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The Amateur Gentleman (Chapter15)

2006-08-28 16:05

  Chapter XV. In Which the Patient Reader May Learn Something of the Gentleman in the Jaunty Hat

  "Lord, but this is a great day for the old 'Cow,' sir," said the landlord, as Barnabas yet stood staring down the road, "we aren't had so many o' the quality here for years. Last night the young Vi-count, this morning, bright and early, Sir Mortimer Carnaby and friend, then the Vi-count again, along o' you, sir, an' now you an' Sir Mortimer's friend; you don't be no ways acquainted wi' Sir Mortimer's friend, be you, sir?"

  "No," answered Barnabas, "what is his name?"

  "Well, Sir Mortimer hailed him as 'Chichester,' I fancy, sir, though I aren't prepared to swear it, no more yet to oath it, not 'aving properly ob-served, but 'Chichester,' I think it were; and, 'twixt you an' me, sir, he be one o' your fine gentlemen as I aren't no wise partial to, an' he's ordered dinner and supper."

  "Has he," said Barnabas, "then I think I'll do the same."

  "Ay, ay, sir, very good."

  "In the meantime could you let me have pen, ink and paper?"

  "Ay, sir, surely, in the sanded parlor, this way, sir."

  Forthwith he led Barnabas into a long, low panelled room, with a wide fireplace at the further end, beside which stood a great high-backed settle with a table before it. Then Barnabas sat down and wrote a letter to his father, as here follows:——

  *       *       *       *       *

  My Dear Father and Natty Bell,——I have read somewhere in my books that 'adventures are to the adventurous,' and, indeed, I have already found this to be true. Now, since I am adventuring the great world, I adventure lesser things also.

  Thus I have met and talked with an entertaining pedler, from whom I have learned that the worst place in the world is Giles's Rents down by the River; from him, likewise, I purchased a book as to the merits of which I begin to entertain doubts.

  Then I have already thrashed a friend of the Prince Regent, and somewhat spoiled a very fine gentleman, and, I fear, am like to be necessitated to spoil another before the day is much older; from each of whom I learn that a Prince's friend may be an arrant knave.

  Furthermore, I have become acquainted with the son of an Earl, and finding him a man also, have formed a friendship with him, which I trust may endure.

  Thus far, you see, much has happened to me; adventures have befallen me in rapid succession. 'Wonderful!' say you. 'Not at all,' say I, since I have found but what I sought after, for, as has been said——'adventures are to the adventurous.' Therefore, within the next few hours, I confidently expect other, and perchance weightier, happenings to overtake me because——I intend them to. So much for myself.

  Now, as for you and Natty Bell, it is with deep affection that I think of you——an affection that shall abide with me always. Also, you are both in my thoughts continually. I remember our bouts with the 'muffles,' and my wild gallops on unbroken horses with Natty Bell; surely he knows a horse better than any, and is a better rider than boxer, if that could well be. Indeed, I am fortunate in having studied under two such masters.

  Furthermore, I pray you to consider that this absence of mine will only draw us closer together, in a sense. Indeed, now, when I think of you both, I am half-minded to give up this project and come back to you. But my destiny commands me, and destiny must be obeyed. Therefore I shall persist unto the end; but whether I succeed or no, remember, I pray of you, that I am always,

  Your lover and friend,

  Barnabas.

  P.S.——Regarding the friend of the Prince Regent, I could wish now that I had struck a little harder, and shall do so next time, should the opportunity be given.

  B.

  Having finished this letter, in which it will be seen he made no mention of the Lady Cleone, though his mind was yet full of her, having finished his letter I say, Barnabas sanded it, folded it, affixed wafers, and had taken up his pen to write the superscription, when he was arrested by a man's voice speaking in a lazy drawl, just outside the open lattice behind him.

  "Now 'pon my soul and honor, Beatrix——so much off ended virtue for a stolen kiss——begad! you were prodigal of 'em once——"

  "How-dare you! Oh, coward that you are!" exclaimed another voice, low and repressed, yet vibrant with bitter scorn; "you know that I found you out——in time, thank God!"

  "Beatrix?" said Barnabas to himself.

  "In time; ah! and pray who'd believe it? You ran away from me——but you ran away with me——first! In time? Did your father believe it, that virtuous old miser? would any one, who saw us together, believe it? No, Beatrix, I tell you all the world knows you for my——"

  "Stop!" A moment's silence and then came a soft, gently amused laugh.

  "Lord, Beatrix, how handsome you are!——handsomer than ever, begad! I'm doubly fortunate to have found you again. Six years is a long time, but they've only matured you——ripened you. Yes, you're handsomer than ever; upon my life and soul you are!"

  But here came the sudden rush of flying draperies, the sound of swift, light footsteps, and Barnabas was aware of the door behind him being opened, closed and bolted, and thereafter, the repressed sound of a woman's passionate weeping. Therefore he rose up from the settle, and glancing over its high back, beheld Clemency.

  Almost in the same moment she saw him, and started back to the wall, glanced from Barnabas to the open lattice, and covered her face with her hands. And now not knowing what to do, Barnabas crossed to the window and, being there, looked out, and thus espied again the languid gentleman, strolling up the lane, with his beaver hat cocked at the same jaunty angle, and swinging his betasselled stick as he went.

  "You——you heard, then!" said Clemency, almost in a whisper.

  "Yes," answered Barnabas, without turning; "but, being a great rascal he probably lied."

  "No, it is——quite true——I did run away with him; but oh! indeed, indeed I left him again before——before——"

  "Yes, yes," said Barnabas, a little hurriedly, aware that her face was still hidden in her hands, though he kept his eyes studiously averted. Then all at once she was beside him, her hands were upon his arm, pleading, compelling; and thus she forced him to look at her, and, though her cheeks yet burned, her eyes met his, frank and unashamed.

  "Sir," said she, "you do believe that I——that I found him out in time——that I——escaped his vileness——you must believe——you shall!" and her slender fingers tightened on his arm. "Oh, tell me——tell me, you believe!"

  "Yes," said Barnabas, looking down into the troubled depths of her eyes; "yes, I do believe."

  The compelling hands dropped from his arm, and she stood before him, staring out blindly into the glory of the morning; and Barnabas could not but see how the tears glistened under her lashes; also he noticed how her brown, shapely hands griped and wrung each other.

  "Sir," said she suddenly; "you are a friend of——Viscount Devenham."

  "I count myself so fortunate."

  "And——therefore——a gentleman."

  "Indeed, it is my earnest wish."

  "Then you will promise me that, should you ever hear anything spoken to the dishonor of Beatrice Darville, you will deny it."

  "Yes," said Barnabas, smiling a little grimly, "though I think I should do——more than that."

  Now when he said this, Clemency looked up at him suddenly, and in her eyes there was a glow no tears could quench; her lips quivered but no words came, and then, all at once, she caught his hand, kissed it, and so was gone, swift and light, and shy as any bird.

  And, in a while, happening to spy his letter on the table, Barnabas sat down and wrote out the superscription with many careful flourishes, which done, observing his hat near by, he took it up, brushed it absently, put it on, and went out into the sunshine.

  Yet when he had gone but a very little way, he paused, and seeing he still carried the letter in his hand, thrust it into his breast, and so remained staring thoughtfully towards that spot, green and shady with trees, where he and the Viscount had talked with the Apostle of Peace. And with his gaze bent thitherwards he uttered a name, and the name was——

  "Beatrix."

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