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The Amateur Gentleman (Chapter2)

2006-08-28 16:02

  Chapter II. In Which is Much Unpleasing Matter Regarding Silk Purses, Sows' Ears, Men, and Gentlemen

  A slender man was Natty Bell, yet bigger than he looked, and prodigiously long in the reach, with a pair of very quick, bright eyes, and a wide, good-humored mouth ever ready to curve into a smile. But he was solemn enough now, and there was trouble in his eyes as he looked from John to Barnabas, who sat between them, his chair drawn up to the hearth, gazing down into the empty fireplace.

  "An' you tell me, John," said he, as soon as his pipe was well alight,——"you tell me that our Barnabas has took it into his head to set up as a gentleman, do you?"

  "Ah!" nodded John. Whereupon Natty Bell crossed his legs and leaning back in his chair fell a-singing to himself in his sweet voice, as was his custom when at all inclined to deep thought:

  "A true Briton from Bristol, a rum one to fib,He's Champion of England, his name is Tom Cribb;"

  "Ah! and you likewise tell me as our Barnabas has come into a fortun'."

  "Seven——'undred——thousand——pound."

  "Hum!" said Natty Bell,——"quite a tidy sum, John."

  "Come list, all ye fighting gills And coves of boxing note, sirs,While I relate some bloody mills In our time have been fought, sirs."

  "Yes, a good deal can be done wi' such a sum as that, John."

  "But it can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear, Natty Bell,——nor yet a gentlemen out o' you or me——or Barnabas here."

  "For instance," continued Natty Bell, "for instance, John:

  "Since boxing is a manly game,And Britain's recreation,By boxing we will raise our fame 'Bove every other nation."

  "As I say, John, a young and promising life can be wrecked, and utterly blasted by a much less sum than seven hundred thousand pound."

  "Ah!" nodded John, "but a sow's ear aren't a silk purse, Natty Bell, no, nor never can be."

  "True, John; but, arter all, a silk purse ain't much good if 't is empty——it's the gold inside of it as counts."

  "But a silk purse is ever and always a silk purse——empty or no, Natty Bell."

  "An' a man is always a man, John, which a gentleman often ain't."

  "But surely," said Barnabas, speaking for the first time, "a gentleman is both."

  "No——not nohow, my lad!" exclaimed John, beginning to rasp at his chin again. "A man is ever and allus a man——like me and you, an' Natty Bell, an' a gentleman's a gentleman like——Sir George Annersley——up at the great house yonder."

  "But——" began Barnabas.

  "Now, Barnabas"——remonstrated his father, rasping his chin harder than ever——"wherefore argufy——if you do go for to argufy——"

  "We come back to the silk purses and the sows' ears," added Natty Bell.

  "And I believe," said Barnabas, frowning down at the empty hearth, "I'm sure, that gentility rests not so much on birth as upon hereditary instinct."

  "Hey?" said his father, glancing at him from the corners of his eyes——"go easy, Barnabas, my lad——give it time——on what did 'ee say?"

  "On instinct, father."

  "Instinct!" repeated John Barty, puffing out a vast cloud of smoke—— "instinct does all right for 'osses, Barnabas, dogs likewise; but what's nat'ral to 'osses an' dogs aren't nowise nat'ral to us! No, you can't come instinct over human beings,——not nohowsoever, Barnabas, my lad. And, as I told you afore, a gentleman is nat'rally born a gentleman an' his feyther afore him an' his grand-feyther afore him, back an' back——"

  "To Adam?" inquired Barnabas; "now, if so, the question is——was Adam a gentleman?"

  "Lord, Barnabas!" exclaimed John Barty, with a reproachful look—— "why drag in Adam? You leave poor old Adam alone, my lad. Adam indeed! What's Adam got to do wi' it?"

  "Everything, we being all his descendants,——at least the Bible says so.——Lords and Commons, Peers and Peasants——all are children of Adam; so come now, father, was Adam a gentleman, Yes or No?"

  John Barty frowned up at the ceiling, frowned down at the floor, and finally spoke:

  "What do you say to that, Natty Bell?"

  "Why, I should say, John——hum!"

  "Pray haven't you heard of a jolly young coal-heaver,Who down at Hungerford used for to ply,His daddles he used with such skill and dexterity Winning each mill, sir, and blacking each eye."

  "Ha!——I should say, John, that Adam being in the habit o' going about——well, as you might put it——in a free and easy, airy manner, fig leaves an' suchlike, John,——I should say as he didn't have no call to be a gentleman, seeing as there weren't any tailors."

  "Tailors!" exclaimed John, staring. "Lord! and what have tailors got to do wi' it, Natty Bell?"

  "A great deal more than you 'd think, John; everything, John, seeing 't was tailors as invented gentlemen as a matter o' trade, John. So, if Barnabas wants to have a try at being one——he must first of all go dressed in the fashion."

  "That is very true," said Barnabas, nodding.

  "Though," pursued Natty Bell, "if you were the best dressed, the handsomest, the strongest, the bravest, the cleverest, the most honorable man in the world——that wouldn't make you a gentleman. I tell you, Barnabas, if you went among 'em and tried to be one of 'em,——they'd find you out some day an' turn their gentlemanly backs on you."

  "Ah," nodded John, "and serve you right, lad,——because if you should try to turn yourself into a gentleman, why, Lord, Barnabas!——you'd only be a sort of a amitoor arter all, lad."

  "Then," said Barnabas, rising up from his chair and crossing with resolute foot to the door, "then, just so soon as this law business is settled and the money mine, an Amateur Gentleman I'll be."

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