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The Amateur Gentleman (Chapter61)

2006-08-28 16:19

  Chapter LXI. How Barnabas Went to His Triumph

  The star of Barnabas Beverley, Esquire, was undoubtedly in the ascendant; no such radiant orb had brightened the Fashionable Firmament since that of a certain Mr. Brummell had risen to scintillate a while ere it paled and vanished before the royal frown.

  Thus the Fashionable World turned polite eyes to mark the course of this new luminary and, if it vaguely wondered how long that course might be, it (like the perspicacious waiter at the "George") regarded Barnabas Beverley, Esquire, as one to be flattered, smiled upon, and as worthy of all consideration and respect.

  For here was one, not only young, fabulously rich and a proved sportsman, but a dandy, besides, with a nice taste and originality in matters sartorial, more especially in waistcoats and cravats, which articles, as the Fashionable World well knows, are the final gauge of a man's depth and possibilities.

  Thus, the waistcoats of Barnabas Beverley, Esquire, or their prototypes to a button, were to be met with any day sunning themselves in the Mall, and the styles of cravat affected by Barnabas Beverley, Esquire, were to be observed at the most brilliant functions, bowing in all directions.

  Wherefore, all this considered, what more natural than that the Fashionable World should desire to make oblation to this, its newest (and consequently most admired) ornament, and how better than to feed him, since banquets are a holy rite sanctified by custom and tradition?

  Hence, the Fashionable World appointed and set apart a day whereon, with all due pomp and solemnity, to eat and drink to the glory and honor of Barnabas Beverley, Esquire.

  Nevertheless (perverse fate!) Barnabas Beverley was not happy, for, though his smile was as ready as his tongue, yet, even amid the glittering throng, yea, despite the soft beams of Beauty's eyes, his brow would at times grow dark and sombre, and his white, strong fingers clench themselves upon the dainty handkerchief of lace and cambric fashion required him to carry. Yet even this was accepted in all good faith, and consequently pale checks and a romantic gloom became the mode.

  No, indeed, Barnabas was not happy, since needs must he think ever of Cleone. Two letters had he written her, the first a humble supplication, the second an angry demand couched in terms of bitter reproach. Yet Cleone gave no sign; and the days passed. Therefore, being himself young and proud, he wrote no more, and waited for some word of explanation, some sign from her; then, as the days lengthened into weeks, he set himself resolutely to forget her, if such a thing might be.

  The better to achieve a thing so impossible, he turned to that most fickle of all goddesses whose name is Chance, and wooed her fiercely by day and by night. He became one of her most devoted slaves; in noble houses, in clubs and hells, he sought her. Calm-eyed, grim-lipped he wooed her, yet with dogged assiduity; he became a familiar figure at those very select gaming-tables where play was highest, and tales of his recklessness and wild prodigality began to circulate; tales of huge sums won and lost with the same calm indifference, that quiet gravity which marked him in all things.

  Thus a fortnight has elapsed, and to-night the star of Barnabas Beverley, Esquire, has indeed attained its grand climacteric, for to-night he is to eat and drink with royalty, and the Fashionable World is to do him honor.

  And yet, as he stands before his mirror, undergoing the ordeal of dressing, he would appear almost careless of his approaching triumph; his brow is overcast, his cheek a little thinner and paler than of yore, and he regards his resplendent image in the mirror with lack-lustre eyes.

  "Your cravat, sir," says Peterby, retreating a few paces and with his head to one side the better to observe its effect, "your cravat is, I fear, a trifle too redundant in its lower folds, and a little severe, perhaps——"

  "It is excellent, John! And you say——there is still no letter from——from Hawkhurst?"

  "No, sir, none," answered Peterby abstractedly, and leaning forward to administer a gentle pull to the flowered waistcoat. "This coat, sir, is very well, I think, and yet——y-e-es, perhaps it might be a shade higher in the collar, and a thought tighter at the waist. Still, it is very well on the whole, and these flattened revers are an innovation that will be quite the vogue before the week is out. You are satisfied with the coat, I hope, sir?"

  "Perfectly, John, and——should a letter come while I am at the banquet you will send it on——at once, John."

  "At once, sir!" nodded Peterby, crouching down to view his young master's shapely legs in profile. "Mr. Brummell was highly esteemed for his loop and button at the ankle, sir, but I think our ribbon is better, and less conspicuous, that alone should cause a sensation."

  "Unless, John," sighed Barnabas, "unless I receive a word to-night I shall drive down to Hawkhurst as soon as I can get away, so have the curricle and grays ready, will you?"

  "Yes, sir. Pardon me one moment, there is a wrinkle in your left stocking, silk stockings are very apt to——"

  But here the legs of the Gentleman-in-Powder planted themselves quivering on the threshold to announce:——

  "Viscount Devenham!"

  He still carried his arm in a sling, but, excepting this, the Viscount was himself again, Bright-eyed, smiling and debonair. But now, as Peterby withdrew, and Barnabas turned to greet him, gravely polite——he hesitated, frowned, and seemed a little at a loss.

  "Egad!" said he ruefully, "it seems a deuce of a time since we saw each other, Beverley."

  "A fortnight!" said Barnabas.

  "And it's been a busy fortnight for both of us, from what I hear."

  "Yes, Viscount."

  "Especially for——you."

  "Yes, Viscount."

  "Beverley," said he, staring very hard at the toe of his varnished shoe, "do you remember the white-haired man we met, who called himself an Apostle of Peace?"

  "Yes, Viscount."

  "Do you remember that he said it was meant we should be——friends?"

  "Yes."

  "Well I——think he was right,——I'm sure he was right. I——didn't know how few my friends were until I——fell out with you. And so——I'm here to——to ask your pardon, and I——don't know how to do it, only——oh, deuce take it! Will you give me your hand, Bev?"

  But before the words had well left his lips, Barnabas had sprang forward, and so they stood, hand clasped in hand, looking into each other's eyes as only true friends may.

  "I——we——owe you so much, Bev——Clemency has told me——"

  "Indeed, Dick," said Barnabas, a little hastily, "you are a fortunate man to have won the love of so beautiful a woman, and one so noble."

  "My dear fellow," said the Viscount, very solemn, "it is so wonderful that, sometimes, I——almost fear that it can't be true."

  "The love of a woman is generally a very uncertain thing!" said Barnabas bitterly.

  "But Clemency isn't like an ordinary woman," said the Viscount, smiling very tenderly, "in all the world there is only one Clemency and she is all truth, and honor, and purity. Sometimes, Bev, I feel so——so deuced unworthy, that I am almost afraid to touch her."

  "Yes, I suppose there are a few such women in the world," said Barnabas, turning away. "But, speaking of the Apostle of Peace, have you met him again——lately?"

  "No, not since that morning behind the 'Spotted Cow.' Why?"

  "Well, you mentioned him."

  "Why yes, but only because I couldn't think of any other way of——er——beginning. You were so devilish high and haughty, Bev."

  "And what of Clemency?"

  "She has promised to——to marry me, next month,——to marry me——me, Bev. Oh, my dear fellow, I'm the very happiest man alive, and, egad, that reminds me! I'm also the discredited and disinherited son of a flinty-hearted Roman."

  "What Dick,——do you mean he has——cut you off?"

  "As much as ever he could, my dear fellow, which reduces my income by a half. Deuced serious thing, y' know, Bev. Shall have to get rid of my stable, and the coach; 'Moonraker' must go, too, I'm afraid. Yes, Bev," sighed the Viscount, shaking his head at the reflection of his elegant person in the mirror, "you behold in me a beggar, and the cause——Clemency. But then, I know I am the very happiest beggar in all this wide world, and the cause——Clemency!"

  "I feared your father would never favor such a match, Dick, but——"

  "Favor it! Oh, bruise and blister me!——"

  "Have you told Clemency?"

  "Not yet——"

  "Has he seen her?"

  "No, that's the deuce of it, she's away with her father, y' know. Bit of a mystery about him, I fancy——she made me promise to be patient a while, and ask no questions."

  "And where is she?"

  "Haven't the least idea. However, I went down to beard my Roman, y' know, alone and single handed. Great mistake! Had Clemency been with me the flintiest of Roman P's would have relented, for who could resist——Clemency? As it was, I did my best, Bev——ran over her points——I mean——tried to describe her, y' know, but it was no go, Bev, no go——things couldn't have gone worse!"

  "How?"

  "'Sir,' says I——in an easy, off-hand tone, my dear fellow, and it was after dinner, you'll understand,——'Sir, I've decided to act upon your very excellent advice, and get married. I intend to settle down, at once!' 'Indeed, Horatio?' says he,——(Roman of eye, Bev) 'who is she, pray?' 'The most glorious woman in the world, sir!' says I. 'Of course,' says he, 'but——which?' This steadied me a little, Bev, so I took a fresh grip and began again: 'Sir,' says I, 'beauty in itself is a poor thing at best——' 'Therefore,' says my Roman (quick as a flash, my dear fellow) 'therefore it is just as well that beauty should not come——entirely empty-handed!' 'Sir,' says I——(calmly, you'll understand, Bev, but with just sufficient firmness to let him see that, after all, he was only a father) 'Sir,' says I, 'beauty is a transient thing at best, unless backed up by virtue, honor, wisdom, courage, truth, purity, nobility of soul——' 'Horatio,' says my father (pulling me up short, Bev) 'you do well to put these virtues first but, in the wife of the future Earl of Bamborough, I hearken for such common, though necessary attributes as birth, breeding, and position, neither of which you have yet mentioned, but I'm impatient, perhaps, and these come at the end of your list,——pray continue.' 'Sir,' says I, 'my future wife is above such petty considerations!' 'Ah!' says my Roman, 'I feared so! She is then, a——nobody, I presume?' 'Sir——most beautiful girl in all England,' says I. 'Ha!' says my Roman, nodding, 'then she is a nobody; that settles it.' 'She's all that is pure and good!' says I. 'And a nobody, beyond a doubt!' says he. 'She's everything sweet, noble and brave,' says I. 'But——a nobody!' says he again. Now I'll confess I grew a little heated at this, my dear fellow, though I kept my temper admirably——oh, I made every allowance for him, as a self-respecting son should, but, though filial, I maintained a front of adamant, Bev. But, deuce take it! he kept on at me with his confounded 'nobody' so long that I grew restive at last and jibbed. 'So you are determined to marry a nobody, are you, Horatio?' says he. 'No, my Lord,' says I, rising, (and with an air of crushing finality, Bev) 'I am about to be honored with the hand of one who, by stress of circumstances, was for some time waiting maid at the 'Spotted Cow' inn, at Frittenden.' Well, Bev——that did it, y' know! My Roman couldn't say a word, positively gaped at me and, while he gaped, I bowed, and walked out entirely master of the situation. Result—— independence, happiness, and——beggary."

  "But, Dick,——how shall you live?"

  "Oh, I have an old place at Devenham, in the wilds of Kent,——we shall rusticate there."

  "And you will give up Almack's, White's——all the glory of the Fashionable World?"

  "Oh, man!" cried the Viscount, radiant of face, "how can all these possibly compare? I shall have Clemency!"

  "But surely you will find it very quiet, after London and the clubs?"

  "Yes, it will be very quiet at Devenham, Bev," said the Viscount, very gently, "and there are roses there, and she loves roses, I know! We shall be alone in the world together,——alone! Yes, it will be very quiet, Bev——thank heaven!"

  "The loneliness will pall, after a time, Dick——say a month. And the roses will fade and wither——as all things must, it seems," said Barnabas bitterly, whereupon the Viscount turned and looked at him and laid a hand upon his shoulder.

  "Why, Bev," said he, "my dear old Bev,——what is it? You're greatly changed, I think; it isn't like you to be a cynic. You are my friend, but if you were my bitterest enemy I should forgive you, full and freely, because of your behavior to Clemency. My dear fellow, are you in any trouble——any danger? I have been away only a week, yet I come back to find the town humming with stories of your desperate play. I hear that D'Argenson plucked you for close on a thousand the other day——"

  "But I won fifteen hundred the same night, Dick."

  "And lost all that, and more, to the Poodle later!"

  "Why——one can't always win, Dick."

  "Oh, Bev, my dear fellow, do you remember shaking your grave head at me because I once dropped five hundred in one of the hells?"

  "I fear I must have been very——young then, Dick!"

  "And to-day, Bev, to-day you are a notorious gambler, and you sneer at love! Gad! what a change is here! My dear fellow, what does it all mean?"

  Barnabas hesitated, and this history might have been very different in the ending but, even as he met the Viscount's frank and anxious look, the door was flung wide and Tressider, the thinnish, youngish gentleman in sandy whiskers, rushed in, followed by the Marquis and three or four other fine gentlemen, and, beholding the Viscount, burst into a torrent of speech:

  "Ha! Devenham! there you are,——back from the wilds, eh? Heard the latest? No, I'll be shot if you have——none of you have, and I'm bursting to tell it——positively exploding, damme if I'm not. It was last night, at Crockford's you'll understand, and every one was there——Skiffy, Apollo, the Poodle, Red Herrings, No-grow, the Galloping Countryman and your obedient humble. One o'clock was striking as the game broke up, and there's Beverley yawning and waiting for his hat, d' ye see, when in comes the Golden Ball. 'Ha, Beverley!' says he, 'you gamble, they tell me?' 'Oh, now and then,' says Beverley. 'Why then,' says Golden Ball, 'you may have heard that I do a little that way, myself?' Now you mention it, I believe I have,' says Beverley. 'Ha!' says Golden Ball, winking at the rest of us, 'suppose we have a match, you and I——call your game.' 'Sir,' says Beverley, yawning again, 'it is past one o'clock, and I make it a rule never to play after one o'clock except for rather high stakes,' (Rather high stakes says he! and to the Golden Ball,——oh curse me!) 'Do you, begad!' says Golden Ball, purple in the face——'ha! you may have heard that I occasionally venture a hundred or so myself——whatever the hour! Waiter——cards!' 'Sir,' says Beverley, I've been playing ever since three o'clock this afternoon and I'm weary of cards.' 'Oh, just as you wish,' says Golden Ball, 'at battledore and shuttlecock I'm your man, or rolling the bones, or——' 'Dice, by all means!' says Beverley, yawning again. 'At how much a throw?' says Golden Ball, sitting down and rattling the box. 'Well,' says Beverley, 'a thousand, I think, should do to begin with!' ('A thou-sand,' says he, damme if he didn't!) Oh Gad, but you should have seen the Golden Ball, what with surprise and his cravat, I thought he'd choke——shoot me if I didn't! 'Done!' says he at last (for we were all round the table thick as flies you'll understand) ——and to it they went, and in less than a quarter of an hour, Beverley had bubbled him of close on seven thousand! Quickest thing I ever saw, oh, curse me!"

  "Oh, Bev," sighed the Viscount, under cover of the ensuing talk and laughter, "what a perfectly reckless fellow you are!"

  "Why, you see, Dick," Barnabas answered, as Peterby re-entered with his hat and cloak, "a man can't always lose!"

  "Beverley," said the Marquis, proffering his arm, "I have my chariot below; I thought we might drive round to the club together, you and Devenham and I, if you are ready?"

  "Thank you, Marquis, yes, I'm quite ready."

  Thus, with a Marquis on his right, and a Viscount on his left, and divers noble gentlemen in his train, Barnabas went forth to his triumph.

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