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The Amateur Gentleman (Chapter60)

2006-08-28 16:18

  Chapter LX. Which Tells of a Reconciliation

  "Oh, Lord God of the weary and heavy-hearted, have mercy upon me! Oh, Father of the Sorrowful, suffer now that I find rest!"

  Barnabas opened his eyes and stared up at a cloudless heaven where rode the moon, a silver sickle; and gazing thither, he remembered that some one had predicted a fine night later, and vaguely wondered who it might have been.

  Not a sound reached him save the slumberous murmur that the River made lapping lazily against the piles, and Barnabas sighed and closed his eyes again.

  But all at once, upon this quiet, came words spoken near by, in a voice low and broken, and the words were these:

  "Oh, Lord of Pity, let now thy mercy lighten upon me, suffer that I come to Thee this hour, for in Thee is my trust. Take back my life, oh, Father, for, without hope, life is a weary burden, and Death, a boon. But if I needs must live on, give me some sign that I may know. Oh, Lord of Pity, hear me!"

  The voice ceased and, once again, upon the hush stole the everlasting whisper of the River. Then, clear and sharp, there broke another sound, the oncoming tread of feet; soft, deliberate feet they were, which yet drew ever nearer and nearer while Barnabas, staring up dreamily at the moon, began to count their steps. Suddenly they stopped altogether, and Barnabas, lying there, waited for them to go on again; but in a while, as the silence remained unbroken, he sighed and turning his throbbing head saw a figure standing within a yard of him.

  "Sir," said Mr. Chichester, coming nearer and smiling down at prostrate Barnabas, "this is most thoughtful——most kind of you. I have been hoping to meet you again, more especially since our last interview, and now, to find you awaiting me at such an hour, in such a place,——remote from all chances of disturbance, and——with the River so very convenient too! Indeed, you couldn't have chosen a fitter place, and I am duly grateful."

  Saying which, Mr. Chichester seated himself upon the mouldering remains of an ancient wherry, and slipped one hand into the bosom of his coat.

  "Sir," said he, leaning towards Barnabas, "you appear to be hurt, but you are not——dying, of course?"

  "Dying!" repeated Barnabas, lifting a hand to his aching brow, "dying,——no."

  "And yet, I fear you are," sighed Mr. Chichester, "yes, I think you will be most thoroughly dead before morning,——I do indeed." And he drew a pistol from his pocket, very much as though it were a snuff-box.

  "But before we write 'Finis' to your very remarkable career," he went on, "I have a few,——a very few words to say. Sir, there have been many women in my life, yes, a great many, but only one I ever loved, and you, it seems must love her too. You have obtruded yourself wantonly in my concerns from the very first moment we met. I have always found you an obstacle, an obstruction. But latterly you have become a menace, threatening my very existence for, should you dispossess me of my heritage I starve, and, sir——I have no mind to starve. Thus, since it is to be your life or mine, I, very naturally, prefer that it shall be yours. Also you threatened to hound me from the clubs——well, sir, had I not had the good fortune to meet you tonight, I had planned to make you the scorn and laughing-stock of Town, and to drive you from London like the impostor you are. It was an excellent plan, and I am sorry to forego it, but necessity knows no law, and so to-night I mean to rid myself of the obstacle, and sweep it away altogether." As he ended, Mr. Chichester smiled, sighed, and cocked his pistol. But, even as it clicked, a figure rose up from behind the rotting wherry and, as Mr. Chichester leaned towards Barnabas, smiling still but with eyes of deadly menace, a hand, pale and claw-like in the half-light, fell and clenched itself upon his shoulder.

  At the touch Mr. Chichester started and, uttering an exclamation, turned savagely; then Barnabas struggled to his knees, and pinning his wrist with one hand, twisted the pistol from his grasp with the other and, as Mr. Chichester sprang to his feet, faced him, still upon his knees, but with levelled weapon.

  "Don't shoot!" cried a voice.

  "Shoot?" repealed Barnabas, and got unsteadily upon his legs. "Shoot——no, my hands are best!" and, flinging the pistol far out into the River, he approached Mr. Chichester, staggering a little, but with fists clenched.

  "Sir," cried the voice again, "oh, young sir, what would you do?"

  "Kill him!" said Barnabas.

  "No, no——leave him to God's justice, God will requite him——let him go."

  "No!" said Barnabas, shaking his head. But, as he pressed forward intent on his purpose, restraining hands were upon his arm, and the voice pleaded in his ear:

  "God is a just God, young sir——let the man go——leave him to the Almighty,"

  And the hands upon his arm shook him with passionate entreaty. Therefore Barnabas paused and, bowing his head, clasped his throbbing temples between his palms and so, stood a while. When he looked up again, Mr. Chichester was gone, and the Apostle of Peace stood before him, his silver hair shining, his pale face uplifted towards heaven.

  "I owe you——my life!" said Barnabas.

  "You are alive, young sir, which is good, and your hands are not stained with a villain's blood, which is much better. But, as for me——God pity me!——I came here to-night, meaning to be a self-murderer——oh, God forgive me!"

  "But you——asked for——a sign, I think," said Barnabas, "and you——live also. And to-night your pilgrimage ends, in Clemency's loving arms."

  "Clemency? My daughter? Oh, sir,——young sir, how may that be? They tell me she is dead."

  "Lies!" said Barnabas, "lies! I spoke with her tonight." The Apostle of Peace stood a while with bowed head; when at last he looked up, his cheeks were wet with tears.

  "Then, sir," said he, "take me to her. Yet, stay! You are hurt, and, if in my dark hour I doubted God's mercy, I would not be selfish in my happiness——"

  "Happiness!" said Barnabas, "yes——every one seems happy——but me."

  "You are hurt, young sir. Stoop your head and let me see."

  "No," sighed Barnabas, "I'm well enough. Come, let me take you to Clemency."

  So, without more ado, they left that dreary place, and walked on together side by side and very silent, Barnabas with drooping head, and his companion with eyes uplifted and ever-moving lips.

  Thus, in a while, they turned into the narrow court, and reaching the door of Nick the Cobbler, Barnabas knocked and, as they waited, he could see that his companion was trembling violently where he leaned beside him against the wall. Then the door was opened and Clemency appeared, her shapely figure outlined against the light behind her.

  "Mr. Beverley," she exclaimed, "dear brother, is it you——"

  "Yes, Clemency, and——and I have kept my promise, I have brought you——" But no need for words; Clemency had seen. "Father!" she cried, stretching out her arms, "oh, dear father!"

  "Beatrix," said the preacher, his voice very broken, "oh, my child, ——forgive me——!" But Clemency had caught him in her arms, had drawn him into the little shop, and, pillowing the silvery head upon her young bosom, folded it there, and so hung above him all sighs, and tears, and tender endearments.

  Then Barnabas closed the door upon them and, sighing, went upon his way. He walked with lagging step and with gaze ever upon the ground, heedless alike of the wondering looks of those he passed, or of time, or of place, or of the voices that still wailed, and wrangled, and roared songs; conscious only of the pain in his head, the dull ache at his heart, and the ever-growing doubt and fear within him.

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