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The Amateur Gentleman (Chapter50)

2006-08-28 16:16

  Chapter L. In Which Ronald Barrymaine Speaks His Mind

  The whiskers of Mr. Digby Smivvle were in a chastened mood, indeed their habitual ferocity was mitigated to such a degree that they might almost be said to wilt, or droop. Mr. Digby Smivvle drooped likewise; in a word, Mr. Smivvle was despondent.

  He sat in one of the rickety chairs, his legs stretched out to the cheerless hearth, and stared moodily at the ashes of a long dead fire. At the opening of the door he started and half rose, but seeing Barnabas, sank back again.

  "Beverley," he cried, "thank heaven you're safe back again——that is to say——" he went on, striving to speak in his ordinary manner, "that is to say,——I mean——ah——in short, my dear Beverley, I'm delighted to see you!"

  "Pray what do you mean by safe?"

  "What do I mean?" repeated Mr. Smivvle, beginning to fumble for his whisker with strangely clumsy fingers, "why, I mean——safe, sir,——a very natural wish, surely?"

  "Yes," said Barnabas, "and you wished to see me, I think?"

  "To see you?" echoed Mr. Smivvle, still feeling for his whisker,——"why, yes, of course——"

  "At least, the Viscount told me so."

  "Ah? Deuced obliging of the Viscount,——very!"

  "Are you alone?" Barnabas inquired, struck by Mr. Smivvle's hesitating manner, and he glanced toward the door of what was evidently a bedroom.

  "Alone, sir," said Mr. Smivvle, "is the precise and only word for it. You have hit the nail exactly——upon the nob, sir." Here, having found his whisker, Mr. Smivvle gave it a fierce wrench, loosed it, and clenching his fist, smote himself two blows in the region of the heart. "Sir," said he, "you behold in me a deserted and therefore doleful ruminant chewing reflection's solitary cud. And, sir,——it is a bitter cud, cursedly so,——wherein the milk of human kindness is curdled, sir, curdled most damnably, my dear Beverley! In a word, my friend Barry——wholly forgetful of those sacred bonds which the hammer of Adversity alone can weld,——scorning Friendship's holy obligations, has turned his back upon Smivvle,——upon Digby,——upon faithful Dig, and——in short has——ah——hopped the mutual perch, sir."

  "Do you mean he has left you?"

  "Yes, sir. We had words this morning——a good many and, the end of it was——he departed——for good, and all on your account!"

  "My account?"

  "And with a month's rent due, not to mention the Spanswick's wages, and she has a tongue! 'Oh, Death, where is thy sting?'"

  "But how on my account?"

  "Sir, in a word, he resented my friendship for you. Sir, Barrymaine is cursed proud, but so am I——as Lucifer! Sir, when the blood of a Smivvle is once curdled, it's curdled most damnably, and the heart of a Smivvle,——as all the world knows,——becomes a——an accursed flint, sir." Here Mr. Smivvle shook his head and sighed again. "Though I can't help wondering what the poor fellow will do without me at hand to——ah——pop round the corner for him. By the way, do you happen to remember if you fastened the front door securely?"

  "No."

  "I ask because the latch is faulty,——like most things about here,——and in this delightful Garden of Hatton and the——ah——hot-beds adjoining there are weeds, sir, of the rambling species which, given opportunity——will ramble anywhere. Several of 'em——choice exotics, too! have found their way up here lately,——one of 'em got in here this very morning after Barrymaine had gone,——characteristic specimen in a fur cap. But, as I was saying, you may have noticed that Chichester is not altogether——friendly towards you?"

  "Chichester?" said Barnabas. "Yes!"

  "And it would almost seem that he's determined that Barrymaine shall——be the same. Poor fellow's been very strange lately,——Gaunt's been pressing him again worse than ever,——even threatened him with the Marshalsea. Consequently, the flowing bowl has continually brimmed——Chichester's doing, of course,——and he seems to consider you his mortal enemy, and——in short, I think it only right to——put you on your guard."

  "You mean against——Chichester?"

  "I mean against——Barrymaine!"

  "Ah!" said Barnabas, chin in hand, "but why?"

  "Well, you'll remember that the only time you met him he was inclined to be——just a l-ee-tle——violent, perhaps?"

  "When he attacked me with the bottle,——yes!" sighed Barnabas, "but surely that was only because he was drunk?"

  "Y-e-s, perhaps so," said Mr. Smivvle, fumbling for his whisker again, "but this morning he——wasn't so drunk as usual."

  "Well?"

  "And yet he was more violent than ever——raved against you like a maniac."

  "But——why?"

  "It was just after he had received another of Jasper Gaunt's letters,——here it is!" and, stooping, Mr. Smivvle picked up a crumpled paper that had lain among the ashes, and smoothing it out, tendered it to Barnabas. "Read it, sir,——read it!" he said earnestly, "it will explain matters, I think,——and much better than I can. Yes indeed, read it, for it concerns you too!" So Barnabas took the letter, and this is what he read:

  DEAR MR. BARRYMAINE,——In reply to your favor, re interest, requesting more time, I take occasion once more to remind you that I am no longer your creditor, being merely his agent, as Mr. Beverley himself could, and will, doubtless, inform you.

  I am, therefore, compelled to demand payment within thirty days from date; otherwise the usual steps must be taken in lieu of same.

  Yours obediently,

  JASPER GAUNT.

  Now when Barnabas had read the letter a sudden fit of rage possessed him, and, crumpling the paper in his fist, he dashed it down and set his foot upon it.

  "A lie!" he cried, "a foul, cowardly lie!"

  "Then you——you didn't buy up the debt, Beverley?"

  "No! no!——I couldn't,——Gaunt had sold already, and by heaven I believe the real creditor is——"

  "Ha!" cried Smivvle, pointing suddenly, "the door wasn't fastened, Beverley,——look there!"

  Barnabas started, and glancing round, saw that the door was opening very slowly, and inch by inch; then, as they watched its stealthy movement, all at once a shaggy head slid into view, a round head, with a face remarkably hirsute as to eyebrow and whisker, and surmounted by a dingy fur cap.

  "'Scuse me, gents!" said the head, speaking hoarsely, and rolling its eyes at them, "name o' Barrymaine,——vich on ye might that be, now?"

  "Ha?" cried Mr. Smivvle angrily, "so you're here again, are you!"

  "'Scuse me, gents!" said the head, blinking its round eyes at them, "name o' Barrymaine,——no offence,——vich?"

  "Come," said Mr. Smivvle, beginning to tug at his whiskers,—— "come, get out,——d'ye hear!"

  "But, axing your pardons, gents,——vich on ye might be——name o' Barrymaine?"

  "What do you want with him——eh?" demanded Mr. Smivvle, his whiskers growing momentarily more ferocious, "speak out, man!"

  "Got a letter for 'im——leastways it's wrote to 'im," answered the head, "'ere's a B, and a Nay, and a Nar, and another on 'em, and a Vy,——that spells Barry, don't it? Then, arter that, comes a M., and a——"

  "Oh, all right,——give it me!" said Mr. Smivvle, rising.

  "Are you name o' Barrymaine?"

  "No, but you can leave it with me, and I——"

  "Leave it?" repeated the head, in a slightly injured tone, "leave it? axing your pardons, gents,——but burn my neck if I do! If you ain't name o' Barrymaine v'y then——p'r'aps this is 'im a-coming upstairs now,——and werry 'asty about it, too!" And, sure enough, hurried feet were heard ascending; whereupon Mr. Smivvle uttered a startled exclamation, and, motioning Barnabas to be seated in the dingiest corner, strode quickly to the door, and thus came face to face with Ronald Barrymaine upon the threshold.

  "Why, Barry!" said he, standing so as to block Barrymaine's view of the dingy corner, "so you've come back, then?"

  "Come back, yes!" returned the other petulantly, "I had to,——mislaid a letter, must have left it here, somewhere. Did you find it?"

  "Axing your pardon, sir, but might you be name o' Barrymaine, no offence, but might you?"

  The shaggy head had slid quite into the room now, bringing after it a short, thick-set person clad after the fashion of a bargeman.

  "Yes; what do you want?"

  "Might this 'ere be the letter as you come back for,——no offence, but might it?"

  "Yes! yes," cried Barrymaine, and, snatching it, he tore it fiercely across and across, and made a gesture as if to fling the fragments into the hearth, then thrust them into his pocket instead. "Here's a shilling for you," said he, turning to the bargeman, "that is——Dig, l-lend me a shilling, I——" Ronald Barrymaine's voice ended abruptly, for he had caught sight of Barnabas sitting in the dingy corner, and now, pushing past Smivvle, he stood staring, his handsome features distorted with sudden fury, his teeth gleaming between his parted lips.

  "So it's——you, is it?" he demanded.

  "Yes," said Barnabas, and stood up.

  "So——you're——back again, are you?"

  "Thank you, yes," said Barnabas, "and quite safe!"

  "S-safe?"

  "As yet," answered Barnabas.

  "You aren't d-drunk, are you?"

  "No," said Barnabas, "nor are you, for once."

  Barrymaine clenched his fists and took a step towards Barnabas, but spying the bargeman, who now lurched forward, turned upon him in a fury.

  "What the d-devil d' you want? Get out of the way, d' ye hear?——get out, I say!"

  "Axing your pardon, sir, an' meaning no offence, but summat was said about a bob, sir——vun shilling!"

  "Damnation! Give the fellow his s-shilling, Dig, and then k-kick him out."

  Hereupon Mr. Smivvle, having felt through his pockets, slowly produced the coin demanded, and handing it to the bargeman, pointed to the door.

  "No,——see him downstairs——into the street, Dig. And you needn't hurry back, I'm going to speak my mind to this f-fellow——once and for all! So l-lock the street door, Dig."

  Mr. Smivvle hesitated, glanced at Barnabas, shrugged his shoulders and followed the bargeman out of the room. As the door closed, Barrymaine sprang to it, and, turning the key, faced Barnabas with arms folded, head lowered, and a smile upon his lips:

  "Now," said he, "you are going to listen to me——d'you hear? We are going to understand each other before you leave this room! D'you see?"

  "Yes," said Barnabas.

  "Oh!" he cried bitterly, "I know the sort of c-crawling thing you are, Gaunt has warned me——"

  "Gaunt is a liar!" said Barnabas.

  "I say,——he's told me,——are you listening? Y-you think, because you've bought my debts, you've bought me, too, body and soul, and——through me——Cleone! Ah, but you haven't,——before that happens y-you'll be dead and rotting——and I, and she as well. Are you listening?——she as well! You think you've g-got me——there beneath your foot——b-but you haven't, no, by God, you haven't——"

  "I tell you Gaunt is a liar!" repeated Barnabas. "I couldn't buy your debts because he had sold them already. Come with me, and I'll prove it,——come and let me face him with the truth——"

  "The truth? You? Oh, I might have guessed you'd come creeping round here to see S-Smivvle behind my back——as you do my sister——"

  "Sir!" said Barnabas, flushing.

  "What——do you dare deny it? Do you d-dare deny that you have met her——by stealth,——do you? do you? Oh, I know of your secret meetings with her. I know how you have imposed upon the credulity of a weak-minded old woman and a one-armed d-dotard sufficiently to get yourself invited to Hawkhurst. But I tell you this shall stop,——it shall! Yes, by God,——you shall give me your promise to c-cease your persecution of my sister before you leave this room, or——"

  "Or?" said Barnabas.

  "Or it will be the w-worse for you!"

  "How?"

  "I——I'll k-kill you!"

  "Murder me?"

  "It's no m-murder to kill your sort!"

  "Then it is a pistol you have in your pocket, there?"

  "Yes——l-look at it!" And, speaking, Barrymaine drew and levelled the weapon with practised hand. "Now listen!" said he. "You will s-sit down at that table there, and write Gaunt to g-give me all the time I need for your c-cursed interest——"

  "But I tell you——"

  "Liar!" cried Barrymaine, advancing a threatening step. "Liar,——I know! Then, after you've done that,——you will swear never to see or c-communicate with my sister again, or I'll shoot you dead where you stand,——s-so help me God!"

  "You are mad," said Barnabas, "I am not your creditor, and——"

  "Liar! I know!" repeated Barrymaine.

  "And yet," said Barnabas, fronting him, white-faced, across the table, "I think——I'm sure, there are four things you don't know. The first is that Lady Cleone has promised to marry me——some day——"

  "Go on to the next, liar!"

  "The second is that my stables were broken into again, this morning,——the third is that my horse killed the man who was trying to hamstring him,——and the fourth is that in the dead man's pocket I found——this!" And Barnabas produced that crumpled piece of paper whereon was drawn the plan of the stables.

  Now, at the sight of this paper, Barrymaine fell back a step, his pistol-hand wavered, fell to his side, and sinking into a chair, he seemed to shrink into himself as he stared dully at a worn patch in the carpet.

  "Only one beside myself knows of this," said Barnabas.

  "Well?" The word seemed wrung from Barrymaine's quivering lips. He lay back in the rickety chair, his arms dangling, his chin upon his breast, never lifting his haggard eyes, and, almost as he spoke, the pistol slipped from his lax fingers and lay all unheeded.

  "Not another soul shall ever know," said Barnabas earnestly, "the world shall be none the wiser if you will promise to stop,——now, ——to free yourself from Chichester's influence, now,——to let me help you to redeem the past. Promise me this, and I, as your friend, will tear up this damning evidence——here and now."

  "And——if I——c-can't?"

  Barnabas sighed, and folding up the crumpled paper, thrust it back into his pocket.

  "You shall have——a week, to make up your mind. You know my address, I think,——at least, Mr. Smivvle does." So saying, Barnabas stepped towards the door, but, seeing the look on Barrymaine's face, he stooped very suddenly, and picked up the pistol. Then he unlocked the door and went out, closing it behind him. Upon the dark stairs he encountered Mr. Smivvle, who had been sitting there making nervous havoc of his whiskers.

  "Gad, Beverley!" he exclaimed, "I ought not to have left you alone with him,——deuce of a state about it, 'pon my honor. But what could I do,——as I sat here listening to you both I was afraid."

  "So was I," said Barnabas. "But he will be quiet now, I think. Here is one of his pistols, you'd better hide it. And——forget your differences with him, for if ever a man needed a friend, he does. As for your rent, don't worry about that, I'll send it round to you this evening. Good-by."

  So Barnabas went on down the dark stairs, and being come to the door with the faulty latch, let himself out into the dingy street, and thus came face to face with the man in the fur cap.

  "Lord, Mr. Barty, sir," said that worthy, glancing up and down the street with a pair of mild, round eyes, "you can burn my neck if I wasn't beginning to vorry about you, up theer all alone vith that 'ere child o' mine. For, sir, of all the Capital coves as ever I see, ——'e's vun o' the werry capital-est."

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