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The Amateur Gentleman (Chapter77)

2006-08-28 16:23

  Chapter LXXVII. How Barnabas Rode Homewards, and Took Counsel of a Pedler of Books

  It was well on in the afternoon when Barnabas, booted and spurred, stepped out into the sunshine where old Gabriel Martin walked "The Terror" to and fro before the door.

  "Very glad to see you out and about again, sir," said he, beaming of face and with a finger at his grizzled temple.

  "Thank you, Martin."

  "And so is the 'oss, sir——look at 'im!" And indeed the great, black horse had tossed up his lofty crest and stood, one slender fore-leg advanced and with sensitive ears pricked forward, snuffing at Barnabas as he came slowly down the steps.

  "He doesn't seem to have taken any hurt from the last race we had together," said Barnabas.

  "'Arm, sir——lord, no——not a bit, never better! There's a eye for you, there's a coat! I tell you, sir, 'e's in the very pink, that 'e is."

  "He does you great credit, Martin."

  "Sir," said Martin as Barnabas prepared to mount, "sir, I hear as you ain't thinking of going back to town?"

  "To the best of my belief, no, Martin."

  "Why, then, sir," said the old groom, his face clouding, "p'r'aps I 'd better be packing up my bits o' traps, sir?"

  "Yes, Martin, I think you had," answered Barnabas, and swung himself somewhat awkwardly into the saddle.

  "Very good, sir!" sighed old Martin, his gray head drooping. "I done my best for the 'oss and you, sir, but I know I'm a bit too old for the job, p'r'aps, and——"

  But at this moment Peterby approached.

  "Sir," he inquired, a little anxiously, "do you feel able——well enough to ride——alone?"

  "Why, bless you, John, of course I do. I'm nearly well," answered Barnabas, settling his feet in the stirrups, "and that reminds me, you will discharge all the servants——a month's wages, John, and shut up this place as soon as possible. As for Martin here, of course you will bring him with you if he will come. We shall need him hereafter, shan't we, John? And perhaps we'd better offer him another ten shillings a week considering he will have so many more responsibilities on the farm."

  So saying, Barnabas waved his hand, wheeled his horse, and rode off down the drive; but, glancing back, when he had gone a little way, he saw that Peterby and the old groom yet stood looking after him, and in the face of each was a brightness that was not of the sun.

  On rode Barnabas, filling his lungs with great draughts of the balmy air and looking about him, eager-eyed. And thus, beholding the beauty of wooded hill and dale, already mellowing to Autumn, the heaviness was lifted from his spirit, his drooping back grew straight, and raising his eyes to the blue expanse of heaven, he gloried that he was alive.

  But, in a while, remembering Cleone's note, he must needs check his speed, and taking the paper from his bosom, began to con it over:

  1. Pride goeth before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.

  2. Selfishness shall find its own reward.

  3. Journeys end in lovers' meetings.

  Now as he rode thus at a hand-pace, puzzling over these cryptic words, he was presently aroused by a voice, somewhat harsh and discordant, singing at no great distance; and the words of the song were these:

  "Push about the brisk bowl, 't will enliven the heart While thus we sit down on the grass;The lover who talks of his sufferings and smart Deserves to be reckoned an ass, an ass,Deserves to be reckoned an ass."

  Therefore Barnabas raised his head and, glancing to one side of the way, beheld the singer sitting beneath the hedge. He was a small, merry-eyed man and, while he sang, he was busily setting out certain edibles upon the grass at his feet; now glancing from this very small man to the very large pack that lay beside him, Barnabas reined up and looked down at him with a smile.

  "And pray," he inquired, "how do books sell these days?"

  "Why, they do and they don't, sir. Sermons are a drug and novels ain't much better, poems is pretty bobbish, but song-books is my meat. And, talking o' songbooks, here's one as is jest the thing for a convivial cock o' the game——a fine, young, slap-up buck like you, my Lord. Here's a book to kill care, drive away sorrer, and give a 'leveller' to black despair. A book as'll make the sad merry, and the merry merrier. Hark to this now!"

  So saying, the Pedler drew a book from his pack, and opening it at the title-page, began to read as follows, with much apparent unction and gusto:

  THE HEARTY FELLOW:

  OR

  JOYOUS SOUL'S COMPANION.

  BEING A Chaste, Elegant, and Humourous COLLECTION OF SONGS,for the ENTERTAINMENT of:

  The TENDER MAID, the PINING LOVER, the CHOICE SPIRIT, the DROLL DOG, the JOVIAL SPORTSMAN, the DARING SOLDIER and the ROUGH, HONEST TAR: and for all those who would wish to render themselves agreeable, divert the Company, kill Care, and be joyous; where the high-seasoned WIT and HUMOUR will be sufficient Apology for a bad Voice, and by which such as have a tolerable one will be able to Shine without repressing the Laugh of the merrily disposed, or offending the Ear of the chastest Virgin.

  To which is added:

  A complete Collection of the Various TOASTS, SENTIMENTS, and HOB-NOBS, that have been drank, are now drinking, and some new Ones offered for Adoption.

  "There you are, sir——there's a book for you! A book? A whole li-bree——a vaddy-mekkum o' wit, and chock full o' humor! What d' ye say for such a wollum o' sparkling bon mots? Say a guinea, say fifteen bob? say ten? Come——you shall take it for five! Five bob for a book as ain't to be ekalled no-how and no-wheer——"

  "Not in Asia, Africa or America?" said Barnabas.

  "Eh?" said the Pedler, glancing sharply up at him, "why——what, Lord love me——it's you, is it? aha! So it did the trick for you, did it?"

  "What do you mean?"

  "Mean, sir? Lord, what should I mean, but that there book on Ettyket, as I sold you——that priceless wollum as I give you——for five bob, months ago, when the larks was a-singing so inspiring."

  "Yes, it was a lovely morning, I remember."

  "Ah! and you left me that morning, a fine, upstanding young country cove, but to-day——ah, to-day you are a bang up blood——a gent, inside and out, a-riding of a magnificent 'oss——and all on account o' follering the instructions in that 'ere blessed tome as I sold you——for five bob! And dirt-cheap at the money!"

  "And I find you exactly as you were," said Barnabas thoughtfully, "yes, even to the bread and cheese."

  "There you are wrong, sir——axing your pardon. This time it's 'alf a loaf——medium, a slice o' beef——small, and a cold per-tater——large. But cold per-taters is full o' nourishment, if eat with a contented mind——ah, there's oceans o' nourishment in a cold per-tater——took reg'lar. O' course, for them as is flush o' the rhino, and wants a blow-out, there's nothin' like two o' leg o' beef with a dash o' pea, 'alf a scaffold-pole, a plate o' chats, and a swimmer——it's wholesome and werry filling, and don't cost more than a groat, but give me a cold per-tater to walk on. But you, sir," continued the Pedler, beginning to eat with great appetite, "you, being a reg'lar 'eavy-toddler now, one o' the gilded nobs——and all on account o' that there priceless wollum as I——give away to you——for five bob! you, being now a blue-blooded aris-to-crat, don't 'ave to walk, so you can go in for plovers or pheasants or partridges, dressed up in hartichokes, p'r'aps, yes——frogs'-legs is your constant fodder now, p'r'aps——not to mention rag-outs and sich. Oh, yes, I reckon you've done a lot, and seen a lot, and——eat a lot since the morning as I give you a priceless wollum worth its weight in solid gold as was wrote by a Person o' Quality——and all for five bob! jest because them larks 'appened to be singing so sentimental——drat 'em! Ah well," sighed the Pedler, bolting the last morsel of beef, "and 'ow did you find London, young sir?"

  "Much bigger than I expected."

  "Ah, it is a bit biggish till you get used to it. And it's amazing what you can see——if you looks 'ard enough, like the tombs in St. Paul's Churchyard, f'r instance. I knowed of a chap once as spent over a week a-looking for 'em, and never see so much as a single 'eadstone——but then, 'e were born stone-blind, so it were only nat'ral as 'e should miss 'em, p'r'aps. But you, young sir, 'ow did you pass your time?"

  "Principally in dressing and undressing."

  "Ah, jess so, jess so——coats cut 'igh and coats cut low! But what more?"

  "And in eating and drinking."

  "Ah, French hortolons, p'r'aps, with a occasional tongue of a lark throwed in for a relish, jess so! But what more——did ye marry a duchess, f'r instance?"

  "Alas, no!"

  "Elope with a earl's daughter, then?"

  "No."

  "Well——did ye fight any dooels?"

  "Not a single one."

  "Lord, young sir——you 'ave been a-missing of your opportunities, you 'ave, playing fast and loose wi' Fortun', I calls it——ah, fair flying in the face o' Providence! Now, if instead o' selling books I took to writing of 'em, and tried to write you into a novel, why, Lord, what a poor thing that there novel would be! Who'd want to read it?——why, nobody! Oh, I can see as you've been throwing away your opportunities and wasting your chances shocking, you 'ave."

  "Now I wonder," said Barnabas, frowning thoughtfully, "I wonder if I have?"

  "Not a doubt of it!" answered the Pedler, swallowing the last of his potato.

  "Then the sooner I begin to make up for it, the better."

  "Ah!" nodded the Pedler. "I should begin at once, if I was you."

  "I will," said Barnabas, gathering up the reins.

  "And how, sir?"

  "By going my allotted way and——striving to be content."

  "Content!" exclaimed the Pedler, "lord, young sir, it's only fools as is ever content! A contented man never done anything much worth 'aving, nor said anything much worth 'caring as ever I 'eard. Never go for to be content, young sir, or you'll never do nothing at all!"

  "Why, then," said Barnabas, smiling ruefully, "it is certain that I shall achieve something yet, because——I never shall be content!"

  "That's the spirit, young sir——aim 'igh. Jest look at me——born in the gutter, but I wasn't content wi' the gutter so I taught myself to read and write. But I wasn't content to read and write, so I took to the book trade, and 'ere I am to-day travelling the roads and wi' a fairish connection, but I ain't content——Lord, no! I'd like to be a dook a-rolling in a chariot, or a prince o' the blood, or the Prime Minister a-laying down the law. That's the sperrit——shoot 'igh, ah! shoot at the sun and you're bound to 'it summat if it's only a tree or a 'ay-stack. So, if you can't be a dook or a prince, you can allus be——a man——if you try 'ard enough. What——are ye going, young sir?"

  "Yes," answered Barnabas, leaning down from the saddle, "good-by, and thank you for your advice," and he stretched out his hand.

  Hereupon the pedler of books rose to his feet and rather diffidently clasped the proffered hand. So Barnabas smiled down at him, nodded and rode upon his way, but as for the Pedler, he stood there, staring after him open-mouthed, and with the yellow coins shining upon his palm.

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