The instant he had seated himself he found to his amazement that the man beside him was fast asleep. To look at him lying in a heap on the cushions one might have fancied that he had been sleeping for hours rather than minutes, so composed was he. Even the jolting of the starting coach made no impression upon him.

Goldsmith perceived that the moment for which he had been longing had arrived. He felt that if he meant to get the letters into his possession he must act at once.

He passed his hand over the man's waistcoat, and had no difficulty in detecting the exact whereabouts of the packet which he coveted. All he had to do was to unbutton the waistcoat, thrust his hand into the pocket, and then leave the coach while it was still in motion.

The moment that he touched the first button, however, the man shifted his position, and awoke, putting his hand, as if mechanically, to his breast to feel that the wallet was still there. Then he straightened himself in some measure and began to mumble, apparently being quite unaware of the fact that some one was seated beside him.

“Dear madam, you do me great honour,” he said, and then gave a little hiccupping laugh. “Great honour, I swear; but if you were to offer me all the guineas in the treasure chest of the regiment I would not give you the plan of the fort. No, madam, I am a man of honour, and I hold the documents for Colonel Washington. Oh, the fools that girls are to put pen to paper! But if she was a fool she did not write the letters to a fool. Oh, no, no! I would accept no price for them—no price whatever except your own fair self. Come to me, my charmer, at sunset, and they shall be yours; yes, with a hundred guineas, or I print them. Oh, Ned, my lad, there's no honester way of living than by selling a wench her own letters. No, no; Ned, I'll not leave 'em behind me in the drawer, in case of accidents. I'll carry 'em about with me in case of accidents, for I know how sharp you are, dear Ned; and so when I had 'em in the pocket of my cloak I thought it as well to transfer 'em—in case of accidents, Ned—to my waistcoat, sir. Ay, they're here! here, my friend! and here they'll stay till Colonel Washington hands me over his dollars for them.”

Then he slapped his breast, and laughed the horrible laugh of a drunken man whose hallucination is that he is the shrewdest fellow alive.

Goldsmith caught every word of his mumblings, and from the way he referred to the letters, came to the conclusion that the scoundrel had not only tried to levy blackmail on Mary Horneck, but had been endeavouring to sell the secrets of the King's forces to the American rebels. Goldsmith had, however, no doubt that the letters which he was desirous of getting into his hands were those which the man had within his waistcoat. His belief in this direction did not, however, assist him to devise a plan for transferring the letters from the place where they reposed to his own pocket.

The coach jolted over the uneven roads on its way to the notorious Whetstone Park, but all the jolting failed to prevent the operation of the brandy which the man had drank, for once again he fell asleep, his fingers remaining between the buttons of his waistcoat, so that it would be quite impossible for even the most adroit pickpocket, which Goldsmith could not claim to be, to open the garment.

He felt the vexation of the moment very keenly. The thought that the packet which he coveted was only a few inches from his hand, and yet that it was as unattainable as though it were at the summit of Mont Blanc, was maddening; but he felt that he would be foolish to make any more attempts to effect his purpose. The man would be certain to awake, and Goldsmith knew that, intoxicated though he was, he was strong enough to cope with three men of his (Goldsmith's) physique.

Gregory's Court, which led into Whetstone Park, was too narrow to admit so broad a vehicle as a hackney-coach, so the driver pulled up at the entrance in Holborn near the New Turnstile, just under an alehouse lamp. Goldsmith was wondering if his obligation to Mrs. Abington's guest did not end here, when the light of the lamp showed the man to be wide awake, and he really seemed comparatively sober. It was only when he spoke that he showed himself, by the huskiness of his voice, to be very far from sober.

“Good Lord!” he cried, “how do I come to be here? Who the devil may you be, sirrah? Oh, I remember! You're the poet. She insulted me—grossly insulted me—turned me out of the tavern. And you insulted me, too, you rascal, coming with me in my coach, as if I was drunk, and needed you to look after me. Get out, you scoundrel, or I'll crack your skull for you. Can't you see that this is Gregory's Court?”

Goldsmith eyed the ruffian for a moment. He was debating if it might not be better to spring upon him, and make at least a straightforward attempt to obtain the wallet. The result of his moment's consideration of the question was to cause him to turn away from the fellow and open the door. He was in the act of telling the driver that he would take the coach on to the Temple, when Jackson stepped out, shaking the vehicle on its leathern straps, and staggered a few yards in the direction of the turnstile. At the same instant a man hastily emerged from the entrance to the court, almost coming in collision with Jackson.

“You cursed, clumsy lout!” shouted the latter, swinging, half-way round as the man passed. In a second the stranger stopped, and faced the other.

“You low ruffian!” he said. “You cheated me last night, and left me to sleep in the fields; but my money came to me to-day, and I've been waiting for you. Take that, you scoundrel—and that—and that——”

He struck Jackson a blow to right and left, and then one straight on the forehead, which felled him to the ground. He gave the man a kick when he fell, and then turned about and ran, for the watchman was coming up the street, and half a dozen of the passers-by gave an alarm.

Goldsmith shouted out, “Follow him—follow the murderer!” pointing wildly in the direction taken by the stranger.

In another instant he was leaning over the prostrate man, and making a pretence to feel his heart. He tore open his waistcoat. Putting in his hand, he quickly abstracted the wallet, and bending right over the body in order to put his hand to the man's chest, he, with much more adroitness than was necessary—for outside the sickly gleam of the lamp all the street was in darkness—slipped the wallet into his other hand and then under his coat.

A few people had by this time been drawn to the spot by the alarm which had been given, and some inquired if the man were dead, and if he had been run through with a sword.

“It was a knock-down blow,” said Goldsmith, still leaning over the prostrate man; “and being a doctor, I can honestly say that no great harm has been done. The fellow is as drunk as if he had been soused in a beer barrel. A dash of water in his face will go far to bring about his recovery. Ah, he is recovering already.”

He had scarcely spoken before he felt himself thrown violently back, almost knocking down two of the bystanders, for the man had risen to a sitting posture, asking him, with an oath, as he flung him back, what he meant by choking him.

A roar of laughter came from the people in the street as Goldsmith picked up his hat and straightened his sword, saying—

“Gentlemen, I think that a man who is strong enough to treat his physician in that way has small need of his services. I thought the fellow might be seriously hurt, but I have changed my mind on that point recently; and so good-night. Souse him copiously with water should he relapse. By a casual savour of him I should say that he is not used to water.”

He re-entered the coach and told the driver to proceed to the Temple, and as rapidly as possible, for he was afraid that the man, on completely recovering from the effects of the blow that had stunned him, would miss his wallet and endeavour to overtake the coach. He was greatly relieved when he reached the lodge of his friend Ginger, the head porter, and he paid the driver with a liberality that called down upon him a torrent of thanks.

As he went up the stairs to his chambers he could scarcely refrain from cheering. In his hand he carried the leathern wallet, and he had no doubt that it contained the letters which he hoped to place in the hands of his dear Jessamy Bride, who, he felt, had alone understood him—had alone trusted him with the discharge of a knightly task.

He closed his oaken outer door and forced up the wick of the lamp in his room. With trembling fingers by the light of its rays he unclasped the wallet and extracted its contents. He devoured the pages with his eyes, and then both wallet and papers fell from his hands. He dropped into a chair with an exclamation of wonder and dismay. The papers which he had taken from the wallet were those which, following the instructions of Mrs. Abington, he had brought with him to the tavern, pretending that they were the act of the comedy which he had to read to the actress!

He remained for a long time in the chair into which he had fallen. He was utterly stupefied. Apart from the shock of his disappointment, the occurrence was so mysterious as to deprive him of the power of thought. He could only gaze blankly down at the empty wallet and the papers, covered with his own handwriting, which he had picked up from his own desk before starting for the tavern.

What did it all mean? How on earth had those papers found their way into the wallet?

Those were the questions which he had to face, but for which, after an hour's consideration, he failed to find an answer.

He recollected distinctly having seen the expression of suspicion come over the man's face when he saw Mrs. Abington sitting on the chair over which his cloak was hanging; and when she had returned to the table, Jackson had staggered to the cloak, and running his hand down the lining until he had found the pocket, furtively took from it the wallet, which he transferred to the pocket on the inner side of his waistcoat. He had had no time—at least, so Goldsmith thought—to put the sham act of the play into the wallet; and yet he felt that the man must have done so unseen by the others in the room, or how could the papers ever have been in the wallet?

Great heavens! The man must only have been shamming intoxication the greater part of the night! He must have had so wide an experience of the craft of men and the wiles of women as caused him to live in a condition of constant suspicion of both men and women. He had clearly suspected Mrs. Abington's invitation to supper, and had amused himself at the expense of the actress and her other guest. He had led them both on, and had fooled them to the top of his bent, just when they were fancying that they were entrapping him.

Goldsmith felt that, indeed, he at least had been a fool, and, as usual, he had attained the summit of his foolishness just when he fancied he was showing himself to be especially astute. He had chuckled over his shrewdness in placing himself in the hands of a woman to the intent that he might defeat the ends of the scoundrel who threatened Mary Horneck's happiness, but now it was Jackson who was chuckling-Jackson, who had doubtless been watching with amused interest the childish attempts made by Mrs. Abington to entrap him.

How glibly she had talked of entrapping him! She had even gone the length of quoting Shakespeare; she was one of those people who fancy that when they have quoted Shakespeare they have said the last word on any subject. But when the time came for her to cease talking and begin to act, she had failed. She had proved to him that he had been a fool to place himself in her hands, hoping she would be able to help him.

He laughed bitterly at his own folly. The consciousness of having failed would have been bitter enough by itself, but now to it was added the consciousness of having been laughed at by the man of whom he was trying to get the better.

What was there now left for him to do? Nothing except to go to Mary, and tell her that she had been wrong in entrusting her cause to him. She should have entrusted it to Colonel Gwyn, or some man who would have been ready to help her and capable of helping her—some man with a knowledge of men—some man of resource, not one who was a mere weaver of fictions, who was incapable of dealing with men except on paper. Nothing was left for him but to tell her this, and to see Colonel Gwyn achieve success where he had achieved only the most miserable of failures.

He felt that he was as foolish as a man who had built for himself a house of cards, and had hoped to dwell in it happily for the rest of his life, whereas the fabric had not survived the breath of the first breeze that had swept down upon it.

He felt that, after the example which he had just had of the diabolical cunning of the man with whom he had been contesting, it would be worse than useless for him to hope to be of any help to Mary Horneck. He had already wasted more than a week of valuable time. He could, at least, prevent any more being wasted by going to Mary and telling her how great a mistake she had made in being over-generous to him. She should never have made such a friend of him. Dr. Johnson had been right when he said that he, Oliver Goldsmith, had taken advantage of the gracious generosity of the girl and her family. He felt that it was his vanity that had led him to undertake on Mary's behalf a task for which he was utterly unsuited; and only the smallest consolation was allowed to him in the reflection that his awakening had come before it was too late. He had not been led away to confess to Mary all that was in his heart. She had been saved the unhappiness which that confession would bring to a nature so full of feeling as hers. And he had been saved the mortification of the thought that he had caused her pain.

The dawn was embroidering with its floss the early foliage of the trees of the Temple before he went to his bed-room, and another hour had passed before he fell asleep.

He did not awake until the clock had chimed the hour of ten, and he found that his man had already brought to the table at his bedside the letters which had come for him in the morning. He turned them over with but a languid amount of interest. There was a letter from Griffiths, the bookseller; another from Garrick, relative to the play which Goldsmith had promised him; a third, a fourth and a fifth were from men who begged the loan of varying sums for varying periods. The sixth was apparently, from its shape and bulk, a manuscript—one of the many which were submitted to him by men who called him their brother-poet. He turned it over, and perceived that it had not come through the post. That fact convinced him that it was a manuscript, most probably an epic poem, or perhaps a tragedy in verse, which the writer might think he could get accepted at Drury Lane by reason of his friendship with Garrick.

He let this parcel lie on the table until he had dressed, and only when at the point of sitting down to breakfast did he break the seals. The instant he had done so he gave a cry of surprise, for he found that the parcel contained a number of letters addressed in Mary Horneck's handwriting to a certain Captain Jackson at a house in the Devonshire village where she had been staying the previous summer.

On the topmost letter there was a scrap of paper, bearing a scrawl from Mrs. Abing ton—the spelling as well as the writing was hers—

“'Some Cupid kills with arrows, some with traps.' These are a few feathers pluckt from our hawke, hoping that they will be a feather in the capp of dear Dr. Goldsmith.”

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