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The Amateur Gentleman (Chapter10)

2006-08-28 16:04

  Chapter X. Which Describes a Peripatetic Conversation

  "Sir," said his Lordship, after they had gone some way in silence, "you are thoughtful, not to say, devilish grave!"

  "And you," retorted Barnabas, "have sighed——three times."

  "No, did I though?——why then, to be candid,——I detest saying 'Good-by!'——and I have been devoutly wishing for two pair of muffles, for, sir, I have taken a prodigious liking to you——but——"

  "But?" inquired Barnabas.

  "Some time since you mentioned the names of two men——champions both——ornaments of the 'Fancy'——great fighters of unblemished reputation."

  "You mean my——er——that is, Natty Bell and John Barty."

  "Precisely!——you claim to have——boxed with them, sir?"

  "Every day!" nodded Barnabas.

  "With both of them,——I understand?"

  "With both of them."

  "Hum!"

  "Sir," said Barnabas, growing suddenly polite, "do you doubt my word?"

  "Well," answered his Lordship, with his whimsical look, "I'll admit I could have taken it easier had you named only one, for surely, sir, you must be aware that these were Masters of the Fist——the greatest since the days of Jack Broughton and Mendoza."

  "I know each had been champion——but it would almost seem that I have entertained angels unawares!——and I boxed with both because they happened to live together."

  "Then, sir," said the Viscount, extending his hand in his frank, impetuous manner, "you are blest of the gods. I congratulate you and, incidentally, my desire for muffles grows apace,——you must positively put 'em on with me at the first opportunity."

  "Right willingly, sir," said Barnabas.

  "But deuce take me!" exclaimed the Viscount, "if we are to become friends, which I sincerely hope, we ought at least to know each other's name. Mine, sir, is Bellasis, Horatio Bellasis; I was named Horatio after Lord Nelson, consequently my friends generally call me Tom, Dick, or Harry, for with all due respect to his Lordship, Horatio is a very devil of a name, now isn't it? Pray what's yours?"

  "Barnabas——Beverley. At your service."

  "Barnabas——hum! Yours isn't much better. Egad! I think 't is about as bad. Barnabas!——No, I'll call you Bev, on condition that you make mine Dick; what d' ye say, my dear Bev?"

  "Agreed, Dick," answered Barnabas, smiling, whereupon they stopped, and having very solemnly shaken hands, went on again, merrier than ever.

  "Now what," inquired the Viscount, suddenly, "what do you think of marriage, my dear Bev?"

  "Marriage?" repeated Barnabas, staring.

  "Marriage!" nodded his Lordship, airily, "matrimony, Bev,——wedlock, my dear fellow?"

  "I——indeed I have never had occasion to think of it."

  "Fortunate fellow!" sighed his companion.

  "Until——this morning!" added Barnabas, as his fingers encountered a small, soft, lacy bundle in his pocket.

  "Un-fortunate fellow!" sighed the Viscount, shaking his head. "So you are haunted by the grim spectre, are you? Well, that should be an added bond between us. Not that I quarrel with matrimony, mark you, Bev; in the abstract it is a very excellent institution, though——mark me again!——when a man begins to think of marriage it is generally the beginning of the end. Ah, my dear fellow! many a bright and promising career has been blighted——sapped——snapped off——and——er——ruthlessly devoured by the ravenous maw of marriage. There was young Egerton with a natural gift for boxing, and one of the best whips I ever knew——we raced our coaches to Brighton and back for a thousand a side and he beat me by six yards——a splendid all round sportsman——ruined by matrimony! He's buried somewhere in the country and passing his days in the humdrum pursuit of being husband and father. Oh, bruise and blister me! it's all very pitiful, and yet"——here the Viscount sighed again——"I do not quarrel with the state, for marriage has often proved a——er——very present help in the time of trouble, Bev."

  "Trouble?" repeated Barnabas.

  "Money-troubles, my dear Bev, pecuniary unpleasantnesses, debts, and duns, and devilish things of that kind."

  "But surely," said Barnabas, "no man——no honorable man would marry and burden a woman with debts of his own contracting?"

  At this, the Viscount looked at Barnabas, somewhat askance, and fell to scratching his chin. "Of course," he continued, somewhat hurriedly, "I shall have all the money I need——more than I shall need some day."

  "You mean," inquired Barnabas, "when your father dies?"

  Here the Viscount's smooth brow clouded suddenly.

  "Sir," said he, "we will not mention that contingency. My father is a great Roman, I'll admit, but, 'twixt you and me,——I——I'm devilish fond of him, and, strangely enough, I prefer to have him Romanly alive and my purse empty——than to possess his money and have him dea——Oh damn it! let's talk of something else,——Carnaby for instance."

  "Yes," nodded Barnabas, "your friend, Carnaby."

  "Well, then, in the first place, I think I hinted to you that I owe him five thousand pounds?"

  "Five thousand! indeed, no, it was only one, when you mentioned it to me last."

  "Was it so? but then, d'ye see, Bev, we were a good two miles nearer my honored Roman when I mentioned the matter before, and trees sometimes have ears, consequently I——er——kept it down a bit, my dear Bev, I kept it down a bit; but the fact remains that it's five, and I won't be sure but that there's an odd hundred or two hanging on to it somewhere, beside."

  "You led your father to believe it was only one thousand, then?"

  "I did, Bev; you see money seems to make him so infernally Roman, and I've been going the pace a bit these last six months. There's another thousand to Jerningham, but he can wait, then there's six hundred to my tailor, deuce take him!"

  "Six hundred!" exclaimed Barnabas, aghast.

  "Though I won't swear it isn't seven."

  "To be sure he is a very excellent tailor," Barnabas added.

  "Gad, yes! and the fellow knows it! Then, let's see, there's another three hundred and fifty to the coach builders, how much does that make, Bev?"

  "Six thousand, nine hundred and fifty pounds!"

  "So much——deuce take it! And that's not all, you know."

  "Not?"

  "No, Bev, I dare say I could make you up another three or four hundred or so if I were to rake about a bit, but six thousand is enough to go on with, thank you!"

  "Six thousand pounds is a deal of money to owe!" said Barnabas.

  "Yes," answered the Viscount, scratching his chin again, "though, mark me, Bev, it might be worse! Slingsby, a friend of mine, got plucked for fifteen thousand in a single night last year. Oh! it might be worse. As it is, Bev, the case lies thus: unless I win the race some three weeks from now——I've backed myself heavily, you'll understand——unless I win, I am between the deep sea of matrimony and the devil of old Jasper Gaunt."

  "And who is Jasper Gaunt?"

  "Oh, delicious innocence! Ah, Bev! it's evident you are new to London. Gaunt is an outcome of the City, as harsh and dingy as its bricks, as flinty and hard as its pavements. Gad! most of our set know Jasper Gaunt——to their cost! Who is Jasper Gaunt, you ask; well, my dear fellow, question Slingsby of the Guards, he's getting deeper every day, poor old Sling! Ask it, but in a whisper, at Almack's, or White's, or Brooke's, and my Lord this, that, or t'other shall tell you pat and to the point in no measured terms. Ask it of wretched debtors in the prisons, of haggard toilers in the streets, of pale-faced women and lonely widows, and they'll tell you, one and all, that Jasper Gaunt is the harshest, most merciless bloodsucker that ever battened and grew rich on the poverty and suffering of his fellow men, and——oh here we are!"

  Saying which, his Lordship abruptly turned down an unexpected and very narrow side lane, where, screened behind three great trees, was a small inn, or hedge tavern with a horse-trough before the door and a sign whereon was the legend, "The Spotted Cow," with a representation of that quadruped below, surely the very spottiest of spotted cows that ever adorned an inn sign.

  "Not much to look at, my dear Bev," said the Viscount, with a wave of his hand towards the inn, "but it's kept by an old sailor, a shipmate of the Bo'sun's. I can at least promise you a good breakfast, and the ale you will find excellent. But first I want to show you a very small demon of mine, a particularly diminutive fiend; follow me, my dear fellow."

  So, by devious ways, the Viscount led Barnabas round to the back of the inn, and across a yard to where, beyond a gate, was a rick-yard, and beyond that again, a small field or paddock. Now, within this paddock, the admired of a group of gaping rustics, was the very smallest groom Barnabas had ever beheld, for, from the crown of his leather postilion's hat to the soles of his small top boots, he could not have measured more than four feet at the very most.

  "There he is, Bev, behold him!" said the Viscount, with his whimsical smile, "the very smallest fiend, the most diminutive demon that ever wore top boots!"

  The small groom was engaged in walking a fine blood horse up and down the paddock, or rather the horse was walking the groom, for the animal being very tall and powerful and much given to divers startings, snortings, and tossings of the head, it thus befell that to every step the diminutive groom marched on terra firma, he took one in mid-air, at which times, swinging pendulum-like, he poured forth a stream of invective that the most experienced ostler, guard, or coachman might well have envied, and all in a voice so gruff, so hoarse and guttural, despite his tender years, as filled the listening rustics with much apparent awe and wonder.

  "And he can't be a day older than fourteen, my dear Bev," said the Viscount, with a complacent nod, as they halted in the perfumed shade of an adjacent rick; "that's his stable voice assumed for the occasion, and, between you and me, I can't think how he does it. Egad! he's the most remarkable boy that ever wore livery, the sharpest, the gamest. I picked him up in London, a ragged urchin——caught him picking my pocket, Been with me ever since, and I wouldn't part with him for his weight in gold."

  "Picking your pocket!" said Barnabas, "hum!"

  The Viscount looked a trifle uncomfortable. "Why you see, my dear fellow," he explained, "he was so——so deuced——small, Bev, a wretched little pale-faced, shivering atomy, peeping up at me over a ragged elbow waiting to be thrashed, and I liked him because he didn't snivel, and he was too insignificant for prison, so, when he told me how hungry he was, I forgot to cuff his shrinking, dirty little head, and suggested a plate of beef at one of the a la mode shops. 'Beef?' says he. 'Yes, beef,' says I, 'could you eat any?' 'Beef?' says he again, 'couldn't I? why, I could eat a ox whole, I could!' So I naturally dubbed him Milo of Crotona on the spot."

  "And has he ever tried to pick your pocket since?"

  "No, Bev; you see, he's never hungry nowadays. Gad!" said the Viscount, taking Barnabas by the arm, "I've set the fashion in tigers, Bev. Half the fellows at White's and Brooke's are wild to get that very small demon of mine; but he isn't to be bought or bribed or stolen——for what there is of him is faithful, Bev,——and now come in to breakfast."

  So saying, the Viscount led Barnabas across the yard to a certain wing or off-shoot of the inn, where beneath a deep, shadowy gable was a door. Yet here he must needs pause a moment to glance down at himself to settle a ruffle and adjust his hat ere, lifting the latch, he ushered Barnabas into a kitchen.

  A kitchen indeed? Ay, but such a kitchen! Surely wood was never whiter, nor pewter more gleaming than in this kitchen; surely no flagstones ever glowed a warmer red; surely oak panelling never shone with a mellower lustre; surely no viands could look more delicious than the great joint upon the polished sideboard, flanked by the crisp loaf and the yellow cheese; surely no flowers could ever bloom fairer or smell sweeter than those that overflowed the huge punch bowl at the window and filled the Uncle Toby jugs upon the mantel; surely nowhere could there be at one and the same time such dainty orderliness and comfortable comfort as in this kitchen.

  Indeed the historian is bold to say that within no kitchen in this world were all things in such a constant state of winking, twinkling, gleaming and glowing purity, from the very legs of the oaken table and chairs, to the hacked and battered old cutlass above the chimney, as in this self-same kitchen of "The Spotted Cow."

  And yet——and yet! Sweeter, whiter, warmer, purer, and far more delicious than anything in this kitchen (or out of it) was she who had started up to her feet so suddenly, and now stood with blushing cheeks and hurried bosom, gazing shy-eyed upon the young Viscount; all dainty grace from the ribbons in her mob-cap to the slender, buckled shoe peeping out beneath her print gown; and Barnabas, standing between them, saw her flush reflected as it were for a moment in the Viscount's usually pale cheek.

  "My Lord!" said she, and stopped.

  "Why, Clemency, you——you are——handsomer than ever!" stammered the Viscount.

  "Oh, my Lord!" she exclaimed; and as she turned away Barnabas thought there were tears in her eyes.

  "Did we startle you, Clemency? Forgive me——but I——that is, we are——hungry, ravenous. Er——this is a friend of mine——Mr. Beverley——Mistress Clemency Dare; and oh, Clemency, I've had no breakfast!"

  But seeing she yet stood with head averted, the Viscount with a freedom born of long acquaintance, yet with a courtly deference also, took the hand that hung so listless, and looked down into the flushed beauty of her face, and, as he looked, beheld a great tear that crept upon her cheek.

  "Why, Clemency!" he exclaimed, his raillery gone, his voice suddenly tender, "Clemency——you're crying, my dear maid; what is it?"

  Now, beholding her confusion, and because of it, Barnabas turned away and walked to the other end of the kitchen, and there it chanced that he spied two objects that lay beneath the table, and stooping, forthwith, he picked them up. They were small and insignificant enough in themselves——being a scrap of crumpled paper, and a handsome embossed coat button; yet as Barnabas gazed upon this last, he smiled grimly, and so smiling slipped the objects into his pocket.

  "Come now, Clemency," persisted the Viscount, gently, "what is wrong?"

  "Nothing; indeed, nothing, my Lord."

  "Ay, but there is. See how red your eyes are; they quite spoil your beauty——"

  "Beauty!" she cried. "Oh, my Lord; even you!"

  "What? What have I said? You are beautiful you know, Clem, and——"

  "Beauty!" she cried again, and turned upon him with clenched hands and dark eyes aflame. "I hate it——oh, I hate it!" and with the words she stamped her foot passionately, and turning, sped away, banging the door behind her.

  "Now, upon my soul!" said the Viscount, taking off his hat and ruffling up his auburn locks, "of all the amazing, contradictory creatures in the world, Bev! I've known Clemency——hum——a goodish time, my dear fellow; but never saw her like this before, I wonder what the deuce——"

  But at this juncture a door at the further end of the kitchen opened, and a man entered. He, like the Bo'sun, was merry of eye, breezy of manner, and hairy of visage; but there all similarity ended, for, whereas the Bo'sun was a square man, this man was round——round of head, round of face, and round of eye. At the sight of the Viscount, his round face expanded in a genial smile that widened until it was lost in whisker, and he set two fingers to his round forehead and made a leg.

  "Lord love me, my Lord, and is it you?" he exclaimed, clasping the hand the Viscount had extended. "Now, from what that imp of a bye——axing his parding——your tiger, Mr. Milo, told me, I were to expect you at nine sharp——and here it be nigh on to ten——"

  "True, Jack; but then both he and I reckoned without my father. My father had the bad taste to——er——disagree with me, hence I am late, Jack, and breakfastless, and my friend Mr. Beverley is as hungry as I am. Bev, my dear fellow, this is a very old friend of mine——Jack Truelove, who fought under my uncle at Trafalgar."

  "Servant, sir!" says Jack, saluting Barnabas.

  "The 'Belisarius,' Seventy-four!" smiled Barnabas.

  "Ay, ay," says Jack, with a shake of his round head, "the poor old 'Bully-Sawyer'——But, Lord love me! if you be hungry——"

  "Devilish!" said the Viscount, "but first, Jack——what's amiss with Clemency?"

  "Clemency? Why, where be that niece o' mine?"

  "She's run away, Jack. I found her in tears, and I had scarce said a dozen words to her when——hey presto! She's off and away."

  "Tears is it, my Lord?——and 'er sighed, too, I reckon. Come now——'er sighed likewise. Eh, my Lord?"

  "Why, yes, she may have sighed, but——"

  "There," says Jack, rolling his round head knowingly, "it be nought but a touch o' love, my Lord."

  "Love!" exclaimed the Viscount sharply.

  "Ah, love! Nieces is difficult craft, and very apt to be took all aback by the wind o' love, as you might say——but Lord! it's only natural arter all. Ah! the rearing o' motherless nieces is a ticklish matter, gentlemen——as to nevvys, I can't say, never 'aving 'ad none to rear——but nieces——Lord! I could write a book on 'em, that is, s'posing I could write, which I can't; for, as I've told you many a time, my Lord, and you then but a bye over here on a visit, wi' the Bo'sun, or his Honor the Cap'n, and you no older then than——er——Mr. Milo, though longer in the leg, as I 've told you many a time and oft——a very ob-servant man I be in most things, consequent' I aren't observed this here niece——this Clem o' mine fair weather and foul wi'out larning the kind o' craft nieces be. Consequent', when you tell me she weeps, and likewise sighs, then I make bold to tell you she's got a touch o' love, and you can lay to that, my Lord."

  "Love," exclaimed the Viscount again, and frowning this time; "now, who the devil should she be in love with!"

  "That, my Lord, I can't say, not having yet observed. But now, by your leave, I'll pass the word for breakfast."

  Hereupon the landlord of "The Spotted Cow" opened the lattice, and sent a deep-lunged hail across the yard.

  "Ahoy!" he roared, "Oliver, Penelope, Bess——breakfast ho!——breakfast for the Viscount——and friend. They be all watching of that theer imp——axing his pardon——that theer groom o' yours, what theer be of him, which though small ain't by no means to be despised, him being equally ready wi' his tongue as his fist."

  Here entered two maids, both somewhat flushed with haste but both equally bright of eye, neat of person, and light of foot, who very soon had laid a snowy cloth and duly set out thereon the beef, the bread and cheese, and a mighty ham, before which the Viscount seated himself forthwith, while their sailor host, more jovial than ever, pointed out its many beauties with an eloquent thumb. And so, having seen his guests seated opposite each other, he pulled his forelock at them, made a leg to them, and left them to their breakfast.

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