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The Amateur Gentleman (Chapter33)

2006-08-28 16:11

  Chapter XXXIII. Concerning the Duty of Fathers; More Especially the Viscount's "Roman"

  It was about two o'clock in the afternoon that Barnabas knocked at the door of the Viscount's chambers in Half-moon Street and was duly admitted by a dignified, albeit somewhat mournful gentleman in blue and silver, who, after a moment of sighing hesitancy, ushered him into a small reception room where sat a bullet-headed man with one eye and a remarkably bristly chin, a sinister looking person who stared very hard with his one eye, and sucked very hard, with much apparent relish and gusto, at the knob of the stick he carried. At sight of this man the mournful gentleman averted his head, and vented a sound which, despite his impressive dignity, greatly resembled a sniff, and, bowing to Barnabas, betook himself upstairs to announce the visitor. Hereupon the one-eyed man having surveyed Barnabas from head to foot with his solitary orb, drew the knob of his stick from his mouth, dried it upon his sleeve, looked at it, gave it a final rub, and spoke.

  "Sir," said he in a jovial voice that belied his sinister aspect, "did you 'ear that rainbow sniff?"

  "Rainbow?" said Barnabas.

  "Well,——wallet, then,——footman——the ornamental cove as jest popped you in 'ere. Makes one 'undred and eleven of 'em!"

  "One hundred and eleven what?"

  "Sniffs, sir,——s-n-i-double-f-s! I've took the trouble to count 'em, ——nothing else to do. I ain't got a word out of 'im yet, an' I've been sittin' 'ere ever since eight o'clock s'mornin'. I'm a conwivial cock, I am,——a sociable cove, yes, sir, a s-o-s-h-able cove as ever wore a pair o' boots. Wot I sez is,——though a bum, why not a sociable bum, and try to make things nice and pleasant, and I does my best, give you my word! But Lord! all my efforts is wasted on that 'ere rainbow——nothing but sniffs!"

  "Why then——who——what are you?"

  "I'm Perks and Condy, wines and sperrits,——eighty-five pound, eighteen, three——that's me, sir."

  "Do you mean that you are——in possession——here?"

  "Just that, sir,——ever since eight o'clock s'morning——and nothing but sniffs——so fur." Here the bullet-headed man nodded and eyed the knob of his stick hungrily. But at this moment the door opened, and the dignified (though mournful) gentleman appeared, and informed Barnabas (with a sigh) that "his Lordship begged Mr. Beverley would walk upstairs."

  Upstairs accordingly Barnabas stepped, and guided by a merry whistling, pushed open a certain door, and so found the Viscount busily engaged in the manufacture of a paper dart, composed of a sheet of the Gazette, in the midst of which occupation he paused to grip Barnabas by the hand.

  "Delighted to see you, Bev," said he heartily, "pray sit down, my dear fellow——sit anywhere——no, not there——that's the toast, deuce take it! Oh, never mind a chair, bed'll do, eh? Yes, I'm rather late this morning, Bev,——but then I was so late last night that I was devilish early, and I'm making up for it,——must have steady nerves for the fifteenth, you know. Ah, and that reminds me!" Here the Viscount took up his unfinished dart and sighed over it. "I'm suffering from a rather sharp attack of Romanism, my dear fellow, my Honored Parent has been at it again, Bev, and then, I dropped two hundred pounds in Jermyn Street last night."

  "Dropped it! Do you mean you lost it, or were you robbed?" inquired Barnabas the Simple. Now when he said this, the Viscount stared at him incredulously, but, meeting the clear gaze of the candid gray eyes, he smiled all at once and shook his head.

  "Gad!" he exclaimed, "what a strange fellow you are, Bev. And yet I wouldn't have you altered, no, damme! you're too refreshing. You ask me 'did I lose it, or was I robbed?' I answer you,——both, my dear fellow. It was a case of sharps and flats, and——I was the flat."

  "Ah,——you mean gambling, Dick?"

  "Gambling, Bev,——at a hell in Jermyn Street."

  "Two hundred pounds is a great deal of money to lose at cards," said Barnabas, shaking his head gravely.

  "Humph!" murmured the Viscount, busied upon his paper dart again, "you should congratulate me, I think, that it was no more,——might just as easily have been two thousand, you see, indeed I wonder it wasn't. Egad! the more I think of it, the more fortunate I consider myself. Yes, I certainly think you should congratulate me. Now——watch me hit Sling!" and the Viscount poised his completed dart.

  "Captain Slingsby——here?" exclaimed Barnabas, glancing about.

  "Under the settee, yonder," nodded the Viscount, "wrapped up in the table-cloth."

  "Table-cloth!" repeated Barnabas.

  "By way of military cloak," explained the Viscount. "You see——Sling was rather——mellow, last night, and——at such times he always imagines he's campaigning again——insists upon sleeping on the floor."

  Now, looking where the Viscount pointed, Barnabas espied the touzled head of Captain Slingsby of the Guards protruding from beneath the settee, and reposing upon a cushion. The Captain's features were serene, and his breathing soft and regular, albeit deepening, ever and anon, into a gentle snore.

  "Poor old Sling!" said the Viscount, leaning forward the better to aim his missile, "in two hours' time he must go and face the Ogre, ——poor old Sling! Now watch me hit him!" So saying Viscount Devenham launched his paper dart which, gliding gracefully through the air, buried its point in the Captain's whisker, whereupon that warrior, murmuring plaintively, turned over and fell once more gently a-snoring.

  "Talking about the Ogre——" began the Viscount.

  "You mean——Jasper Gaunt?" Barnabas inquired.

  "Precisely, dear fellow, and, talking of him, did you happen to notice a——fellow, hanging about downstairs,——a bristly being with one eye, Bev?"

  "Yes, Dick."

  "Ha!" said the Viscount nodding, "and talking of him, brings me back to my Honored Roman——thus, Bev. Chancing to find myself in——ha——hum——a little difficulty, a——let us say——financial tightness, Bev. I immediately thought of my father, which,——under the circumstances was, I think, very natural——and filial, my dear fellow. I said to myself, here is a man, the author of my being, who, though confoundedly Roman, is still my father, and, as such, owes certain duties to his son, sacred duties, Bev, not to be lightly esteemed, blinked, or set aside,——eh, Bev?"

  "Undoubtedly!" said Barnabas.

  "I, therefore, ventured to send him a letter, post-haste, gently reminding him of those same duties, and acquainting him with my——ah——needy situation,——which was also very natural, I think."

  "Certainly!" said Barnabas, smiling.

  "But——would you believe it, my dear fellow, he wrote, or rather, indited me an epistle, or, I should say, indictment, in his most Roman manner which——but egad! I'll read it to you, I have it here somewhere." And the Viscount began to rummage among the bedclothes, to feel and fumble under pillow and bolster, and eventually dragged forth a woefully crumpled document which he smoothed out upon his knees, and from which he began to read as follows:

  MY DEAR HORATIO.

  "As soon as I saw that' t——i——o,' Bev, I knew it was no go. Had it been merely a——c——e I should have nourished hopes, but the 't——i——o' slew 'em——killed 'em stone dead and prepared me for a screed in my Honored Roman's best style, bristling with the Divine Right of Fathers, and, Bev——I got it. Listen:"

  Upon reading your long and very eloquent letter, I was surprised to learn, firstly, that you required money, and secondly to observe that you committed only four solecisms in spelling,

  ("Gives me one at the very beginning, you'll notice, Bev.")

  As regards the money, you will, I am sure, be amazed, nay astounded, to learn that you have already exceeded your allowance by some five hundred pounds——

  ("So I was, Bev, begad——I thought it was eight.")

  As regards your spelling——

  ("Ah! here he leads again with his left, and gets one in,——low, Bev, low!")

  As regards your spelling, as you know, I admire originality in all things; but it has, hitherto, been universally conceded that the word "eliminate" shall not and cannot begin with the letters i-l-l! "Vanquish" does not need a k. "Apathy" is spelled with but one p—— while never before have I beheld "anguish" with a w.

  ("Now, Bev, that's what I call coming it a bit too strong!" sighed the Viscount, shaking his head; "'anguish' is anguish however you spell it! And, as for the others, let me tell you when a fellow has a one-eyed being with bristles hanging about his place, he isn't likely to be over particular as to his p's and q's, no, damme! Let's see, where were we? ah! here it is,——'anguish' with a 'w'!")

  I quite agree with your remarks, viz. that a father's duties to his son are sacred and holy——

  ("This is where I counter, Bev, very neatly,——listen! He quite agrees that,——")

  ——a father's duties to his son are sacred and holy, and not to be lightly esteemed, blinked, or set aside——

  ("Aha! had him there, Bev,——inside his guard, eh?")

  I also appreciate, and heartily endorse your statement that it is to his father that a son should naturally turn for help——

  ("Had him again——a leveller that time, egad!")

  naturally turn for help, but, when the son is constantly turning, then, surely, the father may occasionally turn too, like the worm. The simile, though unpleasant, is yet strikingly apt.

  ("Hum! there he counters me and gets one back, I suppose, Bev? Oh, I'll admit the old boy is as neat and quick with his pen as he used to be with his hands. He ends like this:")

  I rejoice to hear that you are well in health, and pray that, despite the forthcoming steeplechase, dangerous as I hear it is, you may so continue. Upon this head I am naturally somewhat anxious, since I possess only one son. And I further pray that, wilfully reckless though he is, he may yet be spared to be worthy of the name that will be his when I shall have risen beyond it.

  BAMBOROUGH AND REVELSDEN.

  The Viscount sighed, and folded up his father's letter rather carefully.

  "He's a deuced old Roman, of course," said he, "and yet——!" Here the Viscount turned, and slipped the letter back under his pillow with a hand grown suddenly gentle. "But there you are, Bev! Not a word about money,——so downstairs Bristles must continue to sit until——"

  "If," said Barnabas diffidently, "if you would allow me to lend——"

  "No, no, Bev——though I swear it's uncommon good of you. But really I couldn't allow it. Besides, Jerningham owes me something, I believe, at least, if he doesn't he did, and it's all one anyway. I sent the Imp over to him an hour ago; he'll let me have it, I know. Though I thank you none the less, my dear fellow, on my soul I do! But——oh deuce take me——you've nothing to drink! what will you take——?"

  "Nothing, thanks, Dick. As a matter of fact, I came to ask you a favor——"

  "Granted, my dear fellow!"

  "I want you to ask Captain Slingsby to introduce me to Jasper Gaunt."

  "Ah?" said the Viscount, coming to his elbow, "you mean on behalf of that——"

  "Of Barrymaine, yes."

  "It's——it's utterly preposterous!" fumed the Viscount.

  "So you said before, Dick."

  "You mean to——go on with it?"

  "Of course!"

  "You are still determined to befriend a——"

  "More than ever, Dick."

  "For——Her sake?"

  "For Her sake. Yes, Dick," said Barnabas, beginning to frown a little. "I mean to free him from Gaunt, and rescue him from Chichester——if I can."

  "But Chichester is about the only friend he has left, Bev."

  "On the contrary, I think Chichester is his worst enemy."

  "But——my dear fellow! Chichester is the only one who has stood by him in his disgrace, though why, I can't imagine."

  "I think I can tell you the reason, and in one word," said Barnabas, his face growing blacker.

  "Well, Bev,——what is it?"

  "Cleone!" The Viscount started.

  "What,——you think——? Oh, impossible! The fellow would never have a chance, she despises him, I know."

  "And fears him too, Dick."

  "Fears him? Gad! what do you mean, Bev?"

  "I mean that, unworthy though he may be, she idolizes her brother."

  "Half-brother, Bev."

  "And for his sake, would sacrifice her fortune,——ah! and herself!"

  "Well?"

  "Well, Dick, Chichester knows this, and is laying his plans accordingly."

  "How?"

  "He's teaching Barrymaine to drink, for one thing——"

  "He didn't need much teaching, Bev."

  "Then, he has got him in his power,——somehow or other, anyhow, Barrymaine fears him, I know. When the time comes, Chichester means to reach the sister through her love for her brother, and——before he shall do that, Dick——" Barnabas threw up his head and clenched his fists.

  "Well, Bev?"

  "I'll——kill him, Dick."

  "You mean——fight him, of course?"

  "It would be all one," said Barnabas grimly.

  "And how do you propose to——go about the matter——to save Barrymaine?"

  "I shall pay off his debts, first of all."

  "And then?"

  "Take him away with me."

  "When?"

  "To-morrow, if possible——the sooner the better."

  "And give up the race, Bev?"

  "Yes," said Barnabas, sighing, "even that if need be."

  Here the Viscount lay back among his pillows and stared up at the tester of the bed, and his gaze was still directed thitherwards when he spoke:

  "And you would do all this——"

  "For——Her sake," said Barnabas softly, "besides, I promised, Dick."

  "And you have seen her——only once, Bev!"

  "Twice, Dick."

  Again there was silence while the Viscount stared up at the tester and Barnabas frowned down at the clenched fist on his knee.

  "Gad!" said the Viscount suddenly, "Gad, Beverley, what a deuced determined fellow you are!"

  "You see——I love her, Dick."

  "And by the Lord, Bev, shall I tell you what I begin to think?"

  "Yes, Dick."

  "Well, I begin to think that in spite of——er——me, and hum——all the rest of 'em, in spite of everything——herself included, if need be, ——you'll win her yet."

  "And shall I tell you what I begin to think, Dick?"

  "Yes."

  "I begin to think that you have never——loved her at all."

  "Eh?" cried the Viscount, starting up very suddenly, "what?——never lov——oh, Gad, Beverley! what the deuce should make you think that?"

  "Clemency!" said Barnabas.

  The Viscount stared, opened his mouth, shut it, ran his fingers through his hair, and fell flat upon his pillows again.

  "So now," said Barnabas the persistent, "now you know why I am so anxious to meet Jasper Gaunt."

  "Gaunt!" said the Viscount dreamily, "Gaunt!"

  "Captain Slingsby has to see him this afternoon,——at least so you said, and I was wondering——"

  "Slingsby! Oh, egad I forgot! so he has,——curricle's ordered for half-past three. Will you oblige me by prodding him with your cane, Bev? Don't be afraid,——poke away, my dear fellow, Sling takes a devil of a lot of waking."

  Thus admonished, Barnabas presently succeeded in arousing the somnolent Slingsby, who, lifting a drowsy head, blinked sleepily, and demanded in an injured tone:

  "Wha' the dooce it was all about, b'gad?" Then having yawned prodigiously and come somewhat to himself, he proceeded to crawl from under the settee, when, catching sight of Barnabas, he sprang lightly to his feet and greeted him cordially.

  "Ah, Beverley!" he cried,——"how goes it? Glad you woke me——was having a devil of a dream. Thought the 'Rascal' had strained his 'off' fore-leg, and was out of the race! What damnable things dreams are, b'gad!"

  "My dear Sling," said the Viscount, "it is exactly a quarter past three."

  "Oh, is it, b'gad! Well?"

  "And at four o'clock I believe you have an appointment with Gaunt."

  "Gaunt!" repeated the Captain, starting, and Barnabas saw all the light and animation die out of his face, "Gaunt,——yes, I——b'gad!——I 'd forgotten, Devenham."

  "You ordered your curricle for half-past three, didn't you?"

  "Yes, and I've no time to bathe——ought to shave, though, and oh, damme,——look at my cravat!"

  "You'll find everything you need in my dressing-room, Sling."

  The Captain nodded his thanks, and forthwith vanished into the adjacent chamber, whence he was to be heard at his ablutions, puffing and blowing, grampus-like. To whom thus the Viscount, raising his voice: "Oh, by the way, Sling, Beverley wants to go with you." Here the Captain stopped, as it seemed in the very middle of a puff, and when he spoke it was in a tone of hoarse incredulity:

  "Eh,——b'gad, what's that?"

  "He wants you to introduce him to Jasper Gaunt."

  Here a sudden explosive exclamation, and, thereafter, the Captain appeared as in the act of drying himself, his red face glowing from between the folds of the towel while he stared from the Viscount to Barnabas with round eyes.

  "What!" he exclaimed at last, "you, too, Beverley! Poor devil, have you come to it——and so soon?"

  "No," said Barnabas, shaking his head, "I wish to see him on behalf of another——"

  "Eh? Another? Oh——!"

  "On behalf of Mr. Ronald Barrymaine."

  "Of Barrym——" Here the Captain suddenly fell to towelling himself violently, stopped to stare at Barnabas again, gave himself another futile rub or two, and, finally, dropped the towel altogether. "On behalf of——oh b'gad!" he exclaimed, and incontinent vanished into the dressing-room. But, almost immediately he was back again, this time wielding a shaving brush. "Wish to see——Gaunt, do you?" he inquired.

  "Yes," said Barnabas.

  "And," said the Captain, staring very hard at the shaving brush, "not——on your own account?"

  "No," answered Barnabas.

  "But on behalf——I think you said——of——"

  "Of Ronald Barrymaine," said Barnabas.

  "Oh!" murmured the Captain, and vanished again. But now Barnabas followed him.

  "Have you any objection to my going with you?" he inquired.

  "Not in the least," answered the Captain, making hideous faces at himself in the mirror as he shaved, "oh, no——delighted, 'pon my soul, b'gad——only——"

  "Well?"

  "Only, if it's time you're going to ask for——it's no go, my boy——hard-fisted old rasper, you know the saying,——(Bible, I think), figs, b'gad, and thistles, bread from stones, but no mercy from Jasper Gaunt."

  "I don't seek his mercy," said Barnabas.

  "Why, then, my dear Beverley——ha! there's Jenk come up to say the curricle's at the door."

  Sure enough, at the moment, the Viscount's gentleman presented himself to announce the fact, albeit mournfully and with a sigh. He was about to bow himself out again when the Viscount stayed him with an upraised finger.

  "Jenkins," said he, "my very good Jenk!"

  "Yes, m'lud?" said Jenkins.

  "Is the person with the——ah——bristles——still downstairs?"

  "He is, m'lud," said Jenkins, with another sigh.

  "Then tell him to possess his soul in patience, Jenk,——for I fear he will remain there a long, long time."

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