Your lover and friend,
P.S.—Regarding the friend of the Prince Regent, I could wish now that I had struck a little harder, and shall do so next time, should the opportunity be given.
Having finished this letter, in which it will be seen he made no mention of the Lady Cleone, though his mind was yet full of her, having finished his letter I say, Barnabas sanded it, folded it, affixed wafers, and had taken up his pen to write the superscription, when he was arrested by a man's voice speaking in a lazy drawl, just outside the open lattice behind him.
"Now 'pon my soul and honor, Beatrix—so much off ended virtue for a stolen kiss—begad! you were prodigal of 'em once—"
"How-dare you! Oh, coward that you are!" exclaimed another voice, low and repressed, yet vibrant with bitter scorn; "you know that I found you out—in time, thank God!"
"Beatrix?" said Barnabas to himself.
"In time; ah! and pray who'd believe it? You ran away from me—but you ran away with me—first! In time? Did your father believe it, that virtuous old miser? would any one, who saw us together, believe it? No, Beatrix, I tell you all the world knows you for my—"
"Stop!" A moment's silence and then came a soft, gently amused laugh.
"Lord, Beatrix, how handsome you are!—handsomer than ever, begad! I'm doubly fortunate to have found you again. Six years is a long time, but they've only matured you—ripened you. Yes, you're handsomer than ever; upon my life and soul you are!"
But here came the sudden rush of flying draperies, the sound of swift, light footsteps, and Barnabas was aware of the door behind him being opened, closed and bolted, and thereafter, the repressed sound of a woman's passionate weeping. Therefore he rose up from the settle, and glancing over its high back, beheld Clemency.
Almost in the same moment she saw him, and started back to the wall, glanced from Barnabas to the open lattice, and covered her face with her hands. And now not knowing what to do, Barnabas crossed to the window and, being there, looked out, and thus espied again the languid gentleman, strolling up the lane, with his beaver hat cocked at the same jaunty angle, and swinging his betasselled stick as he went.
"You—you heard, then!" said Clemency, almost in a whisper.
"Yes," answered Barnabas, without turning; "but, being a great rascal he probably lied."
"No, it is—quite true—I did run away with him; but oh! indeed, indeed I left him again before—before—"
"Yes, yes," said Barnabas, a little hurriedly, aware that her face was still hidden in her hands, though he kept his eyes studiously averted. Then all at once she was beside him, her hands were upon his arm, pleading, compelling; and thus she forced him to look at her, and, though her cheeks yet burned, her eyes met his, frank and unashamed.
"Sir," said she, "you do believe that I—that I found him out in time—that I—escaped his vileness—you must believe—you shall!" and her slender fingers tightened on his arm. "Oh, tell me—tell me, you believe!"
"Yes," said Barnabas, looking down into the troubled depths of her eyes; "yes, I do believe."
The compelling hands dropped from his arm, and she stood before him, staring out blindly into the glory of the morning; and Barnabas could not but see how the tears glistened under her lashes; also he noticed how her brown, shapely hands griped and wrung each other.
"Sir," said she suddenly; "you are a friend of—Viscount Devenham."
"I count myself so fortunate."
"Indeed, it is my earnest wish."
"Then you will promise me that, should you ever hear anything spoken to the dishonor of Beatrice Darville, you will deny it."
"Yes," said Barnabas, smiling a little grimly, "though I think I should do—more than that."
Now when he said this, Clemency looked up at him suddenly, and in her eyes there was a glow no tears could quench; her lips quivered but no words came, and then, all at once, she caught his hand, kissed it, and so was gone, swift and light, and shy as any bird.
And, in a while, happening to spy his letter on the table, Barnabas sat down and wrote out the superscription with many careful flourishes, which done, observing his hat near by, he took it up, brushed it absently, put it on, and went out into the sunshine.
Yet when he had gone but a very little way, he paused, and seeing he still carried the letter in his hand, thrust it into his breast, and so remained staring thoughtfully towards that spot, green and shady with trees, where he and the Viscount had talked with the Apostle of Peace. And with his gaze bent thitherwards he uttered a name, and the name was—
IN WHICH BARNABAS ENGAGES ONE WITHOUT A CHARACTER
Barnabas walked on along the lane, head on breast, plunged in a profound reverie, and following a haphazard course, so much so that, chancing presently to look about him, he found that the lane had narrowed into a rough cart track that wound away between high banks gay with wild flowers, and crowned with hedges, a pleasant, shady spot, indeed, as any thoughtful man could wish for.
Now as he walked, he noticed a dry ditch—a grassy, and most inviting ditch; therefore Barnabas sat him down therein, leaning his back against the bank.
"Beatrix!" said he, again, and thrusting his hands into his pockets he became aware of the "priceless wollum." Taking it out, he began turning its pages, idly enough, and eventually paused at one headed thus:
* * * * *
THE CULT OF DRESS.
* * * * *
But he had not read a dozen words when he was aware of a rustling of leaves, near by, that was not of the wind, and then the panting of breath drawn in painful gasps; and, therefore, having duly marked his place with a finger, he raised his head and glanced about him. As he did so, the hedge, almost opposite, was burst asunder and a man came slipping down the bank, and, regaining his feet, stood staring at Barnabas and panting. A dusty, bedraggled wretch he looked, unshaven and unkempt, with quick, bright eyes that gleamed in the pale oval of his face.
"What do you want?" Barnabas demanded.
"Everything!" the man panted, with the ghost of a smile on his pallid lips; "but—the ditch would do."
"And why the ditch?"
"Because they're—after me."
"Then, you're a poacher?"
"And a very clumsy one—they had me once—close on me now."
"Then—hum!—get into the ditch," said Barnabas.
Now the ditch, as has been said, was deep and dry, and next moment, the miserable fugitive was hidden from view by reason of this, and of the grasses and wild flowers that grew luxuriantly there; seeing which, Barnabas went back to his reading.
"It is permitted," solemnly writes the Person of Quality, "that white waistcoats be worn,—though sparingly, for caution is always advisable, and a buff waistcoat therefore is recommended as safer. Coats, on the contrary, may occasionally vary both as to the height of the collar, which must, of course, roll, and the number of buttons—"
Thus far the Person of Quality when:
"Hallo, theer" roared a stentorian voice.
"Breeches, on the other hand," continues the Person of Quality gravely, "are governed as inexorably as the Medes and Persians; thus, for mornings they must be either pantaloons and Hessians—"
"Hallo theer! oho!—hi!—waken oop will 'ee!"
"Or buckskins and top boots—"
"Hi!" roared the voice, louder than ever, "you theer under th' 'edge,—oho!"
Once more Barnabas marked the place with his finger, and glancing up, straightway espied Stentor, somewhat red-faced, as was but natural, clad in a velveteen jacket and with a long barrelled gun on his shoulder.
"Might you be shouting at me?" inquired Barnabas.
"Well," replied Stentor, looking up and down the lane, "I don't see nobody else to shout at, so let's s'pose as I be shouting at ye, bean't deaf, be ye?"
"No, thank God."
"'Cause if so be as y' are deaf, a can shout a tidy bit louder nor that a reckon."
"I can hear you very well as it is."
"Don't go for to be too sartin, now; ye see I've got a tidy voice, I have, which I aren't noways afeared o' usin'!"
"So it would appear!" nodded Barnabas.
"You're quite sure as ye can 'ear me, then?"
"Werry good then, if you are sure as you can 'ear me I'd like to ax 'ee a question, though, mark me, I'll shout it, ah! an' willin'; if so be you're minded, say the word!"
But, before Barnabas could reply, another man appeared, being also clad in velveteens and carrying a long barrelled gun.
"Wot be doin', Jarge?" he inquired of Stentor, in a surly tone, "wot be wastin' time for"
"W'y, lookee, I be about to ax this 'ere deaf chap a question, though ready, ah! an' willin' to shout it, if so be 'e gives the word."
"Stow yer gab, Jarge," retorted Surly, more surly than ever, "you be a sight too fond o' usin' that theer voice o' your'n!" saying which he turned to Barnabas:
"Did ye see ever a desprit, poachin' wagabone run down this 'ere lane, sir?" he inquired.
"No," answered Barnabas.
"Well, did ye see ever a thievin' wastrel run oop this 'ere lane?" demanded Stentor.
"No," answered Barnabas.
"But we seen 'im run this way," demurred Surly.
"Ah!—he must ha' run oop or down this 'ere lane," said Stentor.
"He did neither," said Barnabas.
"Why, then p'r'aps you be stone blind as well as stone deaf?" suggested Stentor.
"Neither one nor the other," answered Barnabas, "and now, since I have answered all your questions, suppose you go and look somewhere else?"
"Look, is it?—look wheer—d'ye mean—?"
"Go!" repeated Stentor, round of eye, "then s'pose you tell us—wheer!"
"Anywhere you like, only—be off!"
"Now you can claw me!" exclaimed Stentor with an injured air, nodding to his gun, seeing his companion had already hurried off, "you can grab and duck me if this don't beat all!—you can burn an' blister me if ever I met a deaf cove as was so ongrateful as this 'ere deaf cove,—me 'avin' used this yer v'ice o' mine for 'is be'oof an' likewise benefit; v'ices like mine is a gift as was bestowed for deaf 'uns like 'im;—I've met deaf 'uns afore, yes,—but such a ongrateful deaf 'un as 'im,—no. All I 'opes is as 'e gets deafer an' deafer, as deaf as a stock, as a stone, as a—dead sow,—that's all I 'opes!"
Having said which, Stentor nodded to his gun again, glanced at Barnabas again, and strode off, muttering, after his companion.
Hereupon Barnabas once more opened his book; yet he was quite aware that the fugitive had thrust his head out of the ditch, and having glanced swiftly about, was now regarding him out of the corners of his eyes.
"Why do you stare at me?" he demanded suddenly.
"I was wondering why you took the trouble and risk of shielding such a thing as I am," answered the fugitive.
"Hum!" said Barnabas, "upon my soul,—I don't know."
"No," said the man, with the ghostly smile upon his lips again, "I thought not."
Now, as he looked at the man, Barnabas saw that his cheeks, beneath their stubble, were hollow and pinched, as though by the cruel hands of want and suffering. And yet in despite of all this and of the grizzled hair at his temples, the face was not old, moreover there was a merry twinkle in the eye, and a humorous curve to the wide-lipped mouth that appealed to Barnabas.
"And you are a poacher, you say?"
"Yes, sir, and that is bad, I confess, but, what is worse, I was, until I took to poaching, an honest man without a shred of character."
"I was discharged—under a cloud that was never dispelled."
"To be sure, you don't look like an ordinary poacher."
"That is because I am an extraordinary one."
"That I poach that I may live to—poach again, sir. I am, at once, a necessitous poacher, and a poacher by necessity."
"And what by choice?"
"A gentleman, sir, with plenty of money and no ambitions."
"Why deny ambition?"
"Because I would live a quiet life, and who ever heard of an ambitious man ever being quiet, much less happy and contented?"
"Hum!" said Barnabas, "and what were you by profession?"
"My calling, sir, was to work for, think for, and shoulder the blame for others—generally fools, sir. I was a confidential servant, a valet, sir. And I have worked, thought, and taken the blame for others so very successfully, that I must needs take to poaching that I may live."
"But—other men may require valets!"
"True, sir, and there are plenty of valets to be had—of a sort; but the most accomplished one in the world, if without a character, had better go and hang himself out of the way, and have done with it. And indeed, I have seriously contemplated so doing."
"You rate yourself very highly."
"And I go in rags! Though a professed thief may do well in the world, though the blackest rascal, the slyest rogue, may thrive and prosper, the greatest of valets being without a character, may go in rags and starve—and very probably will."
"Hum!" said Barnabas.
"Now, to starve, sir, is unpleasant; thus I, having a foolish, though very natural, dread of it, poach rabbits that I may exist. I possess also an inborn horror of rags and dirt, therefore I—exchanged this coat and breeches from a farmhouse, the folk being all away in the fields, and though they are awkward, badly-made garments, still beggars—and—"
"Thieves!" added Barnabas.
"And thieves, sir, cannot always be choosers, can they?"
"Then you admit you are a thief?"
Here the fugitive glanced at Barnabas with a wry smile.
"Sir, I fear I must. Exchange is no robbery they say; but my rags were so very ragged, and these garments are at least wearable."
"You have also been a—great valet, I understand?"
"And have served many gentlemen in my time."
"Then you probably know London and the fashionable world?"
"Yes, sir," said the man, with a sigh.
"Now," pursued Barnabas, "I am given to understand, on the authority of a Person of Quality, that to dress properly is an art."
The fugitive nodded. "Indeed, sir, though your Person of Quality should rather have called it the greatest of all the arts."
"Because by dress it is possible to make—something out of nothing!"
"Why, there was the case of young Lord Ambleside, a nobleman remarkable for a vague stare, and seldom saying anything but 'What!' or 'Dey-vil take me!' though I'll admit he could curse almost coherently—at times. I found him nothing but a lord, and very crude material at that, yet in less than six months he was made."
"Made, sir," nodded the fugitive. "I began him with a cravat, an entirely original creation, which drew the approval of Brummell himself, and, consequently, took London by storm, and I continued him with a waistcoat."
"Not a—white one?" Barnabas inquired.
"No, sir, it was a delicate pink, embroidered with gold, and of quite a new cut and design, which was the means of introducing him to the notice of Royalty itself. The Prince had one copied from it, and wore it at a state reception. And I finished him with a pair of pantaloons which swept the world of fashion clean off its legs, and brought him into lasting favor with the Regent. So my Lord was made, and eventually I married him to an heiress."
"You married him?"
"That is to say, I dictated all his letters, and composed all his verses, which speedily brought the affair to a happy culmination."
"You seem to be a man of many and varied gifts?"
"And one—without a character, sir."
"Nevertheless," said Barnabas, "I think you are the very man I require."
"Sir," exclaimed the fugitive, staring, "sir?"
"And therefore," continued Barnabas, "you may consider yourself engaged."
"Engaged, sir—engaged!" stammered the man—"me?"
"As my valet," nodded Barnabas.
"But, sir, I told you—I was—a thief!"
"Yes," said Barnabas, "and therefore I have great hopes of your future honesty."
Now hereupon the man, still staring, rose up to his knees, and with a swift, appealing gesture, stretched out his hands towards Barnabas, and his hands were trembling all at once.
"Sir!" said he, "oh, sir—d'ye mean it? You don't know, you can't know what such an offer means to me. Sir, you're not jesting with me?"
"No," answered Barnabas, calmly serious of eye, "no, I'm not jesting; and to prove it, here is an advance of wages." And he dropped two guineas into the man's open palm.
The man stared down at the coins in his hand, then rose abruptly to his feet and turned away, and when he spoke again his voice was hoarse.
"Sir," said he, jerkily, "for such trust I would thank you, only words are too poor. But if, as I think, it is your desire to enter the World of Fashion, it becomes my duty, as an honest man, to tell you that all your efforts, all your money, would be unavailing, even though you had been introduced by Barrymore, or Hanger, or Vibart, or Brummell himself."
"Ah," said Barnabas, "and why?"
"Because you have made a fatal beginning."
"By knocking down the Prince's friend and favorite—Sir Mortimer Carnaby."
IN WHICH BARNABAS PARTS COMPANY WITH THE PERSON OF QUALITY
For a long moment the two remained silent, each staring at the other, Barnabas still seated in the ditch and the man standing before him, with the coins clutched in his hand.
"Ah!" said Barnabas, at last, "then you were in the wood?"
"I lay hidden behind a bush, and watched you do it, sir."
"And what were you doing in Annersley Wood?"
"I bore a message, sir, for the lady."
"Ah!" said Barnabas, "the lady—yes."
"Who lay watching you, also."
"No," said Barnabas, "the lady was unconscious."
"Yet recovered sufficiently to adjust her habit, and to watch you knock him down."
"Hum!" said Barnabas, and was silent a while. "Have you heard such a name as Chichester?" he inquired suddenly.
"And did you deliver the letter?"
"I did, sir."
"And she—sent back an answer?"
"The gentleman who sent the letter was tall and slender, I think, with dark hair, and a scar on his cheek?"
"And when you came back with her answer, he met you down the lane yonder, and I heard you say that the lady had no time to write."
"Yes, sir; but she promised to meet him at a place called Oakshott's Barn."
"Ah!" said Barnabas, "I think I know it."
"At sunset, sir!"
"That would be somewhere about half past seven," mused Barnabas, staring blankly, down at the book on his knee.
"How came you to be carrying his letter?"
"He offered me five shillings to go and bring her answer."
"Did you know the lady?"
"No, sir, but he described her."
"To be sure." said Barnabas; "he mentioned her hair, perhaps?"
"And her eyes also, sir."
"Yes, her eyes, of course. He seemed to know her well, perhaps?"
"And she—promised to meet him—in a very lonely place?"
"At Oakshott's Barn, sir."
Once again Barnabas stared down at his book, and was silent so long that his new servant wondered, grew fidgety, coughed, and at last spoke.
"Sir," said he, "what are your orders?"
Barnabas started and looked up.
"Orders?" he repeated; "why, first of all, get something to eat, then find yourself a barber, and wait for me at 'The Spotted Cow.'"
"Yes, sir." The man bowed, turned away, took three or four steps, and came back again.
"Sir," said he, "I have two guineas of yours, and you have never even asked my name."
"True," said Barnabas.
"Supposing I go, and never come back?"
"Then I shall be two guineas the poorer, and you will have proved yourself a thief; but until you do, you are an honest man, so far as I am concerned."
"Sir, said the fugitive, hoarsely, but with a new light in his face," for that, if I were not your servant—I—should like to—clasp your hand; and, sir, my name is John Peterby."
"Why, then," said Barnabas, smiling all at once, "why then, John Peterby, here it is!"
So, for a moment their hands met, and then John Peterby turned sharp about and strode away down the lane, his step grown light and his head held high.
But as for Barnabas, he sat there in the ditch, staring at nothing; and as he stared his brow grew black and ever blacker, until chancing at last to espy the "priceless wollum," where it lay beside him, he took it up, balanced it in his hand, then hurled it over the opposite hedge: which done, he laughed sudden and harsh, and clenched his fists.
"God!" he exclaimed, "a goddess and a satyr!" and so sat staring on at nothingness again.
HOW BARNABAS CAME TO OAKSHOTT'S BARN
The sun was getting low, as Barnabas parted the brambles, and looking about him, frowned. He stood in a grassy glade or clearing, a green oasis hemmed in on every side with bushes. Before him was Oakshott's Barn, an ancient structure, its rotting thatch dishevelled, its doors gone long since, its aged walls cracked and scarred by years, a very monument of desolation; upon its threshold weeds had sprung up, and within its hoary shadow breathed an air damp, heavy, and acrid with decay.
It was indeed a place of solitude full of the "hush" of leaves, shut out from the world, close hidden from observation, a place apt for the meetings of lovers. And, therefore, leaning in the shadow of the yawning doorway, Barnabas frowned.
Evening was falling, and from shadowy wood, from dewy grass and flower, stole wafts of perfume, while from some thicket near by a blackbird filled the air with the rich note of his languorous song; but Barnabas frowned only the blacker, and his hand clenched itself on the stick he carried, a heavy stick, that he had cut from the hedge as he came.
All at once the blackbird's song was hushed, and gave place to a rustle of leaves that drew nearer and nearer; yet Barnabas never moved, not even when the bushes were pushed aside and a man stepped into the clearing—a tall, elegant figure, who having paused to glance sharply about him, strolled on again towards the barn, swinging his tasselled walking-cane, and humming softly to himself as he came. He was within a yard of Barnabas when he saw him, and stopped dead.
"Ah!" he exclaimed, softly; and thereafter the two eyed each other in an ominous silence.
"And who the devil are you?" he inquired at length, his eyes still intent.
"Sir," said Barnabas, yet leaning in the doorway—"your name I think, is Chichester?"
"Permit me to return your coat button!" and Barnabas held out the article in question, but Mr. Chichester never so much as glanced at it.
"What do you want here?" he demanded, soft of voice.
"To tell you that this dismal place is called Oakshott's Barn, sir."
"To warn you that Oakshott's Barn is an unhealthy place—for your sort, sir."
"Ha!" said Mr. Chichester, his heavy-lidded eyes unwinking, "do you threaten?"
"Let us rather say—I warn!"
"So you do threaten!"
"I warn!" repeated Barnabas.
"To the devil with you and your warning!" All this time neither of them had moved or raised his voice, only Mr. Chichcster's thin, curving nostrils began to twitch all at once, while his eyes gleamed beneath their narrowed lids. But now Barnabas stepped clear of the doorway, the heavy stick swinging in his hand.
"Then, sir," said he, "let me advise. Let me advise you to hurry from this solitude."
Mr. Chichester laughed—a low, rippling laugh.
"Ah!" said he, "ah, so that's it!"
"Yes," nodded Barnabas, shifting his gaze to Mr. Chichester's right hand, a white beringed hand, whose long, slender fingers toyed with the seals that dangled at his fob, "so pray take up your button and go!"
Mr. Chichester glanced at the heavy stick; at the powerful hand, the broad shoulders and resolute face of him who held it, and laughed again, and, laughing, bowed.
"Your solicitude for my health—touches me, sir,—touches me, my thanks are due to you, for my health is paramount. I owe you a debt which I shall hope to repay. This place, as you say, is dismal. I wish you good evening!" saying which, Mr. Chichester turned away. But in that same instant, swift and lithe as a panther, Barnabas leapt, and dropping his stick, caught that slender, jewelled hand, bent it, twisted it, and wrenched the weapon from its grasp. Mr. Chichester stood motionless, white-lipped and silent, but a devil looked out of his eyes.
"Ah!" said Barnabas, glancing down at the pistol he held, "I judged you would not venture into these wilds without something of the sort. The path, you will notice, lies to your left; it is a winding path, I will go with you therefore, to see that you do not lose your way, and wander—back here again."
Without a word Mr. Chichester turned, and coming to the path followed it, walking neither fast nor slow, never once looking to where Barnabas strode behind, and heedless of briar or bramble that dragged at him as he passed. On they went, until the path lost itself in a grassy lane, until the lane ended in a five-barred gate. Now, having opened the gate, Mr. Chichester passed through into the high road, and then, for one moment he looked at Barnabas, a long, burning look that took in face, form and feature, and so, still without uttering a word, he went upon his way, walking neither fast nor slow, and swinging his tasselled cane as he went, while Barnabas, leaning upon the gate, watched him until his tall, slender figure had merged into the dusk, and was gone.
Then Barnabas sighed, and becoming aware of the pistol in his hand, smiled contemptuously, and was greatly minded to throw it away, but slipped it into his pocket instead, for he remembered the devil in the eyes of Mr. Chichester.
WHICH TELLS HOW BARNABAS TALKS WITH MY LADY CLEONE FOR THE SECOND TIME
It was dark among the trees, but, away to his left, though as yet low down, the moon was rising, filling the woods with mystery, a radiant glow wherein objects seemed to start forth with a new significance; here the ragged hole of a tree, gnarled, misshapen; there a wide-flung branch, weirdly contorted, and there again a tangle of twigs and strange, leafy shapes that moved not. And over all was a deep and brooding quietude.
Yes, it was dark among the trees, yet not so black as the frown that clouded the face of Barnabas as he strode on through the wood, and so betimes reached again the ancient barn of Oakshott. And lo! even as he came there, it was night, and because the trees grew tall and close together, the shadows lay thicker than ever save only in one place where the moon, finding some rift among the leaves, sent down a shaft of silvery light that made a pool of radiance amid the gloom. Now, as Barnabas gazed at this, he stopped all at once, for, just within this patch of light, he saw a foot. It was a small foot, proudly arched, a shapely foot and slender, like the ankle above; indeed, a haughty and most impatient foot, that beat the ground with angry little taps, and yet, in all and every sense, surely, and beyond a doubt, the most alluring foot in the world. Therefore Barnabas sighed and came a step nearer, and in that moment it vanished; therefore Barnabas stood still again. There followed a moment's silence, and then:
"Dear," said a low, thrilling voice, "have you come—at last? Ah! but you are late, I began to fear—" The soft voice faltered and broke off with a little gasp, and, as Barnabas stepped out of the shadows, she shrank away, back and back, to the mossy wall of the barn, and leaned there staring up at him with eyes wide and fearful. Her hood, close drawn, served but to enhance the proud beauty of her face, pale under the moon, and her cloak, caught close in one white hand, fell about her ripe loveliness in subtly revealing folds. Now in her other hand she carried a silver-mounted riding-whip. And because of the wonder of her beauty, Barnabas sighed again, and because of the place wherein they stood, he frowned; yet, when he spoke, his voice was gentle:
"Don't be afraid, madam, he is gone."
"Gone!" she echoed, faintly.
"Yes, we are quite alone; consequently you have no more reason to be afraid."
"Afraid, sir? I thought—why, 'twas you who startled me."
"Ay," nodded Barnabas, "you expected—him!"
"Where is he? When did he go?"
"Some half-hour since."
"Yet he expected me; he knew I should come; why did he go?"
Now hereupon Barnabas lifted a hand to his throat, and loosened his neckcloth.
"Why then," said he slowly, "you have—perhaps—met him hereabouts—before to-night?"
"Sir," she retorted, "you haven't answered me; why did he go so soon?"
"He was—forced to, madam."
"Forced to go,—without seeing me,—without one word! Oh, impossible!"
"I walked with him to the cross-roads, and saw him out of sight."
"But I—I came as soon as I could! Ah! surely he gave you some message—some word for me?"
"None, madam!" said Barnabas evenly, but his hand had clenched itself suddenly on the stick he held.
"But I—don't understand!" she sighed, with a helpless gesture of her white hands, "to hurry away like this, without a word! Oh, why—why did he go?"
"Madam," said Barnabas, "it was because I asked him to."
"You—asked him to?"
"Because, from what little I know of him, I judged it best."
"Sir," she said, softly, "sir—what do you mean?"
"I mean, that this is such a very lonely place for any woman and—such as he."
Now even as Barnabas uttered the words she advanced upon him with upflung head and eyes aflame with sudden passionate scorn.
"Insolent," she exclaimed. "So it was you—you actually dared to interfere?"
"Madam," said Barnabas, "I did."
Very straight and proud she stood, and motionless save for the pant and tumult of her bosom, fierce-eyed and contemptuous of lip.
"And remained to insult me—with impunity."
"To take you home again," said Barnabas, "therefore pray let us begone."
"Us? Sir, you grow presumptuous."
"As you will," said Barnabas, "only let us go."
"With you?" she exclaimed.
"No—not a step, sir; When I choose to go, I go alone."
"But to-night," said Barnabas, gentle of voice but resolute of eye, "to-night—I go with you."
"You!" she cried, "a man I have seen but once, a man who may be anything, a—a thief, a ploughman, a runaway groom for aught I know." Now, watching him beneath disdainful drooping lashes, she saw Barnabas flinch at this, and the curve of her scornful lips grew more bitter.
"And now I'm going—alone. Stand aside, and let me pass."
"Let me pass, I warn you!"
For a minute they fronted each other, eye to eye, very silent and still, like two antagonists that measure each other's strength; then Barnabas smiled and shook his head. And in that very instant, quick and passionate, she raised her whip and struck him across the cheek. Then, as she stood panting, half fearful of what she had done, Barnabas reached out and took the whip, and snapped it between his hands.
"And now," said he, tossing aside the broken pieces, "pray let us go."
"Why, then," sighed Barnabas, "I must carry you again."
Once more she shrank away from him, back and back to the crumbling wall, and leaned there. But now because of his passionless strength, she fell a-trembling and, because of his calmly resolute eyes and grimly smiling mouth, fear came upon her, and therefore, because she could not by him, because she knew herself helpless against him, she suddenly covered her face from his eyes, and a great sob burst from her.
Barnabas stopped, and looking at her bowed head and shrinking figure, knew not what to do. And as he stood there within a yard of her, debating within himself, upon the quiet broke a sudden sound—a small, sharp sound, yet full of infinite significance—the snapping of a dry twig among the shadows; a sound that made the ensuing silence but the more profound, a breathless quietude which, as moment after moment dragged by, grew full of deadly omen. And now, even as Barnabas turned to front these menacing shadows, the moon went out.
OF THE PROPHECY OF ONE BILLY BUTTON, A MADMAN
Upon the quiet stole a rustle of leaves, a whisper that came and went, intermittently, that grew louder and louder, and so was gone again; but in place of this was another sound, a musical jingle like the chime of fairy bells, very far, and faint, and sweet. All at once Barnabas knew that his companion's fear of him was gone, swallowed up—forgotten in terror of the unknown. He heard a slow-drawn, quivering sigh, and then, pale in the dimness, her hand came out to him, crept down his arm, and finding his hand, hid itself in his warm clasp; and her hand was marvellous cold, and her fingers stirred and trembled in his.
Came again a rustling in the leaves, but louder now, and drawing nearer and nearer, and ever the fairy chime swelled upon the air. And even as it came Barnabas felt her closer, until her shoulder touched his, until the fragrance of her breath fanned his cheek, until the warmth of her soft body thrilled through him, until, loud and sudden in the silence, a voice rose—a rich, deep voice:
"'Now is the witching hour when graveyards yawn'—the witching hour—aha!—Oh! poor pale ghost, I know thee—by thy night-black hair and sad, sweet eyes—I know thee. Alas, so young and dead—while I, alas, so old and much alive! Yet I, too, must die some day—soon, soon, beloved shadow. Then shall my shade encompass thine and float up with thee into the infinite. But now, aha! now is the witching hour! Oh! shades and phantoms, I summon thee, fairies, pixies, ghosts and goblins, come forth, and I will sing you and dance you."
"Tis a rare song, mine—and well liked by the quality,—you've heard it before, perchance—ay, ay for you, being dead, hear and see all things, oh, Wise Ones! Come, press round me, so. Now, hearkee, 'Oysters! oysters! and away we go."
"'Many a knight and lady fair My oysters fine would try, They are the finest oysters, sir, That ever you did buy. Oysters! who'll buy my oysters, oh!'"
The bushes rustled again, and into the dimness leapt a tall, dark figure that sang in a rich, sweet voice, and capered among the shadows with a fantastic dancing step, then grew suddenly silent and still. And in that moment the moon shone out again, shone down upon a strange, wild creature, bareheaded and bare of foot. A very tall man he was, with curling gray hair that hung low upon his shoulders, and upon his coat were countless buttons of all makes and kinds that winked and glittered in the moonlight, and jingled faintly as he moved. For a moment he stood motionless and staring, then, laying one hand to the gleaming buttons on his bosom, bowed with an easy, courtly grace.
"Who are you?" demanded Barnabas.
"Billy, sir, poor Billy—Sir William, perhaps—but, mum for that; the moon knows, but cannot tell, then why should I?"
"And what do you want—here?"
"To sing, sir, for you and the lady, if you will. I sing for high folk and low folk. I have many songs, old and new, grave and gay, but folk generally ask for my Oyster Song. I sing for rich and poor, for the sad and for the merry. I sing at country fairs sometimes, and sometimes to trees in lonely places—trees are excellent listeners always. But to-night I sing for—Them."
"And who are they?"
"The Wise Ones, who, being dead, know all things, and live on for ever. Ah, but they're kind to poor Billy, and though they have no buttons to give him, yet they tell him things sometimes. Aha! such things!—things to marvel at! So I sing for them always when the moon is full, but, most of all, I sing for Her."
"Who is she?"
"One who died, many years ago. Folk told her I was dead, killed at sea, and her heart broke—hearts will break—sometimes. So when she died, I put off the shoes from my feet, and shall go barefoot to my grave. Folk tell me that poor Billy's mad—well, perhaps he is—but he sees and hears more than folk think; the Wise Ones tell me things. You now; what do they tell me of you? Hush! You are on your way to London, they tell me—yes—yes, to London town; you are rich, and shall feast with princes, but youth is over-confident, and thus shall you sup with beggars. They tell me you came here to-night—oh, Youth!—oh, Impulse!—hasting—hasting to save a wanton from herself."
"Fool!" exclaimed Barnabas, turning upon the speaker in swift anger; for my lady's hand had freed itself from his clasp, and she had drawn away from him.
"Fool?" repeated the man, shaking his head, "nay, sir, I am only mad, folk tell me. Yet the Wise Ones make me their confidant, they tell me that she—this proud lady—is here to aid an unworthy brother, who sent a rogue instead."
"Brother!" exclaimed Barnabas, with a sudden light in his eyes.
"Who else, sir?" demands my lady, very cold and proud again all at once.
"But," stammered Barnabas, "but—I thought—"
"Evil of me!" says she.
"No—that is—I—I—Forgive me!"
"Sir, there are some things no woman can forgive; you dared to think—"
"Of the rogue who came instead," said Barnabas.
"His name is Chichester," said Barnabas.
"Chichester!" she repeated, incredulously. "Chichester!"
"A tall, slender, dark man, with a scar on his cheek," added Barnabas.
"Do you mean he was here—here to meet me—alone?"
Now, at this she seemed to shrink into herself; and, all at once, sank down, crouching upon her knees, and hid her face from the moon.
"Oh!" she sighed, "oh, that he should have come to this!"
"My Lady Cleone!" said Barnabas, and touched her very gently.
"And you—you!" she cried, shuddering away from him, "you thought me what—he would have made me! You thought I—Oh, shame! Ah, don't touch me!"
But Barnabas stooped and caught her hands, and sank upon his knees, and thus, as they knelt together in the moonlight, he drew her so that she must needs let him see her face.
"My lady," said he, very reverently, "my thought of you is this, that, if such great honor may be mine, I will marry you—to-night."
But hereupon, with her two hands still prisoned in his, and with the tears yet thick upon her lashes, she threw back her head, and laughed with her eyes staring into his. Thereat Barnabas frowned blackly, and dropped her hands, then caught her suddenly in his long arms, and held her close.
"By God!" he exclaimed, "I'd kiss you, Cleone, on that scornful, laughing mouth, only—I love you—and this is a solitude. Come away!"
"A solitude," she repeated; "yes, and he sent me here, to meet a beast—a satyr! And now—you! You drove away the other brute, oh! I can't struggle—you are too strong—and nothing matters now!" And so she sighed, and closed her eyes. Then gazing down upon her rich, warm beauty, Barnabas trembled, and loosed her, and sprang to his feet.
"I think," said he, turning away to pick up his cudgel, "I think—we had—better—go."
But my lady remained crouched upon her knees, gazing up at him under her wet lashes.
"You didn't—kiss me!" she said, wonderingly.
"You were so—helpless!" said Barnabas. "And I honor you because it was—your brother."
"Ah! but you doubted me first, you thought I came here to meet that—beast!"
"Forgive me," said Barnabas, humbly.
"Why should I?"
"Because I love you."
"So many men have told me that," she sighed.
"But I," said Barnabas, "I am the last, and it is written 'the last shall be first,' and I love you because you are passionate, and pure, and very brave."
"Love!" she exclaimed, "so soon; you have seen me only once!"
"Yes," he nodded, "it is, therefore, to be expected that I shall worship you also—in due season."
Now Barnabas stood leaning upon his stick, a tall, impassive figure; his voice was low, yet it thrilled in her ears, and there was that in his steadfast eyes before which her own wavered and fell; yet, even so, from the shadow of her hood, she must needs question him further.
"Worship me? When?"
"When you are—my—wife."
Again she was silent, while one slender hand plucked nervously at the grass.
"Are you so sure of me?" she inquired at last.
"No; only of myself."
"Ah! you mean to—force a promise from me—here?"
"Because it is night, and you are solitary; I would not have you fear me again. But I shall come to you, one day, a day when the sun is in the sky, and friends are within call. I shall come and ask you then."
"And if I refuse?"
"Then I shall wait."
"Until I wed another?"
"Until you change your mind."
"I think I shall—refuse you."
"Indeed, I fear it is very likely."
"Because of my unworthiness; and, therefore, I would not have you kneel while I stand."
"And the grass is very damp," she sighed.
So Barnabas stepped forward with hand outstretched to aid her, but, as he did so, the wandering singer was between them, looking from one to the other with his keen, bright eyes.
"Stay!" said he. "The Wise Ones have told me that she who kneels before you now, coveted for her beauty, besought for her money, shall kneel thus in the time to come; and one—even I, poor Billy—shall stand betwixt you and join your hands thus, and bid you go forth trusting in each other's love and strength, even as poor Billy does now. And, mayhap, in that hour you shall heed the voice, for time rings many changes; the proud are brought low, the humble exalted. Hush! the Wise Ones grow impatient for my song; I hear them calling from the trees, and must begone. But hearkee! they have told me your name, Barnabas? yes, yes; Barn—, Barnabas; for the other, no matter—mum for that! Barnabas, aha! that minds me—at Barnaby Bright we shall meet again, all three of us, under an orbed moon, at Barnaby Bright:—"
"Oh, Barnaby Bright, Barnaby Bright, The sun's awake, and shines all night!"
"Ay, ay, 't is the night o' the fairies—when spirits pervade the air. Then will I tell you other truths; but now—They call me. She is fair, and passing fair, and by her beauty, suffering shall come upon thee; but 'tis by suffering that men are made, and because of pride, shame shall come on her; but by shame cometh humility. Farewell; I must begone—farewell till Barnaby Bright. We are to meet again in London town, I think—yes, yes—in London. Oho! oysters! oysters, sir?"
"Many a knight and lady gay My oysters fine would try, They are the finest oysters That ever you could buy! Oysters! Oysters."
And so he bowed, turned, and danced away into the shadows, and above the hush of the leaves rose the silvery jingle of his many buttons, that sank to a chime, to a murmur, and was gone. And now my lady sighed and rose to her feet, and looking at Barnabas, sighed again—though indeed a very soft, little sigh this time. As for Barnabas, he yet stood wondering, and looking after the strange creature, and pondering his wild words. Thus my lady, unobserved, viewed him at her leisure; noted the dark, close-curled hair, the full, well-opened, brilliant eye, the dominating jaw, the sensitive nostrils, the tender curve of the firm, strong mouth. And she had called him "a ploughman—a runaway footman," and had even—she could see the mark upon his cheek—how red it glowed! Did it hurt much, she wondered?
"Mad of course—yes a madman, poor fellow!" said Barnabas, thoughtfully.
"And he said your name is Barnabas."
"Why, to be sure, so he did," said Barnabas, rubbing his chin as one at a loss, "which is very strange, for I never saw or heard of him before."
"So then, your name is—Barnabas?"
"Yes. Barnabas Bar—Beverley."
"Yes—Beverley. But we must go."
"First, tell me how you learned my name?"
"From the Viscount—Viscount Devenham?"
"Then, you know the Viscount?"
"I do; we also know each other as rivals."
"Rivals? For what?"
"For me? Sir—sir—what did you tell him?"
"My name is Barnabas. And I told him that I should probably marry you, some day."
"You told him—that?"
"I did. I thought it but honorable, seeing he is my friend."
"Your friend!—since when, sir?"
"Since about ten o'clock this morning."
"Sir—sir—are you not a very precipitate person?"
"I begin to think I am. And my name is Barnabas."
"Since ten o'clock this morning! Then you knew—me first?"
"By about an hour."
Swiftly she turned away, yet not before he had seen the betraying dimple in her cheek. And so, side by side, they came to the edge of the clearing.
Now as he stooped to open a way for her among the brambles, she must needs behold again the glowing mark upon his cheek, and seeing it, her glance fell, and her lips grew very tender and pitiful, and, in that moment, she spoke.
"Sir," she said, very softly, "sir?"
"My name is Barnabas."
"I fear—I—does your cheek pain you very much, Mr. Beverley?"
"Thank you, no. And my name is Barnabas."
"I did not mean to—to—"
"No, no, the fault was mine—I—I frightened you, and indeed the pain is quite gone," he stammered, holding aside the brambles for her passage. Yet she stood where she was, and her face was hidden in her hood. At last she spoke and her voice was very low.
"Quite gone, sir?"
"Quite gone, and my name is—"
Four words only, be it noted; yet on the face of Barnabas was a light that was not of the moon, as they entered the dim woodland together.
IN WHICH BARNABAS UNDERTAKES A MISSION
Their progress through the wood was slow, by reason of the undergrowth, yet Barnabas noticed that where the way permitted, she hurried on at speed, and moreover, that she was very silent and kept her face turned from him; therefore he questioned her.
"Are you afraid of these woods?"
"Then, I fear you are angry again."
"I think Barnab—your name is—hateful!"
"Strange!" said Barnabas, "I was just thinking how musical it was—as you say it."
"I—oh! I thought your cheek was paining you," said she, petulantly.
"My cheek?—what has that to do with it?"
"That," said Barnabas, "that I don't understand."
"Of course you don't!" she retorted.
"Hum!" said Barnabas.
"And now!" she demanded, "pray how did you know I was to be at Oakshott's Barn to-night?"
"From my valet."
"Yes; though to be sure, he was a poacher, then."
"Sir, pray be serious!"
"I generally am."
"But why have a poacher for your valet?"
"That he might poach no more; and because I understand that he is the best valet in the world."
Here she glanced up at Barnabas and shook her head: "I fear I shall never understand you, Mr. Beverley."
"That time will show; and my name is Barnabas."
"But how did—this poacher—know?"
"He was the man who brought you the letter from Mr. Chichester."
"It was written by my—brother, sir."
"He was the man who gave you your brother's letter in Annersley Wood."
"Yes—I remember—in the wood."
"Where I found you lying quite unconscious."
"Where you found me—yes."
"Yes," she answered, beginning to hasten her steps again. "And where you left me without telling me your name—or—even asking mine."
"For which I blamed myself—afterwards," said Barnabas.
"Indeed, it was very remiss of you."
"Yes," sighed Barnabas, "I came back to try and find you."
"Really, sir?" said she, with black brows arched—"did you indeed, sir?"
"But I was too late, and I feared I had lost you—"
"Why, that reminds me, I lost my handkerchief."
"Oh!" said Barnabas, staring up at the moon.
"I think I must have dropped it—in the wood."
"Then, of course, it is gone—you may depend upon that," said Barnabas, shaking his head at the moon.
"It had my monogram embroidered in one corner."
"Indeed!" said Barnabas.
"Yes; I was—hoping—that you had seen it, perhaps?"
"On a bramble-bush," said Barnabas, nodding at the moon.
"Then—you did find it, sir?"
"Yes; and I beg to remind you that my name—"
"Where is it?"
"In my pocket."
"Then why couldn't you say so before?"
"Because I wished to keep it there."
"Please give it to me!"
"Because no man shall have my favors to wear until he has my promise, also."
"Then, since I have the one—give me the other."
"Mr. Beverley, you will please return my handkerchief," and stopping all at once, she held out her hand imperiously.
"Of course," sighed Barnabas, "on a condition—"
"On no condition, sir!"
"That you remember my name is Barnabas."
"But I detest your name."
"I am hoping that by use it may become a little less objectionable," said he, rather ponderously.
"It never can—never; and I want my handkerchief,—Barnabas."
So Barnabas sighed again, and perforce gave the handkerchief into her keeping. And now it was she who smiled up at the moon; but as for Barnabas, his gaze was bent earthwards. After they had gone some way in silence, he spoke.
"Have you met—Sir Mortimer Carnaby—often?" he inquired.
"Yes," she answered, then seeing his scowling look, added, "very often, oh, very often indeed, sir!"
"Ha!" said frowning Barnabas, "and is he one of the many who have—told you their love?"
"Hum," said Barnabas, and strode on in gloomy silence. Seeing which she smiled in the shadow of her hood, and thereafter grew angry all at once.
"And pray, why not, sir?" she demanded, haughtily, "though, indeed, it does not at all concern you; and he is at least a gentleman, and a friend of the Prince—"
"And has an excellent eye for horseflesh—and women," added Barnabas.
Now when he said this, she merely looked at him once, and thereafter forgot all about him, whereby Barnabas gradually perceived that his offence was great, and would have made humble atonement, yet found her blind and deaf, which was but natural, seeing that, for her, he had ceased to exist.
But they reached a stile. It was an uncommonly high stile, an awkward stile at any time, more especially at night. Nevertheless, she faced it resolutely, even though Barnabas had ceased to exist. When, therefore, having vaulted over, he would have helped her, she looked over him, and past him, and through him, and mounted unaided, confident of herself, proud and supremely disdainful both of the stile and Barnabas; and then—because of her pride, or her disdain, or her long cloak, or all three—she slipped, and to save herself must needs catch at Barnabas, and yield herself to his arm; so, for a moment, she lay in his embrace, felt his tight clasp about her, felt his quick breath upon her cheek. Then he had set her down, and was eyeing her anxiously.
"Your foot, is it hurt?" he inquired.
"Thank you, no," she answered, and turning with head carried high, hurried on faster than ever.
"You should have taken my hand," said he; but he spoke to deaf ears.
"You will find the next stile easier, I think," he ventured; but still she hurried on, unheeding.
"You walk very fast!" said he again, but still she deigned him no reply; therefore he stooped till he might see beneath her hood.
"Dear lady," said he very gently, "if I offended you a while ago—forgive me—Cleone."
"Indeed," said she, looking away from him; "it would seem I must be always forgiving you, Mr. Beverley."
"Why, surely it is a woman's privilege to forgive, Cleone—and my name—"
"And a man's prerogative to be forgiven, I suppose, Mr. Beverley."
"When he repents as I do, Cleone; and my—"
"Oh! I forgive you," she sighed.
"Yet you still walk very fast."
"It must be nearly ten o'clock."
"I suppose so," said Barnabas, "and you will, naturally, be anxious to reach home again."
"Home," she said bitterly; "I have no home."
"I live in a gaol—a prison. Yes, a hateful, hateful prison, watched by a one-legged gaoler, and guarded by a one-armed tyrant—yes, a tyrant!" Here, having stopped to stamp her foot, she walked on faster than ever.
"Can you possibly mean old Jerry and the Captain?"
Here my lady paused in her quick walk, and even condescended to look at Barnabas.
"Do you happen to know them too, sir?"
"Yes; and my name is—"
"Perhaps you met them also this morning, sir?"
"Yes; and my—"
"Indeed," said she, with curling lip; "this has been quite an eventful day for you."
"On the whole, I think it has; and may I remind you that my—"
"Perhaps you don't believe me when I say he is a tyrant?"
"Hum," said Barnabas.
"You don't, do you?"
"Why, I'm afraid not," he admitted.
"I'm nineteen!" said she, standing very erect.
"I should have judged you a little older," said Barnabas.
"So I am—in mind, and—and experience. Yet here I live, prisoned in a dreary old house, and with nothing to see but trees, and toads, and cows and cabbages; and I'm watched over, and tended from morning till night, and am the subject of more councils of war than Buonaparte's army ever was."
"What do you mean by councils of war?"
"Oh! whenever I do anything my tyrant disapproves of, he retires to what he calls the 'round house,' summons the Bo'sun, and they argue and talk over me as though I were a hostile fleet, and march up and down forming plans of attack and defence, till I burst in on them, and then—and then—Oh! there are many kinds of tyrants, and he is one. And so to-night I left him; I ran away to meet—" She stopped suddenly, and her head drooped, and Barnabas saw her white hands clench themselves.
"Your brother," said he.
"Yes, my—brother," but her voice faltered at the word, and she went on through the wood, but slowly now, and with head still drooping. And so, at last, they came out of the shadows into the soft radiance of the moon, and thus Barnabas saw that she was weeping; and she, because she could no longer hide her grief, turned and laid a pleading hand upon his arm.
"Pray, think of him as kindly as you can," she sighed, "you see—he is only a boy—my brother."
"So young?" said Barnabas.
"Just twenty, but younger than his age—much younger. You see," she went on hastily, "he went to London a boy—and—and he thought Mr. Chichester was his friend, and he lost much money at play, and, somehow, put himself in Mr. Chichester's power. He is my half-brother, really; but I—love him so, and I've tried to take care of him—I was always so much stronger than he—and—and so I would have you think of him as generously as you can."
"Yes," said Barnabas, "yes." But now she stopped again so that he must needs stop too, and when she spoke her soft voice thrilled with a new intensity.
"Will you do more? You are going to London—will you seek him out, will you try to—save him from himself? Will you promise me to do this—will you?"
Now seeing the passionate entreaty in her eyes, feeling it in the twitching fingers upon his arm, Barnabas suddenly laid his own above that slender hand, and took it into his warm clasp.
"My lady," said he, solemnly, "I will." As he spoke he stooped his head low and lower, until she felt his lips warm upon her palm, a long, silent pressure, and yet her hand was not withdrawn.
Now although Barnabas had clean forgotten the rules and precepts set down in the "priceless wollum," he did it all with a graceful ease which could not have been bettered—no, not even by the Person of Quality itself.
"But it will be difficult," she sighed, as they went on together. "Ronald is very headstrong and proud—it will be very difficult!"
"No matter," said Barnabas.
"No matter for that either," said Barnabas.
"Does it seem strange that I should ask so much of you?"
"The most natural thing in the world," said Barnabas.
"But you are a stranger—almost!"
"But I—love you, Cleone."
After this there fell a silence between them; and so having crossed the moonlit meadow, they came to a tall hedge beyond whose shadow the road led away, white under the moon; close by the ways divided, and here stood a weather-beaten finger-post. Now beneath this hedge they stopped, and it is to be noted that neither looked at the other.
"Sir," said she, softly, "we part here, my home lies yonder," and she pointed to where above the motionless tree-tops rose the gables and chimneys of a goodly house.
"It would seem to be fairly comfortable as prisons go," said Barnabas; but my lady only sighed.
"Do you start for London—soon?"
"To-night," nodded Barnabas.
"Sir," said she, after a pause, "I would thank you, if I could, for—for all that you have done for me."
"No, no," said Barnabas, hastily.
"Words are poor things, I know, but how else may I show my gratitude?"
And now it was Barnabas who was silent; but at last—
"There is a way," said he, staring at the finger-post.
"You might—kiss me—once, Cleone."
Now here she must needs steal a swift look at him, and thus she saw that he still stared at the ancient finger-post, but that his hands were tight clenched.
"I only ask," he continued heavily, "for what I might have taken."
"But didn't!" she added, with lips and eyes grown suddenly tender.
"No," sighed Barnabas, "nor shall I ever,—until you will it so,—because, you see, I love you."
Now as he gazed at the finger-post, even so she gazed at him; and thus she saw again the mark upon his cheek, and looking, sighed; indeed, it was the veriest ghost of a sigh, yet Barnabas heard it, and straightway forgot the finger-post, forgot the world and all things in it, save her warm beauty, the red allurement of her mouth, and the witchery of her drooping lashes; therefore he reached out his hands to her, and she saw that they were trembling.
"Cleone," he murmured, "oh, Cleone—look up!"
But even as he spoke she recoiled from his touch, for, plain and clear, came the sound of footsteps on the road near by. Sighing, Barnabas turned thitherwards and beheld advancing towards them one who paused, now and then, to look about him as though at a loss, and then hurried on again. A very desolate figure he was, and quaintly pathetic because of his gray hair, and the empty sleeve that flapped helplessly to and fro with the hurry of his going—a figure, indeed, that there was no mistaking. Being come to the finger-post, he paused to look wistfully on all sides, and Barnabas could see that his face was drawn and haggard. For a moment he gazed about him wild-eyed and eager, then with a sudden, hopeless gesture, he leaned his one arm against the battered sign-post and hid his face there.
"Oh, my lass—my dear!" he cried in a strangled voice, "why did you leave me? Oh, my lass!"
Then all at once came a rustle of parting leaves, the flutter of flying draperies, and Cleone had fled to that drooping, disconsolate figure, had wreathed her protecting arms about it, and so all moans, and sobs, and little tender cries, had drawn her tyrant's head down upon her gentle bosom and clasped it there.
IN WHICH THE READER IS INTRODUCED TO AN ANCIENT FINGER-POST
"Why, Cleone!" exclaimed the Captain, and folded his solitary arm about her; but not content with this, my lady must needs take his empty sleeve also, and, drawing it close about her neck, she held it there.
"Oh, Cleone!" sighed the Captain, "my dear, dear lass!"
"No," she cried, "I'm a heartless savage, an ungrateful wretch! I am, I am—and I hate myself!" and here, forthwith, she stamped her foot at herself.
"No, no, you're not—I say no! You didn't mean to break my heart. You've come back to me, thank God, and—and—Oh, egad, Cleone, I swear—I say I swear—by Gog and Magog, I'm snuffling like a birched schoolboy; but then I—couldn't bear to—lose my dear maid."
"Dear," she sighed, brushing away his tears with the cuff of his empty sleeve, "dear, if you'd only try to hate me a little—just a little, now and then, I don't think I should be quite such a wretch to you." Here she stood on tip-toe and kissed him on the chin, that being nearest. "I'm a cat—yes, a spiteful cat, and I must scratch sometimes; but ah! if you knew how I hated myself after! And I know you'll go and forgive me again, and that's what makes it so hard to bear."
"Forgive you, Clo'—ay, to be sure! You've come back to me, you see, and you didn't mean to leave me solitary and—"
"Ah, but I did—I did! And that's why I am a wretch, and a cat, and a savage! I meant to run away and leave you for ever and ever!"
"The house would be very dark without you, Cleone."
"Dear, hold me tighter—now listen! There are times when I hate the house, and the country, and—yes, even you. And at such times I grow afraid of myself—hold me tighter!—at such times I long for London—and—and—Ah, but you do love me, don't you?"
"Love you—my own lass!" The Captain's voice was very low, yet eloquent with yearning tenderness; but even so, his quick ear had caught a rustle in the hedge, and his sharp eye had seen Barnabas standing in the shadow. "Who's that?" he demanded sharply.
"Why, indeed," says my lady, "I had forgotten him. 'Tis a friend of yours, I think. Pray come out, Mr. Beverley."
"Beverley!" exclaimed the Captain. "Now sink me! what's all this? Come out, sir,—I say come out and show yourself!"
So Barnabas stepped out from the hedge, and uncovering his head, bowed low.
"Your very humble, obedient servant, sir," said he.
"Ha! by Thor and Odin, so it's you again, is it, sir? Pray, what brings you still so far from the fashionable world? What d'ye want, sir, eh, sir?"
"Briefly, sir," answered Barnabas, "your ward."
"Eh—what? what?" cried the Captain.
"Sir," returned Barnabas, "since you are the Lady Cleone's lawful guardian, it is but right to tell you that I hope to marry her—some day."
"Marry!" exclaimed the Captain. "Marry my—damme, sir, but you're cool—I say cool and devilish impudent, and—and—oh, Gad, Cleone!"
"My dear," said she, smiling and stroking her tyrant's shaven cheek, "why distress ourselves, we can always refuse him, can't we?"
"Ay, to be sure, so we can," nodded the Captain, "but oh! sink me,—I say sink and scuttle me, the audacity of it! I say he's a cool, impudent, audacious fellow!"
"Yes, dear, indeed I think he's all that," said my lady, nodding her head at Barnabas very decidedly, "and I forgot to tell you that beside all this, he is the—gentleman who—saved me from my folly to-night, and brought me back to you."
"Eh? eh?" cried the Captain, staring.
"Yes, dear, and this is he who—" But here she drew down her tyrant's gray head, and whispered three words in his ear. Whatever she said it affected the Captain mightily, for his frown changed suddenly into his youthful smile, and reaching out impulsively, he grasped Barnabas by the hand.
"Aha, sir!" said he, "you have a good, big fist here!"
"Indeed," said Barnabas, glancing down at it somewhat ruefully, "it is—very large, I fear."
"Over large, sir!" says my lady, also regarding it, and with her head at a critical angle, "it could never be called—an elegant hand, could it?"
"Elegant!" snorted the Captain, "I say pooh! I say pish! Sir, you must come in and sup with us, my house is near by. Good English beef and ale, sir."
Barnabas hesitated, and glanced toward Cleone, but her face was hidden in the shadow of her hood, wherefore his look presently wandered to the finger-post, near by, upon whose battered sign he read the words:—
TO HAWKHURST. TO LONDON.
"Sir," said he, "I would, most gratefully, but that I start for London at once." Yet while he spoke, he frowned blackly at the finger-post, as though it had been his worst enemy.
"London!" exclaimed the Captain, "so you are still bound for the fashionable world, are ye?"
"Yes," sighed Barnabas, "but I—"
"Pish, sir, I say fiddle-de-dee!"
"I have lately undertaken a mission."
"Ha! So you won't come in?"
"Thank you, no; this mission is important, and I must be gone;" and here again Barnabas sighed.
Then my lady turned and looked at Barnabas, and, though she uttered no word, her eyes were eloquent; so that the heart of him was uplifted, and he placed his hand upon the finger-post as though it had been his best friend.
"Why then, so be it, young sir," said the Captain, "it remains only to thank you, which I do, I say which I do most heartily, and to bid you good-by."
"Until we meet again, Captain."
"Eh—what, sir? meet when?"
"At 'Barnaby Bright,'" says my lady, staring up at the moon.
"In a month's time," added Barnabas.
"Eh?" exclaimed the Captain, "what's all this?"
"In a month's time, sir, I shall return to ask Cleone to be my wife," Barnabas explained.
"And," said my lady, smiling at the Captain's perplexity, "we shall be glad to see him, shan't we, dear? and shall, of course, refuse him, shan't we, dear?"
"Refuse him? yes—no—egad! I don't know," said the Captain, running his fingers through his hair, "I say, deuce take me—I'm adrift; I say where's the Bo'sun?"
"Good-by, sir!" says my lady, very seriously, and gave him her hand; "good-by."
"Till 'Barnaby Bright,'" said Barnabas.
At this she smiled, a little tremulously perhaps.
"May heaven prosper you in your mission," said she, and turned away.
"Young sir," said the Captain, "always remember my name is Chumly, John Chumly, plain and unvarnished, and, whether we refuse you or not, John Chumly will ever be ready to take you by the hand. Farewell, sir!"
So tyrant and captive turned away and went down the by-road together, and his solitary arm was close about her. But Barnabas stood there under the finger-post until a bend in the road hid them; then he, too, sighed and turned away. Yet he had gone only a little distance when he heard a voice calling him, and, swinging round, he saw Cleone standing under the finger-post.
"I wanted to give you—this," said she, as he came striding back, and held out a folded paper. "It is his—my brother's—letter. Take it with you, it will serve to show you what a boy he is, and will tell you where to find him."
So Barnabas took the letter and thrust it into his pocket. But she yet stood before him, and now, once again, their glances avoided each other.
"I also wanted to—ask you—about your cheek," said she at last.
"Yes?" said Barnabas.
"You are quite sure it doesn't—pain you, Mr. Bev—"
"Must I remind you that my name—"
"Are you quite sure—Barnabas?"
"Quite sure—yes, oh yes!" he stammered.
"Because it—glows very red!" she sighed, though indeed she still kept her gaze averted, "so will you please—stoop your head a little?"
Wonderingly Barnabas obeyed, and then—even as he did so, she leaned swiftly towards him, and for an instant her soft, warm mouth rested upon his cheek. Then, before he could stay her, she was off and away; and her flying feet had borne her out of sight.
Then Barnabas sighed, and would have followed, but the ancient finger-post barred his way with its two arms pointing:—
TO HAWKHURST. TO LONDON.
So he stopped, glanced about him to fix the hallowed place in his memory, and, obeying the directing finger, set off London-wards.
HOW BARNABAS SAVED HIS LIFE—BECAUSE HE WAS AFRAID
On went Barnabas swift of foot and light of heart, walking through a World of Romance, and with his eyes turned up to the luminous heaven. Yet it was neither of the moon, nor the stars, nor the wonder thereof that he was thinking, but only of the witchery of a woman's eyes, and the thrill of a woman's lips upon his cheek; and, indeed, what more natural, more right, and altogether proper? Little recked he of the future, of the perils and dangers to be encountered, of the sorrows and tribulations that lay in wait for him, or of the enemies that he had made that day, for youth is little given to brooding, and is loftily indifferent to consequences.
So it was of Lady Cleone Meredith he thought as he strode along the moonlit highway, and it was of her that he was thinking as he turned into that narrow by-lane where stood "The Spotted Cow." As he advanced, he espied some one standing in the shadow of one of the great trees, who, as he came nearer, stepped out into the moonlight; and then Barnabas saw that it was none other than his newly engaged valet. The same, yet not the same, for the shabby clothes had given place to a sober, well-fitting habit, and as he took off his hat in salutation, Barnabas noticed that his hollow cheeks were clean and freshly shaved; he was, indeed, a new man.
But now, as they faced each other, Barnabas observed something else; John Peterby's lips were compressed, and in his eye was anxiety, the which had, somehow, got into his voice when he spoke, though his tone was low and modulated: "Sir, if you are for London to-night, we had better start at once, the coach leaves Tenterden within the hour."
"But," says Barnabas, setting his head aslant, and rubbing his chin with the argumentative air that was so very like his father, "I have ordered supper here, Peterby."
"Which—under the circumstances—I have ventured to countermand, sir."
"Oh?" said Barnabas, "pray, what circumstances?"
"Sir, as I told you, the mail—"
"John Peterby, speak out—what is troubling you?"
But now, even while Peterby stood hesitating, from the open casement of the inn, near at hand, came the sound of a laugh: a soft, gentle, sibilant laugh which Barnabas immediately recognized.
"Ah!" said he, clenching his fist. "I think I understand." As he turned towards the inn, Peterby interposed.
"Sir," he whispered, "sir, if ever a man meant mischief—he does. He came back an hour ago, and they have been waiting for you ever since."
"He and the other."
"Sir, I don't know."
"Is he a very—young man, this other?"
"Yes, sir, he seems so. And they have been drinking together and—I've heard enough to know that they mean you harm." But here Master Barnabas smiled with all the arrogance of youth and shook his head.
"John Peterby," said he, "learn that the first thing I desire in my valet is obedience. Pray stand out of my way!" So, perforce Peterby stood aside, yet Barnabas had scarce taken a dozen strides ere Clemency stood before him.
"Go back," she whispered, "go back!"
"Impossible," said Barnabas, "I have a mission to fulfil."
"Go back!" she repeated in the same tense whisper, "you must—oh, you must! I've heard he has killed a man before now—"
"And yet I must see and speak with his companion."
"No, no—ah! I pray you—"
"Nay," said Barnabas, "if you will, and if need be, pray for me." So saying he put her gently aside, and entering the inn, came to the door of that room wherein he had written the letter to his father.
"I tell you I'll kill him, Dalton," said a soft, deliberate voice.
"Undoubtedly; the light's excellent; but, my dear fellow, why—?"
"I object to him strongly, for one thing, and—"
The voice was hushed suddenly, as Barnabas set wide the door and stepped into the room, with Peterby at his heels.
Mr. Chichester was seated at the table with a glass beside him, but Barnabas looked past him to his companion who sprawled on the other side of the hearth—a sleepy, sighing gentleman, very high as to collar, very tight as to waist, and most ornate as to waistcoat; young he was certainly, yet with his first glance, Barnabas knew instinctively that this could not be the youth he sought. Nevertheless he took off his hat and saluted him with a bow that for stateliness left the "stiff-legged gentleman" nowhere.
"Sir," said he, "pray what might your name be?"
Instead of replying, the sleepy gentleman opened his eyes rather wider than was usual and stared at Barnabas with a growing surprise, stared at him from head to foot and up again, then, without changing his lounging attitude, spoke:
"Oh, Gad, Chichester!—is this the—man?"
"But—my dear Chit! Surely you don't propose to—this fellow! Who is he? What is he? Look at his boots—oh, Gad!"
Hereupon Barnabas resumed his hat, and advancing leaned his clenched fists on the table, and from that eminence smiled down at the speaker, that is to say his lips curled and his teeth gleamed in the candle-light.
"Sir," said he gently, "you will perhaps have the extreme condescension to note that my boots are strong boots, and very serviceable either for walking, or for kicking an insolent puppy."
"If I had a whip, now," sighed the gentleman, "if I only had a whip, I'd whip you out of the room. Chichester,—pray look at that coat, oh, Gad!"
But Mr. Chichester had risen, and now crossing to the door, he locked it, and dropped the key into his pocket.
"As you say, the light is excellent, my dear Dalton," said he, fixing Barnabas with his unwavering stare.
"But my dear Chit, you never mean to fight the fellow—a—a being who wears such a coat! such boots! My dear fellow, be reasonable! Observe that hat! Good Gad! Take your cane and whip him out—positively you cannot fight this bumpkin."
"None the less I mean to shoot him—like a cur, Dalton." And Mr. Chichester drew a pistol from his pocket, and fell to examining flint and priming with a practised eye. "I should have preferred my regular tools; but I dare say this will do the business well enough; pray, snuff the candles."
Now, as Barnabas listened to the soft, deliberate words, as he noted Mr. Chichester's assured air, his firm hand, his glowing eye and quivering nostrils, a sudden deadly nausea came over him, and he leaned heavily upon the table.
"Sirs," said he, uncertainly, and speaking with an effort, "I have never used a pistol in my life."
"One could tell as much from his boots," murmured Mr. Dalton, snuffing the candles.
"You have another pistol, I think, Dalton; pray lend it to him. We will take opposite corners of the room, and fire when you give the word."
"All quite useless, Chit; this fellow won't fight."
"No," said Barnabas, thrusting his trembling hands into his pockets, "not—in a corner."
Mr. Chichester shrugged his shoulders, sat down, and leaning back in his chair stared up at pale-faced Barnabas, tapping the table-edge softly with the barrel of his weapon.
"Not in a corner—I told you so, Chit. Oh, take your cane and whip him out!"
"I mean," said Barnabas, very conscious of the betraying quaver in his voice, "I mean that, as I'm—unused to—shooting, the corner would be—too far."
"Too far? Oh, Gad!" exclaimed Mr. Dalton. "What's this?"
"As for pistols, I have one here," continued Barnabas, "and if we must shoot, we'll do it here—across the table."
"Eh—what? Across the table! but, oh, Gad, Chichester! this is madness!" said Mr. Dalton.
"Most duels are," said Barnabas, and as he spoke he drew from his pocket the pistol he had taken from Mr. Chichester earlier in the evening and, weapon in hand, sank into a chair, thus facing Mr. Chichester across the table.
"But this is murder—positive murder!" cried Mr. Dalton.
"Sir," said Barnabas, "I am no duellist, as I told you; and it seems to me that this equalizes our chances, for I can no more fail of hitting my man at this distance than he of shooting me dead across the width of the room. And, sir—if I am to—die to-night, I shall most earnestly endeavor to take Mr. Chichester with me."
There was a tremor in his voice again as he spoke, but his eye was calm, his brow serene, and his hand steady as he cocked the pistol, and leaning his elbow upon the table, levelled it within six inches of Mr. Chichester's shirt frill. But hereupon Mr. Dalton sprang to his feet with a stifled oath:
"I tell you it's murder—murder!" he exclaimed, and took a quick step towards them.
"Peterby!" said Barnabas.
"Sir?" said Peterby, who had been standing rigid beside the door.
"Take my stick," said Barnabas, holding it out towards him, but keeping his gaze upon Mr. Chichester's narrowed eyes; "it's heavy you'll find, and should this person presume to interfere, knock him down with it."
"Yes, sir," said Peterby, and took the stick accordingly.
"But—oh, Gad!" exclaimed Dalton, "I tell you this can't go on!"
"Indeed, I hope not," said Barnabas; "but it is for Mr. Chichester to decide. I am ready for the count when he is."
But Mr. Chichester sat utterly still, his chin on his breast, staring at Barnabas under his brows, one hand tight clenched about the stock of his weapon on the table before him, the other hanging limply at his side. So for an interval they remained thus, staring into each other's eyes, in a stillness so profound that it seemed all four men had ceased breathing. Then Mr. Chichester sighed faintly, dropped his eyes to the muzzle of the weapon so perilously near, glanced back at the pale, set face and unwinking eyes of him who held it, and sighed again.
"Dalton," said he, "pray open the door, and order the chaise," and he laid the key upon the table.
"First," said Barnabas, "I will relieve you of that—encumbrance," and he pointed to the pistol yet gripped in Mr. Chichester's right hand. Without a word Mr. Chichester rose, and leaving the weapon upon the table, turned and walked to the window, while Mr. Dalton, having unlocked the door, hurried away to the stable-yard, and was now heard calling for the ostlers.
"Peterby," said Barnabas, "take this thing and throw it into the horse-pond; yet, no, give it to the gentleman who just went out."
"Yes, sir," said Peterby, and, taking up the pistol, he went out, closing the door behind him.
Mr. Chichester still lounged in the window, and hummed softly to himself; but as for Barnabas, he sat rigid in his chair, staring blankly at the opposite wall, his eyes wide, his lips tense, and with a gleam of moisture amid the curls at his temples. So the one lounged and hummed, and the other glared stonily before him until came the grind of wheels and the stamping of hoofs. Then Mr. Chichester took up his hat and cane, and, humming still, crossed to the door, and lounged out into the yard.
Came a jingle of harness, a sound of voices, the slam of a door, and the chaise rolled away down the lane, farther and farther, until the rumble of its wheels died away in the distance. Then Barnabas laughed—a sudden shrill laugh—and clenched his fists, and strove against the laughter, and choked, and so sank forward with his face upon his arms as one that is very weary. Now, presently, as he sat thus, it seemed to him that one spoke a long way off, whereupon, in a little, he raised his head, and beheld Clemency.
"You—are not hurt?" she inquired anxiously.
"Hurt?" said Barnabas, "no, not hurt, Mistress Clemency, not hurt, I thank you; but I think I have grown a—great deal—older."
"I saw it all, through the window, and yet I—don't know why you are alive."
"I think because I was so very much—afraid," said Barnabas.
"Sir," said she, with her brown hands clasped together, "was it for—if it was for—my sake that you—quarrelled, and—"
"No," said Barnabas, "it was because of—another."
Now, when he said this, Clemency stared at him wide-eyed, and, all in a moment, flushed painfully and turned away, so that Barnabas wondered.
"Good-by!" said she, suddenly, and crossed to the door, but upon the threshold paused; "I did pray for you," she said, over her shoulder.
"Ah!" said Barnabas, rising, "you prayed for me, and behold, I am alive."
"Good-by!" she repeated, her face still averted.
"Good-by!" said Barnabas, "and will you remember me in your prayers—sometimes?"
"My prayers! Why?"
"Because the prayers of a sweet, pure woman may come between man and evil—like a shield."
"I will," said she, very softly. "Oh, I will," and so, with a swift glance, was gone.
Being come out of the inn, Barnabas met with his valet, John Peterby.
"Sir," he inquired, "what now?"
"Now," said Barnabas, "the Tenterden coach, and London."
WHICH RELATES SOMETHING OF THE "WHITE LION" AT TENTERDEN
Of all the lions that ever existed, painted or otherwise, white lions, blue lions, black, green, or red lions, surely never was there one like the "White Lion" at Tenterden. For he was such a remarkably placid lion, although precariously balanced upon the extreme point of one claw, and he stared down at all and sundry with such round, inquiring eyes, as much as to say:
"Who are you? What's your father? Where are you going?" Indeed, so very inquisitive was he that his very tail had writhed itself into a note of interrogation, and, like a certain historical personage, was forever asking a question. To-night he had singled out Barnabas from the throng, and was positively bombarding him with questions, as:
"Dark or fair? Tall or short? Does she love you? Will she remember you? Will she kiss you—next time? Aha! will she, will she?"
But here, feeling a touch upon his arm, Barnabas turned to find Peterby at his elbow, and thus once more became aware of the hubbub about him.
"Box seat, sir; next to the coachman!" says Peterby above the din, for voices are shouting, horses snorting and stamping, ostlers are hurrying here, running there, and swearing everywhere; waiters and serving-maids are dodging to and fro, and all is hurry and bustle, for the night mail is on the eve of departure for London.
Throned above all this clamor, calmly aloof, yet withal watchful of eye, sits the coachman, beshawled to the ears of him, hatted to the eyes of him, and in a wondrous coat of many capes; a ponderous man, hoarse of voice and mottled of face, who, having swallowed his hot rum and water in three leisurely gulps, tosses down the glass to the waiting pot-boy (and very nearly hits a fussy little gentleman in a green spencer, who carries a hat-box in one hand and a bulging valise in the other, and who ducks indignantly, but just in time), sighs, shakes his head, and proceeds to rewind the shawl about his neck and chin, and to belt himself into his seat, throwing an occasional encouraging curse to the perspiring ostlers below.
"Coachman!" cries the fussy gentleman, "hi, coachman!"
"The 'Markis' seems a bit fresh to-night, Sam," says Mottle-face affably to one of the ostlers.
"Fresh!" exclaims that worthy as the 'Marquis' rears again, "fresh, I believe you—burn 'is bones!"
"Driver!" shouts the fussy gentleman, "driver!"
"Why then, bear 'im up werry short, Sam."
"Driver!" roars the fussy little gentleman, "driver! coachman! oh, driver!"
"Vell, sir, that's me?" says Mottle-face, condescending to become aware of him at last.
"Give me a hand up with my valise—d'ye hear?"
"Walise, sir? No, sir, can't be done, sir. In the boot, sir; guard, sir."
"Boot!" cries the fussy gentleman indignantly. "I'll never trust my property in the boot!"
"Then v'y not leave it be'ind, sir, and stay vith it, or—"
"Nonsense!" exclaimed the little man, growing angry. "I tell you this is valuable property. D'ye know who I am?"
"Or ye might climb into the boot along vith it, sir—"
"Do you know who I am?"
"All aboard—all aboard for London!" roared the guard, coming up at the instant.
"Valter!" cried Mottle-face.
"Ay, ay, Joe?"
"Gentleman's walise for the boot, Valter; and sharp's the vord!"
"Ay, ay, Joe!" and, as he spoke, the guard caught the valise from the protesting small gentleman with one hand, and the hat-box with the other, and, forthwith, vanished. Hereupon the fussy gentleman, redder of face, and more angry than ever, clambered to the roof, still loudly protesting; all of which seemed entirely lost upon Mottle-face, who, taking up the reins and settling his feet against the dash-board, winked a solemn, owl-like eye at Barnabas sitting beside him, and carolled a song in a husky voice, frequently interrupting himself to admonish the ostlers, in this wise:—
"She vore no 'at upon 'er 'ead, Nor a cap, nor a—"
"Bear the 'Markis' up werry short, Sam, vill 'ee?
"—dandy bonnet, But 'er 'air it 'ung all down 'er back, Like a—"
"Easy—easy now! Hold on to them leaders, Dick!
"—bunch of carrots upon it. Ven she cried 'sprats' in Vestminister, Oh! sich a sveet loud woice, sir, You could 'ear 'er all up Parlyment Street, And as far as Charing Cross, sir."
"All aboard, all aboard for London!" roars the guard, and roaring, swings himself up into the boot.
"All right be'ind?" cries Mottle-face.
"All right, Joe!" sings the guard.
"Then—leggo, there!" cries Mottle-face.
Back spring the ostlers, forward leap the four quivering horses, their straining hoofs beating out showers of sparks from the cobbles; the coach lurches forward and is off, amid a waving of hats and pocket-handkerchiefs, and Barnabas, casting a farewell glance around, is immediately fixed by the gaze of the "White Lion," as inquiring of eye and interrogatory of tail as ever.
"Tall or short? Dark or fair? Will she kiss you—next time—will she, will she? Will she even be glad to see you again—will she, now will she?"
Whereupon Barnabas must needs become profoundly thoughtful all at once.
"Now—I wonder?" said he to himself.
OF THE COACHMAN'S STORY
Long before the lights of the "White Lion" had vanished behind them, the guard blows a sudden fanfare on the horn, such a blast as goes echoing merrily far and wide, and brings folk running to open doors and lighted windows to catch a glimpse of the London Mail ere it vanishes into the night; and so, almost while the cheery notes ring upon the air, Tenterden is behind them, and they are bowling along the highway into the open country beyond. A wonderful country this, familiar and yet wholly new; a nightmare world where ghosts and goblins flit under a dying moon; where hedge and tree become monsters crouched to spring, or lift knotted arms to smite; while in the gloom of woods beyond, unimagined horrors lurk.
But, bless you, Mottle-face, having viewed it all under the slant of his hat-brim, merely settles his mottled chin deeper in his shawls, flicks the off ear of the near leader with a delicate turn of the wrists, and turning his owl-like eye upon Barnabas, remarks that "It's a werry fine night!" But hereupon the fussy gentleman, leaning over, taps Mottle-face upon the shoulder.
"Coachman," says he, "pray, when do you expect to reach The Borough, London?"
"Vich I begs to re-mark, sir," retorts Mottle-face, settling his curly-brimmed hat a little further over his left eye, "vich I 'umbly begs to re-mark as I don't expect nohow!"
"Eh—what! what! you don't expect to—"
"Vich I am vun, sir, as don't novise expect nothin', consequent am never novise disapp'inted," says Mottle-face with a solemn nod; "but, vind an' veather permittin', ve shall be at the 'George' o' South'ark at five, or thereabouts!"
"Ha!" says the fussy gentleman, "and what about my valise? is it safe?"
"Safe, ah! safe as the Bank o' England, unless ve should 'appen to be stopped—"
"Stopped? stopped, coachman? d' you mean—?"
"Ah! stopped by Blue-chinned Jack o' Brockley, or Gallopin' Toby o' Tottenham, or—"
"Eh—what! what! d' you mean there are highwaymen on this road?"
"'Ighvaymen!" snorted Mottle-face, winking ponderously at Barnabas, "by Goles, I should say so, it fair bristles vith 'em."
"God bless my soul!" exclaimed the fussy gentleman in an altered tone, "but you are armed, of course?"
"Armed?" repeated Mottle-face, more owl-like of eye than ever, "armed, sir, Lord love me yes! my guard carries a brace o' barkers in the boot."
"I'm glad of that," said the fussy gentleman, "very!"
"Though," pursued Mottle-face, rolling his head heavily, "Joe ain't 'zactly what you might call a dead shot, nor yet a ex-pert, bein' blind in 'is off blinker, d'ye see."
"Eh—blind, d'ye say—blind?" exclaimed the fussy gentleman.
"Only in 'is off eye," nodded Mottle-face, reassuringly, "t'other 'un's as good as yours or mine, ven 'e ain't got a cold in it."
"But this—this is an outrage!" spluttered the fussy gentleman, "a guard blind in one eye! Scandalous! I shall write to the papers of this. But you—surely you carry a weapon too?"
"A vepping? Ay, to be sure, sir, I've got a blunder-bush, under this 'ere werry seat, loaded up to the muzzle wi' slugs too,—though it von't go off."
"Won't—eh, what? Won't go off?"
"Not on no account, sir, vich ain't to be 'spected of it, seeing as it ain't got no trigger."
"But—heaven preserve us! why carry such a useless thing?"
"Force of 'abit, sir; ye see, I've carried that theer old blunderbush for a matter of five-an'-twenty year, an' my feyther 'e carried it afore me."
"But suppose we are attacked?"
"Vich I begs to re-mark, sir, as I don't never suppose no such thing, like my feyther afore me. Brave as a lion were my feyther, sir, an' bred up to the road; v'y, Lord! 'e were born vith a coachman's v'ip in 'is mouth—no, I mean 'is fist, as ye might say; an' 'e were the boldest—"
"But what's your father got to do with it?" cried the fussy gentleman. "What about my valise?"
"Your walise, sir? we'm a-coming to that;" and here, once more, Mottle-face slowly winked his owl-like eye at Barnabas. "My feyther, sir," he continued, "my feyther, 'e druv' the Dartford Mail, an' 'e were the finest v'ip as ever druv' a coach, Dartford or otherwise; 'Andsome 'Arry' 'e vere called, though v'y 'andsome I don't know, seeing as 'is nose veren't all it might ha' been, on account o' a quart pot; an' v'y 'Arry I don't know, seeing as 'is name vos Villiam; but, ''Andsome 'Arry' 'e vere called, an' werry much respected 'e vere too. Lord! there vos never less than a dozen or so young bloods to see 'im start. Ah! a great favorite 'e vere vith them, an' no error, an' werry much admired; admired? I should say so. They copied 'is 'at they copied 'is boots, they copied 'is coat, they'd a copied 'im inside as well as out if they could."
"Hum!" said the fussy gentleman. "Ha!"
"Oh, 'e vos a great fav'rite vith the Quality," nodded Mottle-face. "Ah! it vos a dream to see 'im 'andle the ribbons,—an' spit? Lord! it vos a eddication to see my feyther spit, I should say so! Vun young blood—a dock's son he vere too—vent an' 'ad a front tooth drawed a purpose, but I never 'eard as it done much good; bless you, to spit like my feyther you must be born to it!" (here Mottle-face paused to suit the action to the word). "And, mark you! over an' above all this, my feyther vere the boldest cove that ever—"
"Yes, yes!" exclaimed the fussy gentleman impatiently, "but where does my valise come in?"
"Your walise, sir," said Mottle-face, deftly flicking the off wheeler, "your walise comes in—at the end, sir, and I'm a-comin' to it as qvick as you'll let me."
"Hum!" said the gentleman again.
"Now, in my feyther's time," resumed Mottle-face serenely, "the roads vos vorse than they are to-day, ah! a sight vorse, an' as for 'ighvaymen—Lord! they vos as thick as blackberries—blackberries? I should say so! Theer vos footpads be'ind every 'edge—gangs of 'em—an' 'ighvaymen on every 'eath—"
"God bless my soul!" exclaimed the fussy gentleman, "so many?"
"Many?" snorted Mottle-face, "there vos armies of 'em. But my feyther, as I think I mentioned afore, vere the bravest, boldest, best-plucked coachman as ever sat on a box."
"I hope it runs in the family."
"Sir, I ain't one give to boastin', nor yet to blowin' my own 'orn, but truth is truth, and—it do!"
"Good!" said the fussy gentleman, "very good!"
"Now the vorst of all these rogues vos a cove called Black Dan, a thieving, murdering, desprit wagabone as vere ewcntually 'ung sky-'igh on Pembury 'Ill—"
"Good!" said the fussy gentleman louder than before, "good! Glad of it!"
"An' yet," sighed Mottle-face, "'e 'ad a werry good 'eart—as 'ighvaymen's 'earts go; never shot nobody unless 'e couldn't help it, an' ven 'e did, 'e allus made a werry neat job of it, an' polished 'em off nice an' qvick."
"Hum!" said the fussy gentleman, "still, I'm glad he's hanged."
"Black Dan used to vork the roads south o' London,
"Kent an' Surrey mostly, conseqvent it vere a long time afore 'im an' my feyther met; but at last vun night, as my feyther vos driving along—a good fifteen mile an hour, for it vere a uncommon fine night, vith a moon, like as it might be now—"
"Ah?" said the fussy gentleman.
"An' presently 'e came to vere the road narrered a bit, same as it might be yonder—"
"Ah!" murmured the fussy gentleman again.
"An' vith a clump o' trees beyond, nice, dark, shady trees—like it might be them werry trees ahead of us—"
"Oh!" exclaimed the fussy gentleman.
"An' as 'e come up nearer an' nearer, all at vunce 'e made out a shadder in the shade o' them trees—"
"Dear me!" exclaimed the fussy gentleman uneasily, staring very hard at the trees in front.
"A shadder as moved, although the leaves vos all dead still. So my feyther—being a bold cove—reached down for 'is blunderbush—this werry same old blunderbush as I 've got under the box at this i-dentical minute, (though its trigger veren't broke then) but, afore 'e can get it out, into the road leaps a man on a great black 'oss—like it might be dead ahead of us, a masked man, an' vith a pistol in each fist as long as yer arm."
"Good Lord!" exclaimed the fussy gentleman.
"'Stand an' deliver!' roars the masked man, so my feyther, cocking 'is heye at the pistols, pulls up, an' there 'e is, starin' down at the 'ighvayman, an' the 'ighvayman staring up at 'im. 'You 're 'Andsome 'Arry, ain't you?' sez the 'ighvayman. 'Ay,' sez my feyther, 'an' I guess you 're Black Dan.' 'Sure as you 're born!' sez Black Dan, 'I've 'eered o' you before to-day, 'Andsome 'Arry,' sez 'e, 'an' meant to make your acquaintance afore this, but I 've been kep' too busy till to-night,' sez 'e, 'but 'ere ve are at last,' 'e sez, 'an' now—vot d' ye think o' that?' sez 'e, an' pi'nts a pistol under my feyther's werry nose. Now, as I think I 've 'inted afore, my feyther vere a nat'rally bold, courage-ful cove, so 'e took a look at the murderous vepping, an' nodded. 'It's a pistol, ain't it?' sez 'e. 'Sure as you're settin' on that there box, it is,' sez Black Dan, 'an' 'ere's another.' 'An' werry good veppings too,' sez my feyther, 'but vot might you be vanting vith me, Black Dan?' 'First of all, I vants you to come down off that box,' sez Black Dan. 'Oh?' sez my feyther, cool as a coocumber. 'Ah!' sez Black Dan. 'Verefore an' v'y?' enkvires my feyther, but Black Dan only vagged 'is veppings in my feyther's face, an' grinned under 'is mask. 'I vants you, so, 'Andsome 'Arry—come down!' sez 'e. Now I've told you as my feyther vos the boldest—"
"Yes, yes," cried the fussy gentleman. "Well?"
"Vell, sir, my feyther stared at them murderous pistols, stared at Black Dan, an' being the werry gamest an' bravest cove you ever see, didn't 'esitate a second."
"Well," cried the fussy gentleman, "what did he do then?"
"Do, sir—v'y I'll tell you—my feyther—come down."
"Yes, yes," said the fussy gentleman, as Mottle-face paused. "Go on, go on!"
"Go on v'ere, sir?"
"Go on with your story. What was the end of it?"
"V'y, that's the end on it."
"But it isn't; you haven't told us what happened after he got down. What became of him after?"
"Took the 'Ring o' Bells,' out Islington vay, an' drank hisself to death all quite nat'ral and reg'lar."
"But that's not the end of your story."
"It vere the end o' my feyther though—an' a werry good end it vere, too."
Now here there ensued a silence, during which the fussy gentleman stared fixedly at Mottle-face, who chirruped to the horses solicitously, and turned a serene but owl-like eye up to the waning moon.
"And pray," said the fussy gentleman at length, very red in the face, and more indignant than ever, "pray what's all this to do with my valise, I should like to know?"
"So should I," nodded Mottle-face—"ah, that I should."
"You—you told me," spluttered the fussy gentleman, in sudden wrath, "that you were coming to my valise."
"An' so ve have," nodded Mottle-face, triumphantly. "Ve're at it now; ve've been a-coming to that theer blessed walise ever since you come aboard."
"Well, and what's to be done about it?" snapped the fussy gentleman.
"Vell," said Mottle-face, with another ponderous wink at Barnabas, "if it troubles you much more, sir, if I vos you I should get a werry strong rope, and a werry large stone, and tie 'em together werry tight, an' drop that theer blessed walise into the river, and get rid of it that way."
Hereupon the fussy gentleman uttered an inarticulate exclamation, and, throwing himself back in his seat, tugged his hat over his eyes, and was heard no more.
But Mottle-face, touching up the near leader with deft and delicate play of wrist, or flicking the off wheeler, ever and anon gave vent to sounds which, though somewhat muffled, on account of coat-collar and shawl, were uncommonly like a chuckle. Yet if this were so or no, Barnabas did not trouble to ascertain, for he was already in that dreamy state 'twixt sleeping and waking, drowsily conscious of being borne on through the summer night, past lonely cottage and farmhouse, past fragrant ricks and barns, past wayside pools on whose still waters stars seemed to float—on and ever on, rumbling over bridges, clattering through sleeping hamlets and villages, up hill and down hill, on and ever on toward London and the wonders thereof. But, little by little, the chink and jingle of the harness, the rumble of the wheels, the rhythmic beat of the sixteen hoofs, all became merged into a drone that gradually softened to a drowsy murmur, and Barnabas fell into a doze; yet only to be awakened, as it seemed to him, a moment later by lights and voices, and to find that they were changing horses once more. Whereupon Mottle-face, leaning over, winked his owl-like eye, and spoke in a hoarse, penetrating whisper: