HotFreeBooks.com
Madame Flirt - A Romance of 'The Beggar's Opera'
by Charles E. Pearce
Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

"Safe? I don't understand," cried Lavinia a little flustered. "Am I not to see Mr. Rich then?"

"Not yet. Didn't I say our plans are altered? The Duke's is in turmoil. Rich let the theatre to Huddy and his company of strolling players—at least Huddy says he did—and has now cried off the bargain and Huddy is turned out. Rich hasn't any play ready so it's no use taking you to him."

"Oh, how unlucky! I shan't have any chance after all."

Poor Lavinia almost broke down. The shattering of her castle in the air was more than she could endure.

"Not with Rich just yet. But don't despair. Huddy has taken his company to the New Theatre and it'll go hard if I don't talk him into putting you into a part. It may be all for the best. You'd only get a promise out of Rich whereas Huddy might be glad to get you. He's in a mighty hurry to open the theatre. We'll go at once to the Haymarket."

Lavinia was a little disappointed, but not dismayed. After all an immediate entrance into the magical stage world was the important point. She had to begin somewhere, and to play at the New Theatre was not like playing in an inn yard or mumming booth.

They reached the stage door of the New Theatre, afterwards called the Little Theatre in the Haymarket, which it may be said in passing was not quite on the site of the present Haymarket Theatre. The entrance was small, the passage beyond was dark and they had to grope their way to the stage, which lighted as it was by half a dozen candles or so was gloomy enough. The daylight struggled into the audience part through a few small windows above the gallery. A rehearsal was going on, and a red faced man with a hoarse voice was stamping about and shouting at the performers. When he saw Spiller he stopped and came towards the comedian. Compared with Huddy, Spiller was a great man.

Spiller stated his business and introduced Lavinia. The manager stared at her, shifted his wig, scratched his head and grunted something to the effect that he couldn't afford to pay anybody making a first appearance.

"Look 'ee here, Mr. Spiller. It's my benefit and my company don't expect a penny. D'ye see! I've been used in a rascally fashion by that scoundrel Rich, and I'll have to raise a few guineas afore I can start in the country."

Spiller saw the position and said that the young lady who he was careful to point out was a "gentlewoman" was quite willing to appear on these terms and so the matter was settled.

"She won't have much of a part. We're playing 'The Orphan' and all I can give her is Serina. I've had to make shift with the young 'oman as carries the drum and looks after the wardrobe. It's likely as the young gentlewoman'll do as well as her, a careless, idle slut as don't know how to speak her words decently."

Nor did Mr. Huddy, Lavinia thought. But this was nothing. The owner of a travelling play acting booth was as a rule an illiterate showman.

"When do you rehearse 'The Orphan?'" asked Spiller.

"We're a-doing of it now. It's just over or the young gentlewoman—you haven't told me her name——"

"Fenton—Lavinia Fenton."

"Oh, aye. I was a-going to say that if we hadn't finished Miss Fenton might stay and get some notion of the play. Let her come to-morrow—half-past ten, sharp, mind."

"Do you hear that, Polly?" said Spiller in an undertone.

"I shan't fail, sir, you may be sure," replied Lavinia joyfully.

Spiller knew some of the company and he introduced Lavinia to the leading lady, Mrs. Haughton, who was to play the mournful, weeping Monimia in Otway's dismal tragedy. But for Spiller the "star" actress would hardly have deigned to notice the girl; as it was she received Lavinia with affability marked by condescension. Mrs. Haughton was a "star," who did not care to associate with strolling players.

Lavinia left the theatre in the seventh heaven of delight. Everything she had wished for was coming to pass. She longed for the evening. She saw herself telling the wonderful tale of her good luck to Lancelot. She was sure of his warm sympathy and she pictured to herself his smile and the ardent look in his eyes.

Spiller suggested a walk in the Mall so that he might give the novice a few practical hints. Huddy had handed Lavinia her part written out, but it did not tell her much, as everything the other characters in the play had to say was omitted and only the cues for Serina left.

"Just sixteen lines you've got to learn. That won't give you much trouble. I'll show you how to say them. Don't forget to listen for the cues and come in at the proper place."

The lesson did not take long. Lavinia soon had a grasp of the character (Serina figures in the play as a bit of padding and has very little to do); her articulation was clear and she could modulate her voice prettily. Spiller said she would do very well, and wishing her good luck, took his departure and left her in St. James's Park.

He could not have done Lavinia a better turn. Rosamond's Pond was at the south-west corner of the Park and Rosamond's Pond was in Lavinia's mind. It had occurred to her that Lancelot had not fixed any particular spot as the place of meeting. The pond was of a fair size, it would be dark and it might so happen that while he was waiting for her on one side she might be on the other. Still, this was scarcely likely, for they would both approach the Pond from the east.

However, there would be no harm in fixing the bearings of the pond in her mind and so she crossed the park and skirting the formal canal now transformed into the ornamental water, reached the pond which was at the end of Birdcage Walk near Buckingham House, an enlarged version of which is known to us to-day as Buckingham Palace.

The pond was amidst picturesque surroundings. There was nothing of the primness which William III. had brought with him from Holland. The trees had been allowed to grow as they pleased, the shrubs were untrimmed, the grass uncut. The banks of the pond were steep in places, shelving in others. Here and there were muddy patches left by the water receding after heavy rains. But the wildness and the seclusion had their attractions, and little wonder was it that love had marked Rosamond's Pond as its own.

There was something like a promenade on the higher ground to the east. Here it was dry and Lavinia decided that this was the most likely spot which Lancelot would select. Moreover, a path from the Mall near St. James's Palace led direct to the Pond and by this path Vane would be sure to come.

The crisp air was exhilarating and the young grass gave it sweetness. The twittering of the birds suggested a passage of love. The mid-day sun shone upon the distant Abbey and very romantic did its towers look against the blue sky.

Lavinia's spirits rose. She felt very happy. Her real life was beginning. All that had happened, her mad escapade with Dorrimore, the baseness of her mother, her escape from the house in the Old Bailey, her many trials and tribulations were mere trifles to be forgotten as soon as possible. But her thoughts of Lancelot Vane—oh, they were serious enough. There was no pretence about them. And to fill her cup of joy would be her first appearance on the stage!

For a brief space this overpowered everything. Coming to a bench she sat down, drew out the manuscript of the play and read over her part and recalled everything Spiller had said about the various points. When she rose she knew the lines and the cues by heart. Then it occurred to her that she was hungry and she pursued her way back to her lodgings in Little Queen Street.



CHAPTER XIX

AT ROSAMUND'S POND

In the course of the day Lavinia made the acquaintance of Mrs. Egleton. The landlady had told the actress how Spiller had brought Lavinia and how the latter was to appear at the New Theatre. Mrs. Egleton, a dark young woman somewhat pallid and with eyes which suggested that she had a temper which she would be ready to show if put out, was languid and patronising. Though it was past noon the lady had not long got out of bed, and her dress was careless, her hair straggling, her complexion sallow and the dark half circles beneath her eyes were significant of nerve exhaustion. She had in fact the night before sat up late gaming, dancing, eating, drinking—especially drinking—with a party of friends. The time was to come when she and Lavinia would be closely associated, but at that moment it was the last thing that entered into the heads of either.

Mindful of her appointment Lavinia set out early. She had taken great pains over her toilet and she looked very attractive. She had no need of paint and powder. Excitement had brought a flush to her cheek. The fluttering of her heart, the impatience at the lagging time were new sensations. She had experienced nothing like this disturbing emotion when she set out on a much more hazardous enterprise to meet Archibald Dorrimore. The difference puzzled her but she did not trouble to seek the reason. It did not occur to her that she was really and truly in love with Lancelot Vane.

She had plenty of time to reach the trysting place, but to walk slowly was impossible. Her nerves were in too much of a quiver. It hardly wanted a half hour of seven o'clock when she entered upon the path, leading from St. James's Palace to the pond.

Vane was not less desirous of being punctual than Lavinia, and he had indeed arrived at Rosamond's Pond some five minutes before her. While he was impatiently pacing by the side of the water and anxiously looking along the path by which he expected she would come, a lady whose dress was in the height of the mode and masked approached him. In those days a mask did not necessarily imply mystery. A mask was worn to serve as a veil and a woman with her features thus hidden did not excite more attention than that of mere curiosity. Vane had noticed her turning her face towards him as she passed, but thought nothing of it.

Suddenly she stopped, stepped back a pace and whispered softly:—

"Mr. Vane, is it not?"

"That is my name, madam."

"Ah, I hoped I was not mistaken. You don't remember me?"

"I beg your forgiveness if I say I do not."

"Nor a certain night not long ago when you were flying from a ruffianly mob and you sought the shelter of my house? But may be you've a short memory. Mine isn't so fleeting. Men's kisses are lightly bestowed. Women are different. I shall never forget the tender touch of your lips."

She sighed, lifted her mask for a moment and replaced it. To Vane's infinite confusion he recognised Sally Salisbury.

"Madam," he faltered, "I—I venture to suggest that you're under a misapprehension. It was not I who kissed."

Sally drew herself up with a disdainful air. She had a fine figure and she knew how to display it.

"What?" she cried. "Do you dare to deny your farewell embrace?"

"Madam—really I——"

He was more embarrassed than ever. It was untrue to say that he had kissed her. The kisses were hers and hers alone, but it would be ungallant to tell her so. He cursed the evil star which had chanced to throw her against him at such a crisis. Lavinia might make her appearance at any moment and what would she think?

But the stars had nothing to do with the matter, nor chance either. It was a ruse, a worked out design between Sally and Rofflash to secure Vane and spite Lavinia whom she hated more than enough.

Meanwhile Lavinia was drawing near. Mistress Salisbury had shifted her position and had manoeuvred so as she could glance down the path to St. James's Palace and perforce Vane had his back towards it. Sally's sharp eyes caught sight of a figure which she shrewdly guessed was Lavinia's.

Preparing herself for a crowning piece of craft, Sally suddenly relaxed her rigidity and inclined langorously towards Vane who had no alternative save catching her. No sooner did she feel his arms than she sank gracefully into them, her handkerchief to her eyes.

"Madam," stammered the troubled young man, "pray recollect yourself. I protest——"

"Protest! Oh, how cruel—how hard hearted! I love you. Can you hear me make such a confession and be unmoved? I throw myself at your feet."

"For God's sake, madam, don't do anything so foolish."

He could feel her slipping gradually to the ground and he could not but hold her tighter, and so did exactly what she was angling for.

"It's Heaven to feel your embrace," she murmured. "Dear—dearest Lancelot. Oh, if you only knew how I've longed and prayed we might meet! I never thought to see you again, and here, without a moment's warning, I'm face to face with you. Can you wonder I'm unable to control myself? I know it's folly—weakness—anything you like to call it. I don't care. I love you and that's all I know. Kiss me, Lancelot!"

The unhappy Vane was at his wits' end. The more he tried to release himself the closer she clung to him. Who seeing them could doubt that they were ardent lovers? Sally's last words were uttered in a tone of reckless passion, partly stimulated, partly real. She had raised her voice purposely. She knew its penetrating accents would reach the ears for which the loving words were really intended. She saw Lavinia who was hastening towards them stop suddenly, then her figure swayed slightly, her head bent forward, and in a few moments there was hesitation. Finally she wheeled round and fled.

Sally Salisbury had secured a complete victory so far as her rival was concerned, but she had not won Lancelot Vane. She did not delude herself into the belief that she had, but her triumph would come.

Vane succeeded in wrenching himself free, but not for some minutes. On one excuse or another she detained him and it was only on his promising to meet her the following night at Spring Gardens that he managed to make his escape. It was too late. In vain he waited for Lavinia, but she came not. He was plunged in the depths of disappointment.

"She never meant to keep her word," he muttered savagely and strode along the path towards St. James's Palace, hoping against hope that he might chance to meet her.

Lancelot Vane was not the only man in the park at that moment who was angered at Lavinia's non-appearance. When Vane was trying to repel Sally's embarrassing caresses a coach stopped on the western side of the Park at the point nearest to Rosamond's Pond. The coach could have been driven into the Park itself, but this could not be done without the King's permission. Two men got out and walked rapidly to the pond.

"A quarter past seven," said one drawing his watch from his fob. "The time of meeting, Rofflash, you say was seven."

"Aye, and they'll be punctual to the minute, I'll swear."

"Then we ought to find the turtle doves billing and cooing. A thousand pities we couldn't get the coach nearer. Damn His Majesty King George, say I."

"Talk under your breath, Mr. Dorrimore, if you must air your traitorous speeches," whispered Rofflash. "You don't seem to know that what you've been saying is little short of 'God save King James,' which is treason in any case and doubly dyed treason when uttered in the Royal Park."

"Treason or not, I vow that if my coach were more handy it would help us vastly. Carrying the girl a few yards were an easy matter and a squeal or two of no consequence, but five hundred yards—pest take it."

"S'blood, sir, she's no great weight and with so precious a burden in your arms 't'would be but a whet to appetite. Still, if you're unequal to the task, pray command me. I'd take her and willing."

"That I'll swear you would. Wait till I call on you. What of that pair by the pond? Curse it, but I believe they're our quarries. She has two arms round his neck. The wanton baggage! And she once protested she loved me! On to 'em, Rofflash. Engage the fellow while I handle the wench. Eh?—Why—look ye there, captain. He's thrown her off. He's going. A tiff I'll swear. What a piece of luck! She's by herself. Now's our time. Bustle, damn you."

Rofflash made a show of bustling, but it was nothing but show. The mature damsel from whom Vane had hurried was half a head taller than Lavinia. He knew who she was perfectly well, for had he not plotted with Sally Salisbury to meet Lancelot Vane, to the discomfiture of Lavinia Fenton?

The crafty Rofflash had contrived to have two strings to his bow. Dorrimore would pay him to help abduct Lavinia, and Sally would do the same for his good offices concerning Vane. He had certainly succeeded in the latter case, but as to Lavinia, the certainty was not so evident. She was nowhere to be seen. Dorrimore, however, for the moment was under the impression that the woman who was standing gazing at Vane's retreating figure was Lavinia and it was not Rofflash's game to undeceive him.

Dorrimore soon discovered his mistake.

"Sally Salisbury! The devil!"

Of course he recognised her. What fashionable profligate young or old would not?

"Why Archie," rejoined the lady laughingly and making him a mocking curtsey, "were you looking for me? Faith, I'm glad of it. A bottle of Mountain port would be exactly to my taste."

"Was that your gallant who left you just now?"

"One of them," said Sally coolly.

Dorrimore turned angrily to Rofflash.

"What the devil does this mean? Have you tricked me?"

"I'll swear I haven't. If anybody's been playing tricks it's that crazy cat Sally," returned Rofflash in a low voice. "Your bird can't have flown very far. Her man was here, you see. Let's follow him. We're bound to light upon them together."

The suggestion was as good as any other. Dorrimore refreshed himself with a string of the latest oaths in fashion and set off with the scheming captain, leaving Sally somewhat provoked. She had had many a guinea from Dorrimore, and was in the mood to get more now that her spite against Lavinia was gratified.

The two men raced off at the double, Dorrimore's rage increasing the further he went. It looked as if his plan to kidnap Lavinia had broken down. The idea had been to waylay her before she joined Vane. As the thing was turning out, she promised, when found, to be at so great a distance from the coach that to convey her there would be difficult.

Before long they hove in sight of Lancelot Vane. He too was hurrying and looking right and left as he went. And he was alone.

"The girl's fooled him," muttered Dorrimore between his set teeth. "That wouldn't matter a tinker's curse, but she's fooled us as well. Rofflash, I've a mind to pick a quarrel with the fellow and pink him."

"And get yourself landed in Newgate. Don't you know, sir, it's against the law to draw a sword in the Park? If you're going to be so mad, I'll say good evening. I'll have nought to do with such folly. We'll find some other way to lay the spark by the heels and have the girl as well. My advice is not to show yourself or you'll put him on his guard."

Dorrimore, whose head was not particularly strong, had had a couple of bottles with his dinner to give him spirit for the enterprise, and he allowed himself to be persuaded. He and Rofflash betook themselves to the coach which landed them at a tavern in St. James's Street, where Dorrimore drank and drank until he fell under the table and was carried out by a couple of waiters, put in a hackney coach and conveyed to his chambers in the Temple.

Rofflash left his patron at the tavern long before this period arrived. He was on the search for Mistress Salisbury and knowing her haunts pretty well, he ran her to earth at a house of questionable repute in the neighbourhood of Charing Cross. Sally had had more to drink than the bottle of Mountain port her soul had craved for and was inclined to be boisterous, but her temper was apt to be uncertain. It was a toss up whether she laughed, cried or flew into a passion. She was inclined to the first if she thought of her triumph over Lavinia and to the last when Lancelot Vane and her failure to seduce him from his allegiance came into her mind.

Sally often boasted she could win any man if she gave her mind to the task, but Vane had escaped her toils. Perhaps it was that she had a genuine passion for him and so had not used her powers of fascination. The more she drank, the more she cursed herself for having allowed Vane to slip through her fingers, and being in a reckless mood, she said as much to Rofflash. Otherwise she would hardly have made a confidant of a fellow who combined swash-buckling with highway robbery.

"What!" jeered Captain Jeremy, "Sally Salisbury own herself beaten over a man. I'd as lief believe my old commander the great Duke Marlborough crying he couldn't thrash the mounseers. I'll swear you didn't let him go without getting the promise of an assignation out of him."

"A promise? Don't talk of promises. It's easier to get a promise out of a man than his purse."

"Lord, madam, if it's the purse of that vapouring young spark you're after, you'll be wasting your labour. You'll find it as empty as yonder bottle. I'll swear now that you set greater store by his heart."

Rofflash glanced shrewdly at Sally's face. Her lips were working convulsively. He knew he was right.

"You're a cunning devil, captain. You've the wheedling tongue of Satan himself and his black soul, too, I doubt not. You're all ears and eyes when money's to be picked up. Take that for what you did for me to-night."

Sally drew five guineas from her pocket and flung them on the table. A couple would have rolled on to the floor, but Rofflash grabbed them in time. Sally burst into one of her hard, mirthless laughs.

"Trust you for looking after coin. See here, you Judas. Vane promised to meet me at Spring Gardens to-morrow night. When I see him I shall believe him, not before. You must work it so that he comes."

"Hang me, Sally, but that's a hard nut to crack."

"Not too hard for your tiger's teeth. I'll double those five guineas if you bring it off."

Rofflash relished the proposition, but he pretended to find difficulties and held out for higher pay. To Sally money was as water. She agreed to make the ten into fifteen. Rofflash swearing that he'd do his best, took his departure and left the lady, like Archibald Dorrimore, to drink herself into insensibility.

"The devil looks after his own," chuckled Rofflash as he swaggered down the Strand. "It'll go hard if I don't squeeze fifty guineas out of that idiot Dorrimore over to-morrow night's work! He'd give that to have the pleasure of running the scribbler through the body. Lord, if I'd breathed a word of that to Sally! No fool like an old fool, they say. Bah! The foolishest thing in Christendom is a woman when she's in love."

And Captain Jeremy Rofflash plodded on, well pleased with himself. He took the road which would lead him to Moorfields and Grub Street.



CHAPTER XX

"WHAT DID I TELL THEE, POLLY?"

Lavinia went to her first rehearsal in a strange confusion of spirits, but came through the ordeal successfully. She was letter perfect, and she remembered all Spiller's instructions. Mr. Huddy was pleased to say that he thought she would do.

She left the theatre for her lodgings in Little Queen Street in a flutter of excitement. Otway's "Orphan" might be dull and lachrymose, the part of Serina might be insignificant, but to Lavinia the play was the most wonderful thing. It meant a beginning. She had got the chance she had longed for. She saw herself in imagination a leading lady.

But when she returned to her lodgings a reaction set in. She was depressed. Life had suddenly become drab and dull. She was thinking of Lancelot Vane, but not angrily, as was the case the previous night when she walked away her head high in the air after seeing Sally Salisbury—of all women in the world!—in his arms. She was in a tumult of passion, and when that subsided tears of indignation rushed to her eyes. She made no excuses for her recreant lover, no allowances for accidents and misadventures. She did not, indeed, think he had set out to insult her, but the unhappy fact was patent that he knew the wanton Sally, and that he had a tender regard for her. Lavinia's reading of the thing was that in her anxiety she had arrived at the trysting place too soon. Ten minutes later and Vane would have got rid of his old love and taken on with his new one. Oh, it was humiliating to think of!

Lavinia walked away in her rage. By the time she reached Little Queen Street, the storm had passed. She had arrived at the conclusion that all men were faithless, selfish, dishonourable. For the future she would have naught to do with them.

The excitement of the rehearsal, the sense of independence she felt when all was got through with credit, lent her buoyancy, but it did not last. The dream she had once had of playing to an audience and seeing only Lancelot Vane in the first row of the pit applauding and eager to congratulate her, was gone. She was done with him for ever. So she told herself. And to strengthen this resolve she recalled his weaknesses, his vacillation, his distrust in himself, his lapses into inebriety. Yet no sooner had she gone over his sins than she felt pity and inclined to forgiveness. But not forgiveness for his faithlessness. That was unpardonable.

Mrs. Egleton, her fellow lodger, had the night before gone to bed sober and was inclined to be complaisant and to interest herself in Lavinia. She was pleased to hear that Huddy had praised her.

"If he asks you to join his company, don't you refuse," said Mrs. Egleton. "He's got a rough tongue when he's put out, but he knows his business. Three months' experience will do wonders. I must come and see you on the night. When is it to be?"

Lavinia said she hadn't the least idea.

"Oh, well, you'll soon know."

Mrs. Egleton was right. In the next issue of the Daily Post appeared this advertisement:—

"At the desire of several persons of quality for the benefit of Mr. Huddy, at the New Theatre in the Haymarket. To-morrow being Thursday, the 24th day of February, will be presented a tragedy called 'The Orphan; or, the Unhappy Marriage,' written by the late Mr. Otway, with a new prologue to be spoken by Mr. Roger, who plays the part of Chamont. The part of Acasto by Mr. Huddy; Monimia, Mrs. Haughton; the page, Miss Tollet; and the part of Serina by a gentlewoman who never appear'd on any stage before. With singing in Italian and English by Mrs. Fitzgerald. And the original trumpet song of sound fame, as set to musick by Mr. Henry Purcel, to be performed by Mr. Amesbury."

Lavinia read this over twice and thrilled with delight. She ran with the paper to Mrs. Egleton.

"Mercy on me, child!" cried the actress. "So you're a gentlewoman, are you?"

"The paper says I am, so I suppose it's true," said Lavinia, casting down her eyes demurely.

"If you are, it'll be a wonder. Not many women players are, I may tell you for your satisfaction. Who was your father?"

"I don't know. I can't remember him."

"Well, you're in the fashion there. Few of us are better off than you. But what matters father or mother? You're in the world, and after all that's as much as you need trouble about. As for your mother—but I won't bother you about her. A mother's not much good to her daughter. She mostly looks to make money out of her by a rich marriage, not that she's over particular about the marriage so long as there's plenty of coin."

Lavinia did not contradict Mrs. Egleton's cynical views. From her own experience she knew it was very often true.

The 24th was a fortnight ahead—plenty of time for the play to be in readiness. Huddy had no fear about the performance. What concerned him more nearly was his "benefit" money. He busied himself in canvassing his patrons and the disposal of tickets.

The night came. Lavinia was wrought to a high pitch of excitement, but her excitement was pleasurable. The scenery, albeit it would be scoffed at nowadays, was to her magnificent. The costumes were gorgeous. It was nothing that they smelt musty from having laid long in the theatre wardrobe. The incongruity of many of the garments gave her no pang of uneasiness. "The Orphan" was of no particular period. Dresses which had done duty in Shakespearean tragedies, in classical plays of the Cato type, in the comedies of the Restoration dramatists, were equally admissible. The circumscribed space afforded the players by the intrusion on the stage of the seats for the "quality" did not embarrass her. The combined odours of oranges and candle snuff had their charm.

The house was full, but in the dim and smoky candlelight the faces of the audience were little better than rows of shadowy masks. The pit occupied the entire floor of the house right up to the orchestra. Here the critics were to be found. The pit could make or mar the destiny of plays, and the reputation of players. Dozens of regular playgoers knew the traditions of the theatre better than many actors and actresses. They were sticklers for the preservation of the stage "business" to which they had been accustomed. They knew certain lines of their favourite plays by heart, and how those lines ought to be delivered.

The curtain rose. Acasto, Monimia, Chamont mouthed their various parts, and did exactly what was expected from them. Curiosity was excited only when Serina, the daughter of Acasto, in love with Chamont, made her appearance. Lavinia's winsome face, her eyes half tender, half alluring, her pretty mouth with not an atom of ill nature in its curves, her sympathetic voice, at once attracted the audience. It was a pity, everyone felt, she had so little to say and do. Her few lines expressed but one sentiment—her love for Chamont.

Lavinia played the part as if she felt it, which was indeed the fact, for she was thinking of Lancelot Vane all the time. When she came to her final words in the fifth act—

"If any of my family have done thee injury, I'll be revenged and love thee better for it"

the house thundered its applause, so naturally and with such genuine pathos were they delivered.

The curtain fell. The gallants who had seats on the stage crowded round the "young gentlewoman" and showered compliments. A few privileged people from the front of the house who found their way behind were equally enthusiastic. Even Mrs. Haughton—the Monimia of the play—deigned to smile approvingly.

"What did I tell thee, Polly?" she heard a pleasant if somewhat husky voice whisper in her ear.

She knew the tones and turned quickly. John Gay's kindly eyes were beaming upon her. He had come with Jemmy Spiller, and with a stout man from whose broad red face a look of drollery was rarely absent. This was Hippisley, a comedian with a natural humour which was wont to set an audience in a roar.

Lavinia blushed with pleasure and cast a grateful look at Spiller, whose hints had proved so valuable.

"Was I not right, Spiller?" went on Gay. "You've read my opera, what there is of it that's finished. Won't Polly Peachum fit her like a glove?"

"Aye, if she can sing as prettily as she acted to-night," said Spiller, with a quizzical glance at the girl.

"Sing? My lad, she has the voice of a nightingale. Pepusch agrees with me. I'll swear there's no singing woman outside the King's Theatre—or inside, for the matter of that—who can hold a candle by the side of her. Have you forgotten the pretty baggage who so charmed us at the Maiden Head?"

"Not I, faith. I was but jesting. And so you've fixed upon her. But I hear that Mr. Rich has set his face against so many songs. He won't take your Polly merely because she can sing."

"Mr. Rich is a fool—in some things," rejoined Gay hastily. "He can dance, I grant you, and posture as no other man can, and he thinks he can act! I heard him once at a party of friends. My good Spiller, if his vanity ever prompted him to air his voice on the stage, the people would think he was mocking them, and one half would laugh and the other half boo and hiss."

"I know—I know. Still, he holds command, and he likes his own way, no man better."

"No doubt, but whatever a man wills he has to give up when a woman says yea or nay. My good duchess means to have a word with him over the songs."

"If that's so John Rich had better capitulate at once. He's as good as beaten."

Lavinia could only catch a word of this talk here and there. She was being pestered by half a dozen sparkish admirers who were somewhat taken aback when they discovered that the "gentlewoman who had never appear'd on any stage before" could more than hold her own in repartee and give the fops of fashion as good as or better than they gave. How could they tell that the sprightly young budding actress had graduated in the wit and slang of the streets?

But she was pestered and peeved all the same, for she dearly wanted to talk to Gay and Spiller. At last the modish gadflies got tired of having their smart talk turned against them, and one by one fell off, especially as Huddy, whose blunt speech was not much to their taste, came up and intruded without apology into their vapid banter.

"The gal's done well, Spiller," said Huddy, "and I'm obleeged to ye. Now I want to get on the road and waste no time about it. I ought to be at Woolwich afore a fortnight's over, then Dartford, Gravesend, Rochester, Maidstone, and so away on to Dover. What d'ye say, miss? I can give ye a good engagement—no fixed salary in course—sharing out, that's the rule with travelling companies—Mr. Spiller knows what I'm a'telling you is right."

Lavinia hardly knew what to say to this, and she turned to Spiller for advice. Huddy saw the look of doubt on her face, and went on with his argument.

"It's this way, miss. I don't say as you didn't play to-night to my satisfaction—thanks to my rehearsing of you—but you've got a lot to learn, and, by God, you won't learn it better anywhere in the world than with me. Ask Mr. Spiller—ask Mr. Hippisley. They know what's what, and they'll tell you the same."

Spiller nodded.

"You've made a good beginning, but the more practice you have the better. Isn't that so, Mr. Gay? Mr. Gay has great hopes of you, my dear and—but you'd better hear what he has to say."

"Oh, I should dearly love to," murmured Lavinia.

They were now in the green room. Mrs. Fitzgerald was on the stage singing "in English and French," and her shrill tones penetrated the thin walls greatly to Gay's discomfort. The lady's voice was not particularly sweet.

"Let us walk apart, Polly," said he. "We shan't hear that noise so keenly."

He took her arm and placed it beneath his.

"Spiller's right, my dear. I have great hopes of you, but your chance won't come for months. The time won't be lost if you work hard at everything Huddy puts in your way. You'll have plenty of variety, but you won't earn much money. The sharing out system puts the lion's portion into the manager's pocket. But that can't be helped. Still, if you want money—the duchess——"

"Oh, Mr. Gay," broke in Lavinia anxiously, "I've been sorely worried thinking of her grace. Have you told her?—I mean about me running away from school and—and——"

Gay laughed and playfully pinched her cheek.

"The love story, eh? Yes, I told the duchess, and she was vastly entertained. She's a woman of infinite spirit and she likes other women to have spirit too. She's not without romance—and I wouldn't give a thank-you for her if she were. If you'd run off out of restlessness or a mere whim or fit of temper, I doubt if she'd troubled about you further; but love—that was another thing altogether. Oh, and your courage in escaping from that dissolute rascal—that captured her. My dear, Queensberry's Duchess is your friend. She's as desirous as I am that you should be Polly Peachum in my 'Beggar's Opera,' and when I tell her about to-night she'll be overjoyed. You need not fear about the future save that it depends upon yourself. But Polly, what of the young playwright, Lancelot Vane?"

"I don't want to hear anything about him!"

"What! Have you and he tiffed? Well, 'tis a way that true love works. But let me tell you I've handed his play to Mr. Cibber, though much I doubt its good fortune. Honestly, my child, though some of the lines are good, others are sad stuff."

"I don't wish Mr. Vane any ill will, but it is no affair of mine whether his play be good or bad."

"Mercy on me! But you told me he wanted to write in a part for you."

"If he does I won't play it. Mr. Vane is nothing to me."

"Oh, so that love's flown away, has it? Was there anybody in this world or any other so full of vagaries and vapours as Master Cupid?"

Lavinia was in a tumult of doubt and contrary inclinations. She hated to discuss Lancelot Vane! She wanted to talk about him! She was suffering from the most puzzling of emotions—the mingled pain and pleasure of self-torture.

Gay neither gratified nor disappointed her. He simply remarked that it was well she now had nothing to distract her mind and that she would be able to devote herself entirely to her new life, and after counselling her not to argue about terms with Huddy, he led her back to the manager, and it was settled that she should join his travelling company.

Lavinia was overwrought, and that night slept but little. It was hard to say whether the thoughts of her future on the stage, her dreams of distinction with Gay's opera, or her wounded love and pride occupied the foremost place in her mind. She resolved over and over again that she would forget Lancelot Vane. She meant to steel herself against every kind of tender recollection. She was certain she hated him and dropped off to sleep thinking of the one kiss they had exchanged.

The next morning she was fairly tranquil. She had not, it is true, dismissed Vane entirely from her thoughts, but she had arrived at the conclusion that as it was all over between them it really was of no consequence whether he had jilted her for Sally Salisbury. That he should bestow even a look on so common a creature was a proof of his vulgar tastes. Oh, he was quite welcome to Sally if his fancy roamed in so low a direction. She felt she was able to regard the whole business with perfect equanimity.

Her landlady that day bought a copy of the Daily Post and she sent it upstairs to Lavinia. Newspaper notices of theatrical performances were rarities in those days. Lavinia did not expect to see any reference to Mr. Huddy's benefit, and her expectations were realised. What she did see sent the blood rushing to her face and her hands fumbled so that she could hardly hold the paper. Then she went deadly pale, she tore the paper in half and—a rare thing for Lavinia to do—she burst into tears.



CHAPTER XXI

"IF WE FIGHT.... WHAT SAY YOU TO LAVINIA FENTON?"

The big room of the "Angel and Sun" hard by Cripples Gate was the scene of loud talk, louder laughter and the clank of pewter mugs on the solid oaken table. The fat landlord, divested of his wig, which he only wore on high days and holidays, was rubbing his shiny pate with satisfaction. The Grub Street writers were his best customers, and when they had money in their pockets they were uneasy until it was gone.

The room was low pitched; its big chimney beams projected so much that it behoved a tall man to be careful of his movements; it was full of dark shadows thrown by the two candles in iron sconces on the walls; a high settle was on either side of the fire in front of which stood the bow-legged host, his eyes beaming on the rapidly emptying bottles.

A slight sound, a movement, caused the landlord to glance towards the door. A stranger had entered. He was not of the Grub Street fraternity. He had too much swagger. His clothes were too fine, despite their tawdriness, his sword hilt too much in evidence. What could be seen of his dark face, the upper half of which his slouched hat concealed, was rather that of a fighter than of a writer. The landlord summed up the signs of a swashbuckler and approached him deferentially.

"Good evenin', sir. What's your pleasure?"

The stranger cast a rapid glance over the revellers sitting round the long, narrow table before he replied.

"Half a pint of gin, landlord," said he, in the deep, husky voice of Captain Jeremy Rofflash, and he strode towards the chimney corner of one of the settles, whence he could see the noisy party of drinkers and not be seen himself very well.

The landlord brought the gin in a pewter pot and set it down on a ledge fixed to the chimney jamb.

"See here, landlord," growled Rofflash, "d'ye know Mr. Jarvis?"

"Sure, sir; 'tis he yonder with the lantern-jawed phizog."

"Aye. Watch your chance when he's not talking to the rest and bid him look where I'm sitting. There's a shilling ready for you if you don't blunder."

The landlord nodded and waddled towards the man he had pointed out.

Jeremy Rofflash, it may be remarked, was a born spy and informer. His blood was tainted with treachery. Ten years before he had been employed by the Whig Government of George of Hanover to ferret out evidence—which not infrequently meant manufacturing it—against the Jacobites. Posing as a Jacobite, Rofflash wormed himself into the secrets of the conspirators, and he figured as an important witness against the rebel lords Derwentwater, Nithsdale, Carnwath and Wintoun.

It was nothing for him to serve two masters and to play false to both, according as it best suited his own pocket. Sally Salisbury and Archibald Dorrimore were working in two different directions, and the ingenious Jeremy accommodated both. His scheming in Sally's interest had turned out to his and to her satisfaction, but not so that on behalf of Dorrimore. The captain had not reckoned upon Lavinia taking flight before he and his employer arrived on the scene.

The plot of which she was the objective was common enough in those days of free and easy lovemaking. Merely an abduction. Rofflash had an intimate knowledge of Whitefriars, not then, perhaps, so lawless a place as in the times of the Stuarts, but sufficiently lawless for his purpose. Its ancient privileges which made it a sanctuary for all that was vile and criminal had not been entirely swept away. Rofflash knew of more than one infamous den to which Lavinia could be conveyed, and nobody be the wiser.

The abduction plot had failed—for the present—and Rofflash, to pacify Dorrimore, went on another tack. In this he was personally interested. He saw his way to make use of Dorrimore to punish Vane for the humiliation Vane had cast upon him when they encountered each other on London Bridge. This humiliation was a double one. Vane had not merely knocked him down, but had rescued Lavinia under his very nose.

The insult could only be washed out in blood, and the captain had been nursing his wrath ever since. But he was as great a coward as he was a braggart, and a fair fight was not to his taste. He was more at home in a stealthy approach under the cover of night, and a swift plunge of his sword before the enemy could turn and defend himself.

With Dorrimore it was different. To do him justice, fop as he was, he did not want for courage, and, moreover, he was a good swordsman. So when Rofflash made out that he could bring Vane to Spring Gardens, where Dorrimore could easily find an excuse for provoking his rival to a duel, the Templar eagerly approved the idea.

It was to carry out this plan practically that Rofflash, after quitting his patron in St. James's Park, made his way to Moorfields. Though he knew that Sally had extracted a promise from Vane to meet her in Spring Gardens, he was by no means certain that Vane would keep his word. But Rofflash was never without resources, and he thought he could devise a plan to bring the meeting about. His scheme proved easier to execute than he expected. Vane unconsciously played into his hands.

After his bitter disappointment through not meeting Lavinia at Rosamond's Pond, Vane walked back to his Grub Street lodgings plunged in fits of melancholy, alternated with moralisings on the faithlessness of women. He did not believe Lavinia had kept the appointment. As for Sally Salisbury, well, it was unfortunate that he should run across her at a wrong moment, but he never imagined that the meeting with her was one of design and not of accident.

Vane had the poetic temperament. He was human and emotional and—he was weak. Had he lived two centuries later he might have fancied, and may be with truth, that he suffered from neurasthenia. In the full-blooded days of the early Georges the complaint was "vapours," otherwise liver, but no one troubled about nerves. The ghastly heads of Jacobite rebels stuck on Temple Bar were looked upon with indifference by the passers-by. The crowds which thronged to Tyburn to witness the half hangings and the hideous disembowelling which followed, while the poor wretches, found guilty of treason, were yet alive, had pretty much the sensation with which a gathering nowadays sees a dangerous acrobatic performance.

Vane had none of this brutish callousness. He was more susceptible to sex influences. Despite his worship of Lavinia, whom he elevated into a sort of divinity, and who satisfied the more refined part of his nature and his love of romance, he was not insensible to the animal charms of Sally Salisbury. The cunning jade was familiar with all the arts of her profession. She knew how to kiss, and the kiss she bestowed upon him in the park haunted him just as did the kiss he had received whether he would or not on the night when she sheltered him in her house.

Thus it came about that the despondent young man was torn between varying emotions, and by the time he was within hail of Grub Street he was without will of his own and at the mercy of any who chose to exercise influence over him.

Chance led him to encounter a party of boon companions whose company he had vowed to relinquish. One of these was in funds, having abandoned political pamphleteering for the writing of biographies of notorious personages, both men and women—the latter preferably—in which truth and fiction were audaciously blended, and the whole dashed with scandalous anecdotes which found for such stuff a ready sale.

Jarvis and his friends having had their fill of liquor at one tavern, were proceeding to another when they met Lancelot Vane, and they bore him away without much protest. It was by no means the first time that Vane had drowned his sorrows in drink.

Meanwhile Rofflash was on the prowl. He was not unacquainted with some of the Grub Street scribblers. One man he had employed three or four years before, when Jacobitism was rampant, in running to earth the writers of seditious pamphlets and broad sheets. The man was Tom Jarvis. Rofflash knew Tom's favourite haunts, and after looking in at various taverns, lighted upon him at the "Angel and Sun." He also lighted upon Vane. Vane he could see was well on the way towards forgetfulness, but Captain Jeremy wasn't one to run any risks, so he held aloof from the party, and waited while the landlord went about his errand.

Presently Jarvis looked in the direction of the fireplace, and Rofflash beckoned him and laid his fingers on his lip in token of silence. Jarvis quietly slipped away and joined Rofflash.

"Devil take it, my gallant captain!" growled Jarvis, "but you look in fine feather. Hang me if you haven't tumbled on your feet, and that's more than Tom Jarvis can say. Since the Jacks have swallowed King George and his Hanoverian progeny things have been precious dull for the likes o' me."

"Aye, though it mayn't be for long. Meanwhile, I can put you in the way of a guinea. Are you friendly with that young fool, Lancelot Vane?"

"Friendly? Why, to be sure. He's always good for a bottle if he chance to have the wherewithal about him. And he's the best company in the world when that comes about. A couple o' glasses knocks him over, and you can finish the rest of the bottle at your ease."

"Gad! He's one of your feather-brained, lily-livered fellows, is he? So much the better for my purpose. Look you here, Tom; bring Vane to-morrow evening to Spring Gardens, and there's a guinea ready for you."

Jarvis looked down his long nose and frowned.

"Not so easy as you think, captain. I know Vane. To-morrow he'll be chock full of repentance. He'll be calling himself all the fools he can lay his tongue to. How am I to get him to Spring Gardens in that mood?"

"'Tis as easy as lying, Tom. When a man's down as Peter Grievous, he's ready to get up if he have but a couple of hairs of the dog that bit him."

"I grant you that, bully captain. But Vane's pocket's as empty as mine. Where's the coin to come from?"

"You're a damned liar and an ingrained rogue by nature, Tom Jarvis, but I'll have to trust you for once. Here's half a guinea. It should more than pay for the wine and the wherry to Spring Gardens. Keep faith with me, you rascal, or I'll half wring your head from your shoulders and give you a free taste of what's bound to come to you some day—the rope at Tyburn."

Jarvis grinned in sickly fashion and swore by all that was unholy to carry out his orders strictly. Rofflash then strode away.

How Jarvis contrived to lure Vane to Spring Gardens is not of much consequence. The fellow had a soft, slimy tongue and an oily manner. Moreover, Rofflash's shrewd guess at Vane's absence of will power after a drinking bout was verified to the letter.

The passage up the river from St. Paul's Stairs was pleasant enough. The wherry made its way through a crowd of boats bound for the Gardens, though the season had hardly begun. Not a few of the craft had for their passengers fashionable ladies masked and unmasked, with their cavaliers more or less noisy with wine. Numberless and not particularly refined were the jests exchanged between the occupants of the various boats. Sometimes the watermen struck in and masters of slang and coarse wit as they were, and possessed of infinite impudence, the journey was marked by plenty of liveliness.

Well did Spring Gardens—afterwards known as Vauxhall, or Fauxhall, years later—deserve the patronage bestowed upon them. Delightful groves, cosy little arbours, lawns like velvet, rippling fountains were among its attractions, music albeit it was confined to the limited instruments of the day—singing came about afterwards—aided the enchantment.

A dose of hot brandy and water before starting had renewed Vane's drooping spirits and had dissipated his headache and nausea. A glass of punch prescribed by Jarvis when inside the Gardens sent him into a mood of recklessness which made him ready for any adventure amorous or otherwise. He looked upon Lavinia as lost to him. He would like to kill his remembrance of her. What better way than by thoughts of some other woman? His brain had become so bemused by his potations of the previous night that he had at first only vague recollections of Sally Salisbury and how he had engaged to meet her. But now that he was in the Gardens association of ideas brought her handsome, enticing face to his mind. She would do as well as another to entertain him for the moment, and his eyes roved restlessly towards every woman he passed.

The orchestra was playing a dance tune, and Vane eagerly scanned the dancers, but saw no woman resembling Sally Salisbury. Meanwhile Jarvis had left him with a parting drink, which by no means helped to clear his muddled brain. Then suddenly Sally stood before him, unmasked and looking more fascinating than ever.

"You wicked man," said she with reproachful eyes, the dark silky lashes drooping momentarily on her painted cheeks. "I've been searching for you everywhere. But my heart told me you would come, and my heart rarely deceives me."

Sally spoke in a tone of sincerity, and maybe for once she was sincere. Vane did not trouble one way or the other. He was in that condition of nervous excitement to be strongly affected by her sensuous beauty. He was stammering something in reply when a man in a puce satin coat and a flowered brocaded waistcoat thrust himself rudely between them.

"I fear, sir, you don't know all the transcendent virtues of this lady. Permit me to enlighten you."

He spoke in an insolent tone, and Sally turned upon him in fury and bade him begone.

"Mind your own business, Mr. Dorrimore, and don't thrust your nose into what doesn't concern you," she cried, her eyes blazing with wrath.

"Oh, I've no quarrel with you, madam. I only wish to warn your poor dupe——"

He wasn't able to finish the sentence. Vane had struck him a violent blow in the face.

Vane's sudden attack fairly took Dorrimore by surprise. He stared blankly at Vane, and then apparently seized by some ludicrous idea, he burst into a sarcastic laugh.

"Faith, sir—you must excuse me—you really must. Ha—ha—ha! The idea of your championing this wanton jade! It's too good a joke—'pon honour, it is—but since you will have it so—why——"

His hand went to his side, and the next moment his sword flashed in the crimson light of the coloured lamps. Just then Jarvis and another man interposed, and the latter caught Dorrimore's sword arm.

"Forbear, gentlemen!" cried Jarvis. "If you must fight, don't let it be here. In public 'twould be little better than a vulgar brawl."

"Let me alone," shouted Dorrimore. "He struck me and in the devil's name he shall answer it."

"Whenever you please. I did but defend the lady whom this coward insulted," said Vane, pale, and speaking in a voice low and vibrating with passion.

He felt a pressure on his arm and heard in soft tones:

"Thank you, but you mustn't risk your life for me. Come away."

"What, and leave the fellow's challenge unanswered. Never! Sir, I am at your command. When and where you please."

"Don't be a fool, Vane—Sally's not worth it," whispered Jarvis. "Don't you know she's any man's money?"

For a moment Vane wavered as though Jarvis had convinced him. In the meantime Dorrimore had sheathed his sword and stepping close to Vane in front of Sally Salisbury, he said, dropping his voice so that Sally should not hear:

"Your friend's right. If we fight it should be over somebody better than a common trull. What say you to Lavinia Fenton?"

Vane staggered as though Dorrimore had struck him.

"Lavinia Fenton?" he faltered. "What—what do you know—about her? What is she to you?"

"Simply this—she's mine, and I'll have the blood of any man who attempts to rob me of her. You tried once, and this follows."

Dorrimore tapped the hilt of his sword.

"I never saw you before, sir, but I take you at your word. I can see now you've forced this quarrel on me, and for aught I know Mistress Salisbury may be in the plot. But that doesn't matter. If Miss Fenton is the cause, I shall fight with a better heart. Jarvis—please arrange this affair for me. You've a friend at hand, sir, I presume."

Dorrimore dropped his insolent, foppish air. He recognised that Vane, poverty stricken scribbler though he might be, was a gentleman. He bowed and turned towards the man who, with Jarvis, had interposed in the early stages of the altercation. This man was Rofflash. He had dragged Sally Salisbury some three or four yards away probably to prevent her interfering and persuading Vane not to fight. Whatever their talk might have been about, just as Dorrimore turned Vane saw Sally tear herself from Captain Jeremy's grasp and hurry away, and he became more than ever persuaded that she had betrayed him. What did it matter? One woman or another—they were all the same.

He walked apart while Jarvis and Rofflash arranged the preliminaries. His brain was numbed. He did not care whether he lived or died. Five minutes later Vane was joined by Jarvis.

"We've settled the business very comfortably," said Jarvis. "Seven o'clock at Battersea Fields. It's now nearly midnight. We'll get a rest at the nearest tavern; have a few hours sleep, and you'll wake as fresh as a lark."

Vane made no reply, and Jarvis sliding his arm within that of his companion, led him out of the gardens. They took the direction of Wandsworth, keeping by the river bank, and Jarvis made a halt at a tumbledown rookery of a waterside tavern—the "Feathers." Vane was so overwhelmed by the prospect of a possible tragedy that he scarcely noticed the dirt, the squalidness, the hot and foetid air and the evil-looking fellows who stared at them when he and Jarvis entered.

On the strength of the order of a bottle of wine the landlord gave them the use of his own room, and Vane threw himself on a hard settee, but not to sleep. He was worn and haggard when it was time to rise, and Jarvis called for brandy. It was vile stuff, and Vane swallowed scarcely a mouthful.

The bill paid, they got into a boat moored off the bank opposite the tavern.

It was only just daylight. A slight mist hung upon the river, and the marshy land on the south side and the scattered houses leading to Chelsea on the north side looked dreary enough. The only sound was the plash of the waterman's sculls and the grinding of the rowlocks. At last they came upon Battersea Fields.

"The pollard oaks, waterman," said Jarvis. "Do you know 'em?"

"Right well, your honour. You're not the first gentlemen I've took there. More'n than have come back, I'll swear."

The fellow's words weren't encouraging, but Vane did not seem affected by them. He felt strangely calm. Before he started his head was hot; now it was as cold as ice. Jarvis asked him how he was.

"Feel my pulse and tell me," said he.

"Steady as a rock, but devilish cold. A little thrust and parry'll warm you. Here we are, and there's your man and his second waiting."

The boat scraped the rushes and the waterman held it while the two men scrambled on to the bank.

The ground was fairly well chosen for the purpose. It was a tolerably firm piece of turf about a hundred yards long by some twenty broad and almost as smooth as a bowling green. It was the only solid piece of earth for some distance, all around being at a lower level and boggy.

Not forgetful of the usual courtesies, the combatants bowed and took off their coats and vests. It was then that Vane caught sight of Rofflash.

"You're the fellow whom I knocked down on London Bridge on a certain night some little time ago," said he.

"The very same," rejoined Rofflash with a grin which made his ugly face still uglier. "You took me unawares. If you've the mind to try conclusions a second time, fair and square and no surprises, by God, sir, I'll be pleased to oblige you when you've despatched Mr. Dorrimore."

The bully's braggart manner and sneering voice made no impression on Vane. The suspicion that he was the victim of a plot was strengthened by the presence of Rofflash and his words. For ought he could tell Jarvis might be in the conspiracy too. But there was no way out of the trap, and turning on his heel, he walked to his ground.

The duel began. The combatants were about equal in youth, height and build; in skill they were unfairly matched. Vane was comparatively a novice in the use of the "white arm." Dorrimore, on the other hand, was a practised swordsman, though he was not so accomplished as he fancied he was.

The two, after the preliminary salute, advanced to the attack. Dorrimore handled his weapon with a slightly contemptuous air, as if he did not think it worth while to take much trouble over so inferior an opponent.

To a certain extent he was right. Vane, however, was shrewd enough to see that this carelessness was but assumed, and he did not take advantage of one or two opportunities of thrusting given him by Dorrimore, evidently with the intention of leading him into a trap.

So they went on cautiously, their blades rasping against each other, and neither man gaining any advantage, although once or twice Vane found his antagonist's weapon perilously near his body. Then all at once Dorrimore changed his methods. He began fencing in earnest, and so rapid was the play of his sword that the eye could scarcely follow it. Suddenly he muttered an oath as a red stain appeared on his arm. Vane had been lucky enough to scratch him, probably more by accident than dexterity.

Dorrimore roused himself and his fencing became more vigorous. Vane was being pressed very closely, and Dorrimore's thrusts were becoming more and more difficult to parry. Moreover, Vane's nerves were unsteady and his movements were flustered. The gleaming steel danced, he grew confused, faltered, and then came a cold biting sensation in his chest, he fell and knew no more.

"An ugly thrust, Mr. Dorrimore," growled Rofflash five minutes afterwards. "What's to be done?"

"Is he dead?" asked Dorrimore anxiously. "I'd no intention of going as far as that, but it was the fool's own fault. He was rushing upon me when my point touched him. I couldn't withdraw it in time."

Rofflash, while with Marlborough's army, had acquired some rough knowledge of surgery. His hands had gone over Vane's chest in the region of the heart. The wound was on the right side.

"There's life left," said the captain, "but he won't last long without a surgeon. The blade's touched the lungs, I'll swear. Look ye here, sir. If the man dies it'll be awkward for us all round. The fight was fair enough, but the devil only knows what a dozen fools in a jury box may think. Besides, there's Sally—she'll have something to say, I'll swear."

"Sally? What the deuce has she to do with us?"

"More than you think, Mr. Dorrimore. She's as like as not to make out that the quarrel was forced upon the fellow to get him out of the way. You see, she's set her heart on him."

"Sally Salisbury's heart? What, has the saucy jade got one?" demanded Dorrimore derisively.

"She thinks so, and with Sally that's as good as having one. You might find it prudent to take refuge in France for a while till the affair blows over. It would be bad enough to kill the man right out, but a thousand times worse to leave him to bleed to death. I'm not so sure what Jarvis might say to save his skin. You see, he was paid to bring his man to Spring Gardens, so that you might affront him and get him to fight you," added Rofflash dropping his voice significantly.

"Devil take it! Where's a surgeon to be got?" returned Dorrimore in alarm.

"Leave it to me, sir. I can take him to a doctor who'll attend him and who'll hold his tongue, which is more to the purpose. It'll mean a few guineas, but 'twill be money well spent."

"See to it, then, Rofflash. Where's the man to be found?"

"His house is on London Bridge. The tide's running down fairly, and the waterman ought to get us to the bridge in half an hour."

Dorrimore assented gloomily. He was thinking that the gratification of his spite would cost him a pretty penny. Not only would the doctor, Rofflash and Jarvis have to be paid for their silence, but the waterman also.

Vane's wound was roughly bandaged, and he was taken to the boat still unconscious. The journey by water was made, and he was landed safely at the foot of London Bridge and consigned to the care of Dr. Mountchance, whose scruples at taking charge of a wounded man who might probably die in his house were easily overcome.

A few days later the following paragraph appeared in the Daily Post:

"We learn that an affair of honour has taken place between A——d D——e, Esqr., of the Temple, and Mr. L——t V——e, a young gentleman lately come from Cambridge University, in which the said young gentleman made the acquaintance of the Templar's sword, causing him temporary inconvenience. The cause of the difference was the fair S——y S——y, well known to many men of fashion."

It was this paragraph which sent Lavinia into a paroxysm of emotion and made her tear the newspaper in twain.



CHAPTER XXII

"MOLL'S SINGIN' BROUGHT HER LUCK AND MAY BE YOURS WILL TOO"

The months went over. Huddy's "travelling" theatrical troupe had been paying a round of visits to various towns in the home counties, performing in innyards, barns, any place suitable for the purpose and where no objections were raised by the justices. Actors and actresses were "rogues and vagabonds" when it suited prim puritans to call them so, and more than once Huddy and his company had to take a hurried departure from some town where play-acting was looked upon as ungodly and a device of Satan to ensnare the unsuspecting.

All this was in the day's work. Lavinia thought nothing of it. She had been in her youthful days harried from pillar to post and knew what it meant. The important thing to her was that she was getting a vast amount of stage experience, and as she was a quick "study" she had no difficulty in taking on a new role at a day's notice.

Lavinia remained with Huddy's until she had all the devices of the stage at her finger's ends. In a way theatrical training was easier then than now. Acting was largely a question of tradition. What Betterton, Wilks, Barton Booth, Mrs. Bracegirdle, Mrs. Barry, Mrs. Oldfield did others had to do. Audiences expected certain characters to be represented in a certain way and were slow to accept "new readings." Comedy, however, had more latitude than tragedy, and as comedy was Lavinia's line her winsome face and pleasing smile and her melodious voice were always welcome, and when she had a "singing" part she brought down the house.

Of course the life was hard—especially when the share of the receipts which fell to the minor members was small—but it was full of variety and sometimes of excitement. If the work did not entirely drive away the remembrance of Lancelot Vane it enabled her to look upon the romance of her early maidenhood with equanimity. Her love affair had become a regret tinged with a pleasureable sadness.

She was beginning to be known in the profession. Now and again she wrote to her old friend Gay and he replied with encouraging letters. His opera was finished, he told her, Colley Cibber had refused to have anything to do with it and it was now in the hands of John Rich.

"I can see thee, my dear, in Polly Peachum. I've had you in mind in the songs. You're doing well, I hear, but I'd have you do better. The duchess has forgiven you. She is on your side against Rich, who does not care a farthing for the music. He would alter his mind could he but hear you. Huddy must let you go. The Duke's Theatre is waiting for you."

In all Gay's letters there was not a word about Lancelot Vane. Lavinia would like to have known the fate of his play and the next instant was angry with herself for still feeling an interest in her faithless swain.

"Let him waste himself on Sally Salisbury if he likes," she cried scornfully. "He's nothing to me."

Gay's assertion that Rich's theatre in Lincoln's Inn Fields waited for her was soon verified. One of Rich's staff waited upon her when Huddy's company was playing at Woolwich, and she went off with him in high spirits and amid much growling from Huddy. Rich was pleased to express his approval of her appearance.

"I'll put on a play for you and that'll tell me if you knows your business," grunted the ungrammatical Rich.

The play was a poor thing—"The Wits," one of D'Avenant's comedies. The best part about it to Lavinia's fancy was the advertisement in the Daily Post where she read "Ginnet by Miss Fenton." Ginnet was but a stage waiting maid and Lavinia had little to do and less to say. "The Wits" ran but one night, quite as long as it was worth.

"You'll do pretty well," said Rich, "but I can't say more'n that. My theatre shuts for the next three months. When the season starts I'll find you summat else."

"Three months!" exclaimed Lavinia ruefully. "And what am I to do all that time, Mr. Rich?"

"That's your business, miss. If I was you I'd try one of the summer theatres. There's the Little Theatre in the Haymarket. May be you might get a part. But mind this, you're to come back here in October. I'll put you into something as'll soot you."

What could Lavinia say to this? It was at once sweet and bitter. She had made good her footing at Rich's theatre and could she only tide over the summer months she would be on the stepping stones of success. But meanwhile? She took Rich's advice and went to the Little Theatre. She found she had not the ghost of a chance of an engagement. Drury Lane and the Duke's Theatres were closed (Covent Garden Theatre was not then built), and actors and actresses of established reputation were clamorous for something to do. Lavinia retired discomfited.

She had to go back to Huddy's, to the mumming booth and the innyard. There was no help for it. The summer passed, Rich opened the Lincoln's Inn Fields playhouse and sent for Lavinia. He gave her quite an important part and Lavinia was elated, albeit the play was one of Wycherley's most repulsive productions, "The Country Wife." But all through the winter season this part was her only opportunity for distinction. John Rich, like most actor managers, had but an eye for himself as the central figure and in his own special province—dancing and posturing. His "Harlequin" entertainment "The Rape of Proserpine" proved to be one of his biggest successes and ran uninterruptedly for three months.

Lavinia's line in the piece was simply to "walk on" among the "lasses" but she had the gratification of seeing her name announced in the advertisements—a sufficient proof that she was rising in Rich's estimation. She had at last a chance of showing what she could do. Her old acquaintance, Mrs. Egleton, took her benefit along with Hippisley, one of the best low comedians of the day, and selected Farquhar's "The Beaux' Stratagem"—partly so she said, for Lavinia's sake.

"You were made for Cherry, my dear," said she. "The part'll fit you as easily as an old glove."

And so it did, but the next night Rich went back to "The Rape of Proserpine" and the piece continued to run until the summer, and then the theatre closed as usual for three months.

"Whatever am I to do Mrs. Egleton?" she cried despairingly. "I suppose I could join Huddy's company again. Huddy I know would be glad enough to have me but——"

"Pray don't be silly," put in the experienced Mrs. Egleton. "It would be lowering yourself. Rich would think you're not worth more than he's been paying you and that's little enough—fifteen shillings a week. Good Lord, how does he imagine a woman of our profession can live on that?"

"It's because of our profession that he parts with so little. He has a notion that we can make it up," rejoined Lavinia sarcastically.

"You never said a truer word than that, my dear. Thank God I've my husband, but you—well you'd better take a husband too or as nearly as you can get to one."

Lavinia shrugged her shoulders disdainfully.

"Why not go to Hampstead? Heaps of money there and plenty of life. Bless my heart alive, with that taking face of yours the men would be after you like flies round a honey-pot."

"I've no fancy for figuring as a honey-pot, thank you."

"Well, I can think of nothing else."

The mention of Hampstead was suggestive, but not in the way insinuated by Mrs. Egleton. Half fashionable London flocked to Hampstead in the summer, ostensibly to drink the water of the medicinal spring, but really to gamble, to dance and to flirt outrageously. There was plenty of entertainment too, of various sorts.

Then she thought of Hannah's cousin, Betty Higgins at Hampstead. Lavinia had saved a little money while with Rich and Huddy and she could afford a small rent for lodgings while she was seeking how to maintain herself. Concerts were given at the Great Room, Hampstead Wells. She might appear there too. She would love it. She had seldom had an opportunity of singing in any of the parts she had played, and singing was what her soul delighted in.

She made her way to Hampstead. The heath was wild enough in those days—clumps of woodland, straggling bushes, wide expanses of turf, vast pits made by the gravel and sand diggers, the slopes scored by water courses with here and there a foot path—all was picturesque. The ponds were very much as they are now, save that their boundaries were not restrained and after heavy rains the water spread at its own free will.

The village itself on the slopes overlooking the heath was cramped, the houses squeezed together in narrow passages with openings here and there where glorious views of the Highgate Woods and the country beyond delighted the eye.

Lavinia inquired for Betty Higgins in the village, but without success. Indeed, the houses were not such as washerwomen could afford to live in. Then she went into the quaint tavern known as the Upper Flask and here she was told that a Mrs. Higgins who did laundry work was to be found in a cottage not far from Jack Straw's Castle on the Spaniards' road and thither Lavinia tramped, footsore and tired, for she had walked all the way from London.

Betty, a stout, sturdy woman was at her clothes lines stretched from posts on a patch of drying ground in front of her cottage. She opened wide her round blue eyes as Lavinia approached her.

"Are you Betty Higgins?" asked Lavinia.

"Aye, that's me sure enough; an' who may you be, young woman?"

"I'm Lavinia Fenton, a friend of your Cousin Hannah, who works for my mother at the coffee house in the Old Bailey."

"So you're the young miss as she told me of! Why, that be months an' months agone. An' you never comed. It put me about, it did."

"I'm very sorry. I never thought of that. But so many things I didn't expect prevented me coming."

"Have you seen Hannah? She's been a-grievin' about you, thinkin' as you might ha' come to harm."

"No, I haven't been near the Old Bailey," said Lavinia hesitatingly. "Perhaps you'll guess why. I dare say Hannah's told you about me and my mother."

"Oh, to be sure she has. May be you don't know then that your mother's got another husband?"

"I'm glad of it. She won't bother any more about me now."

"May be not. But what d'ye want?"

"I'd like to know if you can let me have a lodging. It'll suit me to live at Hampstead for a while."

"But s'posing as it don't suit me to have you?"

"Then I must go somewhere else. I think Hannah would be glad if I was with you."

"Aye, but you've been away from her goodness knows how long. What have you been a-doin' of all that while?"

"Play-acting. I had a part last week in a play at the Lincoln's Inn Theatre and Mr. Rich has promised me an engagement when the theatre opens for the winter season."

"Oh," said Mrs. Higgins with a sniff which might have signified pity or contempt, or both. "I dunno as I hold with play-actin'. Brazen painted women some o' them actresses is and the words as is put in their mouths to say—well—there——"

"I know—I know," returned Lavinia hurriedly and with heightened colour. "But that isn't their fault, and after all, it's not so bad as what one hears in front—in the gallery——"

"What, the trulls and the trapes and the saucy footmen! It made my ears tingle when Hannah took me to Drury Lane. I longed to take a stick in my hand an' lay it about 'em. So you're a play-actin' miss are ye? I'm sorry for it."

"I can't help that, Mrs. Higgins. One must do something—besides there's good and bad folk wherever you go."

"Aye, an' ye haven't got to go from here neither. A pack o' bad 'uns, men and women, come to Hampstead. They swarm like rats at Mother Ruff's, dancin' an' dicin, an' drinkin', an' wuss. I won't say as you don't see the quality at the concerts in the Great Room, but the low rabble—well, thank the Lord they don't come my way."

Then Betty Higgins, who all this time had been eyeing the girl and apparently taking stock of her, suddenly harked back to the all important business which had brought Lavinia to her cottage.

"If I let ye a lodging what are ye a-goin' to do till October?"

"You spoke about the concerts at the Great Room just now," said Lavinia meditatively. "Do they have singing?"

"Singin'? Ah, an' such singin' as I never heard afore. I've never been inside, it's far too fine fur the likes o' me, but the windows are sometimes open an' I've listened an' paid nothin' fur it neither."

"I want to sing in that room, Mrs. Higgins. If I had a chance I believe I could please the fine gentlemen and their ladies and earn some money."

Betty Higgins stared aghast.

"What are ye a-talkin' about, child? You sing? Where's your silk gown, your lace, your furbelows to come from?"

"I don't know, but I think something might be contrived."

Lavinia had Mrs. Houghton, who had been the leading lady in "The Orphan" and in "The Wits," in her mind. Mrs. Houghton was very friendly towards her and had no end of fine dresses.

"Oh, but singin'. Goodness me, child, you haven't heard 'em in the Great Room, all tralalas and twists and turns up and down, sometimes soft as a mouse and sometimes so loud as 'ud a'most wake the dead. I'd like to hear ye do all that, not mind ye, as I understand what it means, but its pure grand."

"I'll sing something to you Betty that you can understand. What of 'My lodging, it is on the Cold Ground.' Would you like to hear that?"

"Wouldn't I! My mother was maid to Mistress Moll Davies, as King Charles was mad over, though for the matter o' that he was always a runnin' after the women. Anyway, it was that song and the way Moll sung it as won his heart. Ah, them days is past an' I'm afeared as I mustn't speak well of 'em or I'd be called a 'Jack,' clapped into Newgate or sent to Bridewell and lashed. But give me 'Lodging on the Cold Ground' an' I'll tell ye what I think. But I warn ye, mother copied Mrs. Davies an' 'll know how it ought to be sung."

Lavinia laughed to herself. She was quite sure if she could satisfy Mr. Gay and Dr. Pepusch she could please Betty Higgins.

"Them old songs," went on Betty, warming to her subject, "touches the 'eart and makes the tears come. But you don't hear 'em at the fine concerts. I'll go bail as there beant a woman now-a-days as can make a man fall in love with her 'cause of her singin'."

"I wonder," said Lavinia musingly.

"Well now, let me take in the clothes an' we'll have a dish o' tea an' a bite and then you shall sing your song."

"Yes, and I'll help you with the clothes."

Lavinia's offer pleased Betty, and the two were soon busy pulling the various garments and bits of drapery from the lines and gathering from the grass others that had been set to bleach in the wind and sun. This done they entered the cottage. The window was small and the light dim. A white-haired old woman was warming her hands and crooning over a wood fire.

"Eh, mother," cried Betty, "I've brought someone to sing to ye. 'Lodgin' on the Cold Ground,' do ye remember that old ditty?"

"Do I mind it? Why, to be sure. But who sings it now-a-days? Nobody."

"Well, ye're going to hear it, and ye'll have to say if this young miss here trolls it as well as Moll Davies used to."

"What stuff ye be talkin', Betty," retorted the old woman. "Nobody can. I can remember my mistress a-singin' it as well as if it was only yesterday."

"Do ye hear that—I've forgotten what name Hannah told me yours was?"

"Lavinia Fenton. But please call me Lavinia."

"So I will. Now sit ye down, Lavinia, and talk to mother while I brew the tea."

Lavinia was rather dismayed at finding she was to pit herself against the fascinating Moll whose charms had conquered the Merry Monarch—possibly no very arduous task.

The old lady was past eighty, but in possession of all her faculties. When she said she remembered Moll Davies' singing perfectly well she probably spoke the truth.

Tea was over. Betty cleared away and Lavinia at her request—to be correct—at her command, sang, keeping her eyes fixed on the old lady and so to speak singing at her.

Before long the aged dame was mopping her eyes, and when Lavinia had finished the pathetic ballad she stretched out both her wrinkled hands towards the girl and in a quivering voice said:—

"Thank you, my dear. Lor' ha' mercy, it takes me back sixty year. I haven't heard that song since Mistress Davies sung it, an' lor' bless me, it might be her voice as I were a-listin' to. Aye, an' you're like her in face, though not in body. She was short an' a bit too plump, but she was the prettiest of wenches. Moll's singin' brought her luck and maybe yours will too."

Lavinia heard the old lady's praise with delight. Betty could say nothing. She was gazing spellbound at the nightingale. The charm of the girl's melodious and expressive voice had swept away all her prejudices. Lavinia should have a lodging and welcome. Betty went further. She did the laundry of Mrs. Palmer, the wife of the director of the concerts at the Great Room, and she undertook to tell the lady of the musical prodigy living in her cottage, and promised Lavinia to beg her ask her husband to hear the girl sing.



CHAPTER XXIII

"HALF LONDON WILL BE CALLING YOU POLLY"

And so it came about. Lavinia was sent for by Mr. Palmer, and she sang to him. He was highly pleased with her voice, but he was afraid her songs would not be to the fancy of his fashionable patrons.

"One half are mad to have nothing but Mr. Handel's music and t'other half cry out for Signor Buononcini's. Your songs are like neither. There's no taste for English ballads. They're out of fashion. Scales, ornaments, shakes and flourishes are now the mode. For all that, I'd like to make the venture with you just for once."

"Thank you, sir. If the people don't care for my songs, there's an end on it. I'll have to wait as best I can till Mr. Rich opens his theatre. I may have a singing part in Mr. Gay's opera. Mr. Gay has promised me. Have you heard about his opera?" cried Lavinia eagerly.

"Oh, it's being talked of in the coffee houses, I'm told. But if Mr. Rich has his way, it won't do. Maybe he'll cut out the songs. Mr. Rich knows nothing about music. He can't tell 'Lilibullero' from 'Lumps of pudding.' Still, it's something to be taken notice of by Mr. Gay."

Palmer was evidently impressed by Lavinia's talk, especially after she had mentioned that she had sung to Dr. Pepusch at Mr. Pope's Villa. It occurred to him that though Lavinia Fenton might be unknown now, a day might come when she would be famous, and he could then take credit for having recognised her talents.

Besides, the manager happened to know that Gay and Arbuthnot were at that moment staying at Hampstead to drink the waters—the first to cure his dyspepsia, and the second to ease his gout. Palmer decided to send word to the poet-dramatist intimating that a young lady in whom he had heard Mr. Gay was interested was about to sing at one of the Great Room concerts and begging for the honour of his patronage. But he said nothing to Lavinia about this. All he remarked was that she should sing at his concert on the following Wednesday, and Lavinia went away in a dream of pleasurable anticipation.

The eventful night came. Lavinia was full of enthusiasm but horribly nervous. She felt she was competing with the two greatest composers of music in the world. What if the audience hissed her? Audiences, as she well knew, were not slow to express their likes and dislikes—and especially their dislikes—in the most unmistakeable fashion.

The difficulty of her dress had been overcome. Palmer was shrewd. He had an eye for contrast. He would have no finery and fallals, he said.

"Your songs are simple, so must your gown be. If the people take to you in the one they will in t'other."

So Lavinia made her appearance in a plain dress, apron, mob cap, and of course prodigious hoops. Her hair was arrayed neatly and not powdered. There was powder enough and to spare on the wigs of the beaux in front, and on the elaborate head-dresses of the belles.

Lavinia's unadorned dress suited her natural and easy carriage and made her doubly attractive. Not a hand was raised when she bowed, but she could see that every eye was turned upon her with expectancy and curiosity. But there was also a certain amount of indifference which provoked her. It could hardly be supposed that anything out of fashion would be of interest to such modish folk.

Lavinia chose her favourite—"My lodging it is on the cold ground."

There were not a few aged bucks, painted and powdered and patched, aping the airs and graces of younger gallants, who could remember Charles II. and Moll Davies. They were startled when they heard Lavinia's liquid notes in the old ballad—they felt that for a brief space they were recovering their youth.

As for the rest, they were conscious of a pleasant surprise. Against the simplicity and pathos of the old ballad Buononcini's stilted artificialities sounded tame and monotonous. When Lavinia finished applause filled the room. She had to sing again.

"You've caught 'em, my dear," said Palmer enthusiastically. "Before a week's over you'll be the talk of Hampstead. You must stay here and sing whenever I want you. Not every night—that would make you common. Only now and again, just as a novelty. Do you understand?"

Lavinia knew the ways of showmen quite well. She smiled and nodded, and her eyes wandering towards the door of the ante-room in which she and Palmer had been talking, whom should her gaze light upon but Mr. Gay! Palmer was very well acquainted with Gay by sight, and hastening towards the visitor made him a low bow.

"I am highly honoured, sir, by your presence here to-night," said Palmer, "I hope you did not think my sending you a ticket was taking a liberty."

"Tut, tut, man! 'Twas very polite of you," returned Gay good-humouredly. "I'm glad to be able to congratulate you on the success of your new acquisition, especially as the little lady interests me greatly—as, indeed, you mentioned in your note, though how you came to know of that interest I'm at a loss to conceive, unless she told you so herself."

"Not directly, sir, I confess. But she chanced to remark that she had sung to you and to Dr. Pepusch, whom I am fortunate in numbering among my friends."

"Aye, aye. Well, she can sing, eh? What d'ye think?"

"Admirable, sir, admirable. She has been gifted both by nature and art."

"And those gifts should put money in her pocket and yours too, Mr. Palmer. I hope you'll reward her on a liberal scale."

"Why, certainly, sir. I shall be happy to oblige you."

"Oh, obliging me has nothing to do with the matter. But we will talk of that later on. Pray pardon me."

With a slight bow Gay turned away and walked to where Lavinia was standing, her cheeks glowing and her eyes glistening with pleasure at the sight of the genial poet who had done so much to encourage her.

"Why, Polly," said Gay, extending his hand, "how came you here? I left you making your way on the stage, and now I find you a songstress. Faith, my dear, are you thinking of going back to your early days when you did nothing but sing songs?" he added laughingly.

"Not quite that, sir, but I always did love singing, as you know. And so do you, sir, or you would never have persuaded the good duchess to spend so much money on me."

"Oh, maybe I was thinking of myself all the while," rejoined Gay. "I admit I saw in you the very young woman I'd had in my mind for a long time, for Polly Peachum in my opera. Did I not call thee Polly from the very first?"

"Yes, indeed, sir. I've never forgotten it. I hope you'll always call me Polly."

"Make your mind easy as to that. Why, if my dreams come true, half London will some day be calling you Polly, too."

"I don't know what you mean, sir."

"Of course you don't. I'm not always sure that I know what I do mean. But never mind. Let us take a stroll on the heath. On such a summer night as this it is a shame to be cooped up betwixt four walls. Besides, I want to talk with you."

Manager Palmer bade Lavinia good-night with an air very different from that with which he met her earlier in the evening. Her success and Gay's evident friendship had worked wonders. He was quite deferential.

As Lavinia and Gay passed through the dimly lighted vestibule to the entrance a man from among the audience stole after them. He was very pale and his pallor accentuated his projecting cheek bones and the hollows above, from the depths of which his large eyes gleamed with a glassy light. Evidently in ill health, he could hardly have kept pace with the couple he was shadowing had they not been walking very slowly.

"Everything is in our favour," Gay was saying. "Fortune has sent you here at the right moment. You can act and you can sing. I know it, but John Rich and the Duchess of Queensberry must know it as well. Both your acting and singing must be put to the proof, and you must show her grace that she hasn't wasted her money."

"That's what I'm most anxious to do, sir."

"Aye, aye. Well, to-morrow I shall bring you some of the songs you'll have to sing in my 'Beggar's Opera'—that is if we can talk that curmudgeon Rich into the ideas that I and my friends have in our minds. Are you lodging in Hampstead?"

"Oh, yes. I'm staying with Hannah's cousin. You remember Hannah, don't you, Mr. Gay? I told you what a good friend she was to me and how she saved me from my wicked mother and the designing fellow I was so silly as to run away with. I shall never forget my mad fancies—never!"

"Best forget them, my dear, though I fear you'll be apt to drive out one fit of madness by taking on another. 'Tis the way love has, and——"

"Oh," interrupted Lavinia hastily, "I don't believe it. I'm not going to bother about love any more."

"Every woman has uttered those words, and has had to eat them. How many times have you eaten yours, my pretty Polly, since last you resolved to forswear love?"

"Not once. I've learned my lesson. I know it now by heart."

"So it doesn't interest you now to know anything about poor Lance Vane?"

It was not the pale moonlight that made Lavinia's cheeks at that moment look so white. Gay, who was gazing fixedly at her, saw her lips quiver.

"Poor Lance Vane? Why do you speak of him like that? Has he had his play accepted and has it made his fortune?" she exclaimed ironically.

"Neither the one nor the other. Ill luck's dogged him. I fear he wasn't born under a prosperous star."

"I'm sorry if he's been unfortunate. Perhaps though it was his own fault."

A note of sadness had crept into her voice as Gay did not fail to note.

"Well, it's hard to say. To be sure, his tragedy would not have taken the town—neither Rich nor Cibber would have aught to do with it, but he had worse misfortunes than that. He was denounced as a traitorous Jacobite and thrown into Newgate."

Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5     Next Part
Home - Random Browse