It was too true. George the First was dead, George the Second had succeeded and with the change of government Gay hoped to obtain the "sinecure" which would have kept him in comfort to the end of his days. He was bitterly disappointed. The post bestowed upon him was a degradation.
"Say no more on that head," exclaimed Gay hastily, "I would forget that affront."
"But not forgive. We're all of us free to carry the battle into the enemy's camp and with the more vigour since you are fighting with us, John Gay. The 'Beggar's Opera'—'tis mainly the Dean's idea—the title alone is vastly fine—will give you all the chance in the world. Pray do not forget the Dean's verses he sent you 't'other day. They must be set to good music, though for my own part I know not one tune from another."
Snatching a sheet of paper from the table Pope, in his thin, piping voice, read with much gusto:—
"Through all the employments of life Each neighbour abuses his brother, Trull and rogue they call husband and wife, All professions be-rogue one another.
"The priest calls the lawyer a cheat, The lawyer be-knaves the divine, And the statesman because he's so great Thinks his trade as honest as mine."
"Aye; that should go home. Faith, I'd give my gold headed cane to see Sir Robert's face when he hears those lines," laughed the cheery physician. "Who will sing them, Mr. Gay?"
"I know not yet; we've settled upon very few things. Our good musician, Dr. Pepusch, is ready whenever I hand him the verses and the tunes to set them to. Why, I've not decided the names of the characters, and that let me tell you, doctor, is no easy matter. I call the first wench Peggy Peachum, but it doesn't please me. I——"
At that moment Pope caught sight of his man fidgetting first on one foot and then on the other.
"What d'ye want sirrah?" demanded the poet irritably.
"A young girl, sir, desires to see Mr. Gay. She couldn't tell me her business with him."
A roar of laughter was heard, in the midst of which Gay looked puzzled and a trifle foolish.
"Oh poor Gay, to think thy light damsels cannot let thee alone but must follow thee to my pure Eve-less abode," said Pope mockingly.
"Nay, 'tis nothing of the kind. You accuse me unjustly. I know no light o' love. To prove it your servant shall bring the girl here and you may see her for yourself. I've no love secrets."
"What if you had, man? No one would blame you. Not I for one. Get as much enjoyment as you can out of life, but not in excess. 'Tis excess that kills," said Arbuthnot laying his hand on Gay's.
There was a meaning in the contact which emphasised the doctor's words. Self indulgence was Gay's failing as all his friends knew.
"Well—well," rejoined Gay somewhat embarrassed. "Be it so, I—conduct the girl hither—have I your permission, Mr. Pope?"
"With all my heart—provided she's worth looking at."
"I know nothing of her looks. Quick, Stephen, your master and these gentlemen are impatient."
The man hastened away to the house and presently was seen crossing the lawn with Lavinia by his side.
"'Faith, you've good taste, Mr. Gay," said Arbuthnot with a chuckle. "A trim built wench, upon my word. And she knows how to walk. She hasn't the mincing gait of the city madams of the Exchange nor the flaunting strut of the dames of the Mall or the Piazza."
Gay made no reply. The girl's carriage and walk were indeed natural and there was something in both which was familiar to him. But he could not fix them. He would have to wait until the sheltering hood was raised and the face revealed.
This came about when Lavinia was a couple of yards or so from the man. Gay bent forward and rose slightly from his chair. An expression half startled, half puzzled stole over his face.
"Gad! Polly—or am I dreaming?"
"Lavinia sir," came the demure answer accompanied by a drooping of the long lashes and a low curtsey.
"Lavinia of course, but to me always Polly. Gentlemen, this is Miss Lavinia Fenton, the nightingale I once told you of."
"Aye," rejoined Pope, "I remember. She was flying wild in the fragrant groves of St. Giles and you limed her. Good. Now that she's here she must give us a sample of her powers. I pray that your nightingale, Mr. Gay, be not really a guinea fowl. Your good nature might easily make you imagine one to be the other."
"I protest. You are thinking of yourself. I'll swear you cannot tell the difference. You put all the music you have into your verse. I doubt if you could even whistle 'Lillibulero,' though there's not a snub nosed urchin in his Majesty's kingdom who can't bawl it."
"That may be, but I can neither whistle nor am I a snub-nosed urchin. I apologise for my defects," retorted the poet.
A general laugh followed at this and Gay, somewhat discomfited, turned to Lavinia.
"Now, Polly, what has brought you here, child? But looking at you I doubt if I ought to call you child. 'Tis months since I saw thee and I vow in that time you've become a young woman."
"I'm very sorry, sir. I could not help it," said Lavinia meekly.
"Help it! Faith, no! 'Tis very meritorious of you. But tell me. Has the admirable Miss Pinwell granted you a holiday, or is it your birthday and you've come for a present, or what?"
"Neither the one nor the other, sir. I—I rather think I've left school."
"Left school! And without apprising me who am, you know, in a way sponsor for you? But may be you've written the duchess?"
Lavinia shook her head and cast down her eyes.
"Left school," repeated Gay lifting his wig slightly and rubbing his temple. "Surely—surely you haven't misbehaved and have been expelled. Miss Pinwell I know is the perfection of prim propriety, but——"
"Quite true, sir, so she is," burst out Lavinia impetuously, "and I've done nothing wicked—not really wicked—only silly, but I'm sure Miss Pinwell wouldn't take me back. You see, sir, I—oh well, I suppose I must confess I ran away—I meant to return and nobody would have been the wiser—but things happened that I didn't expect and—and oh, I do hope you'll forgive me."
Lavinia's pleading voice quivered. Her eyes were fixed imploringly on Gay. Tears were glistening in them, the pose of her figure suggested a delightful penitence. The susceptible poet felt his emotions stirred.
"Forgive you? But you haven't told me what I am to forgive. You ran away from school you say. What made you? Had you quarrelled with anyone?"
"Oh no—not then—the quarrel was after I left the school."
"After—hang me if I understand. Whom did you quarrel with?"
"The—the person I—I ran away with."
Lavinia's confession was uttered in the softest of whispers. It was inaudible to anyone save Gay. Her face had suddenly become scarlet.
"The per—oh, there's a mystery here. Mr. Pope—gentlemen," Gay went on turning to the others, "will you excuse me if I draw apart with our young madam. She has propounded to me an enigma which must be solved."
"And if you fail—as you will if the enigma is a woman's—call us to thine aid," said Arbuthnot laughingly.
Gay shook his head and he and Lavinia paced the lawn.
"It's no use asking you to tell me everything, Polly, because you can't do it. Your sex never do. You're like spendthrifts who are asked to disclose all their debts. They always keep the heaviest one back. Tell me as much or as little as you please or nothing at all, if it likes you better."
Lavinia hesitated, and at first her tale was a halting one enough, but seeing no sign of anger in Gay's amiable countenance, she became more courageous, and substantially she said all that was necessary to make her companion acquainted with her list of peccadilloes.
"Zooks, my young miss," quoth Gay after the solace of a pinch of snuff. "It seemeth to me that you've begun to flutter your pinions sufficiently early. Two love affairs on your hands within twenty-four hours. Mighty fine, upon my word."
"Oh, but they are not love affairs," protested Lavinia. "I didn't love Mr. Dorrimore a bit. I never want to see him again. And as for Mr. Vane, never a word of love has passed between us."
"Bless your innocence. Are words the only signs of love? Permit me to inform you, Polly, that I look upon your love adventure with Lancelot Vane as a much more serious business than your elopement with a profligate fop."
"Indeed, it is serious, Mr. Gay. It's worse than serious—it's tragic. If you could see the wretched place poor Mr. Vane lives in, if you knew how he is wanting for food——"
"And drink—is he wanting for that too?" interposed Gay sarcastically.
Lavinia made no answer. She thought of Lancelot at the Chapter Coffee House the night before and her face clouded.
"I'll give you a word of advice, Polly. If you're going to be a nice woman and want to keep your peace of mind, never fall in love with a poet, a playwright or indeed any man who takes his pen in hand for a living."
"But, sir—aren't you a poet and don't you write plays?"
"Exactly, and that's why I'm warning you. Ex uno disce omnes, which you may like to know means, we're all tarred with the same brush."
"And do you drink too much, sir?" inquired Lavinia with an engaging simplicity.
"Gad, not oftener than I can help. But we were talking about falling in love and that has nothing to do with my drinking habits. About Mr. Vane's—well, that's a different matter. You haven't fallen in love with me and you have with a clever young man who's going as fast as he can to the deuce."
"I don't know, sir, whether you're laughing at me or telling me the truth, but—Mr. Vane risked his life for me."
"And to reward him you're thinking of trusting him with yours. A pretty guardian—a man who can't take care of his own!"
"Oh, you're wrong, Mr. Gay—indeed, you are. Mr. Vane is nothing to me. I'm only sorry for him."
"Of course—of course. That's the first step. You begin by being sorry for your sweetheart and you end by being sorry for yourself. Well—well, a woman must go her own way or she wouldn't be a woman. What have you there?"
Lavinia was holding out a parcel.
"'Tis a play, sir, that Mr. Vane has written."
"And why did he write it? Who asked him? Who wants plays?"
"I—I don't know," Lavinia stammered dismally. She felt her ardour was being damped. "Mr. Vane begged me to bring it to you, sir, and I couldn't refuse, could I? It was this way. I told him you were my friend—and you are, aren't you?—and he was overjoyed."
"Overjoyed? What in the name of Heaven about?"
"Mr. Vane thought that if I took the play to you and asked you to read it you would be sure to say you would."
"Mr. Vane had no business to think anything of the kind. Doesn't he know that nothing in this world can be taken for granted? I've committed the folly myself too often not to know that placing faith in other people is vanity and vexation."
"Yes, sir. But you'll read Mr. Vane's play all the same, won't you?"
"What a wheedling baggage it is," muttered Gay.
And he held the parcel and resisted the impulse to give it back to Lavinia and to tell her that he had neither time nor inclination to read other men's plays. His own play was sufficient for him at that moment.
"I'M FIXED ON POLLY PEACHUM"
Lavinia saw she had nearly conquered and cried:—"Let me untie the knot. I was sure you would not say no."
Gay was like wax in her hands. He permitted her to snatch the parcel and attack the knot. Between her deft fingers and pearly teeth she had the string off and the parcel open in a trice. She held the manuscript under Gay's nose. He could not help seeing the title, writ large as it was.
"Love's Blindness: A Tragedy in Five Acts. By Lancelot Vane," he read with a rueful look. "Mercy on me, Polly, you never told me it was a tragedy. Oh, this is very—very sad."
"But Mr. Gay, aren't all tragedies sad?"
"Oh, I confess some are comic enough in all conscience. But that was not in my mind. It was that any sane man should waste time in writing a tragedy. The worst thing about a tragedy is that the playwright's friends are pestered to read it and audiences tired by sitting it out. Aren't there tragedies enough in real life without men inventing 'em?"
"Indeed, I can't say, sir."
"I suppose not. You're not old enough. Tragedy doesn't come to the young and when it does they don't understand and perhaps 'tis as well. But I'll have to humour you or I shall never hear the last of it. Put the parcel up again and I'll look at the contents at my leisure. Now to a much more entertaining matter—yourself. Have you practised your singing? Have you attended to the instructions of your music master? I doubt it. I'll vow you've often driven the poor man half frantic with your airs and graces and teasing and that he hasn't had the heart to chide you."
"Oh, indeed he has," cried Lavinia, pouting, "though really I haven't given him cause and yet he was tiresome enough."
"I dare say. But you must let me hear. I want to be sure the good duchess hasn't thrown her money away. My friends, too, are curious to have a taste of your quality. I've told them much about thee. You mustn't put discredit upon me."
"No sir, I wouldn't be so ungrateful. What would you have me do?"
"I want to hear one of your old ballads such as showered pennies and shillings in your pocket when I've heard you sing in Clare Market and St. Giles High Street. But first let us go back to Mr. Pope and the others."
Lavinia looked a little frightened at the idea of singing before musical judges who doubtless were accustomed to listen to the great singers at the King's Theatre—Signor Senesino, Signor Farinalli, Signora Cuzzoni, Signora Faustina, and may be the accomplished English singer Anastasia Robinson, albeit she rarely sang in the theatre but mainly in the houses of her father's noble friends among whom was the Earl of Peterborough, her future husband.
Perhaps Gay saw her trepidation, for, said he laughingly:
"You needn't fear Mr. Pope. He hasn't the least idea what a tune is and won't know whether you sing well or ill. Dr. Arbuthnot sitting next him is the kindliest soul in the world, and will make excuses for you if you squawl as vilely as a cat on the tiles. As for Dr. Pepusch—ah, that's a different matter. Pepusch is an ugly man and you must do your best to lessen his ugliness. He's all in all to Mr. Rich when Rich condescends to let the fiddles and the flutes give the audience a little music. If you capture Pepusch you may help me."
"Oh, I'd do that gladly Mr. Gay. Tell me how," cried Lavinia eagerly.
"Softly—softly, 'tis all in the clouds at present. Pepusch must hear you sing. Then—but I dare not say more."
Lavinia surveyed the hard face and the double chin of the musical director disapprovingly.
"I don't take to him," said she. "Is he an Englishman?"
"No—he comes from Germany. Like King George and Queen Caroline."
"Some of the people in St. Giles I've heard call the Royal Family Hanoverian rats," she exclaimed indignantly, "and those German women who pocketted everything they could lay their hands upon—the 'Maypole' and the 'Elephant,' the one because she's so lean and the other because she's so fat—they're rats too. Fancy the King making them into an English duchess and countess. 'Tis monstrous. Why——"
"Hush—hush," interrupted Gay with mock solemnity and placing his finger on her lips. "You're talking treason within earshot of the 'Maypole,' otherwise her Grace the Duchess of Kendal. Don't you know that she is a neighbour of Mr. Pope? Kendal House on the road to Isleworth is but an easy walk from here."
"Then I'm sorry for Mr. Pope. I hate the Germans."
"Oh, then you're a Jacobite and a rebel. If you would retain your pretty head on your shoulders keep your treason to yourself," laughed Gay. "But I confess I like the Germans no more than you do. Yet there are exceptions. Pepusch has made his home here—his country turned him out—and there's clever Mr. Handel. The English know more about his music than do his countrymen. I would love to see you, Polly, applauded in the Duke's Theatre as heartily as was Mr. Handel's opera 'Rinaldo' at the King's."
Something significant in Gay's voice and face sent the blood rushing to Lavinia's cheeks.
"I applauded!—I at the Duke's! Oh, that will never be."
"May be not—may be not. But one never knows. A pretty face—a pretty voice—an air—faith, such gifts may work wonders. But let us keep Mr. Pope waiting no longer."
They approached the table beneath the cedar tree.
"Sir," said Gay with a bow to Pope, "I've prevailed upon my young madam here to give us a taste of her quality. I trust your twittering birds won't be provoked to rivalry. Happily their season of song is past."
"I warn you Mr. Gay, the age of miracles is not past. What if the work you're toiling at sends the present taste of the town into a summersault? Would not that be a miracle?"
"You think then that my 'Beggar's Opera' won't do," broke in Gay, his face losing a little of its colour.
"You know my views. It is something unlike anything ever written before—a leap in the dark. But for Miss's ditty. We're all attention."
"What shall I sing, sir?" Lavinia whispered to Gay.
"Anything you like, my child, so long as you acquit yourself to Dr. Pepusch's satisfaction."
"But I would love to have your choice too. What of 'My Lodging is on the Cold Ground?' My music master told me this was the song that made King Charles fall in love with Mistress Moll Davies. So I learned it."
"Odso. Of course you did. Then let old Pepusch look out. Nothing could be better. Aye, it is indeed a sweet tune."
Lavinia retired a few paces on to the lawn, dropped naturally into a simple pose and for a minute or two imagined herself back in the streets where she sang without effort and without any desire to create effect. She sang the pathetic old air—much better fitted to the words than the so-called Irish melody of a later date—with delightful artlessness.
"What think you, doctor?" whispered Gay to Pepusch. "Can you see her as Polly—not Peggy mind ye—I'm fixed on Polly Peachum."
"De girl ver goot voice has. But dat one song—it tell me noting. Can she Haendel sing?"
"That I know not, but I'll warrant she'll not be a dunce with Purcell. And you must admit, doctor, that your George Frederick Handel is much beholden to our Henry Purcell."
"Vat?" cried Pepusch a little angrily. "Nein—nein. Haendel the greatest composer of music in de vorld is."
"I grant you his genius but he comes after Purcell. Have you heard Purcell's setting of 'Arise, ye subterranean winds?' If not, I'll get Leveridge to sing it. Has not your Handel helped himself to that? Not note for note, but in style, in dignity, in expression? Ah, I have you there. But we mustn't quarrel. You must hear the girl again. Look 'ee here. Have we not agreed that 'Virgins are like the Fair Flower' in the first act shall be set to Purcell's 'What shall I do to show how much I love her?' I would have you play the air and Polly shall sing it."
"Sing dat air? But it most difficult is. It haf de trills—de appogiaturas. Has she dem been taught?"
"You will soon see. For myself I hold not with the Italian style and its eternal ornament and repetitions."
"Aha—ha Mistare Gay, I haf you now," chuckled Pepusch. "Your Purcell Engleesh is. He copy de Italian den."
"Oh, may be—may be in his own style," rejoined Gay hastily. "But here is my verse. Oblige me with the music."
During the discussion Gay had been turning over a pile of manuscript on the table. This manuscript was a rough draft of the "Beggar's Opera." Pepusch had before him the music of a number of tunes, most of them well known, selected by Gay and himself as suitable for the songs in the opera. Poet and musician had had repeated differences as to the choice of melodies but things had now fairly settled down.
Lavinia meanwhile was watching the proceedings with no little interest and with not less nervousness. She had heard the talk and saw quite well that she was about to be put to a severe test. She was to sing something she had never sung before and possibly written in a style with which she was unfamiliar. Gay approached her with a sheet of manuscript which he put into her hand.
"You did very well, child," said he encouragingly. "But I want you to do better. Dr. Pepusch will play the music for these verses on the harpsichord. You must listen closely to the melody and take particular note of the way he plays it. Then you will sing it. Here are the words and the music. Study them while the doctor plays."
Lavinia looked at both in something like dismay. The music being engraved was plainer than Gay's cramped handwriting. She knew she had imitative gifts and that most tunes she heard for the first time she could reproduce exactly. But that was for her own pleasure. She at such times abandoned herself to the power of music. But for the pleasure of others and to know that she was being criticised was a different matter. Already she felt distracted. Could she fix her attention on the music and think of nothing else?
There was no time for reflection. Dr. Pepusch had gone into the house and the thin but sweet tones of a harpsichord were floating through the open window. He was striking a few preliminary chords and indulging in an extemporised prelude. A pause, and then he commenced Purcell's song.
The plaintive melody with its well balanced phrasing took Lavinia's fancy, and absorbed in the music she forgot her audience. She saw how the words were wedded to the notes and watched where the trills and graces came in. Pepusch played the air right through; waited a minute or so and recommenced.
Lavinia began. She sang like one inspired. Her pure and limpid tones gave fresh charm to the melody. She never had had any difficulty with the trill, so flexible was her voice naturally, and the graces which Purcell had introduced after the fashion of the day were given with perfect ease. As the final cadence died away the little audience loudly applauded. Pepusch came out of the house and wagged his head as he crossed the lawn. His somewhat sour look had vanished. He went up to Lavinia and patted her shoulder.
"Dat vas goot, young laty—ver goot," he growled.
"What did I tell you doctor?" cried Gay exultantly. "Why, she can sing everything set down for Polly—I pray you don't forget it is to be Polly—Peachum. She is Polly Peachum. What do you think, Mr. Pope?"
"Polly Peachum by all means since you will have it so. If an author has a right to anything it is surely the right to name his offspring as he will. He need not even consult his wife—if he have one. But though you call your work an opera Mr. Gay, it is also a play. The songs are not everything—indeed, Mr. Rich would say they're nothing. Can the girl act?"
"She can be taught and I'll swear she'll prove an apt pupil. 'Twill, I fear, be many months before it is staged. Rich has not made up his mind. I hear Mr. Huddy who was dispossessed of the Duke's Theatre contemplates the New Theatre in the Haymarket. I must talk to him. He hasn't yet found his new company. An indifferent lot of strolling players I'm told was his old one. Polly probably won't have a singing part but that's of no great matter just now."
"You're bound to build castles in the air Mr. Gay," said Dr. Arbuthnot, taking his churchwarden from his lips. "Suppose you come down to terra firma for a brief space. The girl is a singer—that cannot be gainsaid. She may become an actress—good. But now—who is she? Her father—her mother——"
"They can hardly be said to exist," broke in Gay. "I will tell you the story later on. 'Twould but embarrass her to relate it now. The duchess has been good enough to charge herself with the cost of her keeping—her schooling and the rest."
"Oh, that alters the case. If she is a protegee of her grace I need not say more. Her future is provided for."
"Why, yes," but Gay spoke in anything but a confident tone. Inwardly he was troubled at what view Mat Prior's "Kitty" might take of Polly's escapade. The Duchess might be as wayward as she pleased, but it did not follow that she would excuse waywardness in another woman.
Gay turned to Pepusch and the two conversed for some little time, the upshot of the talk being that Pepusch promised, when the proper time came, to say to John Rich all he could in favour of Lavinia, always supposing she had acquired sufficient stage experience.
This settled, the poet drew near Lavinia who all this time was waiting and wondering what this new adventure of hers would end in.
"Now Polly, my dear," said Gay, "if you behave yourself and don't have any more love affairs——"
"But did I not tell you, sir, I'd had none," interrupted Lavinia.
"Yes—yes, I remember quite well. We won't go into the subject again or we shall never finish. The varieties and nice distinctions of love are endless. A much more pressing question is nearer to hand—where are you going to live?"
"Hannah, my mother's servant—a dear good kind creature—it was through her I was able to come here—will find me a lodging. I can trust her but—but——"
She stopped and much embarrassed, twisted her fingers nervously.
"I understand. You've but little money."
"I have none, sir, unfortunately."
"Well—well—never mind. Here's a guinea."
"Oh, you're too generous, sir. But I shall pay you back."
"Don't worry about that. Now go into the house. I will ask Mr. Pope to tell his housekeeper to give you a dish of tea or a cup of cocoa. Good-bye. You must let me know where you are living. I may have good news for you within a few days."
Lavinia between smiles and tears hurried off after curtseying to the gentlemen under the cedar tree and on her way across the lawn was met by the man-servant who took her to the housekeeper's room. The woman had heard the singing and was full of admiration. She wanted to hear more, she said, so while the tea was being got ready Lavinia sent her into thrills of delight by warbling the universal favourite "Cold and Raw."
After a time came the question of returning to London and how. Lavinia could have crossed the ferry and so to Richmond and Mortlake, but that would not help her on the journey unless Giles was going to market, which was hardly likely. Besides she did not wish to burden him. And then—there was Lancelot Vane.
Lancelot, she thought, must be anxious to know the result of her mission. That result was not so encouraging as she had hoped. True, Mr. Gay had the precious tragedy in his pocket and had promised to read it, but his opinion of dramatists generally and his hints concerning Lancelot Vane's weakness had considerably damped her ardour. In spite of this, she determined to get to London as quickly as possible and to hasten to Grub Street that same night.
"You can catch the Bath coach at Hounslow," said the housekeeper. "It's but just gone five and the coach be timed to stop at the 'George' at six, but it's late more often than not."
"And how far is it to Hounslow?"
"May be a couple o' miles or so, but it's a bit of a cross road—say two mile an' a half. Stephen'll put you in the right way."
"Oh thank you—thank you kindly," cried Lavinia. "But it will be giving Stephen a deal of trouble. I dare say I can find my way by myself."
"Oh, you may do that. I should think you were sharp enough, but there are no end of beggars and rapscallions of all sorts on the Bath road and some of 'em are bound to wander into the by-ways on the look out for what they can steal. No, Stephen must see you through the lonely parts."
"I WISH YOU GOOD NIGHT AND MORE SENSE"
Lavinia and her protector set out. Stephen was inclined to be garrulous and Lavinia had not much occasion to put in a word. He entertained her with choice bits of information, such as how he remembered when the coach ran between Bath and London only three times a week.
"But that was nigh twenty years ago. It were Mr. Baldwin as keeps a inn at Salthill as started to run 'em daily. The coach stops at the Belle Savage, Ludgate. Be that near where you want to go, miss?"
"Ludgate Hill? Oh, yes."
Hounslow in Stephen's opinion was getting to be quite a big place.
"When I was a boy it hadn't more'n a hundred houses—it's double or treble that now, but they're pretty well all inns an' ale houses an' mighty queer ones, some of em are. Hand in glove with highway robbers an' footpads. Not much good a-tryin' to catch a highwayman if he once gets to Hounslow. He's only got to run in one of the houses where's he known an' you might as well try to foller a fox as has darted into a drain. Some o' them ale houses an' boozin' kens has got passages a-runnin' one into the other."
"That's very terrible Mr. Stephen. You quite alarm me," cried Lavinia.
But she was not so alarmed as she would have been had she been brought up a fine lady. She had had highwaymen pointed out to her in Drury Lane and Dyott Street and knew that the majority were boasting, bragging fellows and cowards at heart. But there were others of a different quality who did their robberies with quite a gentlemanly air.
They took the way through Whitton Park. As the housekeeper said, the journey was cross-country so far as roads were concerned, but Stephen knew the short cuts and they reached the long, straggling, mean-looking Hounslow High Street—the future town was at that time little more than a street—at about a quarter to six.
They entered the "George"—a house of greater pretensions than the rest—and Lavinia found she was in plenty of time for the London coach.
"She'll be late," said the landlord. "A chap as just come in says he rode past her t'other side o' the heath an' she was stuck fast on a nasty bit o' boggy road and one o' the leaders—a jibber—wouldn't stir a step for whip or curses."
"That's bad," said Stephen. "Still it would ha' been far worse if some o' them High Toby gentry had stopped the coach."
"Aye," rejoined the landlord dropping his voice. "We had a fellow o' that sort in about half an hour ago. He was on a mare as wiry an' springy as could be, could clear a pike gate like a wild cat I'll bet. I didn't like the scoundrel's phizog and I'll swear he didn't want to know for naught what time the London coach passed the George. I wouldn't wonder if he was hanging about Smallbury Green at this 'ere very minute. But don't 'ee let the young leddy know this. She might be afeared, an' after all I may be wrong."
"The High Toby gen'elmen are gettin' monstrous darin'. I'm told as they've been stickin' up bills on the park gates of the Quality a-warnin' their lordships not to travel with less than ten guineas in their pocket an' a gold watch an' chain, on pain o' death. What think 'ee o' that for downright brazenness?"
Stephen could only raise his hands deprecatingly, but as Lavinia was drawing near him he made no reply.
"I've booked my seat," said she, "so please don't stay any longer. I'm quite safe now and all I have to do is to wait for the coach. Thank you kindly for coming with me."
"Ye're quite welcome, miss. I don't know as I can be of more sarvice, so I'll get back to Twitenham. I wish 'ee a pleasant journey to London."
Lavinia again thanked him, Stephen departed and Lavinia prepared herself to exercise what patience she possessed. And well she needed patience for it was past eight and quite dark before the coach appeared at little more than a walking pace. Then the horses had to be changed, the coachman roundly anathematising the sinning jibber as the brute was led in disgrace to the stables; the passengers descended to refresh themselves and so nearly another hour was wasted.
At last all was ready. Lavinia had booked an inside place and found that her only fellow passenger was a gouty old gentleman who had been taking the waters at Bath. The outside passengers were but few, a woman and a couple of men.
Hounslow was left behind and in due time they entered the road across Smallbury Green, beyond which was Brentford. The travelling was very bad and the coach on its leather hangings swung about in all directions. The conversation—if conversation it could be called—consisted of fragmentary ejaculations of mingled pain and annoyance from the old gentleman when his gouty foot was jerked against some part of the coach.
They had not passed over the Green when the clatter of a galloping horse was heard and almost immediately the coach was pulled up.
"Body o' me," cried the old gentleman in dismay. "What's happened?"
He had an answer in a very few seconds. A big pistol, its barrel gleaming in the moonlight, was thrust through the coach window and behind the pistol was a masked horseman.
"A thousand apologies for putting your lordship to such inconvenience," growled the highwayman with affected humility. "I'm sure your lordship has too much sense not to perceive the force of an argument which you will own is entirely on my side."
And he advanced the muzzle of the pistol a little nearer the head of the old gentleman and then came an unpleasant click.
"What d'ye want, you scoundrel?" stammered the victim.
"Nay, a little more politeness, if you please. I simply want your watch and chain, the rings on your fingers and any money you may chance to have about you—gold in preference. Permit me to add that if you don't turn out your pockets before I count ten I shall put a bullet in your skull first and do the searching myself afterwards."
This command, uttered in fierce threatening tones, brought the unlucky gentleman from Bath to book at once. Trembling, he turned out his pockets and a number of guineas fell beside him on the seat. The highwayman grabbed them at once.
"Your lordship is most generous and complaisant. Now for your trinkets. Quick! Time is of great importance."
All the valuables the old gentleman possessed were yielded and pocketted rapidly by the highwayman.
"Thanks, my lord, for a most agreeable interview. I trust your lordship will reach your journey's end without further mishap."
Then to Lavinia's terror the highwayman turned towards her. She shrank into her corner of the coach.
"Pray don't be alarmed, madam. I never rob women unless they tempt me very much. Some are so foolish as to wear all the gewgaws they possess. But you have more sense I see. Yet a diamond would vastly set off the whiteness of that pretty little hand. Your gallant must be very dull not to have ornamented your charming fingers."
In spite of the man's fair words Lavinia's terror was not diminished. His eyes glinted savagely through the holes of his mask and a mocking note in his raucous voice plainly sounded an insincerity. Apart from this there was something in his voice which was strangely, disagreeably familiar, but she was too agitated just then to try to trace the association.
The highwayman stared at her for some few seconds without speaking, then his coarse, wide lips, which the mask did not come low enough to conceal, parted in a grin showing big yellow, uneven teeth and an ugly gap in the lower jaw where two of the front teeth had once been.
"Adieu, madam. Let us hope we shall meet again under happier circumstances."
And wheeling round his horse he took off his hat with a sweeping bow. Then he set out at a gallop and did not draw rein until he reached the "Red Cow" at Hammersmith. Apparently he was well-known, for in response to his shout an ostler ran from the yard and at his imperious order took his horse to the stables. Then the highwayman strode into the bar parlour.
His mask, of course, was now removed, and the features were revealed of Captain Jeremy Rofflash.
Here he sat drinking until the rumble of the London coach was heard. Then he quitted the bar and went to the stable, where he remained during the stay of the coach which occupied some little time, for the story of the highway robbery had to be told.
No one about the inn was in the least surprised. Highwaymen haunted Hammersmith and Turnham Green, and had the landlord of the "Red Cow" chosen to open his mouth he might have thrown a little light upon the man who had stopped the Bath coach.
Once more the coach was on its way and following it went Captain Rofflash, dogging it to its destination at the Belle Savage. He watched Lavinia alight and wherever she went he went too. Could she have listened to what he was saying she would have heard the words:—
"By gad, it's the very wench. I'll swear 'tis. Perish me if this isn't the best day's work I've done for many a day. If I don't make Mr. Archibald Dorrimore fork out fifty guineas my name isn't Jeremy Rofflash."
Shortly after Lavinia set out on her way to Grub Street. Lancelot Vane was pacing Moor Fields—a depressing tract of land, the grass trodden down here and there into bare patches, thanks to the games of the London 'prentices and gambols of children—in company with Edmund Curll, the most scurrilous and audacious of writers and booksellers who looked upon standing on the pillory, which he had had to do more than once, more as a splendid form of advertisement than as a degradation.
"You can write what I want if you chose—no man better," he was saying. Vane was listening not altogether attentively. His thoughts were elsewhere.
"And supposing I don't choose."
"Then you'll be an arrant fool," sneered Curll angrily. "You're out at elbows. You haven't a penny to bless yourself with. You don't eat, but you can always drink provided you run across a friend who by chance has some money in his pocket. What'll be the end of it all? You'll go down—down among the dregs of Grub Street and you'll never rise again."
"Not so, Mr. Curll," cried Vane hotly. "I've great hopes. I've a tragedy——"
"A tragedy! That for your tragedy."
Curll snapped his fingers scornfully.
"Why, my young friend, supposing you get your tragedy staged, it will be played one night—if extraordinarily successful two nights, or three at the most. What do you think you will get out of it? Nothing. But perhaps you fancy yourself a Congreve or a Farquhar?"
"Neither Congreve nor Farquhar wrote tragedies, sir," retorted Vane stiffly.
"Indeed! What about Mr. Congreve's 'Mourning Bride?'"
"I prefer his comedies, sir."
"And so do I, but that's nothing to the point. May be you consider that you're equal to Mr. Otway or even Mr. Cibber, I leave Mr. Gay out of the count. He's written nothing that's likely to live and never will. He's too lazy."
"You dislike Mr. Gay, 'tis well known, because he's Mr. Pope's friend. I do not and that's my objection to writing for you. I doubt not you would ask me to attack the most talented men of the age simply because you hate them or you want to air some grievance."
"You're wrong. I do it to sell my books and put money in my pocket. If you write for me you won't be called upon to express your own opinions. All you have to do is to express mine and keep your body and soul together comfortably. You can't do that now and the two'll part company before long unless you alter. You were not so squeamish last night at the Chapter Coffee House."
"There was a reason for that. I was full of wine and hardly knew what I was saying."
"I'll warrant you didn't. That same wine, let me tell you, will be your undoing. Now that your head is clear you'd better think over my offer. It will at least provide you with a more decent coat and wig than those you're wearing. A young man should dress smartly. What's his life worth to him unless women look kindly upon him? Do you expect they care for a shabby gallant?"
Vane was silent. Some of Curll's words had gone home.
"I'll think it over," said he at last.
"That's right. Think over it and if you're in love, as you ought to be, ask your girl if I'm not right. Have a night's consideration and come and see me to-morrow. I wish you good-night and—more sense."
"A MAN SHOULD FIGHT HIS WAY THROUGH THE WORLD"
Vane left alone, strolled onward moodily, his eyes bent on the ground.
"In love, as I ought to be, said that scoundrel," he was muttering. "How does he know I'm not? But what's the good? Faith, I believe I'm the poorest devil in London and the unluckiest. Some people would say that it is my own fault and that I've no need to be. Anyhow, my worthy father would hold that view. I doubt if he'd kill the fatted calf if I went back to him.... Go back! I'd rather go to the devil to whose tender mercies he consigned me. Well, let it be so.... I've had some of the joys of life—though maybe I've also had a good slice of its disappointments.... It was worth being poor to have the pity of that dear delightful girl.... God, what eyes! How sweet the tones of her voice! I feel I love every hair of her pretty head. But to what purpose? She's not for me. She never could be. Yet—well I shall see her again. That's a joy to live for ... anyway. But it's too late to expect her now. There's nothing left but to dream of her."
While thus soliloquising, kicking the pebbles as an accompaniment to his thoughts, Vane neared the corner of Moor Fields leading to Cripples Gate and was pounced upon by a couple of noisy fellows, friends of his, who, newly sprung with wine, would have him go with them to the "Bear and Staff" close to the Gate.
"No—no," protested Vane, "I'm not in the mood."
"The very reason why you should drink," quoth one.
"But I've sworn not to touch a drop of anything stronger than coffee or chocolate for a week. I had too much port last night."
"Worse and worse. Hang it man, whatever you may have been at Oxford University you are no disputant now. Your resolution to be virtuous for a week won't last a day unless you strengthen it. And what strengthens the wit more than wine?"
"Get thee gone Satan. I'm not to be tempted by a paradox."
Vane did not speak with conviction. His spirits were low. Curll's offer was worrying him. To be in the service of such a man, whose personal character was as infamous as some of the books he published, was a humiliation. It meant the prostitution of his faculties. He shuddered at the prospect of becoming one of Curll's slaves to some of whom he paid a mere pittance and who were sunk so low they had no alternative but to do his bidding.
Meanwhile the second man had thrust his arm within Vane's and had led him along a few paces, when suddenly the imprisoned arm was withdrawn and Vane pulled himself up. He had caught sight of a Nithsdale cloak with the face he had been dreaming about all day peeping from beneath the hood.
"Jarvis—Compton—let me go," he exclaimed, "another time."
He violently wrenched himself free. They followed his eyes and instinctively guessed the reason of his objection. The figure in the cloak had turned but there was an unmistakeable suggestion of lingering in her attitude.
"Man alive," laughed Jarvis, "your argument's unanswerable. We give you best. Woman has conquered as she always does. Good luck."
Vane did not stay to listen to the banter of his friends but hastened towards the cloak.
"You're my good angel," he whispered holding out both his hands.
"I'm afraid I've come at a wrong moment. I'm taking you from your friends," said the girl in the cloak a little coldly.
"You're offended. Pray forgive me if I've done anything wrong."
"Not to me. Perhaps to yourself. But I ought not to say ... no, what you do is nothing to me."
"Do you really mean that?"
"Why not? You know it as well as I do—may be better."
"Indeed, I don't. Forgive me if I've allowed myself to think that I was of some interest to you. Of course I was foolish to have such fancies. Still, you've been so kind.... I hardly like to ask you if you have seen Mr. Gay ... and ... and ... my tragedy...."
Vane could not conceal his agitation. Lavinia took pity on him and her manner softened in that subtle inexplicable way which women have.
"Yes, I've seen him and I gave him your play."
"Ah, I can never thank you sufficiently. And what did he say?"
"He put the play in his pocket and promised to read it. He could not do any more, could he?" Lavinia quickly added seeing disappointment written in the young dramatist's face.
"No, indeed. But did he give hopes that he would speak to Mr. Rich at the Duke's Theatre or to Mr. Cibber at Drury Lane?"
"I don't think he did. I can't remember. He told me he was himself writing a play—an opera—but he was not sanguine he should get it performed."
"An opera? It is a waste of time. Operas are written by foreigners and the music and the singers are foreign too. What do the English care about operas written in their own tongue? It's not wonderful that Mr. Gay should be doubtful. Now a tragedy is a different thing. That's something everybody understands!"
"Do they? I fear then I'm very stupid. I saw a tragedy once and I'm not sure I knew what it was about. The people on the stage made such long speeches to each other they tired me to death. But I'm sure yours would not be like that."
"Ah, you say that because you want to put me in good heart. We'll talk no more about it, nor about myself either."
"Oh, but I do want to talk about you. I've something to say and I don't know how to say it without hurting you," said Lavinia, hesitatingly.
"You don't mean you're going to bid me good-bye?" he burst out. "I won't say that. You're the only one I've ever met who's encouraged me out of pure good nature. When I've had money to spend on them, friends have sought me out fawning and flattering. After they'd emptied my purse they vanished."
"Yes, yes, and that's why I want to talk to you. Aren't you easily led to take too much wine?"
"Perhaps—perhaps, but no more than other men."
"I hope so, at least not more than the men I saw you with last night."
"You saw me! Where?"
"In a coffee house near St. Paul's. The man who left you a few minutes ago was making you drink and the others were helping him. Your glass was never empty save when you yourself had emptied it. I don't like that white-faced squinting man. His voice is horrid. His vulgar talk—oh, it made me put my fingers to my ears and run out of the house. He doesn't mean you well."
"I—I like him no more than you," stammered Vane. "But he wants me to write for him. It would put money in my pocket. How could I refuse to drink with him?"
"Why not? He would not employ you if he did not think it was to his own good. And have you promised?"
"No—not yet. He was persuading me just now but I've not consented."
"Then don't. He's a bad, a wicked man I feel sure. Have nothing to do with him."
"I swear to you I've no desire. But a penniless scribbler has no choice if he has to live—that is if life be worth living, which I sometimes doubt."
"You shouldn't think like that. It's cowardly. A man should fight his way through the world. Now a woman...."
"She's armed better than a man. Her charm—her beauty—her wit. Nature bestows on her all conquering weapons."
"Which she as often as not misuses and turns against herself. But Mr. Vane," the note of bitterness had vanished; her voice was now earnest, almost grave, "you weren't despondent when you were facing an angry mob after doing me a service I shall never forget. You underrate yourself."
"Oh, I admit that when alone I'm like a boat at the mercy of wind and wave, but with some one to inspire—to guide—bah, 'tis useless talking of the unattainable."
Vane uttered the last words in a reckless tone and with a shrug of the shoulders. His eyes gazed yearningly, despairingly into hers, and there had never been a time in Lavinia's life when she was less able to withstand a wave of heartfelt emotion.
Her nerves at that moment were terribly unstrung. She had had a most exhausting day lasting from early dawn. The strain of the trying interview at Twickenham; the anxious ordeal of singing before such supreme judges as she deemed them; the jubilation of success and the praise they had bestowed upon her, and Gay's promises as to her future had turned her brain for the time being. Then the episode of the highwayman—that in itself was sufficiently disturbing.
As a matter of fact the girl's strength was ebbing fast when she reached Moor Fields, but she nerved herself to go on, confident of her reward in relieving the young author's anxiety and his joy at the success—up to a point—of her errand. Things had not quite turned out as she had pictured them. The sight of the coarse speeched, malevolent-looking man with his squinting eye and unhealthy complexion, brought back the scene of the night before which she would willingly have forgotten, and down went her spirits to zero.
While she had been talking with Vane her heart was fluttering strangely. She had eaten nothing since she had left Twickenham and she was conscious of a weakness, of a trembling of the limbs. That passionate, yearning look in Vane's eyes had aroused an excess of tenderness towards him which overwhelmed her. She suddenly turned dizzy. She swooned.
When consciousness came back she was in his arms. He was as tremulous as she and was looking at her pallid face with eyes of terror—a terror which disappeared instantly when he saw life returning.
"My God," he cried, "I thought you were dead. I'd have killed myself had it been so."
Lavinia gazed at him mutely. It was pleasant to have his arms round her, and the feel of them gave her a sense of peace and rest. In her fancy she had gone through an interminable period of oblivion—in reality it was but a few seconds—and the struggle into life was painful. But she was strengthened by his vitality and she gently withdrew herself from his embrace, smoothed her hair and drew forward her hood which had fallen back. Despite her pallor, or may be because of it, she never looked more fascinating than at that moment with her hair tumbled, her large dreamy eyes, and the delicious languor so charmingly suggestive of helplessness, and of an appeal to him for protection.
"Are you better?" he whispered anxiously.
"Yes, thank you. It was very silly to faint. I don't know what made me."
"Take my arm; do, please. Why, you can hardly stand."
It was true, and the arm which went round her waist was not wholly unnecessary. She submitted without protest and they slowly walked a few paces.
"Though it's hard to part from you 'tis best you should get home quickly. Have you far to go? Shall I call a coach?"
These pertinent questions threw the girl into a sudden state of confusion. She had no home. She had but little money, for Gay's guinea was nearly gone after she had paid her fare from Hounslow and the incidental expenses of the journey. But she dared not say as much to her companion. He thought her a fine lady. It might be wise to keep him in this mind. If he knew she was as poor as he, there would be an end to the pleasure of helping him. She felt sure he would accept nothing more from her.
What was she to say? She could think of nothing. She felt bewildered. At the same time the effort to face the difficulty did her good. It revived her energy.
"Indeed there's no necessity for me to ride. I can walk quite well and it is but a little distance to my home. You may see me across the fields if you will and then we will say good-night."
"I'd better walk with you beyond the fields," he urged. "The streets are just as dangerous for you as this desolate place."
"Oh no. There are sure to be plenty of people about! You shall go as far as Cheapside, but not a step further."
Vane accepted the compromise, but when Cheapside was reached it was full of a noisy throng and most of the crowd, both men and women, were the worse for drink. He easily overcame her protest that she could proceed alone and they went on to St. Paul's. Here it was comparatively quiet, and she flatly refused to permit him to accompany her beyond the Cathedral.
They passed the Chapter coffee house. Lavinia's thoughts reverted to her warning to Vane on Moor Fields.
"You've not given me your promise to have nothing to do with that man—I don't know his name and I don't want to—who made you drink too much last night in there."
"I'll promise you anything," he cried pressing the arm which was within his.
"Thank you, but that's not all. Swear that you will never drink too much again. It makes me sad."
"On my honour I never will. I'd rather die than hurt you by word or deed."
"Are you sure?" she returned with more concern in her voice than she suspected.
"Sure? If I don't keep my word I should fear to face your anger."
"I shouldn't be angry, only sorry."
"I'd rather have your anger than your pity. I might pacify the first but the second—while you are pitying me you might also despise me. I could never endure that."
His voice trembled with genuine emotion. Lavinia put out her hand and he caught it eagerly and raised it to his lips.
"You've made me happy," he cried, "you've given me fresh hope. I'll promise you all you've asked. You must promise me one thing in return. I can't lose sight of you. It would be eternal torment. When and where shall we meet?"
"I don't know. Perhaps not at all," said Lavinia slowly and lowering her eyes.
"Don't say that. I've told you why. Not at my miserable lodgings, I grant you, but at some other place. What say you to Rosamond's Pond?"
Lavinia darted him a swift glance. The ghost of a smile played about her lips.
"The Lovers' Walk of London! Oh, no."
"But indeed yes. What have you to say against Rosamond's Pond? Its reputation justifies its romance."
"Neither its reputation nor its romance has anything to do with us."
"That is as it may be," he rejoined with an ardent glance. "But you haven't said no. Rosamond's Pond then to-morrow at sunset—seven o'clock?"
Lavinia was too exhausted in mind and body either to refuse or even to argue. She felt as she had felt many a time in her childhood that she was simply a waif and stray. Nothing mattered very much. It was easier to consent than to object.
"To-morrow at sunset," she faltered.
"It's a bargain," he whispered. "You won't disappoint me?"
"Haven't I given you my word? What more do you want?"
She held out her hand and he pressed it between both his, his eyes fixed earnestly on her face.
"I don't like leaving you," he pleaded. "You're pale. Your hand's cold. You look as if you might faint again. Please ..."
"No—no—no," exclaimed Lavinia vehemently. "We must part here. Good-night."
Vane was loth to let her hand go but she snatched it away and ran off, turning her head and throwing him a smile over her shoulder—a picture of natural grace and charming womanly wile and tenderness which dwelt in his memory for many a long day.
Vane stood watching the fleeting figure until it vanished in the obscurity of Ludgate Hill and then with a deep sigh turned towards Cheapside.
"That settles it. I won't write a line for that rascal Curll. I've promised my divinity and by God, I'll keep my promise."
But the next instant came the dismal reflection that apart from Curll he hadn't the slightest notion where his next shilling was to come from.
"Tush! I won't think of the dolefuls," he muttered. "'Tis an insult to the loveliest—the kindest—the warmest hearted—the ..."
He suddenly ceased his panegyric and wheeled round swiftly, his hand on the hilt of his sword.
Absorbed though he had been in his thoughts of Lavinia, in some sub-conscious way the sound of footsteps behind him keeping pace with his own reached his ear. It was no unusual thing for foot passengers to be set upon and Vane was on the alert. His suspicions were confirmed by the sight of a man cloaked and with his slouch hat pulled over his forehead gliding into a narrow passage leading into Paternoster Row.
"Just as well, my friend, you've taken to your heels. I've nothing to lose and you'd have nothing to gain, save may be a sword thrust."
Congratulating himself on his escape from what might have been an ugly encounter, Vane plodded back to Grub Street. He lingered in front of a Cripples' Gate tavern where he knew he should find some of his friends, but he thought of Lavinia's words and he resisted temptation. That night he did that which with him was a rarity—he went to bed sober.
He had forgotten the cloaked man whom he had taken for an ordinary footpad. The fellow must have altered his mind if his intention was to follow Vane. No sooner was the latter past the passage than he darted back into St. Paul's Churchyard and hastened westward. He overtook Lavinia just as she was turning into the Old Bailey and cautiously followed her.
"THEY'RE TO MEET AT ROSAMOND'S POND"
A masquerade was in full swing at a mansion in Leicester Square. The air of the ball-room was hot and stuffy. Ventilation was a thing of little account. The light, albeit there were a hundred candles or so in the sconces, on the panelled walls, and in the chandelier hanging from the decorated ceiling, and despite the assiduous snuffing by the servants, was dim. The subdued illumination was not without its advantage. It was merciful to the painted faces and softened the crudity of their raw colouring. A mixture of odours offended the nostrils. Powder came off in clouds, not only from the hair of the belles but also from the wigs of the beaux. Its peculiar scent mingled with a dozen varieties of the strong perfumes in vogue, and the combination was punctuated by a dash of oil from a smoky lamp or two in the vestibule and an occasional waft of burnt tallow and pitch from the torches of the link boys outside.
The masquerade was public and the company was mixed. The establishment provided punch, strong waters and cordials and some of the visitors had indulged themselves without scruple. The effect was seen in the cheeks of matrons and damsels where they were not daubed. It added brilliancy to many an eye—it gave a piquancy and freedom to talk, greatly appreciated by the gallants. As for the dancing, in that crowded room owing to the space monopolised by the prodigious hoops and the general exhilaration, the stately minuet and sarabande were out of the question, and the jig and country dance were much more in favour.
In a side room cards and dicing were going on and the gamblers were not to be drawn from the tables while they had money in their pockets. Most of them were women, and when the grey dawn came stealing between the curtains of the long narrow windows, overpowering the candlelight and turning it of a pale sickly yellow, the players were still seated, with feverish hands, haggard faces and hawk-like eyes, pursuing their race after excitement. A silence had come over the party. The play was high and the gamesters too absorbed to note anything but the game. From the ball-room came the sound of violin, flute and harpsichord, shrieks of shrill laughter, oaths from drunken wranglers and the continual thump of feet.
Then the servants brought in coffee, extinguished the candles and drew back the curtains.
"Good lord, we're more like a party of painted corpses than creatures of flesh and blood," cried a lady with excessively rouged cheeks, bright bird-like eyes and a long, thin hooked nose. "I declare positively I'll play no more. Besides the luck's all one way, but 'tis not my fault. I don't want to win every time."
"How generous—how thoughtful of your ladyship," sarcastically remarked a handsome woman on the other side of the table.
"What do you mean, madam?" fiercely inquired the first speaker who was now standing.
"Oh, nothing madam," was the retort accompanied by a curtsey of mock humility. "Everybody knows Lady Anastasia's pleasant way of drawing off when she has won and the luck's beginning to turn against her."
"I despise your insinuations madam," loftily replied Lady Anastasia, her face where it was not rouged turning the colour of putty. "So common a creature as Mistress Salisbury—I prefer not to soil my lips by addressing you as Sally Salisbury—I think that is the name by which you are best known among the Cheapside 'prentices and my lord's lackeys—ought to feel vastly honoured by being permitted to sit at the same table with a woman of my rank."
"Your rank? Indeed, you're quite right. It is rank. Foh!"
The handsome face was expressive of contemptuous abhorrence and her gesture emphasised the expression. Lady Anastasia was goaded to fury.
"Why, you impudent, brazen-faced Drury Lane trull! A month at Bridewell would do you good, you——"
Her ladyship's vocabulary of abuse was pretty extensive but it was cut short. A dice box with the ivories inside flew across the table hurled with the full strength of a vigorous shapely arm. This was Sally Salisbury's retort. A corner of a dice cut the lady's lip and a drop of blood trickled on to her chin.
Beyond herself with rage, Lady Anastasia seized a wine glass—a somewhat dangerous projectile, for the wine glasses of the time were large and thick and heavy—and would have dashed it at her antagonist but one of the players, a man, grasped her wrist and held it.
"Let her ladyship have her chance. She's entitled to it. A duel at a masquerade between two women of fashion! Why, it'll be the talk of the town for a whole week," and Sally Salisbury laughed derisively.
But so vulgar a fracas was not to the taste of Lady Anastasia's friends, besides which the attendants were alarmed and ran to prevent further disturbance. They abstained, however, from interfering with Sally Salisbury. Her ungovernable temper and her fear of nothing were well known. If she once let herself go there was no telling where she would stop. At this moment, however, her temper was under perfect control and indeed she was rather enjoying herself.
She rose, pushed away her chair with a backward kick to give room for her ample hoops, and curtseying low to the company marched out of the room without so much as a glance at her rival who was on the verge of hysterics.
Mistress Salisbury entered the ball-room, now tenanted by the dregs of the company most of them more or less stupefied or excited, according to their temperaments, by drink. In one corner was a young man whose richly embroidered silk coat of a pale lavender was streaked with wine, whose ruffles were torn and whose wig was awry. To him was talking in a thick growling bass a man arrayed in a costume hardly befitting a ball-room, unless indeed he wore it as a fancy dress. But his evil face, dark, dirty, and inflamed by deep potations, the line of an old scar extending from the corner of his mouth almost to his ear showing white against the purple of his bloated cheek forbade this supposition.
Captain Jeremy Rofflash in point of fact was very drunk. He had for the last three or four hours been industriously engaged in getting rid of some of the guineas of the old gentleman from Bath, in a boozing ken in Whitefriars. Seasoned toper as he was he could carry his liquor without it interfering with his head. About the effect on his legs he was not quite so sure and at that moment his body was swaying ominously, but thanks to his clutching a high backed chair he maintained his equilibrium fairly well.
"Idiot," snarled the young gentleman whose temper inebriation had soured, "why the devil didn't you come here earlier? The coup might have been brought off to-night. Gad, I want rousing. I'm just in the mood, and the sight of that pretty, saucy, baggage—oh, you're a damned fool, Rofflash!"
"If Mr. Dorrimore will condescend to await my explanation," swaggered Rofflash with drunken dignity, "he will admit that I've done nothing foolish—nothing not permissible to a man of honour."
"Devil take your honour."
"Granted sir. The subject is not under discussion at the present moment. Now, sir, what happened? As I've already informed you, I came across the young poppinjay and the girl sweethearting on Moor Fields. She was in his arms...."
"In his arms! S'death! I'll run the impudent upstart through for that. The girl's mine, by God. Where's the fellow to be found?"
"All in good time, sir. Have a little patience. Aye, she was in his arms but it's only fair to say that she had gone into a swoon."
"A swoon? What the devil made her swoon? She's never swooned in my arms and I've clipped her close enough. She giggled and tittered I grant you, but never the ghost of a swoon."
"There's no rule for the mad humour of a woman, as you must know, Mr. Dorrimore."
"But swooning—that's a sign she was in earnest. She was never in earnest with me—just a hoyden asking to be won."
"I crave your honour's pardon. The girl was in earnest enough when she smashed your carriage window with the heel of her shoe and leaped out like a young filly clearing a five barred gate."
"Pest! Don't remind me of that. It makes me sick when I think how I was fooled and that you were such an ass as to let her slip."
"Sir, I did my best and but for the spark who had the impudence to thrust his nose into what didn't concern him, I'd have had her safe. But I've made amends. I've run her to earth."
"Satan's helped you then. Where is she?"
"At her mother's house in the Old Bailey."
"That's a lie."
"I tell you it's a lie. Her mother visited me at my chambers yesterday. She'd got the story pat of Lavinia's running away with me from school and all the rest of it. The old woman's not much better than Mother Needham. Faith, she's a shade worse. She agreed to let me have the girl for fifty guineas. She'd got the chit locked up she said. I went to her Old Bailey hovel to-day—gad, I've got the smell of the cooked meats and boiled greens in my nostrils at this minute—and damn it, she said the girl had run away. And now you tell me she's there."
"I do, sir. With these eyes which I flatter myself don't often mistake when they rest on a well turned ankle, a trim waist and a pretty face. I swear I saw her go into the house."
"Ecod, I suppose I must believe you," rejoined Dorrimore sullenly. "But what do you make of it all? Did the old woman lie?"
"Without a doubt she did. If she's of Mother Needham's tribe she can lie like truth. Lies are half of the trade and the other half is to squeeze the cull of as much gold as he can be fooled out of. Can't you see sir, that her trick is to spring her price? I'll wager her fifty guineas has swollen to a hundred when next you see her. With traffickers in virgins the price grows as rapidly as Jonah's gourd."
"Aye, it may be so. Well, what then? Have you got a plan?"
Captain Jeremy Rofflash placed a dirty forefinger by the side of his nose, slowly closed one eye and a greasy smile widened his thick, red moist lips.
"Have I a plan, sir? Trust Jeremy Rofflash for that. By God, sir, I'll swear there's no man in the world readier with a plan when its wanted. Look ye here, Mr. Dorrimore, I've the whole thing cut and dried in the hollow of my hand. To come to the point. The old harridan means to fleece you. I don't. Damme sir, I'm a man of my word. For a hundred guineas I'll let you into a secret and if I fail I won't ask you for a stiver. Is that fair or isn't it?"
"I'll swear you're no better than Mother Fenton, but I'd rather deal with a man than a woman. Done with you for a hundred. Say on."
"It's just this. I was within earshot when the loving pair were in Paul's Churchyard. They're to meet at Rosamond's Pond to-morrow evening at seven. Now what's to prevent you being beforehand with the spark? The park's lonely enough for our purpose and you have but to have your coach ready and a man or two. A gag whipped over her mouth and we'll have her inside the coach within a second and not a soul be the wiser."
"Sounds mighty well, faith. But will she come? What of her mother? Will the woman trust her out of sight?"
"I'll back a wench against her dam for a thousand guineas if she's set her heart on a man. Odds bodikins, if she comes not you won't lose. I shall and it'll be the devil's own bad luck. No have, no pay. D'ye see that my young squire?"
Dorrimore could offer no contradiction. All that remained to be discussed was what would follow supposing fortune favoured them, and they subsided into a whispered conference which was after a time interrupted by some of Dorrimore's boon companions, who carried him off to a wild revelry in the Covent Garden taverns with the last hour at the "Finish," the tavern of ill-repute on the south side of the market.
Rofflash would have accompanied the party but that a hand was laid on his arm and a masked lady whispered:—
"One moment, captain, I want you."
He turned. He recognised the speaker by the lower part of her face, the round, somewhat prominent chin, the imperious mouth with its sensual lower lip, the bold sweeping contour from the chin to the ear.
"Sally Salisbury—the devil!" he ejaculated.
"Not quite, but a near relative may be," rejoined Sally with a sarcastic laugh. "Who's the spark you're so thick with?"
"The fool who's mad to get hold of the prettiest wench in town—Lavinia Fenton."
"That little trollop! I hate the creature. But there's no need to talk of her. What of the man I paid you to track? Have you found him?"
Rofflash watched her face, what he could see of it, for she had not unmasked, and noted the slight quiver of the lips and the rise and fall of her bosom.
"Faith mistress," he chuckled with a drunken leer, "if you're not as crazy over the beggarly scribbler as my young gallant is over the Fenton girl who lives in the Old Bailey—at a coffee house, forsooth! Why, to see the pother you're in one would think the hussy had put your nose out of joint. Perhaps she has. She's fetching enough."
Sally seized the captain's arm with a vigorous grip that showed the intensity of her feelings. He winced and muttered an oath.
"S'life," he burst out, "save your nails for the girl who's cut you out with the scribbler."
"She? You lie. What has he to do with the minx?"
"As much as he need have to start with. Didn't he help her to escape from Dorrimore's arms when the fool thought he had her safe?"
"What!" screamed Sally, "Was he the man?"
"Aye. I've not yet plucked the crow between him and me for that, but by gad, I mean to pluck it."
"It won't be by fair means then. You're too much of a coward. See here, you devil. Lance Vane's mine, and if you dare so much as to lay a finger on him you will know what I can do. There's but one road for gentry of your profession—the road to Tyburn—and you'll take it if you cross me. It'll be as easy as that."
She dealt the braggart a blow across the nose and eyes with her closed fan. The sticks snapped and in a white heat of passion she broke them again and again and flung the fragments in the discomfited captain's face.
Her fury and his smarting nose somewhat sobered Rofflash. He knew well enough that when Sally was in her cups she was capable of any deed of violence. Years after, indeed, her temper led to her undoing when inflamed by drink and jealousy she stabbed the Honourable John Finch at "The Three Tuns" in Chandos Street.
Rofflash hastened to mollify the enraged beauty, and did so effectually when he suggested a plan by which she could mortify her rival.
Sally heard him almost silently. Jeremy's plan was so much to her taste that in a measure she was able to control herself, though her arms, rigid by her sides, and her tightly clenched hands showed that her nerves were still unstrung.
"You see, mistress, you did me an injustice," growled Rofflash. "I have worked for you, aye and right well. What do I get for doing it?"
"You shall have all the coin that old miser Mountchance gives me for your next haul of trinkets. I won't touch a farthing for my trouble."
Rofflash stipulated for money down.
"You won't get a stiver," retorted Sally. "I'm as cleaned out as a gutted herring. That cheating cat Anastasia bagged every shilling I had."
Rofflash had no reason to doubt Sally's word. He knew the phenomenal luck which attended Lady Anastasia's play and he had to be contented with promises.
Thus they parted.
"THERE ARE SO MANY WAYS OF MAKING LOVE"
Rofflash was right. He had seen Lavinia enter the Old Bailey coffee house. Hannah was sitting up expecting her—she had arranged as much with Lavinia—and she became terribly uneasy when midnight sounded from half a dozen church clocks and the girl still absent.
Hannah's bedroom overlooked the Old Bailey and now and again she leaned out of the window, her eyes towards Ludgate Hill. Lavinia was bound to come in this direction. Sure enough about half-past twelve Hannah caught sight of a cloaked figure stealing along in the centre of the roadway. It was the safest way; the overhanging storeys and the sunk doorways offered lurking places for ill-conditioned fellows on the scent for mischief. Hannah indeed caught sight of a man in the deep shadow of the houses who looked very much as if he were following Lavinia, and she raced softly down to the shop, opened the door and beckoned the girl to hasten.
"Merciful Heaven, what a fright you've put me in to be sure," she whispered, throwing her arms about Lavinia. "Come in you truant. Lord, I do believe you was born to plague me out of my seven senses. You look tired to death. What have you been a-doing of? But don't worry to tell me now. You must eat something first. Why, you're all of a tremble. Was you frightened of that rascal as was dogging you?"
"Was there one? I didn't know it."
"One? I wonder there wasn't a dozen. A pretty young thing like you to be in the streets at this ungodly hour. There he is a stopping now and looking this way. Let him look. He won't see nought."
And Hannah shut to the door with more noise than she intended, much to Lavinia's alarm lest her mother should be aroused.
"No fear o' that, child. Your mother's had as much gin an' beer as she can carry. It was as good as I could do to get her up the stairs to her bedroom. Sure she's mad about your running away out of reach. I've had a nice time with her. But it 'ud take all the trumpets as blowed down the walls of Jericho to wake her now."
When the door was securely locked and bolted there was more hugging, and Hannah's strong arms half led, half carried the girl into the kitchen where a fire was smouldering which a bellows soon fanned into a blaze. Eggs and bacon were put on to cook and Lavinia, curled in a roomy chair, watched the kindly young woman's proceedings with great contentment.
Lavinia told Hannah her story in fragments, saying nothing about Lancelot Vane. Hannah's mind was a blank as to Pope and Gay and she was more interested in the encounter with the highwayman. She did not ask much about Giles, but Lavinia guessed it was a subject dear to her heart and she did not forget to describe his mother, his cottage, and everything about them very minutely. Nor did she omit to praise his respectful civility and his good heart.
"And now all's said and done, Hannah," she cried, "what's to become of me?"
"Aye, bless your heart, that's the trouble. This morning I put on my considering cap an' was a-thinking and a-thinking when who should pop her face in but my cousin Betty Higgins as lives at Hampstead. 'La, Betty,' I says, 'where have you dropped from?' 'Ah,' says she, 'you may well say that. I've been a-comin' for goodness knows how long knowin' as my clothes line was a-gettin' as rotten as rotten could be. Yesterday the wind caught the sheets and blankets as I'd just hung out an' down they all plumped on a muddy patch an' had to be dropped in the tub again. I wasn't a-goin' to have that happen a second time so I've come up to buy a new line in Long Lane an' some soap at Couplands an' here I be as large as life.' That put a notion in my head, Lavvy, my dear. I told her about you and she's promised me a little room as she don't use much, an' that's where you're going when you've had a sleep."
"Oh, Hannah, how good you are," cried Lavinia between her kisses. "But Hampstead! Why, that's where all the fashion goes! The Hampstead water cures everything they say."
"May be," rejoined Hannah dryly. "But there's other things besides as I'll warrant the quality like better than the well water—nasty stuff it is. I once drank a glass at Sam's coffee house at Ludgate where it's brought fresh every morning and it nearly turned my stomach. There's music an' dancing in the Pump Room and dicing and cards at Mother Huff's near the Spaniards, aye an' lovemaking in the summer time by moonlight. I dunno if it's a safe place for a mad young thing like you to be living at when the sparks are roaming about."
"Pooh!" retorted Lavinia tossing her head. "I ought to know how to take care of myself."
"Yes, you ought. But can you?"
"You silly old Hannah. Hampstead can't be worse for me than London."
"Perhaps not. If you couldn't be guarded at the Queen Square boarding school with a female dragon as can use her eyes, why there's no place in the world where the men won't chase you."
"Well, it's not my fault. I don't chase them."
"There's no need for you to do that, you baggage. You've only got to give any one of them a glance and he gallops after you."
"What am I to do if I can't alter myself?"
"Goodness knows. Things must go their own way I suppose. You can't stop here, that's sure. It'll have to be Hampstead. But don't forget I've warned you."
Then they both crept up to Hannah's room, and at six o'clock the next morning they were astir, Lavinia making a hurried breakfast and preparing to set out on her long walk. There was no conveyance as the stage coach on the Great North Road through Highgate and Finchley did not start until later in the day, and Hannah, a good hearted soul never so happy as when helping others, gave Lavinia all the money she could spare with which to pay her sister-in-law a small sum every week.
"I don't know what I should do but for you, Hannah dear," said Lavinia gratefully. "It's shameful to take your money, but I swear I'll pay back every penny, and before long too."
"Yes, when you've married a rich man."
"No, no. I'm not thinking of being married. I shall be earning money soon."
"Tilly vally! How, miss, may I ask?"
"Ah, that's a secret. Mr. Gay says so and he ought to know."
"It's well if he does. Your Mr. Gay seems to be taking a mighty deal of notice of you. I only hope it'll all end well," said Hannah with a solemn shake of the head.
"End well? Indeed it will. Why shouldn't it?"
Lavinia laughed confidently, and her joyful tone and her face so bright with its contrast with her desolate condition brought a furtive tear to Hannah's eye, but she took care not to let the girl see it.
The morning had broken fair and by seven o'clock Lavinia was trudging along Holborn on her way to Hampstead through what is known now as Tottenham Court Road, then little more than a wide country lane.
At Great Turnstile she lingered and her eyes wandered down the narrow passage. Great Turnstile led to Lincoln's Inn Fields, and in Portugal Row on the south side of the "Fields" was the Duke's Theatre. Association of ideas was too strong to be resisted. Thinking of the theatre, how could she help also thinking of Gay's encouragement as to herself—of Lancelot Vane and his tragedy?
Another thought was lurking at the back of her mind. She had gone to sleep dwelling upon her promise to meet Vane at Rosamond's Pond. Did she mean to keep that promise? She could not decide. She had given her consent under a sort of compulsion. Was it therefore binding? At any rate if she went to Hampstead the meeting was impossible.
It was this last reflection which made her linger. Reasons for altering her plans chased each other through her brain. The poor fellow would be so disappointed if he did not see her. How long would he wait? How wretched his garret would appear when he returned disconsolate! His despondency might drive him to break his promise to her. Where was the harm in keeping her appointment instead of going to Hampstead? No harm at all save that she would be behaving ungratefully to Hannah. But Hannah would understand. Hannah was never without a sweetheart of a sort.
A sweetheart? That was the important point for Lavinia. Was Lancelot her sweetheart? She wondered. She blushed at the idea. It agitated her. She had not felt agitated when she ran away with Dorrimore—just a pleasant thrill of excitement, a sense of adventure; that was all. Dorrimore had made downright love to her; he had called her all the pet names in fashion. His admiration flattered and amused her, nothing more. Vane hadn't made love—at least it didn't seem to her that he had. But there are so many ways of making love!
"Hampstead's miles away," she mused. "If I go there we shall hardly ever see each other. At all events I ought to tell him where I shall be living. It won't be a surprise. He thinks I'm a fine lady and it's the fashion for fine ladies to go to Hampstead at this time of the year. It might make him jealous though," she added thoughtfully, "if he knows of the lovemaking by moonlight Hannah talked about."
She could decide upon nothing, and rather than loiter in Holborn while trying to solve the problem she entered Great Turnstile passage and presently was in the quietude of Lincoln's Inn Fields. At night she would not have ventured to cross this big open space haunted as it was after dark by footpads and pickpockets, but at that early hour of the morning there was nothing to fear. Only a few people were about and in the enclosure railed off from the roadway by posts was a horse being broken in. The theatre was a link between her and Lancelot Vane and thinking of him she walked towards it.
The Fields were crossed by two roads running diagonally from opposite corners and intersecting each other at the centre. Lavinia took the road which led to the southwestern angle. Close by this angle was the Duke's Theatre.
Lavinia reached the plain unpretending structure which looked at from the outside might be mistaken for a warehouse, and she gazed at its blank front wondering if fate meant to be kind and give her the chance her soul longed for. But in spite of Mr. Gay's encouraging hints it seemed impossible that she would ever sing within its walls.
She turned away sorrowfully and came cheek by jowl with a slenderly built thin-faced man whose eyes twinkled humorously, and with mobile lips that somehow suggested comicality. He stopped and stared; apparently trying to recall some remembrance of her. She recognised him at once. He was Jemmy Spiller the most popular comedian of the day. Everybody who had any acquaintance with Clare Market knew Jem Spiller. So much so that a tavern there was called after him.
"Faith, young madam, I've seen you before," said he. "Where, pray, was it?"
"I've sung inside the 'Spiller's Head' more than once a year and more ago," returned Lavinia with the demure look which was so characteristic and at the same time so engaging.
"What, are you that saucy little baggage? By the Lord, let me look at you again."
Spiller's laughing eyes roamed over her from head to foot and his shrewd face wrinkled into the quizzical expression which had often times sent his audience into a roar. Lavinia laughed too.
"Aye, you haven't lost the trick of sending a look that goes straight as an arrow to a man's heart. Tell me, was it not you that Mr. Gay took under his wing? At the 'Maiden Head,' wasn't it?"
"Yes. I've much to thank Mr. Gay for and you as well, Mr. Spiller. You and your friends from the market saved me from a clawed face."
"Why to be sure. That fury Sal Salisbury had her spurs on. She'd have half killed you but for us coming to the spot at the right time. But, child, what have you been doing? Hang me if you haven't sprung into a woman in a few months."
It was true. When Spiller last saw her she was hardly better than a waif and stray. She was thin and bony, her growth impeded by insufficient food, irregular hours and not a little ill usage. At Miss Pinwell's she had lived well, she was happy, she had had love illusions and Nature had asserted its sway.
Lavinia coloured with pleasure. To be complimented by Spiller, the idol of the public—an actor—and she adored actors—was like the condescension of a god. She dropped him a low curtsey.
"Oh, and you're in the fashion too. How long have you been a fine lady?"
Spiller's voice and manner had become slightly serious. Lavinia was too familiar with London life not to understand the inference.
"I owe it all to Mr. Gay," she answered quickly. "He is the kindest hearted man in the world. You see he spoke to her Grace the Duchess of Queensberry about me and she sent me to school in Queen Square."
"What, you've rubbed shoulders with the quality, have you? How comes it then that you talk to me—a rogue and a vagabond?"
"You a rogue and a vagabond! Indeed you're not. I—I'm afraid, though, I'm one. I doubt if her grace would notice me now."
"The devil she wouldn't! What's happened then?"
"Oh, it's a long story. I should tire you if I were to tell you."
"A pretty girl tire me? What do you take me for, Polly? It is Polly, isn't it?"
"Mr. Gay called me Polly, but it isn't my right name."
"Good enough for me, my dear. But what have you done? A harmless bit of mischief when all's said, I'll swear."
"I don't know," rejoined Lavinia slowly. "I didn't mean any harm but I suppose I was very silly."
"Well, let me have the catalogue of your sins and I'll be judge."
"SOME DAY YOU'LL BE THE TALK OF THE TOWN"
As the two paced up and down in front of the playhouse Lavinia told the actor the whole story. Spiller smiled indulgently at the love portion of the narrative, but was impressed by the test Lavinia had gone through at Pope's Villa and by Gay's belief in her future.
In Spiller's opinion there was no reason why Lavinia should not succeed as a comedy actress. Her want of experience was nothing. Her natural vivacity and intelligence were everything. Experience would soon come. What actress who in those days became celebrated had had much training before she went on the boards? Where was the opportunity with but four theatres in London and one of them devoted to opera?
People were still living who could remember Kynaston the beautiful youth as the sole representative of women's parts before actresses were known on the stage. Nell Gwynne came from the gutter, and Nance Oldfield from a public house in St. James's Market. Mrs. Barry had possibly had some training under Davenant, who secured her an engagement, and she was at first a failure. She was destined for tragedy and tragic actresses are not made in five minutes, but comedy demanded little more than inborn sprightliness and high spirits. Lavinia had both, and she could sing.
Spiller, comedian as he was, possessed what we now call the artistic temperament. He was not contented with the mannerisms which provoke a laugh and because they never vary—the characteristic of many comedians who like to be recognised and applauded directly they step upon the stage. Spiller bestowed the greatest pains upon his "make up", and so identified himself with the part he was playing as completely to lose his own personality, and bewildered his audience as to whether he was their favourite they were applauding. He had the art of acting at his fingers' ends.
"Child," said he when Lavinia had finished, "Mr. Gay and Dr. Pepusch did not mistake. You've but to observe and work and some day you'll be the talk of the town."
"Do you really mean that, Mr. Spiller?"
The girl's voice was tremulous with delight. Spiller's praise was of greater value than Gay's. He was an actor and knew.
"I shouldn't say so if I didn't. I mustn't lose sight of you. A pity you'll be staying at Hampstead. I'd like to take you to Mr. Rich. You ought to be near at hand."
"But I don't want to go to Hampstead. I hate the very notion," cried Lavinia breathlessly. "If I could only find a lodging in town!"
"That might be managed. There are lodgings to be had in the house in Little Queen Street where Mrs. Egleton lives. But have you any money?"
"Enough to keep me for a week. Maybe Mr. Rich would find something for me to do. I can dance as well as sing."
"I'll warrant you, but John Rich does all the dancing himself, and as for singing—he doesn't think much of it. But we'll see. Wouldn't your friend the duchess help you?"
"I don't know. I'm afraid I'm out of her grace's favour," said Lavinia dolefully. "Besides, she might want to send me back to Queen Square. Lud, I couldn't bear that. Miss Pinwell wouldn't have me, though," she added in a tone of relief.
"I'll wager she wouldn't," said Spiller dryly. "She'd be in mortal fear of the whole of her young ladies following your example and running away with the town sparks. Well, we'll see what can be done for you, Polly, though I fear me I'm going to have a sad pickle on my hands."
"Oh, pray don't say that, Mr. Spiller. What's happened was not my doing."
"Of course not. But let us to Little Queen Street. If Mrs. Egleton is in the mood she may be of use to you. But take care not to ruffle her plumes. You've heard of her I doubt not?"
"Oh, yes. I saw her once at Drury Lane. She sings does she not, sir?"
"Aye, so mind and not outsing her."
They walked along the western side of the Fields to Little Queen Street, where the houses were substantial enough, though not nearly so imposing as those in Great Queen Street where many noblemen and rich people lived.
Spiller was well known to the proprietor of the house, where Mrs. Egleton lodged and was received with effusion. Mrs. Egleton was not up, as indeed Spiller expected, nor would she be until past mid-day. But this did not matter. The landlady had a front attic vacant which she was willing to let to anyone recommended by Mr. Spiller for a very small sum, and here Lavinia installed herself.
"Have a rest, Polly, and something to eat," said Spiller. "I shall call for you about eleven o'clock. I want you to look your best. We're going to see Mr. Rich. Heaven give us luck that we may find him in good humour."
"Do you mean this morning?" cried Lavinia, in dismay.
"Well, I don't mean this evening. You're not afraid, are you?"
"No, I don't think I am, but—but I would that I had a new gown and cloak. See how frightfully draggled they are."
"Odds bodikins, Mr. Rich doesn't want to see how you're gowned. Mrs. Sanders will lend you a needle and thread and help you patch yourself."
Lavinia would have protested but Spiller laughed away her objections, and departed with a final injunction to be in readiness when he called.
When the girl was alone she looked around her new abode with interest and curiosity. The room was small; it had a sloping roof coming so low at one end where the bed was that she would have to take care not to strike her head against the ceiling when she sat up. The furniture was scanty and plain but the place was clean. For the first time in her life she was completely her own mistress. She sank into a roomy arm-chair, and surveyed her domain with much satisfaction; then she half closed her eyes and indulged in a day dream.
Everything in the most wonderful way had turned out for the best. She dreaded being banished to Hampstead. It had threatened insuperable obstacles in the way of her love and her ambition. She had felt that she was going into exile. But all was now smooth. Her scruples about keeping her promise to Vane vanished. If only her visit to Mr. Rich proved successful, her happiness would be complete.
The time sped in her roseate musings. She had had a rest as Spiller advised and springing up she attacked her ragged attire with renewed energy. When Spiller called, she looked so fresh and animated the comedian laughed and complimented her.
"Gadsooks," he exclaimed, "you clever hussy! It's well our plans are altered. If Rich not only offered thee an engagement but made love into the bargain then the fat would be in the fire. He hath a termagant of a wife. She'd as lief scratch your face as look at you. But thank the Lord you're safe."