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The Amateur Gentleman (Chapter37)

2006-08-28 16:13

  Chapter XXXVII. In Which the Bo'sun Discourses on Love and Its Symptoms

  Oho! for the warmth and splendor of the mid-day sun; for the dance and flurry of leafy shadows on the sward; for stilly wayside pools whose waters, deep and dark in the shade of overhanging boughs, are yet dappled here and there with glory; for merry brooks leaping and laughing along their stony beds; for darkling copse and sunny upland,——oho! for youth and life and the joy of it.

  To the eyes of Barnabas, the beauty of the world about him served only to remind him of the beauty of her who was compounded of all things beautiful,——the One and Only Woman, whose hair was yellow like the ripening corn, whose eyes were deep and blue as the infinite heaven, whose lips were red as the poppies that bloomed beside the way, and whose body was warm with youth, and soft and white as the billowy clouds above.

  Thus on galloped Barnabas with the dust behind and the white road before, and with never a thought of London, or its wonders, or the gathering shadow.

  It was well past noon when he beheld a certain lonely church where many a green mound and mossy headstone marked the resting-place of those that sleep awhile. And here, beside the weather-worn porch, were the stocks, that "place of thought" where Viscount Devenham had sat in solitary, though dignified meditation. A glance, a smile, and Barnabas was past, and galloping down the hill towards where the village nestled in the valley. Before the inn he dismounted, and, having seen Four-legs well bestowed, and given various directions to a certain sleepy-voiced ostler, he entered the inn, and calling for dinner, ate it with huge relish. Now, when he had done, came the landlord to smoke a pipe with him,——a red-faced man, vast of paunch and garrulous of tongue.

  "Fine doin's there be up at t' great 'ouse, sir," he began.

  "You mean Annersley House?"

  "Ay, sir. All the quality is there,——my son's a groom there an' 'e told me, so 'e did. Theer ain't nobody as ain't either a Markus or a Earl or a Vi'count, and as for Barry-nets, they're as thick as flies, they are,——an' all to meet a little, old 'ooman as don't come up to my shoulder! But then——she's a Duchess, an' that makes all the difference!"

  "Yes, of course," said Barnabas.

  "A little old 'ooman wi' curls, as don't come no-wise near so 'igh as my shoulder! Druv up to that theer very door as you see theer, in 'er great coach an' four, she did,——orders the steps to be lowered, ——comes tapping into this 'ere very room with 'er little cane, she do, ——sits down in that theer very chair as you're a-sittin' in, she do, fannin' 'erself with a little fan——an' calls for——now, what d' ye suppose, sir?"

  "I haven't the least idea."

  "She calls, sir,——though you won't believe me, it aren't to be expected,——no, not on my affer-daver,——she being a Duchess, ye see——"

  "Well, what did she call for?" inquired Barnabas, rising.

  "Sir, she called for——on my solemn oath it's true——though I don't ax ye to believe me, mind,——she sat in that theer identical chair,——an' mark me, 'er a Duchess,——she sat in that cheer, a-fannin' 'erself with 'er little fan, an' calls for a 'arf of Kentish ale——'Westerham brew,' says she; an' 'er a Duchess! In a tankard! But I know as you won't believe me,——nor I don't ax any man to,——no, not if I went down on my bended marrer-bones——"

  "But I do believe you," said Barnabas.

  "What——you do?" cried the landlord, almost reproachfully.

  "Certainly! A Duchess is, sometimes, almost human."

  "But you——actooally——believe me?"

  "Yes."

  "Well——you surprise me, sir! Ale! A Duchess! In a tankard! No, it aren't nat'ral. Never would I ha' believed as any one would ha' believed such a——"

  But here Barnabas laughed, and taking up his hat, sallied out into the sunshine.

  He went by field paths that led him past woods in whose green twilight thrushes and blackbirds piped, by sunny meadows where larks mounted heavenward in an ecstasy of song, and so, eventually he found himself in a road where stood a weather-beaten finger-post, with its two arms wide-spread and pointing:

  TO LONDON.    TO HAWKHURST

  Here Barnabas paused a while, and bared his head as one who stands on hallowed ground. And looking upon the weather-worn finger-post, he smiled very tenderly, as one might who meets an old friend. Then he went on again until he came to a pair of tall iron gates, hospitable gates that stood open as though inviting him to enter. Therefore he went on, and thus presently espied a low, rambling house of many gables, about which were trim lawns and stately trees. Now as he stood looking at this house, he heard a voice near by, a deep, rolling bass upraised in song, and the words of it were these:

  "What shall we do with the drunken sailor,Heave, my lads, yo-ho!

  Why, put him in the boat and roll him over,Put him in the boat till he gets sober,Put him in the boat and roll him over,With a heave, my lads, yo-ho!"

  Following the direction of this voice, Barnabas came to a lawn screened from the house by hedges of clipped yew. At the further end of this lawn was a small building which had been made to look as much as possible like the after-cabin of a ship. It had a door midway, with a row of small, square windows on either side, and was flanked at each end by a flight of wooden steps, with elaborately carved hand-rails, that led up to the quarterdeck above, which was protected by more carved posts and rails. Here a stout pole had been erected and rigged with block and fall, and from this, a flag stirred lazily in the gentle wind.

  Now before this building, his blue coat laid by, his shirt sleeves rolled up, his glazed hat on the back of his head, was the Bo'sun, polishing away at a small, brass cannon that was mounted on a platform, and singing lustily as he worked. So loudly did he sing, and so engrossed was he, that he did not look up until he felt Barnabas touch him. Then he started, turned, stared, hesitated, and, finally, broke into a smile.

  "Ah, it's you, sir,——the young gemman as bore away for Lon'on alongside Master Horatio, his Lordship!"

  "Yes," said Barnabas, extending his hand, "how are you, Bo'sun?"

  "Hearty, sir, hearty, I thank ye!" Saying which he touched his forehead, rubbed his hand upon his trousers, looked at it, rubbed it again, and finally gave it to Barnabas, though with an air of apology. "Been making things a bit ship-shape, sir, 'count o' this here day being a occasion,——but I'm hearty, sir, hearty, I thank ye."

  "And the Captain," said Barnabas with some hesitation. "How is the Captain?"

  "The Cap'n, sir," answered the Bo'sun, "the Cap'n is likewise hearty."

  "And——Lady Cleone——is she well, is she happy?"

  "Why, sir, she's as 'appy as can be expected——under the circumstances."

  "What circumstances?"

  "Love, sir."

  "Love!" exclaimed Barnabas, "why, Bo'sun——what do you mean?"

  "I mean, sir, as she's fell in love at last——

  "How do you know——who with——where is she——?"

  "Well, sir, I know on account o' 'er lowness o' sperrits,——noticed it for a week or more. Likewise I've heered 'er sigh very frequent, and I've seen 'er sit a-staring up at the moon——ah, that I have! Now lovers is generally low in their sperrits, I've heered tell, and they allus stare very 'ard at the moon,——why, I don't know, but they do,——leastways, so I've——"

  "But——in love——with whom? Can I see her? Where is she? Are you sure?"

  "And sartain, sir. Only t' other night, as I sat a-smoking my pipe on the lawn, yonder,——she comes out to me, and nestles down under my lee——like she used to years ago. 'Jerry, dear,' says she, 'er voice all low and soft-like, 'look at the moon,——how beautiful it is!' says she, and——she give a sigh. 'Yes, my lady,' says I. 'Oh, Jerry,' says she, 'call me Clo, as you used to do.' 'Yes, my Lady Clo,' says I. But she grapples me by the collar, and stamps 'er foot at me, all in a moment. 'Leave out the 'lady,'' says she. 'Yes, Clo,' says I. So she nestles an' sighs and stares at the moon again. 'Jerry, dear,' says she after a bit, 'when will the moon be at the full?' 'To-morrer, Clo,' says I. And after she's stared and sighed a bit longer——'Jerry, dear,' says she again, 'it's sweet to think that while we are looking up at the moon——others perhaps are looking at it too, I mean others who are far away. It——almost seems to bring them nearer, doesn't it? Then I knowed as 't were love, with a big L, sartin and sure, and——"

  "Bo'sun," said Barnabas, catching him by the arm, "who is it she loves?"

  "Well, sir,——I aren't quite sure, seeing as there are so many on 'em in 'er wake, but I think,——and I 'ope, as it's 'is Lordship, Master Horatio."

  "Ah!" said Barnabas, his frowning brow relaxing.

  "If it ain't 'im,——why then it's mutiny,——that's what it is, sir!"

  "Mutiny?"

  "Ye see, sir," the Bo'sun went on to explain, "orders is orders, and if she don't love Master Horatio——well, she ought to."

  "Why?"

  "Because they was made for each other. Because they was promised to each other years ago. It were all arranged an' settled 'twixt Master Horatio's father, the Earl, and Lady Cleone's guardian, the Cap'n."

  "Ah!" said Barnabas, "and where is she——and the Captain?"

  "Out, sir; an' she made him put on 'is best uniform, as he only wears on Trafalgar Day, and such great occasions. She orders out the fam'ly coach, and away they go, 'im the very picter o' what a post-captain o' Lord Nelson should be (though to be sure, there's a darn in his white silk stocking——the one to starboard, just abaft the shoe-buckle, and, therefore, not to be noticed, and I were allus 'andy wi' my needle), and her——looking the picter o' the handsomest lady, the loveliest, properest maid in all this 'ere world. Away they go, wi' a fair wind to sarve 'em, an' should ha' dropped anchor at Annersley House a full hour ago."

  "At Annersley?" said Barnabas. "There is a reception there, I hear?"

  "Yes, sir, all great folk from Lon'on, besides country folk o' quality,——to meet the Duchess o' Camberhurst, and she's the greatest of 'em all. Lord! There's enough blue blood among 'em to float a Seventy-four. Nat'rally, the Cap'n wanted to keep a good offing to windward of 'em. 'For look ye, Jerry,' says he, 'I'm no confounded courtier to go bowing and scraping to a painted old woman, with a lot of other fools, just because she happens to be a duchess,——no, damme!' and down 'e sits on the breech o' the gun here. But, just then, my lady heaves into sight, brings up alongside, and comes to an anchor on his knee. 'Dear,' says she, with her round, white arm about his neck, and her soft, smooth cheek agin his, 'dear, it's almost time we began to dress.' 'Dress?' says he, 'what for, Clo,——I say, what d'ye mean?' 'Why, for the reception,' says she. 'To-day is my birthday' (which it is, sir, wherefore the flag at our peak, yonder), 'and I know you mean to take me,' says she, 'so I told Robert we should want the coach at three. So come along and dress,——like a dear.' The Cap'n stared at 'er, dazed-like, give me a look, and,——well——" the Bo'sun smiled and shook his head. "Ye see, sir, in some ways the Cap'n 's very like a ordinary man, arter all!"

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