Your unfortunate brother,
Now, as he finished reading, Barnabas frowned, tore the letter across in sudden fury, and looked up to find Cleone frowning also:
"You have torn my letter!"
"Abominable!" said Barnabas fiercely.
"How dared you?"
"It is the letter of a coward and weakling!"
"My brother, sir!"
"And you insult him!"
"He would sell you to a—" Barnabas choked.
"Mr. Chichester is my brother's friend."
"And poor Ronald is sick—"
"Oh—not that!" she cried sharply, "not that!"
"Didn't you know?"
"I only—dreaded it. His father—died of it. Oh, sir—oh, Barnabas! there is no one else who will help him—save him from—that! You will try, won't you?"
"Yes," said Barnabas, setting his jaw, "no one can help a man against his will, but I'll try. And I ask you to remember that if I succeed or not, I shall never expect any recompense from you, never!"
"Unless, Barnabas—" said Cleone, softly.
"Unless—oh, Cleone, unless you should—some day learn to—love me—just a little, Cleone?"
"Would—just a little, satisfy you?"
"No," said Barnabas, "no, I want you all—all—all. Oh, Cleone, will you marry me?"
"You are very persistent, sir, and I must go."
"Not yet,—pray not yet."
"Please, Barnabas. I would not care to see Mr. Chichester—to-night."
"No," sighed Barnabas, "you must go. But first,—will you—?"
"Not again, Barnabas!" And she gave him her two hands. So he stopped and kissed them instead. Then she turned and left him standing bareheaded under the finger-post. But when she had gone but a little way she paused and spoke to him over her shoulder:
"Will you—write to me—sometimes?"
"Please, Barnabas,—to tell me of—my brother."
"And when can I see you again?"
"Ah! who can tell?" she answered. And so, smiling a little, blushing a little, she hastened away.
Now, when she was gone, Barnabas stooped, very reverently, and pressed his lips to the ancient finger-post, on that spot where her head had rested, and sighed, and turned towards his great, black horse.
But, even as he did so, he heard again that soft sound that was like the faint jingle of spurs, the leaves of the hedge rustled, and out into the moonlight stepped a tall figure, wild of aspect, bareheaded and bare of foot; one who wore his coat wrong side out, and who, laying his hand upon his bosom, bowed in stately fashion, once to the moon and once to him.
"Oh, Barnaby Bright, Barnaby Bright, The moon's awake, and shines all night!"
"Do you remember, Barnaby Bright, how I foretold we should meet again—under an orbed moon? Was I not right? She's fair, Barnaby, and passing fair, and very proud,—but all good, beautiful women are proud, and hard in the winning,—oh, I know! Billy Button knows! My buttons jingled, so I turned my coat, though I'm no turn-coat; once a friend, always a friend. So I followed you, Barnaby Bright, I came to warn you of the shadow,—it grows blacker every day,—back there in the great city, waiting for you, Barnaby Bright, to smother you—to quench hope, and light, and life itself. But I shall be there, —and She. Aha! She shall forget all things then—even her pride. Shadows have their uses, Barnaby, even the blackest. I came a long way—oh, I followed you. But poor Billy is never weary, the Wise Ones bear him up in their arms sometimes. So I followed you—and another, also, though he didn't know it. Oho! would you see me conjure you a spirit from the leaves yonder,—ah! but an evil spirit, this! Shall I? Watch now! See, thus I set my feet! Thus I lift my arms to the moon!"
So saying, the speaker flung up his long arms, and with his gaze fixed upon a certain part of the hedge, lifted his voice and spoke:
"Oho, lurking spirit among the shadows! Ho! come forth, I summon ye. The dew is thick amid the leaves, and dew is an evil thing for purple and fine linen. Oho, stand forth, I bid ye."
There followed a moment's utter silence, then—another rustle amid the leaves, and Mr. Chichester stepped out from the shadows.
"Ah, sir," said Barnabas, consulting his watch, "you are just twenty-three minutes before your time. Nevertheless you are, I think, too late."
Mr. Chichester glanced at Barnabas from head to foot, and, observing his smile, Barnabas clenched his fists.
"Too late, sir?" repeated Mr. Chichester softly, shaking his head, "no,—indeed I think not. Howbeit there are times and occasions when solitude appeals to me; this is one. Pray, therefore, be good enough to—go, and—ah—take your barefooted friend with you."
"First, sir," said Barnabas, bowing with aggressive politeness, "first, I humbly beg leave to speak with you, to—"
"Sir," said Mr. Chichester, gently tapping a nettle out of existence with his cane, "sir, I have no desire for your speeches, they, like yourself, I find a little trying, and vastly uninteresting. I prefer to stay here and meditate a while. I bid you good night, sir, a pleasant ride."
"None the less, sir," said Barnabas, beginning to smile, "I fear I must inflict myself upon you a moment longer, to warn you that I—"
"To warn me? Again? Oh, sir, I grow weary of your warnings, I do indeed! Pray go away and warn somebody else. Pray go, and let me stare upon the moon and twiddle my thumbs until—"
"If it is the Lady Cleone you wait for, she is gone!" said Youth, quick and impetuous.
"Ah!" sighed Mr. Chichester, viewing Barnabas through narrowed eyes, "gone, you say? But then, young sir," here he gently poked a dock-leaf into ruin, "but then, Cleone is one of your tempting, warm, delicious creatures! Cleone is a skilled coquette to whom all men are—men. To-night it is—you, to-morrow—" Mr. Chichester's right hand vanished into his bosom as Barnabas strode forward, but, on the instant, Billy Button was between them.
"Stay, my Lord!" he cried, "look upon this face,—'t is the face of my friend Barnaby Bright, but, my Lord, it is also the face of Joan's son. You've heard tell of Joan, poor Joan who was unhappy, and ran away, and got lost,—you'll mind Joan Beverley?" Now, in the pause that followed, as Mr. Chichester gazed at Barnabas, his narrowed eyes opened, little by little, his compressed lips grew slowly loose, and the tasselled cane slipped from his fingers, and lay all neglected.
"Sir," said Barnabas at last, "this is what I would have told you. I am the lawful son of Joan Beverley, whose maiden name I took for—a purpose. I have but to prove my claim and I can dispossess you of the inheritance you hold, which is mine by right. But, sir, I have enough for my needs, and I am, therefore, prepared to forego my just claim—on a condition."
Mr. Chichester neither moved nor spoke.
"My condition," Barnabas continued, "is this. That, from this hour, you loose whatever hold you have upon Ronald Barrymaine,—that you have no further communication with him, either by word or letter. Failing this, I institute proceedings at once, and will dispossess you as soon as may be. Sir, you have heard my condition, it is for you to answer."
But, as he ended, Billy Button pointed a shaking finger downwards at the grass midway between them, and spoke:
"Look!" he whispered, "look! Do you not see it—bubbling so dark, —down there among the grass? Ah! it reaches your feet, Barnaby Bright. But—look yonder! it rises to his heart,—look!" and with a sudden, wild gesture, he pointed to Chichester's rigid figure. "Blood!" he cried, "blood!—cover it up! Oh, hide it—hide it!" Then, turning about, he sped away, his muffled buttons jingling faintly as he went, and so was presently gone.
Then Barnabas loosed his horse and mounted, and, with never a glance nor word to the silent figure beneath the finger-post, galloped away London-wards.
Now, had it been possible for a worn and decrepit finger-post to be endued with the faculty of motion (which, in itself, is a ridiculous thought, of course), it is probable that this particular one would have torn itself up bodily, and hastened desperately after Barnabas to point him away—away, east or west, or north or south,—anywhere, so long as it was far enough from him who stood so very still, and who stared with such eyes so long upon the moon, with his right hand still hidden in his breast, while the vivid mark glowed, and glowed upon the pallor of his cheek.
IN WHICH BARNABAS MAKES A BET, AND RECEIVES A WARNING
The fifteenth of July was approaching, and the Polite World, the World of Fashion, was stirred to its politest depths. In the clubs speculation was rife, the hourly condition of horses and riders was discussed gravely and at length, while betting-books fluttered everywhere. In crowded drawing-rooms and dainty boudoirs, love and horse-flesh went together, and everywhere was a pleasurable uncertainty, since there were known to be at least four competitors whose chances were practically equal. Therefore the Polite World, gravely busied with its cards or embroidery, and at the same time striving mentally to compute the exact percentage of these chances, was occasionally known to revoke, or prick its dainty finger.
Even that other and greater world, which is neither fashionable nor polite,—being too busy gaining the wherewithal to exist,—even in fetid lanes and teeming streets, in dingy offices and dingier places still, the same excitement prevailed; busy men forgot their business awhile; crouching clerks straightened their stooping backs, became for the nonce fabulously rich, and airily bet each other vast sums that Carnaby's "Clasher" would do it in a canter, that Viscount Devenham's "Moonraker" would have it in a walk-over, that the Marquis of Jerningham's "Clinker" would leave the field nowhere, and that Captain Slingsby's "Rascal" would run away with it.
Yes, indeed, all the world was agog, rich and poor, high and low. Any barefooted young rascal scampering along the kennel could have named you the four likely winners in a breath, and would willingly have bet his ragged shirt upon his choice, had there been any takers.
Thus, then, the perspicacious waiter at the "George" who, it will be remembered, on his own avowal usually kept his eyes and ears open, and could, therefore, see as far through a brick wall as most, knew at once that the tall young gentleman in the violet coat with silver buttons, the buckled hat and glossy Hessians, whose sprigged waistcoat and tortuous cravat were wonders among their kind, was none other than a certain Mr. Beverley, who had succeeded in entering his horse at the last possible moment, and who, though an outsider with not the remotest chance of winning, was, nevertheless, something of a buck and dandy, the friend of a Marquis and Viscount, and hence worthy of all respect. Therefore the perspicacious waiter at the "George" viewed Barnabas with the eye of reverence, his back was subservient, and his napkin eloquent of eager service, also he bowed as frequently and humbly as such expensive and elegant attire merited; for the waiter at the "George" had as just and reverent a regard for fine clothes as any fine gentleman in the Fashionable World.
"A chair, sir!" Here a flick of the officious napkin. "Now shall we say a chop, sir?" Here a smiling obeisance. "Or shall we make it a steak, sir—cut thick, sir—medium done, and with—"
"No, thank you," said Barnabas, laying aside hat and cane.
"No, sir? Very good, sir! Certainly not, sir! A cut o' b'iled beef might suit, p'raps,—with carrots? or shall we say—"
"Neither, thank you, but you can bring me a bottle of Burgundy and the Gazette."
"Burgundy, sir—Gazette? Certainly, sir—"
"And—I'm expecting a gentleman here of the name of Smivvle—"
"Certainly, sir! Burgundy, Gazette, Gent name of Sniffle, yessir! Hanythink else, sir?"
"Yes, I should like pens and ink and paper."
"Yessir—himmediately, sir." Hereupon, and with many and divers bows and flicks of the napkin, the waiter proceeded to set out the articles in question, which done, he flicked himself out of the room. But he was back again almost immediately, and had uncorked the bottle and filled the glass with a flourish, a dexterity, a promptness, accorded only to garments of the very best and most ultra-fashionable cut. Then, with a bow that took in bestarched cravat, betasselled Hessians, and all garments between, the waiter fluttered away. So, in a while, Barnabas took pen and paper, and began the following letter:
* * * * *
MY DEAR FATHER AND NATTY BELL,—Since writing my last letter to you, I have bought a house near St. James's, and set up an establishment second to none. I will confess that I find myself like to be overawed by my retinue of servants, and their grave and decorous politeness; I also admit that dinner is an ordeal of courses,— each of which, I find, requires a different method of attack; for indeed, in the Polite World, it seems that eating is cherished as one of its most important functions, hence, dining is an art whereof the proper manipulation of the necessary tools is an exact science. However, by treating my servants with a dignified disregard, and by dint of using my eyes while at table, I have committed no great solecism so far, I trust, and am rapidly gaining in knowledge and confidence.
I am happy to tell you that I have the good fortune to be entered for the Gentlemen's Steeplechase, a most exclusive affair, which is to be brought off at Eltham on the fifteenth of next month. From all accounts it will be a punishing Race, with plenty of rough going,— plough, fallow, hedge and ditch, walls, stake-fences and water. The walls and water-jump are, I hear, the worst.
Now, although I shall be riding against some of the best horsemen in England, still I venture to think I can win, and this for three reasons. First, because I intend to try to the uttermost—with hand and heel and head. Secondly, because I have bought a horse—such a horse as I have only dreamed of ever possessing,—all fire and courage, with a long powerful action—Oh, Natty Bell, if you could but see him! Rising six, he is, with tushes well through,—even your keen eye could find no flaw in him, though he is, perhaps, a shade long in the cannon. And, thirdly, I am hopeful to win because I was taught horse-craft by that best, wisest of riders, Natty Bell. Very often, I remember, you have told me, Natty Bell, that races are won more by judgment of the rider than by the speed of the horse, nor shall I forget this. Thus then, sure of my horse, sure of myself, and that kind Destiny which has brought me successfully thus far, I shall ride light-hearted and confident.
Yet, my dears, should I win or lose, I would have you remember me always as
Your dutiful, loving
* * * * *
Now, as Barnabas laid down his pen, he became aware of voices and loud laughter from the adjacent coffee-room, and was proceeding to fold and seal his letter when he started and raised his head, roused by the mention of his own name spoken in soft, deliberate tones that he instantly recognized:
"Ah, so you have met this Mr. Beverley?"
"Yes," drawled another, deeper voice, "the Duchess introduced him to me. Who the deuce is he, Chichester?"
"My dear Carnaby, pray ask Devenham, or Jerningham, he's their protege—not mine."
"Sir," broke in the Viscount's voice, speaking at its very iciest,— "Mr. Beverley is—my friend!"
"And mine also, I trust!" thus the Marquis.
"Exactly!" rejoined Mr. Chichester's smooth tones, "and, consequently, despite his mysterious origin, he is permitted to ride in the Steeplechase among the very elite of the sporting world—"
"And why not, b'gad?" Captain Slingsby's voice sounded louder and gruffer than usual, "I'll warrant him a true-blue,—sportsman every inch, and damme! one of the right sort too,—sit a horse with any man,—bird at a fence, and ready to give or take odds on his chances, I'll swear—"
"Now really," Mr. Chichester's tone was softer than ever, "he would seem to be a general favorite here. Still, it would, at least, be—interesting to know exactly who and what he is."
"Yes," Sir Mortimer's voice chimed in, "and only right in justice to ourselves. Seems to me, now I come to think of it, I've seen him somewhere or other, before we were introduced,—be shot if I know where, though."
"In the—country, perhaps?" the Viscount suggested.
"Like as not," returned Sir Mortimer carelessly. "But, as Chichester says, it is devilish irregular to allow any Tom, Dick, or Harry to enter for such a race as this. If, as Sling suggests, the fellow is willing to back himself, it would, at least, be well to know that he could cover his bets."
"Sir Mortimer!" the Viscount's tone was colder and sharper than before, "you will permit me, in the first place, to tell you that his name is neither Tom, nor Dick, nor Harry. And in the second place, I would remind you that the gentleman honors me with his friendship. And in the third place, that I suffer no one to cast discredit upon my friends. D'you take me, Sir Mortimer?"
There followed a moment of utter stillness, then the sudden scrape and shuffle of feet, and thereafter Carnaby's voice, a little raised and wholly incredulous:
"What, Viscount,—d'you mean to take this fellow's part—against me?"
"Most certainly, if need be."
But here, before Sir Mortimer could reply, all five started and turned as the door opened and Barnabas appeared on the threshold.
"Viscount," said he, "for that I thank you most sincerely, most deeply. But, indeed, it will not be necessary, seeing I am here to do it for myself, and to answer such questions as I think—proper."
"Ah, Mr.—Beverley!" drawled Sir Mortimer, seating himself on the tale and crossing his legs, "you come pat, and since you are here, I desire a word with you."
"As many as you wish, sir," answered Barnabas, and he looked very youthful as he bowed his curly head.
"It would seem, Mr. Beverley, that you are something of a mystery, and I, for one, don't like mysteries. Then it has been suggested that you and I have met before our introduction, and, egad! now I come to look at you more attentively, your face does seem familiar, and I am curious to know who you may happen to be?"
"Sir," said Barnabas, looking more youthful than ever, "such rare condescension, such lively interest in my concerns, touches me—touches me deeply," and he bowed, lower than before.
"Suppose, sir," retorted Sir Mortimer, his cheek flushing a little, "suppose you answer my question, and tell me plainly who and what you are?" and he stared at Barnabas, swinging his leg to and fro as he awaited his reply.
"Sir," said Barnabas, "I humbly beg leave to remark, that as to who I am can concern only my—friends. As to what I am concerns only my Maker and myself—"
"Oh, vastly fine," nodded Sir Mortimer, "but that's no answer."
"And yet I greatly fear it must suffice—for you, sir," sighed Barnabas. Sir Mortimer's swinging foot grew still, and he frowned suddenly.
"Now look you, sir," said he slowly, and with a menace in his eyes, "when I trouble to ask a question, I expect an answer—"
"Alas, sir,—even your expectations may occasionally be disappointed," said Barnabas, beginning to smile aggressively. "But, as to my resources, I do not lack for money, and am ready, here and now, to lay you, or any one else, a thousand guineas that I shall be one of the first three to pass the winning-post on the fifteenth."
Sir Mortimer's frown grew more ominous, the flush deepened in his cheeks, and his powerful right hand clenched itself, then he laughed.
"Egad! you have plenty of assurance, sir. It is just possible that you may have ridden—now and then?"
"Sufficiently to know one end of a horse from the other, sir," retorted Barnabas, his smile rather grim.
"And you are willing to bet a thousand guineas that you ride third among all the best riders in the three kingdoms, are you?"
"No, sir," said Barnabas, shaking his head, "the bet was a rash one, —I humbly beg leave to withdraw it. Instead, I will bet five thousand guineas that I pass the winning-post before you do, Sir Mortimer."
Carnaby's smile vanished, and he stared up at calm-eyed Barnabas in open-mouthed astonishment.
"You're not mad, are you?" he demanded at last, his red under-lip curling.
"Sir," said Barnabas, taking out his memorandum, "it is now your turn to answer. Do you take my bet?"
"Take it!" cried Sir Mortimer fiercely, "yes! I'll double it—make it ten thousand guineas, sir!"
"Fifteen if you wish," said Barnabas, his pencil poised.
"No, by God! but I'll add another five and make it an even twenty thousand!"
"May I suggest you double instead, and make it thirty?" inquired Barnabas.
"Ha!—may I venture to ask how much higher you are prepared to go?"
"Why, sir," said Barnabas thoughtfully, "I have some odd six hundred thousand pounds, and I am prepared to risk—a half."
"Vastly fine, sir!" laughed Sir Mortimer, "why not put it at a round million and have done with it. No, egad! I want something more than your word—"
"You might inquire of my bankers," Barnabas suggested.
"Twenty thousand will suit me very well, sir!" nodded Sir Mortimer.
"Then you take me at that figure, Sir Mortimer?"
"Yes, I bet you twenty thousand guineas that you do not pass the winning-post ahead of me! And what's more,—non-starters to forfeit their money! Oh, egad,—I'll take you!"
"And I also," said Mr. Chichester, opening his betting-book. "Gentlemen, you are all witnesses of the bet. Come, Viscount,—Slingsby,—here's good money going a-begging—why not gather it in—eh, Marquis?" But the trio sat very silent, so that the scratch of Sir Mortimer's pencil could be plainly heard as he duly registered his bet, which done, he turned his attention to Barnabas again, looking him up and down with his bold, black eyes.
"Hum!" said he musingly, "it sticks in my mind that I have seen you—somewhere or other, before we met at Sir George Annersley's. Perhaps you will tell me where?"
"With pleasure, sir," answered Barnabas, putting away his memorandum book, "it was in Annersley Wood, rather early in the morning. And you wore—"
"Annersley—Wood!" Sir Mortimer's careless, lounging air vanished, and he stared at Barnabas with dilating eyes.
"And you wore, I remember, a bottle-green coat, which I had the misfortune to tear, sir."
And here there fell a silence, once more, but ominous now, and full of menace; a pregnant stillness, wherein the Viscount sat leaned forward, his hands clutching his chair-arms, his gaze fixed upon Barnabas; as for the Marquis, he had taken out his snuff-box and, in his preoccupation, came very near inhaling a pinch; while Captain Slingsby sat open-mouthed. Then, all at once, Sir Mortimer was on his feet and had caught up a heavy riding-whip, and thus he and Barnabas fronted each other, eye to eye,—each utterly still, yet very much on the alert.
But now upon this tense silence came the soft, smooth tones of Mr. Chichester:
"Pray, Mr. Beverley, may I speak a word with you—in private?"
"If the company will excuse us," Barnabas replied; whereupon Mr. Chichester rose and led the way into the adjoining room, and, closing the door, took a folded letter from his pocket.
"Sir," said he, "I would remind you that the last time we met, you warned me,—indeed you have a weakness for warning people, it seems,—you also threatened me that unless I agreed to—certain conditions, you would dispossess me of my inheritance—"
"And I repeat it," said Barnabas.
"Oh, sir, save your breath and listen," smiled Mr. Chichester, "for let me tell you, threats beget threats, and warnings, warnings! Here is one, which I think—yes, which I venture to think you will heed!" So saying, he unfolded the letter and laid it upon the table. Barnabas glanced at it, hesitated, then stooping, read as follows:
DEAR LADY CLEONE,—I write this to warn you that the person calling himself Mr. Beverley, and posing as a gentleman of wealth and breeding, is, in reality, nothing better than a rich vulgarian, one Barnabas Barty, son of a country inn-keeper. The truth of which shall be proved to your complete satisfaction whenever you will, by:
Yours always humbly to command,
Now when he had finished reading, Barnabas sank down into a chair, and, leaning his elbows upon the table, hid his face between his hands; seeing which, Mr. Chichester laughed softly, and taking up the letter, turned to the door. "Sir," said he, "as I mentioned before, threats beget threats. Now,—you move, and I move. I tell you, if you presume to interfere with me again in any way,—or with my future plans in any way, then, in that same hour, Cleone shall know you for the impudent impostor you are!" So Mr. Chichcster laughed again, and laid his hand upon the latch of the door. But Barnabas sat rigid, and did not move or lift his heavy head even when the door opened and closed, and he knew he was alone.
Very still lie sat there, crouched above the table, his face hidden in his hands, until he was roused by a cough, the most perfectly discreet and gentleman-like cough in the world, such a cough, indeed, as only a born waiter could emit.
"Sir," inquired the waiter, his napkin in a greater flutter than ever, as Barnabas looked up, "sir,—is there hanythink you're wanting, sir?"
"Yes," said Barnabas, heavily, "you can—give me—my hat!"
OF THE TRIBULATIONS OF THE LEGS OF THE GENTLEMAN-IN-POWDER
The Gentleman-in-Powder, aware of a knocking, yawned, laid aside the "Gazette," and getting upon his legs (which, like all things truly dignified, were never given to hurry), they, in due season, brought him to the door, albeit they shook with indignant quiverings at the increasing thunder of each repeated summons. Therefore the Gentleman-in-Powder, with his hand upon the latch, having paused long enough to vindicate and compose his legs, proceeded to open the portal of Number Five, St. James's Square; but, observing the person of the importunate knocker, with that classifying and discriminating eye peculiar to footmen, immediately frowned and shook his head:
"The hother door, me man,—marked 'tradesmen,'" said he, the angle of his nose a little more supercilious than usual, "and ring only, if you please." Having said which, he shut the door again; that is to say,—very nearly, for strive as he might, his efforts were unavailing, by reason of a round and somewhat battered object which, from its general conformation, he took to be the end of a formidable bludgeon or staff. But, applying his eye to the aperture, he saw that this very obtrusive object was nothing more or less than a leg (that is to say, a wooden one), which was attached to the person of a burly, broad-shouldered, fiercely bewhiskered man in clothes of navy-blue, a man whose hairy, good-natured visage was appropriately shaded by a very shiny glazed hat.
"Avast there!" said this personage in deep, albeit jovial tones, "ease away there, my lad,—stand by and let old Timbertoes come aboard!"
But the Gentleman-in-Powder was not to be cajoled. He sniffed.
"The hother door, me good feller!" he repeated, relentless but dignified, "and ring only, if you pl—"
The word was frozen upon his horrified lip, for Timbertoes had actually set his blue-clad shoulder to the door, and now, bending his brawny back, positively began to heave at it with might and main, cheering and encouraging himself meanwhile with sundry nautical "yo ho's." And all this in broad daylight! In St. James's Square!
Whereupon ensued the following colloquy:
The Gentleman-in-Powder (pushing from within. Shocked and amazed). "Wot's this? Stop it! Get out now, d'ye hear!"
Timbertoes (pushing from without. In high good humor). "With a ho, my hearties, and a merrily heave O!"
The Gentleman-in-Powder (struggling almost manfully, though legs highly agitated). "I—I'll give you in c-charge! I'll—"
Timbertoes (encouraging an imaginary crew). "Cheerily! Cheerily! heave yo ho!"
The Gentleman-in-Powder (losing ground rapidly. Condition of legs indescribable). "I never—see nothing—like this here! I'll—"
Timbertoes (all shoulders, whiskers and pig-tail). "With a heave and a ho, and up she rises O!"
The Gentleman-in-Powder (extricating his ruffled dignity from between wall and door). "Oh, very good,—I'll give you in charge for this, you—you feller! Look at me coat! I'll send for a constable. I'll—"
Timbertoes. "Belay, my lad! This here's Number Five, ain't it?"
The Gentleman-in-Powder (glancing down apprehensively at his quivering legs). "Yes,—and I'll—"
Timbertoes. "Cap'n Beverley's craft, ain't it?"
The Gentleman-in-Powder (re-adjusting his ruffled finery). "Mister Beverley occipies this here res-eye-dence!"
Timbertoes (nodding). "Mister Beverley,—oh, ah, for sure. Well, is 'e aboard?"
The Gentleman-in-Powder (with lofty sarcasm). "No, 'e ain't! Nor a stick, nor a stock, nor yet a chair, nor a table. And, wot's more, 'e ain't one to trouble about the likes o' you, neether."
Timbertoes. "Belay, my lad, and listen. I'm Jerry Tucker, late Bo'sun in 'is Britannic Majesty's navy,—'Bully-Sawyer,' Seventy-four. D'ye get that? Well, now listen again. According to orders I hove anchor and bore up for London very early this morning, but being strange to these 'ere waters, was obleeged to haul my wind and stand off and on till I fell in with a pilot, d'ye see. But, though late, here I am all ship-shape and a-taunto, and with despatches safe and sound. Watch, now!" Hereupon the Bo'sun removed the glazed hat, held it to his hairy ear, shook it, nodded, and from somewhere in its interior took out and held up three letters.
"D'ye see those, my lad?" he inquired.
The Gentleman-in-Powder (haughtily). "I ain't blind!"
Timbertoes. "Why then—you'll know what they are, p'raps?"
The Gentleman-in-Powder (witheringly). "Nor I ain't a fool, neether."
Timbertoes (dubiously). "Ain't you, though?"
The Gentleman-in-Powder (legs again noticeably agitated). "No, I ain't. I've got all my faculties about me."
Timbertoes (shaking head incredulously). "Ah! but where do you stow 'em away?"
The Gentleman-in-Powder (legs convulsed). "And—wot's more, I've got my proper amount o' limbs too!"
Timbertoes. "Limbs? If it's legs you're meaning, I should say as you'd got more nor your fair share,—you're all legs, you are! Why, Lord! you're grow'd to legs so surprising, as I wonder they don't walk off with you, one o'these here dark nights, and—lose you!"
But at this juncture came Peterby, sedate, grave, soft of voice as became a major-domo and the pink of a gentleman's gentleman, before whose quick bright eye the legs of the Gentleman-in-Powder grew, as it were, suddenly abashed, and to whom the Bo'sun, having made a leg, forthwith addressed himself.
"Sarvent, sir—name o' Jerry Tucker, late Bo'sun, 'Bully-Sawyer,' Seventy-four; come aboard with despatches from his Honor Cap'n Chumly and my Lady Cleone Meredith. To see Mr. Barnabas Beverley, Esquire. To give these here despatches into Mr. Beverley Esquire's own 'and. Them's my orders, sir."
"Certainly, Bo'sun," said Peterby; and, to the Gentleman-in-Powder, his bow was impressive; "pray step this way."
So the Bo'sun, treading as softly as his wooden leg would allow, stumped after him upstairs and along a thickly carpeted corridor, to a certain curtained door upon which Peterby gently knocked, and thereafter opening, motioned the Bo'sun to enter.
It was a small and exquisitely furnished, yet comfortable room, whose luxurious appointments,—the rich hangings, the rugs upon the floor, the pictures adorning the walls,—one and all bore evidence to the rare taste, the fine judgment of this one-time poacher of rabbits, this quiet-voiced man with the quick, bright eyes, and the subtly humorous mouth. But, just now, John Peterby was utterly serious as he glanced across to where, bowed down across the writing-table, his head pillowed upon his arms, his whole attitude one of weary, hopeless dejection, sat Barnabas Beverley, Esquire. A pen was in his lax fingers, while upon the table and littering the floor were many sheets of paper, some half covered with close writing, some crumpled and torn, some again bearing little more than a name; but in each and every case the name was always the same. Thus, John Peterby, seeing this drooping, youthful figure, sighed and shook his head, and went out, closing the door behind him.
"Is that you, John?" inquired Barnabas, with bowed head.
"No, sir, axing your pardon, it be only me, Jerry Tucker, Bo'sun, —'Bully-Sawyer,' Seventy—"
"Bo'sun!" With the word Barnabas was upon his feet. "Why, Bo'sun," he cried, wringing the sailor's hand, "how glad I am to see you!"
"Mr. Beverley, sir," began the Bo'sun, red-faced and diffident by reason of the warmth of his reception, "I've come aboard with despatches, sir. I bring you a letter from his Honor the Cap'n, from 'er Grace the Duchess, and from Lady Cleone, God bless her!"
"A letter from—her!" Then taking the letters in hands that were strangely unsteady, Barnabas crossed to the window, and breaking the seal of a certain one, read this:
DEAR MR. BARNABAS (the 'Beverley' crossed out),—Her Grace, my dear god-mother, having bullied my poor Tyrant out of the house, and quarrelled with me until she is tired, has now fixed her mind upon you. She therefore orders her dutiful god-daughter to write you these, hoping that thereby you may be induced to yield yourself a willing slave to her caprices and come down here for a few days. Though the very dearest and best of women, my god-mother, as you may remember, possesses a tongue, therefore—be warned, sir! My Tyrant at this precise moment sits in the 'round house,' whither he has retreated to solace his ruffled feelings with tobacco. So, I repeat, sir, be warned! And yet, though indeed, 't is strange, and passing strange, she speaks of you often, and seems to hold you in her kind regard. But, for all that, do not be misled, sir; for the Duchess is always the Duchess,—even to poor me. A while ago, she insisted on playing a game of chess; as I write the pieces lie scattered on the floor. I shan't pick them up,—why should I? So you see her Grace is quite herself to-day. Nevertheless, should you determine to run the risk, you will, I think, find a welcome awaiting you from,
Yours, dear sir,
P.S.—The Bo'sun assures me the moon will last another week.
This Postscript Master Barnabas must needs read three times over, and then, quick and furtive, press the letter to his lips ere he thrust it into his bosom, and opened and read the Captain's:
The Gables, Hawkhurst.
Written in the Round-house,
June 29, 18—.
MY DEAR BEVERLEIGH,—How is Fashion and the Modish World? as trivial as usual, I'll warrant me. The latest sensation, I believe, is Cossack Trousers,—have you tried 'em yet? But to come to my mutton, as the Mounseers say.
The Duchess of Camberhurst, having honored my house with her presence—and consequently set it in an uproar, I am constantly running foul of her, though more often she is falling aboard of me. To put it plainly, what with cross-currents, head-seas, and shifting winds that come down suddenly and blow great guns from every point of the compass, I am continually finding myself taken all a-back, as it were, and since it is quite impossible to bring to and ride it out, am consequently forced to go about and run for it, and continually pooped, even then,—for a woman's tongue is, I'm sure, worse than any following sea.
Hence, my sweet Clo, with her unfailing solicitude for me, having observed me flying signals of distress, has contrived to put it into my head that your presence might have a calming effect. Therefore, my dear boy, if you can manage to cast off the grapples of the Polite World for a few days, to run down here and shelter a battered old hulk under your lee, I shall be proud to have you as my guest.
Yours faithfully to serve,
P.S.—Pray bring your valet; you will need him, her Grace insists on dressing for dinner. Likewise my Trafalgar coat begins to need skilled patching, here and there; it is getting beyond the Bo'sun.
Here again Barnabas must needs pause to read over certain of the Captain's scrawling characters, and a new light was in his eyes as he broke the seal of her Grace's epistle.
MY DEAR MR. BEVERLEY,—The country down here, though delightfully Arcadian and quite idyllic (hayricks are so romantic, and I always adored cows—in pictures), is dreadfully quiet, and I freely confess that I generally prefer a man to a hop-pole (though I do wear a wig), and the voice of a man to the babble of brooks, or the trill of a skylark,—though I protest, I wouldn't be without them (I mean the larks) for the world,—they make me long for London so.
Then again, the Captain (though a truly dear soul, and the most gallant of hosts) treats me very much as though I were a ship, and, beside, he is so dreadfully gentle.
As for Cleone, dear bird, she yawns until my own eyes water (though, indeed, she has very pretty teeth), and, on the whole, is very dutiful and quarrels with me whenever I wish. 'T is quite true she cannot play chess; she also, constantly, revokes at Whist, and is quite as bad-tempered over it as I am. Cards, I fear, are altogether beyond her at present,—she is young. Of course time may change this, but I have grave doubts. In this deplorable situation I turn to you, dear Mr. Beverley (Cleone knew your address, it seems), and write these hasty lines to ntreat,—nay, to command you to come and cheer our solitude. Cleone has a new gown she is dying to wear, and I have much that you must patiently listen to, so that I may truly subscribe myself'
Your grateful friend,
P.S.—I have seen the finger-post on the London Road.
And now, having made an end of reading, Barnabas sighed and smiled, and squared his stooping shoulders, and threw up his curly head, and turning, found the Bo'sun still standing, hat in fist, lost in contemplation of the gilded ceiling. Hereupon Barnabas caught his hand, and shook it again, and laughed for very happiness.
"Bo'sun, how can I thank you!" said he, "these letters have given me new hope—new life! and—and here I leave you to stand, dolt that I am! And with nothing to drink, careless fool that I am. Sit down, man, sit down—what will you take, wine? brandy?"
"Mr. Beverley, sir," replied the Bo'sun diffidently, accepting the chair that Barnabas dragged forward, "you're very kind, sir, but if I might make so bold,—a glass of ale, sir—?"
"Ale!" cried Barnabas. "A barrel if you wish!" and he tugged at the bell, at whose imperious summons the Gentleman-in-Powder appearing with leg-quivering promptitude, Barnabas forthwith demanded "Ale,—the best, and plenty of it! And pray ask Mr. Peterby to come here at once!" he added.
"Sir," said the Bo'sun as the door closed, "you'll be for steering a course for Hawkhurst, p'r'aps?"
"We shall start almost immediately," said Barnabas, busily collecting those scattered sheets of paper that littered floor and table; thus he was wholly unaware of the look that clouded the sailor's honest visage.
"Sir," said the Bo'sun, pegging thoughtfully at a rose in the carpet with his wooden leg, "by your good leave, I'd like to ax 'ee a question."
"Certainly, Bo'sun, what is it?" inquired Barnabas, looking up from the destruction of the many attempts of his first letter to Cleone.
"Mr. Beverley, sir," said the Bo'sun, pegging away at the carpet as he spoke, "is it—meaning no offence, and axing your pardon,—but are you hauling your wind and standing away for Hawkhurst so prompt on 'account o' my Lady Cleone?"
"Yes, Bo'sun, on account of our Lady Cleone."
"Why, then, sir," said the Bo'sun, fixing his eyes on the ceiling again, "by your leave—but,—why, sir?"
"Because, Bo'sun, you and I have this in common, that we both—love her."
Here the Bo'sun dropped his glazed hat, and picking it up, sat turning it this way and that, in his big, brown fingers.
"Why, then, sir," said he, looking up at Barnabas suddenly, "what of Master Horatio, his Lordship?"
"Why, Bo'sun, I told him about it weeks ago. I had to. You see, he honors me with his friendship."
The Bo'sun nodded, and broke into his slow smile:
"Ah, that alters things, sir," said he. "As for loving my lady—why? who could help it?"
"Who, indeed, Bo'sun!"
"Though I'd beg to remind you, sir, as orders is orders, and consequently she's bound to marry 'is Lordship—some day—"
"Or—become a mutineer!" said Barnabas, as the door opened to admit Peterby, who (to the horror of the Gentleman-in-Powder, and despite his mutely protesting legs), actually brought in the ale himself; yet, as he set it before the Bo'sun, his sharp eyes were quick to notice his young master's changed air, and brightened as if in sympathy.
"I want you, John, to know my good friend Bo'sun Jerry," said Barnabas, "a Trafalgar man—"
"'Bully-Sawyer,' Seventy-four!" added the Bo'sun, rising and extending his huge hand.
"We are all going to Hawkhurst, at once, John," continued Barnabas, "so pack up whatever you think necessary—a couple of valises will do, and tell Martin I'll have the phaeton,—it's roomier; and I'll drive the bays. And hurry things, will you, John?"
So John Peterby bowed, solemn and sedate as ever, and went upon his errand. But it is to be remarked that as he hastened downstairs, his lips had taken on their humorous curve, and the twinkle was back in his eyes; also he nodded his head, as who would say:
"I thought so! The Lady Cleone Meredith, eh? Well,—the sooner the better!"
Thus the Bo'sun had barely finished his ale, when the Gentleman-in-Powder appeared to say the phaeton was at the door.
And a fine, dashing turn-out it was, too, with its yellow wheels, its gleaming harness, and the handsome thorough-breds pawing impatient hoofs.
Then, the Bo'sun having duly ensconced himself, with Peterby in the rumble as calm and expressionless as the three leather valises under the seat, Barnabas sprang in, caught up the reins, nodded to Martin the gray-haired head groom, and giving the bays their heads, they were off and away for Hawkhurst and the Lady Cleone Meredith, whirling round corners and threading their way through traffic at a speed that caused the Bo'sun to clutch the seat with one hand, and the glazed hat with the other, and to remark in his diffident way that:
"These here wheeled craft might suit some, but for comfort and safety give me an eight-oared galley!"
HOW BARNABAS SOUGHT COUNSEL OF THE DUCHESS "BO'SUN?"
"Do you know the Duchess of Camberhurst well?"
"Know her, sir?" repeated the Bo'sun, giving a dubious pull at his starboard whisker; "why, Mr. Beverley, sir, there's two things as I knows on, as no man never did know on, nor never will know on,—and one on 'em's a ship and t' other's a woman."
"But do you know her well enough to like and—trust?"
"Why, Mr. Beverley, sir, since you ax me, I'll tell you—plain and to the p'int. We'll take 'er Grace the Duchess and say, clap her helm a-lee to tack up ag'in a beam wind, a wind, mind you, as ain't strong enough to lift her pennant,—and yet she'll fall off and miss her stays, d'ye see, or get took a-back and yaw to port or starboard, though, if you ax me why or wherefore, I'll tell you as how,—her being a woman and me only a man,—I don't know. Then, again, on the contrary, let it blow up foul—a roaring hurricane say, wi' the seas running high, ah! wi' the scud flying over her top-s'l yard, and she'll rise to it like a bird, answer to a spoke, and come up into the wind as sweet as ever you see. The Duchess ain't no fair-weather craft, I'll allow, but in 'owling, raging tempest she's staunch, sir, —ah, that she is,—from truck to keelson! And there y'are, Mr. Beverley, sir!"
"Do you mean," inquired Barnabas, puzzled of look, "that she is to be depended on—in an emergency?"
"Ay, sir—that she is!"
"Ah!" said Barnabas, nodding, "I'm glad to know that, Bo'sun,—very glad." And here he became thoughtful all at once. Yet after a while he spoke again, this time to Peterby.
"You are very silent, John."
"I am—your valet, sir!"
"Then, oh! man," exclaimed Barnabas, touching up the galloping bays quite unnecessarily, "oh, man—forget it a while! Here we sit—three men together, with London miles behind us, and the Fashionable World further still. Here we sit, three men, with no difference between us, except that the Bo'sun has fought and bled for this England of ours, you have travelled and seen much of the world, and I, being the youngest, have done neither the one nor the other, and very little else—as yet. So, John,—be yourself; talk, John, talk!"
Now hereupon John Peterby's grave dignity relaxed, a twinkle dawned in his eyes, and his lips took on their old-time, humorous curve. And lo! the valet became merged and lost in the cosmopolitan, the dweller in many cities, who had done and seen much, and could tell of such things so wittily and well that the miles passed unheeded, while the gallant bays whirled the light phaeton up hill and down dale, contemptuous of fatigue.
It needs not here to describe more fully this journey whose tedium was unnoticed by reason of good-fellowship. Nor of the meal they ate at the "Chequers" Inn at Tonbridge, and how they drank (at the Bo'sun's somewhat diffident suggestion) a health "to his Honor the Cap'n, and the poor old 'Bully-Sawyer,' Seventy-four."
And thus Barnabas, clad in purple and fine linen and driving his own blood horses, talked and laughed with a one-legged mariner, and sought the companionship of his own valet; which irregularity must be excused by his youth and inexperience, and the lamentable fact that, despite his purple and fine linen, he was, as yet, only a man, alas!
Thus, then, as evening fell, behold them spinning along that winding road where stood a certain ancient finger-post pointing the wayfarer:
TO LONDON. TO HAWKHURST
At sight of which weather-worn piece of timber. Barnabas must needs smile, though very tenderly, and thereafter fall a-sighing. But all at once he checked his sighs to stare in amazement, for there, demurely seated beneath the finger-post, and completely engrossed in her needlework, was a small, lonely figure, at sight of which Barnabas pulled up the bays in mid-career.
"Why—Duchess!" he exclaimed, and, giving Peterby the reins, stepped out of the phaeton.
"Ah! is that you, Mr. Beverley?" sighed the Duchess, looking up from her embroidery, which, like herself, was very elaborate, very dainty, and very small. "You find me here, sitting by the wayside,—and a very desolate figure I must look, I'm sure,—you find me here because I have been driven away by the tantrums of an undutiful god-daughter, and the barbarity of a bloodthirsty buccaneer. I mean the Captain, of course. And all because I had the forethought to tell Cleone her nose was red,—which it was,—sunburn you know, and because I remarked that the Captain was growing as rotund as a Frenchman, which he is,—I mean fat, of course. All Frenchmen are fat—at least some are. And then he will wear such a shabby old coat! So here I am, Mr. Beverley, very lonely and very sad, but industrious you see, quite as busy as Penelope, who used to spin webs all day long,—which sounds as though she were a spider instead of a classical lady who used to undo them again at night,—I mean the webs, not the spiders. But, indeed, you're very silent, Mr. Beverley, though I'm glad to see you are here so well to time."
"To time, madam?"
"Because, you see, I 've won my bet. Oh yes, indeed, I bet about everything nowadays,—oh, feverishly, sir, and shall do, until the race is over, I suppose."
"Yes. I bet Cleone an Indian shawl against a pair of beaded mittens that you would be here, to-day, before ten o'clock. So you see, you are hours before your time, and the mittens are mine. Talking of Cleone, sir, she's in the orchard. She's also in a shocking temper—indeed quite cattish, so you'd better stay here and talk to me. But then—she's alone, and looking vastly handsome, I'll admit, so, of course, you're dying to be gone—now aren't you?"
"No," Barnabas replied, and turning, bade Peterby drive on to the house.
"Then you ought to be!" retorted the Duchess, shaking an admonitory finger at him, yet smiling also as the carriage rolled away. "Youth can never prefer to listen to a chattering old woman—in a wig!"
"But you see, madam, I need your help, your advice," said Barnabas gravely.
"Ah, now I love giving people advice! It's so pleasant and—easy!"
"I wish to confide in you,—if I may."
"Confidences are always interesting—especially in the country!"
"Duchess, I—I—have a confession to make."
"A confession, sir? Then I needn't pretend to work any longer—besides, I always prick myself. There!" And rolling the very small piece of embroidery into a ball, she gave it to Barnabas. "Pray sir, hide the odious thing in your pocket. Will you sit beside me? No? Very well—now, begin, sir!"
"Why, then, madam, in the first place, I—"
"I—that is to say,—you—must understand that—in the first place—"
"You've said 'first place' twice!" nodded the Duchess as he paused.
"Yes—Oh!—Did I? Indeed I—I fear it is going to be even harder to speak of than I thought, and I have been nerving myself to tell you ever since I started from London."
"To tell me what?"
"That which may provoke your scorn of me, which may earn me Cleone's bitterest contempt."
"Why then, sir—don't say another word about it—"
"Ah, but I must—indeed I must! For I know now that to balk at it, to—to keep silent any longer would be dishonorable—and the act of a coward!"
"Oh dear me!" sighed the Duchess, "I fear you are going to be dreadfully heroic about something!"
"Let us say—truthful, madam!"
"But, sir,—surely Truthfulness, after all, is merely the last resource of the hopelessly incompetent! Anyhow it must be very uncomfortable, I'm sure," said the Duchess, nodding her head. Yet she was quick to notice the distress in his voice, and the gleam of moisture among the curls at his temple, hence her tone was more encouraging as she continued. "Still, sir, speak on if you wish, for even a Duchess may appreciate honor and truth—in another, of course,—though she does wear a wig!"
"Believe me," sighed Barnabas, beginning to stride restlessly to and fro, "the full significance of my conduct never occurred to me until it was forced on my notice by—by another, and then—" he paused and brushed the damp curls from his brow. "To-day I tried to write to Cleone—to tell her everything, but I—couldn't."
"So you decided to come and tell me first, which was very nice of you," nodded the Duchess, "oh, very right and proper! Well, sir, I'm listening."
"First, then," said Barnabas, coming to a halt, and looking down at her steadfast-eyed, "you must know that my real name is—Barty."
"Barty?" repeated the Duchess, raising her brows. "Mm! I like Beverley much better."
"Beverley was my mother's name. She was Joan Beverley."
"Joan? Joan Beverley? Why y-e-s, I think I remember her, and the talk there was. Joan? Ah yes, to be sure,—very handsome, and—disappeared. No one knew why, but now,—I begin to understand. You would suggest—"
"That she became the honorable wife of my father, John Barty, the celebrated pugilist and ex-champion of England, now keeper of a village inn," said Barnabas, speaking all in a breath, but maintaining his steadfast gaze.
"Eh?" cried the Duchess, and rose to her feet with astonishing ease for one of her years, "eh, sir, an innkeeper! And your mother—actually married him?" and the Duchess shivered.
"Yes, madam. I am their lawful son."
"Dreadful!" cried the Duchess, "handsome Joan Beverley—married to an—inn-keeper! Horrible! She'd much better have died—say, in a ditch—so much more respectable!"
"My father is an honorable man!" said Barnabas, with upflung head.
"Your father is—an inn-keeper!"
"And—my father, madam!"
"The wretch!" exclaimed the Duchess. "Oh, frightful!" and she shivered again.
"And his son—loves Cleone!"
"Dreadful! Frightful" cried the Duchess. "An inn-keeper's son! Beer and skittles and clay pipes! Oh, shocking!" And here, shuddering for the third time as only a great lady might, she turned her back on him.
"Ah," cried Barnabas, "so you scorn me—already?"
"For being—an inn-keeper's son?"
"For—telling of it!"
"And yet," said Barnabas, "I think Barnabas Barty is a better man than Barnabas Beverley, and a more worthy lover; indeed I know he is. And, as Barnabas Barty, I bid your Grace good-by!"
"Where are you going?"
"To the village inn, madam, my proper place, it seems. But—to-morrow morning, unless you have told Cleone, I shall. And now, if your Grace will have the kindness to send my servant to me—"
"But—why tell Cleone?" inquired the Duchess over her shoulder; "there is one alternative left to you."
"Then, madam, in heaven's name,—tell it me!" cried Barnabas eagerly.
"A ridiculously simple one, sir."
"Oh, madam—what can I do—pray tell me."
"You must—disown this inn-keeping wretch, of course. You must cast him off—now, at once, and forever!"
"Disown him—my father!"
Barnabas stared wide-eyed. Then he laughed, and uncovering his head, bowed deeply.
"Madam," said he, "I have the honor to bid your Grace good-by!"
"You—will tell Cleone then?"
"Because I love her. Because I, therefore, hate deceit, and because I—"
"And because Mr. Chichester knows already."
"Ah! You mean that he has forced your hand, sir, and now you would make the best of it—"
"I mean that he has opened my eyes, madam."
"And to-morrow you will tell Cleone?"
"And, of course, she will scorn you for an impudent impostor?"
Now at this Barnabas flinched, for these were Chichester's own words, and they bore a double sting.
"And yet—I must tell her!" he groaned.
"And afterwards, where shall you go?"
"Anywhere," he sighed, with a hopeless gesture.
"Will be run without me."
"And your friends—the Marquis, Viscount Devenham, and the rest?"
"Will, I expect, turn their gentlemanly backs upon me—as you yourself have done. So, madam, I thank you for your past kindness, and bid you—good-by"
"Of what avail, madam?" sighed Barnabas, turning away.
"Come back—I command you!"
"I am beneath your Grace's commands, henceforth," said Barnabas, and plodded on down the road.
"Then I—beg of you!"
"Why?" he inquired, pausing.
"Because—oh, because you are running off with my precious needlework, of course. In your pocket, sir,—the left one!" So, perforce, Barnabas came back, and standing again beneath the finger-post, gave the Duchess her very small piece of embroidery. But, behold! his hand was caught and held between two others, which, though very fragile, were very imperious.
"Barnabas," said the Duchess very softly, "oh, dear me, I'm glad you told me, oh very! I hoped you would!"
"Hoped? Why—why, madam, you—then you knew?"
"All about it, of course! Oh, you needn't stare—it wasn't witchcraft, it was this letter—read it." And taking a letter from her reticule, she gave it to Barnabas, and watched him while he read:
TO HER GRACE THE DUCHESS OF CAMBERHURST.
MADAM,—In justice to yourself I take occasion to warn your Grace against the person calling himself Barnabas Beverley. He is, in reality, an impudent impostor of humble birth and mean extraction. His real name and condition I will prove absolutely to your Grace at another time.
Your Grace's most humble obedt.
"So you see I'm not a witch, sir,—oh no, I'm only an old woman, with, among many other useful gifts, a very sharp eye for faces, a remarkable genius for asking questions, and the feminine capacity for adding two and two together and making them—eight. So, upon reading this letter, I made inquiries on my own account with the result that yesterday I drove over to a certain inn called the 'Coursing Hound,' and talked with your father. Very handsome he is too—as he always was, and I saw him in the hey-day of his fame, remember. Well, I sipped his ale,—very good ale I found it, and while I sipped, we talked. He is very proud of his son, it seems, and he even showed me a letter this son had written him from the 'George' inn at Southwark. Ha! Joan Beverley was to have married an ugly old wretch of a marquis, and John Barty is handsome still. But an inn-keeper, hum!"
"So—that was why my mother ran away, madam?"
"And Wilfred Chichester knows of this, and will tell Cleone, of course!"
"I think not—at least not yet," answered Barnabas thoughtfully,— "you see, he is using this knowledge as a weapon against me."
"I promised to help Ronald Barrymaine—"
"That wretched boy! Well?"
"And the only way to do so was to remove him from Chichester's influence altogether. So I warned Mr. Chichester that unless he forswore Barrymaine's society, I would, as Joan Beverley's son and heir to the Beverley heritage, prove my claim and dispossess him."
"You actually threatened Wilfred Chichester with this, and forgot that in finding you your mother's son, he would prove you to be your father's also?"
"Yes, I—I only remembered my promise."
"The one you gave Cleone, which she had no right to exact—as I told her—"
"Oh, she confessed to me all about it, and how you had tried to pay Ronald's debts for him out of your own pocket,—which was very magnificent but quite absurd."
"Yes," sighed Barnabas, "so now I am determined to free him from Chichester first—"
"By dispossessing Chichester?"
"But—can't you see, if you force him to expose you it will mean your social ruin?"
"But then I gave—Her—my promise."
"Oh, Barnabas," said the Duchess, looking up at him with her young, beautiful eyes that were so like Cleone's, "what a superb fool you are! And your father is only a village inn-keeper!"
"No, madam,—he was champion of all England as well."
"Oh!" sighed the Duchess, shaking her head, "that poor Sir Mortimer Carnaby! But, as for you, sir, you 're a fool, either a very clumsy, or a very—unselfish one,—anyhow, you're a fool, you know!"
"Yes," sighed Barnabas, his head hanging, "I fear I am."
"Oh yes,—you're quite a fool—not a doubt of it!" said the Duchess with a nod of finality. "And yet, oh, dear me! I think it may be because I'm seventy-one and growing younger every day, or perhaps because I'm so old that I have to wear a wig, but my tastes are so peculiar that there are some fools I could almost—love. So you may give me your arm,—Barnabas."
He obeyed mechanically, and they went on down the road together in silence until they came to a pair of tall, hospitable gates, and here Barnabas paused, and spoke wonderingly:
"Madam, you—you surely forget I am the son of—"
"A champion of all England, Barnabas. But, though you can thrash Sir Mortimer Carnaby, Wilfred Chichester is the kind of creature that only a truly clever woman can hope to deal with, so you may leave him to me!"
"But, madam, I—"
"Barnabas, quite so. But Wilfred Chichester always makes me shudder, and I love to shudder—now and then, especially in the hot weather. And then everything bores me lately—Cleone, myself,—even Whist, so I'll try my hand at another game—with Wilfred Chichester as an opponent."
"But, Duchess, indeed I—"
"Very true, Barnabas! but the matter is quite settled. And now, you are still determined to—confess your father to Cleone, I suppose?"
"Yes, I dare not speak to her otherwise, how could I, knowing myself an—"
"Impudent impostor, sir? Quite so and fiddlesticks! Heigho! you are so abominably high-minded and heroic, Barnabas,—it's quite depressing. Cleone is only a human woman, who powders her nose when it's red, and quite right too—I mean the powder of course, not the redness. Oh! indeed she's very human, and after all, your mother was a Beverley, and I know you are rich and—ah! there she is—on the terrace with the Captain, and I'm sure she has seen you, Barnabas, because she's so vastly unconscious. Observe the pose of her head,—she has a perfect neck and shoulders, and she knows it. There! see her kissing the Captain,—that's all for my benefit, the yellow minx! just because I happened to call him a 'hunks,' and so he is—though I don't know what I meant,—because he refused to change that dreadful old service coat. There! now she's patting his cheek—the golden jade! Now—watch her surprise when she pretends to catch sight of us!"
Hereupon, as they advanced over the smooth turf, the Duchess raised her voice.
"My bird!" she called in dulcet tones, "Clo dear, Cleone my lamb, here is Barnabas, I found him—under the finger-post, my dove!"
My lady turned, gave the least little start in the world, was surprised, glad, demure, all in the self-same minute, and taking the arm of her Tyrant, who had already begun a truly nautical greeting, led him, forthwith, down the terrace steps, the shining curls at her temple brushing his shabby coat-sleeve as they came.
"Ha!" cried the Captain, "my dear fellow, we're glad—I say we're all of us glad to see you. Welcome to 'The Gables,'—eh, Clo?"
And Cleone? With what gracious ease she greeted him! With what clear eyes she looked at him! With what demure dignity she gave him her white hand to kiss! As though—for all the world as though she could ever hope to deceive anything so old and so very knowing as the ancient finger-post upon the London road!
"Clo dear," said the Duchess, "they're going to talk horses and racing, and bets and things,—I know they are,—your arm, my love. Now,—lead on, gentlemen. And now, my dear," she continued, speaking in Cleone's ear as Barnabas and the Captain moved on, "he simply—adores you!"
"Really, God-mother—how clever of you!" said Cleone, her eyes brim full of merriment, "how wonderful you are!"
"Yes, my lady Pert,—he worships you and, consequently, is deceiving you with every breath he draws!"
"With every moment he lives!"
"Cleone,—he is not what he seems!"
"His very name is false!"
"What do you mean? Ah no, no—I'm sure he would not, and yet—oh, God-mother,—why?"
"Because—hush, Cleone—he's immensely rich, one of the wealthiest young men in London, and—hush! He would be—loved for himself alone. So, Cleone,—listen,—he may perhaps come to you with some wonderful story of poverty and humble birth. He may tell you his father was only a—a farmer, or a tinker, or a—an inn-keeper. Oh dear me,—so delightfully romantic! Therefore, loving him as you do—"
"With every one of your yellow hairs—"
"From the sole of your foot—"
"To the crown of your wilful head,—oh, Youth, Youth!—you may let your heart answer as it would. Oh Fire! Passion! Romance! (yes, yes, Jack,—we're coming!) Your heart, I say, Cleone, may have its way, because with all his wealth he has a father who—hush!—at one time was the greatest man in all England,—a powerful man, Clo,—a famous man, indeed a man of the most—striking capabilities. So, when your heart—(dear me, how impatient Jack is!) Oh, supper? Excellent, for, child, now I come to think of it, I'm positively swooning with hunger!"
WHICH CONCERNS ITSELF WITH SMALL THINGS IN GENERAL, AND A PEBBLE IN PARTICULAR
To those who, standing apart from the rush and flurry of life, look upon the world with a seeing eye, it is, surely, interesting to observe on what small and apparently insignificant things great matters depend. To the student History abounds with examples, and to the philosopher they are to be met with everywhere.
But how should Barnabas (being neither a student nor a philosopher) know, or even guess, that all his fine ideas and intentions were to be frustrated, and his whole future entirely changed by nothing more nor less than—a pebble, an ordinary, smooth, round pebble, as innocent-seeming as any of its kind, yet (like young David's) singled out by destiny to be one of these "smaller things"?
They were sitting on the terrace, the Duchess, Cleone, Barnabas, and the Captain, and they were very silent,—the Duchess, perhaps, because she had supped adequately, the Captain because of his long, clay pipe, Cleone because she happened to be lost in contemplation of the moon, and Barnabas, because he was utterly absorbed in contemplation of Cleone.
The night was very warm and very still, and upon the quietude stole a sound—softer, yet more insistent than the whisper of wind among leaves,—a soothing, murmurous sound that seemed to make the pervading quiet but the more complete.
"How cool the brook sounds!" sighed the Duchess at last, "and the perfume of the roses,—oh dear me, how delicious! Indeed I think the scent of roses always seems more intoxicating after one has supped well, for, after all, one must be well-fed to be really romantic,—eh, Jack?"
"Romantic, mam!" snorted the Captain, "romantic,—I say bosh, mam! I say—"
"And then—the moon, Jack!"
"Moon? And what of it, mam,—I say—"
"Roses always smell sweeter by moonlight, Jack, and are far more inclined to—go to the head—"
"Roses!" snorted the Captain, louder than before, "you must be thinking of rum, mam, rum—"
"Then, Jack, to the perfume of roses, add the trill of a nightingale—"
"And of all rums, mam, give me real old Jamaica—"
"And to the trill of a nightingale, add again the murmur of an unseen brook, Jack—"
"Eh, mam, eh? Nightingales, brooks? I say—oh, Gad, mam!" and the Captain relapsed into tobacco-puffing indignation.
"What more could youth and beauty ask? Ah, Jack, Jack!" sighed the Duchess, "had you paid more attention to brooks and nightingales, and stared at the moon in your youth, you might have been a green young grandfather to-night, instead of a hoary old bachelor in a shabby coat—sucking consolation from a clay pipe!"
"Consolation, mam! For what—I say, I demand to know for what?"
"Eh, Duchess,—what, mam? Haven't I got my dear Clo, and the Bo'sun, eh, mam—eh?"
"The Bo'sun, yes,—he smokes a pipe, but Cleone can't, so she looks at the moon instead,—don't you dear?"
"The moon, God-mother?" exclaimed Cleone, bringing her gaze earthwards on the instant. "Why I,—I—the moon, indeed!"
"And she listens to the brook, Jack,—don't you, my dove?"
"Why, God-mother, I—the brook? Of course not!" said Cleone.
"And, consequently, Jack, you mustn't expect to keep her much longer—"
"Eh!" cried the bewildered Captain, "what's all this, Duchess,—I say, what d'ye mean, mam?"
"Some women," sighed the Duchess, "some women never know they're in love until they've married the wrong man, and then it's too late, poor things. But our sweet Clo, on the contrary—"
"Love!" snorted the Captain louder than ever, "now sink me, mam,—I say, sink and scuttle me; but what's love got to do with Clo, eh, mam?"
"More than you think, Jack—ask her!"
But lo! my lady had risen, and was already descending the terrace steps, a little hurriedly perhaps, yet in most stately fashion. Whereupon Barnabas, feeling her Grace's impelling hand upon his arm, obeyed the imperious command and rising, also descended the steps,—though in fashion not at all stately,—and strode after my lady, and being come beside her, walked on—yet found nothing to say, abashed by her very dignity. But, after they had gone thus some distance, venturing to glance at her averted face, Barnabas espied the dimple beside her mouth.
"Cleone," said he suddenly, "what has love to do with you?"
Now, for a moment, she looked up at him, then her lashes drooped, and she turned away.
"Oh, sir," she answered, "lift up your eyes and look upon the moon!"
"Cleone, has love—come to you—at last? Tell me!" But my lady walked on for a distance with head again averted, and—with never a word. "Speak!" said Barnabas, and caught her hand (unresisting now), and held it to his lips. "Oh, Cleone,—answer me!"
Then Cleone obeyed and spoke, though her voice was tremulous and low.
"Ah, sir," said she, "listen to the brook!"
Now it so chanced they had drawn very near this talkative stream, whose voice reached them—now in hoarse whisperings, now in throaty chucklings, and whose ripples were bright with the reflected glory of the moon. Just where they stood, a path led down to these shimmering waters,—a narrow and very steep path screened by bending willows; and, moved by Fate, or Chance, or Destiny, Barnabas descended this path, and turning, reached up his hands to Cleone.
"Come!" he said. And thus, for a moment, while he looked up into her eyes, she looked down into his, and sighed, and moved towards him, and—set her foot upon the pebble.
And thus, behold the pebble had achieved its purpose, for, next moment Cleone was lying in his arms, and for neither of them was life or the world to be ever the same thereafter.
Yes, indeed, the perfume of the roses was full of intoxication to-night; the murmurous brook whispered of things scarce dreamed of; and the waning moon was bright enough to show the look in her eyes and the quiver of her mouth as Barnabas stooped above her.
"Cleone!" he whispered, "Cleone—can you—do you—love me? Oh, my white lady,—my woman that I love,—do you love me?"
She did not speak, but her eyes answered him; and, in that moment Barnabas stooped and kissed her, and held her close, and closer, until she sighed and stirred in his embrace.
Then, all at once, he groaned and set her down, and stood before her with bent head.
"My dear," said he, "oh, my dear!"
"Forgive me,—I should have spoken,—indeed, I meant to,—but I couldn't think,—it was so sudden,—forgive me! I didn't mean to even touch your hand until I had confessed my deceit. Oh, my dear, —I am not—not the fine gentleman you think me. I am only a very —humble fellow. The son of a village—inn-keeper. Your eyes were—kind to me just now, but, oh Cleone, if so humble a fellow is—unworthy, as I fear,—I—I will try to—forget."
Very still she stood, looking upon his bent head, saw the quiver of his lips, and the griping of his strong hands. Now, when she spoke, her voice was very tender.
"Can you—ever forget?"
"Then—oh, Barnabas, don't! Because I—think I could—love this—humble fellow, Barnabas."
The moon, of course, has looked on many a happy lover, yet where find one, before or since, more radiant than young Barnabas; and the brook, even in its softest, most tender murmurs, could never hope to catch the faintest echo of Cleone's voice or the indescribable thrill of it.
And as for the pebble that was so round, so smooth and innocent-seeming, whether its part had been that of beneficent sprite, or malevolent demon, he who troubles to read on may learn.
HOW BARNABAS FOUND HIS MANHOOD
"Oh—hif you please, sir!"
Barnabas started, and looking about, presently espied a figure in the shadow of the osiers; a very small figure, upon whose diminutive jacket were numerous buttons that glittered under the moon.
"Why—it's Milo of Crotona!" said Cleone.
"Yes, my lady—hif you please, it are," answered Milo of Crotona, touching the peak of his leather cap.
"But—what are you doing here? How did you know where to find us?"
"'Cause as I came up the drive, m'lady, I jest 'appened to see you a-walking together,—so I followed you, I did, m'lady."
"Followed us?" repeated Cleone rather faintly. "Oh!"
"And then—when I seen you slip, m'lady, I thought as 'ow I'd better—wait a bit. So I waited, I did." And here, again, Milo of Crotona touched the peak of his cap, and looked from Barnabas to Cleone's flushing loveliness with eyes wide and profoundly innocent,—a very cherub in top-boots, only his buttons (Ah, his buttons!) seemed to leer and wink one to another, as much as to say: "Oh yes! Of course! to—be—sure?"
"And what brings you so far from London?" inquired Barnabas, rather hurriedly.
"Coach, sir,—box seat, sir!"
"And you brought your master with you, of course,—is the Viscount here?"
"No, m'lady. I 'ad to leave 'im be'ind 'count of 'im being unfit to travel—"
"Is he ill?"
"Oh, no, not hill, m'lady,—only shot, 'e is."
"Shot!" exclaimed Barnabas, "how—where?"
"In the harm, sir,—all on 'count of 'is 'oss,—'Moonraker' sir."
"Yessir. 'S arternoon it were. Ye see, for a long time I ain't been easy in me mind about them stables where 'im and you keeps your 'osses, sir, 'count of it not being safe enough,—worritted I 'ave, sir. So 's arternoon, as we was passing the end o' the street, I sez to m'lud, I sez, 'Won't your Ludship jest pop your nob round the corner and squint your peepers at the 'osses?' I sez. So 'e laughs, easy like, and in we pops. And the first thing we see was your 'ead groom, Mr. Martin, wiv blood on 'is mug and one peeper in mourning a-wrastling wiv two coves, and our 'ead groom, Standish, wiv another of 'em. Jest as we run up, down goes Mr. Martin, but—afore they could maul 'im wiv their trotters, there's m'lud wiv 'is fists an' me wiv a pitchfork as 'appened to lie 'andy. And very lively it were, sir, for a minute or two. Then off goes a barker and off go the coves, and there's m'lud 'olding onto 'is harm and swearing 'eavens 'ard. And that's all, sir."
"And these men were—trying to get at the horses?"
"Ah! Meant to nobble 'Moonraker,' they did,—'im bein' one o' the favorites, d' ye see, sir, and it looked to me as if they meant to do for your 'oss, 'The Terror', as well."
"And is the Viscount much hurt?"
"Why no, sir. And it were only 'is whip-arm. 'Urts a bit o' course, but 'e managed to write you a letter, 'e did; an' 'ere it is."
So Barnabas took the letter, and holding it in the moonlight where Cleone could see it, they, together, made out these words:
MY DEAR BEV,—There is durty work afoot. Some Raskells have tried to lame 'Moonraker,' but thanks to my Imp and your man Martin, quite unsuccessfully. How-beit your man Martin—regular game for all his years—has a broken nob and one ogle closed up, and I a ball through my arm, but nothing to matter. But I am greatly pirtirbed for the safety of 'Moonraker' and mean to get him into safer quarters and advise you to do likewise. Also, though your horse 'The Terror,' as the stable-boys call him, is not even in the betting, it almost seems, from what I can gather, that they meant to nobble him also. Therefore I think you were wiser to return at once, and I am anxious to see you on another matter as well. Your bets with Carnaby and Chichester have somehow got about and are the talk of the town, and from what I hear, much to your disparagement, I fear.
A pity to shorten your stay in the country, but under the circumstances, most advisable.
Yours ever, etc.,
P.S. My love and service to the Duchess, Cleone and the Capt.
Now here Barnabas looked at Cleone, and sighed, and Cleone sighing also, nodded her head:
"You must go," said she, very softly, and sighed again.
"Yes, I must go, and yet—it is so very soon, Cleone!"
"Yes, it is dreadfully soon, Barnabas. But what does he mean by saying that people are talking of you to your disparagement? How dare they? Why should they?"
"I think because I, a rank outsider, ventured to lay a wager against Sir Mortimer Carnaby."
"Do you mean you bet him that you would win the race, Barnabas?"
"No,—only that I would beat Sir Mortimer Carnaby."
"But, oh Barnabas,—he is the race! Surely you know he and the Viscount are favorites?"
"Then you do think you can win?"
"I mean to try—very hard!" said Barnabas, beginning to frown a little.
"And I begin to think," said Cleone, struck by his resolute eyes and indomitable mouth, "oh, Barnabas—I begin to think you—almost may."
"And if I did?"
"Then I should be very—proud of you."
"And if I lost?"
"Then you would be—"
"My, Barnabas! Ah, no, no!" she whispered suddenly, "you are crushing me—dreadfully, and besides, that boy has terribly sharp eyes!" and Cleone nodded to where Master Milo stood, some distance away, with his innocent orbs lifted pensively towards the heavens, more like a cherub than ever.
"But he's not looking, and oh, Cleone,—how can I bear to leave you so soon? You are more to me than anything else in the world. You are my life, my soul,—my honor,—oh my dear!"
"Do you—love me so very much, Barnabas?" said she, with a sudden catch in her voice.
"And always must! Oh my dear, my dear,—don't you know? But indeed, words are so small and my love is so great that I fear you can never quite guess, or I tell it all."
"Then, Barnabas,—you will go?"
"Must I, Cleone? It will be so very hard to lose you—so soon."
"But a man always chooses the harder course, doesn't he, Barnabas? And, dear, you cannot lose me,—and so you will go, won't you?"
"Yes, I'll go—because I love you!"
Then Cleone drew him deeper into the shade of the willows, and with a sudden, swift gesture, reached up her hands and set them about his neck.
"Oh my dear," she murmured, "oh Barnabas dear, I think I can guess—now. And I'm sure—the boy—can't see us—here!"
No, surely, neither this particular brook nor any other water-brook, stream or freshet, that ever sang, or sighed, or murmured among the reeds, could ever hope to catch all the thrilling tenderness of the sweet soft tones of Cleone's voice.
A brook indeed? Ridiculous!
Therefore this brook must needs give up attempting the impossible, and betake itself to offensive chuckles and spiteful whisperings, and would have babbled tales to the Duchess had that remarkable, ancient lady been versed in the language of brooks. As it was, she came full upon Master Milo still intent upon the heavens, it is true, but in such a posture that his buttons stared point-blank and quite unblushingly towards a certain clump of willows.
"Oh Lud!" exclaimed the Duchess, starting back, "dear me, what a strange little boy! What do you want here, little man?"
Milo of Crotona turned and—looked at her. And though his face was as cherubic as ever, there was haughty reproof in every button.
"Who are you?" demanded the Duchess; "oh, gracious me, what a pretty child!"
Surely no cherub—especially one in such knowing top-boots—could be reasonably expected to put up with this! Master Milo's innocent brow clouded suddenly, and the expression of his glittering buttons grew positively murderous.
"I'm Viscount Devenham's con-fee-dential groom, mam, I am!" said he coldly, and with his most superb air.
"Groom?" said the Duchess, staring, "what a very small one, to be sure!"
"It ain't inches as counts wiv 'osses, mam,—or hany-think else, mam, —it's nerves as counts, it is."
"Why, yes, you seem to have plenty of nerve!"
"Well, mam, there ain't much as I trembles at, there ain't,—and when I do, I don't show it, I don't."
"And such a pretty child, too!" sighed the Duchess.
"Child, mam? I ain't no child, I'm a groom, I am. Child yourself, mam!"
"Lud! I do believe he's even paying me compliments! How old are you, boy?"
"A lot more 'n you think, and hoceans more 'n I look, mam."
"And what's your name?"
"Milo, mam,—Milo o' Crotona, but my pals generally calls me Tony, for short, they do."
"Milo of Crotona!" repeated the Duchess, with her eyes wider than ever, "but he was a giant who slew an ox with his fist, and ate it whole!"
"Why, mam, I'm oncommon fond of oxes,—roasted, I am."
"Well," said the Duchess, "you are the very smallest giant I ever saw."
"Why, you ain't werry large yourself, mam, you ain't."
"No, I fear I am rather petite," said the Duchess with a trill of girlish laughter. "And pray, Giant, what may you be doing here?"
"Come up on the coach, I did,—box seat, mam,—to take Mr. Beverley back wiv me 'cause 'is 'oss ain't safe, and—"
"Not safe,—what do you mean, boy?"
"Some coves got in and tried to nobble 'Moonraker' and 'im—"
"Lame 'em, mam,—put 'em out o' the running."
"Yes'm. Ye see us sportsmen 'ave our worritting times, we do."
"But where is Mr. Beverley?"
"Why, I ain't looked, mam, I ain't,—but they're down by the brook—behind them bushes, they are."
"Oh, are they!" said the Duchess, "Hum!"
"No mam,—'e's a-coming, and so's she."
"Why, Barnabas," cried the Duchess, as Cleone and he stepped out of the shadow, "what's all this I hear about your horse,—what is the meaning of it?"
"That I must start for London to-night, Duchess."
"Leave to-night? Absurd!"
"And yet, madam, Cleone seems to think I must, and so does Viscount Devenham,—see what he writes." So the Duchess took the Viscount's letter and, having deciphered it with some difficulty, turned upon Barnabas with admonishing finger upraised:
"So you 've been betting, eh? And with Sir Mortimer Carnaby and Mr. Chichester of all people?"
"Ah! You backed the Viscount, I suppose?"
"No,—I backed myself, Duchess."
"But only to beat Sir Mortimer Carnaby—"
"The other favorite. Oh, ridiculous! What odds did they give you?"
"You mean—oh, dear me!—you actually backed yourself—at even money?"
"But you haven't a chance, Barnabas,—not a chance! You didn't bet much, I hope?"
"Not so much as I intended, madam."
"Pray what was the sum?"
"Twenty thousand pounds."
"Forty thousand pounds! Against a favorite! Cleone, my dear," said the Duchess, with one of her quick, incisive nods, "Cleone, this Barnabas of ours is either a madman or a fool! And yet—stoop down, sir,—here where I can see you,—hum! And yet, Cleone, there are times when I think he is perhaps a little wiser than he seems,—nothing is so baffling as simplicity, my dear! If you wished to be talked about, Barnabas, you have succeeded admirably,—no wonder all London is laughing over such a preposterous bet. Forty thousand pounds! Well, it will at least buy you notoriety, and that is next to fame."
"Indeed, I hadn't thought of that," said Barnabas.
"And supposing your horse had been lamed and you couldn't ride,—how then?"
"Why, then, I forfeit the money, madam."
Now here the Duchess frowned thoughtfully, and thereafter said "ha!" so suddenly, that Cleone started and hurried to her side.
"Dear God-mother, what is it?"
"A thought, my dear!"
"Call it a woman's intuition if you will."
"What is your thought, dear?"
"That you are right, Cleone,—he must go—at once!"
"Yes; to London,—now—this very instant! Unless you prefer to forfeit your money, Barnabas?"
But Barnabas only smiled and shook his head.
"You would be wiser!"
"But I was never very wise, I fear," said Barnabas.
"Oh, God-mother,—do you think there is—danger, then?"
"Yes, child, I do. Indeed, Barnabas, you were wiser and safer to forfeit your wagers and stay here with me and—Cleone!"
But Barnabas only sighed and shook his head.
"Cleone," said the Duchess, "speak to him."
So blushing a little, sighing a little, Cleone reached out her hand to Barnabas, while the Duchess watched them with her young, bright eyes.
"Oh, Barnabas, God-mother is very wise, and if—there is danger—you mustn't go—for my sake."
But Barnabas shook his head again, and taking in his strong clasp the pleading hand upon his arm, turned to the Duchess.
"Madam," said he, "dear Duchess, to-night I have found my manhood, for to-night I have learned that a man must ever choose the hardest course and follow it—to the end. To-night Cleone has taught me—many things."
"And you will—stay?" inquired the Duchess.
"I must go!" said Barnabas.
"Then good-by—Barnabas!" said her Grace, looking up at him with a sudden, radiant smile, "good-by!" said she very softly, "it is a fine thing to be a gentleman, perhaps,—but it is a godlike thing to be—a man!" So saying, she gave him her hand, and as Barnabas stooped to kiss those small, white fingers, she looked down at his curly head with such an expression as surely few had ever seen within the eyes of this ancient, childless woman, her Grace of Camberhurst.
"Now Giant!" she called, as Barnabas turned towards Cleone, "come here, Giant, and promise me to take care of Mr. Beverley."
"Yes, mam,—all right, mam,—you jest leave 'im to me," replied Master Milo with his superb air, "don't you worrit on 'is account, 'e'll be all right along o' me, mam, 'e will."
"For that," cried the Duchess, catching him by two of his gleaming buttons, "for that I mean to kiss you, Giant!" The which, despite his reproving blushes, she did forthwith.
And Cleone and Barnabas? Well, it so chanced, her Grace's back was towards them; while as for Master Milo—abashed, and for once forgetful of his bepolished topboots, he became in very truth a child, though one utterly unused to the motherly touch of a tender woman's lips; therefore he suffered the embrace with closed eyes,—even his buttons were eclipsed, and, in that moment, the Duchess whispered something in his ear. Then he turned and followed after Barnabas, who was already striding away across the wide lawn, his head carried high, a new light in his eyes and a wondrous great joy at his heart, —a man henceforth—resolute to attempt all things, glorying in his strength and contemptuous of failure, because of the trill of a woman's voice and the quick hot touch of a woman's soft lips, whose caress had been in no sense—motherly. And presently, being come to the hospitable gates, he turned with bared head to look back at the two women, the one a childless mother, old and worn, yet wise with years, and the maid, strong and proud in all the glory of her warm, young womanhood. Side by side with arms entwined they stood, to watch young Barnabas, and in the eyes of each, an expression so much alike, yet so dissimilar. Then, with a flourish of his hat, Barnabas went on down the road, past the finger-post, with Milo of Crotona's small top-boots twinkling at his side.
"Sir," said he suddenly, speaking in an awed tone, "is she a real Doochess—the little old 'un?"
"Yes," nodded Barnabas, "very real. Why, Imp?"
"'Cos I called 'er a child, I did—Lord! An' then she—she kissed me, she did, sir—which ain't much in my line, it ain't. But she give me a guinea, sir, an' she likewise whispered in my ear, she did."
"Oh?" said Barnabas, thinking of Cleone—"whispered, did she?"
"Ah! she says to me—quick like, sir,—she says, 'tell 'im,' she says—meaning you, sir, 'tell 'im to beware o' Wilfred Chichester!' she says."
IN WHICH "THE TERROR," HITHERTO KNOWN AS "FOUR-LEGS," JUSTIFIES HIS NEW NAME
The chill of dawn was in the air as the chaise began to rumble over the London cobble-stones, whereupon Master Milo (who for the last hour had slumbered peacefully, coiled up in his corner like a kitten) roused himself, sat suddenly very upright, straightened his cap and pulled down his coat, broad awake all at once, and with his eyes as round and bright as his buttons.
"Are you tired, Imp?" inquired Barnabas, yawning.
"Tired, sir, ho no, sir—not a bit, I ain't."
"But you haven't slept much."
"Slep', sir? I ain't slep'. I only jest 'appened to close me eyes, sir. Ye see, I don't need much sleep, I don't,—four hours is enough for any man,—my pal Nick says so, and Nick knows a precious lot, 'e do."
"Who is Nick?"
"Nick's a cobbler, sir,—boots and shoes,—ladies' and gents', and a very good cobbler 'e is too, although a cripple wiv a game leg. Me and 'im's pals, sir, and though we 'as our little turn-ups 'count of 'im coming it so strong agin the Quality, I'm never very 'ard on 'im 'count of 'is crutch, d'ye see, sir."
"What do you mean by the 'Quality,' Imp?"
"Gentle-folks, sir,—rich folks like you an' m'lud. 'I'd gillertine the lot, if I'd my way,' he says, 'like the Frenchies did in Ninety-three,' 'e says. But 'e wouldn't reelly o'course, for Nick's very tender-hearted, though 'e don't like it known. So we 're pals, we are, and I often drop in to smoke a pipe wiv 'im—"
"What! Do you smoke, Imp?"
"Why, yes, o' course, sir,—all grooms smokes or chews, but I prefers a pipe—allus 'ave, ah! ever since I were a kid. But I mostly only 'as a pipe when I drop in on my pal Nick in Giles's Rents."
"Down by the River?" inquired Barnabas.
"Yessir. And now, shall I horder the post-boy to stop?"
"Well, the stables is near by, sir, and I thought as you might like to take a glimp at the 'osses,—just to make your mind easy, sir."
"Oh, very well!" said Barnabas, for there was something in the boy's small, eager face that he could not resist.
Therefore, having paid and dismissed the chaise, they turned into a certain narrow by-street. It was very dark as yet, although in the east was a faint, gray streak, and the air struck so chill, after the warmth of the chaise, that Barnabas shivered violently, and, happening to glance down, he saw that the boy was shivering also. On they went, side by side, between houses of gloom and silence, and thus, in a while, came to another narrow street, or rather, blind alley, at the foot of which were the stables.
"Hush, sir!" said the Imp, staring away to where the stable buildings loomed up before them, shadowy and indistinct in the dawn. "Hush, sir!" he repeated, and Barnabas saw that he was creeping forward on tip-toe, and, though scarce knowing why, he himself did the same.
They found the great swing doors fast, bolted from within, and, in this still dead hour, save for their own soft breathing, not a sound reached them. Then Barnabas laughed suddenly, and clapped Master Milo upon his small, rigid shoulder.
"There, Imp,—you see it's all right!" said he, and then paused, and held his breath.
"Did ye hear anythink?" whispered the boy.
"A chain—rattled, I think."
"And 't was in The Terror's' stall,—there? didn't ye hear somethink else, sir?"
"I did,—it sounded like—" the boy's voice tailed off suddenly and, upon the silence, a low whistle sounded; then a thud, as of some one dropping from a height, quickly followed by another,—and thus two figures darted away, impalpable as ghosts in the dawn, but the alley was filled with the rush and patter of their flight. Instantly Barnabas turned in pursuit, then stopped and stood utterly still, his head turned, his eyes wide, glaring back towards the gloom of the stables. For, in that moment, above the sudden harsh jangling of chains from within, above the pattering footsteps of the fugitives without, was an appalling sound rising high and ever higher—shrill, unearthly, and full of horror and torment unspeakable. And now, sudden as it had come, it was gone, but in its place was another sound,—a sound dull and muffled, but continuous, and pierced, all at once, by the loud, hideous whinnying of a horse. Then Barnabas sprang back to the doors, beating upon them with his fists and calling wildly for some one to open.
And, in a while, a key grated, a bolt shrieked; the doors swung back, revealing Martin, half-dressed and with a lantern in his hand, while three or four undergrooms hovered, pale-faced, in the shadows behind.
"My horse!" said Barnabas, and snatched the lantern.
"'The Terror'!" cried Milo, "this way, sir!"
Coming to a certain shadowy corner, Barnabas unfastened and threw open the half-door; and there, rising from the gloom of the stall, was a fiendish, black head with ears laid back, eyes rolling, and teeth laid bare,—cruel teeth, whose gleaming white was hatefully splotched,—strong teeth, in whose vicious grip something yet dangled.
"Why—what's he got there!" cried Martin suddenly, and then— "Oh, my God! sir,—look yonder!" and, covering his eyes, he pointed towards a corner of the stall where the light of the lantern fell. And—twisted and contorted,—something lay there; something hideously battered, and torn, and trampled; something that now lay so very quiet and still, but which had left dark splashes and stains on walls and flooring; something that yet clutched the knife which was to have hamstrung and ended the career of Four-legs once and for all; something that had once been a man.
WHICH, BEING SOMEWHAT IMPORTANT, IS CONSEQUENTLY SHORT
"My dear fellow," said the Viscount, stifling a yawn beneath the bedclothes, "you rise with the lark,—or should it be linnet? Anyhow, you do, you know. So deuced early!"
"I am here early because I haven't been to bed, Dick."
"Ah, night mail? Dev'lish uncomfortable! Didn't think you'd come back in such a deuce of a hurry, though!"
"But you wanted to see me, Dick, what is it?"
"Why,—egad, Bev, I'm afraid it's nothing much, after all. It's that fellow Smivvle's fault, really."
"Fellow actually called here yesterday—twice, Bev. Dev'lish importunate fellow y'know. Wanted to see you,—deuced insistent about it, too!"
"Well, from what I could make out, he seemed to think—sounds ridiculous so early in the morning,—but he seemed to fancy you were in some kind of—danger, Bev."
"Well, when I told him he couldn't see you because you had driven over to Hawkhurst, the fellow positively couldn't sit still—deuced nervous, y'know,—though probably owing to drink. 'Hawkhurst!' says he, staring at me as if I were a ghost, my dear fellow, 'yes,' says I, 'and the door's open, sir!' 'I see it is,' says he, sitting tight. 'But you must get him back!' 'Can't be done!' says I. 'Are you his friend?' says he. 'I hope so,' says I. 'Then,' says he, before I could remind him of the door again, 'then you must get him back— at once!' I asked him why, but he only stared and shook his head, and so took himself off. I'll own the fellow shook me rather, Bev, —he seemed so very much in earnest, but, knowing where you were, I wouldn't have disturbed you for the world if it hadn't been for the horses."
"Ah, yes—the horses!" said Barnabas thoughtfully. "How is your arm now, Dick?"
"A bit stiff, but otherwise right as a trivet, Bev. But now—about yourself, my dear fellow,—what on earth possessed you to lay Carnaby such a bet? What a perfectly reckless fellow you are! Of course the money is as good as in Carnaby's pocket already, not to mention Chichester's—damn him! As I told you in my letter, the affair has gone the round of the clubs,—every one is laughing at the 'Galloping Countryman,' as they call you. Jerningham came within an ace of fighting Tufton Green of the Guards about it, but the Marquis is deuced knowing with the barkers, and Tufton, very wisely, thought better of it. Still, I'm afraid the name will stick—!"
"And why not, Dick? I am a countryman, indeed quite a yokel in many ways, and I shall certainly gallop—when it comes to it."
"Which brings us back to the horses, Bev. I 've been thinking we ought to get 'em away—into the country—some quiet place like—say, the—the 'Spotted Cow,' Bev."
"Yes, the 'Spotted Cow' should do very well; especially as Clemency—"
"Talking about the horses, Bev," said the Viscount, sitting up in bed and speaking rather hurriedly, "I protest, since the rascally attempt on 'Moonraker' last night, I've been on pins and needles, positively,—nerve quite gone, y'know, Bev. If 'Moonraker' didn't happen to be a horse, he'd be a mare,—of course he would,—but I mean a nightmare. I've thought of him all day and dreamed of him all night, oh, most cursed, y'know! Just ring for my fellow, will you, Bev?—I'll get up, and we'll go round to the stables together."
"Quite unnecessary, Dick."
"Because I have just left there."
"Are the horses all right, Bev?"
"Ah!" sighed the Viscount, falling back among his pillows, "and everything is quite quiet, eh?"
"Very quiet,—now, Dick."
"Eh?" cried the Viscount, coming erect again, "Bev, what d' you mean?"
"I mean that three men broke in again to-night—"
"Oh, Lord!" exclaimed the Viscount, beginning to scramble out of bed.
"But we drove them off before they had done—what they came for."
"Did you, Bev,—did you? ah,—but didn't you catch any of 'em?"
"No; but my horse did."
"Your horse? Oh, Beverley,—d'you mean he—"
"Killed him, Dick!"
Once more the Viscount sank back among his pillows and stared up at the ceiling a while ere he spoke again—
"By the Lord, Bev," said he, at last, "the stable-boys might well call him 'The Terror'!"
"Yes," said Barnabas, "he has earned his name, Dick."
"And the man was—dead, you say?"
"Hideously dead, Dick,—and in his pocket we found this!" and Barnabas produced a dirty and crumpled piece of paper, and put it into the Viscount's reluctant hand. "Look at it, Dick, and tell me what it is."
"Why, Bev,—deuce take me, it's a plan of our stables! And they've got it right, too! Here's 'Moonraker's' stall marked out as pat as you please, and 'The Terror's,' but they've got his name wrong—"
"My horse had no name, Dick."
"But there's something written here."
"Yes, look at it carefully, Dick."
"Well, here's an H, and an E, and—looks like 'Hera,' Bev!"
"Yes, but it isn't. Look at that last letter again, Dick!"
"Why, I believe—by God, Bev,—it's an E!"
"Yes,—an E, Dick."
"'Here'!" said the Viscount, staring at the paper; "why, then—why, Bev,—it was—your horse they were after!"
"My horse,—yes, Dick."
"But he's a rank outsider—he isn't even in the betting! In heaven's name, why should any one—"
"Look on the other side of the paper, Dick."
Obediently, the Viscount turned the crumpled paper over, and thereafter sat staring wide-eyed at a name scrawled thereon, and from it to Barnabas and back again; for the name he saw was this:
RONALD BARRYMAINE ESQUIRE.
"And Dick," said Barnabas, "it is in Chichester's handwriting."