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The Amateur Gentleman (Chapter41)

2006-08-28 16:14

  Chapter XLI. In Which Barnabas Makes a Surprising Discovery, That May Not Surprise the Reader in the Least

  Evening, with the promise of a glorious night later on; evening, full of dewy scents, of lengthening shadows, of soft, unaccountable noises, of mystery and magic; and, over all, a rising moon, big and yellow. Thus, as he went, Barnabas kept his eyes bent thitherward, and his step was light and his heart sang within him for gladness, it was in the very air, and in the whole fair world was no space for care or sorrow, for his dreams were to be realized at a certain finger-post on the Hawkhurst road, on the stroke of nine. Therefore, as he strode along, being only human after all, Barnabas fell a whistling to himself under his breath. And his thoughts were all of Cleone, of the subtle charm of her voice, of the dimple in her chin, of her small, proud feet, and her thousand sly bewitchments; but, at the memory of her glowing beauty, his flesh thrilled and his breath caught. Then, upon the quietude rose a voice near by, that spoke from where the shadows lay blackest,——a voice low and muffled, speaking as from the ground:

  "How long, oh Lord, how long?"

  And, looking within the shadow, Barnabas beheld one who lay face down upon the grass, and coming nearer, soft-footed, he saw the gleam of silver hair, and stooping, touched the prostrate figure. Wherefore the heavy head was raised, and the mournful voice spoke again:

  "Is it you, young sir? You will grieve, I think, to learn that my atonement is not complete, my pilgrimage unfinished. I must wander the roads again, preaching Forgiveness, for, sir,——Clemency is gone, my Beatrix is vanished. I am——a day too late! Only one day, sir, and there lies the bitterness."

  "Gone!" cried Barnabas, "gone?"

  "She left the place yesterday, very early in the morning,——fled away none knows whither,——I am too late! Sir, it is very bitter, but God's will be done!"

  Then Barnabas sat down in the shadow, and took the Preacher's hand, seeking to comfort him:

  "Sir," said he gently, "tell me of it."

  "Verily, for it is soon told, sir. I found the place you mentioned, I found there also, one——old like myself, a sailor by his look, who sat bowed down with some grievous sorrow. And, because of my own joy, I strove to comfort him, and trembling with eagerness, hearkening for the step of her I had sought so long, I told him why I was there. So I learned I was too late after all,——she had gone, and his grief was mine also. He was very kind, he showed me her room, a tiny chamber under the eaves, but wondrous fair and sweet with flowers, and all things orderly, as her dear hands had left them. And so we stayed there a while,——two old men, very silent and full of sorrow. And in a while, though he would have me rest there the night, I left, and walked I cared not whither, and, being weary, lay down here wishful to die. But I may not die until my atonement be complete, and mayhap——some day I shall find her yet. For God is a just God, and His will be done. Amen!"

  "But why——why did she go?" cried Barnabas.

  "Young sir, the answer is simple, the man Chichester had discovered her refuge. She was afraid!" Here the Apostle of Peace fell silent, and sat with bent head and lips moving as one who prayed. When at last he looked up, a smile was on his lips. "Sir," said he, "it is only the weak who repine, for God is just, and I know I shall find her before I die!" So saying he rose, though like one who is very weary, and stood upon his feet.

  "Where are you going?" Barnabas inquired.

  "Sir, my trust is in God, I take to the road again."

  "To search for her?"

  "To preach for her. And when I have preached sufficiently, God will bring me to her. So come, young sir, if you will, let us walk together as far as we may." Thus, together, they left the shadow and went on, side by side, in the soft radiance of the rising moon.

  "Sir," said Barnabas after a while, seeing his companion was very silent, and that his thin hands often griped and wrung each other, ——that gesture which was more eloquent than words,——"Sir, is there anything I can do to lighten your sorrow?"

  "Yes, young sir, heed it well, let it preach to you this great truth, that all the woes arid ills we suffer are but the necessary outcome of our own acts. Oh sir,——young sir, in you and me, as in all other men, there lies a power that may help to make or mar the lives of our fellows, a mighty power, yet little dreamed of, and we call it Influence. For there is no man but he must, of necessity, influence, to a more or less degree, the conduct of those he meets, whether he will or no,——and there lies the terror of it! Thus, to some extent, we become responsible for the actions of our neighbors, even after we are dead, for Influence is immortal. Man is a pebble thrown into the pool of Life,——a splash, a bubble, and he is gone! But——the ripples of Influence he leaves behind go on widening and ever widening until they reach the farthest bank. Oh, had I but dreamed of this in my youth, I might have been——a happy man to-night, and——others also. In helping others we ourselves are blessed, for a noble thought, a kindly word, a generous deed, are never lost; such things cannot go to waste, they are our monuments after we are dead, and live on forever."

  So, talking thus, they reached a gate, and, beyond the gate, a road, white beneath the moon, winding away between shadowy hedges.

  "You are for London, I fancy, young sir?"

  "Yes."

  "Then we part here. But before I bid you God speed, I would know your name; mine is Darville——Ralph Darville."

  "And mine, sir, is Barnabas——Beverley."

  "Beverley!" said the Preacher, glancing up quickly, "of Ashleydown?"

  "Sir," said Barnabas, "surely they are all dead?"

  "True, true!" nodded the Preacher, "the name is extinct. That is how the man——Chichester came into the inheritance. I knew the family well, years ago. The brothers died abroad, Robert, the elder, with his regiment in the Peninsula, Francis, in battle at sea, and Joan——like my own poor Beatrix, was unhappy, and ran away, but she was never heard of again."

  "And her name was Joan?" said Barnabas slowly, "Joan——Beverley?"

  "Yes."

  "Sir, Joan Beverley was my mother! I took her name——Beverley——for a reason."

  "Your mother! Ah, I understand it now; you are greatly like her, at times, it was the resemblance that puzzled me before. But, sir——if Joan Beverley was your mother, why then——"

  "Then, Chichester has no right to the property?"

  "No!"

  "And——I have?"

  "If you can prove your descent."

  "Yes," said Barnabas, "but——to whom?"

  "You must seek out a Mr. Gregory Dyke, of Lincoln's Inn; he is the lawyer who administered the estate——"

  "Stay," said Barnabas, "let me write it down."

  "And now, young sir," said the Preacher, when he had answered all the eager questions of Barnabas as fully as he might, "now, young sir, you know I have small cause to love the man——Chichester, but, remember, you are rich already, and if you take this heritage also,——he will be destitute."

  "Sir," said Barnabas, frowning, "better one destitute and starving, than that many should be wretched, surely."

  The Preacher sighed and shook his head.

  "Young sir, good-by," said he, "I have a feeling we may meet again, but life is very uncertain, therefore I would beg of you to remember this: as you are strong, be gentle; as you are rich, generous; and as you are young, wise. But, above all, be merciful, and strive to forgive wrongs." So they clasped hands, then, sighing, the Preacher turned and plodded on his lonely way. But, long after he had vanished down the moonlit road, Barnabas stood, his fists clenched, his mouth set, until he was roused by a sound near by, a very small sound like the jingle of distant spurs. Therefore, Barnabas lifted his head, and glanced about him, but seeing no one, presently went his way, slow of foot and very thoughtful.

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