So back rode Barnabas the way he had come, and presently, sure enough, espied the dim outlines of the two stone columns each with "a lion a-top," and between these columns swung a pair of rusted iron gates; and the gates were open, seeing which Barnabas frowned and set his teeth, and so turned to ride between the gates, but, even as he did so, he caught the sound of wheels far down the road. Glancing thither he made out the twinkling lights of an approaching chaise, and sat awhile to watch its slow progress, then, acting upon sudden impulse, he spurred to meet it. Being come within hail he reined in across the road, and drawing a pistol levelled it at the startled post-boy.
"Stop!" cried Barnabas.
Uttering a frightened oath, the postilion pulled up with a jerk, but as the chaise came to a standstill a window rattled down. Then Barnabas lowered the pistol, and coming up beside the chaise looked down into the troubled face of my Lady Cleone. And her checks were very pale in the light of the lanterns, and upon her dark lashes was the glitter of tears.
WHICH TELLS HOW BARNABAS, IN HIS FOLLY, CHOSE THE HARDER COURSE
"You! Is it you—Barnabas?" she whispered and thereafter sighed, a long, quivering sigh. "I—I've been hoping you would come!"
And now, as he looked at her, he saw that her cheeks were suffused, all at once, with a warm and vivid color. "Hoped?" said Barnabas, wondering.
"And—prayed!" she whispered.
"Then, you expected me? You knew I should come?"
"Yes, Barnabas. I—I hoped you would see my—letter to Ronald—that was why I wrote it! And I prayed that you might come—"
"Because I—oh, Barnabas, I'm afraid!"
"You were going to—Chichester?"
"You don't—love him, do you?"
"Love him!" she repeated, "Oh, God!"
And Barnabas saw her shudder violently.
"Yet you were going to him."
"To save my brother. But now—God help me, I can't do it! Oh, it's too hateful and—and I am afraid, Barnabas. I ought to have been at Ashleydown an hour ago, but oh, I—I couldn't, it was too horrible—I couldn't! So I came the longest way; I made the post-boy drive very slowly, I—I was waiting—for you, Barnabas, praying God that you would come to me—"
"Because you—were afraid, my lady."
"And behold, I am here!" said Barnabas. But now, seeing the quiver of her white hands, and the light in her eyes—a sudden glow that was not of the lanterns, he turned his head and looked resolutely away.
"I am here, my lady, to take you back home again," said he.
"Home?" she repeated. "Ah, no, no—I have no home, now! Oh, Barnabas," she whispered, "take me, take me away—to my brother. Let us go away from England to-night—anywhere, take me with you, Barnabas."
Now, as she spoke, her hands came out to him with a swift gesture, full of passionate entreaty. And the lanterns made a shining glory of her hair, and showed him the deep wonder of her eyes, the quick surge of her round, young bosom, the tender quiver of the parted lips as she waited his answer; thus our Barnabas beholding the witchery of her shy-drooping lashes, the scarlet lure of her mouth, the yielding warmth and all the ripe beauty of her, fell suddenly a-trembling and sighed; then, checking the sigh, looked away again across the dim desolation of the country-side, and clenched his hands.
"My lady," said he, his voice hoarse and uncertain, "why do you—tempt me? I am only—an amateur gentleman—why do you tempt me so?" As he spoke he wheeled his horse and motioned to the flinching postboy. "Turn!" he commanded.
"No!" cried Cleone.
"Turn!" said Barnabas, and, as the post-boy hesitated, levelled his pistol.
But now, even as the postilion chirruped to his horses, the chaise door was flung open and Cleone sprang down into the road; but even so, Barnabas barred her way.
"Let me pass!" she cried.
"Yes—God help me. Since you force me to it! Let me go!"
"Get back into the chaise, my lady."
"No, no! Let me pass, I go to save my brother—"
"Not this way!"
"Oh!" she cried passionately, "you force it upon me, yes—you! you! If you won't help me, I must go to him! Dear heaven! there is no other way, let me go—you must—you shall!"
"Go back into the chaise, my lady."
Barnabas spoke very gently but, as she stared up at him, a movement of his horse brought him into the light of the lanterns and, in that moment, her breath caught, for now she beheld him as she had seen him once before, a wild, desperate figure, bare-headed, torn, and splashed with mud; grim of mouth, and in his eyes a look she had once dreamed of and never since forgotten. And, as she gazed, Barnabas spoke again and motioned with his pistol hand.
"Get back into the chaise, my lady."
"No!" she answered, and, though her face was hidden now, he knew that she was weeping. "I'm going on, now—to Ashleydown, to save Ronald, to redeem the promise I gave our mother; I must, I must, and oh—nothing matters to me—any more, so let me go!"
"My lady," said Barnabas, in the same weary tone, "you must get back into the chaise."
"And let Ronald die—and such a death! Never! oh never!"
Barnabas sighed, slipped the pistol into his pocket and dismounted, but, being upon his feet, staggered; then, or ever she knew, he had caught her in his arms, being minded to bear her to the chaise. But in that moment, he looked down and so stood there, bound by the spell of her beauty, forgetful of all else in the world, for the light of the lanterns was all about them, and Cleone's eyes were looking up into his.
"Barnabas," she whispered, "Barnabas, don't let me go!—save me from—that!"
"Ah, Cleone," he murmured, "oh, my lady, do you doubt me still? Can you think that I should fail you?
"Oh, my dear, my dear—I've found a way, and mine is a better way than yours. Be comforted then and trust me, Cleone."
Then, she stirred in his embrace, and, sighing, hid her face close against him and, with her face thus hidden, spoke:
"Yes, yes—I do trust you, Barnabas, utterly, utterly! Take me away with you—tonight, take me to Ronald and let us go away together, no matter where so long as—we go—together, Barnabas." Now when she said this, she could feel how his arms tightened about her, could hear how his breath caught sudden and sharp, and, though she kept her face hid from him, well she knew what look was in his eyes; therefore she lay trembling a little, sighing a little, and with fast-beating heart. And, in a while, Barnabas spoke:
"My lady," said he heavily, "would you trust yourself to—a publican's son?"
"If he would not be—too proud to—take me, Barnabas."
"Oh, my lady—can't you see that if I—if I take you with me tonight, you must be with me—always?"
"And I am a discredited impostor, the—the jest of every club in London!"
Cleone's hand stole up, and she touched his grimly-set chin very gently with one white finger.
"I am become a thing for the Fashionable World to sharpen its wits upon," he continued, keeping his stern gaze perseveringly averted. "And so, my lady—because I cannot any longer cheat folks into accepting me as a—gentleman, I shall in all probability become a farmer, some day."
"But you," Barnabas continued, a little harshly, "you were born for higher and greater fortune than to become the wife of a humble farming fellow, and consequently—"
"But I can make excellent butter, Barnabas," she sighed, stealing a glance up to him, "and I can cook—a little."
Now when she said this, he must needs look down at her again and lo! there, at the corner of her mouth was the ghost of the dimple! And, beholding this, seeing the sudden witchery of her swift-drooping lashes, Barnabas forgot his stern resolutions and stooped his head, that he might kiss the glory of her hair. But, in that moment, she turned, swift and sudden, and yielded him her lips, soft, and warm, and passionate with youth and all the joy of life. And borne away upon that kiss, it seemed to Barnabas, for one brief, mad-sweet instant that all things might be possible; if they started now they might reach London in the dawn and, staying only for Barrymaine, be aboard ship by evening! And it was a wide world, a very fair world, and with this woman beside him—
"It would be so—so very easy!" said he, slowly.
"Yes, it will be very easy!" she whispered.
"Too easy!" said he, beginning to frown, "you are so helpless and lonely, and I want you so bitterly, Cleone! Yes, it would be very easy. But you taught me once, that a man must ever choose the harder way, and this is the harder way, to love you, to long for you, and to bid you—good-by!"
"Ah, Cleone, you could make the wretchedest hut a paradise for me, but for you, ah, for you it might some day become only a hut, and I, only a discredited Amateur Gentleman, after all."
Then Barnabas sighed and thereafter frowned, and so bore her to the chaise and setting her within, closed the door.
"Turn!" he cried to the postilion.
But the word was lost in the creak of wheels and stamping of hoofs as the chaise swung round; then Barnabas remounted and, frowning still, trotted along beside it. Now in a while, lifting his sombre gaze towards a certain place beside the way, he beheld the dim outline of a finger-post, a very ancient finger-post which (though it was too dark to read its inscription) stood, he knew, with wide-stretched arms pointing the traveller:
TO LONDON. TO HAWKHURST.
And being come opposite the finger-post, he ordered the post-boy to stop, for, small with distance, he caught the twinkling lights of lanterns that swung to and fro, and, a moment later, heard a hail, faint and far, yet a stentorian bellow there was no mistaking. Therefore coming close beside the chaise, he stooped down and looked within, and thus saw that Cleone leaned in the further corner with her face hidden in her hands.
"You are safe, now, my lady," said he, "the Bo'sun is coming, the Captain will be here very soon."
But my lady never stirred.
"You are safe now," he repeated, "as for Ronald, if Chichester's silence can save him, you need grieve no more, and—"
"Ah!" she cried, glancing up suddenly, "what do you mean?"
"That I must go, my lady, and—and—oh, my dear love, this harder way—is very hard to tread. If—we should meet no more after tonight, remember that I loved you—as I always have done and always must, humble fellow though I am. Yes, I think I love you as well as any fine gentleman of them all, and—Cleone—Good-by!"
"Barnabas," she cried, "tell me what you mean to do—oh, Barnabas, where are you going?" And now she reached out her hands as though to stay him. But, even so, he drew away, and, wheeling his horse, pointed towards the twinkling lights.
"Drive on!" he cried to the post-boy.
"Drive on!" he cried, "whip—spur!"
"Barnabas, stay! Oh, Barnabas, listen—"
But as Cleone strove desperately to open the door, the chaise lurched forward, the horses broke into a gallop, and Barnabas, sitting there beneath the ancient finger-post, saw imploring hands stretched out towards him, heard a desolate cry, and—he was alone. So Barnabas sat there amid the gloom, and watched Happiness go from him. Very still he sat until the grind of wheels had died away in the distance; then he sighed, and spurring his jaded horse, rode back towards Headcorn.
And thus did Barnabas, in his folly, forego great joy, and set aside the desire of his heart that he might tread that Harder Way, which yet can be trod only by the foot of—A Man.
HOW RONALD BARREYMAINE SQUARED HIS ACCOUNT
A distant clock was striking the hour as Barnabas rode in at the rusted gates of Ashleydown and up beneath an avenue of sombre trees beyond which rose the chimneys of a spacious house, clear and plain against the palpitating splendor of the stars. But the house, like its surroundings, wore a desolate, neglected look, moreover it was dark, not a light was to be seen anywhere from attic to cellar. Yet, as Barnabas followed the sweep of the avenue, he suddenly espied a soft glow that streamed from an uncurtained window giving upon the terrace; therefore he drew rein, and dismounting, led his horse in among the trees and, having tethered him there, advanced towards the gloomy house, his gaze upon the lighted window, and treading with an ever growing caution.
Now, as he went, he took out one of the pistols, cocked it, and with it ready in his hand, came to the window and peered into the room.
It was a long, low chamber with a fireplace at one end, and here, his frowning gaze bent upon the blazing logs, sat Mr. Chichester. Upon the small table at his elbow were decanter and glasses, with a hat and gloves and a long travelling cloak. As Barnabas stood there Mr. Chichester stirred impatiently, cast a frowning glance at the clock in the corner and reaching out to the bell-rope that hung beside the mantel, jerked it viciously, and so fell to scowling at the fire again until the door opened and a bullet-headed, square-shouldered fellow entered, a formidable ruffian with pugilist written in his every feature; to whom Mr. Chichester appeared to give certain commands; and so dismissed him with an impatient gesture of his slim, white hands. As the door closed, Mr. Chichester started up and fell to pacing the floor only to return, and, flinging himself back in his chair, sat scowling at the fire again.
Then Barnabas raised the pistol-butt and, beating in the window, loosed the catch, and, as Mr. Chichester sprang to his feet, opened the casement and stepped into the room.
For a long moment neither spoke, while eyes met and questioned eyes, those of Barnabas wide and bright, Mr. Chichester's narrowed to shining slits. And indeed, as they fronted each other thus, each was the opposite of the other, Barnabas leaning in the window, his pistol hand hidden behind him, a weary, bedraggled figure mired from heel to head; Mr. Chichester standing rigidly erect, immaculate of dress from polished boot to snowy cravat.
"So," said he at last, breaking the ominous silence, "so it's—yes, it is Mr.—Barty, I think, unpleasantly damp and devilish muddy, and, consequently, rather more objectionable than usual."
"I have ridden far, and the roads were bad," said Barnabas.
"Ah! and pray why inflict yourself upon me?"
"For a very good and sufficient reason, sir."
"Ha, a reason?" said Mr. Chichester, lounging against the mantel. "Can it be you have discerned at last that the highly dramatic meeting between father and son at a certain banquet, not so long ago, was entirely contrived by myself—that it was my hand drove you from society and made you the derision of London, Mr. Barty?"
"Why, yes," sighed Barnabas; "I guessed that much, sir."
"Indeed, I admire your perspicacity, Mr. Barty. And now, I presume you have broken into my house with some brutal idea of pummelling me with your fists? But, sir, I am no prizefighter, like you and your estimable father, and I warn you that—"
"Sir," said Barnabas softly, "do not trouble to ring the bell, my mission here is—not to thrash you."
"No? Gad, sir, but you're very forbearing, on my soul you are!" and Mr. Chichester smiled; but his nostrils were twitching as his fingers closed upon the bell-rope. "Now understand me—having shown up your imposture, having driven you from London, I do not propose to trouble myself further with you. True, you have broken into my house, and should very properly be shot like any other rascally thief. I have weapons close by, and servants within call, but you have ceased to interest me—I have other and weightier affairs on hand, so you may go, sir. I give you one minute to take yourself back to your native mud." As he ended, Mr. Chichester motioned airily towards the open window. But Barnabas only sighed again and shook his head.
"Sir," said he, more softly than before, "give me leave to tell you that the Lady Cleone will not keep her appointment here, to-night."
"Ah-h!" said Mr. Chichester slowly, and staring at Barnabas under his drawn brows, "you—mean—?"
"That she was safe home three-quarters of an hour ago."
Mr. Chichester's long, white fingers writhed suddenly upon the bell-rope, released it, and, lifting his hand swiftly, he loosened his high cravat, and so stood, breathing heavily, his eyes once more narrowed to shining slits, and with the scar burning redly upon his cheek.
"So you have dared," he began thickly, "you have dared to interfere again? You have dared to come here, to tell me so?"
"No, sir," answered Barnabas, shaking his head, "I have come here to kill you!"
Barnabas spoke very gently, but as Mr. Chichester beheld his calm eye, the prominence of his chin, and his grimly-smiling mouth, his eyes widened suddenly, his clenched fingers opened, and he reached out again towards the bell-rope. "Stop!" said Barnabas, and speaking, levelled his pistol.
"Ah!" sighed Mr. Chichester, falling back a step, "you mean to murder me, do you?"
"I said 'kill'—though yours is the better word, perhaps. Here are two pistols, you will observe; one is for you and one for me. And we are about to sit down—here, at the table, and do our very utmost to murder each other. But first, I must trouble you to lock the door yonder and bring me the key. Lock it, I say!"
Very slowly, and with his eyes fixed in a wide stare upon the threatening muzzle of the weapon Barnabas held, Mr. Chichester, crossed to the door, hesitated, turned the key, and drawing it from the lock, stood with it balanced in his hand a moment, and then tossed it towards Barnabas.
Now the key lay within a yard of Barnabas who, stepping forward, made as though to reach down for it; but in that instant he glanced up at Mr. Chichester under his brows, and in that instant also, Mr. Chichester took a swift, backward step towards the hearth; wherefore, because of this, and because of the look in Mr. Chichester's eyes, Barnabas smiled, and, so smiling, kicked the key into a far corner.
"Come, sir," said he, drawing another chair up to the table, "be seated!" saying which, Barnabas sat down, and, keeping one pistol levelled, laid the other within Mr. Chichester's reach. "They are both loaded, sir," he continued; "but pray assure yourself."
But Mr. Chichester stood where he was, his eyes roving swiftly from Barnabas to the unlatched window, from that to the door, and so back again to where Barnabas sat, pale, smiling, and with the heavy weapon levelled across the narrow table; and as he stood thus, Mr. Chichester lifted one white hand to his mouth and began to pull at his lips with twitching fingers.
"Come," repeated Barnabas, "be seated, sir."
But Mr. Chichester yet stood utterly still save for the petulant action of those nervous, twitching fingers.
"Sir," Barnabas persisted, "sit down, I beg!"
"I'll fight you—here—and now," said Mr. Chichester, speaking in a strange, muffled tone, "yes—I'll fight you wherever or whenever you wish, but not—not across a table!"
"I think you will," nodded Barnabas grimly. "Pray sit down."
"Why, then, we'll stand up for it," sighed Barnabas rising. "Now, sir, take up your pistol."
"Then," said Barnabas, his teeth agleam, "as God's above, I'll shoot you where you stand—but first I'll count three!" And once more he levelled the pistol he held.
Mr. Chichester sighed a fluttered sigh, the twitching fingers fell from his mouth and with his burning gaze upon Barnabas, he stepped forward and laid his hand upon the chair-back, but, in the act of sitting down, paused.
"The candles—a little more light—the candles," he muttered, and turning, crossed to the hearth and raised his hand to a branched silver candlestick that stood upon the mantel. But in the moment that his left hand closed upon this, his right had darted upon another object that lay there, and, quick as a flash, he had spun round and fired point-blank.
While the report yet rang on the air, Barnabas staggered, swayed, and, uttering a gasp, sank down weakly into his chair. But, as Mr. Chichester watched him, his eyes wide, his lips parted, and the pistol yet smoking in his hand, Barnabas leaned forward, and steadying his elbow on the table, slowly, very slowly raised and levelled his weapon.
And now, as he fronted that deadly barrel, Mr. Chichester's face grew suddenly livid, and haggard, and old-looking, while upon his brow the sweat had started and rolled down, glistening upon his cheeks.
The fire crackled upon the hearth, the clock ticked softly in the corner, the table creaked as Barnabas leaned his weight across it, nearer and nearer, but, save for this, the place was very quiet. Then, all at once, upon this silence broke another sound, a distant sound this, but one that grew ever nearer and louder—the grind of wheels and the hoof-strokes of madly galloping horses. Mr. Chichester uttered a gasping cry and pointed towards the window—
"Cleone!" he whispered. "It's Cleone! She's coming, in God's name—wait!"
The galloping hoofs drew rapidly nearer, stopped suddenly, and as Barnabas, hesitating, glanced towards the window, it was flung wide and somebody came leaping through—a wild, terrible figure; and as he turned in the light of the candles, Barnabas looked into the distorted face of Ronald Barrymaine.
For a moment he stood, his arms dangling, his head bent, his glowing eyes staring at Mr. Chichester, and as he stood thus fixing Mr. Chichester with that awful, unwavering stare, a smile twisted his pallid lips, and he spoke very softly:
"It's all r-right, Dig," said he, "the luck's with me at l-last— we're in time—I've g-got him! Come in, D-Dig, and bring the tools—I—I've g-got him!"
Hereupon Mr. Smivvle stepped into the room; haggard of eye he looked, and with cheeks that showed deadly pale by contrast with the blackness of his glossy whiskers, and beneath his arm he carried a familiar oblong box; at sight of Barnabas he started, sighed, and crossing hastily, set the box upon the table and caught him by the arm:
"Stop him, Beverley—stop him!" he whispered hurriedly. "Barry's gone mad, I think, insisted on coming here. Devil of a time getting away, Bow Street Runners—hard behind us now. Means to fight! Stop him, Beverley, for the love of—Ah! by God, what's this? Barry, look—look here!" And he started back from Barnabas, staring at him with horrified eyes. "Barry, Barry—look here!"
But Ronald Barrymaine never so much as turned his head; motionless he stood, his lips still contorted with their drawn smile, his burning gaze still fixed on Mr. Chichester—indeed he seemed oblivious to all else under heaven.
"Come, Dig," said he in the same soft voice, "get out the barkers, and quick about it, d' you hear?"
"But, Barry—oh, my dear fellow, here's poor Beverley, look—look at him!"
"G-give us the barkers, will you—quick! Oh, damnation. Dig, y-you know G-Gaunt and his hangman are hard on my heels! Quick, then, and g-get it over and done with—d'you hear, D-Dig?" So saying, Barrymaine crossed to the hearth and stood there, warming his hands at the blaze, but, even so, he must needs turn his head so that he could keep his gloating eyes always directed to Chichester's pale face.
"I'm w-warming my pistol-hand, Dig," he continued, "mustn't be cold or s-stiff tonight, you see. Oh, I tell you the luck's with me at last! He's b-been so vastly clever, Dig! He's dragged me down to hell, but—tonight I'm g-going to-take him with me."
And ever as he spoke, warming himself at the fire, Ronald Barrymaine kept his burning gaze upon Mr. Chichester's pale face, while Barnabas leaned, twisted in his chair, and Mr. Smivvle busied himself with the oblong box. With shaking hands he took out the duelling-pistols, one by one, and laid them on the table.
"We'll g-give him first choice, eh, Dig?" said Barrymaine. "Ah—he's chosen, I s-see. Now we'll t-take opposite corners of the room and f-fire when you give the word, eh, Dig?"
As he spoke, Barrymaine advanced to the table, his gaze always upon Mr. Chichester, nor did he look away even for an instant, thus, his hand wandered, for a moment, along the table, ere he found and took up the remaining pistol. Then, with it cocked in his hand, he backed away to the corner beside the hearth, and being come there, nodded.
"A good, comfortable distance, D-Dig," said he, "now tell him to take his g-ground."
But even as he spoke, Mr. Chichester strode to the opposite corner of the long room, and turning, stood there with folded arms. Up till now, he had uttered no word, but as Mr. Smivvle leaned back against the wall, midway between them, and glanced from one to the other, Mr. Chichester spoke.
"Sirs," said he, "I shall most certainly kill him, and I call upon you to witness that it was forced upon me."
Now as his voice died away, through the open window came a faint sound that might have been wind in the trees, or the drumming of horse-hoofs, soft and faint with distance.
"Oh, g-give us the word, D-Dig!" said Barrymaine.
"Gentlemen," said Mr. Smivvle, steadying himself against the panelling with shaking hands, "the word will be—Ready? One! Two! Three—Fire! Do you understand?"
An eager "Yes" from Barrymaine, a slight nod from Chichester, yet Mr. Smivvle still leaned there mutely against the wall, as though his tongue failed him, or as if hearkening to that small, soft sound, that might have been wind in the trees.
"The word, Dig—will you give us the word?"
"Yes, yes, Barry, yes, my dear boy—certainly!" But still Mr. Smivvle hesitated, and ever the small sound grew bigger and louder.
"S-speak! Will you s-speak, Dig?"
"Oh, Barry—my dear boy, yes! Ready?"
At the word the two pistols were raised and levelled, almost on the instant, and with his haggard eyes turned towards Barrymaine's corner, Mr. Smivvle spoke again:
A flash, a single deafening report, and Ronald Barrymaine lurched sideways, caught at the wall, swayed backwards into the corner and leaned there.
"Coward,—you fired too soon!" cried Smivvle, turning upon Mr. Chichester in sudden frenzy, "Villain! Rouge! you fired too soon—!"
"S-stand away, Dig!" said Barrymaine faintly.
"Oh, Barry—you're bleeding! By God, he's hit you!"
"Of c-course, Dig—he never m-misses—neither do I—w-watch now, ah! hold me up, Dig—so! Now, stand away!" But even as Barrymaine, livid of brow and with teeth hard clenched, steadied himself for the shot, loud and clear upon the night came the thudding of swift-galloping horse-hoofs.
And now, for the first time, Barrymaine's gaze left Chichester's face, and fixed itself upon the open casement instead.
"Ha!" he cried, "here comes G-Gaunt at last, D-Dig, and with his hangman at his elbow! But he's t-too late, Dig, he's too l-late—I'm going, but I mean to take our friend—our d-dear friend Chichester w-with me—look now!"
As he spoke he raised his arm, there came the stunning report of the pistol, and a puff of blinding smoke; but when it cleared, Mr. Chichester still stood up rigid in his corner, only, as he stood he lifted his hand suddenly to his mouth, glanced at his fingers, stared at them with wide, horrified eyes. Then his pistol clattered to the floor and he coughed—a hideous, strangling sound, thin and high-pitched. Coughing still, he took a swift pace forward, striving to speak, but choked instead, and so choking, sank to his knees. Even then he strove desperately to utter something, but with it still unspoken, sank down upon his hands, and thence slowly upon his face and lay there very still and quiet.
Then Barrymaine laughed, an awful, gasping laugh, and began to edge himself along the wall and, as he went, he left hideous smears and blotches upon the panelling behind him. Being come to that inanimate figure he stood awhile watching it with gloating eyes. Presently he spoke in a harsh whisper:
"He's dead, D-Dig—quite dead, you see! And he was my f-friend, which was bad! And I trusted him—which was w-worse. A rogue always, Dig, and a l-liar!"
Then Barrymaine groaned, and groaning, spurned that quiet form weakly with his foot and so, pitched down headlong across it.
Now as they lay thus, they together made a great cross upon the floor.
But presently shadows moved beyond the open window, a broad-brimmed, high-crowned hat projected itself into the candle light, and a voice spoke:
"In the King's name! I arrest Ronald Barrymaine for the murder of Jasper Gaunt—in the King's name, genelmen!"
But now, very slowly and painfully, Ronald Barrymaine raised himself upon his hands, lifted his heavy head and spoke in a feeble voice.
"Oh, m-master Hangman," he whispered, "y-you're too l-late—j-just too late!" And so, like a weary child settling itself to rest, he pillowed his head upon his arm, and sighing—fell asleep.
Then Mr. Shrig stepped forward very softly, and beholding that placid young face with its tender, smiling lips, and the lashes that drooped so dark against the dead pallor of the cheek, he took off his broad-brimmed hat and stood there with bent head.
But another figure had followed him, and now sprang toward Barnabas with supporting arms outstretched, and in that moment Barnabas sighed, and falling forward, lay there sprawled across the table.
WHICH RECOUNTS THREE AWAKENINGS
The sunlight was flooding in at the open lattice and, as if borne upon this shaft of glory, came the mingled fragrance of herb and flower and ripening fruit with the blithe carolling of birds, a very paean of thanksgiving; the chirp of sparrows, the soft, rich notes of blackbirds, the warbling trill of thrushes, the far, faint song of larks high in the blue—it was all there, blent into one harmonious chorus of joy, a song that spoke of hope and a fair future to such as were blessed with ears to hear. And by this, our Barnabas, opening drowsy eyes and hearkening with drowsy ears, judged it was yet early morning.
He lay very still and full of a great content because of the glory of the sun and the merry piping of the birds.
But, little by little, as he hearkened, he became conscious of another sound, a very gentle sound, yet insistent because of its regularity, a soft click! click! click! that he could in no wise account for. Therefore he would have turned his head, and straightway wondered to find this so difficult to accomplish; moreover he became aware that he lay in a bed, undressed, and that his arm and shoulder were bandaged. And now, all at once he forgot the bird-song and the sunshine, his brow grew harassed and troubled, and with great caution he lifted his free hand to his neck and began to feel for a certain ribbon that should be there. And presently, having found the ribbon, his questing fingers followed it down into his bosom until they touched a little, clumsily-wrought linen bag, that he had fashioned, once upon a time, with infinite trouble and pains, and in which he had been wont to carry the dried-up wisp of what had once been a fragrant, scarlet rose.
And now, having found this little bag, he lay with brow still troubled as one in some deep perplexity, the while his fingers felt and fumbled with it clumsily. This was the little bag indeed; he knew it by reason of its great, uneven stitches and its many knots and ends of cotton; yes, this was it beyond all doubt, and yet? Truly it was the same, but with a difference.
Now as he lay thus, being full of trouble because of this difference which he could in no wise understand, he drew a deep sigh, which was answered all at once by another; the soft clicking sound abruptly ceased and he knew that some one had risen and now stood looking down at him. Therefore Barnabas presently turned his head and saw a face bent over him, a face with cheeks suspiciously pink, framed in curls suspiciously dark and glossy, but with eyes wonderfully young and bright and handsome; in one small, white hand was a needle and silk, and in the other, a very diminutive piece of embroidery.
"Why, Barnabas!" said the Duchess, very gently, "dear boy—what is it? Ah! you've found it then, already—your sachet? Though indeed it looks more like a pudding-bag—a very small one, of course. Oh, dear me! but you're not a very good needlewoman, are you, Barnabas? Neither am I—I always prick my fingers dreadfully. There—let me open it for you—so! Now, while I hold it, see what is inside."
Then, wondering, Barnabas slipped a clumsy thumb and finger into the little bag and behold the faded wisp had become transfigured and bloomed again in all its virgin freshness. For in his hand there lay a great, scarlet rose, as sweet and fresh and fragrant as though—for all the world as though it had been plucked that very morning.
"Ah, no, no, no," cried the Duchess, reading his look, "it was no hand of mine worked the transformation, dear Barnabas."
"But," murmured drowsy Barnabas, speaking with an effort— "it—was—dead—long ago—?"
"Yet behold it is alive again!" said the Duchess. "And oh, Barnabas dear, if a withered, faded wisp may bloom again—so may a woman's faith and love. There, there, dear boy! Close your eyes and go to sleep again."
So, being very weary, Barnabas closed his eyes and, with the touch of her small, cool fingers in his hair, fell fast asleep.
Now as Barnabas lay thus, lost in slumber, he dreamed a dream. He had known full many sleeping visions and fancies of late, but, of them all, surely none had there been quite like this.
For it seemed to him that he was lying out amid the green, dewy freshness of Annersley Wood. And as he lay there, grievously hurt, lo! there came one hasting, light-footed to him through the green like some young nymph of Arcady or Goddess of the Wood, one for whom he seemed to have been waiting long and patiently, one as sweet and fresh and fair as the golden morning and tender as the Spirit of Womanhood.
And, for that he might not speak or move because of his hurt, she leaned above him and her hands touched him, hands very soft, and cool, and gentle, upon his brow, upon his cheek; and every touch was a caress.
Slowly, slowly her arms came about him in a warm, clinging embrace, arms strong and protecting that drew his weary head to the swell of a bosom and pillowed it sweetly there. And clasping him thus, she sighed over him and wept, though very silently, and stooped her lips to him to kiss his brow, his slumberous eyes, and, last of all, his mouth.
So, because of this dream, Barnabas lay in a deep and utter content, for it seemed that Happiness had come to him after all, and of its own accord. But, in a while, he stirred and sighed, and presently opened dreamy eyes, and thus it chanced that he beheld the door of his chamber, and the door was quivering as though it had but just closed. Then, as he lay watching it, sleepy-eyed, it opened again, slowly and noiselessly, and John Peterby entered softly, took a step towards the bed, but, seeing Barnabas was awake, stopped, and so stood there very still.
Suddenly Barnabas smiled, and held out a hand to him.
"Why, John," said he, "my faithful John—is it you?"
"Sir," murmured Peterby, and coming forward, took that extended hand, looking down at Barnabas joyful-eyed, and would have spoken, yet uttered no other word.
"John," said Barnabas, glancing round the faded splendors of the bed-chamber, "where am I, pray?"
"At Ashleydown, sir."
"Ashleydown?" repeated Barnabas, wrinkling his brow.
"Sir, you have been—very ill."
"Ah, yes, I was shot I remember—last night, I think?"
"Sir, it happened over three weeks ago."
"Three weeks!" repeated Barnabas, sitting up with an effort, "three weeks, John?—Oh, impossible!"
"You have been very near death, sir. Indeed I think you would have died but for the tender nursing and unceasing care of—"
"Ah, God bless her! Where is she, John—where is the Duchess?"
"Her Grace went out driving this morning, sir."
"This morning? Why, I was talking with her this morning—only a little while ago."
"That was yesterday morning, sir."
"Oh!" said Barnabas, hand to head, "do you mean that I have slept the clock round?"
"Hum!" said Barnabas. "Consequently I'm hungry, John, deuced sharp set—ravenous, John!"
"That, sir," quoth Peterby, smiling his rare smile, "that is the best news I've heard this three weeks and more, and your chicken broth is ready—"
"Chicken broth!" exclaimed Barnabas, "for shame, John. Bring me a steak, do you hear?"
"But, sir," Peterby remonstrated, shaking his head, yet with his face ever brightening, "indeed I—"
"Or a chop, John, or ham and eggs—I'm hungry; I tell you."
"Excellent!" laughed Peterby, nodding his head, "but the doctor, sir—"
"Doctor!" cried Barnabas, with a snort, "what do I want with doctors? I'm well, John. Bring me my clothes."
"Clothes, sir!" exclaimed Peterby, aghast. "Impossible, sir! No, no!"
"Yes, yes, John—I'm going to get up."
"This very moment! My clothes, John, my clothes!"
"Indeed, sir, I—"
"John Peterby," said Barnabas, scowling blackly, "you will oblige me with my garments this instant,—obey me, sir!"
But hereupon, while Barnabas scowled and Peterby hesitated, puckered of brow yet joyful of eye, there came the sound of wheels on the drive below and the slam of a coach door, whereat Peterby crossed to the window and, glancing out, heaved a sigh of relief.
"Who is it?" demanded Barnabas, his scowl blacker than ever.
"Her Grace has returned, sir."
"Very good, John! Present my compliments and sa'y I will wait upon her as soon as I'm dressed."
But hardly had Peterby left the room with this message, than the door opened again and her Grace of Camberhurst appeared, who, catching sight of Barnabas sitting up shock-headed among his pillows, uttered a little, glad cry and hurried to him.
"Why, Barnabas!" she exclaimed, "oh, Barnabas!" and with the words stooped, quick and sudden, yet in the most matter-of-fact manner in the world, and kissed him lightly on the brow.
"Oh, dear me!" she cried, beginning to pat and smooth his tumbled pillows, "how glad I am to see you able to frown again, though indeed you look dreadfully ferocious, Barnabas!"
"I'm—very hungry, Duchess!"
"Of course you are, Barnabas, and God bless you for it!"
"A steak, madam, or a chop, I think—"
"Would be excellent, Barnabas!"
"And I wish to get up, Duchess."
"To be sure you do, Barnabas—there, lie down, so!"
"But, madam, I am firmly resolved—I'm quite determined to get up, at once—"
"Quite so, dear Barnabas—lay your head back on the pillow! Dear me, how comfortable you look! And now, you are hungry you say? Then I'll sit here and gossip to you while you take your chicken broth! You may bring it in, Mr. Peterby."
"Chicken broth!" snarled Barnabas, frowning blacker than ever, "but, madam, I tell you I won't have the stuff; I repeat, madam, that I am quite determined to—"
"There, there—rest your poor tired head—so! And it's all a delicious jelly when it's cold—I mean the chicken broth, of course, not your head. Ah! you may give it to me, Mr. Peterby, and the spoon—thank you! Now, Barnabas!"
And hereupon, observing the firm set of her Grace's mouth, and the authoritative flourish of the spoon she held in her small, though imperious hand, Barnabas submitted and lying back among his pillows in sulky dignity, swallowed the decoction in sulky silence, and thereafter lay hearkening sulkily to her merry chatter until he had sulked himself to sleep again.
His third awakening was much like the first in that room, was full of sunshine, and the air vibrant with the song of birds; yet here indeed lay a difference; for now, mingled with the piping chorus, Barnabas was vaguely conscious of another sound, soft and low and oft repeated, a very melodious sound that yet was unlike any note ever uttered by thrush or blackbird, or any of the feathered kind. Therefore, being yet heavy with sleep, Barnabas yawned, and presently turning, propped himself upon his elbow and was just in time to see a shapeless something vanish from the ledge of the open window.
The sun was low as yet, the birds in full song, the air laden with fresh, sweet, dewy scents; and from this, and the profound stillness of the house about him, he judged it to be yet early morning.
Now presently as he lay with his eyes turned ever towards the open casement, the sound that had puzzled him came again, soft and melodious.
Some one was whistling "The British Grenadiers."
And, in this moment a bedraggled object began to make its appearance, slowly and by degrees resolving itself into a battered hat. Inch by inch it rose up over the window-ledge—the dusty crown—the frayed band—the curly brim, and beneath it a face there was no mistaking by reason of its round, black eyes and the untamable ferocity of its whiskers. Hereupon, with its chin resting upon the window-sill, the head gently shook itself to and fro, sighed, and thereafter pronounced these words:
Devilish pale! Deuced thin! But himself again. Oh, lucky dog! With Fortune eager to dower him with all the treasures of her cornucopia, and Beauty waiting for him with expectant arms, oh, lucky dog! Oh, happy youth! Congratulations, Beverley, glad of it, my dear fellow, you deserve it all and more. Oh, fortunate wight!
But, as for me—you behold the last of lonely Smivvle, sir, of bereaved Digby—of solitary Dig. Poor Barrymaine's star is set and mine is setting—westwards, sir—my bourne is the far Americas, Beverley.
"Ah, Mr. Smivvle!" exclaimed Barnabas, sitting up, "I'm glad to see you—very glad. But what do you mean by America?"
"Sir," answered Mr. Smivvle, shaking his head and sighing again, "on account of the lamentable affair of a month ago, the Bow Street Runners have assiduously chivvied me from pillar to post and from perch to perch, dammem! Had a notion to slip over to France, but the French will insist on talking their accursed French at one, so I've decided for America. But, though hounded by the law, I couldn't go without knowing precisely how you were—without bidding you good-by—without endeavoring to thank you—to thank you for poor Barry's sake and my own, and also to return—"
"Come in," said Barnabas, stretching out his hand, "pray come in—through the window if you can manage it."
In an instant Mr. Smivvle was astride the sill, but paused there to glance about him and twist a whisker in dubious fingers.
"Coast clear?" he inquired. "I've been hanging about the place for a week hoping to see you, but by Gad, Beverley, you're so surrounded by watchful angels—especially one in an Indian shawl, that I didn't dare disturb you, but—"
"Pooh, nonsense—come in, man!" said Barnabas. "Come in, I want your help—"
"My help, Oh Gemini!" and, with the word, Mr. Smivvle was in the room. "My help?" he repeated. "Oh Jupiter—only say the word, my dear fellow."
"Why, then, I want you to aid me to dress."
"Dress? Eh, what, Beverley—get up, is it?"
"Yes. Pray get me my clothes—in the press yonder, I fancy."
"Certainly, my dear fellow, but are you strong enough?" inquired Mr. Smivvle, coming to the press on tip-toe.
"Strong enough!" cried Barnabas in profound scorn, "Of course I am!" and forthwith sprang to the floor and—clutched at the bedpost to save himself from falling.
"Ha—I feared so!" said Mr. Smivvle, hurrying to him with the garments clasped in his arms. "Steady! There, lean on me—I'll have you back into bed in a jiffy."
"Bed!" snorted Barnabas, scowling down at himself. "Bed—never! I shall be as right as a trivet in a minute or so. Oblige me with my shirt."
So, with a little difficulty, despite Mr. Smivvle's ready aid, Barnabas proceeded to invest himself in his clothes; which done, he paced to and fro across the chamber leaning upon Mr. Smivvle's arm, glorying in his returning strength.
"And so you are going to America?" inquired Barnabas, as he sank into a chair, a little wearily.
"I sail for New York in three days' time, sir."
"But what of your place in Worcestershire?"
"Gone, sir," said Mr. Smivvle, beginning to feel for his whisker. "Historic place, though devilish damp and draughty—will echo to the tread of a Smivvle no more—highly affecting thought, sir—oh demmit!"
"As to—funds, now," began Barnabas, a little awkwardly, "are you—have you—"
"Sir, I have enough to begin with—in America. Which reminds me I must be hopping, sir. But I couldn't go without thanking you on behalf of—my friend Barrymaine, seeing he is precluded from—from doing it himself. Sir, it was a great—a great grief to me—to lose him for, as I fancy I told you, the hand of a Smivvle, sir—but he is gone beyond plague or pestilence, or Jews, dammem! And he died, sir, like a gentleman. So, on his behalf I do thank you deeply, and I beg, herewith, to return you the twenty guineas you would have given him. Here they are, sir." So saying, Mr. Smivvle released his whisker and drawing a much worn purse from his pocket, tendered it to Barnabas.
Then, seeing the moisture in Mr. Smivvle's averted eyes, and the drooping dejection of Mr. Smivvle's whiskers, Barnabas took the purse and the hand also, and holding them thus clasped, spoke.
"Mr. Smivvle," said he, "it is a far better thing to take the hand of an honorable man and a loyal gentleman than to kiss the fingers of a prince. This money belonged to your dead friend, let it be an inheritance from him. As to myself, as I claim it an honor to call myself your friend, so let it be my privilege to help you in your new life and—and you will find five thousand guineas to your credit when you reach New York, and—and heaven prosper you."
"Sir—" began Mr. Smivvle, but his voice failing him he turned away and crossing to the window stood there apparently lost in contemplation of the glory of the morning.
"You will let me know how you get on, from time to time?" inquired Barnabas.
"Sir," stammered Mr. Smivvle, "sir—oh, Beverley, I can't thank you—I cannot, but—if I live, you shall find I don't forget and—"
"Hush! I think a door creaked somewhere!" said Barnabas, almost in a tone of relief.
In an instant Mr. Smivvle had possessed himself of his shabby hat and was astride of the window-sill. Yet there he paused to reach out his hand, and now Barnabas might see a great tear that crept upon his cheek—as bright, as glorious as any jewel.
"Good-by, Beverley!" he whispered as their hands met, "good-by, and I shall never forget—never!"
So saying, he nodded, sighed and, swinging himself over the window-ledge, lowered himself from sight.
But, standing there at the casement, Barnabas watched him presently stride away towards a new world, upright of figure and with head carried high like one who is full of confident purpose.
Being come to the end of the drive he turned, flourished his shabby hat and so was gone.
HOW THE DUCHESS MADE UP HER MIND, AND BARNABAS DID THE LIKE
"Gracious heavens—he's actually up—and dressed! Oh Lud, Barnabas, what does this mean?"
Barnabas started and turned to find the Duchess regarding him from the doorway and, though her voice was sharp, her eyes were wonderfully gentle, and she had stretched out her hands to him. Therefore he crossed the room a little unsteadily, and taking those small hands in his, bent his head and kissed them reverently.
"It means that, thanks to you, Duchess, I am well again and—"
"And as pale as a goblin—no, I mean a ghost—trying to catch his death of cold at an open window too—I mean you, not the ghost! And as weak as—as a rabbit, and—oh, dear me, I can't shut it—the casement—drat it! Thank you, Barnabas. Dear heaven, I am so flurried—and even your boots on too! Let me sit down. Lud, Barnabas—how thin you are!"
"But strong enough to go on my way—"
"Way? What way? Which way?"
"Home, home indeed? You are home—this is your home. Ashleydown is yours now."
"Yes," nodded Barnabas, "I suppose it is, but I shall never live here, I leave today. I am going home, but before I—"
"Home? What home—which home?"
"But before I do, I would thank you if I could, but how may I thank you for all your motherly care of me? Indeed, dear Duchess, I cannot, and yet—if words can—"
"Pho!" exclaimed the Duchess, knitting her brows at him, but with eyes still ineffably soft and tender, "what do you mean by 'home,' pray?"
"I am going back to my father and Natty Bell."
"And to—that inn?"
"Yes, Duchess. You see, there is not, there never was, there never shall be quite such another inn as the old 'Hound.'"
"And you—actually mean to—live there?"
"Yes, for a time, but—"
"Ha—a publican!" exclaimed the Duchess and positively sniffed, though only as a really great lady may.
"—there is a farm near by, I shall probably—"
"Ha—a farmer!" snorted the Duchess.
"—raise horses, madam, and with Natty Bell's assistance I hope—"
"Horses!" cried the Duchess, and sniffed again. "Horses, indeed! Absurd! Preposterous! Quite ridiculous—hush, sir! I have some questions to ask you."
"Firstly, sir, what of your dreams? What of London? What of Society?"
"They were—only dreams," answered Barnabas; "in place of them I shall have—my father and Natty Bell."
"Secondly, sir,—what of your fine ambitions?"
"It will be my ambition, henceforth, to breed good horses, madam."
"Thirdly, sir,—what of your money?"
"I shall hope to spend it to much better purpose in the country than in the World of Fashion, Duchess."
"Oh Lud, Barnabas,—what a selfish creature you are!"
"Wretch?" said Barnabas, staring.
"Wretch!" nodded the Duchess, frowning, "and pray don't echo my words, sir. I say you are a preposterously selfish wretch, and—so you are!"
"But, madam, why? What do you mean?"
"I mean that you should try to forget yourself occasionally and think of others—me, for instance; look at me—a solitary old woman—in a wig!"
"Me, Barnabas. And this brings me to fourthly—what of me, sir? —what of me?"
"But, madam, I—"
"And this brings me to fifthly and sixthly and seventhly—my hopes, and dreams, and plans, sir—are they all to be broken, spoiled, ruined by your hatefully selfish whims, sir—hush, not a word!"
"But, Duchess, indeed I don't—"
"Hush, sir, and listen to me. There are days when my wig rebukes me, sir, and my rouge-pot stares me out of countenance; yes, indeed, I sometimes begin to feel almost—middle-aged and, at such times, I grow a little lonely. Heaven, sir, doubtless to some wise end, has always denied me that which is a woman's abiding joy or shame—I mean a child, sir, and as the years creep on, one is apt to be a little solitary, now and then, and at such times I feel the need of a son—so I have determined to adopt you, Barnabas—today! Now! This minute! Not a word, sir, my mind is made up!"
"But," stammered Barnabas, "but, madam, I—I beg you to consider—my father—"
"Is a publican and probably a sinner, Barnabas. I may be a sinner too, perhaps—y-e-s, I fear I am, occasionally. But then I am also a Duchess, and it is far wiser in a man to be the adopted son of a sinful Duchess than the selfish son of a sinful publican, yes indeed."
"But I, madam, what can I say? Dear Duchess, I—the honor you would do me—" floundered poor Barnabas, "believe me if—if—"
"Not another word!" the Duchess interposed, "it is quite settled. As my adopted son Society shall receive you on bended knees, with open arms—I'll see to that! All London shall welcome you, for though I'm old and wear a wig, I'm very much alive, and Society knows it. So no more talk of horses, or farms, or inns, Barnabas; my mind, as I say, is quite made up and—"
"But, madam," said Barnabas gently, "so is mine."
"Well, madam, today I go to my father."
"Ah!" sighed the Duchess.
"Though indeed I thank you humbly for—your condescension."
"Hum!" said the Duchess.
"And honor you most sincerely for—for—"
"Oh?" said the Duchess, softly.
"And most truly love and reverence you for your womanliness."
"Oh!" said the Duchess again, this time very softly indeed, and with her bright eyes more youthful than ever.
"Nevertheless," pursued Barnabas a little ponderously, "my father is my father, and I count it more honorable to be his son than to live an amateur gentleman and the friend of princes."
"Quite so," nodded the Duchess, "highly filial and very pious, oh, indeed, most righteous and laudable, but—there remains an eighthly, Barnabas."
"And pray, madam, what may that be?"
"What of Cleone?"
Now when the Duchess said this, Barnabas turned away to the window and leaning his head in his hands, was silent awhile.
"Cleone!" he sighed at last, "ah, yes—Cleone!"
"You love her, I suppose?"
"So much—so very much that she shall never marry an innkeeper's son, or a discredited—"
"Bah!" exclaimed the Duchess.
"Don't be so hatefully proud, Barnabas."
"Cruelly, wickedly, hatefully proud! Oh, dear me! what a superbly virtuous, heroic fool you are, Barnabas. When you met her at the crossroads, for instance—oh, I know all about it—when you had her there—in your arms, why didn't you—run off with her and marry her, as any ordinary human man would have done? Dear heaven, it would have been so deliciously romantic! And—such an easy way out of it!"
"Yes," said Barnabas, beginning to frown, "so easy that it was—wrong!"
"Quite so and fiddlesticks!" sniffed the Duchess.
"Oh, sir, pray remember that one wrong may sometimes make two right! As it is, you will let your abominable pride—yes, pride! wreck and ruin two lives. Bah!" cried the Duchess very fiercely as she rose and turned to the door, "I've no patience with you!"
"Ah, Duchess," said Barnabas, staying her with pleading hands, "can't you see—don't you understand? Were she, this proud lady, my wife, I must needs be haunted, day and night, by the fear that some day, soon or late, she would find me to be—not of her world—not the man she would have me, but only—the publican's son, after all. Now—don't you see why I dare not?"
"Oh, Pride! Pride!" exclaimed the Duchess. "Do you expect her to come to you, then—would you have her go down on her knees to you, and—beg you to marry her?"
Barnabas turned to the window again and stood there awhile staring blindly out beyond the swaying green of trees; when at last he spoke his voice was hoarse and there was a bitter smile upon his lips.
"Yes, Duchess," said he slowly, "before such great happiness could be mine she must come to me, she must go down upon her knees—proud lady that she is—and beg this innkeeper's son to marry her. So you see, Duchess, I—shall never marry!"
Now when at last Barnabas looked round, the Duchess had her back to him, nor did she turn even when she spoke.
"Then you are going back—to your father?"
"Then—good-by, Barnabas! And remember that even roses, like all things else, have a habit of fading, sooner or later." And thus, without even glancing at him, the Duchess went out of the room and closed the door softly behind her.
Then Barnabas sank into a chair, like one that is very tired, and sat there lost in frowning thought, and with one hand clasped down upon his breast where hidden away in a clumsily contrived hiding-place a certain rose, even at that moment, was fading away. And in a while being summoned by Peterby, he sighed and, rising, went down to his solitary breakfast.
WHICH TELLS WHY BARNABAS FORGOT HIS BREAKFAST
It was a slender little shoe, and solitary, for fellow it had none, and it lay exactly in the middle of the window-seat; moreover, to the casual observer, it was quite an ordinary little shoe, ordinary, be it understood, in all but its size.
Why, then, should Barnabas, chancing to catch sight of so ordinary an object, start up from his breakfast (ham and eggs, and fragrant coffee) and crossing the room with hasty step, pause to look down at this small and lonely object that lay so exactly in the middle of the long, deep window-seat? Why should his hand shake as he stooped and took it up? Why should the color deepen in his pale cheek?
And all this because of a solitary little shoe! A quite ordinary little shoe—to the casual observer! Oh, thou Casual Observer who seeing so much, yet notices and takes heed to so little beyond thy puny self! To whom the fairest prospect is but so much earth and so much timber! To whom music is but an arrangement of harmonious sounds, and man himself but a being erect upon two legs! Oh, thou Casual Observer, what a dull, gross, self-contented clod art thou, who, having eyes and ears, art blind and deaf to aught but things as concrete as—thyself!
But for this shoe, it, being something worn, yet preserved the mould of the little foot that had trodden it, a slender, coquettish little foot, a shapely, active little foot: a foot, perchance, to trip it gay and lightly to a melody, or hurry, swift, untiring, upon some errand of mercy.
All this, and more, Barnabas noted (since he, for one, was no casual observer) as he stood there in the sunlight with the little shoe upon his palm, while the ham and eggs languished forgotten and the coffee grew cold, for how might they hope to vie with this that had lain so lonely, so neglected and—so exactly in the middle of the window-seat?
Now presently, as Barnabas stood thus lost in contemplation of this shoe, he was aware of Peterby entering behind him, and instinctively made as if to hide the shoe in his bosom, but he checked the impulse, turned, and glancing at Peterby, saw that his usually grave lips were quivering oddly at the corners, and that he kept his gaze fixed pertinaciously upon the coffee-pot; whereat the pale cheek of Barnabas grew suffused again, and stepping forward, he laid the little shoe upon the table.
"John," said he, pointing to it, "have you ever seen this before?"
"Why, sir," replied Peterby, regarding the little shoe with brow of frowning portent, "I think I have."
"And pray," continued Barnabas (asking a perfectly unnecessary question), "whose is it, do you suppose?"
"Sir," answered John, still grave of mouth and solemn of eye, "to the best of my belief it belongs to the Lady Cleone Meredith."
"So she—really was here, John?"
"Sir, she came here the same night that you—were shot, and she brought Her Grace of Camberhurst with her."
"And they remained here until today—to nurse you, sir."
"Did they, John?"
"They took turns to be with you—day and night, sir. But it was only my Lady Cleone who could soothe your delirious ravings,—she seemed to have a magic—"
"And why," demanded Barnabas, frowning suddenly, "Why was I never told of her presence?"
"Sir, it was her earnest wish that you were not to know unless—"
"Unless you expressly asked for her, by name. And, sir—you never did."
"No," sighed Barnabas, "I never did. But perhaps, after all, it was just as well, John? Under the—circumstances, John?"
But seeing Peterby only shook his head and sighed, Barnabas turned to stare out of the window.
"And she—left this morning—with the Duchess, did she?" he inquired, without looking round.
"For—London, as I understood, sir."
Hereupon Barnabas was silent for a time, during which Peterby watched him solicitously.
"Is 'The Terror' still here?" Barnabas inquired suddenly.
"Yes, sir, and I took the liberty of sending for Gabriel Martin to look after him."
"Quite right, John. Tell Martin to have him saddled at once."
"You are—going out, sir?"
"Yes, I am going—out."
Peterby bowed and crossed to the door, but paused there, hesitated, and finally spoke:
"Sir, may I ask if you intend to ride—Londonwards?"
"No," answered Barnabas, stifling a sigh, "my way lies in the opposite direction; I am going—back, to the 'Coursing Hound.' And that reminds me—what of you, what are your plans for the future?"
"Sir," stammered Peterby, "I—I had ventured to—to hope that you might—take me with you, unless you wished to—to be rid of me—"
"Rid of you, John!" cried Barnabas, turning at last, "no—never. Why, man, I need you more than ever!"
"Sir," exclaimed Peterby, flushing suddenly, "do you—really mean that?"
"Yes, John—a thousand times, yes! For look you, as I have proved you the best valet in the world—so have I proved you a man, and it is the man I need now, because—I am a failure."
"Yes, John. In London I attempted the impossible, and today I—return home, a failure. Consequently the future looms rather dark before me, John, and at such times a tried friend is a double blessing. So, come with me, John, and help me to face the future as a man should."
"Ah, sir," answered Peterby, with his sudden radiant smile, "darkness cannot endure, and if the future brings its sorrows, so must it bring its joys. Surely the future stands for hope and—I think—happiness!"
Now as he ended, Peterby raised one hand with forefinger outstretched; and, looking where he pointed, Barnabas beheld—the little shoe. But when he glanced up again, Peterby was gone.
HOW THE VISCOUNT PROPOSED A TOAST
"Oh—hif you please, sir!"
Barnabas started, raised his head, and, glancing over his shoulder, beheld Milo of Crotona. He was standing in the middle of the room looking very cherubic, very natty, and very upright of back; and he stared at Barnabas with his innocent blue eyes very wide, and with every one of the eight winking, twinkling, glittering buttons on his small jacket—indeed, it seemed to Barnabas that to-day his buttons were rather more knowing than usual, if that could well be. Therefore Barnabas dropped his table-napkin, very adroitly, upon a certain object that yet lay upon the table before him, ere he turned about and addressed himself to the Viscount's diminutive "tiger."
"What, my Imp," said he, "where in the world have you sprung from, pray? I didn't see you come in."
"No, sir—'cause you jest 'appened to be lookin' at that there little boot, you did." Thus Master Milo, and his eyes were guileless as an angel's, but—his buttons—!
"Hum!" said Barnabas, rubbing his chin. "But how did you get in, Imp?"
"Froo de winder, sir, I did. An' I 've come to tell you 'is Ludship's compliments, and 'e's a-comin' along wiv 'er, 'e is."
"Wiv my lady—'er."
"Wiv 'is Ludship's lady, 'is Vi-coun-tess,—'er."
"His Viscountess!" repeated Barnabas, staring, "do you mean that the Viscount is—actually married?"
"'T ain't my fault, sir—no fear, it ain't. 'E went and done it be'ind my back—s'morning as ever was, 'e did. I didn't know nothin' about it till it was too late, 'e done it unbeknownst to me, sir, 'e did, an' she done it too a' course, an' the Yurl went an' 'elped 'em to do it, 'e did. So did the Cap'n, and the Doochess an' Lady Cleone—they all 'elped 'em to do it, they did. An' now they're goin' into the country, to Deven'am, an' I'm a-goin' wiv 'em—an' they're a-drivin' over to see you, sir, in 'is Ludship's noo phayton—an' that's all—no, it ain't though."
"What more, Imp?"
"Why, as they all come away from the church—where they'd been a-doin' of it, sir—I met the little, old Doochess in 'er coach, an' she see me, too. 'Why it's the little Giant!' she sez. 'Best respex, mam,' I sez, an' then I see as she'd got Lady Cleone wiv 'er—a fine, 'igh-steppin', 'andsome young filly, I call 'er, an' no error. 'Where are you goin', Giant?' sez the Doochess. 'I'm a-goin' to drop in on Mr. Bev'ley, mam, I am,' I sez. 'Then give 'im my love,' she sez, 'an' tell 'im I shan't never forget 'is pride and 'is selfishness,' she sez,—an' she give me a crown into the bargain, she did. An' then—jest as the coach was a-drivin' off t'other 'un—the young 'un, give me this. 'For Mr. Bev'ley,' she sez in a whisper, and—here it be, sir."
Saying which, Master Milo handed Barnabas a small folded paper whereon, scribbled in Cleone's well-known writing, were these three aphorisms:
1. Pride goeth before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.
2. Selfishness shall find its own reward.
3. Journeys end in lovers' meetings.
Long stood Barnabas devouring these words with his eyes; so puzzled and engrossed was he indeed, that not until Master Milo ventured to touch him on the arm did he look up.
"'Ere's 'is Ludship, sir," explained Milo, jerking his thumb towards the open window, "a-drivin' up the av'noo, sir, in 'is phayton, and wiv 'is noo Vi-coun-tess along of him—and a reg'lar 'igh-stepper she looks, don't she? Arter all, I don't blame 'im for goin' an' doin' of it, I don't. Ye see, I allus 'ad a tender spot for Miss Clemency, mam, I 'ad, and a fine, proper, bang up Vi-coun-tess she do make, an' no error, sir—now don't she?"
"Surely," nodded Barnabas, looking where Milo pointed, "surely she is the handsomest, sweetest young Viscountess in all England, Imp."
So saying, he strode from the room with Master Milo trotting at his heels, and being come out upon the terrace, stood to watch the phaeton's rapid approach.
And, indeed, what words could be found in any language that could possibly do justice to the gentle, glowing beauty of Mistress Clemency Dare, transformed now, for good and all, into Beatrix, Viscountess Devenham? What brush could paint the mantling color of her cheek, the tender light of her deep, soft eyes, the ripe loveliness of her shape, and all the indefinable grace and charm of her? Surely none.
And now, Master Milo has darted forward and sprung to the horses' heads, for the Viscount has leapt to earth and has caught at Barnabas with both hands almost before the phaeton has come to a stand.
"Why, Bev—my dear old fellow, this is a joyful surprise! oh, bruise and blister me!" exclaimed the Viscount, viewing Barnabas up and down with radiant eyes, "to see you yourself again at last—and on this day of all days—this makes everything quite complete, y'know—doesn't it, Clemency? Expected to find you in bed, y'know—didn't we, Clem, dear? And oh—egad, Bev—er—my wife, y'know. You haven't heard, of course, that I—that we—"
"Yes, I've just heard," said Barnabas, smiling, "and God knows, Dick, I rejoice in your joy and wish you every happiness!" And, speaking, he turned and looked into the flushing loveliness of Clemency's face.
"Mr. Beverley—oh, Barnabas—dear brother!" she said softly, "but for you, this day might never have dawned for us—" and she gave both her hands into his. "Oh, believe me, in my joy, as in my sorrow, I shall remember you always."
"And I too, Bev!" added the Viscount.
"And," continued Clemency, her voice a little tearful, "whatever happiness the future may hold will only make that memory all the dearer, Barnabas."
"Gad, yes, that it will, Bev!" added the Viscount. "And, my dear fellow," he pursued, growing somewhat incoherent because of his earnestness, "I want to tell you that—that because I—I'm so deucedly happy myself, y' know, I wish that my luck had been yours—no, I don't mean that exactly, but what I meant to say was that I—that you deserve to—to—oh, blister me! Tell him what I mean, Clemency dear," the Viscount ended, a little hoarsely.
"That you deserve to know a love as great, a joy as deep as ours, dear Barnabas."
"Exactly!" nodded the Viscount, with a fond look at his young wife; "Precisely what I meant, Bev, for I'm the proudest, happiest fellow alive, y' know. And what's more, my dear fellow, in marrying Clemency I marry also an heiress possessed of all the attributes necessary to bowl over a thousand flinty-hearted Roman P's, and my Roman's heart—though tough, was never quite a flint, after all."
"Indeed, sir—he would have welcomed me without a penny!" retorted Clemency, blushing, and consequently looking lovelier than ever.
"Why—to be sure he would!" said Barnabas. "Indeed, who wouldn't?"
"Exactly, Bev!" replied the Viscount, "she cornered him with the first glance, floored him with a second, and had him fairly beaten out of the ring with a third. Gad, if you'd only been there to see!"
"Would I had!" sighed Barnabas.
"Still there's always—the future, y' know!" nodded the Viscount. "Ah, yes, and with an uncommonly big capital F, y' know, Bev. It was decreed that we were to be friends by—well, you remember who, Bev—and friends we always must be, now and hereafter, amen, my dear fellow, and between you and me—and my Viscountess, I think the Future holds more happiness for you than ever the past did. Your turn will come, y' know, Bev—we shall be dancing at your wedding next—shan't we, Clem?"
"No, Dick," answered Barnabas, shaking his head, "I shall never marry."
"Hum!" said the Viscount, fingering his chin and apparently lost in contemplation of a fleecy cloud.
"Of that I am—quite certain."
"Ha!" said the Viscount, staring down at the toe of his glossy boot.
"But," continued Barnabas, "even in my loneliness—"
"His loneliness—hum!" said the Viscount, still contemplating his resplendent boot. "Clemency dear, do you suppose our Barnabas fellow will be groaning over his 'loneliness'—to-morrow, say?" Hereupon, the Viscount laughed suddenly, and for no apparent reason, while even Clemency's red lips curved and parted in a smile.
"But," said Barnabas, looking from one to the other, "I don't understand!"
"Neither do we, Bev. Only, dear fellow, remember this, 'there is a destiny which shapes our ends,' and—occasionally, a Duchess." But here, while Barnabas still glanced at them in perplexity, John Peterby appeared, bearing a tray whereon stood a decanter and glasses.
"Ha!—most excellent Peterby!" cried the Viscount, "you come pat to the occasion, as usual. Fill up for all of us, yes—even my small Imp yonder; I have a toast to give you." And, when the glasses brimmed, the Viscount turned and looked at Barnabas with his boyish smile. "Let us drink," said he, "to the Future, and the Duchess's move!"
So the toast was drunk with all due honors: but when Barnabas sought an explanation, the Viscount laughed and shook his head.
"Pray ask my Viscountess," said he, with a fond look at her, and turned away to rebuckle a trace under the anxious supervision of Master Milo.
"Indeed, no, Barnabas," said Clemency, smiling, "I cannot explain, as Dick well knows. But this I must tell you, while you lay here, very near death, I came to see you often with my dear father."
"Ah!" exclaimed Barnabas, "then you met—her?"
"Yes, I met Cleone, and I—loved her. She was very tired and worn, the first time I saw her; you were delirious, and she had watched over you all night. Of course we talked of you, and she told me how she had found my letter to you, the only one I ever wrote you, and how she had misjudged you. And then she cried, and I took her in my arms and kissed away her tears and comforted her. So we learned to know and love each other, you see."
"I am very glad," said Barnabas, slowly, and with his gaze on the distance, "for her sake and yours."
Now as she looked at him, Clemency sighed all at once, yet thereafter smiled very tenderly, and so smiling, gave him both her hands.
"Oh, Barnabas," said she, "I know Happiness will come to you, sooner or later—when least expected, as it came to me, so—dear Barnabas, smile!"
Then Barnabas, looking from her tearful, pitying eyes to the hand upon whose finger was a certain plain gold ring that shone so very bright and conspicuous because of its newness, raised that slender hand to his lips.
"Thank you, Clemency," he answered, "but why are you—so sure?"
"A woman's intuition, perhaps, Barnabas, or perhaps, because if ever a man deserved to be happy—you do, dear brother."
"Amen to that!" added the Viscount, who had at length adjusted the trace to his own liking and Master Milo's frowning approval. "Good-by, Bev," he continued, gripping the hand Barnabas extended. "We are going down to Devenham for a week or so—Clemency's own wish, and when we come back I have a feeling that the—the shadows, y' know, will have passed quite away, y'know,—for good and all. Good-by, dear fellow, good-by!" So saying, the Viscount turned, rather hastily, sprang into the phaeton and took up the reins.
"Are you right there, Imp?"
"All right, m'lud!" answers that small person with one foot posed negligently on the step, waiting till the last possible moment ere he mounts to his perch behind. So, with a last "good-by" the Viscount touches up his horses, the light vehicle shoots forward with Master Milo swinging suspended in mid-air, who turns to Barnabas, flashes his eight buttons at him, touches his hat to him, folds his arms, and, sitting very stiff in the back, is presently whirled out of sight.
HOW BARNABAS RODE HOMEWARDS, AND TOOK COUNSEL OF A PEDLER OF BOOKS
It was well on in the afternoon when Barnabas, booted and spurred, stepped out into the sunshine where old Gabriel Martin walked "The Terror" to and fro before the door.
"Very glad to see you out and about again, sir," said he, beaming of face and with a finger at his grizzled temple.
"Thank you, Martin."
"And so is the 'oss, sir—look at 'im!" And indeed the great, black horse had tossed up his lofty crest and stood, one slender fore-leg advanced and with sensitive ears pricked forward, snuffing at Barnabas as he came slowly down the steps.
"He doesn't seem to have taken any hurt from the last race we had together," said Barnabas.
"'Arm, sir—lord, no—not a bit, never better! There's a eye for you, there's a coat! I tell you, sir, 'e's in the very pink, that 'e is."
"He does you great credit, Martin."
"Sir," said Martin as Barnabas prepared to mount, "sir, I hear as you ain't thinking of going back to town?"
"To the best of my belief, no, Martin."
"Why, then, sir," said the old groom, his face clouding, "p'r'aps I 'd better be packing up my bits o' traps, sir?"
"Yes, Martin, I think you had," answered Barnabas, and swung himself somewhat awkwardly into the saddle.
"Very good, sir!" sighed old Martin, his gray head drooping. "I done my best for the 'oss and you, sir, but I know I'm a bit too old for the job, p'r'aps, and—"
But at this moment Peterby approached.
"Sir," he inquired, a little anxiously, "do you feel able—well enough to ride—alone?"
"Why, bless you, John, of course I do. I'm nearly well," answered Barnabas, settling his feet in the stirrups, "and that reminds me, you will discharge all the servants—a month's wages, John, and shut up this place as soon as possible. As for Martin here, of course you will bring him with you if he will come. We shall need him hereafter, shan't we, John? And perhaps we'd better offer him another ten shillings a week considering he will have so many more responsibilities on the farm."
So saying, Barnabas waved his hand, wheeled his horse, and rode off down the drive; but, glancing back, when he had gone a little way, he saw that Peterby and the old groom yet stood looking after him, and in the face of each was a brightness that was not of the sun.
On rode Barnabas, filling his lungs with great draughts of the balmy air and looking about him, eager-eyed. And thus, beholding the beauty of wooded hill and dale, already mellowing to Autumn, the heaviness was lifted from his spirit, his drooping back grew straight, and raising his eyes to the blue expanse of heaven, he gloried that he was alive.
But, in a while, remembering Cleone's note, he must needs check his speed, and taking the paper from his bosom, began to con it over:
1. Pride goeth before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.
2. Selfishness shall find its own reward.
3. Journeys end in lovers' meetings.
Now as he rode thus at a hand-pace, puzzling over these cryptic words, he was presently aroused by a voice, somewhat harsh and discordant, singing at no great distance; and the words of the song were these:
"Push about the brisk bowl, 't will enliven the heart While thus we sit down on the grass; The lover who talks of his sufferings and smart Deserves to be reckoned an ass, an ass, Deserves to be reckoned an ass."
Therefore Barnabas raised his head and, glancing to one side of the way, beheld the singer sitting beneath the hedge. He was a small, merry-eyed man and, while he sang, he was busily setting out certain edibles upon the grass at his feet; now glancing from this very small man to the very large pack that lay beside him, Barnabas reined up and looked down at him with a smile.
"And pray," he inquired, "how do books sell these days?"
"Why, they do and they don't, sir. Sermons are a drug and novels ain't much better, poems is pretty bobbish, but song-books is my meat. And, talking o' songbooks, here's one as is jest the thing for a convivial cock o' the game—a fine, young, slap-up buck like you, my Lord. Here's a book to kill care, drive away sorrer, and give a 'leveller' to black despair. A book as'll make the sad merry, and the merry merrier. Hark to this now!"
So saying, the Pedler drew a book from his pack, and opening it at the title-page, began to read as follows, with much apparent unction and gusto:
THE HEARTY FELLOW:
JOYOUS SOUL'S COMPANION.
BEING A Chaste, Elegant, and Humourous COLLECTION OF SONGS, for the ENTERTAINMENT of:
The TENDER MAID, the PINING LOVER, the CHOICE SPIRIT, the DROLL DOG, the JOVIAL SPORTSMAN, the DARING SOLDIER and the ROUGH, HONEST TAR: and for all those who would wish to render themselves agreeable, divert the Company, kill Care, and be joyous; where the high-seasoned WIT and HUMOUR will be sufficient Apology for a bad Voice, and by which such as have a tolerable one will be able to Shine without repressing the Laugh of the merrily disposed, or offending the Ear of the chastest Virgin.
To which is added:
A complete Collection of the Various TOASTS, SENTIMENTS, and HOB-NOBS, that have been drank, are now drinking, and some new Ones offered for Adoption.
"There you are, sir—there's a book for you! A book? A whole li-bree—a vaddy-mekkum o' wit, and chock full o' humor! What d' ye say for such a wollum o' sparkling bon mots? Say a guinea, say fifteen bob? say ten? Come—you shall take it for five! Five bob for a book as ain't to be ekalled no-how and no-wheer—"
"Not in Asia, Africa or America?" said Barnabas.
"Eh?" said the Pedler, glancing sharply up at him, "why—what, Lord love me—it's you, is it? aha! So it did the trick for you, did it?"
"What do you mean?"
"Mean, sir? Lord, what should I mean, but that there book on Ettyket, as I sold you—that priceless wollum as I give you—for five bob, months ago, when the larks was a-singing so inspiring."
"Yes, it was a lovely morning, I remember."
"Ah! and you left me that morning, a fine, upstanding young country cove, but to-day—ah, to-day you are a bang up blood—a gent, inside and out, a-riding of a magnificent 'oss—and all on account o' follering the instructions in that 'ere blessed tome as I sold you—for five bob! And dirt-cheap at the money!"
"And I find you exactly as you were," said Barnabas thoughtfully, "yes, even to the bread and cheese."
"There you are wrong, sir—axing your pardon. This time it's 'alf a loaf—medium, a slice o' beef—small, and a cold per-tater—large. But cold per-taters is full o' nourishment, if eat with a contented mind—ah, there's oceans o' nourishment in a cold per-tater—took reg'lar. O' course, for them as is flush o' the rhino, and wants a blow-out, there's nothin' like two o' leg o' beef with a dash o' pea, 'alf a scaffold-pole, a plate o' chats, and a swimmer—it's wholesome and werry filling, and don't cost more than a groat, but give me a cold per-tater to walk on. But you, sir," continued the Pedler, beginning to eat with great appetite, "you, being a reg'lar 'eavy-toddler now, one o' the gilded nobs—and all on account o' that there priceless wollum as I—give away to you—for five bob! you, being now a blue-blooded aris-to-crat, don't 'ave to walk, so you can go in for plovers or pheasants or partridges, dressed up in hartichokes, p'r'aps, yes—frogs'-legs is your constant fodder now, p'r'aps—not to mention rag-outs and sich. Oh, yes, I reckon you've done a lot, and seen a lot, and—eat a lot since the morning as I give you a priceless wollum worth its weight in solid gold as was wrote by a Person o' Quality—and all for five bob! jest because them larks 'appened to be singing so sentimental—drat 'em! Ah well," sighed the Pedler, bolting the last morsel of beef, "and 'ow did you find London, young sir?"
"Much bigger than I expected."
"Ah, it is a bit biggish till you get used to it. And it's amazing what you can see—if you looks 'ard enough, like the tombs in St. Paul's Churchyard, f'r instance. I knowed of a chap once as spent over a week a-looking for 'em, and never see so much as a single 'eadstone—but then, 'e were born stone-blind, so it were only nat'ral as 'e should miss 'em, p'r'aps. But you, young sir, 'ow did you pass your time?"
"Principally in dressing and undressing."
"Ah, jess so, jess so—coats cut 'igh and coats cut low! But what more?"
"And in eating and drinking."
"Ah, French hortolons, p'r'aps, with a occasional tongue of a lark throwed in for a relish, jess so! But what more—did ye marry a duchess, f'r instance?"
"Elope with a earl's daughter, then?"
"Well—did ye fight any dooels?"
"Not a single one."
"Lord, young sir—you 'ave been a-missing of your opportunities, you 'ave, playing fast and loose wi' Fortun', I calls it—ah, fair flying in the face o' Providence! Now, if instead o' selling books I took to writing of 'em, and tried to write you into a novel, why, Lord, what a poor thing that there novel would be! Who'd want to read it?—why, nobody! Oh, I can see as you've been throwing away your opportunities and wasting your chances shocking, you 'ave."
"Now I wonder," said Barnabas, frowning thoughtfully, "I wonder if I have?"
"Not a doubt of it!" answered the Pedler, swallowing the last of his potato.
"Then the sooner I begin to make up for it, the better."
"Ah!" nodded the Pedler. "I should begin at once, if I was you."
"I will," said Barnabas, gathering up the reins.
"And how, sir?"
"By going my allotted way and—striving to be content."
"Content!" exclaimed the Pedler, "lord, young sir, it's only fools as is ever content! A contented man never done anything much worth 'aving, nor said anything much worth 'caring as ever I 'eard. Never go for to be content, young sir, or you'll never do nothing at all!"
"Why, then," said Barnabas, smiling ruefully, "it is certain that I shall achieve something yet, because—I never shall be content!"
"That's the spirit, young sir—aim 'igh. Jest look at me—born in the gutter, but I wasn't content wi' the gutter so I taught myself to read and write. But I wasn't content to read and write, so I took to the book trade, and 'ere I am to-day travelling the roads and wi' a fairish connection, but I ain't content—Lord, no! I'd like to be a dook a-rolling in a chariot, or a prince o' the blood, or the Prime Minister a-laying down the law. That's the sperrit—shoot 'igh, ah! shoot at the sun and you're bound to 'it summat if it's only a tree or a 'ay-stack. So, if you can't be a dook or a prince, you can allus be—a man—if you try 'ard enough. What—are ye going, young sir?"
"Yes," answered Barnabas, leaning down from the saddle, "good-by, and thank you for your advice," and he stretched out his hand.
Hereupon the pedler of books rose to his feet and rather diffidently clasped the proffered hand. So Barnabas smiled down at him, nodded and rode upon his way, but as for the Pedler, he stood there, staring after him open-mouthed, and with the yellow coins shining upon his palm.
WHICH TELLS HOW BARNABAS CAME HOME AGAIN, AND HOW HE AWOKE FOR THE FOURTH TIME
Evening was falling as Barnabas came to the top of the hill and, drawing rein, paused there to look down at a certain inn. It was a somewhat small and solitary inn, an ancient inn with many lattices, and with pointed gables whose plaster and cross-beams were just now mellowed by the rosy glow of sunset.
Surely, surely, nowhere in all broad England could there be found just such another inn as this, or one more full of that reposeful dignity which only age can bestow. And in all its length of days never had "The Coursing Hound" looked more restful, more comfortable and home-like than upon this early Autumn evening. And remembering those two gray-headed men, who waited within its hospitable walls, eager to give him welcome, who might, perchance, even now be talking of him one to another, what wonder if, as our Barnabas gazed down at it from worn steps to crooked chimney, from the faded sign before the door of it to the fragrant rick-yard that lay behind it, what wonder (I say) if it grew blurred all at once, and misty, or that Barnabas should sigh so deeply and sit with drooping head, while the old inn blinked its casements innocently in the level rays of the setting sun, like the simple, guileless old inn that it was!
But lo! all at once forth from its weather-beaten porch issued two figures, clean-limbed, athletic figures these—men who strode strong and free, with shoulders squared and upright of back, though the head of each was grizzled with years. On they came, shoulder to shoulder, the one a tall man with a mighty girth of chest, the other slighter, shorter, but quick and active as a cat, and who already had gained a good yard upon his companion; whereupon the big man lengthened his stride; whereupon the slighter man broke into a trot; whereupon the big man fell into a run; whereupon the slighter man followed suit and thus, neck and neck, they raced together up the hill and so, presently reaching the summit, very little breathed considering, pulled up on either side of Barnabas.
"Father!" he cried, "Natty Bell! Oh, it's good to be home again!"
"Man Jack, it's all right!" said Natty Bell, nodding to John, but shaking away at the hand Barnabas had reached down to him, "our lad's come back to us, yes, Barnabas has come home, John, and—it is our Barnabas—London and Fashion aren't spiled him, John, thank God!"
"No," answered John ponderously, "no, Natty Bell, London aren't spiled him, and—why, Barnabas, I'm glad to see ye, lad—yes, I'm—glad, and—and—why, there y'are, Barnabas."
"Looks a bit palish, though, John!" said Natty Bell, shaking his head, "but that's only nat'ral, arter all, yes—a bit palish, p'r'aps, but, man Jack—what o' that?"
"And a bit thinnish, Natty Bell," replied John, "but Lord! a few days and we'll have him as right as—as ever, yes, quite right, and there y' are, Natty Bell!"
"P'r'aps you might be wishful to tell him, John, as you've had the old 'Hound' brightened up a bit?"
"Why, yes, Barnabas," nodded John, "in honor o' this occasion—though, to be sure, the sign would look better for a touch o' paint here and there—the poor old Hound's only got three legs and a tail left, d' ye see—and the hare, Barnabas, the hare—ain't!"
"P'r'aps we'd better take and let him see for hisself, John?"
"Right, Natty Bell, so he shall."
Thus, presently, Barnabas rode on between them down the hill, looking from one to the other, but saying very little, because his heart was so full.