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The Amateur Gentleman (Chapter27)

2006-08-28 16:10

  Chapter XXVII. How Barnabas Bought an Unridable Horse——and Rode It

  The coffee-room at the "George" is a longish, narrowish, dullish chamber, with a row of windows that look out upon the yard,——but upon this afternoon they looked at nothing in particular; and here Barnabas found a waiter, a lonely wight who struck him as being very like the room itself, in that he, also, was long, and narrow, and dull, and looked out upon the yard at nothing in particular; and, as he gazed, he sighed, and tapped thoughtfully at his chin with a salt-spoon. As Barnabas entered, however, he laid down the spoon, flicked an imaginary crumb from the table-cloth with his napkin, and bowed.

  "Dinner, sir?" he inquired in a dullish voice, and with his head set engagingly to one side, while his sharp eyes surveyed Barnabas from boots to waistcoat, from waistcoat to neckcloth, and stayed there while he drew out his own shirt-frill with caressing fingers, and coughed disapprobation into his napkin. "Did you say dinner, sir?" he inquired again.

  "Thank you, no," answered Barnabas.

  "Perhaps cheese an' a biscuit might be nearer your mark, and say——a half of porter?"

  "I've only just had breakfast," said Barnabas, aware of the waiter's scrutiny.

  "Ah!" sighed the waiter, still caressing his shirt-frill, "you're Number Four, I think——night coach?"

  "Yes."

  "From the country of course, sir?"

  "Yes——from the country," said Barnabas, beginning to frown a little, "but how in the world did you guess that?"

  "From your 'toot example,' sir, as they say in France——from your appearance, sir."

  "You are evidently a very observant man!" said Barnabas.

  "Well," answered the waiter, with his gaze still riveted upon the neckcloth——indeed it seemed to fascinate him, "well, I can see as far through a brick wall as most,——there ain't much as I miss, sir."

  "Why, then," said Barnabas, "you may perhaps have noticed a door behind you?"

  The waiter stared from the neckcloth to the door and back again, and scratched his chin dubiously.

  "Door, sir——yessir!"

  "Then suppose you go out of that door, and bring me pens, and ink, and paper."

  "Yessir!"

  "Also the latest newspapers."

  "Yessir——certainly, sir;" and with another slight, though eloquent cough into his napkin, he started off upon his errand. Hereupon, as soon as he was alone, Barnabas must needs glance down at that offending neckcloth, and his frown grew the blacker.

  "Now, I wonder how long Peterby will be?" he said to himself. But here came the creak of the waiter's boots, and that observant person reappeared, bearing the various articles which he named in turn as he set them on the table.

  "A bottle of ink, sir; pens and writing-paper, sir; and the Gazette."

  "Thank you," said Barnabas, very conscious of his neckcloth still.

  "And now, sir," here the waiter coughed into his napkin again, "now——what will you drink, sir; shall we say port, or shall we make it sherry?"

  "Neither," said Barnabas.

  "Why, then, we 'ave some rare old burgundy, sir——'ighly esteemed by connysoors and (cough again) other——gentlemen."

  "No, thank you."

  "On the other 'and——to suit 'umbler tastes, we 'ave,"——here the waiter closed his eyes, sighed, and shook his head——"ale, sir, likewise beer, small and otherwise."

  "Nothing, thank you," said Barnabas; "and you will observe the door is still where it was."

  "Door, sir, yessir——oh, certainly, sir!" said he, and stalked out of the room.

  Then Barnabas set a sheet of paper before him, selected a pen, and began to write as follows:——

  George Inn,Borough. June 2, 18——。

  To VISCOUNT DEVENHAM,

  MY DEAR DICK,——I did not think to be asking favors of you so soon, but——(here a blot)。

  "Confound it!" exclaimed Barnabas, and taking out his penknife he began to mend the spluttering quill. But, in the midst of this operation, chancing to glance out of the window, he espied a long-legged gentleman with a remarkably fierce pair of whiskers; he wore a coat of ultra-fashionable cut, and stood with his booted legs wide apart, staring up at the inn from under a curly-brimmed hat. But the hat had evidently seen better days, the coat was frayed at seam and elbow, and the boots lacked polish; yet these small blemishes were more than offset by his general dashing, knowing air, and the untamable ferocity of his whiskers. As Barnabas watched him, he drew a letter from the interior of his shabby coat, unfolded it with a prodigious flourish, and began to con it over. Now, all at once, Barnabas dropped knife and pen, thrust a hand into his own breast and took thence a letter also, at sight of which he straightway forgot the bewhiskered gentleman; for what he read was this:——

  Dearest and Best of Sisters,——Never, in all this world was there such an unfortunate, luckless dog as I——were it not for your unfailing love I should have made an end of it all, before now.

  I write this letter to beg and implore you to grant me another interview, anywhere and at any time you may name. Of course you will think it is more money I want——so I do; I'm always in need of it, and begin to fear I always shall be. But my reasons for wishing this meeting are much more than this——indeed, most urgent! (this underlined)。 I am threatened by a GRAVE DANGER (this doubly underlined)。 I am at my wit's end, and only you can save me, Cleone——you and you only. Chichester has been more than kind, indeed, a true friend to me! (this also underlined)。 I would that you could feel kinder towards him.

  This letter must reach you where none of your guardian's spies can intercept it; your precious Captain has always hated me, damn him! (this scratched out)。 Oh, shame that he, a stranger, should ever have been allowed to come between brother and sister. I shall journey down to Hawkhurst to see you and shall stay about until you can contrive to meet me. Chichester may accompany me, and if he should, try to be kinder to your brother's only remaining friend. How different are our situations! you surrounded by every luxury, while I——yet heaven forbid I should forget my manhood and fill this letter with my woes. But if you ever loved your unfortunate brother, do not fail him in this, Cleone.

  Your loving, but desperate,

  RONALD BARRYMAINE.

  Having read this effusion twice over, and very carefully, Barnabas was yet staring at the last line with its scrawling signature, all unnecessary curls and flourishes, when he heard a slight sound in the adjacent box, and turning sharply, was just in time to see the top of a hat ere it vanished behind the curtain above the partition.

  Therefore he sat very still, waiting. And lo! after the lapse of half a minute, or thereabouts, it reappeared, slowly and by degrees——a beaver hat, something the worse for wear. Slowly it rose up over the curtain——the dusty crown, the frayed band, the curly brim, and eventually a pair of bold, black eyes that grew suddenly very wide as they met the unwinking gaze of Barnabas. Hereupon the lips, as yet unseen, vented a deep sigh, and, thereafter, uttered these words:

  "The same, and yet, curse me, the nose!——y-e-s, the nose seems, on closer inspection, a trifle too aquiline, perhaps; and the chin——y-e-s, decidedly a thought too long! And yet——!" Here another sigh, and the face rising into full view, Barnabas recognized the bewhiskered gentleman he had noticed in the yard.

  "Sir," continued the stranger, removing the curly-brimmed hat with a flourish, and bowing over the partition as well as he could, "you don't happen to be a sailor——Royal Navy, do you?"

  "No, sir," answered Barnabas.

  "And your name don't happen to be Smivvle, does it?"

  "No, sir," said Barnabas again.

  "And yet," sighed the bewhiskered gentleman, regarding him with half-closed eyes, and with his head very much on one side, "in spite of your nose, and in spite of your chin, you are the counterpart, sir, the facsimile——I might say the breathing image of a——ha!——of a nephew of mine; noble youth, handsome as Adonis——Royal Navy——regular Apollo; went to sea, sir, years ago; never heard of more; tragic, sir——devilish tragic, on my soul and honor."

  "Very!" said Barnabas; "but——"

  "Saw you from the yard, sir, immediately struck by close resemblance; flew here, borne on the wings of hope, sir; you 're quite sure your name ain't Smivvle, are you?"

  "Quite sure."

  "Ah, well——mine is; Digby Smivvle, familiarly known as 'Dig,' at your service, sir. Stranger to London, sir?"

  "Yes," said Barnabas.

  "Ha! Bad place, London, sink of iniquity! Full of rogues, rascals, damn scoundrels,——by heaven, sharks, sir! confounded cannibals, by George!——eat you alive. Stranger myself, sir; just up from my little place in Worcestershire——King's Heath,——know it, perhaps? No? Charming village! rural, quiet; mossy trees, sir; winding brooks, larks and cuckoos carolling all day long. Sir, there has been a Smivvle at the Hall since before the Conquest! Fine old place, the Hall; ancient, sir, hoary and historic——though devilish draughty, upon my soul and honor!"

  Here, finding that he still held the open letter in his hand, Barnabas refolded it and thrust it into his pocket, while Mr. Smivvle smilingly caressed his whiskers, and his bold, black eyes darted glances here and there, from Barnabas mending his pen to the table, from the table to the walls, to the ceiling, and from that altitude they dropped to the table again, and hovered there.

  "Sir," said Barnabas without looking up, "pray excuse the blot, the pen was a bad one; I am making another, as you see."

  Mr. Smivvle started, and raised his eyes swiftly. Stared at unconscious Barnabas, rubbed his nose, felt for his whisker, and, having found it, tugged it viciously.

  "Blot, sir!" he exclaimed loudly; "now, upon my soul and honor——what blot, sir?"

  "This," said Barnabas, taking up his unfinished letter to the Viscount——"if you've finished, we may as well destroy it," and forthwith he crumpled it into a ball, and tossed it into the empty fireplace.

  "Sir!" exclaimed Mr. Smivvle, louder than before, "'pon my soul, now, if you mean to insinuate——" Here he paused, staring at Barnabas, and with his whiskers fiercer than ever.

  "Well, sir?" inquired Barnabas, still busily trimming his quill.

  Mr. Smivvle frowned; but finding Barnabas was quite unconscious of it, shook his head, felt for his whisker again, found it, tugged it, and laughed jovially.

  "Sir," said he, "you are a devilish sharp fellow, and a fine fellow. I swear you are. I like your spirit, on my soul and honor I do, and, as for blots, I vow to you I never write a letter myself that I don't smear most damnably——curse me if I don't. That blot, sir, shall be another bond between us, for I have conceived a great regard for you. The astounding likeness between you and one who——was snatched away in the flower of his youth——draws me, sir, draws me most damnably; for I have a heart, sir, a heart——why should I disguise it?" Here Mr. Smivvle tapped the third left-hand button of his coat. "And so long as that organ continues its functions, you may count Digby Smivvle your friend, and at his little place in Worcestershire he will be proud to show you the hospitality of a Smivvle. Meanwhile, sir, seeing we are both strangers in a strange place, supposing we——join forces and, if you are up for the race, I propose——"

  "The race!" exclaimed Barnabas, looking up suddenly.

  "Yes, sir, devilish swell affair, with gentlemen to ride, and Royalty to look on——a race of races! London's agog with it, all the clubs discuss it, coffee houses ring with it, inns and taverns clamor with it——soul and honor, betting——everywhere. The odds slightly favor Sir Mortimer Carnaby's 'Clasher'; but Viscount Devenham's 'Moonraker' is well up. Then there's Captain Slingsby's 'Rascal,' Mr. Tressider's 'Pilot,' Lord Jerningham's 'Clinker,' and five or six others. But, as I tell you, 'Clasher' and 'Moonraker' carry the money, though many knowing ones are sweet on the 'Rascal.' But, surely, you must have heard of the great steeplechase? Devilish ugly course, they tell me."

  "The Viscount spoke of it, I remember," said Barnabas, absently.

  "Viscount, sir——not——Viscount Devenham?"

  "Yes."

  Here Mr. Smivvle whistled softly, took off the curly-brimmed hat, looked at it, and put it on again at a more rakish angle than ever.

  "Didn't happen to mention my name, did he——Smivvle, sir?"

  "No."

  "Nor Dig, perhaps?"

  "No, sir."

  "Remarkable——hum!" exclaimed Mr. Smivvle, shaking his head; "but I'm ready to lay you odds that he did speak of my friend Barry. I may say my bosom companion——a Mr. Ronald Barrymaine, sir."

  "Ronald Barrymaine," repeated Barnabas, trying the new point of his pen upon his thumb-nail, yet conscious of the speaker's keen glance, none the less. "No, he did not."

  "Astounding!" exclaimed Mr. Smivvle.

  "Why so?"

  "Because my friend Barrymaine was particularly intimate with his Lordship, before he fell among the Jews, dammem! My friend Barry, sir, was a dasher, by George! a regular red-hot tearer, by heaven! a Go, sir, a Tippy, a bang up Blood, and would be still if it were not for the Jews——curse 'em!"

  "And is Mr. Barrymaine still a friend of yours?"

  At this Mr. Smivvle took off his hat again, clapped it to his bosom, and bowed.

  "Sir," said he, "for weal or woe, in shadow or shine, the hand of a Smivvle, once given, is given for good."

  As he spoke, Mr. Smivvle stretched out the member in question, which Barnabas observed was none too clean.

  "The hand of a Smivvle, sir," pursued that gentleman, "the hand of a Smivvle is never withdrawn either on account of adversity, plague, poverty, pestilence, or Jews——dammem! As for my friend Barrymaine; but, perhaps, you are acquainted with him, sir."

  "No," answered Barnabas.

  "Ah! a noble fellow, sir! Heroic youth, blood, birth, and breeding to his finger-tips, sir. But he is, above all else, a brother to a——a sister, sir. Ah! what a creature! Fair, sir? fair as the immortal Helena! Proud, sir? proud as an arch-duchess! Handsome, sir? handsome, sir, as——as——oh, dammit, words fail me; but go, sir, go and ransack Olympus, and you couldn't match her, 'pon my soul! Diana, sir? Diana was a frump! Venus? Venus was a dowdy hoyden, by George! and as for the ox-eyed Juno, she was a positive cow to this young beauty! And then——her heart, sir!"

  "Well, what of it?" inquired Barnabas, rather sharply.

  "Utterly devoted——beats only for my friend——"

  "You mean her brother?"

  "I mean her brother, yes, sir; though I have heard a rumor that Sir Mortimer Carnaby——"

  "Pooh!" said Barnabas.

  "With pleasure, sir; but the fact remains that it was partly on his account, and partly because of another, that she was dragged away from London——"

  "What other?"

  "Well, let us say——H.R.H."

  "Sir," inquired Barnabas, frowning, "do you mean the Prince?"

  "Sir," said Mr. Smivvle, with a smiling shake of the head, "I prefer the letters H.R.H. Anyhow, there were many rumors afloat at the time, and her guardian——a regular, tarry old sea dog, by George——drags her away from her brother's side, and buries her in the country, like the one-armed old pirate he is, eye to her money they tell me; regular old skinflint; bad as a Jew——damn him! But speaking of the race, sir, do you happen to——know anything?"

  "I know that it is to be run on the fifteenth of July," said Barnabas abstractedly.

  "Oh, very good!" exclaimed Mr. Smivvle——"ha! ha!——excellent! knows it is to be run on the fifteenth; very facetious, curse me! But, joking apart, sir, have you any private knowledge? The Viscount, now, did he happen to tell you anything that——"

  But, at this juncture, they were interrupted by a sudden tumult in the yard outside, a hubbub of shouts, the ring and stamp of hoofs, and, thereafter, a solitary voice upraised in oaths and curses. Barnabas sprang to his feet, and hurrying out into the yard, beheld a powerful black horse that reared and plunged in the grip of two struggling grooms; in an adjacent corner was the late rider, who sat upon a pile of stable-sweepings and swore, while, near by, perched precariously upon an upturned bucket, his slim legs stretched out before him, was a young exquisite——a Corinthian from top to toe——who rocked with laughter, yet was careful to keep his head rigid, so as to avoid crushing his cravat, a thing of wonder which immediately arrested the attention of Barnabas, because of its prodigious height, and the artful arrangement of its voluminous folds.

  "Oh, dooce take me," he exclaimed in a faint voice, clapping a hand to his side, "I'll be shot if I saw anything neater, no, not even at Sadler's Wells! Captain Slingsby of the Guards in his famous double somersault! Oh, damme, Sling! I'd give a hundred guineas to see you do it again——I would, dooce take me!"

  But Captain Slingsby continued to shake his fist at the great, black horse, and to swear with unabated fervor.

  "You black devil!" he exclaimed, "you four-legged imp of Satan! So, you're up to your tricks again, are you? Well, this is the last chance you shall have to break my neck, b'gad! I'm done with you for a——"

  Here the Captain became extremely fluent, and redder of face than ever, as he poured forth a minute description of the animal; he cursed him from muzzle to crupper and back again; he damned his eyes, he damned his legs, individually and collectively, and reviled him, through sire and dam, back to the Flood.

  Meanwhile Barnabas turned from raging Two-legs to superbly wrathful Four-legs; viewed him from sweeping tail to lofty crest; observed his rolling eye and quivering nostril; took careful heed of his broad chest, slender legs, and powerful, sloping haunches with keen, appraising eyes, that were the eyes of knowledge and immediate desire. And so, from disdainful Four-legs he turned back to ruffled Two-legs, who, having pretty well sworn himself out by this time, rose gingerly to his feet, felt an elbow with gentle inquiry, tenderly rubbed a muddied knee, and limped out from the corner.

  Now, standing somewhat apart, was a broad-shouldered man, a rough-looking customer in threadbare clothes, whose dusty boots spoke of travel. He was an elderly man, for the hair, beneath the battered hat, was gray, and he leaned wearily upon a short stick. Very still he stood, and Barnabas noticed that he kept his gaze bent ever upon the horse; nor did he look away even when the Captain began to speak again.

  "B'gad!" exclaimed the Captain, "I'll sell the brute to the highest bidder. You, Jerningham, you seem devilish amused, b'gad! If you think you can back him he's yours for what you like. Come, what's the word?"

  "Emphatically no, my dear, good Sling," laughed the young Corinthian, shaking his curly head. "I don't mean to risk this most precious neck of mine until the fifteenth, dear fellow, dooce take me if I do!"

  "Why then, b'gad! I'll sell him to any one fool enough to bid. Come now," cried the Captain, glancing round the yard, "who'll buy him? B'gad! who'll give ten pounds for an accursed brute that nobody can possibly ride?"

  "I will!" said Barnabas.

  "Fifteen, sir!" cried the shabby man on the instant, with his gaze still on the horse.

  "Twenty!" said Barnabas, like an echo.

  "Twenty-five, sir!" retorted the shabby man.

  "Hey?" cried the Captain, staring from one to the other. "What's all this? B'gad! I say stop a bit——wait a minute! Bob, lend me your bucket."

  Hereupon the Corinthian obligingly vacating that article. Captain Slingsby incontinent stood upon it, and from that altitude began to harangue the yard, flourishing his whip after the manner of an auctioneer's hammer.

  "Now here you are, gentlemen!" he cried. "I offer you a devilishly ugly, damnably vicious brute, b'gad! I offer you a four-legged demon, an accursed beast that nobody can ever hope to ride——a regular terror, curse me! Killed one groom already, will probably kill another. Now, what is your price for this lady's pet? Look him over and bid accordingly."

  "Twenty-five pound, sir," said the shabby man.

  "Thirty!" said Barnabas.

  "Thirty-one, sir."

  "Fifty!" said Barnabas.

  "Fifty!" cried the Captain, flourishing his whip. "Fifty pounds from the gentleman in the neckcloth——fifty's the figure. Any more? Any advance on fifty? What, all done! Won't any one go another pound for a beast fit only for the knacker's yard? Oh, Gad, gentlemen, why this reticence? Are you all done?"

  "I can't go no higher, sir," said the shabby man, shaking his gray head sadly.

  "Then going at fifty——at fifty! Going! Going! Gone, b'gad! Sold to the knowing young cove in the neckcloth."

  Now, at the repetition of this word, Barnabas began to frown.

  "And b'gad!" exclaimed the Captain, stepping down from the bucket, "a devilish bad bargain he's got, too."

  "That, sir, remains to be seen," said Barnabas, shortly.

  "Why, what do you mean to do with the brute?"

  "Ride him."

  "Do you, b'gad?"

  "I do."

  "Lay you ten guineas you don't sit him ten minutes."

  "Done!" said Barnabas, buttoning up his coat.

  But now, glancing round, he saw that the shabby man had turned away, and was trudging heavily out of the yard, therefore Barnabas hastened after him, and touched him upon the arm.

  "I'm sorry you were disappointed," said he.

  "Is it about the 'oss you mean, sir?" inquired the shabby man, touching his hat.

  "Yes."

  "Why, it do come a bit 'ard-like to ha' lost 'im, sir, arter waiting my chance so long. But fifty guineas be a sight o' money to a chap as be out of a job, though 'e's dirt-cheap at the price. There ain't many 'osses like 'im, sir."

  "That was why I should have bought him at ten times the price," said Barnabas.

  The man took off his hat, ran his stubby fingers through his grizzled hair, and stared hard at Barnabas.

  "Sir," said he, "even at that you couldn't ha' done wrong. He ain't a kind 'oss——never 'aving been understood, d' ye see; but take my word for it, 'e's a wonder, that 'oss!"

  "You know him, perhaps?"

  "Since 'e were foaled, sir. I was stud-groom; but folks think I'm too old for the job, d' ye see, sir?"

  "Do you think he 'd remember you?"

  "Ay, that 'e would!"

  "Do you suppose——look at him!——do you suppose you could hold him quieter than those ostlers?"

  "'Old 'im, sir!" exclaimed the man, throwing back his shoulders. "'Old 'im——ah, that I could! Try me!"

  "I will," said Barnabas. "How would forty shillings a week suit you?"

  "Sir?" exclaimed the old groom, staring.

  "Since you need a job, and I need a groom, I'll have you——if you're willing."

  The man's square jaw relaxed, his eyes glistened; then all at once he shook his head and sighed.

  "Ah! sir," said he, "ah! young sir, my 'air's gray, an' I'm not so spry as I was——nobody wants a man as old as I be, and, seeing as you've got the 'oss, you ain't got no call to make game o' me, young sir. You 've got——the 'oss!"

  Now at this particular moment Captain Slingsby took it into his head to interrupt them, which he did in characteristic fashion.

  "Hallo!——hi there!" he shouted, flourishing his whip.

  "But I'm not making game of you," said Barnabas, utterly unconscious of the Captain, at least his glance never wavered from the eager face of the old groom.

  "Hallo, there!" roared the Captain, louder than ever.

  "And to prove it," Barnabas continued, "here is a guinea in advance," and he slipped the coin into the old groom's lax hand.

  "Oh, b'gad," cried the Captain, hoarsely, "don't you hear me, you over there? Hi! you in the neckcloth!"

  "Sir," said Barnabas, turning sharply and frowning again at the repetition of the word, "if you are pleased to allude to me, I would humbly inform you that my name is Beverley."

  "Oh!" exclaimed the Captain, "I see——young Beverley, son of old Beverley——and a devilish good name too!"

  "Sir, I'm vastly relieved to hear you say so," retorted Barnabas, with a profound obeisance. Then taking out his purse, he beckoned his new groom to approach.

  "What is your name?" he inquired, as he counted out a certain sum.

  "Gabriel Martin, sir."

  "Then, Martin, pray give the fellow his money."

  "Sir?"

  "I mean the red-faced man in the dirty jacket, Martin," added Barnabas.

  The old groom hesitated, glanced from the Captain's scowling brow to the smiling lips of Barnabas.

  "Very good, sir," said he, touching his shabby hat, and taking the money Barnabas held out, he tendered it to the Captain, who, redder of face than ever, took it, stared from it to Barnabas, and whistled.

  "Now, damme!" he exclaimed, "damme, if I don't believe the fellow means to be offensive!"

  "If so, sir, the desire would seem to be mutual!" returned Barnabas.

  "Yes, b'gad! I really believe he means to be offensive!" repeated the Captain, nodding as he pocketed the money.

  "Of that you are the best judge, sir," Barnabas retorted. Captain Slingsby whistled again, frowned, and tossing aside his whip, proceeded to button up his coat.

  "Why then," said he, "we must trouble this offensive person to apologize or——or put 'em up, begad!"

  But hereupon the young Corinthian (who had been watching them languidly through the glass he carried at the end of a broad ribbon) stepped forward, though languidly, and laid a white and languid hand upon the Captain's arm.

  "No, no, Sling," said he in a die-away voice, "he's a doocid fine 'bit of stuff'——look at those shoulders! and quick on his pins——remark those legs! No, no, my dear fellow, remember your knee, you hurt it, you know——fell on it when you were thrown,——must be doocid painful! Must let me take your place. Shall insist! Pleasure's all mine, 'sure you."

  "Never, Jerningham!" fumed the Captain, "not to be thought of, my dear Bob——no begad, he's mine; why you heard him, he——he positively called me a——a fellow!"

  "So you are, Sling," murmured the Corinthian, surveying Barnabas with an approving eye, "dev'lish dashing fellow, an 'out-and-outer' with the 'ribbons'——fiddle it with any one, by George, but no good with your mauleys, damme if you are! Besides, there's your knee, you know——don't forget your knee——"

  "Curse my knee!"

  "Certainly, dear fellow, but——"

  "My knee's sound enough to teach this countryman manners, b'gad; you heard him say my coat was filthy?"

  "So it is, Sling, my boy, devilish dirty! So are your knees——look at 'em! But if you will dismount head over heels into a muck-heap, my dear fellow, what the dooce can you expect?" The Captain merely swore.

  "Doocid annoying, of course," his friend continued, "I mean your knee, you know, you can hardly walk, and this country fellow looks a regular, bang up milling cove. Let me have a try at him, do now. Have a little thought for others, and don't be so infernally selfish, Sling, my boy."

  As he spoke, the Corinthian took off his hat, which he forced into the Captain's unwilling grasp, drew off his very tight-fitting coat, which he tossed over the Captain's unwilling arm, and, rolling back his snowy shirt-sleeves, turned to Barnabas with shining eyes and smiling lips.

  "Sir," said he, "seeing my friend's knee is not quite all it should be, perhaps you will permit me to take his place, pleasure's entirely mine, 'sure you. Shall we have it here, or would you prefer the stables——more comfortable, perhaps——stables?"

  Now while Barnabas hesitated, somewhat taken aback by this unlooked-for turn of events, as luck would have it, there came a diversion. A high, yellow-wheeled curricle swung suddenly into the yard, and its two foam-spattered bays were pulled up in masterly fashion, but within a yard of the great, black horse, which immediately began to rear and plunge again; whereupon the bays began to snort, and dance, and tremble (like the thoroughbreds they were), and all was uproar and confusion; in the midst of which, down from the rumble of the dusty curricle dropped a dusty and remarkably diminutive groom, who, running to the leader's head, sprang up and, grasping the bridle, hung there manfully, rebuking the animal, meanwhile, in a voice astonishingly hoarse and gruff for one of his tender years.

  "Dooce take me," exclaimed the Corinthian, feeling for his eye-glass, "it's Devenham!"

  "Why, Dicky!" cried the Captain, "where have you sprung from?" and, forgetful of Barnabas, they hurried forward to greet the Viscount, who, having beaten some of the dust from his driving coat, sprang down from his high seat and shook hands cordially.

  Then, finding himself unnoticed, Barnabas carefully loosed his neckerchief, and drew out the ends so that they dangled in full view.

  "I've been rusticating with my 'Roman,'" the Viscount was proceeding to explain, keeping his eye upon his horses, "but found him more Roman than usual——Gad, I did that! Have 'em well rubbed down, Milo," he broke off suddenly, as the bays were led off to the stables, "half a bucket of water apiece, no more, mind, and——say, a dash of brandy!"

  "Werry good, m'lud!" This from Milo of Crotona, portentous of brow and stern of eye, as he overlooked the ostlers who were busily unbuckling straps and traces.

  "My 'Roman,' as I say," continued the Viscount, "was rather more so than usual, actually wanted me to give up the Race! After that of course I had to be firm with him, and we had a slight——ah, misunderstanding in consequence——fathers, as a rule, are so infernally parental and inconsiderate! Met Carnaby on the road, raced him for a hundred; ding-dong all the way, wheel and wheel to Bromley, though he nearly ditched me twice, confound him! Coming down Mason's Hill I gave him my dust, up the rise he drew level again. 'Ease up for the town, Carnaby,' says I, 'Be damned if I do!' says he, so at it we went, full tilt. Gad! to see the folk jump! Carnaby drove like a devil, had the lead to Southend, but, mark you, his whip was going! At Catford we were level again. At Lewisham I took the lead and kept it, and the last I saw of him he was cursing and lashing away at his cattle, like a brute. Carnaby's a devilish bad loser, I've noticed, and here I am. And oh! by the way——he's got a devil of an eye, and a split lip. Says he fell out of his curricle, but looks as though some one had——thrashed him."

  "But my very dear fellow!" exclaimed the Corinthian, "thrash Carnaby? pooh!"

  "Never in the world!" added the Captain.

  "Hum!" said the Viscount, feeling a tender part of his own ribs thoughtfully, "ha! But, hallo, Jerningham! have you been at it too? Why are you buffed?" And he nodded to the Corinthian's bare arms.

  "Oh, dooce take me, I forgot!" exclaimed the Marquis, looking about; "queer cove, doocid touchy, looks as if he might fib though. Ah, there he is! talking to the rough-looking customer over yonder;" and he pointed to Barnabas, who stood with his coat thrown open, and the objectionable neckcloth in full evidence. The Viscount looked, started, uttered a "view hallo," and, striding forward, caught Barnabas by the hand.

  "Why, Bev, my dear fellow, this is lucky!" he exclaimed. Now Barnabas was quick to catch the glad ring in the Viscount's voice, and to notice that the neckcloth was entirely lost upon him, therefore he smiled as he returned the Viscount's hearty grip.

  "When did you get here? what are you doing? and what the deuce is the trouble between you and Jerningham?" inquired the Viscount all in a breath. But before Barnabas could answer, the great, black horse, tired of comparative inaction, began again to snort and rear, and jerk his proud head viciously, whereupon the two ostlers fell to swearing, and the Viscount's bays at the other end of the yard to capering, and the Viscount's small groom to anathematizing, all in a moment.

  "Slingsby!" cried his Lordship, "look to that black demon of yours!"

  "He is no concern of mine, Devenham," replied the Captain airily, "sold him, b'gad!"

  "And I bought him," added Barnabas.

  "You did?" the Viscount exclaimed, "in heaven's name, what for?"

  "To ride——"

  "Eh? my dear fellow!"

  "I should like to try him for the race on the fifteenth, if it could be managed, Dick."

  "The race!" exclaimed the Viscount, staring.

  "I 've been wondering if you could——get me entered for it," Barnabas went on, rather diffidently, "I'd give anything for the chance."

  "What——with that brute! my dear fellow, are you mad?"

  "No, Dick."

  "But he's unmanageable, Bev; he's full of vice——a killer——look at him now!"

  And indeed at this moment, as if to bear out this character, up went the great, black head again, eyes rolling, teeth gleaming, and ears laid back.

  "I tell you, Bev, no one could ride that devil!" the Viscount repeated.

  "But," said Barnabas, "I've bet your friend Captain Slingsby that I could."

  "It would be madness!" exclaimed the Viscount. "Ha! look out! There——I told you so!" For in that moment the powerful animal reared suddenly——broke from the grip of one ostler, and swinging the other aside, stood free, and all was confusion. With a warning shout, the old groom sprang to his head, but Barnabas was beside him, had caught the hanging reins, and swung himself into the saddle.

  "I've got him, sir," cried Martin, "find yer stirrups!"

  "Your stick," said Barnabas, "quick, man! Now——let go!"

  For a moment the horse stood rigid, then reared again, up and up——his teeth bared, his forefeet lashing; but down came the heavy stick between the flattened ears, once——twice, and brought him to earth again.

  And now began a struggle between the man and the brute——each young, each indomitable, for neither had as yet been mastered, and therefore each was alike disdainful of the other. The head of the horse was high and proud, his round hoofs spurned the earth beneath, fire was in his eye, rage in his heart——rage and scorn of this presumptuous Two-legs who sought to pit his puny strength against his own quivering, four-legged might. Therefore he mocked Two-legs, scorned and contemned him, laughed ha! ha! (like his long-dead ancestor among the Psalmist's trumpets) and gathered himself together——eager for the battle.

  But the eyes of Barnabas were wide and bright, his lips were curved, his jaw salient——his knees gripped tight, and his grasp was strong and sure upon the reins.

  And now Four-legs, having voiced his defiance, tossed his crest on high, then plunged giddily forward, was checked amid a whirlwind of lashing hoofs, rose on his hind legs higher and higher, swinging giddily round and round, felt a stunning blow, staggered, and dropping on all fours, stove in the stable door with a fling of his hind hoofs. But the eyes of Barnabas were glowing, his lips still curved, and his grip upon the reins was more masterful. And, feeling all this, Four-legs, foaming with rage, his nostrils flaring, turned upon his foe with snapping teeth, found him out of reach, and so sought to play off an old trick that had served him more than once; he would smash his rider's leg against a post or wall, or brush him off altogether and get rid of him that way. But lo! even as he leapt in fulfilment of this manoeuvre, his head was wrenched round, further and further, until he must perforce, stop——until he was glaring up into the face above, the face of his bitter foe, with its smiling mouth, its glowing eye, its serene brow.

  "Time's up!" cried the Captain, suddenly; "b'gad, sir, you win the bet!" But Barnabas scarcely heard.

  "You've done it——you win; eleven and a half minutes, b'gad!" roared the Captain again——"don't you hear, sir?——come off, before he breaks your neck!"

  But Barnabas only shook his head, and, dropping the stick, leaned over and laid his hand upon that proud, defiant crest, a hand grown suddenly gentle, and drew it down caressingly from ear to quivering nostril, once, twice, and spoke words in a soft tone, and so, loosed the cruel grip upon the rein, and sat back——waiting. But Four-legs had become thoughtful; true, he still tossed his head and pawed an impatient hoof, but that was merely for the sake of appearances——Four-legs was thoughtful. No one had ever touched him so, before——indeed blows had latterly been his portion——but this Two-legs was different from his kind, besides, he had a pleasing voice——a voice to soothe ragged nerves——there it was again! And then surely, the touch of this hand awoke dim memories, reminded him of far-off times when two-legged creatures had feared him less; and there was the hand again! After all, things might be worse——the hand that could be so gentle could be strong also; his mouth was sore yet, and a strong man, strong-handed and gentle of voice, was better than——oh, well!

  Whether of all this, or any part of it, the great, black horse was really thinking, who shall say? Howbeit Barnabas presently turned in his saddle and beckoned the old groom to his stirrup.

  "He'll be quiet now, I think," said he.

  "Ah! that he will, sir. You've larned the trick o' voice an' hand——it ain't many as has it——must be born in a man, I reckon, an' 'tis that as does more nor all your whips and spurs, an' curb-bits, sir. 'E'll be a babe wi' you arter this, sir, an' I'm thinkin' as you won't be wantin' me now, maybe? I ain't young enough nor smart enough, d' ye see."

  Here Barnabas dismounted, and gave the reins into the old groom's eager hand.

  "I shan't be wanting him for——probably three or four days, Gabriel, until then——look after him, exercise him regularly, for I'm hoping to do great things with him, soon, Gabriel, perhaps." And so Barnabas smiled, and as Martin led the horse to the stables, turned to find the young Corinthian at his elbow; he had resumed hat and coat, and now regarded Barnabas as smiling and imperturbable as ever.

  "Sir," said he, "I congratulate you heartily. Sir, any friend of Viscount Devenham is also mine, I trust; and I know your name, and——hem!——I swear Slingsby does! Beverley, I think——hem!——son of old Beverley, and a devilish good name too! Eh, Sling my boy?"

  Hereupon the Captain limped forward, if possible redder of face than ever, very much like a large schoolboy in fault.

  "Sir," he began, "b'gad——!" here he paused to clear his throat loudly once or twice——"a devil incarnate! Fourteen minutes and a half, by my watch, and devil a spur! I'd have lent you my boots had there been time, I would, b'gad! As it is, if you've any desire to shake hands with a——ha!——with a fellow——hum!——in a dirty coat——why——here's mine, b'gad!"

  "Captain the Honorable Marmaduke Slingsby——Mr. Beverley——The Marquis of Jerningham——Mr. Beverley. And now," said the Viscount, as Barnabas shook hands, "now tell 'em why you bought the horse, Bev."

  "I was hoping, sirs," said Barnabas, rather diffidently, "that I might perhaps have the honor of riding in the Steeplechase on the fifteenth."

  Hereupon the Captain struck his riding boot a resounding blow with his whip, and whistled; while the Marquis dangled his eyeglass by its riband, viewing it with eyes of mild surprise, and the Viscount glanced from one to the other with an enigmatical smile upon his lips.

  "That would rest with Carnaby to decide, of course," said the Captain at last.

  "Why so?" inquired Barnabas.

  "Because——well, because he——is Carnaby, I suppose," the Captain answered.

  "Though Jerningham has the casting-vote," added the Viscount.

  "True," said the Marquis, rearranging a fold of his cravat with a self-conscious air, "but, as Sling says——Carnaby is——Carnaby."

  "Sirs," began Barnabas, very earnestly, "believe me I would spare no expense——"

  "Expense, sir?" repeated the Marquis, lifting a languid eyebrow; "of course it is no question of 'expense'!" Here the Viscount looked uncomfortable all at once, and Barnabas grew suddenly hot.

  "I mean," he stammered, "I mean that my being entered so late in the day——the fees might be made proportionately heavier——double them if need be——I should none the less be——be inestimably indebted to you; indeed I——I cannot tell you——" Now as Barnabas broke off, the Marquis smiled and reached out his hand——a languid-seeming hand, slim and delicate, yet by no means languid of grip.

  "My dear Beverley," said he, "I like your earnestness. A race——especially this one——is a doocid serious thing; for some of us, perhaps, even more serious than we bargain for. It's going to be a punishing race from start to finish, a test of endurance for horse and man, over the worst imaginable country. It originated in a match between Devenham on his 'Moonraker' and myself on 'Clinker,' but Sling here was hot to match his 'Rascal,' and Carnaby fancied his 'Clasher,' and begad! applications came so fast that we had a field in no time."

  "Good fellows and sportsmen all!" nodded the Captain. "Gentlemen riders——no tag-rag, gamest of the game, sir."

  "Now, as to yourself, my dear Beverley," continued the Marquis authoritatively, "you 're doocid late, y' know; but then——"

  "He can ride," said the Viscount.

  "And he's game," nodded the Captain.

  "And, therefore," added the Marquis, "we'll see what can be done about it."

  "And b'gad, here's wishing you luck!" said the Captain.

  At this moment Peterby entered the yard, deep in converse with a slim, gentleman-like person, whose noble cravat immediately attracted the attention of the Marquis.

  "By the way," pursued the Captain, "we three are dining together at my club; may I have a cover laid for you, Mr. Beverley?"

  "Sir," answered Barnabas, "I thank you, but, owing to——circumstances" ——here he cast a downward glance at his neckerchief——"I am unable to accept. But, perhaps, you will, all three of you, favor me to dinner at my house——say, in three days' time?"

  The invitation was no sooner given than accepted.

  "But," said the Viscount, "I didn't know that you had a place here in town, Bev. Where is it?"

  "Why, indeed, now you come to mention it, I haven't the least idea; but, perhaps, my man can tell me."

  "Eh——what?" exclaimed the Captain. "Oh, b'gad, he's smoking us!"

  "Peterby!"

  "Sir?" and having saluted the company, Peterby stood at respectful attention.

  "I shall be giving a small dinner in three days' time."

  "Certainly, sir."

  "At my house, Peterby,——consequently I desire to know its location. Where do I live now, Peterby?"

  "Number five, St. James's Square, sir."

  "Thank you, Peterby."

  "An invaluable fellow, that of yours," laughed the Marquis, as Peterby bowed and turned away.

  "Indeed, I begin to think he is, my Lord," answered Barnabas, "and I shall expect you all, at six o'clock, on Friday next." So, having shaken hands again, Captain Slingsby took the arm of the Marquis, and limped off.

  Now, when they were alone, the Viscount gazed at Barnabas, chin in hand, and with twinkling eyes.

  "My dear Bev," said he, "you can hang me if I know what to make of you. Egad, you're the most incomprehensible fellow alive; you are, upon my soul! If I may ask, what the deuce did it all mean——about this house of yours?"

  "Simply that until this moment I wasn't sure if I had one yet."

  "But——your fellow——"

  "Yes. I sent him out this morning to buy me one."

  "To buy you——a house?"

  "Yes; also horses and carriages, and many other things, chief among them——a tailor."

  The Viscount gasped.

  "But——my dear fellow——to leave all that to your——servant! Oh, Gad!"

  "But, as the Marquis remarked, Peterby is an inestimable fellow."

  The Viscount eyed Barnabas with brows wrinkled in perplexity; then all at once his expression changed.

  "By the way," said he, "talking of Carnaby, he's got the most beautiful eye you ever saw!"

  "Oh?" said Barnabas, beginning to tuck in the ends of his neckerchief.

  "And a devil of a split lip!"

  "Oh?" said Barnabas again.

  "And his coat had been nearly ripped off him; I saw it under his cape!"

  "Ah?" said Barnabas, still busy with his neckcloth.

  "And naturally enough," pursued the Viscount, "I've been trying to imagine——yes, Bev, I've been racking my brain most damnably, wondering why you——did it?

  "It was in the wood," said Barnabas.

  "So it was you, then?"

  "Yes, Dick."

  "But——he didn't even mark you?"

  "He lost his temper, Dick."

  "You thrashed——Carnaby! Gad, Bev, there isn't a milling cove in England could have done it."

  "Yes——there are two——Natty Bell, and Glorious John."

  "And I'll warrant he deserved it, Bev."

  "I think so," said Barnabas; "it was in the wood, Dick."

  "The wood? Ah! do you mean where you——"

  "Where I found her lying unconscious."

  "Unconscious! And with him beside her! My God, man!" cried the Viscount, with a vicious snap of his teeth. "Why didn't you kill him?"

  "Because I was beside her——first, Dick."

  "Damn him!" exclaimed the Viscount bitterly.

  "But he is your friend, Dick."

  "Was, Bev, was! We'll make it in the past tense hereafter."

  "Then you agree with your father after all?"

  "I do, Bev; my father is a cursed, long-sighted, devilish observant man! I'll back him against anybody, though he is such a Roman. But oh, the devil!" exclaimed the Viscount suddenly, "you can never ride in the race after this."

  "Why not?"

  "Because you'll meet Carnaby; and that mustn't happen."

  "Why not?"

  "Because he'll shoot you."

  "You mean he'd challenge me? Hum," said Barnabas, "that is awkward! But I can't give up the race."

  "Then what shall you do?"

  "Risk it, Dick."

  But now, Mr. Smivvle, who from an adjoining corner had been an interested spectator thus far, emerged, and flourishing off the curly-brimmed hat, bowed profoundly, and addressed himself to the Viscount.

  "I believe," said he, smiling affably, "that I have the pleasure to behold Viscount Devenham?"

  "The same, sir," rejoined the Viscount, bowing stiffly.

  "You don't remember me, perhaps, my Lord?"

  The Viscount regarded the speaker stonily, and shook his head.

  "No, I don't, sir."

  Mr. Smivvle drew himself up, and made the most of his whiskers.

  "My Lord, my name is Smivvle, Digby Smivvle, at your service, though perhaps you don't remember my name, either?"

  The Viscount took out his driving gloves and began to put them on.

  "No, I don't, sir!" he answered dryly.

  Mr. Smivvle felt for his whisker, found it, and smiled.

  "Quite so, my Lord, I am but one of the concourse——the multitude——the ah——the herd, though, mark me, my Lord, a Smivvle, sir, ——a Smivvle, every inch of me,——while you are the owner of 'Moonraker,' and Moonraker's the word just now, I hear. But, sir, I have a friend——"

  "Indeed, sir," said the Viscount, in a tone of faint surprise, and beckoning a passing ostler, ordered out his curricle.

  "As I say," repeated Mr. Smivvle, beginning to search for his whisker again, "I have a friend, my Lord——"

  "Congratulate you," murmured the Viscount, pulling at his glove.

  "A friend who has frequently spoken of your Lordship——"

  "Very kind of him!" murmured the Viscount.

  "And though, my Lord, though my name is not familiar, I think you will remember his; the name of my friend is "——here Mr. Smivvle, having at length discovered his whisker, gave it a fierce twirl,—— "Ronald Barrymaine."

  The Viscount's smooth brow remained unclouded, only the glove tore in his fingers; so he smiled, shook his head, and drawing it off, tossed it away.

  "Hum?" said he, "I seem to have heard some such name——somewhere or other——ah! there's my Imp at last, as tight and smart as they make 'em, eh, Bev? Well, good-by, my dear fellow, I shan't forget Friday next." So saying, the Viscount shook hands, climbed into his curricle, and, with a flourish of his whip, was off and away in a moment.

  "A fine young fellow, that!" exclaimed Mr. Smivvle; "yes, sir, regular out-and-outer, a Bang up! by heaven, a Blood, sir! a Tippy! a Go! a regular Dash! High, sir, high, damned high, like my friend Barrymaine,——indeed, you may have remarked a similarity between 'em, sir?"

  "You forget, I have never met your friend," said Barnabas.

  "Ah, to be sure, a great pity! You'd like him, for Barrymaine is a cursed fine fellow in spite of the Jews, dammem! yes,——you ought to know my friend, sir."

  "I should be glad to," said Barnabas.

  "Would you though, would you indeed, sir? Nothing simpler; call a chaise! Stay though, poor Barry's not himself to-day, under a cloud, sir. Youthful prodigalities are apt to bring worries in their train——chiefly in the shape of Jews, sir, and devilish bad shapes too! Better wait a day——say to-morrow, or Thursday——or even Friday would do."

  "Let it be Saturday," said Barnabas.

  "Saturday by all means, sir, I'll give myself the pleasure of calling upon you."

  "St. James's Square," said Barnabas, "number five."

  But now Peterby, who had been eyeing Mr. Smivvle very much askance, ventured to step forward.

  "Sir," said he, "may I remind you of your appointment?"

  "I hadn't forgotten, Peterby; and good day, Mr. Smivvle."

  "Au revoir, sir, delighted to have had the happiness. If you should chance ever to be in Worcestershire, the Hall is open to you. Good afternoon, sir!" And so, with a prodigious flourish of the hat, Mr. Smivvle bowed, smiled, and swaggered off. Then, as he turned to follow Peterby into the inn, Barnabas must needs pause to glance towards the spot where lay the Viscount's torn glove.

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