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.”


“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.”

Dick sprang from his seat

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.”

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