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The Amateur Gentleman (Chapter13)

2006-08-28 16:05

  Chapter XIII. In Which Barnabas Makes a Confession

  "A very remarkable man!" said the Viscount, taking up his hat.

  "And a very pitiful story!" said Barnabas, thoughtfully.

  "Though I could wish," pursued the Viscount, dreamy of eye, and settling his hat with a light tap on the crown, "yes, I do certainly wish that he hadn't interfered quite so soon, I was just beginning to——ah——enjoy myself."

  "It must be a terrible thing to be haunted by remorse so bitter as his, 'to fancy her voice weeping in the night,' and to see her creeping on into the shadows always——away from him," said Barnabas.

  But now, having helped each other into their coats, they set off back to the inn.

  "My ribs," said the Viscount, feeling that region of his person with tender solicitude as he spoke, "my ribs are infernally sore, Bev, though it was kind of you not to mark my face; I'm sorry for your lip, my dear fellow, but really it was the only opening you gave me; I hope it isn't painful?"

  "Indeed I had forgotten it," returned Barnabas.

  "Then needs must I try to forget my bruised ribs," said the Viscount, making a wry face as he clambered over the stile.

  But here Barnabas paused to turn and look back at the scene of their encounter, quite deserted now, for the stranger had long since disappeared in the green.

  "Yes, a very remarkable man!" sighed Barnabas, thoughtfully. "I wish he had come back with us to the inn and——Clemency. Yes, a very strange man. I wonder now——"

  "And I beg you to remember," added the Viscount, taking him by the arm, "he said that you and I were ordained to be friends, and by Gad! I think he spoke the truth, Bev."

  "I feel sure of it, Viscount," Barnabas nodded.

  "Furthermore, Bev, if you are 'Bev' to me, I must be 'Dick' to you henceforth——amen and so forth!"

  "Agreed, Dick."

  "Then, my dear Bev?" said the Viscount impulsively.

  "Yes, my dear Dick?"

  "Suppose we shake hands on it?"

  "Willingly, Dick, yet, first, I think it but honorable to tell you that I——love the Lady Cleone Meredith."

  "Eh——what?" exclaimed the Viscount, falling back a step, "you love her? the devil you do! since when?"

  "Since this morning."

  "Love her!" repeated the Viscount, "but you've seen her but once in your life."

  "True," said Barnabas, "but then I mean to see her many times, henceforth."

  "Ah! the deuce you do!"

  "Yes," answered Barnabas. "I shall possibly marry her——some day."

  The Viscount laughed, and frowned, and laughed again, then noting the set mouth and chin of the speaker, grew thoughtful, and thereafter stood looking at Barnabas with a new and suddenly awakened interest. Who was he? What was he? From his clothes he might have been anything between a gentleman farmer and a gamekeeper.

  As for Barnabas himself, as he leaned there against the stile with his gaze on the distance, his eyes a-dream, he had clean forgotten his awkward clothes and blunt-toed boots.

  And after all, what can boots or clothes matter to man or woman? indeed, they sink into insignificance when the face of their wearer is stamped with the serene yet determined confidence that marked Barnabas as he spoke.

  "Marry——Cleone Meredith?" said the Viscount at last.

  "Marry her——yes," said Barnabas slowly.

  "Why then, in the first place let me tell you she's devilish high and proud."

  "'T is so I would have her!" nodded Barnabas.

  "And cursedly hard to please."

  "So I should judge her," nodded Barnabas.

  "And heiress to great wealth."

  "No matter for that," said Barnabas.

  "And full of whims and fancies."

  "And therefore womanly," said Barnabas.

  "My dear Beverley," said the Viscount, smiling again, "I tell you the man who wins Cleone Meredith must be stronger, handsomer, richer, and more accomplished than any 'Buck,' 'Corinthian,' or 'Macaroni' of 'em all——"

  "Or more determined!" added Barnabas.

  "Or more determined, yes," nodded the Viscount.

  "Then I shall certainly marry her——some day," said Barnabas.

  Again the Viscount eyed Barnabas a while in silence, but this time, be it noted, he smiled no more.

  "Hum!" said he at last, "so it seems in finding a friend I have also found myself another rival?"

  "I greatly fear so," said Barnabas, and they walked on together.

  But when they had gone some distance in moody silence, the Viscount spoke:

  "Beverley," said he, "forewarned is forearmed!"

  "Yes," answered Barnabas, "that is why I told you."

  "Then," said the Viscount, "I think we'll——shake hands——after all."

  The which they did forthwith.

  Now it was at this moment that Milo of Crotona took it upon himself to become visible.

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