! Mathews--Betsy--is it Betsy, you
mean?" cried Dick.

"Yes--yes--Betsy! Oh, why do you wait here like a fool? Why are you not
on your way after them? Follow them, Dick!--follow them and save her
for yourself. She is yours, Dick. I never was yours! Ah, man, why do
you stand there? Oh, I am dead!"

She dropped into a chair, gasping.

Dick caught her hand, and when he found that it was warm he kissed it.

She laughed, and her laugh continued long after he had rushed out of
the house; it went on and on, and the two Sheridan girls stood by
listening in horror to that laugh.



CHAPTER XXXVI


He rushed out of the house and up the street. He was pulling wildly
at the bell-handle at Mr. Long's door in Millsom Street before five
minutes had passed. He did not wait to make an inquiry of the man, but
plunged into the room to the right; the door was slightly ajar, and he
saw that the room was lighted.

Mr. Long was seated at the table.

"Heavens!" he cried, "what has happened?"

"Your horse--Sultan--it must be Sultan--he must be saddled--give the
order--'tis life or death--nay, more--more!"

Only for a second did Mr. Long look at him. Then he was shouting to his
man in the hall orders for the groom.

"Mathews has succeeded," gasped Dick. "An abduction--Mrs. Abington
brought me word of it. But I shall follow them--overtake them--or I
shall never return. I swear that--I swear it!"

Mr. Long's face had become white. He was supporting himself by the back
of a chair. His lips moved, but the words did not come. He managed
to stagger to a _garde-vin_ that stood in a corner and to take out a
decanter of brandy. Dick heard how the tumbler jingled against the
mouth of the bottle while some of the brandy was being poured out. Mr.
Long offered him a tumbler. He refused it.

"Never fear--never fear--I'll overtake them!" he cried, while he paced
the room. "I knew that I was right to come to you, sir. You love her;
and you--you have pistols. He escaped them once--only once."

"She heard a rumour that an abduction was to be attempted; she told me
so here to-day," said Mr. Long. "She is suspicious; she fancied that
you had planned it--she came to warn me. O Dick, you must be in time!
By Heaven, sir, you must be in time to save her! If I were ten years
younger--only ten years--but I will trust you. Here are the pistols,
and you may need to reload them: you must have these bullets. Don't
bring them all back, Dick; but take care of her. Aim at one of the
horses. And money--you may need money for the postboys--I have never
met any that were not open to bribes. Here's a purse. If fifty guineas
is not enough---- By heavens, the horse is at the door! You have no
sword--here is mine! God bless you, my boy--God bless you! I'll look
to the girths. Sultan will do his twenty miles; but spare him on the
highway. You will take the short cuts through the Hampton Fields."

All the time that Mr. Long was speaking, Dick Sheridan was pulling on a
pair of riding-boots, with spurs attached, which Mr. Long's servant had
brought into the room.

He examined the priming of the pistols, he pocketed the leathern wallet
heavy with guineas, and buckled on the sword. Not a word did he find it
necessary to utter; even when he was in the saddle and felt the strong
grasp of Mr. Long's right hand, he did not find words, but he returned
the grasp, and looked into Mr. Long's face. Then he gave Sultan his
head, and waved his hand before turning the corner.

The street was flaring with links; chairs by the score were carrying
ladies and gentlemen of fashion to their supper-parties and
card-parties. The sound of post-horns was heard as the mail-coaches
with their splendid teams set out on their night journeys. It did not
take Dick long to thread his way among the vehicles, reaching the first
slope of the London road without having allowed his horse to break
into a gallop. Sultan was quite prepared to charge the hill; he was a
thoroughbred Arab, with an indomitable heart in his work. Dick held him
in so long as the ground sloped up; but when the summit of the hill
was gained, he sent him forward; the animal responded with a will, but
Dick kept him at the trot. Not until the Hampton Fields were reached
did he put the horse to the gallop. But then, leaping the ditch, he got
upon the green turf, and, knowing what was expected of him, the Arab
stretched himself out for a race.

The two miles of the cut across the fields was not a great journey, and
after a mile's trot along the highway, up the long hill through the
village of Bathford, Dick took to the fields once more. Another flying
gallop--_ventre à terre_--across the Downs, brought him to the Horse
Jockey Inn, and Dick thought that a bucket of water would not do Sultan
any harm. But he found that he could not pull him up; the horse had his
head and seemed determined to keep it. By the time, however, that the
vane of Atworth church gave a feeble flash in the moonlight (the moon
was in her first quarter and far down in the western sky) the Arab was
ready to receive a hint, and Dick brought him to a walk.

He pulled him up at the Three Cups, and awoke the elderly ostler to get
a bucket of bran and water, while he himself rubbed the animal down
with a damp stable-cloth.

Had the man seen a chaise and four horses going in the direction of
London within the half-hour? No, no, he had seen no "shay"; but mayhap
that was by reason of having been asleep since supper-time; a tedious
night with the master's heifer--mayhap the young gentleman had heard
of the accident to the heifer?--having deprived him of his accustomed
slumber. The worst was over with the heifer, Heaven be praised; but
still----

The veteran was still gazing at Dick's half-crown while Sultan was
pounding away toward Melksham as fresh as he had been when taken out of
his stable, although the nine miles of the journey already passed had
occupied just fifty-five minutes.

And now that a long level of highway was in front of him, Dick had time
to calculate his chances of overtaking the chaise. He did not know how
great was the start which it had on him; but he did not think it likely
that Mrs. Abington had taken longer than a quarter of an hour to come
to him with the alarm. Ten minutes added to this brought him up to the
moment when he had started in pursuit. Twenty-five minutes of a start!

He could not imagine the chaise travelling at the speed that Sultan
had maintained. The hills along the road were in favour of a horseman.
But then at the end of another seven or eight miles Sultan must be
dead-beat, however willing he might be, whereas the chaise would be
flying along with four fresh horses in front of it, for Mathews would
certainly arrange to have relays of fresh horses at every stage, well
knowing that only by this means could he evade the pursuit which he
would assume must take place.

Dick perceived that he too must have fresh horses if he meant to
overtake the chaise. But being well aware that some of the posting-inns
on the London road had as many as a hundred and fifty horses in their
stables at one time, he had no fear of a difficulty arising in the
matter of getting remounts.

When he thought of Betsy Linley being in the power of that mad ruffian
for another hour, he instinctively touched Sultan with the spur; and at
the touch the good horse broke into a gallop, and it was in this gallop
that he reached Seend Hill and climbed it as though it were level
road. It needed a strong pull from Dick to bring him up at the Bear
Inn.

Two coaches had just arrived from London, and the passengers were
getting all the attendance the place could afford.

Dick found himself standing in the yard with Sultan's saddle on the
ground beside him, while the horse stood steaming in the light that
came from the stable lantern. He showed a guinea to an ancient,
hurrying groom, and the sight was too much for the man.

Had a chaise with four horses from Bath changed, and how long ago?

Not half an hour ago, if it was Captain Mathews' shay his honour spoke
of. Oh, ay, the captain had changed, and madam would not leave the
shay--half an hour ago--barely--more like twenty minutes. A fresh
saddle-horse? Ah, his honour must book that at the bar. Why, the London
folk would be away in a quarter of an hour--mayhap ten minutes.

Dick rushed to the bar. Twenty people were between him and the
landlord, who was responding with a fussy leisure to eighteen out of
the twenty.

Dick rushed back to the stable-yard and found the groom still gazing at
the guinea. Dick produced a second.

"You know Mr. Long, of Rood Ashton, my man?" he said. "This is Mr.
Long's horse. Look to him and put the saddle on the freshest horse in
your stable. Take this guinea and don't lose a moment. Refuse it, and
as surely as you stand there like a fool, I'll put a bullet through
your head."

"Your honour's a gentleman," cried the ostler, making a grasp for that
hand which held the guinea as a bribe, and neglecting the one that held
the pistol as a menace.

"You shall have the guinea when the horse is saddled," said Dick. "Lead
the way to the stable."

But the man had had a second for reflection. He felt prepared to
control his impulses. He began to scratch his head with the black tip
of a forefinger.

"This may cost me my place," he muttered.

"If you refuse, 'twill certainly cost you your life," said Dick,
grasping his arm. "Lead me to the stable, you rascal, and that at the
top of your speed. If you try to trick me, 'twill be the last mistake
of your life. Pick up the saddle and earn your guinea."

The man certainly lost no time in obeying him; he shambled across the
yard and through a stable door. Dick heard the sound of halter-rings
and the fitful stamp of an iron hoof.

"That's Hero, the best roadster in the stable," said the man, pointing
to a big roan horse. "But your honour will need to have it out with the
master."

"You'll get your guinea and your master will get double the hire.
Everybody knows Mr. Long," said Dick.

Being aware of the instinctive cunning of these simple country people,
Dick thought it as well to give a brief examination to the animal. So
far as he could tell in the glimmer of the stable lantern the horse was
a good one--broad-chested and strong.

The man flung on the saddle, and Dick saw that the girths were tight;
then with a friendly nod to Sultan, who stood in one of the vacant
stalls, he was mounting the roan. He threw the old man his promised
guinea, saying:

"If I find that you've looked well after the Arab, you shall have
another guinea to-morrow."

The ostler dropped the stable lantern with a crash on the stones.

Dick was on the road once again. He knew that he had lost quite
five minutes changing horses: he could only console himself by the
reflection that most likely the chaise had taken ten minutes.

He found that the roan required to be ridden. He was a strong horse and
had good wind, but he had not the heart of the Arab. It was clear that
he did not know all that was demanded of him this night. But when Dick
put him at a low hedge he did not refuse it, and on the turf of a long
meadow beyond, he showed that he could gallop. For another three miles,
partly on the road and partly across country, when any saving of space
was possible, horse and man went until they were breasting Roundway
Hill.

Dick walked the horse to the top, and then reined in to let him recover
his wind before starting on the clear five miles of level road. In a
few minutes he had fallen into the steady trot of the old roadster, and
Dick felt sure that he could keep it up for the five miles; but at the
end of the first mile he began to be aware of a certain unevenness in
his trot. The horse responded to the spur, but only for a short time;
then he stumbled, nearly throwing his rider on his head. There was no
ignoring what had occurred--the horse had "gone lame" and was unfit for
his work; and the nearest inn where he could get a new mount was still
five miles away.

What did this mean?

Nothing, except that he was beaten. The hour and a quarter that he
would take going to that inn would place the chaise which he was
pursuing far beyond the possibility of capture.

Dick saw it all clearly the moment that the roan halted and stretched
his head forward, breathing hard. Nothing was left for him but to
dismount. He was defeated, and life was worth nothing to him now. He
dismounted, and examined the horse's leg. There could be no doubt about
the matter now: he was badly lame.

And then Dick did the most foolish and natural thing that a man could
do in such circumstances. He went mad for a time, slashing at the
weeds on the roadside with his riding-whip, cursing all the earth--the
ostler who had given him the horse which went lame--the horse for
going lame at the worst time--the fate which had helped him up to a
certain point and then deserted him. It did him good to slash and swear
for a while; and when he felt better he put his horse's bridle-rein
over his arm and set out upon the journey which was inevitable in the
circumstances.

He had not gone more than a hundred yards when he heard the sound of a
shot in the distance; then a second--a third.

"Poachers," he thought, resuming his walk. He was within a mile or two
of Roundway Park, and the estate was full of game. He thought no more
about the shots until, after he had trudged on for another mile, he saw
on the summit of a grassy knoll a couple of men on horseback. The moon
had gone down, but the night was beautifully clear, with stars overhead.

He stopped, his first thought being that he might negotiate with one
of the men for the loan of his horse. But when he saw that they were
making straight for him, he pulled his pistols out of the holsters and
put his horse between himself and the fence of the field beyond which
was the knoll. The horsemen were highwaymen, he was convinced, and he
made up his mind that they should not ride off with the remainder of
his guineas, if he could prevent it. He was just in the humour for
tackling a pair of rascals; but for that matter, he would not have
objected to fight with the honestest men in England.

Before he had more than cocked his pistols the two fellows--he now saw
that they wore masks--had leapt their horses over the fence not a dozen
yards from where he was standing.

"Well met, my lord!" roared one, drawing a pistol from his holster.
"Well met! I'll trouble your lordship to hand over your purse, also
your watch and any trifle of jewelry your lordship----"

"Come and take them," said Dick.

"And, by the Lord, we accept the invitation!" shouted the second
horseman, going forward with a bound toward Dick with his pistol in his
hand.

In another moment all was over. Dick slipped under his horse's nose;
at the same instant that the man fired, Dick's horse lashed out, and
Dick, catching at the rein of the man who was riding him down, shot him
in the body. The yell that went through the air did not come from this
man, however--he was past yelling; it came from his companion, whose
leg Dick had heard break like a stick of barley sugar beneath the kick
of the roan. The second yell came from half a mile down the road; for,
not being able to control his horse, the animal had bolted with him.

Dick knew nothing of this. He had his attention fully occupied at
the head of the rearing horse of the man whom he had shot. The horse
reared, and when Dick tugged at the reins he plunged forward. A limp
arm struck Dick in the face, and he had to be agile to evade the
headlong fall of the limp body.

It was a busy half-minute. It was such a whirl of the wheels of chance
that Dick Sheridan could scarcely be blamed for standing aghast for
quite another half-minute. He was bewildered by the effort of trying to
think what had happened. A minute before he had been a man suffering
all the pangs of defeat--plunged into those depths of despair which
overwhelm a man who needs to ride like a god upon the wings of the
wind, but finds himself crippled with a lame horse; whereas now....

He gave a cheer and in a second was on the back of the fine horse--his
mane was dripping with the blood of the rider whom he had thrown
over his head--and flying along the road at a speed that he had not
surpassed even when mounted on Mr. Long's Sultan. The highwaymen were
excellent judges of cattle, he was bound to confess. He galloped like
one of Lützow's wild huntsmen, and in the exhilaration of the moment
he shouted with delight--he shouted and cheered until, swinging round
a curve in the road, he saw before him Beckhampton Common, with the
woods at one side and the long row of poplars at the other. But while
the common was still a long way off, and he was flying past a high bank
densely planted with small firs, he heard something that caused him to
throw all his weight upon the reins, and almost to bring his horse upon
his haunches.

What he heard, or fancied he heard, was his name called out by the most
musical voice in the world:

"Dick--Dick! you have come!"

The first words struck his ears when he was beneath the high bank;
before the last were uttered he was a hundred yards away, tugging at
the reins. When he succeeded in bringing his horse to a standstill, he
heard in front of him a hailing of voices. Peering forward beyond the
shade of the bank on the white road, he saw figures moving--figures
with a swaying lantern.

He responded to their hail, and saw them hurrying toward him, their
lantern swinging more rapidly.

And then behind him he heard Betsy Linley's voice crying:

"Dick--Dick, come back to me--come back!"

He swung his horse round with a cry of delight.

There she stood, a white figure at the foot of the firs of a wooded
slope--there she stood, waving her white arms to him--waving him back
to her.

"Thank God--thank God--thank God!"

He could gasp nothing more as he flung himself from his saddle, and she
sprang from the bank into his arms.

"My Betsy--my own dear Betsy!"

"Dick--Dick, you have saved me! Oh, I never doubted it, my Dick!--I
knew you would be in time to save me."

He had thrown the reins on his horse's neck. But the animal was well
trained: he was as faithful to the man who had just dismounted as
though he were a highwayman who had left his saddle to plunder a coach.
He only turned his head when the figures with the lantern came in sight
beyond the curve in the road.

"Who are these--your friends or our enemy?" whispered Dick.

He had hold of her hand, and they were both gazing up the road.

"It can only be he," she cried. "We were attacked by highwaymen. A
horse was shot, and when the wretch was helping the postboys, I escaped
from the coach and fled hither. I was hiding among the trees!"

"Stand back among the trees again--only for a moment--only for a
moment," he said in a low voice.

"You will not kill him!" said the girl piteously. "Dick, I could not
bear to think of your killing him, wretch though he be."

"Perhaps I may not. Stand back among the trees."

"Found--she is found!" came the voice of Mathews on the road. He was
running ahead of the postboys with the chaise lantern. Postboys were
poor things on their feet.

Dick waited with the firs behind him. He was silent. His features could
not be seen--only his figure.

"Sir," said Mathews, when still a dozen yards away--"sir, you have
found the lady--my wife--I thank you."

"I have found the greatest villain that lives," cried Dick, stepping
into the road. "He shall soon cease to live."

Back went Mathews with an oath--back half a dozen steps.

The whiz of Dick's sword through the air was like the sudden sweep of a
hailstorm.

Mathews had already drawn his weapon. In a second he had rushed upon
Dick. Nothing could have resisted such an attack. Dick made no attempt
to resist it. He sprang to one side and so avoided the point of the
sword. He took care that Mathews should not have another such chance.
The man had barely time to turn and put up his guard before Dick was
upon him. With heads bent eagerly forward (the situation was not one
for the punctilios of the duello), the men crossed blades--the rasp
of steel against steel--the heavy breathing--the quick lunge and the
deft response--a little gasp--a flash--more rasping of steel--backward
and forward--flat hands in the air--a fierce lunge--a second--a
third--fierce--fiercer--fiercest--a whiz and a whirl. Mathews' sword
flashed through the air. The two postboys with the lantern sprang apart
to avoid its fall. The next instant Mathews had sprung upon Dick,
catching him by the throat, and trying to force him back. Dick tried to
shorten his sword, but failed. Mathews made a clutch for the blade, but
missed it, and Dick struck him full in the face with the steel guard;
a second blow made a gash on his left temple, and the man went down in
a heap. He fell neither backward nor forward. His legs seemed to be
paralysed, and he went down as though a swordsman had cut him through
as one does a sheep.

Dick took the man's sword--a grinning postboy had picked it up--and
snapped it in two across his knee.

"He is not dead--he cannot be dead!" cried Betsy.

"I am sorry to say that he will not die just now--vermin are not so
easily killed," said Dick.

[Illustration: Dick struck him full in the face with the steel guard.
                                                        [_page 362._]



CHAPTER XXXVII


Dick ordered the postboys to return to the chaise.

"We will return with you to Bath," said he. "Put the harness of your
horse which was shot on mine. We will join you before you have got the
horse in the traces. Carry the man to the bank and lay him among the
trees."

"Not back to Bath, Dick--not back to Bath," said Betsy, when the
postboys had gone.

"Good heavens! if not to Bath--whither?" he cried.

"The thought came to me just now--an inspiration," she said. "I will
not return home. I have not the courage. Do you know what has happened?
I have told Mr. Long that I cannot marry him, and when my father heard
it he was furious, and gave me notice that I must begin singing once
more at his concerts. I cannot do that! Oh, it would kill me, Dick!"

"Dear one," he said, "I will do my best to carry out any plan that you
may suggest--I give you my promise, dear Betsy."

"I spoke to Mr. Long of my hope--of the one longing there is in my
heart, Dick. Your sisters told me of the convent at Lille, beside where
they lived. The old grey building among the ancient trees--far away
from any sound of the world. Oh, surely that is the one spot in the
world where rest--the divine rest--the peace of God--may be found. O
Dick, Dick, if you could know how I long for it!"

He started away from her.

"Is it possible that that is your choice, Betsy?" he cried, and there
was agony in his voice. "Is it possible that you can shut yourself off
from your friends--from those who love you? Ah, dear child, you know
that I----"

"Do not say it--ah, do not say the words that are trembling on your
lips, Dick. You will not say them when you know that they will make me
miserable. Dick, I will think of you as my dear, dear brother, and you
will take me away to that place of rest. Ah, I feel that all I have
gone through to-day since that man sent a forged message to me at nine
o'clock to the effect that my father wished me to play the harpsichord
in his place at the concert, and so trapped me into the chair which
he had waiting and on to the chaise, the linkmen whom he had bribed
standing so close to the windows that I was quite concealed, and my
cries to the passers-by were unheeded,--all that I have gone through,
I say, must have been designed by Heaven to enable me to reach my
goal--my place of rest."

"I will take you there, Betsy," he said in a low voice. "You may trust
me to take you there, dear sister--sweet sister Betsy."

She put her arms about him and kissed him on both cheeks.

       *       *       *       *       *

It was the scheme of a boy and a girl, that flight of Richard Brinsley
Sheridan and Elizabeth Linley to France as brother and sister. It has
never been explained, nor can any explanation of it be offered that is
not founded upon the passionate yearning of that purest-minded girl
that ever lived in the world, for a time of seclusion such as she had
never known--for a period of tranquillity such as had never come to her.

Dick led her to the chaise, and gave the postboys orders to go on
to the next stage at which Mathews had ordered fresh horses to await
his arrival. The men grumbled. Dick threatened them with hanging.
They should have trouble in proving to any jury that they were not
privy to the abduction of the lady, he said; adding, that if they did
not keep the secret of the change in the lady's companionship at the
various stages of the journey, they would be running their heads into
the hangman's noose. The men protested that they were on his side
down to every rowel of their spurs, and one of them went so far, in
demonstration of his good-will, as to curse soundly Captain Mathews and
all his connections.

In the chaise Betsy gave Dick a circumstantial account of the attack
made by the highwaymen--the highwaymen of Providence, Dick ventured to
term them. The two shots which he had heard in the distance when he was
assuring himself that his horse had become lame, were fired, the first
by Mathews on the appearance of the highwaymen, the second by one of
the highwaymen. Only the latter had taken effect; it had brought down
the off-wheeler, and then, the chaise coming to a standstill, a man had
stood with a cocked pistol at each of the windows until Mathews handed
over his purse. The robbers had then ridden off, and while Mathews was
helping the postboys to disentangle the harness of the dead horse, she
had, unperceived by any one, crept out of the chaise and made her way
up the bank where she had hidden among the trees.

"But I never doubted that you would come to my help, Dick," she said in
conclusion. "Oh, no! I had faith in you from the very first to the very
last. When we saw the figures of the two highwaymen in the distance,
I cried out, ''Tis Dick--Dick and Mr. Long come to save me!' And when
I heard the sound of your horse galloping on the road I said, ''Tis
Dick come to save me!' I had called out your name before the horse came
abreast of the bank. But how did you learn what had happened? Who
could have been near us when that man dragged me from the chair and
forced me into the chaise?"

He told her that it was Mrs. Abington who had come to him with the
news, and she was amazed.

"But how could she--why should she be at that part of the road at such
an hour?"

"Alas, my dear Betsy, she had a fancy that you were being carried off,
not by Mathews, but another," said Dick. "She must have acquired by
some means an inkling of the plot, and she was foolish enough to take
it for granted that the man who was playing the chief part was--some
one else. But we cannot refuse her our gratitude. When she had found
out that it was Mathews who was the abductor, she did not falter in her
purpose. It is to her that we owe your safety."

There was a long pause before Betsy said:

"She acted honourably--nobly. 'Tis for us to respond in like. We shall
not fail, Dick."

At the end of the next stage Dick wrote a letter to Mr. Long
acquainting him in brief with all that had occurred, and telling him of
Betsy's desire to go to the convent at Lille. He ordered the letter to
be posted to Bath at once. Betsy wrote to her father.

When they reached London he drove with her to the house of a friend of
his--a Mr. Ewart; and Mr. Ewart and his wife assumed that Betsy was his
elder sister.

"Yes, this is Elizabeth," said Dick. "I am taking her on to Lille for a
holiday."

Mrs. Ewart, knowing that the Sheridan family had lived at Lille for
some years, merely said:

"You must have formed many friendships in France, my dear?"

"I have got some dear friends there," said Betsy.

Mr. Ewart found out that a packet was leaving Margate in two days for
Calais, and at Dick's request wrote to secure cabins aboard. After
staying two nights at the Ewarts' house, the boy and girl posted to
Margate, and duly set sail in the packet, which was really only a
smack, but one with a reputation for making rapid passages. It acted up
to its traditions by landing them at Calais in twenty-two hours.

The first person whom they met on the quayside was Mr. Long.

They were both astonished. How on earth did he contrive to reach Calais
before them? they inquired.

Well, he had got Dick's letter the morning after Dick had posted it,
and he had set out at once for Dover, where he had found a faster boat
even than the Margate smack. He had been at Calais since the previous
afternoon.

He led them to his inn, and ordered breakfast. When they were alone
together after that repast, he said:

"My dear children, I do not think that this story of ours should have
an unhappy ending, and every young woman of sense who has read Mr.
Richardson's novels--assuming that any young woman of sense ever read
novels--will tell you that a convent in a foreign land cannot possibly
be regarded as furnishing a happy ending to a story. Ah, my dear Betsy,
when I saw you and Dick just now walking side by side on the quay, I
knew that you were meant by Heaven to walk side by side through life.
Will you not consent to make me happy? I have money enough to allow of
your living in some peaceful cottage until Dick gets a footing in a
profession. Dear child, I know that you love him, and I think that he
loves you, too."

"I will consent with joy if he consent," said she. "But I know that he
will not. I do not think that I could love him if he were to consent.
Dear sir, 'tis to Mrs. Abington I owe my safety, and can I act with
such base ingratitude to her as to do what you suggest?"

"God help me!" said Dick. "I am weak--oh, so weak! It seems as if I
should be turning my back upon all the happiness which I could ever
hope for in the world, were I to refuse now what is offered to me. O
Betsy, tell me what to do! Will you not raise your finger to help me,
Betsy?"

"I dare not, dear. There is one who stands between us. You owe
everything to her. I owe everything to her."

"You have helped me," he said in a low voice. "Mr. Long, you will take
Betsy on to Lille. I shall return alone to Bath."

"No, my boy," said Mr. Long, "we shall return to Bath together. Mrs.
Abington is more than generous--she is sensible. She came to me before
I started on my journey. She brought with her a letter, charging me to
put it into your hands. Read it, Dick."

Dick, with nervous fingers, tore open the letter which Mr. Long handed
to him. He read it, but he gave no cry of gladness. Tears were in his
eyes. He handed it to Betsy. She read it. It dropped from her grasp.
There was a long pause. Then each looked into the face of the other.

The next moment they were in each other's arms.



L'ENVOI

(_FROM THE DIARY OF MR. WALTER LONG_)


_October 1st._--I have just returned from paying my long-promised
visit to Dick Sheridan and his wife at their cottage. During the three
days that I was with them I have been looking at happiness through
these young people's eyes, and indeed I think that I felt as happy as
they. Betsy's few months of married life seem to have added to that
half divine beauty which ever dwelt upon her face. A lovely light
came to her eyes when I told her that such was my thought. "Ah, yes,"
she said, "when one has been living in heaven for a space, one cannot
help acquiring something of a region that is all divine." No flaw
in her happiness seems to exist, though I fancied that I detected
a certain momentary uneasiness on her face when Dick began to talk
of his plans and his hopes for the future. He has a mind to write a
comedy satirising Bath society--nay, he has even progressed so far as
to have found a name for his heroine--a very foolish young woman, as
full of ridiculous whims as any Bath belle--Miss Lydia Languish she is
to be called; but 'tis doubtful if the name will ever become familiar
to playgoers, in spite of the attractive jingle there is in it. I do
not say that Betsy has yet come to look upon Miss Lydia Languish as a
rival, but I am sure that she does not like to hear the wench's name so
often on the lips of her husband, though, like a good wife, she tries
to brighten up and to discuss all the points of character which the
young woman should possess. Has she a fear that Dick will some of these
days tire of the blessed retirement--the sweet peace of this cottage to
which she has led him? I know not. If he be wise he will perceive that
the world can give him no more perfect measure of happiness than that
which is his to-day; but alas! a man's ambition soon passes beyond the
pure tranquillity of a wife's devotion. Alas! alas!

       *       *       *       *       *



A REVERIE

(_WRITTEN APPARENTLY ON THE SAME DAY_)


Beloved, who art ever by my side, whose gracious presence, unseen by
mortal eye, is ever, ever felt by me--dear Companion, ever youthful,
ever lovely, come with me into the autumn woodland and let us converse
together. See, my dear one, the bend of the river by which we wander
has brought us within view of the wonderful tints of the hedgerow. If
the summer has died it has left the autumn wealthy, and its treasury
is a hedgerow. Here on this first day of autumn we see scattered
in profusion the yellow gold and the mellow bronze of Nature's
cunning coinage. One might be tempted not to forsake the simile, but
to anticipate the coming of those bleak days when the spendthrift
winds--children of the autumn--rush down in riotous mirth to disperse
with prodigal fingers the wealth of the season's store, only that
the tinge of melancholy which one feels when looking over the autumn
landscape at the close of day quickly passes in view of the charms
of mingled tints that meet the eye. The gracious warmth of green
leaves whose edges are embroidered with bronze may be found when the
hedgerow is sheltered by a sturdy ash from both wind and sun. Does
not the full depth of rich colour at this place suggest June rather
than October? but where the hedgerow bourgeons out beyond the line of
straggling leafless trees, the signs of the month are apparent. Here,
beneath the fringe of a dark cloud of russet leafage, shine a few
stars of brilliant yellow--the Pleiades of the hedgerow--and light up
the dimness with their mellow radiance. Further down the variegated
forms of the crisp foliage become more fantastic. It requires no vivid
imagination to see here and there a thick cluster of yellow grapes,
through which the sun shines as they show themselves among the close
network of vine leaves, and for a single moment one recalls a day
spent in the South, where the grapes overhung the dusty roadway, and a
muleteer paused to gather a splendid cluster. But quickly the vision
passes, when our eyes wander on down the leafy path of autumn that was
once the primrose path of spring; for there we see--is it an autumn
hedgerow or an ocean on a night when the air is saturate with golden
moonlight? All before our eyes is yellow--not a russet tinge appears
among those gracious leaf-ripples that lose themselves in the distance.
We wander along until the mellow line is broken by a forest of bramble.
The purple berries are set like jewels among the golden leaves--the
amethyst, the topaz, and here and there an exquisite emerald appear in
profusion. Have we indeed reached the yellow strand of an ocean island
where every pebble is a precious stone? Alas! a few steps onward, and
we are face to face with the realities of autumn, for here the hedgerow
has been exposed to the blast of a cold wind from the north, and we
see nothing but a tangled network of gaunt branches. Weird skeleton
fingers are stretched out at us on every side. Every leaf save one has
been swept away, and as we stand looking at this desolate place--the
visible boundary of autumn and winter--the sere solitary leaf flutters
to the ground at our feet. The wind that comes from where the sun is
setting in lurid glory sends a faint whisper through the woodland. We
stand in the silence, and the touch of the spirit of autumn is upon us.
We feel that every sound of the woodland is a sigh for its departed
glories--the glories of blossom and leafage and days that have passed
away. When the autumn winds have garnered their harvest from the boughs
of the woodland, their aftermath begins in the meadow. But, my Beloved,
neither you nor I can be altogether melancholy among the autumn
hedgerows, for, through the signs of the year's decay, the Hope that is
in us seems to break more abundantly into bloom. We feel that death is
not for all things that made life beautiful; Love and Faith and Truth
are not among the spoils of Time. We are lifted up and strengthened
by this reflection as we retrace our steps amid the slowly gathering
shadows of the evening.

                              THE END

  _Printed by Hazell, Watson, & Viney, Ld., London and Aylesbury._



Messrs. Hutchinson & Co.'s New Novels, Autumn 1901


_By F. FRANKFORT MOORE._

A Nest of Linnets

By the Author of "The Jessamy Bride," "The Fatal Gift," etc.

_With 16 Full-page Illustrations by_ J. JELLICOE.

_In crown 8vo, cloth gilt. 6s._

The story opens in Bath at the time when that city was at the height of
its popularity as a fashionable resort. Most of the action of the story
takes place there or in the neighbourhood, and Mr. Moore could scarcely
have chosen a more interesting period. Such well-known characters
as Dr. Johnson, Horace Walpole, the Duchess of Devonshire, David
Garrick, Mr. Boswell, Mrs. Thrale, the Sheridans, and the Linleys, are
introduced with all the skill and close intimacy to which Mr. Moore
has accustomed us in "The Jessamy Bride" and "The Fatal Gift"; but
the chief interest is centred in the beautiful Miss Linley and Dick
Sheridan, whose romantic and faithful attachment ends, after many
exciting incidents, in the well-known dénouement. Of Mr. Moore's trio
of fascinating historical romances "A Nest of Linnets" will undoubtedly
rank as the daintiest and most charming of all.


_By RONALD MACDONALD._

God Save the King

By the Author of "The Sword of the King."

_In crown 8vo, cloth. 6s._

This historical novel of the Stuart period has a fine literary quality.
The Author has already done promising work, and he more than fulfils
expectations in this new novel.


_By "IOTA."_

Jill Drake

By the Author of "A Yellow Aster," "A Quaker Grandmother," etc., etc.

_In crown 8vo, cloth gilt. 6s._

Mrs. Caffyn has taken a somewhat reckless but brilliant Irish girl as
the heroine of her new story. She knows the Irish character well; there
is great force in her portraiture, and apart from the Author's style,
which is distinctly her own, the story is uncommon in its plot and
unconventional in treatment.


_By ALLEN RAINE._

A Welsh Witch

By the Author of "A Welsh Singer," "Tom Sails," "Garthowen," etc.

_In crown 8vo, cloth gilt. 6s._

No one can write a Welsh story like "Allen Raine." She commands the
field, and there is not one of her novels that has not been read by
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is stronger in the delineation of character, while possessing all the
charm of style which is so characteristic of the earlier works, and it
has, moreover, an uncommonly interesting story.


_By A. W. MARCHMONT._

For Love or Crown

By the Author of "By Right of Sword," "A Dash for a Throne," etc.

With 8 Full-page Illustrations by D. MURRAY SMITH.

_In crown 8vo, cloth gilt. 6s._

The many thousands of readers of the Author's novels, "By Right of
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heroine is kidnapped; there are escapes, rescues, duels, and exciting
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a throne to mate with the lover who has encountered innumerable perils
on her behalf.


_By E. EVERETT-GREEN._

Olivia's Experiment

By the Author of "Golden Gwendolyn," "The Silver Axe," etc.

_In crown 8vo, cloth gilt. 6s._

Lady Charteris, who has lost both husband and children, adopts the baby
boy of a depraved woman. The story gives the life history of this boy,
who is underbred and low in the scale of moral development. A bright
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It will appeal to all those who like such writers as Rosa N. Carey,
Charlotte M. Yonge, and L. T. Meade.


_By ADELINE SERGEANT._

The Marriage of Lydia Mainwaring

By the Author of "The Idol Maker," "The Mistress of Quest," etc.

_In crown 8vo, cloth gilt. 6s._

Miss Sergeant can always be relied upon for a good story, and her new
novel will not disappoint her many readers. It is on a level with her
best work, which is saying much.


_By MARIAN FRANCIS_

Where Honour Leads

_In crown 8vo, cloth gilt. 6s._

This story of events during the reign of George II. has for its
chief actors a Canon of York and his motherless daughter. It is full
of incident, and the characterisation is excellent, the heroine in
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of the period of which she writes. She has distinctly realised its
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Jacobites; but it has the novelty of concentrating the interest upon
the Hanoverians and not on the Jacobites. The book is a delightful
picture of eighteenth-century life in England.


_By GEORGE GRIFFITH._

Captain Ishmael

By the Author of "The Angel of the Revolution," "The Outlaws of the
Air," etc.

With a Frontispiece and Cover design by HAROLD PIFFARD.

_In crown 8vo, cloth gilt. 6s._

This Saga of the South Seas is a legitimate mixture of fact and
legendary fancy, so woven together that a most spirited and weird
story of adventure is achieved. It quickens in action as it proceeds,
until a fine climax is reached; and all who have read the Author's
previous book, "The Angel of the Revolution," will be grateful for such
a thrilling story as he has given here. It deals with vast treasures,
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exciting work of fiction.


_By CHRIS. HEALY._

The Work of his Hands

_In crown 8vo, cloth gilt. 6s._

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_By ARABELLA KENEALY._

The Love of Richard Herrick

By the Author of "A Semi-Detached Marriage," "Charming Renée," etc.

_In crown 8vo, cloth gilt. 6s._

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Herrick" is a quite original book by a very capable writer, and it is
sure of attention.


_By MRS. HUGH FRASER._

Marna's Mutiny

By the Author of "A Diplomatist's Wife in Japan," "A Little Grey
Sheep," etc.

_In crown 8vo, cloth gilt. 6s._

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_By ÉMILE ZOLA._

The Monomaniac

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Translated by EDWARD VIZETELLY.

_In crown 8vo, cloth gilt, with Frontispiece by_ N. TENISON. _3s. 6d._

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the Author portrayed diverse characters more convincingly, or worked
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as a translator of other of the Author's works.


_By PERCY WHITE._

The Grip of the Bookmaker.

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_In crown 8vo, cloth gilt. 6s._

A SECOND EDITION IMMEDIATELY CALLED FOR.

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more cruel and less candid."--_Saturday Review._


_By GEORGE GIBBS._

In Search of Mademoiselle

_In crown 8vo, cloth gilt. 6s._

_With 8 full-page Illustrations by the Author._

Sydney Killigrew, the hero of this historical romance of the time of
Elizabeth, is a young Englishman who, being impoverished, is easily
induced to serve on board a ship which is about to take a hazardous
voyage. He soon sees some fighting: a Spanish ship is captured, and the
Mademoiselle of the story rescued from captivity. She and her father
are Huguenots, and circumstances impel Killigrew to join them when
they sail, with other Huguenots, for Florida. Spanish vessels follow
them. On the Huguenots landing there is a massacre. Killigrew escapes,
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expedition sets out from France to save the honour of the country and
to avenge the massacre. Killigrew joins this expedition, hoping to
save Mademoiselle; and after many misfortunes and terrible fighting,
the French, being aided by the Indians, ultimately put the Spaniards
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together the wealth and happiness for which they have waited. There is
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the average of historical novels.


_By J. F. CAUSTON._

The Comedy of a Suburban Chapel

By the Author of "A Modern Judas."

_In crown 8vo, cloth gilt. 6s._

The interest of this novel is focussed on a large and important
Wesleyan Chapel in one of the London suburbs. The action is concerned
with the doings of members of the congregation, which is composed of
well-to-do middle-class folk. The love interest is supplied by two
girls who are both in love with the same man. There is a good plot well
worked out, and some excellent delineations of character, particularly
of the Neve family--Mr. and Mrs. Neve and their seven daughters.
Mrs. Neve is a born match-maker, and has the instinct of a general
for planning attacks, the masterly manner in which she contrives to
marry off her daughters being described in a most amusing manner. The
manoeuvring mother is not altogether a novelty; but the Author has
made of Mrs. Neve a humorous and original figure, and withal she is
a good-natured and likeable woman. John Blount, the wealthy man and
chief pillar of the congregation, is also an admirable study. He is not
a humbug; his religion is real; but his self-importance is terrible.
The Author writes with a skilful hand, his style is good, and he is
evidently thoroughly acquainted with the subject of which he treats. In
talent, humour, and insight, this story is far superior to the ordinary
run of novels.


_By LILIAN BELL._

The Expatriates

_In crown 8vo, cloth gilt. 6s._

The principal characters of the story are rich Americans and titled
Parisians, and the action takes place largely in Paris. It depicts a
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class. The Author evidently writes from first-hand knowledge, and feels
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and contains a most interesting story. There is, too, a freshness about
the characters--the heroine, Rose, being a delightful type of the
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_By VIOLET TWEEDALE._

Her Grace's Secret

By the Author of "The Kingdom of Mammon," etc.

_In crown 8vo, cloth gilt. 6s._

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"Mrs. Tweedale's best novel. It is a distinct advance in skilful
construction upon "The Kingdom of Mammon," and is a striking story,
told with vigour and intensity. The situation is remarkably clever and
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_By JOHN OXENHAM._

Our Lady of Deliverance

By the Author of "God's Prisoner," etc.

_In crown 8vo, cloth gilt. 6s._

The teller of this story, Lamont, a young Scotsman of partially French
extraction, becoming enamoured of the portrait of a beautiful girl,
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man who wishes to marry her. The story concerns itself with Lamont's
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joyful ending, after exciting scenes. Denise makes a capital heroine,
and the Author has succeeded in making his story move along quickly,
and keeping the interest alive from start to finish.


_By DOUGLAS SLADEN._

My Son Richard

A Romance of the River Thames

SECOND LARGE EDITION.

_In crown 8vo, cloth gilt. 6s._

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atmosphere; very human; a book to enjoy a long success."--_Standard._

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with more regret--altogether a delightful book."--_Sporting Times_
("The Pink 'Un").

"I have not read any book which is so deliciously saturated with the
gay spirit of the river."--_Star._

"Strikes a fresh note, and presents us with charming visions of English
youth and maidenhood on the loveliest reaches of the Thames."--_Queen._



    The NOVELS of F. FRANKFORT MOORE.

    _In cloth gilt. 6s. each._


    According to Plato

    Well, After All----

    SECOND LARGE EDITION.


    The Fatal Gift

    With 8 Full-page Illustrations by SAUBER. SECOND LARGE EDITION.


    The Millionaires

    With Illustrations by MAURICE GRIEFFENHAGEN. EIGHTEENTH THOUSAND.


    The Jessamy Bride

    With Illustrations by A. FORESTIER. FOURTH EDITION.


    I Forbid the Banns

    FORTIETH THOUSAND.


    A Gray Eye or So

    NINTH EDITION.


    One Fair Daughter

    FOURTH EDITION.


    Phyllis of Philistia

    FIFTH EDITION.


    They Call it Love

    SECOND EDITION.


    Daireen

    THIRD EDITION.


HUTCHINSON & CO., PATERNOSTER ROW



TRANSCRIBER'S NOTE: Apparent printers' errors corrected. The oe ligature
has been replaced with the letters oe. Long dashes are found spaced in
the original; this spacing has been retained.





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