Never for a moment had Goldsmith felt jealous of the younger men who were understood to be admirers of the Jessamy Bride. He had made humourous verses on some of them, Henry Bunbury had supplied comic illustrations, and Mary and her sister had had their laugh. He could not even now feel jealous of Colonel Gwyn, though he knew that he was a more eligible suitor than the majority whom he had met from time to time at the Hornecks' house. He knew that since Colonel Gwyn had appeared the girl had no thoughts to give to love and suitors. If Gwyn were to go to her immediately and offer himself as a suitor he would meet with a disappointment.

Yes; at the moment he had no reason to feel jealous of the man who had just left him. On the contrary, he felt that he had a right to be exultant at the thought that it was he—he—Oliver Goldsmith—who had been entrusted by Mary Horneck with her secret—with the duty of saving her from the scoundrel who was persecuting her.

Colonel Gwyn was a soldier, and yet it was to him that this knight's enterprise had fallen.

He felt that he had every reason to be proud. He had been placed in a position which was certainly quite new to him. He was to compass the rescue of the maiden in distress; and had he not heard of innumerable instances in which the reward of success in such, an undertaking was the hand of the maiden?

For half an hour he felt exultant. He had boldly faced an adverse fate all his life; he had grappled with a cruel destiny; and, though the struggle had lasted all his life, he had come out the conqueror. He had become the most distinguished man of letters in England. As Professor at the Royal Academy his superiority had been acknowledged by the most eminent men of the period. And then, although he was plain of face and awkward in manner—nearly as awkward, if far from being so offensive, as Johnson—he had been appointed her own knight by the loveliest girl in England. He felt that he had reason to exult.

But then the reaction came. He thought of himself as compared with Colonel Gwyn—he thought of himself as a suitor by the side of Colonel Gwyn. What would the world say of a girl who would choose him in preference to Colonel Gwyn? He had told Gwyn to survey himself in a mirror in order to learn what chance he would have of being accepted as the lover of a lovely girl. Was he willing to apply the same test to himself?

He had not the courage to glance toward even the small glass which he had—a glass which could reflect only a small portion of his plainness.

He remained seated in his chair for a long time, being saved from complete despair only by the reflection that it was he who was entrusted with the task of freeing Mary Horneck from the enemy who had planned her destruction. This was his one agreeable reflection, and after a time it, too, became tempered by the thought that all his task was still before him: he had taken no step toward saving her.

He started up, called for a lamp, and proceeded to dress himself for the evening. He would dine at a coffee house in the neighbourhood of Covent Garden Theatre, and visit Mrs. Abington in the green room while his play—in which she did not appear—was being acted on the stage.

He was unfortunate enough to meet Boswell in the coffee house, so that his design of thinking out, while at dinner, the course which he should pursue in regard to the actress—how far he would be safe in confiding in her—was frustrated.

The little Scotchman was in great grief: Johnson had actually quarrelled with him—well, not exactly quarrelled, for it required two to make a quarel, and Boswell had steadily refused to contribute to such a disaster. Johnson, however, was so overwhelming a personality in Boswell's eyes he could almost make a quarrel without the assistance of a second person.

“Psha! Sir,” said Goldsmith, “you know as little of Dr. Johnson as you do of the Irish nation and their characteristics.”

“Perhaps that is so, but I felt that I was getting to know him,” said Boswell. “But now all is over; he will never see me again.”

“Nay, man, cannot you perceive that he is only assuming this attitude in order to give you a chance of knowing him better?” said Goldsmith.

“For the life of me I cannot see how that could be,” cried Boswell after a contemplative pause.

“Why, sir, you must perceive that he wishes to impress you with a consciousness of his generosity.”

“What, by quarrelling with me and declaring that he would never see me again?”

“No, not in that way, though I believe there are some people who would feel that it was an act of generosity on Dr. Johnson's part to remain secluded for a space in order to give the rest of the world a chance of talking together.”

“What does it matter about the rest of the world, sir?”

“Not much, I suppose I should say, since he means me to be his biographer.”

Boswell, of course, utterly failed to appreciate the sly tone in which the Irishman spoke, and took him up quite seriously.

“Is it possible that he has been in communication with you, Dr. Goldsmith?” he cried anxiously.

“I will not divulge Dr. Johnson's secrets, sir,” replied Goldsmith, with an affectation of the manner of the man who a short time before had said that Shakespeare was pompous.

“Now you are imitating him,” said Boswell. “But I perceive that he has told you of our quarrel—our misunderstanding. It arose through you, sir.”

“Through me, sir?”

“Through the visit of your relative, the Dean, after we had dined at the Crown and Anchor. You see, he bound me down to promise him to tell no one of that unhappy occurrence, sir; and yet he heard that Garrick has lately been mimicking the Dean—yes, down to his very words, at the Reynolds's, and so he came to the conclusion that Garrick was made acquainted with the whole story by me. He sent for me yesterday, and upbraided me for half an hour.”

“To whom did you give an account of the affair, sir?”

“To no human being, sir.”

“Oh, come now, you must have given it to some one.”

“To no one, sir—that is, no one from whom Garrick could possibly have had the story.”

“Ah, I knew, and so did Johnson, that it would be out of the question to expect that you would hold your tongue on so interesting a secret. Well, perhaps this will be a lesson to you in the future. I must not fail to make an entire chapter of this in my biography of our great friend. Perhaps you would do me the favour to write down a clear and as nearly accurate an account as your pride will allow of your quarrel with the Doctor, sir. Such an account would be an amazing assistance to posterity in forming an estimate of the character of Johnson.”

“Ah, sir, am I not sufficiently humiliated by the reflection that my friendly relations with the man whom I revere more than any living human being are irretrievably ruptured? You will not add to the poignancy of that reflection by asking me to write down an account of our quarrel in order to perpetuate so deplorable an incident?”

“Sir, I perceive that you are as yet ignorant of the duties of the true biographer. You seem to think that a biographer has a right to pick and choose the incidents with which he has to deal—that he may, if he please, omit the mention of any occurrence that may tend to show his hero or his hero's friends in an unfavourable light. Sir, I tell you frankly that your notions of biography are as erroneous as they are mischievous. Mr. Boswell, I am a more conscientious man, and so, sir, I insist on your writing down while they are still fresh in your mind the very words that passed between you and Dr. Johnson on this matter, and you will also furnish me with a list of the persons—if you have not sufficient paper at your lodgings for the purpose, you can order a ream at the stationer's at the corner—to whom you gave an account of the humiliation of Dr. Johnson by the clergyman who claimed relationship with me, but who was an impostor. Come, Mr. Boswell, be a man, sir; do not seek to avoid so obvious a duty.”

Boswell looked at him, but, as usual, failed to detect the least gleam of a smile on his face.

He rose from the table and walked out of the coffee house without a word.

“Thank heaven I have got rid of that Peeping Tom,” muttered Goldsmith. “If I had acted otherwise in regard to him I should not have been out of hearing of his rasping tongue until midnight.”

(The very next morning a letter from Boswell was brought to him. It told him that he had sought Johnson the previous evening, and had obtained his forgiveness. “You were right, sir,” the letter concluded. “Dr. Johnson has still further impressed me with a sense of his generosity.”)

But as soon as Boswell had been got rid of Goldsmith hastened to the playhouse in order to consult with the lady who—through long practice—was, he believed, the most ably qualified of her sex to give him advice as to the best way of getting the better of a scoundrel. It was only when he was entering the green room that he recollected he had not yet made up his mind as to the exact limitations he should put upon his confidence with Mrs. Abington.

The beautiful actress was standing in one of those picturesque attitudes which she loved to assume, at one end of the long room. The second act only of “She Stoops to Conquer” had been reached, and as she did not appear in the comedy, she had no need to begin dressing for the next piece. She wore a favourite dress of hers—one which had taken the town by storm a few months before, and which had been imitated by every lady of quality who had more respect for fashion than for herself. It was a negligently flowing gown of some soft but heavy fabric, very low and loose about the neck and shoulders.

“Ha, my little hero,” cried the lady when Goldsmith approached and made his bow, first to a group of players who stood near the door, and then to Mrs. Abington. “Ha, my little hero, whom have you been drubbing last? Oh, lud! to think of your beating a critic! Your courage sets us all a-dying of envy. How we should love to pommel some of our critics! There was a rumour last night that the man had died, Dr. Goldsmith.”

“The fellow would not pay such a tribute to my powers, depend on't, madam,” said Goldsmith.

“Not if he could avoid it, I am certain,” said she. “Faith, sir, you gave him a pretty fair drubbing, anyhow.' Twas the talk of the playhouse, I give you my word. Some vastly pretty things were said about you, Dr. Goldsmith. It would turn your head if I were to repeat them all. For instance, a gentleman in this very room last night said that it was the first case that had come under his notice of a doctor's making an attempt upon a man's life, except through the legitimate professional channel.”

“If all the pretty things that were spoken were no prettier than that, Mrs. Abington, you will not turn my head,” said Goldsmith. “Though, for that matter, I vow that to effect such a purpose you only need to stand before me in that dress—ay, or any other.”

“Oh, sir, I protest that I cannot stand before such a fusillade of compliment—I sink under it, sir—thus,” and she made an exquisite courtesy. “Talk of turning heads! do you fancy that actresses' heads are as immovable as their hearts, Dr. Goldsmith?”

“I trust that their hearts are less so, madam, for just now I am extremely anxious that the heart of the most beautiful and most accomplished should be moved,” said Goldsmith.

“You have only to give me your word that you have written as good a comedy as 'She Stoops to Conquer,' with a better part for me in it than that of Miss Hardcastle.”

“I have the design of one in my head, madam.”

“Then, faith, sir, 'tis lucky that I did not say anything to turn your head. Dr. Goldsmith, my heart is moved already. See how easy it is for a great author to effect his object where a poor actress is concerned. And you have begun the comedy, sir?”

“I cannot begin it until I get rid of a certain tragedy that is in the air. I want your assistance in that direction.”

“What! Do you mistake the farce of drubbing a critic for a tragedy, Dr. Goldsmith?”

“Psha, madam! What do you take me for? Even if I were as poor a critic as Kenrick I could still discriminate between one and t' other. Can you give me half an hour of your time, Mrs. Abington?”

“With all pleasure, sir. We shall sit down. You wear a tragedy face, Dr. Goldsmith.”

“I need to do so, madam, as I think you will allow when you hear all I have to tell you.”

“Oh, lud! You frighten me. Pray begin, sir.”

“How shall I begin? Have you ever had to encounter the devil, madam?”

“Frequently, sir. Alas! I fear that I have not always prevailed against him as successfully as you did in your encounter with one of his family—a critic. Your story promises to be more interesting than your face suggested.”

“I have to encounter a devil, Mrs. Abington, and I come to you for help.”

“Then you must tell me if your devil is male or female. If the former I think I can promise you my help; if the latter, do not count on me. When the foul fiend assumes the form of an angel of light—which I take to be the way St. Paul meant to convey the idea of a woman—he is too powerful for me, I frankly confess.”

“Mine is a male fiend.”

“Not the manager of a theatre—another form of the same hue?”

“Nay, dear madam, there are degrees of blackness.”

“Ah, yes; positive bad, comparative Baddeley, superlative Colman.”

“If I could compose a phrase like that, Mrs. Abington, I should be the greatest wit in London, and ruin my life going from coffee house to coffee house repeating it.”

“Pray do not tell Mrs. Baddeley that I made it, sir.”

“How could I, madam, when you have just told me that a she-devil was more than you could cope with?”

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