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The Amateur Gentleman (Chapter46)

2006-08-28 16:15

  Chapter XLVI. Which Concerns Itself with Small Things in General, and a Pebble in Particular

  To those who, standing apart from the rush and flurry of life, look upon the world with a seeing eye, it is, surely, interesting to observe on what small and apparently insignificant things great matters depend. To the student History abounds with examples, and to the philosopher they are to be met with everywhere.

  But how should Barnabas (being neither a student nor a philosopher) know, or even guess, that all his fine ideas and intentions were to be frustrated, and his whole future entirely changed by nothing more nor less than——a pebble, an ordinary, smooth, round pebble, as innocent-seeming as any of its kind, yet (like young David's) singled out by destiny to be one of these "smaller things"?

  They were sitting on the terrace, the Duchess, Cleone, Barnabas, and the Captain, and they were very silent,——the Duchess, perhaps, because she had supped adequately, the Captain because of his long, clay pipe, Cleone because she happened to be lost in contemplation of the moon, and Barnabas, because he was utterly absorbed in contemplation of Cleone.

  The night was very warm and very still, and upon the quietude stole a sound——softer, yet more insistent than the whisper of wind among leaves,——a soothing, murmurous sound that seemed to make the pervading quiet but the more complete.

  "How cool the brook sounds!" sighed the Duchess at last, "and the perfume of the roses,——oh dear me, how delicious! Indeed I think the scent of roses always seems more intoxicating after one has supped well, for, after all, one must be well-fed to be really romantic,——eh, Jack?"

  "Romantic, mam!" snorted the Captain, "romantic,——I say bosh, mam! I say——"

  "And then——the moon, Jack!"

  "Moon? And what of it, mam,——I say——"

  "Roses always smell sweeter by moonlight, Jack, and are far more inclined to——go to the head——"

  "Roses!" snorted the Captain, louder than before, "you must be thinking of rum, mam, rum——"

  "Then, Jack, to the perfume of roses, add the trill of a nightingale——"

  "And of all rums, mam, give me real old Jamaica——"

  "And to the trill of a nightingale, add again the murmur of an unseen brook, Jack——"

  "Eh, mam, eh? Nightingales, brooks? I say——oh, Gad, mam!" and the Captain relapsed into tobacco-puffing indignation.

  "What more could youth and beauty ask? Ah, Jack, Jack!" sighed the Duchess, "had you paid more attention to brooks and nightingales, and stared at the moon in your youth, you might have been a green young grandfather to-night, instead of a hoary old bachelor in a shabby coat——sucking consolation from a clay pipe!"

  "Consolation, mam! For what——I say, I demand to know for what?"

  "Loneliness, Jack!"

  "Eh, Duchess,——what, mam? Haven't I got my dear Clo, and the Bo'sun, eh, mam——eh?"

  "The Bo'sun, yes,——he smokes a pipe, but Cleone can't, so she looks at the moon instead,——don't you dear?"

  "The moon, God-mother?" exclaimed Cleone, bringing her gaze earthwards on the instant. "Why I,——I——the moon, indeed!"

  "And she listens to the brook, Jack,——don't you, my dove?"

  "Why, God-mother, I——the brook? Of course not!" said Cleone.

  "And, consequently, Jack, you mustn't expect to keep her much longer——"

  "Eh!" cried the bewildered Captain, "what's all this, Duchess,——I say, what d'ye mean, mam?"

  "Some women," sighed the Duchess, "some women never know they're in love until they've married the wrong man, and then it's too late, poor things. But our sweet Clo, on the contrary——"

  "Love!" snorted the Captain louder than ever, "now sink me, mam,——I say, sink and scuttle me; but what's love got to do with Clo, eh, mam?"

  "More than you think, Jack——ask her!"

  But lo! my lady had risen, and was already descending the terrace steps, a little hurriedly perhaps, yet in most stately fashion. Whereupon Barnabas, feeling her Grace's impelling hand upon his arm, obeyed the imperious command and rising, also descended the steps,——though in fashion not at all stately,——and strode after my lady, and being come beside her, walked on——yet found nothing to say, abashed by her very dignity. But, after they had gone thus some distance, venturing to glance at her averted face, Barnabas espied the dimple beside her mouth.

  "Cleone," said he suddenly, "what has love to do with you?"

  Now, for a moment, she looked up at him, then her lashes drooped, and she turned away.

  "Oh, sir," she answered, "lift up your eyes and look upon the moon!"

  "Cleone, has love——come to you——at last? Tell me!" But my lady walked on for a distance with head again averted, and——with never a word. "Speak!" said Barnabas, and caught her hand (unresisting now), and held it to his lips. "Oh, Cleone,——answer me!"

  Then Cleone obeyed and spoke, though her voice was tremulous and low.

  "Ah, sir," said she, "listen to the brook!"

  Now it so chanced they had drawn very near this talkative stream, whose voice reached them——now in hoarse whisperings, now in throaty chucklings, and whose ripples were bright with the reflected glory of the moon. Just where they stood, a path led down to these shimmering waters,——a narrow and very steep path screened by bending willows; and, moved by Fate, or Chance, or Destiny, Barnabas descended this path, and turning, reached up his hands to Cleone.

  "Come!" he said. And thus, for a moment, while he looked up into her eyes, she looked down into his, and sighed, and moved towards him, and——set her foot upon the pebble.

  And thus, behold the pebble had achieved its purpose, for, next moment Cleone was lying in his arms, and for neither of them was life or the world to be ever the same thereafter.

  Yes, indeed, the perfume of the roses was full of intoxication to-night; the murmurous brook whispered of things scarce dreamed of; and the waning moon was bright enough to show the look in her eyes and the quiver of her mouth as Barnabas stooped above her.

  "Cleone!" he whispered, "Cleone——can you——do you——love me? Oh, my white lady,——my woman that I love,——do you love me?"

  She did not speak, but her eyes answered him; and, in that moment Barnabas stooped and kissed her, and held her close, and closer, until she sighed and stirred in his embrace.

  Then, all at once, he groaned and set her down, and stood before her with bent head.

  "My dear," said he, "oh, my dear!"

  "Barnabas?"

  "Forgive me,——I should have spoken,——indeed, I meant to,——but I couldn't think,——it was so sudden,——forgive me! I didn't mean to even touch your hand until I had confessed my deceit. Oh, my dear, ——I am not——not the fine gentleman you think me. I am only a very ——humble fellow. The son of a village——inn-keeper. Your eyes were——kind to me just now, but, oh Cleone, if so humble a fellow is——unworthy, as I fear,——I——I will try to——forget."

  Very still she stood, looking upon his bent head, saw the quiver of his lips, and the griping of his strong hands. Now, when she spoke, her voice was very tender.

  "Can you——ever forget?"

  "I will——try!"

  "Then——oh, Barnabas, don't! Because I——think I could——love this——humble fellow, Barnabas."

  The moon, of course, has looked on many a happy lover, yet where find one, before or since, more radiant than young Barnabas; and the brook, even in its softest, most tender murmurs, could never hope to catch the faintest echo of Cleone's voice or the indescribable thrill of it.

  And as for the pebble that was so round, so smooth and innocent-seeming, whether its part had been that of beneficent sprite, or malevolent demon, he who troubles to read on may learn.

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