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The Amateur Gentleman (Chapter4)

2006-08-28 16:03

  Chapter IV. How Barnabas Fell in with a Pedler of Books, and Purchased a "Priceless Wollum"

  "Heads up, young master, never say die! and wi' the larks and the throstles a-singing away so inspiring too——Lord love me!"

  Barnabas started guiltily, and turning with upflung head, perceived a very small man perched on an adjacent milestone, with a very large pack at his feet, a very large hunk of bread and cheese in his hand, and with a book open upon his knee.

  "Listen to that theer lark," said the man, pointing upwards with the knife he held.

  "Well?" said Barnabas, a trifle haughtily perhaps.

  "There's music for ye; there's j'y. I never hear a lark but it takes me back to London——to Lime'us, to Giles's Rents, down by the River."

  "Pray, why?" inquired Barnabas, still a trifle haughtily.

  "Because it's so different; there ain't much j'y, no, nor yet music in Giles's Rents, down by the River."

  "Rather an unpleasant place!" said Barnabas.

  "Unpleasant, young sir. I should say so——the worst place in the world——but listen to that theer blessed lark; there's a woice for ye; there's music with a capital M.; an' I've read as they cooks and eats 'em."

  "Who do?"

  "Nobs do——swells——gentlemen——ah, an' ladies, too!"

  "More shame to them, then."

  "Why, so says I, young master, but, ye see, beef an' mutton, ducks an' chicken, an' sich, ain't good enough for your Nobs nowadays, oh no! They must dewour larks wi' gusto, and French hortolons wi' avidity, and wi' a occasional leg of a frog throw'd in for a relish——though, to be sure, a frog's leg ain't over meaty at the best o' times. Oh, it's all true, young sir; it's all wrote down here in this priceless wollum." Here he tapped the book upon his knee. "Ye see, with the Quality it is quality as counts——not quantity. It's flavor as is their constant want, or, as you might say, desire; flavor in their meat, in their drink, and above all, in their books; an' see you, I sell books, an' I know."

  "What kind of flavor?" demanded Barnabas, coming a step nearer, though in a somewhat stately fashion.

  "Why, a gamey flavor, to be sure, young sir; a 'igh flavor——ah! the 'igher the better. Specially in books. Now here," continued the Chapman, holding up the volume he had been reading. "'Ere's a book as ain't to be ekalled nowheers nor nohow——not in Latin nor Greek, nor Persian, no, nor yet 'Indoo. A book as is fuller o' information than a egg is o' meat. A book as was wrote by a person o' quality, therefore a elewating book; wi' nice bold type into it——ah! an' wood-cuts——picters an' engravin's, works o' art as is not to be beat nowheers nor nohow; not in China, Asia, nor Africa, a book therefore as is above an' beyond all price."

  "What book is it?" inquired Barnabas, forgetting his haughtiness, and coming up beside the Chapman.

  "It's a book," said the Chapman; "no, it's the book as any young gentleman a-going out into the world ought to have wi' him, asleep or awake."

  "But what is it all about?" inquired Barnabas a trifle impatiently.

  "Why, everything," answered the Chapman; "an' I know because I 've read it——a thing I rarely do."

  "What's the title?"

  "The title, young sir; well theer! read for yourself."

  And with the words the Chapman held up the book open at the title-page, and Barnabas read:




  "You'll note that theer Person o' Quality, will ye?" said the Chapman.

  "Strange!" said Barnabas.

  "Not a bit of it!" retorted the Chapman. "Lord, love me! any one could be a gentleman by just reading and inwardly di-gesting o' this here priceless wollum; it's all down here in print, an' nice bold type, too——pat as you please. If it didn't 'appen as my horryscope demands as I should be a chapman, an' sell books an' sich along the roads, I might ha' been as fine a gentleman as any on 'em, just by follering the directions printed into this here blessed tome, an' in nice large type, too, an' woodcuts."

  "This is certainly very remarkable!" said Barnabas.

  "Ah!" nodded the Chapman, "it's the most remarkablest book as ever was!——Lookee——heer's picters for ye——lookee!" and he began turning over the pages, calling out the subject of the pictures as he did so.

  "Gentleman going a walk in a jerry 'at. Gentleman eating soup! Gentleman kissing lady's 'and. Gentleman dancing with lady——note them theer legs, will ye——theer's elegance for ye! Gentleman riding a 'oss in one o' these 'ere noo buckled 'ats. Gentleman shaking 'ands with ditto——observe the cock o' that little finger, will ye! Gentleman eating ruffles——no, truffles, which is a vegetable, as all pigs is uncommon partial to. Gentleman proposing lady's 'ealth in a frilled shirt an' a pair o' skin-tights. Gentleman making a bow."

  "And remarkably stiff in the legs about it, too!" nodded Barnabas.

  "Stiff in the legs!" cried the Chapman reproachfully. "Lord love you, young sir! I've seen many a leg stiffer than that."

  "And how much is the book?"

  The Chapman cast a shrewd glance up at the tall youthful figure, at the earnest young face, at the deep and solemn eyes, and coughed behind his hand.

  "Well, young sir," said he, gazing thoughtfully up at the blue sky——"since you are you, an' nobody else——an' ax me on so fair a morning, wi' the song o' birds filling the air——we'll charge you only——well——say ten shillings: say eight, say seven-an'-six——say five——theer, make it five shillings, an' dirt-cheap at the price, too."

  Barnabas hesitated, and the Chapman was about to come down a shilling or two more when Barnabas spoke.

  "Then you're not thinking of learning to become a gentleman yourself?"

  "O Lord love you——no!"

  "Then I'll buy it," said Barnabas, and forthwith handed over the five shillings. Slipping the book into his pocket, he turned to go, yet paused again and addressed the Chapman over his shoulder.

  "Shouldn't you like to become a gentleman?" he inquired.

  Again the Chapman regarded him from the corners of his eyes, and again he coughed behind his hand.

  "Well," he admitted, "I should an' I shouldn't. O' course it must be a fine thing to bow to a duchess, or 'and a earl's daughter into a chariot wi' four 'orses an' a couple o' footmen, or even to sit wi' a markus an' eat a French hortolon (which never 'aving seen, I don't know the taste on, but it sounds promising); oh yes, that part would suit me to a T; but then theer's t'other part to it, y' see."

  "What do you mean?"

  "Why, a gentleman has a great deal to live up to——theer's his dignity, y' see."

  "Yes, I suppose so," Barnabas admitted.

  "For instance, a gentleman couldn't very well be expected to sit in a ditch and enj'y a crust o' bread an' cheese; 'is dignity wouldn't allow of it, now would it?"

  "Certainly not," said Barnabas.

  "Nor yet drink 'ome-brewed out of a tin pot in a inn kitchen."

  "Well, he might, if he were very thirsty," Barnabas ventured to think. But the Chapman scouted the idea.

  "For," said he, "a gentleman's dignity lifts him above inn kitchens and raises him superior to tin pots. Now tin pots is a perticler weakness o' mine, leastways when theer's good ale inside of 'em. And then again an' lastly," said the Chapman, balancing a piece of cheese on the flat of his knife-blade, "lastly theer's his clothes, an', as I've read somewhere, 'clothes make the man'——werry good——chuck in dignity an' theer's your gentleman!"

  "Hum," said Barnabas, profoundly thoughtful.

  "An' a gentleman's clothes is a world o' trouble and anxiety to him, and takes up most o' his time, what wi' his walking breeches an' riding breeches an' breeches for dancing; what wi' his coats cut 'igh an' his coats cut low; what wi' his flowered satin weskits; what wi' his boots an' his gloves, an' his cravats an' his 'ats, why, Lord love ye, he passes his days getting out o' one suit of clothes an' into another. And it's just this clothes part as I can't nowise put up wi', for I'm one as loves a easy life, I am."

  "And is your life so easy?" inquired Barnabas, eyeing the very small Chapman's very large pack.

  "Why, to be sure theer's easier," the Chapman admitted, scratching his ear and frowning; "but then," and here his brow cleared again, "I've only got this one single suit of clothes to bother my 'ead over, which, being wore out as you can see, don't bother me at all."

  "Then are you satisfied to be as you are?"

  "Well," answered the Chapman, clinking the five shillings in his pocket, "I aren't one to grumble at fate, nor yet growl at fortun'."

  "Why, then," said Barnabas, "I wish you good morning."

  "Good morning, young sir, and remember now, if you should ever feel like being a gentleman——it's quite easy——all as you've got to do is to read the instructions in that theer priceless wollum——mark 'em——learn 'em, and inwardly di-gest 'em, and you'll be a gentleman afore you know it."

  Now hereupon Barnabas smiled, a very pleasant smile and radiant with youth, whereat the Chapman's pinched features softened for pure good fellowship, and for the moment he almost wished that he had charged less for the "priceless wollum," as, so smiling, Barnabas turned and strode away, London-wards.

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