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The Money Moon(Chapter24)

2006-08-28 23:18

  Chapter XXIV. In which shall be found mention of a certain black bag

  "Baxter!"

  "Sir?"

  "Get me a pen, and ink!"

  "Yes, sir."

  Now any ordinary mortal might have manifested just a little surprise to behold his master walk suddenly in, dusty and dishevelled of person, his habitual languor entirely laid aside, and to thus demand pen and ink, forthwith. But then, Baxter, though mortal, was the very cream of a gentleman's gentleman, and the acme of valets, (as has been said), and comported himself accordingly.

  "Baxter!"

  "Sir?"

  "Oblige me by getting this cashed."

  "Yes, sir."

  "Bring half of it in gold."

  "Sir," said Baxter, glancing down at the slip of paper, "did you say——half, sir?"

  "Yes, Baxter,——I'd take it all in gold only that it would be rather awkward to drag around. So bring half in gold, and the rest in——five pound notes."

  "Very good, sir!"

  "And——Baxter!"

  "Sir?"

  "Take a cab!"

  "Certainly sir." And Baxter went out, closing the door behind him. Meanwhile Bellew busied himself in removing all traces of his journey, and was already bathed, and shaved, and dressed, by the time Baxter returned.

  Now gripped in his right hand Baxter carried a black leather bag which jingled as he set it down upon the table.

  "Got it?" enquired Bellew.

  "I have, sir."

  "Good!" nodded Bellew. "Now just run around to the garage, and fetch the new racing car,——the Mercedes."

  "Now, sir?"

  "Now, Baxter!"

  Once more Baxter departed, and, while he was gone, Bellew began to pack,——that is to say, he bundled coats and trousers, shirts and boots into a portmanteau in a way that would have wrung Baxter's heart, could he have seen. Which done, Bellew opened the black bag, glanced inside, shut it again, and, lighting his pipe, stretched himself out upon an ottoman, and immediately became plunged in thought.

  So lost was he, indeed, that Baxter, upon his return was necessitated to emit three distinct coughs,——(the most perfectly proper, and gentleman-like coughs in the world) ere Bellew was aware of his presence.

  "Oh!——that you, Baxter?" said he, sitting up, "back so soon?"

  "The car is at the door, sir."

  "The car?——ah yes, to be sure!——Baxter."

  "Sir?"

  "What should you say if I told you——" Bellew paused to strike a match, broke it, tried another, broke that, and finally put his pipe back into his pocket, very conscious the while of Baxter's steady, though perfectly respectful regard.

  "Baxter," said he again.

  "Sir?" said Baxter.

  "What should you say if I told you that I was in love——at last, Baxter!——Head over ears——hopelessly——irretrievably?"

  "Say, sir?——why I should say,——indeed, sir?"

  "What should you say," pursued Bellew, staring thoughtfully down at the rug under his feet, "if I told you that I am so very much, in love that I am positively afraid to——tell her so?"

  "I should say——very remarkable, sir!"

  Bellew took out his pipe again, looked at it very much as if he had never seen such a thing before, and laid it down upon the mantelpiece.

  "Baxter," said he, "kindly understand that I am speaking to you as——er——man to man,——as my father's old and trusted servant and my early boy-hood's only friend; sit down, John."

  "Thank you, Master George, sir."

  "I wish to——confess to you, John, that——er——regarding the——er——Haunting Spectre of the Might Have Been,——you were entirely in the right. At that time I knew no more the meaning of the——er——the word, John——"

  "Meaning the word——Love, Master George!"

  "Precisely; I knew no more about it than——that table. But during these latter days, I have begun to understand, and——er——the fact of the matter is——I'm——I'm fairly——up against it, John!"

  Here, Baxter, who had been watching him with his quick, sharp eyes nodded his head solemnly:

  "Master George," said he, "speaking as your father's old servant, and your boyhood's friend,——I'm afraid you are."

  Bellew took a turn up and down the room, and then pausing in front of Baxter, (who had risen also, as a matter of course), he suddenly laid his two hands upon his valet's shoulders.

  "Baxter," said he, "you'll remember that after my mother died, my father was always too busy piling up his millions to give much time or thought to me, and I should have been a very lonely small boy if it hadn't been for you, John Baxter. I was often 'up against it,' in those days, John, and you were always ready to help, and advise me;——but now,——well, from the look of things, I'm rather afraid that I must stay 'up against it'——that the game is lost already, John. But which ever way Fate decides——win, or lose,——I'm glad——yes, very glad to have learned the true meaning of——the word, John."

  "Master George, sir,——there was a poet once——Tennyson, I think, who said,——'Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all,' and I know——that he was——right. Many years ago,——before you were born, Master George, I loved——and lost, and that is how I know. But I hope that Fortune will be kinder to you, indeed I do."

  "Thank you, John,——though I don't see why she should be." And Bellew stood staring down at the rug again, till aroused by Baxter's cough:

  "Pray sir, what are your orders, the car is waiting downstairs?"

  "Orders?——why——er——pack your grip, Baxter, I shall take you with me, this time, into Arcadia, Baxter."

  "For how long, sir?"

  "Probably a week."

  "Very good, sir."

  "It is now half-past three, I must be back in Dapplemere at eight. Take your time——I'll go down to look at the machine. Just lock the place up, and——er——don't forget the black bag."

  Some ten minutes later the great racing car set out on its journey, with Bellew at the wheel, and Baxter beside him with the black bag held firmly upon his knee.

  Their process was, necessarily, slow at first, on account of the crowded thoroughfares. But, every now and then, the long, low car would shoot forward through some gap in the traffic, grazing the hubs of bus-wheels, dodging hansoms, shaving sudden corners in an apparently reckless manner. But Baxter, with his hand always upon the black leather bag, sat calm and unruffled, since he knew, by long experience, that Bellew's eye was quick and true, and his hand firm and sure upon the wheel.

  Over Westminster Bridge, and along the Old Kent Road they sped, now fast, now slow,——threading a tortuous, and difficult way amid the myriad vehicles, and so, betimes, they reached Blackheath.

  And now the powerful machine hummed over that ancient road that had aforetime, shaken to the tread of stalwart Roman Legionaries,——up Shooter's Hill, and down,——and so into the open country.

  And, ever as they went, they talked. And not as master and servant but as "between man and man,"——wherefore Baxter the Valet became merged and lost in Baxter the Human,——the honest John of the old days,——a gray haired, kindly-eyed, middle-aged cosmopolitan who listened to, and looked at, Young Alcides beside him as if he had indeed been the Master George, of years ago.

  "So you see, John, if all things do go well with me, we should probably take a trip to the Mediterranean."

  "In the——'Silvia,' of course, Master George?"

  "Yes; though——er——I've decided to change her name, John."

  "Ah!——very natural——under the circumstances, Master George," said honest John, his eyes twinkling slyly as he spoke, "Now, if I might suggest a new name it would be hard to find a more original one than 'The Haunting Spectre of the——"

  "Bosh, John!——there never was such a thing, you were quite right, as I said before, and——by heaven,——potato sacks!"

  "Eh,——what?——potato sacks, Master George?"

  They had been climbing a long, winding ascent, but now, having reached the top of the hill, they overtook a great, lumbering market cart, or wain, piled high with sacks of potatoes, and driven by an extremely surly-faced man in a smock-frock.

  "Hallo there!" cried Bellew, slowing up, "how much for one of your potato-sacks?"

  "Get out, now!" growled the surly-faced man, in a tone as surly as his look, "can't ye see as they're all occipied?"

  "Well,——empty one."

  "Get out, now!" repeated the man, scowling blacker than ever.

  "I'll give you a sovereign for one."

  "Now, don't ye try to come none o' your jokes wi' me, young feller!" growled the carter. "Sovereign!——bah!——Show us."

  "Here it is," said Bellew, holding up the coin in question. "Catch!" and, with the word, he tossed it up to the carter who caught it, very dexterously, looked at it, bit it, rubbed it on his sleeve, rang it upon the foot-board of his waggon, bit it again and finally pocketed it.

  "It's a go, sir," he nodded, his scowl vanishing as by magic; and as he spoke, he turned, seized the nearest sack, and, forthwith sent a cascade of potatoes rolling, and bounding all over the road. Which done, he folded up the sack, and handed it down to Bellew who thrust it under the seat, nodded, and, throwing in the clutch, set off down the road. But, long after the car had hummed itself out of sight, and the dust of its going had subsided, the carter sat staring after it——open-mouthed.

  If Baxter wondered at this purchase, he said nothing, only he bent his gaze thoughtfully upon the black leather bag that he held upon his knee.

  On they sped between fragrant hedges, under whispering trees, past lonely cottages and farm-houses, past gate, and field, and wood, until the sun grew low.

  At last, Bellew stopped the automobile at a place where a narrow lane, or cart track, branched off from the high road, and wound away between great trees.

  "I leave you here," said he as he sprang from the car, "this is Dapplemere,——the farmhouse lies over the up-land, yonder, though you can't see it because of the trees."

  "Is it far, Master George?"

  "About half a mile."

  "Here is the bag, sir; but——do you think it is——quite safe——?"

  "Safe, John?"

  "Under the circumstances, Master George, I think it would be advisable to——to take this with you." And he held out a small revolver. Bellew laughed, and shook his head.

  "Such things aren't necessary——here in Arcadia, John,——besides, I have my stick. So good-bye, for the present, you'll stay at the 'King's Head,'——remember."

  "Good-night, Master George, sir, goodnight! and good fortune go with you."

  "Thank you!" said Bellew, and reached out his hand, "I think we'll shake on that, John!"

  So they clasped hands, and Bellew turned, and set off along the grassy lane. And, presently, as he went, he heard the hum of the car grow rapidly fainter and fainter until it was lost in the quiet of the evening.

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