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The Amateur Gentleman (Chapter17)

2006-08-28 16:06

  Chapter XVII. In Which Barnabas Parts Company with the Person of Quality

  For a long moment the two remained silent, each staring at the other, Barnabas still seated in the ditch and the man standing before him, with the coins clutched in his hand.

  "Ah!" said Barnabas, at last, "then you were in the wood?"

  "I lay hidden behind a bush, and watched you do it, sir."

  "And what were you doing in Annersley Wood?"

  "I bore a message, sir, for the lady."

  "Ah!" said Barnabas, "the lady——yes."

  "Who lay watching you, also."

  "No," said Barnabas, "the lady was unconscious."

  "Yet recovered sufficiently to adjust her habit, and to watch you knock him down."

  "Hum!" said Barnabas, and was silent a while. "Have you heard such a name as Chichester?" he inquired suddenly.

  "No, sir."

  "And did you deliver the letter?"

  "I did, sir."

  "And she——sent back an answer?"

  "Yes, sir."

  "The gentleman who sent the letter was tall and slender, I think, with dark hair, and a scar on his cheek?"

  "Yes, sir."

  "And when you came back with her answer, he met you down the lane yonder, and I heard you say that the lady had no time to write."

  "Yes, sir; but she promised to meet him at a place called Oakshott's Barn."

  "Ah!" said Barnabas, "I think I know it."

  "At sunset, sir!"

  "That would be somewhere about half past seven," mused Barnabas, staring blankly, down at the book on his knee.

  "Yes, sir."

  "How came you to be carrying his letter?"

  "He offered me five shillings to go and bring her answer."

  "Did you know the lady?"

  "No, sir, but he described her."

  "To be sure." said Barnabas; "he mentioned her hair, perhaps?"

  "Yes, sir."

  "Her——eyelashes, perhaps?"

  "And her eyes also, sir."

  "Yes, her eyes, of course. He seemed to know her well, perhaps?"

  "Yes, sir."

  "And she——promised to meet him——in a very lonely place?"

  "At Oakshott's Barn, sir."

  Once again Barnabas stared down at his book, and was silent so long that his new servant wondered, grew fidgety, coughed, and at last spoke.

  "Sir," said he, "what are your orders?"

  Barnabas started and looked up.

  "Orders?" he repeated; "why, first of all, get something to eat, then find yourself a barber, and wait for me at 'The Spotted Cow.'"

  "Yes, sir." The man bowed, turned away, took three or four steps, and came back again.

  "Sir," said he, "I have two guineas of yours, and you have never even asked my name."

  "True," said Barnabas.

  "Supposing I go, and never come back?"

  "Then I shall be two guineas the poorer, and you will have proved yourself a thief; but until you do, you are an honest man, so far as I am concerned."

  "Sir, said the fugitive, hoarsely, but with a new light in his face," for that, if I were not your servant——I——should like to——clasp your hand; and, sir, my name is John Peterby."

  "Why, then," said Barnabas, smiling all at once, "why then, John Peterby, here it is!"

  So, for a moment their hands met, and then John Peterby turned sharp about and strode away down the lane, his step grown light and his head held high.

  But as for Barnabas, he sat there in the ditch, staring at nothing; and as he stared his brow grew black and ever blacker, until chancing at last to espy the "priceless wollum," where it lay beside him, he took it up, balanced it in his hand, then hurled it over the opposite hedge: which done, he laughed sudden and harsh, and clenched his fists.

  "God!" he exclaimed, "a goddess and a satyr!" and so sat staring on at nothingness again.

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