The faithful Cousin Edward had carried the sheets of “Evelina” to Mr. Lowndes’s shop, with her list of errata, sisters Lottie and Susy giving him ample instructions as to the disguise he should assume in discharging that duty; it would be terrible, they thought, if the secret which they had so carefully guarded for so long should be revealed just when it was most important that it should be kept. Their imagination was keen enough to suggest to them the possibility of good Mr. Lowndes setting a watch upon the people entering his shop, and giving instructions that the bearer of the parcel of “Evelina” should be detained and brought into his presence to be questioned.

They advised that Edward should muffle up his face well before going into the shop, and then lay down his parcel and fly like the wind—that would be the best way of defeating the curiosity of the bookseller.

But Edward was of the opinion that such a course of action might possibly only stimulate the man’s curiosity as well as that of the people in the street, and the cry of “Stop thief!” might bring his frantic flight to a standstill. He thought that the most artful course to adopt would be to hang around the shop until he found that several customers were within; then he would enter quite casually and wait until Mr. Lowndes had served one customer and was about to attend to another. If the parcel were thrust into his hands during this interval, he, Edward, would have a good chance of getting safely away before Mr. Lowndes should have time to examine its contents.

They were rather struck with his idea, and he got permission to put it into practice; but in any case he must take the greatest care of the parcel; valuable parcels were snatched out of people’s hands every day.

He smiled.

In another hour he was back at the house in St. Martin’s Street to report to them the safe delivery of the precious parcel. After all, he had had nothing more exciting to do than to place it on a counter—the elderly gentleman with a pen behind his ear had not even taken the trouble to rise from his stool to receive it.

“Parcel for Mr. Lowndes? All right. Leave it there”—those were the exact words with which the parcel was received, Edward reported—the clerk was buried in his ledger before he had left the shop.

The girls were not a little disappointed at this very tame conclusion of what they expected would have been an exciting episode; and to say the truth, their chagrin was shared by Cousin Edward. He had looked for his resources of artfulness to be drawn on in the transaction—perhaps even his physical qualifications for the defence of the sacred secret as well. He felt as a strong man might feel on going forth to meet a giant, to find himself confronted by a dwarf. The mission was unworthy of his powers. Fanny’s thanks heartily given to him, with the repeated assurance that, but for him, the affair could never have been carried out, scarcely compensated him for the tameness of the affair.

For the next month or two it was a busy household in St. Martin’s Street. Lieutenant Burney was joining his ship for another long voyage, and he had to be provided with a fresh outfit. The stitching that went on in the work-room surpassed even that maintained during the months preceding Esther’s marriage; but the labour was lightened upon more than one occasion by the appearance of Mr. Garrick. Mr. Garrick had the freedom of the house in St. Martin’s Street, as he had had that of the Poland Street domicile, where he had so often spent hours amusing the children with his inimitable drolleries.

But Mrs. Burney thought he went a little too far in taking off their friends, and even their own father, though his malicious touches were as light as the pinches of Puck. He had been paying a visit to Mr. and Mrs. Kendal, and he convulsed even Mrs. Burney by his acting of the scene of his reception by them, the lady much more coy than she had ever been at the Wells, and the gentleman overflowing in his attentions to her; but both of them esteeming him as their benefactor.

And they were so well satisfied with the honourable estate to which he had called them, that they appeared to be spending all their time trying to bring about matches among their acquaintance. No matter how unsuitable some of the projected unions seemed, no matter how unlikely some of the people were to do credit to their discrimination, they seemed determined that none should escape “the blissful bondage”—that was Mr. Kendal’s neat phrase. Mr. Garrick repeated it with a smile that made his audience fancy that Mr. Kendal was before them.

“‘The blissful bondage—that’s what I term it, sir,’” said Mr. Kendal, through Mr. Garrick. “‘But the worst of the matter is, Mr. Garrick, that we have nearly exhausted our own circle of friends’—‘I can easily believe that, sir,’ interposed Mr. Garrick—‘and so we feel it our duty to fall back upon you.’ ‘Lud, sir,’ cried Mr. Garrick, jumping a step or two back as if to avoid a heavy impact—‘Lud, sir! a little man like me! I should be crushed as flat as a black beetle.’ ‘Nay, sir, I mean that we are compelled to ask you for a list of a few of your friends who, you think, should be brought together—half a dozen of each sex would be sufficient to begin with.’”

“Of course I demurred,” said Garrick, telling his story, “but before ‘the blissful bondage’ had been repeated more than a score of times I began to think of all against whom I bore a grudge—here was clearly the means of getting level with them; the only trouble with me was that I found myself confounding the people who bore me a grudge with those against whom I bore a grudge—the former are plentiful, the latter very meagre in number. With the exception of a few very dear animosities which I was hoarding up to make old age endurable, I have killed off all my enemies, and was forced, like Mr. Kendal, to fall back on my friends; but even among these I could find few that I could honestly say were deserving of such a fate as I was asked to nominate them for. I ventured, however, to mention the name of Lieutenant Burney, of His Majesty’s Fleet, coupling it with—I could not at first think of an appropriate partner for James, but at last I hit upon exactly the right lady.”

“What! a splice before I set sail next week?” cried Jim. “That’s good news, sir. And the lady’s name, if you please, and her address. Give me my hat, Susy; there is no time to be lost. A splice in a trice. Come, Mr. Garrick, her name? Cannot you see that I am hanging in stays until you tell me who she is?”

“She is a very pleasant lady, sir. I can assure you of that,” said Garrick. “Not too tall even with her hair built à la mode; a pleasant smile, and a happy way of conversing. In short, Lieutenant Burney, I can strongly recommend the lady, for I have known her for the past twenty years and more, and from the first she was a staid, sensible person—the very partner for a sailor, sir, being so contrary to him in every point.”

“Hark’ee, Mr. Garrick; though I don’t quite see myself in tow of such a state barge, I’ll trouble you to relieve my suspense by telling me her name.”

“I have more than once thought when I was young that she would make me an excellent wife,” said Garrick; “but I soon perceived that I was not good enough for her. She has always been an exemplary sister, and I saw that, try as I might, I could never become her equal in that respect; and for married happiness, my boy, there is nothing like—”

“Her name—her name?” shrieked the girls.

The actor looked at them with pained surprise on every feature.

“Her name?” he said. “Surely I have described her very badly if you have not recognized the portrait. But, for that matter, I have often felt how inadequate are words to describe character combined with grace—a nature inclined to seriousness in conjunction with a desire to attract—loftiness of purpose linked with a certain daintiness—”

He made a few gestures with his hands, keeping his elbows close to his side, and then imitated the spreading of a capacious skirt preparatory to sinking in a curtsey, and in a moment there was a cry from every part of the room of “Miss Reynolds—Miss Reynolds!”

“And who has a word to say against Miss Reynolds?” cried the actor.

“No one—no one,” said Fanny. “Character combined with grace—Miss Reynolds linked with Lieutenant Burney.”

“She would make a fine sheet anchor for an Admiral of the Blue,” laughed Jim. “And with your permission, sir, I will postpone my offer until I have attained that rank.”

“I have advised Mr. Kendal to hurry things on,” said Garrick gravely. “For if you have time to spare before making up your mind, the lady cannot reasonably be thought equally fortunate. ‘Lieutenant Burney, your attitude is not complimentary to the blissful bondage’”—once more it was Mr. Kendal who was in the room.

“Call the roll,” said Jim. “Who comes next on your list, Mr. Garrick?”

“Well, I was thinking of Dr. Johnson with Mrs. Abington,” said Garrick; “but perhaps you may quibble even at that.”

The room rang with laughter, for everyone had seen the beautiful actress whose lead in dress was followed by all the ladies in the fashionable world who could afford to do so, and a greater number who could not; and the worsted hose and scorched wig, two sizes too small, of Dr. Johnson had been gazed at with awe by the Burney family when he visited the house in St. Martin’s Street.

“Let the banns be published without delay,” cried Jim. “Next pair, please.”

“Well, I was thinking of Signor Rauzzini and Mrs. Montagu,” said Garrick, “but perhaps that would not be approved of by you any more than the others.”

“Nay, Mr. Garrick, I will not have our friends made any longer the subject of your fooling,” said Mrs. Burney.

Garrick and Jim had the laugh between them, but it seemed that they alone saw the jest of coupling the lively Roman with the mature leader of the bluestockings: the girls bent silently over their work.

“Madam,” said Garrick apologetically, “I ask your pardon for my imprudence. May I ask which name I am to withdraw? Was my offence the introduction of the lady’s name or the gentleman’s? Oh, I can guess. Those rosy-tinted faces before me—I vow that you will find yourself going to sea with a chestful of pink shirts, Lieutenant—those sweet blushing faces reveal the secret more eloquently than any words could do.”

Undoubtedly the three girls were blushing very prettily; but at the mention of the word “secret” two of them gave a little start, but without looking up.

“The secret—oh, I have been feeling for some time that I was well to the leeward of a secret,” cried Jim, “and I’ll not start tack or sheet until I learn what it is.”

“What, sir; you a sailor and not able to penetrate the secret of a pretty girl’s blushes!” cried Garrick.

The brother looked at each of his sisters in turn. They continued stitching away demurely at his shirts.

“Helm’s a-lee,” he said. “Ready about, and off we go on another tack, for hang me if I see anything of guilt on their faces, bless ’em! Come, Mr. Garrick, you shall interpret them for me. Let me into the secret which you say you have read as if it was a book.”

Susy gave a sharp cry.

“The needle!” she said. “That is the third time it has pricked me since morning.”

“Pay no attention to her, sir,” cried Garrick. “It was a feint on her part to put us off the scent of the secret.”

“In heaven’s name, then, let us have it,” cried Jim.

“If you will have it, here it is,” said Garrick. “Your three sisters, Mr. Burney, are contemplating applying to Mrs. Montagu to be admitted to the freedom and the livery of the Society of Bluestockings. That is why they thought it akin to sacrilege for me to introduce the lady’s name into a jest. Their blush was but a reflex of their guilty intention.”

“Indeed, Mr. Garrick, you go too far sometimes,” said Mrs. Burney. “Mrs. Montagu is a worthy lady, and our girls respect her too highly to fancy that they have any qualification to be received into her literary set.”

“Faith, Madam, I know my duty too well, I hope, to accuse any of the Miss Burneys of possessing literary qualities,” said Garrick. “But what I do say is that if such qualities as they possess were to be introduced into Mrs. Montagu’s set, it would quickly become the most popular drawing-room in town. The idea of thinking that any young woman would go to the trouble of writing a book when she can reach the heart of mankind so much more easily by blushing over the breast of a shirt! Continue stitching and doing your own blushing, dear children, and you will never give anyone cause to blush for you.”

He bowed elaborately to each of them in turn and afterward to Mrs. Burney, and made a most effective exit. He always knew when he should go, and never failed to leave a few fragrant phrases behind him, as though he had dropped a bunch of roses for the girls to cherish.

“Where should we be without Mr. Garrick?” said James, when he had seen the actor to the door and returned to the work-room.

“If only he would not go too far in his jesting,” remarked Mrs. Burney, shaking her head. “Mr. Garrick sometimes forgets himself.”

“That is how it comes that he is the greatest actor in the world,” said James. “It is only when a man has learned to forget himself completely that he causes everyone else to remember him. Now there’s the text for a homily that you can write to your Daddy Crisp, Fanny.”

“I’ll note it, Jim, and if Mr. Crisp breaks off correspondence with me you shall bear the blame,” said Fanny.

“Mercy on us!” whispered Susy when she was alone with her sister a little later. “I never got such a fright as when Mr. Garrick pretended to read your secret. Thank goodness! he failed to get the least inkling of it.”

“Thank goodness, indeed!” whispered Fanny.

But she was thinking of quite a different secret when she spoke.

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