Yes, but had she not given him good advice?

This was the question which she had left him to think over, and it was one which excluded every other thought for some days.

She had suggested to him in her own way—he remembered the flashing of her eyes and her attitude in front of him, with a denunciatory forefinger pointed at him—that he was behaving basely by remaining in Bath after Betsy Linley had given her promise to marry Mr. Long. He should have shown his brother an example in this respect, rather than have allowed his brother to make the first move.

He thought again, as he had thought before—in the interval between Mrs. Abington’s hasty exit from the room and her unexpected return to him—that the value of this counsel was wholly dependent on the assumption that Betsy loved him; and he felt that it would be a piece of presumption on his part to take so much for granted. He reflected that he had really no absolute proof that she had ever entertained a thought of him as a lover. To be sure, when they were children together they had been sweethearts; but since they had passed out of that period, neither of them had ever referred to the promises of constancy which they had exchanged. He could not deny to himself, nor did he make the attempt to do so, that his affection for Betsy had been continuous; but this was not a point that had any bearing upon the question of whether he was doing right or wrong in remaining in Bath.

So far as he himself was concerned, he felt that, though he loved Betsy as deeply as ever, he could trust himself to be near her. His love had been chastened, purified, exalted since that evening when she had kissed him and told him what love really was. He felt that he had acquired a share of her unselfishness, a sense of the glory of self-sacrifice.

He would stay.

He would not suggest that he had a doubt as to the stability of her purpose. He would not suggest that his vanity was so great as to make it impossible for him to conceive of her not being in love with him. His flying from Bath at such a time would certainly tend to give her pain. It would be equivalent to an impudent suggestion on his part—the suggestion that his staying would be too much for her—the suggestion that his flight would be an act of mercy shown by him to her.

He would stay.

He would not assume even in confidence with himself that Betsy loved him; and as for himself, had not Mr. Long’s parting words to him opened up before his eyes a new vista of the influence of love—that love which seeks not a reward—that love which is in itself the reward of loving? Mr. Long had not urged him to abandon as an idle dream the love that he had for Betsy Linley: he had rather exhorted him to continue steadfast in his love, since its influence upon him would be wholly for good.

He would stay.

And he did stay; and so did Mrs. Abington.

When she said good-bye to him, in a passion of repentant tears, he took it for granted that she would return to London probably the next day; but somehow, if that was her intention, she fell short of realising it. She appeared every day on the Parade, and every evening either in one of the Assembly Rooms or at a concert, with Tom Linley by her side.

Dick heard of her from day to day, and at first he was surprised to learn that she was still in Bath; and then he became positively annoyed that she should give people an opportunity of smiling as they did when they talked about her and Tom Linley. The young man, who was reported to be a most diligent student, was enlarging his course of study, they said; but they rather thought that he was too ambitious. Was it not usually thought prudent for any one who aspired to a knowledge of Latin, not to begin with Catullus or Lucretius, but with a book chiefly made up of cases and declensions? The most rational progress toward Parnassus was by a gradus, or step, they said. But there was the earnest young student beginning his knowledge of a language, previously unknown to him, with the beautiful Mrs. Abington. Faith, ’twas like setting Sappho before a youth who had not mastered the Greek alphabet; ’twas like offering a porter-house steak to a child before it has cut its teeth, the less refined of the critics declared.

But however wise these criticisms may have been, at the end of a week Mrs. Abington lingered on in Bath and young Mr. Linley lingered by her side; and then the men of the world began to shrug their shoulders and to talk—also in metaphors—of the whims of the actress. Had Mrs. Abington’s teeth become suddenly weak, they inquired, that she was compelled to take to a diet of caudle? She had mastered many a tough steak in her time, and had never been known to complain of toothache. Surely she must find caudle to be very insipid!

The ladies were the hardest on her, of course; for every morning she appeared in a new gown, and every evening in another, and they all differed the one from the other, only as one star differs from another in glory; and it was difficult to say which was the most becoming to her, though this point was most widely discussed among the men who knew nothing whatever about the matter, and showed their ignorance by admiring a simple taffeta made for a hoop, but worn without one, quite as much as that gorgeous brocade about which foaming torrents of lace fell, called by ordinary people flounces.

The ladies sneered, for not one of these gowns could be imitated. They knew that they could not be imitated, for they had tried, worrying the life out of their maids in the fruitless attempt. They sneered. What else could they do, after they had boxed the ears of their maids in accordance with the best manners of the period before the trying days of the French Revolution? They sneered, and the more imaginative ones compared her to a confectioner’s window, which is laid out with infinite pains, though it is only attractive to the immature taste of a child. That young Linley had really not got past the toffee stage, they declared; always admitting, however, that he was a pretty lad, and bemoaning his fate in being compelled to do the bidding of a lady of such experience as Mrs. Abington.

And then they called her a harpy.

But Tom Linley felt very proud to be permitted to walk by the side of so distinguished a lady; and he never seemed prouder of this privilege than when he went with her to one of the Thursday receptions given by Lady Miller at Bath-Easton, for every one of note seemed to be promenading on the lawn, and there was a flowing stream of coaches and chariots and curricles and chairs still on the road, bearing additional visitors to eat the lady’s cakes and to drink her tea, before taking part in the serious business that called for their attention.

Tom had spent half the previous night in an attempt to produce a poem that might have a chance of winning the chaplet, which was the prize for the verses pronounced the best of the day. To be able to lay the trophy at the feet of the lady in praise of whose beauty and virtue he had composed his sonnet, after the fashion of the poet Petrarch, whose works he had studied in Italy, would, he felt, be the greatest happiness he could hope for in life.

The lady whose ingenuity in devising the literary contests at Bath-Easton has caused her name to live when other names far more deserving of immortality have been forgotten, has had ample injustice done to her in every diary, and in most of the letters, of the period. Of course Walpole’s faun-like humour found in Lady Miller and her entertainments a congenial topic. Whenever there was a woman to be lied about, with wit and in polished periods, Walpole was the man to undertake the business. He could make the most respectable of ladies entertaining to his correspondents, and his sneers at the good women of whose hospitality he seemed glad enough to partake, must have formed very amusing reading when they were quite fresh. Even now, though the world has become accustomed to the taste of frozen meat, his wit, when taken out of the refrigerator, does not seem altogether insipid.

He ridiculed Lady Miller, after he had been entertained by her, with exquisitely bad taste. She was vulgar, and she was forty. Chatty little Miss Burney, too, believed her to be forty also,—actually forty; so that it seemed inconceivable how, with such a charge hanging over her, Lady Miller was able to fill her house and crowd her grounds month after month with the most distinguished men and women in England.

Took from its depths the various manuscripts

Took from its depths the various manuscripts and read them aloud.

[page 229 .

The estimable Mrs. Delany, who fervently hoped that no friend of hers would ever be painted by so dreadful an artist as Gainsborough—a hope which, fortunately, was not realised, or the world would have lacked one of its greatest pictures—was also unable to take a charitable view of Lady Miller’s age. But still the curious entertainment took place every Thursday during the season, and was attended by every one worth talking about, and by a good many persons who were talked about without being worth it, in Bath and the region round about. Every one who was considered eligible to enter the Assembly Rooms was qualified to attend the ceremony of the urn at Bath-Easton.

This faint echo of the contests of the minnesingers originated with a Greek vase which came into the possession of Lady Miller. Having acquired this property, it seemed to have occurred to her that it would be well to put it to some practical use, so she put it to a singularly unpractical one. The vase was called an urn, and in it were deposited, on the day of the ceremony, certain rhymed couplets bearing, with varying degrees of directness, upon topics of the hour. The company having gathered round the urn, which was placed on a pedestal, Lady Miller or her husband took from its depths the various manuscripts and read them aloud. Prizes were then awarded to the poems which a committee considered best worthy of honour.

At first the entertainment was regarded with coldness: hearing copies of verses read aloud, most of them of indifferent merit, failed as an attraction; but so soon as it became known that some highly spiced personalities were embodied in no less than three of the poems taken from the urn one day, people began to perceive that the ceremony might be well worth attending, and its popularity increased to such a degree that few of the people possessing the slender qualification for visiting Bath-Easton failed to put in an appearance every Thursday.

Dick Sheridan, who went with one of his sisters, noticed Tom Linley scowling by the side of Mrs. Abington, for on the other side of the lady was Dr. Goldsmith with his friend Lord Clare, and both were distracting her attention from what he was saying to her regarding Petrarca. She had professed an unbounded admiration for Petrarca, when his verses were quoted in the language in which they were written. But Dick saw that Tom had his revenge upon the others, for Dr. Johnson came up with Mr. Edmund Burke, and before the broadsides of such conversational frigates, what chance had a mere bumboat like Dr. Goldsmith?

In the distance Dick saw Mrs. Thrale by the side of her husband, and Dr. Burney had just joined them with Signor Piozzi—the accomplished Italian whom Mrs. Thrale had mocked with marvellous effrontery while he was playing the piano one day in Dr. Burney’s house in St. Martin’s Street, off Leicester Fields. Dr. Burney had gravely rebuked her for her impoliteness; but his doing so only made the little invisible imp of Fate, who had been very hilarious over the lady’s mimicry, as he sat perched up on the cornice of the ceiling, almost choke himself with chuckling.

Mrs. Thrale was now very polite to Signor Piozzi, and so also was Mr. Thrale.

Then Miss Angelica Kauffmann, accompanied by Sir Joshua Reynolds and Miss Theophila Palmer, hastened to greet Garrick, who had once contributed a poem to the urn. Afterward, Mr. Richard Cumberland drew nigh, and Garrick lost no time making him contribute to the amusement of Miss Palmer.

“They tell me that Dr. Goldsmith’s new play is a fine piece of work, sir,” said the actor.

“Oh no, sir, no. Believe me you have been misinformed, Mr. Garrick; ’tis a wretched thing, truly,” cried Cumberland, who would not admit that any one could write except himself.

“Nay, sir, I hear that it surpasses The Good-Natured Man, and that, you will admit, was a very fine piece of work,” said Garrick.

“What! The Good-Natured Man? You surprise me, Mr. Garrick!” said Cumberland. “Heavens, sir, ’twas a pitiful thing. You cannot surely call to mind the scene with the bailiffs! Oh, sir, you must be joking—yes, yes; I like to take the most charitable view of everything, so I assume that you are joking.”

“I know that your charitable views are your strong point, Mr. Cumberland,” said Garrick; “but you should not let them bias your judgment. You should not say a word against Goldsmith, for people say that he wrote The Good-Natured Man after he had been a good deal in your company.”

“’Tis a calumny, sir—a calumny,” said Cumberland warmly. “He was never inspired by me to write The Good-Natured Man.”

“Well, well, how people do talk!” said Garrick. “But I am glad to have your denial on this point, though I must say that when I produced the play I never heard it asserted that you had stood for the character.”

With his accustomed adroitness Garrick led Cumberland on to talk of many persons and their works, and for every person and every work he had some words of condemnation. Sir Joshua, standing by placidly with his ear-trumpet, saw that Miss Kauffmann was becoming indignant, so he led her away, leaving Garrick to amuse Miss Palmer to his heart’s content.

While Dick watched the little comedy, he heard a greeting laugh behind him, and, turning, he found himself face to face with Captain Mathews, whom he had known for some time, and thoroughly disliked.

He was surprised to see the man, for he heard that he had left Bath the day after it was announced that Betsy Linley was to marry Mr. Long. He certainly had not been seen in public since that day.

“Will they come, Sheridan—will they come, do you think?” asked Mathews, with a note of apprehension in his voice.

“I have no idea of whom you are speaking; but whoever they are, I think I may safely prophesy that they will come,” said Dick.

“Thank Heaven!” said Mathews. “You must know that I mean Miss Linley and her grandfather, whom she is going to marry. But do you think that the marriage will ever come off? Oh, a pretty set of lovers that girl got around her—not a man of spirit among them all, or that old fool Long would have got six inches of cold steel through his vitals! I am the only man among them all, Sheridan—I am the only man of spirit left in Bath, as you’ll see this day, whether they come or not.”

“What do you mean by that threat, sir?” said Dick quickly.

The man laughed.

“I haven’t said aught to wound your feelings, have I?” he said. “Oh no! I don’t mean to say that you’re not a fellow of spirit, Sheridan, only you never loved Miss Linley as the others pretended to do. They showed their spirit by slinking off, sir, just when they should have stayed. You didn’t see me slink off, Sheridan? No, I am here, and here I mean to stay until the end of this affair has come, and it cannot be far off after to-day. I tell you, Dick Sheridan, that I am not the man to lie tamely down, as the rest of them did, and let Walter Long and Elizabeth Linley walk over my body to the church portal!”

“You are pleased to talk in the strain of a riddle, and that, Mr. Mathews, is an infernally dull strain, let me assure you,” said Dick. “Come, sir, if you have anything to say, say it out plainly, like a man. But first I venture to remind you that Mr. Linley and his family have been for years my friends, and also that Mr. Long honours me by his friendship, and I promise you that anything you say of them that verges on an affront I shall think it my duty to resent. Now, Mr. Mathews, say what you have to say.”

Mathews looked at him for some time; then he laughed as he had laughed before.

“Your father is a play-actor, Mr. Sheridan,” said he at last. “I have seen him in more than one piece, both in Dublin and Bristol. He is a fine actor. Well, go to him, and he will tell you that the way to make a play a success is to keep the playgoers interested in it from scene to scene, and the best way to do this is to tell them only a little of the story at one time. Now, sir, consider that this scene is the beginning of a comedy—maybe it will turn out a tragedy before we have done with it—but this is the first scene; keep your eyes and your ears open, and you will find it worth your while. By the Lord, there they come at last! Curse it! the girl is getting lovelier every day—every day! Such beauty is enough to make any man mad. Look at her, Sheridan—look at her, and tell me if there is any man living that would not run a risk of all the tortures of the lost to be near her! Dick Sheridan, I don’t love her—not I, not I: I hate her! Deep down in my heart I tell you that I hate her. But there’s no human being that can tell the difference between the passion of love and the passion of hate.”

Dick saw that the man was not far removed from madness; but before he could give him the warning which was in his mind to bestow upon him, Mathews had turned about and hurried away to where people were grouping themselves round the urn.

Mr. Long, with Betsy Linley by his side, was replying to the greetings of some of their friends. He no longer carried his arm in a sling.

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