"Yes, Mr. Beverley?"
"I have undertaken to—liquidate his debts."
"Yes, Mr. Beverley."
"To pay—whatever he may owe, both principal and interest."
"Indeed, Mr. Beverley! And—his name?"
"His name is Ronald Barrymaine."
"Ronald—Barrymaine!" There was a pause between the words, and the smooth, soft voice had suddenly grown so harsh, so deep and vibrant, that it seemed incredible the words could have proceeded from the lips of the motionless figure lolling in the chair with his face in the shadow and the knife glittering behind him.
"I have made out to you a draft for more than enough, as I judge, to cover Mr. Barrymaine's liabilities."
"For how much, sir?"
"Twenty-two thousand pounds."
Then Jasper Gaunt stirred, sighed, and leaned forward in his chair.
"A handsome sum, sir,—a very handsome sum, but—" and he smiled and shook his head.
"Pray what do you mean by 'but'?" demanded Barnabas.
"That the sum is—inadequate, sir."
"Twenty-two thousand pounds is not enough then?"
"It is—not enough, Mr. Beverley."
"Then, if you will tell me the precise amount, I will make up the deficiency." But, here again, Jasper Gaunt smiled his slow smile and shook his head.
"That, I grieve to say, is quite impossible, Mr. Beverley."
"Because I make it a rule never to divulge my clients' affairs to a third party; and, sir,—I never break my rules."
"Then—you refuse to tell me?"
"It is—quite impossible."
So there fell a silence while the wide, fearless eyes of Youth looked into the narrow, watchful eyes of Experience. Then Barnabas rose, and began to pace to and fro across the luxurious carpet; he walked with his head bent, and the hands behind his back were tightly clenched. Suddenly he stopped, and throwing up his head faced Jasper Gaunt, who sat lolling back in his chair again.
"I have heard," said he, "that this sum was twenty thousand pounds, but, as you say, it may be more,—a few pounds more, or a few hundreds more."
"Precisely, Mr. Beverley."
"I am, therefore, going to make you an offer—"
"Which I must—refuse."
"And my offer is this: instead of twenty thousand pounds I will double the sum."
Jasper Gaunt's lolling figure grew slowly rigid, and leaning across the desk, he stared up at Barnabas under his hairless brows. Even Captain Slingsby stirred and lifted his heavy head.
"Forty thousand pounds!" said Jasper Gaunt, speaking almost in a whisper.
"Yes," said Barnabas, and sitting down, he folded his arms a little ostentatiously. Jasper Gaunt's head drooped, and he stared down at the papers on the desk before him, nor did he move, only his long, white fingers began to tap softly upon his chair-arms, one after the other.
"I will pay you forty thousand pounds," said Barnabas. Then, all in one movement as it seemed, Gaunt had risen and turned to the window, and stood there awhile with his back to the room.
"Well?" inquired Barnabas at last.
"You mean—will not!" said Barnabas, clenching his fists.
"Cannot, sir." As Gaunt turned, Barnabas rose and approached him until barely a yard separated them, until he could look into the eyes that glittered between their hairless lids, very like the cruel-looking dagger on the wall.
"Very well," said Barnabas, "then I'll treble it. I'll pay you sixty thousand pounds! What do you say? Come—speak!" But now, the eyes so keen and sharp to read men and the ways of men wavered and fell before the indomitable steadfastness of unconquered Youth; the long, white hands beneath their ruffles seemed to writhe with griping, contorted fingers, while upon his temple was something that glittered a moment, rolled down his cheek, and so was gone.
"Speak!" said Barnabas.
Yet still no answer came, only Jasper Gaunt sank down in his chair with his elbows on the desk, his long, white face clasped between his long, white hands, staring into vacancy; but now his smooth brow was furrowed, his narrow eyes were narrower yet, and his thin lips moved as though he had whispered to himself "sixty thousand pounds!"
"Sir,—for the last time—do you accept?" demanded Barnabas.
Without glancing up, or even altering the direction of his vacant stare, and with his face still framed between his hands, Jasper Gaunt shook his head from side to side, once, twice, and thrice; a gesture there was no mistaking.
Then Barnabas fell back a step, with clenched fist upraised, but in that moment the Captain was before him and had caught his arm.
"By Gad, Beverley!" he exclaimed in a shaken voice, "are you mad?"
"No," said Barnabas, "but I came here to buy those bills, and buy them I will! If trebling it isn't enough, then—"
"Ah!" cried Slingsby, pointing to the usurer's distorted face, "can't you see? Don't you guess? He can't sell! No money-lender of 'em all could resist such an offer. I tell you he daren't sell, the bills aren't his! Come away—"
"Not his!" cried Barnabas, "then whose?"
"God knows! But it's true,—look at him!"
"Tell me," cried Barnabas, striving to see Gaunt's averted eyes, "tell me who holds these bills,—if you have one spark of generosity—tell me!"
But Jasper Gaunt gave no sign, only the writhing fingers crept across his face, over staring eyes and twitching lips.
So, presently, Barnabas suffered Captain Slingsby to lead him from the room, and down the somewhat dark and winding stair, past the wizen-faced clock, out into the street already full of the glow of evening.
"It's a wonder to me," said the Captain, "yes, it's a great wonder to me, that nobody has happened to kill Gaunt before now."
So the Captain frowned, sighed, and climbed up to his seat. But, when Barnabas would have followed, Billy Button touched him on the arm.
"Oh, Barnaby!" said he, "oh, Barnaby Bright, look—the day is dying, the shadows are coming,—in a little while it will be night. But, oh Youth, alas! alas! I can see the shadows have touched you already!" And so, with a quick upflung glance at the dismal house, he turned, waved his hand, and sped away on noiseless feet, and so was gone.
OF AN ETHICAL DISCUSSION, WHICH THE READER IS ADVISED TO SKIP
Oho! for the rush of wind in the hair, for the rolling thunder of galloping hoofs, now echoing on the hard, white road, now muffled in dewy grass.
Oho! for the horse and his rider and the glory of them; for the long, swinging stride that makes nothing of distance, for the tireless spring of the powerful loins, for the masterful hand on the bridle, strong, yet gentle as a caress, for the firm seat—the balance and sway that is an aid to speed, and proves the born rider. And what horse should this be but Four-legs, his black coat glossy and shining in the sun, his great, round hoofs spurning the flying earth, all a-quiver with high courage, with life and the joy of it? And who should be the rider but young Barnabas?
He rides with his hat in his whip-hand, that he may feel the wind, and with never a look behind, for birds are carolling from the cool freshness of dewy wood and copse, in every hedge and tree the young sun has set a myriad gems flashing and sparkling; while, out of the green distance ahead, Love is calling; brooks babble of it, birds sing of it, the very leaves find each a small, soft voice to whisper of it.
So away—away rides Barnabas by village green and lonely cot, past hedge and gate and barn, up hill and down hill,—away from the dirt and noise of London, away from its joys and sorrows, its splendors and its miseries, and from the oncoming, engulfing shadow. Spur and gallop, Barnabas,—ride, youth, ride! for the shadow has already touched you, even as the madman said.
Therefore while youth yet abides, while the sun yet shines,—ride, Barnabas, ride!
Now as he went, Barnabas presently espied a leafy by-lane, and across this lane a fence had been erected,—a high fence, but with a fair "take-off" and consequently, a most inviting fence. At this, forthwith, Barnabas rode, steadied Four-legs in his stride, touched him with the spur, and cleared it with a foot to spare. Then, all at once, he drew rein and paced over the dewy grass to where, beneath the hedge, was a solitary man who knelt before a fire of twigs fanning it to a blaze with his wide-eaved hat.
He was a slender man, and something stooping of shoulder, and his hair shone silver-white in the sunshine. Hearing Barnabas approach, he looked up, rose to his feet, and so stood staring as one in doubt. Therefore Barnabas uncovered his head and saluted him with grave politeness.
"Sir," said he, reining in his great horse, "you have not forgotten me, I hope?"
"No indeed, young sir," answered the Apostle of Peace, with a dawning smile of welcome. "But you are dressed very differently from what I remember. The quiet, country youth has become lost, and transfigured into the dashing Corinthian. What a vast difference clothes can make in one! And yet your face is the same, your expression unchanged. London has not altered you yet, and I hope it never may. No, sir, your face is not one to be forgotten,—indeed it reminds me of other days."
"But we have only met once before," said Barnabas.
"True! And yet I seem to have known you years ago,—that is what puzzles me! But come, young sir,—if you have time and inclination to share a vagrant's breakfast, I can offer you eggs and new milk, and bread and butter,—simple fare, but more wholesome than your French ragouts and highly-seasoned dishes."
"You are very kind," said Barnabas, "the ride has made me hungry, —besides, I should like to talk with you."
"Why, then—light down from that great horse of yours, and join me. The grass must be both chair and table, but here is a tree for your back, and the bank for mine."
So, having dismounted and secured his horse's bridle to a convenient branch, Barnabas sat himself down with his back to the tree, and accepted the wandering Preacher's bounty as freely as it was offered. And when the Preacher had spoken a short grace, they began to eat, and while they ate, to talk, as follows:
Barnabas. "It is three weeks, I think, since we met?"
The Preacher. "A month, young sir."
Barnabas. "So long a time?"
The Preacher. "So short a time. You have been busy, I take it?"
Barnabas. "Yes, sir. Since last we met I have bought a house and set up an establishment in London, and I have also had the good fortune to be entered for the Gentleman's Steeplechase on the fifteenth."
The Preacher. "You are rich, young sir?"
Barnabas. "And I hope to be famous also."
The Preacher. "Then indeed do I begin to tremble for you."
Barnabas (staring). "Why so?"
The Preacher. "Because wealth is apt to paralyze effort, and Fame is generally harder to bear, and far more dangerous, than failure."
Barnabas. "How dangerous, sir?"
The Preacher. "Because he who listens too often to the applause of the multitude grows deaf to the voice of Inspiration, for it is a very small, soft voice, and must be hearkened for, and some call it Genius, and some the Voice of God—"
Barnabas. "But Fame means Power, and I would succeed for the sake of others beside myself. Yes,—I must succeed, and, as I think you once said, all things are possible to us! Pray, what did you mean?"
The Preacher. "Young sir, into each of us who are born into this world God puts something of Himself, and by reason of this Divine part, all things are possible."
Barnabas. "Yet the world is full of failures."
The Preacher. "Alas! yes; but only because men do not realize power within them. For man is a selfish creature, and Self is always grossly blind. But let a man look within himself, let him but become convinced of this Divine power, and the sure and certain knowledge of ultimate success will be his. So, striving diligently, this power shall grow within him, and by and by he shall achieve great things, and the world proclaim him a Genius."
Barnabas. "Then—all men might succeed."
The Preacher. "Assuredly! for success is the common heritage of Man. It is only Self, blind, ignorant Self, who is the coward, crying 'I cannot! I dare not! It is impossible!'"
Barnabas. "What do you mean by 'Self'?"
The Preacher. "I mean the grosser part, the slave that panders to the body, a slave that, left unchecked, may grow into a tyrant, a Circe, changing Man to brute."
Here Barnabas, having finished his bread and butter, very thoughtfully cut himself another slice.
Barnabas (still thoughtful). "And do you still go about preaching Forgetfulness of Self, sir?"
The Preacher. "And Forgiveness, yes. A good theme, young sir, but—very unpopular. Men prefer to dwell upon the wrongs done them, rather than cherish the memory of benefits conferred. But, nevertheless, I go up and down the ways, preaching always."
Barnabas. "Why, then, I take it, your search is still unsuccessful."
The Preacher. "Quite! Sometimes a fear comes upon me that she may be beyond my reach—"
Barnabas. "You mean—?"
The Preacher. "Dead, sir. At such times, things grow very black until I remember that God is a just God, and therein lies my sure and certain hope. But I would not trouble you with my griefs, young sir, more especially on such a glorious morning,—hark to the throstle yonder, he surely sings of Life and Hope. So, if you will, pray tell me of yourself, young sir, of your hopes and ambitions."
Barnabas. "My ambitions, sir, are many, but first,—I would be a gentleman."
The Preacher (nodding). "Good! So far as it goes, the ambition is a laudable one."
Barnabas (staring thoughtfully at his bread and butter). "The first difficulty is to know precisely what a gentleman should be. Pray, sir, what is your definition?"
The Preacher. "A gentleman, young sir, is (I take it) one born with the Godlike capacity to think and feel for others, irrespective of their rank or condition."
Barnabas. "Hum! One who is unselfish?"
The Preacher. "One who possesses an ideal so lofty, a mind so delicate, that it lifts him above all things ignoble and base, yet strengthens his hands to raise those who are fallen—no matter how low. This, I think, is to be truly a gentleman, and of all gentle men Jesus of Nazareth was the first."
Barnabas (shaking his head). "And yet, sir, I remember a whip of small cords."
The Preacher. "Truly, for Evil sometimes so deadens the soul that it can feel only through the flesh."
Barnabas. "Then—a man may fight and yet be a gentleman?"
The Preacher. "He who can forgive, can fight."
Barnabas. "Sir, I am relieved to know that. But must Forgiveness always come after?"
The Preacher. "If the evil is truly repented of."
Barnabas. "Even though the evil remain?"
The Preacher. "Ay, young sir, for then Forgiveness becomes truly divine."
The Preacher. "But you eat nothing, young sir."
Barnabas. "I was thinking."
The Preacher. "Of what?"
Barnabas. "Sir, my thought embraced you."
The Preacher. "How, young sir?"
Barnabas. "I was wondering if you had ever heard of a man named Chichester?"
The Preacher (speaking brokenly, and in a whisper). "Sir!—young sir,—you said—?"
Barnabas (rising). "Chichester!"
The Preacher (coming to his knees). "Sir,—oh, sir,—this man—Chichester is he who stole away—my daughter,—who blasted her honor and my life,—who—"
The Preacher (covering his face). "Yes,—yes! God help me, it's true! But in her shame I love her still, oh, my pride is dead long ago. I remember only that I am her father, with all a father's loving pity, and that she—"
Barnabas. "And that she is the stainless maid she always was—"
"Sir," cried the Preacher, "oh, sir,—what do you mean?" and Barnabas saw the thin hands clasp and wring themselves, even as he remembered Clemency's had done.
"I mean," answered Barnabas, "that she fled from pollution, and found refuge among honest folk. I mean that she is alive and well, that she lives but to bless your arms and feel a father's kiss of forgiveness. If you would find her, go to the 'Spotted Cow,' near Frittenden, and ask for 'Clemency'!"
"Clemency!" repeated the Preacher, "Clemency means mercy. And she called herself—Clemency!" Then, with a sudden, rapturous gesture, he lifted his thin hands, and with his eyes upturned to the blue heaven, spoke.
"Oh, God!" he cried, "Oh, Father of Mercy, I thank Thee!" And so he arose from his knees, and turning about, set off through the golden morning towards Frittenden, and Clemency.
IN WHICH THE BO'SUN DISCOURSES ON LOVE AND ITS SYMPTOMS
Oho! for the warmth and splendor of the mid-day sun; for the dance and flurry of leafy shadows on the sward; for stilly wayside pools whose waters, deep and dark in the shade of overhanging boughs, are yet dappled here and there with glory; for merry brooks leaping and laughing along their stony beds; for darkling copse and sunny upland,—oho! for youth and life and the joy of it.
To the eyes of Barnabas, the beauty of the world about him served only to remind him of the beauty of her who was compounded of all things beautiful,—the One and Only Woman, whose hair was yellow like the ripening corn, whose eyes were deep and blue as the infinite heaven, whose lips were red as the poppies that bloomed beside the way, and whose body was warm with youth, and soft and white as the billowy clouds above.
Thus on galloped Barnabas with the dust behind and the white road before, and with never a thought of London, or its wonders, or the gathering shadow.
It was well past noon when he beheld a certain lonely church where many a green mound and mossy headstone marked the resting-place of those that sleep awhile. And here, beside the weather-worn porch, were the stocks, that "place of thought" where Viscount Devenham had sat in solitary, though dignified meditation. A glance, a smile, and Barnabas was past, and galloping down the hill towards where the village nestled in the valley. Before the inn he dismounted, and, having seen Four-legs well bestowed, and given various directions to a certain sleepy-voiced ostler, he entered the inn, and calling for dinner, ate it with huge relish. Now, when he had done, came the landlord to smoke a pipe with him,—a red-faced man, vast of paunch and garrulous of tongue.
"Fine doin's there be up at t' great 'ouse, sir," he began.
"You mean Annersley House?"
"Ay, sir. All the quality is there,—my son's a groom there an' 'e told me, so 'e did. Theer ain't nobody as ain't either a Markus or a Earl or a Vi'count, and as for Barry-nets, they're as thick as flies, they are,—an' all to meet a little, old 'ooman as don't come up to my shoulder! But then—she's a Duchess, an' that makes all the difference!"
"Yes, of course," said Barnabas.
"A little old 'ooman wi' curls, as don't come no-wise near so 'igh as my shoulder! Druv up to that theer very door as you see theer, in 'er great coach an' four, she did,—orders the steps to be lowered, —comes tapping into this 'ere very room with 'er little cane, she do, —sits down in that theer very chair as you're a-sittin' in, she do, fannin' 'erself with a little fan—an' calls for—now, what d' ye suppose, sir?"
"I haven't the least idea."
"She calls, sir,—though you won't believe me, it aren't to be expected,—no, not on my affer-daver,—she being a Duchess, ye see—"
"Well, what did she call for?" inquired Barnabas, rising.
"Sir, she called for—on my solemn oath it's true—though I don't ax ye to believe me, mind,—she sat in that theer identical chair,—an' mark me, 'er a Duchess,—she sat in that cheer, a-fannin' 'erself with 'er little fan, an' calls for a 'arf of Kentish ale—'Westerham brew,' says she; an' 'er a Duchess! In a tankard! But I know as you won't believe me,—nor I don't ax any man to,—no, not if I went down on my bended marrer-bones—"
"But I do believe you," said Barnabas.
"What—you do?" cried the landlord, almost reproachfully.
"Certainly! A Duchess is, sometimes, almost human."
"But you—actooally—believe me?"
"Well—you surprise me, sir! Ale! A Duchess! In a tankard! No, it aren't nat'ral. Never would I ha' believed as any one would ha' believed such a—"
But here Barnabas laughed, and taking up his hat, sallied out into the sunshine.
He went by field paths that led him past woods in whose green twilight thrushes and blackbirds piped, by sunny meadows where larks mounted heavenward in an ecstasy of song, and so, eventually he found himself in a road where stood a weather-beaten finger-post, with its two arms wide-spread and pointing:
TO LONDON. TO HAWKHURST
Here Barnabas paused a while, and bared his head as one who stands on hallowed ground. And looking upon the weather-worn finger-post, he smiled very tenderly, as one might who meets an old friend. Then he went on again until he came to a pair of tall iron gates, hospitable gates that stood open as though inviting him to enter. Therefore he went on, and thus presently espied a low, rambling house of many gables, about which were trim lawns and stately trees. Now as he stood looking at this house, he heard a voice near by, a deep, rolling bass upraised in song, and the words of it were these:
"What shall we do with the drunken sailor, Heave, my lads, yo-ho! Why, put him in the boat and roll him over, Put him in the boat till he gets sober, Put him in the boat and roll him over, With a heave, my lads, yo-ho!"
Following the direction of this voice, Barnabas came to a lawn screened from the house by hedges of clipped yew. At the further end of this lawn was a small building which had been made to look as much as possible like the after-cabin of a ship. It had a door midway, with a row of small, square windows on either side, and was flanked at each end by a flight of wooden steps, with elaborately carved hand-rails, that led up to the quarterdeck above, which was protected by more carved posts and rails. Here a stout pole had been erected and rigged with block and fall, and from this, a flag stirred lazily in the gentle wind.
Now before this building, his blue coat laid by, his shirt sleeves rolled up, his glazed hat on the back of his head, was the Bo'sun, polishing away at a small, brass cannon that was mounted on a platform, and singing lustily as he worked. So loudly did he sing, and so engrossed was he, that he did not look up until he felt Barnabas touch him. Then he started, turned, stared, hesitated, and, finally, broke into a smile.
"Ah, it's you, sir,—the young gemman as bore away for Lon'on alongside Master Horatio, his Lordship!"
"Yes," said Barnabas, extending his hand, "how are you, Bo'sun?"
"Hearty, sir, hearty, I thank ye!" Saying which he touched his forehead, rubbed his hand upon his trousers, looked at it, rubbed it again, and finally gave it to Barnabas, though with an air of apology. "Been making things a bit ship-shape, sir, 'count o' this here day being a occasion,—but I'm hearty, sir, hearty, I thank ye."
"And the Captain," said Barnabas with some hesitation. "How is the Captain?"
"The Cap'n, sir," answered the Bo'sun, "the Cap'n is likewise hearty."
"And—Lady Cleone—is she well, is she happy?"
"Why, sir, she's as 'appy as can be expected—under the circumstances."
"Love!" exclaimed Barnabas, "why, Bo'sun—what do you mean?"
"I mean, sir, as she's fell in love at last—
"How do you know—who with—where is she—?"
"Well, sir, I know on account o' 'er lowness o' sperrits,—noticed it for a week or more. Likewise I've heered 'er sigh very frequent, and I've seen 'er sit a-staring up at the moon—ah, that I have! Now lovers is generally low in their sperrits, I've heered tell, and they allus stare very 'ard at the moon,—why, I don't know, but they do,—leastways, so I've—"
"But—in love—with whom? Can I see her? Where is she? Are you sure?"
"And sartain, sir. Only t' other night, as I sat a-smoking my pipe on the lawn, yonder,—she comes out to me, and nestles down under my lee—like she used to years ago. 'Jerry, dear,' says she, 'er voice all low and soft-like, 'look at the moon,—how beautiful it is!' says she, and—she give a sigh. 'Yes, my lady,' says I. 'Oh, Jerry,' says she, 'call me Clo, as you used to do.' 'Yes, my Lady Clo,' says I. But she grapples me by the collar, and stamps 'er foot at me, all in a moment. 'Leave out the 'lady,'' says she. 'Yes, Clo,' says I. So she nestles an' sighs and stares at the moon again. 'Jerry, dear,' says she after a bit, 'when will the moon be at the full?' 'To-morrer, Clo,' says I. And after she's stared and sighed a bit longer—'Jerry, dear,' says she again, 'it's sweet to think that while we are looking up at the moon—others perhaps are looking at it too, I mean others who are far away. It—almost seems to bring them nearer, doesn't it? Then I knowed as 't were love, with a big L, sartin and sure, and—"
"Bo'sun," said Barnabas, catching him by the arm, "who is it she loves?"
"Well, sir,—I aren't quite sure, seeing as there are so many on 'em in 'er wake, but I think,—and I 'ope, as it's 'is Lordship, Master Horatio."
"Ah!" said Barnabas, his frowning brow relaxing.
"If it ain't 'im,—why then it's mutiny,—that's what it is, sir!"
"Ye see, sir," the Bo'sun went on to explain, "orders is orders, and if she don't love Master Horatio—well, she ought to."
"Because they was made for each other. Because they was promised to each other years ago. It were all arranged an' settled 'twixt Master Horatio's father, the Earl, and Lady Cleone's guardian, the Cap'n."
"Ah!" said Barnabas, "and where is she—and the Captain?"
"Out, sir; an' she made him put on 'is best uniform, as he only wears on Trafalgar Day, and such great occasions. She orders out the fam'ly coach, and away they go, 'im the very picter o' what a post-captain o' Lord Nelson should be (though to be sure, there's a darn in his white silk stocking—the one to starboard, just abaft the shoe-buckle, and, therefore, not to be noticed, and I were allus 'andy wi' my needle), and her—looking the picter o' the handsomest lady, the loveliest, properest maid in all this 'ere world. Away they go, wi' a fair wind to sarve 'em, an' should ha' dropped anchor at Annersley House a full hour ago."
"At Annersley?" said Barnabas. "There is a reception there, I hear?"
"Yes, sir, all great folk from Lon'on, besides country folk o' quality,—to meet the Duchess o' Camberhurst, and she's the greatest of 'em all. Lord! There's enough blue blood among 'em to float a Seventy-four. Nat'rally, the Cap'n wanted to keep a good offing to windward of 'em. 'For look ye, Jerry,' says he, 'I'm no confounded courtier to go bowing and scraping to a painted old woman, with a lot of other fools, just because she happens to be a duchess,—no, damme!' and down 'e sits on the breech o' the gun here. But, just then, my lady heaves into sight, brings up alongside, and comes to an anchor on his knee. 'Dear,' says she, with her round, white arm about his neck, and her soft, smooth cheek agin his, 'dear, it's almost time we began to dress.' 'Dress?' says he, 'what for, Clo,—I say, what d'ye mean?' 'Why, for the reception,' says she. 'To-day is my birthday' (which it is, sir, wherefore the flag at our peak, yonder), 'and I know you mean to take me,' says she, 'so I told Robert we should want the coach at three. So come along and dress,—like a dear.' The Cap'n stared at 'er, dazed-like, give me a look, and,—well—" the Bo'sun smiled and shook his head. "Ye see, sir, in some ways the Cap'n 's very like a ordinary man, arter all!"
HOW BARNABAS CLIMBED A WALL
Now presently, as he went, he became aware of a sound that was not the stir of leaves, nor the twitter of birds, nor the music of running waters, though all these were in his ears,—for this was altogether different; a distant sound that came and went, that swelled to a murmur, sank to a whisper, yet never wholly died away. Little by little the sound grew plainer, more insistent, until, mingled with the leafy stirrings, he could hear a plaintive melody, rising and falling, faint with distance.
Hereupon Barnabas halted suddenly, his chin in hand, his brow furrowed in thought, while over his senses stole the wailing melody of the distant violins. A while he stood thus, then plunged into the cool shadow of a wood, and hurried on by winding tracks, through broad glades, until the wood was left behind, until the path became a grassy lane; and ever the throbbing melody swelled and grew. It was a shady lane, tortuous and narrow, but on strode Barnabas until, rounding a bend, he beheld a wall, an ancient, mossy wall of red brick; and with his gaze upon this, he stopped again. But the melody called to him, louder now and more insistent, and mingled with the throb of the violins was the sound of voices and laughter.
Then, standing on tip-toe, Barnabas set his hands to the coping of the wall, and drawing himself up, caught a momentary vision of smiling gardens, of green lawns where bright figures moved, of winding walks and neat trimmed hedges, ere, swinging himself over, he dropped down among a bed of Sir George Annersley's stocks.
Before him was a shady walk winding between clipped yews, and, following this, Barnabas presently espied a small arbor some distance away. Now between him and this arbor was a place where four paths met, and where stood an ancient sun-dial with quaintly carved seats. And here, the sun making a glory of her wondrous hair, was my Lady Cleone, with the Marquis of Jerningham beside her. She sat with her elbow on her knee and her dimpled chin upon her palm, and, even from where he stood, Barnabas could see again the witchery of her lashes that drooped dark upon the oval of her cheek.
The Marquis was talking earnestly, gesturing now and then with his slender hand that had quite lost its habitual languor, and stooping that he might look into the drooping beauty of her face, utterly regardless of the havoc he thus wrought upon the artful folds of his marvellous cravat. All at once she looked up, laughed and shook her head, and, closing her fan, pointed with it towards the distant house, laughing still, but imperious. Hereupon the Marquis rose, albeit unwillingly, and bowing, hurried off to obey her behest. Then Cleone rose also, and turning, went on slowly toward the arbor, with head drooping as one in thought.
And now, with his gaze upon that shapely back, all youthful loveliness from slender foot to the crowning glory of her hair, Barnabas sighed, and felt his heart leap as he strode after her. But, even as he followed, oblivious of all else under heaven, he beheld another back that obtruded itself suddenly upon the scene, a broad, graceful back in a coat of fine blue cloth,—a back that bore itself with a masterful swing of the shoulders. And, in that instant, Barnabas recognized Sir Mortimer Carnaby.
Cleone had reached the arbor, but on the threshold turned to meet Sir Mortimer's sweeping bow. And now she seemed to hesitate, then extended her hand, and Sir Mortimer followed her into the arbor. My lady's cheeks were warm with rich color, her eyes were suddenly and strangely bright as she sank into a chair, and Sir Mortimer, misinterpreting this, had caught and imprisoned her hands.
"Cleone," said he, "at last!" The slender hands fluttered in his grasp, but his grasp was strong, and, ere she could stay him, he was down before her on his knee, and speaking quick and passionately.
"Cleone!—hear me! nay, I will speak! All the afternoon I have tried to get a word with you, and now you must hear me—you shall. And yet you know what I would say. You know I love you, and have done from the first hour I saw you. And from that hour I've hungered for your, Cleone, do you hear? Ah, tell me you love me!"
But my lady sat wide-eyed, staring at the face amid the leaves beyond the open window,—a face so handsome, yet so distorted; saw the gleam of clenched teeth, the frowning brows, the menacing gray eyes.
Sir Mortimer, all unconscious, had caught her listless hands to his lips, and was speaking again between his kisses.
"Speak, Cleone! You know how long I have loved you,—speak and bid me hope! What, silent still? Why, then—give me that rose from your bosom,—let it be hope's messenger, and speak for you."
But still my lady sat dumb, staring up at the face amid the leaves, the face of Man Primeval, aglow with all the primitive passions; beheld the drawn lips and quivering nostrils, the tense jaw savage and masterful, and the glowing eyes that threatened her. And, in that moment, she threw tip her head rebellious, and sighed, and smiled,—a woman's smile, proud, defiant; and, uttering no word, gave Sir Mortimer the rose. Then, even as she did so, sprang to her feet, and laughed, a little tremulously, and bade Sir Mortimer Go! Go! Go! Wherefore, Sir Mortimer, seeing her thus, and being wise in the ways of women, pressed the flower to his lips, and so turned and strode off down the path. And when his step had died away Cleone sank down in the chair, and spoke.
"Come out—spy!" she called. And Barnabas stepped out from the leaves. Then, because she knew what look was in his eyes, she kept her own averted; and because she was a woman young, and very proud, she lashed him with her tongue.
"So much for your watching and listening!" said she.
"But—he has your rose!" said Barnabas.
"And what of that?"
"And he has your promise!"
"I never spoke—"
"But the rose did!"
"The rose will fade and wither—"
"But it bears your promise—"
"I gave no promise, and—and—oh, why did you—look at me!"
"Look at you?"
"Why did you frown at me?"
"Why did you give him the rose?"
"Because it was so my pleasure. Why did you frown at me with eyes like—like a devil's?"
"I wanted to kill him—then!"
"Now, I wish him well of his bargain, and my thanks are due to him."
"Because, without knowing it, he has taught me what women are."
"What do you mean?"
"I—loved you, Cleone. To me you were one apart—holy, immaculate—"
"Yes?" said Cleone very softly.
"And I find you—"
"Only a—woman, sir,—who will not be watched, and frowned at, and spied upon."
"—a heartless coquette—" said Barnabas.
"—who despises eavesdroppers, and will not be spied upon, or frowned at!"
"I did not spy upon you," cried Barnabas, stung at last, "or if I did, God knows it was well intended."
"I remembered the last time we three were together,—in Annersley Wood." Here my lady shivered and hid her face. "And now, you gave him the rose! Do you want the love of this man, Cleone?"
"There is only one man in all the world I despise more, and his name is—Barnabas," said she, without looking up.
"So you—despise me, Cleone?"
"And I came here to tell you that I—loved you—to ask you to be my wife—"
"And looked at me with Devil's eyes—"
"Because you were mine, and because he—"
"Yours, Barnabas? I never said so."
"Because I loved you—worshipped you, and because—"
"Because you were—jealous, Barnabas!"
"Because I would have my wife immaculate—"
"But I am not your—wife."
"No," said Barnabas, frowning, "she must be immaculate."
Now when he said this he heard her draw a long, quivering sigh, and with the sigh she rose to her feet and faced him, and her eyes were wide and very bright, and the fan she held snapped suddenly across in her white fingers.
"Sir," she said, very softly, "I whipped you once, if I had a whip now, your cheek should burn again."
"But I should not ask you to kiss it,—this time!" said Barnabas.
"Yes," she said, in the same soft voice, "I despise you—for a creeping spy, a fool, a coward—a maligner of women. Oh, go away,—pray go. Leave me, lest I stifle."
But now, seeing the flaming scorn of him in her eyes, in the passionate quiver of her hands, he grew afraid, cowed by her very womanhood.
"Indeed," he stammered, "you are unjust. I—I did not mean—"
"Go!" said she, cold as ice, "get back over the wall. Oh! I saw you climb over like a—thief! Go away, before I call for help—before I call the grooms and stable-boys to whip you out into the road where you belong—go, I say!" And frowning now, she stamped her foot, and pointed to the wall. Then Barnabas laughed softty, savagely, and, reaching out, caught her up in his long arms and crushed her to him.
"Call if you will, Cleone," said he, "but listen first! I said to you that my wife should come to me immaculate—fortune's spoiled darling though she be,—petted, wooed, pampered though she is,—and, by God, so you shall! For I love you, Cleone, and if I live, I will some day call you 'wife,'—in spite of all your lovers, and all the roses that ever bloomed. Now, Cleone,—call them if you will." So saying he set her down and freed her from his embrace. But my lady, leaning breathless in the doorway, only looked at him once,—frowning a little, panting a little,—a long wondering look beneath her lashes, and, turning, was gone among the leaves. Then Barnabas picked up the broken fan, very tenderly, and put it into his bosom, and so sank down into the chair, his chin propped upon his fist, frowning blackly at the glory of the afternoon.
IN WHICH THE PATIENT READER IS INTRODUCED TO AN ALMOST HUMAN DUCHESS
"Very dramatic, sir! Though, indeed, you missed an opportunity, and—gracious heaven, how he frowns!" A woman's voice, sharp, high-pitched, imperious.
Barnabas started, and glancing up, beheld an ancient lady, very small and very upright; her cheeks were suspiciously pink, her curls suspiciously dark and luxuriant, but her eyes were wonderfully young and handsome; one slender mittened hand rested upon the ivory head of a stick, and in the other she carried a small fan.
"Now, he stares!" she exclaimed, as she met his look. "Lud, how he stares! As if I were a ghost, or a goblin, instead of only an old woman with raddled cheeks and a wig. Oh, yes! I wear a wig, sir, and very hideous I look without it! But even I was young once upon a time—many, many years ago, and quite as beautiful as She, indeed, rather more so, I think,—and I should have treated you exactly as She did—only more so,—I mean Cleone. Your blonde women are either too cold or overpassionate,—I know, for my hair was as yellow as Cleone's, hundreds of years ago, and I think, more abundant. To-day, being only a dyed brunette, I am neither too cold nor over-passionate, and I tell you, sir, you deserved it, every word."
Here Barnabas rose, and, finding nothing to say, bowed.
"But," continued the ancient lady, sweeping him with a quick, approving gaze, "I like your face, and y-e-s, you have a very good leg. You also possess a tongue, perhaps, and can speak?"
"Given the occasion, madam," said Barnabas, smiling.
"Ha, sir! do I talk so much then? Well, perhaps I do, for when a woman ceases to talk she's dead, and I'm very much alive indeed. So you may give me your arm, sir, and listen to me, and drop an occasional remark while I take breath,—your arm, sir!" And here the small, ancient lady held out a small, imperious hand, while her handsome young eyes smiled up into his.
"Madam, you honor me!"
"But I am only an old woman,—with a wig!"
"Age is always honorable, madam."
"Now that is very prettily said, indeed you improve, sir. Do you know who I am?"
"No, madam; but I can guess."
"Ah, well,—you shall talk to me. Now, sir,—begin. Talk to me of Cleone."
"Madam—I had rather not."
"Eh, sir,—you won't?"
"Why, then, I will!" Here the ancient lady glanced up at Barnabas with a malicious little smile. "Let me see, now—what were her words? 'Spy,' I think. Ah, yes—'a creeping spy,' 'a fool' and 'a coward.' Really, I don't think I could have bettered that—even in my best days,—especially the 'creeping spy.'"
"Madam," said Barnabas in frowning surprise, "you were listening?"
"At the back of the arbor," she nodded, "with my ear to the panelling, —I am sometimes a little deaf, you see."
"You mean that you were—actually prying—?"
"And I enjoyed it all very much, especially your 'immaculate' speech, which was very heroic, but perfectly ridiculous, of course. Indeed, you are a dreadfully young, young sir, I fear. In future, I warn you not to tell a woman, too often, how much you respect her, or she'll begin to think you don't love her at all. To be over-respectful doesn't sit well on a lover, and 'tis most unfair and very trying to the lady, poor soul!"
"To hearken to a private conversation doesn't sit well on a lady, madam, or an honorable woman."
"No, indeed, young sir. But then, you see, I'm neither. I'm only a Duchess, and a very old one at that, and I think I told you I wore a wig? But 'all the world loves a lover,' and so do I. As soon as ever I saw you I knew you for a lover of the 'everything-or-nothing' type. Oh, yes, all lovers are of different types, sir, and I think I know 'em all. You see, when I was young and beautiful—ages ago—lovers were a hobby of mine,—I studied them, sir. And, of 'em all, I preferred the 'everything-or-nothing, fire-and-ice, kiss-me-or-kill-me' type. That was why I followed you, that was why I watched and listened, and, I grieve to say, I didn't find you as deliciously brutal as I had hoped."
"Brutal, madam? Indeed, I—"
"Of course! When you snatched her up in your arms,—and I'll admit you did it very well,—when you had her there, you should have covered her with burning kisses, and with an oath after each. Girls like Cleone need a little brutality and—Ah! there's the Countess! And smiling at me quite lovingly, I declare! Now I wonder what rod she has in pickle for me? Dear me, sir, how dusty your coat is! And spurred boots and buckskins are scarcely the mode for a garden fete. Still, they're distinctive, and show off your leg to advantage, better than those abominable Cossack things,—and I doat upon a good leg—" But here she broke off and turned to greet the Countess,—a large, imposing, bony lady in a turban, with the eye and the beak of a hawk.
"My dearest Letitia!"
"My dear Duchess,—my darling Fanny, you 're younger than ever, positively you are,—I'd never have believed it!" cried the Countess, more hawk-like than ever. "I heard you were failing fast, but now I look at you, dearest Fanny, I vow you don't look a day older than seventy."
"And I'm seventy-one, alas!" sighed the Duchess, her eyes young with mischief. "And you, my sweetest creature,—how well you look! Who would ever imagine that we were at school together, Letitia!"
"But indeed I was—quite an infant, Fanny."
"Quite, my love, and used to do my sums for me. But let me present to you a young friend of mine, Mr.—Mr.—dear, dear! I quite forget—my memory is going, you see, Letitia! Mr.—"
"Beverley, madam," said Barnabas.
"Thank you,—Beverley, of course! Mr. Beverley—the Countess of Orme."
Hereupon Barnabas bowed low before the haughty stare of the keen, hawk-like eyes.
"And now, my sweet Letty," continued the Duchess, "you are always so delightfully gossipy—have you any news,—any stories to laugh over?"
"No, dear Fanny, neither the one nor the other—only—"
"'Only,' my love?"
"Only—but you've heard it already, of course,—you would be the very first to know of it!"
"Letitia, my dear—I always hated conundrums, you'll remember."
"I mean, every one is talking of it, already."
"Heigho! How warm the sun is!"
"Of course it may be only gossip, but they do say Cleone Meredith has refused the hand of your grandnephew."
"Jerningham, oh yes," added the Duchess, "on the whole, it's just as well."
"But I thought—" the hawk-eyes were very piercing indeed. "I feared it would be quite a blow to you—"
The Duchess shook her head, with a little ripple of laughter.
"I had formed other plans for him weeks ago,—they were quite unsuited to each other, my love."
"I'm delighted you take it so well, my own Fanny," said the Countess, looking the reverse. "We leave almost immediately,—but when you pass through Sevenoaks, you must positively stay with me for a day or two. Goodby, my sweet Fanny!" So the two ancient ladies gravely curtsied to each other, pecked each other on either cheek, and, with a bow to Barnabas, the Countess swept away with an imposing rustle of her voluminous skirts.
"Cat!" exclaimed the Duchess, shaking her fan at the receding figure; "the creature hates me fervently, and consequently, kisses me—on both cheeks. Oh, yes, indeed, sir, she detests me—and quite naturally. You see, we were girls together,—she's six months my junior, and has never let me forget it,—and the Duke—God rest him—admired us both, and, well,—I married him. And so Cleone has actually refused poor Jerningham,—the yellow-maned minx!"
"Why, then—you didn't know of it?" inquired Barnabas.
"Oh, Innocent! of course I didn't. I'm not omniscient, and I only ordered him to propose an hour ago. The golden hussy! the proud jade! Refuse my grand-nephew indeed! Well, there's one of your rivals disposed of, it seems,—count that to your advantage, sir!"
"But," said Barnabas, frowning and shaking his head, "Sir Mortimer Carnaby has her promise!"
"She gave him the rose!" said Barnabas, between set teeth. The Duchess tittered.
"Dear heart! how tragic you are!" she sighed. "Suppose she did,—what then? And besides—hum! This time it is young D'Arcy, it seems,—callow, pink, and quite harmless."
"Madam?" said Barnabas, wondering.
"Over there—behind the marble faun,—quite harmless, and very pink, you'll notice. I mean young D'Arcy—not the faun. Clever minx! Now I mean Cleone, of course—there she is!" Following the direction of the Duchess's pointing fan, Barnabas saw Cleone, sure enough. Her eyes were drooped demurely before the ardent gaze of the handsome, pink-cheeked young soldier who stood before her, and in her white fingers she held—a single red rose. Now, all at once, (and as though utterly unconscious of the burning, watchful eyes of Barnabas) she lifted the rose to her lips, and, smiling, gave it into the young soldier's eager hand. Then they strolled away, his epaulette very near the gleaming curls at her temple.
"Lud, young sir!" exclaimed the Duchess, catching Barnabas by the coat, "how dreadfully sudden you are in your movements—"
"Madam, pray loose me!"
"I'm going—I cannot bear—any more!"
"I mean that—she has—"
"A very remarkable head, she is as resourceful as I was—almost."
"Resourceful!" exclaimed Barnabas, "she is—"
"An extremely clever girl—"
"Madam, pray let me go."
"No, sir! my finger is twisted in your buttonhole,—if you pull yourself away I expect you'll break it, so pray don't pull; naturally, I detest pain. And I have much to talk about."
"As you will, madam," said Barnabas, frowning.
"First, tell me—you're quite handsome when you frown,—first, sir, why weren't you formally presented to me with the other guests?"
"Because I'm not a guest, madam."
"I mean that I came—over the wall, madam."
"The wall! Climbed over?"
"Dear heaven! The monstrous audacity of the man! You came to see Cleone, of course?"
"Ah, very right,—very proper! I remember I had a lover—in the remote ages, of course,—who used to climb—ah, well,—no matter! Though his wall was much higher than yours yonder." Here the Duchess sighed tenderly. "Well, you came to see Cleone, you found her,—and nicely you behaved to each other when you met! Youth is always so dreadfully tragic! But then what would love be without a little tragedy? And oh—dear heaven!—how you must adore each other! Oh, Youth! Youth!—and there's Sir George Annersley—!"
"Then, madam, you must excuse me!" said Barnabas, glancing furtively from the approaching figures to the adjacent wall.
"Oh dear, no. Sir George is with Jerningharn and Major Piper, a heavy dragoon—the heaviest in all the world, I'm sure. You must meet them."
"Sir," said the Duchess, buttonholing him again, "I insist! Oh, Sir George—gentlemen!" she called. Hereupon three lounging figures turned simultaneously, and came hurrying towards them.
"Why, Duchess!" exclaimed Sir George, a large, mottled gentleman in an uncomfortable cravat, "we have all been wondering what had become of your Grace, and—" Here Sir George's sharp eye became fixed upon Barnabas, upon his spurred boots, his buckskins, his dusty coat; and Sir George's mouth opened, and he gave a tug at his cravat.
"Deuce take me—it's Beverley!" exclaimed the Marquis, and held out his hand.
"What—you know each other?" the Duchess inquired.
"Mr. Beverley is riding in the steeplechase on the fifteenth," the Marquis answered. Hereupon Sir George stared harder than ever, and gave another tug at his high cravat, while Major Piper, who had been looking very hard at nothing in particular, glanced at Barnabas with a gleam of interest and said "Haw!"
As for the Duchess, she clapped her hands.
"And he never told me a word of it!" she exclaimed. "Of course all my money is on Jerningham,—though 'Moonraker' carries the odds, but I must have a hundred or two on Mr. Beverley for—friendship's sake."
"Friendship!" exclaimed the Marquis, "oh, begad!" Here he took out his snuff-box, tapped it, and put it in his pocket again.
"Yes, gentlemen," smiled the Duchess, "this is a friend of mine who—dropped in upon me, as it were, quite unexpectedly—over the wall, in fact."
"Wall!" exclaimed Sir George.
"The deuce you did, Beverley!" said the Marquis.
As for Major Piper, he hitched his dolman round, and merely said:
"Yes," said Barnabas, glancing from one to the other, "I am a trespasser here, and, Sir George, I fear I damaged some of your flowers!"
"Flowers!" repeated Sir George, staring from Barnabas to the Duchess and back again, "Oh!"
"And now—pray let me introduce you," said the Duchess. "My friend Mr. Beverley—Sir George Annersley. Mr. Beverley—Major Piper."
"A friend of her Grace is always welcome here, sir," said Sir George, extending a mottled hand.
"Delighted!" smiled the Major, saluting him in turn. "Haw!"
"But what in the world brings you here, Beverley?" inquired the Marquis.
"I do," returned his great-aunt. "Many a man has climbed a wall on my account before to-day, Marquis, and remember I'm only just—seventy-one, and growing younger every hour,—now am I not, Major?"
"Haw!—Precisely! Not a doubt, y' Grace. Soul and honor! Haw!"
"Marquis—your arm, Mr. Beverley—yours! Now, Sir George, show us the way to the marquee; I'm dying for a dish of tea, I vow I am!"
Thus, beneath the protecting wing of a Duchess was Barnabas given his first taste of Quality and Blood. Which last, though blue beyond all shadow of doubt, yet manifested itself in divers quite ordinary ways as,—in complexions of cream and roses; in skins sallow and wrinkled; in noses haughtily Roman or patricianly Greek, in noses mottled and unclassically uplifted; in black hair, white hair, yellow, brown, and red hair;—such combinations as he had seen many and many a time on village greens, and at country wakes and fairs. Yes, all was the same, and yet—how vastly different! For here voices were softly modulated, arms and hands gracefully borne, heads carried high, movement itself an artful science. Here eyes were raised or lowered with studied effect; beautiful shoulders, gracefully shrugged, became dimpled and irresistible; faces with perfect profiles were always—in profile. Here, indeed, Age and Homeliness went clothed in magnificence, and Youth and Beauty walked hand in hand with Elegance; while everywhere was a graceful ease that had been learned and studied with the Catechism. Barnabas was in a world of silks and satins and glittering gems, of broadcloth and fine linen, where such things are paramount and must be lived up to; a world where the friendship of a Duchess may transform a nobody into a SOMEBODY, to be bowed to by the most elaborate shirtfronts, curtsied to by the haughtiest of turbans, and found worthy of the homage of bewitching eyes, seductive dimples, and entrancing profiles.
In a word, Barnabas had attained—even unto the World of Fashion.
WHICH RELATES SUNDRY HAPPENINGS AT THE GARDEN FETE
"Gad, Beverley! how the deuce did y' do it?"
"Do what, Marquis?"
"Charm the Serpent! Tame the Dragon!"
"Make such a conquest of her Graceless Grace of Camberhurst, my great-aunt? I didn't know you were even acquainted,—how long have you known her?"
"About an hour," said Barnabas.
"Eh—an hour? But, my dear fellow, you came to see her—over the wall, you know,—she said so, and—"
"She said so, yes, Marquis, but—"
"But? Oh, I see! Ah, to be sure! She is my great-aunt, of course, and my great-aunt, Beverley, generally thinks, and does, and says—exactly what she pleases. Begad! you never can tell what she' 11 be up to next,—consequently every one is afraid of her, even those high goddesses of the beau monde, those exclusive grandes dames, my Ladies Castlereagh, Jersey, Cowper and the rest of 'em—they're all afraid of my small great-aunt, and no wonder! You see, she's old—older than she looks, and—with a perfectly diabolical memory! She knows not only all their own peccadillos, but the sins of their great-grandmothers as well. She fears nothing on the earth, or under the earth, and respects no one—not even me. Only about half an hour ago she informed me that I was a—well, she told me precisely what I was,—and she can be painfully blunt, Beverley,—just because Cleone happens to have refused me again."
"Again?" said Barnabas inquiringly.
"Oh, yes! She does it regularly. Begad! she's refused me so often that it's grown into a kind of formula with us now. I say, 'Cleone, do!' and she answers, 'Bob, don't!' But even that's something,—lots of 'em haven't got so far as that with her."
"Sir Mortimer Carnaby, for instance!" said Barnabas, biting his lip.
"Hum!" said the Marquis dubiously, deftly re-settling his cravat, "and what of—yourself, Beverley?"
"I have asked her—only twice, I think."
"Ah, and she—refused you?"
"No," sighed Barnabas, "she told me she—despised me."
"Did she so? Give me your hand—I didn't think you were so strong in the running. With Cleone's sort there's always hope so long as she isn't sweet and graciously indifferent."
"Pray," said Barnabas suddenly, "pray where did you get that rose, Marquis?"
"This? Oh, she gave it to me."
"But—I thought she'd refused you?"
"Oh, yes—so she did; but that's just like Cleone, frowning one moment, smiling the next—April, you know."
"And did she—kiss it first?"
"Kiss it? Why—deuce take me, now I come to think of it,—so she did,—at least—What now, Beverley?"
"I'm—going!" said Barnabas.
"Back—over the wall!"
"Eh!—run away, is it?"
"As far," said Barnabas, scowling, "as far as possible. Good-by, Marquis!" And so he turned and strode away, while the Marquis stared after him, open-mouthed. But as he went, Barnabas heard a voice calling his name, and looking round, beheld Captain Chumly coming towards him. A gallant figure he made (despite grizzled hair and empty sleeve), in all the bravery of his white silk stockings, and famous Trafalgar coat, which, though a little tarnished as to epaulettes and facings, nevertheless bore witness to the Bo'sun's diligent care; he was, indeed, from the crown of his cocked hat down to his broad, silver shoe-buckles, the very pattern of what a post-captain of Lord Nelson should be.
"Eh, sir!" he exclaimed, with his hand outstretched in greeting, "are ye blind, I say are ye blind and deaf? Didn't you hear her Grace hailing you? Didn't ye see me signal you to 'bring to'?"
"No, sir," answered Barnabas, grasping the proffered hand.
"Oho!" said the Captain, surveying Barnabas from head to foot, "so you've got 'em on, I see, and vastly different you look in your fine feathers. But you can sink me,—I say you can scuttle and sink me if I don't prefer you in your homespun! You'll be spelling your name with as many unnecessary letters, and twirls, and flourishes as you can clap in, nowadays, I'll warrant."
"Jack Chumly, don't bully the boy!" said a voice near by; and looking thitherward, Barnabas beheld the Duchess seated at a small table beneath a shady tree, and further screened by a tall hedge; a secluded corner, far removed from the throng, albeit a most excellent place for purposes of observation, commanding as it did a wide view of lawns and terraces. "As for you, Mr. Beverley," continued the Duchess, with her most imperious air, "you may bring a seat—here, beside me,—and help the Captain to amuse me."
"Madam," said Barnabas, his bow very solemn and very deep, "I am about to leave, and—with your permission—I—"
"You have my permission to—sit here beside me, sir. So! A dish of tea? No? Ah, well—we were just talking of you; the Captain was describing how he first met you—"
"Bowing to a gate-post, mam,—on my word as a sailor and a Christian, it was a gate-post,—I say, an accurs—a confoundedly rotten old stick of a gate-post."
"I remember," sighed Barnabas.
"And to-day, sir," continued the Captain, "to-day you must come clambering over a gentleman's garden wall to bow and scrape to a—"
"Don't dare to say—another stick, Jack Chumly!" cried the Duchess.
"I repeat, sir, you must come trespassing here, to bow—I say bah! and scrape—"
"I say tush!" interpolated the Duchess demurely.
"To an old—"
"Painted!" suggested the Duchess.
"Hum!" said the Captain, a little hipped, "I say—ha!—lady, sir—"
"With a wig!" added the Duchess.
"And with a young and handsome,—I say a handsome and roguish pair of eyes, sir, that need no artificial aids, mam, nor ever will!"
"Three!" cried the Duchess, clapping her hands. "Oh, Jack! Jack Chumly! you, like myself, improve with age! As a midshipman you were too callow, as a lieutenant much too old and serious, but now that you are a battered and wrinkled young captain, you can pay as pretty a compliment as any other gallant youth. Actually three in one hour, Mr. Beverley."
"Compliments, mam!" snorted the Captain, with an angry flap of his empty sleeve, "Compliments, I scorn 'em! I say pish, mam,—I say bah! I speak only the truth, mam, as well you know."
"Four!" cried the Duchess, with a gurgle of youthful laughter. "Oh, Jack! Jack! I protest, as you sit there you are growing more youthful every minute."
"Gad so, mam! then I'll go before I become a mewling infant—I say a puling brat, mam."
"Stay a moment, Jack. I want you to explain your wishes to Mr. Beverley in regard to Cleone's future."
"Certainly, your Grace—I say by all means, mam."
"Very well, then I'll begin. Listen—both of you. Captain Chumly, being a bachelor and consequently an authority on marriage, has, very properly, chosen whom his ward must marry; he has quite settled and arranged it all, haven't you, Jack?"
"Quite, mam, quite."
"Thus, Cleone is saved all the bother and worry of choosing for herself, you see, Mr. Beverley, for the Captain's choice is fixed,— isn't it, Jack?"
"As a rock, mam—I say as an accurs—ha! an adamantine crag, mam. My ward shall marry my nephew, Viscount Devenham, I am determined on it—"
"Consequently, Mr. Beverley, Cleone will, of course, marry—whomsoever she pleases!"
"Eh, mam? I say, what?—I say—"
"Like the feminine creature she is, Mr. Beverley!"
"Now by Og,—I say by Og and Gog, mam! She is my ward, and so long as I am her guardian she shall obey—"
"I say boh! Jack Chumly,—I say bah!" mocked the Duchess, nodding her head at him. "Cleone is much too clever for you—or any other man, and there is only one woman in this big world who is a match for her, and that woman is—me. I've watched her growing up—day by day—year after year into—just what I was—ages ago,—and to-day she is—almost as beautiful,—and—very nearly as clever!"
"Clever, mam? So she is, but I'm her guardian and—she loves me—I think, and—"
"Of course she loves you, Jack, and winds you round her finger whenever she chooses—"
"Finger, mam! finger indeed! No, mam, I can be firm with her."
"As a candle before the fire, Jack. She can bend you to all the points of your compass. Come now, she brought you here this afternoon against your will,—now didn't she?"
"Ah!—hum!" said the Captain, scratching his chin.
"And coaxed you into your famous Trafalgar uniform, now didn't she?"
"Why as to that, mam, I say—"
"And petted you into staying here much longer than you intended, now didn't she?"
"Which reminds me that it grows late, mam," said the Captain, taking out his watch and frowning at it. "I must find my ward. I say I will bring Cleone to make you her adieux." So saying, he bowed and strode away across the lawn.
"Poor Jack," smiled the Duchess, "he is such a dear, good, obedient child, and he doesn't know it. And so your name is Beverley, hum! Of the Beverleys of Ashleydown? Yet, no,—that branch is extinct, I know. Pray what branch are you? Why, here comes Sir Mortimer Carnaby,—heavens, how handsome he is! And you thrashed him, I think? Oh, I know all about it, sir, and I know—why!"
"Then," said Barnabas, somewhat taken aback, "you'll know he deserved it, madam."
"Mm! Have you met him since?"
"No, indeed, nor have I any desire to!"
"Oh, but you must," said the Duchess, and catching Sir Mortimer's gaze, she smiled and beckoned him, and next moment he was bowing before her. "My dear Sir Mortimer," said she, "I don't think you are acquainted with my friend, Mr. Beverley?"
"No," answered Sir Mortimer with a perfunctory glance at Barnabas.
"Ah! I thought not. Mr. Beverley—Sir Mortimer Carnaby."
"Honored, sir," said Sir Mortimer, as they bowed.
"Mr. Beverley is, I believe, an opponent of yours, Sir Mortimer?" pursued the Duchess, with her placid smile.
"An opponent! indeed, your Grace?" said he, favoring Barnabas with another careless glance.
"I mean—in the race, of course," smiled the Duchess. "But oh, happy man! So you have been blessed also?"
"I see you wear Cleone's favor,—you've been admitted to the Order of the Rose, like all the others." And the Duchess tittered.
"Others, your Grace! What others?"
"Oh, sir, their name is Legion. There's Jerningham, and young Denton, and Snelgrove, and Ensign D'Arcy, and hosts beside. Lud, Sir Mortimer, where are your eyes? Look there! and there! and there again!" And, with little darting movements of her fan, she indicated certain young gentlemen, who strolled to and fro upon the lawn; now, in the lapel of each of their coats was a single, red rose. "There's safety in numbers, and Cleone was always cautious!" said the Duchess, and tittered again.
Sir Mortimer glanced from those blooms to the flower in his own coat, and his cheek grew darkly red, and his mouth took on a cruel look.
"Ah, Duchess," he smiled, "it seems our fair Cleone has an original idea of humor,—very quaint, upon my soul!" And so he laughed, and bowing, turned away.
"Now—watch!" said the Duchess, "there!" As she spoke, Sir Mortimer paused, and with a sudden fierce gesture tore the rose from his coat and tossed it away. "Now really," said the Duchess, leaning back and fanning herself placidly, "I think that was vastly clever of me; you should be grateful, sir, and so should Cleone—hush!—here she comes, at last."
"Where?" inquired Barnabas, glancing up hastily.
"Ssh! behind us—on the other side of the hedge—clever minx!"
"Sit still, sir—hush, I say!"
"So that is the reason," said Cleone's clear voice, speaking within a yard of them, "that is why you dislike Mr. Beverley?"
"Yes, and because of his presumption!" said a second voice, at the sound of which Barnabas flushed and started angrily, whereupon the Duchess instantly hooked him by the buttonhole again.
"His presumption in what, Mr. Chichester?"
"In his determined pursuit of you."
"Is he in pursuit of me?"
"Cleone—you know he is!"
"But how do you happen to know?"
"From his persecution of poor Ronald, for one thing."
"It amounted to that. He found his way to Ronald's wretched lodging, and tempted the poor fellow with his gold,—indeed almost commanded Ronald to allow him to pay off his debts—"
"But Ronald refused, of course?" said Cleone quickly.
"Of course! I was there, you see, and this Beverley is a stranger!"
"And yet, Cleone, when your unfortunate brother refused his money,—this utter stranger, this Good Samaritan,—actually went behind Ronald's back and offered to buy up his debts! Such a thing might be done by father for son, or brother for brother, but why should any man do so much for an utter stranger—?"
"Either because he is very base, or very—noble!" said Cleone.
"Noble! I tell you such a thing is quite impossible—unheard of! No man would part with a fortune to benefit a stranger—unless he had a powerful motive!"
"Well?" said Cleone softly.
"Well, Cleone, I happen to know that motive is—yourself!" Here the Duchess, alert as usual, caught Barnabas by the cravat, and only just in time.
"Sit still—hush!" she whispered, glancing up into his distorted face, for Mr. Chichester was going on in his soft, deliberate voice:
"Oh, it is all very simple, Cleone, and very clumsy,—thus, see you. In the guise of Good Samaritan this stranger buys the debts of the brother, trusting to the gratitude of the sister. He knows your pride, Cleone, so he would buy your brother and put you under lasting obligation to himself. The scheme is a little coarse, and very clumsy,—but then, he is young."
"And you say—he tried to pay these debts—without Ronald's knowledge? Are you sure—quite sure?"
"Quite! And I know, also, that when Ronald's creditor refused, he actually offered to double—to treble the sum! But, indeed, you would be cheap at sixty thousand pounds, Cleone!"
"Oh—hateful!" she cried.
"Crude, yes, and very coarse, but, as I said before, he is young—what, are you going?"
"Yes—no. Pray find my guardian and bring him to me."
"First, tell me I may see you again, Cleone, before I leave for London?"
"Yes," said Cleone, after a momentary hesitation.
Thereafter came the tread of Mr. Chichester's feet upon the gravel, soft and deliberate, like his voice.
Then Barnabas sighed, a long, bitter sigh, and looking up—saw Cleone standing before him.
"Ah, dear Godmother!" said she lightly, "I hope your Grace was able to hear well?"
"Perfectly, my dear, thank you—every word," nodded the Duchess, "though twice Mr. Beverley nearly spoilt it all. I had to hold him dreadfully tight,—see how I've crumpled his beautiful cravat. Dear me, how impetuous you are, sir! As for you, Cleone, sit down, my dear,—that's it!—positively I'm proud of you,—kiss me,—I mean about the roses. It was vastly clever! You are myself over again."
"Your Grace honors me!" said Cleone, her eyes demure, but with a dimple at the corner of her red mouth.
"And I congratulate you. I was a great success—in my day. Ah me! I remember seeing you—an hour after you were born. You were very pink, Cleone, and as bald as—as I am, without my wig. No—pray sit still,—Mr. Beverley isn't looking at you, and he was just as bald, once, I expect—and will be again, I hope. Even at that early age you pouted at me, Cleone, and I liked you for it. You are pouting now, Miss! To-day Mr. Beverley frowns at me, and I like him for it,—besides, he's very handsome when he frowns, don't you think, Cleone?"
"Madam—" began Barnabas, with an angry look.
"Ah! now you're going to quarrel with me,—well there's the Major,—I shall go. If you must quarrel with some one,—try Cleone, she's young, and, I think, a match for you. Oh, Major! Major Piper, pray lend your arm and protection to a poor, old, defenceless woman." So saying, the Duchess rose, and the Major, bowing gallantly gave her the limb she demanded, and went off with her, 'haw'-ing in his best and most ponderous manner.
Barnabas sat, chin in hand, staring at the ground, half expecting that Cleone would rise and leave him. But no! My lady sat leaning back in her chair, her head carelessly averted, but watching him from the corners of her eyes. A sly look it was, a searching, critical look, that took close heed to all things, as—the fit and excellence of his clothes; the unconscious grace of his attitude; the hair that curled so crisp and dark at his temples; the woeful droop of his lips;—a long, inquisitive look, a look wholly feminine. Yes, he was certainly handsome, handsomer even than she had thought. And finding him so, she frowned, and, frowning, spoke:
"So you meant to buy me, sir—as you would a horse or dog?"
"No," said Barnabas, without looking up, and speaking almost humbly.
"It would have been the same thing, sir," she continued, a little more haughtily in consequence. "You would have put upon me an obligation I could never, never have hoped to repay?"
"Yes, I see my error now," said Barnabas, his head sinking lower. "I acted for the best, but I am a fool, and a clumsy one it seems. I meant only to serve you, to fulfil the mission you gave me, and I blundered—because I am—very ignorant. If you can forgive me, do so."
Now this humility was new in him, and because of this, and because she was a woman, she became straightway more exacting, and questioned him again.
"But why—why did you do it?"
"You asked me to save your brother, and I could see no other way—"
"How so? Please explain."
"I meant to free him from the debt which is crushing him down and unmanning him."
"But—oh, don't you see—he would still be in debt—to you?"
"I had forgotten that!" sighed Barnabas.
"Forgotten it?" she repeated.
Surely no man could lie, whose eyes were so truthful and steadfast.
"And so you went and offered to—buy up his debts?"
"For three times the proper sum?"
"I would have paid whatever was asked."
"Because I promised you to help him," answered Barnabas, staring at the ground again.
"You must be—very rich?" said Cleone, stealing another look at him.
"And—supposing you had taken over the debt, who did you think would ever repay you?"
"It never occurred to me."
"And you would have done—all this for a—stranger?"
"No, but because of the promise I gave."
"Yes,—but, as God sees me, I would have looked for no recompense at your hands."
"Unless I—I had dreamed it possible that you—could ever have—loved me." Barnabas was actually stammering, and he was looking at her—pleadingly, she knew, but this time my lady kept her face averted, of course. Wherefore Barnabas sighed, and his head drooping, stared at the ground again. And after he had stared thus, for perhaps a full minute, my lady spoke, but with her face still averted.
"The moon is at the full to-night, I think?"
Barnabas (lifting his head suddenly). "Yes."
Cleone (quite aware of his quick glance). "And—how do you like—the Duchess?"
Barnabas (staring at the ground again). "I don't know."
Cleone (with unnecessary emphasis). "Why, she is the dearest, best, cleverest old godmother in all the world, sir!"
Barnabas (humbly). "Yes."
Cleone (with a side glance). "Are you riding back to London to-night?"
Barnabas (nodding drearily). "Yes."
Cleone (watching him more keenly). "It should be glorious to gallop under a—full-orbed moon."
Barnabas (shaking his head mournfully). "London is a great way from—here."
Cleone (beginning to twist a ring on her finger nervously). "Do you remember the madman we met—at Oakshott's Barn?"
Barnabas (sighing). "Yes. I met him in London, lately."
Cleone (clasping her hands together tightly). "Did he talk about—the moon again?"
Barnabas (still sighing, and dense), "No, it was about some shadow, I think."
Cleone (frowning at him a little). "Well—do you remember what he prophesied—about—an 'orbed moon'—and 'Barnaby Bright'?"
Barnabas (glancing up with sudden interest). "Yes,—yes, he said we should meet again at Barnaby Bright—under an orbed moon!"
Cleone (head quite averted now, and speaking over her shoulder). "Do you remember the old finger-post—on the Hawkhurst road?"
Barnabas (leaning towards her eagerly). "Yes—do you mean—Oh, Cleone—?"
Cleone (rising, and very demure). "Here comes the Duchess with my Guardian—hush! At nine o'clock, sir."
IN WHICH BARNABAS MAKES A SURPRISING DISCOVERY, THAT MAY NOT SURPRISE THE READER IN THE LEAST
Evening, with the promise of a glorious night later on; evening, full of dewy scents, of lengthening shadows, of soft, unaccountable noises, of mystery and magic; and, over all, a rising moon, big and yellow. Thus, as he went, Barnabas kept his eyes bent thitherward, and his step was light and his heart sang within him for gladness, it was in the very air, and in the whole fair world was no space for care or sorrow, for his dreams were to be realized at a certain finger-post on the Hawkhurst road, on the stroke of nine. Therefore, as he strode along, being only human after all, Barnabas fell a whistling to himself under his breath. And his thoughts were all of Cleone, of the subtle charm of her voice, of the dimple in her chin, of her small, proud feet, and her thousand sly bewitchments; but, at the memory of her glowing beauty, his flesh thrilled and his breath caught. Then, upon the quietude rose a voice near by, that spoke from where the shadows lay blackest,—a voice low and muffled, speaking as from the ground:
"How long, oh Lord, how long?"
And, looking within the shadow, Barnabas beheld one who lay face down upon the grass, and coming nearer, soft-footed, he saw the gleam of silver hair, and stooping, touched the prostrate figure. Wherefore the heavy head was raised, and the mournful voice spoke again:
"Is it you, young sir? You will grieve, I think, to learn that my atonement is not complete, my pilgrimage unfinished. I must wander the roads again, preaching Forgiveness, for, sir,—Clemency is gone, my Beatrix is vanished. I am—a day too late! Only one day, sir, and there lies the bitterness."
"Gone!" cried Barnabas, "gone?"
"She left the place yesterday, very early in the morning,—fled away none knows whither,—I am too late! Sir, it is very bitter, but God's will be done!"
Then Barnabas sat down in the shadow, and took the Preacher's hand, seeking to comfort him:
"Sir," said he gently, "tell me of it."
"Verily, for it is soon told, sir. I found the place you mentioned, I found there also, one—old like myself, a sailor by his look, who sat bowed down with some grievous sorrow. And, because of my own joy, I strove to comfort him, and trembling with eagerness, hearkening for the step of her I had sought so long, I told him why I was there. So I learned I was too late after all,—she had gone, and his grief was mine also. He was very kind, he showed me her room, a tiny chamber under the eaves, but wondrous fair and sweet with flowers, and all things orderly, as her dear hands had left them. And so we stayed there a while,—two old men, very silent and full of sorrow. And in a while, though he would have me rest there the night, I left, and walked I cared not whither, and, being weary, lay down here wishful to die. But I may not die until my atonement be complete, and mayhap—some day I shall find her yet. For God is a just God, and His will be done. Amen!"
"But why—why did she go?" cried Barnabas.
"Young sir, the answer is simple, the man Chichester had discovered her refuge. She was afraid!" Here the Apostle of Peace fell silent, and sat with bent head and lips moving as one who prayed. When at last he looked up, a smile was on his lips. "Sir," said he, "it is only the weak who repine, for God is just, and I know I shall find her before I die!" So saying he rose, though like one who is very weary, and stood upon his feet.
"Where are you going?" Barnabas inquired.
"Sir, my trust is in God, I take to the road again."
"To search for her?"
"To preach for her. And when I have preached sufficiently, God will bring me to her. So come, young sir, if you will, let us walk together as far as we may." Thus, together, they left the shadow and went on, side by side, in the soft radiance of the rising moon.
"Sir," said Barnabas after a while, seeing his companion was very silent, and that his thin hands often griped and wrung each other, —that gesture which was more eloquent than words,—"Sir, is there anything I can do to lighten your sorrow?"
"Yes, young sir, heed it well, let it preach to you this great truth, that all the woes arid ills we suffer are but the necessary outcome of our own acts. Oh sir,—young sir, in you and me, as in all other men, there lies a power that may help to make or mar the lives of our fellows, a mighty power, yet little dreamed of, and we call it Influence. For there is no man but he must, of necessity, influence, to a more or less degree, the conduct of those he meets, whether he will or no,—and there lies the terror of it! Thus, to some extent, we become responsible for the actions of our neighbors, even after we are dead, for Influence is immortal. Man is a pebble thrown into the pool of Life,—a splash, a bubble, and he is gone! But—the ripples of Influence he leaves behind go on widening and ever widening until they reach the farthest bank. Oh, had I but dreamed of this in my youth, I might have been—a happy man to-night, and—others also. In helping others we ourselves are blessed, for a noble thought, a kindly word, a generous deed, are never lost; such things cannot go to waste, they are our monuments after we are dead, and live on forever."
So, talking thus, they reached a gate, and, beyond the gate, a road, white beneath the moon, winding away between shadowy hedges.
"You are for London, I fancy, young sir?"
"Then we part here. But before I bid you God speed, I would know your name; mine is Darville—Ralph Darville."
"And mine, sir, is Barnabas—Beverley."
"Beverley!" said the Preacher, glancing up quickly, "of Ashleydown?"
"Sir," said Barnabas, "surely they are all dead?"
"True, true!" nodded the Preacher, "the name is extinct. That is how the man—Chichester came into the inheritance. I knew the family well, years ago. The brothers died abroad, Robert, the elder, with his regiment in the Peninsula, Francis, in battle at sea, and Joan—like my own poor Beatrix, was unhappy, and ran away, but she was never heard of again."
"And her name was Joan?" said Barnabas slowly, "Joan—Beverley?"
"Sir, Joan Beverley was my mother! I took her name—Beverley—for a reason."
"Your mother! Ah, I understand it now; you are greatly like her, at times, it was the resemblance that puzzled me before. But, sir—if Joan Beverley was your mother, why then—"
"Then, Chichester has no right to the property?"
"If you can prove your descent."
"Yes," said Barnabas, "but—to whom?"
"You must seek out a Mr. Gregory Dyke, of Lincoln's Inn; he is the lawyer who administered the estate—"
"Stay," said Barnabas, "let me write it down."
"And now, young sir," said the Preacher, when he had answered all the eager questions of Barnabas as fully as he might, "now, young sir, you know I have small cause to love the man—Chichester, but, remember, you are rich already, and if you take this heritage also,—he will be destitute."
"Sir," said Barnabas, frowning, "better one destitute and starving, than that many should be wretched, surely."
The Preacher sighed and shook his head.
"Young sir, good-by," said he, "I have a feeling we may meet again, but life is very uncertain, therefore I would beg of you to remember this: as you are strong, be gentle; as you are rich, generous; and as you are young, wise. But, above all, be merciful, and strive to forgive wrongs." So they clasped hands, then, sighing, the Preacher turned and plodded on his lonely way. But, long after he had vanished down the moonlit road, Barnabas stood, his fists clenched, his mouth set, until he was roused by a sound near by, a very small sound like the jingle of distant spurs. Therefore, Barnabas lifted his head, and glanced about him, but seeing no one, presently went his way, slow of foot and very thoughtful.
IN WHICH SHALL BE FOUND FURTHER MENTION OF A FINGER-POST
The hands of Natty Bell's great watch were pointing to the hour of nine, what time Barnabas dismounted at the cross-roads, and tethering Four-legs securely, leaned his back against the ancient finger-post to wait the coming of Cleone.
Now being old, and having looked upon many and divers men (and women) in its day, it is to be supposed that the ancient finger-post took more or less interest in such things as chanced in its immediate vicinity. Thus, it is probable that it rightly defined why this particular long-legged human sighed so often, now with his gaze upon the broad disc of the moon, now upon a certain point of the road ahead, and was not in the least surprised to see Barnabas start forward, bareheaded, to meet her who came swift and light of foot; to see her pause before him, quick-breathing, blushing, sighing, trembling; to see how glance met glance; to see him stoop to kiss the hand she gave him, and all—without a word. Surprised? not a bit of it, for to a really observant finger-post all humans (both he and she) are much alike at such times.
"I began to fear you wouldn't come," said Barnabas, finding voice at last.
"But to-night is—Barnaby Bright, and the prophecy must be fulfilled, sir. And—oh, how wonderful the moon is!" Now, lifting her head to look at it, her hood must needs take occasion to slip back upon her shoulders, as if eager to reveal her loveliness,—the high beauty of her face, the smooth round column of her throat, and the shining wonder of her hair.
"Cleone—how beautiful you are!"
And here ensued another silence while Cleone gazed up at the moon, and Barnabas at Cleone.
But the ancient finger-post (being indeed wonderfully knowing—for a finger-post) well understood the meaning of such silences, and was quite aware of the tremble of the strong fingers that still held hers, and why, in the shadow of her cloak, her bosom hurried so. Oh! be sure the finger-post knew the meaning of it all, since humans, of every degree, are only men and women after all.
"Cleone, when will you—marry me?"
Now here my lady stole a quick glance at him, and immediately looked up at the moon again, because the eyes that could burn so fiercely could hold such ineffable tenderness also.
"You are very—impetuous, I think," she sighed.
"But I—love you," said Barnabas, "not only for your beauty, but because you are Cleone, and there is no one else in the world like you. But, because I love you so much, it—it is very hard to tell you of it. If I could only put it into fine-sounding phrases—"
"Don't!" said my lady quickly, and laid a slender (though very imperious) finger upon his lips.
"Why?" Barnabas inquired, very properly kissing the finger and holding it there.
"Because I grow tired of fine phrases and empty compliments, and because, sir—"
"Have you forgotten that my name is Barnabas?" he demanded, kissing the captive finger again, whereupon it struggled—though very feebly, to be sure.
"And because, Barnabas, you would be breaking your word."
"You must only tell me—that, when 'the sun is shining, and friends are within call,'—have you forgotten your own words so soon?"
Now, as she spoke Barnabas beheld the dimple—that most elusive dimple, that came and went and came again, beside the scarlet lure of her mouth; therefore he drew her nearer until he could look, for a moment, into the depths of her eyes. But here, seeing the glowing intensity of his gaze, becoming aware of the strong, compelling arm about her, feeling the quiver of the hand that held her own, lo! in that instant my lady, with her sly bewitchments, her coquettish airs and graces, was gone, and in her place was the maid—quick-breathing, blushing, trembling, all in a moment.
"Ah, no!" she pleaded, "Barnabas, no!" Then Barnabas sighed, and loosed his clasp—but behold! the dimple was peeping at him again. And in that moment he caught her close, and thus, for the first time, their lips met.
Oh, privileged finger-post to have witnessed that first kiss! To have seen her start away and turn; to have felt her glowing cheek pressed to thy hoary timbers; to have felt the sweet, quick tumult of her bosom! Oh, thrice happy finger-post! To have seen young Barnabas, radiant-faced, and with all heaven in his eyes! Oh, most fortunate of finger-posts to have seen and felt all this, and to have heard the rapture thrilling in his voice:
"Oh!" she whispered, "why—why did you?"
"Because I love you!"
"No other man ever dared to—"
"Heaven be praised!"
"Upon—the mouth!" she added, her face still hidden.
"Then I have set my seal upon it."
"And now,—am I—immaculate?"
"Look at me."
"Are you angry?"
"Yes, I—think I am, Barnabas,—oh, very!"
"Forgive me!" said Barnabas again.
"First," said my lady, throwing up her head, "am I—heartless and a—coquette?"
"No, indeed, no! Oh, Cleone, is it possible you could learn to—love me, in time?"
"I—I don't know."
"Some day, Cleone?"
"I—I didn't come to answer—idle questions, sir," says my lady, suddenly demure. "It must be nearly half-past nine—I must go. I forgot to tell you—Mr. Chichester is coming to meet me to-night—"
"To meet you? Where?" demanded Barnabas, fierce-eyed all at once.
"Here, Barnabas. But don't look so—so murderous!"
"At a quarter to ten, Barnabas. That is why I must go at—half-past nine—Barnabas, stop! Oh, Barnabas, you're crushing me! Not again, sir,—I forbid you—please, Barnabas!"
So Barnabas loosed her, albeit regretfully, and stood watching while she dexterously twisted, and smoothed, and patted her shining hair into some semblance of order; and while so doing, she berated him, on this wise:
"Indeed, sir, but you're horribly strong. And very hasty. And your hands are very large. And I fear you have a dreadful temper. And I know my hair is all anyhow,—isn't it?"
"It is beautiful!" sighed Barnabas.
"Mm! You told me that in Annersley Wood, sir."
"You haven't forgotten, then?"
"Oh, no," answered Cleone, shaking her head, "but I would have you more original, you see,—so many men have told me that. Ah! now you're frowning again, and it's nearly time for me to go, and I haven't had a chance to mention what I came for, which, of course, is all your fault, Barnabas. To-day, I received a letter from Ronald. He writes that he has been ill, but is better. And yet, I fear, he must be very weak still, for oh! it's such poor, shaky writing. Was he very ill when you saw him?"
"No," answered Barnabas.
"Here is the letter,—will you read it? You see, I have no one who will talk to me about poor Ronald, no one seems to have any pity for him,—not even my dear Tyrant."
"But you will always have me, Cleone!"
So Barnabas took Ronald Barrymaine's letter, and opening it, saw that it was indeed scrawled in characters so shaky as to be sometimes almost illegible; but, holding it in the full light of the moon, he read as follows:
DEAREST OF SISTERS,—I was unable to keep the appointment I begged for in my last, owing to a sudden indisposition, and, though better now, I am still ailing. I fear my many misfortunes are rapidly undermining my health, and sometimes I sigh for Death and Oblivion. But, dearest Cleone, I forbid you to grieve for me, I am man enough, I hope, to endure my miseries uncomplainingly, as a man and a gentleman should. Chichester, with his unfailing kindness, has offered me an asylum at his country place near Headcorn, where I hope to regain something of my wonted health. But for Chichester I tremble to think what would have been my fate long before this. At Headcorn I shall at least be nearer you, my best of sisters, and it is my hope that you may be persuaded to steal away now and then, to spend an hour with two lonely bachelors, and cheer a brother's solitude. Ah, Cleone! Chichester's devotion to you is touching, such patient adoration must in time meet with its reward. By your own confession you have nothing against him but the fact that he worships you too ardently, and this, most women would think a virtue. And remember, he is your luckless brother's only friend. This is the only man who has stood by me in adversity, the only man who can help me to retrieve the past, the only man a truly loving sister should honor with her regard. All women are more or less selfish. Oh, Cleone, be the exception and give my friend the answer he seeks, the answer he has sought of you already, the answer which to your despairing brother means more than you can ever guess, the answer whereby you can fulfil the promise you gave our dying mother to help