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The Amateur Gentleman (Chapter54)

2006-08-28 16:17

  Chapter LIV. Which Concerns Itself Chiefly with a Letter

  And now, the "Galloping Countryman" found himself famous, and, being so, made the further, sudden discovery that all men were his "warmest friends," nay, even among the gentler sex this obtained, for the most dragon-like dowagers, the haughtiest matrons, became infinitely gracious; noble fathers were familiarly jocose; the proudest beauties wore, for him, their most bewitching airs, since as well as being famous, he was known to be one of the wealthiest young men about town; moreover His Royal Highness had deigned to notice him, and Her Grace of Camberhurst was his professed friend. Hence, all this being taken into consideration, it is not surprising that invitations poured in upon him, and that the doors of the most exclusive clubs flew open at his step.

  Number Five St. James's Square suddenly became a rendezvous of Sport and Fashion, before its portal were to be seen dashing turn-outs of all descriptions, from phaetons to coaches; liveried menials, bearing cards, embossed, gild-edged, and otherwise, descended upon St. James's Square in multi-colored shoals; in a word, the Polite World forthwith took Barnabas to its bosom, which, though perhaps a somewhat cold and flinty bosom, made up for such minor deficiencies by the ardor of its embrace. By reason of these things, the legs of the Gentleman-in-Powder were exalted,——that is to say, were in a perpetual quiver of superior gratification, and Barnabas himself enjoyed it all vastly——for a week.

  At the end of which period behold him at twelve o'clock in the morning, as he sits over his breakfast (with the legs of the Gentleman-in-Powder planted, statuesque, behind his chair), frowning at a stupendous and tumbled pile of Fashionable note-paper, and Polite cards.

  "Are these all?" he inquired, waving his hand towards the letters.

  "Them, sir, is——hall!" answered the Gentleman-in-Powder.

  "Then ask Mr. Peterby to come to me," said Barnabas, his frown growing blacker.

  "Cer-tainly, sir!" Here the Gentleman-in-Powder posed his legs, bowed, and took them out of the room. Then Barnabas drew a letter from his pocket and began to read as follows:

  The Gables,Hawkhurst.

  MY DEAR BARNABAS,——As Cleone's letter looks very long (she sits opposite me at this precise moment writing to you, and blushing very prettily over something her pen has just scribbled——I can't quite see what, the table is too wide), mine shall be short, that is, as short as possible. Of course we are all disappointed not to have seen you here since the race——that terrible race (poor, dear Captain Slingsby,——how dreadful it was!) but of course, it is quite right you should stay near the Viscount during his illness. I rejoice to hear he is so much better. I am having my town house, the one in Berkeley Square, put in order, for Cleone has had quite enough of the country, I think, so have I. Though indeed she seems perfectly content (I mean Cleone) and is very fond of listening to the brook. O Youth! O Romance! Well, I used to listen to brooks once upon a time——before I took to a wig. As for yourself now, Barnabas, the Marquis writes to tell me that your cravats are 'all the thing,' and your waistcoats 'all the go,' and that your new coat with the opened cuff finds very many admirers. This is very well, but since Society has taken you up and made a lion of you, it will necessarily expect you to roar occasionally, just to maintain your position. And there are many ways of roaring, Barnabas. Brummell (whom I ever despised) roared like an insolent cat——he was always very precise and cat-like, and dreadfully insolent, but insolence palls, after a while——even in Society. Indeed I might give you many hints on Roaring, Barnabas, but——considering the length of Cleone's letter, I will spare you more, nor even give you any advice though I yearn to——only this: Be yourself, Barnabas, in Society or out, so shall I always subscribe myself:

  Your affectionate friend,

  FANNY CAMBERHURST.

  3 P.M.——I have opened this letter to tell you that Mr. Chichester and Ronald called here and stayed an hour. Ronald was full of his woes, as usual, so I left him to Cleone, and kept Mr. Chichester dancing attendance on me. And, oh dear me! to see the white rage of the man! It was deliciously thrilling, and I shivered most delightfully.

  "You sent for me, sir?" said Peterby, as Barnabas re-folded the letter.

  "Yes, John. Are you sure there is no other letter this morning from——from Hawkhurst?"

  "Quite, sir."

  "Yet the Duchess tells me that the Lady Cleone wrote me also. This letter came by the post this morning?"

  "Yes, sir."

  "And no other? It's very strange!"

  But here, the Gentleman-in-Powder re-appeared to say that the Marquis of Jerningham desired to see Mr. Beverley on a matter of importance, and that nobleman presenting himself, Peterby withdrew.

  "Excuse this intrusion, my dear Beverley," said the Marquis as the door closed, "doocid early I know, but the——ah——the matter is pressing. First, though, how's Devenham, you saw him last night as usual, I suppose?"

  "Yes," answered Barnabas, shaking hands, "he ought to be up and about again in a day or two."

  "Excellent," nodded the Marquis, "I'll run over to Half-moon Street this afternoon. Is Bamborough with him still?"

  "No, his Lordship left yesterday."

  "Ha!" said the Marquis, and taking out his snuff-box, he looked at it, tapped it, and put it away again. "Poor old Sling," said he gently, "I miss him damnably, y'know, Beverley."

  "Marquis," said Barnabas, "what is it?"

  "Well, I want you to do me a favor, my dear fellow, and I don't know how to ask you——doocid big favor——ah——I was wondering if you would consent to——act for me?"

  "Act for you?" repeated Barnabas, wholly at a loss.

  "Yes, in my little affair with Carnaby——poor old Sling, d' you see. What, don't you twig, Beverley, haven't you heard?"

  "No!" answered Barnabas, "you don't mean that you and Carnaby are going——to fight?"

  "Exactly, my dear fellow, of course! He fouled poor old Sling at the wall, y'know——you saw it, I saw it, so naturally I mean to call him to account for it. And he can't refuse——I spoke doocid plainly, and White's was full. He has the choice of weapons,——pistols I expect. Personally, I should like it over as soon as possible, and anywhere would do, though Eltham for preference, Beverley. So if you will oblige me——"

  But here, once again the Gentleman-in-Powder knocked to announce: "Mr. Tressider."

  The thinnish, youngish gentleman in sandy whiskers entered with a rush, but, seeing the Marquis, paused.

  "What, then——you 're before me, are you, Jerningham?" he exclaimed; then turning, he saluted Barnabas, and burst into a torrent of speech. "Beverley!" he cried, "cursed early to call, but I'm full o' news——bursting with it, damme if I'm not——and tell it I must! First, then, by Gad!——it was at White's you'll understand, and the card-room was full——crammed, sir, curse me if it wasn't, and there's Carnaby and Tufton Green, and myself and three or four others, playing hazard, d'ye see,——when up strolls Jerningham here. 'It's your play, Carnaby,' says I. 'Why then,' says the Marquis,——'why then,' says he, 'look out for fouling!' says he, cool as a cucumber, curse me! 'Eh——what?' cries Tufton, 'why——what d' ye mean?' 'Mean?' says the Marquis, tapping his snuff-box, 'I mean that Sir Mortimer Carnaby is a most accursed rascal' (your very words, Marquis, damme if they weren't)。 Highly dramatic, Beverley——could have heard a pin drop——curse me if you couldn't! End of it was they arranged a meeting of course, and I was Carnaby's second, but——"

  "Was?" repeated the Marquis.

  "Yes, was,——for begad! when I called on my man this morning he'd bolted, damme if he hadn't!"

  "Gone?" exclaimed the Marquis in blank amazement.

  "Clean gone! Bag and baggage! I tell you he's bolted, but——with all due respect to you, Marquis, only from his creditors. He was devilish deep in with Gaunt, I know, beside Beverley here. Oh damme yes, he only did it to bilk his creditors, for Carnaby was always game, curse me if he wasn't!"

  Hereupon the Marquis had recourse to his snuff-box again.

  "Under the circumstances," said he, sighing and shaking his head, "I think I'll go and talk with our invalid——"

  "No good, my boy, if you mean Devenham," said Tressider, shaking his head, "just been there,——Viscount's disappeared too——been away all night!"

  "What?" cried Barnabas, springing to his feet, "gone?"

  "Damme if he hasn't! Found his fellow in the devil of a way about it, and his little rascal of a groom blubbering on the stairs."

  "Then I must dress! You'll excuse me, I know!" said Barnabas, and rang for Peterby. But his hand was even yet upon the bellrope when stumbling feet were heard outside, the door was flung wide, and the Viscount himself stood upon the threshold.

  Pale and haggard of eye, dusty and unkempt, he leaned there, then staggering to a chair he sank down and so lay staring at the floor.

  "Oh, Bev!" he groaned, "she's gone——Clemency's gone, I——I can't find her, Bev!"

  Now hereupon the Marquis very quietly took up his hat and, nodding to Barnabas, linked his arm in Tressider's and went softly from the room, closing the door behind him.

  "Dick!" cried Barnabas, bending over him, "my dear fellow!"

  "Ever since you spoke, I——I've wanted her, Bev. All through my illness I've hungered for her——the sound of her voice,——the touch of her hand. As soon as I was strong enough——last night, I think it was——I went to find her, to——to kneel at her feet, Bev. I drove down to Frittenden and oh, Bev——she was gone! So I started back——looking for her all night. My arm bothered me——a bit, you know, and I didn't think I could do it. But I kept fancying I saw her before me in the dark. Sometimes I called to her——but she——never answered, she's——gone, Bev, and I——"

  "Oh, Dick——she left there weeks ago——"

  "What——you knew?"

  "Yes, Dick."

  "Then oh, Bev,——tell me where!"

  "Dick, I——can't!"

  "Why——why?"

  "I promised her to keep it secret."

  "Then——you won't tell me?"

  "I can't."

  "Won't! won't! Ah, but you shall, yes, by God!"

  "Dick, I——"

  "By God, but you shall, I say you shall——you must——where is she?" The Viscount's pale cheek grew suddenly suffused, his eyes glared fiercely, and his set teeth gleamed between his pallid lips. "Tell me!" he demanded.

  "No," said Barnabas, and shook his head.

  Then, in that moment the Viscount sprang up and, pinning him with his left hand, swung Barnabas savagely to the wall.

  "She's mine!" he panted, "mine, I tell you——no one shall take her from me, neither you nor the devil himself. She's mine——mine. Tell me where she is,——speak before I choke you——speak!"

  But Barnabas stood rigid and utterly still. Thus, in a while, the griping fingers fell away, the Viscount stepped back, and groaning, bowed his head.

  "Oh, Bev," said he, "forgive me, I——I'm mad I think. I want her so and I can't find her. And I had a spill last night——dark road you see, and only one hand,——and I'm not quite myself in consequence. I'll go——"

  But, as he turned toward the door, Barnabas interposed.

  "Dick, I can't let you go like this——what do you intend to do?"

  "Will you tell me where she is?"

  "No, but——"

  "Then, sir, my further movements need not concern you."

  "Dick, be reasonable,——listen——"

  "Have the goodness to let me pass, sir."

  "You are faint, worn out——stay here, Dick, and I——"

  "Thanks, Beverley, but I accept favors from my friends only——pray stand aside."

  "Dick, if you'll only wait, I'll go to her now——this moment——I'll beg her to see you——"

  "Very kind, sir!" sneered the Viscount, "you are——privileged it seems. But, by God, I don't need you, or any one else, to act as go-between or plead my cause. And mark me, sir! I'll find her yet. I swear to you I'll never rest until I find her again. And now, sir, once and for all, I have the honor to wish you a very good day!" saying which the Viscount bowed, and, having re-settled his arm in its sling, walked away down the corridor, very upright as to back, yet a little uncertain in his stride nevertheless, and so was gone.

  Then Barnabas, becoming aware of the polite letters, and cards, embossed, gilt-edged and otherwise, swept them incontinent to the floor and, sinking into a chair, set his elbows upon the table, and leaning his head upon his hands fell into a gloomy meditation. It was thus that the Gentleman-in-Powder presently found him, and, advancing into the room with insinuating legs, coughed gently to attract his attention, the which proving ineffectual, he spoke:

  "Ex-cuse me, sir, but there is a——person downstairs, sir——at the door, sir!"

  "What kind of person?" inquired Barnabas without looking up.

  "A most ex-tremely low person, sir——very common indeed, sir. Won't give no name, sir, won't go away, sir. A very 'orrid person——in gaiters, sir."

  "What does he want?" said Barnabas, with head still bent.

  "Says as 'ow 'e 'as a letter for you, sir, but——"

  Barnabas was on his feet so quickly that the Gentleman-in-Powder recoiled in alarm.

  "Show him up——at once!"

  "Oh!——cer-tainly, sir!" And though the bow of the Gentleman-in-Powder was all that it should be, his legs quivered disapprobation as they took him downstairs.

  When next the door opened it was to admit the person in gaiters, a shortish, broad-shouldered, bullet-headed person he was, and his leggings were still rank of the stables; he was indeed a very horsey person who stared and chewed upon a straw. At sight of Barnabas he set a stubby finger to one eyebrow, and chewed faster than ever.

  "You have a letter for me, I think?"

  "Yessir!"

  "Then give it to me."

  The horsey person coughed, took out his straw, looked at it, shook his head at it, and put it back again.

  "Name o' Beverley, sir?" he inquired, chewing feverishly.

  "Yes."

  Hereupon the horsey person drew a letter from his pocket, chewed over it a moment, nodded, and finally handed it to Barnabas, who, seeing the superscription, hurriedly broke the seal. Observing which, the horsey person sighed plaintively and shook his head, alternately chewing upon and looking at his straw the while Barnabas read the following:

  Oh, Barnabas dear, when shall I see you again? I am very foolish to-day perhaps, but though the sun shines gloriously, I am cold, it is my heart that is cold, a deadly chill——as if an icy hand had touched it. And I seem to be waiting——waiting for something to happen, something dreadful that I cannot avert. I fear you will think me weak and fanciful, but, dear, I cannot help wondering what it all means. You ask me if I love you. Can you doubt? How often in my dreams have I seen you kneeling beside me with your neck all bare and the dripping kerchief in your hand. Oh, dear Wood of Annersley! it was there that I first felt your arms about me, Barnabas, and I dream of that too——sometimes. But last night I dreamed of that awful race,——I saw you gallop past the winning post again, your dear face all cut and bleeding, and as you passed me your eyes looked into mine——such an awful look, Barnabas. And then it seemed that you galloped into a great, black shadow that swallowed you up, and so you were lost to me, and I awoke trembling. Oh Barnabas, come to me! I want you here beside me, for although the sky here is blue and cloudless, away to the north where London lies, there is a great, black shadow like the shadow of my dream, and God keep all shadows from you, Barnabas. So come to me——meet me to-morrow——there is a new moon. Come to Oakshott's Barn at 7:30, and we will walk back to the house together.

  I am longing to see you, and yet I am a little afraid also, because my love is not a quiet love or gentle, but such a love as frightens me sometimes, because it has grown so deep and strong.

  This window, you may remember, faces north, and now as I lift my eyes I can see that the shadow is still dark over London, and very threatening. Come to me soon, and that God may keep all shadows from you is the prayer of

  Your CLEONE.

  Now when he had finished reading, Barnabas sighed, and glancing up, found the horsey person still busy with his straw, but now he took it from his mouth, shook his head at it more sternly than ever, dropped it upon the carpet and set his foot upon it; which done, he turned and looked at Barnabas with a pair of very round, bright eyes.

  "Now," said he, "I should like to take the liberty o' axing you one or two questions, Mr. Barty, sir,——or as I should say, p'r'aps, Mr. Beverley."

  "What," exclaimed Barnabas, starting up, "it's you again, Mr. Shrig?"

  "That werry same i-dentical, sir. Disguises again, ye see. Yesterday, a journeyman peg-maker vith a fine lot o' pegs as I didn't vant to sell——to-day a groom looking for a job as I don't need. Been a-keeping my ogles on Number Vun and Number Two, and things is beginning to look werry rosy, sir, yes, things is werry promising indeed."

  "How do you mean?"

  "Vell, to begin vith," said Mr. Shrig, taking the chair Barnabas proffered, "you didn't 'appen to notice as that theer letter had been broke open and sealed up again, did ye?"

  "No," said Barnabas, staring at what was left of the seal.

  "No, o' course you didn't——you opened it too quick to notice anything——but I did."

  "Oh, surely not——"

  "That theer letter," said Mr. Shrig impressively, "vas wrote you by a certain lady, vasn't it?"

  "Yes."

  "And I brought you that theer letter, didn't I?"

  "Yes, but——"

  "And 'oo do ye suppose give me that theer letter, to bring to you,——the lady? Oh no! I'll tell you 'oo give it me,——it vas——shall ve say, Number Two, the Accessory afore the fact,——shall ve call 'im C.? Werry good! Now, 'ow did C. or Number Two, 'appen to give me that theer letter? I'll tell you. Ven Number Vun and Number Two, B. and C., vent down to Hawkhurst, I vent down to Hawkhurst. They put up at the 'Qveen's 'ead,' so I 'angs about the 'Qveen's 'ead,'——offers myself as groom——I'm 'andy vith an 'orse——got in the 'abit o' doing odd jobs for Number Vun and Number Two, and, last night, Number Two gives me that theer letter to deliver, and werry pertickler 'e vas as I should give it into your werry own daddle, 'e also gives me a guinea and tells as 'ow 'e don't vant me no more, and them's the circumstances, sir."

  "But," said Barnabas in frowning perplexity, "I don't understand. How did he get hold of the letter?"

  "Lord, sir, 'ow do I know that? But get it 'e did——'e likewise broke the seal."

  "But——why?"

  "Vell now, first, it's a love-letter, ain't it?"

  "Why——I——"

  "Werry good! Now, sir, might that theer letter be making a app'intment——come?"

  "Yes, an appointment for to-morrow evening."

  "Ah! In a nice, qviet, lonely place——say a vood?"

  "Yes, at a very lonely place called Oakshott's Barn."

  "Come, that's better and better!" nodded Mr. Shrig brightly, "that's werry pretty, that is——things is rosier than I 'oped, but then, as I said afore, things is allus blackest afore the dawn. Oakshott's Barn, eh? Ecod, now, but it sounds a nice, lonesome place——just the sort o' place for it, a——a——capital place as you might call it." And Mr. Shrig positively chuckled and rubbed his chubby hands together; but all at once, he shook his head gloomily, and glancing at Barnabas, sighed deeply. "But you——von't go, o' course, sir?"

  "Go?"

  "To Oakshott's Barn, to-morrow evening?"

  "Yes, of course," answered Barnabas, "the appointment is for seven-thirty."

  "Seven-thirty!" nodded Mr. Shrig, "and a werry nice time for it too! Sunset, it'll be about——a good light and not too long to vait till dark! Yes, seven-thirty's a werry good time for it!"

  "For what?"

  "V'y," said Mr. Shrig, lowering his voice suddenly, "let's say for 'it'!"

  "'It,'" repeated Barnabas, staring.

  "Might I jest take a peep at that theer letter, v'ere it says seven-thirty, sir?"

  "Yes," said Barnabas, pointing to a certain line of Cleone's letter, "here it is!"

  "Ah," exclaimed Mr. Shrig, nodding and rubbing his hands again, "your eyes is good 'uns, ain't they, sir?"

  "Yes."

  "Then jest take a good look at that theer seven-thirty, vill you, sir——come, vot do you see?"

  "That the paper is roughened a little, and the ink has run."

  "Yes, and vot else? Look at it a bit closer, sir."

  "Why," said Barnabas staring hard at the spot, "it looks as though something had been scratched out!"

  "And so it has, sir. If you go there at seven-thirty, it von't be a fair lady as'll be vaiting to meet you. The time's been altered o' course——jest as I 'oped and expected."

  "Ah!" said Barnabas, slowly and very softly, and clenched his fist.

  "So now, d'ye see, you can't go——can ye?" said Mr. Shrig in a hopeless tone.

  "Yes!" said Barnabas.

  "Eh? Vot——you vill?"

  "Most assuredly!"

  "But——but it'll be madness!" stammered Mr. Shrig, his round eyes rounder than ever, "it'll be fair asking to be made a unfort'nate wictim of, if ye go. O' course it 'ud be a good case for me, and good cases is few enough——but you mustn't go now, it 'ud be madness!"

  "No," said Barnabas, frowning darkly, "because I shall go——before seven-thirty, you see."

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