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Madame Flirt - A Romance of 'The Beggar's Opera'
by Charles E. Pearce
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"That horrible place! Oh, I can't believe it," cried Lavinia, clasping her hands. "Mr. Vane was no traitor, I'm sure—although——"

She paused. Politically Lancelot Vane might be incapable of treason, but where love was concerned—well, had he not acted traitorously towards her?

"That's true. Vane was no traitor. He was accused out of spite. I went to see him in Newgate. They had thrust him in the 'lion's den,' the most filthy and abominable of infernos, and he was loaded with fetters. That was because he hadn't a penny to 'garnish' his sharks of gaolers. You know what 'garnish' means, child?"

"Yes, indeed—money to bribe the gaolers with."

"Aye, from the Governor downward, and not forgetting the chaplain. I was able by flinging about a few guineas to better his condition, and as the gaol fever was creeping upon the poor fellow, they were glad enough to get rid of him. While I was there, he told me the whole story. It began like most other stories with a woman."

"Oh, I know," burst out Lavinia, "you needn't tell me. The woman was that worthless creature, Sally Salisbury."

"You're wrong there," returned Gay gravely, "the woman's name was Lavinia Fenton."

"That's not so. It couldn't be so. The newspaper said that Vane fought with Archibald Dorrimore, and that the quarrel was about Sally Salisbury."

"The quarrel was part of the plot. It was concocted to hold up Vane to your scorn. Dorrimore wanted revenge because he thought Vane had succeeded where he had failed. True, Sally was present when the quarrel began, but that might have been an accident. Indeed, it's possible she was in the plot. Vane doesn't know one way or t'other."

Lavinia was silent for a few moments. Then she said:

"And is Mr. Vane in Newgate now?"

"No. He was brought to trial after innumerable delays. The evidence against him amounted to nothing. The witnesses—one of them a lying wretch who ought to be whipped at the cart's tail from Newgate to Charing Cross, by name Jeremy Rofflash—were scoundrelly common informers of the lowest type. Lancelot's father, a Whig clergyman and strong supporter of King George, appeared in court to speak on behalf of his son's character, and the lad was acquitted. But I fear he's broken in health, and I doubt if he'll be the man he was before."

Again Lavinia was silent. It was all very sad, and she felt full of pity for Lance. But at the back of her thoughts lurked the remembrance of Sally Salisbury's mocking face, of her vulgar spite. She was not altogether convinced that Lancelot Vane was insensible to Sally's undoubted attractions. She sighed.

"To-morrow, then," went on Gay, "I shall bring you the songs I want you to learn."

They had now come in sight of Betty's cottage. Lavinia pointed it out to her companion, and Gay, bidding her adieu, turned in the direction of Hampstead village.

Pensively Lavinia walked towards the cottage. She had told herself over and over again that she cared no more for Lancelot—that she had blotted him out of her life—that she wanted neither to see him nor to hear of him. Yet now that he had gone through so terrible an ordeal she had a yearning to offer him her sympathy, if not to forgive him.

"No, I can't do that," she murmured. "Accident or not, that vile woman was with him—his arms were round her. I'll swear my eyes didn't play me false."

Suddenly she heard a halting step behind her. The heath at night was a favourite haunt of questionable characters from dissolute men of fashion to footpads, and a lone woman had need to dread one as much as the other. Betty's cottage was but a few yards away, and Lavinia quickened her pace.

"Miss Fenton—one moment, I entreat," came in a panting whisper. "I—I am Lancelot Vane. I must speak with you."



CHAPTER XXIV

"FOR THE SECOND TIME VANE HAD RISKED HIS LIFE FOR HER"

Lavinia stopped and turned, not completely round but half way. She was in a flutter, though outwardly calm. She made no attempt to recognise Vane, and indeed had Lancelot not announced himself, recognition would have been difficult, so greatly had he changed.

"You've forgotten me. You're right," he went on agitatedly. "I deserve to be forgotten, though if you knew of the dastardly plot to crush me I believe even you would forgive me."

"Even I? Am I, then, so hard-hearted?"

"No, I don't believe you are, but everything looked so black against me I could scarce hope that you would listen to what I have to say. And there's so great a difference between our fortunes. Mine's blighted. Yours—I heard you sing to-night. 'Twas ravishing. You're destined to be famous. Mr. Gay confided to me his hopes about you. Did he say how good he was to visit me in Newgate—that hell upon earth?"

"Yes, Mr. Gay is the best man living. I owe everything to him."

"I know—I know. He went over your story. You're wonderful. But I always thought that, though I knew so little about you."

He paused. His glistening eyes scanned her face eagerly. He would have given worlds to know what was in her mind and heart. But she gave him no chance. She remained impassive.

"You've been very unfortunate, Mr. Vane. I'm truly sorry for you."

"That's something," said he gratefully. "It consoles me for what I've gone through. The lies told by Rofflash and Jarvis, who I thought was my friend, nearly sent me to Tyburn."

"And Mistress Salisbury?"

Lavinia's manner was as cold as ice. It was only by a great effort that she forced her lips to utter Sally's name. She knew it meant a deadly thrust for Vane, but a woman has no mercy where another woman is concerned.

Vane hung his head.

"I don't know what to think about her," said he huskily. "I can hardly believe she was in the conspiracy to consign me to the gallows."

"Why not? Is she in love with you?"

"How can I tell? I—I—well, I suppose I may say in justice to her that she did her best to nurse me through the fever that followed my wound."

"Then she does love you," cried Lavinia roused out of her coldness. "I can't imagine the creature doing a good action without a strong motive."

"I've heard say she's generous and is always ready to put her hand in her pocket to help anybody in distress."

"Very likely. It's easy to be generous with money that comes so lightly. Every guinea she spends is tainted," exclaimed Lavinia passionately. "And so you accepted her help?"

"Not in money. She found me grievously ill at Dr. Mountchance's on London Bridge. Mountchance is a quack and a charlatan, and she had me carried to her own lodgings else I must have died. I'd scarce recovered from my wound when I was arrested at Rofflash's instigation and thrown into Newgate."

"I suppose she did right and you, too, Mr. Vane," rejoined Lavinia with a toss of her head. "It is naught to do with me. Let us talk of other matters. Mr. Gay tells me your father's a clergyman."

"Yes. He would have had me be one too, but I hated everything to do with the Church. We parted in anger, and I went my own way. Ill luck followed me. I've made a mess of my life. Everything went wrong. I thought Fortune was coming my way when I met you, but she turned her back."

"That wasn't my fault, Mr. Vane."

"Great heaven, no! 'Twas entirely my own folly and accursed fate. I've no one to blame but myself. Wine was an easy way of drowning my troubles."

"You've no need to remind me of that, Mr. Vane," put in Lavinia hastily.

"I beg your pardon for going over my sins, but open confession's good for the soul, they say."

"I'd rather not hear about your sins, Mr. Vane. I don't want to listen when you talk like that. Tell me something of the other side."

"I doubt if there is another side," he rejoined in deep dejection. "I've had to come back to my father. He's vicar of a parish not far from here. You see my stay in Newgate and my trial ruined me. The publishers refused me employment and even my old companions turned their backs upon me."

"That was no loss."

"Perhaps not, but it convinced me I was done for in London."

"What do you intend to do, then?"

"I can't tell. Nothing, I suppose. I had my tragedy returned, and I've no heart to write another—except, maybe, my own, and that will have to be the task of somebody else."

"What do you mean? You're talking in riddles. How can anybody else write your tragedy?"

"Anybody who knew the facts could do it. You could. No one better. The end's the difficulty—for you, not for me. But sooner or later you'd hear what the end was."

Lavinia grasped his wrist tightly, and looking into his face, saw his lips twitching convulsively.

"I understand," she burst out, "you mean to take your own life. Oh...."

"A tragedy must have a tragic finish or it isn't a tragedy. What have I left but for the curtain to come down?"

"You're talking nonsense. Think of your father—your mother, if you have one."

"The best in the world, poor soul."

"Very well, that settles it. You're more fortunate than I am. My mother's about the worst."

"Anyhow, one must die sooner or later. I was within an ace of death two months ago. The gallows wouldn't have been worse than a Hampstead pond."

"You're more foolish than ever. I won't listen to you. Swear to be sensible and think no longer of the miserables. I don't believe you're much more than a year older than me. Life's all before you."

"Life? A very little bit of it, and what a life! Waiting for death. Shall I tell you what Dr. Mead, the great physician, told my father who asked him to see me? 'That young man hasn't long to live. I give him a year. Killed by the Newgate pestilence.' Now, what do you say, Miss Fenton?"

"Don't call me Miss Fenton," cried Lavinia, her voice quivering. "It makes us seem miles apart. You poor fellow! But doctors aren't always right."

"This one is. I feel it. But I don't care so long as you forgive me and make me believe I'm no longer a stranger. You do pardon me, don't you, Lavinia?"

"Oh, yes—yes—let us forget everything but our two selves," she cried impulsively. Her heart was overflowing with pity. She held out both her hands. He seized them and raised them to his lips.

"May I meet you to-morrow?" he whispered. "The only thing I would live for is the joy of seeing you, of hearing your voice. It will be but for a short time."

"Oh, you mustn't say that. You don't know," she cried tremulously.

A wistful smile stole over his wan face. Silently he held her hands for a few seconds, pressed them spasmodically and the next moment they were free. He had crept away.

A wave of emotion swept over Lavinia. Her temples throbbed. A lump rose in her throat. Her eyes were streaming. She was inexpressibly sad. Jealousy, resentment, every harsh feeling had disappeared. Though she had tried to combat Vane's dismal forebodings a conviction was gradually forcing itself upon her that he was right. He was a doomed man.

It was quite ten minutes before she was composed enough to enter the cottage. Betty and her mother were tiptoe with excitement. The old woman was too feeble to walk as far as the concert room, but her daughter had gone and listened outside, and as it was a hot night and the windows were open, she heard Lavinia's song perfectly.

"Mercy on me, child, why, an angel couldn't ha' sung more beautiful. La, if it only be like that in Heaven! I'd ha' given anything for mother to ha' been there. I see you come out with a gentleman, but I know manners better than to stare at others as is above me."

"That was Mr. Gay, the poet. It was he who took me to the Duchess of Queensberry. I told you how kind she was to me, didn't I?"

"Aye, so you did. Well, but sure how the folk did clap their hands and roar for you to sing again. They loved to hear you purely an' no wonder. I never heard anything like it. But bless me, Lavinia—beggin' your pardon, which I ought to say Miss Fenton—you don't seem overjoyed."

"The girl's a-tired out," put in the old lady. "I mind it was just the same with my poor mistress Molly. She sometimes couldn't move one foot in front o' t'other when she comed off the stage."

"That's true enough," said Lavinia wearily. "It's the excitement. I shall be myself again after a night's rest."

"Aye, to be sure. Some supper, as is all ready, and then to bed," cried Betty.

The prescription was good enough, but so far as the supper was concerned Lavinia could not, to use Betty's words, "make much of a fist of it." She was glad enough to escape the clack of tongues and the fire of questions and crawl to her room.

Slowly the hours crept by, and when the early summer dawn broke Lavinia was still awake watching the faint streaks of pale gold through the little latticed window.

The rest in bed had not brought repose. Her mind was troubled. Lancelot Vane's unexpected appearance and the story of his persecution strove for mastery with the recollection of her triumph at the concert and had overpowered it. All the old tenderness, the joy of being near him revived. It was useless to ask why, useless to call herself weak and silly to be drawn towards a man who had no force of character, whose prospects were remote, whose health was undermined. The impression she once had that he was faithless had not wholly disappeared, and she tried to banish it. Her imagination found for him all manner of excuses. Yet she could not decide that she wanted to see him again. One moment it seemed as though the blank which had come into her life since their rupture had been filled up now that he had come back, the next that it would have been better if he had not. She had gradually come to regard her profession and all it meant to her in the future as the only thing that mattered, and now in a flash at the sight of him all was uncertainty and distraction.

But for the second time Vane had risked his life for her! Mr. Gay said it was on her account that he had fought with Dorrimore, and Mr. Gay would not tell an untruth. After all, this was everything. How could she think otherwise than kindly of a man in spite of his faults, who was ever ready to champion her? And she dropped off to sleep no longer saying that she would not meet him.



CHAPTER XXV

"MR. RICH HAS GIVEN ME AN ENGAGEMENT"

Lavinia slept late and was only aroused by Betty hammering at her door.

"Get up—get up, Miss Lavvy. A fine gentleman's a-waiting to see 'ee. 'Tis him as I see go out with 'ee last night from the concert."

"Mr. Gay," said Lavinia to herself. Then aloud: "I won't be long. What's the time?"

"Pretty nigh mid-day. I didn't wake 'ee afore 'cause I knowed you was tired. He's a nice pleasant gentleman, sure. I wanted to hurry granny out o' the room, but he wouldn't hear of it. I left 'em a-talking about play matters. Once get mother on to that she'll go on fur ever."

Lavinia sprang out of bed and hurried over her toilet. She presented herself quite flushed and flustered. Gay received her with a smile and noted her animation with pleasure. He unrolled a number of sheets of music. The paper was rough and the notes, engraved and not printed as to-day, were cramped and scratchy.

"You know some of these tunes may be, Polly; those you don't know you'll soon learn. I'm going to speak to Mr. Palmer about your singing two or three just to see how the people take 'em. The words will be the old ones, not my new verse. You won't have to trouble about my words yet awhile."

Gay ran over the titles of the old ballads—Purcell's "What shall I do to show how much I love her?" "Grim King of the Ghosts," "Thomas I cannot," "Now ponder well ye parents dear," "Pretty parrot say," "Over the hills and far away," "Gin thou wert my ain thing," "Cease your funning," "All in the Downs."

"Those are the principal songs," went on Gay.

"Yes, I know a few, but I've never heard of the others," cried Lavinia a little dismayed. "How shall I learn the tunes?"

"You must come to my lodgings in the village and I'll play them over to you on the flute. My friend, Dr. Arbuthnot, will be pleased to hear you sing 'em. It will do him good—perhaps charm away his gout. The doctor knows you."

"Does he, sir? I don't remember him."

"He was at Mr. Pope's villa the day you sang to us. I must have a harpsichord and we must have Dr. Pepusch to tell us what he thinks."

Lavinia heard all this with great delight. She felt she was really not only on the ladder of success but was climbing upwards safely.

Gay then fell to talking of other matters, and incidentally mentioned that John Rich was back from Bath where he had been taking the waters, and that he must be talked into engaging Lavinia permanently when the season opened in October.

"It won't be singing yet awhile Polly, so don't be disappointed if you have to continue to walk on the stage and come off again. I'm told his 'Harlequin' hasn't finished its run so he'll open with that and go on till my opera's ready. I'm all impatience to see you in it."

Then patting her cheek and chucking her under the chin Gay took his leave.

It would have been hard for Lavinia to say how the day passed. She walked on the heath for no other purpose, so she said, save to revel in the sunshine and pure air. She had a secret hope that she might encounter Lancelot Vane, but embarrassment was mingled with that hope. It would be better not, she felt, yet she was disappointed all the same when after strolling about for half an hour she saw nothing of him, and banishing her vain thoughts she went on to the concert room to inquire if she were wanted to sing that night.

"Yes, to be sure," said Palmer. "You're all the talk. I've seen Mr. Gay, and he tells me he's given you some songs he would like you to sing. Suppose you go over a couple now for me?"

A harpsichord was in the room and Palmer asked her to sing what she liked and he would fill in an accompaniment as best he could as she had not brought the music. She selected "Now ponder well ye parents dear," the tender pathos of which had always appealed to her, and "Thomas I cannot," a merry ditty which she knew from her old experience as a street singer would be sure to please. Palmer was delighted with both. The first he said brought tears to his eyes and the second put him in good humour.

"My dear, you could not have made a better choice. I expect a crowded room and you'll conquer 'em all."

And so she did. There was no longer coldness—no longer indifference. Everybody was agog with expectation, everybody was pleased. Lavinia's triumph was complete. Night after night it was the same. Palmer had never had so successful a season. He put money in his pocket and he paid his new star fairly well.

Two or three times a week for over a month Lavinia went to Gay's lodgings and rehearsed the songs she did not know and those also with which she was already acquainted. The words Gay gave her to sing were not those to which she was accustomed and she found the change confusing. Moreover, at each rehearsal some alterations in the words were made, occasionally by Gay, occasionally at the suggestion of Dr. Arbuthnot. But she never wearied, and so she was sufficiently rewarded for her trouble when Gay bestowed upon her a word of praise.

But Lancelot Vane?

He came not in spite of his earnest entreaty that she would meet him. At first she was wounded, then she was indignant. She remembered how faithless he had proved, and all her bitterness against him and Sally Salisbury revived. Then came a revulsion of feeling. Why should he not be ill? Nay, he might even be dead. Perhaps worse. If he had carried out his despairing threat? She pictured him floating on the surface of a Hampstead pond and a shudder went over her at the gruesome thought. Finally she subsided into dull resignation and strove to think no more about him.

It was September; with the colder weather came the waning of the Hampstead season, the fashionable folk were returning to London and preparing for masquerades, ridottos, the theatres and the opera. The Great Room concerts were but thinly attended and for a whole fortnight Lavinia had not sung twice. But this did not matter to her. She had been written to by John Rich, and he had engaged her at a little higher salary than he had hitherto paid.

Lavinia sang for the last time at Hampstead and quitted the Great Room not without regrets and doubts. Would she be as successful at the Duke's Theatre? Would she have her chance? She well knew the rivalries a rising actress would have to encounter. But what disturbed her most was that Gay's enthusiasm over his opera did not seem so keen as it had been. She dared not ask him the cause of his depression. She could only watch his varying moods and hope the melancholy ones would pass.

Hitherto Betty had always been waiting for her to accompany her across the heath, but this last night she was not in her usual place at the door. Lavinia was not surprised as Betty had a bad cold. She hurried out, anxious to get home. Some one a yard or so from the entrance shrank into the darkness as she passed out but not so rapidly that he was not noticed and recognised.

Lavinia was full of generous impulses that evening. Everything had gone so well with her, and the future in spite of her doubts was so bright.

"Mr. Vane," she cried and moved a step towards him. "Do I frighten you that you don't want to see me?"

"No," she heard him say, but it was with difficulty for his voice was so low. "I'm not frightened but I'm afraid of what you might say or think."

"You don't give me a chance of the one or the other," she retorted. "You don't keep your own appointments. 'Tis a bad habit of forgetfulness with women, it's worse with men."

"You're right, but in my case 'tis not forgetfulness. I've seen you every time you've sung. I've not missed once."

"And you've never acknowledged my presence! Thank you."

"I was at fault there, I suppose. I kept my happiness to myself. I ought to have thanked you for the joy of seeing and hearing you but I was doubtful whether I should not be intruding."

"It would have been no intrusion," rejoined Lavinia her tone softening.

"Then I hope my admiration is not an impertinence."

"Oh, you're too modest, Mr. Vane. You've no confidence in yourself—save when you've need to strike a blow."

"I've no confidence that I'm acceptable to you and—but may I accompany you across the heath? I notice that your usual bodyguard is absent to-night."

"Oh, you've noticed that. May be that bodyguard prevented what you're pleased to call your intrusion."

"It made no difference. Had you been alone I should have taken care that you reached home safely but you would not have known that I was within call. May I?"

He had offered his arm. She accepted it. Now that he was close to her she could see that he had vastly improved. His unhealthy pallor was gone, his eyes had lost their glassiness, his step was firm, his body more elastic.

They set out. For a few yards not a word was said. Lavinia was the first to speak.

"I hope the Hampstead ponds have lost their attraction," said she lightly.

"Indeed yes—thanks to you. My mother says it is due to the Hampstead air, but I know better. Is it true that I'm no longer to drink of the elixir that is restoring me to health and sanity? Are you going to leave Hampstead?"

"Yes, I'm returning to London. Mr. Rich has given me an engagement."

"I congratulate you. You're fortunate, but your fortune's not more than you deserve. You're going to be famous. I'm sure of it."

"Well—and you? You'll be writing something soon, won't you?"

"I think not. I've no mind to court failure a second time. My father has secured me a post at a mercers in Ludgate Hill. I'm still to mingle with books but they're not of the sort which used to interest me. They have to do with figures. I've undertaken to keep the accounts."

"I wish you success. Mind you keep 'em correctly. I've my doubts about that," rejoined Lavinia with a little laugh. "But I mustn't discourage you."

"You'll never do that. I love even your chiding."

"That's nonsense."

"It's true. I swear it."

The talk was drifting into a personal channel and Lavinia swiftly changed the subject. The rest of the way was occupied in friendly chat. At parting Lancelot would have kissed her hand but she adroitly avoided his homage. Not because she was averse but because she thought it discreet.

Lavinia went to bed that night content with the world and with herself. She felt a secret pleasure that she had in a way brought Vane back to life though how she had done it she could not explain. At any rate, there was no magic about it. It was a very ordinary thing—no romance—and certainly no love. So at least she argued and ended by thinking she had convinced herself.

In London Lavinia went back to her old lodgings in Little Queen Street, and revived her acquaintance with Mrs. Egleton. The latter received her with much effusion, which puzzled Lavinia not a little. The cause, however, was revealed when the lady explained how she had heard from John Rich that when "The Beggar's Opera" was put into rehearsal he was going to give her the part of Lucy.

"And you, my dear, are to play Polly."

"So Mr. Gay says, but I don't know for certain."

"Have you read the play?"

"No, I've only learned my songs."

"And the duet with me?"—"I'm bubbled."

"No. I know nothing about that."

"It's terribly hard, but there's plenty of time to get it by heart. I'm dreadfully nervous though. We have to sing it without any instruments, not even a harpsichord. All the songs are to be like that."

"Oh.... Won't it all sound very poor?"

"Of course it will. You see that mean hunks Rich won't go to the expense of a band. He doesn't know how the opera will take the people. It may be hissed off the stage the first night. I don't trouble my head about politics—I can't say I know what the rubbish means—but I'm told there's a good deal in the opera that's likely to give offence."

"I can't think Mr. Gay would write anything likely to offend anybody."

"Can't you? Well, if the Church can easily give offence, much more likely a playwriter. Why, wasn't the Bishop of Rochester sent to the Tower for what he said, and isn't he at this very moment in Paris and afraid to show his nose in England? Oh, you can't call your soul your own now-a-days. We poor playfolk may bless our lucky stars that we've only got to say the words set down for us and not our own. Mr. Gay who writes 'em for us'll have the worry and he's got it too, what with Rich's scraping and saving and his insisting upon Mr. Quin playing in the opera."

Lavinia now saw why Gay had been depressed. But Mr. Quin the surly, who only played in tragedies, what had he to do with Gay's opera? She put the question to Mrs. Egleton.

"Nothing at all. He hasn't any more idea of singing than an old crow. It's ridiculous, but Rich will have his way. I tell you flatly, Lavinia, if Quin plays the part of Captain Macheath he'll be laughed at and so shall we, and the piece will be damned."

Lavinia thought so too. She had, as Mrs. Squeamish in Wycherley's play, once acted with Quin on the occasion of his benefit and she well remembered his stiff, stilted style and how he domineered over everybody. She felt rather dismayed but she could only resign herself to the situation. There was the consolation that the opera was not likely to be staged for some time and things might alter. In the theatre any sudden change was possible.

For weeks, indeed to Christmas, Lavinia remained one of the "lasses" in "The Rape of Proserpine," but she was quite contented, for Lancelot Vane was permanently in London in his new post and they were constantly together. Every night he was waiting for her outside the stage door and saw her across the Fields to Little Queen Street. It was not safe, he protested, for her to be in that dark dreary waste alone at night and he was right. Lincoln's Inn Fields was one of the worst places in London. The most daring robberies even in daylight were of common occurrence.

Despite the short days of winter they took long walks together. On the day "betwixt Saturday and Monday," like the lad and the lass of Carey's famous ballad at that time all the rage, to them Sunday was the day of days. Sometimes they strolled to the pleasant fields of Islington and Hornsey; sometimes they revisited Hampstead, and occasionally by way of the Westminster and Lambeth ferry to the leafy groves of Camberwell, and the Dulwich Woods. They never talked of love; they were contented and happy, may be because both were conscious they were in love.



CHAPTER XXVI

"POLLY IS TO BE MY NAME FOR EVER AFTER"

The new year brought the first rehearsal of "The Beggar's Opera." Hippisley with his rich, unctuous humour was Peachum, and not less well suited to Lockit was Jack Hall's quaint face and naive manner. James Spiller, the favourite of the gods, was Mat o' the Mint, and the solemn visaged Quin essayed Macheath. Lavinia as Polly was both excited and nervous, and Lucy (Mrs. Egleton) not less so. The rest of the cast comprised actors and actresses of experience, and they went through their parts philosophically and without enthusiasm. The motive and the plot and the many songs made up a play which was to them quite novel, and they were somewhat bewildered to know what to do with it. Gay hovered about unable to decide whether his opera was going to be a thumping success or a dismal failure. The general impression was in the direction of the latter, but no one save Quin gave vent to his or her sentiments.

"Well, what d'ye think, Mr. Quin?" asked Gay anxiously when the rehearsal was over.

Quin refreshed himself with a pinch of snuff before he answered.

"Humph—can't say—can't say. It'll be a riddle to the audience. Bad thing to puzzle 'em, eh?"

"Surely it's plain enough. But if it's amusing, what else matters?"

"I won't put my opinion against yours, Mr. Gay and Mr. Pope's, but——"

Quin shrugged his shoulders and stalked away, and Lavinia, who was watching the two from a distance, ran across the stage, her face a little troubled. She had interpreted Quin's gesture correctly.

"Oh, Mr. Gay——" she stopped. Gay was looking so sad.

"Mr. Quin doesn't like the opera, Polly. What do you say?"

"Mr. Quin doesn't like it because he can't act the part," cried Lavinia indignantly. "None of us like him in it any more than he does himself. He's not my idea of a highwayman."

"Why, what do you know about highwaymen? But I forgot, of course. Wasn't the coach that brought you to London from Mr. Pope's villa stopped by one?"

"Yes," rejoined Lavinia hastily, "but he was a brutal ruffian. Not your Captain Macheath at all. Mr. Quin chills me. I can't fancy myself in love with him. Nor can Mrs. Egleton. She says she could no more quarrel over him than she could over a stick. His singing and his voice give us the 'creeps.'"

"Faith, both are bad enough, but Mr. Rich seems bound to him."

"Why doesn't he try Tom Walker? When Tom isn't drunk, he sings like an angel."

"I know—I know. Well, we'll see."

But nothing was done, and at the second rehearsal Quin's Captain Macheath was more droningly dismal than ever. A dead silence followed the dance with which the last act concludes, and amid the stillness came from somewhere behind the scenes the sound of a mellow tenor voice trolling Macheath's lively melody, "When the heart of a man's depressed with care."

"By the lord," quoth Quin, "that's the voice of Tom Walker. He's the man for Macheath. Mr. Rich, I resign the part. It was never meant for me. Give it to Walker."

John Rich grunted, but he made no objection. It so happened that Walker could act as well as sing, and that made all the difference in Rich's estimation. So one great obstacle to success was removed. But there were others. The duets and the choruses sounded terribly thin without an instrument to support them. The "tricky" duet between Polly and Lucy, "I'm bubbled," broke down constantly, and both declared they would never sing it properly. But Rich was not to be talked out of his whim to have no accompaniments.

One morning in the midst of the rehearsal, who should walk on the stage but the stately Duchess of Queensberry. Lavinia, in quite a flutter, whispered to Walker the name of the distinguished visitor. John Rich received her with great deference and conducted her to a seat.

"Go on, please, Mr. Rich, don't let me interrupt your business," said the great lady affably.

The rehearsal went on and eyes of the company furtively wandered to the face of the duchess, anxious to know what so powerful a personage and so keen and outspoken a critic thought of the performance. But the serene face of her grace never changed.

The rehearsing of one act was over, and there was an interval before commencing the next one. The duchess turned to Gay.

"How is this, Mr. Gay? Where are the instruments? Don't you have them at rehearsals?"

"Mr. Rich means to do without a band for the singing. He says it isn't necessary."

"Rich is a fool," retorted her grace with much emphasis. "He knows nothing about it. Send him to me."

Gay went about his errand half pleased, for he quite agreed with the duchess, and half in trepidation. A quarrel between Rich and the lady autocrat might cause the opera to end in disaster.

Rich dared not offend Queensberry's duchess whose opinion went for so much among the aristocracy. The stage was practically dependent on its noble patrons. Without them a "benefit," which every notable member of a theatrical company looked forward to as making good the insufficiency of their salaries, would be nothing without the support of the nobility, who, when in the mood, would readily unloose their purse strings. Rich therefore made but feeble resistance and the impetuous Kitty had her way.

The band, small as it was, just half-a-dozen instruments, could not be called together at a moment's notice. Rich accordingly invited his visitor to come the following day, when all would be in readiness. He was as good as his word, and the duchess was graciously pleased to express her satisfaction. Polly and Lucy went back to their lodgings in high spirits.

January 29th was fixed for the production of the opera, and the days sped rapidly. Everybody concerned was on tenterhooks. Who could say how the audience would take a play the like of which they had never seen? There was also danger in the political allusions contained in many of the verses. Sir Robert Walpole, England's most powerful minister of state, had taken a box and would be present with a party of his friends. What would he think? A riot was not beyond the bounds of possibility. The play might be suppressed. A prosecution for seditious proceedings might follow. Anything might happen.

Meanwhile the house was packed. Every seat on each side of the stage reserved for the "quality" was occupied. There was just room for the actors and no more. The gallery was crammed with a mob—a host of footmen prone to unruly behaviour, butchers from Clare Market ready to applaud their favourite Jemmy Spiller, Covent Garden salesmen and porters—a miscellaneous rabble that might easily become turbulent.

In the pit were well to do tradesmen and their wives cheek by jowl with well seasoned playgoers who had seen every stage celebrity and every famous tragedy and comedy for the past quarter of a century, who were well versed in all the traditional "business" of the boards, who in fact were the real critics to be pleased—or offended. Into the second row Lancelot Vane had squeezed himself all expectation, with eyes and ears for no one but Polly Peachum.

Gay's friends filled a box next to that occupied by the Duke of Argyll, an enthusiastic patron of the stage. Gay himself was there supported on either side by Pope, Dr. Arbuthnot, Bolingbroke and others. Dean Swift, who had had so much to do with the inception of the opera and who had contributed to it some of the most stinging verse, would have been present had he not been in Ireland at the death-bed of his beloved Stella, and so also would have been Congreve but that he was blind and in feeble health.

It was seen at the very commencement that the audience was not disposed to accept the innovations of the "Beggar's Opera" without protest. To begin with there was no time-honoured prologue, and worse, there was no preliminary overture. They could not understand the dialogue between a player and the beggar, introduced as the author, with which the opera opens. They grumbled loudly. They thought they were to be defrauded of their usual music and they wouldn't allow the dialogue to proceed. Jack Hall who as a comedian was acceptable all round was sent on by the troubled manager to explain.

Hall advanced to the edge of the stage. There were no footlights in those days. Favourite though Jack Hall was not a hand nor a voice was raised to greet him. Jack Hall lost his nerve—which, however, as it turned out was the most fortunate thing which could have happened—and this is what he stammered out:

"Ladies and gentlemen, we—we—beg you'll not call for first and second music because you all know there is never any music at all at an opera!"

A roar of laughter followed this unique apology accentuated by the unconsciously comical twist of Hall's face with which the audience were so familiar; good humour was restored, the dialogue was permitted to be finished and the grumblers were further appeased by the playing of Dr. Pepusch's overture.

More pitfalls had to be got over safely. Every eye was turned on Sir Robert's heavy rubicund, impassive face when Peachum sang the verse:

"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!"

The statesman in the box, whatever he might have felt, was far too astute to show any sign of ill temper. His eternal smile was as smug as ever and so also was it over the duet in the second act:

"When you censure the age Be cautious and sage Lest the courtiers offended should be; If you mention vice or bribe, 'Tis so pat to all the tribe, Each cries 'That was levelled at me.'"

The audience were somewhat timid in applauding this, though all felt how apt it was, until they saw Walpole actually clapping his hands, and then they followed suit right heartily.

Still success was not assured. True Polly captivated her hearers with her sweet natural delivery of "Can love be controlled by advice?" and afterwards with the tender pathos of "Oh ponder well," and there were roars of laughter and half suppressed chuckles from the men and titters from the women at the witty talk and the cynical hits at love and matrimonial felicity, but it was not until Spiller led the rousing choruses, "Fill every glass," and "Let us take the road," the latter adapted to the march from Handel's opera of "Rinaldo," then all the rage, that they were won over. The experienced Duke of Argyll cried out aloud enough for Pope in the next box to hear him, "It'll do—it must do—I see it in the eyes of 'em." And the duke was right.

When all was said and done pretty Polly Peachum was the pivot around which success revolved. Within twenty-four hours all the town was talking of her bewitching face, her artless manner, her sweet voice. The sordid surroundings of Newgate, its thieves, male and female, its thieve takers, gave zest to her naturalness and simplicity. Moreover she was not in a fashionable dress, she wore no hoops (and neither did Lucy) and this in itself was a novelty and a contrast.

It was some time after the performance that Lavinia—whom everyone now called Polly—left the theatre. The noblemen who had seats on the stage crowded round her overwhelming her with compliments and looks of admiration. One of their number, a man of portly presence at least twice her age, whose face suggested good nature but little else, was assiduous in his attentions. Lavinia accepted his flattery as a matter of course, and thought nothing more about him. She was told he was the Duke of Bolton, but duke or earl made no difference to her. Some of her titled admirers offered to escort her home but she shook her head laughingly and refused everyone. She knew very well that Lancelot Vane would be waiting for her as usual at the stage door, and she did not intend either to disappoint him or make him jealous.

She joined him, her cheeks flushed and her eyes shining with excitement. Vane looked eagerly and anxiously into her face and gave a little sigh.

"Well," said she, "are you disappointed with me?"

"Disappointed! Good heavens, no. Why Lavinia—"

"Lavinia," she cried tossing her head coquettishly. "Polly if you please. Polly is to be my name for ever after. Everybody knows me now as Polly, though dear Mr. Gay called me so long and long ago. Isn't it wonderful how his words have come true?"

"Mr. Gay is a clever man—a great man. I wish—"

"Yes, and what do you wish? Something nice I hope."

"I don't know about that. My wish was that I had been born a real poet and dramatist and had written 'The Beggar's Opera' for you. But my wits are dull—like myself."

"Please don't be foolish. I want you to tell me how I sang—how I acted. You didn't mind Tom Walker making love to me?"

"No, I wished my arm had been round you instead of his, that was all."

"Wishing again! Can't you do something beyond wishing?"

She flashed a swift look at him and then the dark silky lashes drooped. He must have been dull indeed not to have understood. His arm was about her. He drew her closer to him passionately. It was the first time, though he had over and over again longed to do so.

"I love you—don't you know I do?" he whispered.

"I've sometimes thought as much but you've been very slow in telling me," she murmured lightly.

"Ah, I was afraid what your answer might be. Ridicule and a reproof for my impertinence. Even now I don't realise my happiness."

"Then you must," she cried imperiously. "How do you know I shan't be whirled away from you unless you hold me very tight? Oh, Lance, I've a misgiving—"

She stopped. She shivered slightly and he drew her cloak tightly about her and kissed the cherry lips within the hood.

"You're cold, dearest. Let us hurry. I ought not to have lingered," said he.

"No, no. I'm not a bit cold. I only had a sort of feeling that—kiss me again."

He was quick to obey and her kisses were as fervent as his.

"See me to my door and go quickly," she murmured.

"To-morrow, dear love, we shall meet each other again," was his reply.

"Why yes—yes."

"Many times more."

She nodded. Something seemed to choke her utterance. One more kiss and she vanished into the house.

Vane remained for a minute or two gazing at the dwelling that enshrined his divinity and lost in rapture. Then he slowly wandered to his lodgings marvelling at the glimpse of heaven which to his imagination had been revealed to him.



CHAPTER XXVII

THE CURTAIN FALLS

Before the week was out the only topic in which the town took any interest was "The Beggar's Opera," and the "all Conquering Polly," as an advertisement setting forth the attractions of a miniature screen designed as a memento of the opera, had it. In a score of ways enterprising tradesmen adapted the scenes and the songs to their wares and in all Polly was the principal feature. Polly became the fashion everywhere. Amateur flautists played her songs, amateur vocalists warbled them. Hardly a week passed without one daily journal or the other burst into verse in her praise.

As for Polly herself she was inundated with love letters, some written seriously, others purely out of admiration. Offers of marriage came both personally and through the post. The world of gallants was at her feet. She laughed at most of her would-be lovers and listened to none. The good natured Duke of Bolton approached her constantly and was never tired of going to the opera. Seated as he was on the stage it was easy enough for him to express his adoration. He was also ever ready with presents which he proffered with so respectful an air that she could hardly refuse them. But what did the duke mean? Had he not a duchess already? True, he was not on the best of terms with her. He had been forced into marriage by his father and he and his wife had been separated some six years. But this made no difference. The duchess was still in the world.

Polly—henceforth she dropped the Lavinia—heard what his grace had to say but gave him no encouragement beyond smiling bewitchingly now and again. She did not dislike him, but she did not care for him. Lancelot Vane was still the hero of her romance and that romance would never die. Sometimes she amused herself and Lancelot too by telling him of the offers of marriage she had received and how she had refused them, but she never mentioned the Duke of Bolton.

One night—it was the twenty-second performance of the opera—Lancelot Vane was in his accustomed place at the end of the second row in the pit. There was a vacant seat on the other side of his, and half way through the third act a late comer was heard growling and without saying by your leave or with your leave attempted to force himself past Vane into the empty seat.

Lance looked up angry at the rudeness of the fellow. He started. He recognised Jeremy Rofflash-Rofflash very much the worse for the drink, very much the worse in every way since Vane had last set eyes upon him.

Things had gone very badly with the swashbuckler. Archibald Dorrimore, his old patron, was dead, killed by dicing, drinking and other vices. Rofflash had had to take to the "road" more than ever and he'd had very bad luck. A bullet from a coach passenger's pistol had struck his knee and he now limped. He was nearly always drunk and when drunk all his old hatreds were uppermost. Directly he saw Vane, his bleary eyes glistened and his lips tightened over his uneven teeth and the ugly gaps between.

"Devil take me, if it isn't the cockerel whose feathers I've sworn to pluck. Come to ogle the young trollop on the stage, I'll swear. If I know anything about the hussy, she'll turn you down for the first spark who flings a handful of guineas in her lap."

Jeremy's gruff rasping tones were heard all over the house. Polly and Lucy were singing their duet "Would I might be hanged," and both cast indignant looks at the side of the pit whence the interruption came. But they could only hear, not see, so dimly was the theatre lighted. Meanwhile Vane had sprung to his feet.

"You lie you ruffian," he shouted and his hand went to his sword.

The people in the front and back benches rose; the women screamed; one of the theatre attendants who chanced to be near seized Rofflash who struggled violently and swore loudly. Some of the audience came to the attendant's assistance and the fellow was flung out. The uproar soon subsided—it had not lasted more than a couple of minutes, the music went on and Polly thought no more about it. She had not the slightest idea that the chief actors in it so nearly concerned herself.

The sequel to the discomposing interruption was totally unpremeditated. Polly was the "toast of the town," the idol of the sparks of fashion. Their applause was uproarious when she and Lucy recommenced the duet, but this sympathetic encouragement was not enough for the more ardent spirits. When she issued from the stage door she found awaiting her a bodyguard of young aristocrats dressed in the height of the mode and in the gayest of colours. At her appearance every man's sword flashed from its scabbard and was uplifted to do her honour.

Never was such a triumph. No wonder her heart bounded and her cheeks flushed with pleasure. She smiled right and left and bowed; the rapiers on either side crossed each other over her head and formed a canopy under which she walked with a dainty grace. She was not permitted to pass from beneath its shelter. The canopy kept pace with her, closing behind. And in this way the procession set out to cross Lincoln's Inn Fields amid cheers and shouts of "Pretty Polly Peachum!"

It would seem as though the services of Polly's protectors were not wholly unneeded. As she emerged from the door and the gallants closed round her there was a sudden movement in the mob, a fellow forced his way through, hurling curses at anyone who tried to stop him. Apparently his object was to get to a man standing close to the bodyguard. Anyway, when the intruder was behind this man a woman's scream pierced the din of voices, then came the report of a pistol and the man staggered. Those nearest him, seized with panic, fell back and he sank to the ground.

A woman was seen to fling herself on her knees, bend over the body and gaze into the face already becoming ashen. The next instant she sprang to her feet, her features drawn, her eyes blazing. Pointing to the assassin who was rushing through the crowd she begged someone to stop him, but the big pistol he was flourishing deterred them.

"Cowards!" she screamed in fury. "Will no one seize a murderer? If you're men you'll help me."

She made a wild rush in the direction the ruffian had taken and a score or so of apprentices and a handful of Clare Market butchers recovering from their surprise joined her.

Meanwhile Polly and her escort gaily went on their way. They were dimly conscious of the affray but such occurrences at night and especially in Lincoln's Inn Fields were frequent, and not one of the party heeded. How indeed could Polly imagine that her romance had ended in a tragedy, that the man lying so still, his white face upturned to the moonlit sky, was her lover, Lancelot Vane—that the man who had done him to death was Jeremy Rofflash—that the woman in hot chase of his murderer was Sally Salisbury?

Rofflash had made for the network of courts and allies of Clare Market hoping to double upon his pursuers and gain the Strand, and then hurry to the Alsatia of Whitefriars. But some of those following knew the intricacies of Clare Market better than Rofflash, and he twisted and turned like a hunted hare, his difficulties momentarily increasing, for as the excited mob fought their way through the narrow lanes their numbers swelled. True, Jeremy Rofflash made his way to the Strand without being captured, but he failed to reach Whitefriars. The Strand and Fleet Street gave his pursuers a better chance. But because of his pistol none dared touch him.

Despite his limp he could run. Along Ludgate skirting St. Paul's, he was soon in Cheapside. By this time Sally Salisbury was nearly exhausted, and in St. Paul's Churchyard she jumped into a hackney coach and shaking her purse at the driver bade him join in the pursuit. The Poultry, the Royal Exchange were left behind, but the coach—with Sally inside continually calling upon the driver to go faster, at the same time promising him any reward he liked to ask—gradually drew upon the fugitive. The latter was close to the road leading to London Bridge, and turning, he fired his second barrel at the horse and the animal stumbled and fell.

Rofflash thought he was safe, but he was not aware that the leader of his pursuers was Sally Salisbury and that she knew perfectly well why he was running towards the bridge. She sprang from the now useless coach and called upon the crowd to follow her. Meanwhile Rofflash had distanced his pursuers.

"The apothecary's shop on London Bridge," she screamed.

Dr. Mountchance at that moment was engaged in what to him was his greatest pleasure in life—counting his gold. He was in the midst of this absorbing occupation when he heard three separate knocks at his outside door given in a peculiarly distinctive way. He knew Jeremy's signal and he hurried his gold into an iron bound coffer which he locked.

"If the captain's made a good haul so much the better," he muttered. "It's time he did. He's had the devil's bad luck of late."

The old man shuffled to the door and shot back the bolts. Rofflash precipitated himself inside with such haste and violence that he nearly upset Mountchance.

"Lock the door," he gasped. "Quick. I've a pack of hungry wolves at my heels."

He leaned against a heavy piece of furniture hardly able to speak while the apothecary hastily fastened the door. Scarcely had he finished than yells and heavy footsteps were heard; there came heavy thuds and fierce kicks followed by repeated hammering. The door was well protected by iron panels and besides its bolts a stout iron bar from post to post helped to make it secure.

The two men looked at each other and Mountchance trembled. The crowd outside were not officers of the law, neither were they soldiery. What had caused them to hunt down Rofflash? Not because he had committed a robbery on the King's highway. The rabble had a secret sympathy with highwaymen.

"What have you done?" whispered the old man through his white lips.

"Shot a man. It was a fair fight—or might have been had it come to a tussle."

Mountchance knew Rofflash to be a hardened liar. The truth probably was that he had committed a murder. But there was no time to argue the point. To judge by the terrific blows which came at regular intervals something much more formidable than an ordinary hammer was being used. Then there was the sound of splintering wood. The door sturdy as it was would not stand much more. As a matter of fact the mob had procured a stout wooden beam from somewhere, twelve or fourteen feet long and were making it serve as a battering-ram.

"Damnation! I'm not going to be trapped," roared Rofflash, "I know the secret way to the chapel. You stay here and face 'em."

"No. If that murderous mob doesn't find you they'll turn upon me. I'm an old man but they'll have no mercy," whined Mountchance.

"You fool. Can't you see that some one inside the house must have bolted and barred the door? If they don't find you they'll search until they do. You must tell them that I'm not in the place—that you haven't seen me. That'll satisfy 'em and they'll go away quickly."

"It's you that's the fool. Somebody must have seen you enter—how else did they know you were here?"

Another ominous splintering noise, then the sharp crack of ripping wood.

"No more of this damned nonsense," muttered Rofflash, and swinging his arm he gave Mountchance a blow with the flat of his hand, toppling him over. Without waiting to see what injury he had inflicted Rofflash rushed to a tall cabinet, entered it and closed the doors after him just as a yell of savage joy was raised outside. The iron bar was still across the entrance but there was a jagged aperture above and below. A couple of seconds more and the cabinet was empty. Rofflash had disappeared through a secret door at the back.

Mountchance's house, as already mentioned, was really an adjunct of St. Thomas's chapel, so far at least as the foundation was concerned. This foundation had once formed the lower chapel or crypt and was then the only distinctive relic of the bridge built by Peter of Colechurch, in the thirteenth century. Rofflash descended the uneven loose bricks of the narrow winding staircase into the dungeon-like apartment. The stone floor was not much above the level of the river at high tide and a lancet window on each side of the bridge admitted a glimmer of light in the day time. It was now pitch dark.

Rofflash groped his way over the slimy floor to a small door which he knew opened on to an abutment between two arches. He only did this by feeling the wall as he went. He hoped when outside to hail a passing wherry. At any rate it was unlikely his hiding place would be discovered by any of the mob.

In the meantime the shop and room above were filled with a rabble more than half of which was out for plunder. Mountchance was lying on the floor unconscious, but no one bothered about him. In the opinion of some it was perhaps as well, as he would be unable to prevent them doing as they liked. This opinion was not held by Sally Salisbury. She was convinced Rofflash was in the house though she had not seen him actually enter. It angered her to think that Mountchance who could have told her anything was as good as dead. She called upon the crowd to search for the murderer but they turned a deaf ear to her entreaties. They were much more interested in looting the place; and finding the iron bound coffer and hearing the chink of coin within, they attacked it savagely and succeeded in smashing the lock.

The sight of gold was too much for them. They scrambled, they fought, they trampled upon each other. The yellow metal acted upon them like strong drink. In the midst of the pandemonium came a deafening explosion, a vivid flash of red, a volume of acrid suffocating vapour. Another explosion and men came rushing from Mountchance's laboratory—terror written in their faces. Helter-skelter the crowd darted from the house forcing Sally Salisbury with them whether she would or not. In the mad fight for gold large glass bottles filled with acids, alcohol and other inflammable liquids had been upset and smashed, and the smouldering fire in the furnace did the rest. What with the bundles of dried herbs which burnt like so much tinder and the woodwork, the panelled walls and furniture, nothing could save the house.

In the hurry and scramble Sally had been wedged against the wall surmounting the central and largest arch. Upon this arch no house had been built. Below the spot where she was held a prisoner the river was rushing with its monotonous roar as if rejoicing at or indifferent to the terrible tragedy above. At first she saw nothing but clouds of suffocating smoke pouring from the windows, then showers of sparks floating downwards and vanishing in the water, and finally tongues of fire hissing and roaring from within the house and mingling in one huge flaring flame.

Looking over the parapet she caught sight of a gaunt figure on the abutment now strongly illuminated, now in deep shadow according to the height and strength of the flames and the wayward wind. So fantastic, so grotesque was this figure, his gesticulations, his waving hands, he suggested a demon rather than a human being. Now and again he put a curved hand to his mouth. Doubtless he was shouting but the roar of the fire and the howling of the mob smothered every sound.

It was Rofflash—his true character revealed, nerve stricken, a coward at heart. Yet he was in no immediate danger. The fire could not reach him. The only thing he had to fear was the rising tide should it chance to wash over the abutment and sweep him off his feet.

But it is always the unexpected that happens. Some receptacle with inflammable contents which the fire had overlooked—probably it was stored in one of the upper rooms—exploded with terrific violence. Roof, rafters, tiles, brickwork, shot into the air and fell in every direction. Sally with many others was sent prostrate by the shock, but was uninjured. When she was able to rise and look over the parapet no one was on the abutment. Jeremy Rofflash had met his fate.

"The Beggar's Opera" continued on its triumphant way. Night after night the theatre was packed. Night after night Polly was listened to with increasing delight. She had never sung her plaintive ditties with such pathos. No one suspected the reason. No one knew that she had given her heart to the poor young man killed in a brawl—so the newspapers described it—in Lincoln's Inn Fields. Polly's love for Lancelot Vane was a secret sacred to herself. She gave her confidence to nobody—not even to Gay. She had been happy in her love dreams, happier perhaps than if they had become realities. Her roaming life had not brought romance to her until she met Lancelot Vane. The sweetheartings of others had always seemed sordid and commonplace. Had Vane been presumptuous she would have had nothing to say to him, but she was drawn towards him because he was drifting to his ruin and she yearned to save him. That she should see him no more deadened her heart and numbed her brain. So she made no effort to find out the why and wherefore of his death and the story never reached her.

Sally Salisbury could have told her, but Sally, to her credit, be it said, did not seek to inflict a wound for the mere satisfaction of witnessing the agony of her rival. Vane was dead and retribution had swiftly overtaken his assassin. What was left? Nothing. Sally had also found romance, and some tender womanly instinct—an instinct too often blunted by her life and temptations—sealed her lips. She had avenged the death of the only man she ever loved with anything like purity. Let that suffice.

The opera had an unprecedented run of sixty-two nights. Every one marvelled. Such a thing had never happened before and when the next season the run was continued its attractions were undimmed, save in one particular—the original Polly Peachum was no longer to be seen or heard. Gradually it became gossipped about that the Duke of Bolton's suit had succeeded. The Polly over whom everybody, rich and poor, high and low, for nearly five months had lost their heads and their hearts, had quitted the stage for ever. Twenty-three years later the duke was able to prove his devotion by making her his duchess. Even then she rarely took part in fashionable functions. Her simple tastes and dislike of display never deserted her. Yet she was not and is not forgotten, though nearly two hundred years have passed away since she burst into the full flush of fame. Her memory is preserved in every one of her innumerable successors who have succeeded in reproducing in any degree her charm and artlessness. This memory is not attached to Lavinia Duchess of Bolton, but to "Pretty Polly Peachum."

THE END.

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