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.

The two beautiful ladies held up their hands

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.”

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