"Now, Barry!" Mr. Smivvle expostulated, "my dear boy—"
"He's a cursed v-vampire, I tell you!" retorted Barrymaine, his pale cheeks suddenly flushed, and his dark eyes flashing in swift passion, —"he's a snake."
"Now, my dear fellow, calm yourself."
"Calm myself. How can I, when everything I have is his, when everything I g-get belongs to him before—curse him—even before I get it! I tell you, Dig, he's—he's draining my life away, drop by drop! He's g-got me down with his foot on my neck—crushing me into the mud. I say he's stamping me down into hell—damn him!"
"Restrain yourself, Barry, my dear boy, remember Mr. Beverley is our guest—"
"Restrain myself—yes, Dig, yes. B-beg Mr. Beverley's pardon for me, Dig. Not myself to-day,—but must restrain myself—certainly. Give me some more brandy—ha! and pass bottle to Mr. Bev'ley, Dig. No, sir? Ah well, help yourself, Dig. Must forgive exhibition of feeling, sir, but I always do get carried away when I remember that inhuman monster—God's curse on him!"
"Sir," said Barnabas, "whom do you mean?"
"Mean? ha! ha! oh damme, hark to that, Dig! Dev'lish witty I call that—oh c-cursed rich! Whom do I mean? Why," cried Barrymaine, starting up from the couch, "whom should I mean but Gaunt! Gaunt! Gaunt!" and he shook his clenched fists passionately in the air. Then, as suddenly he turned upon Barnabas with a wild, despairing gesture, and stretching out his arms, pointed to each wrist in turn. "D'ye see 'em?" he cried, "d'ye hear 'em; jangle? No? Ah, but they are there! riveted on, never to come off, eating deeper into my flesh every day! I'm shackled, I tell you,—fettered hand and foot. Oh! egad, I'm an object lesson!—point a moral and adorn a tale, —beware of p-prodigality and m-money lenders. Shackled—shackled hand and foot, and must drag my chain until I f-fall into a debtor's grave."
"No!" cried Barnabas, so suddenly that Ronald Barrymaine started, and thereafter grew very high and haughty.
"Sir," said he with upflung head, "I don't permit my word to be—to be—contra—dicted,—never did and never will. Though you see before you a m-miserable wretch, yet that wretch is still a gentleman at heart, and that wretch tells you again he's shackled, sir, hand and foot—yes, damme, and so I am!"
"Well then," said Barnabas, "why not free yourself?"
Ronald Barrymaine sank down upon the couch, looked at Barnabas, looked at Smivvle, drained his glass and shook his head.
"My dear Dig," said he, "your friend's either mad or drunk—mos' probably drunk. Yes, that's it,—or else he's smoking me, and I won't be smoked, no man shall laugh at me now that I'm down. Show him the door, Dig. I—I won't have my private affairs discussed by s-strangers, no, by heaven!"
"Now, Barry," exclaimed Mr. Smivvle, "do be calm, Mr. Beverley only wants to help you—er—that is, in a friendly way, of course, and I 'm sure—"
"Damn his help! I'd rather die in the g-gutter than ask help or charity of any one."
"Yes, yes—of course, my dear fellow! But you're so touchy, Barry, so infernally proud, my dear boy. Mr. Beverley merely wishes to—"
"Be honored with your friendship," said Barnabas with his ingenuous smile.
"Why then, Dig," says his youthful Mightiness, beginning to relent, "pray beg Mr. Bev'ley's pardon for me again, and 'sure him the honor is mine."
"And I would have you trust me also," Barnabas pursued.
"Trust you?" repeated Barrymaine with a sudden laugh. "Gad, yes, willingly! Only it happens I've n-noth-ing left to trust you with, —no, not enough to pay the Spanswick."
"And yet, if you will, you may be free," said Barnabas the persistent.
"Free! He's at it again, Dig."
"Believe me it is my earnest desire to help you,—to—"
"Help me, sir! a stranger! by heaven,—no! A stranger, damme!"
"Let us say your friend."
"I tell you, sir," said Barrymaine, starting up unsteadily, "I seek no man's aid—s-scorn it! I'm not one to weep out my misfortunes to strangers. Damme, I'm man enough to manage my own affairs, what's left of 'em. I want nobody's accursed pity either—pah!" and he made a gesture of repudiation so fierce that he staggered and recovered himself only by clutching at Mr. Smivvle's ready arm. "The Past, sir," said he, supporting himself by that trusty arm, "the Past is done with, and the F-Future I'll face alone, as I have done all along, eh, Dig?"
"Ay, surely, sir, I'm no object of charity whining for alms, no, by Gad! I—I'm—Dig, push the brandy!"
"If you would but listen—" Barnabas began again.
"Not—not a word. Why should I? Past's dead, and damn the Future. Dig, pass the brandy."
"And I tell you," said Barnabas, "that in the future are hope and the chance of a new life, once you are free of Gaunt."
"Free of Gaunt! Hark to that, Dig. Must be dev'lish drunk to talk such cursed f-folly! Why, I tell you again," he cried in rising passion, "that I couldn't get free of Gaunt's talons even if I had the money, and mine's all gone long ago, and half Cleone's beside, —her Guardian's tied up the rest. She can't touch another penny without his consent, damn him!—so I'm done. The future? In the future is a debtor's prison that opens for me whenever Jasper Gaunt says the word. Hope? There can be no hope for me till Jasper Gaunt's dead and shrieking in hell-fire."
"But your debts shall be paid,—if you will."
"Paid? Who—who's to pay 'em?"
"Yes," nodded Barnabas, "on a condition."
Ronald Barrymaine sank back upon the couch, staring at Barnabas with eyes wide and with parted lips; then, leaned suddenly forward, sobered by surprise.
"Ah-h!" said he slowly. "I think I begin to understand. You have seen my—my sister."
"Do you know—how much I owe?"
"No, but I'll pay it,—on a condition."
"A condition?" For a long moment the passionate dark eyes met and questioned the steady gray; then Barrymaine's long lashes fluttered and fell.
"Of course it would be a loan. I—I'd pay you back," he muttered.
"At your own convenience."
"And you would advance the money at once?"
"On a condition!"
Once again their eyes met, and once again Barrymaine's dropped; his fingers clenched and unclenched themselves, he stirred restlessly, and, finally, spoke.
"And your condition. Is it—Cleone?"
"No!" said Barnabas vehemently.
"Then, what is it?"
"That from this hour you give up brandy and Mr. Chichester—both evil things."
"Well, and what more,—what—for yourself? How can this benefit you? Come, speak out,—what is your real motive?"
"The hope that you may, some day, be worthy of your sister's love."
"Worthy, sir!" exclaimed Barrymaine, flushing angrily. "Poverty is no crime!"
"No; but there remain brandy and Mr. Chichester."
"Ha! would you insult m-my friend?"
"Impossible. You have no friend, unless it be Mr. Smivvle here."
"Now by heaven," began Barrymaine passionately, "I tell you—"
"And I tell you that these are my only conditions," said Barnabas. "Accept them and you may begin a new life. It is in your power to become the man you might be, to regain the place in men's esteem that you have lost, for if you are but sufficiently determined, nothing is impossible."
Now as he spoke, Barnabas beheld Barrymaine's drooping head uplifted, his curving back grew straight, and a new light sprang into his eyes.
"A new life," he muttered, "to come back to it all, to outface them all after their cursed sneers and slights! Are you sure you don't promise too much,—are you sure it's not too late?"
"Sure and certain!" said Barnabas. "But remember the chance of salvation rests only with and by yourself, after all," and he pointed to the half-emptied bottle. "Do you agree to my conditions?"
"Yes, yes, by God I do!"
"Then, friend, give me your hand. To-day I go to see Jasper Gaunt."
So Ronald Barrymaine, standing square upon his feet, gave Barnabas his hand. But even in that moment Barnabas was conscious that the door had opened softly behind him, saw the light fade out of Barrymaine's eyes, felt the hand grow soft and lax, and turning about, beheld Mr. Chichester smiling at them from the threshold.
IN WHICH RONALD BARRYMAINE MAKES HIS CHOICE
There was a moment of strained silence, then, as Barnabas sank back on the rickety chair, Mr. Chichester laughed softly, and stepped into the room.
"Salvation, was it, and a new life?" he inquired, "are you the one to be saved, Ronald, or Smivvle here, or both?"
Ronald Barrymaine was dumb, his eyes sought the floor, and his pale cheek became, all at once, suffused with a burning, vivid scarlet.
"I couldn't help but overhear as I came upstairs," pursued Mr. Chichester pleasantly, "and devilish dark stairs they are—"
"Though excellent for eavesdropping, it appears!" added Barnabas.
"What?" cried Barrymaine, starting up, "listening, were you—s-spying on me—is that your game, Chichester?" But hereupon Mr. Smivvle started forward.
"Now, my dear Barry," he remonstrated, "be calm—"
"Calm? I tell you nobody's going to spy on me,—no, by heaven! neither you, nor Chichester, nor the d-devil himself—"
"Certainly not, my dear fellow," answered Mr. Smivvle, drawing Barrymaine's clenched fist through his arm and holding it there, "nobody wants to. And, as for you, Chichester—couldn't come at a better time—let me introduce our friend Mr. Beverley—"
"Thank you, Smivvle, but we've met before," said Mr. Chichester dryly, "last time he posed as Rustic Virtue in homespun, to-day it seems he is the Good Samaritan in a flowered waistcoat, very anxiously bent on saving some one or other—conditionally, of course!"
"And what the devil has it to do with you?" cried Barrymaine passionately.
"Nothing, my dear boy, nothing in the world,—except that until to-day you have been my friend, and have honored me with your confidence."
"Yes, by heavens! So I have—utterly—utterly,—and what I haven't told you—y-you've found out for yourself—though God knows how. N-not that I've anything to f-fear,—not I!"
"Of course not," smiled Mr. Chichester, "I am—your friend, Ronald, —and I think you will always remember that." Mr. Chichester's tone was soothing, and the pat he bestowed upon Barrymaine's drooping shoulder was gentle as a caress, yet Barrymaine flinched and drew away, and the hand he stretched out towards the bottle was trembling all at once.
"Yes," Mr. Chichester repeated more softly than before, "yes, I am your friend, Ronald, you must always remember that, and indeed I—fancy—you always will." So saying, Mr. Chichester patted the drooping shoulder again, and turned to lay aside his hat and cane. Barrymaine was silent, but into his eyes had crept a look—such a look as Barnabas had never seen—such a look as Barnabas could never afterwards forget; then Barrymaine stooped to reach for the bottle.
"Well," said he, without looking up again, "s-suppose you are my friend,—what then?"
"Why, then, my dear fellow, hearing you are to be saved—on a condition—I am, naturally enough, anxious to know what that condition may be?"
"Sir," said Barnabas, "let me hasten to set your anxiety at rest. My condition is merely that Mr. Barrymaine gives up two evil things—namely, brandy and yourself."
And now there fell a silence so utter that Barnabas could distinctly hear the tick of Natty Bell's great watch in his fob; a silence in which Mr. Smivvle stared with wide-eyed dismay, while Barrymaine sat motionless with his glass half-way to his lips. Then Mr. Chichester laughed again, but the scar glowed upon his pallid cheek, and the lurking demon peeped out of his narrowed eyes.
"And for this," said he, shaking his head in gentle disbelief, "for this our young Good Samaritan is positively eager to pay twenty thousand odd pounds—"
"As a loan," muttered Barrymaine, "it would be only a loan, and I—I should be free of Jasper Gaunt f-for good and all, damn him!"
"Let us rather say you would try a change of masters—"
"Ah!—ah, to be sure, Ronald, our young Good Samaritan having purchased the brother, would naturally expect the sister—"
"Have a c-care, Chichester, I say!"
"The sister to be grateful, my dear boy. Pah! don't you see it, Ronald? a sprat to catch a whale! The brother saved, the sister's gratitude gained—Oh, most disinterested, young Good Samaritan!"
"Ha! by heaven, I never thought of that!" cried Barrymaine, turning upon Barnabas, "is it Cleone—is it? is it?"
"No," said Barnabas, folding his arms—a little ostentatiously, "I seek only to be your friend in this."
"Friend!" exclaimed Mr. Chichester, laughing again, "friend, Ronald? Nay, let us rather say your guardian angel in cords and Hessians."
"Since you condescend to mention my boots, sir," said Barnabas growing polite, "may I humbly beg you to notice that, in spite of their polish and tassels, they are as strong, as serviceable for kicking purposes as those I wore when we last—sat at table together."
Mr. Chichester's iron self-control wavered for a moment, his brows twitched together, and he turned upon Barnabas with threatening gesture but, reading the purpose in the calm eye and smiling lip of Barnabas, he restrained himself; yet seeming aware of the glowing mark upon his cheek, he turned suddenly and, coming to the dingy casement, stood with his back to the room, staring down into the dingy street. Then Barnabas leaned forward and laid his hand upon Barrymaine's, and it so happened it was the hand that yet held the slopping wineglass.
"Think—think!" said Barnabas earnestly, "once you are free of Gaunt, life will begin afresh for you, you can hold up your head again—"
"Though never in London, Ronald, I fear," added Mr. Chichester over his shoulder.
"Once free of Gaunt, you may attain to higher things than you ever did," said Barnabas.
"Unless the dead past should happen to come to life again, and find a voice some day," added Mr. Chichester over his shoulder.
"No, no!" said Barnabas, feeling the quiver of the fingers within his own, "I tell you it would mean a new beginning—a new life—a new ending for you—"
"And for Cleone!" added Mr. Chichester over his shoulder, "our young, disinterested Good Samaritan knows she is too proud to permit a stranger to shoulder her brother's responsibilities—"
"Proud, eh?" cried Barrymaine, leaping up in sudden boyish passion, "well, am I not proud? Did you ever know me anything else—did you?"
"Never, my dear Ronald," cried Mr. Chichester, turning at last. "You are unfortunate, but you have always met disaster—so far, with the fortitude of a gentleman, scorning your detractors and—abominating charity."
"C-charity! damn you, Chichester, d' ye think I-I'd accept any man's c-charity? D' you think I'd ever drag Cleone to that depth—do you?"
"Never, Barrymaine, never, I swear."
"Why then—leave me alone, I can m-manage my own affairs—" "Perfectly, my dear fellow, I am sure of it."
"Then sir," said Barnabas, rising, "seeing it really is no concern of yours, after all, suppose you cease to trouble yourself any further in the matter, and allow Mr. Barrymaine to choose for himself—"
"I—I have decided!" cried Barrymaine, "and I tell you—"
"Wait!" said Barnabas.
"Speak!" said Mr. Chichester.
"Wait!" repeated Barnabas, "Mr. Chichester is—going, I think. Let us wait until we are alone." Then, bowing to Mr. Chichester, Barnabas opened the door wide. "Sir," said he, "may I venture to suggest that your presence is—not at all necessary?"
"Ah!" said Mr. Chichester, "you will certainly compel me to kill you, some day."
"'Sufficient unto the day,' sir!" Barnabas retorted; "in the meantime I shall most certainly give myself the pleasure of kicking you downstairs unless you choose to walk—at once."
As he spoke, Barnabas took a stride towards Mr. Chichester's rigid figure, but, in that moment, Barrymaine snatched up the bottle and sprang between them.
"Ah!—would you?" he cried, "who are you to order my f-friends about—and in m-my own place too! Ha! did you think you could buy me, d-did you? Did you think I—I'd sacrifice my sister—did you? Ha! drunk, am I? Well, I'm sober enough to—to 'venge my honor and hers; by God I'll kill you! Ah—let go, Dig! Let go, I say! Didn't you hear? Tempt me with his cursed money, will he! Oh, let go my arm! Damn him, I say—I'll kill him!"
But, as he struck, Mr. Smivvle caught his wrist, the bottle crashed splintering to the floor, and they were locked in a fierce grapple.
"Beverley—my dear fellow—go!" panted Mr. Smivvle, "must forgive—poor Barry—not himself. Go—go,—I can—manage him. Now Barry, do be calm! Go, my dear fellow—leave him to me—go!" So, perforce, Barnabas turned away and went down the dingy stairs, and in his ears was the echo of the boy's drunken ravings and Mr. Chichester's soft laughter.
And presently, being come into the dingy street, Barnabas paused to look up at the dingy house, and looking, sighed.
"She said it would be 'difficult, and dangerous, perhaps,'" said he to himself, "and indeed I think she was right."
Then he turned and went upon his way, heavy-footed and chin on breast. On he went, plunged in gloomy abstraction, turning corners at random, lost to all but the problem he had set himself, which was this:
How he might save Ronald Barrymaine in spite of Ronald Barrymaine.
WHICH DESCRIBES SOME OF THE EVILS OF VINDICTIVENESS
Barnabas stumbled suddenly, dropped his cane, saw his hat spin through the air and roll on before him; staggered sideways, was brought up by a wall, and turning, found three men about him, —evil-faced men whose every move and look held a menace. A darting hand snatched at his fob-seals, but Barnabas smote, swift and hard, and the three were reduced, for the moment, to two. Thus with his back to the wall stood Barnabas, fists clenched, grim of mouth, and with eyes quick and bright; wherefore, beholding him in this posture, his assailants hesitated. But the diamonds sparkled at them from his cravat, the bunch of seals gleamed at them from his fob, and the fallen man having risen, albeit unsteadily, they began to close in upon him. Then, all at once, even as he poised himself to meet their rush, a distant voice uttered a sharp, warning cry, whereat the three, spattering curses, incontinent took to their heels, and were gone with a thud of flying feet.
For a moment Barnabas stood dazed by the suddenness of it all, then, stooping to recover hat and cane, glanced about, and saw that he was in a dirty, narrow street, or rather alley. Now up this alley a man was approaching, very deliberately, for as he came, he appeared to be perusing a small book. He was a short, broad-shouldered man, a mild-faced man of a sober habit of dress, with a broad-brimmed hat upon his head—a hat higher in the crown than was the custom, and a remarkably nobbly stick beneath his arm; otherwise, and in all respects, he was a very ordinary-looking man indeed, and as he walked, book in hand, might have been some small tradesman busily casting up his profit and loss, albeit he had a bright and roving eye.
Being come up with Barnabas, he stopped, closed his book upon his finger, touched the broad rim of his hat, and looked at Barnabas, or to be exact, at the third left-hand button of his coat.
"Anything stole, sir?" he inquired hopefully.
"No," answered Barnabas, "no, I think not."
"Ah, then you won't be vantin' to mek a charge ag'in 'em, sir?"
"No,—besides, they've escaped."
"Escaped, Lord no, sir, they've only run avay, I can allus put my 'ooks on 'em,—I spotted 'em, d'ye see. And I know 'em, Lord love you! —like a feyther! They vas Bunty Fagan, Dancin' James, and Vistlin' Dick, two buzmen an' a prig."
"What do you mean?" inquired Barnabas, beginning to eye the man askance for all his obtrusive mildness.
"I means two pickpockets and a thief, sir. It vas Vistlin' Dick as you give such a 'leveller' to,—a rare pretty knock-down I vill say, sir,—never saw a cleaner—Oh! they're a bad lot, they are, 'specially Vistlin' Dick, an' it's lucky for you as I 'appened to come this vay."
"Why, do you mean to say," said Barnabas, staring at the mild-faced man, "do you want me to believe that it was the sight of you that sent them running?"
"Vell, there veren't nobody else to, as I could see, sir," said the man, with a gentle smile and shake of the head. "Volks ain't partial to me in these yere parts, and as to them three, they're a bad lot, they are, but Vistlin' Dick's the vorst—mark my vords, 'e'll come to be topped yet."
"What do you mean by 'topped'?"
"V'y, I means scragged, sir," answered the man, his roving eye glancing continually up and down the alley,
"I means 'anged, sir,—Lord love you, it's in 'is face—never see a more promising mug, consequent, I 've got Vistlin' Dick down in my little book 'ere, along vith a lot of other promising vuns."
"But why in your book?"
"Veil, d' ye see, I keeps a record of all the likely coves, Capital Coves as you might call 'em—" Here the mild man jerked his head convulsively to one side, rolled up his eyes, and protruded his tongue, all in hideous pantomime, and was immediately his placid self again.
"Ah! you mean—hanged?" said Barnabas.
"As ever vas, sir, capital punishment. And I goes round reg'lar jest to keep an eye on my capital coves. Lord! I vatches over 'em all—like a feyther. Theer's some volks as collects books, an' some volks as collects picters an' old coins, but I collects capital coves,—names and faces. The faces I keeps 'ere," and he tapped his placid forehead, "the names I keeps 'ere," and he tapped the little book. "It's my trade d' ye see, and though there's better trades, still there's trades as is vorse, an' that's summat, ain't it?"
"And what might your trade be?" inquired Barnabas, as they walked on together along the narrow alley.
"Veil, sir, I'm vot they calls a bashaw of the pigs—but I'm more than that."
"Pray," said Barnabas, "what do you mean?" For answer the man smiled, and half drew from his pocket a short staff surmounted by a crown.
"Ah!" said Barnabas, "a Bow Street Runner?"
"And my name is Shrig, sir, Jasper Shrig. You'll have heard it afore, o'course."
"No!" said Barnabas. Mr. Shrig seemed placidly surprised, and vented a gentle sigh.
"It's pretty vell known, in London, sir, though it ain't a pretty name, I'll allow. Ye-es, I've 'eard prettier, but then it's better than a good many, and that's sum-mat, ain't it? And then, as I said afore, it's pretty vell known."
"Vell, sir, there be some as 'as a leanin' to one branch o' the profession, and some to another,—now mine's murders."
"Murders?" said Barnabas, staring.
"Vith a werry big M., sir. V'y, Lord love you, there's been more murderers took and topped through me than any o' the other traps in London, it's a nat'ral gift vith me. Ye see, I collects 'em—afore the fact, as ye might say. I can smell 'em out, feel 'em out, taste 'em out, it's jest a nat'ral gift."
"But—how? What do you mean?"
"I means as I'll be valking along a street, say, looking at every face as I pass. Vell, all at once I'll spot a cove or covess vith vot I calls a capital mug, I'll follow that cove or covess, and by 'ook or by crook I'll find out that there cove or covess's name, and—down it goes in my little book, d' ye see?" and he tapped the little book.
"But surely," said Barnabas, "surely they don't all prove to be murderers?"
"Vell no, sir—that's hardly to be expected,—ye see, some on 'em wanishes away, an' some goes an' dies, but they mostly turns out true capitals—if I only vaits for 'em long enough, and—up they goes."
"And are you always on the lookout for such faces?"
"Yes, sir,—v'en I ain't busy on some case. A man must 'ave some little relaxation, and that's mine. Lord love you, sir, scarcely a day goes by that I don't spot one or two. I calls 'em my children, an' a werry large, an' a werry mixed lot they are too! Rich an' poor, men an' women,—rolling in their coaches an' crawling along the kennel. Aha! if you could look into my little reader an' see the names o' some o' my most promisin' children they'd as-tonish you. I've been to 'ave a look at a couple of 'em this mornin'. Aha! it would a-maze you if you could look into my little reader."
"I should like to," said Barnabas, eyeing the small, shabby book with a new interest. But Mr. Shrig only blinked his wide, innocent eyes, and slipping the book into his pocket, led the way round a sudden corner into another alley narrower than the last, and, if possible, dirtier.
"Where are we going?" Barnabas demanded, for Mr. Shrig, though always placid, had suddenly taken on an air that was almost alert, his bright, roving eye wandered more than ever, and he appeared to be hearkening to distant sounds. "Where are we going?" repeated Barnabas.
"Gray's Inn is 'andiest, sir, and I must ask you to step out a bit, they're a rough crowd as lives 'ereabouts,—scamps an' hunters, didlers an' cly-fakers, so I must ask you to step out a bit, this is a bad country for me."
"Bad for you? Why?"
"On account o' windictiveness, sir!"
"Windictiveness, sir—windictiveness in every shape an' form, but brick-ends mostly—vith a occasional chimbley-pot."
"I'm afraid I don't understand," Barnabas began.
"Veil then," explained Mr. Shrig as they strode along, "I vere the means o' four coves bein' topped d' ye see, 'ighvay robbery vith wiolence,—'bout a month ago, used to live round 'ere, they did, an' their famblies an' friends is windictive against me accordingly, an' werry nat'ral too, for 'uman natur' is only 'uman natur', ain't it? Werry good then. Now their windictiveness,—or as you might say, 'uman natur',—generally takes the shape of chimbley-pots and brick-ends, though I 'ave met windictiveness in the form o' b'iling vater and flat-irons, not to mention saucepans an' sich, afore now, and vunce a arm-cheer, all of vich is apt to vorry you a bit until you gets used to it. Then there's knives—knives is allus awk'ard, and bludgeons ain't to be sneezed at, neither. But, Lord! every perfession and trade 'as its drawbacks, an' there's a sight o' comfort in that, ain't there?"
All this time the eyes of Mr. Shrig were roving here, wandering there, now apparently glancing up at the strip of sky between the dingy house tops, now down at the cobbles beneath their feet; also Barnabas noticed that his step, all at once, grew slower and more deliberate, as one who hesitates, uncertain as to whether he shall go on, or turn back. It was after one of those swift, upward glances, that Mr. Shrig stopped all at once, seized Barnabas by the middle and dragged him into an adjacent doorway, as something crashed down and splintered within a yard of them.
"What now—what is it?" cried Barnabas.
"Win-dictiveness!" sighed Mr. Shrig, shaking his head at the missile, "a piece o' coping-stone, thirty pound if a ounce—Lord! Keep flat agin the door sir, same as me, they may try another—I don't think so—still they may, so keep close ag'in the door. A partic'lar narrer shave I calls it!" nodded Mr. Shrig; "shook ye a bit sir?"
"Yes," said Barnabas, wiping his brow.
"Ah well, it shook me—and I'm used to windictiveness. A brick now," he mused, his eyes wandering again, "a brick I could ha' took kinder, bricks an' sich I'm prepared for, but coping-stones—Lord love me!"
"But a brick would have killed you just the same—"
"Killed me? A brick? Oh no, sir!"
"But, if it had hit you on the head—"
"On the 'at sir, the 'at—or as you might say—the castor—this, sir," said Mr. Shrig; and glancing furtively up and down the gloomy alley he took off the broad-brimmed hat; "just run your ogles over this 'ere castor o' mine, an' you'll understand, perhaps."
"It's very heavy," said Barnabas, as he took the hat.
"Ah, it is a bit 'eavyish, sir. Peep inside of it."
"Why," exclaimed Barnabas, "it's lined with—"
"Iron, sir. My own inwention ag'in windictiveness in the shape o' bricks an' bludgeons, an' werry useful an comfortin' I've found it. But if they're going to begin on me vith coping-stones,—v'y Lord!" And Mr. Shrig sighed his gentle sigh, and rubbed his placid brow, and once more covered it with the "inwention."
"And now sir, you've got a pair o' good, long legs—can ye use 'em?"
"Use them,—yes. Why?"
"Because it's about time as we cut our stick an' run for it."
"What are we to run for?"
"Because they're arter me,—nine on 'em,—consequent they're arter you too, d' ye see. There's four on 'em be'ind us, an' five on 'em in front. You can't see 'em because they're layin' low. And they're bad uns all, an' they means business."
"As ever vas, sir. I've 'ad my eye on 'em some time. That 'ere coping-stone vas the signal."
"Ha!" said Barnabas, buttoning up his coat.
"Now, are ye ready, sir?"
"Then keep close be'ind me—go!" With the word Mr. Shrig began to run, always keeping close beside the wall; indeed he ran so fast and was so very nimble that Barnabas had some ado to keep up with him. They had gone but a little distance when five rough looking fellows started into view further up the alley, completely blocking their advance, and by the clatter of feet behind, Barnabas knew that their retreat was cut off, and instinctively he set his teeth, and gripped his cane more firmly. But on ran Mr. Shrig, keeping close beside the wall, head low, shoulders back, elbows well in, for all the world as if he intended to hurl himself upon his assailants in some desperate hope of breaking through them; but all at once, like a rabbit into his burrow, he turned short off in mid career, and vanished down a dark and very narrow entry or passage, and, as Barnabas followed, he heard, above the vicious thud of footsteps, hoarse cries of anger and disappointment. Half-way down the passage Mr. Shrig halted abruptly and turned, as the first of their pursuers appeared.
"This'll do!" he panted, swinging the nobbly stick in his hand, "can't come on more nor two at vunce. Be ready vith your stick—at their eyes—poke at 'em—no 'itting—" the rest was drowned in the echoing rush of heavy feet and the boom of hoarse voices. But now, seeing their quarry stand on the defensive, the pursuers checked their advance, their cries sank to growling murmurs, till, with a fierce shout, one of their number rushed forward brandishing a heavy stick, whereupon the others followed, and there, in the echoing dimness, the battle was joined, and waxed furious and grim.
Almost at the first onset the slender cane Barnabas wielded broke short off, and he was borne staggering back, the centre of a panting, close-locked, desperate fray. But in that narrow space his assailants were hampered by their very numbers, and here was small room for bludgeon-play,—and Barnabas had his fists.
There came a moment of thudding blows, trampling feet, oaths, cries, —and Barnabas was free, staring dazedly at his broken knuckles. He heard a sudden shout, a vicious roar, and the Bow Street Runner, dropping the nobbly stick, tottered weakly and fell,—strove to rise, was smitten down again, and, in that moment, Barnabas was astride him; felt the shock of stinging blows, and laughing fierce and short, leapt in under the blows, every nerve and muscle braced and quivering; saw a scowling face,—smote it away; caught a bony wrist, wrenched the bludgeon from the griping fingers, struck and parried and struck again with untiring arm, felt the press thin out before him as his assailants gave back, and so, stood panting.
"Run! Run!" whispered Mr. Shrig's voice behind him. "Ve can do it now, —run!"
"No!" panted Barnabas, wiping the blood from his cheek. "Run!" cried Mr. Shrig again, "there's a place I knows on close by—ve can reach it in a jiff—this vay,—run!"
"Not run? then v'ot vill ye do?"
"Are ye mad? Ha!—look out!" Once more the echoing passage roared with the din of conflict, as their assailants rushed again, were checked, smote and were smitten, and fell back howling before the thrust of the nobbly stick and the swing of the heavy bludgeon.
"Now vill ye run?" panted Mr. Shrig, straightening the broad-brimmed hat.
"V'y then, I vill!" which Mr. Shrig immediately proceeded to do.
But the scowl of Barnabas grew only the blacker, his lips but curled the fiercer, and his fingers tightened their grip upon the bludgeon as, alone now, he fronted those who remained of the nine.
Now chancing to glance towards a certain spot, he espied something that lay in the angle of the wall, and, instinctively stooping, he picked up Mr. Shrig's little book, slipped it into his pocket, felt a stunning blow, and reeled back, suddenly faint and sick. And now a mist seemed to envelop him, but in the mist were faces above, below, around him, faces to be struck at. But his blows grew weak and ever weaker, the cudgel was torn from his lax grip, he staggered back on stumbling feet knowing he could fight no more, and felt himself caught by a mighty arm, saw a face near by, comely and dimpled of chin, blue-eyed, and with whiskers trimmed into precise little tufts on either cheek. Thereafter he was aware of faint cries and shouts, of a rushing patter like rain among leaves, and of a voice speaking in his ear.
"Right about face,—march! Easy does it! mind me 'ook, sir, the p'int's oncommon sharp like. By your left—wheel! Now two steps up, sir—that's it! Now three steps down, easy does it! and 'ere we are. A cheer, sir, now water and a sponge!"
Here Barnabas, sinking back in the chair, leaned his head against the wall behind him, and the mist grew more dense, obliterating all things.
OF CORPORAL RICHARD ROE, LATE OF THE GRENADIERS; AND FURTHER CONCERNING MR. SHRIG'S LITTLE READER
A small, dim chamber, with many glasses and bottles arrayed very precisely on numerous shelves; a very tall, broad-shouldered man who smiled down from the rafters while he pulled at a very precise whisker with his right hand, for his left had been replaced by a shining steel hook; and Mr. Shrig who shook his placid head as he leaned upon a long musket whose bayonet twinkled wickedly in the dim light; all this Barnabas saw as, sighing, he opened his eyes.
"'E's all right now!" nodded the smiling giant.
"Ha!" exclaimed Mr. Shrig, "but vith a lump on 'is 'ead like a negg. 'Run!' I sez. 'No!' sez 'e,—and 'ere's me vith vun eye a-going into mourning, and 'im vith a lump on 'is nob like a noo-laid egg!"
"'E's game though, Jarsper," said the benevolent giant.
"Game! I believe you, Corp!" nodded Mr. Shrig. "Run!' I sez. 'No!' sez 'e. 'Then v'ot vill you do?' sez I. 'Make them!' sez 'e. Game? Lord love me, I should say so!" Here, seeing Barnabas sit upright, Mr. Shrig laid by the musket and came towards him with his hand out.
"Sir," said he, "when them raskels got me down they meant to do for me; ah! they'd ha' given me my quietus for good an' all if you 'adn't stood 'em off. Sir, if it ain't too much, I should like to shake your daddle for that!"
"But you saved my life twice," said Barnabas, clasping the proffered hand.
"V'y the coping-stone I'll not go for to deny, sir," said Mr. Shrig, stroking his smooth brow, "but t'other time it were my friend and pal the Corp 'ere,—Corporal Richard Roe, late Grenadiers. 'E's only got an 'ook for an 'and, but vith that 'ook 'e's oncommonly 'andy, and as a veapon it ain't by no means to be sneezed at. No, 'e ain't none the worse for that 'ook, though they thought so in the army, and it vere 'im as brought you off v'ile I vos a-chasing of the enemy vith 'is gun, yonder."
"Why, then I should like to thank Corporal Richard Roe," said Barnabas,—(here the Corporal tugged at his precise and carefully trimmed whisker again), "and to shake his hand as well." Here the giant blushed and extended a huge fist.
"Honored, sir," said he, clicking his heels together.
"And now," said Mr. Shrig, "ve're all a-going to drink—at my expense."
"No, at mine," said Barnabas.
"Sir," said Mr. Shrig, round and placid of eye, "ven I says a thing I means it. Consequent you are now a-going to sluice your ivory vith a glass of the Vun an' Only, at my expense,—you must and you shall."
"Yes," said Barnabas, feeling in his pockets. "I must, my purse is gone."
"Purse!" exclaimed Mr. Shrig, his innocent eyes rounder than ever, "gone, sir?"
"Stolen," nodded Barnabas.
"Think o' that now!" sighed Mr. Shrig, "but I ain't surprised, no, I ain't surprised, and—by Goles!"
"Your cravat-sparkler!—that's wanished too!" Barnabas felt his rumpled cravat, and nodded. "And your vatch, now—don't tell me as they 've took—"
"Yes, my watch also," sighed Barnabas.
"A great pity!" said Mr. Shrig, "though it ain't to be vondered at,—not a bit."
"I valued the watch greatly, because it was given me by a very good friend," said Barnabas, sighing again.
"Walleyed it, hey?" exclaimed Mr. Shrig, "walleyed it, sir?—v'y then, 'ere it be!" and from a capacious side-pocket he produced Natty Bell's great watch, seals and all.
"Why—!" exclaimed Barnabas, staring.
"Also your purse, sir,—not forgetting the sparkler." Mr. Shrig continued, producing each article in turn.
"But—how in the world—?" began Barnabas.
"I took 'em from you v'ile you vos a-lookin' at my castor. Lord love me, a babe could ha' done it,—let alone a old 'and, like me!"
"Do you mean—?" began Barnabas, and hesitated.
"In my young days, sir," explained Mr. Shrig with his placid smile, "I vere a champion buzman, ah! and a prime rook at queering the gulls, too, but I ewentually turned honest all along of a flash, morning-sneak covess as got 'erself conwerted."
"What do you mean by a morning-sneak covess?"
"I means a area-sneak, sir, as vorks werry early in the morning. A fine 'andsome gal she vere, and vith nothing of the flash mollisher about 'er, either, though born on the streets, as ye might say, same as me. Vell, she gets con-werted, and she's alvays napping 'er bib over me,—as you'd say, piping 'er eye, d'ye see? vanting me to turn honest and be con-werted too. 'Turn honest,' says she, 'and ve'll be married ter-morrow,' says she."
"So you turned honest and married her?" said Barnabas, as Mr. Shrig paused.
"No, sir, I turned honest and she married a coal-v'ipper, v'ich, though it did come a bit 'ard on me at first, vos all for the best in the end, for she deweloped a chaffer,—as you might say, a tongue, d' ye see, sir, and I'm vun as is fond of a quiet life, v'en I can get it. Howsomever, I turned honest, and come werry near starving for the first year, but I kept honest, and I ain't never repented it—so fur. So, as for the prigs, and scamps, and buzmen, and flash leary coves, I'm up to all their dodges, 'aving been one of them, d'ye see. And now," said Mr. Shrig, as the big Corporal having selected divers bottles from his precise array, took himself off to concoct a jorum of the One and Only—"now sir, what do you think o' my pal Corporal Dick?"
"A splendid fellow!" said Barnabas.
"'E is that, sir,—so 'e is,—a giant, eh sir?"
"A giant, yes, and handsome too!" said Barnabas.
"V'y you're a sizable cove yourself, sir," nodded Mr. Shrig, "but you ain't much alongside my pal the Corp, are you? I'm nat'rally proud of 'im, d'ye see, for 't were me as saved 'im."
"Saved him from what? How?"
"Me being only a smallish chap myself, I've allus 'ad a 'ankering arter sizable coves. But I never seen a finer figger of a man than Corporal Dick—height, six foot six and a quarter, chest, fifty-eight and a narf, and sir—'e were a-going to drownd it all in the River, all along o' losing his 'and and being drove out o' the army, v'ich vould ha' been a great vaste of good material, as ye might say, seeing as there's so much of 'im. It vas a dark night, the night I found 'im, vith vind and rain, and there vos me and 'im a-grappling on the edge of a vharf—leastvays I vere a-holding onto 'is leg, d'ye see—ah, and a mortal 'ard struggle it vere too, and in the end I didn't save 'im arter all."
"What do you mean?"
"I mean as it vere 'im as saved me, for v'ot vith the vind, and the rain, and the dark, ve lost our footing and over ve vent into the River together—down and down till I thought as ve should never come up again, but ve did, o' course, and then, jest as 'ard as 'e'd struggled to throw 'imself in, 'e fought to get me out, so it vere 'im as really saved me, d'ye see?"
"No," said Barnabas, "it was you who really saved him."
"V'y, I'm as glad as you think so, sir, only d'ye see, I can't svim, and it vos 'im as pulled me out. And it all come along of 'im losing 'is 'and—come nigh to breaking 'is 'eart to be discharged, it did."
"Poor fellow!" said Barnabas, "and how did he lose his hand?"
"V'y, I could tell you, or you could read of it in the Gazette—jest three or four lines o' printing—and they've spelt 'is name wrong at that, curse 'em! But Corporal Dick can tell you best. Let 'im. 'Ere 'e comes, vith a steaming brew o' the Vun and Only."
And indeed, at this moment the Corporal re-entered, bearing a jug that gave forth a most enticing and delicious aroma, and upon which Mr. Shrig cast amorous glances, what time he reached three glasses from the marshalled array on the shelves.
And now, sitting at the small table that stood in a snug corner beside the chimney, Mr. Shrig, having filled the three glasses with all due care, tendered one to Barnabas with the words:
"Jest give that a snuff with your sneezer, sir,—there's perfume, there's fray-grance for ye! There ain't a man in London as can brew a glass o' rum-punch like the Corp,—though 'e 'as only got vun 'and. And now, Corporal Dick, afore ve begin, three steamers."
"Ay, for sure, Jarsper!" said the Corporal; and opening a small corner cupboard he took thence three new pipes and a paper of tobacco.
"Will you smoke, sir?" he inquired diffidently of Barnabas.
"Thank you, yes, Corporal," said Barnabas, and taking the proffered pipe he filled and lighted it.
Now when the pipes were in full blast, when the One and Only had been tasted, and pronounced by Mr. Shrig to be "up to the mark," he nodded to Corporal Dick with the words:
"Tell our young gent 'ow you lost your 'and, Corp."
But hereupon the Corporal frowned, shuffled his feet, stroked his trim whiskers with his hook, and finally addressed Barnabas.
"I aren't much of a talker, sir,—and it aren't much of a story, but if you so wish—"
"I do so wish," said Barnabas heartily.
"Why, very good, sir!" Saying which the Corporal sat up, squared his mighty shoulders, coughed, and began:
"It was when they Cuirassiers broke our square at Quatre-bras, sir,—fine fellows those Cuirassiers! They rode into us, through us, over us,—the square was tottering, and it was 'the colors—rally!' Ah, sir! the colors means the life or death of a square at such times. And just then, when horses was a-trampling us and the air full o' the flash o' French steel, just then I see our colors dip and sway, and down they went. But still it's 'the colors—rally!' and there's no colors to rally to; and all the time the square is being cut to pieces. But I, being nearest, caught up the colors in this here left hand," here the Corporal raised his gleaming hook, "but a Cuirassier, 'e caught them too, and there's him at one end o' the staff and me at t'other, pulling and hauling, and then—all at once he'd got 'em. And because why? Because I hadn't got no left 'and to 'old with. But I'd got my right, and in my right was 'Brown Bess' there," and the Corporal pointed to the long musket in the corner. "My bayonet was gone, and there weren't no time to reload, so—I used the butt. Then I picked up the colors again and 'eld 'em high over my head, for the smoke were pretty thick, and, 'To the colors,' I shouted,' Rally, lads, rally!' And oh, by the Lord, sir,—to hear our lads cheer! And so the square formed up again—what was left of it—formed up close and true round me and the colors, and the last thing I mind was the cheering. Ah! they was fine fellows, they Cuirassiers!"
"So that vere the end o' the Corp's soldiering!" nodded Mr. Shrig.
"Yes," sighed the Corporal, "a one-handed soldier ain't much good, ye see, sir."
"So they—throwed 'im out!" snarled Mr. Shrig.
"Now Jarsper," smiled the giant, shaking his head. "Why so 'ard on the sarvice? They give me m' stripe."
"And your dis-charge!" added Mr. Shrig.
"And a—pension," said the soldier.
"Pension," sniffed Mr. Shrig, "a fine, large vord, Dick, as means werry little to you!"
"And they mentioned me in the Gazette, Jarsper," said the Corporal looking very sheepish, and stroking his whisker again with his hook.
"And a lot o' good that done you, didn't it? Your 'eart vos broke the night I found you—down by the River."
"Why, I did feel as I weren't much good, Jarsper, I'll admit. You see, I 'adn't my hook then, sir. But I think I'd ha' give my other 'and—ah! that I would—to ha' been allowed to march on wi' the rest o' the lads to Waterloo."
"So you vos a-going to throw yerself into the River!"
"I were, Jarsper, should ha' done it but for you, comrade."
"But you didn't do it, so later on ve took this 'ere place."
"You did, Jarsper—"
"Ve took it together, Dick. And werry vell you're a-doing vith it, for both of us."
"I do my best, Jarsper."
"V'ich couldn't be bettered, Dick. Then look how you 'elp me vith my cases."
"Do I, Jarsper?" said the Corporal, his blue eyes shining.
"That you do, Dick. And now I've got another case as I'm a-vaiting for,—a extra-special Capital case it is too!"
"Another murder, Jarsper?"
"Ah, a murder, Dick,—a murder as ain't been committed yet, a murder as I'm expecting to come off in—say a month, from information received this 'ere werry arternoon. A murder, Dick, as is going to be done by a capital cove as I spotted over a month ago. Now v'ot I 'm going to tell you is betwixt us—private and confidential and—" But here Barnabas pushed back his chair.
"Then perhaps I had better be going?" said he.
"Going, sir? and for v'y?"
"That you may be more private, and talk more freely."
"Sir," said Mr. Shrig. "I knows v'en to speak and v'en not. My eyes tells me who I can trust and who not. And, sir, I've took to you, and so's the Corp,—ain't you, Dick?"
"Yes, sir," said the giant diffidently.
"Sir," pursued Mr. Shrig, "you're a Nob, I know, a Corinthian by your looks, a Buck, sir, a Dash, a 'eavy Toddler, but also, I takes the liberty o' telling you as you're only a man, arter all, like the rest on us, and it's that man as I'm a-talking to. Now v'en a man 'as stood up for me, shed 'is good blood for me, I makes that man my pal, and my pal I allus trusts."
"And you shall find me worthy of your confidence," said Barnabas, "and there's my hand on it, though, indeed, you hardly know me—really."
"More than you think, sir. Besides, it ain't v'ot a cove tells me about 'imself as matters, nor v'ot other coves tell me about a cove, as matters, it's v'ot a cove carries in 'is face as I goes by,—the cock of 'is eye, an' all the rest of it. And then, I knows as your name's Barnabas Barty—"
"Barty!—you know that?" exclaimed Barnabas, starting,—"how—how in the world did you find out?"
"Took the liberty to look at your vatch, sir."
"Watch!" said Barnabas, drawing it from his fob, "what do you mean?"
"Give it 'ere, and I'll show ye, sir." So saying, Mr. Shrig took the great timepiece and, opening the back, handed it to Barnabas. And there, in the cavity between the two cases was a very small folded paper, and upon this paper, in Natty Bell's handwriting, these words:
"To my dear lad Barnabas Barty, hoping that he may prove as fine a gentleman as he is—a man."
Having read this, Barnabas folded the paper very gently, and putting it back, closed the watch, and slipped it into his fob.
"And now," said Mr. Shrig, exhaling a vast cloud of smoke, "afore I go on to tell you about this 'ere murder as I'm a-vaiting for, I must show ye my little reader." Here Mr. Shrig thrust a hand into his pocket,—then his pipe shivered to fragments on the stone floor and he started up, mouth agape and eyes staring.
"Lord, Jarsper!" cried the Corporal, "what is it, comrade?"
"It's gone, Dick!" he gasped, "my little reader's been stole."
But now, even as he turned towards the door, Barnabas laid a detaining hand upon his arm.
"Not stolen—lost!" said he, "and indeed, I'm not at all surprised!" Here Barnabas smiled his quick, bright smile.
"Sir—sir?" stammered Mr. Shrig, "oh, Pal, d'ye mean—?"
"That I found it, yes," said Barnabas, "and here it is."
Mr. Shrig took his little book, opened it, closed it, thrust it into his pocket, and took it out again.
"Sir," said he, catching Barnabas by the hand, "this here little book is more to me nor gold or rubies. Sir, you are my pal,—and consequent the Corp's also, and this 'ere chaffing-crib is allus open to you. And if ever you want a man at your back—I'm your man, and v'en not me—there's my pal Dick, ain't there, Di—"
Mr. Shrig stopped suddenly and stood with his head to one side as one that listens. And thus, upon the stillness came the sound of one who strode along the narrow passage-way outside, whistling as he went.
"'Sally in our Alley,' I think?" said Mr. Shrig.
"Yes," said Barnabas, wondering.
"V'ich means as I'm vanted, ah!—and vanted precious qvick too," saying which, Mr. Shrig caught up his "castor," seized the nobbly stick, crossed to the door, and came back again.
"Dick," said he, "I'll get you to look after my little reader for me, —I ain't a-going to risk losing it again."
"Right you are, Jarsper," nodded the Corporal.
"And sir," continued Mr. Shrig, turning towards Barnabas with the book in his hand, "you said, I think, as you'd like to see what I'd got inside o' this 'ere.—If so be you're in the same mind about it, why—'ere it is." And Mr. Shrig laid the little book on the table before Barnabas. "And v'ot's more, any time as you're passing, drop in to the 'Gun,' and drink a glass o' the Vun and Only vith Dick and me." So Mr. Shrig nodded, unlocked the door, shut it very gently behind him, and his footsteps died away along the echoing passage.
Then, while the Corporal puffed at his long pipe, Barnabas opened the little book, and turning the pages haphazard presently came to one where, painfully written in a neat, round hand, he read this:
EXTRA-SPECIALS Name. When Date of Sentence. Date of spotted. Murder. Execution. James Aston (Porter) Feb. 2 March 30 Hanged April 5 Digbeth Andover (Gent) March 3 April 28 Transported May 5 John Barnes (Sailor) March 10 Waiting Waiting Waiting Sir Richard Brock(Bart) April 5 May 3 Hanged May 30 Thomas Beal (Tinker) March 23 April 15 Hanged May 30
There were many such names all carefully set down in alphabetical order, and Barnabas read them through with perfunctory interest. But—half-way down the list of B's his glance was suddenly arrested, his hands clenched themselves, and he grew rigid in his chair—staring wide-eyed at a certain name. In a while he closed the little book, yet sat there very still, gazing at nothing in particular, until the voice of the Corporal roused him somewhat.
"A wonderful man, my comrade Jarsper, sir?"
"Yes," said Barnabas absently.
"Though he wouldn't ha' passed as a Grenadier,—not being tall enough, you see."
"No," said Barnabas, his gaze still fixed.
"But as a trap, sir,—as a limb o' the law, he ain't to be ekalled—nowheres nor nohow."
"No," said Barnabas, rising.
"What? are you off, sir—must you march?"
"Yes," said Barnabas, taking up his hat, "yes, I must go."
"'Olborn way, sir?"
"Why then—foller me, sir,—front door takes you into Gray's Inn Lane—by your left turn and 'Olborn lays straight afore you,—this way, sir." But, being come to the front door of the "Gun," Barnabas paused upon the threshold, lost in abstraction again, and staring at nothing in particular while the big Corporal watched him with a growing uneasiness.
"Is it your 'ead, sir?" he inquired suddenly.
"Head?" repeated Barnabas.
"Not troubling you, is it, sir?"
"No,—oh no, thank you," answered Barnabas, and stretched out his hand. "Good-by, Corporal, I'm glad to have met you, and the One and Only was excellent."
"Thankee, sir. I hope as you'll do me and my comrade the honor to try it again—frequent. Good-by, sir." But standing to watch Barnabas as he went, the Corporal shook his head and muttered to himself, for Barnabas walked with a dragging step, and his chin upon his breast.
Holborn was still full of the stir and bustle, the rush and roar of thronging humanity, but now Barnabas was blind and deaf to it all, for wherever he looked he seemed to see the page of Mr. Shrig's little book with its list of carefully written names,—those names beginning with B.—thus:
Name. When Date Sentence. Date of spotted. of Murder. Execution. Sir Richard Brock (Bart.) April 5 May 3 Hanged May 30 Thomas Beal (Tinker) March 23 April 15 Hanged May 30 Ronald Barrymaine May 12 Waiting Waiting Waiting
CONCERNING THE DUTY OF FATHERS; MORE ESPECIALLY THE VISCOUNT'S "ROMAN"
It was about two o'clock in the afternoon that Barnabas knocked at the door of the Viscount's chambers in Half-moon Street and was duly admitted by a dignified, albeit somewhat mournful gentleman in blue and silver, who, after a moment of sighing hesitancy, ushered him into a small reception room where sat a bullet-headed man with one eye and a remarkably bristly chin, a sinister looking person who stared very hard with his one eye, and sucked very hard, with much apparent relish and gusto, at the knob of the stick he carried. At sight of this man the mournful gentleman averted his head, and vented a sound which, despite his impressive dignity, greatly resembled a sniff, and, bowing to Barnabas, betook himself upstairs to announce the visitor. Hereupon the one-eyed man having surveyed Barnabas from head to foot with his solitary orb, drew the knob of his stick from his mouth, dried it upon his sleeve, looked at it, gave it a final rub, and spoke.
"Sir," said he in a jovial voice that belied his sinister aspect, "did you 'ear that rainbow sniff?"
"Rainbow?" said Barnabas.
"Well,—wallet, then,—footman—the ornamental cove as jest popped you in 'ere. Makes one 'undred and eleven of 'em!"
"One hundred and eleven what?"
"Sniffs, sir,—s-n-i-double-f-s! I've took the trouble to count 'em, —nothing else to do. I ain't got a word out of 'im yet, an' I've been sittin' 'ere ever since eight o'clock s'mornin'. I'm a conwivial cock, I am,—a sociable cove, yes, sir, a s-o-s-h-able cove as ever wore a pair o' boots. Wot I sez is,—though a bum, why not a sociable bum, and try to make things nice and pleasant, and I does my best, give you my word! But Lord! all my efforts is wasted on that 'ere rainbow—nothing but sniffs!"
"Why then—who—what are you?"
"I'm Perks and Condy, wines and sperrits,—eighty-five pound, eighteen, three—that's me, sir."
"Do you mean that you are—in possession—here?"
"Just that, sir,—ever since eight o'clock s'morning—and nothing but sniffs—so fur." Here the bullet-headed man nodded and eyed the knob of his stick hungrily. But at this moment the door opened, and the dignified (though mournful) gentleman appeared, and informed Barnabas (with a sigh) that "his Lordship begged Mr. Beverley would walk upstairs."
Upstairs accordingly Barnabas stepped, and guided by a merry whistling, pushed open a certain door, and so found the Viscount busily engaged in the manufacture of a paper dart, composed of a sheet of the Gazette, in the midst of which occupation he paused to grip Barnabas by the hand.
"Delighted to see you, Bev," said he heartily, "pray sit down, my dear fellow—sit anywhere—no, not there—that's the toast, deuce take it! Oh, never mind a chair, bed'll do, eh? Yes, I'm rather late this morning, Bev,—but then I was so late last night that I was devilish early, and I'm making up for it,—must have steady nerves for the fifteenth, you know. Ah, and that reminds me!" Here the Viscount took up his unfinished dart and sighed over it. "I'm suffering from a rather sharp attack of Romanism, my dear fellow, my Honored Parent has been at it again, Bev, and then, I dropped two hundred pounds in Jermyn Street last night."
"Dropped it! Do you mean you lost it, or were you robbed?" inquired Barnabas the Simple. Now when he said this, the Viscount stared at him incredulously, but, meeting the clear gaze of the candid gray eyes, he smiled all at once and shook his head.
"Gad!" he exclaimed, "what a strange fellow you are, Bev. And yet I wouldn't have you altered, no, damme! you're too refreshing. You ask me 'did I lose it, or was I robbed?' I answer you,—both, my dear fellow. It was a case of sharps and flats, and—I was the flat."
"Ah,—you mean gambling, Dick?"
"Gambling, Bev,—at a hell in Jermyn Street."
"Two hundred pounds is a great deal of money to lose at cards," said Barnabas, shaking his head gravely.
"Humph!" murmured the Viscount, busied upon his paper dart again, "you should congratulate me, I think, that it was no more,—might just as easily have been two thousand, you see, indeed I wonder it wasn't. Egad! the more I think of it, the more fortunate I consider myself. Yes, I certainly think you should congratulate me. Now—watch me hit Sling!" and the Viscount poised his completed dart.
"Captain Slingsby—here?" exclaimed Barnabas, glancing about.
"Under the settee, yonder," nodded the Viscount, "wrapped up in the table-cloth."
"Table-cloth!" repeated Barnabas.
"By way of military cloak," explained the Viscount. "You see—Sling was rather—mellow, last night, and—at such times he always imagines he's campaigning again—insists upon sleeping on the floor."
Now, looking where the Viscount pointed, Barnabas espied the touzled head of Captain Slingsby of the Guards protruding from beneath the settee, and reposing upon a cushion. The Captain's features were serene, and his breathing soft and regular, albeit deepening, ever and anon, into a gentle snore.
"Poor old Sling!" said the Viscount, leaning forward the better to aim his missile, "in two hours' time he must go and face the Ogre, —poor old Sling! Now watch me hit him!" So saying Viscount Devenham launched his paper dart which, gliding gracefully through the air, buried its point in the Captain's whisker, whereupon that warrior, murmuring plaintively, turned over and fell once more gently a-snoring.
"Talking about the Ogre—" began the Viscount.
"You mean—Jasper Gaunt?" Barnabas inquired.
"Precisely, dear fellow, and, talking of him, did you happen to notice a—fellow, hanging about downstairs,—a bristly being with one eye, Bev?"
"Ha!" said the Viscount nodding, "and talking of him, brings me back to my Honored Roman—thus, Bev. Chancing to find myself in—ha—hum—a little difficulty, a—let us say—financial tightness, Bev. I immediately thought of my father, which,—under the circumstances was, I think, very natural—and filial, my dear fellow. I said to myself, here is a man, the author of my being, who, though confoundedly Roman, is still my father, and, as such, owes certain duties to his son, sacred duties, Bev, not to be lightly esteemed, blinked, or set aside,—eh, Bev?"
"Undoubtedly!" said Barnabas.
"I, therefore, ventured to send him a letter, post-haste, gently reminding him of those same duties, and acquainting him with my—ah—needy situation,—which was also very natural, I think."
"Certainly!" said Barnabas, smiling.
"But—would you believe it, my dear fellow, he wrote, or rather, indited me an epistle, or, I should say, indictment, in his most Roman manner which—but egad! I'll read it to you, I have it here somewhere." And the Viscount began to rummage among the bedclothes, to feel and fumble under pillow and bolster, and eventually dragged forth a woefully crumpled document which he smoothed out upon his knees, and from which he began to read as follows:
MY DEAR HORATIO.
"As soon as I saw that' t—i—o,' Bev, I knew it was no go. Had it been merely a—c—e I should have nourished hopes, but the 't—i—o' slew 'em—killed 'em stone dead and prepared me for a screed in my Honored Roman's best style, bristling with the Divine Right of Fathers, and, Bev—I got it. Listen:"
Upon reading your long and very eloquent letter, I was surprised to learn, firstly, that you required money, and secondly to observe that you committed only four solecisms in spelling,
("Gives me one at the very beginning, you'll notice, Bev.")
As regards the money, you will, I am sure, be amazed, nay astounded, to learn that you have already exceeded your allowance by some five hundred pounds—
("So I was, Bev, begad—I thought it was eight.")
As regards your spelling—
("Ah! here he leads again with his left, and gets one in,—low, Bev, low!")
As regards your spelling, as you know, I admire originality in all things; but it has, hitherto, been universally conceded that the word "eliminate" shall not and cannot begin with the letters i-l-l! "Vanquish" does not need a k. "Apathy" is spelled with but one p— while never before have I beheld "anguish" with a w.
("Now, Bev, that's what I call coming it a bit too strong!" sighed the Viscount, shaking his head; "'anguish' is anguish however you spell it! And, as for the others, let me tell you when a fellow has a one-eyed being with bristles hanging about his place, he isn't likely to be over particular as to his p's and q's, no, damme! Let's see, where were we? ah! here it is,—'anguish' with a 'w'!")
I quite agree with your remarks, viz. that a father's duties to his son are sacred and holy—
("This is where I counter, Bev, very neatly,—listen! He quite agrees that,—")
—a father's duties to his son are sacred and holy, and not to be lightly esteemed, blinked, or set aside—
("Aha! had him there, Bev,—inside his guard, eh?")
I also appreciate, and heartily endorse your statement that it is to his father that a son should naturally turn for help—
("Had him again—a leveller that time, egad!")
naturally turn for help, but, when the son is constantly turning, then, surely, the father may occasionally turn too, like the worm. The simile, though unpleasant, is yet strikingly apt.
("Hum! there he counters me and gets one back, I suppose, Bev? Oh, I'll admit the old boy is as neat and quick with his pen as he used to be with his hands. He ends like this:")
I rejoice to hear that you are well in health, and pray that, despite the forthcoming steeplechase, dangerous as I hear it is, you may so continue. Upon this head I am naturally somewhat anxious, since I possess only one son. And I further pray that, wilfully reckless though he is, he may yet be spared to be worthy of the name that will be his when I shall have risen beyond it.
BAMBOROUGH AND REVELSDEN.
The Viscount sighed, and folded up his father's letter rather carefully.
"He's a deuced old Roman, of course," said he, "and yet—!" Here the Viscount turned, and slipped the letter back under his pillow with a hand grown suddenly gentle. "But there you are, Bev! Not a word about money,—so downstairs Bristles must continue to sit until—"
"If," said Barnabas diffidently, "if you would allow me to lend—"
"No, no, Bev—though I swear it's uncommon good of you. But really I couldn't allow it. Besides, Jerningham owes me something, I believe, at least, if he doesn't he did, and it's all one anyway. I sent the Imp over to him an hour ago; he'll let me have it, I know. Though I thank you none the less, my dear fellow, on my soul I do! But—oh deuce take me—you've nothing to drink! what will you take—?"
"Nothing, thanks, Dick. As a matter of fact, I came to ask you a favor—"
"Granted, my dear fellow!"
"I want you to ask Captain Slingsby to introduce me to Jasper Gaunt."
"Ah?" said the Viscount, coming to his elbow, "you mean on behalf of that—"
"Of Barrymaine, yes."
"It's—it's utterly preposterous!" fumed the Viscount.
"So you said before, Dick."
"You mean to—go on with it?"
"You are still determined to befriend a—"
"More than ever, Dick."
"For Her sake. Yes, Dick," said Barnabas, beginning to frown a little. "I mean to free him from Gaunt, and rescue him from Chichester—if I can."
"But Chichester is about the only friend he has left, Bev."
"On the contrary, I think Chichester is his worst enemy."
"But—my dear fellow! Chichester is the only one who has stood by him in his disgrace, though why, I can't imagine."
"I think I can tell you the reason, and in one word," said Barnabas, his face growing blacker.
"Well, Bev,—what is it?"
"Cleone!" The Viscount started.
"What,—you think—? Oh, impossible! The fellow would never have a chance, she despises him, I know."
"And fears him too, Dick."
"Fears him? Gad! what do you mean, Bev?"
"I mean that, unworthy though he may be, she idolizes her brother."
"And for his sake, would sacrifice her fortune,—ah! and herself!"
"Well, Dick, Chichester knows this, and is laying his plans accordingly."
"He's teaching Barrymaine to drink, for one thing—"
"He didn't need much teaching, Bev."
"Then, he has got him in his power,—somehow or other, anyhow, Barrymaine fears him, I know. When the time comes, Chichester means to reach the sister through her love for her brother, and—before he shall do that, Dick—" Barnabas threw up his head and clenched his fists.
"I'll—kill him, Dick."
"You mean—fight him, of course?"
"It would be all one," said Barnabas grimly.
"And how do you propose to—go about the matter—to save Barrymaine?"
"I shall pay off his debts, first of all."
"Take him away with me."
"To-morrow, if possible—the sooner the better."
"And give up the race, Bev?"
"Yes," said Barnabas, sighing, "even that if need be."
Here the Viscount lay back among his pillows and stared up at the tester of the bed, and his gaze was still directed thitherwards when he spoke:
"And you would do all this—"
"For—Her sake," said Barnabas softly, "besides, I promised, Dick."
"And you have seen her—only once, Bev!"
Again there was silence while the Viscount stared up at the tester and Barnabas frowned down at the clenched fist on his knee.
"Gad!" said the Viscount suddenly, "Gad, Beverley, what a deuced determined fellow you are!"
"You see—I love her, Dick."
"And by the Lord, Bev, shall I tell you what I begin to think?"
"Well, I begin to think that in spite of—er—me, and hum—all the rest of 'em, in spite of everything—herself included, if need be, —you'll win her yet."
"And shall I tell you what I begin to think, Dick?"
"I begin to think that you have never—loved her at all."
"Eh?" cried the Viscount, starting up very suddenly, "what?—never lov—oh, Gad, Beverley! what the deuce should make you think that?"
"Clemency!" said Barnabas.
The Viscount stared, opened his mouth, shut it, ran his fingers through his hair, and fell flat upon his pillows again.
"So now," said Barnabas the persistent, "now you know why I am so anxious to meet Jasper Gaunt."
"Gaunt!" said the Viscount dreamily, "Gaunt!"
"Captain Slingsby has to see him this afternoon,—at least so you said, and I was wondering—"
"Slingsby! Oh, egad I forgot! so he has,—curricle's ordered for half-past three. Will you oblige me by prodding him with your cane, Bev? Don't be afraid,—poke away, my dear fellow, Sling takes a devil of a lot of waking."
Thus admonished, Barnabas presently succeeded in arousing the somnolent Slingsby, who, lifting a drowsy head, blinked sleepily, and demanded in an injured tone:
"Wha' the dooce it was all about, b'gad?" Then having yawned prodigiously and come somewhat to himself, he proceeded to crawl from under the settee, when, catching sight of Barnabas, he sprang lightly to his feet and greeted him cordially.
"Ah, Beverley!" he cried,—"how goes it? Glad you woke me—was having a devil of a dream. Thought the 'Rascal' had strained his 'off' fore-leg, and was out of the race! What damnable things dreams are, b'gad!"
"My dear Sling," said the Viscount, "it is exactly a quarter past three."
"Oh, is it, b'gad! Well?"
"And at four o'clock I believe you have an appointment with Gaunt."
"Gaunt!" repeated the Captain, starting, and Barnabas saw all the light and animation die out of his face, "Gaunt,—yes, I—b'gad!—I 'd forgotten, Devenham."
"You ordered your curricle for half-past three, didn't you?"
"Yes, and I've no time to bathe—ought to shave, though, and oh, damme,—look at my cravat!"
"You'll find everything you need in my dressing-room, Sling."
The Captain nodded his thanks, and forthwith vanished into the adjacent chamber, whence he was to be heard at his ablutions, puffing and blowing, grampus-like. To whom thus the Viscount, raising his voice: "Oh, by the way, Sling, Beverley wants to go with you." Here the Captain stopped, as it seemed in the very middle of a puff, and when he spoke it was in a tone of hoarse incredulity:
"Eh,—b'gad, what's that?"
"He wants you to introduce him to Jasper Gaunt."
Here a sudden explosive exclamation, and, thereafter, the Captain appeared as in the act of drying himself, his red face glowing from between the folds of the towel while he stared from the Viscount to Barnabas with round eyes.
"What!" he exclaimed at last, "you, too, Beverley! Poor devil, have you come to it—and so soon?"
"No," said Barnabas, shaking his head, "I wish to see him on behalf of another—"
"Eh? Another? Oh—!"
"On behalf of Mr. Ronald Barrymaine."
"Of Barrym—" Here the Captain suddenly fell to towelling himself violently, stopped to stare at Barnabas again, gave himself another futile rub or two, and, finally, dropped the towel altogether. "On behalf of—oh b'gad!" he exclaimed, and incontinent vanished into the dressing-room. But, almost immediately he was back again, this time wielding a shaving brush. "Wish to see—Gaunt, do you?" he inquired.
"Yes," said Barnabas.
"And," said the Captain, staring very hard at the shaving brush, "not—on your own account?"
"No," answered Barnabas.
"But on behalf—I think you said—of—"
"Of Ronald Barrymaine," said Barnabas.
"Oh!" murmured the Captain, and vanished again. But now Barnabas followed him.
"Have you any objection to my going with you?" he inquired.
"Not in the least," answered the Captain, making hideous faces at himself in the mirror as he shaved, "oh, no—delighted, 'pon my soul, b'gad—only—"
"Only, if it's time you're going to ask for—it's no go, my boy—hard-fisted old rasper, you know the saying,—(Bible, I think), figs, b'gad, and thistles, bread from stones, but no mercy from Jasper Gaunt."
"I don't seek his mercy," said Barnabas.
"Why, then, my dear Beverley—ha! there's Jenk come up to say the curricle's at the door."
Sure enough, at the moment, the Viscount's gentleman presented himself to announce the fact, albeit mournfully and with a sigh. He was about to bow himself out again when the Viscount stayed him with an upraised finger.
"Jenkins," said he, "my very good Jenk!"
"Yes, m'lud?" said Jenkins.
"Is the person with the—ah—bristles—still downstairs?"
"He is, m'lud," said Jenkins, with another sigh.
"Then tell him to possess his soul in patience, Jenk,—for I fear he will remain there a long, long time."
OF THE LUCK OF CAPTAIN SLINGSBY, OF THE GUARDS
"You don't mind if we—drive about a bit, do you, Beverley?"
"Not in the least."
"I—er—I generally go the longest way round when I have to call on—"
Now as they went, Barnabas noticed that a change had come over his companion, his voice had lost much of its jovial ring, his eye its sparkle, while his ruddy cheeks were paler than their wont; moreover he was very silent, and sat with bent head and with his square shoulders slouched dejectedly. Therefore Barnabas must needs cast about for some means of rousing him from this depression.
"You drive a very handsome turnout," said he at last.
"It is neat, isn't it?" nodded Slingsby, his eye brightening.
"Very!" said Barnabas, "and the horses—"
"Horses!" cried the Captain, almost himself again, "ha, b'gad—there's action for you—and blood too! I was a year matching 'em. Cost me eight hundred guineas—and cheap at the money—but—"
"After all, Beverley, they—aren't mine, you see."
The Captain nodded gloomily.
"Yes," said he, "my horses are his, my curricle's his, my clothes are his—everything's his. So am I, b'gad! Oh, you needn't look so infernal incredulous—fact, I assure you. And, when you come to think of it—it's all cursed humorous, isn't it?" and here the Captain contrived to laugh, though it rang very hollow, to be sure.
"You owe—a great deal then?" said Barnabas.
"Owe?" said the Captain, turning to look at him, "I'm in up to my neck, and getting deeper. Owe! B'gad, Beverley—I believe you!" But now, at sight of gravefaced Barnabas, he laughed again, and this time it sounded less ghoul-like. "Debt is a habit," he continued sententiously, "that grows on one most damnably, and creditors are the most annoying people in the world—so confoundedly unreasonable! Of course I pay 'em—now and then—deserving cases, y' know. Fellow called on me t' other day,—seemed to know his face. 'Who are you?' says I. 'I'm the man who makes your whips, sir,' says he. 'And devilish good whips too!' says I, 'how much do I owe you?' 'Fifteen pounds, sir,' says he, 'I wouldn't bother you only'—well, it seemed his wife was sick—fellow actually blubbered! So of course I rang for my rascal Danby, Danby's my valet, y' know. 'Have you any money, Danby?' says I. 'No sir,' says he; queer thing, but Danby never has, although I pay him regularly—devilish improvident fellow, Danby! So I went out and unearthed Jerningham—and paid the fellow on the spot—only right, y' know."
"But why not pay your debts with your own money?" Barnabas inquired.
"For the very good reason that it all went,—ages ago!"
"Why, then," said Barnabas, "earn more."
"Eh?" said the Captain, staring, "earn it? My dear Beverley, I never earned anything in my life, except my beggarly pay, and that isn't enough even for my cravats."
"Well, why not begin?"
"Begin? To earn money? How?"
"You might work," suggested Barnabas.
"Work?" repeated the Captain, starting, "eh, what? Oh, I see, you're joking, of course,—deuced quaint, b'gad!"
"No, I'm very serious," said Barnabas thoughtfully.
"Are you though! But what the deuce kind of work d'you suppose I'm fit for?"
"All men can work!" said Barnabas, more thoughtfully than before.
"Well,—I can ride, and shoot, and drive a coach with any one."
"No,—not that I can think of."
"Have you never tried to work, then,—hard work, I mean?"
"Oh Lord, no! Besides, I've always been too busy, y'know. I've never had to work. Y' see, as luck would have it, I was born a gentleman, Beverley."
"Yes," nodded Barnabas, more thoughtful than ever, "but—what is a gentleman?"
"A gentleman? Why—let me think!" said the Captain, manoeuvring his horses skilfully as they swung into the Strand.
And when he had thought as far as the Savoy he spoke:
"A gentleman," said he, "is a fellow who goes to a university, but doesn't have to learn anything; who goes out into the world, but doesn't have to—work at anything; and who has never been blackballed at any of the clubs. I've done a good many things in my time, but I've never had to work."
"That is a great pity!" sighed Barnabas.
"Oh! is it, b'gad! And why?"
"Because hard work ennobles a man," said Barnabas.
"Always heard it was a deuce of a bore!" murmured the Captain.
"Exertion," Barnabas continued, growing a little didactic perhaps, "exertion is—life. By idleness come degeneration and death."
"Sounds cursed unpleasant, b'gad!" said the Captain.
"The work a man does lives on after him," Barnabas continued, "it is his monument when he is no more, far better than your high-sounding epitaphs and stately tombs, yes, even though it be only the furrow he has ploughed, or the earth his spade has turned."
"But,—my dear fellow, you surely wouldn't suggest that I should take up—digging?"
"You might do worse," said Barnabas, "but—"
"Ha!" said the Captain, "well now, supposing I was a—deuced good digger,—a regular rasper, b'gad! I don't know what a digger earns, but let's be moderate and say five or six pounds a week. Well, what the deuce good d'you suppose that would be to me? Why, I still owe Gaunt, as far as I can figure it up, about eighty thousand pounds, which is a deuced lot more than it sounds. I should have been rotting in the Fleet, or the Marshalsea, years ago if it hadn't been for my uncle's gout, b'gad!"
"Precisely! Every twinge he has—up goes my credit. I'm his only heir, y'know, and he's seventy-one. At present he's as sound as a bell, —actually rode to hounds last week, b'gad! Consequently my credit's—nowhere. Jolly old boy, though—deuced fond of him—ha! there's Haynes! Over yonder! Fellow driving the phaeton with the black-a-moor in the rumble."
"You mean the man in the bright green coat?"
"Yes. Call him 'Pea-green Haynes'—one of your second-rate, ultra dandies. Twig his vasty whiskers, will you! Takes his fellow hours to curl 'em. And then his cravat, b'gad!"
"How does he turn his head?" inquired Barnabas.
"Never does,—can't! I lost a devilish lot to him at hazard a few years ago—crippled me, y' know. But talking of my uncle—devilish fond of him—always was."
"But mark you, Beverley, a man has no right—no business to go on living after he's seventy, at least, it shows deuced bad taste, I think—so thoughtless, y'know. Hallo! why there's Ball Hughes—driving the chocolate-colored coach, and got up like a regular jarvey. Devilish rich, y'know—call him 'The Golden Ball'—deuce of a fellow! Pitch and toss, or whist at five pound points, damme! Won small fortune from Petersham at battledore and shuttlecock,—played all night too."
"And have you lost to him also?"
"Do you ever win?"
"Oh, well—now and then, y'know, though I'm generally unlucky. Must have been under—Aldeboran, is it?—anyhow, some cursed star or other. Been dogged by ill-luck from my cradle, b'gad! On the turf, in the clubs and bells, even in the Peninsular!"
"So you fought in the Peninsular?"
"And did you gamble there too?"
"Naturally—whenever I could."
"And did you lose?"
"Generally. Everything's been against me, y'know—even my size."
"Well, there was a fellow in the Eighty-eighth, name of Crichton. I'd lost to him pretty heavily while we were before Ciudad Rodrigo. The night before the storming—we both happened to have volunteered, y'know—'Crichton,' says I, 'I'll go you double or quits I'm into the town to-morrow before you are.' 'Done!' says he. Well, we advanced to the attack about dawn, about four hundred of us. The breach was wide enough to drive a battery through, but the enemy had thrown up a breast-work and fortified it during the night. But up we went at the 'double,' Crichton and I in front, you may be sure. As soon as the Frenchies opened fire, I began to run,—so did Crichton, but being longer in the leg, I was at the breach first, and began to scramble over the debris. Crichton was a little fellow, y' know, but game all through, and active as a cat, and b'gad, presently above the roar and din, I could hear him panting close behind me. Up we went, nearer and nearer, with our fellows about a hundred yards in our rear, clambering after us and cheering as they came. I was close upon the confounded breastwork when I took a musket-ball through my leg, and over I went like a shot rabbit, b'gad! Just then Crichton panted up. 'Hurt?' says he. 'Only my leg,' says I, 'go on, and good luck to you.' 'Devilish rough on you, Sling!' says he, and on he went. But he'd only gone about a couple of yards when he threw up his arms and pitched over on his face. 'Poor Crichton's done for!' says I to myself, and made shift to crawl over to him. But b'gad! he saw me coming, and began to crawl too. So there we were, on our hands and knees, crawling up towards the Frenchies as hard as we could go. My leg was deuced—uncomfortable, y' know, but I put on a spurt, and managed to draw level with him. 'Hallo, Sling!' says he, 'here's where you win, for I'm done!' and over he goes again. 'So am I, for that matter,' says I—which was only the truth, Beverley. So b'gad, there we lay, side by side, till up came our fellows, yelling like fiends, past us and over us, and charged the breastwork with the bayonet,—and carried it too! Presently, up came two stragglers,—a corporal of the Eighty-eighth and a sergeant of 'Ours.' 'Hi, Corporal,' yells Crichton, 'ten pounds if you can get me over the breastwork—quick's the word!' 'Sergeant,' says I, 'twenty pounds if you get me over first.' Well, down went the Corporal's musket and the Sergeant's pike, and on to their backs we scrambled—a deuced painful business for both of us, I give you my word, Beverley. So we began our race again—mounted this time. But it was devilish bad going, and though the Sergeant did his best, I came in a very bad second. You see, I'm no light weight, and Crichton was."
"You lost, then?"
"Oh, of course, even my size is against me, you see." Hereupon, once more, and very suddenly, the Captain relapsed into his gloomy mood, nor could Barnabas dispel it; his efforts were rewarded only by monosyllables until, swinging round into a short and rather narrow street, he brought his horses to a walk.
"Here we are, Beverley!"
"Where?" Barnabas inquired.
"Kirby Street,—his street. And there's the house,—his house," and Captain Slingsby pointed his whip at a high, flat-fronted house. It was a repellent-looking place with an iron railing before it, and beyond this railing a deep and narrow area, where a flight of damp steps led down to a gloomy door. The street was seemingly a quiet one, and, at this hour, deserted save for themselves and a solitary man who stood with his back to them upon the opposite side of the way, apparently lost in profound thought. A very tall man he was, and very upright, despite the long white hair that showed beneath his hat, which, like his clothes, was old and shabby, and Barnabas noticed that his feet were bare. This man Captain Slingsby incontinent hailed in his characteristic fashion.
"Hi,—you over there!" he called. "Hallo!" The man never stirred. "Oho! b'gad, are you deaf? Just come over here and hold my horses for me, will you?" The man raised his head suddenly and turned. So quickly did he turn that the countless gleaming buttons that he wore upon his coat rang a jingling chime. Now, looking upon this strange figure, Barnabas started up, and springing from the curricle, crossed the street and looked upon the man with a smile.
"Have you forgotten me?" said Barnabas. The man smiled in turn, and sweeping off the weather-beaten hat, saluted him with an old-time bow of elaborate grace.
"Sir." he answered in his deep, rich voice, "Billy Button never forgets—faces. You are Barnaby Bright—Barnabas, 't is all the same. Sir, Billy Button salutes you."
"Why, then," said Barnabas, rather diffidently, seeing the other's grave dignity, "will you oblige me by—by holding my friend's horses? They are rather high-spirited and nervous."
"Nervous, sir? Ah, then they need me. Billy Button shall sing to them, horses love music, and, like trees, are excellent listeners." Forthwith Billy Button crossed the street with his long, stately stride, and taking the leader's bridle, fell to soothing the horses with soft words, and to patting them with gentle, knowing hands.
"B'gad!" exclaimed the Captain, staring, "that fellow has been used to horses—once upon a time. Poor devil!" As he spoke he glanced from Billy Button's naked feet and threadbare clothes to his own glossy Hessians and immaculate garments, and Barnabas saw him wince as he turned towards the door of Jasper Gaunt's house. Now when Barnabas would have followed, Billy Button caught him suddenly by the sleeve.
"You are not going—there?" he whispered, frowning and nodding towards the house.
"Don't!" he whispered, "don't! An evil place, a place of, sin and shadows, of sorrow, and tears, and black despair. Ah, an evil place! No place for Barnaby Bright."
"I must," said Barnabas.
"So say they all. Youth goes in, and leaves his youth behind; men go in, and leave all strength and hope behind; age goes in, and creeps out—to a grave. Hear me, Barnaby Bright. There is one within there already marked for destruction. Death follows at his heel, for evil begetteth evil, and the sword, the sword. He is already doomed. Listen,—blood! I've seen it upon the door yonder,—a bloody hand! I know, for They have told me—They—the Wise Ones. And so I come here, sometimes by day, sometimes by night, and I watch—I watch. But this is no place for you,—'t is the grave of youth, don't go—don't go!"
"I must," repeated Barnabas, "for another's sake."
"Then must the blighting shadow fall upon you, too,—ah, yes, I know. Oh, Barnaby,—Barnaby Bright!"
Here, roused by the Captain's voice, rather hoarser than usual, Barnabas turned and saw that the door of the house was open, and that Captain Slingsby stood waiting for him with a slender, youthful-seeming person who smiled; a pale-faced, youngish man, with colorless hair, and eyes so very pale as to be almost imperceptible in the pallor of his face. Now, even as the door closed, Barnabas could hear Billy Button singing softly to the horses.
HOW BARNABAS MET JASPER GAUNT, AND WHAT CAME OF IT
Barnabas followed the Captain along a somewhat gloomy hall, up a narrow and winding staircase, and here, halfway up, was a small landing with an alcove where stood a tall, wizen-faced clock with skeleton hands and a loud, insistent, very deliberate tick; so, up more stairs to another hall, also somewhat gloomy, and a door which the pale-eyed, smiling person obligingly opened, and, having ushered them into a handsomely furnished chamber, disappeared. The Captain crossed to the hearth, and standing before the empty grate, put up his hand and loosened his high stock with suddenly petulant fingers, rather as though he found some difficulty in breathing; and, looking at him, Barnabas saw that the debonair Slingsby had vanished quite; in his place was another—a much older man, haggard of eye, with a face peaked, and gray, and careworn beneath the brim of the jaunty hat.
"My dear Beverley," said he, staring down into the empty grate, "if you 're ever in need—if you're ever reduced to—destitution, then, in heaven's name, go quietly away and—starve! Deuced unpleasant, of course, but it's—sooner over, b'gad!"
At this moment the smiling person reappeared at a different door, and uttered the words:
"Captain Slingsby,—if you please." Hereupon the Captain visibly braced himself, squared his shoulders, took off his hat, crossed the room in a couple of strides, and Barnabas was alone.
Now as he sat there waiting, he gradually became aware of a sound that stole upon the quiet, a soft, low sound, exactly what he could not define, nevertheless it greatly perturbed him. Therefore he rose, and approaching that part of the room whence it proceeded, he saw another door. And then, all at once, as he stood before this door, he knew what the sound was, and why it had so distressed him; and, even as the knowledge came, he opened the door and stepped into the room beyond.
And this is what he saw:
A bare little room, or office; the pale, smiling gentleman, who lounged in a cushioned chair, a comb in one hand, and in the other a small pocket mirror, by the aid of which he was attending to a diminutive tuft of flaxen whisker; and a woman, in threadbare garments, who crouched upon a bench beside the opposite wall, her face bowed upon her hands, her whole frame shaken by great, heart-broken, gasping sobs,—a sound full of misery, and of desolation unutterable.
At the opening of the door, the pale gentleman started and turned, and the woman looked up with eyes swollen and inflamed by weeping.
"Sir," said the pale gentleman, speaking softly, yet in the tone of one used to command, "may I ask what this intrusion means?" Now as he looked into the speaker's pallid eyes, Barnabas saw that he was much older than he had thought. He had laid aside the comb and mirror, and now rose in a leisurely manner, and his smile was more unpleasant than ever as he faced Barnabas.
"This place is private, sir—you understand, private, sir. May I suggest that you—go, that you—leave us?" As he uttered the last two words, he thrust out his head and jaw in a very ugly manner, therefore Barnabas turned and addressed himself to the woman.
"Pray, madam," said he, "tell me your trouble; what is the matter?" But the woman only wrung her hands together, and stared with great, frightened eyes at the colorless man, who now advanced, smiling still, and tapped Barnabas smartly on the shoulder.
"The trouble is her own, sir, the matter is—entirely a private one," said he, fixing Barnabas with his pale stare, "I repeat, sir,—a private one. May I, therefore, suggest that you withdraw—at once?"
"As often as you please, sir," retorted Barnabas, bowing.
"Ah!" sighed the man, thrusting out his head again, "and what do you want—here?"
"First, is your name Jasper Gaunt?"
"No; but it is as well known as his—better to a great many."
"And your name is—?"
"Then, Mr. Quigly, pray be seated while I learn this poor creature's sorrow."
"I think—yes, I think you'd better go," said Mr. Quigly,—"ah, yes—and at once, or—"
"Or?" said Barnabas, smiling and clenching his fists.
"Or it will be the worse—for you—"
"And for your friend the Captain."
"And you will give this woman more reason for her tears!"
Then, looking from the pale, threatening eyes, and smiling lips of the man, to the trembling fear of the weeping woman, and remembering Slingsby's deathly cheek and shaking hand, a sudden, great anger came upon Barnabas; his long arm shot out and, pinning Mr. Quigly by the cravat, he shook him to and fro in a paroxysm of fury. Twice he raised his cane to strike, twice he lowered it, and finally loosing his grip, Mr. Quigly staggered back to the opposite wall, and leaned there, panting.
Hereupon Barnabas, somewhat shocked at his own loss of self-restraint, re-settled his cuff, straightened his cravat, and, when he spoke, was more polite than ever.
"Mr. Quigly, pray sit down," said he; "I have no wish to thrash you,—it would be a pity to spoil my cane, so—oblige me by sitting down."
Mr. Quigly opened his mouth as if to speak, but, glancing at Barnabas, thought better of it; yet his eyes grew so pale that they seemed all whites as he sank into the chair.
"And now," said Barnabas, turning to the crouching woman, "I don't think Mr. Quigly will interrupt us again, you may freely tell your trouble—if you will."
"Oh, sir,—it's my husband! He's been in prison a whole year, and now—now he's dying—they've killed him. It was fifty pounds a year ago. I saved, and scraped, and worked day and night, and a month ago—I brought the fifty pounds. But then—Oh, my God!—then they told me I must find twenty more—interest, they called it. Twenty pounds! why, it would take me months and months to earn so much, —and my husband was dying!—dying! But, sir, I went away despairing. Then I grew wild,—desperate—yes, desperate—oh, believe it, sir, and I,—I—Ah, sir—what won't a desperate woman do for one she loves? And so I—trod shameful ways! To-day I brought the twenty pounds, and now—dear God! now they say it must be twenty-three. Three pounds more, and I have no more—and I can't—Oh, I—can't go back to it again—the shame and horror—I—can't, sir!" So she covered her face again, and shook with the bitter passion of her woe.
And, after a while, Barnabas found voice, though his voice was very hoarse and uneven.
"I think," said he slowly, "yes, I think my cane could not have a worthier end than splintering on your villain's back, Mr. Quigly."
But, even as Barnabas advanced with very evident purpose, a tall figure stood framed in the open doorway.
"Ah, Quigly,—pray what is all this?" a chill, incisive voice demanded. Barnabas turned, and lowering the cane, stood looking curiously at the speaker. A tall, slender man he was, with a face that might have been any age,—a mask-like face, smooth and long, and devoid of hair as it was of wrinkles; an arresting face, with its curving nostrils, thin-lipped, close-shut mouth, high, prominent brow, and small, piercingly-bright eyes; quick eyes, that glinted between their red-rimmed, hairless lids, old in their experience of men and the ways of men. For the rest, he was clad in a rich yet sober habit, unrelieved by any color save for the gleaming seals at his fob, and the snowy lace at throat and wrist; his hair—evidently a wig—curled low on either cheek, and his hands were well cared for, with long, prehensile fingers.
"You are Jasper Gaunt, I think?" said Barnabas at last.
"At your service, sir, and you, I know, are Mr. Barnabas Beverley."
So they stood, fronting each other, the Youth, unconquered as yet, and therefore indomitable, and the Man, with glittering eyes old in their experience of men and the ways of men.
"You wished to see me on a matter of business, Mr. Beverley?"
"Then pray step this way."
"No," said Barnabas, "first I require your signature to this lady's papers."
Jasper Gaunt smiled, and shrugged his shoulders slightly.
"Such clients as this, sir,—I leave entirely to Mr. Quigly."
"Then, in this instance, sir, you will perhaps favor me by giving the matter your personal attention!"
Jasper Gaunt hesitated, observed the glowing eye, flushed cheek, and firm-set lips of the speaker, and being wise in men and their ways,—bowed.
"To oblige you, Mr. Beverley, with pleasure. Though I understand from Mr. Quigly that she is unable to meet—"
"Seventy-eight pounds, sir! She can pay it all—every blood-stained, tear-soaked farthing. She should meet it were it double—treble the sum!" said Barnabas, opening his purse.
"Ah, indeed, I see! I see!" nodded Jasper Gaunt. "Take the money, Quigly, I will make out the receipt. If you desire, you shall see me sign it, Mr. Beverley." So saying, he crossed to the desk, wrote the document, and handed it to Barnabas, with a bow that was almost ironical.
Then Barnabas gave the precious paper into the woman's eager fingers, and looked down into the woman's shining eyes.
"Sir," said she between trembling lips, "I cannot thank you,—I—I cannot. But God sees, and He will surely repay."
"Indeed," stammered Barnabas, "I—it was only three pounds, after all, and—there,—go,—hurry away to your husband, and—ah! that reminds me,—he will want help, perhaps!" Here Barnabas took out his card, and thrust it into her hand. "Take that to my house, ask to see my Steward, Mr. Peterby,—stay, I'll write the name for you, he will look after you, and—good-by!"
"It is a truly pleasant thing to meet with heartfelt gratitude, sir," said Jasper Gaunt, as the door closed behind the woman. "And now I am entirely at your service,—this way, sir."
Forthwith Barnabas followed him into another room, where sat the Captain, his long legs stretched out before him, his chin on his breast, staring away at vacancy.
"Sir," said Jasper Gaunt, glancing from Barnabas to the Captain and back again, "he will not trouble us, I think, but if you wish him to withdraw—?"
"Thank you—no," answered Barnabas, "Captain Slingsby is my friend!" Jasper Gaunt bowed, and seated himself at his desk opposite Barnabas. His face was in shadow, for the blind had been half-drawn to exclude the glare of the afternoon sun, and he sat, or rather lolled, in a low, deeply cushioned chair, studying Barnabas with his eyes that were so bright and so very knowing in the ways of mankind; very still he sat, and very quiet, waiting for Barnabas to begin. Now on the wall, immediately behind him, was a long, keen-bladed dagger, that glittered evilly where the light caught it; and as he sat there so very quiet and still, with his face in the shadow, it seemed to Barnabas as though he lolled there dead, with the dagger smitten sideways through his throat, and in that moment Barnabas fancied he could hear the deliberate tick-tock of the wizen-faced clock upon the stairs.
"I have come," began Barnabas at last, withdrawing his eyes from the glittering steel with an effort, "I am here on behalf of one—in whom I take an interest—a great interest."