What did it all mean?

That was the question which was on his mind when he awoke. It did not refer to the reception given to “She Stoops to Conquer,” which had placed him in the position he had longed for; it had reference solely to the strange incident which had occurred in the green room.

The way Mrs. Abington had referred to the man with whom Mary had been speaking was sufficient to let him know that he was not a man of reputation—he certainly had not seemed to Goldsmith to be a man of reputation either when he had seen him at the Pantheon or in the green room. He had worn an impudent and forward manner which, in spite of his glaring good looks that might possibly make him acceptable in the eyes of such generous ladies as Mrs. Abington, Mrs. Bulkley or Mrs. Woffington, showed that he was a person of no position in society. This conclusion to which Goldsmith had come was confirmed by the fact that no persons of any distinction who had been present at the Pantheon or the playhouse had shown that they were acquainted with him—no one person save only Mary Horneck.

Mary Horneck had by her act bracketed herself with Mrs. Abington and Mrs. Bulk-ley.

This he felt to be a very terrible thing. A month ago it would have been incredible to him that such a thing could be. Mary Horneck had invariably shunned in society those persons—women as well as men—who had shown themselves to be wanting in modesty. She had always detested the man—he was popular enough at that period—who had allowed innuendoes to do duty for wit; and she had also detested the woman—she is popular enough now—who had laughed at and made light of the innuendoes, bordering upon impropriety, of such a man.

And yet she had by her own act placed herself on a level with the least fastidious of the persons for whom she had always professed a contempt. The Duchess of Argyll and Lady Ancaster had, to be sure, shaken hands with the two actresses; but the first named at least had done so for her own ends, and had got pretty well sneered at in consequence. Mary Horneck stood in a very different position from that occupied by the Duchess. While not deficient in charity, she had declined to follow the lead of any leader of fashion in this matter, and had held aloof from the actresses.

And yet he had seen her in secret conversation with a man at whom one of these same actresses had not hesitated to sneer as an impostor—a man who was clearly unacquainted with any other member of her family.

What could this curious incident mean?

The letters which had come from various friends congratulating him upon the success of the comedy lay unheeded by him by the side of those which had arrived—not a post had been missed—from persons who professed the most disinterested friendship for him, and were anxious to borrow from him a trifle until they also had made their success. Men whom he had rescued from starvation, from despair, from suicide, and who had, consequently, been living on him ever since, begged that he would continue his contributions on a more liberal scale now that he had in so marked a way improved his own position. But, for the first time, their letters lay unread and unanswered. (Three days actually passed before he sent his guineas flying to the deserving and the undeserving alike. That was how he contrived to get rid of the thousands of pounds which he had earned since leaving his garret.)

His man servant had never before seen him so depressed as he was when he left his chambers.

He had made up his mind to go to Mary and tell her that he had seen what no one else either in the Pantheon or in the green room had seemed to notice in regard to that man whose name he had learned was Captain Jackson—he would tell her and leave it to her to explain what appeared to him more than mysterious. If any one had told him in respect to another girl all that he had noticed, he would have said that such a matter required no explanation; he had heard of the intrigues of young girls with men of the stamp of that Captain Jackson. With Mary Horneck, however, the matter was not so easily explained. The shrug and the raising of the eyebrows were singularly inappropriate to any consideration of an incident in which she was concerned.

He found before he had gone far from his chambers that the news of the success of the comedy had reached his neighbours. He was met by several of the students of the Temple, with whom he had placed himself on terms of the pleasantest familiarity, and they all greeted him with a cordiality, the sincerity of which was apparent on their beaming faces. Among them was one youth named Grattan, who, being an Irishman, had early found a friend in Goldsmith. He talked years afterward of this early friendship of his.

Then the head porter, Ginger, for whom Goldsmith had always a pleasant word, and whose wife was his laundress—not wholly above suspicion as regards her honesty—stammered his congratulations, and received the crown which he knew was certain; and Goldsmith began to feel what he had always suspected—that there was a great deal of friendliness in the world for men who have become successful.

Long before he had arrived at the house of the Hornecks he was feeling that he would be the happiest man in London or the most miserable before another hour would pass.

He was fortunate enough to find, on arriving at the house, that Mary was alone. Mrs. Horneck and her son had gone out together in the coach some time before, the servant said, admitting him, for he was on terms of such intimacy with the family the man did not think it necessary to inquire if Miss Horneck would see him. The man was grinning from ear to ear as he admitted the visitor.

“I hope, Doctor, that I know my business better than Diggory,” he said, his grin expanding genially.

“Ah! so you were one of the gentlemen in the gallery?” said Goldsmith. “You had my destiny in your keeping for two hours?”

“I thought I'd ha' dropped, sir, when it came to Diggory at the table—and Mr. Marlow's man, sir—as drunk as a lord. 'I don't know what more you want unless you'd have had him soused in a beer barrel,' says he quite cool-like and satisfied—and it's the gentleman's own private house, after all. Oh, Lord! Oh, Lord! Didn't Sir Joshua's Ralph laugh till he thought our neighbours would think it undignified-like, and then sent us off worse than ever by trying to look solemn. Only some fools about us said the drunk servant was ungenteel; but young Mr. Northcote—Sir Joshua's young man, sir—he up and says that nature isn't always genteel, and that nature was above gentility, and so forth—I beg your pardon, Doctor, what was I thinking of? Why, sir, Diggory himself couldn't ha' done worse than me—talking so familiar-like, instead of showing you up.”

“Nay, sir,” said Goldsmith, “the patron has the privilege of addressing his humble servant at what length he please. You are one of my patrons, George; but strike me dumb, sir, I'll be patronised by you no longer; and, to put a stop to your airs, I'll give you half a dozen tickets for my benefit, and that will turn the tables on you, my fine fellow.”

“Oh, Doctor, you are too kind, sir,” whispered the man, for he had led the way to the drawingroom door. “I hope I've not been too bold, sir. If I told them in the kitchen about forgetting myself they'd dub me Diggory without more ado. There'll be Diggorys enough in the servants' halls this year, sir.”

In another moment Goldsmith was in the presence of Mary Horneck.

She was seated on a low chair at the window. He could not fail to notice that she looked ill, though it was not until she had risen, trying to smile, that he saw how very ill she was. Her face, which he had scarcely ever seen otherwise than bright, had a worn appearance, her eyes were sunken through much weeping, and there was a frightened look in them that touched him deeply.

“You will believe me when I say how sorry I was not to be able to do honour last night to the one whom I honour most of all men,” she said, giving him her hand. “But it was impossible—oh, quite impossible, for me to sup even with my sister and you. Ah, it was pitiful! considering how I had been looking forward to your night of triumph, my dear friend.”

“It was pitiful, indeed, dear child,” said he. “I was looking forward to that night also—I don't know for how many years—all my life, it seems to me.”

“Never mind!” she cried, with a feeble attempt at brightness. “Never mind! your night of triumph came, and no one can take it away from you now; every one in the town is talking of your comedy and its success.”

“There is no one to whom success is sweeter than it is to me,” said Goldsmith. “But you know me too well, my Jessamy Bride, to think for a single moment that I could enjoy my success when my dearest friend was miserable.”

“I know it,” she said, giving him her hand once more. “I know it, and knowing it last night only made me feel more miserable.”

“What is the matter, Mary?” he asked her after a pause. “Once before I begged of you to tell me if you could. I say again that perhaps I may be able to help you out of your trouble, though I know that I am not a man of many resources.”

“I cannot tell you,” she said slowly, but with great emphasis. “There are some sorrows that a woman must bear alone. It is Heaven's decree that a woman's sorrow is only doubled when she tries to share it with another—either with a sister or with a brother—even so good a friend as Oliver Goldsmith.”

“That such should be your thought shows how deep is your misery,” said he. “I cannot believe that it could be increased by your confiding its origin to me.”

“Ah, I see everything but too plainly,” she cried, throwing herself down on her chair once more and burying her face in her hands. “Why, all my misery arises from the possibility of some one knowing whence it arises. Oh, I have said too much,” she cried piteously. She had sprung to her feet and was standing looking with eager eyes into his. “Pray forget what I have said, my friend. The truth is that I do not know what I say; oh, pray go away—go away and leave me alone with my sorrow—it is my own—no one has a right to it but myself.”

There was actually a note of jealousy in her voice, and there came a little flash from her eyes as she spoke.

“No, I will not go away from you, my poor child,” said he. “You shall tell me first what that man to whom I saw you speak in the green room last night has to do with your sorrow.”

She did not give any visible start when he had spoken. There was a curious look of cunning in her eyes—a look that made him shudder, so foreign was it to her nature, which was ingenuous to a fault.

“A man? Did I speak to a man?” she said slowly, affecting an endeavour to recall a half-forgotten incident of no importance. “Oh, yes, I suppose I spoke to quite a number of men in the green room. How crowded it was! And it became so heated! Ah, how terrible the actresses looked in their paint!—almost as terrible as a lady of quality!”

“Poor child!” said he. “My heart bleeds for you. In striving to hide everything from me you have told me all—all except—listen to me, Mary. Nothing that I can hear—nothing that you can tell me—will cause me to think the least that is ill of you; but I have seen enough to make me aware that that man—Captain Jackson, he calls himself——”

“How did you find out his name?” she said in a whisper. “I did not tell you his name even at the Pantheon.”

“No, you did not; but yet I had no difficulty in finding it out. Tell me why it is that you should be afraid of that man. Do you not know as well as I do that he is a rascal? Good heavens! Mary, could you fail to see rascal written on his countenance for all men and women to read?”

“He is worse than you or any one can imagine, and yet——”

“How has he got you in his power—that is what you are going to tell me.”

“No, no; that is impossible. You do not know what you ask. You do not know me, or you would not ask me to tell you.”

“What would you have me think, child?”

“Think the worst—the worst that your kind heart can think—only leave me—leave me. God may prove less unkind than He seems to me. I may soon die. 'The only way her guilt to cover.'”

“I cannot leave you, and I say again that I refuse to believe anything ill of you. Do you really think that it is possible for me to have written so much as I have written about men and women without being able to know when a woman is altogether good—a man altogether bad? I know you, my dear, and I have seen him. Why should you be afraid of him? Think of the friends you have.”

“It is the thought of them that frightens me. I have friends now, but if they knew all that that man can tell, they would fly from me with loathing. Oh! when I think of it all, I abhor myself. Oh, fool, fool, fool! Was ever woman such a fool before?”

“For God's sake, child, don't talk in that strain.”

“It is the only strain in which I can talk. It is the cry of a wretch who stands on the brink of a precipice and knows that hands are being thrust out behind to push her over.”

She tottered forward with wild eyes, under the influence of her own thought. He caught her and supported her in his arms.

“That shows you, my poor girl, that if there are unkind hands behind you, there are still some hands that are ready to keep your feet from slipping. There are hands that will hold you back from that precipice, or else those who hold them out to you will go over the brink with you. Ah, my dear, dear girl, nothing can happen to make you despair. In another year—perhaps in another month—you will wonder how you could ever have taken so gloomy a view of the present hour.”

A gleam of hope came into her eyes. Only for an instant it remained there, however. Then she shook her head, saying—

“Alas! Alas!”

She seated herself once more, but he retained her hand in one of his own, laying his other caressingly on her head.

“You are surely the sweetest girl that ever lived,” said he. “You fill with your sweetness the world through which I walk. I do not say that it would be a happiness for me to die for you, for you know that if my dying could save you from your trouble I would not shrink from it. What I do say is that I should like to live for you—to live to see happiness once again brought to you. And yet you will tell me nothing—you will not give me a chance of helping you.”

She shook her head sadly.

“I dare not—I dare not,” she said. “I dare not run the chance of forfeiting your regard forever.”

“Good-bye,” he said after a pause.

He felt her fingers press his own for a moment; then he dropped her hand and walked toward the door. Suddenly, however, he returned to her.

“Mary,” he said, “I will seek no more to learn your secret; I will only beg of you to promise me that you will not meet that man again—that you will hold no communication with him. If you were to be seen in the company of such a man—talking to him as I saw you last night—what would people think? The world is always ready to put the worst possible construction upon anything unusual that it sees. You will promise me, my dear?”

“Alas! alas!” she cried piteously. “I cannot make you such a promise. You will not do me the injustice to believe that I spoke to him of my own free will?”

“What, you would have me believe that he possesses sufficient power over you to make you do his bidding? Great God! that can never be!”

“That is what I have said to myself day by day; he cannot possess that power over me—he cannot be such a monster as to. . . oh, I cannot speak to you more! Leave me—leave me! I have been a fool and I must pay the penalty of my folly.” Before he could make a reply, the door was opened and Mrs. Bunbury danced into the room, her mother following more sedately and with a word of remonstrance.

“Nonsense, dear Mamma,” cried Little Comedy. “What Mary needs is some one who will raise her spirits—Dr. Goldsmith, for instance. He has, I am sure, laughed her out of her whimsies. Have you succeeded, Doctor? Nay, you don't look like it, nor does she, poor thing! I felt certain that you would be in the act of reading a new comedy to her, but I protest it would seem as if it was a tragedy that engrossed your attention. He doesn't look particularly like our agreeable Rattle at the present moment, does he, Mamma? And it was the same at supper last night. It might have been fancied that he was celebrating a great failure instead of a huge success.”

For the next quarter of an hour the lively girl chatted away, imitating the various actors who had taken part in the comedy, and giving the author some account of what the friends whom she had met that day said of the piece. He had never before felt the wearisomeness of a perpetually sparkling nature. Her laughter grated upon his ears; her gaiety was out of tune with his mood. He took leave of the family at the first breathing space that the girl permitted him.

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