It was at the Pantheon in the Oxford Road a fortnight later, that Mrs. Thrale, the brewer’s lively wife, had an opportunity of shining, by a display of that esprit which caused Mr. Garrick to affirm solemnly that if she had gone upon the stage she would have been a dangerous rival to Mistress Clive; and Fanny Burney, with her father and Mr. Linley, the father of the beautiful Mrs. Sheridan, was a witness of the ease with which the lady sparkled as she described for the benefit of the circle how Mr. Garrick’s jest at the expense of poor Mr. Kendal and the Widow Nash had set all the Wells laughing. She imitated Mr. Garrick to his face, in offering his congratulations to Mr. Kendal and so setting the ball a-rolling until within an hour the poor, silly gentleman had been offered the felicitations of half the Wells upon his engagement to Widow Nash. Mrs. Thrale re-enacted with great gravity the part she had played in Mr. Garrick’s plot, and then she hastened to imitate Mrs. Cholmondeley’s part, and even Mr. Sheridan’s, upon that lively morning at Tunbridge Wells.

But there was much more to tell, and Mrs. Thrale took very good care to abate nothing of her narrative; it gave her so good a chance of acting, and it gave Mr. Garrick so good a chance of complimenting her before all the company.

“Oh, I vow that we played our parts to perfection,” she cried, “and without any rehearsal either. But then what happened? You will scarce believe it, Mr. Garrick has always borne such a character for scrupulous honour in his dealings with his companies, but indeed ’tis a fact that our manager decamped as soon as he found that the poor man had been teased to the verge of madness by the fooling he had started—off he went, we knew not whither; leaving no message for any of us. He was not to be found by noon; and what happened by dinner-time? Why, the poor gentleman whom we had been fooling had also fled!”

“That was indeed too bad of Mr. Kendal,” said Dr. Burney.

“’Twas too inconsiderate of him truly,” cried Mrs. Thrale. “’Tis no great matter if the manager of the playhouse runs away when his play is produced—you remember that Mr. Colman hurried off to Bath to escape lampooners when the success of Dr. Goldsmith’s comedy She Stoops to Conquer had proved to all the town that he was no judge of a play; but for the one who has been made the object of such a jest as ours to escape without giving us a chance of bringing our teasing to a fitting climax is surely little short of infamous.”

“And when did you design the fitting climax to arrive, madam?” asked one of the circle.

“Why, when the gentleman and lady should come face to face in the Assembly Rooms, to be sure,” replied Mrs. Thrale. “We were all there to await the scene of their meeting; and you can judge of our chagrin when only the lady appeared.”

“We can do so, indeed,” said Mrs. Damer, who was also in the circle. “I can well believe that you were furious. When one has arranged a burletta for two characters ’tis infamous when only one of the actors appears on the stage.”

Mrs. Thrale smiled the smile of the lady who knows that she is harbouring a surprise for her friends and only awaits the right moment to spring it upon them—a cat to be let out of the bag at the pulling of a string.

“I knew that we should have your sympathy, Mrs. Damer,” she said demurely. “You have, I doubt not, more than once experienced all the chagrin that follows the miscarrying of a well-planned scheme. But as it so happened, we were more than compensated for our ill-usage at that time by the unlooked-for appearance of the missing actor two nights later.”

“Oh, lud!” cried Mrs. Damer, holding up both her hands in a very dainty way.

Mr. Garrick also lifted up his hands in amazement, but he did not need to exclaim anything to emphasize the effect of his gesture.

Dr. Burney smiled, trying to catch the eye of Mr. Garrick, but Mr. Garrick took very good care that he should not succeed in doing so.

“You may well cry, ‘oh, lud!’” said Mrs. Thrale. “But if you had been in the Rooms when the man entered you would not have been able to say a word for surprise, I promise you. The poor gentleman had posted all the way from town to Tunbridge, apparently for our diversion only, and what a sight he was! It seems that he had got over his fright at the coupling of his name with the lady’s, while flying to London, but from this point a reaction set in, and he spent all the time that he was posting back to the Wells adding fuel to the fire of his resolution to throw himself at the feet of the lady at the earliest possible moment. Was there ever such a comedy played, Mr. Garrick?”

“’Twould be too extravagant for the theatre, madam, but not for Nature’s playhouse,” replied Garrick. “I have more than once been told the story of soldiers having fled in a panic from the field of battle, but on finding themselves in a place of safety they returned to the fight and fought like demons. Was there aught that could be termed demoniacal in the gentleman’s conduct on finding himself face to face with the enemy—I mean the lady?”

“Aught demoniacal, do you ask me?” cried Mrs. Thrale. “Oh, sir, have you not heard the parable of the demon that was cast out of a man, but finding its homeless condition unsupportable, sought out seven of its friends and returned with them to its former habitation, so that the last state of the man was more demoniacal than the first?”

“I fancy I have heard the parable, madam, but its application—” began Garrick, when Mrs. Darner broke in upon him, crying:

“Do not ever attempt to point out the aptness of the application of a parable, Mrs. Thrale. Do not, if you are wise. Would you lead us to believe that the unhappy wretch found it necessary to post up to town to obtain his relay of demons for his own discomfiture when so much rank and fashion was at the Wells, though at the fag end of the season?”

“Leaving parables aside, demons and all, I can bear witness to the condition of the man when he entered the Rooms and strode with determination on his face up to where the Widow Nash was fanning herself—not without need,” said Mrs. Thrale. “It so happened that she was seated under the gallery at the furthest end of the Rooms, but our gentleman did not pause on entering to look round for her—I tell you that it seemed as if he went by instinct straight up to her, and bowing before her, said: ‘Madam, may I beg the honour of a word or two with you in private?’—I was close by and so were several other equally credible witnesses, and we heard every word. The widow looked at him coolly—”

“Yes, you said she had been fanning herself,” remarked Mrs. Damer, but without interrupting the flow of the narrative.

“There was no need of a fan for her voice, I can assure you, when she had completed her survey of the dusty gentleman and thought fit to reply to him,” continued Mrs. Thrale. “‘I vow, sir,’ said she, ‘that I consider this room sufficiently private for anything you have to say to me.’ She had plainly got wind of Mr. Garrick’s plot and so was fully prepared for the worst—though some people might call it the best—that could happen. ‘Madam,’ said Mr. Kendal, ‘what I have to say is meant for your ear alone,’ and I am bound to admit that he spoke with suavity and dignity. ‘Pray let my friends here be the judges of that,’ said the widow. That was a pretty rebuff for any gentleman with a sense of his own dignity, you will say; but he did not seem to accept it in such a spirit. He hesitated, but only for a few moments, then he looked around him to see who were within hearing, and with hardly a pause, he said in the clearest of tones, ‘I perceive that we are surrounded just now with some ladies who, two days ago, offered me congratulations upon my good fortune in winning your promise, madam; and I venture now to come before you to implore of you to give me permission to assume that their congratulations were well founded’—those were his words; we did not think that he had it in him to express himself so well.”

“And what was the lady’s reply?” asked Dr. Burney, recalling the prophecy in which he had indulged when parting from Garrick at his own door.

“The lady’s reply was disappointing, though dignified,” replied Mrs. Thrale. “‘Sir,’ she said, ‘I have oft heard that the credulity of a man has no limits, but I have never before had so conspicuous an instance of the truth of this. Surely the merest schoolboy would have been able to inform you that you were being made the victim of one of Mr. Garrick’s silly jests—that these ladies here lent themselves to the transaction, hoping to make a fool of me as well as of you; but I trust that they are now aware of the fact that I, at least, perceived the truth from the first, so that whoever has been fooled I am not that person; and so I have the honour to wish you and them a very good evening.’ Then she treated us to a very elaborate curtsey and stalked away to the door, leaving us all amazed at her display of dignity—real dignity, not the stage imitation, Mr. Garrick.”

“You should have been there, if only to receive a lesson, Mr. Garrick,” said Mrs. Damer.

“I hope those who had the good fortune to be present were taught a lesson,” said another lady in the circle.

“If you mean me, madam,” said Mrs. Thrale, with tactful good humour, “I frankly allow that I profited greatly by observing the scene. ’Tis a dangerous game to play—that of trying to show others in a ridiculous light, and in future I vow that all my attention shall be given to the duty of avoiding making a fool of myself. Your jest miscarried, Mr. Garrick; though how that gentleman who fled from the Wells in that headlong fashion was induced to return, is beyond my knowledge.”

“Psha! madam, the fellow is a coxcomb and not worth discussing,” cried Garrick. “He got no more than his deserts when the lady left him to be the laughing-stock of the Assembly. I knew that that would be his fate if he ever succeeded in summing up sufficient courage to face her.”

“But strange to say, we did not laugh at him then,” said Mrs. Thrale. “He seemed to be quite a different man from the one whom we had tried to fool two days earlier. There was a certain dignity about him that disarmed us. You must allow, Mr. Garrick, that only the bravest of men would have had the courage to march up the Assembly Rooms and make his proposal to the lady in public.”

“That is the courage of the coxcomb who believes himself to be irresistible to the other sex, madam,” said Garrick; “and I affirm that ’twas most reprehensible to refrain from laughing at him.” Then, putting his arm through that of Burney as if to stroll on with him, and so give the others to understand that he had had enough of Mr. Kendal as a topic, he whispered:

“Ha, my friend, did not I prophesy aright what would be the fellow’s fate? I know men, and women, too—ay, in some measure, though they are sealed books, eh, friend Burney? And you tried to persuade me that she would not snub him? I knew better—I knew that she—eh, what—what are they staring at?”

“They are staring at the appearance of Mr. Kendal with the Widow Nash on his arm—there they are, David, and you are staring at them too,” said Burney with a smile.

“Angels and Ministers of Grace! ’Tis a man and his wife we are staring at! The woman has married him after all!” cried David, his hand dropping limply from Burney’s shoulder. “A man and his wife: I know the look in their faces!”

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