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The Amateur Gentleman (Chapter73)

2006-08-28 16:22

  Chapter LXXIII. Which Recounts Three Awakenings

  The sunlight was flooding in at the open lattice and, as if borne upon this shaft of glory, came the mingled fragrance of herb and flower and ripening fruit with the blithe carolling of birds, a very paean of thanksgiving; the chirp of sparrows, the soft, rich notes of blackbirds, the warbling trill of thrushes, the far, faint song of larks high in the blue——it was all there, blent into one harmonious chorus of joy, a song that spoke of hope and a fair future to such as were blessed with ears to hear. And by this, our Barnabas, opening drowsy eyes and hearkening with drowsy ears, judged it was yet early morning.

  He lay very still and full of a great content because of the glory of the sun and the merry piping of the birds.

  But, little by little, as he hearkened, he became conscious of another sound, a very gentle sound, yet insistent because of its regularity, a soft click! click! click! that he could in no wise account for. Therefore he would have turned his head, and straightway wondered to find this so difficult to accomplish; moreover he became aware that he lay in a bed, undressed, and that his arm and shoulder were bandaged. And now, all at once he forgot the bird-song and the sunshine, his brow grew harassed and troubled, and with great caution he lifted his free hand to his neck and began to feel for a certain ribbon that should be there. And presently, having found the ribbon, his questing fingers followed it down into his bosom until they touched a little, clumsily-wrought linen bag, that he had fashioned, once upon a time, with infinite trouble and pains, and in which he had been wont to carry the dried-up wisp of what had once been a fragrant, scarlet rose.

  And now, having found this little bag, he lay with brow still troubled as one in some deep perplexity, the while his fingers felt and fumbled with it clumsily. This was the little bag indeed; he knew it by reason of its great, uneven stitches and its many knots and ends of cotton; yes, this was it beyond all doubt, and yet? Truly it was the same, but with a difference.

  Now as he lay thus, being full of trouble because of this difference which he could in no wise understand, he drew a deep sigh, which was answered all at once by another; the soft clicking sound abruptly ceased and he knew that some one had risen and now stood looking down at him. Therefore Barnabas presently turned his head and saw a face bent over him, a face with cheeks suspiciously pink, framed in curls suspiciously dark and glossy, but with eyes wonderfully young and bright and handsome; in one small, white hand was a needle and silk, and in the other, a very diminutive piece of embroidery.

  "Why, Barnabas!" said the Duchess, very gently, "dear boy——what is it? Ah! you've found it then, already——your sachet? Though indeed it looks more like a pudding-bag——a very small one, of course. Oh, dear me! but you're not a very good needlewoman, are you, Barnabas? Neither am I——I always prick my fingers dreadfully. There——let me open it for you——so! Now, while I hold it, see what is inside."

  Then, wondering, Barnabas slipped a clumsy thumb and finger into the little bag and behold the faded wisp had become transfigured and bloomed again in all its virgin freshness. For in his hand there lay a great, scarlet rose, as sweet and fresh and fragrant as though——for all the world as though it had been plucked that very morning.

  "Ah, no, no, no," cried the Duchess, reading his look, "it was no hand of mine worked the transformation, dear Barnabas."

  "But," murmured drowsy Barnabas, speaking with an effort—— "it——was——dead——long ago——?"

  "Yet behold it is alive again!" said the Duchess. "And oh, Barnabas dear, if a withered, faded wisp may bloom again——so may a woman's faith and love. There, there, dear boy! Close your eyes and go to sleep again."

  So, being very weary, Barnabas closed his eyes and, with the touch of her small, cool fingers in his hair, fell fast asleep.

  II

  Now as Barnabas lay thus, lost in slumber, he dreamed a dream. He had known full many sleeping visions and fancies of late, but, of them all, surely none had there been quite like this.

  For it seemed to him that he was lying out amid the green, dewy freshness of Annersley Wood. And as he lay there, grievously hurt, lo! there came one hasting, light-footed to him through the green like some young nymph of Arcady or Goddess of the Wood, one for whom he seemed to have been waiting long and patiently, one as sweet and fresh and fair as the golden morning and tender as the Spirit of Womanhood.

  And, for that he might not speak or move because of his hurt, she leaned above him and her hands touched him, hands very soft, and cool, and gentle, upon his brow, upon his cheek; and every touch was a caress.

  Slowly, slowly her arms came about him in a warm, clinging embrace, arms strong and protecting that drew his weary head to the swell of a bosom and pillowed it sweetly there. And clasping him thus, she sighed over him and wept, though very silently, and stooped her lips to him to kiss his brow, his slumberous eyes, and, last of all, his mouth.

  So, because of this dream, Barnabas lay in a deep and utter content, for it seemed that Happiness had come to him after all, and of its own accord. But, in a while, he stirred and sighed, and presently opened dreamy eyes, and thus it chanced that he beheld the door of his chamber, and the door was quivering as though it had but just closed. Then, as he lay watching it, sleepy-eyed, it opened again, slowly and noiselessly, and John Peterby entered softly, took a step towards the bed, but, seeing Barnabas was awake, stopped, and so stood there very still.

  Suddenly Barnabas smiled, and held out a hand to him.

  "Why, John," said he, "my faithful John——is it you?"

  "Sir," murmured Peterby, and coming forward, took that extended hand, looking down at Barnabas joyful-eyed, and would have spoken, yet uttered no other word.

  "John," said Barnabas, glancing round the faded splendors of the bed-chamber, "where am I, pray?"

  "At Ashleydown, sir."

  "Ashleydown?" repeated Barnabas, wrinkling his brow.

  "Sir, you have been——very ill."

  "Ah, yes, I was shot I remember——last night, I think?"

  "Sir, it happened over three weeks ago."

  "Three weeks!" repeated Barnabas, sitting up with an effort, "three weeks, John?——Oh, impossible!"

  "You have been very near death, sir. Indeed I think you would have died but for the tender nursing and unceasing care of——"

  "Ah, God bless her! Where is she, John——where is the Duchess?"

  "Her Grace went out driving this morning, sir."

  "This morning? Why, I was talking with her this morning——only a little while ago."

  "That was yesterday morning, sir."

  "Oh!" said Barnabas, hand to head, "do you mean that I have slept the clock round?"

  "Yes, sir."

  "Hum!" said Barnabas. "Consequently I'm hungry, John, deuced sharp set——ravenous, John!"

  "That, sir," quoth Peterby, smiling his rare smile, "that is the best news I've heard this three weeks and more, and your chicken broth is ready——"

  "Chicken broth!" exclaimed Barnabas, "for shame, John. Bring me a steak, do you hear?"

  "But, sir," Peterby remonstrated, shaking his head, yet with his face ever brightening, "indeed I——"

  "Or a chop, John, or ham and eggs——I'm hungry; I tell you."

  "Excellent!" laughed Peterby, nodding his head, "but the doctor, sir——"

  "Doctor!" cried Barnabas, with a snort, "what do I want with doctors? I'm well, John. Bring me my clothes."

  "Clothes, sir!" exclaimed Peterby, aghast. "Impossible, sir! No, no!"

  "Yes, yes, John——I'm going to get up."

  "But, sir——"

  "This very moment! My clothes, John, my clothes!"

  "Indeed, sir, I——"

  "John Peterby," said Barnabas, scowling blackly, "you will oblige me with my garments this instant,——obey me, sir!"

  But hereupon, while Barnabas scowled and Peterby hesitated, puckered of brow yet joyful of eye, there came the sound of wheels on the drive below and the slam of a coach door, whereat Peterby crossed to the window and, glancing out, heaved a sigh of relief.

  "Who is it?" demanded Barnabas, his scowl blacker than ever.

  "Her Grace has returned, sir."

  "Very good, John! Present my compliments and sa'y I will wait upon her as soon as I'm dressed."

  But hardly had Peterby left the room with this message, than the door opened again and her Grace of Camberhurst appeared, who, catching sight of Barnabas sitting up shock-headed among his pillows, uttered a little, glad cry and hurried to him.

  "Why, Barnabas!" she exclaimed, "oh, Barnabas!" and with the words stooped, quick and sudden, yet in the most matter-of-fact manner in the world, and kissed him lightly on the brow.

  "Oh, dear me!" she cried, beginning to pat and smooth his tumbled pillows, "how glad I am to see you able to frown again, though indeed you look dreadfully ferocious, Barnabas!"

  "I'm——very hungry, Duchess!"

  "Of course you are, Barnabas, and God bless you for it!"

  "A steak, madam, or a chop, I think——"

  "Would be excellent, Barnabas!"

  "And I wish to get up, Duchess."

  "To be sure you do, Barnabas——there, lie down, so!"

  "But, madam, I am firmly resolved——I'm quite determined to get up, at once——"

  "Quite so, dear Barnabas——lay your head back on the pillow! Dear me, how comfortable you look! And now, you are hungry you say? Then I'll sit here and gossip to you while you take your chicken broth! You may bring it in, Mr. Peterby."

  "Chicken broth!" snarled Barnabas, frowning blacker than ever, "but, madam, I tell you I won't have the stuff; I repeat, madam, that I am quite determined to——"

  "There, there——rest your poor tired head——so! And it's all a delicious jelly when it's cold——I mean the chicken broth, of course, not your head. Ah! you may give it to me, Mr. Peterby, and the spoon——thank you! Now, Barnabas!"

  And hereupon, observing the firm set of her Grace's mouth, and the authoritative flourish of the spoon she held in her small, though imperious hand, Barnabas submitted and lying back among his pillows in sulky dignity, swallowed the decoction in sulky silence, and thereafter lay hearkening sulkily to her merry chatter until he had sulked himself to sleep again.

  III

  His third awakening was much like the first in that room, was full of sunshine, and the air vibrant with the song of birds; yet here indeed lay a difference; for now, mingled with the piping chorus, Barnabas was vaguely conscious of another sound, soft and low and oft repeated, a very melodious sound that yet was unlike any note ever uttered by thrush or blackbird, or any of the feathered kind. Therefore, being yet heavy with sleep, Barnabas yawned, and presently turning, propped himself upon his elbow and was just in time to see a shapeless something vanish from the ledge of the open window.

  The sun was low as yet, the birds in full song, the air laden with fresh, sweet, dewy scents; and from this, and the profound stillness of the house about him, he judged it to be yet early morning.

  Now presently as he lay with his eyes turned ever towards the open casement, the sound that had puzzled him came again, soft and melodious.

  Some one was whistling "The British Grenadiers."

  And, in this moment a bedraggled object began to make its appearance, slowly and by degrees resolving itself into a battered hat. Inch by inch it rose up over the window-ledge——the dusty crown——the frayed band——the curly brim, and beneath it a face there was no mistaking by reason of its round, black eyes and the untamable ferocity of its whiskers. Hereupon, with its chin resting upon the window-sill, the head gently shook itself to and fro, sighed, and thereafter pronounced these words:

  Devilish pale! Deuced thin! But himself again. Oh, lucky dog! With Fortune eager to dower him with all the treasures of her cornucopia, and Beauty waiting for him with expectant arms, oh, lucky dog! Oh, happy youth! Congratulations, Beverley, glad of it, my dear fellow, you deserve it all and more. Oh, fortunate wight!

  But, as for me——you behold the last of lonely Smivvle, sir, of bereaved Digby——of solitary Dig. Poor Barrymaine's star is set and mine is setting——westwards, sir——my bourne is the far Americas, Beverley.

  "Ah, Mr. Smivvle!" exclaimed Barnabas, sitting up, "I'm glad to see you——very glad. But what do you mean by America?"

  "Sir," answered Mr. Smivvle, shaking his head and sighing again, "on account of the lamentable affair of a month ago, the Bow Street Runners have assiduously chivvied me from pillar to post and from perch to perch, dammem! Had a notion to slip over to France, but the French will insist on talking their accursed French at one, so I've decided for America. But, though hounded by the law, I couldn't go without knowing precisely how you were——without bidding you good-by——without endeavoring to thank you——to thank you for poor Barry's sake and my own, and also to return——"

  "Come in," said Barnabas, stretching out his hand, "pray come in——through the window if you can manage it."

  In an instant Mr. Smivvle was astride the sill, but paused there to glance about him and twist a whisker in dubious fingers.

  "Coast clear?" he inquired. "I've been hanging about the place for a week hoping to see you, but by Gad, Beverley, you're so surrounded by watchful angels——especially one in an Indian shawl, that I didn't dare disturb you, but——"

  "Pooh, nonsense——come in, man!" said Barnabas. "Come in, I want your help——"

  "My help, Oh Gemini!" and, with the word, Mr. Smivvle was in the room. "My help?" he repeated. "Oh Jupiter——only say the word, my dear fellow."

  "Why, then, I want you to aid me to dress."

  "Dress? Eh, what, Beverley——get up, is it?"

  "Yes. Pray get me my clothes——in the press yonder, I fancy."

  "Certainly, my dear fellow, but are you strong enough?" inquired Mr. Smivvle, coming to the press on tip-toe.

  "Strong enough!" cried Barnabas in profound scorn, "Of course I am!" and forthwith sprang to the floor and——clutched at the bedpost to save himself from falling.

  "Ha——I feared so!" said Mr. Smivvle, hurrying to him with the garments clasped in his arms. "Steady! There, lean on me——I'll have you back into bed in a jiffy."

  "Bed!" snorted Barnabas, scowling down at himself. "Bed——never! I shall be as right as a trivet in a minute or so. Oblige me with my shirt."

  So, with a little difficulty, despite Mr. Smivvle's ready aid, Barnabas proceeded to invest himself in his clothes; which done, he paced to and fro across the chamber leaning upon Mr. Smivvle's arm, glorying in his returning strength.

  "And so you are going to America?" inquired Barnabas, as he sank into a chair, a little wearily.

  "I sail for New York in three days' time, sir."

  "But what of your place in Worcestershire?"

  "Gone, sir," said Mr. Smivvle, beginning to feel for his whisker. "Historic place, though devilish damp and draughty——will echo to the tread of a Smivvle no more——highly affecting thought, sir——oh demmit!"

  "As to——funds, now," began Barnabas, a little awkwardly, "are you——have you——"

  "Sir, I have enough to begin with——in America. Which reminds me I must be hopping, sir. But I couldn't go without thanking you on behalf of——my friend Barrymaine, seeing he is precluded from——from doing it himself. Sir, it was a great——a great grief to me——to lose him for, as I fancy I told you, the hand of a Smivvle, sir——but he is gone beyond plague or pestilence, or Jews, dammem! And he died, sir, like a gentleman. So, on his behalf I do thank you deeply, and I beg, herewith, to return you the twenty guineas you would have given him. Here they are, sir." So saying, Mr. Smivvle released his whisker and drawing a much worn purse from his pocket, tendered it to Barnabas.

  Then, seeing the moisture in Mr. Smivvle's averted eyes, and the drooping dejection of Mr. Smivvle's whiskers, Barnabas took the purse and the hand also, and holding them thus clasped, spoke.

  "Mr. Smivvle," said he, "it is a far better thing to take the hand of an honorable man and a loyal gentleman than to kiss the fingers of a prince. This money belonged to your dead friend, let it be an inheritance from him. As to myself, as I claim it an honor to call myself your friend, so let it be my privilege to help you in your new life and——and you will find five thousand guineas to your credit when you reach New York, and——and heaven prosper you."

  "Sir——" began Mr. Smivvle, but his voice failing him he turned away and crossing to the window stood there apparently lost in contemplation of the glory of the morning.

  "You will let me know how you get on, from time to time?" inquired Barnabas.

  "Sir," stammered Mr. Smivvle, "sir——oh, Beverley, I can't thank you——I cannot, but——if I live, you shall find I don't forget and——"

  "Hush! I think a door creaked somewhere!" said Barnabas, almost in a tone of relief.

  In an instant Mr. Smivvle had possessed himself of his shabby hat and was astride of the window-sill. Yet there he paused to reach out his hand, and now Barnabas might see a great tear that crept upon his cheek——as bright, as glorious as any jewel.

  "Good-by, Beverley!" he whispered as their hands met, "good-by, and I shall never forget——never!"

  So saying, he nodded, sighed and, swinging himself over the window-ledge, lowered himself from sight.

  But, standing there at the casement, Barnabas watched him presently stride away towards a new world, upright of figure and with head carried high like one who is full of confident purpose.

  Being come to the end of the drive he turned, flourished his shabby hat and so was gone.

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