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The Amateur Gentleman (Chapter76)

2006-08-28 16:22

  Chapter LXXVI. How the Viscount Proposed a Toast

  "Oh——hif you please, sir!"

  Barnabas started, raised his head, and, glancing over his shoulder, beheld Milo of Crotona. He was standing in the middle of the room looking very cherubic, very natty, and very upright of back; and he stared at Barnabas with his innocent blue eyes very wide, and with every one of the eight winking, twinkling, glittering buttons on his small jacket——indeed, it seemed to Barnabas that to-day his buttons were rather more knowing than usual, if that could well be. Therefore Barnabas dropped his table-napkin, very adroitly, upon a certain object that yet lay upon the table before him, ere he turned about and addressed himself to the Viscount's diminutive "tiger."

  "What, my Imp," said he, "where in the world have you sprung from, pray? I didn't see you come in."

  "No, sir——'cause you jest 'appened to be lookin' at that there little boot, you did." Thus Master Milo, and his eyes were guileless as an angel's, but——his buttons——!

  "Hum!" said Barnabas, rubbing his chin. "But how did you get in, Imp?"

  "Froo de winder, sir, I did. An' I 've come to tell you 'is Ludship's compliments, and 'e's a-comin' along wiv 'er, 'e is."

  "With——whom?"

  "Wiv my lady——'er."

  "What lady?"

  "Wiv 'is Ludship's lady, 'is Vi-coun-tess,——'er."

  "His Viscountess!" repeated Barnabas, staring, "do you mean that the Viscount is——actually married?"

  "'T ain't my fault, sir——no fear, it ain't. 'E went and done it be'ind my back——s'morning as ever was, 'e did. I didn't know nothin' about it till it was too late, 'e done it unbeknownst to me, sir, 'e did, an' she done it too a' course, an' the Yurl went an' 'elped 'em to do it, 'e did. So did the Cap'n, and the Doochess an' Lady Cleone——they all 'elped 'em to do it, they did. An' now they're goin' into the country, to Deven'am, an' I'm a-goin' wiv 'em——an' they're a-drivin' over to see you, sir, in 'is Ludship's noo phayton——an' that's all——no, it ain't though."

  "What more, Imp?"

  "Why, as they all come away from the church——where they'd been a-doin' of it, sir——I met the little, old Doochess in 'er coach, an' she see me, too. 'Why it's the little Giant!' she sez. 'Best respex, mam,' I sez, an' then I see as she'd got Lady Cleone wiv 'er——a fine, 'igh-steppin', 'andsome young filly, I call 'er, an' no error. 'Where are you goin', Giant?' sez the Doochess. 'I'm a-goin' to drop in on Mr. Bev'ley, mam, I am,' I sez. 'Then give 'im my love,' she sez, 'an' tell 'im I shan't never forget 'is pride and 'is selfishness,' she sez,——an' she give me a crown into the bargain, she did. An' then——jest as the coach was a-drivin' off t'other 'un——the young 'un, give me this. 'For Mr. Bev'ley,' she sez in a whisper, and——here it be, sir."

  Saying which, Master Milo handed Barnabas a small folded paper whereon, scribbled in Cleone's well-known writing, were these three aphorisms:

  1. Pride goeth before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.

  2. Selfishness shall find its own reward.

  3. Journeys end in lovers' meetings.

  Long stood Barnabas devouring these words with his eyes; so puzzled and engrossed was he indeed, that not until Master Milo ventured to touch him on the arm did he look up.

  "'Ere's 'is Ludship, sir," explained Milo, jerking his thumb towards the open window, "a-drivin' up the av'noo, sir, in 'is phayton, and wiv 'is noo Vi-coun-tess along of him——and a reg'lar 'igh-stepper she looks, don't she? Arter all, I don't blame 'im for goin' an' doin' of it, I don't. Ye see, I allus 'ad a tender spot for Miss Clemency, mam, I 'ad, and a fine, proper, bang up Vi-coun-tess she do make, an' no error, sir——now don't she?"

  "Surely," nodded Barnabas, looking where Milo pointed, "surely she is the handsomest, sweetest young Viscountess in all England, Imp."

  So saying, he strode from the room with Master Milo trotting at his heels, and being come out upon the terrace, stood to watch the phaeton's rapid approach.

  And, indeed, what words could be found in any language that could possibly do justice to the gentle, glowing beauty of Mistress Clemency Dare, transformed now, for good and all, into Beatrix, Viscountess Devenham? What brush could paint the mantling color of her cheek, the tender light of her deep, soft eyes, the ripe loveliness of her shape, and all the indefinable grace and charm of her? Surely none.

  And now, Master Milo has darted forward and sprung to the horses' heads, for the Viscount has leapt to earth and has caught at Barnabas with both hands almost before the phaeton has come to a stand.

  "Why, Bev——my dear old fellow, this is a joyful surprise! oh, bruise and blister me!" exclaimed the Viscount, viewing Barnabas up and down with radiant eyes, "to see you yourself again at last——and on this day of all days——this makes everything quite complete, y'know——doesn't it, Clemency? Expected to find you in bed, y'know——didn't we, Clem, dear? And oh——egad, Bev——er——my wife, y'know. You haven't heard, of course, that I——that we——"

  "Yes, I've just heard," said Barnabas, smiling, "and God knows, Dick, I rejoice in your joy and wish you every happiness!" And, speaking, he turned and looked into the flushing loveliness of Clemency's face.

  "Mr. Beverley——oh, Barnabas——dear brother!" she said softly, "but for you, this day might never have dawned for us——" and she gave both her hands into his. "Oh, believe me, in my joy, as in my sorrow, I shall remember you always."

  "And I too, Bev!" added the Viscount.

  "And," continued Clemency, her voice a little tearful, "whatever happiness the future may hold will only make that memory all the dearer, Barnabas."

  "Gad, yes, that it will, Bev!" added the Viscount. "And, my dear fellow," he pursued, growing somewhat incoherent because of his earnestness, "I want to tell you that——that because I——I'm so deucedly happy myself, y' know, I wish that my luck had been yours——no, I don't mean that exactly, but what I meant to say was that I——that you deserve to——to——oh, blister me! Tell him what I mean, Clemency dear," the Viscount ended, a little hoarsely.

  "That you deserve to know a love as great, a joy as deep as ours, dear Barnabas."

  "Exactly!" nodded the Viscount, with a fond look at his young wife; "Precisely what I meant, Bev, for I'm the proudest, happiest fellow alive, y' know. And what's more, my dear fellow, in marrying Clemency I marry also an heiress possessed of all the attributes necessary to bowl over a thousand flinty-hearted Roman P's, and my Roman's heart——though tough, was never quite a flint, after all."

  "Indeed, sir——he would have welcomed me without a penny!" retorted Clemency, blushing, and consequently looking lovelier than ever.

  "Why——to be sure he would!" said Barnabas. "Indeed, who wouldn't?"

  "Exactly, Bev!" replied the Viscount, "she cornered him with the first glance, floored him with a second, and had him fairly beaten out of the ring with a third. Gad, if you'd only been there to see!"

  "Would I had!" sighed Barnabas.

  "Still there's always——the future, y' know!" nodded the Viscount. "Ah, yes, and with an uncommonly big capital F, y' know, Bev. It was decreed that we were to be friends by——well, you remember who, Bev——and friends we always must be, now and hereafter, amen, my dear fellow, and between you and me——and my Viscountess, I think the Future holds more happiness for you than ever the past did. Your turn will come, y' know, Bev——we shall be dancing at your wedding next——shan't we, Clem?"

  "No, Dick," answered Barnabas, shaking his head, "I shall never marry."

  "Hum!" said the Viscount, fingering his chin and apparently lost in contemplation of a fleecy cloud.

  "Of that I am——quite certain."

  "Ha!" said the Viscount, staring down at the toe of his glossy boot.

  "But," continued Barnabas, "even in my loneliness——"

  "His loneliness——hum!" said the Viscount, still contemplating his resplendent boot. "Clemency dear, do you suppose our Barnabas fellow will be groaning over his 'loneliness'——to-morrow, say?" Hereupon, the Viscount laughed suddenly, and for no apparent reason, while even Clemency's red lips curved and parted in a smile.

  "But," said Barnabas, looking from one to the other, "I don't understand!"

  "Neither do we, Bev. Only, dear fellow, remember this, 'there is a destiny which shapes our ends,' and——occasionally, a Duchess." But here, while Barnabas still glanced at them in perplexity, John Peterby appeared, bearing a tray whereon stood a decanter and glasses.

  "Ha!——most excellent Peterby!" cried the Viscount, "you come pat to the occasion, as usual. Fill up for all of us, yes——even my small Imp yonder; I have a toast to give you." And, when the glasses brimmed, the Viscount turned and looked at Barnabas with his boyish smile. "Let us drink," said he, "to the Future, and the Duchess's move!"

  So the toast was drunk with all due honors: but when Barnabas sought an explanation, the Viscount laughed and shook his head.

  "Pray ask my Viscountess," said he, with a fond look at her, and turned away to rebuckle a trace under the anxious supervision of Master Milo.

  "Indeed, no, Barnabas," said Clemency, smiling, "I cannot explain, as Dick well knows. But this I must tell you, while you lay here, very near death, I came to see you often with my dear father."

  "Ah!" exclaimed Barnabas, "then you met——her?"

  "Yes, I met Cleone, and I——loved her. She was very tired and worn, the first time I saw her; you were delirious, and she had watched over you all night. Of course we talked of you, and she told me how she had found my letter to you, the only one I ever wrote you, and how she had misjudged you. And then she cried, and I took her in my arms and kissed away her tears and comforted her. So we learned to know and love each other, you see."

  "I am very glad," said Barnabas, slowly, and with his gaze on the distance, "for her sake and yours."

  Now as she looked at him, Clemency sighed all at once, yet thereafter smiled very tenderly, and so smiling, gave him both her hands.

  "Oh, Barnabas," said she, "I know Happiness will come to you, sooner or later——when least expected, as it came to me, so——dear Barnabas, smile!"

  Then Barnabas, looking from her tearful, pitying eyes to the hand upon whose finger was a certain plain gold ring that shone so very bright and conspicuous because of its newness, raised that slender hand to his lips.

  "Thank you, Clemency," he answered, "but why are you——so sure?"

  "A woman's intuition, perhaps, Barnabas, or perhaps, because if ever a man deserved to be happy——you do, dear brother."

  "Amen to that!" added the Viscount, who had at length adjusted the trace to his own liking and Master Milo's frowning approval. "Good-by, Bev," he continued, gripping the hand Barnabas extended. "We are going down to Devenham for a week or so——Clemency's own wish, and when we come back I have a feeling that the——the shadows, y' know, will have passed quite away, y'know,——for good and all. Good-by, dear fellow, good-by!" So saying, the Viscount turned, rather hastily, sprang into the phaeton and took up the reins.

  "Are you right there, Imp?"

  "All right, m'lud!" answers that small person with one foot posed negligently on the step, waiting till the last possible moment ere he mounts to his perch behind. So, with a last "good-by" the Viscount touches up his horses, the light vehicle shoots forward with Master Milo swinging suspended in mid-air, who turns to Barnabas, flashes his eight buttons at him, touches his hat to him, folds his arms, and, sitting very stiff in the back, is presently whirled out of sight.

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