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The Amateur Gentleman (Chapter38)

2006-08-28 16:13

  Chapter XXXVIII. How Barnabas Climbed a Wall

  Now presently, as he went, he became aware of a sound that was not the stir of leaves, nor the twitter of birds, nor the music of running waters, though all these were in his ears,——for this was altogether different; a distant sound that came and went, that swelled to a murmur, sank to a whisper, yet never wholly died away. Little by little the sound grew plainer, more insistent, until, mingled with the leafy stirrings, he could hear a plaintive melody, rising and falling, faint with distance.

  Hereupon Barnabas halted suddenly, his chin in hand, his brow furrowed in thought, while over his senses stole the wailing melody of the distant violins. A while he stood thus, then plunged into the cool shadow of a wood, and hurried on by winding tracks, through broad glades, until the wood was left behind, until the path became a grassy lane; and ever the throbbing melody swelled and grew. It was a shady lane, tortuous and narrow, but on strode Barnabas until, rounding a bend, he beheld a wall, an ancient, mossy wall of red brick; and with his gaze upon this, he stopped again. But the melody called to him, louder now and more insistent, and mingled with the throb of the violins was the sound of voices and laughter.

  Then, standing on tip-toe, Barnabas set his hands to the coping of the wall, and drawing himself up, caught a momentary vision of smiling gardens, of green lawns where bright figures moved, of winding walks and neat trimmed hedges, ere, swinging himself over, he dropped down among a bed of Sir George Annersley's stocks.

  Before him was a shady walk winding between clipped yews, and, following this, Barnabas presently espied a small arbor some distance away. Now between him and this arbor was a place where four paths met, and where stood an ancient sun-dial with quaintly carved seats. And here, the sun making a glory of her wondrous hair, was my Lady Cleone, with the Marquis of Jerningham beside her. She sat with her elbow on her knee and her dimpled chin upon her palm, and, even from where he stood, Barnabas could see again the witchery of her lashes that drooped dark upon the oval of her cheek.

  The Marquis was talking earnestly, gesturing now and then with his slender hand that had quite lost its habitual languor, and stooping that he might look into the drooping beauty of her face, utterly regardless of the havoc he thus wrought upon the artful folds of his marvellous cravat. All at once she looked up, laughed and shook her head, and, closing her fan, pointed with it towards the distant house, laughing still, but imperious. Hereupon the Marquis rose, albeit unwillingly, and bowing, hurried off to obey her behest. Then Cleone rose also, and turning, went on slowly toward the arbor, with head drooping as one in thought.

  And now, with his gaze upon that shapely back, all youthful loveliness from slender foot to the crowning glory of her hair, Barnabas sighed, and felt his heart leap as he strode after her. But, even as he followed, oblivious of all else under heaven, he beheld another back that obtruded itself suddenly upon the scene, a broad, graceful back in a coat of fine blue cloth,——a back that bore itself with a masterful swing of the shoulders. And, in that instant, Barnabas recognized Sir Mortimer Carnaby.

  Cleone had reached the arbor, but on the threshold turned to meet Sir Mortimer's sweeping bow. And now she seemed to hesitate, then extended her hand, and Sir Mortimer followed her into the arbor. My lady's cheeks were warm with rich color, her eyes were suddenly and strangely bright as she sank into a chair, and Sir Mortimer, misinterpreting this, had caught and imprisoned her hands.

  "Cleone," said he, "at last!" The slender hands fluttered in his grasp, but his grasp was strong, and, ere she could stay him, he was down before her on his knee, and speaking quick and passionately.

  "Cleone!——hear me! nay, I will speak! All the afternoon I have tried to get a word with you, and now you must hear me——you shall. And yet you know what I would say. You know I love you, and have done from the first hour I saw you. And from that hour I've hungered for your, Cleone, do you hear? Ah, tell me you love me!"

  But my lady sat wide-eyed, staring at the face amid the leaves beyond the open window,——a face so handsome, yet so distorted; saw the gleam of clenched teeth, the frowning brows, the menacing gray eyes.

  Sir Mortimer, all unconscious, had caught her listless hands to his lips, and was speaking again between his kisses.

  "Speak, Cleone! You know how long I have loved you,——speak and bid me hope! What, silent still? Why, then——give me that rose from your bosom,——let it be hope's messenger, and speak for you."

  But still my lady sat dumb, staring up at the face amid the leaves, the face of Man Primeval, aglow with all the primitive passions; beheld the drawn lips and quivering nostrils, the tense jaw savage and masterful, and the glowing eyes that threatened her. And, in that moment, she threw tip her head rebellious, and sighed, and smiled,——a woman's smile, proud, defiant; and, uttering no word, gave Sir Mortimer the rose. Then, even as she did so, sprang to her feet, and laughed, a little tremulously, and bade Sir Mortimer Go! Go! Go! Wherefore, Sir Mortimer, seeing her thus, and being wise in the ways of women, pressed the flower to his lips, and so turned and strode off down the path. And when his step had died away Cleone sank down in the chair, and spoke.

  "Come out——spy!" she called. And Barnabas stepped out from the leaves. Then, because she knew what look was in his eyes, she kept her own averted; and because she was a woman young, and very proud, she lashed him with her tongue.

  "So much for your watching and listening!" said she.

  "But——he has your rose!" said Barnabas.

  "And what of that?"

  "And he has your promise!"

  "I never spoke——"

  "But the rose did!"

  "The rose will fade and wither——"

  "But it bears your promise——"

  "I gave no promise, and——and——oh, why did you——look at me!"

  "Look at you?"

  "Why did you frown at me?"

  "Why did you give him the rose?"

  "Because it was so my pleasure. Why did you frown at me with eyes like——like a devil's?"

  "I wanted to kill him——then!"

  "And now?"

  "Now, I wish him well of his bargain, and my thanks are due to him."

  "Why?"

  "Because, without knowing it, he has taught me what women are."

  "What do you mean?"

  "I——loved you, Cleone. To me you were one apart——holy, immaculate——"

  "Yes?" said Cleone very softly.

  "And I find you——"

  "Only a——woman, sir,——who will not be watched, and frowned at, and spied upon."

  "——a heartless coquette——" said Barnabas.

  "——who despises eavesdroppers, and will not be spied upon, or frowned at!"

  "I did not spy upon you," cried Barnabas, stung at last, "or if I did, God knows it was well intended."

  "How, sir?"

  "I remembered the last time we three were together,——in Annersley Wood." Here my lady shivered and hid her face. "And now, you gave him the rose! Do you want the love of this man, Cleone?"

  "There is only one man in all the world I despise more, and his name is——Barnabas," said she, without looking up.

  "So you——despise me, Cleone?"

  "Yes——Barnabas."

  "And I came here to tell you that I——loved you——to ask you to be my wife——"

  "And looked at me with Devil's eyes——"

  "Because you were mine, and because he——"

  "Yours, Barnabas? I never said so."

  "Because I loved you——worshipped you, and because——"

  "Because you were——jealous, Barnabas!"

  "Because I would have my wife immaculate——"

  "But I am not your——wife."

  "No," said Barnabas, frowning, "she must be immaculate."

  Now when he said this he heard her draw a long, quivering sigh, and with the sigh she rose to her feet and faced him, and her eyes were wide and very bright, and the fan she held snapped suddenly across in her white fingers.

  "Sir," she said, very softly, "I whipped you once, if I had a whip now, your cheek should burn again."

  "But I should not ask you to kiss it,——this time!" said Barnabas.

  "Yes," she said, in the same soft voice, "I despise you——for a creeping spy, a fool, a coward——a maligner of women. Oh, go away,——pray go. Leave me, lest I stifle."

  But now, seeing the flaming scorn of him in her eyes, in the passionate quiver of her hands, he grew afraid, cowed by her very womanhood.

  "Indeed," he stammered, "you are unjust. I——I did not mean——"

  "Go!" said she, cold as ice, "get back over the wall. Oh! I saw you climb over like a——thief! Go away, before I call for help——before I call the grooms and stable-boys to whip you out into the road where you belong——go, I say!" And frowning now, she stamped her foot, and pointed to the wall. Then Barnabas laughed softty, savagely, and, reaching out, caught her up in his long arms and crushed her to him.

  "Call if you will, Cleone," said he, "but listen first! I said to you that my wife should come to me immaculate——fortune's spoiled darling though she be,——petted, wooed, pampered though she is,——and, by God, so you shall! For I love you, Cleone, and if I live, I will some day call you 'wife,'——in spite of all your lovers, and all the roses that ever bloomed. Now, Cleone,——call them if you will." So saying he set her down and freed her from his embrace. But my lady, leaning breathless in the doorway, only looked at him once,——frowning a little, panting a little,——a long wondering look beneath her lashes, and, turning, was gone among the leaves. Then Barnabas picked up the broken fan, very tenderly, and put it into his bosom, and so sank down into the chair, his chin propped upon his fist, frowning blackly at the glory of the afternoon.

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