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The Amateur Gentleman (Chapter64)

2006-08-28 16:20

  Chapter LXIV. Which Shows Something of the Horrors of Remorse

  With this dreadful sound in his ears, Barnabas hurried away from that place of horror; but ever the sound pursued him, it echoed in his step, it panted in his quickened breathing, it throbbed in the pulsing of his heart. Wherever he looked, there always was Jasper Gaunt lolling in his chair with his head dangling at its horrible angle,——the very night was full of him.

  Hot-foot went Barnabas, by dingy streets and silent houses, and with his chin now on one shoulder, now on the other; and thus, he presently found himself before a certain door and, remembering its faulty catch, tried it but found it fast. Therefore he knocked, softly at first, but louder and louder until at length the door was plucked suddenly open and a woman appeared, a slatternly creature who bore a candle none too steadily.

  "Now then, owdacious," she began, somewhat slurring of speech. "What d'ye want——this time o' night——knocking at 'spectable door of a person?"

  "Is Mr. Barrymaine in?"

  "Mist' Barrymaine?" repeated the woman, scattering grease-spots as she raised the candle in her unsteady hand, "what d'ye wan' this time o'——"

  Here, becoming aware of the magnificence of the visitor's attire, she dropped Barnabas a floundering curtsy and showered the step with grease-spots.

  "Can I see Mr. Barrymaine?"

  "Yes, sir——this way, sir, an' min' the step, sir. See Mist' Barrymaine, yes, sir, firs' floor——an' would you be so good as to ax 'im to keep 'is feet still, or, as you might say, 'is trotters, sir——"

  "His feet?"

  "Also 'is legs, sir, if you'd be so very obleeging, sir."

  "What do you mean?"

  "Come an' listen, sir!" So saying, the woman opened a door and stood with a finger pointing unsteadily upwards. "Been a-doing of it ever since 'e came in a hour ago. It ain't loud, p'r'aps, but it's worriting——very worriting. If 'e wants to dance 'e might move about a bit 'stead o' keeping in one place all the time——'ark!" And she pointed with her quavering finger to a certain part of the ceiling whence came the tramp! tramp! of restless feet; and yet the feet never moved away.

  "I'll go up!" said Barnabas, and, nodding to the slatternly woman, he hurried along the passage and mounting the dark stair, paused before a dingy door. Now, setting his ear to the panel, he heard a sound——a muffled sound, hoarse but continuous, ever and anon rising to a wail only to sink again, yet never quite ceasing. Then, feeling the door yield to his hand, Barnabas opened it and, stepping softly into the room, closed it behind him.

  The place was very dark, except where the moon sent a fugitive beam through the uncurtained window, and face downward across this pale light lay a huddled figure from whose unseen lips the sounds issued——long, awful, gasping sobs; a figure that stirred and writhed like one in torment, whose clenched hands beat themselves upon the frayed carpet, while, between the sobbing and the beat of those clenched hands, came broken prayers intermingled with oaths and moaning protestations.

  Barnabas drew a step nearer, and, on the instant, the grovelling figure started up to an elbow; thus, stooping down, Barnabas looked into the haggard face of Ronald Barrymaine.

  "Beverley!" he gasped, "w-what d'you want? Go away,——l-leave me!"

  "No!" said Barnabas, "it is you who must go away——at once. You must leave London to-night!"

  "W-what d' you mean?"

  "You must be clear of England by to-morrow night at latest."

  Barrymaine stared up at Barnabas wide-eyed and passed his tongue to and fro across his lips before he spoke again:

  "Beverley, w-what d' you——mean?"

  "I know why you keep your right hand hidden!" said Barnabas.

  Barrymaine shivered suddenly, but his fixed stare never wavered, only, as he crouched there, striving to speak yet finding no voice, upon his furrowed brow and pallid cheek ran glittering lines of sweat. At last he contrived to speak again, but in a whisper now:

  "W-what do you mean?"

  "I mean that tonight I found this scrap of cloth, and I recognized it as part of the cuff of your sleeve, and I found it clenched in Jasper Gaunt's dead hand."

  With a hoarse, gasping cry Barrymaine cast himself face down upon the floor again and writhed there like one in agony.

  "I d-didn't mean to——oh, God! I never m-meant it!" he groaned and, starting to his knees, he caught at Barnabas with wild, imploring hands: "Oh, Beverley, I s-swear to you I n-never meant to do it. I went there tonight to l-learn the truth, and he th-threatened me——threatened me, I tell you, s-so we fought and he was s-strong and swung me against the w-wall. And then, Beverley——as we s-struggled——somehow I g-got hold of——of the dagger and struck at him——b-blindly. And——oh, my God, Beverley——I shall never forget how he——ch-choked! I can hear it now! But I didn't mean to——do it. Oh, I s-swear I never meant it, Beverley——s-so help me, God!"

  "But he is dead," said Barnabas, "and now——"

  "Y-you won't give me up, Beverley?" cried Barrymaine, clinging to his knees. "I wronged you, I know——n-now, but don't g-give me up. I'm not afraid to d-die like a g-gentleman should, but——the gallows——oh, my God!"

  "No, you must be saved——from that!"

  "Ah——w-will you help me?"

  "That is why I came."

  "W-what must I do?"

  "Start for Dover——to-night."

  "Yes——yes, Dover. B-but I have no money."

  "Here are twenty guineas, they will help you well on your way. When they are gone you shall have more."

  "Beverley, I——wronged you, but I know now who my c-creditor really is——I know who has been m-my enemy all along——oh, blind f-fool that I've been,——but I know——now. And I think it's t-turned my brain. Beverley,——my head's all confused——wish D-Dig were here. But I shall be better s-soon. It was D-Dover you said, I think?"

  "Yes,——but now, take off that coat."

  "B-but it's the only one I've got!"

  "You shall have mine," said Barnabas and, throwing aside his cloak, he stripped off that marvellous garment (whose flattened revers were never to become the vogue, after all), and laid it upon the table beside Barrymaine who seemed as he leaned there to be shaken by strange twitchings and tremblings.

  "Oh, Beverley," he muttered, "it would have been a good th-thing for me if somebody had s-strangled me at birth. No!——d-don't light the candle!" he cried suddenly, for Barnabas had sought and found the tinder-box, "don't! d-don't!"

  But Barnabas struck and the tinder caught, then, as the light came, Barrymaine shrank away and away, and, crouching against the wall, stared down at himself, at his right sleeve ripped and torn, and at certain marks that spattered and stained him, here and there, awful marks much darker than the cloth. Now as he looked, a great horror seemed to come upon him, he trembled violently and, stumbling forward, sank upon his knees beside the table, hiding his sweating face between his arms. And, kneeling thus, he uttered soft, strange, unintelligible noises and the table shook and quivered under him.

  "Come, you must take off that coat!"

  Very slowly Barrymaine lifted his heavy head and looked at Barnabas with dilating eyes and with his mouth strangely drawn and twisted.

  "Oh, Beverley!" he whispered, "I——I think I'm——"

  "You must give me that coat!" persisted Barnabas.

  Still upon his knees, Barrymaine began to fumble at the buttons of that stained, betraying garment but, all at once, his fingers seemed to grow uncertain, they groped aimlessly, fell away, and he spoke in a hoarse whisper, while upon his lip was something white, like foam.

  "I——oh I——Beverley, I——c-can't!"

  And now, all at once, as they stared into each other's eyes, Barnabas leaning forward, strong and compelling, Barrymaine upon his knees clinging weakly to the table, sudden and sharp upon the stillness broke a sound——an ominous sound, the stumble of a foot that mounted the stair.

  Uttering a broken cry Barrymaine struggled up to his feet, strove desperately to speak, his distorted mouth flecked with foam, and beating the air with frantic hands pitched over and thudded to the floor.

  Then the door opened and Mr. Smivvle appeared who, calling upon Barrymaine's name, ran forward and fell upon his knees beside that convulsed and twisted figure.

  "My God, Beverley!" he cried, "how comes he like this——what has happened?"

  "Are you his friend?"

  "Yes, yes, his friend——certainly! Haven't I told you the hand of a Smivvle, sir——"

  "Tonight he killed Jasper Gaunt."

  "Eh? Killed? Killed him?"

  "Murdered him——though I think more by accident than design."

  "Killed him! Murdered him!"

  "Yes. Pull yourself together and listen. Tomorrow the hue and cry will be all over London, we must get him away——out of the country if possible."

  "Yes, yes——of course! But he's ill——a fit, I think."

  "Have you ever seen him so before?"

  "Never so bad as this. There, Barry, there, my poor fellow! Help me to get him on the couch, will you, Beverley?"

  Between them they raised that twitching form; then, as Mr. Smivvle stooped to set a cushion beneath the restless head, he started suddenly back, staring wide-eyed and pointing with a shaking finger.

  "My God!" he whispered, "what's that? Look——look at his coat."

  "Yes," said Barnabas, "we must have it off."

  "No, no——it's too awful!" whimpered Mr. Smivvle, shrinking away, "see——it's——it's all down the front!"

  "If this coat is ever found, it will hang him!" said Barnabas. "Come, help me to get it off."

  So between them it was done; thereafter, while Mr. Smivvle crouched beside that restless, muttering form, Barnabas put on his cloak and, rolling up the torn coat, hid it beneath its ample folds.

  "What, are you going, Beverley?"

  "Yes——for one thing to get rid of this coat. On the table are twenty guineas, take them, and just so soon as Barrymaine is fit to travel, get him away, but above all, don't——"

  "Who is it?" cried Barrymaine suddenly, starting up and peering wildly over his shoulder, "w-who is it? Oh, I t-tell you there's s-somebody behind me——who is it?"

  "Nobody, Barry——not a soul, my poor boy, compose yourself!" But, even as Mr. Smivvle spoke, Barrymaine fell back and lay moaning fitfully and with half-closed eyes. "Indeed I fear he is very ill, Beverley!"

  "If he isn't better by morning, get a doctor," said Barnabas, "but, whatever you do——keep Chichester away from him. As regards money I'll see you shan't want for it. And now, for the present, good-by!"

  So saying, Barnabas caught up his hat and, with a last glance at the moaning figure on the couch, went from the room and down the stairs, and let himself out into the dingy street.

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