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The Amateur Gentleman (Chapter47)

2006-08-28 16:15

  Chapter XLVII. How Barnabas Found His Manhood

  "Oh——hif you please, sir!"

  Barnabas started, and looking about, presently espied a figure in the shadow of the osiers; a very small figure, upon whose diminutive jacket were numerous buttons that glittered under the moon.

  "Why——it's Milo of Crotona!" said Cleone.

  "Yes, my lady——hif you please, it are," answered Milo of Crotona, touching the peak of his leather cap.

  "But——what are you doing here? How did you know where to find us?"

  "'Cause as I came up the drive, m'lady, I jest 'appened to see you a-walking together,——so I followed you, I did, m'lady."

  "Followed us?" repeated Cleone rather faintly. "Oh!"

  "And then——when I seen you slip, m'lady, I thought as 'ow I'd better——wait a bit. So I waited, I did." And here, again, Milo of Crotona touched the peak of his cap, and looked from Barnabas to Cleone's flushing loveliness with eyes wide and profoundly innocent,——a very cherub in top-boots, only his buttons (Ah, his buttons!) seemed to leer and wink one to another, as much as to say: "Oh yes! Of course! to——be——sure?"

  "And what brings you so far from London?" inquired Barnabas, rather hurriedly.

  "Coach, sir,——box seat, sir!"

  "And you brought your master with you, of course,——is the Viscount here?"

  "No, m'lady. I 'ad to leave 'im be'ind 'count of 'im being unfit to travel——"

  "Is he ill?"

  "Oh, no, not hill, m'lady,——only shot, 'e is."

  "Shot!" exclaimed Barnabas, "how——where?"

  "In the harm, sir,——all on 'count of 'is 'oss,——'Moonraker' sir."

  "His horse?"

  "Yessir. 'S arternoon it were. Ye see, for a long time I ain't been easy in me mind about them stables where 'im and you keeps your 'osses, sir, 'count of it not being safe enough,——worritted I 'ave, sir. So 's arternoon, as we was passing the end o' the street, I sez to m'lud, I sez, 'Won't your Ludship jest pop your nob round the corner and squint your peepers at the 'osses?' I sez. So 'e laughs, easy like, and in we pops. And the first thing we see was your 'ead groom, Mr. Martin, wiv blood on 'is mug and one peeper in mourning a-wrastling wiv two coves, and our 'ead groom, Standish, wiv another of 'em. Jest as we run up, down goes Mr. Martin, but——afore they could maul 'im wiv their trotters, there's m'lud wiv 'is fists an' me wiv a pitchfork as 'appened to lie 'andy. And very lively it were, sir, for a minute or two. Then off goes a barker and off go the coves, and there's m'lud 'olding onto 'is harm and swearing 'eavens 'ard. And that's all, sir."

  "And these men were——trying to get at the horses?"

  "Ah! Meant to nobble 'Moonraker,' they did,——'im bein' one o' the favorites, d' ye see, sir, and it looked to me as if they meant to do for your 'oss, 'The Terror', as well."

  "And is the Viscount much hurt?"

  "Why no, sir. And it were only 'is whip-arm. 'Urts a bit o' course, but 'e managed to write you a letter, 'e did; an' 'ere it is."

  So Barnabas took the letter, and holding it in the moonlight where Cleone could see it, they, together, made out these words:

  MY DEAR BEV,——There is durty work afoot. Some Raskells have tried to lame 'Moonraker,' but thanks to my Imp and your man Martin, quite unsuccessfully. How-beit your man Martin——regular game for all his years——has a broken nob and one ogle closed up, and I a ball through my arm, but nothing to matter. But I am greatly pirtirbed for the safety of 'Moonraker' and mean to get him into safer quarters and advise you to do likewise. Also, though your horse 'The Terror,' as the stable-boys call him, is not even in the betting, it almost seems, from what I can gather, that they meant to nobble him also. Therefore I think you were wiser to return at once, and I am anxious to see you on another matter as well. Your bets with Carnaby and Chichester have somehow got about and are the talk of the town, and from what I hear, much to your disparagement, I fear.

  A pity to shorten your stay in the country, but under the circumstances, most advisable.

  Yours ever, etc.,

  DICK.

  P.S. My love and service to the Duchess, Cleone and the Capt.

  Now here Barnabas looked at Cleone, and sighed, and Cleone sighing also, nodded her head:

  "You must go," said she, very softly, and sighed again.

  "Yes, I must go, and yet——it is so very soon, Cleone!"

  "Yes, it is dreadfully soon, Barnabas. But what does he mean by saying that people are talking of you to your disparagement? How dare they? Why should they?"

  "I think because I, a rank outsider, ventured to lay a wager against Sir Mortimer Carnaby."

  "Do you mean you bet him that you would win the race, Barnabas?"

  "No,——only that I would beat Sir Mortimer Carnaby."

  "But, oh Barnabas,——he is the race! Surely you know he and the Viscount are favorites?"

  "Oh, yes!"

  "Then you do think you can win?"

  "I mean to try——very hard!" said Barnabas, beginning to frown a little.

  "And I begin to think," said Cleone, struck by his resolute eyes and indomitable mouth, "oh, Barnabas——I begin to think you——almost may."

  "And if I did?"

  "Then I should be very——proud of you."

  "And if I lost?"

  "Then you would be——"

  "Yes?"

  "Just——"

  "Yes, Cleone?"

  "My, Barnabas! Ah, no, no!" she whispered suddenly, "you are crushing me——dreadfully, and besides, that boy has terribly sharp eyes!" and Cleone nodded to where Master Milo stood, some distance away, with his innocent orbs lifted pensively towards the heavens, more like a cherub than ever.

  "But he's not looking, and oh, Cleone,——how can I bear to leave you so soon? You are more to me than anything else in the world. You are my life, my soul,——my honor,——oh my dear!"

  "Do you——love me so very much, Barnabas?" said she, with a sudden catch in her voice.

  "And always must! Oh my dear, my dear,——don't you know? But indeed, words are so small and my love is so great that I fear you can never quite guess, or I tell it all."

  "Then, Barnabas,——you will go?"

  "Must I, Cleone? It will be so very hard to lose you——so soon."

  "But a man always chooses the harder course, doesn't he, Barnabas? And, dear, you cannot lose me,——and so you will go, won't you?"

  "Yes, I'll go——because I love you!"

  Then Cleone drew him deeper into the shade of the willows, and with a sudden, swift gesture, reached up her hands and set them about his neck.

  "Oh my dear," she murmured, "oh Barnabas dear, I think I can guess——now. And I'm sure——the boy——can't see us——here!"

  No, surely, neither this particular brook nor any other water-brook, stream or freshet, that ever sang, or sighed, or murmured among the reeds, could ever hope to catch all the thrilling tenderness of the sweet soft tones of Cleone's voice.

  A brook indeed? Ridiculous!

  Therefore this brook must needs give up attempting the impossible, and betake itself to offensive chuckles and spiteful whisperings, and would have babbled tales to the Duchess had that remarkable, ancient lady been versed in the language of brooks. As it was, she came full upon Master Milo still intent upon the heavens, it is true, but in such a posture that his buttons stared point-blank and quite unblushingly towards a certain clump of willows.

  "Oh Lud!" exclaimed the Duchess, starting back, "dear me, what a strange little boy! What do you want here, little man?"

  Milo of Crotona turned and——looked at her. And though his face was as cherubic as ever, there was haughty reproof in every button.

  "Who are you?" demanded the Duchess; "oh, gracious me, what a pretty child!"

  Surely no cherub——especially one in such knowing top-boots——could be reasonably expected to put up with this! Master Milo's innocent brow clouded suddenly, and the expression of his glittering buttons grew positively murderous.

  "I'm Viscount Devenham's con-fee-dential groom, mam, I am!" said he coldly, and with his most superb air.

  "Groom?" said the Duchess, staring, "what a very small one, to be sure!"

  "It ain't inches as counts wiv 'osses, mam,——or hany-think else, mam, ——it's nerves as counts, it is."

  "Why, yes, you seem to have plenty of nerve!"

  "Well, mam, there ain't much as I trembles at, there ain't,——and when I do, I don't show it, I don't."

  "And such a pretty child, too!" sighed the Duchess.

  "Child, mam? I ain't no child, I'm a groom, I am. Child yourself, mam!"

  "Lud! I do believe he's even paying me compliments! How old are you, boy?"

  "A lot more 'n you think, and hoceans more 'n I look, mam."

  "And what's your name?"

  "Milo, mam,——Milo o' Crotona, but my pals generally calls me Tony, for short, they do."

  "Milo of Crotona!" repeated the Duchess, with her eyes wider than ever, "but he was a giant who slew an ox with his fist, and ate it whole!"

  "Why, mam, I'm oncommon fond of oxes,——roasted, I am."

  "Well," said the Duchess, "you are the very smallest giant I ever saw."

  "Why, you ain't werry large yourself, mam, you ain't."

  "No, I fear I am rather petite," said the Duchess with a trill of girlish laughter. "And pray, Giant, what may you be doing here?"

  "Come up on the coach, I did,——box seat, mam,——to take Mr. Beverley back wiv me 'cause 'is 'oss ain't safe, and——"

  "Not safe,——what do you mean, boy?"

  "Some coves got in and tried to nobble 'Moonraker' and 'im——"

  "Nobble, boy?"

  "Lame 'em, mam,——put 'em out o' the running."

  "The wretches!"

  "Yes'm. Ye see us sportsmen 'ave our worritting times, we do."

  "But where is Mr. Beverley?"

  "Why, I ain't looked, mam, I ain't,——but they're down by the brook——behind them bushes, they are."

  "Oh, are they!" said the Duchess, "Hum!"

  "No mam,——'e's a-coming, and so's she."

  "Why, Barnabas," cried the Duchess, as Cleone and he stepped out of the shadow, "what's all this I hear about your horse,——what is the meaning of it?"

  "That I must start for London to-night, Duchess."

  "Leave to-night? Absurd!"

  "And yet, madam, Cleone seems to think I must, and so does Viscount Devenham,——see what he writes." So the Duchess took the Viscount's letter and, having deciphered it with some difficulty, turned upon Barnabas with admonishing finger upraised:

  "So you 've been betting, eh? And with Sir Mortimer Carnaby and Mr. Chichester of all people?"

  "Yes, madam."

  "Ah! You backed the Viscount, I suppose?"

  "No,——I backed myself, Duchess."

  "Gracious goodness——"

  "But only to beat Sir Mortimer Carnaby——"

  "The other favorite. Oh, ridiculous! What odds did they give you?"

  "None."

  "You mean——oh, dear me!——you actually backed yourself——at even money?"

  "Yes, Duchess."

  "But you haven't a chance, Barnabas,——not a chance! You didn't bet much, I hope?"

  "Not so much as I intended, madam."

  "Pray what was the sum?"

  "Twenty thousand pounds."

  "Not——each?"

  "Yes, madam."

  "Forty thousand pounds! Against a favorite! Cleone, my dear," said the Duchess, with one of her quick, incisive nods, "Cleone, this Barnabas of ours is either a madman or a fool! And yet——stoop down, sir,——here where I can see you,——hum! And yet, Cleone, there are times when I think he is perhaps a little wiser than he seems,——nothing is so baffling as simplicity, my dear! If you wished to be talked about, Barnabas, you have succeeded admirably,——no wonder all London is laughing over such a preposterous bet. Forty thousand pounds! Well, it will at least buy you notoriety, and that is next to fame."

  "Indeed, I hadn't thought of that," said Barnabas.

  "And supposing your horse had been lamed and you couldn't ride,——how then?"

  "Why, then, I forfeit the money, madam."

  Now here the Duchess frowned thoughtfully, and thereafter said "ha!" so suddenly, that Cleone started and hurried to her side.

  "Dear God-mother, what is it?"

  "A thought, my dear!"

  "But——"

  "Call it a woman's intuition if you will."

  "What is your thought, dear?"

  "That you are right, Cleone,——he must go——at once!"

  "Go? Barnabas?"

  "Yes; to London,——now——this very instant! Unless you prefer to forfeit your money, Barnabas?"

  But Barnabas only smiled and shook his head.

  "You would be wiser!"

  "But I was never very wise, I fear," said Barnabas.

  "And——much safer!"

  "Oh, God-mother,——do you think there is——danger, then?"

  "Yes, child, I do. Indeed, Barnabas, you were wiser and safer to forfeit your wagers and stay here with me and——Cleone!"

  But Barnabas only sighed and shook his head.

  "Cleone," said the Duchess, "speak to him."

  So blushing a little, sighing a little, Cleone reached out her hand to Barnabas, while the Duchess watched them with her young, bright eyes.

  "Oh, Barnabas, God-mother is very wise, and if——there is danger——you mustn't go——for my sake."

  But Barnabas shook his head again, and taking in his strong clasp the pleading hand upon his arm, turned to the Duchess.

  "Madam," said he, "dear Duchess, to-night I have found my manhood, for to-night I have learned that a man must ever choose the hardest course and follow it——to the end. To-night Cleone has taught me——many things."

  "And you will——stay?" inquired the Duchess.

  "I must go!" said Barnabas.

  "Then good-by——Barnabas!" said her Grace, looking up at him with a sudden, radiant smile, "good-by!" said she very softly, "it is a fine thing to be a gentleman, perhaps,——but it is a godlike thing to be——a man!" So saying, she gave him her hand, and as Barnabas stooped to kiss those small, white fingers, she looked down at his curly head with such an expression as surely few had ever seen within the eyes of this ancient, childless woman, her Grace of Camberhurst.

  "Now Giant!" she called, as Barnabas turned towards Cleone, "come here, Giant, and promise me to take care of Mr. Beverley."

  "Yes, mam,——all right, mam,——you jest leave 'im to me," replied Master Milo with his superb air, "don't you worrit on 'is account, 'e'll be all right along o' me, mam, 'e will."

  "For that," cried the Duchess, catching him by two of his gleaming buttons, "for that I mean to kiss you, Giant!" The which, despite his reproving blushes, she did forthwith.

  And Cleone and Barnabas? Well, it so chanced, her Grace's back was towards them; while as for Master Milo——abashed, and for once forgetful of his bepolished topboots, he became in very truth a child, though one utterly unused to the motherly touch of a tender woman's lips; therefore he suffered the embrace with closed eyes,——even his buttons were eclipsed, and, in that moment, the Duchess whispered something in his ear. Then he turned and followed after Barnabas, who was already striding away across the wide lawn, his head carried high, a new light in his eyes and a wondrous great joy at his heart, ——a man henceforth——resolute to attempt all things, glorying in his strength and contemptuous of failure, because of the trill of a woman's voice and the quick hot touch of a woman's soft lips, whose caress had been in no sense——motherly. And presently, being come to the hospitable gates, he turned with bared head to look back at the two women, the one a childless mother, old and worn, yet wise with years, and the maid, strong and proud in all the glory of her warm, young womanhood. Side by side with arms entwined they stood, to watch young Barnabas, and in the eyes of each, an expression so much alike, yet so dissimilar. Then, with a flourish of his hat, Barnabas went on down the road, past the finger-post, with Milo of Crotona's small top-boots twinkling at his side.

  "Sir," said he suddenly, speaking in an awed tone, "is she a real Doochess——the little old 'un?"

  "Yes," nodded Barnabas, "very real. Why, Imp?"

  "'Cos I called 'er a child, I did——Lord! An' then she——she kissed me, she did, sir——which ain't much in my line, it ain't. But she give me a guinea, sir, an' she likewise whispered in my ear, she did."

  "Oh?" said Barnabas, thinking of Cleone——"whispered, did she?"

  "Ah! she says to me——quick like, sir,——she says, 'tell 'im,' she says——meaning you, sir, 'tell 'im to beware o' Wilfred Chichester!' she says."

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