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.

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