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The Amateur Gentleman (Chapter28)

2006-08-28 16:10

  Chapter XXVIII. Concerning, Among Other Things, the Legs of a Gentleman-in-Powder

  In that delightful book, "The Arabian Nights' Entertainments," one may read of Spirits good, and bad, and indifferent; of slaves of lamps, of rings and amulets, and talismanic charms; and of the marvels and wonders they performed. But never did Afrit, Djinn, or Genie perform greater miracles than steady-eyed, soft-voiced Peterby. For if the far away Orient has its potent charms and spells, so, in this less romantic Occident, have we also a spell whereby all things are possible, a charm to move mountains——a spell whereby kings become slaves, and slaves, kings; and we call it Money.

  Aladdin had his wonderful Lamp, and lo! at the Genie's word, up sprang a palace, and the wilderness blossomed; Barnabas had his overflowing purse, and behold! Peterby went forth, and the dull room at the "George" became a mansion in the midst of Vanity Fair.

  Thus, at precisely four o'clock on the afternoon of the third day, Barnabas stood before a cheval mirror in the dressing-room of his new house, surveying his reflection with a certain complacent satisfaction.

  His silver-buttoned blue coat, high-waisted and cunningly rolled of collar, was a sartorial triumph; his black stockinette pantaloons, close-fitting from hip to ankle and there looped and buttoned, accentuated muscled calf and virile thigh in a manner somewhat disconcerting; his snowy waistcoat was of an original fashion and cut, and his cravat, folded and caressed into being by Peterby's fingers, was an elaborate masterpiece, a matchless creation never before seen upon the town. Barnabas had become a dandy, from the crown of his curly head to his silk stockings and polished shoes, and, upon the whole, was not ill-pleased with himself.

  "But they're——dangerously tight, aren't they, Peterby?" he inquired suddenly, speaking his thought aloud.

  "Tight, sir!" repeated Mr. Barry, the tailor, reproachfully, and shaking his gentleman-like head, "impossible, sir,——with such a leg inside 'em."

  "Tight, sir?" exclaimed Peterby, from where he knelt upon the floor, having just finished looping and buttoning the garments in question, "indeed, sir, since you mention it, I almost fear they are a trifle too——roomy. Can you raise your bent knee, sir?"

  "Only with an effort, John."

  "That settles it, Barry," said Peterby with a grim nod, "you must take them in at least a quarter of an inch."

  "Take 'em in?" exclaimed Barnabas, aghast, "no, I'll be shot if you do,——not a fraction! I can scarcely manage 'em as it is." Peterby shook his head in grave doubt, but at this juncture they were interrupted by a discreet knock, and the door opening, a Gentleman-in-Powder appeared. He was a languid gentleman, an extremely superior gentleman, but his character lay chiefly in his nose, which was remarkably short and remarkably supercilious of tip, and his legs which were large and nobly shaped; they were, in a sense, eloquent legs, being given to divers tremors and quiverings when their possessor labored under any strong feeling or excitement; but, above all, they were haughty legs, contemptuous of this paltry world and all that therein is, yea, even of themselves, for their very calves seemed striving to turn their backs upon each other.

  "Are you in, sir?" he inquired in an utterly impersonal tone.

  "In?" repeated Barnabas, with a quick downward glance at his tight nether garments, "in?——in what?——in where?"

  "Are you at 'ome, sir?"

  "At home? Of course,——can't you see that?"

  "Yes, sir," returned the Gentleman-in-Powder, his legs growing a little agitated.

  "Then why do you ask?"

  "There is a——person below, sir."

  "A person?"

  "Yes, sir,——very much so! Got 'is foot in the door——wouldn't take it out——had to let 'em in——waiting in the 'all, sir."

  "What's he like, who is he?"

  "Whiskers, sir,——name of Snivels,——no card!" Here might have been observed the same agitation of the plump legs.

  "Ask him to wait."

  "Beg pardon, sir——did you say——to wait?" (Agitation growing.)

  "Yes. Say I'll be down at once." (Agitation extreme.)

  "Meaning as you will——see 'im, sir?" (Agitation indescribable.)

  "Yes," said Barnabas, "yes, of course."

  The Gentleman-in-Powder bowed; his eye was calm, his brow unruffled, but his legs!!! And his nose was more supercilious than ever as he closed the door upon it.

  Mr. Smivvle, meanwhile, was standing downstairs before a mirror, apparently lost in contemplation of his whiskers, and indeed they seemed to afford him a vast degree of pleasure, for he stroked them with caressing fingers, and smiled upon them quite benevolently.

  "Six pair of silver candlesticks!" he murmured. "Persian rugs! Bric-a-brac, rare——costly pictures! He's a Nabob, by heaven,——yes he is,——a mysterious young Nabob, wallowing in wealth! Five shillings? ——preposterous! we'll make it——ten,——and——yes, shall we say another five for the pampered menial? By all means let us make it another five shillings for the cursed flunkey,——here he comes!"

  And indeed, at that moment the legs of the Gentleman-in-Powder might have been descried descending the stair rather more pompously than usual. As soon as they had become stationary, Mr. Smivvle directed a glance at the nearest, and addressed it.

  "James!" said he.

  The Gentleman-in-Powder became lost in dreamy abstraction, with the exception of his legs which worked slightly. Hereupon Mr. Smivvle reached out and poked him gently with the head of his tasselled cane.

  "Awake, James?" said he.

  "Name of Harthur——if you please, sir!" retorted the Gentleman-in-Powder, brushing away the touch of the cane, and eyeing the place with much concern.

  "If, James," continued Mr. Smivvle, belligerent of whisker, "if you would continue to ornament this lordly mansion, James, be more respectful, hereafter, to your master's old and tried friends," saying which Mr. Smivvle gave a twirl to each whisker, and turned to inspect a cabinet of old china.

  "Sevres, by George!" he murmured, "we'll make it a pound!" He was still lost in contemplation of the luxurious appointments that everywhere met his view, and was seriously considering the advisability of "making it thirty shillings," when the appearance of Barnabas cut him short, and he at once became all smiles, flourishes and whiskers.

  "Ah, Beverley, my boy!" he cried heartily, "pray forgive this horribly unseasonable visit, but——under the circumstances——I felt it my duty to——ah——to drop in on you, my dear fellow."

  "What circumstances?" demanded Barnabas, a little stiffly, perhaps.

  "Circumstances affecting our friend Barrymaine, sir."

  "Ah?" said Barnabas, his tone changing, "what of him? though you forget, Mr. Barrymaine and I are still strangers."

  "By heaven, you are right, sir, though, egad! I'm only a little previous,——eh, my dear fellow?" and, smiling engagingly, Mr. Smivvle followed Barnabas into a side room, and shutting the door with elaborate care, immediately shook his whiskers and heaved a profound sigh. "My friend Barrymaine is low, sir,——devilish low," he proceeded to explain, "indeed I'm quite distressed for the poor fellow, 'pon my soul and honor I am,——for he is——in a manner of speaking——in eclipse as it were, sir!"

  "I fear I don't understand," said Barnabas.

  "Why, then——in plain words, my dear Beverley,——he's suffering from an acute attack of the Jews, dammem!——a positive seizure, sir!"

  "Do you mean he has been taken——for debt?"

  "Precisely, my dear fellow. An old affair——ages ago——a stab in the dark! Nothing very much, in fact a mere bagatelle, only, as luck will have it, I am damnably short myself just now."

  "How much is it?"

  "Altogether exactly twenty-five pound ten. An absurd sum, but all my odd cash is on the race. So I ventured here on my young friend's behalf to ask for a trifling loan,——a pound——or say thirty shillings would be something."

  Barnabas crossed to a cabinet, unlocked a drawer, and taking thence a smallish bag that jingled, began to count out a certain sum upon the table.

  "You said twenty-five pounds ten, I think?" said Barnabas, and pushed that amount across the table. Mr. Smivvle stared from the money to Barnabas and back again, and felt for his whisker with fumbling fingers.

  "Sir," he said, "you can't——you don't mean to——to——"

  "Yes," said Barnabas, turning to re-lock the drawer. Mr. Smivvle's hand dropped from his whiskers, indeed, for the moment he almost seemed to have forgotten their existence.

  "Sir," he stammered, "I cannot allow——no indeed, sir! Mr. Beverley, you overwhelm me——"

  "Debts are necessary evils," said Barnabas, "and must be paid." Mr. Smivvle stared at Barnabas, his brow furrowed by perplexity, ——stared like one who is suddenly at a loss; and indeed his usual knowing air was quite gone. Then, dropping his gaze to the money on the table, he swept it into his pocket, almost furtively, and took up his hat and cane, and, it is worthy of note, that he did it all without a flourish.

  "Mr. Beverley," said he, "in the name of my friend Barrymaine, I thank you, and——I——I thank you!" So he turned and went out of the room, and, as he went, he even forgot to swagger.

  Then Barnabas crossed to a mirror, and, once more, fell to studying his reflection with critical eyes, in the midst of which examination he looked up to find Peterby beside him.

  "Are you quite satisfied, sir?"

  "They are wonderful, John."

  "The coat," said Peterby, "y-e-s, the coat will pass well enough, but I have grave doubts as regard the pantaloons."

  "I refuse to have 'em touched, John. And Natty Bell was quite right."

  "Sir?" said Peterby.

  "You don't know Natty Bell as yet, John, but you may; he is a very remarkable man! He told me, I remember, that in Town, a man had his clothes put on for him, and——remembered them,——and so he does,——the difficulty will be ever to forget 'em, they"——here Barnabas stole a glance at his legs——"they positively obtrude themselves, John! Yes, clothes are wonderful things, but I fear they will take a great deal of living up to!"

  Here Barnabas drew a long sigh, in the midst of which he was interrupted by the calves of the Gentleman-in-Powder, which presented themselves at the doorway with the announcement:

  "Viscount Deafenem, sir!"

  Barnabas started and hurried forward, very conscious, very nervous, and for once uncertain of himself by reason of his new and unaccustomed splendor. But the look in the Viscount's boyish eyes, his smiling nod of frank approval, and the warm clasp of his hand, were vastly reassuring.

  "Why, Bev, that coat's a marvel!" he exclaimed impulsively, "it is, I swear it is; turn round——so! Gad, what a fit!"

  "I hoped you 'd approve of it, Dick," said Barnabas, a little flushed, "you see, I know very little about such things, and——"

  "Approve of it! My dear fellow! And the cut!"

  "Now——as for these——er——pantaloons, Dick——?"

  "Dashing, my dear fellow,——devilish dashing!"

  "But rather too——too tight, don't you think?"

  "Can't be, Bev, tighter the better,——have 'em made too tight to get into, and you're right; look at mine, if I bend, I split,——deuced uncomfortable but all the mode, and a man must wear something! My fellow has the deuce of a time getting me into 'em, confound 'em. Oh, for ease, give me boots and buckskins!" Hereupon the Viscount having walked round Barnabas three times, and viewed him critically from every angle, nodded with an air of finality. "Yes, they do you infinite credit, my dear fellow,——like everything else;" and he cast a comprehensive glance round the luxurious apartment.

  "The credit of it all rests entirely with Peterby," said Barnabas. "John——where are you?" But Peterby had disappeared.

  "You're the most incomprehensible fellow, Bev," said the Viscount, seating himself on the edge of the table and swinging his leg. "You have been a constant surprise to me ever since you found me——er——let us say——ruminating in the bilboes, and now"——here he shook his head gravely——"and now it seems you are to become a source of infernal worry and anxiety as well."

  "I hope not, Dick."

  "You are, though," repeated the Viscount, looking graver than ever.

  "Why?"

  "Because——well, because you are evidently bent upon dying young."

  "How so, Dick?"

  "Well, if you ride in the race and don't break your neck, Carnaby will want a word with you; and if he doesn't shoot you, why then Chichester certainly will——next time, damn him!"

  "Next time?"

  "Oh, I know all about your little affair with him——across the table. Gad, Beverley, what a perfectly reckless fellow you are!"

  "But——how do you know of this?"

  "From Clemency."

  "So you've seen her again, Dick?"

  "Yes, of course; that is, I took 'Moonraker' for a gallop yesterday, and——happened to be that way."

  "Ah!" said Barnabas.

  "And she told me——everything," said the Viscount, beginning to stride up and down the room, with his usual placidity quite gone, "I mean about——about the button you found, it was that devil Chichester's it seems, and——and——Beverley, give me your hand! She told me how you confronted the fellow. Ha! I'll swear you had him shaking in his villain's shoes, duellist as he is."

  "But," said Barnabas, as the Viscount caught his hand, "it was not altogether on Clemency's account, Dick."

  "No matter, you frightened the fellow off. Oh, I know——she told me; I made her! She had to fight with the beast, that's how he lost his button. I tell you, if ever I get the chance at him, he or I shall get his quietus. By God, Bev, I'm half-minded to send the brute a challenge, as it is."

  "Because of Clemency, Dick?"

  "Well——and why not?"

  "The Earl of Bamborough's son fight a duel over the chambermaid of a hedge tavern!"

  The Viscount's handsome face grew suddenly red, and as suddenly pale again, and his eyes glowed as he fronted Barnabas across the hearth.

  "Mr. Beverley," said he very quietly, "how am I to take that?"

  "In friendship, Dick, for the truth of it is that——though she is as brave, as pure, as beautiful as any lady in the land, she is a chambermaid none the less."

  The Viscount turned, and striding to the window stood there, looking out with bent head.

  "Have I offended you?" inquired Barnabas.

  "You go——too far, Beverley."

  "I would go farther yet for my friend, Viscount, or for our Lady Cleone."

  Now when Barnabas said this, the Viscount's head drooped lower yet, and he stood silent. Then, all at once, he turned, and coming to the hearth, the two stood looking at each other.

  "Yes, I believe you would, Beverley. But you have a way of jumping to conclusions that is——devilish disconcerting. As for Chichester, the world would be well rid of him. And, talking of him, I met another rascal as I came——I mean that fellow Smivvle; had he been here?"

  "Yes."

  "Begging, I suppose?"

  "He borrowed some money for his friend Barrymaine."

  The Viscount flushed hotly, and looked at Barnabas with a sudden frown.

  "Perhaps you are unaware, that is a name I never allow spoken in my presence, Mr. Beverley."

  "Indeed, Viscount, and pray, why not?"

  "For one thing, because he is——what he is——"

  "Lady Cleone's brother."

  "Half-brother, sir, and none the less a——knave."

  "How——?"

  "I mean that he is a card-sharper, a common cheat."

  "Her brother——?"

  "Half-brother!"

  "A cheat! Are you sure?"

  "Certain! I had the misfortune to make the discovery. And it killed him in London, all the clubs shut their doors upon him of course, he was cut in the streets,——it is damning to be seen in his company or even to mention his name——now."

  "And you——you exposed him?"

  "I said I made the discovery; but I kept it to myself. The stakes were unusually high that night, and we played late. I went home with him, but Chichester was there, waiting for him. So I took him aside, and, in as friendly a spirit as I could, told him of my discovery. He broke down, and, never attempting a denial, offered restitution and promised amendment. I gave my word to keep silent and, on one pretext or another, the loser's money was returned. But next week, the whole town hummed with the news. One night——it was at White's——he confronted me, and——he gave me——the lie!" The Viscount's fists were tight clenched, and he stared down blindly at the floor. "And, sir, though you'll scarcely credit it of course, I——there, before them all——I took it."

  "Of course," said Barnabas, "for Her sake."

  "Beverley!" exclaimed the Viscount, looking up with a sudden light in his eyes. "Oh, Bev!" and their hands met and gripped.

  "You couldn't do anything else, Dick."

  "No, Bev, no, but I'm glad you understand. Later it got about that I——that I was——afraid of the fellow——he's a dead shot, they say, young as he is——and——well, it——it wasn't pleasant, Bev. Indeed it got worse until I called out one of Chichester's friends, and winged him——a fellow named Dalton."

  "I think I've seen him," said Barnabas, nodding.

  "Anyhow, Barrymaine was utterly discredited and done for——he's an outcast, and to be seen with him, or his friends, is to be damned also."

  "And yet," said Barnabas, sighing and shaking his head, "I must call upon him to-morrow."

  "Call upon him! Man——are you mad?"

  "No; but he is her brother, and——"

  "And, as I tell you, he is banned by society as a cheat!"

  "And is that so great a sin, Dick?"

  "Are there any——worse?"

  "Oh, yes; one might kill a man in a duel, or dishonor a trusting woman, or blast a man's character; indeed it seems to me that there are many greater sins!"

  The Viscount dropped back in his chair, and stared at Barnabas with horrified eyes.

  "My——dear——Beverley," said he at last, "are you——serious?"

  "My dear Viscount——of course I am."

  "Then let me warn you, such views will never do here: any one holding such views will never succeed in London."

  "Yet I mean to try," said Barnabas, squaring his jaw.

  "But why," said the Viscount, impatiently, "why trouble yourself about such a fellow?"

  "Because She loves him, and because She asked me to help him."

  "She asked——you to?"

  "Yes."

  "And——do you think you can?"

  "I shall try."

  "How?"

  "First, by freeing him from debt."

  "Do you know him——have you ever met him?"

  "No, Dick, but I love his sister."

  "And because of this, you'd shoulder his debts? Ah, but you can't, and if you ask me why, I tell you, because Jasper Gaunt has got him, and means to keep him. To my knowledge Barrymaine has twice had the money to liquidate his debt——but Gaunt has put him off, on one pretext or another, until the money has all slipped away. I tell you, Bev, Jasper Gaunt has got him in his clutches——as he's got Sling, and poor George Danby, and——God knows how many more——as he'd get me if he could, damn him! Yes, Gaunt has got his claws into him, and he'll never let him go again——never."

  "Then," said Barnabas, "I must see Jasper Gaunt as soon as may be."

  "Oh, by all means," nodded the Viscount, "if you have a taste for snakes, and spiders, and vermin of that sort, Slingsby will show you where to find him——Slingsby knows his den well enough, poor old Sling! But look to yourself, for spiders sting and snakes bite, and Jasper Gaunt does both."

  The knuckles of the Gentleman-in-Powder here made themselves heard, and thereafter the door opened to admit his calves, which were immediately eclipsed by the Marquis, who appeared to be in a state of unwonted hurry.

  "What, have I beat Slingsby, then?" he inquired, glancing round the room, "he was close behind me in Piccadilly——must have had a spill——that's the worst of those high curricles. As a matter of fact," he proceeded to explain, "I rushed round here——that is we both did, but I've got here first, to tell you that——Oh, dooce take me!" and out came the Marquis's eyeglass. "Positively you must excuse me, my dear Beverley. Thought I knew 'em all, but no——damme if I ever saw the fellow to yours! Permit me!" Saying which the Marquis gently led Barnabas to the window, and began to study his cravat with the most profound interest.

  "By George, Devenham," he exclaimed suddenly,——"it's new!"

  "Gad!" said the Viscount, "now you come to mention it,——so it is!"

  "Positively——new!" repeated the Marquis in an awestruck voice, staring at the Viscount wide-eyed. "D'you grasp the importance of this, Devenham?——d'you see the possibilities, Dick? It will create a sensation,——it will set all the clubs by the ears, by George! We shall have the Prince galloping up from Brighton. By heaven, it's stupendous! Permit me, my dear Beverley. See——here we have three folds and a tuck, then——oh, Jupiter, it's a positive work of art, ——how the deuce d'you tie it? Never saw anything approaching this, and I've tried 'em all,——the Mail-coach, the Trone d'Amour, the Osbaldistone, the Napoleon, the Irish tie, the Mathematical tie, and the Oriental,——no, 'pon my honor it's unique, it's——it's——" the Marquis sighed, shook his head, and words failing him, took out his enamelled snuff-box. "Sir," said he, "I have the very highest regard for a man of refined taste, and if there is one thing in which that manifests itself more than another, it is the cravat. Sir, I make you free of my box, pray honor me." And the Marquis flicked open his snuff-box and extended it towards Barnabas with a bow.

  "My Lord," said Barnabas, shaking his head, "I appreciate the honor you do me, but pray excuse me,——I never take it."

  "No?" said the Marquis with raised brows, "you astonish me; but then——between ourselves——neither do I. Can't bear the infernal stuff. Makes me sneeze most damnably. And then, it has such a cursed way of blowing about! Still, one must conform to fashion, and——"

  "Captain Slingsby!"

  The Gentleman-in-Powder had scarcely articulated the words, when the Captain had gripped Barnabas by the hand.

  "Congratulate you, Beverley, heartily."

  "Thank you, but why?" inquired Barnabas.

  "Eh——what? Hasn't Jerningham told you? B'gad, is it possible you don't know——"

  "Why, dooce take me, Sling, if I didn't forget!" said the Marquis, clapping hand to thigh, "but his cravat put everything else out of my nob, and small wonder either! You tell him."

  "No," answered the Captain. "I upset a cursed apple-stall on my way here——you got in first——tell him yourself."

  "Why, then, Beverley," said the Marquis, extending his hand, in his turn, as he spoke, "we have pleasure, Sling and I, to tell you that you are entered for the race on the fifteenth."

  "The race!" exclaimed Barnabas, flushing. "You mean I'm to ride then?"

  "Yes," nodded the Captain, "but b'gad! we mean more than that, we mean that you are one of us, that Devenham's friend must be ours because he's game——"

  "And can ride," said the Viscount.

  "And is a man of taste," added the Marquis.

  Thus it was as one in a dream that Barnabas beheld the legs of the Gentleman-in-Powder, and heard the words:

  "Dinner is served, gentlemen!"

  But scarcely had they taken their places at the table when the Marquis rose, his brimming glass in his hand.

  "Mr. Beverley," said he, bowing, "when Devenham, Slingsby, and I meet at table, it is our invariable custom to drink to one whom we all——hum——"

  "Admire!" said the Viscount, rising.

  "Adore!" said the Captain, rising also.

  "Therefore, gentlemen," pursued the Marquis, "with our host's permission, we will——"

  "Stay a moment, Jerningham," said the Viscount,——"it is only right to tell you that my friend Beverley is one with us in this,——he also is a suitor for the hand of Lady Cleone."

  "Is he, b'gad!" exclaimed the Captain. "Dooce take me!" said the Marquis, "might have known it though. Ah, well! one more or less makes small difference among so many."

  So Barnabas rose, and lifting his glass with the others, drank to——

  "Our Lady Cleone——God bless her!"

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