Then Lieutenant Burney sauntered into the room and greeted Esther; but when Fanny inquired with some eagerness what had been the result of Mr. Garrick’s fooling of poor Mr. Kendal, James was by no means so glib or amusing as Fanny expected him to be.

“Psha!” he cried; “that Mr. Kendal is not worth powder and shot—at least not the weight of metal that Mr. Garrick can discharge—not in a broadside—Mr. Garrick is not given to broadsides—they are too clumsy for him—he is like Luke Boscawen, our chief gunner; he had a contempt for what he was used to term a blustering broadside, having a liking only for the working of his little brass swivel. He could do anything that he pleased with his little swivel. ‘Ping!’ it would go, when he had squinted along the sights, and the object he aimed at half a mile away—sometimes so small that we could scarce see it from our foretop—down it went. Boscawen could do what he pleased with it—the blunt nose of a whale rising to spout a mile away—the stem of a cocoa-nut palm on one of the islands when we were not sure of the natives and there was no time to climb the tree—that is the marksmanship of Mr. Garrick, and your Mr. Kendal was not worthy of an exercise of so much skill.”

“Nobody seems too insignificant to be made a fool of by Mr. Garrick,” said Mrs. Burney. “He is as happy when he has made a gruesome face and frightened a maid with a mop at the doorstep, as when he has stricken us with awe when the ghost enters in Hamlet, or when Macbeth declaims of the horror of the curse of sleeplessness that has been cast on him. That is why I said before he arrived that I was not sure that his influence upon you all is for good. He makes one lose one’s sense of the right proportions and realities of life. Now is not that so, Hetty? I make no appeal to Fanny, for I know that she has ever been devoted to Mr. Garrick. Is it not true that she was used to frighten poor Lottie before she was ten by showing how Mr. Garrick frowned as the Duke of Gloster?”

“I know that Fanny murdered us all in turn in our beds, assuring us that we were the Princes in the Tower, or some less real characters invented by herself,” said Esther. “But indeed if James tells us that Mr. Garrick’s gun practice smashed the cocoa-nut that serves Mr. Kendal as a head, I should not grieve. Tell us what happened, James.”

“Oh, ’twas naught worth words to describe,” said James. “The man came to take counsel of Daddy in regard to a jest that Mr. Garrick had, unknown to his victim, played off upon him, and Mr. Garrick so worked upon him that Daddy had no chance to speak. But Mr. Garrick made fools of us as well, for I give you my word, though we were in with him in his jest, he had us blubbering like boobies when he laid his hand on the fellow’s shoulder and spoke nonsense in a voice quivering and quavering as though he were at the point of breaking down.”

Mrs. Burney the elder shook her head.

“That is what I do not like—that trifling with sacred things,” she said. “’Tis not decent in a private house—I would not tolerate it even in a playhouse, and I see that you are of my opinion, James, though you may have been dragged into the abetting of Mr. Garrick in whatever mad scheme he had set himself upon perfecting.”

“Oh, for that matter we are all sorry when we have been merry at the expense of another, even though he be an elderly coxcomb such as that Mr. Kendal,” said James. “But enough—more than enough—of coxcomb Kendal! Tell us of the Duchess’s concert, Hetty. Were the matrimonial duets as successful as usual?”

Esther, who had been disappointed that her stepmother had not yet said a word about the concert of the previous night given by the Dowager Duchess of Portland, at which she and her husband had performed, brightened up at her brother’s question.

“The concert was well enough,” she replied with an affectation of carelessness. “’Twas no better than many that have taken place under this roof. Her Grace and her grandees were very kind to us—we had enough plaudits to turn the head of Gabrielli herself.”

“Oh, the Gabrielli’s head has been turned so frequently that one can never tell when it sits straight on her shoulders,” said James.

“She was very civil to us last evening,” said Esther. “Indeed, she was civil to everyone until the enchanter Rauzzini sang the solo from Piramo e Tisbe and swept the company off their feet. The poor Gabrielli had no chance against Rauzzini.”

“Especially in a company that numbered many ladies,” said James, with a laugh. “You remember what Sir Joshua told us that Dr. Goldsmith had once said of Johnson?—that in his argument he was like the highwayman: when his pistol missed fire he knocked one down with the butt.”

“I heard that upon one occasion Dr. Johnson knocked a man down with a heavy book, but I cannot imagine his ever firing a pistol,” remarked Mrs. Burney, who had been used, when the wife of a straightforward merchant of Lynn, to take every statement literally, and had not yet become accustomed to the involved mode of speaking of the brilliant young Burneys.

“You mean that Rauzzini—I don’t quite perceive what you do mean by your reference to Dr. Goldsmith’s apt humour,” said Esther.

“I only mean that among such a company as assembled at the Duchess’s, if he missed fire with his singing, he glanced around with those dark eyes of his and the ladies went down before him by the score,” replied James. “Do not I speak the truth, Fanny?” he added, turning quickly to where Fanny was searching with her short-sighted eyes close to her work-basket for some material that seemed to be missing.

But she had clearly heard her brother’s question, for she did not need to raise her head or to ask him to repeat it.

“Oh, we are all the slaves of the nobil’ signor,” she said, and continued her search in the basket.

“From the way he talked to us last night it might be fancied that it was he who was the captive,” said Esther.

“And I do not doubt that he is living in a state of constant captivity,” laughed James. “Ay, or I should rather term it inconstant captivity, for I dare swear that those black eyes of his do a deal of roving in the course of a year—nay, in the course of a day. These singer fellows feel that ’tis due to their art, this moving the hearts of their hearers, by moving their own affections from heart to heart. The Rauzzini is, I fancy, like one of the splendid butterflies we came upon in the Straits, fluttering from flower to flower.”

“I have heard no stories of his inconstancy, even from the Gabrielli when she was most envious of his plaudits,” said Esther, and she glanced at her sister, who was earnestly threading a needle.

“You goose!” cried James to Esther. “Do you suppose that Gabrielli would tell you anything so greatly complimentary to him? In these days you cannot pay a man a greater compliment than to compare him to the fickle butterfly. You see that suggests a welcome from every flower.”

“I protest that it is to sailors I have heard most compliments of that sort paid,” laughed Esther, and then, putting herself in a singing attitude before him, she lilted most delightfully:

“Sigh no more, ladies, sigh no more!

Men were deceivers ever,

One foot on sea——

“ha, ha, brother James!

and one on shore,

To one thing constant never.

“Now be advised by me, dear James, and do not attribute even in a cynical way, the vice of inconstancy to a singer, until you have left the Navy.”

“I did not allude to it as a vice—rather as a virtue,” said James. “Just think of the hard fate of any girl to have such a person as a singer ever by her side!”

He easily evaded the rush down upon him made by Hetty, and used his nautical skill to sail to the windward of her, as it were, until he had reached the door, whence he sent a parting shot at her.

“You surely don’t think that I hinted that your spouse was a singer,” he cried. “A singer! Oh, lud! I should be swaying away on all top ropes if I were to call the matrimonial duets singing.”

He gave a shout of laughter as he caught the ball of wool which Esther threw at him, having picked it up from her stepmother’s work-table. He returned it with a better aim, and before his sister could get a hand on it, he had shut the door, only opening it a little space a few seconds later to put in his head with a mocking word, withdrawing it at once, and then his foot was heard upon the stair, while he gave a sailor’s version of Mr. Garrick’s patriotic naval song:

Come, cheer up, my lads, ’tis to glory we steer.

“He has gone before I had a chance of asking him to take a message to the cheesemonger,” said Mrs. Burney, calling out to him while she hurried after him out of the room.

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