When his visitor had gone Goldsmith seated himself in his chair and gave way to the bitter reflections of the hour.

He knew that the end of his dream had come. The straightforward words which Johnson had spoken had put an end to his self-deception—to his hoping against his better judgment that by some miracle his devotion might be rewarded. If any man was calculated to be a disperser of vain dreams that man was Johnson. In the very brutality of his straightforwardness there was, however, a suspicion of kindliness that made any appeal from his judgment hopeless. There was no timidity in the utterances of his phrases when forcing his contentions upon any audience; but Goldsmith knew that he only spoke strongly because he felt strongly.

Times without number he had said to himself precisely what Dr. Johnson had said to him. If Mary Horneck herself ever went so far as to mistake the sympathy which she had for him for that affection which alone would content him, how could he approach her family? Her sister had married Bunbury, a man of position and wealth, with a country house and a town house—a man of her own age, and with the possibility of inheriting his father's baronetcy. Her brother was about to marry a daughter of Lord Albemarle's. What would these people say if he, Oliver Goldsmith, were to present himself as a suitor for the hand of Mary Horneck?

It did not require Dr. Johnson to speak such forcible words in his hearing to enable him to perceive how ridiculous were his pretensions. The tragedy of the poet's life among men and women eager to better their prospects in the world was fully appreciated by him. It was surely, he felt, the most cruel of all the cruelties of destiny, that the men who make music of the passions of men—who have surrounded the passion of love with a glorifying halo—should be doomed to spend their lives looking on at the success of ordinary men in their loves by the aid of the music which the poets have created. That is the poet's tragedy of life, and Goldsmith had often found himself face to face with it, feeling himself to be one of those with whom destiny is only on jesting terms.

Because he was a poet he could not love any less beautiful creature than Mary Hor-neck, any less gracious, less sweet, less pure, and yet he knew that if he were to go to her with those poems in his hand which he only of all living men could write, telling her that they might plead his cause, he would be regarded—and rightly, too—as both presumptuous and ridiculous.

He thought of the loneliness of his life. Was it the lot of the man of letters to remain in loneliness while the people around him were taking to themselves wives and begetting sons and daughters? Had he nothing to look forward to but the laurel wreath? Was it taken for granted that a contemplation of its shrivelling leaves would more than compensate the poet for the loss of home—the grateful companionship of a wife—the babble of children—all that his fellow-men associated with the gladness and glory of life?

He knew that he had reached a position in the world of letters that was surpassed by no living man in England. He had often dreamed of reaching such a place, and to reach it he had undergone privation—he had sacrificed the best years of his life. And what did his consciousness of having attained his end bring with it? It brought to him the snarl of envy, the howl of hatred, the mock of malice. The air was full of these sounds; they dinned in his ears and overcame the sounds of the approval of his friends.

And it was for this he had sacrificed so much? So much? Everything. He had sacrificed his life. The one joy that had consoled him for all his ills during the past few years had departed from him. He would never see Mary Horneck again. To see her again would only be to increase the burden of his humiliation. His resolution was formed and he would abide by it.

He rose to his feet and picked up the roll of poems. In sign of his resolution he would burn them. He would, with them, reduce to ashes the one consolation of his life.

In the small grate the remains of a fire were still glowing. He knelt down and blew the spark into a blaze. He was about to thrust the manuscript into it between the bars when the light that it made fell upon one of the lines. He had not the heart to burn the leaf until he had read the remaining lines of the couplet; and when at last, with a sigh, he hastily thrust the roll of papers between the bars, the little blaze had fallen again to a mere smouldering spark. Before he could raise it by a breath or two, his servant entered the room. He started to his feet.

“A letter for you, sir,” said John Eyles. “It came by a messenger lad.”

“Fetch a candle, John,” said Goldsmith, taking the letter. It was too dark for him to see the handwriting, but he put the tip of his finger on the seal and became aware that it was Mary Horneck's.

By the light of the candle he broke the seal, and read the few lines that the letter contained—

Come to me, my dear friend, without delay, for heaven's sake. Your ear only can hear what I have to tell. You may be able to help me, but if not, then. . . . Oh, come to me to-night. Your unhappy Jessamy Bride.

He did not delay an instant. He caught up his hat and left his chambers. He did not even think of the resolution to which he had just come, never to see Mary Horneck again. All his thoughts were lost in the one thought that he was about to stand face to face with her.

He stood face to face with her in less than half an hour. She was in the small drawing-room where he had seen her on the day after the production of “She Stoops to Conquer.” Only a few wax candles were lighted in the cut-glass sconces that were placed in the centre of the panels of the walls. Their light was, however, sufficient to make visible the contrast between the laughing face of the girl in Reynolds's picture of her and her sister which hung on the wall, and the sad face of the girl who put her hand into his as he was shown in by the servant.

“I knew you would come,” she said. “I knew that I could trust you.”

“You may trust me, indeed,” he said. He held her hand in his own, looking into her pale face and sunken eyes. “I knew the time would come when you would tell me all that there is to be told,” he continued. “Whether I can help you or not, you will find yourself better for having told me.”

She seated herself on the sofa, and he took his place beside her. There was a silence of a minute or two, before she suddenly started up, and, after walking up and down the room nervously, stopped at the mantelpiece, leaning her head against the high slab, and looking into the smouldering fire in the grate.

He watched her, but did not attempt to express the pity that filled his heart.

“What am I to tell you—what am I to tell you?” she cried at last, resuming her pacing of the floor.

He made no reply, but sat there following her movements with his eyes. She went beside him, and stood, with nervously clasped hands, looking with vacant eyes at the group of wax candles that burned in one of the sconces. Once again she turned away with a little cry, but then with a great effort she controlled herself, and her voice was almost tranquil when she spoke, seating herself.

“You were with me at the Pantheon, and saw me when I caught sight of that man,” she said. “You alone were observant. Did you also see him call me to his side in the green room at the playhouse?”

“I saw you in the act of speaking to him there—he calls himself Jackson—Captain Jackson,” said Goldsmith.

“You saved me from him once!” she cried. “You saved me from becoming his—body and soul.”

“No,” he said; “I have not yet saved you, but God is good; He may enable me to do so.”

“I tell you if it had not been for you—for the book which you wrote, I should be to-day a miserable castaway.”

He looked puzzled.

“I cannot quite understand,” said he. “I gave you a copy of 'The Vicar of Wakefield' when you were going to Devonshire a year ago. You were complaining that your sister had taken away with her the copy which I had presented to your mother, so that you had not an opportunity of reading it.”

“It was that which saved me,” she cried. “Oh, what fools girls are! They are carried away by such devices as should not impose upon the merest child! Why are we not taught from our childhood of the baseness of men—some men—so that we can be on our guard when we are on the verge of womanhood? If we are to live in the world why should we not be told all that we should guard against?”

She laid her head down on the arm of the sofa, sobbing.

He put his hand gently upon her hair, saying—

“I cannot believe anything but what is good regarding you, my sweet Jessamy Bride.”

She raised her head quickly and looked at him through her tears.

“Then you will err,” she said. “You will have to think ill of me. Thank God you saved me from the worst, but it was not in your power to save me from all—to save me from myself. Listen to me, my best friend. When I was in Devonshire last year I met that man. He was staying in the village, pretending that he was recovering from a wound which he had received in our colonies in America. He was looked on as a hero and feted in all directions. Every girl for miles around was in love with him, and I—innocent fool that I was—considered myself the most favoured creature in the world because he made love to me. Any day we failed to meet I wrote him a letter—a foolish letter such as a school miss might write—full of protestations of undying affection. I sometimes wrote two of these letters in the day. More than a month passed in this foolishness, and then it came to my uncle's ears that we had meetings. He forbade my continuing to see a man of whom no one knew anything definite, but about whom he was having strict inquiries made. I wrote to the man to this effect, and I received a reply persuading me to have one more meeting with him. I was so infatuated that I met him secretly, and then in impassioned strains he implored me to make a runaway match with him. He said he had enemies. When he had been fighting the King's battles against the rebels these enemies had been active, and he feared that their malice would come between us, and he should lose me. I was so carried away by his pleading that I consented to leave my uncle's house by his side.”

“But you cannot have done so.”

“You saved me,” she cried. “I had been reading your book, and, by God's mercy, on the very day before that on which I had promised to go to him I came to the story of poor Olivia's flight and its consequences. With the suddenness of a revelation from heaven I perceived the truth. The scales fell from my eyes as they fell from St. Paul's on the way to Damascus, only where he perceived the heaven I saw the hell that awaited me. I knew that that man was endeavouring to encompass my ruin, and in a single hour—thanks to the genius that wrote that book—my love for that man, or what I fancied was love, was turned to loathing. I did not meet him. I returned to him, without a word of comment, a letter he wrote to me reproaching me for disappointing him; and the very next day my uncle's suspicions regarding him were confirmed. His inquiries resulted in proof positive of the ruffianism of the fellow who called himself Captain Jackson, He had left the army in America with a stain on his character, and it was known that since his return to England at least two young women had been led into the trap which he laid for me.”

“Thank God you were saved, my child,” said Goldsmith, as she paused, overcome with emotion. “But being saved, my dear, you have no further reason to fear that man.”

“That was my belief, too,” said she. “But alas! it was a delusion. So soon as he found out that I had escaped from him, he showed himself in his true colours. He wrote threatening to send the letters which I had been foolish enough to write to him, to my friends—he was even scoundrel enough to point out that I had in my innocence written certain passages which were susceptible of being interpreted as evidence of guilt—nay, his letter in which he did so took it for granted that I had been guilty, so that I could not show it as evidence of his falsehood. What was left for me to do? I wrote to him imploring him to return to me those letters. I asked him how he could think it consistent with his honour to retain them and to hold such an infamous threat over my head. Alas! he soon gave me to understand that I had but placed myself more deeply in his power.”

“The scoundrel!”

“Oh! scoundrel! I made an excuse for coming back to London, though I had meant to stay in Devonshire until the end of the year.”

“And 'twas then you thanked me for the book.”

“I had good reason to do so. For some months I was happy, believing that I had escaped from my persecutor. How happy we were when in France together! But then—ah! you know the rest. My distress is killing me—I cannot sleep at night. I start a dozen times a day; every time the bell rings I am in trepidation.”

“Great Heaven! Is 't possible that you are miserable solely on this account?” cried Goldsmith.

“Is there not sufficient reason for my misery?” she asked. “What did he say to me that night in the green room? He told me that he would give me a fortnight to accede to his demands; if I failed he swore to print my letters in full, introducing my name so that every one should know who had written them.”

“And his terms?” asked Goldsmith in a whisper.

“His terms? I cannot tell you—I cannot tell you. The very thought that I placed myself in such a position as made it possible for me to have such an insult offered to me makes me long for death.”

“By God! 'tis he who need to prepare for death!” cried Goldsmith, “for I shall kill him, even though the act be called murder.”

“No—no!” she said, laying a hand upon his arm. “No friend of mine must suffer for my folly. I dare not speak a word of this to my brother for fear of the consequences. That wretch boasted to me of having laid his plans so carefully that, if any harm were to come to him, the letters would still be printed. He said he had heard of my friends, and declared that if he were approached by any of them nothing should save me from being made the talk of the town. I was terrified by the threat, but I determined to-day to tell you my pitiful story in the hope—the forlorn hope—that you might be able to help me. Tell me—tell me, my dear friend, if you can see any chance of escape for me except that of which poor Olivia sang: 'The only way her guilt to cover.'”

“Guilt? Who talks of guilt?” said he. “Oh, my poor innocent child, I knew that whatever your grief might be there was nothing to be thought of you except what was good. I am not one to say even that you acted foolishly; you only acted innocently. You, in the guilelessness of your own pure heart could not believe that a man could be worse than any monster. Dear child, I pray of you to bear up for a short time against this stroke of fate, and I promise you that I shall discover a way of escape for you.”

“Ah, it is easy to say those words 'bear up.' I have said them to myself a score of times within the week. You cannot now perceive in what direction lies my hope of escape?”

He shook his head, but not without a smile on his face, as he said—

“'Tis easy enough for one who has composed so much fiction as I have to invent a plan for the rescue of a tortured heroine; but, unhappily, it is the case that in real life one cannot control circumstances as one can in a work of the imagination. That is one of the weaknesses of real life, my dear; things will go on happening in defiance of all the arts of fiction. But of this I feel certain: Providence does not do things by halves. He will not make me the means of averting a great disaster from you and then permit me to stand idly by while you suffer such a calamity as that which you apprehend just now. Nay, my dear, I feel that as Heaven directed my pen to write that book in order that you might be saved from the fate of my poor Livy, I shall be permitted to help you out of your present difficulty.”

“You give me hope,” she said. “Yes—a little hope. But you must promise me that you will not be tempted to do anything that is rash. I know how brave you are—my brother told me what prompt action you took yesterday when that vile slander appeared. But were you not foolish to place yourself in jeopardy? To strike at a serpent that hisses may only cause it to spring.”

“I feel now that I was foolish,” said he humbly; “I ran the chance of forfeiting your friendship.”

“Oh, no, it was not so bad as that,” she said. “But in this matter of mine I perceive clearly that craft and not bravery will prevail to save me, if I am to be saved. I saw that you provoked a quarrel with that man on the night when we were leaving the Pantheon; think of it, think what my feelings would have been if he had killed you! And think also that if you had killed him I should certainly be lost, for he had made his arrangements to print the letters by which I should be judged.”

“You have spoken truly,” said he. “You are wiser than I have ever been. But for your sake, my sweet Jessamy Bride, I promise to do nothing that shall jeopardise your safety. Have no fear, dear one, you shall be saved, whatever may happen.”

He took her hand and kissed it fondly. “You shall be saved,” he repeated.

“If not——” said she in a low tone, looking beyond him.

“No—no,” he whispered. “I have given you my promise. You must give me yours. You will do nothing impious.”

She gave a wan smile.

“I am a girl,” she said. “My courage is as water. I promise you I will trust you, with all my heart—all my heart.”

“I shall not fail you—Heaven shall not fail you,” said he, going to the door.

He looked back at her. What a lovely picture she made, standing in her white loose gown with its lace collar that seemed to make her face the more pallid!

He bowed at the door.

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