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The Amateur Gentleman (Chapter26)

2006-08-28 16:09

  Chapter XXVI. Concerning the Duties of a Valet——and a Man

  "And now, Peterby," said Barnabas, pushing his chair from the breakfast table, "the first thing I shall require is——a tailor."

  "Very true, sir."

  "These clothes were good enough for the country, Peterby, but——"

  "Exactly, sir!" answered Peterby, bowing.

  "Hum!" said Barnabas, with a quick glance. "Though mark you," he continued argumentatively,——"they might be worse, Peterby; the fit is good, and the cloth is excellent. Yes, they might be a great deal worse."

  "It is——possible, sir," answered Peterby, with another bow. Hereupon, having glanced at his solemn face, Barnabas rose, and surveyed himself, as well as he might, in the tarnished mirror on the wall.

  "Are they so bad as all that?" he inquired.

  Peterby's mouth relaxed, and a twinkle dawned in his eye.

  "As garments they are——serviceable, sir," said he, gravely, "but as clothes they——don't exist."

  "Why then," said Barnabas, "the sooner we get some that do,——the better. Do you know of a good tailor?"

  "I know them all, sir."

  "Who is the best——the most expensive?"

  "Stultz, sir, in Clifford Street; but I shouldn't advise you to have him."

  "And why not?"

  "Because he is a tailor."

  "Oh?" said Barnabas.

  "I mean that the clothes he makes are all stamped with his individuality, as it were,——their very excellence damns them. They are the clothes of a tailor instead of being simply a gentleman's garments."

  "Hum!" said Barnabas, beginning to frown at this, "it would seem that dress can be a very profound subject, Peterby."

  "Sir," answered Peterby, shaking his head, "it is a life study, and, so far as I know, there are only two people in the world who understand it aright; Beau Brummell was one, and, because he was the Beau, had London and the World of Fashion at his feet."

  "And who was the other?"

  Peterby took himself by the chin, and, though his mouth was solemn, the twinkle was back in his eye as he glanced at Barnabas.

  "The other, sir," he answered, "was one who, until yesterday, was reduced to the necessity of living upon poached rabbits."

  Here Barnabas stared thoughtfully up at the ceiling.

  "I remember you told me you were the best valet in the world," said he.

  "It is my earnest desire to prove it, sir."

  "And yet," said Barnabas, with his gaze still turned ceiling-wards, "I would have you——even more than this, Peterby."

  "More, sir?"

  "I would have you, sometimes, forget that you are only 'the best valet in the world,' and remember that you are——a man: one in whom I can confide; one who has lived in this great world, and felt, and suffered, and who can therefore advise me; one I may trust to in an emergency; for London is a very big place, they tell me, and my friends are few——or none——and——do you understand me, Peterby?"

  "Sir," said Peterby in an altered tone, "I think I do."

  "Then——sit down, John, and let us talk."

  With a murmur of thanks Peterby drew up a chair and sat watching Barnabas with his shrewd eyes.

  "You will remember," began Barnabas, staring up at the ceiling again, "that when I engaged you I told you that I intended to——hum! to——cut a figure in the fashionable world?"

  "Yes, sir; and I told you that,——after what happened in a certain wood,——it was practically impossible."

  "You mean because I thrashed a scoundrel?"

  "I mean because you knocked down a friend of the Prince Regent."

  "And is Carnaby so very powerful, Peterby?"

  "Sir, he is——the Prince's friend! He is also as great a Buck as George Hanger, as Jehu, or Jockey of Norfolk, and as famous, almost, as the late Sir Maurice Vibart."

  "Ah!" said Barnabas.

  "And since the retirement of Mr. Brummell, he and the Marquis of Jerningham have to some extent taken his place and become the Arbiters of Fashion."

  "Oh!" said Barnabas.

  "And furthermore, sir, I would warn you that he is a dangerous enemy, said to be one of the best pistol-shots in England."

  "Hum," said Barnabas, "nevertheless, I mean to begin——"

  "To begin, sir?"

  "At once, Peterby."

  "But——how, sir?"

  "That is for you to decide, Peterby."

  "Me, sir?"

  "You, Peterby."

  Here Peterby took himself by the chin again, and looked at Barnabas with thoughtful eyes and gloomy brow.

  "Sir," said he, "the World of Fashion is a trivial world where all must appear trivial; it is a place where all must act a part, and where those are most regarded who are most affected; it is a world of shams and insincerity, and very jealously guarded."

  "So I have heard," nodded Barnabas.

  "To gain admission you must, first of all, have money."

  "Yes," said Barnabas.

  "Birth——if possible."

  "Hum," said Barnabas.

  "Wit and looks may be helpful, but all these are utterly useless unless you have what I may call the magic key."

  "And what is that?"

  "Notoriety, sir."

  "For what?"

  "For anything that will serve to lift you out of the ruck——to set you above the throng,——you must be one apart——an original."

  "Originality is divine!" said Barnabas.

  "More or less, sir," added Peterby, "for it is very easily achieved. Lord Alvanly managed it with apricot tarts; Lord Petersham with snuff-boxes; Mr. Mackinnon by his agility in climbing round drawing-rooms on the furniture; Jockey of Norfolk by consuming a vast number of beef-steaks, one after the other; Sir George Cassilis, who was neither rich nor handsome nor witty, by being insolent; Sir John Lade by dressing like a stagecoach-man, and driving like the devil; Sir George Skeffington by inventing a new color and writing bad plays; and I could name you many others beside——"

  "Why then, Peterby——what of Sir Mortimer Carnaby?"

  "He managed it by going into the ring with Jack Fearby, the 'Young Ruffian,' and beating him in twenty-odd rounds for one thing, and winning a cross-country race——"

  "Ha!" exclaimed Barnabas, "a race!" and so he fell to staring up at the ceiling again.

  "But I fear, sir," continued Peterby, "that in making him your enemy, you have damned your chances at the very outset, as I told you."

  "A race!" said Barnabas again, vastly thoughtful.

  "And therefore," added Peterby, leaning nearer in his earnestness, "since you honor me by asking my advice, I would strive with all my power to dissuade you."

  "John Peterby——why?"

  "Because, in the first place, I know it to be impossible."

  "I begin to think not, John."

  "Why, then, because——it's dangerous!"

  "Danger is everywhere, more or less, John."

  "And because, sir, because you——you——" Peterby rose, and stood with bent head and hands outstretched, "because you gave a miserable wretch another chance to live; and therefore I——I would not see you crushed and humiliated. Ah, sir! I know this London, I know those who make up the fashionable world. Sir, it is a heartless world, cruel and shallow, where inexperience is made a mock of——generosity laughed to scorn; where he is most respected who can shoot the straightest; where men seldom stoop to quarrel, but where death is frequent, none the less——and, sir, I could not bear——I——I wouldn't have you cut off thus——!"

  Peterby stopped suddenly, and his head sank lower; but as he stood Barnabas rose, and coming to him, took his hand into his own firm clasp.

  "Thank you, John Peterby," said he. "You may be the best valet in the world——I hope you are——but I know that you are a man, and, as a man, I tell you that I have decided upon going on with the adventure."

  "Then I cannot hope to dissuade you, sir?"

  "No, John!"

  "Indeed, I feared not."

  "It was for this I came to London, and I begin——at once."

  "Very good, sir."

  "Consequently, you have a busy day before you; you see I shall require, first of all, clothes, John; then——well, I suppose a house to live in——"

  "A——house, sir?"

  "In a fashionable quarter, and furnished, if possible."

  "A lodging, St. James's Street way, is less expensive, sir, and more usual."

  "Good!" said Barnabas; "to buy a house will be more original, at least. Then there must be servants, horses——vehicles——but you will understand——"

  "Certainly, sir."

  "Well then, John——go and get 'em."

  "Sir?" exclaimed Peterby.

  "Go now, John," said Barnabas, pulling out his purse, "this very moment."

  "But," stammered Peterby, "but, sir——you will——"

  "I shall stay here——I don't intend to stir out until you have me dressed as I should be——in 'clothes that exist,' John!"

  "But you——don't mean to——to entrust——everything——to——me?"

  "Of course, John."

  "But sir——"

  "I have every confidence in your judgment, you see. Here is money, you will want more, of course, but this will do to go on with."

  But Peterby only stared from Barnabas to the money on the table, and back again.

  "Sir," said he at last, "this is——a great deal of money."

  "Well, John?"

  "And I would remind you that we are in London, sir, and that yesterday I——was a poacher——a man of no character——a——"

  "But to-day you are my valet, John. So take the money and buy me whatever I require, but a tailor first of all."

  Then, as one in a dream, Peterby took up the money, counted it, buttoned it into his pocket, and crossed to the door; but there he paused and turned.

  "Sir," said he slowly, "I'll bring you a man who, though he is little known as yet, will be famous some day, for he is what I may term an artist in cloth. And sir,"——here Peterby's voice grew uncertain——"you shall find me worthy of your trust, so help me God!" Then he opened the door, went out, and closed it softly behind him. But as for Barnabas, he sat with his gaze fixed on the ceiling again, lost in reverie and very silent. After a while he spoke his thoughts aloud.

  "A race!" said he.

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