Dick Sheridan was conscious of a curious impression of elation while lying awake recalling the somewhat exciting incident in which he had played an important part. And when he thought over the details of the occurrence, he felt glad that he was elated. He did himself the justice to refrain from attributing his elation solely to the fact of his having put some rascals to flight, and his having followed them with a naked sword, anxious to run them through. Of course, he did not deny that he found pleasure in the reflection that he had made the rascals fly, and he was quite ready to allow that this pleasure was tinged with regret that he had not been able to get the point of his weapon in between some of their ribs. At the same time, however, he knew that he was sincerely glad that he had been able to save the life of the man who was taking Betsy Linley out of his life.

She had told him, when her hand was in his, that the joy of life was not in living for oneself, but in bringing happiness to others; and he had gone forth from her presence feeling that she had spoken the truth. It was a truth that he had often heard before from the lips of teachers of the elements of Christianity; but its enunciation had produced no greater impression on him than the words of such teachers usually do upon their hearers. All his thoughts had been for himself: seeking his own pleasure—seeking to cut a good figure before the eyes of the people who were around him. He had even gone to pay his visit to her in the same spirit. He was anxious to cut the figure of a cynical man of the world in her presence, and to show her that he was in no way touched by the announcement that she had given her promise to marry Mr. Long.

But in her presence he felt all the sweet influence of her nature; it surrounded him as the scent of a rose-garden surrounds one who comes among the flowers in June; he breathed it as one breathes the scent of the roses. The fragrance of her presence permeated his life. Her spirit became part of his spirit, and, sitting on the hill-slope, with the mystery of the moonlight about him, he felt himself to be a new man. The reality of the change that had come to him was soon put to the test. The chance had been given to him of saving the life of the man who was taking Betsy from him, and he had welcomed that chance. To be sure, when he had run upon the men with his naked sword, he had not known who it was that he was rescuing from his assailants; but he knew now, and he felt that the reflection that he had saved his life for Betsy was the greatest happiness he had ever known.

What would have happened if he had held back his hand at that time?

That question he asked of himself, and he had no difficulty in answering it. He knew that, unless some miracle had happened, nothing could have saved Mr. Long from being murdered. And in that case Betsy would be freed from the obligation which she had accepted.

He knew all this, and he thanked Heaven in all sincerity that he had been able to save the life of the man who stood between him and Betsy Linley. He shuddered at the thought of the bare possibility of his having failed to hear Mr. Long’s cries for help; and he felt rejoiced at the thought that he had done an unusual thing in wearing his sword when going to pay his visit to Betsy. It was not customary to wear swords in the afternoon at Bath, though, of course, they were carried at night. But, when setting out to pay his call, Dick had fastened on his sword, the fact being—though he tried not to include it in the sequence of his thoughts while lying awake that night—that he had meant to accept an invitation to supper and cards at which one of his fashionable friends had hinted the previous evening. After offering Betsy his congratulations, and making a few worldly-wise remarks on the absurdity of marriage, it had been his intention to go to one of the Assembly Rooms, and thence to the supper-party; and, as an early return home was not among his calculations, he felt that it would be prudent to wear his sword.

What a lucky chance it was that he had been so prudent! (He had so successfully avoided thinking of his unworthy project that he had come to attribute his carrying of the sword to his own prudence and forethought.) Without a weapon, he himself, as well as Mr. Long, could hardly have escaped from the footpads, who were undoubtedly most desperate ruffians. And then, having settled the matter of his caution and forethought—two attributes which he had certainly not inherited, and which he could scarcely regard as inevitable to his nationality as an Irishman, from whatever source his intentions regarding the supper-party may have sprung—he went on to think of Mr. Long.

He had never exchanged more than half a dozen words with Mr. Long during the six months that the latter had been in Bath, and he had looked on him as quite an old fogey, possessing none of the brilliant gifts of a man of fashion. None of the bons mots of the dialogues of scandal which circulated in the Pump-Room in the morning and in the Assembly Rooms in the evening, having blown about the town during the day, were attributed to him. None of the dainty plums of malice—preserved in vinegar, not in sugar—which the ladies with the rouge and patches passed round in their bonbonnières at the card-tables, came from him; and therefore Dick had never thought of him except as a good-natured elderly gentleman. To have a reputation for good-nature was of itself quite sufficient to exclude any one from the most fashionable set in Bath.

It was really only when it was announced that he was the successful suitor for the hand of Miss Linley, that people began to notice Mr. Long, and then the form that their attention took consisted in their alluding to him as an old fogey, if not an old fool.

Dick noticed that it was mostly the rejected suitors who so alluded to him, and he thought that it showed an amazing amount of weakness on their part: they were simply advertising their own failure—he had said so to his friend Halhed the previous evening in the Long Room, and he made up his mind that, whatever might happen and whatever he might think, he would never betray his own chagrin by calling Mr. Long an old fool.

Of course he could not but feel that it was an act of folly for a man turned sixty to make up his mind to marry a beautiful girl not yet twenty; he thought that he was equal to taking a dispassionate view of the matter. But he would never be heard alluding to Mr. Long as an old fool. He himself was not such a young fool as to give himself credit for any generosity in maintaining an attitude of reticence on this question; he was only determined not to show the same weakness as his friends, who acknowledged Mr. Long to be their successful rival.

But now, after recalling the attitude of Mr. Long when recovering from the effects of the attack made upon him by the three footpads—after recalling the easy tone of his conversation, and the adroitness with which he had obtained from Dick a good deal of information about himself and his prospects, and more particularly his lack of prospects, Dick came to the conclusion that for the first time in his life he had been speaking to one who was indeed a man of the world—a man who understood his fellow men and who could be humorously tolerant of their weaknesses and their prejudices. He could not but feel, however, that among the attributes of a man of the world which he possessed, there was in parts of his conversation a certain element of the enigmatical. For instance, when almost at the point of parting he had said—— What were his exact words?

The man whom Elizabeth Linley loves is fortunate.... I am wondering whether that man be you or I.

Those were his very words, and they had puzzled Dick the moment they were uttered. They puzzled him much more now that he recalled them. They were certainly very strange words for such a man as Mr. Long to say at such a time as he had said them. Did they mean that he questioned whether Betsy loved him or Dick; or did he merely mean that he was uncertain whether he or Dick was the more fortunate in regard to some matter quite apart from the love of Elizabeth Linley—say, in the matter of age, or in respect of the adventure in which they had both been concerned? Did he mean that it was an open question whether the man who saves another man’s life or the one whose life has been saved is the more fortunate?

To be sure, his remark about the good-fortune of a man was connected solely with the question of the love of Elizabeth Linley, so that his saying that he wondered whether the fortunate man was himself or Dick, seemed to be simply equivalent to saying that he wondered whether Elizabeth Linley loved himself, whom she had promised to marry, or Dick, who was no more to her than other men. Still, it might be susceptible of a different meaning; for instance.... Great heavens! Could it be that Mr. Long was treating thus lightly the bare possibility that the girl whom he hoped to marry had given all her love to another man?

He could not believe this of such a man as Mr. Long. No; Dick felt that his ear had been over-sensitive. He had allowed himself to be led into a tortuous course of thought, only because Mr. Long had made a pause of perhaps two seconds instead of four between his sentences. It would, he felt, be ridiculous for him to base a theory upon so shallow a foundation. It would be absurd for him to assume that Mr. Long meant to suggest anything more than a casual reflection on a topic worn threadbare in the pulpit—namely, the uncertainty of human happiness.

It was, however, one thing to assure himself that it would be unreasonable to suppose that Mr. Long meant to suggest anything but what was trite, but quite another to convince himself that his ear had played him false; and this was how it came about that he had the first sleepless night of his life, and that he startled his sisters by coming down in good time to breakfast. His appearance was, in fact, rather embarrassing to the housekeeper for the week: Alicia had heard him enter the house at so late an hour that she took it for granted he would not come down to breakfast before noon, and had given her instructions to the cook on this basis. Dick had to face an empty plate until his fish was made ready.

He inquired for his brother—was he the late one this morning?

“What! did not Charles tell you that he meant to go to the country?” asked Alicia.

“Not he,” replied Dick. “The country? Why should he go to the country at this time?”

“Why, he said that you advised him to do so,” cried Elizabeth. “You know what is the only reason he could have for flying from Bath just now. Poor Charlie! he feels that Betsy was not considerate toward him.”

Dick laughed. He had quite forgotten that he had counselled his brother to go away for a time. He had really been more in jest than in earnest in the matter; but Charles had taken him very seriously, and had gone off without an hour’s delay to a farmhouse eight miles out of Bath, on the Wells road. He was not slow to perceive what Dick had hinted at—that a gratifying degree of prominence might be given to his name if the fact became well known that he had been so greatly overcome by the news of Miss Linley’s having promised to marry another man as to make it impossible for him to continue living in the same town with her.

“Poor Charlie!” said the elder Miss Sheridan in a tone that was meant as a reproof to Dick for his levity—“poor Charlie! But we can keep the matter a secret; we need not add to his humiliation, Dick, by talking of his having gone away on account of Betsy’s treatment of him.”

Dick laughed more heartily still.

“My dear girl,” he cried, “your suggestion is well meant, but poor Charlie would not thank you if you were to act on it. Poor Charlie knows perfectly well that he has now got a chance of attaining such fame as may never come to him again so long as he lives. When the fickle Phyllis rejects Strephon’s advances and accepts those of Damon, the Pastoral that commemorates the event confers immortality upon Strephon the rejected, just as surely as if he had been the fortunate lover. I can assure you that Bath, and Oxford too, I doubt not, are just now crowded with Strephons anxious to be handed down to posterity as the rejected swains. Take my word for it, poor Charlie would only be chagrined if he thought that no notice whatever would be taken of his forlorn condition as the rejected swain. Good heavens! wait until Friday comes, and you scan the Poet’s Corner of the Advertiser; if you do not find poor Charlie making a bid for the immortality of the doleful Strephon, I am greatly mistaken.”

The girls stared at him.

“You are wrong—quite wrong, Dick,” cried the elder. “Yes, you are. Charlie begged of us to keep his departure a secret. He said he would not have it known for the world.”

Dick did not laugh again: on the contrary, he became solemn. He felt that it would be heartless on his part to make the attempt to undermine the simplicity of his sisters. But the fact that Charlie had taken such elaborate precautions to give publicity to the news of his departure caused Dick to have a higher opinion than he had up to that moment possessed of his brother’s knowledge of human nature.

And then, finding that Dick was silent—penitentially silent—the two girls thought that the opportunity was a fitting one to give expression to their views regarding the heartlessness of Betsy and the devotion of Charlie. They had seen Mr. Long, and were ready to assert that poor Charlie was quite as good as he was, without being nearly so old; and Miss Sheridan went so far as to suggest that the family of Sheridan were fortunate in that they were not called on to welcome Betsy Linley as a stepmother.

Dick began to think, after this remark, that perhaps he had done his sisters an injustice in assuming their entire simplicity.

Share on Twitter Share on Facebook