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!”

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