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The Amateur Gentleman (Chapter65)

2006-08-28 16:20

  Chapter LXV. Which Tells How Barnabas Discharged His Valet

  It was long past midnight when Barnabas reached his house in St. James's Square; and gazing up at its goodly exterior he sighed, and thereafter frowned, and so, frowning still, let himself in. Now, late though the hour, Peterby was up, and met him in the hall.

  "Sir," said he, anxious of eye as he beheld his young master's disordered dress and the grim pallor of his face, "the Marquis of Jerningham and Viscount Devenham called. They waited for you,——they waited over an hour."

  "But they are gone now, of course?" inquired Barnabas, pausing, with his foot on the stair.

  "Yes, sir——"

  "Good!" nodded Barnabas with a sigh of relief.

  "But they left word they would call to-morrow morning, early; indeed they seemed most anxious to see you, sir."

  "Ha!" said Barnabas, and, frowning still, went on up the stair.

  "Sir," said Peterby, lighting the way into the dressing-room, "you received the——the letter safely?"

  "Yes, I received it," said Barnabas, tossing aside his hat and cloak, "and that reminds me,——to-morrow morning you will discharge all the servants."

  "Sir?"

  "Pay them a month's wages. Also you will get rid of this house and furniture, and all the carriages and horses——except 'The Terror,' ——sell them for what they will fetch——no matter how little, only——get rid of them."

  "Yes, sir."

  "As for yourself, Peterby, I shall require your services no longer. But you needn't lack for a position——every dandy of 'em all will be wild to get you. And, because you are the very best valet in the world, you can demand your own terms."

  "Yes, sir."

  "And now, I think that is all, I shan't want you again tonight——stay though, before I go to bed bring me the things I wore when I first met you, the garments which as clothes, you told me, didn't exist."

  "Sir, may I ask you a question?"

  "Oh, yes——if you wish," sighed Barnabas, wearily.

  "Are you leaving London, sir?"

  "I'm leaving the World of Fashion——yes."

  "And you——don't wish me to accompany you, sir."

  "No."

  "Have I——displeased you in any way?"

  "No, it is only that the 'best valet in the world' would be wasted on me any longer, and I shall not need you where I am going."

  "Not as a——servant, sir?"

  "No."

  "Then, sir, may I remind you that I am also a——man? A man who owes all that he is to your generosity and noble trust and faith. And, sir, it seems to me that a man may sometimes venture where a servant may not——if you are indeed done with the Fashionable World, I have done with it also, for I shall never serve any other than you."

  Then Barnabas turned away and coming to the mantel leaned there, staring blankly down at the empty hearth; and in a while he spoke, though without looking up:

  "The Fashionable World has turned its polite back upon me, Peterby, because I am only the son of a village inn-keeper. But——much more than this——my lady has——has lost her faith in me, my fool's dream is over——nothing matters any more. And so I am going away to a place I have heard described by a pedler of books as 'the worst place in the world'——and indeed I think it is."

  "Sir," said Peterby, "when do we start?"

  Then, very slowly, Barnabas lifted his heavy head and looked at John Peterby; and, in that dark hour, smiled, and reaching out, caught and grasped his hand; also, when he spoke again, his voice was less hard and not so steady as before:

  "Oh, John!" said he, "John Peterby——my faithful John! Come with me if you will, but you come as my——friend."

  "And——where are we going, sir?" inquired John, as they stood thus, hand in hand, looking into each other's eyes.

  "To Giles's Rents, John,——down by the River."

  And thus did Barnabas, in getting rid of the "best valet in the world," find for himself a faithful friend instead.

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