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The Amateur Gentleman (Chapter32)

2006-08-28 16:11

  Chapter XXXII. Of Corporal Richard Roe, Late of the Grenadiers; and Further ConcerninG Mr. Shrig's Little Reader

  A small, dim chamber, with many glasses and bottles arrayed very precisely on numerous shelves; a very tall, broad-shouldered man who smiled down from the rafters while he pulled at a very precise whisker with his right hand, for his left had been replaced by a shining steel hook; and Mr. Shrig who shook his placid head as he leaned upon a long musket whose bayonet twinkled wickedly in the dim light; all this Barnabas saw as, sighing, he opened his eyes.

  "'E's all right now!" nodded the smiling giant.

  "Ha!" exclaimed Mr. Shrig, "but vith a lump on 'is 'ead like a negg. 'Run!' I sez. 'No!' sez 'e,——and 'ere's me vith vun eye a-going into mourning, and 'im vith a lump on 'is nob like a noo-laid egg!"

  "'E's game though, Jarsper," said the benevolent giant.

  "Game! I believe you, Corp!" nodded Mr. Shrig. "Run!' I sez. 'No!' sez 'e. 'Then v'ot vill you do?' sez I. 'Make them!' sez 'e. Game? Lord love me, I should say so!" Here, seeing Barnabas sit upright, Mr. Shrig laid by the musket and came towards him with his hand out.

  "Sir," said he, "when them raskels got me down they meant to do for me; ah! they'd ha' given me my quietus for good an' all if you 'adn't stood 'em off. Sir, if it ain't too much, I should like to shake your daddle for that!"

  "But you saved my life twice," said Barnabas, clasping the proffered hand.

  "V'y the coping-stone I'll not go for to deny, sir," said Mr. Shrig, stroking his smooth brow, "but t'other time it were my friend and pal the Corp 'ere,——Corporal Richard Roe, late Grenadiers. 'E's only got an 'ook for an 'and, but vith that 'ook 'e's oncommonly 'andy, and as a veapon it ain't by no means to be sneezed at. No, 'e ain't none the worse for that 'ook, though they thought so in the army, and it vere 'im as brought you off v'ile I vos a-chasing of the enemy vith 'is gun, yonder."

  "Why, then I should like to thank Corporal Richard Roe," said Barnabas,——(here the Corporal tugged at his precise and carefully trimmed whisker again), "and to shake his hand as well." Here the giant blushed and extended a huge fist.

  "Honored, sir," said he, clicking his heels together.

  "And now," said Mr. Shrig, "ve're all a-going to drink——at my expense."

  "No, at mine," said Barnabas.

  "Sir," said Mr. Shrig, round and placid of eye, "ven I says a thing I means it. Consequent you are now a-going to sluice your ivory vith a glass of the Vun an' Only, at my expense,——you must and you shall."

  "Yes," said Barnabas, feeling in his pockets. "I must, my purse is gone."

  "Purse!" exclaimed Mr. Shrig, his innocent eyes rounder than ever, "gone, sir?"

  "Stolen," nodded Barnabas.

  "Think o' that now!" sighed Mr. Shrig, "but I ain't surprised, no, I ain't surprised, and——by Goles!"

  "What now?"

  "Your cravat-sparkler!——that's wanished too!" Barnabas felt his rumpled cravat, and nodded. "And your vatch, now——don't tell me as they 've took——"

  "Yes, my watch also," sighed Barnabas.

  "A great pity!" said Mr. Shrig, "though it ain't to be vondered at,——not a bit."

  "I valued the watch greatly, because it was given me by a very good friend," said Barnabas, sighing again.

  "Walleyed it, hey?" exclaimed Mr. Shrig, "walleyed it, sir?——v'y then, 'ere it be!" and from a capacious side-pocket he produced Natty Bell's great watch, seals and all.

  "Why——!" exclaimed Barnabas, staring.

  "Also your purse, sir,——not forgetting the sparkler." Mr. Shrig continued, producing each article in turn.

  "But——how in the world——?" began Barnabas.

  "I took 'em from you v'ile you vos a-lookin' at my castor. Lord love me, a babe could ha' done it,——let alone a old 'and, like me!"

  "Do you mean——?" began Barnabas, and hesitated.

  "In my young days, sir," explained Mr. Shrig with his placid smile, "I vere a champion buzman, ah! and a prime rook at queering the gulls, too, but I ewentually turned honest all along of a flash, morning-sneak covess as got 'erself conwerted."

  "What do you mean by a morning-sneak covess?"

  "I means a area-sneak, sir, as vorks werry early in the morning. A fine 'andsome gal she vere, and vith nothing of the flash mollisher about 'er, either, though born on the streets, as ye might say, same as me. Vell, she gets con-werted, and she's alvays napping 'er bib over me,——as you'd say, piping 'er eye, d'ye see? vanting me to turn honest and be con-werted too. 'Turn honest,' says she, 'and ve'll be married ter-morrow,' says she."

  "So you turned honest and married her?" said Barnabas, as Mr. Shrig paused.

  "No, sir, I turned honest and she married a coal-v'ipper, v'ich, though it did come a bit 'ard on me at first, vos all for the best in the end, for she deweloped a chaffer,——as you might say, a tongue, d' ye see, sir, and I'm vun as is fond of a quiet life, v'en I can get it. Howsomever, I turned honest, and come werry near starving for the first year, but I kept honest, and I ain't never repented it——so fur. So, as for the prigs, and scamps, and buzmen, and flash leary coves, I'm up to all their dodges, 'aving been one of them, d'ye see. And now," said Mr. Shrig, as the big Corporal having selected divers bottles from his precise array, took himself off to concoct a jorum of the One and Only——"now sir, what do you think o' my pal Corporal Dick?"

  "A splendid fellow!" said Barnabas.

  "'E is that, sir,——so 'e is,——a giant, eh sir?"

  "A giant, yes, and handsome too!" said Barnabas.

  "V'y you're a sizable cove yourself, sir," nodded Mr. Shrig, "but you ain't much alongside my pal the Corp, are you? I'm nat'rally proud of 'im, d'ye see, for 't were me as saved 'im."

  "Saved him from what? How?"

  "Me being only a smallish chap myself, I've allus 'ad a 'ankering arter sizable coves. But I never seen a finer figger of a man than Corporal Dick——height, six foot six and a quarter, chest, fifty-eight and a narf, and sir——'e were a-going to drownd it all in the River, all along o' losing his 'and and being drove out o' the army, v'ich vould ha' been a great vaste of good material, as ye might say, seeing as there's so much of 'im. It vas a dark night, the night I found 'im, vith vind and rain, and there vos me and 'im a-grappling on the edge of a vharf——leastvays I vere a-holding onto 'is leg, d'ye see——ah, and a mortal 'ard struggle it vere too, and in the end I didn't save 'im arter all."

  "What do you mean?"

  "I mean as it vere 'im as saved me, for v'ot vith the vind, and the rain, and the dark, ve lost our footing and over ve vent into the River together——down and down till I thought as ve should never come up again, but ve did, o' course, and then, jest as 'ard as 'e'd struggled to throw 'imself in, 'e fought to get me out, so it vere 'im as really saved me, d'ye see?"

  "No," said Barnabas, "it was you who really saved him."

  "V'y, I'm as glad as you think so, sir, only d'ye see, I can't svim, and it vos 'im as pulled me out. And it all come along of 'im losing 'is 'and——come nigh to breaking 'is 'eart to be discharged, it did."

  "Poor fellow!" said Barnabas, "and how did he lose his hand?"

  "V'y, I could tell you, or you could read of it in the Gazette——jest three or four lines o' printing——and they've spelt 'is name wrong at that, curse 'em! But Corporal Dick can tell you best. Let 'im. 'Ere 'e comes, vith a steaming brew o' the Vun and Only."

  And indeed, at this moment the Corporal re-entered, bearing a jug that gave forth a most enticing and delicious aroma, and upon which Mr. Shrig cast amorous glances, what time he reached three glasses from the marshalled array on the shelves.

  And now, sitting at the small table that stood in a snug corner beside the chimney, Mr. Shrig, having filled the three glasses with all due care, tendered one to Barnabas with the words:

  "Jest give that a snuff with your sneezer, sir,——there's perfume, there's fray-grance for ye! There ain't a man in London as can brew a glass o' rum-punch like the Corp,——though 'e 'as only got vun 'and. And now, Corporal Dick, afore ve begin, three steamers."

  "Ay, for sure, Jarsper!" said the Corporal; and opening a small corner cupboard he took thence three new pipes and a paper of tobacco.

  "Will you smoke, sir?" he inquired diffidently of Barnabas.

  "Thank you, yes, Corporal," said Barnabas, and taking the proffered pipe he filled and lighted it.

  Now when the pipes were in full blast, when the One and Only had been tasted, and pronounced by Mr. Shrig to be "up to the mark," he nodded to Corporal Dick with the words:

  "Tell our young gent 'ow you lost your 'and, Corp."

  But hereupon the Corporal frowned, shuffled his feet, stroked his trim whiskers with his hook, and finally addressed Barnabas.

  "I aren't much of a talker, sir,——and it aren't much of a story, but if you so wish——"

  "I do so wish," said Barnabas heartily.

  "Why, very good, sir!" Saying which the Corporal sat up, squared his mighty shoulders, coughed, and began:

  "It was when they Cuirassiers broke our square at Quatre-bras, sir,——fine fellows those Cuirassiers! They rode into us, through us, over us,——the square was tottering, and it was 'the colors——rally!' Ah, sir! the colors means the life or death of a square at such times. And just then, when horses was a-trampling us and the air full o' the flash o' French steel, just then I see our colors dip and sway, and down they went. But still it's 'the colors——rally!' and there's no colors to rally to; and all the time the square is being cut to pieces. But I, being nearest, caught up the colors in this here left hand," here the Corporal raised his gleaming hook, "but a Cuirassier, 'e caught them too, and there's him at one end o' the staff and me at t'other, pulling and hauling, and then——all at once he'd got 'em. And because why? Because I hadn't got no left 'and to 'old with. But I'd got my right, and in my right was 'Brown Bess' there," and the Corporal pointed to the long musket in the corner. "My bayonet was gone, and there weren't no time to reload, so——I used the butt. Then I picked up the colors again and 'eld 'em high over my head, for the smoke were pretty thick, and, 'To the colors,' I shouted,' Rally, lads, rally!' And oh, by the Lord, sir,——to hear our lads cheer! And so the square formed up again——what was left of it——formed up close and true round me and the colors, and the last thing I mind was the cheering. Ah! they was fine fellows, they Cuirassiers!"

  "So that vere the end o' the Corp's soldiering!" nodded Mr. Shrig.

  "Yes," sighed the Corporal, "a one-handed soldier ain't much good, ye see, sir."

  "So they——throwed 'im out!" snarled Mr. Shrig.

  "Now Jarsper," smiled the giant, shaking his head. "Why so 'ard on the sarvice? They give me m' stripe."

  "And your dis-charge!" added Mr. Shrig.

  "And a——pension," said the soldier.

  "Pension," sniffed Mr. Shrig, "a fine, large vord, Dick, as means werry little to you!"

  "And they mentioned me in the Gazette, Jarsper," said the Corporal looking very sheepish, and stroking his whisker again with his hook.

  "And a lot o' good that done you, didn't it? Your 'eart vos broke the night I found you——down by the River."

  "Why, I did feel as I weren't much good, Jarsper, I'll admit. You see, I 'adn't my hook then, sir. But I think I'd ha' give my other 'and——ah! that I would——to ha' been allowed to march on wi' the rest o' the lads to Waterloo."

  "So you vos a-going to throw yerself into the River!"

  "I were, Jarsper, should ha' done it but for you, comrade."

  "But you didn't do it, so later on ve took this 'ere place."

  "You did, Jarsper——"

  "Ve took it together, Dick. And werry vell you're a-doing vith it, for both of us."

  "I do my best, Jarsper."

  "V'ich couldn't be bettered, Dick. Then look how you 'elp me vith my cases."

  "Do I, Jarsper?" said the Corporal, his blue eyes shining.

  "That you do, Dick. And now I've got another case as I'm a-vaiting for,——a extra-special Capital case it is too!"

  "Another murder, Jarsper?"

  "Ah, a murder, Dick,——a murder as ain't been committed yet, a murder as I'm expecting to come off in——say a month, from information received this 'ere werry arternoon. A murder, Dick, as is going to be done by a capital cove as I spotted over a month ago. Now v'ot I 'm going to tell you is betwixt us——private and confidential and——" But here Barnabas pushed back his chair.

  "Then perhaps I had better be going?" said he.

  "Going, sir? and for v'y?"

  "That you may be more private, and talk more freely."

  "Sir," said Mr. Shrig. "I knows v'en to speak and v'en not. My eyes tells me who I can trust and who not. And, sir, I've took to you, and so's the Corp,——ain't you, Dick?"

  "Yes, sir," said the giant diffidently.

  "Sir," pursued Mr. Shrig, "you're a Nob, I know, a Corinthian by your looks, a Buck, sir, a Dash, a 'eavy Toddler, but also, I takes the liberty o' telling you as you're only a man, arter all, like the rest on us, and it's that man as I'm a-talking to. Now v'en a man 'as stood up for me, shed 'is good blood for me, I makes that man my pal, and my pal I allus trusts."

  "And you shall find me worthy of your confidence," said Barnabas, "and there's my hand on it, though, indeed, you hardly know me——really."

  "More than you think, sir. Besides, it ain't v'ot a cove tells me about 'imself as matters, nor v'ot other coves tell me about a cove, as matters, it's v'ot a cove carries in 'is face as I goes by,——the cock of 'is eye, an' all the rest of it. And then, I knows as your name's Barnabas Barty——"

  "Barty!——you know that?" exclaimed Barnabas, starting,——"how——how in the world did you find out?"

  "Took the liberty to look at your vatch, sir."

  "Watch!" said Barnabas, drawing it from his fob, "what do you mean?"

  "Give it 'ere, and I'll show ye, sir." So saying, Mr. Shrig took the great timepiece and, opening the back, handed it to Barnabas. And there, in the cavity between the two cases was a very small folded paper, and upon this paper, in Natty Bell's handwriting, these words:

  "To my dear lad Barnabas Barty, hoping that he may prove as fine a gentleman as he is——a man."

  Having read this, Barnabas folded the paper very gently, and putting it back, closed the watch, and slipped it into his fob.

  "And now," said Mr. Shrig, exhaling a vast cloud of smoke, "afore I go on to tell you about this 'ere murder as I'm a-vaiting for, I must show ye my little reader." Here Mr. Shrig thrust a hand into his pocket,——then his pipe shivered to fragments on the stone floor and he started up, mouth agape and eyes staring.

  "Lord, Jarsper!" cried the Corporal, "what is it, comrade?"

  "It's gone, Dick!" he gasped, "my little reader's been stole."

  But now, even as he turned towards the door, Barnabas laid a detaining hand upon his arm.

  "Not stolen——lost!" said he, "and indeed, I'm not at all surprised!" Here Barnabas smiled his quick, bright smile.

  "Sir——sir?" stammered Mr. Shrig, "oh, Pal, d'ye mean——?"

  "That I found it, yes," said Barnabas, "and here it is."

  Mr. Shrig took his little book, opened it, closed it, thrust it into his pocket, and took it out again.

  "Sir," said he, catching Barnabas by the hand, "this here little book is more to me nor gold or rubies. Sir, you are my pal,——and consequent the Corp's also, and this 'ere chaffing-crib is allus open to you. And if ever you want a man at your back——I'm your man, and v'en not me——there's my pal Dick, ain't there, Di——"

  Mr. Shrig stopped suddenly and stood with his head to one side as one that listens. And thus, upon the stillness came the sound of one who strode along the narrow passage-way outside, whistling as he went.

  "'Sally in our Alley,' I think?" said Mr. Shrig.

  "Yes," said Barnabas, wondering.

  "V'ich means as I'm vanted, ah!——and vanted precious qvick too," saying which, Mr. Shrig caught up his "castor," seized the nobbly stick, crossed to the door, and came back again.

  "Dick," said he, "I'll get you to look after my little reader for me, ——I ain't a-going to risk losing it again."

  "Right you are, Jarsper," nodded the Corporal.

  "And sir," continued Mr. Shrig, turning towards Barnabas with the book in his hand, "you said, I think, as you'd like to see what I'd got inside o' this 'ere.——If so be you're in the same mind about it, why——'ere it is." And Mr. Shrig laid the little book on the table before Barnabas. "And v'ot's more, any time as you're passing, drop in to the 'Gun,' and drink a glass o' the Vun and Only vith Dick and me." So Mr. Shrig nodded, unlocked the door, shut it very gently behind him, and his footsteps died away along the echoing passage.

  Then, while the Corporal puffed at his long pipe, Barnabas opened the little book, and turning the pages haphazard presently came to one where, painfully written in a neat, round hand, he read this:

  CAPITAL COVES

  EXTRA-SPECIALS ___________________________________________________________________ |Name.                  |When      |Date of |Sentence.  |Date of   | |                       |spotted.  |Murder. |           |Execution.| | ______________________| _________|________| __________|__________| |James Aston (Porter)   |Feb. 2    |March 30|Hanged     |April 5   | |Digbeth Andover (Gent) |March 3   |April 28|Transported|May 5     | |John Barnes (Sailor)   |March 10  |Waiting |Waiting    |Waiting   | |Sir Richard Brock(Bart)|April 5   |May 3   |Hanged     |May 30    | |Thomas Beal (Tinker)   |March 23  |April 15|Hanged     |May 30    | |_______________________|__________|________|___________|__________|

  There were many such names all carefully set down in alphabetical order, and Barnabas read them through with perfunctory interest. But——half-way down the list of B's his glance was suddenly arrested, his hands clenched themselves, and he grew rigid in his chair——staring wide-eyed at a certain name. In a while he closed the little book, yet sat there very still, gazing at nothing in particular, until the voice of the Corporal roused him somewhat.

  "A wonderful man, my comrade Jarsper, sir?"

  "Yes," said Barnabas absently.

  "Though he wouldn't ha' passed as a Grenadier,——not being tall enough, you see."

  "No," said Barnabas, his gaze still fixed.

  "But as a trap, sir,——as a limb o' the law, he ain't to be ekalled——nowheres nor nohow."

  "No," said Barnabas, rising.

  "What? are you off, sir——must you march?"

  "Yes," said Barnabas, taking up his hat, "yes, I must go."

  "'Olborn way, sir?"

  "Yes."

  "Why then——foller me, sir,——front door takes you into Gray's Inn Lane——by your left turn and 'Olborn lays straight afore you,——this way, sir." But, being come to the front door of the "Gun," Barnabas paused upon the threshold, lost in abstraction again, and staring at nothing in particular while the big Corporal watched him with a growing uneasiness.

  "Is it your 'ead, sir?" he inquired suddenly.

  "Head?" repeated Barnabas.

  "Not troubling you, is it, sir?"

  "No,——oh no, thank you," answered Barnabas, and stretched out his hand. "Good-by, Corporal, I'm glad to have met you, and the One and Only was excellent."

  "Thankee, sir. I hope as you'll do me and my comrade the honor to try it again——frequent. Good-by, sir." But standing to watch Barnabas as he went, the Corporal shook his head and muttered to himself, for Barnabas walked with a dragging step, and his chin upon his breast.

  Holborn was still full of the stir and bustle, the rush and roar of thronging humanity, but now Barnabas was blind and deaf to it all, for wherever he looked he seemed to see the page of Mr. Shrig's little book with its list of carefully written names,——those names beginning with B.——thus:

  _________________________________________________________ |Name.        |When    |Date       |Sentence.|Date of   | |             |spotted.|of Murder. |         |Execution.| |_____________|________|___________|_________|__________| |Sir Richard  |        |           |         |          | |Brock (Bart.)|April 5 |   May 3   | Hanged  |  May 30  | |_____________|________|___________|_________|__________| |Thomas Beal  |        |           |         |          | |(Tinker)     |March 23|  April 15 | Hanged  |  May 30  | |_____________|________|___________|_________|__________| |Ronald       |        |           |         |          | |Barrymaine   | May 12 |  Waiting  | Waiting |  Waiting | |_____________|________|___________|_________|__________|

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