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The Amateur Gentleman (Chapter68)

2006-08-28 16:21

  Chapter LXVIII. Concerning the Identity of Mr. Bimby's Guest

  It needed but a glance at the huddled figure in the comfortless little attic to assure Barnabas of the identity of Mr. Bimby's "poor young friend"; wherefore, setting down the candle on the broken table, he crossed the room and touched that desolate figure with a gentle hand.

  Then Ronald Barrymaine looked up and, seeing Barnabas, struggled to his knees:

  "Beverley!" he exclaimed, "oh, thank God! You'll save her from that d-devil——I tried to kill him, b-but he was too quick for me. But you——you'll save her!"

  "What do you mean? Is it Cleone? What do you mean——speak!" said Barnabas, beginning to tremble.

  "Yes, yes!" muttered Barrymaine, passing a hand across his brow. "Listen then! Chichester knows——he knows, I tell you! He came to me, three days ago I think——while D-Dig was out, and he talked and talked, and questioned me and questioned me, and s-so I——I told him everything——everything! But I had to, Beverley, I had to——he made me——yes he, Jasper Gaunt. So I told C-Chichester everything and then——he laughed, and I t-tried to k-kill him, but he got away and left me alone with——him. He's always near me now——always c-close behind me where I can't quite s-see him, only sometimes I hear him ch-choke, oh, my God, Beverley!——like he did——that night! I r-ran away to escape him but——oh Beverley!——he's followed me, he was here a moment ago——I heard him, I t-tell you! Oh, Beverley, don't l-look as if you thought me m-mad, I'm not! I'm not! I know it's all an illusion, of c-course, but——"

  "Yes," said Barnabas gently, "but what of Cleone?"

  "Cleone? Oh, God help me, Beverley, she's going to g-give herself to that devil——to buy his silence!"

  "What——what," stammered Barnabas. "What do you mean?"

  "I got this to-day——read it and see!" said Barrymaine and drew from his bosom a crumpled letter. Then Barnabas took it, and smoothing it out, read these words:

  Ronald dear, I'm sorry I didn't let you kiss me good-by. So sorry that I am going to do all that a woman can to save you. Mr. Chichester has learned your awful secret, and I am the price of his silence. So, because of my promise to our dying mother, and because life can hold nothing for me now, because life and death are alike to me now, I am going to marry him to-night, at his house at Headcorn. Good-by, Ronald dear, and that God may forgive and save you in this life and hereafter, is the undying prayer of

  Your Sister,CLEONE.

  Barnabas refolded the letter and, giving it back to Barrymaine, took out Natty Bell's great silver watch.

  "It is a long way to Headcorn," said he, "I must start at once!"

  "Ah! You'll g-go then, Beverley?"

  "Go? Of course!"

  "Then, oh Beverley, whatever happens——whether you're in time or no, you'll——k-kill him?"

  "I think," said Barnabas, putting away his watch, "yes, I think I shall."

  "The house is called Ashleydown," continued Barrymaine feverishly, "a b-big house about a m-mile this side the village."

  "Ashleydown? I think I've heard mention of it before. But now, you must come with me, Smivvle is downstairs, you shall have my rooms to-night."

  "Thanks, Beverley, but do you m-mind——giving me your arm? I get f-faint sometimes——my head, I think, the faintness came on me in the s-street to-night, and I f-fell, I think."

  "Indeed, yes, sir," added Mr. Bimby with a little bow, "it was so I found you, sir."

  "Ah, yes, you were kind to me, I remember——you have my g-gratitude, sir. Now, Beverley, give me your arm, I——I——oh, God help me!" Barrymaine reached out with clutching fingers, swayed, twisted sideways and would have fallen, had not Barnabas caught him.

  "Poor boy!" cried Mr. Bimby, "a fit, I think——so very young, poor boy! You'll need help, sir. Oh, poor boy, poor boy!" So saying, the little gentleman hurried away and presently returned with John and Mr. Smivvle. Thus, between them, they bore Ronald Barrymaine downstairs and, having made him as comfortable as might be in the inner room, left him to the care of the faithful Mr. Smivvle.

  Then Barnabas crossed to the narrow window and stood there a while, looking down at the dim figures of the Bow Street Runners who still lounged against the wall in the gathering dusk and talked together in gruff murmurs.

  "John," said he at last, "I must trouble you to change coats with me." Peterby slipped off the garment in question, and aided Barnabas to put it on.

  "Now, your fur cap, John."

  "Sir," said Peterby all anxiety in a moment, "you are never thinking of going out, tonight——it would be madness!"

  "Then mad am I. Your cap, John."

  "But——if you are arrested——"

  "He will be a strong man who stays me tonight, John. Give me your cap."

  So Peterby brought the fur cap and, putting it on, Barnabas pulled it low down over his brows and turned to the door. But there Peterby stayed him.

  "Sir," he pleaded, "let me go for you."

  "No," said Barnabas, shaking his head.

  "Then let me go with you,"

  "Impossible, John."

  "Why?"

  "Because," answered Barnabas, grim-lipped, "tonight I go to ride another race, a very long, hard race, and oh, John Peterby——my faithful John, if you never prayed before——pray now, that I may win!"

  "Sir," said Peterby, "I will!"

  Then Barnabas caught his hand, wrung it, and striding from the room, hurried away down the dark and narrow stair.

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