“You are looking at her—I, too, have been looking at her; she is divine,” came a voice beside her. She did not need to turn to see the speaker. She had been longing for the sound of his voice for many days. She had not even a chance of hearing him sing before this evening.

“She is St. Cecilia herself,” said she. “You have seen Sir Joshua’s picture?”

“My countryman, Piozzi, pointed it out to me,” he replied. “I was enraptured with the picture. But when the living St. Cecilia entered the room and I heard her story, I felt ready to throw myself at her feet and implore her as the guardian of poor singers to take me to her care. Her face has on it the bloom of a flower dropped fresh from the garden of God—angelic beyond the voice of man to describe.”

He spoke, as usual, in French to Fanny, but he had greeted Mrs. Burney in English, and he tried to translate his last phrase to her into the same language. He failed after the first word or two, and begged Miss Burney to complete his task for him. She did so, and her stepmother smiled and nodded in appreciation of his comment.

“She is indeed a beautiful creature,” said Mrs. Burney. “I heard her sing more than once at Bath. People went mad about her beauty and her singing, and truly I never heard any singing that so affected me. It was said that she hated to let her voice be heard in public. Her father, Mr. Linley, made her sing: she was a gold mine to Mr. Linley and he knew it.”

Signor Rauzzini had listened attentively and picked up all that she had said without the aid of a word from Fanny.

“But now she will never be heard again no more,” said he in English. “And she is right in making such a resolution, and her husband is a noble man to agree with her in this,” he continued, but in French to Fanny. “Picture that lovely creature placing herself on the level of such a one as the Agujari! sordid—vulgar—worldly! quarrelling daily with the impresario on some miserable question of precedence—holding out for the largest salary—turning a gift which should be divine into gold! Oh; she was right.”

“Signor Rauzzini no doubt thinks it a pity that such a voice should cease to give pleasure to the thousands it enchanted,” said Mrs. Burney, not being able to follow him in French.

“Oh, no, no; just the opposite,” cried Fanny. “He says he admires her the more for her resolution.”

“I am so glad. Pray tell him that I agree with him,” said Mrs. Burney. “A good woman will avoid publicity. Her home should be sufficient for her.”

Fanny did not need to translate the words, he grasped their meaning at once.

“I agree with all of my heart, madame,” he cried. “I would not wish my mother or my sister to have their names spoken with freedom by everyone who paid a coin to hear them sing. I should think it—come si chiamo?—Ah! forgive my poor English.” He went off into French once more—“Pray tell madame that I think it would be odious to hear the name of my mother or my sister tossed from man to man as they toss the name of a woman who comes before the public. I think the woman who would hide herself from all eyes as a violet hides itself under a leaf is the true woman. The shy, timid, retiring one—I know her—I esteem her. I could love no other. I have a deep respect for the woman of the Orient who would die sooner than let her face be seen by a man.”

“What does he say—I like his eagerness?” asked Mrs. Burney.

Fanny translated some of his phrases, and Mrs. Burney nodded and smiled her approval.

“The bloom on the wing of a butterfly is a very tender thing,” resumed the Roman; “the breath of a man is sufficient to remove it—a single breath—and when the bloom has gone the charm of the beautiful creature has gone also.”

“I am not sure that I like the comparison to the butterfly,” said Fanny, smiling. “The butterfly is the emblem of all that is fickle—all that is idle except for its yielding to its fickleness. It is beautiful, but nothing else.”

He laughed.

“I am rebuked,” he said. “But with us the butterfly is the symbol of the life—of the soul. Assume that and you will, I think, see that I meant not to hint at the beauty of the frivolity, but at the beauty of the soul. I feel that a woman’s life has on it the bloom of a butterfly’s wing, and if that is once breathed on, its beauty is gone for ever—the woman’s life is never again what it was—what it was meant to be. But if you wish, I will not go beyond the violet as my emblem of the best woman—my woman.”

“I thank heaven that I have no voice,” said Fanny gently, after a pause. Young Mr. Northcote, Sir Joshua’s pupil, had approached Mrs. Burney—his eye was on Susy—in order to tell her that tea was being served in the drawing-room.

Mrs. Burney thanked him and took the arm that he offered.

“We shall all go in together,” said Mrs. Burney, with a sign to Fanny.

But Rauzzini contrived to evade her eye by renewing his admiration of the “St. Cecilia.”

“If I could but reproduce in song the effect that flows from her face I should be the greatest singer in the world,” said he.

“You need not envy her,” said Fanny. “Do you remember Mr. Handel’s setting of ‘Alexander’s Feast’?”

“Only an aria or two.”

“One of the lines came into my mind just now when I looked at that picture. ‘She drew an angel down.’”

“And it was very apt. She would draw an angel down.”

“Yes; but the poet has another line before that one—it refers to a singer—‘He raised a mortal to the skies.’ That was the line which came to my mind when I heard you sing. You raise mortals to the skies. Your power is equal to that of St. Cecilia.”

“Nay, nay; that is what you have done. I have been uplifted to the highest heaven by you. When you are near me I cannot see anything of the world. Why have we not met more frequently? Ah, I forgot—I am always forgetting that the months you spoke of have not yet run out. But I am not impatient, knowing that the prize will come to me in good time. I have been away at the Bath and Salisbury and Bristol and I know not where, singing, singing, singing, and now I go to Paris and Lyon for a few months, but you may be certain that I shall return to England—then the separating months shall have passed and you will welcome me—is not that so?”

“I think I can promise you—every day seems to make it more certain that I shall welcome you.”

“My angel—my dream!—”

He said the words—both long-drawn monosyllables in French—in a whisper that gave them the full force of passionate expression. He had need to whisper, for several people were in the room, and Mr. Boswell was among the number, and everyone knew that Mr. Boswell, as a gossip-monger, had no equal in town. He was always pimping and prying—nosing out germs of scandal—ever ready to make mischief by telling people all the nasty things other people had said of them. Mr. Boswell had his eye on them—and his ear. In addition, Mrs. Thrale, who had arrived late, had no idea of allowing the handsome Roman singer to waste himself with a nonentity like Miss Burney, and she was now perilously close to him whom she came to rescue.

But the whisper and the expression imparted to it were enough for Fanny Burney. He might have talked for hours in his impassioned way without achieving the effect of his whispered exclamations.

Then Mrs. Thrale hastened up to his side full of her resolution to rescue him from the conversation with the insignificant person whom his good nature suffered to engage his attention.

“Why, what is this?” cried the little lady who regarded herself with complacency as the soul of tact. “Have you explained to Signor Rauzzini that you are the unmusical member of the family, Miss Burney?”

“I believe that he is aware of that fact already, madam,” replied Fanny.

“And yet he is in close converse with you? He is the most good-natured man in town,” said Mrs. Thrale. “Does he hope to interest you when your father failed?”

“He has never ceased to interest me, madam,” said Fanny.

“Then he did not talk about music?”

“Oh, yes; I think he said something about music.”

“Yes, touching a note here and there, as one might in passing a harpsichord. Of course you could not have lived in Dr. Burney’s house without being able to understand something of music. But we must not trespass upon Signor Rauzzini’s courtesy, Miss Burney. Everyone is talking of him in the drawing-room—he must gratify the company by mingling with them.”

Then she addressed Rauzzini in French.

“I promised to go in search of you, signor,” she said. “Madame Reynolds is distracted. I came on my mission famished—I had vowed, as the crusaders did, not to taste food or drink until I had succeeded in my emprise. May I ask you to have pity on me now and lead me to the tea-table?”

He turned to ask Fanny to accompany them, but he found that she had slipped quietly away. She was already at the door.

“My duty was to Miss Burney, madame, but she has been frightened away,” said he.

“Oh, she is the shy one of the family, I believe,” said Mrs. Thrale. “I am sure that all the time you were so good-natured as to talk to her she was wishing that the floor would open and allow her to sink out of sight. She would have thought it much more good-natured on your part if you had taken no notice of her. I have scarcely spoken to her half a dozen times myself, though I have frequently been to her father’s house. I cannot rack my brain to discover a congenial topic with such young people. Were you successful, do you think?”

He made a gesture with his hands that might mean anything. Mrs. Thrale assumed that it meant nothing—that he felt he was not greatly concerned whether he had been successful in finding a congenial topic of converse with Miss Burney or not.

She laughed.

“Poor girl!” she said. “She may have her dreams like other girls.”

“I believe she has—poor girl!” said he. “But I know that in her knowledge of music she goes deeper—soars higher than most young ladies who have submitted to lessons from a maestro—nay, higher than the maestro himself.”

Mrs. Thrale looked doubtfully at him.

“Is it possible that we are talking of two different people?” said she.

“Ah, that is quite possible,” said he.

“I was referring to Miss Burney, the one of the family who does nothing except sew—her mother commends her sewing very highly. I fear that you actually believed that you were in converse with one of her sisters.”

“Madame,” said he, “it is my belief that the one who sews in a family is far more interesting than the one who sings. But Miss Burney need not, in my eyes, be any more than Miss Burney to be interesting, though she has taught me more of music than I ever learned before.”

“Is’t possible? Oh, yes: I should remember that her father told me that she was his amanuensis—she made a neat copy of all his notes for the ‘History of Music.’ It is no wonder that she knows something about it. Such a good daughter! And the father took no trouble about her education. She did not know her letters till she was eight or nine, I believe—perhaps twelve. I don’t believe that I ever exchanged half a dozen words with her before this evening; and as for men—you are the first man I ever saw taking any notice of her.”

His face lit up strangely, Mrs. Thrale thought, at this revelation. He gave a laugh.

“So much the better for her—so much the worse for the men,” said he. “And now, madame, if the tea has not become too strong, and if your hunger has not made you too weak to walk to the table, I should esteem it an honour to conduct you thither.”

Mrs. Thrale smiled her acquiescence, and she entered the drawing-room on the arm of the singer. Nothing could have convinced her that he did not feel grateful to her for rescuing him from the position in which his good nature had placed him—by the side of the most insignificant young woman among all Sir Joshua’s guests.

She believed that she was increasing his debt of gratitude to her by keeping him with her for the next half-hour. Her sense of protecting him gave her naturally a sense of patronage, which was quite pleasant for her to experience, especially when she glanced round the room and saw several ladies of higher rank than she could pretend to, frowning in her direction. She knew how Signor Rauzzini was pestered by the attentions of such as these, and she could almost hear the well-bred sneers of her friends as they glanced at her and wondered if she never meant to release the unfortunate young man—she knew just what they would say, and she accepted their imaginary words as a real compliment to her protective powers. Her smile down the table was one of great complacency.

She also noticed that the insignificant Miss Burney was glowing as she had never seen her glow before. Her face was rosy and her eyes were actually sparkling. Mrs. Thrale had never imagined that such eyes as Miss Burney’s could sparkle, no matter what their provocation might be.

“Poor girl! Poor child! Her head is turned, as I feared it would be when I saw the Rauzzini with her. She is the unhappy victim of his good nature.”

This was the conclusion come to by the little lady whose ability to pronounce an opinion on such a matter was widely acknowledged; and coming to such a conclusion, she naturally commended all the more heartily the step which she had taken for separating the foolish girl and the fascinating young man.

She would have waved aside any suggestion that might be made to her to the effect that the increase in Miss Burney’s colouring and the light in her eyes was due to Miss Burney’s overhearing the conversation between her mother and Sir Joshua respecting a book which he had stayed up all night to read and which he had just finished in time to receive his guests.

The name of the book was “Evelina; or, a Young Lady’s Entrance into the World,” he said, and he was urging Mrs. Burney to follow his example and read it without further delay.

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