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The Amateur Gentleman (Chapter40)

2006-08-28 16:13

  Chapter XL. Which Relates Sundry Happenings at the Garden Fete

  "Gad, Beverley! how the deuce did y' do it?"

  "Do what, Marquis?"

  "Charm the Serpent! Tame the Dragon!"

  "Dragon?"

  "Make such a conquest of her Graceless Grace of Camberhurst, my great-aunt? I didn't know you were even acquainted,——how long have you known her?"

  "About an hour," said Barnabas.

  "Eh——an hour? But, my dear fellow, you came to see her——over the wall, you know,——she said so, and——"

  "She said so, yes, Marquis, but——"

  "But? Oh, I see! Ah, to be sure! She is my great-aunt, of course, and my great-aunt, Beverley, generally thinks, and does, and says——exactly what she pleases. Begad! you never can tell what she' 11 be up to next,——consequently every one is afraid of her, even those high goddesses of the beau monde, those exclusive grandes dames, my Ladies Castlereagh, Jersey, Cowper and the rest of 'em——they're all afraid of my small great-aunt, and no wonder! You see, she's old——older than she looks, and——with a perfectly diabolical memory! She knows not only all their own peccadillos, but the sins of their great-grandmothers as well. She fears nothing on the earth, or under the earth, and respects no one——not even me. Only about half an hour ago she informed me that I was a——well, she told me precisely what I was,——and she can be painfully blunt, Beverley,——just because Cleone happens to have refused me again."

  "Again?" said Barnabas inquiringly.

  "Oh, yes! She does it regularly. Begad! she's refused me so often that it's grown into a kind of formula with us now. I say, 'Cleone, do!' and she answers, 'Bob, don't!' But even that's something,——lots of 'em haven't got so far as that with her."

  "Sir Mortimer Carnaby, for instance!" said Barnabas, biting his lip.

  "Hum!" said the Marquis dubiously, deftly re-settling his cravat, "and what of——yourself, Beverley?"

  "I have asked her——only twice, I think."

  "Ah, and she——refused you?"

  "No," sighed Barnabas, "she told me she——despised me."

  "Did she so? Give me your hand——I didn't think you were so strong in the running. With Cleone's sort there's always hope so long as she isn't sweet and graciously indifferent."

  "Pray," said Barnabas suddenly, "pray where did you get that rose, Marquis?"

  "This? Oh, she gave it to me."

  "Cleone?"

  "Of course."

  "But——I thought she'd refused you?"

  "Oh, yes——so she did; but that's just like Cleone, frowning one moment, smiling the next——April, you know."

  "And did she——kiss it first?"

  "Kiss it? Why——deuce take me, now I come to think of it,——so she did,——at least——What now, Beverley?"

  "I'm——going!" said Barnabas.

  "Going? Where?"

  "Back——over the wall!"

  "Eh!——run away, is it?"

  "As far," said Barnabas, scowling, "as far as possible. Good-by, Marquis!" And so he turned and strode away, while the Marquis stared after him, open-mouthed. But as he went, Barnabas heard a voice calling his name, and looking round, beheld Captain Chumly coming towards him. A gallant figure he made (despite grizzled hair and empty sleeve), in all the bravery of his white silk stockings, and famous Trafalgar coat, which, though a little tarnished as to epaulettes and facings, nevertheless bore witness to the Bo'sun's diligent care; he was, indeed, from the crown of his cocked hat down to his broad, silver shoe-buckles, the very pattern of what a post-captain of Lord Nelson should be.

  "Eh, sir!" he exclaimed, with his hand outstretched in greeting, "are ye blind, I say are ye blind and deaf? Didn't you hear her Grace hailing you? Didn't ye see me signal you to 'bring to'?"

  "No, sir," answered Barnabas, grasping the proffered hand.

  "Oho!" said the Captain, surveying Barnabas from head to foot, "so you've got 'em on, I see, and vastly different you look in your fine feathers. But you can sink me,——I say you can scuttle and sink me if I don't prefer you in your homespun! You'll be spelling your name with as many unnecessary letters, and twirls, and flourishes as you can clap in, nowadays, I'll warrant."

  "Jack Chumly, don't bully the boy!" said a voice near by; and looking thitherward, Barnabas beheld the Duchess seated at a small table beneath a shady tree, and further screened by a tall hedge; a secluded corner, far removed from the throng, albeit a most excellent place for purposes of observation, commanding as it did a wide view of lawns and terraces. "As for you, Mr. Beverley," continued the Duchess, with her most imperious air, "you may bring a seat——here, beside me,——and help the Captain to amuse me."

  "Madam," said Barnabas, his bow very solemn and very deep, "I am about to leave, and——with your permission——I——"

  "You have my permission to——sit here beside me, sir. So! A dish of tea? No? Ah, well——we were just talking of you; the Captain was describing how he first met you——"

  "Bowing to a gate-post, mam,——on my word as a sailor and a Christian, it was a gate-post,——I say, an accurs——a confoundedly rotten old stick of a gate-post."

  "I remember," sighed Barnabas.

  "And to-day, sir," continued the Captain, "to-day you must come clambering over a gentleman's garden wall to bow and scrape to a——"

  "Don't dare to say——another stick, Jack Chumly!" cried the Duchess.

  "I repeat, sir, you must come trespassing here, to bow——I say bah! and scrape——"

  "I say tush!" interpolated the Duchess demurely.

  "To an old——"

  "Painted!" suggested the Duchess.

  "Hum!" said the Captain, a little hipped, "I say——ha!——lady, sir——"

  "With a wig!" added the Duchess.

  "And with a young and handsome,——I say a handsome and roguish pair of eyes, sir, that need no artificial aids, mam, nor ever will!"

  "Three!" cried the Duchess, clapping her hands. "Oh, Jack! Jack Chumly! you, like myself, improve with age! As a midshipman you were too callow, as a lieutenant much too old and serious, but now that you are a battered and wrinkled young captain, you can pay as pretty a compliment as any other gallant youth. Actually three in one hour, Mr. Beverley."

  "Compliments, mam!" snorted the Captain, with an angry flap of his empty sleeve, "Compliments, I scorn 'em! I say pish, mam,——I say bah! I speak only the truth, mam, as well you know."

  "Four!" cried the Duchess, with a gurgle of youthful laughter. "Oh, Jack! Jack! I protest, as you sit there you are growing more youthful every minute."

  "Gad so, mam! then I'll go before I become a mewling infant——I say a puling brat, mam."

  "Stay a moment, Jack. I want you to explain your wishes to Mr. Beverley in regard to Cleone's future."

  "Certainly, your Grace——I say by all means, mam."

  "Very well, then I'll begin. Listen——both of you. Captain Chumly, being a bachelor and consequently an authority on marriage, has, very properly, chosen whom his ward must marry; he has quite settled and arranged it all, haven't you, Jack?"

  "Quite, mam, quite."

  "Thus, Cleone is saved all the bother and worry of choosing for herself, you see, Mr. Beverley, for the Captain's choice is fixed,—— isn't it, Jack?"

  "As a rock, mam——I say as an accurs——ha! an adamantine crag, mam. My ward shall marry my nephew, Viscount Devenham, I am determined on it——"

  "Consequently, Mr. Beverley, Cleone will, of course, marry——whomsoever she pleases!"

  "Eh, mam? I say, what?——I say——"

  "Like the feminine creature she is, Mr. Beverley!"

  "Now by Og,——I say by Og and Gog, mam! She is my ward, and so long as I am her guardian she shall obey——"

  "I say boh! Jack Chumly,——I say bah!" mocked the Duchess, nodding her head at him. "Cleone is much too clever for you——or any other man, and there is only one woman in this big world who is a match for her, and that woman is——me. I've watched her growing up——day by day——year after year into——just what I was——ages ago,——and to-day she is——almost as beautiful,——and——very nearly as clever!"

  "Clever, mam? So she is, but I'm her guardian and——she loves me——I think, and——"

  "Of course she loves you, Jack, and winds you round her finger whenever she chooses——"

  "Finger, mam! finger indeed! No, mam, I can be firm with her."

  "As a candle before the fire, Jack. She can bend you to all the points of your compass. Come now, she brought you here this afternoon against your will,——now didn't she?"

  "Ah!——hum!" said the Captain, scratching his chin.

  "And coaxed you into your famous Trafalgar uniform, now didn't she?"

  "Why as to that, mam, I say——"

  "And petted you into staying here much longer than you intended, now didn't she?"

  "Which reminds me that it grows late, mam," said the Captain, taking out his watch and frowning at it. "I must find my ward. I say I will bring Cleone to make you her adieux." So saying, he bowed and strode away across the lawn.

  "Poor Jack," smiled the Duchess, "he is such a dear, good, obedient child, and he doesn't know it. And so your name is Beverley, hum! Of the Beverleys of Ashleydown? Yet, no,——that branch is extinct, I know. Pray what branch are you? Why, here comes Sir Mortimer Carnaby,——heavens, how handsome he is! And you thrashed him, I think? Oh, I know all about it, sir, and I know——why!"

  "Then," said Barnabas, somewhat taken aback, "you'll know he deserved it, madam."

  "Mm! Have you met him since?"

  "No, indeed, nor have I any desire to!"

  "Oh, but you must," said the Duchess, and catching Sir Mortimer's gaze, she smiled and beckoned him, and next moment he was bowing before her. "My dear Sir Mortimer," said she, "I don't think you are acquainted with my friend, Mr. Beverley?"

  "No," answered Sir Mortimer with a perfunctory glance at Barnabas.

  "Ah! I thought not. Mr. Beverley——Sir Mortimer Carnaby."

  "Honored, sir," said Sir Mortimer, as they bowed.

  "Mr. Beverley is, I believe, an opponent of yours, Sir Mortimer?" pursued the Duchess, with her placid smile.

  "An opponent! indeed, your Grace?" said he, favoring Barnabas with another careless glance.

  "I mean——in the race, of course," smiled the Duchess. "But oh, happy man! So you have been blessed also?"

  "How, Duchess?"

  "I see you wear Cleone's favor,——you've been admitted to the Order of the Rose, like all the others." And the Duchess tittered.

  "Others, your Grace! What others?"

  "Oh, sir, their name is Legion. There's Jerningham, and young Denton, and Snelgrove, and Ensign D'Arcy, and hosts beside. Lud, Sir Mortimer, where are your eyes? Look there! and there! and there again!" And, with little darting movements of her fan, she indicated certain young gentlemen, who strolled to and fro upon the lawn; now, in the lapel of each of their coats was a single, red rose. "There's safety in numbers, and Cleone was always cautious!" said the Duchess, and tittered again.

  Sir Mortimer glanced from those blooms to the flower in his own coat, and his cheek grew darkly red, and his mouth took on a cruel look.

  "Ah, Duchess," he smiled, "it seems our fair Cleone has an original idea of humor,——very quaint, upon my soul!" And so he laughed, and bowing, turned away.

  "Now——watch!" said the Duchess, "there!" As she spoke, Sir Mortimer paused, and with a sudden fierce gesture tore the rose from his coat and tossed it away. "Now really," said the Duchess, leaning back and fanning herself placidly, "I think that was vastly clever of me; you should be grateful, sir, and so should Cleone——hush!——here she comes, at last."

  "Where?" inquired Barnabas, glancing up hastily.

  "Ssh! behind us——on the other side of the hedge——clever minx!"

  "Why then——"

  "Sit still, sir——hush, I say!"

  "So that is the reason," said Cleone's clear voice, speaking within a yard of them, "that is why you dislike Mr. Beverley?"

  "Yes, and because of his presumption!" said a second voice, at the sound of which Barnabas flushed and started angrily, whereupon the Duchess instantly hooked him by the buttonhole again.

  "His presumption in what, Mr. Chichester?"

  "In his determined pursuit of you."

  "Is he in pursuit of me?"

  "Cleone——you know he is!"

  "But how do you happen to know?"

  "From his persecution of poor Ronald, for one thing."

  "Persecution, sir?"

  "It amounted to that. He found his way to Ronald's wretched lodging, and tempted the poor fellow with his gold,——indeed almost commanded Ronald to allow him to pay off his debts——"

  "But Ronald refused, of course?" said Cleone quickly.

  "Of course! I was there, you see, and this Beverley is a stranger!"

  "A stranger——yes."

  "And yet, Cleone, when your unfortunate brother refused his money,——this utter stranger, this Good Samaritan,——actually went behind Ronald's back and offered to buy up his debts! Such a thing might be done by father for son, or brother for brother, but why should any man do so much for an utter stranger——?"

  "Either because he is very base, or very——noble!" said Cleone.

  "Noble! I tell you such a thing is quite impossible——unheard of! No man would part with a fortune to benefit a stranger——unless he had a powerful motive!"

  "Well?" said Cleone softly.

  "Well, Cleone, I happen to know that motive is——yourself!" Here the Duchess, alert as usual, caught Barnabas by the cravat, and only just in time.

  "Sit still——hush!" she whispered, glancing up into his distorted face, for Mr. Chichester was going on in his soft, deliberate voice:

  "Oh, it is all very simple, Cleone, and very clumsy,——thus, see you. In the guise of Good Samaritan this stranger buys the debts of the brother, trusting to the gratitude of the sister. He knows your pride, Cleone, so he would buy your brother and put you under lasting obligation to himself. The scheme is a little coarse, and very clumsy,——but then, he is young."

  "And you say——he tried to pay these debts——without Ronald's knowledge? Are you sure——quite sure?"

  "Quite! And I know, also, that when Ronald's creditor refused, he actually offered to double——to treble the sum! But, indeed, you would be cheap at sixty thousand pounds, Cleone!"

  "Oh——hateful!" she cried.

  "Crude, yes, and very coarse, but, as I said before, he is young——what, are you going?"

  "Yes——no. Pray find my guardian and bring him to me."

  "First, tell me I may see you again, Cleone, before I leave for London?"

  "Yes," said Cleone, after a momentary hesitation.

  Thereafter came the tread of Mr. Chichester's feet upon the gravel, soft and deliberate, like his voice.

  Then Barnabas sighed, a long, bitter sigh, and looking up——saw Cleone standing before him.

  "Ah, dear Godmother!" said she lightly, "I hope your Grace was able to hear well?"

  "Perfectly, my dear, thank you——every word," nodded the Duchess, "though twice Mr. Beverley nearly spoilt it all. I had to hold him dreadfully tight,——see how I've crumpled his beautiful cravat. Dear me, how impetuous you are, sir! As for you, Cleone, sit down, my dear,——that's it!——positively I'm proud of you,——kiss me,——I mean about the roses. It was vastly clever! You are myself over again."

  "Your Grace honors me!" said Cleone, her eyes demure, but with a dimple at the corner of her red mouth.

  "And I congratulate you. I was a great success——in my day. Ah me! I remember seeing you——an hour after you were born. You were very pink, Cleone, and as bald as——as I am, without my wig. No——pray sit still,——Mr. Beverley isn't looking at you, and he was just as bald, once, I expect——and will be again, I hope. Even at that early age you pouted at me, Cleone, and I liked you for it. You are pouting now, Miss! To-day Mr. Beverley frowns at me, and I like him for it,——besides, he's very handsome when he frowns, don't you think, Cleone?"

  "Madam——" began Barnabas, with an angry look.

  "Ah! now you're going to quarrel with me,——well there's the Major,——I shall go. If you must quarrel with some one,——try Cleone, she's young, and, I think, a match for you. Oh, Major! Major Piper, pray lend your arm and protection to a poor, old, defenceless woman." So saying, the Duchess rose, and the Major, bowing gallantly gave her the limb she demanded, and went off with her, 'haw'-ing in his best and most ponderous manner.

  Barnabas sat, chin in hand, staring at the ground, half expecting that Cleone would rise and leave him. But no! My lady sat leaning back in her chair, her head carelessly averted, but watching him from the corners of her eyes. A sly look it was, a searching, critical look, that took close heed to all things, as——the fit and excellence of his clothes; the unconscious grace of his attitude; the hair that curled so crisp and dark at his temples; the woeful droop of his lips;——a long, inquisitive look, a look wholly feminine. Yes, he was certainly handsome, handsomer even than she had thought. And finding him so, she frowned, and, frowning, spoke:

  "So you meant to buy me, sir——as you would a horse or dog?"

  "No," said Barnabas, without looking up, and speaking almost humbly.

  "It would have been the same thing, sir," she continued, a little more haughtily in consequence. "You would have put upon me an obligation I could never, never have hoped to repay?"

  "Yes, I see my error now," said Barnabas, his head sinking lower. "I acted for the best, but I am a fool, and a clumsy one it seems. I meant only to serve you, to fulfil the mission you gave me, and I blundered——because I am——very ignorant. If you can forgive me, do so."

  Now this humility was new in him, and because of this, and because she was a woman, she became straightway more exacting, and questioned him again.

  "But why——why did you do it?"

  "You asked me to save your brother, and I could see no other way——"

  "How so? Please explain."

  "I meant to free him from the debt which is crushing him down and unmanning him."

  "But——oh, don't you see——he would still be in debt——to you?"

  "I had forgotten that!" sighed Barnabas.

  "Forgotten it?" she repeated.

  "Quite!"

  Surely no man could lie, whose eyes were so truthful and steadfast.

  "And so you went and offered to——buy up his debts?"

  "Yes."

  "For three times the proper sum?"

  "I would have paid whatever was asked."

  "Why?"

  "Because I promised you to help him," answered Barnabas, staring at the ground again.

  "You must be——very rich?" said Cleone, stealing another look at him.

  "I am."

  "And——supposing you had taken over the debt, who did you think would ever repay you?"

  "It never occurred to me."

  "And you would have done——all this for a——stranger?"

  "No, but because of the promise I gave."

  "To me?"

  "Yes,——but, as God sees me, I would have looked for no recompense at your hands."

  "Never?"

  "Never——unless——"

  "Unless, sir?"

  "Unless I——I had dreamed it possible that you——could ever have——loved me." Barnabas was actually stammering, and he was looking at her——pleadingly, she knew, but this time my lady kept her face averted, of course. Wherefore Barnabas sighed, and his head drooping, stared at the ground again. And after he had stared thus, for perhaps a full minute, my lady spoke, but with her face still averted.

  "The moon is at the full to-night, I think?"

  Barnabas (lifting his head suddenly)。 "Yes."

  Cleone (quite aware of his quick glance)。 "And——how do you like——the Duchess?"

  Barnabas (staring at the ground again)。 "I don't know."

  Cleone (with unnecessary emphasis)。 "Why, she is the dearest, best, cleverest old godmother in all the world, sir!"

  Barnabas (humbly)。 "Yes."

  Cleone (with a side glance)。 "Are you riding back to London to-night?"

  Barnabas (nodding drearily)。 "Yes."

  Cleone (watching him more keenly)。 "It should be glorious to gallop under a——full-orbed moon."

  Barnabas (shaking his head mournfully)。 "London is a great way from——here."

  Cleone (beginning to twist a ring on her finger nervously)。 "Do you remember the madman we met——at Oakshott's Barn?"

  Barnabas (sighing)。 "Yes. I met him in London, lately."

  Cleone (clasping her hands together tightly)。 "Did he talk about——the moon again?"

  Barnabas (still sighing, and dense), "No, it was about some shadow, I think."

  Cleone (frowning at him a little)。 "Well——do you remember what he prophesied——about——an 'orbed moon'——and 'Barnaby Bright'?"

  Barnabas (glancing up with sudden interest)。 "Yes,——yes, he said we should meet again at Barnaby Bright——under an orbed moon!"

  Cleone (head quite averted now, and speaking over her shoulder)。 "Do you remember the old finger-post——on the Hawkhurst road?"

  Barnabas (leaning towards her eagerly)。 "Yes——do you mean——Oh, Cleone——?"

  Cleone (rising, and very demure)。 "Here comes the Duchess with my Guardian——hush! At nine o'clock, sir."

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