Captain Jackson laughed heartily at so quaint an idea, throwing himself back in his chair and pointing a contemptuous thumb at Oliver, who had advanced to the side of the actress, assuming the deprecatory smile of the bookseller's hack. He played the part very indifferently, the lady perceived.

“Faith, my dear,” laughed the Captain, “I would fain believe that he is a terrible person for a poet, for, by the Lord, he nearly had his head broke by me on the first night that you went to the Pantheon; and I swear that I never crack a skull unless it be that of a person who is accustomed to spread terror around.”

“Some poets' skulls, sir, are not so easily cracked,” said Mrs. Abington.

“Nay, my dear madam,” cried her vis-à-vis, “you must pardon me for saying that I do not think you express your meaning with any great exactness. I take it that you mean, madam, that on the well known kitchen principle that cracked objects last longer than others, a poet's pate, being cracked originally, survives the assaults that would overcome a sound head.”

“I meant nothing like that, Captain,” said Mrs. Abington. Then she turned to Goldsmith, who stood by, fingering his roll of manuscript. “Come, Dr. Goldsmith,” she cried, “seat yourself by me, and partake of supper. I vow that I will not even glance at that act of your new play which I perceive you have brought to me, until we have supped.”

“Nay, madam,” stuttered Goldsmith; “I have already had my humble meal; still——”

He glanced from the dishes on the table to Captain Jackson, who gave a hoarse laugh, crying—

“Ha, I wondered if the traditions of the trade were about to be violated by our most admirable Doctor. I thought it likely that he would allow himself to be persuaded. But I swear that he has no regard for the romance which he preaches, or else he would not form the third at a party. Has he never heard that the third in a party is the inevitable kill-joy?”

“You wrong my friend Dr. Goldsmith, Captain,” said the actress in smiling remonstrance that seemed to beg of him to take an indulgent view of the poet's weakness. “You wrong him, sir. Dr. Goldsmith is a man of parts. He is a wit as well as a poet, and he will not stay very long; will you, Dr. Goldsmith?”

She acted the part so well that but for the side glance which she cast at him, Goldsmith might have believed her to be in earnest. For his own part he was acting to perfection the rôle of the hack author who was patronised till he found himself in the gutter. He could only smile in a sickly way as he laid down his hat beside a chair over which Jackson's cloak was flung, and placed in it the roll of manuscript, preparatory to seating himself.

“Madam, I am your servant,” he murmured; “Sir, I am your most obedient to command. I feel the honour of being permitted to sup in such distinguished company.”

“And so you should, sir,” cried Captain Jackson as the waiter bustled about, laying a fresh plate and glass, “so you should. Your grand patrons, my little friend, though they may make a pretence of saving you from slaughter by taking your quarrel on their shoulders, are not likely to feed you at their own table. Lord, how that piece of antiquity, General Oglethorpe, swag gered across the porch at the Pantheon when I had half a mind to chastise you for your clumsiness in almost knocking me over! May I die, sir, if I wasn't at the brink of teaching the General a lesson which he would have remembered to his dying hour—his dying hour—that is to say, for exactly four minutes after I had drawn upon him.”

“Ah, Dr. Goldsmith is fortunate in his friends,” said Mrs. Abington. “But I hope that in future, Captain, he may reckon on your sword being drawn on his behalf, and not turned against him and his friends.”

“If you are his friend, my dear Mrs. Abington, he may count upon me, I swear,” cried the Captain bowing over the table.

“Good,” she said. “And so I call upon you to drink to his health—a bumper, sir, a bumper!”

The Captain showed no reluctance to pay the suggested compliment. With an air of joviality he filled his large glass up to the brim and drained it with a good-humoured, half-patronising motion in the direction of Goldsmith.

“Hang him!” he cried, when he had wiped his lips, “I bear Goldsmith no malice for his clumsiness in the porch of the Pantheon. 'Sdeath, madam, shall the man who led a company of his Majesty's regulars in charge after charge upon the American rebels, refuse to drink to the health of a little man who tinkles out his rhymes as the man at the raree show does his bells? Strike me blind, deaf and dumb, if I am not magnanimous to my heart's core. I'll drink his health again if you challenge me.”

“Nay, Captain,” said the lady, “I'll be magnanimous, too, and refrain from challenging you. I sadly fear that you have been drinking too many healths during the day, sir.”

“What mean you by that, madam?” he cried. “Do you suggest that I cannot carry my liquor with the best men at White's? If you were a man, and you gave a hint in that direction, by the Lord, it would be the last that you would have a chance of offering.”

“Nay, nay, sir! I meant not that,” said the actress hastily. “I will prove to you that I meant it not by challenging you to drink to Dr. Goldsmith's new comedy.”

“Now you are very much my dear,” said Jackson, half-emptying the brandy decanter into his glass and adding only a thimbleful of water. “Yes, your confidence in me wipes out the previous affront. 'Sblood, madam, shall it be said that Dick Jackson, whose name made the American rebels—curse 'em!—turn as green as their own coats—shall it be said that Dick Jackson, of whom the rebel Colonel—Washington his name is—George Washington”—he had considerable difficulty over the name—“is accustomed to say to this day, 'Give me a hundred men—not men, but lions, like that devil Dick Jackson, and I'll sweep his Majesty's forces into the Potomac'—shall it be said that—that—what the devil was I about to say—shall it be said?—never mind—here's to the health of Colonel Washington!”

“Nay, sir, we cannot drink to one of the King's enemies,” said Mrs. Abington, rising. “'Twere scandalous, indeed, to do so in this place; and, sir, you still wear the King's uniform.”

“The devil take the King's uniform!” shouted the man. “The devils of rebels are taking a good many coats of that uniform, and let me tell you, madam, that—nay, you must not leave the table until the toast is drank——” Mrs. Abington having risen, had walked across the room and seated herself on the chair over which Captain Jackson had flung his cloak.

“Hold, sir,” cried Goldsmith, dropping his knife and fork with a clatter upon his plate that made the other man give a little jump. “Hold, sir, I perceive that you are on the side of freedom, and I would feel honoured by your permission to drink the toast that you propose. Here's success to the cause that will triumph in America.” Jackson, who was standing at the table with his glass in his hand, stared at him with the smile of a half-intoxicated man. He had just enough intelligence remaining to make him aware that there was something ambiguous in Goldsmith's toast.

“It sounds all right,” he muttered as if he were trying to convince himself that his suspicions of ambiguity were groundless. “It sounds all right, and yet, strike me dizzy! if it wouldn't work both ways! Ha, my little poet,” he continued. “I'm glad to see that you are a man. Drink, sir—drink to the success of the cause in America.” Goldsmith got upon his feet and raised his glass—it contained only a light wine.

“Success to it!” he cried, and he watched Captain Jackson drain his third tumbler of brandy.

“Hark ye, my little poet!” whispered the latter very huskily, lurching across the table, and failing to notice that his hostess had not returned to her place. “Hark ye, sir! Cornwallis thought himself a general of generals. He thought when he courtmartialled me and turned me out of the regiment, sending me back to England in a foul hulk from Boston port, that he had got rid of me. He'll find out that he was mistaken, sir, and that one of these days——Mum's the word, mind you! If you open your lips to any human being about this, I'll cut you to pieces. I'll flay you alive! Washington is no better than Cornwallis, let me tell you. What message did he send me when he heard that I was ready to blow Cornwallis's brains out and march my company across the Potomac? I ask you, sir, man to man—though a poet isn't quite a man—but that's my generosity. Said Washy—Washy—Wishy—Washy—— Washington: 'Cornwallis's brains have been such valuable allies to the colonists, Colonel Washington would regard as his enemy any man who would make the attempt to curtail their capacity for blundering.' That's the message I got from Washington, curse him! But the Colonel isn't everybody. Mark me, my friend—whatever your name is—I've got letters—letters——”

“Yes, yes, you have letters—where?” cried Goldsmith, in the confidential whisper that the other had assumed.

The man who was leaning across the table stared at him hazily, and then across his face there came the cunning look of the more than half-intoxicated. He straightened himself as well as he could in his chair, and then swayed limply backward and forward, laughing.

“Letters—oh, yes—plenty of letters—but where?—where?—that's my own matter—a secret,” he murmured in vague tones. “The government would give a guinea or two for my letters—one of them came from Mount Vernon itself, Mr.—whatever your name maybe—and if you went to Mr. Secretary and said to him, 'Mr. Secretary'”—he pronounced the word “Secrary”—“'I know that Dick Jackson is a rebel,' and Mr. Secretary says, 'Where are the letters to prove it?' where would you be, my clever friend? No, sir, my brains are not like Cornwallis's, drunk or sober. Hallo, where's the lady?”

He seemed suddenly to recollect where he was. He straightened himself as well as he could, and looked sleepily across the room.

“I'm here,” cried Mrs. Abington, leaving the chair, across the back of which Jackson's coat was thrown. “I am here, sir; but I protest I shall not take my place at the table again while treason is in the air.”

“Treason, madam? Who talks of treason?” cried the man with a lurch forward and a wave of the hand. “Madam, I'm shocked—quite shocked! I wear the King's coat, though that cloak is my own—my own, and all that it contains—all that——”

His voice died away in a drunken fashion as he stared across the room at his cloak. Goldsmith saw an expression of suspicion come over his face; he saw him straighten himself and walk with an affectation of steadiness that only emphasised his intoxicated lurches, to the chair where the cloak lay. He saw him lift up the cloak and run his hand down the lining until he came to a pocket. With eager eyes he saw him extract from the pocket a leathern wallet, and with a sigh of relief slip it furtively into the bosom of his long waistcoat, where, apparently, there was another packet.

Goldsmith glanced toward Mrs. Abington. She was sitting leaning over her chair with a finger on her lips, and the same look of mischief that Sir Joshua Reynolds transferred to his picture of her as “Miss Prue.” She gave a glance of smiling intelligence at Oliver, as Jackson laughed coarsely, saying huskily—

“A handkerchief—I thought I had left my handkerchief in the pocket of my cloak, and 'tis as well to make sure—that's my motto. And now, my charmer, you will see that I'm not a man to dally with treason, for I'll challenge you in a bumper to the King's most excellent Majesty. Fill up your glass, madam; fill up yours, too, Mr.—Mr. Killjoy, we'll call you, for what the devil made you show your ugly face here the fiend only knows. Mrs. Baddeley and I are the best of good friends. Isn't that the truth, sweet Mrs. Baddeley? Come, drink to my toast—whatever it may be—or, by the Lord, I'll run you through the vitals!”

Goldsmith hastened to pass the man the decanter with whatever brandy remained in it, and in another instant the decanter was empty and the man's glass was full. Goldsmith was on his feet with uplifted glass before Jackson had managed to raise himself, by the aid of a heavy hand on the table, into a standing attitude, murmuring—

“Drink, sir! drink to my lovely friend there, the voluptuous Mrs. Baddeley. My dear Mrs. Baddeley, I have the honour to welcome you to my table, and to drink to your health, dear madam.”

He swallowed the contents of the tumbler—his fourth since he had entered the room—and the next instant he had fallen in a heap into his chair, drenched by the contents of Mrs. Abington's glass.


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