"I love her," Pope had said. Eh, yes, no doubt; and what, he fiercely demanded of himself, was he—a crippled scribbler, a bungling artisan of phrases—that he should dare to love this splendid and deep-bosomed goddess? Something of youth awoke, possessing him—something of that high ardor which, as he cloudily remembered now, had once controlled a boy who dreamed in Windsor Forest and with the lightest of hearts planned to achieve the impossible. For what is more difficult of attainment than to achieve the perfected phrase, so worded that to alter a syllable of its wording would be little short of sacrilege?
"What whimwhams!" decreed the great Mr. Pope, aloud. "Verse-making is at best only the affair of idle men who write in their closets and of idle men who read there. And as for him who polishes phrases, whatever be his fate in poetry, it is ten to one but he must give up all the reasonable aims of life for it."
No, he would have no more of loneliness. Henceforward Alexander Pope would be human—like the others. To write perfectly was much; but it was not everything. Living was capable of furnishing even more than the raw material of a couplet. It might, for instance, yield content.
For instance, if you loved, and married, and begot, and died, with the seriousness of a person who believes he is performing an action of real importance, and conceded that the perfection of any art, whether it be that of verse-making or of rope-dancing, is at best a by-product of life's conduct; at worst, you probably would not be lonely. No; you would be at one with all other fat-witted people, and there was no greater blessing conceivable.
Pope muttered, and produced his notebook, and wrote tentatively.
Wrote Mr. Pope:
The bliss of man (could pride that blessing find) Is not to act or think beyond mankind; No powers of body or of soul to share But what his nature and his state can bear.
"His state!" yes, undeniably, two sibilants collided here. "His wit?"—no, that would be flat-footed awkwardness in the management of your vowel-sounds; the lengthened "a" was almost requisite. . . . Pope was fretting over the imbroglio when he absent-mindedly glanced up to perceive that his Sarah, not irrevocably offended, was being embraced by a certain John Hughes—who was a stalwart, florid personable individual, no doubt, but, after all, only an unlettered farmer.
The dwarf gave a hard, wringing motion of his hands. The diamond-Lord Bolingbroke's gift—which ornamented Pope's left hand cut into the flesh of his little finger, so cruel was the gesture; and this little finger was bleeding as Pope tripped forward, smiling. A gentleman does not incommode the public by obtruding the ugliness of a personal wound.
"Do I intrude?" he queried. "Ah, well! I also have dwelt in Arcadia." It was bitter to comprehend that he had never done so.
The lovers were visibly annoyed; yet, if an interruption of their pleasant commerce was decreed to be, it could not possibly have sprung, as they soon found, from a more sympathetic source.
These were not subtle persons. Pope had the truth from them within ten minutes. They loved each other; but John Hughes was penniless, and old Frederick Drew was, in consequence, obdurate.
"And, besides, he thinks you mean to marry her!" said John Hughes.
"My dear man, he pardonably forgets that the utmost reach of my designs in common reason would be to have her as my kept mistress for a month or two," drawled Mr. Pope. "As concerns yourself, my good fellow, the case is somewhat different. Why, it is a veritable romance—an affair of Daphne and Corydon—although, to be unpardonably candid, the plot of your romance, my young Arcadians, is not the most original conceivable. I think that the denouement need not baffle our imaginations."
The dwarf went toward Sarah Drew. The chary sunlight had found the gold in her hair, and its glint was brightly visible to him. "My dear—" he said. His thin long fingers touched her capable hand. It was a sort of caress—half-timid. "My dear, I owe my life to you. My body is at most a flimsy abortion such as a night's exposure would have made more tranquil than it is just now. Yes, it was you who found a caricature of the sort of man that Mr. Hughes here is, disabled, helpless, and—for reasons which doubtless seemed to you sufficient—contrived that this unsightly parody continue in existence. I am not lovable, my dear. I am only a hunchback, as you can see. My aspirations and my sickly imaginings merit only the derision of a candid clean-souled being such as you are." His finger-tips touched the back of her hand again. "I think there was never a maker of enduring verse who did not at one period or another long to exchange an assured immortality for a sturdier pair of shoulders. I think—I think that I am prone to speak at random," Pope said, with his half-drowsy smile. "Yet, none the less, an honest man, as our kinsmen in Adam average, is bound to pay his equitable debts."
She said, "I do not understand."
"I have perpetrated certain jingles," Pope returned. "I had not comprehended until to-day they are the only children I shall leave behind me. Eh, and what would you make of them, my dear, could ingenuity contrive a torture dire enough to force you into reading them! . . . Misguided people have paid me for contriving these jingles. So that I have money enough to buy you from your father just as I would purchase one of his heifers. Yes, at the very least I have money, and I have earned it. I will send your big-thewed adorer—I believe that Hughes is the name?—L500 of it this afternoon. That sum, I gather, will be sufficient to remove your father's objection to your marriage with Mr. Hughes."
Pope could not but admire himself tremendously. Moreover, in such matters no woman is blind. Tears came into Sarah's huge brown eyes. This tenderhearted girl was not thinking of John Hughes now. Pope noted the fact with the pettiest exultation. "Oh, you—you are good." Sarah Drew spoke as with difficulty.
"No adjective, my dear, was ever applied with less discrimination. It is merely that you have rendered no inconsiderable service to posterity, and merit a reward."
"Oh, and indeed, indeed, I was always fond of you——" The girl sobbed this.
She would have added more, no doubt, since compassion is garrulous, had not Pope's scratched hand dismissed a display of emotion as not entirely in consonance with the rules of the game.
"My dear, therein you have signally honored me. There remains only to offer you my appreciation of your benevolence toward a sickly monster, and to entreat for my late intrusion—however unintentional—that forgiveness which you would not deny, I think, to any other impertinent insect."
"Oh, but we have no words to thank you, sir——!" Thus Hughes began.
"Then don't attempt it, my good fellow. For phrase-spinning, as I can assure you, is the most profitless of all pursuits." Whereupon Pope bowed low, wheeled, walked away. Yes, he was wounded past sufferance; it seemed to him he must die of it. Life was a farce, and Destiny an overseer who hiccoughed mandates. Well, all that even Destiny could find to gloat over, he reflected, was the tranquil figure of a smallish gentleman switching at the grass-blades with his cane as he sauntered under darkening skies.
For a storm was coming on, and the first big drops of it were splattering the terrace when Mr. Pope entered Lord Harcourt's mansion.
Pope went straight to his own rooms. As he came in there was a vivid flash of lightning, followed instantaneously by a crashing, splitting noise, like that of universes ripped asunder. He did not honor the high uproar with attention. This dwarf was not afraid of anything except the commission of an error in taste.
Then, too, there were letters for him, laid ready on the writing-table. Nothing of much importance he found there.—Here, though, was a rather diverting letter from Eustace Budgell, that poor fool, abjectly thanking Mr. Pope for his advice concerning how best to answer the atrocious calumnies on Budgell then appearing in The Grub-Street Journal,—and reposing, drolly enough, next the proof-sheets of an anonymous letter Pope had prepared for the forthcoming issue of that publication, wherein he sprightlily told how Budgell had poisoned Dr. Tindal, after forging his will. For even if Budgell had not in point of fact been guilty of these particular peccadilloes, he had quite certainly committed the crime of speaking lightly of Mr. Pope, as "a little envious animal," some seven years ago; and it was for this grave indiscretion that Pope was dexterously goading the man into insanity, and eventually drove him to suicide. . . .
The storm made the room dark and reading difficult. Still, this was an even more amusing letter, from the all-powerful Duchess of Marlborough. In as civil terms as her sick rage could muster, the frightened woman offered Mr. Pope L1,000 to suppress his verbal portrait of her, in the character of Atossa, from his Moral Essays; and Pope straightway decided to accept the bribe, and afterward to print his verses unchanged. For the hag, as he reflected, very greatly needed to be taught that in this world there was at least one person who did not quail before her tantrums. There would be, moreover, even an elementary justice in thus robbing her who had robbed England at large. And, besides, her name was Sarah. . . .
Pope lighted four candles and set them before the long French mirror. He stood appraising his many curious deformities while the storm raged. He stood sidelong, peering over his left shoulder, in order to see the outline of his crooked back. Nowhere in England, he reflected, was there a person more pitiable and more repellent outwardly.
"And, oh, it would be droll," Pope said, aloud, "if our exteriors were ever altogether parodies. But time keeps a diary in our faces, and writes a monstrously plain hand. Now, if you take the first letter of Mr. Alexander Pope's Christian name, and the first and last letters of his surname, you have A. P. E.," Pope quoted, genially. "I begin to think that Dennis was right. What conceivable woman would not prefer a well-set man of five-and-twenty to such a withered abortion? And what does it matter, after all, that a hunchback has dared to desire a shapely brown-haired woman?"
Pope came more near to the mirror. "Make answer, you who have dared to imagine that a goddess was ever drawn to descend into womanhood except by kisses, brawn and a clean heart."
Another peal of thunder bellowed. The storm was growing furious. "Yet I have had a marvelous dream. Now I awaken. I must go on in the old round. As long as my wits preserve their agility I must be able to amuse, to flatter and, at need, to intimidate the patrons of that ape in the mirror, so that they will not dare refuse me the market-value of my antics. And Sarah Drew has declined an alliance such as this in favor of a fresh-colored complexion and a pair of straight shoulders!"
Pope thought a while. "And a clean heart! She bargained royally, giving love for nothing less than love. The man is rustic, illiterate; he never heard of Aristotle, he would be at a loss to distinguish between a trochee and a Titian, and if you mentioned Boileau to him would probably imagine you were talking of cookery. But he loves her. He would forfeit eternity to save her a toothache. And, chief of all, she can make this robust baby happy, and she alone can make him happy. And so, she gives, gives royally—she gives, God bless her!"
Rain, sullen rain, was battering the window. "And you—you hunchback in the mirror, you maker of neat rhymes—pray, what had you to offer? A coach-and-six, of course, and pin-money and furbelows and in the end a mausoleum with unimpeachable Latin on it! And—pate sur pate—an unswerving devotion which she would share on almost equal terms with the Collected Works of Alexander Pope. And so she chose—chose brawn and a clean heart."
The dwarf turned, staggered, fell upon his bed. "God, make a man of me, make me a good brave man. I loved her—oh, such as I am, You know that I loved her! You know that I desire her happiness above all things. Ah, no, for You know that I do not at bottom. I want to hurt, to wound all living creatures, because they know how to be happy, and I do not know how. Ah, God, and why did You decree that I should never be an obtuse and comely animal such as this John Hughes is? I am so tired of being 'the great Mr. Pope,' and I want only the common joys of life."
The hunchback wept. It would be too curious to anatomize the writhings of his proud little spirit.
Now some one tapped upon the door. It was John Gay. He was bidden to enter, and, complying, found Mr. Pope yawning over the latest of Tonson's publications.
Gay's face was singularly portentous. "My friend," Gay blurted out, "I bring news which will horrify you. Believe me, I would never have mustered the pluck to bring it did I not love you. I cannot let you hear it first in public and unprepared, as, otherwise, you would have to do."
"Do I not know you have the kindest heart in all the world? Why, so outrageous are your amiable defects that they would be the public derision of your enemies if you had any," Pope returned.
The other poet evinced an awkward comminglement of consternation and pity. "It appears that when this storm arose—why, Mistress Drew was with a young man of the neighborhood—a John Hewet——" Gay was speaking with unaccustomed rapidity.
"Hughes, I think," Pope interrupted, equably.
"Perhaps—I am not sure. They sought shelter under a haycock. You will remember that first crash of thunder, as if the heavens were in demolishment? My friend, the reapers who had been laboring in the fields—who had been driven to such protection as the trees or hedges afforded——"
"Get on!" a shrill voice cried; "for God's love, man, get on!" Mr. Pope had risen. This pallid shaken wisp was not in appearance the great Mr. Pope whose ingenuity had enabled Homeric warriors to excel in the genteel.
"They first saw a little smoke. . . . They found this Hughes with one arm about the neck of Mistress Drew, and the other held over her face, as if to screen her from the lightning. They were both"—and here Gay hesitated. "They were both dead," he amended.
Pope turned abruptly. Nakedness is of necessity uncouth, he held, whether it be the body or the soul that is unveiled. Mr. Pope went toward a window which he opened, and he stood thus looking out for a brief while.
"So she is dead," he said. "It is very strange. So many rare felicities of curve and color, so much of purity and kindliness and valor and mirth, extinguished as one snuffs a candle! Well! I am sorry she is dead, for the child had a talent for living and got such joy out of it. . . . Hers was a lovely happy life, but it was sterile. Already nothing remains of her but dead flesh which must be huddled out of sight. I shall not perish thus entirely, I believe. Men will remember me. Truly a mighty foundation for pride! when the utmost I can hope for is but to be read in one island, and to be thrown aside at the end of one age. Indeed, I am not even sure of that much. I print, and print, and print. And when I collect my verses into books, I am altogether uncertain whether to took upon myself as a man building a monument, or burying the dead. It sometimes seems to me that each publication is but a solemn funeral of many wasted years. For I have given all to the verse-making. Granted that the sacrifice avails to rescue my name from oblivion, what will it profit me when I am dead and care no more for men's opinions than Sarah Drew cares now for what I say of her? But then she never cared. She loved John Hughes. And she was right."
He made an end of speaking, still peering out of the window with considerate narrowed eyes.
The storm was over. In the beech-tree opposite a wren was raising optimistic outcry. The sun had won his way through a black-bellied shred of cloud; upon the terrace below, a dripping Venus and a Perseus were glistening as with white fire. Past these, drenched gardens, the natural wildness of which was judiciously restrained with walks, ponds, grottoes, statuary and other rural elegancies, displayed the intermingled brilliancies of diamonds and emeralds, and glittered as with pearls and rubies where tempest-battered roses were reviving in assertiveness.
"I think the storm is over," Mr. Pope remarked. "It is strange how violent are these convulsions of nature. . . . But nature is a treacherous blowsy jade, who respects nobody. A gentleman can but shrug under her onslaughts, and henceforward civilly avoid them. It is a consolation to reflect that they pass quickly."
He turned as in defiance. "Yes, yes! It hurts. But I envy them. Yes, even I, that ugly spiteful hornet of a man! 'the great Mr. Pope,' who will be dining with the proudest people in England within the hour and gloating over their deference! For they presume to make a little free with God occasionally, John, but never with me. And I envy these dead young fools. . . . You see, they loved each other, John. I left them, not an hour ago, the happiest of living creatures. I looked back once. I pretended to have dropped my handkerchief. I imagine they were talking of their wedding-clothes, for this broad-shouldered Hughes was matching poppies and field-flowers to her complexion. It was a scene out of Theocritus. I think Heaven was so well pleased by the tableau that Heaven hastily resumed possession of its enactors in order to prevent any after-happenings from belittling that perfect instant."
"Egad, and matrimony might easily have proved an anti-climax," Gay considered.
"Yes; oh, it is only Love that is blind, and not the lover necessarily. I know. I suppose I always knew at the bottom of my heart. This hamadryad was destined in the outcome to dwindle into a village housewife, she would have taken a lively interest in the number of eggs the hens were laying, she would even have assured her children, precisely in the way her father spoke of John Hughes, that young people ordinarily have foolish fancies which their rational elders agree to disregard. But as it is, no Eastern queen—not Semele herself—left earth more nobly—"
Pope broke off short. He produced his notebook, which he never went without, and wrote frowningly, with many erasures. "H'm, yes," he said; and he read aloud:
"When Eastern lovers feed the funeral fire, On the same pile the faithful fair expire; Here pitying heaven that virtue mutual found, And blasted both that it might neither wound. Hearts so sincere the Almighty saw well pleased, Sent His own lightning and the victims seized."
Then Pope made a grimace. "No; the analogy is trim enough, but the lines lack fervor. It is deplorable how much easier it is to express any emotion other than that of which one is actually conscious." Pope had torn the paper half-through before he reflected that it would help to fill a printed page. He put it in his pocket. "But, come now, I am writing to Lady Mary this afternoon. You know how she loves oddities. Between us—with prose as the medium, of course, since verse should, after all, confine itself to the commemoration of heroes and royal persons—I believe we might make of this occurrence a neat and moving pastorelle—I should say, pastoral, of course, but my wits are wool-gathering."
Mr. Gay had the kindest heart in the universe. Yet he, also, had dreamed of the perfected phrase, so worded that to alter a syllable of its wording would be little short of sacrilege. Eyes kindling, he took up a pen. "Yes, yes, I understand. Egad, it is an admirable subject. But, then, I don't believe I ever saw these lovers——?"
"John was a well-set man of about five-and-twenty," replied Mr. Pope; "and Sarah was a brown woman of eighteen years, three months and fourteen days."
Then these two dipped their pens and set about a moving composition, which has to-day its proper rating among Mr. Pope's Complete Works.
"But that sense of negation, of theoretic insecurity, which was in the air, conspiring with what was of like tendency in himself, made of Lord UFFORD a central type of disillusion. . . . He had been amiable because the general betise of humanity did not in his opinion greatly matter, after all; and in reading these 'SATIRES' it is well-nigh painful to witness the blind and naked forces of nature and circumstance surprising him in the uncontrollable movements of his own so carefully guarded heart."
Why is a handsome wife adored By every coxcomb but her lord?
From yonder puppet-man inquire Who wisely hides his wood and wire; Shows Sheba's queen completely dress'd And Solomon in royal vest;
But view them litter'd on the floor, Or strung on pegs behind the door, Punch is exactly of a piece With Lorrain's duke, and prince of Greece.
HORACE CALVERLEY.—Petition to the Duke of Ormskirk.
In the early winter of 1761 the Earl of Bute, then Secretary of State, gave vent to an outburst of unaccustomed profanity. Mr. Robert Calverley, who represented England at the Court of St. Petersburg, had resigned his office without prelude or any word of explanation. This infuriated Bute, since his pet scheme was to make peace with Russia and thereby end the Continental War. Now all was to do again; the minister raged, shrugged, furnished a new emissary with credentials, and marked Calverley's name for punishment.
As much, indeed, was written to Calverley by Lord Ufford, the poet, diarist, musician and virtuoso:
Our Scottish Mortimer, it appears, is unwilling to have the map of Europe altered because Mr. Robert Calverley has taken a whim to go into Italy. He is angrier than I have ever known him to be. He swears that with a pen's flourish you have imperiled the well-being of England, and raves in the same breath of the preferment he had designed for you. Beware of him. For my own part, I shrug and acquiesce, because I am familiar with your pranks. I merely venture to counsel that you do not crown the Pelion of abuse, which our statesmen are heaping upon you, with the Ossa of physical as well as political suicide. Hasten on your Italian jaunt, for Umfraville, who is now with me at Carberry Hill, has publicly declared that if you dare re-appear in England he will have you horsewhipped by his footmen. In consequence, I would most earnestly advise——
Mr. Calverley read no further, but came straightway into England. He had not been in England since his elopement, three years before that spring, with the Marquis of Umfraville's betrothed, Lord Radnor's daughter, whom Calverley had married at Calais. Mr. Calverley and his wife were presently at Carberry Hill, Lord Ufford's home, where, arriving about moon-rise, they found a ball in progress.
Their advent caused a momentary check to merriment. The fiddlers ceased, because Lord Ufford had signaled them. The fine guests paused in their stately dance. Lord Ufford, in a richly figured suit, came hastily to Lady Honoria Calverley, his high heels tapping audibly upon the floor, and with gallantry lifted her hand toward his lips. Her husband he embraced, and the two men kissed each other, as was the custom of the age. Chatter and laughter rose on every side as pert and merry as the noises of a brook in springtime.
"I fear that as Lord Umfraville's host," young Calverley at once began, "you cannot with decorum convey to the ignoramus my opinion as to his ability to conjugate the verb to dare."
"Why, but no! you naturally demand a duel," the poet-earl returned. "It is very like you. I lament your decision, but I will attempt to arrange the meeting for to-morrow morning."
Lord Ufford smiled and nodded to the musicians. He finished the dance to admiration, as this lean dandified young man did everything—"assiduous to win each fool's applause," as his own verses scornfully phrase it. Then Ufford went about his errand of death and conversed for a long while with Umfraville.
Afterward Lord Ufford beckoned to Calverley, who shrugged and returned Mr. Erwyn's snuff-box, which Calverley had been admiring. He followed the earl into a side-room opening upon the Venetian Chamber wherein the fete was. Ufford closed the door. You saw that he had put away the exterior of mirth that hospitality demanded of him, and perturbation showed in the lean countenance which was by ordinary so proud and so amiably peevish.
"Robin, you have performed many mad actions in your life!" he said; "but this return into the three kingdoms out-Herods all! Did I not warn you against Umfraville!"
"Why, certainly you did," returned Mr. Calverley. "You informed me—which was your duty as a friend—of this curmudgeon's boast that he would have me horsewhipped if I dared venture into England. You will readily conceive that any gentleman of self-respect cannot permit such farcical utterances to be delivered without appending a gladiatorial epilogue. Well! what are the conditions of this duel?"
"Oh, fool that I have been!" cried Ufford, who was enabled now by virtue of their seclusion to manifest his emotion. "I, who have known you all your life——!"
He paced the room. Pleading music tinged the silence almost insensibly.
"Heh, Fate has an imperial taste in humor!" the poet said. "Robin, we have been more than brothers. And it is I, I, of all persons living, who have drawn you into this imbroglio!"
"My danger is not very apparent as yet," said Calverley, "if Umfraville controls his sword no better than his tongue."
My lord of Ufford went on: "There is no question of a duel. It is as well to spare you what Lord Umfraville replied to my challenge. Let it suffice that we do not get sugar from the snake. Besides, the man has his grievance. Robin, have you forgot that necklace you and Pevensey took from Umfraville some three years ago—before you went into Russia?"
Calverley laughed. The question recalled an old hot-headed time when, exalted to a frolicsome zone by the discovery of Lady Honoria Pomfret's love for him, he planned the famous jest which he and the mad Earl of Pevensey perpetrated upon Umfraville. This masquerade won quick applause. Persons of ton guffawed like ploughboys over the discomfiture of an old hunks thus divertingly stripped of his bride, all his betrothal gifts, and of the very clothes he wore. An anonymous scribbler had detected in the occurrence a denouement suited to the stage and had constructed a comedy around it, which, when produced by the Duke's company, had won acclaim from hilarious auditors.
So Calverley laughed heartily. "Gad, what a jest that was! This Umfraville comes to marry Honoria. And highwaymen attack his coach! I would give L50 to have witnessed this usurer's arrival at Denton Honor in his underclothes! and to have seen his monkey-like grimaces when he learned that Honoria and I were already across the Channel!"
"You robbed him, though——"
"Indeed, for beginners at peculation we did not do so badly. We robbed him and his valet of everything in the coach, including their breeches. You do not mean that Pevensey has detained the poor man's wedding trousers? If so, it is unfortunate, because this loud-mouthed miser has need of them in order that he may be handsomely interred."
"Lord Umfraville's wedding-suit was stuffed with straw, hung on a pole and paraded through London by Pevensey, March, Selwyn and some dozen other madcaps, while six musicians marched before them. The clothes were thus conveyed to Umfraville's house. I think none of us would have relished a joke like that were he the butt of it."
Now the poet's lean countenance was turned upon young Calverley, and as always, Ufford evoked that nobility in Calverley which follies veiled but had not ever killed.
"Egad," said Robert Calverley; "I grant you that all this was infamously done. I never authorized it. I shall kill Pevensey. Indeed, I will do more," he added, with a flourish. "For I will apologize to Umfraville, and this very night."
But Ufford was not disposed to levity. "Let us come to the point," he sadly said. "Pevensey returned everything except the necklace which Umfraville had intended to be his bridal gift. Pevensey conceded the jest, in fine; and denied all knowledge of any necklace."
It was an age of accommodating morality. Calverley sketched a whistle, and showed no other trace of astonishment.
"I see. The fool confided in the spendthrift. My dear, I understand. In nature Pevensey gave the gems to some nymph of Sadler's Wells or Covent Garden. For I was out of England. And so he capped his knavery with insolence. It is an additional reason why Pevensey should not live to scratch a gray head. It is, however, an affront to me that Umfraville should have believed him. I doubt if I may overlook that, Horace?"
"I question if he did believe. But, then, what help had he? This Pevensey is an earl. His person as a peer of England is inviolable. No statute touches him directly, because he may not be confined except by the King's personal order. And it is tolerably notorious that Pevensey is in Lord Bute's pay, and that our Scottish Mortimer, to do him justice, does not permit his spies to be injured."
Now Mr. Calverley took snuff. The music without was now more audible, and it had shifted to a merrier tune.
"I think I comprehend. Pevensey and I—whatever were our motives—have committed a robbery. Pevensey, as the law runs, is safe. I, too, was safe as long as I kept out of England. As matters stand, Lord Umfraville intends to press a charge of theft against me. And I am in disgrace with Bute, who is quite content to beat offenders with a crooked stick. This confluence of two-penny accidents is annoying."
"It is worse than you know," my lord of Ufford returned. He opened the door which led to the Venetian Chamber. A surge of music, of laughter, and of many lights invaded the room wherein they stood. "D'ye see those persons, just past Umfraville, so inadequately disguised as gentlemen? They are from Bow Street. Lord Umfraville intends to apprehend you here to-night."
"He has an eye for the picturesque," drawled Calverley. "My tragedy, to do him justice, could not be staged more strikingly. Those additional alcoves have improved the room beyond belief. I must apologize for not having rendered my compliments a trifle earlier."
Internally he outstormed Termagaunt. It was infamous enough, in all conscience, to be arrested, but to have half the world of fashion as witnessess of ones discomfiture was perfectly intolerable. He recognized the excellent chance he had of being the most prominent figure upon some scaffold before long, but that contingency did not greatly trouble Calverley, as set against the certainty of being made ridiculous within the next five minutes.
In consequence, he frowned and rearranged the fall of his shirt-frill a whit the more becomingly.
"Yes, for hate sharpens every faculty," the earl went on. "Even Umfraville understands that you do not fear death. So he means to have you tried like any common thief while all your quondam friends sit and snigger. And you will be convicted——"
"Why, necessarily, since I am not as Pevensey. Of course, I must confess I took the necklace."
"And Pevensey must stick to the tale that he knows nothing of any necklace. Dear Robin, this means Newgate. Accident deals very hardly with us, Robin, for this means Tyburn Hill."
"Yes; I suppose it means my death," young Calverley assented. "Well! I have feasted with the world and found its viands excellent. The banquet ended, I must not grumble with my host because I find his choice of cordials not altogether to my liking." Thus speaking, he was aware of nothing save that the fiddlers were now about an air to which he had often danced with his dear wife.
"I have a trick yet left to save our honor,——" Lord Ufford turned to a table where wine and glasses were set ready. "I propose a toast. Let us drink—for the last time—to the honor of the Calverleys."
"It is an invitation I may not decorously refuse. And yet—it may be that I do not understand you?"
My lord of Ufford poured wine into two glasses. These glasses were from among the curios he collected so industriously—tall, fragile things, of seventeenth century make, very intricately cut with roses and thistles, and in the bottom of each glass a three-penny piece was embedded. Lord Ufford took a tiny vial from his pocket and emptied its contents into the glass which stood the nearer to Mr. Calverley.
"This is Florence water. We dabblers in science are experimenting with it at Gresham College. A taste of it means death—a painless, quick and honorable death. You will have died of a heart seizure. Come, Robin, let us drink to the honor of the Calverleys."
The poet-earl paused for a little while. Now he was like some seer of supernal things.
"For look you," said Lord Ufford, "we come of honorable blood. We two are gentlemen. We have our code, and we may not infringe upon it. Our code does not invariably square with reason, and I doubt if Scripture would afford a dependable foundation. So be it! We have our code and we may not infringe upon it. There have been many Calverleys who did not fear their God, but there was never any one of them who did not fear dishonor. I am the head of no less proud a house. As such, I counsel you to drink and die within the moment. It is not possible a Calverley survive dishonor. Oh, God!" the poet cried, and his voice broke; "and what is honor to this clamor within me! Robin, I love you better than I do this talk of honor! For, Robin, I have loved you long! so long that what we do to-night will always make life hideous to me!"
Calverley was not unmoved, but he replied in the tone of daily intercourse. "It is undoubtedly absurd to perish here, like some unreasonable adversary of the Borgias. Your device is rather outrageously horrific, Horace, like a bit out of your own romance—yes, egad, it is pre-eminently worthy of the author of The Vassal of Spalatro. Still I can understand that it is preferable to having fat and greasy fellows squander a shilling for the privilege of perching upon a box while I am being hanged. And I think I shall accept your toast—
"You will be avenged," Ufford said, simply.
"My dear, as if I ever questioned that! Of course, you will kill Pevensey first and Umfraville afterward. Only I want to live. For I was meant to play a joyous role wholeheartedly in the big comedy of life. So many people find the world a dreary residence," Mr. Calverley sighed, "that it is really a pity some one of these long-faced stolidities cannot die now instead of me. For I have found life wonderful throughout."
The brows of Ufford knit. "Would you consent to live as a transported felon? I have much money. I need not tell you the last penny is at your disposal. It might be possible to bribe. Indeed, Lord Bute is all-powerful to-day and he would perhaps procure a pardon for you at my entreaty. He is so kind as to admire my scribblings. . . Or you might live among your fellow-convicts somewhere over sea for a while longer. I had not thought that such would be your choice——" Here Ufford shrugged, restrained by courtesy. "Besides, Lord Bute is greatly angered with you, because you have endangered his Russian alliance. However, if you wish it, I will try——"
"Oh, for that matter, I do not much fear Lord Bute, because I bring him the most welcome news he has had in many a day. I may tell you since it will be public to-morrow. The Tzaritza Elizabeth, our implacable enemy, died very suddenly three weeks ago. Peter of Holstein-Gottrop reigns to-day in Russia, and I have made terms with him. I came to tell Lord Bute the Cossack troops have been recalled from Prussia. The war is at an end." Young Calverley meditated and gave his customary boyish smile. "Yes, I discharged my Russian mission after all—even after I had formally relinquished it—because I was so opportunely aided by the accident of the Tzaritza's death. And Bute cares only for results. So I would explain to him that I resigned my mission simply because in Russia my wife could not have lived out another year——"
The earl exclaimed, "Then Honoria is ill!" Mr. Calverley did not attend, but stood looking out into the Venetian Chamber.
"See, Horace, she is dancing with Anchester while I wait here so near to death. She dances well. But Honoria does everything adorably. I cannot tell you—oh, not even you!—how happy these three years have been with her. Eh, well! the gods are jealous of such happiness. You will remember how her mother died? It appears that Honoria is threatened with a slow consumption, and a death such as her mother's was. She does not know. There was no need to frighten her. For although the rigors of another Russian winter, as all physicians tell me, would inevitably prove fatal to her, there is no reason why my dearest dear should not continue to laugh just as she always does—for a long, bright and happy while in some warm climate such as Italy's. In nature I resigned my appointment. I did not consider England, or my own trivial future, or anything of that sort. I considered only Honoria."
He gazed for many moments upon the woman whom he loved. His speech took on an odd simplicity.
"Oh, yes, I think that in the end Bute would procure a pardon for me. But not even Bute can override the laws of England. I would have to be tried first, and have ballads made concerning me, and be condemned, and so on. That would detain Honoria in England, because she is sufficiently misguided to love me. I could never persuade her to leave me with my life in peril. She could not possibly survive an English winter." Here Calverley evinced unbridled mirth. "The irony of events is magnificent. There is probably no question of hanging or even of transportation. It is merely certain that if I venture from this room I bring about Honoria's death as incontestably as if I strangled her with these two hands. So I choose my own death in preference. It will grieve Honoria——" His voice was not completely steady. "But she is young. She will forget me, for she forgets easily, and she will be happy. I look to you to see—even before you have killed Pevensey—that Honoria goes into Italy. For she admires and loves you, almost as much as I do, Horace, and she will readily be guided by you——"
He cried my lord of Ufford's given name some two or three times, for young Calverley had turned, and he had seen Ufford's face.
The earl moistened his lips. "You are a fool," he said, with a thin voice. "Why do you trouble me by being better than I? Or do you only posture for my benefit? Do you deal honestly with me, Robert Calverley?—then swear it——" He laughed here, very horribly. "Ah, no, when did you ever lie! You do not lie—not you!"
He waited for a while. "But I am otherwise. I dare to lie when the occasion promises. I have desired Honoria since the first moment wherein I saw her. I may tell you now. I think that you do not remember. We gathered cherries. I ate two of them which had just lain upon her knee——"
His hands had clenched each other, and his lips were drawn back so that you saw his exquisite teeth, which were ground together. He stood thus for a little, silent.
Then Ufford began again: "I planned all this. I plotted this with Umfraville. I wrote you such a letter as would inevitably draw you to your death. I wished your death. For Honoria would then be freed of you. I would condole with her. She is readily comforted, impatient of sorrow, incapable of it, I dare say. She would have married me. . . . Why must I tell you this? Oh, I am Fate's buffoon! For I have won, I have won! and there is that in me which will not accept the stake I cheated for."
"And you," said Calverley—"this thing is you!"
"A helpless reptile now," said Ufford. "I have not the power to check Lord Umfraville in his vengeance. You must be publicly disgraced, and must, I think, be hanged even now when it will not benefit me at all. It may be I shall weep for that some day! Or else Honoria must die, because an archangel could not persuade her to desert you in your peril. For she loves you—loves you to the full extent of her merry and shallow nature. Oh, I know that, as you will never know it. I shall have killed Honoria! I shall not weep when Honoria dies. Harkee, Robin! they are dancing yonder. It is odd to think that I shall never dance again."
"Horace—!" the younger man said, like a person of two minds. He seemed to choke. He gave a frantic gesture. "Oh, I have loved you. I have loved nothing as I have loved you."
"And yet you chatter of your passion for Honoria!" Lord Ufford returned, with a snarl. "I ask what proof is there of this?—Why, that you have surrendered your well-being in this world through love of her. But I gave what is vital. I was an honorable gentleman without any act in all my life for which I had need to blush. I loved you as I loved no other being in the universe." He spread his hands, which now twitched horribly. "You will never understand. It does not matter. I desired Honoria. To-day through my desire of her, I am that monstrous thing which you alone know me to be. I think I gave up much. Pro honoria!" he chuckled. "The Latin halts, but, none the less, the jest is excellent."
"You have given more than I would dare to give," said Calverley. He shuddered.
"And to no end!" cried Ufford. "Ah, fate, the devil and that code I mocked are all in league to cheat me!"
Said Calverley: "The man whom I loved most is dead. Oh, had the world been searched between the sunrise and the sunsetting there had not been found his equal. And now, poor fool, I know that there was never any man like this!"
"Nay, there was such a man," the poet said, "in an old time which I almost forget. To-day he is quite dead. There is only a poor wretch who has been faithless in all things, who has not even served the devil faithfully."
"Why, then, you lackey with a lackey's soul, attend to what I say. Can you make any terms with Umfraville?"
"I can do nothing," Ufford replied. "You have robbed him—as me—of what he most desired. You have made him the laughing-stock of England. He does not pardon any more than I would pardon."
"And as God lives and reigns, I do not greatly blame him," said young Calverley. "This man at least was wronged. Concerning you I do not speak, because of a false dream I had once very long ago. Yet Umfraville was treated infamously. I dare concede what I could not permit another man to say and live, now that I drink a toast which I must drink alone. For I drink to the honor of the Calverleys. I have not ever lied to any person in this world, and so I may not drink with you."
"Oh, but you drink because you know your death to be the one event which can insure her happiness," cried Ufford. "We are not much unlike. And I dare say it is only an imaginary Honoria we love, after all. Yet, look, my fellow-Ixion! for to the eye at least is she not perfect?"
The two men gazed for a long while. Amid that coterie of exquisites, wherein allusion to whatever might be ugly in the world was tacitly allowed to be unmentionable, Lady Honoria glitteringly went about the moment's mirthful business with lovely ardor. You saw now unmistakably that "Light Queen of Elfdom, dead Titania's heir" of whom Ufford writes in the fourth Satire. Honoria's prettiness, rouged, frail, and modishly enhanced, allured the eye from all less elfin brilliancies; and as she laughed among so many other relishers of life her charms became the more instant, just as a painting quickens in every tint when set in an appropriate frame.
"There is no other way," her husband said. He drank and toasted what was dearest in the world, smiling to think how death came to him in that wine's familiar taste. "I drink to the most lovely of created ladies! and to her happiness!"
He snapped the stem of the glass and tossed it joyously aside.
"Assuredly, there is no other way," said Ufford. "And armored by that knowledge, even I may drink as honorable people do. Pro honoria!" Then this man also broke his emptied glass.
"How long have I to live?" said Calverley, and took snuff.
"Why, thirty years, I think, unless you duel too immoderately," replied Lord Ufford,—"since while you looked at Honoria I changed our glasses. No! no! a thing done has an end. Besides, it is not unworthy of me. So go boldly to the Earl of Bute and tell him all. You are my cousin and my successor. Yes, very soon you, too, will be a peer of England and as safe from molestation as is Lord Pevensey. I am the first to tender my congratulations. Now I make certain that they are not premature."
The poet laughed at this moment as a man may laugh in hell. He reeled. His lean face momentarily contorted, and afterward the poet died.
"I am Lord Ufford," said Calverley aloud. "The person of a peer is inviolable——" He presently looked downward from rapt gazing at his wife.
Fresh from this horrible half-hour, he faced a future so alluring as by its beauty to intimidate him. Youth, love, long years of happiness, and (by this capricious turn) now even opulence, were the ingredients of a captivating vista. And yet he needs must pause a while to think of the dear comrade he had lost—of that loved boy, his pattern in the time of their common youthfulness which gleamed in memory as bright and misty as a legend, and of the perfect chevalier who had been like a touchstone to Robert Calverley a bare half-hour ago. He knelt, touched lightly the fallen jaw, and lightly kissed the cheek of this poor wreckage; and was aware that the caress was given with more tenderness than Robert Calverley had shown in the same act a bare half-hour ago.
Meanwhile the music of a country dance urged the new Earl of Ufford to come and frolic where every one was laughing; and to partake with gusto of the benefits which chance had provided; and to be forthwith as merry as was decorous in a peer of England.
THE IRRESISTIBLE OGLE
"But after SHERIDAN had risen to a commanding position in the gay life of London, he rather disliked to be known as a playwright or a poet, and preferred to be regarded as a statesman and a man of fashion who 'set the pace' in all pastimes of the opulent and idle. Yet, whatever he really thought of his own writings, and whether or not he did them, as Stevenson used to say, 'just for fun,' the fact remains that he was easily the most distinguished and brilliant dramatist of an age which produced in SHERIDAN'S solemn vagaries one of its most characteristic products."
Look on this form,—where humor, quaint and sly, Dimples the cheek, and points the beaming eye; Where gay invention seems to boast its wiles In amorous hint, and half-triumphant smiles.
Look on her well—does she seem form'd to teach? Should you expect to hear this lady preach? Is gray experience suited to her youth? Do solemn sentiments become that mouth?
Bid her be grave, those lips should rebel prove To every theme that slanders mirth or love.
RICHARD BRINSLEY SHERIDAN.—Second Prologue to The Rivals.
THE IRRESISTIBLE OGLE
The devotion of Mr. Sheridan to the Dean of Winchester's daughter, Miss Esther Jane Ogle—or "the irresistible Ogle," as she was toasted at the Kit-cat—was now a circumstance to be assumed in the polite world of London. As a result, when the parliamentarian followed her into Scotland, in the spring of 1795, people only shrugged.
"Because it proves that misery loves company," was Mr. Fox's observation at Wattier's, hard upon two in the morning. "Poor Sherry, as an inconsolable widower, must naturally have some one to share his grief. He perfectly comprehends that no one will lament the death of his wife more fervently than her successor."
In London Mr. Fox thus worded his interpretation of the matter; and spoke, oddly enough, at the very moment that in Edinburgh Mr. Sheridan returned to his lodgings in Abercromby Place, deep in the reminiscences of a fortunate evening at cards. In consequence, Mr. Sheridan entered the room so quietly that the young man who was employed in turning over the contents of the top bureau-drawer was taken unprepared.
But in the marauder's nature, as far as resolution went, was little lacking. "Silence!" he ordered, and with the mandate a pistol was leveled upon the representative for the borough of Stafford. "One cry for help, and you perish like a dog. I warn you that I am a desperate man."
"Now, even at a hazard of discourtesy, I must make bold to question your statement," said Mr. Sheridan, "although, indeed, it is not so much the recklessness as the masculinity which I dare call into dispute."
He continued, in his best parliamentary manner, a happy blending of reproach, omniscience and pardon. "Only two months ago," said Mr. Sheridan, "I was so fortunate as to encounter a lady who, alike through the attractions of her person and the sprightliness of her conversation, convinced me I was on the road to fall in love after the high fashion of a popular romance. I accordingly make her a declaration. I am rejected. I besiege her with the customary artillery of sonnets, bouquets, serenades, bonbons, theater-tickets and threats of suicide. In fine, I contract the habit of proposing to Miss Ogle on every Wednesday; and so strong is my infatuation that I follow her as far into the north as Edinburgh in order to secure my eleventh rejection at half-past ten last evening."
"I fail to understand," remarked the burglar, "how all this prolix account of your amours can possibly concern me."
"You are at least somewhat involved in the deplorable climax," Mr. Sheridan returned. "For behold! at two in the morning I discover the object of my adoration and the daughter of an estimable prelate, most calumniously clad and busily employed in rumpling my supply of cravats. If ever any lover was thrust into a more ambiguous position, madam, historians have touched on his dilemma with marked reticence."
He saw—and he admired—the flush which mounted to his visitor's brow. And then, "I must concede that appearances are against me, Mr. Sheridan," the beautiful intruder said. "And I hasten to protest that my presence in your apartments at this hour is prompted by no unworthy motive. I merely came to steal the famous diamond which you brought from London—the Honor of Eiran."
"Incomparable Esther Jane," ran Mr. Sheridan's answer, "that stone is now part of a brooch which was this afternoon returned to my cousin's, the Earl of Eiran's, hunting-lodge near Melrose. He intends the gem which you are vainly seeking among my haberdashery to be the adornment of his promised bride in the ensuing June. I confess to no overwhelming admiration as concerns this raucous if meritorious young person; and will even concede that the thought of her becoming my kinswoman rouses in me an inevitable distaste, no less attributable to the discord of her features than to the source of her eligibility to disfigure the peerage—that being her father's lucrative transactions in Pork, which I find indigestible in any form."
"A truce to paltering!" Miss Ogle cried. "That jewel was stolen from the temple at Moorshedabad, by the Earl of Eiran's grandfather, during the confusion necessarily attendant on the glorious battle of Plassy." She laid down the pistol, and resumed in milder tones: "From an age-long existence as the left eye of Ganesh it was thus converted into the loot of an invader. To restore this diamond to its lawful, although no doubt polygamous and inefficiently-attired proprietors is at this date impossible. But, oh! what claim have you to its possession?"
"Why, none whatever," said the parliamentarian; "and to contend as much would be the apex of unreason. For this diamond belongs, of course, to my cousin the Earl of Eiran——"
"As a thief's legacy!" She spoke with signs of irritation.
"Eh, eh, you go too fast! Eiran, to do him justice, is not a graduate in peculation. At worst, he is only the sort of fool one's cousins ordinarily are."
The trousered lady walked to and fro for a while, with the impatience of a caged lioness. "I perceive I must go more deeply into matters," Miss Ogle remarked, and, with that habitual gesture which he fondly recognized, brushed back a straying lock of hair. "In any event," she continued, "you cannot with reason deny that the world's wealth is inequitably distributed?"
"Madam," Mr. Sheridan returned, "as a member of Parliament, I have necessarily made it a rule never to understand political economy. It is as apt as not to prove you are selling your vote to the wrong side of the House, and that hurts one's conscience."
"Ah, that is because you are a man. Men are not practical. None of you has ever dared to insist on his opinion about anything until he had secured the cowardly corroboration of a fact or so to endorse him. It is a pity. Yet, since through no fault of yours your sex is invariably misled by its hallucinations as to the importance of being rational, I will refrain from logic and statistics. In a word, I simply inform you that I am a member of the League of Philanthropic Larcenists."
"I had not previously heard of this organization," said Mr. Sheridan, and not without suspecting his response to be a masterpiece in the inadequate.
"Our object is the benefit of society at large," Miss Ogle explained; "and our obstacles so far have been, in chief, the fetish of proprietary rights and the ubiquity of the police."
And with that she seated herself and told him of the league's inception by a handful of reflective persons, admirers of Rousseau and converts to his tenets, who were resolved to better the circumstances of the indigent. With amiable ardor Miss Ogle explained how from the petit larcenies of charity-balls and personally solicited subscriptions the league had mounted to an ampler field of depredation; and through what means it now took toll from every form of wealth unrighteously acquired. Divertingly she described her personal experiences in the separation of usurers, thieves, financiers, hereditary noblemen, popular authors, and other social parasites, from the ill-got profits of their disreputable vocations. And her account of how, on the preceding Tuesday, she, single-handed, had robbed Sir Alexander McRae—who then enjoyed a fortune and an enviable reputation for philanthropy, thanks to the combination of glucose, vitriol and other chemicals which he prepared under the humorous pretext of manufacturing beer—wrung high encomiums from Mr. Sheridan.
"The proceeds of these endeavors," Miss Ogle added, "are conscientiously devoted to ameliorating the condition of meritorious paupers. I would be happy to submit to you our annual report. Then you may judge for yourself how many families we have snatched from the depths of poverty and habitual intoxication to the comparative comfort of a vine-embowered cottage."
Mr. Sheridan replied: "I have not ever known of any case where adoration needed an affidavit for foundation. Oh, no, incomparable Esther Jane! I am not in a position to be solaced by the reports of a corresponding secretary. I gave my heart long since; to-night I fling my confidence into the bargain; and am resolved to serve wholeheartedly the cause to which you are devoted. In consequence, I venture to propose my name for membership in the enterprise you advocate and indescribably adorn."
Miss Ogle was all one blush, such was the fervor of his utterance. "But first you must win your spurs, Mr. Sheridan. I confess you are not abhorrent to me," she hurried on, "for you are the most fascinatingly hideous man I have ever seen; and it was always the apprehension that you might look on burglary as an unmaidenly avocation which has compelled me to discourage your addresses. Now all is plain; and should you happen to distinguish yourself in robbery of the criminally opulent, you will have, I believe, no reason to complain of a twelfth refusal. I cannot modestly say more."
He laughed. "It is a bargain. We will agree that I bereave some person of either stolen or unearned property, say, to the value of L10,000——" And with his usual carefulness in such matters, Mr. Sheridan entered the wager in his notebook.
She yielded him her hand in token of assent. And he, depend upon it, kissed that velvet trifle fondly.
"And now," said Mr. Sheridan, "to-morrow we will visit Bemerside and obtain possession of that crystal which is in train to render me the happiest of men. The task will be an easy one, as Eiran is now in England, and his servants for the most part are my familiars."
"I agree to your proposal," she answered. "But this diamond is my allotted quarry; and any assistance you may render me in procuring it will not, of course, affect in any way our bargain. On this point"—she spoke with a break of laughter—"I am as headstrong as an allegory on the banks of the Nile."
"To quote an author to his face," lamented Mr. Sheridan, "is bribery as gross as it is efficacious. I must unwillingly consent to your exorbitant demands, for you are, as always, the irresistible Ogle."
Miss Ogle bowed her gratitude; and, declining Mr. Sheridan's escort, for fear of arousing gossip by being seen upon the street with him at this late hour, preferred to avoid any appearance of indecorum by climbing down the kitchen roof.
When she had gone, Mr. Sheridan very gallantly attempted a set of verses. But the Muse was not to be wooed to-night, and stayed obstinately coy.
Mr. Sheridan reflected, rather forlornly, that he wrote nothing nowadays. There was, of course, his great comedy, Affectation, his masterpiece which he meant to finish at one time or another; yet, at the bottom of his heart, he knew that he would never finish it. But, then, deuce take posterity! for to have written the best comedy, the best farce, and the best burlesque as well, that England had ever known, was a very prodigal wiping-out of every obligation toward posterity. Boys thought a deal about posterity, as he remembered; but a sensible man would bear in mind that all this world's delicacies—its merry diversions, its venison and old wines, its handsomely-bound books and fiery-hearted jewels and sumptuous clothings, all its lovely things that can be touched and handled, and more especially its ear-tickling applause—were to be won, if ever, from one's contemporaries. And people were generous toward social, rather than literary, talents for the sensible reason that they derived more pleasure from an agreeable companion at dinner than from having a rainy afternoon rendered endurable by some book or another. So the parliamentarian sensibly went to bed.
Miss Ogle during this Scottish trip was accompanied by her father, the venerable Dean of Winchester. The Dean, although in all things worthy of implicit confidence, was not next day informed of the intended expedition, in deference to public opinion, which, as Miss Ogle pointed out, regards a clergyman's participation in a technical felony with disapproval.
Miss Ogle, therefore, radiant in a becoming gown of pink lute-string, left Edinburgh the following morning under cover of a subterfuge, and with Mr. Sheridan as her only escort. He was at pains to adorn this role with so many happy touches of courtesy and amiability that their confinement in the postchaise appeared to both of incredible brevity.
When they had reached Melrose another chaise was ordered to convey them to Bemerside; and pending its forthcoming Mr. Sheridan and Miss Ogle strolled among the famous ruins of Melrose Abbey. The parliamentarian had caused his hair to be exuberantly curled that morning, and figured to advantage in a plum-colored coat and a saffron waistcoat sprigged with forget-me-nots. He chatted entertainingly concerning the Second Pointed style of architecture; translated many of the epitaphs; and was abundant in interesting information as to Robert Bruce, and Michael Scott, and the rencounter of Chevy Chase.
"Oh, but observe," said Mr. Sheridan, more lately, "our only covering is the dome of heaven. Yet in their time these aisles were populous, and here a score of generations have besought what earth does not afford—now where the banners of crusaders waved the ivy flutters, and there is no incense in this consecrated house except the breath of the wild rose."
"The moral is an old one," she returned. "Mummy is become merchandise, Mizraim cures wounds, and Pharaoh is sold for balsams."
"You are a reader, madam?" he observed, with some surprise; and he continued: "Indeed, my thoughts were on another trail. I was considering that the demolishers of this place—those English armies, those followers of John Knox—were actuated by the highest and most laudable of motives. As a result we find the house of Heaven converted into a dustheap."
"I believe you attempt an apologue," she said, indignantly. "Upon my word, I think you would insinuate that philanthropy, when forced to manifest itself through embezzlement, is a less womanly employment than the darning of stockings!"
"Whom the cap fits——" he answered, with a bow. "Indeed, incomparable Esther Jane, I had said nothing whatever touching hosiery; and it was equally remote from my intentions to set up as a milliner."
They lunched at Bemerside, where Mr. Sheridan was cordially received by the steward, and a well-chosen repast was placed at their disposal.
"Fergus," Mr. Sheridan observed, as they chatted over their dessert concerning famous gems—in which direction talk had been adroitly steered"—Fergus, since we are on the topic, I would like to show Miss Ogle the Honor of Eiran."
The Honor of Eiran was accordingly produced from a blue velvet case, and was properly admired. Then, when the steward had been dismissed to fetch a rare liqueur, Mr. Sheridan laughed, and tossed and caught the jewel, as though he handled a cricket-ball. It was the size of a pigeon's egg, and was set among eight gems of lesser magnitude; and in transit through the sunlight the trinket flashed and glittered with diabolical beauty. The parliamentarian placed three bits of sugar in the velvet case and handed the gem to his companion.
"The bulk is much the same," he observed; "and whether the carbon be crystallized or no, is the responsibility of stratigraphic geology. Fergus, perhaps, must go to jail. That is unfortunate. But true philanthropy works toward the benefit of the greatest number possible; and this resplendent pebble will purchase you innumerable pounds of tea and a warehouseful of blankets."
"But, Mr. Sheridan," Miss Ogle cried, in horror, "to take this brooch would not be honest!"
"Oh, as to that——!" he shrugged.
"——because Lord Eiran purchased all these lesser diamonds, and very possibly paid for them."
Then Mr. Sheridan reflected, stood abashed, and said: "Incomparable Esther Jane, I confess I am only a man. You are entirely right. To purloin any of these little diamonds would be an abominable action, whereas to make off with the only valuable one is simply a stroke of retribution. I will, therefore, attempt to prise it out with a nutpick."
Three constables came suddenly into the room. "We hae been tauld this missy is a suspectit thieving body," their leader cried. "Esther Jane Ogle, ye maun gae with us i' the law's name. Ou ay, lass, ye ken weel eneugh wha robbit auld Sir Aleexander McRae, sae dinna ye say naething tae your ain preejudice, lest ye hae tae account for it a'."
Mr. Sheridan rose to the occasion. "My exceedingly good friend, Angus Howden! I am unwilling to concede that yeomen can excel in gentlemanly accomplishments, but it is only charity to suppose all three of you as drunk as any duke that ever honored me with his acquaintance." This he drawled, and appeared magisterially to await an explanation.
"Hout, Mr. Sheridan," commenced the leading representative of justice, "let that flee stick i' the wa'—e dinna mean tae tell me, Sir, that ye are acquaintit wi' this—ou ay, tae pleasure ye, I micht e'en say wi' this——"
"This lady, probably?" Mr. Sheridan hazarded.
"'Tis an unco thing," the constable declared, "but that wad be the word was amaist at my tongue's tip."
"Why, undoubtedly," Mr. Sheridan assented. "I rejoice that, being of French extraction, and unconversant with your somewhat cryptic patois, the lady in question is the less likely to have been sickened by your extravagances in the way of misapprehension. I candidly confess such imbecility annoys me. What!" he cried out, "what if I marry! is matrimony to be ranked with arson? And what if my cousin, Eiran, affords me a hiding-place wherein to sneak through our honeymoon after the cowardly fashion of all modern married couples! Am I in consequence compelled to submit to the invasions of an intoxicated constabulary?" His rage was terrific.
"Voila la seule devise. Ils me connaissent, ils ont confidence dans moi. Si, taisez-vous! Si non, vous serez arretee et mise dans la prison, comme une caractere suspicieuse!" Mr. Sheridan exhorted Miss Ogle to this intent with more of earnestness than linguistic perfection; and he rejoiced to see that instantly she caught at her one chance of plausibly accounting for her presence at Bemerside, and of effecting a rescue from this horrid situation.
"But I also spik the English," she sprightlily announced. "I am appleed myself at to learn its by heart. Certainly you look for a needle in a hay bundle, my gentlemans. I am no stealer of the grand road, but the wife of Mistaire Sheridan, and her presence will say to you the remains."
"You see!" cried Mr. Sheridan, in modest triumph. "In short, I am a bridegroom unwarrantably interrupted in his first tete-a-tete, I am responsible for this lady and all her past and its appurtenances; and, in a phrase, for everything except the course of conduct I will undoubtedly pursue should you be visible at the conclusion of the next five minutes."
His emphasis was such that the police withdrew with a concomitant of apologies.
"And now I claim my bond," said Mr. Sheridan, when they were once again free from intrusion. "For we two are in Scotland, where the common declaration of a man and woman that they are married constitutes a marriage."
"Oh——!" she exclaimed, and stood encrimsoned.
"Indeed, I must confess that the day's work has been a trick throughout. The diamond was pawned years ago. This trinket here is a copy in paste and worth perhaps some seven shillings sixpence. And those fellows were not constables, but just my cousin Eiran and two footmen in disguise. Nay, madam, you will learn with experience that to display unfailing candor is not without exception the price of happiness."
"But this, I think, evades our bargain, Mr. Sheridan. For you were committed to pilfer property to the value of L10,000——"
"And to fulfil the obligation I have stolen your hand in marriage. What, madam! do you indeed pretend that any person outside of Bedlam would value you at less? Believe me, your perfections are of far more worth. All persons recognize that save yourself, incomparable Esther Jane; and yet, so patent is the proof of my contention, I dare to leave the verdict to your sense of justice."
Miss Ogle did not speak. Her lashes fell as, with some ceremony, he led her to the long French mirror which was in the breakfast room. "See now!" said Mr. Sheridan. "You, who endanger life and fame in order to provide a mendicant with gruel, tracts and blankets! You, who deny a sop to the one hunger which is vital! Oh, madam, I am tempted glibly to compare your eyes to sapphires, and your hair to thin-spun gold, and the color of your flesh to the arbutus-flower—for that, as you can see, would be within the truth, and it would please most women, and afterward they would not be so obdurate. But you are not like other women," Mr. Sheridan observed, with admirable dexterity. "And I aspire to you, the irresistible Ogle! you, who so great-heartedly befriend the beggar! you, who with such industry contrive alleviation for the discomforts of poverty. Eh, eh! what will you grant to any beggar such as I? Will you deny a sop to the one hunger which is vital?" He spoke with unaccustomed vigor, even in a sort of terror, because he knew that he was speaking with sincerity.
"To the one hunger which is vital!" he repeated. "Ah, where lies the secret which makes one face the dearest in the world, and entrusts to one little hand a life's happiness as a plaything? All Aristotle's learning could not unriddle the mystery, and Samson's thews were impotent to break that spell. Love vanquishes all. . . . You would remind me of some previous skirmishings with Venus's unconquerable brat? Nay, madam, to the contrary, the fact that I have loved many other women is my strongest plea for toleration. Were there nothing else, it is indisputable we perform all actions better for having rehearsed them. No, we do not of necessity perform them the more thoughtlessly as well; for, indeed, I find that with experience a man becomes increasingly difficult to please in affairs of the heart. The woman one loves then is granted that pre-eminence not merely by virtue of having outshone any particular one of her predecessors; oh, no! instead, her qualities have been compared with all the charms of all her fair forerunners, and they have endured that stringent testing. The winning of an often-bartered heart is in reality the only conquest which entitles a woman to complacency, for she has received a real compliment; whereas to be selected as the target of a lad's first declaration is a tribute of no more value than a man's opinion upon vintages who has never tasted wine."
He took a turn about the breakfast room, then came near to her. "I love you. Were there any way to parade the circumstance and bedeck it with pleasing adornments of filed phrases, tropes and far-fetched similes, I would not grudge you a deal of verbal pageantry. But three words say all. I love you. There is no act in my past life but appears trivial and strange to me, and to the man who performed it I seem no more akin than to Mark Antony or Nebuchadnezzar. I love you. The skies are bluer since you came, the beauty of this world we live in oppresses me with a fearful joy, and in my heart there is always the thought of you and such yearning as I may not word. For I love you."
"You—but you have frightened me." Miss Ogle did not seem so terrified as to make any effort to recede from him; and yet he saw that she was frightened in sober earnest. Her face showed pale, and soft, and glad, and awed, and desirable above all things; and it remained so near him as to engender riotous aspirations.
"I love you," he said again. You would never have suspected this man could speak, upon occasion, fluently. "I think—I think that Heaven was prodigal when Heaven made you. To think of you is as if I listened to an exalted music; and to be with you is to understand that all imaginable sorrows are just the figments of a dream which I had very long ago."
She laid one hand on each of his shoulders, facing him. "Do not let me be too much afraid! I have not ever been afraid before. Oh, everything is in a mist of gold, and I am afraid of you, and of the big universe which I was born into, and I am helpless, and I would have nothing changed! Only, I cannot believe I am worth L10,000, and I do so want to be persuaded I am. It is a great pity," she sighed, "that you who convicted Warren Hastings of stealing such enormous wealth cannot be quite as eloquent to-day as you were in the Oudh speech, and convince me his arraigner has been equally rapacious!"
"I mean to prove as much—with time," said Mr. Sheridan. His breathing was yet perfunctory.
Miss Ogle murmured, "And how long would you require?"
"Why, I intend, with your permission, to devote the remainder of my existence to the task. Eh, I concede that space too brief for any adequate discussion of the topic; but I will try to be concise and very practical——"
She laughed. They were content. "Try, then——" Miss Ogle said.
She was able to get no farther in the sentence, for reasons which to particularize would be indiscreet.
A PRINCESS OF GRUB STREET
"Though—or, rather, because—VANDERHOFFEN was a child of the French Revolution, and inherited his social, political and religious—or, rather, anti-religious—views from the French writers of the eighteenth century, England was not ready for him and the unshackled individualism for which he at first contended. Recognizing this fact, he turned to an order of writing begotten of the deepest popular needs and addressed to the best intelligence of the great middle classes of the community."
Now emperors bide their times' rebuff I would not be a king—enough Of woe it is to love; The paths of power are steep and rough, And tempests reign above.
I would not climb the imperial throne; 'Tis built on ice which fortune's sun Thaws in the height of noon. Then farewell, kings, that squeak 'Ha' done!' To time's full-throated tune.
PAUL VANDERHOFFEN.—Emma and Caroline.
A PRINCESS OF GRUB STREET
It is questionable if the announcement of the death of their Crown Prince, Hilary, upon the verge of his accession to the throne, aroused more than genteel regret among the inhabitants of Saxe-Kesselberg. It is indisputable that in diplomatic circles news of this horrible occurrence was indirectly conceded in 1803 to smack of a direct intervention of Providence. For to consider all the havoc dead Prince Fribble—such had been his sobriquet—would have created, Dei gratia, through his pilotage of an important grand-duchy (with an area of no less than eighty-nine square miles) was less discomfortable now prediction was an academic matter.
And so the editors of divers papers were the victims of a decorous anguish, court-mourning was decreed, and that wreckage which passed for the mutilated body of Prince Hilary was buried with every appropriate honor. Within the week most people had forgotten him, for everybody was discussing the execution of the Duc d'Enghein. And the aged unvenerable Grand-Duke of Saxe-Kesselberg died too in the same March; and afterward his other grandson, Prince Augustus, reigned in the merry old debauchee's stead.
Prince Hilary was vastly pleased. His scheme for evading the tedious responsibilities of sovereignty had been executed without a hitch; he was officially dead; and, on the whole, standing bareheaded between a miller and laundress, he had found his funeral ceremonies to be unimpeachably conducted. He assumed the name of Paul Vanderhoffen, selected at random from the novel he was reading when his postchaise conveyed him past the frontier of Saxe-Kesselberg. Freed, penniless, and thoroughly content, he set about amusing himself—having a world to frisk in—and incidentally about the furnishing of his new friend Paul Vanderhoffen with life's necessaries.
It was a little more than two years later that the good-natured Earl of Brudenel suggested to Lady John Claridge that she could nowhere find a more eligible tutor for her son than young Vanderhoffen.
"Hasn't a shilling, ma'am, but one of the most popular men in London. His poetry book was subscribed for by the Prince Regent and half the notables of the kingdom. Capital company at a dinner-table—stutters, begad, like a What-you-may-call-'em, and keeps everybody in a roar—and when he's had his whack of claret, he sings his own songs to the piano, you know, and all that sort of thing, and has quite put Tommy Moore's nose out of joint. Nobody knows much about him, but that don't matter with these literary chaps, does it now? Goes everywhere, ma'am—quite a favorite at Carlton House—a highly agreeable, well-informed man, I can assure you—and probably hasn't a shilling to pay the cabman. Deuced odd, ain't it? But Lord Lansdowne is trying to get him a place—spoke to me about a tutorship, ma'am, in fact, just to keep Vanderhoffen going, until some registrarship or other falls vacant. Now, I ain't clever and that sort of thing, but I quite agree with Lansdowne that we practical men ought to look out for these clever fellows—see that they don't starve in a garret, like poor What's-his-name, don't you know?"
Lady Claridge sweetly agreed with her future son-in-law. So it befell that shortly after this conversation Paul Vanderhoffen came to Leamington Manor, and through an entire summer goaded young Percival Claridge, then on the point of entering Cambridge, but pedagogically branded as "deficient in mathematics," through many elaborate combinations of x and y and cosines and hyperbolas.
Lady John Claridge, mother to the pupil, approved of the new tutor. True, he talked much and wildishly; but literary men had a name for eccentricity, and, besides, Lady Claridge always dealt with the opinions of other people as matters of illimitable unimportance. This baronet's lady, in short, was in these days vouchsafing to the universe at large a fine and new benevolence, now that her daughter was safely engaged to Lord Brudenel, who, whatever his other virtues, was certainly a peer of England and very rich. It seems irrelevant, and yet for the tale's sake is noteworthy, that any room which harbored Lady John Claridge was through this fact converted into an absolute monarchy.
And so, by the favor of Lady Claridge and destiny, the tutor stayed at Leamington Manor all summer.
There was nothing in either the appearance or demeanor of the fiancee of Lord Brudenel's title and superabundant wealth which any honest gentleman could, hand upon his heart, describe as blatantly repulsive.
It may not be denied the tutor noted this. In fine, he fell in love with Mildred Claridge after a thorough-going fashion such as Prince Fribble would have found amusing. Prince Fribble would have smiled, shrugged, drawled, "Eh, after all, the girl is handsome and deplorably cold-blooded!" Paul Vanderhoffen said, "I am not fit to live in the same world with her," and wrote many verses in the prevailing Oriental style rich in allusions to roses, and bulbuls, and gazelles, and peris, and minarets—which he sold rather profitably.
Meanwhile, far oversea, the reigning Duke of Saxe-Kesselberg had been unwise enough to quarrel with his Chancellor, Georges Desmarets, an invaluable man whose only faults were dishonesty and a too intimate acquaintance with the circumstances of Prince Hilary's demise. As fruit of this indiscretion, an inconsiderable tutor at Leamington Manor—whom Lady John Claridge regarded as a sort of upper servant was talking with a visitor.
The tutor, it appeared, preferred to talk with the former Chancellor of Saxe-Kesselberg in the middle of an open field. The time was afternoon, the season September, and the west was vaingloriously justifying the younger man's analogy of a gigantic Spanish omelette. Meanwhile, the younger man declaimed in a high-pitched pleasant voice, wherein there was, as always, the elusive suggestion of a stutter.
"I repeat to you," the tutor observed, "that no consideration will ever make a grand-duke of me excepting over my dead body. Why don't you recommend some not quite obsolete vocation, such as making papyrus, or writing an interesting novel, or teaching people how to dance a saraband? For after all, what is a monarch nowadays—oh, even a monarch of the first class?" he argued, with what came near being a squeak of indignation. "The poor man is a rather pitiable and perfectly useless relic of barbarism, now that 1789 has opened our eyes; and his main business in life is to ride in open carriages and bow to an applauding public who are applauding at so much per head. He must expect to be aspersed with calumny, and once in a while with bullets. He may at the utmost aspire to introduce an innovation in evening dress,—the Prince Regent, for instance, has invented a really very creditable shoe-buckle. Tradition obligates him to devote his unofficial hours to sheer depravity——"
Paul Vanderhoffen paused to meditate.
"Why, there you are! another obstacle! I have in an inquiring spirit and without prejudice sampled all the Seven Deadly Sins, and the common increment was an inability to enjoy my breakfast. A grand-duke I take it, if he have any sense of the responsibilities of his position, will piously remember the adage about the voice of the people and hasten to be steeped in vice—and thus conform to every popular notion concerning a grand-duke. Why, common intelligence demands that a grand-duke should brazenly misbehave himself upon the more conspicuous high-places of Chemosh! and personally, I have no talents such as would qualify me for a life of cynical and brutal immorality. I lack the necessary aptitude, I would not ever afford any spicy gossip concerning the Duke of Saxe-Kesselberg, and the editors of the society papers would unanimously conspire to dethrone me——"
Thus he argued, with his high-pitched pleasant voice, wherein there was, as always, the elusive suggestion of a stutter. And here the other interrupted.
"There is no need of names, your highness." Georges Desmarets was diminutive, black-haired and corpulent. He was of dapper appearance, point-device in everything, and he reminded you of a perky robin.
The tutor flung out an "Ouf! I must recall to you that, thank heaven, I am not anybody's highness any longer. I am Paul Vanderhoffen."
"He says that he is not Prince Fribble!"—the little man addressed the zenith—"as if any other person ever succeeded in talking a half-hour without being betrayed into at least one sensible remark. Oh, how do you manage without fail to be so consistently and stupendously idiotic?"
"It is, like all other desirable traits, either innate or else just unattainable," the other answered. "I am so hopelessly light-minded that I cannot refrain from being rational even in matters which concern me personally—and this, of course, no normal being ever thinks of doing. I really cannot help it."
The Frenchman groaned whole-heartedly.
"But we were speaking—well, of foreign countries. Now, Paul Vanderhoffen has read that in one of these countries there was once a prince who very narrowly escaped figuring as a self-conscious absurdity, as an anachronism, as a life-long prisoner of etiquette. However, with the assistance of his cousin—who, incidentally, was also his heir—the prince most opportunely died. Oh, pedant that you are! in any event he was interred. And so, the prince was gathered to his fathers, and his cousin Augustus reigned in his stead. Until a certain politician who had been privy to this pious fraud——" The tutor shrugged. "How can I word it without seeming hypercritical?"
Georges Desmarets stretched out appealing hands. "But, I protest, it was the narrow-mindedness of that pernicious prig, your cousin—who firmly believes himself to be an improved and augmented edition of the Four Evangelists——"
"Well, in any event, the proverb was attested that birds of a feather make strange bedfellows. There was a dispute concerning some petit larceny—some slight discrepancy, we will imagine, since all this is pure romance, in the politician's accounts——"
"Now you belie me——" said the black-haired man, and warmly.
"Oh, Desmarets, you are as vain as ever! Let us say, then, of grand larceny. In any event, the politician was dismissed. And what, my dears, do you suppose this bold and bad and unprincipled Machiavelli went and did? Why, he made straight for the father of the princess the usurping duke was going to marry, and surprised everybody by showing that, at a pinch, even this Guy Fawkes—who was stuffed with all manner of guile and wickedness where youthful patriotism would ordinarily incline to straw—was capable of telling the truth. And so the father broke off the match. And the enamored, if usurping, duke wept bitterly and tore his hair to such an extent he totally destroyed his best toupet. And privily the Guy Fawkes came into the presence of the exiled duke and prated of a restoration to ancestral dignities. And he was spurned by a certain highly intelligent person who considered it both tedious and ridiculous to play at being emperor of a backyard. And then—I really don't recall what happened. But there was a general and unqualified deuce to pay with no pitch at a really satisfying temperature."
The stouter man said quietly: "It is a thrilling tale which you narrate. Only, I do recall what happened then. The usurping duke was very much in earnest, desirous of retaining his little kingdom, and particularly desirous of the woman whom he loved. In consequence, he had Monsieur the Runaway obliterated while the latter was talking nonsense——"
The tutor's brows had mounted.
"I scorn to think it even of anybody who is controlled in every action by a sense of duty," Georges Desmarets explained, "that Duke Augustus would cause you to be murdered in your sleep."
"A hit!" The younger man unsmilingly gesticulated like one who has been touched in sword-play. "Behold now, as the populace in their blunt way would phrase it, I am squelched."
"And so the usurping duke was married and lived happily ever afterward." Georges Desmarets continued: "I repeat to you there is only the choice between declaring yourself and being—we will say, removed. Your cousin is deeply in love with the Princess Sophia, and thanks to me, has now no chance of marrying her until his title has been secured by your—removal. Do not deceive yourself. High interests are involved. You are the grain of sand between big wheels. I iterate that the footpad who attacked you last night was merely a prologue. I happen to know your cousin has entrusted the affair to Heinrich Obendorf, his foster-brother, who, as you will remember, is not particularly squeamish."
Paul Vanderhoffen thought a while. "Desmarets," he said at last, "it is no use. I scorn your pribbles and your prabbles. I bargained with Augustus. I traded a duchy for my personal liberty. Frankly, I would be sorry to connect a sharer of my blood with the assault of yesterday. To be unpardonably candid, I have not ever found that your assertion of an event quite proved it had gone through the formality of occurring. And so I shall hold to my bargain."
"The night brings counsel," Desmarets returned. "It hardly needs a night, I think, to demonstrate that all I say is true."
And so they parted.
Having thus dismissed such trifles as statecraft and the well-being of empires, Paul Vanderhoffen turned toward consideration of the one really serious subject in the universe, which was of course the bright, miraculous and incredible perfection of Mildred Claridge.
"I wonder what you think of me? I wonder if you ever think of me?" The thought careered like a caged squirrel, now that he walked through autumn woods toward her home.
"I wish that you were not so sensible. I wish your mother were not even more so. The woman reeks with common-sense, and knows that to be common is to be unanswerable. I wish that a dispute with her were not upon a par with remonstrance against an earthquake."
He lighted a fresh cheroot. "And so you are to marry the Brudenel title and bank account, with this particular Heleigh thrown in as a dividend. And why not? the estate is considerable; the man who encumbers it is sincere in his adoration of you; and, chief of all, Lady John Claridge has decreed it. And your decision in any matter has always lain between the claws of that steel-armored crocodile who, by some miracle, is your mother. Oh, what a universe! were I of hasty temperament I would cry out, TUT AND GO TO!"
This was the moment which the man hid in the thicket selected as most fit for intervention through the assistance of a dueling pistol. Paul Vanderhoffen reeled, his face bewilderment. His hands clutched toward the sky, as if in anguish he grasped at some invisible support, and he coughed once or twice. It was rather horrible. Then Vanderhoffen shivered as though he were very cold, and tottered and collapsed in the parched roadway.
A slinking man whose lips were gray and could not refrain from twitching came toward the limp heap. "So——!" said the man. One of his hands went to the tutor's breast, and in his left hand dangled a second dueling pistol. He had thrown away the other after firing it.
"And so——!" observed Paul Vanderhoffen. Afterward there was a momentary tussle. Now Paul Vanderhoffen stood erect and flourished the loaded pistol. "If you go on this way," he said, with some severity, "you will presently be neither loved nor respected. There was a time, though, when you were an excellent shot, Herr Heinrich Obendorf."
"I had my orders, highness," said the other stolidly.
"Oh yes, of course," Paul Vanderhoffen answered. "You had your orders—from Augustus!" He seemed to think of something very far away. He smiled, with quizzically narrowed eyes such as you may yet see in Raeburn's portrait of the man. "I was remembering, oddly enough, that elm just back of the Canova Pavilion—as it was twenty years ago. I managed to scramble up it, but Augustus could not follow me because he had such short fat little legs. He was so proud of what I had done that he insisted on telling everybody—and afterward we had oranges for luncheon, I remember, and sucked them through bits of sugar. It is not fair that you must always remember and always love that boy who played with you when you were little—after he has grown up to be another person. Eh no! youth passes, but all its memories of unimportant things remain with you and are less kind than any self-respecting viper would be. Decidedly, it is not fair, and some earnest-minded person ought to write to his morning paper about it. . . . I think that is the reason I am being a sentimental fool," Paul Vanderhoffen explained.
Then his teeth clicked. "Get on, my man," he said. "Do not remain too near to me, because there was a time when I loved your employer quite as much as you do. This fact is urging me to dangerous ends. Yes, it is prompting me, even while I talk with you, to give you a lesson in marksmanship, my inconveniently faithful Heinrich."
He shrugged. He lighted a cheroot with hands whose tremblings, he devoutly hoped, were not apparent, for Prince Fribble had been ashamed to manifest a sincere emotion of any sort, and Paul Vanderhoffen shared as yet this foible.
"Oh Brutus! Ravaillac! Damiens!" he drawled. "O general compendium of misguided aspirations! do be a duck and get along with you. And I would run as hard as I could, if I were you, for it is war now, and you and I are not on the same side."
Paul Vanderhoffen paused a hundred yards or so from this to shake his head. "Come, come! I have lost so much that I cannot afford to throw my good temper into the bargain. To endure with a grave face this perfectly unreasonable universe wherein destiny has locked me is undoubtedly meritorious; but to bustle about it like a caged canary, and not ever to falter in your hilarity, is heroic. Let us, by all means, not consider the obdurate if gilded barriers, but rather the lettuce and the cuttle-bone. I have my choice between becoming a corpse or a convict—a convict? ah, undoubtedly a convict, sentenced to serve out a life-term in a cess-pool of castby superstitions."
He smiled now over Paul Vanderhoffen's rage. "Since the situation is tragic, let us approach it in an appropriate spirit of frivolity. My circumstances bully me. And I succumb to irrationality, as rational persons invariably end by doing. But, oh, dear me! oh, Osiris, Termagaunt, and Zeus! to think there are at least a dozen other ne'er-do-wells alive who would prefer to make a mess of living as a grand-duke rather than as a scribbler in Grub Street! Well, well! the jest is not of my contriving, and the one concession a sane man will never yield the universe is that of considering it seriously."
And he strode on, resolved to be Prince Fribble to the last.
"Frivolity," he said, "is the smoked glass through which a civilized person views the only world he has to live in. For, otherwise, he could not presume to look upon such coruscations of insanity and remain unblinded."
This heartened him, as a rounded phrase will do the best of us. But by-and-bye,
"Frivolity," he groaned, "is really the cheap mask incompetence claps on when haled before a mirror."
And at Leamington Manor he found her strolling upon the lawn. It was an ordered, lovely scene, steeped now in the tranquillity of evening. Above, the stars were losing diffidence. Below, and within arms' reach, Mildred Claridge was treading the same planet on which he fidgeted and stuttered.