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The Amateur Gentleman (Chapter62)

2006-08-28 16:19

  Chapter LXII. Which Tells How Barnabas Triumphed in Spite of All

  Never had White's, that historic club, gathered beneath its roof a more distinguished company; dukes, royal and otherwise, elbow each other on the stairs; earls and marquises sit cheek by jowl; viscounts and baronets exchange snuff-boxes in corners, but one and all take due and reverent heed of the flattened revers and the innovation of the riband.

  Yes, White's is full to overflowing for, to-night, half the Fashionable World is here, that is to say, the masculine half; beaux and wits; bucks and Corinthians; dandies and macaronis; all are here and, each and every, with the fixed and unshakable purpose of eating and drinking to the glory and honor of Barnabas Beverley, Esquire. Here, also, is a certain "Mr. Norton," whom Barnabas immediately recognizes by reason of his waistcoat and his whiskers. And Mr. Norton is particularly affable and is graciously pleased to commend the aforesaid flattened revers and riband; indeed so taken with them is he, that he keeps their wearer beside him, and even condescends to lean upon his arm as far as the dining-room.

  Forthwith the banquet begins and the air hums with talk and laughter punctuated by the popping of corks; waiters hurry to and fro, dishes come and dishes vanish, and ever the laughter grows, and the buzz of talk swells louder.

  And Barnabas? Himself "the glass of fashion and the mould of form," in very truth "the observed of all observers," surely to-night he should be happy! For the soaring pinions of youth have borne him up and up at last, into the empyrean, far, far above the commonplace; the "Coursing Hound," with its faded sign and weatherbeaten gables, has been lost to view long and long ago (if it ever really existed), and to-night he stands above the clouds, his foot upon the topmost pinnacle; and surely man can attain no higher, for to-night he feasts with princes.

  Thus Barnabas sits among the glare and glitter of it all, smiling at one, bowing to another, speaking with all by turns, and wondering in his heart——if there is yet any letter from Hawkhurst. And now the hurrying tread of waiters ceases, the ring and clatter of glass and silver is hushed, the hum of talk and laughter dies away, and a mottle-faced gentleman rises, and, clutching himself by the shirt-frill with one hand, and elevating a brimming glass in the other, clears his throat, and holds forth in this wise:

  "Gentlemen, I'm an Englishman, therefore I'm blunt,——deuced blunt——damned blunt! Gentlemen, I desire to speak a word upon this happy and memorable occasion, and my word is this: Being an Englishman I very naturally admire pluck and daring——Mr. Beverley has pluck and daring——therefore I drink to him. Gentlemen, we need such true-blue Englishmen as Beverley to keep an eye on old Bony; it is such men as Beverley who make the damned foreigners shake in their accursed shoes. So long as we have such men as Beverley amongst us, England will scorn the foreign yoke and stand forth triumphant, first in peace, first in war. Gentlemen, I give you Mr. Beverley, as he is a true Sportsman I honor him, as he is an Englishman he is my friend. Mr. Beverley, gentlemen!"

  Hereupon the mottle-faced gentleman lets go of his shirt-frill, bows to Barnabas and, tossing off his wine, sits down amid loud acclamations and a roaring chorus of "Beverley! Beverley!" accompanied by much clinking of glasses.

  And now, in their turn, divers other noble gentlemen rise in their places and deliver themselves of speeches, more or less eloquent, flowery, witty and laudatory, but, one and all, full of the name and excellences of Barnabas Beverley, Esquire; who duly learns that he is a Maecenas of Fashion, a sportsman through and through, a shining light, and one of the bulwarks of Old England, b'gad! etc., etc., etc.

  To all of which he listens with varying emotions, and with one eye upon the door, fervently hoping for the letter so long expected. But the time is come for him to respond; all eyes are upon him, and all glasses are filled; even the waiters become deferentially interested as, amid welcoming shouts, the guest of the evening rises, a little flushed, a little nervous, yet steady of eye.

  And as Barnabas stands there, an elegant figure, tall and graceful, all eyes may behold again the excellent fit of that wonderful coat, its dashing cut and flattened revers, while all ears await his words. But, or ever he can speak, upon this silence is heard the tread of heavy feet beyond the door and Barnabas glances there eagerly, ever mindful of the letter from Hawkhurst; but the feet have stopped and, stifling a sigh, he begins:

  "My Lords and gentlemen! So much am I conscious of the profound honor you do me, that I find it difficult to express my——"

  But here again a disturbance is heard at the door——a shuffle of feet and the mutter of voices, and he pauses expectant; whereat his auditors cry angrily for "silence!" which being duly accorded, he begins again:

  "Indeed, gentlemen, I fear no words of mine, however eloquent, can sufficiently express to you all my——"

  "Oh, Barnabas," cries a deep voice; "yes, it is Barnabas!" Even as the words are uttered, the group of protesting waiters in the doorway are swept aside by a mighty arm, and a figure strides into the banqueting-room, a handsome figure, despite its country habiliments, a commanding figure by reason of its stature and great spread of shoulder, and John Barty stands there, blinking in the light of the many candles.

  Then Barnabas closed his eyes and, reaching out, set his hand upon the back of a chair near by, and so stood, with bent head and a strange roaring in his ears. Little by little this noise grew less until he could hear voices, about him, an angry clamor:

  "Put him out!"

  "Throw the rascal into the street!"

  "Kick him downstairs, somebody!"

  And, amid this ever-growing tumult, Barnabas could distinguish his father's voice, and in it was a note he had never heard before, something of pleading, something of fear.

  "Barnabas? Barnabas? Oh, this be you, my lad——bean't it, Barnabas?"

  Yet still he stood with bent head, his griping fingers clenched hard upon the chair-back, while the clamor about him grew ever louder and more threatening.

  "Throw him out!"

  "Pitch the fellow downstairs, somebody!"

  "Jove!" exclaimed the Marquis, rising and buttoning his coat, "if nobody else will, I'll have a try at him myself. Looks a promising cove, as if he might fib well. Come now, my good fellow, you must either get out of here or——put 'em up, you know,——dooce take me, but you must!"

  But as he advanced, Barnabas lifted his head and staying him with a gesture, turned and beheld his father standing alone, the centre of an angry circle. And John Barty's eyes were wide and troubled, and his usually ruddy cheek showed pale, though with something more than fear as, glancing slowly round the ring of threatening figures that hemmed him in, he beheld the white, stricken face of his son. And, seeing it, John Barty groaned, and so took a step towards the door; but no man moved to give him way.

  "A——a mistake, gentlemen," he muttered, "I——I'll go!" Then, even as the stammering words were uttered, Barnabas strode forward into the circle and, slipping a hand within his father's nerveless arm, looked round upon the company, pale of cheek, but with head carried high.

  "My Lords!" said he, "gentlemen! I have the honor——to introduce to you——John Barty, sometime known as 'Glorious John'——ex-champion of England and——landlord of the 'Coursing Hound' inn——my father!"

  A moment of silence! A stillness so profound that it seemed no man drew breath; a long, long moment wherein Barnabas felt himself a target for all eyes——eyes wherein he thought to see amazement that changed into dismay which, in turn, gave place to an ever-growing scorn of him. Therefore he turned his back upon them all and, coming to the great window, stood there staring blindly into the dark street.

  "Oh, Barnabas!" he heard his father saying, though as from a long way off, "Barnabas lad, I——I——Oh, Barnabas——they're going! They're leaving you, and——it's all my fault, lad! Oh, Barnabas,——what have I done! It's my fault, lad——all my fault. But I heard you was sick, Barnabas, and like to die,——ill, and calling for me,——for your father, Barnabas. And now——Oh, my lad! my lad!——what have I done?"

  "Never blame yourself, father, it——wasn't your fault," said Barnabas with twitching lips, for from the great room behind him came the clatter of chairs, the tread of feet, with voices and stifled laughter that grew fainter and fainter, yet left a sting behind.

  "Come away, John," said a voice, "we've done enough to-night——come away!"

  "Yes, Natty Bell, yes, I be coming——coming. Oh, Barnabas, my lad, ——my lad,——forgive me!"

  Now in a while Barnabas turned; and behold! the candles glowed as brightly as ever, silver and glass shone and glittered as bravely as ever, but——the great room was empty, that is to say——very nearly. Of all that brilliant and fashionable company but two remained. Very lonely figures they looked, seated at the deserted table——the Viscount, crumbling up bread and staring at the table-cloth, and the Marquis, fidgeting with his snuff-box, and frowning at the ceiling.

  To these solitary figures Barnabas spoke, albeit his voice was hoarse and by no means steady:

  "My Lords," said he, "why haven't you——followed the others?"

  "Why, you see," began the Marquis, frowning at the ceiling harder than ever, and flicking open his snuff-box, "you see——speaking for myself, of course, I say speaking for myself, I——hum!——the fact is——ha!——that is to say——oh, dooce take it!" And, in his distress, he actually inhaled a pinch of snuff and immediately fell a-sneezing, with a muffled curse after every sneeze.

  "Sirs," said Barnabas, "I think you'd better go. You will be less——conspicuous. Indeed, you'd better go."

  "Go?" repeated the Viscount, rising suddenly. "Go, is it? No, damme if we do! If you are John Barty's son, you are still my friend, and——there's my hand——Barnabas."

  "Mine——too!" sneezed the Marquis, "'s soon as I've got over the——'ffects of this s-snuff——with a curse to it!"

  "Oh Dick!" said Barnabas, his head drooping, "Marquis——"

  "Name's Bob to——my friends!" gasped the Marquis from behind his handkerchief. "Oh, damn this snuff!"

  "Why, Bev," said the Viscount, "don't take it so much to heart, man. Deuced unpleasant, of course, but it'll all blow over, y' know. A week from now and they'll all come crawling back, y' know, if you only have the courage to outface 'em. And we are with him——aren't we, Jerny?"

  "Of course!" answered the Marquis, "dooce take me——yes! So would poor old Sling have been."

  "Sirs," said Barnabas, reaching out and grasping a hand of each, "with your friendship to hearten me——all things are possible——even this!"

  But here a waiter appeared bearing a tray, and on the tray a letter; he was a young waiter, a very knowing waiter, hence his demeanor towards Barnabas had already undergone a subtle change——he stared at Barnabas with inquisitive eyes and even forgot to bow until——observing the Viscount's eye and the Marquis's chin, his back became immediately subservient and he tendered Barnabas the letter with a profound obeisance.

  With a murmured apology Barnabas took it and, breaking the seal, read these words in Cleone's writing:

  "You have destroyed my faith, and with my faith all else. Farewell."

  Then Barnabas laughed, sudden and sharp, and tore the paper across and across, and dropping the pieces to the floor, set his foot upon them.

  "Friends," said he, "my future is decided for me. I thank you deeply, deeply for your brave friendship——your noble loyalty, but the fiat has gone forth. To-night I leave the World of Fashion for one better suited to my birth, for it seems I should be only an amateur gentleman, as it were, after all. My Lords, your most obedient, humble servant,——good-by!"

  So Barnabas bowed to each in turn and went forth from the scene of his triumph, deliberate of step and with head carried high as became a conqueror.

  And thus the star of Barnabas Beverley, Esquire, waxed and waned and vanished utterly from the Fashionable Firmament, and, in time, came to be regarded as only a comet, after all.

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