And now the girl was sitting looking up with dry eyes to the face of the man who had sprung from her side the moment she had spoken, and was standing a yard or two away from her. She saw that, although the words which she had spoken had sent him to his feet in an instant, he now felt that he had perhaps been too hasty. She saw that there was a puzzled look on his face. She did not wait for him to put a question to her. She perceived that her explanation needed to be explained. It is unusual, she thought, for a man to ask a woman to marry him simply because he loves another woman.

“Indeed, he did it all for me,” she said. “I sent for him more than a week ago to ask him to plead with Mrs. Abington to break with my brother, whose infatuation for her was ruining his career, and he promised to do this for me. The day that my brother returned I knew what Dick Sheridan had done—all for me—all for me!”

“Is it possible that you suggest that the woman stipulated with him to release your brother only if Dick Sheridan took his place?” he asked.

“I am as certain that she did so as if I had heard her making a compact with him,” said Betsy. “She had an old infatuation for Dick; Mr. Garrick told my father so two days ago. Had I known that, I would not have brought Dick here to beg of him to help us. But he came and this is the result of his coming.”

“I have treated him unjustly—God forgive me!” said Mr. Long. “I went to him and—you can imagine what I said to him. But he did not say a word about—about anything that you have told me.”

“No, he would not do that. He showed me, when I stood before him, how unselfish he could be. And yet once—once—ah, how long ago it seems!—I had a feeling that his whole aim in life was to excel others—to shine as a man of fashion. Like you, I did him an injustice.”

“Ah, my dear, he had not then learned what ’tis to love. You it was, my Betsy, who taught him that the spirit of love—the truest love—the only love—is self-sacrifice.”

“Then would to Heaven he had never learned the lesson!” cried the girl passionately. “I have ruined his life, and my life is over! But what is my life? It matters nothing about my life.”

“Dear one,” he said, “I cannot hear you say that. Nay, my Betsy, I shall live to look on my happiness through his eyes. The position of affairs, though desperate, is not irretrievable. You do not know the world, my child. You do not know the sordid world. Thank Heaven that I have money enough to compensate even the most avaricious of actresses for depriving her of a caprice on which she had set her heart! Betsy, all will yet come right: ’tis merely a question of money.”

But her instinct was truer than all his worldly wisdom.

“Now you are doing her a great injustice,” she said.

“Not I!” he cried. “Though I am pleased to think that I have never had a proof of the exact extent of the rapacity of such as she, yet——”

She laid her hand upon his arm.

“Dear friend, remember that you are speaking of one of us,” she said.

“One of you!—one of—— Heaven forbid! You are as far removed from her as heaven is removed from—from Bath.”

“Nay, nay, she is a woman; and indeed I think that between the best of us and the worst there is no great gulf fixed. If you go to Mrs. Abington on the errand which you have in your mind, you will be putting upon her a gross affront—yes, and upon Dick Sheridan as well, and much will be lost and nothing gained.”

“Then I will not speak to her of money; I will make the appeal to her generosity to set Dick free. Now, you shall not forbid me to make an appeal to her generosity; to do so would be to put an affront on her far more gross than you perceived in my first intention!”

He rose from where he was sitting on the sofa, and began pacing the room thoughtfully. After some time he stopped before her, saying in a low voice:

“Betsy, my child, I fear that I must confess that the design which I had planned out for you, for bringing about your happiness, has been frustrated. My hope was to save you from the evil fate which I feared would overtake you, and the only way that seemed to me to promise well was the one which I took. Was I wrong, dear one, to ask you to give me that promise, knowing, as I did, that it would be a crime on my part to hold you to it?”

“No, no—a thousand times no!” she cried. “You hoped to save me from all that I abhorred, and you succeeded. Indeed you were right. If you had not come to my help, who can tell what might have happened? I knew not in what direction I had a friend who would be true to me, and you know that my father favoured that man, Captain Mathews; he urged upon me to listen to him.... Ah, you saved me!”

“But for what—for what have you been saved?” he said.

“I have been thinking much on that point for some days,” she replied. “I seem to have lived through many years of life in those singing days of mine, and now the feeling that I have is a feeling of weariness. Oh, I am tired—tired to death of the struggle—the artifices—the world! How long ago is it since I heard the boys in the choir sing those words, ‘O for the wings of a dove to fly away and be at rest’? That is the anthem which my heart is singing now. ‘The wings of a dove.’ I want to be at rest—to take no part in the struggle going on in the world—the sordid troubles—the jealousies that make life seem so petty. Dear friend, I have my heart set upon a place of rest. Elizabeth Sheridan told me of it—a place where the peace of God dwells for evermore. It is a convent at Lille, in France, and its doors are open to those wayfarers through the world whose feet have become weary, and who seek rest. Will you lead me thither? I will trust to you to lead me. I hear the voice that calls from there in the silence that follows the ringing of the Angelus, ‘Come unto Me, and I will give you rest.’ You will take me thither for the sake of her whom you love—her whose face I looked upon. Oh, she—she has found rest! Would to God that I had found the same rest!”

She flung herself down on her knees at the sofa, and buried her face in her hands.

The man stood by without a word. He was too greatly overcome to be capable of speech. Only now did he perceive how she had been suffering in silence for weeks—only now, when she had broken down, unable to control herself any longer. And he had no word of comfort to say to her.

He remained by her side in silence for some minutes (she had not risen from her knees), and then left the room and the house.

He went straight in search of Dick Sheridan. He did not succeed in finding him at home. Mr. Sheridan had gone out some hours before, the maid said; and forthwith Mr. Long concluded that Dick was visiting Mrs. Abington. His judgment was not at fault. Dick had been dining with the lady; but he did not stay for more than half an hour afterwards, consequently he was met by Mr. Long at the corner of York Street.

“I have been seeking you,” said Mr. Long. “I have done you a great injustice, sir, and I live only in the hope of being able to make amends for my grossness of thought. You will grant me five minutes with you in private, Mr. Sheridan?”

Dick raised his hat gravely, but without speaking, and Mr. Long walked with him back to the Sheridans’ house. Dick bowed him into the hall and into the room which Mr. Sheridan the elder called his study. It was obvious that the young man wished his visitor to understand that he was being received with ceremony.

“I feel honoured by your attention, sir,” he said, offering Mr. Long a chair.

“O Dick, Dick,” said Mr. Long, “I fear that I have made some terrible mistakes; but I hope they may not prove irretrievable.”

“So far as I am concerned, sir,” said Dick, “the error into which you fell need cause you no uneasiness. Indeed, I rather regret that you have discovered your mistake as to my motives in—in the matter to which you referred. I trust that you have not come hither to re-open the subject, Mr. Long?”

“But that is just why I have come,” said Mr. Long. “Dick, my boy, will you not aid me to make matters come right?”

“Is there any need for one to trouble oneself in the attempt to control the inevitable, sir?” asked Dick coldly. “Have you any reason to complain of the direction in which matters have shaped themselves, Mr. Long? Because I can assure you that I see no particular reason for interference, so far as I am concerned. Here am I, a penniless man, a man without a profession, brought in contact accidentally with people of wealth and position. It was my father’s wish that my brother and I should cut a figure in this world of fashion to which he led us; but unhappily, however meritorious may be one’s ambition in this direction, it needs a fortune to achieve it and another fortune to maintain it. Now, sir, I trust that you perceive how great is the reason I have for feeling satisfied at the turn for the better which my affairs have taken. I am about to be married to a lady whose charms are acknowledged all over England, and whose ability enables her to earn such sums of money as should satisfy all but the most extravagant. Egad, sir! I do not think that many people would be disposed to call me unlucky or to suggest that my affairs stand in need of being shaped in a new direction. Now, sir, I will listen to you with deference.”

Mr. Long looked at him and there was no feeling except of pity in his heart. He understood the impulse in which Dick had spoken. He could appreciate the bitterness underlying all that he had said. But it was also plain to him that Dick’s pride would not allow him to sanction any scheme that might be proposed for his release.

Mr. Long stood before him as silently as he had stood over Betsy when she had been sobbing on her knees. What could he say to a man who took up such an attitude as Dick had assumed? How could he tell Dick that he was anxious to consult him in respect of the sum of money which he meant to offer Mrs. Abington for his release? Dick’s pride would, Mr. Long knew, cause him to open the door, and to show his visitor into the street whence he had come with such a suggestion.

It was plain to him that, however bitterly Dick Sheridan might feel the humiliation of his position as the penniless young man about to marry an actress who was at least ten years older than himself, and whose reputation for beauty and taste was the only one that she retained, he was too proud not to regard as a gross affront any suggestion to the effect that he was about to make himself contemptible in the eyes of honourable people.

“Dick,” said he after a long pause—“Dick, it was Betsy who told me that you had done this for her sake, and I am here now to say to you that, whatever may happen, I honour you more than any man of my acquaintance. I take pride in being your friend, Mr. Sheridan, if you will allow me to think of myself as such.”

“Sir,” said Dick, “you do me great honour; but I cannot permit even so valued a friend as yourself to suggest that, in taking this step, I was actuated by any motive except of regard and esteem for the lady who is about to honour me with her hand. I will have you know that, Mr. Long.”

Mr. Long looked at the younger man, who stood up before him dignified and self-respecting. But he did not fail to detect a shake in his voice and, when he had ceased speaking, a quivering about his lips.

“Give me your hand, Dick Sheridan,” he cried. “You are a man!”

He grasped the hand that Dick offered him, and held it for a long time in his own, with his eyes fixed upon the young fellow’s face. Dick’s eyes were cast down. It was not until Mr. Long had released his hand that he said in a low tone:

“It was from you, sir, I learned what ’tis to be a man. God help me if I fall short of all that I should be! Now, sir, pray leave me to myself. Ah, will you not have pity on me and leave me? Cannot you see that this moment is too much for me? Cannot you see that in your presence the struggle in which I have taken part is telling on me? Ah, go, for God’s sake, go!”

His fingers were interlaced in front of him, and he was pacing the room with bowed head.

“My poor boy—my brave boy, remember that whatever may happen I am your friend,” said Mr. Long, with his hand on the door.

Dick did not seem to hear him. He had thrown himself into a chair, and his back was turned to the door. He was unaware of Mr. Long’s departure.

Mr. Long was a man of courage. On leaving Dick he made up his mind that he would pay a visit to Mrs. Abington. But his bravery had its limits; he did not pay the visit. Before he had reached the actress’s lodgings he had come to the conclusion that he was upon a fool’s errand. What could he say to her that would have the smallest influence upon her determination to marry Dick Sheridan? It would be much more to the point to consider what he could offer her to release Dick Sheridan, and of this fact he was well aware, consequently he addressed himself to the task of calculating his resources available for this purpose.

Money—he had said to Betsy that, in regard to such women as Mrs. Abington, such a matter as he had to discuss with her was nothing more than a question of figures. But Betsy’s instinct had told her that the rapacity of Mrs. Abington was something altogether different from that with which other actresses with a liking for adventure were accredited—or discredited; and Betsy was right. Mrs. Abington had never, so far as he could remember—and he knew a good many of the traits of the distinguished people of his time—been accused of having a mercenary tendency. On the contrary, she was known to be generous to a fault, and, unlike Mrs. Clive and Miss Bellamy, to refrain from clamouring for a higher salary and more liberal benefits. To be sure, she was the idol of the playgoers, and Mr. Colman paid her more than Mr. Garrick had ever paid a member of his company, so that she had little cause for complaint. But to have no cause for complaint and to refrain from complaining did not mean exactly the same thing in the minds of most actresses, Mr. Long knew; so that he could not but feel that Mrs. Abington’s reputation for generosity was well founded. She would laugh at his offer of money, he now felt; and what else had he to offer her in exchange for Dick Sheridan?

He had come to the end of his resources available for negotiation with the lady when the question ceased to be one of money. He could not pretend to himself that he would have any chance of success with her were he merely to go to her with the assurance that Dick Sheridan and Betsy Linley loved each other and would be happy together if she, Mrs. Abington, were to release Dick from the promise she had obtained from him. He knew that her generosity would not be equal to such a strain as he should put upon it, were he to make such a suggestion to her. She was a woman, and he had an idea that women have a tendency to place an extravagant value upon what other women show themselves anxious to possess. The fact that Miss Linley was in love with Dick Sheridan would only cause Mrs. Abington to chuckle over the bargain she had made with Dick. It seemed clear to him that he could gain nothing beyond that chuckle by his visit to the actress. To be sure, she would take care that it was a purely artistic suggestion of something rather more than content, and it would be made worthy of the attention of the most exalted order of critics; still, it would represent to Mr. Long (he knew) something rather more humiliating than the failure of his mission, and it was his fear of this chuckle that caused him to abandon his enterprise and to shape his steps in the direction of his own house.

He opened the door of his parlour and found himself face to face with Mrs. Abington!

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