“If any one says that Mr. Long was not justified in his act, I tell him he lies,” remarked Dick grandly to the group who were propping up Mathews in a sitting posture on the grass.

The wretch seemed ludicrously out of place on the lawn, and the gentlemen who saw him there did not fail to perceive that the expression on the faces of the stone satyrs was for the first time appropriate. Had he been in the middle of a field of young wheat, he might have relieved a less disreputable figure from duty.

“Who is there that says Mr. Long was not justified?” cried one of the gentlemen; he was trying to remove a stain from his sleeve. “Good lud! does the lad think that county gentlemen are to learn discrimination as well as elocution from the Sheridan family?”

“The Sheridans take too much upon them,” said another; he was unlucky enough to have his wig trampled on by the huge foot of a first-class county gentleman in the melée, and was inclined to be testy in consequence. “Be advised, Mr. Sheridan, leave these matters to your elders and betters.”

Dick felt that he deserved the rebuke. His scarcely veiled threat savoured of impertinence. He lifted his hat and walked away. No one took any notice of him.

“By the Lord Harry, friend Long has a pair of arms that a man thirty years younger might envy!” Dick heard one of the gentleman say.

“He will have a wife that a man forty years younger does envy,” laughed a second.

“I heard my father talk of the great strength of Mr. Long when he was at his best,” said a third. “Why, ’twas he that floored Devonshire Paul, the wrestler, early in the forties, going to Barnstaple to do it—’tis one of Sir Edmund’s stories. Well, I dare swear that we haven’t seen the last of this business. How is the fellow? Bind him over not to make a disturbance in the house.”

Dick walked slowly to the villa. He found that the ladies who had been so overcome by the sight of Mathews’ blood were being carefully attended to. Poor Tom Linley was sitting in a corner with his sister. Tom looked very sulky. He was the hero of Parnassus, and yet no one paid any attention to him. People were laughing and talking, some in a loud tone, others in a whisper, not upon the subject of the construction of the sonnet of Petrarch as distinguished from the sonnet of Shakespeare, but upon the likelihood of a duel following the exciting scene which they had witnessed. Tom sulked, and tried to avoid seeing that Mrs. Abington was the centre of a group of gentlemen of fashion, with whom she was exchanging quips, also on the subject of the horsewhipping of Mathews.

Of course there would be a duel. Mathews held the king’s commission and wore the king’s uniform. If he failed to send a challenge to the man who had so publicly disgraced him, he need never show his face in society again. That was the opinion which was universal among the party in Lady Miller’s drawing-room, and it was only modified by the rider which some people appended to their verdict, to the effect that it was quite surprising how Mathews had ever got a footing in Bath society.

Mr. Linley, who was by the side of his daughter when Dick entered, was looking solemn. He was greatly perturbed by what had taken place, and expressed the opinion that Mr. Long would have shown more wisdom by refraining from noticing Mathew’s insult than he had displayed by avenging it, even though he had done so with remarkable success. Of course there would be a duel, he said; and Mathews was probably a first-class pistol-shot, though he had shown himself unable to contend with Mr. Long when taken by surprise.

Poor Betsy was overwhelmed by the thought of such a possibility. She appealed to Dick when he had come to her side. Was a duel inevitable? Was there no alternative? Could she do nothing to prevent such a sequel to the quarrel?

“Why should you be distressed at the possibility of a duel?” said Dick. “There is no particular reason why Mr. Long should stand up against that fellow; any gentleman who was present here to-day has a perfect right to send a challenge to Mathews.”

“Oh, that is only saying that some one else may be killed—some one in addition to Mr. Long,” cried Betsy. “Ah, why is it that disaster follows an acquaintance with me? Why have I been doomed to bring unhappiness upon so many people?”

Dick did not ransack his memory for an answer to her question—an answer founded upon the records of history. He did not cite any of the cases with which he was acquainted, of the unhappiness brought about by the fatal dower of beauty.

“How can you accuse yourself in such a matter as this?” he said. “If a rascal behaves with rascality, are you to blame yourself because he tries to make you the victim? I will not hear so cruel, so unjust a thing said about one who is more than blameless in this matter. Dear Betsy, I know the sensibility of your heart, and how it causes you to shrink from much that others would give worlds to accomplish; but you must not be unjust to yourself.”

This was poor pleading with the super-sensitiveness of a girl who could never be brought to look on fame as the noblest of cravings—nay, who was ready to sacrifice much in order to escape being famous.

“Bloodshed—bloodshed!” she murmured in great distress. “Oh, why did we come here to-day? If we had remained at home, all might have been well. Why cannot we go away to some place where we can live in freedom from all these disturbing influences? Ah, here comes Mr. Long. How pale he looks! Pray Heaven he has not been already hurt!”

Mr. Long, who had been repairing the slight disorderliness of his dress in one of the bedrooms, had some difficulty in reaching Betsy, where she sat remote from the crowd in the drawing-rooms. He had to wait for the compliments which his friends offered to him on all sides. Every one treated him with great respect, and many with deference. There did not seem to be any difference of opinion among Lady Miller’s guests as to the propriety of his recent action; the only point which had been seriously discussed was in regard to the postillion’s whip. Where had he got it? It was suggested on one side that he had brought it with him; but some who knew affirmed that the whip had been hanging in the hall, and that Mr. Long had, after the reading of the insulting doggerel, hurried up to the house and got possession of the weapon while the last poem was being lilted to the audience. At first, of course, there were some people who thought that Mr. Long had acted precipitately in assuming that Mathews had written the objectionable stanzas; but Lady Miller acknowledged immediately on entering the house that the manuscript was signed by Mathews, and thus complete unanimity prevailed by the time Mr. Long had returned to the room.

Even on his way to Betsy he received a dozen offers from gentlemen to act for him in the event of his receiving a challenge. Betsy was somewhat cheered when she heard him say to one of them:

“You do me great honour, sir, but there will be no duel. I doubt if there will even be a challenge.”

She heard that with pleasure.

Dick heard it with amazement.

Could it be possible, he asked himself, that Mr. Long fancied that Mathews, boor though he was, would be content to accept his public horsewhipping as the final incident in the squalid comedy of his suitorship for the hand of Miss Linley? If that was indeed his belief, all that Dick could say was that he took a rather extraordinary view of the matter.

But Betsy, not having any experience of questions of honour, but having faith in the word of a man whom she respected, was reassured.

“Do say that again,” she cried, when Mr. Long had come to her.

“What do you command me to say again, madam?” he inquired. “Oh, a duel? Heavens, Mr. Sheridan, is’t possible that you are here and have not yet convinced Miss Linley that I shall not have to fight a duel?”

“Nay, sir,” said Dick, “I have done my best to impress upon her that there is no need for you to fight—that the quarrel belongs as much to any gentleman who was present as it does to you.”

“You will pardon me for saying that I do not think that that suggestion would tend to place Miss Linley’s mind at rest,” said Mr. Long. “But now I can give you my word that there will be no duel. If any one is foolish enough to send a challenge to the rascal whom I treated to a drubbing, he will do so without my knowledge and without my consent. Dear child, I can give you my word that there will be no duel.”

“I am satisfied,” she said simply, with a grateful look up to his face.

“If you are satisfied, all the world is satisfactory,” said Mr. Long.

But it did not appear as if Mr. Linley was quite satisfied.

“If there be no duel, sir, all that I can say is that ’tis not your fault,” he cried.

“Not my fault!—nay, just the contrary: ’tis to my credit,” laughed Mr. Long.

“I mean, sir, that you did your very best to provoke a duel,” said Mr. Linley with severity. Mr. Long was about to become his son-in-law, and this he considered, gave him a right to object to any incident that tended to jeopardise the connection.

“Oh, my dear sir,” said Mr. Long, “can you really think that so simple an incident as horsewhipping a man in a public place could be considered by him a sufficient excuse for a challenge? Nay, sir, you will find, I am persuaded, that Captain Mathews is not inclined to take your view of this business. He will, I think, be satisfied to let bygones be bygones.”

Dick was dumb. The only ground on which he thought he could reconcile Mr. Long’s confident assertion of what any person with experience of the world would consider incredible, was his desire to allay Betsy’s anxiety.

But Betsy’s father apparently did not see so much as Dick. Though a professional musician, he was not without his experience of quarrels. He shook his head when Mr. Long had spoken with that airy confidence which he had assumed, and said:

“I would fain hope that events will justify the confidence with which you speak, sir; but to my mind it would seem as if——”

“Nay, dear sir, I will give you my assurance that I shall not be called on to fight any duel over this matter,” cried Mr. Long in the tone of a man who has said the last word on a matter that has been under discussion for some time. “I admit that before I took the unusual step which I thought I was justified in adopting, I saw the risk that I was running. A man who horsewhips his fellow-guest may be made to answer to his host for so doing. I ran that risk, and I am happy to say that our host did not take too severe a view of the occurrence. That puts an end to any suspicion that one may entertain as to the likelihood of swords being crossed or pistols unloaded to the detriment of my health. Let us change the subject, if you please. It seems to me that enough attention has not been given to Tom’s beautiful sonnet. Dear friend Tom, you have proved by the writing of that sonnet that you have already mastered the elements of successful authorship. If all poets would choose a popular subject for their songs, they would have no need to wear hats, for they would be perpetually crowned with bays. May I ask the favour of a copy of your sonnet, sir? I should like to have it printed to place beneath my print of Sir Joshua’s picture of Mrs. Abington?”

Tom was delighted. His mortification at the neglect which he had received—was he not really the hero of the day?—vanished. His large eyes shone with pleasure as he gave his promise to supply Mr. Long with the copy which he desired.

Mr. Long, seeing that Betsy’s large eyes, so wonderfully like those of her brother, were also shining with pleasure, was quite satisfied.

Unfortunately, just as Tom was beginning to explain the difficulties in the way of any one wishing to create a sonnet which was really a sonnet, and not merely a fourteen-line poem, a number of people came up to talk to his sister and Mr. Long, thus interrupting him. But neither Betsy nor Dick failed to notice the vexed look which Mr. Long gave to the boy, by way of assuring him that his discourse on the Italian sonnet was something to be parted from only with a deep regret.

Dick, at the suggestion of Mr. Long, walked with Betsy round the gardens, Mr. Long following with Miss Sheridan.

The walk was a silent one. It did not seem as if they had any topic in common. They seemed to have nothing to talk about. But their silence was not the silence of strangers; it was that which exists only between the closest of friends. They had not had such a stroll side by side since she had given her promise to Mr. Long. But how many walks they had had together in the old days! Their thoughts flashed back to those days on the perfume of the rosebuds. They had often walked among the roses.

It was Dick who broke the silence.

“I do not think that a better man lives than Mr. Long,” said he.

She sighed.

He glanced down at her in surprise. He was almost irritated by her sigh.

She did not speak.

“I do not believe that a better man lives in the world,” he said with emphasis. “Surely you do not think that he is to blame for what took place here to-day, Betsy?”

“Oh, no, no! he behaved like—like a man,” she replied at once. “And he has given us his assurance that there will be no duel,” she added joyfully.

“Yes, he has given us that assurance,” said Dick. “But even if there were to be a duel, I have no doubt that he would show himself to be as brave a man.”

“But there will be no duel—he said so,” she cried. “And to think of that foolish rumour that went round the town, that you and he had fought! I never believed it for a moment. It was senseless—cruel! The gossips circulated the report simply because it was known that you had been with him for more than an hour on the day after you had saved him from his assailants.”

Dick was once again surprised.

“How could you know that I had been with him on that night?” he inquired.

“I know it—alas! I know it,” she cried. “He is so good—so—generous—so noble! Oh, I must love him—I must! Sometimes I really think that I do love him.... And you saved his life, Dick. It would be the basest ingratitude on my part if I did not love him after that.... And the way he talks of your courage!—he told me how bravely you pursued the wretches who had waylaid him. He is full of your praises, Dick. Oh, I must love him! He is the worthiest man in the world to be loved. And I believe that I do love him. I sometimes believe that I do.”

“My poor Betsy,” he said, “I might give you counsel on this matter if it would be of any value to you. Alas! dear, I know that nothing that I could say to you would avail against the promptings of your own true heart. It was you who first taught me the lesson which I think I have since learned more fully—the lesson of the meaning of love. Who am I that I should offer any counsel to such as you? I can only tell you that I feel that Mr. Long is the best worthy of your love of all the men in the world. But you yourself know that already.”

“I do—indeed, I do know it,” she cried eagerly. “And that is why I say that I am sure, sometimes, that I do love him. I must—I must—only—— Oh, Dick, I am very unhappy!”

“My poor Betsy! my poor Betsy!”

That was all he could say.

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