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The Amateur Gentleman (Chapter36)

2006-08-28 16:12

  Chapter XXXVI. Of an Ethical Discussion, Which the Reader is Advised to Skip

  Oho! for the rush of wind in the hair, for the rolling thunder of galloping hoofs, now echoing on the hard, white road, now muffled in dewy grass.

  Oho! for the horse and his rider and the glory of them; for the long, swinging stride that makes nothing of distance, for the tireless spring of the powerful loins, for the masterful hand on the bridle, strong, yet gentle as a caress, for the firm seat——the balance and sway that is an aid to speed, and proves the born rider. And what horse should this be but Four-legs, his black coat glossy and shining in the sun, his great, round hoofs spurning the flying earth, all a-quiver with high courage, with life and the joy of it? And who should be the rider but young Barnabas?

  He rides with his hat in his whip-hand, that he may feel the wind, and with never a look behind, for birds are carolling from the cool freshness of dewy wood and copse, in every hedge and tree the young sun has set a myriad gems flashing and sparkling; while, out of the green distance ahead, Love is calling; brooks babble of it, birds sing of it, the very leaves find each a small, soft voice to whisper of it.

  So away——away rides Barnabas by village green and lonely cot, past hedge and gate and barn, up hill and down hill,——away from the dirt and noise of London, away from its joys and sorrows, its splendors and its miseries, and from the oncoming, engulfing shadow. Spur and gallop, Barnabas,——ride, youth, ride! for the shadow has already touched you, even as the madman said.

  Therefore while youth yet abides, while the sun yet shines,——ride, Barnabas, ride!

  Now as he went, Barnabas presently espied a leafy by-lane, and across this lane a fence had been erected,——a high fence, but with a fair "take-off" and consequently, a most inviting fence. At this, forthwith, Barnabas rode, steadied Four-legs in his stride, touched him with the spur, and cleared it with a foot to spare. Then, all at once, he drew rein and paced over the dewy grass to where, beneath the hedge, was a solitary man who knelt before a fire of twigs fanning it to a blaze with his wide-eaved hat.

  He was a slender man, and something stooping of shoulder, and his hair shone silver-white in the sunshine. Hearing Barnabas approach, he looked up, rose to his feet, and so stood staring as one in doubt. Therefore Barnabas uncovered his head and saluted him with grave politeness.

  "Sir," said he, reining in his great horse, "you have not forgotten me, I hope?"

  "No indeed, young sir," answered the Apostle of Peace, with a dawning smile of welcome. "But you are dressed very differently from what I remember. The quiet, country youth has become lost, and transfigured into the dashing Corinthian. What a vast difference clothes can make in one! And yet your face is the same, your expression unchanged. London has not altered you yet, and I hope it never may. No, sir, your face is not one to be forgotten,——indeed it reminds me of other days."

  "But we have only met once before," said Barnabas.

  "True! And yet I seem to have known you years ago,——that is what puzzles me! But come, young sir,——if you have time and inclination to share a vagrant's breakfast, I can offer you eggs and new milk, and bread and butter,——simple fare, but more wholesome than your French ragouts and highly-seasoned dishes."

  "You are very kind," said Barnabas, "the ride has made me hungry, ——besides, I should like to talk with you."

  "Why, then——light down from that great horse of yours, and join me. The grass must be both chair and table, but here is a tree for your back, and the bank for mine."

  So, having dismounted and secured his horse's bridle to a convenient branch, Barnabas sat himself down with his back to the tree, and accepted the wandering Preacher's bounty as freely as it was offered. And when the Preacher had spoken a short grace, they began to eat, and while they ate, to talk, as follows:

  Barnabas. "It is three weeks, I think, since we met?"

  The Preacher. "A month, young sir."

  Barnabas. "So long a time?"

  The Preacher. "So short a time. You have been busy, I take it?"

  Barnabas. "Yes, sir. Since last we met I have bought a house and set up an establishment in London, and I have also had the good fortune to be entered for the Gentleman's Steeplechase on the fifteenth."

  The Preacher. "You are rich, young sir?"

  Barnabas. "And I hope to be famous also."

  The Preacher. "Then indeed do I begin to tremble for you."

  Barnabas (staring)。 "Why so?"

  The Preacher. "Because wealth is apt to paralyze effort, and Fame is generally harder to bear, and far more dangerous, than failure."

  Barnabas. "How dangerous, sir?"

  The Preacher. "Because he who listens too often to the applause of the multitude grows deaf to the voice of Inspiration, for it is a very small, soft voice, and must be hearkened for, and some call it Genius, and some the Voice of God——"

  Barnabas. "But Fame means Power, and I would succeed for the sake of others beside myself. Yes,——I must succeed, and, as I think you once said, all things are possible to us! Pray, what did you mean?"

  The Preacher. "Young sir, into each of us who are born into this world God puts something of Himself, and by reason of this Divine part, all things are possible."

  Barnabas. "Yet the world is full of failures."

  The Preacher. "Alas! yes; but only because men do not realize power within them. For man is a selfish creature, and Self is always grossly blind. But let a man look within himself, let him but become convinced of this Divine power, and the sure and certain knowledge of ultimate success will be his. So, striving diligently, this power shall grow within him, and by and by he shall achieve great things, and the world proclaim him a Genius."

  Barnabas. "Then——all men might succeed."

  The Preacher. "Assuredly! for success is the common heritage of Man. It is only Self, blind, ignorant Self, who is the coward, crying 'I cannot! I dare not! It is impossible!'"

  Barnabas. "What do you mean by 'Self'?"

  The Preacher. "I mean the grosser part, the slave that panders to the body, a slave that, left unchecked, may grow into a tyrant, a Circe, changing Man to brute."

  Here Barnabas, having finished his bread and butter, very thoughtfully cut himself another slice.

  Barnabas (still thoughtful)。 "And do you still go about preaching Forgetfulness of Self, sir?"

  The Preacher. "And Forgiveness, yes. A good theme, young sir, but——very unpopular. Men prefer to dwell upon the wrongs done them, rather than cherish the memory of benefits conferred. But, nevertheless, I go up and down the ways, preaching always."

  Barnabas. "Why, then, I take it, your search is still unsuccessful."

  The Preacher. "Quite! Sometimes a fear comes upon me that she may be beyond my reach——"

  Barnabas. "You mean——?"

  The Preacher. "Dead, sir. At such times, things grow very black until I remember that God is a just God, and therein lies my sure and certain hope. But I would not trouble you with my griefs, young sir, more especially on such a glorious morning,——hark to the throstle yonder, he surely sings of Life and Hope. So, if you will, pray tell me of yourself, young sir, of your hopes and ambitions."

  Barnabas. "My ambitions, sir, are many, but first,——I would be a gentleman."

  The Preacher (nodding)。 "Good! So far as it goes, the ambition is a laudable one."

  Barnabas (staring thoughtfully at his bread and butter)。 "The first difficulty is to know precisely what a gentleman should be. Pray, sir, what is your definition?"

  The Preacher. "A gentleman, young sir, is (I take it) one born with the Godlike capacity to think and feel for others, irrespective of their rank or condition."

  Barnabas. "Hum! One who is unselfish?"

  The Preacher. "One who possesses an ideal so lofty, a mind so delicate, that it lifts him above all things ignoble and base, yet strengthens his hands to raise those who are fallen——no matter how low. This, I think, is to be truly a gentleman, and of all gentle men Jesus of Nazareth was the first."

  Barnabas (shaking his head)。 "And yet, sir, I remember a whip of small cords."

  The Preacher. "Truly, for Evil sometimes so deadens the soul that it can feel only through the flesh."

  Barnabas. "Then——a man may fight and yet be a gentleman?"

  The Preacher. "He who can forgive, can fight."

  Barnabas. "Sir, I am relieved to know that. But must Forgiveness always come after?"

  The Preacher. "If the evil is truly repented of."

  Barnabas. "Even though the evil remain?"

  The Preacher. "Ay, young sir, for then Forgiveness becomes truly divine."

  Barnabas. "Hum!"

  The Preacher. "But you eat nothing, young sir."

  Barnabas. "I was thinking."

  The Preacher. "Of what?"

  Barnabas. "Sir, my thought embraced you."

  The Preacher. "How, young sir?"

  Barnabas. "I was wondering if you had ever heard of a man named Chichester?"

  The Preacher (speaking brokenly, and in a whisper)。 "Sir!——young sir,——you said——?"

  Barnabas (rising)。 "Chichester!"

  The Preacher (coming to his knees)。 "Sir,——oh, sir,——this man——Chichester is he who stole away——my daughter,——who blasted her honor and my life,——who——"

  Barnabas. "No!"

  The Preacher (covering his face)。 "Yes,——yes! God help me, it's true! But in her shame I love her still, oh, my pride is dead long ago. I remember only that I am her father, with all a father's loving pity, and that she——"

  Barnabas. "And that she is the stainless maid she always was——"

  "Sir," cried the Preacher, "oh, sir,——what do you mean?" and Barnabas saw the thin hands clasp and wring themselves, even as he remembered Clemency's had done.

  "I mean," answered Barnabas, "that she fled from pollution, and found refuge among honest folk. I mean that she is alive and well, that she lives but to bless your arms and feel a father's kiss of forgiveness. If you would find her, go to the 'Spotted Cow,' near Frittenden, and ask for 'Clemency'!"

  "Clemency!" repeated the Preacher, "Clemency means mercy. And she called herself——Clemency!" Then, with a sudden, rapturous gesture, he lifted his thin hands, and with his eyes upturned to the blue heaven, spoke.

  "Oh, God!" he cried, "Oh, Father of Mercy, I thank Thee!" And so he arose from his knees, and turning about, set off through the golden morning towards Frittenden, and Clemency.

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