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The Amateur Gentleman (Chapter44)

2006-08-28 16:14

  Chapter XLIV. Of the Tribulations of the Legs of the Gentleman-in-Powder

  The Gentleman-in-Powder, aware of a knocking, yawned, laid aside the "Gazette," and getting upon his legs (which, like all things truly dignified, were never given to hurry), they, in due season, brought him to the door, albeit they shook with indignant quiverings at the increasing thunder of each repeated summons. Therefore the Gentleman-in-Powder, with his hand upon the latch, having paused long enough to vindicate and compose his legs, proceeded to open the portal of Number Five, St. James's Square; but, observing the person of the importunate knocker, with that classifying and discriminating eye peculiar to footmen, immediately frowned and shook his head:

  "The hother door, me man,——marked 'tradesmen,'" said he, the angle of his nose a little more supercilious than usual, "and ring only, if you please." Having said which, he shut the door again; that is to say,——very nearly, for strive as he might, his efforts were unavailing, by reason of a round and somewhat battered object which, from its general conformation, he took to be the end of a formidable bludgeon or staff. But, applying his eye to the aperture, he saw that this very obtrusive object was nothing more or less than a leg (that is to say, a wooden one), which was attached to the person of a burly, broad-shouldered, fiercely bewhiskered man in clothes of navy-blue, a man whose hairy, good-natured visage was appropriately shaded by a very shiny glazed hat.

  "Avast there!" said this personage in deep, albeit jovial tones, "ease away there, my lad,——stand by and let old Timbertoes come aboard!"

  But the Gentleman-in-Powder was not to be cajoled. He sniffed.

  "The hother door, me good feller!" he repeated, relentless but dignified, "and ring only, if you pl——"

  The word was frozen upon his horrified lip, for Timbertoes had actually set his blue-clad shoulder to the door, and now, bending his brawny back, positively began to heave at it with might and main, cheering and encouraging himself meanwhile with sundry nautical "yo ho's." And all this in broad daylight! In St. James's Square!

  Whereupon ensued the following colloquy:

  The Gentleman-in-Powder (pushing from within. Shocked and amazed)。 "Wot's this? Stop it! Get out now, d'ye hear!"

  Timbertoes (pushing from without. In high good humor)。 "With a ho, my hearties, and a merrily heave O!"

  The Gentleman-in-Powder (struggling almost manfully, though legs highly agitated)。 "I——I'll give you in c-charge! I'll——"

  Timbertoes (encouraging an imaginary crew)。 "Cheerily! Cheerily! heave yo ho!"

  The Gentleman-in-Powder (losing ground rapidly. Condition of legs indescribable)。 "I never——see nothing——like this here! I'll——"

  Timbertoes (all shoulders, whiskers and pig-tail)。 "With a heave and a ho, and up she rises O!"

  The Gentleman-in-Powder (extricating his ruffled dignity from between wall and door)。 "Oh, very good,——I'll give you in charge for this, you——you feller! Look at me coat! I'll send for a constable. I'll——"

  Timbertoes. "Belay, my lad! This here's Number Five, ain't it?"

  The Gentleman-in-Powder (glancing down apprehensively at his quivering legs)。 "Yes,——and I'll——"

  Timbertoes. "Cap'n Beverley's craft, ain't it?"

  The Gentleman-in-Powder (re-adjusting his ruffled finery)。 "Mister Beverley occipies this here res-eye-dence!"

  Timbertoes (nodding)。 "Mister Beverley,——oh, ah, for sure. Well, is 'e aboard?"

  The Gentleman-in-Powder (with lofty sarcasm)。 "No, 'e ain't! Nor a stick, nor a stock, nor yet a chair, nor a table. And, wot's more, 'e ain't one to trouble about the likes o' you, neether."

  Timbertoes. "Belay, my lad, and listen. I'm Jerry Tucker, late Bo'sun in 'is Britannic Majesty's navy,——'Bully-Sawyer,' Seventy-four. D'ye get that? Well, now listen again. According to orders I hove anchor and bore up for London very early this morning, but being strange to these 'ere waters, was obleeged to haul my wind and stand off and on till I fell in with a pilot, d'ye see. But, though late, here I am all ship-shape and a-taunto, and with despatches safe and sound. Watch, now!" Hereupon the Bo'sun removed the glazed hat, held it to his hairy ear, shook it, nodded, and from somewhere in its interior took out and held up three letters.

  "D'ye see those, my lad?" he inquired.

  The Gentleman-in-Powder (haughtily)。 "I ain't blind!"

  Timbertoes. "Why then——you'll know what they are, p'raps?"

  The Gentleman-in-Powder (witheringly)。 "Nor I ain't a fool, neether."

  Timbertoes (dubiously)。 "Ain't you, though?"

  The Gentleman-in-Powder (legs again noticeably agitated)。 "No, I ain't. I've got all my faculties about me."

  Timbertoes (shaking head incredulously)。 "Ah! but where do you stow 'em away?"

  The Gentleman-in-Powder (legs convulsed)。 "And——wot's more, I've got my proper amount o' limbs too!"

  Timbertoes. "Limbs? If it's legs you're meaning, I should say as you'd got more nor your fair share,——you're all legs, you are! Why, Lord! you're grow'd to legs so surprising, as I wonder they don't walk off with you, one o'these here dark nights, and——lose you!"

  But at this juncture came Peterby, sedate, grave, soft of voice as became a major-domo and the pink of a gentleman's gentleman, before whose quick bright eye the legs of the Gentleman-in-Powder grew, as it were, suddenly abashed, and to whom the Bo'sun, having made a leg, forthwith addressed himself.

  "Sarvent, sir——name o' Jerry Tucker, late Bo'sun, 'Bully-Sawyer,' Seventy-four; come aboard with despatches from his Honor Cap'n Chumly and my Lady Cleone Meredith. To see Mr. Barnabas Beverley, Esquire. To give these here despatches into Mr. Beverley Esquire's own 'and. Them's my orders, sir."

  "Certainly, Bo'sun," said Peterby; and, to the Gentleman-in-Powder, his bow was impressive; "pray step this way."

  So the Bo'sun, treading as softly as his wooden leg would allow, stumped after him upstairs and along a thickly carpeted corridor, to a certain curtained door upon which Peterby gently knocked, and thereafter opening, motioned the Bo'sun to enter.

  It was a small and exquisitely furnished, yet comfortable room, whose luxurious appointments,——the rich hangings, the rugs upon the floor, the pictures adorning the walls,——one and all bore evidence to the rare taste, the fine judgment of this one-time poacher of rabbits, this quiet-voiced man with the quick, bright eyes, and the subtly humorous mouth. But, just now, John Peterby was utterly serious as he glanced across to where, bowed down across the writing-table, his head pillowed upon his arms, his whole attitude one of weary, hopeless dejection, sat Barnabas Beverley, Esquire. A pen was in his lax fingers, while upon the table and littering the floor were many sheets of paper, some half covered with close writing, some crumpled and torn, some again bearing little more than a name; but in each and every case the name was always the same. Thus, John Peterby, seeing this drooping, youthful figure, sighed and shook his head, and went out, closing the door behind him.

  "Is that you, John?" inquired Barnabas, with bowed head.

  "No, sir, axing your pardon, it be only me, Jerry Tucker, Bo'sun, ——'Bully-Sawyer,' Seventy——"

  "Bo'sun!" With the word Barnabas was upon his feet. "Why, Bo'sun," he cried, wringing the sailor's hand, "how glad I am to see you!"

  "Mr. Beverley, sir," began the Bo'sun, red-faced and diffident by reason of the warmth of his reception, "I've come aboard with despatches, sir. I bring you a letter from his Honor the Cap'n, from 'er Grace the Duchess, and from Lady Cleone, God bless her!"

  "A letter from——her!" Then taking the letters in hands that were strangely unsteady, Barnabas crossed to the window, and breaking the seal of a certain one, read this:

  DEAR MR. BARNABAS (the 'Beverley' crossed out),——Her Grace, my dear god-mother, having bullied my poor Tyrant out of the house, and quarrelled with me until she is tired, has now fixed her mind upon you. She therefore orders her dutiful god-daughter to write you these, hoping that thereby you may be induced to yield yourself a willing slave to her caprices and come down here for a few days. Though the very dearest and best of women, my god-mother, as you may remember, possesses a tongue, therefore——be warned, sir! My Tyrant at this precise moment sits in the 'round house,' whither he has retreated to solace his ruffled feelings with tobacco. So, I repeat, sir, be warned! And yet, though indeed, 't is strange, and passing strange, she speaks of you often, and seems to hold you in her kind regard. But, for all that, do not be misled, sir; for the Duchess is always the Duchess,——even to poor me. A while ago, she insisted on playing a game of chess; as I write the pieces lie scattered on the floor. I shan't pick them up,——why should I? So you see her Grace is quite herself to-day. Nevertheless, should you determine to run the risk, you will, I think, find a welcome awaiting you from,

  Yours, dear sir,

  CLEONE MEREDITH.

  P.S.——The Bo'sun assures me the moon will last another week.

  This Postscript Master Barnabas must needs read three times over, and then, quick and furtive, press the letter to his lips ere he thrust it into his bosom, and opened and read the Captain's:

  The Gables,Hawkhurst.

  Written in the Round-house,

  June 29, 18——。

  MY DEAR BEVERLEIGH,——How is Fashion and the Modish World? as trivial as usual, I'll warrant me. The latest sensation, I believe, is Cossack Trousers,——have you tried 'em yet? But to come to my mutton, as the Mounseers say.

  The Duchess of Camberhurst, having honored my house with her presence——and consequently set it in an uproar, I am constantly running foul of her, though more often she is falling aboard of me. To put it plainly, what with cross-currents, head-seas, and shifting winds that come down suddenly and blow great guns from every point of the compass, I am continually finding myself taken all a-back, as it were, and since it is quite impossible to bring to and ride it out, am consequently forced to go about and run for it, and continually pooped, even then,——for a woman's tongue is, I'm sure, worse than any following sea.

  Hence, my sweet Clo, with her unfailing solicitude for me, having observed me flying signals of distress, has contrived to put it into my head that your presence might have a calming effect. Therefore, my dear boy, if you can manage to cast off the grapples of the Polite World for a few days, to run down here and shelter a battered old hulk under your lee, I shall be proud to have you as my guest.

  Yours faithfully to serve,

  JOHN CHUMLY.

  P.S.——Pray bring your valet; you will need him, her Grace insists on dressing for dinner. Likewise my Trafalgar coat begins to need skilled patching, here and there; it is getting beyond the Bo'sun.

  Here again Barnabas must needs pause to read over certain of the Captain's scrawling characters, and a new light was in his eyes as he broke the seal of her Grace's epistle.

  MY DEAR MR. BEVERLEY,——The country down here, though delightfully Arcadian and quite idyllic (hayricks are so romantic, and I always adored cows——in pictures), is dreadfully quiet, and I freely confess that I generally prefer a man to a hop-pole (though I do wear a wig), and the voice of a man to the babble of brooks, or the trill of a skylark,——though I protest, I wouldn't be without them (I mean the larks) for the world,——they make me long for London so.

  Then again, the Captain (though a truly dear soul, and the most gallant of hosts) treats me very much as though I were a ship, and, beside, he is so dreadfully gentle.

  As for Cleone, dear bird, she yawns until my own eyes water (though, indeed, she has very pretty teeth), and, on the whole, is very dutiful and quarrels with me whenever I wish. 'T is quite true she cannot play chess; she also, constantly, revokes at Whist, and is quite as bad-tempered over it as I am. Cards, I fear, are altogether beyond her at present,——she is young. Of course time may change this, but I have grave doubts. In this deplorable situation I turn to you, dear Mr. Beverley (Cleone knew your address, it seems), and write these hasty lines to ntreat,——nay, to command you to come and cheer our solitude. Cleone has a new gown she is dying to wear, and I have much that you must patiently listen to, so that I may truly subscribe myself'

  Your grateful friend,

  FANNY CAMBERURST.

  P.S.——I have seen the finger-post on the London Road.

  And now, having made an end of reading, Barnabas sighed and smiled, and squared his stooping shoulders, and threw up his curly head, and turning, found the Bo'sun still standing, hat in fist, lost in contemplation of the gilded ceiling. Hereupon Barnabas caught his hand, and shook it again, and laughed for very happiness.

  "Bo'sun, how can I thank you!" said he, "these letters have given me new hope——new life! and——and here I leave you to stand, dolt that I am! And with nothing to drink, careless fool that I am. Sit down, man, sit down——what will you take, wine? brandy?"

  "Mr. Beverley, sir," replied the Bo'sun diffidently, accepting the chair that Barnabas dragged forward, "you're very kind, sir, but if I might make so bold,——a glass of ale, sir——?"

  "Ale!" cried Barnabas. "A barrel if you wish!" and he tugged at the bell, at whose imperious summons the Gentleman-in-Powder appearing with leg-quivering promptitude, Barnabas forthwith demanded "Ale,——the best, and plenty of it! And pray ask Mr. Peterby to come here at once!" he added.

  "Sir," said the Bo'sun as the door closed, "you'll be for steering a course for Hawkhurst, p'r'aps?"

  "We shall start almost immediately," said Barnabas, busily collecting those scattered sheets of paper that littered floor and table; thus he was wholly unaware of the look that clouded the sailor's honest visage.

  "Sir," said the Bo'sun, pegging thoughtfully at a rose in the carpet with his wooden leg, "by your good leave, I'd like to ax 'ee a question."

  "Certainly, Bo'sun, what is it?" inquired Barnabas, looking up from the destruction of the many attempts of his first letter to Cleone.

  "Mr. Beverley, sir," said the Bo'sun, pegging away at the carpet as he spoke, "is it——meaning no offence, and axing your pardon,——but are you hauling your wind and standing away for Hawkhurst so prompt on 'account o' my Lady Cleone?"

  "Yes, Bo'sun, on account of our Lady Cleone."

  "Why, then, sir," said the Bo'sun, fixing his eyes on the ceiling again, "by your leave——but,——why, sir?"

  "Because, Bo'sun, you and I have this in common, that we both——love her."

  Here the Bo'sun dropped his glazed hat, and picking it up, sat turning it this way and that, in his big, brown fingers.

  "Why, then, sir," said he, looking up at Barnabas suddenly, "what of Master Horatio, his Lordship?"

  "Why, Bo'sun, I told him about it weeks ago. I had to. You see, he honors me with his friendship."

  The Bo'sun nodded, and broke into his slow smile:

  "Ah, that alters things, sir," said he. "As for loving my lady——why? who could help it?"

  "Who, indeed, Bo'sun!"

  "Though I'd beg to remind you, sir, as orders is orders, and consequently she's bound to marry 'is Lordship——some day——"

  "Or——become a mutineer!" said Barnabas, as the door opened to admit Peterby, who (to the horror of the Gentleman-in-Powder, and despite his mutely protesting legs), actually brought in the ale himself; yet, as he set it before the Bo'sun, his sharp eyes were quick to notice his young master's changed air, and brightened as if in sympathy.

  "I want you, John, to know my good friend Bo'sun Jerry," said Barnabas, "a Trafalgar man——"

  "'Bully-Sawyer,' Seventy-four!" added the Bo'sun, rising and extending his huge hand.

  "We are all going to Hawkhurst, at once, John," continued Barnabas, "so pack up whatever you think necessary——a couple of valises will do, and tell Martin I'll have the phaeton,——it's roomier; and I'll drive the bays. And hurry things, will you, John?"

  So John Peterby bowed, solemn and sedate as ever, and went upon his errand. But it is to be remarked that as he hastened downstairs, his lips had taken on their humorous curve, and the twinkle was back in his eyes; also he nodded his head, as who would say:

  "I thought so! The Lady Cleone Meredith, eh? Well,——the sooner the better!"

  Thus the Bo'sun had barely finished his ale, when the Gentleman-in-Powder appeared to say the phaeton was at the door.

  And a fine, dashing turn-out it was, too, with its yellow wheels, its gleaming harness, and the handsome thorough-breds pawing impatient hoofs.

  Then, the Bo'sun having duly ensconced himself, with Peterby in the rumble as calm and expressionless as the three leather valises under the seat, Barnabas sprang in, caught up the reins, nodded to Martin the gray-haired head groom, and giving the bays their heads, they were off and away for Hawkhurst and the Lady Cleone Meredith, whirling round corners and threading their way through traffic at a speed that caused the Bo'sun to clutch the seat with one hand, and the glazed hat with the other, and to remark in his diffident way that:

  "These here wheeled craft might suit some, but for comfort and safety give me an eight-oared galley!"

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