The visitor walked with the short strut of the man who at least does not underrate his own importance in the world. But he suggested just at the moment the man who is extremely nervous lest he may not appear perfectly self-possessed. There was an air of bustle about him as he strutted into the room, saying:

“Dr. Burney, I am your servant, sir. I have done myself the honour to visit you on a rather important piece of business.”

“Sir, you have conferred honour upon me,” said Dr. Burney.

Then the gentleman seemed to become aware for the first time that there were other people in the room; but it was with an air of reluctance that he felt called on to greet the others.

“Mrs. Burney, I think,” he said, bowing to that lady, “and her estimable family, I doubt not. Have I not had the privilege of meeting Mrs. Burney at the house of—of my friend—my esteemed friend, Mrs. Barlowe? And this gentleman of the Fleet—ha, to be sure I have heard that there was a Lieutenant Burney of the Navy! And—gracious heavens! Mr. Garrick!”

Mr. Garrick had revealed himself from the recesses of Miss Burney’s work-basket. He, at any rate, was sufficiently self-possessed to pretend to be vastly surprised. He raised both his hands, crying:

“Is it possible that this is Mr. Kendal? But surely I left you at the Wells no later than—now was it not the night before last? You were the cynosure of the Assembly Rooms, sir, if I may make bold to say so. But I could not look for you to pay attention to a poor actor when you were receiving the attentions of the young, and, may I add without offence, the fair? But no, sir; you will not find that I am the one to tell tales out of school, though I doubt not you have received the congratulations of—”

“There you go, sir, just the same as the rest of them!” cried the visitor. “Congratulations! felicitations! smiles of deep meaning from the ladies, digs in the ribs with suggestive winks from the gentlemen—people whose names I could not recall—whom I’ll swear I had never spoken to in my life—that is why I left the Wells as hastily as if a tipstaff had been after me—that is why I am here this morning, after posting every inch of the way, to consult Dr. Burney as to my position.”

“I protest, sir, that I do not quite take you,” said Mr. Garrick, with the most puzzled expression on his face that ever man wore. “Surely, sir, your position as a man of honour is the most enviable one possible to imagine! Mrs. Nash—”

“There you blurt out the name, Mr. Garrick, and that is what I had no intention of doing, even when laying my case before Dr. Burney, who is a man of the world, and whom I trust to advise me what course I should pursue.”

“I ask your pardon, sir,” said Mr. Garrick humbly; “but if the course you mean to pursue has aught to do with the pursuit of so charming a lady, and a widow to boot—”

“How i’ the name of all that’s reasonable did that gossip get about?” cried the visitor. “I give you my word that I have not been pursuing the lady—I met her at the Wells for the first time a fortnight ago—pursuit indeed!”

“Nay, sir, I did not suggest that the pursuit was on your part,” said Garrick in a tone of irresistible flattery. “But ’tis well known that as an object of pursuit of the fair ones, the name of Mr. Kendal has been for ten years past acknowledged without a peer.”

The gentleman held up a deprecating hand, but the smile that was on his face more than neutralized his suggestion.

“Nay, Mr. Garrick, I am but a simple country gentleman,” he cried. “To be sure, I have been singled out more than once for favours that might have turned the head of an ordinary mortal—one of them had a fortune and was the toast of the district; another—”

“If you will excuse me, gentlemen, the Miss Burneys and myself will take our leave of you: we have household matters in our hands,” said Mrs. Burney, making a sign to Fanny and her sister, and going toward the door.

“Have I said too much, madam? If so, I pray of you to keep my secret,” cried the visitor. “The truth is that I have confidence in the advice of Dr. Burney as a man of the world.”

“I fear that to be a man of the world is to be of the flesh and the devil as well,” said Dr. Burney.

“Augmented qualifications for giving advice on an affair of the Wells,” said Garrick slyly to the naval lieutenant.

“You will not forget, Doctor, that Mr. Thrale’s carriage is appointed to call for you within the hour,” said Mrs. Burney over her shoulder as she left the room.

Fanny and her sister were able to restrain themselves for the few minutes necessary to fly up the narrow stairs, but the droll glance that Mr. Garrick had given them as they followed their mother, wellnigh made them disgrace themselves by bursting out within the hearing of their father’s visitor. But when they reached the parlour at the head of the stairs and had thrown themselves in a paroxysm of laughter on the sofa, Mrs. Burney reproved them with some gravity.

“This is an instance, if one were needed, of the unsettling influence of Mr. Garrick,” she said. “He has plainly been making a fool of that conceited gentleman, and it seems quite likely that he will persuade your father to back him up.”

“I do not think that Mr. Garrick could improve greatly upon Nature’s handiwork in regard to that poor Mr. Kendal,” said Fanny. “But what would life be without Mr. Garrick?”

“It would be more real, I trust,” said her stepmother. “He would have us believe that life is a comedy, and that human beings are like the puppets which Mr. Foote put on his stage for the diversion of the town a few years ago.”

Fanny Burney became grave; the longer she was living in the world, the more impressed was she becoming with the idea that life was a puppet-show; only when the puppets began to dance on their wires in a draught of wind from another world the real comedy began. She felt that as an interpreter of life Mr. Garrick had no equal on the stage or off. On the stage he could do no more than interpret other people’s notions of life, and these, except in the case of Shakespeare, were, she thought, mostly feeble; but when he was off the stage—well, Sir Joshua Reynolds had told her what that queer person, Dr. Goldsmith, had written about Garrick—the truest criticism Garrick had ever received: “’Twas only that when he was off he was acting.” She knew what she herself owed to Garrick from the time she was nine years old, when he had accustomed her and her sister to look for him at their house almost daily; she knew that whatever sense of comedy she possessed—and she looked on it as a precious possession—was to be attributed to the visits of Garrick. Every time she looked at her carefully locked desk in that room at the top of the house in St. Martin’s Street, which had once been Sir Isaac Newton’s observatory, she felt that without the tuition in comedy that she had received at the hands of Mr. Garrick, the contents of that desk would have been very different. Her stepmother, however, had no information on this point; she had lived all her life among the good tradespeople of Lynn, and had known nothing of Mr. Garrick until Dr. Burney had married her and brought her to look after his children, which Fanny knew she had done faithfully, according to her lights, in London.

Fanny kept silent on the subject of Mr. Garrick’s fooling, while Mrs. Burney bent with great gravity over the cutting out of a pinafore for Fanny’s little niece—also a Burney; and every now and again there came from the closed room downstairs the sound of the insisting voice of the visitor. She hoped that Mr. Garrick would re-enact the scene for her; she had confidence that it would lose nothing by its being re-enacted by Mr. Garrick.

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