"Ten mile, sir, an' not a vord out o' old Walise so far!" saying which he jerked his head towards the huddled form of the fussy gentleman, winked again, and turned away to curse the hurrying ostlers, albeit in a tone good-natured and jovial.
And so, betimes, off they went again, down hill and up, by rolling meadow and winding stream, 'neath the leafy arches of motionless trees, through a night profoundly still save for the noise of their own going, the crow of a cock, or the bark of a dog from some farmyard. The moon sank and was gone, but on went the London Mail swirling through eddying mist that lay in every hollow like ghostly pools. Gradually the stars paled to the dawn, for low down in the east was a gray streak that grew ever broader, that changed to a faint pink, deepening to rose, to crimson, to gold—an ever brightening glory, till at last up rose the sun, at whose advent the mists rolled away and vanished, and lo! day was born.
Yawning, Barnabas opened drowsy eyes, and saw that here and there were houses in fair gardens, yet as they went the houses grew thicker and the gardens more scant. And now Barnabas became aware of a sound, soft with distance, that rose and fell—a never-ceasing murmur; therefore, blinking drowsily at Mottle-face, he inquired what this might be.
"That, sir, that's London, sir—cobble-stones, sir, cart-vheels, sir, and—Lord love you!"—here Mottle-face leaned over and once more winked his owl-like eye—"but 'e ain't mentioned the vord 'walise' all night, sir—so 'elp me!" Having said which, Mottle-face vented a throaty chuckle, and proceeded to touch up his horses.
And now as one in a dream, Barnabas is aware that they are threading streets, broad streets and narrow, and all alive with great wagons and country wains; on they go, past gloomy taverns, past churches whose gilded weather-cocks glitter in the early sunbeams, past crooked side-streets and dark alley-ways, and so, swinging suddenly to the right, have pulled up at last in the yard of the "George."
It is a great inn with two galleries one above another and many windows, and here, despite the early hour, a motley crowd is gathered. Forthwith Barnabas climbs down, and edging his way through the throng, presently finds Peterby at his elbow.
"Very good—this way, sir."
Thereafter, though he scarcely knows how, he finds himself following a trim-footed damsel, who, having shown him up a winding stair, worn by the tread of countless travellers, brings him to a smallish, dullish chamber, opening upon the lower gallery. Hereupon Barnabas bids her "good night," but, blinking in the sunlight, gravely changes it to "good morning." The trim-footed maid smiles, curtsies, and vanishes, closing the door behind her.
Now upon the wall of the chamber, facing the bed, hangs the picture of a gentleman in a military habit with an uncomfortably high stock. He is an eagle-nosed gentleman with black whiskers, and a pair of remarkably round wide-awake eyes, which stare at Barnabas as much as to say—
"And who the devil are you, sir?"
Below him his name and titles are set forth fully and with many flourishes, thus—
LIEUTENANT-GENERAL THE RIGHT HONORABLE THE EARL OF POMFROY, K.G., K.T.S., etc., etc., etc.
So remarkably wide-awake is he, indeed, that it seems to drowsy Barnabas as if these round eyes wait to catch him unawares and follow him pertinaciously about the smallish, dullish chamber. Nevertheless Barnabas yawns, and proceeds to undress, which done, remembering he is in London, he takes purse and valuables and very carefully sets them under his pillow, places Mr. Chichester's pistol on the small table conveniently near, and gets into bed.
Yet now, sleepy though he is, he must needs turn to take another look at the Honorable the Earl of Pomfroy, wonders idly what the three "etc.'s" may mean, admires the glossy curl of his whiskers, counts the medals and orders on his bulging breast, glances last of all at his eyes, and immediately becomes aware that they are curiously like those of the "White Lion" at Tenterden, in that they are plying him with questions.
"Tall or short? dark or fair? Will she kiss you—next time, sir? Will she even be glad to see you again, you presumptuous young dog—will she—will she, confound you?"
"Ah!" sighed Barnabas. "Next time—I wonder!"
So saying, he sighed again, once, twice, and with the third fell fast asleep, and dreamed that a certain White Lion, clad in a Lieutenant-General's uniform, and with a pair of handsome black whiskers, stood balancing himself upon a single claw on the rail of the bed.
CONCERNING THE DUTIES OF A VALET—AND A MAN
"And now, Peterby," said Barnabas, pushing his chair from the breakfast table, "the first thing I shall require is—a tailor."
"Very true, sir."
"These clothes were good enough for the country, Peterby, but—"
"Exactly, sir!" answered Peterby, bowing.
"Hum!" said Barnabas, with a quick glance. "Though mark you," he continued argumentatively,—"they might be worse, Peterby; the fit is good, and the cloth is excellent. Yes, they might be a great deal worse."
"It is—possible, sir," answered Peterby, with another bow. Hereupon, having glanced at his solemn face, Barnabas rose, and surveyed himself, as well as he might, in the tarnished mirror on the wall.
"Are they so bad as all that?" he inquired.
Peterby's mouth relaxed, and a twinkle dawned in his eye.
"As garments they are—serviceable, sir," said he, gravely, "but as clothes they—don't exist."
"Why then," said Barnabas, "the sooner we get some that do,—the better. Do you know of a good tailor?"
"I know them all, sir."
"Who is the best—the most expensive?"
"Stultz, sir, in Clifford Street; but I shouldn't advise you to have him."
"And why not?"
"Because he is a tailor."
"Oh?" said Barnabas.
"I mean that the clothes he makes are all stamped with his individuality, as it were,—their very excellence damns them. They are the clothes of a tailor instead of being simply a gentleman's garments."
"Hum!" said Barnabas, beginning to frown at this, "it would seem that dress can be a very profound subject, Peterby."
"Sir," answered Peterby, shaking his head, "it is a life study, and, so far as I know, there are only two people in the world who understand it aright; Beau Brummell was one, and, because he was the Beau, had London and the World of Fashion at his feet."
"And who was the other?"
Peterby took himself by the chin, and, though his mouth was solemn, the twinkle was back in his eye as he glanced at Barnabas.
"The other, sir," he answered, "was one who, until yesterday, was reduced to the necessity of living upon poached rabbits."
Here Barnabas stared thoughtfully up at the ceiling.
"I remember you told me you were the best valet in the world," said he.
"It is my earnest desire to prove it, sir."
"And yet," said Barnabas, with his gaze still turned ceiling-wards, "I would have you—even more than this, Peterby."
"I would have you, sometimes, forget that you are only 'the best valet in the world,' and remember that you are—a man: one in whom I can confide; one who has lived in this great world, and felt, and suffered, and who can therefore advise me; one I may trust to in an emergency; for London is a very big place, they tell me, and my friends are few—or none—and—do you understand me, Peterby?"
"Sir," said Peterby in an altered tone, "I think I do."
"Then—sit down, John, and let us talk."
With a murmur of thanks Peterby drew up a chair and sat watching Barnabas with his shrewd eyes.
"You will remember," began Barnabas, staring up at the ceiling again, "that when I engaged you I told you that I intended to—hum! to—cut a figure in the fashionable world?"
"Yes, sir; and I told you that,—after what happened in a certain wood,—it was practically impossible."
"You mean because I thrashed a scoundrel?"
"I mean because you knocked down a friend of the Prince Regent."
"And is Carnaby so very powerful, Peterby?"
"Sir, he is—the Prince's friend! He is also as great a Buck as George Hanger, as Jehu, or Jockey of Norfolk, and as famous, almost, as the late Sir Maurice Vibart."
"Ah!" said Barnabas.
"And since the retirement of Mr. Brummell, he and the Marquis of Jerningham have to some extent taken his place and become the Arbiters of Fashion."
"Oh!" said Barnabas.
"And furthermore, sir, I would warn you that he is a dangerous enemy, said to be one of the best pistol-shots in England."
"Hum," said Barnabas, "nevertheless, I mean to begin—"
"To begin, sir?"
"At once, Peterby."
"That is for you to decide, Peterby."
Here Peterby took himself by the chin again, and looked at Barnabas with thoughtful eyes and gloomy brow.
"Sir," said he, "the World of Fashion is a trivial world where all must appear trivial; it is a place where all must act a part, and where those are most regarded who are most affected; it is a world of shams and insincerity, and very jealously guarded."
"So I have heard," nodded Barnabas.
"To gain admission you must, first of all, have money."
"Yes," said Barnabas.
"Hum," said Barnabas.
"Wit and looks may be helpful, but all these are utterly useless unless you have what I may call the magic key."
"And what is that?"
"For anything that will serve to lift you out of the ruck—to set you above the throng,—you must be one apart—an original."
"Originality is divine!" said Barnabas.
"More or less, sir," added Peterby, "for it is very easily achieved. Lord Alvanly managed it with apricot tarts; Lord Petersham with snuff-boxes; Mr. Mackinnon by his agility in climbing round drawing-rooms on the furniture; Jockey of Norfolk by consuming a vast number of beef-steaks, one after the other; Sir George Cassilis, who was neither rich nor handsome nor witty, by being insolent; Sir John Lade by dressing like a stagecoach-man, and driving like the devil; Sir George Skeffington by inventing a new color and writing bad plays; and I could name you many others beside—"
"Why then, Peterby—what of Sir Mortimer Carnaby?"
"He managed it by going into the ring with Jack Fearby, the 'Young Ruffian,' and beating him in twenty-odd rounds for one thing, and winning a cross-country race—"
"Ha!" exclaimed Barnabas, "a race!" and so he fell to staring up at the ceiling again.
"But I fear, sir," continued Peterby, "that in making him your enemy, you have damned your chances at the very outset, as I told you."
"A race!" said Barnabas again, vastly thoughtful.
"And therefore," added Peterby, leaning nearer in his earnestness, "since you honor me by asking my advice, I would strive with all my power to dissuade you."
"Because, in the first place, I know it to be impossible."
"I begin to think not, John."
"Why, then, because—it's dangerous!"
"Danger is everywhere, more or less, John."
"And because, sir, because you—you—" Peterby rose, and stood with bent head and hands outstretched, "because you gave a miserable wretch another chance to live; and therefore I—I would not see you crushed and humiliated. Ah, sir! I know this London, I know those who make up the fashionable world. Sir, it is a heartless world, cruel and shallow, where inexperience is made a mock of—generosity laughed to scorn; where he is most respected who can shoot the straightest; where men seldom stoop to quarrel, but where death is frequent, none the less—and, sir, I could not bear—I—I wouldn't have you cut off thus—!"
Peterby stopped suddenly, and his head sank lower; but as he stood Barnabas rose, and coming to him, took his hand into his own firm clasp.
"Thank you, John Peterby," said he. "You may be the best valet in the world—I hope you are—but I know that you are a man, and, as a man, I tell you that I have decided upon going on with the adventure."
"Then I cannot hope to dissuade you, sir?"
"Indeed, I feared not."
"It was for this I came to London, and I begin—at once."
"Very good, sir."
"Consequently, you have a busy day before you; you see I shall require, first of all, clothes, John; then—well, I suppose a house to live in—"
"In a fashionable quarter, and furnished, if possible."
"A lodging, St. James's Street way, is less expensive, sir, and more usual."
"Good!" said Barnabas; "to buy a house will be more original, at least. Then there must be servants, horses—vehicles—but you will understand—"
"Well then, John—go and get 'em."
"Sir?" exclaimed Peterby.
"Go now, John," said Barnabas, pulling out his purse, "this very moment."
"But," stammered Peterby, "but, sir—you will—"
"I shall stay here—I don't intend to stir out until you have me dressed as I should be—in 'clothes that exist,' John!"
"But you—don't mean to—to entrust—everything—to—me?"
"Of course, John."
"I have every confidence in your judgment, you see. Here is money, you will want more, of course, but this will do to go on with."
But Peterby only stared from Barnabas to the money on the table, and back again.
"Sir," said he at last, "this is—a great deal of money."
"And I would remind you that we are in London, sir, and that yesterday I—was a poacher—a man of no character—a—"
"But to-day you are my valet, John. So take the money and buy me whatever I require, but a tailor first of all."
Then, as one in a dream, Peterby took up the money, counted it, buttoned it into his pocket, and crossed to the door; but there he paused and turned.
"Sir," said he slowly, "I'll bring you a man who, though he is little known as yet, will be famous some day, for he is what I may term an artist in cloth. And sir,"—here Peterby's voice grew uncertain—"you shall find me worthy of your trust, so help me God!" Then he opened the door, went out, and closed it softly behind him. But as for Barnabas, he sat with his gaze fixed on the ceiling again, lost in reverie and very silent. After a while he spoke his thoughts aloud.
"A race!" said he.
HOW BARNABAS BOUGHT AN UNRIDABLE HORSE—AND RODE IT
The coffee-room at the "George" is a longish, narrowish, dullish chamber, with a row of windows that look out upon the yard,—but upon this afternoon they looked at nothing in particular; and here Barnabas found a waiter, a lonely wight who struck him as being very like the room itself, in that he, also, was long, and narrow, and dull, and looked out upon the yard at nothing in particular; and, as he gazed, he sighed, and tapped thoughtfully at his chin with a salt-spoon. As Barnabas entered, however, he laid down the spoon, flicked an imaginary crumb from the table-cloth with his napkin, and bowed.
"Dinner, sir?" he inquired in a dullish voice, and with his head set engagingly to one side, while his sharp eyes surveyed Barnabas from boots to waistcoat, from waistcoat to neckcloth, and stayed there while he drew out his own shirt-frill with caressing fingers, and coughed disapprobation into his napkin. "Did you say dinner, sir?" he inquired again.
"Thank you, no," answered Barnabas.
"Perhaps cheese an' a biscuit might be nearer your mark, and say—a half of porter?"
"I've only just had breakfast," said Barnabas, aware of the waiter's scrutiny.
"Ah!" sighed the waiter, still caressing his shirt-frill, "you're Number Four, I think—night coach?"
"From the country of course, sir?"
"Yes—from the country," said Barnabas, beginning to frown a little, "but how in the world did you guess that?"
"From your 'toot example,' sir, as they say in France—from your appearance, sir."
"You are evidently a very observant man!" said Barnabas.
"Well," answered the waiter, with his gaze still riveted upon the neckcloth—indeed it seemed to fascinate him, "well, I can see as far through a brick wall as most,—there ain't much as I miss, sir."
"Why, then," said Barnabas, "you may perhaps have noticed a door behind you?"
The waiter stared from the neckcloth to the door and back again, and scratched his chin dubiously.
"Then suppose you go out of that door, and bring me pens, and ink, and paper."
"Also the latest newspapers."
"Yessir—certainly, sir;" and with another slight, though eloquent cough into his napkin, he started off upon his errand. Hereupon, as soon as he was alone, Barnabas must needs glance down at that offending neckcloth, and his frown grew the blacker.
"Now, I wonder how long Peterby will be?" he said to himself. But here came the creak of the waiter's boots, and that observant person reappeared, bearing the various articles which he named in turn as he set them on the table.
"A bottle of ink, sir; pens and writing-paper, sir; and the Gazette."
"Thank you," said Barnabas, very conscious of his neckcloth still.
"And now, sir," here the waiter coughed into his napkin again, "now—what will you drink, sir; shall we say port, or shall we make it sherry?"
"Neither," said Barnabas.
"Why, then, we 'ave some rare old burgundy, sir—'ighly esteemed by connysoors and (cough again) other—gentlemen."
"No, thank you."
"On the other 'and—to suit 'umbler tastes, we 'ave,"—here the waiter closed his eyes, sighed, and shook his head—"ale, sir, likewise beer, small and otherwise."
"Nothing, thank you," said Barnabas; "and you will observe the door is still where it was."
"Door, sir, yessir—oh, certainly, sir!" said he, and stalked out of the room.
Then Barnabas set a sheet of paper before him, selected a pen, and began to write as follows:—
George Inn, Borough. June 2, 18—.
To VISCOUNT DEVENHAM,
MY DEAR DICK,—I did not think to be asking favors of you so soon, but—(here a blot).
"Confound it!" exclaimed Barnabas, and taking out his penknife he began to mend the spluttering quill. But, in the midst of this operation, chancing to glance out of the window, he espied a long-legged gentleman with a remarkably fierce pair of whiskers; he wore a coat of ultra-fashionable cut, and stood with his booted legs wide apart, staring up at the inn from under a curly-brimmed hat. But the hat had evidently seen better days, the coat was frayed at seam and elbow, and the boots lacked polish; yet these small blemishes were more than offset by his general dashing, knowing air, and the untamable ferocity of his whiskers. As Barnabas watched him, he drew a letter from the interior of his shabby coat, unfolded it with a prodigious flourish, and began to con it over. Now, all at once, Barnabas dropped knife and pen, thrust a hand into his own breast and took thence a letter also, at sight of which he straightway forgot the bewhiskered gentleman; for what he read was this:—
Dearest and Best of Sisters,—Never, in all this world was there such an unfortunate, luckless dog as I—were it not for your unfailing love I should have made an end of it all, before now.
I write this letter to beg and implore you to grant me another interview, anywhere and at any time you may name. Of course you will think it is more money I want—so I do; I'm always in need of it, and begin to fear I always shall be. But my reasons for wishing this meeting are much more than this—indeed, most urgent! (this underlined). I am threatened by a GRAVE DANGER (this doubly underlined). I am at my wit's end, and only you can save me, Cleone—you and you only. Chichester has been more than kind, indeed, a true friend to me! (this also underlined). I would that you could feel kinder towards him.
This letter must reach you where none of your guardian's spies can intercept it; your precious Captain has always hated me, damn him! (this scratched out). Oh, shame that he, a stranger, should ever have been allowed to come between brother and sister. I shall journey down to Hawkhurst to see you and shall stay about until you can contrive to meet me. Chichester may accompany me, and if he should, try to be kinder to your brother's only remaining friend. How different are our situations! you surrounded by every luxury, while I—yet heaven forbid I should forget my manhood and fill this letter with my woes. But if you ever loved your unfortunate brother, do not fail him in this, Cleone.
Your loving, but desperate,
Having read this effusion twice over, and very carefully, Barnabas was yet staring at the last line with its scrawling signature, all unnecessary curls and flourishes, when he heard a slight sound in the adjacent box, and turning sharply, was just in time to see the top of a hat ere it vanished behind the curtain above the partition.
Therefore he sat very still, waiting. And lo! after the lapse of half a minute, or thereabouts, it reappeared, slowly and by degrees—a beaver hat, something the worse for wear. Slowly it rose up over the curtain—the dusty crown, the frayed band, the curly brim, and eventually a pair of bold, black eyes that grew suddenly very wide as they met the unwinking gaze of Barnabas. Hereupon the lips, as yet unseen, vented a deep sigh, and, thereafter, uttered these words:
"The same, and yet, curse me, the nose!—y-e-s, the nose seems, on closer inspection, a trifle too aquiline, perhaps; and the chin—y-e-s, decidedly a thought too long! And yet—!" Here another sigh, and the face rising into full view, Barnabas recognized the bewhiskered gentleman he had noticed in the yard.
"Sir," continued the stranger, removing the curly-brimmed hat with a flourish, and bowing over the partition as well as he could, "you don't happen to be a sailor—Royal Navy, do you?"
"No, sir," answered Barnabas.
"And your name don't happen to be Smivvle, does it?"
"No, sir," said Barnabas again.
"And yet," sighed the bewhiskered gentleman, regarding him with half-closed eyes, and with his head very much on one side, "in spite of your nose, and in spite of your chin, you are the counterpart, sir, the facsimile—I might say the breathing image of a—ha!—of a nephew of mine; noble youth, handsome as Adonis—Royal Navy—regular Apollo; went to sea, sir, years ago; never heard of more; tragic, sir—devilish tragic, on my soul and honor."
"Very!" said Barnabas; "but—"
"Saw you from the yard, sir, immediately struck by close resemblance; flew here, borne on the wings of hope, sir; you 're quite sure your name ain't Smivvle, are you?"
"Ah, well—mine is; Digby Smivvle, familiarly known as 'Dig,' at your service, sir. Stranger to London, sir?"
"Yes," said Barnabas.
"Ha! Bad place, London, sink of iniquity! Full of rogues, rascals, damn scoundrels,—by heaven, sharks, sir! confounded cannibals, by George!—eat you alive. Stranger myself, sir; just up from my little place in Worcestershire—King's Heath,—know it, perhaps? No? Charming village! rural, quiet; mossy trees, sir; winding brooks, larks and cuckoos carolling all day long. Sir, there has been a Smivvle at the Hall since before the Conquest! Fine old place, the Hall; ancient, sir, hoary and historic—though devilish draughty, upon my soul and honor!"
Here, finding that he still held the open letter in his hand, Barnabas refolded it and thrust it into his pocket, while Mr. Smivvle smilingly caressed his whiskers, and his bold, black eyes darted glances here and there, from Barnabas mending his pen to the table, from the table to the walls, to the ceiling, and from that altitude they dropped to the table again, and hovered there.
"Sir," said Barnabas without looking up, "pray excuse the blot, the pen was a bad one; I am making another, as you see."
Mr. Smivvle started, and raised his eyes swiftly. Stared at unconscious Barnabas, rubbed his nose, felt for his whisker, and, having found it, tugged it viciously.
"Blot, sir!" he exclaimed loudly; "now, upon my soul and honor—what blot, sir?"
"This," said Barnabas, taking up his unfinished letter to the Viscount—"if you've finished, we may as well destroy it," and forthwith he crumpled it into a ball, and tossed it into the empty fireplace.
"Sir!" exclaimed Mr. Smivvle, louder than before, "'pon my soul, now, if you mean to insinuate—" Here he paused, staring at Barnabas, and with his whiskers fiercer than ever.
"Well, sir?" inquired Barnabas, still busily trimming his quill.
Mr. Smivvle frowned; but finding Barnabas was quite unconscious of it, shook his head, felt for his whisker again, found it, tugged it, and laughed jovially.
"Sir," said he, "you are a devilish sharp fellow, and a fine fellow. I swear you are. I like your spirit, on my soul and honor I do, and, as for blots, I vow to you I never write a letter myself that I don't smear most damnably—curse me if I don't. That blot, sir, shall be another bond between us, for I have conceived a great regard for you. The astounding likeness between you and one who—was snatched away in the flower of his youth—draws me, sir, draws me most damnably; for I have a heart, sir, a heart—why should I disguise it?" Here Mr. Smivvle tapped the third left-hand button of his coat. "And so long as that organ continues its functions, you may count Digby Smivvle your friend, and at his little place in Worcestershire he will be proud to show you the hospitality of a Smivvle. Meanwhile, sir, seeing we are both strangers in a strange place, supposing we—join forces and, if you are up for the race, I propose—"
"The race!" exclaimed Barnabas, looking up suddenly.
"Yes, sir, devilish swell affair, with gentlemen to ride, and Royalty to look on—a race of races! London's agog with it, all the clubs discuss it, coffee houses ring with it, inns and taverns clamor with it—soul and honor, betting—everywhere. The odds slightly favor Sir Mortimer Carnaby's 'Clasher'; but Viscount Devenham's 'Moonraker' is well up. Then there's Captain Slingsby's 'Rascal,' Mr. Tressider's 'Pilot,' Lord Jerningham's 'Clinker,' and five or six others. But, as I tell you, 'Clasher' and 'Moonraker' carry the money, though many knowing ones are sweet on the 'Rascal.' But, surely, you must have heard of the great steeplechase? Devilish ugly course, they tell me."
"The Viscount spoke of it, I remember," said Barnabas, absently.
"Viscount, sir—not—Viscount Devenham?"
Here Mr. Smivvle whistled softly, took off the curly-brimmed hat, looked at it, and put it on again at a more rakish angle than ever.
"Didn't happen to mention my name, did he—Smivvle, sir?"
"Nor Dig, perhaps?"
"Remarkable—hum!" exclaimed Mr. Smivvle, shaking his head; "but I'm ready to lay you odds that he did speak of my friend Barry. I may say my bosom companion—a Mr. Ronald Barrymaine, sir."
"Ronald Barrymaine," repeated Barnabas, trying the new point of his pen upon his thumb-nail, yet conscious of the speaker's keen glance, none the less. "No, he did not."
"Astounding!" exclaimed Mr. Smivvle.
"Because my friend Barrymaine was particularly intimate with his Lordship, before he fell among the Jews, dammem! My friend Barry, sir, was a dasher, by George! a regular red-hot tearer, by heaven! a Go, sir, a Tippy, a bang up Blood, and would be still if it were not for the Jews—curse 'em!"
"And is Mr. Barrymaine still a friend of yours?"
At this Mr. Smivvle took off his hat again, clapped it to his bosom, and bowed.
"Sir," said he, "for weal or woe, in shadow or shine, the hand of a Smivvle, once given, is given for good."
As he spoke, Mr. Smivvle stretched out the member in question, which Barnabas observed was none too clean.
"The hand of a Smivvle, sir," pursued that gentleman, "the hand of a Smivvle is never withdrawn either on account of adversity, plague, poverty, pestilence, or Jews—dammem! As for my friend Barrymaine; but, perhaps, you are acquainted with him, sir."
"No," answered Barnabas.
"Ah! a noble fellow, sir! Heroic youth, blood, birth, and breeding to his finger-tips, sir. But he is, above all else, a brother to a—a sister, sir. Ah! what a creature! Fair, sir? fair as the immortal Helena! Proud, sir? proud as an arch-duchess! Handsome, sir? handsome, sir, as—as—oh, dammit, words fail me; but go, sir, go and ransack Olympus, and you couldn't match her, 'pon my soul! Diana, sir? Diana was a frump! Venus? Venus was a dowdy hoyden, by George! and as for the ox-eyed Juno, she was a positive cow to this young beauty! And then—her heart, sir!"
"Well, what of it?" inquired Barnabas, rather sharply.
"Utterly devoted—beats only for my friend—"
"You mean her brother?"
"I mean her brother, yes, sir; though I have heard a rumor that Sir Mortimer Carnaby—"
"Pooh!" said Barnabas.
"With pleasure, sir; but the fact remains that it was partly on his account, and partly because of another, that she was dragged away from London—"
"Well, let us say—H.R.H."
"Sir," inquired Barnabas, frowning, "do you mean the Prince?"
"Sir," said Mr. Smivvle, with a smiling shake of the head, "I prefer the letters H.R.H. Anyhow, there were many rumors afloat at the time, and her guardian—a regular, tarry old sea dog, by George—drags her away from her brother's side, and buries her in the country, like the one-armed old pirate he is, eye to her money they tell me; regular old skinflint; bad as a Jew—damn him! But speaking of the race, sir, do you happen to—know anything?"
"I know that it is to be run on the fifteenth of July," said Barnabas abstractedly.
"Oh, very good!" exclaimed Mr. Smivvle—"ha! ha!—excellent! knows it is to be run on the fifteenth; very facetious, curse me! But, joking apart, sir, have you any private knowledge? The Viscount, now, did he happen to tell you anything that—"
But, at this juncture, they were interrupted by a sudden tumult in the yard outside, a hubbub of shouts, the ring and stamp of hoofs, and, thereafter, a solitary voice upraised in oaths and curses. Barnabas sprang to his feet, and hurrying out into the yard, beheld a powerful black horse that reared and plunged in the grip of two struggling grooms; in an adjacent corner was the late rider, who sat upon a pile of stable-sweepings and swore, while, near by, perched precariously upon an upturned bucket, his slim legs stretched out before him, was a young exquisite—a Corinthian from top to toe—who rocked with laughter, yet was careful to keep his head rigid, so as to avoid crushing his cravat, a thing of wonder which immediately arrested the attention of Barnabas, because of its prodigious height, and the artful arrangement of its voluminous folds.
"Oh, dooce take me," he exclaimed in a faint voice, clapping a hand to his side, "I'll be shot if I saw anything neater, no, not even at Sadler's Wells! Captain Slingsby of the Guards in his famous double somersault! Oh, damme, Sling! I'd give a hundred guineas to see you do it again—I would, dooce take me!"
But Captain Slingsby continued to shake his fist at the great, black horse, and to swear with unabated fervor.
"You black devil!" he exclaimed, "you four-legged imp of Satan! So, you're up to your tricks again, are you? Well, this is the last chance you shall have to break my neck, b'gad! I'm done with you for a—"
Here the Captain became extremely fluent, and redder of face than ever, as he poured forth a minute description of the animal; he cursed him from muzzle to crupper and back again; he damned his eyes, he damned his legs, individually and collectively, and reviled him, through sire and dam, back to the Flood.
Meanwhile Barnabas turned from raging Two-legs to superbly wrathful Four-legs; viewed him from sweeping tail to lofty crest; observed his rolling eye and quivering nostril; took careful heed of his broad chest, slender legs, and powerful, sloping haunches with keen, appraising eyes, that were the eyes of knowledge and immediate desire. And so, from disdainful Four-legs he turned back to ruffled Two-legs, who, having pretty well sworn himself out by this time, rose gingerly to his feet, felt an elbow with gentle inquiry, tenderly rubbed a muddied knee, and limped out from the corner.
Now, standing somewhat apart, was a broad-shouldered man, a rough-looking customer in threadbare clothes, whose dusty boots spoke of travel. He was an elderly man, for the hair, beneath the battered hat, was gray, and he leaned wearily upon a short stick. Very still he stood, and Barnabas noticed that he kept his gaze bent ever upon the horse; nor did he look away even when the Captain began to speak again.
"B'gad!" exclaimed the Captain, "I'll sell the brute to the highest bidder. You, Jerningham, you seem devilish amused, b'gad! If you think you can back him he's yours for what you like. Come, what's the word?"
"Emphatically no, my dear, good Sling," laughed the young Corinthian, shaking his curly head. "I don't mean to risk this most precious neck of mine until the fifteenth, dear fellow, dooce take me if I do!"
"Why then, b'gad! I'll sell him to any one fool enough to bid. Come now," cried the Captain, glancing round the yard, "who'll buy him? B'gad! who'll give ten pounds for an accursed brute that nobody can possibly ride?"
"I will!" said Barnabas.
"Fifteen, sir!" cried the shabby man on the instant, with his gaze still on the horse.
"Twenty!" said Barnabas, like an echo.
"Twenty-five, sir!" retorted the shabby man.
"Hey?" cried the Captain, staring from one to the other. "What's all this? B'gad! I say stop a bit—wait a minute! Bob, lend me your bucket."
Hereupon the Corinthian obligingly vacating that article. Captain Slingsby incontinent stood upon it, and from that altitude began to harangue the yard, flourishing his whip after the manner of an auctioneer's hammer.
"Now here you are, gentlemen!" he cried. "I offer you a devilishly ugly, damnably vicious brute, b'gad! I offer you a four-legged demon, an accursed beast that nobody can ever hope to ride—a regular terror, curse me! Killed one groom already, will probably kill another. Now, what is your price for this lady's pet? Look him over and bid accordingly."
"Twenty-five pound, sir," said the shabby man.
"Thirty!" said Barnabas.
"Fifty!" said Barnabas.
"Fifty!" cried the Captain, flourishing his whip. "Fifty pounds from the gentleman in the neckcloth—fifty's the figure. Any more? Any advance on fifty? What, all done! Won't any one go another pound for a beast fit only for the knacker's yard? Oh, Gad, gentlemen, why this reticence? Are you all done?"
"I can't go no higher, sir," said the shabby man, shaking his gray head sadly.
"Then going at fifty—at fifty! Going! Going! Gone, b'gad! Sold to the knowing young cove in the neckcloth."
Now, at the repetition of this word, Barnabas began to frown.
"And b'gad!" exclaimed the Captain, stepping down from the bucket, "a devilish bad bargain he's got, too."
"That, sir, remains to be seen," said Barnabas, shortly.
"Why, what do you mean to do with the brute?"
"Do you, b'gad?"
"Lay you ten guineas you don't sit him ten minutes."
"Done!" said Barnabas, buttoning up his coat.
But now, glancing round, he saw that the shabby man had turned away, and was trudging heavily out of the yard, therefore Barnabas hastened after him, and touched him upon the arm.
"I'm sorry you were disappointed," said he.
"Is it about the 'oss you mean, sir?" inquired the shabby man, touching his hat.
"Why, it do come a bit 'ard-like to ha' lost 'im, sir, arter waiting my chance so long. But fifty guineas be a sight o' money to a chap as be out of a job, though 'e's dirt-cheap at the price. There ain't many 'osses like 'im, sir."
"That was why I should have bought him at ten times the price," said Barnabas.
The man took off his hat, ran his stubby fingers through his grizzled hair, and stared hard at Barnabas.
"Sir," said he, "even at that you couldn't ha' done wrong. He ain't a kind 'oss—never 'aving been understood, d' ye see; but take my word for it, 'e's a wonder, that 'oss!"
"You know him, perhaps?"
"Since 'e were foaled, sir. I was stud-groom; but folks think I'm too old for the job, d' ye see, sir?"
"Do you think he 'd remember you?"
"Ay, that 'e would!"
"Do you suppose—look at him!—do you suppose you could hold him quieter than those ostlers?"
"'Old 'im, sir!" exclaimed the man, throwing back his shoulders. "'Old 'im—ah, that I could! Try me!"
"I will," said Barnabas. "How would forty shillings a week suit you?"
"Sir?" exclaimed the old groom, staring.
"Since you need a job, and I need a groom, I'll have you—if you're willing."
The man's square jaw relaxed, his eyes glistened; then all at once he shook his head and sighed.
"Ah! sir," said he, "ah! young sir, my 'air's gray, an' I'm not so spry as I was—nobody wants a man as old as I be, and, seeing as you've got the 'oss, you ain't got no call to make game o' me, young sir. You 've got—the 'oss!"
Now at this particular moment Captain Slingsby took it into his head to interrupt them, which he did in characteristic fashion.
"Hallo!—hi there!" he shouted, flourishing his whip.
"But I'm not making game of you," said Barnabas, utterly unconscious of the Captain, at least his glance never wavered from the eager face of the old groom.
"Hallo, there!" roared the Captain, louder than ever.
"And to prove it," Barnabas continued, "here is a guinea in advance," and he slipped the coin into the old groom's lax hand.
"Oh, b'gad," cried the Captain, hoarsely, "don't you hear me, you over there? Hi! you in the neckcloth!"
"Sir," said Barnabas, turning sharply and frowning again at the repetition of the word, "if you are pleased to allude to me, I would humbly inform you that my name is Beverley."
"Oh!" exclaimed the Captain, "I see—young Beverley, son of old Beverley—and a devilish good name too!"
"Sir, I'm vastly relieved to hear you say so," retorted Barnabas, with a profound obeisance. Then taking out his purse, he beckoned his new groom to approach.
"What is your name?" he inquired, as he counted out a certain sum.
"Gabriel Martin, sir."
"Then, Martin, pray give the fellow his money."
"I mean the red-faced man in the dirty jacket, Martin," added Barnabas.
The old groom hesitated, glanced from the Captain's scowling brow to the smiling lips of Barnabas.
"Very good, sir," said he, touching his shabby hat, and taking the money Barnabas held out, he tendered it to the Captain, who, redder of face than ever, took it, stared from it to Barnabas, and whistled.
"Now, damme!" he exclaimed, "damme, if I don't believe the fellow means to be offensive!"
"If so, sir, the desire would seem to be mutual!" returned Barnabas.
"Yes, b'gad! I really believe he means to be offensive!" repeated the Captain, nodding as he pocketed the money.
"Of that you are the best judge, sir," Barnabas retorted. Captain Slingsby whistled again, frowned, and tossing aside his whip, proceeded to button up his coat.
"Why then," said he, "we must trouble this offensive person to apologize or—or put 'em up, begad!"
But hereupon the young Corinthian (who had been watching them languidly through the glass he carried at the end of a broad ribbon) stepped forward, though languidly, and laid a white and languid hand upon the Captain's arm.
"No, no, Sling," said he in a die-away voice, "he's a doocid fine 'bit of stuff'—look at those shoulders! and quick on his pins—remark those legs! No, no, my dear fellow, remember your knee, you hurt it, you know—fell on it when you were thrown,—must be doocid painful! Must let me take your place. Shall insist! Pleasure's all mine, 'sure you."
"Never, Jerningham!" fumed the Captain, "not to be thought of, my dear Bob—no begad, he's mine; why you heard him, he—he positively called me a—a fellow!"
"So you are, Sling," murmured the Corinthian, surveying Barnabas with an approving eye, "dev'lish dashing fellow, an 'out-and-outer' with the 'ribbons'—fiddle it with any one, by George, but no good with your mauleys, damme if you are! Besides, there's your knee, you know—don't forget your knee—"
"Curse my knee!"
"Certainly, dear fellow, but—"
"My knee's sound enough to teach this countryman manners, b'gad; you heard him say my coat was filthy?"
"So it is, Sling, my boy, devilish dirty! So are your knees—look at 'em! But if you will dismount head over heels into a muck-heap, my dear fellow, what the dooce can you expect?" The Captain merely swore.
"Doocid annoying, of course," his friend continued, "I mean your knee, you know, you can hardly walk, and this country fellow looks a regular, bang up milling cove. Let me have a try at him, do now. Have a little thought for others, and don't be so infernally selfish, Sling, my boy."
As he spoke, the Corinthian took off his hat, which he forced into the Captain's unwilling grasp, drew off his very tight-fitting coat, which he tossed over the Captain's unwilling arm, and, rolling back his snowy shirt-sleeves, turned to Barnabas with shining eyes and smiling lips.
"Sir," said he, "seeing my friend's knee is not quite all it should be, perhaps you will permit me to take his place, pleasure's entirely mine, 'sure you. Shall we have it here, or would you prefer the stables—more comfortable, perhaps—stables?"
Now while Barnabas hesitated, somewhat taken aback by this unlooked-for turn of events, as luck would have it, there came a diversion. A high, yellow-wheeled curricle swung suddenly into the yard, and its two foam-spattered bays were pulled up in masterly fashion, but within a yard of the great, black horse, which immediately began to rear and plunge again; whereupon the bays began to snort, and dance, and tremble (like the thoroughbreds they were), and all was uproar and confusion; in the midst of which, down from the rumble of the dusty curricle dropped a dusty and remarkably diminutive groom, who, running to the leader's head, sprang up and, grasping the bridle, hung there manfully, rebuking the animal, meanwhile, in a voice astonishingly hoarse and gruff for one of his tender years.
"Dooce take me," exclaimed the Corinthian, feeling for his eye-glass, "it's Devenham!"
"Why, Dicky!" cried the Captain, "where have you sprung from?" and, forgetful of Barnabas, they hurried forward to greet the Viscount, who, having beaten some of the dust from his driving coat, sprang down from his high seat and shook hands cordially.
Then, finding himself unnoticed, Barnabas carefully loosed his neckerchief, and drew out the ends so that they dangled in full view.
"I've been rusticating with my 'Roman,'" the Viscount was proceeding to explain, keeping his eye upon his horses, "but found him more Roman than usual—Gad, I did that! Have 'em well rubbed down, Milo," he broke off suddenly, as the bays were led off to the stables, "half a bucket of water apiece, no more, mind, and—say, a dash of brandy!"
"Werry good, m'lud!" This from Milo of Crotona, portentous of brow and stern of eye, as he overlooked the ostlers who were busily unbuckling straps and traces.
"My 'Roman,' as I say," continued the Viscount, "was rather more so than usual, actually wanted me to give up the Race! After that of course I had to be firm with him, and we had a slight—ah, misunderstanding in consequence—fathers, as a rule, are so infernally parental and inconsiderate! Met Carnaby on the road, raced him for a hundred; ding-dong all the way, wheel and wheel to Bromley, though he nearly ditched me twice, confound him! Coming down Mason's Hill I gave him my dust, up the rise he drew level again. 'Ease up for the town, Carnaby,' says I, 'Be damned if I do!' says he, so at it we went, full tilt. Gad! to see the folk jump! Carnaby drove like a devil, had the lead to Southend, but, mark you, his whip was going! At Catford we were level again. At Lewisham I took the lead and kept it, and the last I saw of him he was cursing and lashing away at his cattle, like a brute. Carnaby's a devilish bad loser, I've noticed, and here I am. And oh! by the way—he's got a devil of an eye, and a split lip. Says he fell out of his curricle, but looks as though some one had—thrashed him."
"But my very dear fellow!" exclaimed the Corinthian, "thrash Carnaby? pooh!"
"Never in the world!" added the Captain.
"Hum!" said the Viscount, feeling a tender part of his own ribs thoughtfully, "ha! But, hallo, Jerningham! have you been at it too? Why are you buffed?" And he nodded to the Corinthian's bare arms.
"Oh, dooce take me, I forgot!" exclaimed the Marquis, looking about; "queer cove, doocid touchy, looks as if he might fib though. Ah, there he is! talking to the rough-looking customer over yonder;" and he pointed to Barnabas, who stood with his coat thrown open, and the objectionable neckcloth in full evidence. The Viscount looked, started, uttered a "view hallo," and, striding forward, caught Barnabas by the hand.
"Why, Bev, my dear fellow, this is lucky!" he exclaimed. Now Barnabas was quick to catch the glad ring in the Viscount's voice, and to notice that the neckcloth was entirely lost upon him, therefore he smiled as he returned the Viscount's hearty grip.
"When did you get here? what are you doing? and what the deuce is the trouble between you and Jerningham?" inquired the Viscount all in a breath. But before Barnabas could answer, the great, black horse, tired of comparative inaction, began again to snort and rear, and jerk his proud head viciously, whereupon the two ostlers fell to swearing, and the Viscount's bays at the other end of the yard to capering, and the Viscount's small groom to anathematizing, all in a moment.
"Slingsby!" cried his Lordship, "look to that black demon of yours!"
"He is no concern of mine, Devenham," replied the Captain airily, "sold him, b'gad!"
"And I bought him," added Barnabas.
"You did?" the Viscount exclaimed, "in heaven's name, what for?"
"Eh? my dear fellow!"
"I should like to try him for the race on the fifteenth, if it could be managed, Dick."
"The race!" exclaimed the Viscount, staring.
"I 've been wondering if you could—get me entered for it," Barnabas went on, rather diffidently, "I'd give anything for the chance."
"What—with that brute! my dear fellow, are you mad?"
"But he's unmanageable, Bev; he's full of vice—a killer—look at him now!"
And indeed at this moment, as if to bear out this character, up went the great, black head again, eyes rolling, teeth gleaming, and ears laid back.
"I tell you, Bev, no one could ride that devil!" the Viscount repeated.
"But," said Barnabas, "I've bet your friend Captain Slingsby that I could."
"It would be madness!" exclaimed the Viscount. "Ha! look out! There—I told you so!" For in that moment the powerful animal reared suddenly—broke from the grip of one ostler, and swinging the other aside, stood free, and all was confusion. With a warning shout, the old groom sprang to his head, but Barnabas was beside him, had caught the hanging reins, and swung himself into the saddle.
"I've got him, sir," cried Martin, "find yer stirrups!"
"Your stick," said Barnabas, "quick, man! Now—let go!"
For a moment the horse stood rigid, then reared again, up and up—his teeth bared, his forefeet lashing; but down came the heavy stick between the flattened ears, once—twice, and brought him to earth again.
And now began a struggle between the man and the brute—each young, each indomitable, for neither had as yet been mastered, and therefore each was alike disdainful of the other. The head of the horse was high and proud, his round hoofs spurned the earth beneath, fire was in his eye, rage in his heart—rage and scorn of this presumptuous Two-legs who sought to pit his puny strength against his own quivering, four-legged might. Therefore he mocked Two-legs, scorned and contemned him, laughed ha! ha! (like his long-dead ancestor among the Psalmist's trumpets) and gathered himself together—eager for the battle.
But the eyes of Barnabas were wide and bright, his lips were curved, his jaw salient—his knees gripped tight, and his grasp was strong and sure upon the reins.
And now Four-legs, having voiced his defiance, tossed his crest on high, then plunged giddily forward, was checked amid a whirlwind of lashing hoofs, rose on his hind legs higher and higher, swinging giddily round and round, felt a stunning blow, staggered, and dropping on all fours, stove in the stable door with a fling of his hind hoofs. But the eyes of Barnabas were glowing, his lips still curved, and his grip upon the reins was more masterful. And, feeling all this, Four-legs, foaming with rage, his nostrils flaring, turned upon his foe with snapping teeth, found him out of reach, and so sought to play off an old trick that had served him more than once; he would smash his rider's leg against a post or wall, or brush him off altogether and get rid of him that way. But lo! even as he leapt in fulfilment of this manoeuvre, his head was wrenched round, further and further, until he must perforce, stop—until he was glaring up into the face above, the face of his bitter foe, with its smiling mouth, its glowing eye, its serene brow.
"Time's up!" cried the Captain, suddenly; "b'gad, sir, you win the bet!" But Barnabas scarcely heard.
"You've done it—you win; eleven and a half minutes, b'gad!" roared the Captain again—"don't you hear, sir?—come off, before he breaks your neck!"
But Barnabas only shook his head, and, dropping the stick, leaned over and laid his hand upon that proud, defiant crest, a hand grown suddenly gentle, and drew it down caressingly from ear to quivering nostril, once, twice, and spoke words in a soft tone, and so, loosed the cruel grip upon the rein, and sat back—waiting. But Four-legs had become thoughtful; true, he still tossed his head and pawed an impatient hoof, but that was merely for the sake of appearances—Four-legs was thoughtful. No one had ever touched him so, before—indeed blows had latterly been his portion—but this Two-legs was different from his kind, besides, he had a pleasing voice—a voice to soothe ragged nerves—there it was again! And then surely, the touch of this hand awoke dim memories, reminded him of far-off times when two-legged creatures had feared him less; and there was the hand again! After all, things might be worse—the hand that could be so gentle could be strong also; his mouth was sore yet, and a strong man, strong-handed and gentle of voice, was better than—oh, well!
Whether of all this, or any part of it, the great, black horse was really thinking, who shall say? Howbeit Barnabas presently turned in his saddle and beckoned the old groom to his stirrup.
"He'll be quiet now, I think," said he.
"Ah! that he will, sir. You've larned the trick o' voice an' hand—it ain't many as has it—must be born in a man, I reckon, an' 'tis that as does more nor all your whips and spurs, an' curb-bits, sir. 'E'll be a babe wi' you arter this, sir, an' I'm thinkin' as you won't be wantin' me now, maybe? I ain't young enough nor smart enough, d' ye see."
Here Barnabas dismounted, and gave the reins into the old groom's eager hand.
"I shan't be wanting him for—probably three or four days, Gabriel, until then—look after him, exercise him regularly, for I'm hoping to do great things with him, soon, Gabriel, perhaps." And so Barnabas smiled, and as Martin led the horse to the stables, turned to find the young Corinthian at his elbow; he had resumed hat and coat, and now regarded Barnabas as smiling and imperturbable as ever.
"Sir," said he, "I congratulate you heartily. Sir, any friend of Viscount Devenham is also mine, I trust; and I know your name, and—hem!—I swear Slingsby does! Beverley, I think—hem!—son of old Beverley, and a devilish good name too! Eh, Sling my boy?"
Hereupon the Captain limped forward, if possible redder of face than ever, very much like a large schoolboy in fault.
"Sir," he began, "b'gad—!" here he paused to clear his throat loudly once or twice—"a devil incarnate! Fourteen minutes and a half, by my watch, and devil a spur! I'd have lent you my boots had there been time, I would, b'gad! As it is, if you've any desire to shake hands with a—ha!—with a fellow—hum!—in a dirty coat—why—here's mine, b'gad!"
"Captain the Honorable Marmaduke Slingsby—Mr. Beverley—The Marquis of Jerningham—Mr. Beverley. And now," said the Viscount, as Barnabas shook hands, "now tell 'em why you bought the horse, Bev."
"I was hoping, sirs," said Barnabas, rather diffidently, "that I might perhaps have the honor of riding in the Steeplechase on the fifteenth."
Hereupon the Captain struck his riding boot a resounding blow with his whip, and whistled; while the Marquis dangled his eyeglass by its riband, viewing it with eyes of mild surprise, and the Viscount glanced from one to the other with an enigmatical smile upon his lips.
"That would rest with Carnaby to decide, of course," said the Captain at last.
"Why so?" inquired Barnabas.
"Because—well, because he—is Carnaby, I suppose," the Captain answered.
"Though Jerningham has the casting-vote," added the Viscount.
"True," said the Marquis, rearranging a fold of his cravat with a self-conscious air, "but, as Sling says—Carnaby is—Carnaby."
"Sirs," began Barnabas, very earnestly, "believe me I would spare no expense—"
"Expense, sir?" repeated the Marquis, lifting a languid eyebrow; "of course it is no question of 'expense'!" Here the Viscount looked uncomfortable all at once, and Barnabas grew suddenly hot.
"I mean," he stammered, "I mean that my being entered so late in the day—the fees might be made proportionately heavier—double them if need be—I should none the less be—be inestimably indebted to you; indeed I—I cannot tell you—" Now as Barnabas broke off, the Marquis smiled and reached out his hand—a languid-seeming hand, slim and delicate, yet by no means languid of grip.
"My dear Beverley," said he, "I like your earnestness. A race—especially this one—is a doocid serious thing; for some of us, perhaps, even more serious than we bargain for. It's going to be a punishing race from start to finish, a test of endurance for horse and man, over the worst imaginable country. It originated in a match between Devenham on his 'Moonraker' and myself on 'Clinker,' but Sling here was hot to match his 'Rascal,' and Carnaby fancied his 'Clasher,' and begad! applications came so fast that we had a field in no time."
"Good fellows and sportsmen all!" nodded the Captain. "Gentlemen riders—no tag-rag, gamest of the game, sir."
"Now, as to yourself, my dear Beverley," continued the Marquis authoritatively, "you 're doocid late, y' know; but then—"
"He can ride," said the Viscount.
"And he's game," nodded the Captain.
"And, therefore," added the Marquis, "we'll see what can be done about it."
"And b'gad, here's wishing you luck!" said the Captain.
At this moment Peterby entered the yard, deep in converse with a slim, gentleman-like person, whose noble cravat immediately attracted the attention of the Marquis.
"By the way," pursued the Captain, "we three are dining together at my club; may I have a cover laid for you, Mr. Beverley?"
"Sir," answered Barnabas, "I thank you, but, owing to—circumstances" —here he cast a downward glance at his neckerchief—"I am unable to accept. But, perhaps, you will, all three of you, favor me to dinner at my house—say, in three days' time?"
The invitation was no sooner given than accepted.
"But," said the Viscount, "I didn't know that you had a place here in town, Bev. Where is it?"
"Why, indeed, now you come to mention it, I haven't the least idea; but, perhaps, my man can tell me."
"Eh—what?" exclaimed the Captain. "Oh, b'gad, he's smoking us!"
"Sir?" and having saluted the company, Peterby stood at respectful attention.
"I shall be giving a small dinner in three days' time."
"At my house, Peterby,—consequently I desire to know its location. Where do I live now, Peterby?"
"Number five, St. James's Square, sir."
"Thank you, Peterby."
"An invaluable fellow, that of yours," laughed the Marquis, as Peterby bowed and turned away.
"Indeed, I begin to think he is, my Lord," answered Barnabas, "and I shall expect you all, at six o'clock, on Friday next." So, having shaken hands again, Captain Slingsby took the arm of the Marquis, and limped off.
Now, when they were alone, the Viscount gazed at Barnabas, chin in hand, and with twinkling eyes.
"My dear Bev," said he, "you can hang me if I know what to make of you. Egad, you're the most incomprehensible fellow alive; you are, upon my soul! If I may ask, what the deuce did it all mean—about this house of yours?"
"Simply that until this moment I wasn't sure if I had one yet."
"Yes. I sent him out this morning to buy me one."
"To buy you—a house?"
"Yes; also horses and carriages, and many other things, chief among them—a tailor."
The Viscount gasped.
"But—my dear fellow—to leave all that to your—servant! Oh, Gad!"
"But, as the Marquis remarked, Peterby is an inestimable fellow."
The Viscount eyed Barnabas with brows wrinkled in perplexity; then all at once his expression changed.
"By the way," said he, "talking of Carnaby, he's got the most beautiful eye you ever saw!"
"Oh?" said Barnabas, beginning to tuck in the ends of his neckerchief.
"And a devil of a split lip!"
"Oh?" said Barnabas again.
"And his coat had been nearly ripped off him; I saw it under his cape!"
"Ah?" said Barnabas, still busy with his neckcloth.
"And naturally enough," pursued the Viscount, "I've been trying to imagine—yes, Bev, I've been racking my brain most damnably, wondering why you—did it?
"It was in the wood," said Barnabas.
"So it was you, then?"
"But—he didn't even mark you?"
"He lost his temper, Dick."
"You thrashed—Carnaby! Gad, Bev, there isn't a milling cove in England could have done it."
"Yes—there are two—Natty Bell, and Glorious John."
"And I'll warrant he deserved it, Bev."
"I think so," said Barnabas; "it was in the wood, Dick."
"The wood? Ah! do you mean where you—"
"Where I found her lying unconscious."
"Unconscious! And with him beside her! My God, man!" cried the Viscount, with a vicious snap of his teeth. "Why didn't you kill him?"
"Because I was beside her—first, Dick."
"Damn him!" exclaimed the Viscount bitterly.
"But he is your friend, Dick."
"Was, Bev, was! We'll make it in the past tense hereafter."
"Then you agree with your father after all?"
"I do, Bev; my father is a cursed, long-sighted, devilish observant man! I'll back him against anybody, though he is such a Roman. But oh, the devil!" exclaimed the Viscount suddenly, "you can never ride in the race after this."
"Because you'll meet Carnaby; and that mustn't happen."
"Because he'll shoot you."
"You mean he'd challenge me? Hum," said Barnabas, "that is awkward! But I can't give up the race."
"Then what shall you do?"
"Risk it, Dick."
But now, Mr. Smivvle, who from an adjoining corner had been an interested spectator thus far, emerged, and flourishing off the curly-brimmed hat, bowed profoundly, and addressed himself to the Viscount.
"I believe," said he, smiling affably, "that I have the pleasure to behold Viscount Devenham?"
"The same, sir," rejoined the Viscount, bowing stiffly.
"You don't remember me, perhaps, my Lord?"
The Viscount regarded the speaker stonily, and shook his head.
"No, I don't, sir."
Mr. Smivvle drew himself up, and made the most of his whiskers.
"My Lord, my name is Smivvle, Digby Smivvle, at your service, though perhaps you don't remember my name, either?"
The Viscount took out his driving gloves and began to put them on.
"No, I don't, sir!" he answered dryly.
Mr. Smivvle felt for his whisker, found it, and smiled.
"Quite so, my Lord, I am but one of the concourse—the multitude—the ah—the herd, though, mark me, my Lord, a Smivvle, sir, —a Smivvle, every inch of me,—while you are the owner of 'Moonraker,' and Moonraker's the word just now, I hear. But, sir, I have a friend—"
"Indeed, sir," said the Viscount, in a tone of faint surprise, and beckoning a passing ostler, ordered out his curricle.
"As I say," repeated Mr. Smivvle, beginning to search for his whisker again, "I have a friend, my Lord—"
"Congratulate you," murmured the Viscount, pulling at his glove.
"A friend who has frequently spoken of your Lordship—"
"Very kind of him!" murmured the Viscount.
"And though, my Lord, though my name is not familiar, I think you will remember his; the name of my friend is "—here Mr. Smivvle, having at length discovered his whisker, gave it a fierce twirl,— "Ronald Barrymaine."
The Viscount's smooth brow remained unclouded, only the glove tore in his fingers; so he smiled, shook his head, and drawing it off, tossed it away.
"Hum?" said he, "I seem to have heard some such name—somewhere or other—ah! there's my Imp at last, as tight and smart as they make 'em, eh, Bev? Well, good-by, my dear fellow, I shan't forget Friday next." So saying, the Viscount shook hands, climbed into his curricle, and, with a flourish of his whip, was off and away in a moment.
"A fine young fellow, that!" exclaimed Mr. Smivvle; "yes, sir, regular out-and-outer, a Bang up! by heaven, a Blood, sir! a Tippy! a Go! a regular Dash! High, sir, high, damned high, like my friend Barrymaine,—indeed, you may have remarked a similarity between 'em, sir?"
"You forget, I have never met your friend," said Barnabas.
"Ah, to be sure, a great pity! You'd like him, for Barrymaine is a cursed fine fellow in spite of the Jews, dammem! yes,—you ought to know my friend, sir."
"I should be glad to," said Barnabas.
"Would you though, would you indeed, sir? Nothing simpler; call a chaise! Stay though, poor Barry's not himself to-day, under a cloud, sir. Youthful prodigalities are apt to bring worries in their train—chiefly in the shape of Jews, sir, and devilish bad shapes too! Better wait a day—say to-morrow, or Thursday—or even Friday would do."
"Let it be Saturday," said Barnabas.
"Saturday by all means, sir, I'll give myself the pleasure of calling upon you."
"St. James's Square," said Barnabas, "number five."
But now Peterby, who had been eyeing Mr. Smivvle very much askance, ventured to step forward.
"Sir," said he, "may I remind you of your appointment?"
"I hadn't forgotten, Peterby; and good day, Mr. Smivvle."
"Au revoir, sir, delighted to have had the happiness. If you should chance ever to be in Worcestershire, the Hall is open to you. Good afternoon, sir!" And so, with a prodigious flourish of the hat, Mr. Smivvle bowed, smiled, and swaggered off. Then, as he turned to follow Peterby into the inn, Barnabas must needs pause to glance towards the spot where lay the Viscount's torn glove.
CONCERNING, AMONG OTHER THINGS, THE LEGS OF A GENTLEMAN-IN-POWDER
In that delightful book, "The Arabian Nights' Entertainments," one may read of Spirits good, and bad, and indifferent; of slaves of lamps, of rings and amulets, and talismanic charms; and of the marvels and wonders they performed. But never did Afrit, Djinn, or Genie perform greater miracles than steady-eyed, soft-voiced Peterby. For if the far away Orient has its potent charms and spells, so, in this less romantic Occident, have we also a spell whereby all things are possible, a charm to move mountains—a spell whereby kings become slaves, and slaves, kings; and we call it Money.
Aladdin had his wonderful Lamp, and lo! at the Genie's word, up sprang a palace, and the wilderness blossomed; Barnabas had his overflowing purse, and behold! Peterby went forth, and the dull room at the "George" became a mansion in the midst of Vanity Fair.
Thus, at precisely four o'clock on the afternoon of the third day, Barnabas stood before a cheval mirror in the dressing-room of his new house, surveying his reflection with a certain complacent satisfaction.
His silver-buttoned blue coat, high-waisted and cunningly rolled of collar, was a sartorial triumph; his black stockinette pantaloons, close-fitting from hip to ankle and there looped and buttoned, accentuated muscled calf and virile thigh in a manner somewhat disconcerting; his snowy waistcoat was of an original fashion and cut, and his cravat, folded and caressed into being by Peterby's fingers, was an elaborate masterpiece, a matchless creation never before seen upon the town. Barnabas had become a dandy, from the crown of his curly head to his silk stockings and polished shoes, and, upon the whole, was not ill-pleased with himself.
"But they're—dangerously tight, aren't they, Peterby?" he inquired suddenly, speaking his thought aloud.
"Tight, sir!" repeated Mr. Barry, the tailor, reproachfully, and shaking his gentleman-like head, "impossible, sir,—with such a leg inside 'em."
"Tight, sir?" exclaimed Peterby, from where he knelt upon the floor, having just finished looping and buttoning the garments in question, "indeed, sir, since you mention it, I almost fear they are a trifle too—roomy. Can you raise your bent knee, sir?"
"Only with an effort, John."
"That settles it, Barry," said Peterby with a grim nod, "you must take them in at least a quarter of an inch."
"Take 'em in?" exclaimed Barnabas, aghast, "no, I'll be shot if you do,—not a fraction! I can scarcely manage 'em as it is." Peterby shook his head in grave doubt, but at this juncture they were interrupted by a discreet knock, and the door opening, a Gentleman-in-Powder appeared. He was a languid gentleman, an extremely superior gentleman, but his character lay chiefly in his nose, which was remarkably short and remarkably supercilious of tip, and his legs which were large and nobly shaped; they were, in a sense, eloquent legs, being given to divers tremors and quiverings when their possessor labored under any strong feeling or excitement; but, above all, they were haughty legs, contemptuous of this paltry world and all that therein is, yea, even of themselves, for their very calves seemed striving to turn their backs upon each other.
"Are you in, sir?" he inquired in an utterly impersonal tone.
"In?" repeated Barnabas, with a quick downward glance at his tight nether garments, "in?—in what?—in where?"
"Are you at 'ome, sir?"
"At home? Of course,—can't you see that?"
"Yes, sir," returned the Gentleman-in-Powder, his legs growing a little agitated.
"Then why do you ask?"
"There is a—person below, sir."
"Yes, sir,—very much so! Got 'is foot in the door—wouldn't take it out—had to let 'em in—waiting in the 'all, sir."
"What's he like, who is he?"
"Whiskers, sir,—name of Snivels,—no card!" Here might have been observed the same agitation of the plump legs.
"Ask him to wait."
"Beg pardon, sir—did you say—to wait?" (Agitation growing.)
"Yes. Say I'll be down at once." (Agitation extreme.)
"Meaning as you will—see 'im, sir?" (Agitation indescribable.)
"Yes," said Barnabas, "yes, of course."
The Gentleman-in-Powder bowed; his eye was calm, his brow unruffled, but his legs!!! And his nose was more supercilious than ever as he closed the door upon it.
Mr. Smivvle, meanwhile, was standing downstairs before a mirror, apparently lost in contemplation of his whiskers, and indeed they seemed to afford him a vast degree of pleasure, for he stroked them with caressing fingers, and smiled upon them quite benevolently.
"Six pair of silver candlesticks!" he murmured. "Persian rugs! Bric-a-brac, rare—costly pictures! He's a Nabob, by heaven,—yes he is,—a mysterious young Nabob, wallowing in wealth! Five shillings? —preposterous! we'll make it—ten,—and—yes, shall we say another five for the pampered menial? By all means let us make it another five shillings for the cursed flunkey,—here he comes!"
And indeed, at that moment the legs of the Gentleman-in-Powder might have been descried descending the stair rather more pompously than usual. As soon as they had become stationary, Mr. Smivvle directed a glance at the nearest, and addressed it.
"James!" said he.
The Gentleman-in-Powder became lost in dreamy abstraction, with the exception of his legs which worked slightly. Hereupon Mr. Smivvle reached out and poked him gently with the head of his tasselled cane.
"Awake, James?" said he.
"Name of Harthur—if you please, sir!" retorted the Gentleman-in-Powder, brushing away the touch of the cane, and eyeing the place with much concern.
"If, James," continued Mr. Smivvle, belligerent of whisker, "if you would continue to ornament this lordly mansion, James, be more respectful, hereafter, to your master's old and tried friends," saying which Mr. Smivvle gave a twirl to each whisker, and turned to inspect a cabinet of old china.
"Sevres, by George!" he murmured, "we'll make it a pound!" He was still lost in contemplation of the luxurious appointments that everywhere met his view, and was seriously considering the advisability of "making it thirty shillings," when the appearance of Barnabas cut him short, and he at once became all smiles, flourishes and whiskers.
"Ah, Beverley, my boy!" he cried heartily, "pray forgive this horribly unseasonable visit, but—under the circumstances—I felt it my duty to—ah—to drop in on you, my dear fellow."
"What circumstances?" demanded Barnabas, a little stiffly, perhaps.
"Circumstances affecting our friend Barrymaine, sir."
"Ah?" said Barnabas, his tone changing, "what of him? though you forget, Mr. Barrymaine and I are still strangers."
"By heaven, you are right, sir, though, egad! I'm only a little previous,—eh, my dear fellow?" and, smiling engagingly, Mr. Smivvle followed Barnabas into a side room, and shutting the door with elaborate care, immediately shook his whiskers and heaved a profound sigh. "My friend Barrymaine is low, sir,—devilish low," he proceeded to explain, "indeed I'm quite distressed for the poor fellow, 'pon my soul and honor I am,—for he is—in a manner of speaking—in eclipse as it were, sir!"
"I fear I don't understand," said Barnabas.
"Why, then—in plain words, my dear Beverley,—he's suffering from an acute attack of the Jews, dammem!—a positive seizure, sir!"
"Do you mean he has been taken—for debt?"
"Precisely, my dear fellow. An old affair—ages ago—a stab in the dark! Nothing very much, in fact a mere bagatelle, only, as luck will have it, I am damnably short myself just now."
"How much is it?"
"Altogether exactly twenty-five pound ten. An absurd sum, but all my odd cash is on the race. So I ventured here on my young friend's behalf to ask for a trifling loan,—a pound—or say thirty shillings would be something."
Barnabas crossed to a cabinet, unlocked a drawer, and taking thence a smallish bag that jingled, began to count out a certain sum upon the table.
"You said twenty-five pounds ten, I think?" said Barnabas, and pushed that amount across the table. Mr. Smivvle stared from the money to Barnabas and back again, and felt for his whisker with fumbling fingers.
"Sir," he said, "you can't—you don't mean to—to—"
"Yes," said Barnabas, turning to re-lock the drawer. Mr. Smivvle's hand dropped from his whiskers, indeed, for the moment he almost seemed to have forgotten their existence.
"Sir," he stammered, "I cannot allow—no indeed, sir! Mr. Beverley, you overwhelm me—"
"Debts are necessary evils," said Barnabas, "and must be paid." Mr. Smivvle stared at Barnabas, his brow furrowed by perplexity, —stared like one who is suddenly at a loss; and indeed his usual knowing air was quite gone. Then, dropping his gaze to the money on the table, he swept it into his pocket, almost furtively, and took up his hat and cane, and, it is worthy of note, that he did it all without a flourish.
"Mr. Beverley," said he, "in the name of my friend Barrymaine, I thank you, and—I—I thank you!" So he turned and went out of the room, and, as he went, he even forgot to swagger.
Then Barnabas crossed to a mirror, and, once more, fell to studying his reflection with critical eyes, in the midst of which examination he looked up to find Peterby beside him.
"Are you quite satisfied, sir?"
"They are wonderful, John."
"The coat," said Peterby, "y-e-s, the coat will pass well enough, but I have grave doubts as regard the pantaloons."
"I refuse to have 'em touched, John. And Natty Bell was quite right."
"Sir?" said Peterby.
"You don't know Natty Bell as yet, John, but you may; he is a very remarkable man! He told me, I remember, that in Town, a man had his clothes put on for him, and—remembered them,—and so he does,—the difficulty will be ever to forget 'em, they"—here Barnabas stole a glance at his legs—"they positively obtrude themselves, John! Yes, clothes are wonderful things, but I fear they will take a great deal of living up to!"
Here Barnabas drew a long sigh, in the midst of which he was interrupted by the calves of the Gentleman-in-Powder, which presented themselves at the doorway with the announcement:
"Viscount Deafenem, sir!"
Barnabas started and hurried forward, very conscious, very nervous, and for once uncertain of himself by reason of his new and unaccustomed splendor. But the look in the Viscount's boyish eyes, his smiling nod of frank approval, and the warm clasp of his hand, were vastly reassuring.
"Why, Bev, that coat's a marvel!" he exclaimed impulsively, "it is, I swear it is; turn round—so! Gad, what a fit!"
"I hoped you 'd approve of it, Dick," said Barnabas, a little flushed, "you see, I know very little about such things, and—"
"Approve of it! My dear fellow! And the cut!"
"Now—as for these—er—pantaloons, Dick—?"
"Dashing, my dear fellow,—devilish dashing!"
"But rather too—too tight, don't you think?"
"Can't be, Bev, tighter the better,—have 'em made too tight to get into, and you're right; look at mine, if I bend, I split,—deuced uncomfortable but all the mode, and a man must wear something! My fellow has the deuce of a time getting me into 'em, confound 'em. Oh, for ease, give me boots and buckskins!" Hereupon the Viscount having walked round Barnabas three times, and viewed him critically from every angle, nodded with an air of finality. "Yes, they do you infinite credit, my dear fellow,—like everything else;" and he cast a comprehensive glance round the luxurious apartment.
"The credit of it all rests entirely with Peterby," said Barnabas. "John—where are you?" But Peterby had disappeared.
"You're the most incomprehensible fellow, Bev," said the Viscount, seating himself on the edge of the table and swinging his leg. "You have been a constant surprise to me ever since you found me—er—let us say—ruminating in the bilboes, and now"—here he shook his head gravely—"and now it seems you are to become a source of infernal worry and anxiety as well."
"I hope not, Dick."
"You are, though," repeated the Viscount, looking graver than ever.
"Because—well, because you are evidently bent upon dying young."
"How so, Dick?"
"Well, if you ride in the race and don't break your neck, Carnaby will want a word with you; and if he doesn't shoot you, why then Chichester certainly will—next time, damn him!"
"Oh, I know all about your little affair with him—across the table. Gad, Beverley, what a perfectly reckless fellow you are!"
"But—how do you know of this?"
"So you've seen her again, Dick?"
"Yes, of course; that is, I took 'Moonraker' for a gallop yesterday, and—happened to be that way."
"Ah!" said Barnabas.
"And she told me—everything," said the Viscount, beginning to stride up and down the room, with his usual placidity quite gone, "I mean about—about the button you found, it was that devil Chichester's it seems, and—and—Beverley, give me your hand! She told me how you confronted the fellow. Ha! I'll swear you had him shaking in his villain's shoes, duellist as he is."
"But," said Barnabas, as the Viscount caught his hand, "it was not altogether on Clemency's account, Dick."
"No matter, you frightened the fellow off. Oh, I know—she told me; I made her! She had to fight with the beast, that's how he lost his button. I tell you, if ever I get the chance at him, he or I shall get his quietus. By God, Bev, I'm half-minded to send the brute a challenge, as it is."
"Because of Clemency, Dick?"
"Well—and why not?"
"The Earl of Bamborough's son fight a duel over the chambermaid of a hedge tavern!"
The Viscount's handsome face grew suddenly red, and as suddenly pale again, and his eyes glowed as he fronted Barnabas across the hearth.
"Mr. Beverley," said he very quietly, "how am I to take that?"
"In friendship, Dick, for the truth of it is that—though she is as brave, as pure, as beautiful as any lady in the land, she is a chambermaid none the less."
The Viscount turned, and striding to the window stood there, looking out with bent head.
"Have I offended you?" inquired Barnabas.
"You go—too far, Beverley."
"I would go farther yet for my friend, Viscount, or for our Lady Cleone."
Now when Barnabas said this, the Viscount's head drooped lower yet, and he stood silent. Then, all at once, he turned, and coming to the hearth, the two stood looking at each other.
"Yes, I believe you would, Beverley. But you have a way of jumping to conclusions that is—devilish disconcerting. As for Chichester, the world would be well rid of him. And, talking of him, I met another rascal as I came—I mean that fellow Smivvle; had he been here?"
"Begging, I suppose?"
"He borrowed some money for his friend Barrymaine."
The Viscount flushed hotly, and looked at Barnabas with a sudden frown.
"Perhaps you are unaware, that is a name I never allow spoken in my presence, Mr. Beverley."
"Indeed, Viscount, and pray, why not?"
"For one thing, because he is—what he is—"
"Lady Cleone's brother."
"Half-brother, sir, and none the less a—knave."
"I mean that he is a card-sharper, a common cheat."
"A cheat! Are you sure?"
"Certain! I had the misfortune to make the discovery. And it killed him in London, all the clubs shut their doors upon him of course, he was cut in the streets,—it is damning to be seen in his company or even to mention his name—now."
"And you—you exposed him?"
"I said I made the discovery; but I kept it to myself. The stakes were unusually high that night, and we played late. I went home with him, but Chichester was there, waiting for him. So I took him aside, and, in as friendly a spirit as I could, told him of my discovery. He broke down, and, never attempting a denial, offered restitution and promised amendment. I gave my word to keep silent and, on one pretext or another, the loser's money was returned. But next week, the whole town hummed with the news. One night—it was at White's—he confronted me, and—he gave me—the lie!" The Viscount's fists were tight clenched, and he stared down blindly at the floor. "And, sir, though you'll scarcely credit it of course, I—there, before them all—I took it."
"Of course," said Barnabas, "for Her sake."
"Beverley!" exclaimed the Viscount, looking up with a sudden light in his eyes. "Oh, Bev!" and their hands met and gripped.
"You couldn't do anything else, Dick."
"No, Bev, no, but I'm glad you understand. Later it got about that I—that I was—afraid of the fellow—he's a dead shot, they say, young as he is—and—well, it—it wasn't pleasant, Bev. Indeed it got worse until I called out one of Chichester's friends, and winged him—a fellow named Dalton."
"I think I've seen him," said Barnabas, nodding.
"Anyhow, Barrymaine was utterly discredited and done for—he's an outcast, and to be seen with him, or his friends, is to be damned also."
"And yet," said Barnabas, sighing and shaking his head, "I must call upon him to-morrow."
"Call upon him! Man—are you mad?"
"No; but he is her brother, and—"
"And, as I tell you, he is banned by society as a cheat!"
"And is that so great a sin, Dick?"
"Are there any—worse?"
"Oh, yes; one might kill a man in a duel, or dishonor a trusting woman, or blast a man's character; indeed it seems to me that there are many greater sins!"
The Viscount dropped back in his chair, and stared at Barnabas with horrified eyes.
"My—dear—Beverley," said he at last, "are you—serious?"
"My dear Viscount—of course I am."
"Then let me warn you, such views will never do here: any one holding such views will never succeed in London."
"Yet I mean to try," said Barnabas, squaring his jaw.
"But why," said the Viscount, impatiently, "why trouble yourself about such a fellow?"
"Because She loves him, and because She asked me to help him."
"She asked—you to?"
"And—do you think you can?"
"I shall try."
"First, by freeing him from debt."
"Do you know him—have you ever met him?"
"No, Dick, but I love his sister."
"And because of this, you'd shoulder his debts? Ah, but you can't, and if you ask me why, I tell you, because Jasper Gaunt has got him, and means to keep him. To my knowledge Barrymaine has twice had the money to liquidate his debt—but Gaunt has put him off, on one pretext or another, until the money has all slipped away. I tell you, Bev, Jasper Gaunt has got him in his clutches—as he's got Sling, and poor George Danby, and—God knows how many more—as he'd get me if he could, damn him! Yes, Gaunt has got his claws into him, and he'll never let him go again—never."
"Then," said Barnabas, "I must see Jasper Gaunt as soon as may be."
"Oh, by all means," nodded the Viscount, "if you have a taste for snakes, and spiders, and vermin of that sort, Slingsby will show you where to find him—Slingsby knows his den well enough, poor old Sling! But look to yourself, for spiders sting and snakes bite, and Jasper Gaunt does both."
The knuckles of the Gentleman-in-Powder here made themselves heard, and thereafter the door opened to admit his calves, which were immediately eclipsed by the Marquis, who appeared to be in a state of unwonted hurry.
"What, have I beat Slingsby, then?" he inquired, glancing round the room, "he was close behind me in Piccadilly—must have had a spill—that's the worst of those high curricles. As a matter of fact," he proceeded to explain, "I rushed round here—that is we both did, but I've got here first, to tell you that—Oh, dooce take me!" and out came the Marquis's eyeglass. "Positively you must excuse me, my dear Beverley. Thought I knew 'em all, but no—damme if I ever saw the fellow to yours! Permit me!" Saying which the Marquis gently led Barnabas to the window, and began to study his cravat with the most profound interest.
"By George, Devenham," he exclaimed suddenly,—"it's new!"
"Gad!" said the Viscount, "now you come to mention it,—so it is!"
"Positively—new!" repeated the Marquis in an awestruck voice, staring at the Viscount wide-eyed. "D'you grasp the importance of this, Devenham?—d'you see the possibilities, Dick? It will create a sensation,—it will set all the clubs by the ears, by George! We shall have the Prince galloping up from Brighton. By heaven, it's stupendous! Permit me, my dear Beverley. See—here we have three folds and a tuck, then—oh, Jupiter, it's a positive work of art, —how the deuce d'you tie it? Never saw anything approaching this, and I've tried 'em all,—the Mail-coach, the Trone d'Amour, the Osbaldistone, the Napoleon, the Irish tie, the Mathematical tie, and the Oriental,—no, 'pon my honor it's unique, it's—it's—" the Marquis sighed, shook his head, and words failing him, took out his enamelled snuff-box. "Sir," said he, "I have the very highest regard for a man of refined taste, and if there is one thing in which that manifests itself more than another, it is the cravat. Sir, I make you free of my box, pray honor me." And the Marquis flicked open his snuff-box and extended it towards Barnabas with a bow.
"My Lord," said Barnabas, shaking his head, "I appreciate the honor you do me, but pray excuse me,—I never take it."
"No?" said the Marquis with raised brows, "you astonish me; but then—between ourselves—neither do I. Can't bear the infernal stuff. Makes me sneeze most damnably. And then, it has such a cursed way of blowing about! Still, one must conform to fashion, and—"
The Gentleman-in-Powder had scarcely articulated the words, when the Captain had gripped Barnabas by the hand.
"Congratulate you, Beverley, heartily."
"Thank you, but why?" inquired Barnabas.
"Eh—what? Hasn't Jerningham told you? B'gad, is it possible you don't know—"
"Why, dooce take me, Sling, if I didn't forget!" said the Marquis, clapping hand to thigh, "but his cravat put everything else out of my nob, and small wonder either! You tell him."
"No," answered the Captain. "I upset a cursed apple-stall on my way here—you got in first—tell him yourself."
"Why, then, Beverley," said the Marquis, extending his hand, in his turn, as he spoke, "we have pleasure, Sling and I, to tell you that you are entered for the race on the fifteenth."
"The race!" exclaimed Barnabas, flushing. "You mean I'm to ride then?"
"Yes," nodded the Captain, "but b'gad! we mean more than that, we mean that you are one of us, that Devenham's friend must be ours because he's game—"
"And can ride," said the Viscount.
"And is a man of taste," added the Marquis.
Thus it was as one in a dream that Barnabas beheld the legs of the Gentleman-in-Powder, and heard the words:
"Dinner is served, gentlemen!"
But scarcely had they taken their places at the table when the Marquis rose, his brimming glass in his hand.
"Mr. Beverley," said he, bowing, "when Devenham, Slingsby, and I meet at table, it is our invariable custom to drink to one whom we all—hum—"
"Admire!" said the Viscount, rising.
"Adore!" said the Captain, rising also.
"Therefore, gentlemen," pursued the Marquis, "with our host's permission, we will—"
"Stay a moment, Jerningham," said the Viscount,—"it is only right to tell you that my friend Beverley is one with us in this,—he also is a suitor for the hand of Lady Cleone."
"Is he, b'gad!" exclaimed the Captain. "Dooce take me!" said the Marquis, "might have known it though. Ah, well! one more or less makes small difference among so many."
So Barnabas rose, and lifting his glass with the others, drank to—
"Our Lady Cleone—God bless her!"
WHICH DESCRIBES SOMETHING OF THE MISFORTUNES OF RONALD BARRYMAINE
Holborn was in full song,—a rumbling, roaring melody, a clattering, rushing, blaring symphony made up of the grind of wheels upon resounding cobble-stones, the thudding beat of horse-hoofs, the tread of countless feet, the shrill note of voices; it was all there, the bass and the treble blending together, harsh, discordant, yet the real symphony of life.
And, amidst it all, of it all, came Barnabas, eager-eyed, forgetful of his companion, lost to all but the stir and bustle, the rush and roar of the wonderful city about him. The which Mr. Smivvle duly remarked from under the curly-brimmed hat, but was uncommonly silent. Indeed, though his hat was at its usual rakish angle, though he swung his cane and strode with all his ordinary devil-may-care swagger, though his whiskers were as self-assertive as ever, yet Mr. Smivvle himself was unusually pensive, and in his bold black eyes was a look very like anxiety. But in a while, as they turned out of the rush of Holborn Hill, he sighed, threw back his shoulders, and spoke.
"Nearly there now, my dear fellow, this is the Garden."
"Garden?" said Barnabas, glancing about. "Where?"
"Here, sir; we're in it,—Hatton Garden. Charmingly rustic spot, you'll observe, delightfully rural retreat! Famous for strawberries once, I believe,—flowers too, of course. Talking of flowers, sir, a few of 'em still left to—ah—blush unseen? I'm one, Barrymaine's another—a violet? No. A lily? No. A blush-rose? Well, let us say a blush-rose, but damnably run to seed, like the rest of us. And—ah—talking of Barrymaine, I ought, perhaps, to warn you that we may find him a trifle—queer—a leetle touched perhaps." And Mr. Smivvle raised an invisible glass, and tossed down its imaginary contents with an expression of much beatitude.
"Is he given to—that sort of thing?"
"Sir," said Mr. Smivvle, "can you blame one who seeks forgetfulness in the flowing bowl—and my friend Barry has very much to forget—can you blame him?"
"No, poor fellow!"
"Sir, allow me to tell you my friend Barry needs no man's pity, though I confess I could wish Chichester was not quite so generous—in one respect."
"In—ah—in keeping the flowing bowl continually brimming, my dear fellow."
"Is Mr. Chichester a friend of his?"
"The only one, with the exception of yours obediently, who has not deserted him in his adversity."
"Because, well,—between you and me, my dear fellow, I believe his regard for Barry's half-sister, the Lady Cleone, is largely accountable in Chichester's case; as for myself, because, as I think I mentioned, the hand of a Smivvle once given, sir, is never withdrawn, either on account of plague, poverty, pestilence, or Jews, —dammem! This way, my dear fellow!" and turning into Cross Street, up towards Leather Lane, Mr. Smivvle halted at a certain dingy door, opened it, and showed Barnabas into a dingier hall, and so, leading the way up the dingiest stairs in the world, eventually ushered him into a fair-sized, though dingy, room; and being entered, immediately stood upon tip-toe and laid a finger on his lips.
"Hush! the poor fellow's asleep, but you'll excuse him, I know."
Barnabas nodded, and, softly approaching the couch, looked down upon the sleeper, and, with the look, felt his heart leap.
A young face he saw, delicately featured, a handsome face with disdainful lips that yet drooped in pitiful weariness, a face which, for all its youth, was marred by the indelible traces of fierce, ungoverned passions. And gazing down upon these features, so dissimilar in expression, yet so strangely like in their beauty and lofty pride, Barnabas felt his heart leap,—because of the long lashes that curled so black against the waxen pallor of the cheek; for in that moment he almost seemed to be back in the green, morning freshness of Annersley Wood, and upon his lips there breathed a name—"Cleone."
But all at once the sleeper stirred, frowned, and started up with a bitter imprecation upon his lips that ended in a vacant stare.
"Why, Barry," cried Mr. Smivvle leaning over him, "my dear boy, did we disturb you?"
"Ah, Dig—is that you? Fell asleep—brandy, perhaps, and—ha,—your pardon, sir!" and Ronald Barrymaine rose, somewhat unsteadily, and, folding his threadbare dressing-gown about him, bowed, and so stood facing Barnabas, a little drunk and very stately.
"This is my friend Beverley, of whom I told you," Mr. Smivvle hastened to explain. "Mr. Barnabas Beverley,—Mr. Ronald Barrymaine."
"You are—welcome, sir," said Mr. Barrymaine, speaking with elaborate care, as if to make quite sure of his utterance. "Pray be seated, Mr. Bev'ley. We—we are a little crowded I f-fear. Move those boots off the chair, Dig. Indeed my apartment might be a little more commodious, but it's all I have at p-present, and by God!" he cried, suddenly fierce, "I shouldn't have even this but for Dig here! Dig's the only f-friend I have in the world—except Chichester. Push the brandy over, Dig. Of course there's—Cleone, but she's only a sister, after all. Don't know what I should do if it wasn't for Dig—d-do I, Dig? And Chichester of course. Give Mr. Bev'ley a chair. Dig. I'll get him—glass!" Hereupon Mr. Smivvle hurried forward with a chair which, like all the rest of the furniture, had long ago seen its best days, during which manoeuvre he contrived to whisper hurriedly:
"Poor Barry's decidedly 'touched' to-day, a little more so than usual, but you'll excuse him I know, my dear fellow. Hush!" for Barrymaine, who had crossed to the other end of the room, now turned and came towards them, swaying a little, and with a glass in his hand.
"It's rickety, sir, you'll notice," said he, nodding. "I—I mean that chair—dev'lish rickety, like everything else 'bout here—especially myself, eh, Dig? B-but don't be alarmed, it—will bear you, sir. D-devil of a place to ask—gentleman to sit down in, —but the Spanswick hasn't been round to clean the place this week—damn her! S-scarcely blame her, though—never gets paid—except when Dig remembers it. Don't know what I should do without D-Dig,—raised twenty pounds yesterday, damme if I know where! said it was watch—but watch went weeks ago. Couldn't ever pay the Spanswick. That's the accursed part of it—pay, pay! debt on debt, and—n-nothing to pay with. All swallowed up by that merciless bloodsucker—that—"