“Heavens, Mr. Sheridan, it is to you I am indebted for my preservation from those rascals!” said Mr. Long.

Dick took off his hat in acknowledgment of the compliment.

“May I venture to hope that you have not received any severe injuries, sir? Your hand——”

Dick could see that there were some dark spots on the portions of the handkerchief that Mr. Long had managed to tie about his wrist and his knuckles.

“Only flesh wounds—scratches,” said Mr. Long. “But you followed the fellows, Mr. Sheridan? That was brave of you. My mind was greatly relieved when I saw you returning. I am glad that you were not so foolish as to rush into what may have been a trap. I suppose that, like rats—other vermin—they escaped by the river?”

“Two of them escaped by the river—I followed them down to the very brink, sir, and saw one of them safely into the water,” said Dick. “His companion went headlong into a boat and picked him up. The third I lost sight of shortly after they turned aside from the road.”

“Let them go,” said Mr. Long. “’Twas God’s mercy, Mr. Sheridan, that you were within earshot when I called for help. They attacked me on the road without a moment’s warning.”

“Footpads!” said Dick.

“H’m—perhaps footpads,” said Mr. Long doubtfully.

“I never heard that they infested this road, sir,” said Dick. “They must be the lowest in practice at this work. The chance passengers so far out of the city are not frequent after dusk.”

“I have my suspicions,” said Mr. Long. “I must have been followed by those scoundrels—or they may have lain in wait for me. I was supping with Mr. Lambton at his house on the Circus, and did not leave until late. Then I ventured to take a walk of a mile, tempted by the curiously beautiful night. I assure you I was not dreaming of an attack; but it came. Luckily the fellows rushed out upon me from the shrubbery along the carriage drive to that house, leaving the gate ajar. I had barely time to parry the thrusts of the foremost of the band, and by a disconcerting movement to get within the gate and close it. I saw that my only chance lay in keeping the bars between us. I will do them the justice to say that they also perceived that this was the case. But they only lacerated my hand and wrist.”

“You fought bravely and adroitly, sir,” cried Dick.

“At the same time, Mr. Sheridan, I know that if you had not come up at that instant I should now be a dead man,” said Mr. Long.

“Oh no, sir; you would most probably have run some of them through the body,” said Dick. “Cowardly rascals they must be! They showed themselves ready enough to run; they did not give me a chance of a single thrust at any one of them.”

“I sympathise with you, Mr. Sheridan,” said Mr. Long. “But your sword will be the less soiled. Five minutes—perhaps two—would have done for me. A gate with bars is no effective barrier where the small sword is concerned; and then—— Well, I’m not so young a man as I once was, sir; I was heartily glad at your coming on the scene. If you are walking back to the town I hope that I may claim your escort to my house.”

“I shall feel proud to walk with you, sir,” replied Dick, with alacrity. “But I venture to hope, sir, that you will see a surgeon before you retire.”

“I assure you there is no need, Mr. Sheridan. I have an excellent servant; there is scarce a wound that he could not heal—he even professes to deal with those of the heart; but there, I think, he professes overmuch. I should like to put his skill to the test; so if you have a friend who is in an evil case in any matter pertaining to that organ, you have only to let me know. By the way, Mr. Sheridan, it may sound ungenerously inquisitive on my part to inquire to what happy accident I owe my life? Is it a usual custom with you to take a rural walk after midnight? Pray, sir, rebuke my impertinence as it deserves by refusing to answer me, if it so please you.”

They had now begun to walk in the direction of Bath. The moon had risen high in the sky, and no cloud was visible. The night was so clear that Dick could not help feeling that the gentleman by his side saw his blushes that followed the inquiry. For the first time Dick perceived that he might have some little difficulty in explaining how it was that he came to be outside Bath on foot at that hour. When he had set out on his midnight stroll it had not occurred to him that he might be asked to give an explanation as to the impulse that had sent him forth. He hoped that Mr. Long did not notice his blush. It was only the suddenness of the question that had caused it.

“I took the walk because I had something to—to—think over,” he said, without any particular readiness.

“Then you did well to walk at this hour and on such a night,” said Mr. Long. “For myself, I can say that I have never yet faced any question that refused to be answered after a night’s walk and a night’s thoughts. And now I will place myself on a confessional level with you, by telling you before you ask—you are not so impertinent as to ask—if it be habitual with me to take a midnight walk? I will answer ‘No’ to that question, sir, and tell you that my walk was due to a certain want of confidence on my part in respect of Mr. Lambton’s excellent—too excellent French cook. I supped at Mr. Lambton’s, as I believe I mentioned?”

“Mr. Linley said you were going to Mr. Lambton’s house, sir,” said Dick.

“Oh, then you supped at the Linleys’?” said Mr. Long; “or did you merely meet Mr. Linley in the course of the night after he left me?”

“I supped with the family, sir. Mrs. Linley has had the kindness to treat me as one of the family. She expressed her regrets that you did not come to eat her pastry. She also expressed her want of confidence in Mr. Lambton’s cook.”

Mr. Long laughed.

“Our fears were not wholly groundless,” he said. “I think I made as frugal a supper as is possible in a house where a French cook possessing some determination and four new dishes reigns in the kitchen. And yet I own that an hour after supper, I—I—well, I felt that a brisk walk of a mile might at least prevent my forming an unjust judgment on the cook. On the whole, however, so far as I can gather, I am inclined to believe that Mr. Lambton’s cook is merciful as he is powerful. Neither you nor I, Mr. Sheridan, can know into what temptations to tyranny a first-class cook is led. He cannot but be conscious of his own power; and yet Mr. Lambton’s cook is, I understand, as approachable as if he were an ordinary person like one of ourselves. Nay, I have heard that some Cabinet Ministers are infinitely more frigid to their colleagues than he is to the other members of the Lambton household. There’s a man for you! And yet people say that the French nation—— But I have not asked you if Mrs. Linley’s pastry was as crisp as usual.”

“It could scarcely be surpassed, sir, even if it had been made under the superintendence of an university of cooks,” replied Dick.

“Then it was not to get rid of the thoughts impelled by your supper that you set out on your walk?” said Mr. Long. “I have heard it said that no man can be a poet who has not been subjected to a course of bad cooking. ’Tis a plausible theory. You have read the poem of the great Italian, Dante, Mr. Sheridan? Well, sir, will any one have the temerity to assert that it was not penned under the influence of a series of terrible suppers? ’Twas but one step further, you will see, from the supper to the Inferno? And there was Milton—well, he follows the Biblical account of the curse falling upon humanity owing to the indiscreet breakfast indulged in by the lady of the garden. And John Bunyan—a great poet, sir, except when he tried his hand at verse-making—his description of the terrors of that Slough of Despond was most certainly written under the influence of a dinner in Bedford gaol. But perhaps you do not think of being a poet, Mr. Sheridan?”

“I have had my dreams in that direction, sir,” said Dick, and once again he was led to hope that Mr. Long would not notice his blush. He could not understand how it was that Mr. Long succeeded in getting him to confess so much—more than he had ever confessed to another man.

“You have had your dreams, sir? I am glad to hear it. I would not give much for a lad who has not, before he is twenty, had dreams of becoming a poet. As a matter of fact, Mr. Sheridan, all men who do anything in the world are poets before they are twenty. The practical men are the men who have imagination; and to be a man of imagination is to be a poet. Now you, Mr. Sheridan, will do something in the world, I fancy.”

“Ah, sir, that was my hope—long ago—long ago.”

“Long ago—long—— Heavens! you talk of long ago, when you cannot have more than reached the age of twenty-one! Why, I am sixty, sir, and do not venture to speak of long ago. Your life is all before you, Mr. Sheridan; and permit me to say that ’twill be your own fault if it be not a noble life—a notable life ’tis bound to be, considering your parentage. Your mother was one of the most remarkable women of this period of the century. Her novels possess extraordinary merit; I say that, and I was a friend of Mr. Richardson. Your father’s genius is recognised. And think of the variety of his attainments. He is not only a great actor, he is a scholar as well; but if he were neither the one nor the other, he might still claim attention as a writer. His theories respecting the importance of elocution are valuable. One has only to hear you speak to become a convert to your father’s theories. If you some day obtain recognition as an orator, you will have to thank your father for his admirable training of your voice. You intend, of course, to enter yourself as a student for the Bar?”

“That was also my hope, sir; but I cannot persuade my father to give me his permission to my studying for the Bar.”

“What! does he wish you to enter the Church and become as distinguished as your grandfather—one of the few friends and the many victims of the Dean of St. Patrick’s?”

“He does not seem to think it necessary for me to enter any profession, Mr. Long. He says I have not sufficient ability to do credit to him and the family—’tis in my brother Charles he has placed his hopes. He has been striving for some time to secure for Charles an appointment under the Government.”

“I hope that he may be successful. And does he make no suggestion to you in regard to your future?”

“None whatever. ’Twas my dear mother who insisted on my being sent to Harrow, and I know that her intention was that I should in due time go to Oxford. Unhappily for us all, however, she died before her hopes were realised; and when my father returned from France with my sisters and brothers, I was taken from Harrow and brought here to waste my time. He seemed to think that I should be content to become a hanger-on of some fine gentleman. That is why he has always encouraged me to mingle only with people of title. Our bitterest quarrels—and we have had some, Mr. Long—have been about the Linleys. He has so exaggerated an opinion of the importance of our family, he thinks that it is not fitting that we should associate with the Linleys because they sing in public—because Mr. Linley is merely a teacher of music.”

“You amaze me, Mr. Sheridan! Has your father never asked himself wherein lies the difference between a man who teaches singing and one who teaches elocution? I had no idea that he was so narrow in his views. Why, he is worse than Dr. Johnson. ’Twas Dr. Johnson who declared that if your father got a pension from the king, ’twas time that he gave up his. That was a very narrow-minded theory to pretend to have—I say ‘pretend,’ for when your father got his pension, the good Doctor showed no intention of relinquishing his. Still, that contemptible Mr. Boswell had no right repeating in every direction what Johnson may have said in his haste. You have heard Mr. Garrick drawing on the fool for the entertainment of a company? Every one knows that it was Dr. Goldsmith’s humour to say to Johnson, ‘Why do you call me “Goldy,” sir—“Goldy,” when you are well aware that I haven’t even silver in my pocket?’ And yet Garrick got Boswell to tell us the story t’other night as proof positive of Dr. Goldsmith’s vanity. But this is beside the point, the point being that you would not give up the Linleys, however narrow-minded your father was. Well, Mr. Sheridan, I do not say that you were in the wrong. You have known Miss Linley for some years, have you not?”

“Ever since we were children, sir.”

“What! so long ago as that?” Mr. Long laughed, but quite pleasantly—not as some people would have laughed at that moment. “Then I hope, Mr. Sheridan, that you did not fail to offer the lady your congratulations on having accepted the offer of marriage made to her a few days ago? By the way, now that I come to think on it, the one to be congratulated in this case is not the lady, but the gentleman. Is not that your view of the matter?”

“I think, sir, that Miss Linley is the sweetest girl that lives in the world, and that any man whom she loves is fortunate above all his fellows.”

“And I agree with you, with all my soul. The man whom Elizabeth Linley loves is fortunate above all the rest of the world. What I am wondering just at this moment, Mr. Sheridan, is whether that man be you or I. Here we are at Millsom Street. I lodge in the last house, where I hope you will be polite enough to call to-morrow to make inquiries after my health. Pray do not forget that I owe my life to you. The man who saves the life of another accepts a fearful responsibility. You will find that out before you have done with me.”

He was holding Dick by the hand. But Dick heard nothing of his invitation delivered in so unconventional a formula. A previous phrase of Mr. Long’s had taken complete possession of his mind.

“I should like to know, sir, what you meant by saying—by suggesting that—that——”

Dick’s stammering was interrupted.

“Good heavens, Mr. Sheridan! you cannot be in earnest in demanding an explanation of anything I say at this hour?” cried Mr. Long, with uplifted hands. “This, sir, is accepting your responsibility a little too seriously. You will be genteel enough to pay me a visit to-morrow—that is, to-day, for ’tis more than an hour past midnight. In the meantime, may I beg of you to—to ... that is, not to ... ah, on second thoughts, I will not beg anything of you. Good-night, good-night.”

He took off his hat, and Dick mechanically raised his own. Mr. Long had turned down the street, but Dick still remained at the corner. Mr. Long had actually pulled the bell at the door of his house before Dick ran to his side.

“Mr. Long,” he cried, “it has just occurred to me that—that it might be as well for you to say nothing to Miss Linley about the little affair that happened to-night. You know that she is nervous, and to hear that an attack was made upon you might prostrate her.”

Mr. Long looked at him in a strangely penetrating way for some moments; then he said:

“You have given expression to the request which I was about to make to you just now. After a moment’s consideration I withheld it: I remembered that you were an Irishman, and therefore that there was no need for me to ask you to remain silent in regard to an incident of which you were the hero. Mr. Sheridan, I will respect your wishes. Miss Linley shall not, unless I find reason to act differently, hear of your heroism through me.”

“Oh, sir—heroism! that is too strong a word,” said Dick.

“Perhaps it is, considering that it was only my life that you saved. Well, we shall say your good-fortune. Will you accept the compromise?”

“Gladly, sir: I shall always think of the incident as the most fortunate of my life.”

“And I hope that neither of us, nor Miss Linley, will ever have occasion to think of it as otherwise; and so I wish you good-night again, my dear boy—my dear boy.”

He gave Dick his hand once more, and Dick felt his fingers pressed with more warmth than he had ever received from his own father.

He rather wished that Mr. Long was his father.

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