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The Amateur Gentleman (Chapter69)

2006-08-28 16:21

  Chapter LXIX. How Barnabas Led a Hue and cry

  The shadows were creeping down on Giles's Rents, hiding its grime, its misery and squalor, what time Barnabas stepped out into the court, and, turning his back upon the shadowy River, strode along, watchful-eyed, toward that dark corner where the Bow Street Runners still lounged, smoking their pipes and talking together in their rumbling tones. As he drew nearer he became aware that they had ceased their talk and guessed rather than saw that he was the object of their scrutiny; nor was he mistaken, for as he came abreast of where they stood, one of them lurched towards him.

  "Why, hullo, Joe," exclaimed the man, in a tone of rough familiarity, "strike me blue if this ain't fort'nate! 'Ow goes it, Joe?"

  "My name isn't Joe," said Barnabas, pausing, for the man had lurched in front of him, barring his way.

  "Not Joe, eh?" growled the man, thrusting his head unpleasantly close to Barnabas to peer into his face, "not Joe, eh? Why then p'r'aps it might be——Barnabas, eh? P'r'aps it might be——Beverley, eh? Barnabas Beverley like-wise, eh? All right, Ben!" he called to his mate, "it's our man right enough!"

  "What do you mean?" inquired Barnabas, casting a swift glance about him; and thus, he saw a moving shadow some distance down the court, a furtive shape that flitted towards them where the gathering shadows lay thickest. And at the sight, Barnabas clenched his fists and poised himself for swift action.

  "What do you want?" he demanded, his gaze still wandering, his ears hearkening desperately for the sound of creeping footsteps behind, "what do you want with me?"

  "W'y, we wants you, to be sure," answered Runner No. 1. "We wants you, Barnabas Beverley, Esk-vire, for the murder of Jasper Gaunt. And, wot's more——we've got ye! And, wot's more——you'd better come along nice and quiet in the name o' the——"

  But in that moment, even as he reached out to seize the prisoner, Runner No. 1 felt himself caught in a powerful wrestling grip, his legs were swept from under him, and he thudded down upon the cobbles. Then, as Barnahas turned to meet the rush of Runner No. 2, behold a dark figure, that leapt from the dimness behind, and bore No. 2, cursing savagely, staggering back and back to the wall, and pinned him there, while, above the scuffling, the thud of blows and the trample of feet, rose a familiar voice:

  "Run, sir——run!" cried John Peterby, "I've got this one——run!"

  Incontinent, Barnabas turned, and taking to his heels, set off along the court, but with No. 1 (who had scrambled to his feet again) thundering after him in hot pursuit, roaring for help as he came.

  "Stop, thief!" bellowed No. 1, pounding along behind.

  "Stop, thief!" roared Barnabas, pounding along in front.

  Round the corner into the street of tumble-down houses sped yelling Barnabas, scattering people right and left; round the corner came No. 1 Hard in his rear.

  "Stop, thief!" bellowed No. 1, louder than ever.

  "Stop, thief!" roared Barnabas, louder still, and running like the wind. Thus, No. 1 continued to bellow along behind, and Barnabas ran on roaring before, by dint of which he had very soon drawn about him divers other eager pursuers who, in their turn, taking up the cry, filled the air with a raving clamor that grew and ever grew. On sped Barnabas, still yelling "thieves," and with a yelling rabblement all about him, on he went by crooked ways, plunging down gloomy courts, doubling sudden corners, leading the pursuit ever deeper into the maze of dark alleys and crooked back streets, until, spying a place suitable to his purpose, he turned aside, and darting down a dark and narrow entry-way, he paused there in the kindly shelter to regain his breath, and heard the hue and cry go raving past until it had roared itself into the distance. Then, very cautiously and with no little difficulty, he retraced his steps, and coming at length to the River, crossed Blackfriars Bridge and hurried west-wards; nor did he stop or slacken his swift pace until he found himself in that quiet, back-street at the end of which his stables were situated. Being come there, he hammered upon the door which was presently opened by old Gabriel Martin himself.

  "Martin, I'm in a hurry," said Barnabas, "have 'The Terror' saddled at once, and bring me a pair of spurred boots——quick!"

  Without wasting time in needless words, the old groom set the stable-boys running to and fro, and himself brought Barnabas a pair of riding-boots, and aided him to put them on. Which done, Barnabas threw aside the fur cap, stripped off Peterby's rough coat, and looked about for other garments to take their place.

  "If it be a coat as you're wanting, sir, there be one as you wore at the race," said Martin, "I keep it upstairs in my room. It be a bit tore, sir, but——"

  "It will do," said Barnabas, nodding, "only——hurry, Martin!" By the time the old groom had returned with the scarlet hunting-frock and helped Barnabas into it, "The Terror" was led out from his box, and immediately began to snort and rear and beat a ringing tattoo with his great, round hoofs to a chorus of chirruping and whoa-ing from the stable-boys.

  "A bit fresh-ish, p'r'aps, sir!" said Martin, viewing the magnificent animal with glistening eyes, "exercised reg'lar, too! But wot 'e wants is a good, stretching, cross-country gallop."

  "Well, he's going to have it, Martin."

  "Ah, sir," nodded the old groom, as Barnabas tested girth and stirrup-leathers, "you done mighty well when you bought 'im——theer ain't another 'oss 'is ekal in London——no, nor nowheers else as I knows on. 'E's won one race for you, and done it noble, and wot's more sir——"

  "Tonight he must win me another!" said Barnabas, and swung himself into the saddle. "And this will be a much harder and crueller race than he ran before or will ever run again, Martin, I hope. Pray what, time is it?"

  "Nigh on to 'alf-past eight, sir."

  "So late!" said Barnabas, grim-lipped and frowning as he settled his feet in the stirrups. "Now——give him his head there——stay! Martin, have you a brace of pistols?"

  "Pistols! Why yes, sir, but——"

  "Lend them to me."

  Forthwith the pistols were brought, somewhat clumsy weapons, but serviceable none the less.

  "They're loaded, sir!" said Martin as he handed them up.

  "Good!" nodded Barnabas, and slipping one into either pocket, gathered up his reins.

  "You'll not be back tonight, sir?"

  "Not tonight, Martin."

  "Good night, sir."

  "Good night, Martin."

  "Are you ready, sir?"

  "Quite ready, Martin."

  "Then——stand away there!"

  Obediently the stable-boys leapt aside, freeing "The Terror's" proud head, who snorted, reared, and plunged out through the open doorway, swung off sharp to his right and thundered away down the echoing street.

  And thus "The Terror" set out on his second race, which was to be a very hard, cruel race, since it was to be run against no four-legged opponent, no thing of flesh and blood and nerves, but against the sure-moving, relentless fingers of Natty Bell's great, silver watch.

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