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The Amateur Gentleman (Chapter3)

2006-08-28 16:03

  Chapter III. How Barnabas Set Out for London Town

  It was upon a certain glorious morning, some three weeks later, that Barnabas fared forth into the world; a morning full of the thousand scents of herb and flower and ripening fruits; a morning glad with the song of birds. And because it was still very early, the dew yet lay heavy, it twinkled in the grass, it sparkled in the hedges, and gemmed every leaf and twig with a flaming pendant. And amidst it all, fresh like the morning and young like the sun, came Barnabas, who, closing the door of the "Coursing Hound" behind him, leapt lightly down the stone steps and, turning his back upon the ancient inn, set off towards that hill, beyond which lay London and the Future. Yet——being gone but a very little way——he halted suddenly and came striding back again. And standing thus before the inn he let his eyes wander over its massive crossbeams, its leaning gables, its rows of gleaming lattices, and so up to the great sign swinging above the door——an ancient sign whereon a weather-beaten hound, dim-legged and faded of tail, pursued a misty blur that, by common report, was held to be a hare. But it was to a certain casement that his gaze oftenest reverted, behind whose open lattice he knew his father lay asleep, and his eyes, all at once, grew suffused with a glittering brightness that was not of the morning, and he took a step forward, half minded to clasp his father's hand once more ere he set out to meet those marvels and wonders that lay waiting for him over the hills——London-wards. Now, as he stood hesitating, he heard a voice that called his name softly, and, glancing round and up, espied Natty Bell, bare of neck and touzled of head, who leaned far out from the casement of his bedchamber above.

  "Ah, Barnabas, lad!" said he with a nod——"So you're going to leave us, then?"

  "Yes!" said Barnabas.

  "And all dressed in your new clothes as fine as ever was!——stand back a bit and let me have a look at you."

  "How are they, Natty Bell?" inquired Barnabas with a note of anxiety in his voice——"the Tenderden tailor assured me they were of the very latest cut and fashion——what do you think, Natty Bell?"

  "Hum!" said the ex-pugilist, staring down at Barnabas, chin in hand. "Ha! they're very good clothes, Barnabas, yes indeed; just the very thing——for the country."

  "The country!——I had these made for London, Natty Bell."

  "For London, Barnabas——hum!"

  "What do you mean by 'hum,' Natty Bell?"

  "Why——look ye now——'t is a good sensible coat, I'll not deny, Barnabas; likewise the breeches is serviceable——but being only a coat and breeches, why——they ain't per-lite enough. For in the world of London, the per-lite world, Barnabas, clothes ain't garments to keep a man warm——they're works of art; in the country a man puts 'em on, and forgets all about 'em——in the per-lite world he has 'em put on for him, and remembers 'em. In the country a man wears his clothes, in the per-lite world his clothes wears him, ah! and they're often the perlitest thing about him, too!"

  "I suppose," sighed Barnabas, "a man's clothes are very important——in the fashionable world?"

  "Important! They are the most importantest part o' the fashionable world, lad. Now there's Mr. Brummell——him as they call the 'Beau'——well, he ain't exactly a Lord Nelson nor yet a Champion of England, he ain't never done nothing, good, bad, or indifferent——but he does know how to wear his clothes——consequently he's a very famous gentleman indeed——in the per-lite world, Barnabas." Here there fell a silence while Barnabas stared up at the inn and Natty Bell stared down at him. "To be sure, the old 'Hound' ain't much of a place, lad——not the kind of inn as a gentleman of quality would go out of his way to seek and search for, p'r'aps——but there be worse places in London, Barnabas, I was born there and I know. There, there! dear lad, never hang your head——youth must have its dreams I've heard; so go your ways, Barnabas. You're a master wi' your fists, thanks to John an' me——and you might have been Champion of England if you hadn't set your heart on being only a gentleman. Well, well, lad! don't forget as there are two old cocks o' the Game down here in Kent as will think o' you and talk o' you, Barnabas, and what you might have been if you hadn't happened to——Ah well, let be. But wherever you go and whatever you come to be——you're our lad still, and so, Barnabas, take this, wear it in memory of old Natty Bell——steady——catch!" And, with the word, he tossed down his great silver watch.

  "Why, Natty Bell!" exclaimed Barnabas, very hoarse of voice. "Dear old Natty——I can't take this!"

  "Ah, but you can——it was presented to me twenty and one years ago, Barnabas, the time I beat the Ruffian on Bexley Heath."

  "But I can't——I couldn't take it," said Barnabas again, looking down at the broad-faced, ponderous timepiece in his hand, which he knew had long been Natty Bell's most cherished possession.

  "Ay, but you can, lad——you must——'t is all I have to offer, and it may serve to mind you of me, now and then, so take it! take it! And, Barnabas, when you're tired o' being a fine gentleman up there in London, why——come back to us here at the old 'Hound' and be content to be just——a man. Good-by, lad; good-by!" saying which, Natty Bell nodded, drew in his head and vanished, leaving Barnabas to stare up at the closed lattice, with the ponderous timepiece ticking in his hand.

  So, in a while, Barnabas slipped it into his pocket and, turning his back upon the "Coursing Hound," began to climb that hill beyond which lay the London of his dreams. Therefore as he went he kept his eyes lifted up to the summit of the hill, and his step grew light, his eye brightened, for Adventure lay in wait for him; Life beckoned to him from the distance; there was magic in the air. Thus Barnabas strode on up the hill full of expectancy and the blind confidence in destiny which is the glory of youth.

  Oh, Spirit of Youth, to whose fearless eyes all things are matters to wonder at; oh, brave, strong Spirit of Youth, to whom dangers are but trifles to smile at, and death itself but an adventure; to thee, since failure is unknown, all things are possible, and thou mayest, peradventure, make the world thy football, juggle with the stars, and even become a Fine Gentleman despite thy country homespun——and yet——

  But as for young Barnabas, striding blithely upon his way, he might verily have been the Spirit of Youth itself——head high, eyes a-dance, his heart light as his step, his gaze ever upon the distance ahead, for he was upon the road at last, and every step carried him nearer the fulfilment of his dream.

  "At Tonbridge he would take the coach," he thought, or perhaps hire a chaise and ride to London like a gentleman. A gentleman! and here he was whistling away like any ploughboy. Happily the road was deserted at this early hour, but Barnabas shook his head at himself reproachfully, and whistled no more——for a time.

  But now, having reached the summit of the hill, he paused and turned to look back. Below him lay the old inn, blinking in its many casements in the level rays of the newly risen sun; and now, all at once, as he gazed down at it from this eminence, it seemed, somehow, to have shrunk, to have grown more weather-beaten and worn——truly never had it looked so small and mean as it did at this moment. Indeed, he had been wont to regard the "Coursing Hound" as the very embodiment of what an English inn should be——but now! Barnabas sighed——which was a new thing for him. "Was the change really in the old inn, or in himself?" he wondered. Hereupon he sighed again, and turning, went on down the hill. But now, as he went, his step lagged and his head drooped. "Was the change in the inn, or could it be that money can so quickly alter one?" he wondered. And straightway the coins in his pocket chinked and jingled "yes, yes!" wherefore Barnabas sighed for the third time, and his head drooped lower yet.

  Well then, since he was rich, he would buy his father a better inn——the best in all England. A better inn! and the "Coursing Hound" had been his home as long as he could remember. A better inn! Here Barnabas sighed for the fourth time, and his step was heavier than ever as he went on down the hill.

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