T he next day at the playhouse Mrs. Abington met Lee Lewis with a reproachful look. She had written to him on the Saturday, expressing her regret that she could not go with him to the Gardens, but assuring him that she would be there, and charging him to look for her.

“I thought you would believe it worth your while to keep an eye open for me last night, sir,” she now said. “But I dare say you found some metal more attractive elsewhere.”

“By heavens! I waited for you for an hour on the lantern walk, but you did not appear,” cried Lewis.

“An hour? only an hour?” said the lady. “And pray how did you pass the rest of the time?”

“A strange thing happened,” said Lewis, after a pause. “I was amazed to see my wife there—or one whom I took to be my wife.”

“Ah, sir, these mistakes are of common occurrence,” laughed Mrs. Abington. “Was she, like her husband, alone?”

“No, that's the worst of it; she was by the side of a handsome young fellow in a pink coat embroidered with silver.”

“Oh, Mrs. Lewis would seem to have borrowed a leaf from her husband's book; that is, if it was Mrs. Lewis. Have you asked her if she was at the Gardens?”

“How could I ask her that when I had told her that I was going to the playhouse? I was struck with amazement when I saw her in the distance with that man—did I mention that he was a particularly good-looking rascal?”

“You did; but why you should have been amazed I am at a loss to know. Mrs. Lewis is a very charming lady, I know.”

“You have seen her?”

“She was pointed out to me last night.”

“Heavens! then it was she whom I saw in the Gardens? I would not have believed it.”

“What, are you so unreasonable as to think that 't is a wife's duty to remain at home while her husband amuses himself at Vauxhall?”

“Nay, but my wife—”

“Is a vastly pretty young creature, sir, whom a hundred men as exacting as her husband, would think it a pleasure to attend at the Gardens or the Pantheon.”

“She is, beyond doubt a sweet young creature; but Lord, madam, she is so bound up in her baby that she can give no thought to her husband; and as for other men—did you see the youth who was beside her?”

“To be sure I did. He was devoted to her—and so good looking! I give you my word, sir, I never saw anyone with whose looks I was better pleased.”

“Zounds, madam, if I had got near him I would have spoilt his good looks, I promise you. Good Lord! to think that my wife—I tried to get close to her, but the pair seemed to vanish mysteriously.” “You would have been better employed looking for me. But we will arrange for another evening, you and I, Mr. Lewis.”

“Yes, we will—we will.”

There was not much heartiness in the way Mr. Lewis assented; and when the lady tried to get him to fix upon an evening, he excused himself in a feeble way.

The day following he walked with her to her house after rehearsal, but he did not think it necessary to make use of any of those phrases of gallantry in which he had previously indulged. He talked a good deal of his wife and her attractions. He had bought her a new gown, he said, and, beyond a doubt, it would be difficult to find a match for her in grace and sweetness. He declined Mrs. Abington's invitation to enter the house. He had to hurry home, he said, having promised to take his wife by water to Greenwich Park.

The actress burst into a merry laugh as she stood before the drawing of Sir Harry Wildair.

“All men are alike,” she cried. “And all women, too, for that matter. Psha, there are only two people in the world; the name of one is Adam, the name of the other is Eve.”

In the course of the afternoon a letter was brought to her. It was from Mrs. Lewis, and it stated that the writer was so much overcome with the recent kindness and attention which her husband had been showing her, she had resolved to confess that she had played a trick upon him, and begged Mrs. Abington's leave to do so.

Mrs. Abington immediately sat down and wrote a line to her.

“Do n't be a little fool,” she wrote. “Are you so anxious to undo all that we have done between us? If you pursue that course, I swear to you that he will be at my feet the next day. No, dear child, leave me to tell him all that there is to be told.”

Two days afterwards Lee Lewis said to her:

“I wonder if 't is true that my wife has an admirer.”

“Why should it not be true, sir? Everything that is admirable has an admirer,” said Mrs. Abington.

“She is not quite the same as she used to be,” said he. “I half suspect that she has something on her mind. Can it be possible that—”

“Psha, sir, why not put her to the test?” cried Mrs. Abington.

“The test? How?”

“Why, sir, give her a chance of going again to the Gardens. Tell her that you are going to the playhouse on Thursday night, and then do as you did before, only keep a better look-out for her, and—well you must promise me that if you find her with that handsome young spark you will not run him through the body.”

“You seem to take a great interest in this same young spark,” said Lewis.

“And so I do, sir! Lord, sir, are you jealous of me as well as your wife?”

“Jealous? By my soul, madam, I desire nothing more heartily than to hear of your taking him from my wife.”

“Then carry out my plan, and perhaps I shall be able to oblige you. Put her to the test on Thursday.”

“You will be there?”

“I will be there, I promise you.”

“Then I agree.”

“You promise further not to run him through the body?”

“I promise. Yes, you will have more than a corpse to console you.”

He walked off looking somewhat glum, and in another half hour she had sent a letter to his wife asking her to be dressed for Vauxhall on Thursday night.

The Gardens were flooded with light—except in certain occasional nooks—and with music everywhere. (It is scarcely necessary to say that the few dimly-lighted nooks were the most popular in the Gardens.)


As Mrs. Lewis, accompanied by her dashing escort, descended from the coach and walked up the long avenue toward the tea-house, many eyes were focussed upon her, for all the town seemed to be at Vauxhall that night. But only the quick eyes of Mrs. Abington perceived the face of Lee Lewis at the outskirts of the crowd. Mrs. Abington smiled; she knew perfectly well that her disguise was so complete as to remain impenetrable, even to her most familiar friends, and she had a voice to suit the costume of the beau, so that, upon previous occasions, she had, when in a similar dress, escaped all recognition, even at one of the balls at the little playhouse in the Haymarket.

She now swaggered through the crowds, rallying, after the most approved style of the modish young spark, her somewhat timid companion, and pointing out to her the various celebrities who were strolling about under the coloured lamps. She pointed out the lively little lady, who was clearly delighted at being the centre of a circle of admirers, as Mrs. Thrale, the wife of the great brewer. Around her were General Paoli, the Corsican refugee; the great Dr. Samuel Johnson; Dr. Burney, the musician; and Richard Burke, just home from Grenada.

Some distance further on stood Oliver Goldsmith, the author of the new comedy, in which Lee Lewis was cast for the part of Young Marlow, and Mrs. Abington for the part of Miss Hardcastle. Dr. Goldsmith wore a peach-bloom velvet coat and a waistcoat covered with silver. He was making the beautiful Miss Horneck and her sister, Mrs. Bunbury, laugh heartily at some of his witty sayings, which were too subtle to be understood by such people as James Boswell and Miss Reynolds, but which were thoroughly relished by the two girls who loved him so well. In another part of the grounds, Sir Joshua Reynolds walked with his friend David Garrick; and when she caught sight of the latter, Mrs. Abington hurried her companion down a side walk, saying:

“David Garrick is the only one in the Gardens whom I fear; he would see through my disguise in a moment.”

“My husband is not here, after all, for I have been looking for him,” said Mrs. Lewis. “You see he does not always speak an untruth when he tells me he is going to the playhouse on the nights he is not acting.”

“Nothing could be clearer, my dear,” said her companion. “Oh, yes, men do speak the truth—yes, sometimes.”

Mrs. Lewis was anxious to return to her home as soon as she had walked once through the Gardens, but Mrs. Abington declared that to go away without having supper would make her so ashamed of her impersonation of the reckless young gallant, she would never again be able to face an audience in the playhouse; so supper they had together in one of the raised boxes, Mrs. Abington swearing at the waiters in the truest style of the man of fashion.

And all the time they were at supper she could see Lee Lewis furtively watching them.

Another hour the actress and her companion remained in the Gardens, and when at last they returned to the hackney coach, the former did not fail to see that Lewis was still watching them and following them, though his wife, all the time the coach was being driven homeward, chattered about her husband's fidelity. “He will most likely be at home when I arrive,” she said; “and in that case I will tell him all.”

“For fear of any mistake I will enter the house with you,” said Mrs. Abington. “I have heard before now of husbands casting doubt upon even the most plausible stories their wives invented to account for their absence.”

“My husband will believe me,” said Mrs. Lewis coldly.

“I shall take very good care that he does,” said her companion.

When they reached the house, they learnt that Mr. Lewis had not yet come back, and so Mrs. Abington went upstairs and seated herself by the side of her friend in her parlour.

Not many minutes had passed before her quick ears became aware of the opening of the hall-door, and of the stealthy steps of a man upon the stairs. The steps paused outside the room door, and then putting on her masculine voice, the actress suddenly cried:

“Ah, my beloved creature! why will you remain with a husband who cannot love you as I swear I do? Why not fly with me to happiness?”

Mrs. Lewis gave a laugh, while her cheek was being kissed—very audibly kissed—by her companion.

The next moment the door was flung open so suddenly that Mrs. Lewis was startled, and gave a cry; but before her husband had time to take a step into the room, Mrs. Abington had blown out the lamp, leaving the room in complete darkness.

“Stand where you are,” cried the actress, in her assumed voice; “Stand, or by the Lord Harry, I'll run you through the vitals!”

The sound of the whisking of her sword from its sheath followed.

“Who are you, fellow, and what do you want here?” she continued.

“The rascal's impudence confounds me,” said Lewis. “Infamous scoundrel! I have had my eye on you all night; I am the husband of the lady whom you lured from her home to be your companion.”

“Oh, then you are Mr. Lee Lewis, the actor,” said Mrs. Abington. “Pray, how does it come, sir, that you were at Vauxhall when you assured your poor wife that you were going to the playhouse?”

“What! the rascal has the audacity—”

“Husband—husband—a moment will explain all!” cried Mrs. Lewis, across the table.

“Silence, woman!” shouted the man.

“She had better remain silent,” said the actress. “Look you, sir, how often have you not deceived that poor young thing, whose only fault is loving you too well? What, sir, have you the effrontery to accuse her? Does your own conscience acquit you of every attempt to deceive her, that you can throw a stone at her? You blame her for going with me to the Gardens—can you say that you have never made an appointment with a lady to meet you at the same Gardens? What truth is there in the report which is in everyone's mouth, that you are in the train of Mrs. Abington's admirers?”

“'Tis false, sir! I love my wife—alas, I should say that I love her better than a score of Mrs. Abingtons,” cried Lewis.

“Ah, husband, dear husband,” began his wife, when Mrs. Abington interrupted her.

“Hush, child,” she cried. “Let me ask him if he never implored that woman, Abington, to accompany him to Vauxhall while he told you he was going to the playhouse? Let me ask him how often he has whiled away the hours in Mrs. Abington's house, assuring his wife that he was detained at the play-house. He is silent, you perceive. That means that he has still a remnant of what once was a conscience. Mr. Lewis, were it light enough to see you, I am sure that we should find that you were hanging your head. What! are you surprised that any one should admire the wife whom you neglected? You are enraged because you saw me by her side at the Gardens. You have played the spy on us, sir, and in doing so you have played the fool, and you will acknowledge it and ask your wife's pardon and mine before five minutes have passed. Call for a light, sir; we do not expect you to apologise in the dark.”

“The fellow's impudence astounds me,” muttered Lewis. He then threw open the door and shouted down the stairs for a light.

Mrs. Lewis, while the light was being brought, made another attempt to explain matters, but Mrs. Abington commanded her to be silent.

“Everything will be explained when the light comes,” said she.

“Yes,” said the man, grimly, “for men cannot cross swords in the dark.”

“There will be no crossing swords here,” said Mrs. Abington.

“Coward—Scoundrel! Now we shall see what you are made of,” said the man, as a servant appeared on the landing with a lighted lamp.

“Yes; that's just what you will see,” said Mrs. Abington in her natural voice, as the light flooded the room.

“Great powers!” whispered Lewis, as he found himself confronted by the fascinating face that he knew so well.

Mrs. Abington had thrown off her wig in the darkness, and now her own hair was flowing over her shoulders.

“Great powers! Mrs. Abington!”

“Yes, Mr. Lewis, Mrs. Abington, who only waits to hear a very foolish fellow confess that he has been a fool in letting a thought of any other woman come into his mind, when he is the husband of so charming a lady as took supper with me to-night.”

Lee Lewis bowed his head, and, kneeling before his wife, pressed her hand to his lips.

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