Young Mr. Barlowe started so violently that he spilt his tea over his knees; for just before James had uttered his last sentence the music stopped, but as it had been somewhat loud in the final bars, and James raised his voice in the same proportion, the inertia of his tone defied any attempt to modulate it, so that it was almost with a shout that he had declared that he had been sent to be educated in his profession to a murderer.

Fanny was too much overcome by the ludicrous aspect of the contretemps to be able to laugh. Her brother, who had had no intention of startling anyone in the room except young Mr. Barlowe, hung his head and was blushing under the South Sea tan of his skin; Sir Joshua Reynolds had heard nothing after the crashing chords that concluded the duet; but poor Miss Reynolds almost sprang from her chair in horror.

Mrs. Burney was very angry.

“You have been making a fool of yourself as usual, James,” she cried. “Pray give Mr. Barlowe another cup of tea, Fanny. I vow that ’tis a shame for you, James Burney, to treat such a company as though you were on the deck of the Adventure facing your South Sea savages.”

But Dr. Burney, with his customary tact, raised a hand half reprovingly toward his wife.

“Give Mr. Barlowe his cup, and then pass one to me, Fanny,” he said, rising from the piano. “You know that James has spoken no more than the truth, my dear,” he added, smiling at his wife. “I can see that the rascal has been fooling while our backs were turned to him; but we know that he spoke no more than the truth—at least in that one sentence which he bawled out for us. He was, indeed, sent to a school where he was placed under an accomplished usher who was some time after hanged as a murderer. You see, madam—” he had turned, still smiling, to Miss Reynolds, thereby doing much to restore her confidence in the sanity of the family—“You see that James was from the first so desperate a young rascal that, just as a boy who is an adept at figures is educated for the counting-house, and one who spends all the day before he is six picking out tunes on the harpsichord should be apprenticed, as I was, to a musician, so we thought our James should be sent whither he could be properly grounded in the only profession at which he was likely to excel. But, alas! the poor usher was carried off by the police, tried at the next assizes and duly hanged before James had made much progress in his studies; but I believe that a few years in the navy does as much for a youth who has made up his mind to succeed, as a protracted course under a fully qualified criminal.”

Miss Reynolds looked as if she were not quite certain that, in spite of his smiles, Dr. Burney was jesting; but when Mrs. Burney, seeing how her husband’s mock seriousness was likely to produce a wrong impression upon plain people, said:

“You must recall hearing about Mr. Eugene Aram some years back, Mrs. Reynolds,” that lady showed that her mind was greatly relieved.

“I recall the matter without difficulty,” she said. “The man was usher at the grammar school at Lynn.”

“And no school had a more learned teacher than that unfortunate man,” said Sir Joshua. Young Barlowe had been divided in his amazement at what Dr. Burney had said, and at the sight of Sir Joshua holding the trumpet to his ear, though the instrument remained mute. He had never found himself within the circle of so startling a society. He wished himself safe at home in the Poultry, where people talked sense and made no attempt to blow a trumpet with their ears.

“James had acquired quite a liking for poor Aram,” said Dr. Burney, “and, indeed, I own to having had a high opinion of the man’s ability myself. It was to enable him to purchase books necessary for his studies in philology that he killed his victim—a contemptible curmudgeon named Johnstone. I fear that all our sympathy was on the side of the usher.”

“I was greatly interested in Mr. Aram, and read a full account of his trial,” said Sir Joshua. “I wonder that a man of so sensitive a mind as his did not so brood over his crime as to cause suspicion to fall on him earlier than it did.”

“Only upon one occasion it seemed that he was affected by an incident which might possibly have awakened some suspicion in the mind of a person given to suspicion,” said Dr. Burney. “James had been presented with a copy of the translation of Gessner’s ‘Death of Abel’—everyone was going mad about the book that year—more copies were sold of it than of any translation since Pope’s ‘Homer,’ but I fancy James found it dull enough reading. He had it on his knee trying to get through a page or two in case the kind donor might question him upon it, when the usher came up. He took the volume in his hand and glanced at the title. Down the book fell from his grasp and he hurried away without a word—‘as if he had been stung,’ James said, in telling us about it, to excuse the broken cover. Of course, I never gave a thought to the matter at the time; but when I heard of the arrest of Eugene Aram the following year, I recalled the incident.”

“I should like to make a picture of the scene, and name it ‘Remorse,’” said Reynolds.

(He never did make such a picture; many years had passed, and Lieutenant Burney had become an Admiral before his narration of the incident touched the imagination of a poet who dealt with it in verse that has thrilled a good many readers.)

Thomas Barlowe was not greatly thrilled by the story as told by Dr. Burney. He seemed rather shocked to find himself at the table with someone who had been taught by a murderer. He glanced furtively at James Burney, who had remained silent since the contretemps that had prevented him from perfecting his fooling of Thomas; and the result of Thomas’s scrutiny at that moment was to cause Thomas a tremor; for who could say what fearful knowledge Lieutenant Burney might have acquired during his intercourse with the murderer—knowledge which might jeopardize the safety of a simple visitor like himself? Thomas felt that no ordinary person could be accounted absolutely safe in a company that included a tall, able-bodied young naval man who had begun his education under a murderer and had gone to complete it among the cannibals of the South Seas; and, in addition, an elderly gentleman who fancied that he could bring any sound out of a trumpet by pressing it to his ear instead of his lips, and had shown himself ready to extol the scholarship of any man who had been hanged.

But then Thomas looked at Fanny, and she pleased him more than ever. She was so demure, so modest, so shy. She had a very pretty blush, and she did not play on the piano. It was a thousand pities, he felt, that such a girl should be compelled to remain in such uncongenial companionship. All the time that Dr. Burney and his other daughter were playing a second duet, and the silly gentleman holding the bell of his trumpet to the case of the piano, still fondly believing that he was also a performer with the mouth-piece in his ear, Thomas Barlowe was feeling wave after wave of pity passing over him for the unhappy position of the shy girl in the midst of so doubtful a household. Before long his compassion for her so stimulated his imagination that he began to think of the possibility of his rescuing her—he began to think of himself in the character of a hero—he did not remember the name of any particular hero who had carried off a young woman who was placed in a similar situation to that occupied by Miss Burney; but he had no doubt that more than one romance was founded upon the doings of such a man as he felt himself fully qualified to be, if he made up his mind to assume such a rôle.

As the music continued—it was an arrangement of Gluck’s Orfèo—Thomas Barlowe became more and more resolute. He would be the heroic person who should appear at the right moment and achieve the emancipation of that sweet and shy girl, who by no fault of hers was forced to live in that house and remain, if she could, on friendly terms with her father and sisters, who kept strumming on the piano, and with her brother, who was ready to boast of having received the rudiments of his education from a murderer. All that he needed was the opportunity to show his heroism, and he did not doubt that when he set his mind to work on the matter, he would have such an opportunity.

If anyone had whispered in his ear that his inward consciousness of being equal to the doing of great deeds was solely due to the music which was being played, and to which he was unwillingly listening, he would have been indignant. He would have thought it preposterous had it been suggested to him that the effect of that strumming was to make him feel more like a god than a man—to be ready to face hell for the love of a woman, as Jean Sebastian Bach imagined Orpheus doing for Eurydice. But Christoph Gluck knew what he was about when he had composed his Orfèo, and Dr. Burney was quite equal to the business of interpreting his aims, and of urging his daughter Susan to join with him in impressing them upon even so unimpressionable a nature as that of Thomas Barlowe; so that while Thomas Barlowe believed that this music was one of the most petty of all human interests, it was making him think such thoughts as had never before entered his mind—it was giving him aspirations from which in ordinary circumstances he would have shrunk.

The master musician and his interpreters were making sport of him, leading him if not quite into the region of the heroic, at least to the boundary of that region, and supplying him with a perspective glass, as the Interpreter did to the Pilgrims, by the aid of which he might see the wonderful things that had been beyond his natural scope.

And that was how it came about that he gazed into Miss Burney’s eyes and pressed her hand at parting with a tenderness he had never previously associated with his leave-taking. He felt sure that Miss Burney would understand what he meant, though he knew that he would have difficulty in expressing it all to her in words; for the effect of the music was to make him feel that he could put so much feeling into a look, into a squeeze of the hand, as would touch the heart of any young woman and cause her to be certain that she might trust him though all other help might fail her.

That was the effect which the heroic music had upon him, though he did not know it; it made him feel willing to face hell for her sake at that moment, and even until he had walked through more than a mile of the network of streets that lay between Leicester Fields and the Poultry.

But the effect of such an intoxicant as music upon such a nature as his is not lasting. Before he had reached Cheapside his own individuality was beginning to assert itself; and he wondered if he had not gone too far for discretion—discretion being, according to his reckoning, the power to withdraw from a position that might compromise him. And before he reached his home he had got the length of wondering how he had so far forgotten himself as to yield to that compromising impulse represented by the gaze and the squeeze. He could not for the life of him understand what had come over him at that moment; for he had by no means satisfied himself that Miss Burney was the young woman who would make him comfortable as his wife. He still thought highly of her on account of her modesty and her dainty shyness, but marriage was a serious matter, and he was not sure that he should take her for his wife.

On the whole, he felt that he had had a very trying evening—between the Lieutenant who had so nearly qualified to practise as a murderer, and the father and daughter who seemed ready to strum their duets until midnight, to say nothing of the foolish gentleman who tried to play the trumpet with his ear; and Thomas made up his mind that he would not trust himself into the midst of so unusual a circle until he was certain that he wanted to marry the young woman whose hand he had, for some reason or other, pressed at parting.

But Mrs. Burney had noticed much more clearly than Fanny had done the expression that the face of Thomas Barlowe had worn when he had looked into the girl’s eyes; she had measured to the fraction of a second the duration of his holding of her hand beyond the time essential for the discharge of the ordinary courtesy of a hand-shake; and she was satisfied that Thomas was progressing in his wooing of the least attractive and certainly the least accomplished member of the family. The good woman thought, however, that it was rather a pity that her husband and Susan had persisted in the practice of their duets; for by doing so they had not given a chance to Thomas and Fanny of being alone together.

But, looking back upon the incidents of the evening, she came to the conclusion that, on the whole, she had no reason to complain of the progress that was being made in the young man’s wooing. She was no believer in undue haste in this respect; and had not Thomas looked into Fanny’s eyes at the close of the evening? Yes, at the close; and that proved to her satisfaction that he had not suffered discouragement by the maladroit conversation about Mr. Eugene Aram. The unhappy episode upon which her husband had dwelt with far too great attention to its details, was one to which she herself had never alluded; for at Lynn, where she had lived all her life previous to being married to Dr. Burney, the Eugene Aram episode was regarded as a scandal to be ignored by those of the inhabitants whose children had attended the school where he had been usher. It was a distinctly favourable sign of the impression made upon young Mr. Barlowe by Fanny, that he had gazed into her eyes in spite of his having been made aware of the connection of the family with the tragedy of that wretched schoolmaster. Mrs. Burney took no account of the effect of Bach’s marvellous music upon a young man who was a lover in the rough. In this respect, as has been indicated, she did not differ from the young man himself.

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