It was with a feeling of deep satisfaction, such as he had never before known, that Goldsmith walked westward to Mrs. Horneck's house. All the exhilaration that he had experienced by watching the extraordinary exhibition of adroitness on the part of the fencingmaster remained with him. The exhibition had, of course, been a trifle bizarre. It had more than a suspicion of the art of the mountebank about it. For instance, Nicolo's pretence of being overmatched early in the contest—breathing hard and assuming a terrified expression—yielding his ground and allowing his opponent almost to run him through—could only be regarded as theatrical; while his tricks with the buttons and the letters, though amazing, were akin to the devices of a rope-dancer. But this fact did not prevent the whole scene from having an exhilarating effect upon Goldsmith, more especially as it represented his repayment of the debt which he owed to Jackson.

And now to this feeling was added that of the greatest joy of his life in having it in his power to remove from the sweetest girl in the world the terror which she believed to be hanging over her head. He felt that every step which he was taking westward was bringing him nearer to the realisation of his longing-his longing to see the white roses on Mary's cheeks change to red once more.

It was a disappointment to him to learn that Mary had gone down to Barton with the Bunburys. Her mother, who met him in the hall, told him this with a grave face as she brought him into a parlour.

“I think she expected you to call during the past ten days, Dr. Goldsmith,” said the lady. “I believe that she was more than a little disappointed that you could not find time to come to her.”

“Was she, indeed? Did she really expect me to call?” he asked. This fresh proof of the confidence which the Jessamy Bride reposed in him was very dear to him. She had not merely entrusted him with her enterprise on the chance of his being able to save her; she had had confidence in his ability to save her, and had looked for his coming to tell her of his success.

“She seemed very anxious to see you,” said Mrs. Horneck. “I fear, dear Dr. Goldsmith, that my poor child has something on her mind. That is her sister's idea also. And yet it is impossible that she should have any secret trouble; she has not been out of our sight since her visit to Devonshire last year. At that time she had, I believe, some silly, girlish fancy—my brother wrote to me that there had been in his neighbourhood a certain attractive man, an officer who had returned home with a wound received in the war with the American rebels. But surely she has got over that foolishness!”

“Ah, yes. You may take my word for it, madam, she has got over that foolishness,” said Goldsmith. “You may take my word for it that when she sees me the roses will return to her cheeks.”

“I do hope so,” said Mrs. Horneck. “Yes, you could always contrive to make her merry, Dr. Goldsmith. We have all missed you lately; we feared that that disgraceful letter in the Packet had affected you. That was why my son called upon you at your rooms. I hope he assured you that nothing it contained would interfere with our friendship.”

“That was very kind of you, my dear madam,” said he; “but I have seen Mary since that thing appeared.”

“To be sure you have. Did you not think that she looked very ill?”

“Very ill indeed, madam; but I am ready to give you my assurance that when I have been half an hour with her she will be on the way to recovery. You have not, I fear, much confidence in my skill as a doctor of medicine, and, to tell you the truth, whatever your confidence in this direction may amount to, it is a great deal more than what I myself have. Still, I think you will say something in my favour when you see Mary's condition begin to improve from the moment we have a little chat together.”

“That is wherein I have the amplest confidence in you, dear Dr. Goldsmith. Your chat with her will do more for her than all the medicine the most skilful of physicians could prescribe. It was a very inopportune time for her to fall sick.”

“I think that all sicknesses are inopportune. But why Mary's?”

“Well, I have good reason to believe, Dr. Goldsmith, that had she not steadfastly refused to see a certain gentleman who has been greatly attracted by her, I might now have some happy news to convey to you.”

“The gentleman's name is Colonel Gwyn, I think.”

He spoke in a low voice and after a long pause.

“Ah, you have guessed it, then? You have perceived that the gentleman was drawn toward her?” said the lady smiling.

“I have every reason to believe in his sincerity,” said Goldsmith. “And you think that if Mary had been as well as she usually has been, she would have listened to his proposals, madam?”

“Why should she not have done so, sir?” said Mrs. Horneck.

“Why not, indeed?”

“Colonel Gwyn would be a very suitable match for her,” said she. “He is, to be sure, several years her senior; that, however, is nothing.”

“You think so—you think that a disparity in age should mean nothing in such a case?” said Oliver, rather eagerly.

“How could any one be so narrowminded as to think otherwise?” cried Mrs. Horneck. “Whoever may think otherwise, sir, I certainly do not. I hope I am too good a mother, Dr. Goldsmith. Nay, sir, I could not stand between my daughter and happiness on such a pretext as a difference in years. After all, Colonel Gwyn is but a year or two over thirty—thirty-seven, I believe—but he does not look more than thirty-five.”

“No one more cordially agrees with you than myself on the point to which you give emphasis, madam,” said Goldsmith. “And you think that Mary will see Colonel Gwyn when she returns?”

“I hope so; and therefore I hope, dear sir, that you will exert yourself so that the bloom will be brought back to her cheeks,” said the lady. “That is your duty, Doctor; remember that, I pray. You are to bring back the bloom to her cheeks in order that Colonel Gwyn may be doubly attracted to her.”

“I understand—I understand.”

He spoke slowly, gravely.

“I knew you would help us,” said Mrs. Horneck, “and so I hope that you will lose no time in coming to us after Mary's return to-morrow. Your Jessamy Bride will, I trust, be a real bride before many days have passed.”

Yes, that was his duty: to help Mary to happiness. Not for him, not for him was the bloom to be brought again to her cheeks—not for him, but for another man. For him were the sleepless nights, the anxious days, the hours of thought—all the anxiety and all the danger resulting from facing an unscrupulous scoundrel. For another man was the joy of putting his lips upon the delicate bloom of her cheeks, the joy of taking her sweet form into his arms, of dwelling daily in her smiles, of being for evermore beside her, of feeling hourly the pride of so priceless a possession as her love.

That was his thought as he walked along the Strand with bent head; and yet, before he had reached the Crown and Anchor, he said—

“Even so; I am satisfied—I am satisfied.”

It chanced that Dr. Johnson was in the tavern with Steevens, and Goldsmith persuaded both to join his party. He was glad that he succeeded in doing so, for he had felt it was quite possible that Baretti might inquire of him respecting the object of Jackson's visit to Brick Court, and he could not well explain to the Italian the nature of the enterprise which he had so successfully carried out by the aid of Mrs. Abington. It was one thing to take Mrs. Abington into his confidence, and quite another to confide in Baretti. He was discriminating enough to be well aware of the fact that, while the secret was perfectly safe in the keeping of the actress, it would be by no means equally so if confided to Baretti, although some people might laugh at him for entertaining an opinion so contrary to that which was generally accepted by the world, Mrs. Abington being a woman and Baretti a man.

He had perceived long ago that Baretti was extremely anxious to learn all about Jackson—that he was wondering how he, Goldsmith, should have become mixed up in a matter which was apparently of imperial importance, for at the mention of the American rebels Baretti had opened his eyes. He was, therefore, glad that the talk at the table was so general as to prevent any allusion being made to the incidents of the day.

Dr. Johnson made Signor Nicolo acquainted with a few important facts regarding the use of the sword and the limitations of that weapon, which the Italian accepted with wonderful gravity; and when Goldsmith, on the conversation drifting into the question of patriotism and its trials, declared that a successful patriot was susceptible of being defined as a man who loved his country for the benefit of himself, Dr. Johnson roared out—

“Sir, that is very good. If Mr. Boswell were here—and indeed, sir, I am glad that he is not—he would say that your definition was so good as to make him certain you had stolen it from me.”

“Nay, sir, 'tis not so good as to have been stolen from you,” said Goldsmith.

“Sir,” said Dr. Johnson, “I did not say that it was good enough to have been stolen from me. I only said that it was good enough to make a very foolish person suppose that it was stolen from me. No sensible person, Dr. Goldsmith, would believe, first, that you would steal; secondly, that you would steal from me; thirdly, that I would give you a chance of stealing from me; and fourthly, that I would compose an apophthegm which when it comes to be closely examined is not so good after all. Now, sir, are you satisfied with the extent of my agreement with you?”

“Sir, I am more than satisfied,” said Goldsmith, while Nicolo, the cunning master of fence, sat by with a puzzled look on his saffron face. This was a kind of fencing of which he had had no previous experience.

After dining Goldsmith made the excuse of being required at the theatre, to leave his friends. He was anxious to return thanks to Mrs. Abington for managing so adroitly to accomplish in a moment all that he had hoped to do.

He found the lady not in the green room, but in her dressing room; her costume was not, however, the less fascinating, nor was her smile the less subtle as she gave him her hand to kiss. He knelt on one knee, holding her hand to his lips; he was too much overcome to be able to speak, and she knew it. She did not mind how long he held her hand; she was quite accustomed to such demonstrations, though few, she well knew, were of equal sincerity to those of Oliver Goldsmith's.

“Well, my poet,” she said at last, “have you need of my services to banish any more demons from the neighbourhood of your friends?”

“I was right,” he managed to say after another pause, “yes, I knew I was not mistaken in you, my dear lady.”

“Yes; you knew that I was equal to combat the wiles of the craftiest demon that ever undertook the slandering of a fair damsel,” said she. “Well, sir, you paid me a doubtful compliment—a more doubtful compliment than the fair damsel paid to you in asking you to be her champion. But you have not told me of your adventurous journey with our friend in the hackney coach.”

“Nay,” he cried, “it is you who have not yet told me by what means you became possessed of the letters which I wanted—by what magic you substituted for them the mock act of the comedy which I carried with me into the supper room.”

“Psha, sir!” said she, “'twas a simple matter, after all. I gathered from a remark the fellow made when laying his cloak across the chair, that he had the letters in one of the pockets of that same cloak. He gave me a hint that a certain Ned Cripps, who shares his lodging, is not to be trusted, so that he was obliged to carry about with him every document on which he places a value. Well, sir, my well known loyalty naturally received a great shock when he offered to drink to the American rebels, and you saw that I left the table hastily. A minute or so sufficed me to discover the wallet with the letters; but then I was at my wits' end to find something to occupy their place in the receptacle. Happily my eye caught the roll of your manuscript, which lay in your hat on the floor beneath the chair, and heigh! presto! the trick was played. I had a sufficient appreciation of dramatic incident to keep me hoping all the night that you would be able to get possession of the wallet, believing it contained the letters for which you were in search. Lord, sir! I tried to picture your face when you drew out your own papers.” The actress lay back on her couch and roared with laughter, Goldsmith joining in quite pleasantly.

“Ah!” he said; “I can fancy that I see at this moment the expression which my face wore at the time. But the sequel to the story is the most humourous. I succeeded last night in picking the fellow's pocket, but he paid me a visit this afternoon with the intent of recovering what he termed his property.”

“Oh, lud! Call you that humourous? How did you rid yourself of him?”

At the story of the fight which had taken place in Brick Court, Mrs. Abington laughed heartily after a few breathless moments.

“By my faith, sir!” she cried; “I would give ten guineas to have been there. But believe me, Dr. Goldsmith,” she added a moment afterwards, “you will live in great jeopardy so long as that fellow remains in the town.”

“Nay, my dear,” said he. “It was Baretti whom he threatened as he left my room—not I. He knows that I have now in my possession such documents as would hang him.”

“Why, is not that the very reason why he should make an attempt upon your life?” cried the actress. “He may try to kill Baretti on a point of sentiment, but assuredly he will do his best to slaughter you as a matter of business.”

“Faith, madam, since you put it that way I do believe that there is something in what you say,” said Goldsmith. “So I will e'en take a hackney-coach to the Temple and get the stalwart Ginger to escort me to the very door of my chambers.”

“Do so, sir. I am awaiting with great interest the part which you have yet to write for me in a comedy.”

“I swear to you that it will be the best part ever written by me, my dear friend. You have earned my everlasting gratitude.”

“Ah! was the lady so grateful as all that?” cried the actress, looking at him with one of those arch smiles of hers which even Sir Joshua Reynolds could not quite translate to show the next century what manner of woman was the first Lady Teazle, for the part of the capricious young wife of the elderly Sir Peter was woven around the fascinating country girl's smile of Mrs. Abington.

Share on Twitter Share on Facebook