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.

He whisked out his sword

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.

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