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The Amateur Gentleman (Chapter66)

2006-08-28 16:20

  Chapter LXVI. Of Certain Conclusions Drawn by Mr. Shrig

  Number Five St. James's Square was to let; its many windows were blank and shuttered, its portal, which scarcely a week ago had been besieged by Fashion, was barred and bolted, the Gentleman-in-Powder had vanished quite, and with him the glory of Number Five St. James's Square had departed utterly.

  Barnabas paused to let his gaze wander over it, from roof to pavement, then, smiling a little bitterly, buried his chin in the folds of his belcher neckerchief and thrusting his hands deep into his pockets, turned and went his way.

  And as he went, smiling still, and still a little bitterly, he needs must remember and vaguely wonder what had become of all that Polite notepaper, and all those Fashionable cards, embossed, gilt-edged, and otherwise, that had been wont to pour upon him every morning, and which had so rejoiced the highly susceptible and eloquent legs of the Gentleman-in-Powder.

  Evening was falling and the square seemed deserted save for a solitary man in a neckcloth of vivid hue, a dejected-looking man who lounged against the wall under the shade of the trees in the middle of the square, and seemed lost in contemplation of his boots. And yet when Barnabas, having traversed Charles Street and turned into the Haymarket, chanced to look back, he saw that the man was lounging dejectedly after him. Therefore Barnabas quickened his steps, and, reaching the crowded Strand, hurried on through the bustling throng; but just beyond Temple Bar, caught a glimpse of the vivid neckcloth on the opposite side of the road. Up Chancery Lane and across Holborn went Barnabas, yet, as he turned down Leather Lane, there, sure enough, was the man in the neckcloth as dejected as ever, but not twelve yards behind.

  Half-way down crowded Leather Lane Barnabas turned off down a less frequented street and halting just beyond the corner, waited for his pursuer to come up. And presently round the corner he came and, in his hurry, very nearly stumbled over Barnabas, who promptly reached out a long arm and pinned him by the vivid neckcloth.

  "Why do you follow me?" he demanded.

  "Foller you?" repeated the man.

  "You have been following me all the way."

  "Have I?" said the man.

  "You know you have. Come, what do you want?"

  "Well, first," said the man, sighing dejectedly, "leggo my neck, will ye be so kind?"

  "Not till you tell me why you follow me."

  "Why, then," said the man, "listen and I'll tell ye."

  "Well?" demanded Barnabas.

  But, all at once, and quick as a flash, with a wrench and a cunning twist, the man had broken away and, taking to his heels, darted off down the street and was gone.

  For a moment Barnabas stood hesitating, undecided whether to go on to Barrymaine's lodging or no, and finally struck off in the opposite direction, towards Gray's Inn Lane and so by devious ways eventually arrived at the back door of the "Gun," on which he forthwith knocked.

  It was opened, almost immediately, by Corporal Richard Roe himself, who stared a moment, smiled, and thereupon extended a huge hand.

  "What, is it you, sir?" he exclaimed, "for a moment I didn't know ye. Step in, sir, step in, we're proud to see ye."

  So saying, he ushered Barnabas down two steps into the small but very snug chamber that he remembered, with its rows upon rows of shelves whereon a whole regiment of bottles and glasses were drawn up in neat array, "dressed" and marshalled as if on parade; it was indeed a place of superlative tidiness where everything seemed to be in a perpetual state of neatness and order.

  In a great elbow chair beside the ingle, with a cushion at his back and another beneath one foot, sat Mr. Shrig puffing at a pipe and with his little reader open on the table at his elbow. He looked a little thinner and paler than usual, and Barnabas noticed that one leg was swathed in bandages, but his smile was as innocent and guileless and his clasp as warm as ever as they greeted each other.

  "You must ax-cuse me rising, sir," said he, "the sperrit is villing but natur' forbids, it can't be done on account o' this here leg o' mine,——a slug through the stamper, d' ye see, vich is bad enough, though better than it might ha' been. But it vere a good night on the whole,——thanks to you and the Corp 'ere, I got the whole gang, ——though, from conclusions as I'd drawed I'ad 'oped to get——vell, shall ve say Number Two? But Fate was ag'in me. Still, I don't complain, and the vay you fought 'em off till the Corp and my specials come up vas a vonder!"

  "Ah! that it were!" nodded the Corporal.

  "Though 'ow you wanished yourself avay, and v'ere you wanished to, is more vonderful still."

  "Ah, that it is, sir!" nodded the Corporal again.

  "Why," explained Barnabas, "I was stunned by a blow on the head, and when I came to, found myself lying out on the wharf behind a broken boat. I should have come round here days ago to inquire how you were, Mr. Shrig, only that my time has been——much occupied——of late."

  "Veil, sir," said Mr. Shrig, puffing hard at his pipe, "from all accounts I should reckon as it 'ad. By Goles! but ve vas jest talking about you, sir, the werry i-dentical moment as you knocked at the door. I vas jest running over my little reader and telling the Corp the v'y and the v'erefore as you couldn't ha' done the deed."

  "What deed?"

  "V'y——the deed. The deed as all London is a-talking of,——the murder o' Jasper Gaunt, the money-lender."

  "Ah!" said Barnabas thoughtfully. "And so you are quite sure that I——didn't murder Jasper Gaunt, are you. Mr. Shrig?"

  "Quite——oh, Lord love you, yes!"

  "And why?"

  "Because," said Mr. Shrig with his guileless smile, and puffing out a cloud of smoke and watching it vanish ceilingwards, "because I 'appen to know 'oo did."

  "Oh!" said Barnabas more thoughtfully than ever. "And who do you think it is?"

  "Vell, sir," answered Mr. Shrig ponderously, "from conclusions as I've drawed I don't feel at liberty to name no names nor yet cast no insinivations, but——v'en the other traps (sich werry smart coves too!) 'ave been and gone an' arrested all the innercent parties in London, v'y then I shall put my castor on my napper, and take my tickler in my fib and go and lay my 'ooks on the guilty party."

  "And when will that be?"

  "Jest so soon as my leg sarves me, sir,——say a veek,——say, two."

  "You're in no hurry then?"

  "Lord, no, sir, I'm never in an 'urry."

  "And you say you think you know who the murderer is?"

  "V-y no, sir,——from conclusions as I've drawed I'm sure and sartin 'oo did the deed. But come, sir, vot do you say to a glass o' the Vun and Only, to drink a quick despatch to the guilty party?"

  But the clock striking eight, Barnabas shook his head and rose.

  "Thank you, but I must be going," said he.

  "V'y if you must, you must," sighed Mr. Shrig as they shook hands; "good evening, sir, an' if anything unpleasant should 'appen to you in the next day or two——jest tip me the vord."

  "What do you mean by unpleasant, Mr. Shrig?"

  "Vell, took up p'r'aps, or shall ve say——arrested,——by some o' the other traps——sich werry smart coves, too!"

  "Do you think it likely, Mr. Shrig?"

  "Vell, sir," said Mr. Shrig, with his placid smile, "there's some traps as is so uncommon smart that they've got an 'abit of arresting innercent parties verever found, d'ye see. But if they should 'appen to lay their 'ooks on ye, jest tip me the office, sir."

  "Thank you," said Barnabas, "I shan't forget," and, with a final nod to Mr. Shrig, turned and followed the Corporal into Gray's Inn Lane.

  Now when Barnabas would have gone his way the Corporal stayed him with a very large but very gentle hand, and thereafter stood, rubbing his shaven chin with his shining hook and seeming very much abashed.

  "What is it, Corporal?" Barnabas inquired.

  "Well, sir," said the soldier diffidently, "it's like this, sir, my pal Jarsper and me, 'aving heard of——of your——altered circumstances, sir, wishes it to be understood as once your pals, ever your pals, come shine, come rain. We likewise wish it to be understood as if at any time a——a guinea would come in 'andy-like, sir——or say two or three, my pal Jarsper and me will be proud to oblige, proud, sir. And lastly, sir, my pal Jarsper and me would 'ave you to know as if at any time you want a friend to your back, there's me and there's 'im——or a roof to your 'ead, why there's ever and always the 'Gun' open to you, sir. We wishes you to understand this and——good evening, sir!"

  But, or ever the blushing Corporal could escape, Barnabas caught and wrung his hand:

  "And I, Corporal," said he, "I wish you both to know that I am proud to have won two such staunch friends, and that I shall always esteem it an honor to ask your aid or take your hands,——good night, Corporal!"

  So saying, Barnabas turned upon his heel, and as he went his step was free and his eye brighter than it had been.

  He took an intricate course by winding alleys and narrow side-streets, keeping his glance well about him until at length he came to a certain door in a certain dingy street,——and, finding the faulty latch yield to his hand, entered a narrow, dingy hall and groped his way up the dingiest stairs in the world.

  Now all at once he fancied he heard a stealthy footstep that climbed on in the darkness before him, and he paused suddenly, but, hearing nothing, strode on, then stopped again for, plain enough this time, some one stumbled on the stair above him. So he stood there in the gloom, very still and very silent, and thus he presently heard another sound, very soft and faint like the breathing of a sigh. And all at once Barnabas clenched his teeth and spoke.

  "Who is it?" he demanded fiercely, "now, by God——if it's you, Chichester——" and with the word, he reached out before him in the dark with merciless, griping hands.

  The contact of something warm and soft; a broken, pitiful cry of fear, and he had a woman in his arms. And, even as he clasped that yielding form, Barnabas knew instinctively who it was, and straightway thrilled with a wild joy.

  "Madam!" he said hoarsely. "Madam!"

  But she never stirred, nay it almost seemed she sank yet closer into his embrace, if that could well be.

  "Cleone!" he whispered.

  "Barnabas," sighed a voice; and surely no other voice in all the world could have uttered the word so tenderly.

  "I——I fear I frightened you?"

  "Yes, a little——Barnabas."

  "You are——trembling very much."

  "Am I——Barnabas?"

  "I am sorry that I——frightened you."

  "I'm better now."

  "Yet you——tremble!"

  "But I——think I can walk if——"


  "If you will help me, please——Barnabas."

  Oh, surely never had those dark and dingy stairs, worn though they were by the tread of countless feet, heard till now a voice so soft, so low and sweet, so altogether irresistible! Such tender, thrilling tones might have tamed Hyrcanean tigers or charmed the ferocity of Cerberus himself. Then how might our Barnabas hope to resist, the more especially as one arm yet encircled the yielding softness of her slender waist and her fragrant breath was upon his cheek?

  Help her? Of course he would.

  "It's so very——dark," she sighed.

  "Yes, it's very dark," said Barnabas, "but it isn't far to the landing——shall we go up?"

  "Yes, but——" my lady hesitated a moment as one who takes breath for some great effort, and, in that moment, he felt her bosom heave beneath his hand. "Oh, Barnabas," she whispered, "won't you——kiss me——first?"

  Then Barnabas trembled in his turn, the arm about her grew suddenly rigid and, when he spoke, his voice was harsh and strained.

  "Madam," said he, "can the mere kiss of an——inn-keeper's son restore your dead faith?"

  Now when he had said this, Cleone shrank in his embrace and uttered a loud cry as if he had offered her some great wrong, and, breaking from him, was gone before him up the stair, running in the dark.

  Oh, Youth! Oh, Pride!

  So Barnabas hurried after her and thus, as she threw open Barrymaine's door he entered with her and, in his sudden abasement, would have knelt to her, but Ronald Barrymaine had sprung up from the couch and now leaned there, staring with dazed eyes like one new wakened from sleep.

  "Ronald," she cried, running to him, "I came as soon as I could, but I didn't understand your letter. You wrote of some great danger. Oh, Ronald dear, what is it——this time?"

  "D-danger!" he repeated, and with the word, turned to stare over his shoulder into the dingiest corner: "d-danger, yes, so I am,——but t-tell me who it is——behind me, in the corner?"

  "No one, Ronald."

  "Yes——yes there is, I tell you," he whispered, "look again——now, d-don't you see him?"

  "No, oh no!" answered Cleone, clasping her hands, and shrinking before Barrymaine's wild and haggard look. "Oh, Ronald, there's——no one there!"

  "Yes there is, he's always there now——always just behind me. Last night he began to talk to me——ah, no, no——what am I saying? never heed me, Clo. I——I asked you to come because I'm g-going away, soon, very s-soon, Clo, and I know I shall n-never see you again. I suppose you thought it was m-money I wanted, but no——it's not that, I wanted to say good-by because you see I'm g-going away——to-night!"

  "Going away, Ronald?" she repeated, sinking to her knees beside the rickety couch, for he had fallen back there as though overcome by sudden weakness. "Dear boy, where are you going——and why?"

  "I'm g-going far away——because I must——the s-sooner the better!" he whispered, struggling to his elbow to peer into the corner again. "Yes, the s-sooner the better. But, before I go I want you to promise——to swear, Clo——to s-swear to me——" Barrymaine sat up suddenly and, laying his nervous hands upon her shoulders, leaned down to her in fierce eagerness, "You must s-swear to me n-never to see or have anything to do with that d-devil, Chichester, d' ye hear me, Clo, d' ye hear me?"

  "But——oh, Ronald, I don't understand, you always told me he was your friend, I thought——"

  "Friend!" cried Barrymaine passionately. "He's a devil, I tell you he's a d-devil, oh——" Barrymaine choked and fell back gasping; but, even as Cleone leaned above him all tender solicitude, he pushed her aside and, springing to his feet, reached out and caught Barnabas by the arm. "Beverley," he cried, "you'll shield her from him——w-when I'm gone, you'll l-look after her, won't you, Beverley? She's the only thing I ever loved——except my accursed self. You will shield her from——that d-devil!"

  Then, still clutching Barnabas, he turned and seized Cleone's hands.

  "Clo!" he cried, "dearest of sisters, if ever you need a f-friend when I'm gone, he's here. Turn to him, Clo——look up——give him your hand. Y-you loved him once, I think, and you were right——quite r-right. You can t-trust Beverley, Clo——g-give him your hand."

  "No, no!" cried Cleone, and, snatching her fingers from Barrymaine's clasp, she turned away.

  "What——you w-won't?"

  "No——never, never!"

  "Why not? Answer me! Speak, I tell you!"

  But Cleone knelt there beside the couch, her head proudly averted, uttering no word.

  "Why, you don't think, like so many of the fools, that he killed Jasper Gaunt, do you?" cried Barrymaine feverishly. "You don't think he d-did it, do you——do you? Ah, but he didn't——he didn't, I tell you, and I know——because——"

  "Stop!" exclaimed Barnabas.

  "Stop——no, why should I? She'll learn soon enough now and I'm m-man enough to tell her myself——I'm no c-coward, I tell you——"

  Then Cleone raised her head and looked up at her half-brother, and in her eyes were a slow-dawning fear and horror.

  "Oh, Ronald!" she whispered, "what do you mean?"

  "Mean?" cried Barrymaine, "I mean that I did it——I did it. Yes, I k-killed Jasper Gaunt, but it was no m-murder, Clo——a——a fight, an accident——yes, I s-swear to God I never meant to do it."

  "You!" she whispered, "you?"

  "Yes, I——I did it, but I swear I never m-meant to——oh, Cleone——" and he reached down to her with hands outstretched appealingly. But Cleone shrank down and down——away from him, until she was crouching on the floor, yet staring up at him with wide and awful eyes.

  "You!" she whispered.

  "Don't!" he cried. "Ah, don't look at me like that and oh, my God! W-won't you l-let me t-touch you, Clo?"

  "I——I'd rather you——wouldn't;" and Barnabas saw that she was shivering violently.

  "But it was no m-murder," he pleaded, "and I'm g-going away, Clo——ah! won't you let me k-kiss you good-by——just once, Clo?"

  "I'd rather——you wouldn't," she whispered.

  "Y-your hand, then——only your hand, Clo."

  "I'd rather——you didn't!"

  Then Ronald Barrymaine groaned and fell on his knees beside her and sought to kiss her little foot, the hem of her dress, a strand of her long, yellow hair; but seeing how she shuddered away from him, a great sob broke from him and he rose to his feet.

  "Beverley," he said, "oh, Beverley, s-she won't let me touch her." And so stood a while with his face hidden in his griping hands. After a moment he looked down at her again, but seeing how she yet gazed at him with that wide, awful, fixed stare, he strove as if to speak; then, finding no words, turned suddenly upon his heel and crossing the room, went into his bed-chamber and locked the door.

  Then Barnabas knelt beside that shaken, desolate figure and fain would have comforted her, but now he could hear her speaking in a passionate whisper, and the words she uttered were these:

  "Oh, God forgive him! Oh, God help him! Have mercy upon him, oh God of Pity!"

  And these words she whispered over and over again until, at length, Barnabas reached out and touched her very gently.

  "Cleone!" he said.

  At the touch she rose and stood looking round the dingy room like one distraught, and, sighing, crossed unsteadily to the door.

  And when they reached the stair, Barnabas would have taken her hand because of the dark, but she shrank away from him and shook her head.

  "Sir," said she very softly, "a murderer's sister needs no help, I thank you."

  And so they went down the dark stair with never a word between them and, reaching the door with the faulty latch, Barnabas held it open and they passed out into the dingy street, and as they walked side by side towards Hatton Garden, Barnabas saw that her eyes were still fixed and wide and that her lips still moved in silent prayer.

  In a while, being come into Hatton Garden, Barnabas saw a hackney coach before them, and beside the coach a burly, blue-clad figure, a conspicuous figure by reason of his wooden leg and shiny, glazed hat.

  "W'y, Lord, Mr. Beverley, sir!" exclaimed the Bo'sun, hurrying forward, with his hairy fist outstretched, "this is a surprise, sir, likewise a pleasure, and——" But here, observing my lady's face, he checked himself suddenly, and opening the carriage door aided her in very tenderly, beckoning Barnabas to follow. But Barnabas shook his head.

  "Take care of her, Bo'sun," said he, clasping the sailor's hand, "take great care of her." So saying, he closed the door upon them, and stood to watch the rumbling coach down the bustling street until it had rumbled itself quite out of sight.

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