He was not angry—what was there to be angry about? The greeting of a beautiful woman (with the suggestion of a clasp) when one expects to meet only a sister may contain the elements of surprise, but rarely those of vexation.

Dick was surprised—in fact, he was slightly alarmed, but he retained his self-possession.

“Safe?” he cried. “Why should not I be safe, unless”—he recollected that not half an hour before he had been greeted by a lady with the same word, and he had replied to it with great glibness: could he do better than repeat himself? He thought not—unless—— “Ah, madam, what man is safe when such beauty——”

“Do not talk to me in that way. Is this a time for compliments—empty—obvious—odious?” she cried, loosing his arms with such suddenness as almost to suggest flinging them from her.

Before she went in a whirl into the room beyond the lobby, he had seen that her face—it had come very close to his own at one moment—was white.

He followed her slowly into the room.

“Forgive me, madam,” he said. “Pray forgive me; I did not realise that you were in earnest. I cannot understand. Some one else greeted me just now with the same word—safe. Why——”

“And you made the same reply to me that you made to her, and doubtless she was completely satisfied, and you paid me the compliment of taking it for granted that the same compliment would repay me for all that I have suffered? Dick, you are—oh, I have no words—you are—a man—I know you—I know men.”

“The retort is just. I assumed, for the moment, that you were like other women. I was wrong. I see now that you were really concerned—for some reason—for my safety; Mrs. Cholmondeley was not.”

“Mrs. Cholmondeley? Who is Mrs. Cholmondeley that she should have any thought for you? Curiosity—oh, yes—tattle—scandal—the material for a pretty piece of scandal, no doubt—that’s how she looked at the whole affair. I know her—a woman—a very woman—I know women.”

“I do not. I admit that I do not understand woman. I fancied—— But every woman is a separate woman. She has an identity that is wholly her own.”

“That is the first step a man should take if he seek to understand us. But philosophy—what is philosophy at such a moment as this? I cannot take your safety philosophically, Dick—thank Heaven—thank Heaven!”

“That is wherein I differ from you. I take my safety philosophically; I bear it with equanimity. Has it been imperilled? Not that I know of.”

She looked at him; a puzzled expression was on her face.

“A young philosopher shows his wisdom only if he is a young fool,” she said. “But you are not so foolish as to be a philosopher at your time of life, Dick. Equanimity—there’s a word for you! But you never felt in peril. Mr. Long is an old man. Do you fancy that Betsy Linley will forgive you for fighting him?”

“Mrs. Abington,” said Dick, “you have been like several other people in this town—the victim of a very foolish and malicious piece of gossip which seems to have been most persistently spread abroad. I have been concerned in no duel, and I swear to you that for no earthly consideration—not even if my own honour were in peril—would I fight Mr. Long. I have a greater respect—a deeper affection—for Mr. Long than I have for any living man.“

The lady stood before him speechless. She was breathing hard. The hand that she had laid upon the upper lace of her bodice rose and fell several times before the expression that had been on her face gave place to quite a different one. The new expression suggested something more than relief, and so did the long sigh that caused her hand to remain for some moments poised above her lace, like a white bird on the curve of a white wave.

She sighed.

Then she gave a laugh—a laugh of pleasant derision—the tolerant derision that one levels at oneself, saying, when things have turned out all right, “What a fool I have been!” Those were her very words.

“What a fool I have been, Dick! I was told that—— But I was a fool to believe anything that came from such a source! Did Mr. Walpole invent the whole story merely out of malice? He is quite equal to it. Or was it a woman? Most likely it came from a woman; but, lud, if you were to try to find the woman who started the lie you would be overcome, for there’s not one of the whole set that wouldn’t take a pleasure in’t. I’m so sorry, Dick! But the story at first was that you had received an injury. What a state I was in! And then some one came with the news that ’twas your opponent who was hurt. Oh, the liars! liars all! But you are not hurt—I mean, you are in no way hurt, my Dick, by this silly story?”

“Hurt? Why, I am overwhelmed with conceit at the thought that my condition should cause so much concern to my friends,” said Dick. “’Tis a great feather in my cap that I should become all in a moment, and without doing anything for it, the topic of the day in a town which is fastidious in its choice of topics. You were talking a few nights ago of my writing a comedy. Well, here is one scene in it ready-made. Scene: A room in the house of Lady—— What shall we call her—Lady Sneerwell or the Countess of Candour? The members of the Senate of the College of Scandal have met. ‘What, you have surely heard of the duel? Oh, lud! is’t possible that you have not heard it? Where can your ladyship have been living? Oh, faith, ’tis but too true. They met in Kingsmead Fields by the light of a lovely moon last night, and, after a pass or two, Mr. Thompson’s sword pierced the lungs of old Sir Simon, and——’ ‘No, no, sir, you are wrong there; ’twas with pistols they fought,’ cries another gentleman, who enters hurriedly. ‘Pistols, sir? Swords, as I heard it.’ ‘Nay, sir, you cannot believe all you hear. They fought with pistols, I give you my word. They exchanged seven shots apiece, and two of the seconds and one of the surgeons fell mortally wounded; it was the seventh broadside that struck a knot in the third lowest branch of a pollard ash at one side of the ground, and glancing off at an acute angle, passed through a thrush’s nest in a Westphalian poplar containing four eggs, three of them speckled and one of them, strange to say, plain, all within six days and two hours of incubation. The bullet smashed one of them, containing a fine hen bird, to atoms, but without disturbing the mother, who continued sitting on the clutch, and, touching the third button on the left-hand side of the peach-coloured coat, made by Filby, of London, and not yet paid for, of one of the onlookers, glanced off to the right shoe-buckle of Sir Simon, and cut off the great toe of his left foot as clean as if it had been done under the surgeon’s knife.’ ‘Nay, sir, you are sure in error. ’Twas Mr. Thompson who sustained the wound, and let me tell, sir, that ’twas his right ear that was cut off.’ ‘With respect, sir, ’twas the elder gentleman.’ ‘Nay, sir, I should know; ’twas the younger, I assure you.’ ‘Sir, you take too much upon you.’ ‘And you, sir, are a jackanapes!’ Enter Sir Simon and Mr. Thompson, arm in arm. There’s the scene ready for rehearsal. Oh, I should feel extremely obliged to my kind traducers for suggesting it all to me.”

Dick had bustled through the imaginary scene with the greatest vivacity; and Mrs. Abington perceived that he did it very well and that he had acquired something of the true spirit of comedy, though he exaggerated everything, after the manner of the schoolboy who takes the clown as his mentor. But after she had greeted his performance with a laugh, she pouted and protested that he had offended her. She seated herself on the sofa, and turned her head away from him with the air of the offended lady.

Dick watched her performance critically, and fully appreciated the delicacy of her comedy—all the more as he was elated with the scene which he had just invented. He hoped that he would have a chance of introducing something like it in a comedy, and he had such a chance a few years later, nor did he forget to put Mrs. Abington on in that scene.

“Why should you be offended, you beautiful creature?” he said, leaning over her from behind.

“I am offended because you are making a mock of my concern for your safety,” she replied. “Oh, Dick, if you knew what I suffered, you would not make a mock of me.”

“Believe me, dear lady, ’twas not my intention to say a word in that spirit,” said he. “Nay, I give you my word that, however I may be disposed to regard the remarks made by Mrs. Cholmondeley and the rest of her set in respect of this ridiculous affair, I can only feel touched—yes, deeply touched and honoured—by the concern you showed on my behalf.”

“No, you do not feel touched; you only think of me as a silly old woman,” she cried.

“Nay, you do me a great injustice,” he said. “I was affected by what you said to me on the evening of your arrival; it showed me how good and kind was your heart, and now—well, I can say with truth that my feeling has been increased by the additional evidence you have given me of your—your kind heart.”

“Ah, that is just the limit of your feeling for me!” she said in a low voice—a voice that coaxed one into contradiction—while her eyes, cast downward to the point of her dainty little shoe, coerced one into contradiction.

Most men were quite content to be coaxed, but there were an obstinate few who required coercion.

But she had a point still in reserve. She knew it to be irresistible in an emergency.

Dick yielded to the coaxing of her voice.

“Nay,” he said, “I have not yet expressed all that I feel of regard for you, Mrs. Abington. I shall not make the attempt to do so.”

“Regard? Regard? Regard is the feeling that a miss has for her governess,” said she. “You should have no special trouble expressing your regard for me, sir. ’Tis usually done through the medium of a book of poetry—schoolroom verses writ solely for the sake of the moral in the last stanza. Will you buy me such a volume, Dick?”

“Now ’tis I who have reason to complain of being mocked,” said he.

She started up and stood face to face with him. It seemed to him that she was full of eagerness to say something. She had her fingers interlaced in front of her; there was a tremulous movement about her lips suggesting a flood of emotion about to be released in words.

And the flood came.

“Good-bye!” she said.

And then he understood her.

He took the hand which she had flung out to him and bowed his head down to it.

There was a silence while he laid his lips upon it. And then she gave a derisive laugh.

“You are the greatest fool I ever met in my life!” she cried. “You are a fool, Dick. Any man is a fool who kisses a woman’s hand when he might kiss her lips.”

“That is not as I have read the history of the world from the days of Queen Dido of Carthage down to the days of Queen Diana of Poictiers,” said Dick.

“And you call yourself an Irishman!” she cried, with affected scorn.

“As seldom as possible,” he said. “Only when ’tis needful for me to make an excuse for an indiscretion. I do not feel the need to call myself one to-day.”

“I have always paid you the compliment of thinking of you as very human,” she said.

“And now you have proved the value of your judgment,” said he.

She took a step toward the door, still keeping her eyes upon his face.

“Human?” she said sadly. “Human, and yet you drive me from your presence like this? That is where you err.”

“To err is human,” said he.

She was back again in a flash.

“Oh, Dick, are you not a fool?” she cried. “Why will you continue troubling yourself about a girl who has passed away from you—who treated you with indifference—when there are others within reach who would make your fortune—who would spend all their time thinking—thinking—thinking how to make you happy—and who would succeed, too? Do you prefer a dream of love to the reality, Dick?”

“I do not understand you,” said Dick. “Nay, do not make any further attempt to enlighten my dulness, I entreat of you. I prefer remaining in ignorance of your meaning, because I like you so well, Mrs. Abington, and because I never mean to forget your kindness to me, and because I think the woman of impulse is the most charming of all women; I think her so charming that I hold in contempt the man who does not stand between her and her impulses.”

“And I hold in contempt the man who, when a young girl has given her promise to marry another man, continues to love her and to remain in her neighbourhood instead of behaving reasonably and as ordinary self-respect should dictate. Self-respect, did I say? Let me rather say as ordinary respect for the young woman should dictate. I have a contempt for the man who fails to do the young woman the justice of giving her a chance of forgetting him, as she should when she has made up her mind to marry his rival. Richard Sheridan, if you were desirous of treating Elizabeth Linley fairly you would leave Bath to-day and not return until she has become the wife of Mr. Long and has gone with him to his home and her home. I looked on you as a man of honour, Dick—a man who liked to see fair play; but I am disappointed in you. Your brother is a truer man than you are; he had the decency to take himself off when he found that the girl had made her choice. That is all I have to say to you, Master Richard Brinsley. I have spoken in a moment of impulse, you will say, no doubt; and in that reflection you will probably find a sufficient excuse for disregarding all that I have said. Now good-bye to you, my friend. I never wish to see your face again.”

She flashed through the door before he could say a word; but for that matter he had no word to say. He stood for a few moments where she had left him in the middle of the room; then he seated himself on the sofa where she had sat.

He was disturbed by what she had just said to him—more disturbed than he was by the thought of all that she had said in the early part of their interview, though that could not be said to have a tranquillising influence upon a young man whose emotions were not always under his control.

She had told him that if he had any self-respect—if he had any regard for Betsy Linley, he would hasten away from Bath and not return until she had left it.

That would be doing only what was fair to Betsy and to the man whom she had promised to marry, Mrs. Abington had said; and Dick could not but feel that there was some show of reason in this view of a matter that concerned him deeply.

"Oh Dick, my own dear Dick, forgive me"

“Oh, Dick—my own dear Dick, forgive me for what I have said!”

[page 223 .

He wondered if she had not spoken wisely—if she had not given him the most sensible advice possible, and at the same time the most philosophical—the two are not always the same thing. To be sure, she had assumed that Betsy Linley loved him, and that, therefore, his presence near her could not fail to be a menace to the girl’s peace of mind—could not fail to tend to make her thoughts dwell upon the past rather than to look into the future; and perhaps this was assuming too much. He did not know that Betsy had ever loved him. But still Mrs. Abington’s words made their impression.

And then he began to think of the bitter words which she had spoken. The room still seemed to ring with those words which had whirled from her when she had stood with her hand on the door:

I never wish to see your face again!

Those were bitter words; and he felt that she meant them. She meant them. He could not doubt that. Yes, she meant....

And then the door was thrown open, and before he could raise his head, which was bent forward, his chin resting on one hand, she had flung herself on her knees before him, and was kissing his face, holding a hand on each of his cheeks, sobbing at the intervals.

“Oh, Dick—my own dear Dick, forgive me for what I have said—forget all that I have said! You are the only good man that I have met, Dick, and I will not go back to London without knowing that you have forgiven me. Say that you do, Dick; I am only a poor woman—it is so easy to forgive a woman, is it not, Dick?”

He kissed her on the forehead, and then on one of her cheeks, where a tear was glistening.

“You have no business with tears,” said he.

But that was just where he made a mistake.

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