Dick Sheridan looked on at the scene of bright colours before him on the lawn; the newly erected imitation Greek temple was at the farther end of one of the many vistas, and at regular intervals stood Greek pediments of carven stone surmounted by busts of Greek poets. Among the shrubberies were pedestals with grinning fauns, and an occasional nymph with flying drapery. An Artemis with her dogs stood in the attitude of pursuit between two laurels.

Dick felt strangely lonely, although he had frequently attended the ceremony of the urn. His sister had gone to discharge the imaginary duties of one of the priestesses of the urn, and was, with another girl, engaged in twisting twigs of bay into a practicable wreath, her companion showing her how it was necessary not to make the joining too rigid, so that the wreath could be easily enlarged or diminished in size to suit the circumference of the head of the victor; for it was not to be taken for granted that the bays must go to the largest brow.

For a short time he watched the weaving of the wreath, and then he looked across the lawn to where Betsy was talking to Dr. Burney, Mr. Long standing close by with Dr. Delap, who had come from Brighthelmstone to drink the waters. Mathews had disappeared as suddenly as he had come upon the scene, but Dick made up his mind to keep a watch for his return. The threats of which he had made use in regard to Mr. Long and Betsy were vague, but their utterance by the man at that time had startled Dick. The fellow might be mad, and yet have, with all the cunning of a madman, concocted a plot that might mean disaster to Betsy; but if he were narrowly watched his scheme of revenge could doubtless be frustrated, and Dick felt that he would never forgive himself if, after being forewarned, he should let Mathews carry out his purpose, assuming that he meant mischief.

While he was watching for a possible reappearance of the man, Mr. Linley came across the lawn to him, and drew him away in the direction of the gods and goddesses of the shrubberies. Dick saw that there was an expression of anxiety on his face. His manner, too, was nervous.

“Dick, I am in great trouble,” he said in a low voice. “You can guess what is its origin, I am sure?”

Dick had just seen Mr. Long and Betsy side by side. The match had not been broken off. What trouble, then, could possess the girl’s father?

“Indeed, sir, you surprise me,” said Dick. “I see Betsy with Mr. Long, and——”

“Oh, ’tis not about Betsy I am troubled,” said Mr. Linley, “though, Heaven knows, she has given me trouble enough in the past with her whimsies about singing in public. If I had not been firm with her, Dick, she would have given up singing a year ago. No, ’tis not about her, but Tom, that I wish to speak to you. You have seen him to-day with that woman—a play-actress?”

“I have seen him, sir. My father was a play-actor,” said Dick quietly.

“Surely you know what I mean, Dick! Surely you know that it is not in my thoughts to utter a word that would assume the form of a reproach upon the theatre. No, Dick, no; that is not my intention. But you have seen them together—Tom and Mrs. Abington? I don’t say a word against her, mind. She may lead a blameless life, though I have heard—— But that is not to the point.”

“Mrs. Abington is a very charming lady, Mr. Linley, and as for propriety—Dr. Johnson himself has dined with her.”

“Dr. Johnson—Dr. Johnson! Dr. Johnson is not to the point; he is old enough to take care of himself and to protect himself from the wiles of all the coquettes in England.”

Dick laughed.

“Nature and the small-pox have given him great advantage over the majority of men, sir. They have made him practically invulnerable.”

“But Nature and Italy have done just the opposite for Tom; his soul is capable of the deepest feeling, Dick, and he is open to every influence that an accomplished woman of the world has at her command. That creature—I mean that lady—Mrs. Abington—oh, she is undoubtedly a charming creature!—that’s where the danger lies. You know her, Dick; tell me what it is that she means to do in regard to Tom.”

“Oh, sir! she has taken a passing fancy to Tom—that’s all. You know what ’tis to possess the soul of an artist, sir. So far as I can gather, that soul is full of whimsies. The only comforting thought in connection with suchlike is that none of their whims lasts long. Their inconstancy is their greatest charm. Mrs. Abington will soon have done with Tom, sir.”

“Thank Heaven—thank Heaven! The sooner the better, say I. Dick, a fortnight ago Tom had no thought for anything save his violin. I felt that he was actually too deeply absorbed in it: he would scarce give himself time to take his meals, and he was at the point of falling into a rage because I had given my consent to Betsy’s retirement from the concerts. He called me a traitor—a renegade—worse than a Mohammedan—for allowing her to renounce the true faith; those were his words, Dick. And yet, now, he has done nothing but improvise, and that the most sickly stuff—lovelorn; and his poetry—he has bought a rhyming-dictionary, and has turned the half of Petrarch’s poems into English.”

“You take this little matter too seriously, believe me, Mr. Linley. ’Tis but a bubble of feeling, sir—an airy nothing. ’Twill float away and leave not a trace behind.”

“I hope so—with all my heart I hope so. You do not think that you could do something to assist its flight, Dick?”

“Dear sir, I am convinced that any interference by me—yes, or even by you, sir—would have just the opposite effect to what we hope for in this matter.”

“What, don’t you think that you might bring the creat—the lady, I mean—that you might bring her to reason?”

“The soul of an artist is susceptible to many influences—love, hate, jealousy, criticism, a wet day, a gown that has been made a little tight in the bodice, a gewgaw,—all these have great weight with the soul of an artist; but reason has none. You must perceive, sir, that if every one were reasonable there would be no artists. Mrs. Abington is an artist in the comedy of love; she has curiosity, but ’tis of the butterfly order—a sip here and a sip there among the flowers. Oh, the flowers are nothing the worse for the curiosity of the butterfly. Tom will be himself again when she flies off to another part of the garden.”

“I have my fears, Dick. But I don’t doubt that you take the most sensible view of the matter. I believe that he has sent in a sonnet in praise of her to the urn to-day. Petrarch is his model. If he is awarded the prize he will lay it at her feet; they do these things in Italy but here we are more prosaic. Are they beginning to read the stuff?”

“We must not lose the chance of applauding Tom’s sonnet,” said Dick, making a move toward the circle that was formed round the Greek urn, from which Lady Miller, not looking so ridiculous as might have been expected, in her white robes, as a priestess (the period was a masquerade in itself, and the painters made the most of it), had just taken one of the manuscripts, and was putting herself in an attitude to read.

Mr. Linley saw this; but what Dick saw was that Mathews had reappeared, and was standing on the outskirts of the circle, his eyes fixed upon Betsy, with a poisonous smile about their corners.

Dick hastened across the lawn, and was in time to hear the second line of the heroics which the lady had begun to read, not without a certain amount of stumbling over unfamiliar words and an over-emphasising of the epithets, which were numerous and safely commonplace.

“What is it that Mathews means to do?” that was the question which came to Dick when he perceived the evil smile of the man, for he saw that it was a smile anticipatory of triumph; and all the time that Lady Miller was meandering through the poem, with its allusions to the deities in the mythologies of Greece and Rome, and its rhymes of “fault” and “thought,” “smile” and “toil,” with an Alexandrine for the third rhyme of “isle,” he was asking himself that question: “What is it that Mathews means to do?”

He looked across the listening circle, and saw that Mr. Long also had his eyes fixed upon the man, and that the same question had been suggested to him. Mr. Long was watching and waiting. And then he glanced away from Mathews and saw Dick. He smiled and nodded pleasantly; but Dick had no difficulty in perceiving that behind these courtesies Mr. Long was ill at ease.

And then the high-priestess extracted another poem from the urn. It was written in precisely the same strain as the first; only the rhymes were more palpably false—the same greater and lesser deities talked about the condition of society at Olympus, which every one recognised by the description as Prior Park; but just as it promised to become delightfully, spitefully, personal, and therefore interesting, the poem shuffled out on the spindleshanks of a reference to the need for clean napkins for the glasses in the Pump Room.

This was very feeble, most people thought (the author was not among them), even though the Pump Room was artfully disguised under the name of the Fount of Helicon. There was a distinct impression of relief when the third poem was found to be written as a lyric with a comfortable jolt about it, to which Lady Miller, after two or three false starts, accommodated her voice. It touched with light satire upon the question of watering the roads, and as this was the topic of the hour, it was received with abundant applause, and the general idea was, that unless something extremely good awaited reading, this lyric would carry off a prize.

The fourth poem turned out to be Tom Linley’s sonnet in praise of Mrs. Abington; and as every one knew Mrs. Abington, and as she herself was present, and as no one was able to identify the translation of Petrarch’s beautiful sentiments, there seemed little doubt the poet’s ambition would be rewarded.

Tom flushed, and was more overcome than he had ever been when playing before his largest audience. Mrs. Abington, too, gave a very pleasing representation of the ingénue fluttered with compliments which she knows are thoroughly well deserved. She would have the people believe that she was overwhelmed—that she was not at all pleased with the publicity given to her in so unexpected a way, and the way she shook her head at Tom should have conveyed to him the fact that she considered him to be a very naughty boy—the result being that the crowd perceived that Mrs. Abington was a very modest lady, and that Garrick, who was something of a judge of such performances, was ready to affirm that Mrs. Abington had a very light touch.

Then Lady Miller, after a few complimentary remarks upon Mrs. Abington’s style of dress, began to read the next poem. Having now read four copies of verses, that fulness of expression with which she had begun her labours, had disappeared from her voice, and she had read the greater part of the sonnet in a purely mechanical way. It became clear before she had got through more than five lines of the new rhymes, that she had not the slightest idea what they were about. The stanzas were quite illiterate and the merest doggerel; but, at the end of the first, glances were exchanged around the circle, for the stanza was coarse in every way, and it contained a pun upon the name Long that could only be regarded as a studied insult to the gentleman bearing that name.

But it was plain that the high-priestess had not the remotest idea that anything was particularly wrong with the poem. She looked up from the paper with the smile with which she was accustomed to punctuate the periods, and then began to read the second stanza.

She did not get further than the third line. The first two contained a very gross allusion to an old man’s marrying a young woman; but the third was so coarse that even the apathetic reader was startled and made a pause, during which she scanned the remainder of the manuscript, and in doing so her face became crimson. She handed the sheet to her husband, saying a few words to him, and then tried to gather up the threads of her smile, so to speak.

“I think that I had better go on to the next poem,” she said aloud. “The writer of the last must have inadvertently sent us the wrong leaf. He must have designed it for his favourite pothouse.”

This expression of opinion was received with general applause. Yet no one except Dick seemed to suspect Mathews of being the writer of the doggerel. But in the mind of Dick there was no doubt on the matter. He saw the triumphant leer on the man’s face, and could scarcely restrain himself from rushing at him and at least making an attempt to knock him down. He only held himself back by the reflection that before the evening had come, Mathews would have received a challenge from him. He made up his mind to challenge him, as certain as his name was Mathews. It would be in vain for people to assure him that this was not his quarrel, but Mr. Long’s; he would assert that, as the insult was directed against a lady, in the presence of his (Dick’s) sister, he was quite entitled to take it on himself to punish the perpetrator.

He had glanced at Mr. Long when Lady Miller made her pause, and had seen him smiling, while he addressed some words to Betsy, evidently regarding the creases of her glove, for immediately afterwards she held out her hand to him, and he straightened the little ripples on the silk.

Dick wondered if Mr. Long had failed to catch the insulting lines of the doggerel before the high-priestess had become aware of what she had been reading. Certainly he gave no sign of having caught their import. Dick rather hoped that he had not; he had no desire to cede to Mr. Long the part which he meant to play in this affair.

When he glanced again across the circle, he noticed that Mr. Long had disappeared. And the voice of Lady Miller, with its wrong inflections and its exaggerated emphasis on the adjectives, went on in its delivery of the even lines of the new poem, which was all about Phœbus and Phaeton, and Actæon and Apollo, and the Muses and Marsyas, though nobody seemed to care what it was about. It was very long, and it led nowhere. The circle gave it their silent inattention. Some yawned behind polite hands; one or two whispered. The last lines came upon all as a delightful surprise, for there was really no reason why it should ever end, and for that matter there was no reason why it should ever have begun.

This was, happily, the last of the contents of the urn. Most of the habitués of Bath-Easton felt that the day had been one of mediocrity; the entertainment would have been even duller than ordinary if it had not been for that shocking thing to which no one referred. Of course Tom Linley was awarded the wreath of bays, which, with some ceremony, the high-priestess laid upon his brows, making him look quite as ridiculous as he felt.

“O lud!” whispered Mrs. Abington to Mr. Walpole, who had got beside her, “O lud! if young gentlemen will write prize poems, they have a heavy penalty to pay for it.”

“Nay, my dear creature,” said he, “’tis but fitting that the victim calf should be decorated for the sacrificial altar.”

“I admit the calf,” said she, “but whose is the altar?”

“’Tis dedicated to Hymen or Hades; it rests with you to determine which,” said he, with one of his wicked leers. He was very like one of the marble satyrs, she perceived—a Marsyas without his music. She longed for an Apollo skilled in flaying.

Flogged the fellow as never a horse had been flogged

Flogged the fellow as never horse had been flogged.

[page 243 .

The ceremony over, congratulatory smiles were sent flying around the listeners, and there was a general movement toward the house, full of spontaneity.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” came a voice from one side, and the movement was arrested. People looked over their shoulders. O lud! was the dulness of the day to be increased by speeches? they enquired.

“Ladies and gentlemen, you were grossly insulted just now by a wretch who is a master of the arts of the brigand, though he meant his poisoned knife for me alone. This is the blackguard, and I treat him as such.”

Before any one was aware of the fact that it was Mr. Long who was speaking, he had his hand upon the collar of Captain Mathews, and had swung him round by a certain jerk well known to wrestlers of the old school. Forcing him, staggering, backward with one hand, with a postillion’s short whip, which he held in the other, he flogged the fellow as never horse had been flogged. He cut strips off his garments as neatly as if his weapon had been a pair of shears; a cut of the lash made the blood spurt from one of his calves, another took a slice off his small-clothes just above the knee—ludicrous but effective. His coat parted at the back seams in the stress of the struggle, and a few more cuts at the opening made shreds of his shirt and let free, as it seemed, all the blood in his body. There was the shriek of females, and this brought the men to their senses. They hastened to interpose. Mr. Long sent his victim staggering against two or three of them. Mathews trod on their toes, and they cursed him unaware, Mr. Long belabouring away with a deftness that lacked neither style nor finish; and all the time his knuckles were digging into Mathew’s throat, until the wretch’s face became purple.

Half a dozen gentlemen launched themselves upon Mr. Long. He stepped adroitly to one side, and let them have Mathews. They fell on him in a heap, crushing out of his body whatever trifle of breath he retained.

Mr. Long politely assisted them to rise, affecting to wipe from their garments the result of their contact with the grass. He was breathing heavily, and his wig had become disordered.

He flung his whip—it was still serviceable—into a plantation, and when he found his breath he said:

“I think I should like a dish of tea.”

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