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The Amateur Gentleman (Chapter29)

2006-08-28 16:11

  Chapter XXIX. Which Describes Something of the Misfortunes of Ronald Barrymaine

  Holborn was in full song,——a rumbling, roaring melody, a clattering, rushing, blaring symphony made up of the grind of wheels upon resounding cobble-stones, the thudding beat of horse-hoofs, the tread of countless feet, the shrill note of voices; it was all there, the bass and the treble blending together, harsh, discordant, yet the real symphony of life.

  And, amidst it all, of it all, came Barnabas, eager-eyed, forgetful of his companion, lost to all but the stir and bustle, the rush and roar of the wonderful city about him. The which Mr. Smivvle duly remarked from under the curly-brimmed hat, but was uncommonly silent. Indeed, though his hat was at its usual rakish angle, though he swung his cane and strode with all his ordinary devil-may-care swagger, though his whiskers were as self-assertive as ever, yet Mr. Smivvle himself was unusually pensive, and in his bold black eyes was a look very like anxiety. But in a while, as they turned out of the rush of Holborn Hill, he sighed, threw back his shoulders, and spoke.

  "Nearly there now, my dear fellow, this is the Garden."

  "Garden?" said Barnabas, glancing about. "Where?"

  "Here, sir; we're in it,——Hatton Garden. Charmingly rustic spot, you'll observe, delightfully rural retreat! Famous for strawberries once, I believe,——flowers too, of course. Talking of flowers, sir, a few of 'em still left to——ah——blush unseen? I'm one, Barrymaine's another——a violet? No. A lily? No. A blush-rose? Well, let us say a blush-rose, but damnably run to seed, like the rest of us. And——ah——talking of Barrymaine, I ought, perhaps, to warn you that we may find him a trifle——queer——a leetle touched perhaps." And Mr. Smivvle raised an invisible glass, and tossed down its imaginary contents with an expression of much beatitude.

  "Is he given to——that sort of thing?"

  "Sir," said Mr. Smivvle, "can you blame one who seeks forgetfulness in the flowing bowl——and my friend Barry has very much to forget——can you blame him?"

  "No, poor fellow!"

  "Sir, allow me to tell you my friend Barry needs no man's pity, though I confess I could wish Chichester was not quite so generous——in one respect."


  "In——ah——in keeping the flowing bowl continually brimming, my dear fellow."

  "Is Mr. Chichester a friend of his?"

  "The only one, with the exception of yours obediently, who has not deserted him in his adversity."


  "Because, well,——between you and me, my dear fellow, I believe his regard for Barry's half-sister, the Lady Cleone, is largely accountable in Chichester's case; as for myself, because, as I think I mentioned, the hand of a Smivvle once given, sir, is never withdrawn, either on account of plague, poverty, pestilence, or Jews, ——dammem! This way, my dear fellow!" and turning into Cross Street, up towards Leather Lane, Mr. Smivvle halted at a certain dingy door, opened it, and showed Barnabas into a dingier hall, and so, leading the way up the dingiest stairs in the world, eventually ushered him into a fair-sized, though dingy, room; and being entered, immediately stood upon tip-toe and laid a finger on his lips.

  "Hush! the poor fellow's asleep, but you'll excuse him, I know."

  Barnabas nodded, and, softly approaching the couch, looked down upon the sleeper, and, with the look, felt his heart leap.

  A young face he saw, delicately featured, a handsome face with disdainful lips that yet drooped in pitiful weariness, a face which, for all its youth, was marred by the indelible traces of fierce, ungoverned passions. And gazing down upon these features, so dissimilar in expression, yet so strangely like in their beauty and lofty pride, Barnabas felt his heart leap,——because of the long lashes that curled so black against the waxen pallor of the cheek; for in that moment he almost seemed to be back in the green, morning freshness of Annersley Wood, and upon his lips there breathed a name——"Cleone."

  But all at once the sleeper stirred, frowned, and started up with a bitter imprecation upon his lips that ended in a vacant stare.

  "Why, Barry," cried Mr. Smivvle leaning over him, "my dear boy, did we disturb you?"

  "Ah, Dig——is that you? Fell asleep——brandy, perhaps, and——ha,——your pardon, sir!" and Ronald Barrymaine rose, somewhat unsteadily, and, folding his threadbare dressing-gown about him, bowed, and so stood facing Barnabas, a little drunk and very stately.

  "This is my friend Beverley, of whom I told you," Mr. Smivvle hastened to explain. "Mr. Barnabas Beverley,——Mr. Ronald Barrymaine."

  "You are——welcome, sir," said Mr. Barrymaine, speaking with elaborate care, as if to make quite sure of his utterance. "Pray be seated, Mr. Bev'ley. We——we are a little crowded I f-fear. Move those boots off the chair, Dig. Indeed my apartment might be a little more commodious, but it's all I have at p-present, and by God!" he cried, suddenly fierce, "I shouldn't have even this but for Dig here! Dig's the only f-friend I have in the world——except Chichester. Push the brandy over, Dig. Of course there's——Cleone, but she's only a sister, after all. Don't know what I should do if it wasn't for Dig——d-do I, Dig? And Chichester of course. Give Mr. Bev'ley a chair. Dig. I'll get him——glass!" Hereupon Mr. Smivvle hurried forward with a chair which, like all the rest of the furniture, had long ago seen its best days, during which manoeuvre he contrived to whisper hurriedly:

  "Poor Barry's decidedly 'touched' to-day, a little more so than usual, but you'll excuse him I know, my dear fellow. Hush!" for Barrymaine, who had crossed to the other end of the room, now turned and came towards them, swaying a little, and with a glass in his hand.

  "It's rickety, sir, you'll notice," said he, nodding. "I——I mean that chair——dev'lish rickety, like everything else 'bout here——especially myself, eh, Dig? B-but don't be alarmed, it——will bear you, sir. D-devil of a place to ask——gentleman to sit down in, ——but the Spanswick hasn't been round to clean the place this week——damn her! S-scarcely blame her, though——never gets paid——except when Dig remembers it. Don't know what I should do without D-Dig,——raised twenty pounds yesterday, damme if I know where! said it was watch——but watch went weeks ago. Couldn't ever pay the Spanswick. That's the accursed part of it——pay, pay! debt on debt, and——n-nothing to pay with. All swallowed up by that merciless bloodsucker——that——"

  "Now, Barry!" Mr. Smivvle expostulated, "my dear boy——"

  "He's a cursed v-vampire, I tell you!" retorted Barrymaine, his pale cheeks suddenly flushed, and his dark eyes flashing in swift passion, ——"he's a snake."

  "Now, my dear fellow, calm yourself."

  "Calm myself. How can I, when everything I have is his, when everything I g-get belongs to him before——curse him——even before I get it! I tell you, Dig, he's——he's draining my life away, drop by drop! He's g-got me down with his foot on my neck——crushing me into the mud. I say he's stamping me down into hell——damn him!"

  "Restrain yourself, Barry, my dear boy, remember Mr. Beverley is our guest——"

  "Restrain myself——yes, Dig, yes. B-beg Mr. Beverley's pardon for me, Dig. Not myself to-day,——but must restrain myself——certainly. Give me some more brandy——ha! and pass bottle to Mr. Bev'ley, Dig. No, sir? Ah well, help yourself, Dig. Must forgive exhibition of feeling, sir, but I always do get carried away when I remember that inhuman monster——God's curse on him!"

  "Sir," said Barnabas, "whom do you mean?"

  "Mean? ha! ha! oh damme, hark to that, Dig! Dev'lish witty I call that——oh c-cursed rich! Whom do I mean? Why," cried Barrymaine, starting up from the couch, "whom should I mean but Gaunt! Gaunt! Gaunt!" and he shook his clenched fists passionately in the air. Then, as suddenly he turned upon Barnabas with a wild, despairing gesture, and stretching out his arms, pointed to each wrist in turn. "D'ye see 'em?" he cried, "d'ye hear 'em; jangle? No? Ah, but they are there! riveted on, never to come off, eating deeper into my flesh every day! I'm shackled, I tell you,——fettered hand and foot. Oh! egad, I'm an object lesson!——point a moral and adorn a tale, ——beware of p-prodigality and m-money lenders. Shackled——shackled hand and foot, and must drag my chain until I f-fall into a debtor's grave."

  "No!" cried Barnabas, so suddenly that Ronald Barrymaine started, and thereafter grew very high and haughty.

  "Sir," said he with upflung head, "I don't permit my word to be——to be——contra——dicted,——never did and never will. Though you see before you a m-miserable wretch, yet that wretch is still a gentleman at heart, and that wretch tells you again he's shackled, sir, hand and foot——yes, damme, and so I am!"

  "Well then," said Barnabas, "why not free yourself?"

  Ronald Barrymaine sank down upon the couch, looked at Barnabas, looked at Smivvle, drained his glass and shook his head.

  "My dear Dig," said he, "your friend's either mad or drunk——mos' probably drunk. Yes, that's it,——or else he's smoking me, and I won't be smoked, no man shall laugh at me now that I'm down. Show him the door, Dig. I——I won't have my private affairs discussed by s-strangers, no, by heaven!"

  "Now, Barry," exclaimed Mr. Smivvle, "do be calm, Mr. Beverley only wants to help you——er——that is, in a friendly way, of course, and I 'm sure——"

  "Damn his help! I'd rather die in the g-gutter than ask help or charity of any one."

  "Yes, yes——of course, my dear fellow! But you're so touchy, Barry, so infernally proud, my dear boy. Mr. Beverley merely wishes to——"

  "Be honored with your friendship," said Barnabas with his ingenuous smile.

  "Why then, Dig," says his youthful Mightiness, beginning to relent, "pray beg Mr. Bev'ley's pardon for me again, and 'sure him the honor is mine."

  "And I would have you trust me also," Barnabas pursued.

  "Trust you?" repeated Barrymaine with a sudden laugh. "Gad, yes, willingly! Only it happens I've n-noth-ing left to trust you with, ——no, not enough to pay the Spanswick."

  "And yet, if you will, you may be free," said Barnabas the persistent.

  "Free! He's at it again, Dig."

  "Believe me it is my earnest desire to help you,——to——"

  "Help me, sir! a stranger! by heaven,——no! A stranger, damme!"

  "Let us say your friend."

  "I tell you, sir," said Barrymaine, starting up unsteadily, "I seek no man's aid——s-scorn it! I'm not one to weep out my misfortunes to strangers. Damme, I'm man enough to manage my own affairs, what's left of 'em. I want nobody's accursed pity either——pah!" and he made a gesture of repudiation so fierce that he staggered and recovered himself only by clutching at Mr. Smivvle's ready arm. "The Past, sir," said he, supporting himself by that trusty arm, "the Past is done with, and the F-Future I'll face alone, as I have done all along, eh, Dig?"

  "But surely——"

  "Ay, surely, sir, I'm no object of charity whining for alms, no, by Gad! I——I'm——Dig, push the brandy!"

  "If you would but listen——" Barnabas began again.

  "Not——not a word. Why should I? Past's dead, and damn the Future. Dig, pass the brandy."

  "And I tell you," said Barnabas, "that in the future are hope and the chance of a new life, once you are free of Gaunt."

  "Free of Gaunt! Hark to that, Dig. Must be dev'lish drunk to talk such cursed f-folly! Why, I tell you again," he cried in rising passion, "that I couldn't get free of Gaunt's talons even if I had the money, and mine's all gone long ago, and half Cleone's beside, ——her Guardian's tied up the rest. She can't touch another penny without his consent, damn him!——so I'm done. The future? In the future is a debtor's prison that opens for me whenever Jasper Gaunt says the word. Hope? There can be no hope for me till Jasper Gaunt's dead and shrieking in hell-fire."

  "But your debts shall be paid,——if you will."

  "Paid? Who——who's to pay 'em?"

  "I will."


  "Yes," nodded Barnabas, "on a condition."

  Ronald Barrymaine sank back upon the couch, staring at Barnabas with eyes wide and with parted lips; then, leaned suddenly forward, sobered by surprise.

  "Ah-h!" said he slowly. "I think I begin to understand. You have seen my——my sister."


  "Do you know——how much I owe?"

  "No, but I'll pay it,——on a condition."

  "A condition?" For a long moment the passionate dark eyes met and questioned the steady gray; then Barrymaine's long lashes fluttered and fell.

  "Of course it would be a loan. I——I'd pay you back," he muttered.

  "At your own convenience."

  "And you would advance the money at once?"

  "On a condition!"

  Once again their eyes met, and once again Barrymaine's dropped; his fingers clenched and unclenched themselves, he stirred restlessly, and, finally, spoke.

  "And your condition. Is it——Cleone?"

  "No!" said Barnabas vehemently.

  "Then, what is it?"

  "That from this hour you give up brandy and Mr. Chichester——both evil things."

  "Well, and what more,——what——for yourself? How can this benefit you? Come, speak out,——what is your real motive?"

  "The hope that you may, some day, be worthy of your sister's love."

  "Worthy, sir!" exclaimed Barrymaine, flushing angrily. "Poverty is no crime!"

  "No; but there remain brandy and Mr. Chichester."

  "Ha! would you insult m-my friend?"

  "Impossible. You have no friend, unless it be Mr. Smivvle here."

  "Now by heaven," began Barrymaine passionately, "I tell you——"

  "And I tell you that these are my only conditions," said Barnabas. "Accept them and you may begin a new life. It is in your power to become the man you might be, to regain the place in men's esteem that you have lost, for if you are but sufficiently determined, nothing is impossible."

  Now as he spoke, Barnabas beheld Barrymaine's drooping head uplifted, his curving back grew straight, and a new light sprang into his eyes.

  "A new life," he muttered, "to come back to it all, to outface them all after their cursed sneers and slights! Are you sure you don't promise too much,——are you sure it's not too late?"

  "Sure and certain!" said Barnabas. "But remember the chance of salvation rests only with and by yourself, after all," and he pointed to the half-emptied bottle. "Do you agree to my conditions?"

  "Yes, yes, by God I do!"

  "Then, friend, give me your hand. To-day I go to see Jasper Gaunt."

  So Ronald Barrymaine, standing square upon his feet, gave Barnabas his hand. But even in that moment Barnabas was conscious that the door had opened softly behind him, saw the light fade out of Barrymaine's eyes, felt the hand grow soft and lax, and turning about, beheld Mr. Chichester smiling at them from the threshold.

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