IN WHICH RONALD BARRYMAINE SPEAKS HIS MIND
The whiskers of Mr. Digby Smivvle were in a chastened mood, indeed their habitual ferocity was mitigated to such a degree that they might almost be said to wilt, or droop. Mr. Digby Smivvle drooped likewise; in a word, Mr. Smivvle was despondent.
He sat in one of the rickety chairs, his legs stretched out to the cheerless hearth, and stared moodily at the ashes of a long dead fire. At the opening of the door he started and half rose, but seeing Barnabas, sank back again.
"Beverley," he cried, "thank heaven you're safe back again—that is to say—" he went on, striving to speak in his ordinary manner, "that is to say,—I mean—ah—in short, my dear Beverley, I'm delighted to see you!"
"Pray what do you mean by safe?"
"What do I mean?" repeated Mr. Smivvle, beginning to fumble for his whisker with strangely clumsy fingers, "why, I mean—safe, sir,—a very natural wish, surely?"
"Yes," said Barnabas, "and you wished to see me, I think?"
"To see you?" echoed Mr. Smivvle, still feeling for his whisker,—"why, yes, of course—"
"At least, the Viscount told me so."
"Ah? Deuced obliging of the Viscount,—very!"
"Are you alone?" Barnabas inquired, struck by Mr. Smivvle's hesitating manner, and he glanced toward the door of what was evidently a bedroom.
"Alone, sir," said Mr. Smivvle, "is the precise and only word for it. You have hit the nail exactly—upon the nob, sir." Here, having found his whisker, Mr. Smivvle gave it a fierce wrench, loosed it, and clenching his fist, smote himself two blows in the region of the heart. "Sir," said he, "you behold in me a deserted and therefore doleful ruminant chewing reflection's solitary cud. And, sir,—it is a bitter cud, cursedly so,—wherein the milk of human kindness is curdled, sir, curdled most damnably, my dear Beverley! In a word, my friend Barry—wholly forgetful of those sacred bonds which the hammer of Adversity alone can weld,—scorning Friendship's holy obligations, has turned his back upon Smivvle,—upon Digby,—upon faithful Dig, and—in short has—ah—hopped the mutual perch, sir."
"Do you mean he has left you?"
"Yes, sir. We had words this morning—a good many and, the end of it was—he departed—for good, and all on your account!"
"And with a month's rent due, not to mention the Spanswick's wages, and she has a tongue! 'Oh, Death, where is thy sting?'"
"But how on my account?"
"Sir, in a word, he resented my friendship for you. Sir, Barrymaine is cursed proud, but so am I—as Lucifer! Sir, when the blood of a Smivvle is once curdled, it's curdled most damnably, and the heart of a Smivvle,—as all the world knows,—becomes a—an accursed flint, sir." Here Mr. Smivvle shook his head and sighed again. "Though I can't help wondering what the poor fellow will do without me at hand to—ah—pop round the corner for him. By the way, do you happen to remember if you fastened the front door securely?"
"I ask because the latch is faulty,—like most things about here,—and in this delightful Garden of Hatton and the—ah—hot-beds adjoining there are weeds, sir, of the rambling species which, given opportunity—will ramble anywhere. Several of 'em—choice exotics, too! have found their way up here lately,—one of 'em got in here this very morning after Barrymaine had gone,—characteristic specimen in a fur cap. But, as I was saying, you may have noticed that Chichester is not altogether—friendly towards you?"
"Chichester?" said Barnabas. "Yes!"
"And it would almost seem that he's determined that Barrymaine shall—be the same. Poor fellow's been very strange lately,—Gaunt's been pressing him again worse than ever,—even threatened him with the Marshalsea. Consequently, the flowing bowl has continually brimmed—Chichester's doing, of course,—and he seems to consider you his mortal enemy, and—in short, I think it only right to—put you on your guard."
"You mean against—Chichester?"
"I mean against—Barrymaine!"
"Ah!" said Barnabas, chin in hand, "but why?"
"Well, you'll remember that the only time you met him he was inclined to be—just a l-ee-tle—violent, perhaps?"
"When he attacked me with the bottle,—yes!" sighed Barnabas, "but surely that was only because he was drunk?"
"Y-e-s, perhaps so," said Mr. Smivvle, fumbling for his whisker again, "but this morning he—wasn't so drunk as usual."
"And yet he was more violent than ever—raved against you like a maniac."
"It was just after he had received another of Jasper Gaunt's letters,—here it is!" and, stooping, Mr. Smivvle picked up a crumpled paper that had lain among the ashes, and smoothing it out, tendered it to Barnabas. "Read it, sir,—read it!" he said earnestly, "it will explain matters, I think,—and much better than I can. Yes indeed, read it, for it concerns you too!" So Barnabas took the letter, and this is what he read:
DEAR MR. BARRYMAINE,—In reply to your favor, re interest, requesting more time, I take occasion once more to remind you that I am no longer your creditor, being merely his agent, as Mr. Beverley himself could, and will, doubtless, inform you.
I am, therefore, compelled to demand payment within thirty days from date; otherwise the usual steps must be taken in lieu of same.
Now when Barnabas had read the letter a sudden fit of rage possessed him, and, crumpling the paper in his fist, he dashed it down and set his foot upon it.
"A lie!" he cried, "a foul, cowardly lie!"
"Then you—you didn't buy up the debt, Beverley?"
"No! no!—I couldn't,—Gaunt had sold already, and by heaven I believe the real creditor is—"
"Ha!" cried Smivvle, pointing suddenly, "the door wasn't fastened, Beverley,—look there!"
Barnabas started, and glancing round, saw that the door was opening very slowly, and inch by inch; then, as they watched its stealthy movement, all at once a shaggy head slid into view, a round head, with a face remarkably hirsute as to eyebrow and whisker, and surmounted by a dingy fur cap.
"'Scuse me, gents!" said the head, speaking hoarsely, and rolling its eyes at them, "name o' Barrymaine,—vich on ye might that be, now?"
"Ha?" cried Mr. Smivvle angrily, "so you're here again, are you!"
"'Scuse me, gents!" said the head, blinking its round eyes at them, "name o' Barrymaine,—no offence,—vich?"
"Come," said Mr. Smivvle, beginning to tug at his whiskers,— "come, get out,—d'ye hear!"
"But, axing your pardons, gents,—vich on ye might be—name o' Barrymaine?"
"What do you want with him—eh?" demanded Mr. Smivvle, his whiskers growing momentarily more ferocious, "speak out, man!"
"Got a letter for 'im—leastways it's wrote to 'im," answered the head, "'ere's a B, and a Nay, and a Nar, and another on 'em, and a Vy,—that spells Barry, don't it? Then, arter that, comes a M., and a—"
"Oh, all right,—give it me!" said Mr. Smivvle, rising.
"Are you name o' Barrymaine?"
"No, but you can leave it with me, and I—"
"Leave it?" repeated the head, in a slightly injured tone, "leave it? axing your pardons, gents,—but burn my neck if I do! If you ain't name o' Barrymaine v'y then—p'r'aps this is 'im a-coming upstairs now,—and werry 'asty about it, too!" And, sure enough, hurried feet were heard ascending; whereupon Mr. Smivvle uttered a startled exclamation, and, motioning Barnabas to be seated in the dingiest corner, strode quickly to the door, and thus came face to face with Ronald Barrymaine upon the threshold.
"Why, Barry!" said he, standing so as to block Barrymaine's view of the dingy corner, "so you've come back, then?"
"Come back, yes!" returned the other petulantly, "I had to,—mislaid a letter, must have left it here, somewhere. Did you find it?"
"Axing your pardon, sir, but might you be name o' Barrymaine, no offence, but might you?"
The shaggy head had slid quite into the room now, bringing after it a short, thick-set person clad after the fashion of a bargeman.
"Yes; what do you want?"
"Might this 'ere be the letter as you come back for,—no offence, but might it?"
"Yes! yes," cried Barrymaine, and, snatching it, he tore it fiercely across and across, and made a gesture as if to fling the fragments into the hearth, then thrust them into his pocket instead. "Here's a shilling for you," said he, turning to the bargeman, "that is—Dig, l-lend me a shilling, I—" Ronald Barrymaine's voice ended abruptly, for he had caught sight of Barnabas sitting in the dingy corner, and now, pushing past Smivvle, he stood staring, his handsome features distorted with sudden fury, his teeth gleaming between his parted lips.
"So it's—you, is it?" he demanded.
"Yes," said Barnabas, and stood up.
"So—you're—back again, are you?"
"Thank you, yes," said Barnabas, "and quite safe!"
"As yet," answered Barnabas.
"You aren't d-drunk, are you?"
"No," said Barnabas, "nor are you, for once."
Barrymaine clenched his fists and took a step towards Barnabas, but spying the bargeman, who now lurched forward, turned upon him in a fury.
"What the d-devil d' you want? Get out of the way, d' ye hear?—get out, I say!"
"Axing your pardon, sir, an' meaning no offence, but summat was said about a bob, sir—vun shilling!"
"Damnation! Give the fellow his s-shilling, Dig, and then k-kick him out."
Hereupon Mr. Smivvle, having felt through his pockets, slowly produced the coin demanded, and handing it to the bargeman, pointed to the door.
"No,—see him downstairs—into the street, Dig. And you needn't hurry back, I'm going to speak my mind to this f-fellow—once and for all! So l-lock the street door, Dig."
Mr. Smivvle hesitated, glanced at Barnabas, shrugged his shoulders and followed the bargeman out of the room. As the door closed, Barrymaine sprang to it, and, turning the key, faced Barnabas with arms folded, head lowered, and a smile upon his lips:
"Now," said he, "you are going to listen to me—d'you hear? We are going to understand each other before you leave this room! D'you see?"
"Yes," said Barnabas.
"Oh!" he cried bitterly, "I know the sort of c-crawling thing you are, Gaunt has warned me—"
"Gaunt is a liar!" said Barnabas.
"I say,—he's told me,—are you listening? Y-you think, because you've bought my debts, you've bought me, too, body and soul, and—through me—Cleone! Ah, but you haven't,—before that happens y-you'll be dead and rotting—and I, and she as well. Are you listening?—she as well! You think you've g-got me—there beneath your foot—b-but you haven't, no, by God, you haven't—"
"I tell you Gaunt is a liar!" repeated Barnabas. "I couldn't buy your debts because he had sold them already. Come with me, and I'll prove it,—come and let me face him with the truth—"
"The truth? You? Oh, I might have guessed you'd come creeping round here to see S-Smivvle behind my back—as you do my sister—"
"Sir!" said Barnabas, flushing.
"What—do you dare deny it? Do you d-dare deny that you have met her—by stealth,—do you? do you? Oh, I know of your secret meetings with her. I know how you have imposed upon the credulity of a weak-minded old woman and a one-armed d-dotard sufficiently to get yourself invited to Hawkhurst. But I tell you this shall stop,—it shall! Yes, by God,—you shall give me your promise to c-cease your persecution of my sister before you leave this room, or—"
"Or?" said Barnabas.
"Or it will be the w-worse for you!"
"I—I'll k-kill you!"
"It's no m-murder to kill your sort!"
"Then it is a pistol you have in your pocket, there?"
"Yes—l-look at it!" And, speaking, Barrymaine drew and levelled the weapon with practised hand. "Now listen!" said he. "You will s-sit down at that table there, and write Gaunt to g-give me all the time I need for your c-cursed interest—"
"But I tell you—"
"Liar!" cried Barrymaine, advancing a threatening step. "Liar,—I know! Then, after you've done that,—you will swear never to see or c-communicate with my sister again, or I'll shoot you dead where you stand,—s-so help me God!"
"You are mad," said Barnabas, "I am not your creditor, and—"
"Liar! I know!" repeated Barrymaine.
"And yet," said Barnabas, fronting him, white-faced, across the table, "I think—I'm sure, there are four things you don't know. The first is that Lady Cleone has promised to marry me—some day—"
"Go on to the next, liar!"
"The second is that my stables were broken into again, this morning,—the third is that my horse killed the man who was trying to hamstring him,—and the fourth is that in the dead man's pocket I found—this!" And Barnabas produced that crumpled piece of paper whereon was drawn the plan of the stables.
Now, at the sight of this paper, Barrymaine fell back a step, his pistol-hand wavered, fell to his side, and sinking into a chair, he seemed to shrink into himself as he stared dully at a worn patch in the carpet.
"Only one beside myself knows of this," said Barnabas.
"Well?" The word seemed wrung from Barrymaine's quivering lips. He lay back in the rickety chair, his arms dangling, his chin upon his breast, never lifting his haggard eyes, and, almost as he spoke, the pistol slipped from his lax fingers and lay all unheeded.
"Not another soul shall ever know," said Barnabas earnestly, "the world shall be none the wiser if you will promise to stop,—now, —to free yourself from Chichester's influence, now,—to let me help you to redeem the past. Promise me this, and I, as your friend, will tear up this damning evidence—here and now."
Barnabas sighed, and folding up the crumpled paper, thrust it back into his pocket.
"You shall have—a week, to make up your mind. You know my address, I think,—at least, Mr. Smivvle does." So saying, Barnabas stepped towards the door, but, seeing the look on Barrymaine's face, he stooped very suddenly, and picked up the pistol. Then he unlocked the door and went out, closing it behind him. Upon the dark stairs he encountered Mr. Smivvle, who had been sitting there making nervous havoc of his whiskers.
"Gad, Beverley!" he exclaimed, "I ought not to have left you alone with him,—deuce of a state about it, 'pon my honor. But what could I do,—as I sat here listening to you both I was afraid."
"So was I," said Barnabas. "But he will be quiet now, I think. Here is one of his pistols, you'd better hide it. And—forget your differences with him, for if ever a man needed a friend, he does. As for your rent, don't worry about that, I'll send it round to you this evening. Good-by."
So Barnabas went on down the dark stairs, and being come to the door with the faulty latch, let himself out into the dingy street, and thus came face to face with the man in the fur cap.
"Lord, Mr. Barty, sir," said that worthy, glancing up and down the street with a pair of mild, round eyes, "you can burn my neck if I wasn't beginning to vorry about you, up theer all alone vith that 'ere child o' mine. For, sir, of all the Capital coves as ever I see, —'e's vun o' the werry capital-est."
WHICH TELLS HOW AND WHY MR. SHRIG'S CASE WAS SPOILED
"Why," exclaimed Barnabas, starting, "is that you, Mr. Shrig?"
"As ever vas, sir. I ain't partial to disguises as a rule, but circumstances obleeges me to it now and then," sighed Mr. Shrig as they turned into Hatton Garden. "Ye see, I've been keeping a eye—or as you might say, a fatherly ogle on vun o' my fambly, vich is the v'y and the v'erefore o' these 'ere v'iskers. Yesterday, I vas a market gerdener, vith a basket o' fine wegetables as nobody 'ad ordered,—the day afore, a sailor-man out o' furrin parts, as vos a-seeking and a-searchin' for a gray-'eaded feyther as didn't exist,—to-day I'm a riverside cove as 'ad found a letter—a letter as I'd stole—"
"Stolen!" repeated Barnabas.
"Vell, let's say borreyed, sir,—borreyed for purposes o' obserwation, —out o' young Barrymaine's pocket, and werry neatly I done it too!" Here Mr. Shrig chuckled softly, checked himself suddenly, and shook his placid head. "But life ain't all lavender, sir,—not by no manner o' means, it ain't," said he dolefully. "Things is werry slack vith me,—nothing in the murder line this veek, and only vun sooicide, a couple o' 'ighvay robberies, and a 'sault and battery! You can scrag me if I know v'ot things is coming to. And then, to make it vorse, I 've jest 'ad a loss as vell."
"I'm sorry for that, Mr. Shrig, but—"
"A loss, sir, as I shan't get over in a 'urry. You'll remember V'istlin' Dick, p'r'aps,—the leary, flash cove as you give such a leveller to, the first time as ever I clapped my day-lights on ye?"
"Yes, I remember him."
"Veil sir,' e's been and took, and gone, and got 'isself kicked to death by an 'orse!"
"Eh,—a horse?" exclaimed Barnabas, starting.
"An 'orse, sir, yes. Vich I means to say is coming it a bit low down on me, sir,—sich conduct ain't 'ardly fair, for V'istlin' Dick vos a werry promising cove as Capitals go. And now to see 'im cut off afore 'is time, and in such a outrageous, onnat'ral manner, touches me up, Mr. Barty, sir,—touches me up werry sharp it do! For arter all, a nice, strong gibbet vith a good long drop is qvicker, neater, and much more pleasant than an 'orse's 'oof,—now ain't it? Still," said Mr. Shrig, sighing and shaking his head again, "things is allus blackest afore the dawn, sir, and—'twixt you and me,—I'm 'oping to bring off a nice little murder case afore long—"
"Veil—let's say—expecting, sir. Quite a bang up affair it'll be too,—nobs, all on 'em, and there's three on 'em concerned. I'll call the murderer Number Vun, Number Two is the accessory afore the fact, and Number Three is the unfort'nate wictim. Now sir, from private obserwation, the deed is doo to be brought off any time in the next three veeks, and as soon as it's done, v'y then I lays my right 'and on Number Vun, and my left 'and on Number Two, and—"
"But—what about Number Three?" inquired Barnabas.
Mr. Shrig paused, glanced at Barnabas, and scratched his ear, thoughtfully.
"V'y sir," said he at last, "Number Three vill be a corp."
"A what?" said Barnabas.
"A corp, sir—a stiff—"
"Do you mean—dead?"
"Ah,—I mean werry much so!" nodded Mr. Shrig.
"Number Three vill be stone cold,—somev'eres in the country it'll 'appen, I fancy,—say in a vood! And the leaves'll keep a-fluttering over 'im, and the birds'll keep a-singing to 'im,—oh, Number Three'll be comfortable enough,—'e von't 'ave to vorry about nothink no more, it'll be Number Vun and Number Two as'll do the vorrying, and me—till I gets my 'ooks on 'em, and then—"
"But," said Barnabas earnestly, "why not try to prevent it?"
"Prewent it, sir?" said Mr. Shrig, in a tone of pained surprise. "Prewent it? Lord, Mr. Barty, sir—then vere vould my murder case be? Besides, I ain't so onprofessional as to step in afore my time. Prewent it? No, sir. My dooty is to apprehend a man arter the crime, not afore it."
"But surely you don't mean to allow this unfortunate person to be done to death?"
"Sir," said Mr. Shrig, beginning to finger his ear again, "unfort'nate wictims is born to be—vell, let's say—unfort'nate. You can't 'elp 'em being born wictims. I can't 'elp it,—nobody can't, for natur' vill 'ave 'er own vay, sir, and I ain't vun to go agin natur' nor yet to spile a good case,—good cases is few enough. Oh, life ain't all lavender, as I said afore,—burn my neck if it is!" And here Mr. Shrig shook his head again, sighed again, and walked on in a somewhat gloomy silence.
Now, all at once, as they turned into the rush and roar of Holborn, Barnabas espied a face amid the hurrying throng; a face whose proud, dark beauty there was no mistaking despite its added look of sorrow; and a figure whose ripe loveliness the threadbare cloak could not disguise. For a moment her eyes looked up into his, dark and suddenly wide,—then, quick and light of foot, she was gone, lost in the bustling crowd.
But, even so, Barnabas turned and followed, striding on and on until at length he saw again the flutter of the threadbare cloak. And, because of its shabbiness, he frowned and hastened his steps, and because of the look he had read in her eyes, he paused again, yet followed doggedly nevertheless. She led him down Holborn Hill past the Fleet Market, over Blackfriars Bridge, and so, turning sharp to the right, along a somewhat narrow and very grimy street between rows of dirty, tumble-down houses, with, upon the right hand, numerous narrow courts and alley-ways that gave upon the turgid river. Down one of these alleys the fluttering cloak turned suddenly, yet when Barnabas reached the corner, behold the alley was quite deserted, save for a small and pallid urchin who sat upon a rotting stump, staring at the river, with a pallid infant in his arms.
"Which way did the lady go?" inquired Barnabas.
"Lady?" said the urchin, staring.
"Yes. She wore a cloak,—a gray cloak. Where did she go?" and Barnabas held up a shilling. Instantly the urchin rose and, swinging the pallid infant to his ragged hip, pattered over the cobbles with his bare feet, and with one small, dirty claw extended.
"A bob!" he cried in a shrill, cracked voice, "gimme it, sir! Yus, —yus,—I'll tell ye. She's wiv Nick—lives dere, she do. Now gimme th' bob,—she's in dere!" And he pointed to a narrow door at the further end of the alley. So Barnabas gave the shilling into the eager clutching fingers, and approaching the door, knocked upon the rotting timbers with the head of his cane.
"Come in!" roared a mighty voice. Hereupon Barnabas pushed open the crazy door, and descending three steps, found himself in a small, dark room, full of the smell of leather. And here, its solitary inmate, was a very small man crouched above a last, with a hammer in his hand and an open book before him. His head was bald save for a few white hairs that stood up, fiercely erect, and upon his short, pugnacious nose he wore a pair of huge, horn-rimmed spectacles.
"What's for you, sir?" he demanded in the same great, fierce voice, viewing Barnabas over his spectacles with sharp, bright eyes. "If it's a pair o' Hessians you'll be wanting—"
"It isn't," said Barnabas, "I—"
"Or a fine pair o' dancing shoes—?"
"No, thank you, I want to—"
"Or a smart pair o' bang up riding-jacks—?"
"No," said Barnabas again, "I came here to see—"
"You can't 'ave 'em! And because why?" demanded the little man, his fierce eyes growing fiercer as he stared at Barnabas from modish hat to flowered waistcoat, "because I don't make for the Quality. Quality—bah! If I 'ad my way, I'd gillertine 'em all,—ah, that I would! Like the Frenchies did when they revolutioned. I'd cut off their 'eads! By the dozen! With j'y!"
"You are Nick, the Cobbler, I think?"
"And what if I am? I'd chop off their 'eads, I tell ye,—with j'y and gusto!"
"And pray where is Clemency?"
"Eh?" exclaimed the little cobbler, pushing up his horn spectacles, "'oo did ye say?"
"Where is the lady who came in here a moment ago?"
"Lady?" said the cobbler, shaking his round, bald head, "Lord, sir, your heyes 'as been a-deceiving of you!"
"I am—her friend!"
"Friend!" exclaimed the cobbler, "to which I says—Hookey Walker, sir! 'Andsome gells don't want friends o' your kind. Besides, she ain't here—you can see that for yourself. Your heyes 'as been a-deceiving of you,—try next door."
"But I must see her," said Barnabas, "I wish to help her,—I have good news for her—"
"Noos?" said the cobbler, "Oh? Ah! Well go and tell your noos to someone else as ain't so 'andsome,—Mrs. Snummitt, say, as lives next door,—a widder,—respectable, but with only one heye,—try Mrs. Snummitt."
"Ah,—perhaps she's in the room yonder," said Barnabas, "anyhow, I mean to see—"
"No ye don't!" cried the little cobbler, seizing a crutch that leant near him, and springing up with astonishing agility, "no ye don't, my fine gentleman,—she ain't for you,—not while I'm 'ere to protect her!" and snatching up a long awl, he flourished it above his head. "I'm a cobbler, oh yes,—but then I'm a valiant cobbler, as valiant as Sir Bedevere, or Sir Lancelot, or any of 'em,—every bit,—come and try me!" and he made a pass in the air with the awl as though it had been a two-edged sword. But, at this moment, the door of the inner room was pushed open and Clemency appeared. She had laid aside her threadbare cloak, and Barnabas was struck afresh by her proud, dark loveliness.
"You good, brave Nick!" said she, laying her hand upon the little cripple's bent shoulder, "but we can trust this gentleman, I know."
"Trust him!" repeated the cobbler, peering at Barnahas, more particularly at his feet, "why, your boots is trustworthy—now I come to look at 'em, sir,"
"Boots?" said Barnabas.
"Ah," nodded the cobbler, "a man wears his character into 'is boots a sight quicker than 'e does into 'is face,—and I can read boots and shoes easier than I can print,—and that's saying summat, for I'm a great reader, I am. Why didn't ye show me your boots at first and have done with it?" saying which the cobbler snorted and sat down; then, having apparently swallowed a handful of nails, he began to hammer away lustily, while Barnabas followed Clemency into the inner room, and, being there, they stood for a long moment looking on each other in silence.
And now Barnabas saw that, with her apron and mobcap, the country serving-maid had vanished quite. In her stead was a noble woman, proud and stately, whose clear, sad eyes returned his gaze with a gentle dignity; Clemency indeed was gone, but Beatrix had come to life. Yet, when he spoke, Barnabas used the name he had known her by first.
"Clemency," said he, "your father is seeking for you."
"My—father!" she exclaimed, speaking in a whisper. "You have seen—my father? You know him?"
"Yes. I met him—not long ago. His name is Ralph Darville, he told me, and he goes up and down the countryside searching for you—has done so, ever since he lost you, and he preaches always Forgiveness and Forgetfulness of Self!"
"My father!" she whispered again with quivering lips. "Preaching?"
"He tramps the roads hoping to find you, Clemency, and he preaches at country wakes and fairs because, he told me, he was once a very selfish man, and unforgiving."
"And—oh, you have seen him, you say,—lately?" she cried.
"Yes. And I sent him to Frittenden—to the 'Spotted Cow.' But Clemency, he was just a day too late."
Now when Barnabas said this, Clemency uttered a broken cry, and covered her face.
"Oh, father!" she whispered, "if I had only known,—if I could but have guessed! Oh, father! father!"
"Clemency, why did you run away?"
"Because I—I was afraid!"
"No!" she cried in sudden scorn, "him I only—hate!"
"Then—whom did you fear?"
Clemency was silent, but, all at once, Barnabas saw a burning flush that crept up, over rounded throat and drooping face, until it was lost in the dark shadow of her hair.
"Was it—the Viscount?" Barnabas demanded suddenly.
"No—no, I—I think it was—myself. Oh, I—I am very wretched and—lonely!" she sobbed, "I want—my father!"
"And he shall be found," said Barnabas, "I promise you! But, until then, will you trust me, Clemency, as—as a sister might trust her brother? Will you let me take you from this dreary place,—will you, Clemency? I—I'll buy you a house—I mean a—a cottage—in the country—or anywhere you wish."
"Oh, Mr. Beverley!" she sighed, looking up at him with tear-dimmed eyes, but with the ghost of a smile hovering round her scarlet lips, "I thank you,—indeed, indeed I do, but how can I? How may I?"
"Quite easily," said Barnabas stoutly, "oh quite—until I bring your father to you."
"Dear, dear father!" she sighed. "Is he much changed, I wonder? Is he well,—quite well?"
"Yes, he is very well," answered Barnabas, "but you—indeed you cannot stay here—"
"I must," she answered. "I can earn enough for my needs with my needle, and poor little Nick is very kind—so gentle and considerate in spite of his great, rough voice and fierce ways. I think he is the gentlest little man in all the world. He actually refused to take my money at first, until I threatened to go somewhere else."
"But how did you find your way to—such a place as this?"
"Milo brought me here."
"The Viscount's little imp of a groom?"
"Yes, though he promised never to tell—him where I was, and Milo always keeps his word. And you, Mr. Beverley, you will promise also, won't you?"
"You mean—never to tell the Viscount of your whereabouts?"
"Yes," said Barnabas, "I will promise, but—on condition that you henceforth will regard me as a brother. That you will allow me the privilege of helping you whenever I may, and will always turn to me in your need. Will you promise me this, Clemency?" And Barnabas held out his hand.
"Yes," she answered, smiling up into his earnest eyes, "I think I shall be—proud to—have you for a brother." And she put her hand into his.
"Ah! so you're a-going, are ye?" demanded the cobbler, disgorging the last of the nails as Barnabas stepped into the dark little shop.
"Yes," said Barnabas, "and, if you think my boots sufficiently trustworthy, I should like to shake your hand."
"Eh?" exclaimed the cobbler, "shake 'ands with old Nick, sir? But you're one o' the Quality, and I 'ates the Quality—chop off their 'eads if I 'ad my way, I would! and my 'and's very dirty—jest let me wipe it a bit,—there sir, if you wish to! and 'ere's 'oping to see you again. Though, mark you, the Frenchies was quite right,—there's nothing like the gillertine, I say. Good arternoon, sir."
Then Barnabas went out into the narrow, grimy alley, and closed the crazy door behind him. But he had not gone a dozen yards when he heard Clemency calling his name, and hastened back.
"Mr. Beverley," said she, "I want to ask you—something else—about my father—"
"Yes," said Barnabas, as she hesitated.
"Does he think I am—does he know that—though I ran away with—a beast, I—ran away—from him, also,—does he know—?"
"He knows you for the sweet, pure woman you are," said Barnabas as she fell silent again, "he knows the truth, and lives but to find you again—my sister!" Now, when he said this, Barnabas saw within her tearful eyes the light of a joy unutterable; so he bared his head and, turning about, strode quickly away up the alley.
Being come into the narrow, dingy street, he suddenly espied Mr. Shrig who leaned against a convenient post and stared with round eyes at the tumble-down houses opposite, while upon his usually placid brow he wore a frown of deep perplexity.
"So you followed me?" exclaimed Barnabas.
"V'y, sir, since you mention it,—I did take that 'ere liberty. This is a werry on-savory neighborhood at most times, an' the air's werry bad for—fob-seals, say,—and cravat-sparklers at all times. Sich things 'as a 'abit o' wanishing theirselves avay." Having said which, Mr. Shrig walked on beside Barnabas as one who profoundly meditates, for his brow was yet furrowed deep with thought.
"Why so silent, Mr. Shrig?" inquired Barnabas as they crossed Blackfriars Bridge.
"Because I'm vorking out a problem, sir. For some time I've been trying to add two and two together, and now I'm droring my conclusions. So you know Old Nick the cobbler, do you, sir?"
"I didn't—an hour ago."
"Sir, when you vos in his shop, I took the liberty o' peeping in at the winder."
"And I seen that theer 'andsome gal."
"Oh, did you?"
"I likewise 'eered her call your name—Beverley, I think?"
"Beverley!" repeated Mr. Shrig.
"But your name's—Barty!"
"True, but in London I'm known as Beverley, Mr. Shrig."
"Not—not—the Beverley? Not the bang up Corinthian? Not the Beverley as is to ride in the steeplechase?"
"Yes," said Barnabas, "the very same,—why?"
"Now—dang me for a ass!" exclaimed Mr. Shrig, and, snatching off the fur cap, he dashed it to the ground, stooped, picked it up, and crammed it back upon his head,—all in a moment.
"Why—what's the matter?"
"Matter!" said Mr. Shrig, "matter, sir? Veil, vot vith your qviet, innocent looks and vays, and vot vith me a-adding two and two together and werry carefully making 'em—three, my case is spiled—won't come off,—can't come off,—mustn't come off!"
"What in the world do you mean?"
"Mean, sir? I mean as, if Number Vun is the murderer, and Number Two is the accessory afore the fact,—then Number Three—the unfort'nate wictim is—vait a bit!" Here, pausing in a quiet corner of Fleet Market, Mr. Shrig dived into his breast and fetched up his little book. "Sir," said he, turning over its pages with a questing finger, "v'en I borreyed that theer letter out o' young B.'s pocket, I made so free as to take a copy of it into my little reader,—'ere it is, —jest take a peep at it."
Then, looking where he pointed, Barnabas read these words, very neatly set down:
MY DEAR BARRYMAINE,—I rather suspect Beverley will not ride in the race on the Fifteenth. Just now he is at Hawkhurst visiting Cleone! He is with—your sister! If you are still in the same mind about a certain project, no place were better suited. If you are still set on trying for him, and I know how determined you are where your honor, or Cleone's, is concerned, the country is the place for it, and I will go with you, though I am convinced he is no fighter, and will refuse to meet you, on one pretext or another. However, you may as well bring your pistols,—mine are at the gun-smith's.—Yours always,
"So you see, sir," sighed Mr. Shrig, as he put away the little book, "my case is spiled,—can't come off,—mustn't come off! For if young B. is Number Vun, the murderer, and C. is Number Two, the accessory afore the fact, v'y then Number Three, the unfort'nate wictim is—you, sir,—you! And you—" said Mr. Shrig, sighing deeper than ever, "you 'appen to be my pal!"
OF A BREAKFAST, A ROMAN PARENT, AND A KISS
Bright rose the sun upon the "White Hart" tavern that stands within Eltham village, softening its rugged lines, gilding its lattices, lending its ancient timbers a mellower hue.
This inn of the "White Hart" is an ancient structure and very unpretentious (as great age often is), and being so very old, it has known full many a golden dawn. But surely never, in all its length of days, had it experienced quite such a morning as this. All night long there had been a strange hum upon the air, and now, early though the hour, Eltham village was awake and full of an unusual bustle and excitement. And the air still hummed, but louder now, a confused sound made up of the tramp of horse-hoofs, the rumble of wheels, the tread of feet and the murmur of voices. From north and south, from east and west, a great company was gathering, a motley throng of rich and poor, old and young: they came by high road and by-road, by lane and footpath, from sleepy village and noisy town,—but, one and all, with their faces set towards the ancient village of Eltham. For to-day is the fateful fifteenth of July; to-day the great Steeplechase is to be run—seven good miles across country from point to point; to-day the very vexed and all-important question as to which horse out of twenty-three can jump and gallop the fastest over divers awkward obstacles is to be settled once and for all.
Up rose the sun higher and higher, chasing the morning mists from dell and dingle, filling the earth with his glory and making glad the heart of man, and beast, and bird.
And presently, from a certain casement in the gable of the "White Hart," his curls still wet with his ablutions, Barnabas thrust his touzled head to cast an anxious glance first up at the cloudless blue of the sky, then down at the tender green of the world about, and to breathe in the sweet, cool freshness of the morning. But longest and very wistfully he gazed to where, marked out by small flags, was a track that led over field, and meadow, and winding stream, over brown earth newly turned by the plough, over hedge, and ditch, and fence, away to the hazy distance. And, as he looked, his eye brightened, his fingers clenched themselves and he frowned, yet smiled thereafter, and unfolding a letter he held, read as follows:
OUR DEAR LAD,—Yours received, and we are rejoyced to know you so successful so far. Yet be not over confident, says your father, and bids me remind you as a sow's ear ain't a silk purse, Barnabas, nor ever can be. Your description of horse reads well, though brief. But as to the Rayce, Barnabas, though you be a rider born, yet having ridden a many rayces in my day, I now offer you, my dear lad, a word of advice. In a rayce a man must think as quick as he sees, and act as quick as he thinks, and must have a nice judgment of payce. Now here comes my word of advice.
1. Remember that many riders beat themselves by over-eagerness. Well—let 'em, Barnabas.
2. Don't rush your fences, give your mount time, and steady him about twenty yards from the jump.
3. Remember that a balking horse generally swerves to the left, Barnabas.
4. Keep your eye open for the best take-offs and landings.
5. Gauge your payce, save your horse for raycing at finish.
6. Remember it's the last half-mile as counts, Barnabas.
7. So keep your spurs till they 're needed, my lad.
A rayce, Barnabas lad, is very like a fight, after all. Given a good horse it's the man with judgment and cool head as generally wins. So, Barnabas, keep your temper. This is all I have to say, or your father, only that no matter how near you come to turning yourself into a fine gentleman, we have faith as it won't spoil you, and that you may come a-walking into the old 'Hound' one of these days just the same dear Barnabas as we shall always love and remember.
NATL. BELL. GON BARTY.
Now, as he conned over these words of Natty Bell, a hand was laid upon his shoulder, and, glancing round, he beheld the Viscount in all the bravery of scarlet hunting frock, of snowy buckskins and spurred boots, a little paler than usual, perhaps, but as gallant a figure as need be.
"What, Bev!" he exclaimed, "not dressed yet?"
"Why I've only just woke up, Dick!"
"Woke up! D' you mean to say you've actually—been asleep?" demanded the Viscount reproachfully. "Gad! what a devilish cold-blooded fish you are, Bev! Haven't closed a peeper all night, myself. Couldn't, y' know, what with one deuced thing or another. So I got up, hours ago, went and looked at the horses. Found your man Martin on guard with a loaded pistol in each pocket, y' know,—deuced trustworthy fellow. The horses couldn't look better, Bev. Egad! I believe they know to-day is—the day! There's your 'Terror' pawing and fidgeting, and 'Moonraker' stamping and quivering—"
"But how is your arm, Dick?"
"Arm?" said the Viscount innocently. "Oh,—ah, to be sure,—thanks, couldn't be better, considering."
"Are you—quite sure?" persisted Barnabas, aware of the Viscount's haggard cheek and feverish eye.
"Quite, Bev, quite,—behold! feel!" and doubling his fist, he smote Barnabas a playful blow in the ribs. "Oh, my dear fellow, it's going to be a grand race though,—ding-dong to the finish! And it's dry, thank heaven, for 'Moonraker''s no mud-horse. But I shall be glad when we line up for the start, Bev."
"In about—four hours, Dick."
"Yes! Devilish long time till eleven o'clock!" sighed the Viscount, seating himself upon the bed and swinging his spurred heels petulantly to and fro. "And I hate to be kept waiting, Bev—egad, I do!"
"Viscount, do you love the Lady Cleone?"
"Eh? Who? Love? Now deuce take it, Beverley, how sudden you are!"
"Do you love her, Dick?"
"Love her—of course, yes—aren't we rivals? Love her, certainly, oh yes—ask my Roman parent!" And the Viscount frowned blackly, and ran his fingers through his hair.
"Why then," said Barnabas, "since you—honor me with your friendship, I feel constrained to tell you that she has given me to—to understand she will—marry me—some day."
"Eh? Oh! Marry you? The devil! Oh, has she though!" and hereupon the Viscount stared, whistled, and, in that moment, Barnabas saw that his frown had vanished.
"Will you—congratulate me, Dick?"
"My dear fellow," cried the Viscount, springing up, "with all my heart!"
"Dick," said Barnabas, as their hands met, "would you give me your hand as readily had it been—Clemency?"
Now here the Viscount's usually direct gaze wavered and fell, while his pallid cheek flushed a dull red. He did not answer at once, but his sudden frown was eloquent.
"Egad, Bev, I—since you ask me—I don't think I should."
"Oh well, I suppose—you see—oh, I'll be shot if I know!"
"You—don't love her, do you, Dick?"
"Clemency? Of course not—that is—suppose I do—what then?"
"Why then she'd make a very handsome Viscountess, Dick."
"Beverley," said the Viscount, staring wide-eyed, "are you mad?"
"No," Barnabas retorted, "but I take you to be an honorable man, my Lord."
The Viscount sprang to his feet, clenched his fists, then took two or three turns across the room.
"Sir," said he, in his iciest tones, "you presume too much on my friendship."
"My Lord," said Barnabas, "with your good leave I'll ring for my servant." Which he did, forthwith.
"Sir," said the Viscount, pale and stern, and with folded arms, "your remark was, I consider, a direct reflection upon my honor."
"My Lord," answered Barnabas, struggling with his breeches, "your honor is surely your friend's, also?"
"Sir," said the Viscount, with arms still folded, and sitting very upright on the bed, "were I to—call you out for that remark I should be only within my rights."
"My Lord," answered Barnabas, struggling with his shirt, "were you to call from now till doomsday—I shouldn't come."
"Then, sir," said the Viscount, cold and sneering, "a whip, perhaps,—or a cane might—"
But at this juncture, with a discreet knock, Peterby entered, and, having bowed to the scowling Viscount, proceeded to invest Barnabas with polished boots, waistcoat and scarlet coat, and to tie his voluminous cravat, all with that deftness, that swift and silent dexterity which helped to make him the marvel he was.
"Sir," said he, when Barnabas stood equipped from head to foot, "Captain Slingsby's groom called to say that his master and the Marquis of Jerningham are expecting you and Viscount Devenham to breakfast at 'The Chequers'—a little higher up the street, sir. Breakfast is ordered for eight o'clock."
"Thank you, Peterby," said Barnabas, and, bowing to the Viscount, followed him from the room and downstairs, out into the dewy freshness of the morning. To avoid the crowded street they went by a field-path behind the inn, a path which to-day was beset by, and wound between, booths and stalls and carts of all sorts. And here was gathered a motley crowd; bespangled tumblers and acrobats, dark-browed gipsy fortune-tellers and horse-coupers, thimble-riggers, showmen, itinerant musicians,—all those nomads who are to be found on every race-course, fair, and village green, when the world goes a-holiday making. Through all this bustling throng went our two young gentlemen, each remarkably stiff and upright as to back, and each excessively polite, yet walking, for the most part, in a dignified silence, until, having left the crowd behind, Barnabas paused suddenly in the shade of a deserted caravan, and turned to his companion.
"Dick!" said he smiling, and with hand outstretched.
"Sir?" said the Viscount, frowning and with eyes averted.
"My Lord," said Barnabas, bowing profoundly, "if I have offended your Lordship—I am sorry, but—"
"But your continued resentment for a fancied wrong is so much stronger than your avowed friendship for me, it would seem—that henceforth I—"
With a warning cry the Viscount sprang forward and, turning in a flash, Barnabas saw a heavy bludgeon in the air above him; saw the Viscount meet it with up-flung arm; heard the thud of the blow, a snarling curse; saw a figure dart away and vanish among the jungle of carts; saw the Viscount stagger against the caravan and lean there, his pale face convulsed with pain.
"Oh, Bev," he groaned, "my game arm, ye know. Hold me up, I—"
"Dick!" cried Barnabas, supporting the Viscount's writhing figure, "oh, Dick—it was meant for me! Are you much hurt?"
"No—nothing to—mention, my dear fellow. Comes a bit—sharp at first, y' know,—better in a minute or two."
"Dick—Dick, what can I do for you?"
"Nothing,—don't worry, Bev,—right as ninepence in a minute, y' know!" stammered the Viscount, trying to steady his twitching mouth.
"Come back," pleaded Barnabas, "come back and let me bathe it—have it attended to."
"Bathe it? Pooh!" said the Viscount, contriving to smile, "pain's quite gone, I assure you, my dear fellow. I shall be all right now, if—if you don't mind giving me your arm. Egad, Bev, some one seems devilish determined you shan't ride to-day!"
"But I shall—now, thanks to you, Dick!"
So they presently walked on together, but no longer unnaturally stiff as to back, for arm was locked in arm, and they forgot to be polite to each other.
Thus, in a while, they reached the "Chequers" inn, and were immediately shown into a comfortable sanded parlor where breakfast was preparing. And here behold Captain Slingsby lounging upon two chairs and very busily casting up his betting book, while the Marquis, by the aid of a small, cracked mirror, that chanced to hang against the wall, was frowning at his reflection and pulling at the folds of a most elaborate cravat with petulant fingers.
"Ah, Beverley—here's the dooce of a go!" he exclaimed, "that fool of a fellow of mine has actually sent me out to ride in a 'Trone d'Amour' cravat, and I've only just discovered it! The rascal knows I always take the field in an 'Osbaldistone' or 'Waterfall.' Now how the dooce can I be expected to ride in a thing like this! Most distressing, by Jove it is!"
"Eight thousand guineas!" said the Captain, yawning. "Steepish, b'gad, steepish! Eight thousand at ten to one—hum! Now, if Fortune should happen to smile on me to-day—by mistake, of course—still, if she does, I shall clear enough to win free of Gaunt's claws for good and all, b'gad!"
"Then I shall be devilish sorry to have to beat you, Sling, my boy!" drawled the Marquis, "yes, doocid sorry,—still—"
"Eh—what? Beat the 'Rascal,' Jerny? Not on your weedy 'Clinker,' b'gad—"
"Oh, but dooce take me, Sling, you'd never say the 'Rascal' was the better horse? Why, in the first place, there's too much daylight under him for your weight—besides—"
"But, my dear Jerny, you must admit that your 'Clinker' 's inclined to be just—a le-e-etle cow-hocked, come now, b'gad?"
"And then—as I've often remarked, my dear Sling, the 'Rascal' is too long in the pasterns, not to mention—"
"B'gad! give me a horse with good bellows,—round, d' ye see, well ribbed home—"
"My dear Sling, if you could manage to get your 'Rascal' four new legs, deeper shoulders, and, say, fuller haunches, he might possibly stand a chance. As it is, Sling, my boy, I commiserate you—but hallo! Devenham, what's wrong? You look a little off color."
"Well, for one thing, I want my breakfast," answered the Viscount.
"So do I!" cried the Captain, springing to his feet, "but, b'gad, Dick, you do look a bit palish round the gills, y' know."
"Effect of hunger and a bad night, perhaps."
"Had a bad night, hey, Dick? Why, so did I," said the Captain, frowning. "Dreamed that the 'Rascal' fell and broke his neck, poor devil, and that I was running like the wind—jumping hedges and ditches with Jasper Gaunt close at my heels—oh, cursed unpleasant, y'know! What—is breakfast ready? Then let's sit down, b'gad, I'm famished!"
So down they sat forthwith and, despite the Viscount's arm, and the Marquis of Jerningham's cravat, a very hearty and merry meal they made of it.
But lo! as they prepared to rise from the table, voices were heard beyond the door, whereupon the Viscount sat up suddenly to listen.
"Why—egad!" he exclaimed, "I do believe it's my Roman!"
"No, by heaven!" said the Marquis, also listening, "dooce take me if it isn't my great-aunt—her Graceless Grace, by Jove it is!"
Even as he spoke, the door opened and the Duchess swept in, all rustling silks and furbelows, very small, very dignified, and very imperious. Behind her, Barnabas saw a tall, graceful figure, strangely young-looking despite his white hair, which he wore tied behind in a queue, also his clothes, though elegant, were of a somewhat antiquated fashion; but indeed, this man with his kindly eyes and gentle, humorous mouth, was not at all like the Roman parent Barnabas had pictured.
"Ah, gentlemen!" cried the Duchess, acknowledging their four bows with a profound curtsy, "I am here to wish you success—all four of you—which is quite an impossible wish of course—still, I wish it. Lud, Captain Slingsby, how well you look in scarlet! Marquis—my fan! Mr. Beverley—my cane! A chair? thank you, Viscount. Yes indeed, gentlemen, I've backed you all—I shall gain quite a fortune if you all happen to win—which you can't possibly, of course,—still, one of you will, I hope,—and—oh, dear me, Viscount, how pale you are! Look at him, Bamborough—it's his arm, I know it is!"
"Arm, madam?" repeated the Viscount with an admirable look of surprise, "does your Grace suggest—"
But here the Earl of Bamborough stepped into the room and, closing the door, bowed to the company.
"Gentlemen," said he, "I have the honor to salute you! Viscount—your most dutiful, humble, obedient father to command."
"My Lord," answered the Viscount, gravely returning his father's bow, "your Lordship's most obliged and grateful son!"
"My dear Devenham," continued the Earl solemnly, "being, I fear, something of a fogy and fossil, I don't know if you Bucks allow the formality of shaking hands. Still, Viscount, as father and son—or rather son and father, it may perhaps be permitted us? How are you, Viscount?"
Now as they clasped hands, Barnabas saw the Viscount set his jaw grimly, and something glistened upon his temple, yet his smile was quite engaging as he answered:
"Thank you, my Lord,—never better!"
"Yes," said his Lordship, as he slowly relinquished the Viscount's hand, "your Grace was right, as usual,—it is his arm!"
"Then of course he cannot ride, Bamborough—you will forbid it?"
"On the contrary, madam, he must ride. Being a favorite, much money has changed hands already on his account, and, arm or no arm, he must ride now—he owes it to his backers. You intend to, of course, Horatio?"
"My Lord, I do."
"It's your right arm, luckily, and a horseman needs only his left. You ride fairly well, I understand, Viscount?"
"Oh, indifferent well, sir, I thank you. But allow me to present my friend to your Lordship,—Mr. Beverley—my father!"
So Barnabas shook hands with the Viscount's Roman parent, and, meeting his kindly eyes, saw that, for all their kindliness, they were eyes that looked deep into the heart of things.
"Come, gentlemen," cried the Duchess rising, "if you have quite finished breakfast, take me to the stables, for I'm dying to see the horses, I vow I am. Lead the way, Viscount. Mr. Beverley shall give me his arm."
So towards the stables they set forth accordingly, the Duchess and Barnabas well to the rear, for, be it remarked, she walked very slowly.
"Here it is, Barnabas," said she, as soon as the others were out of ear-shot.
"Oh, dear me, how frightfully dense you are, Barnabas!" she exclaimed, fumbling in her reticule. "What should it be but a letter, to be sure—Cleone's letter."
"A letter from Cleone! Oh, Duchess—"
"Here—take it. She wrote it last night—poor child didn't sleep a wink, I know, and—all on your account, sir. I promised I'd deliver it for her,—I mean the letter—that's why I made Bamborough bring me here. So you see I've kept my word as I always do—that is—sometimes. Oh, dear me, I'm so excited—about the race, I mean—and Cleone's so nervous—came and woke me long before dawn, and there were tears on her lashes—I know because I felt 'em when I kissed them—I mean her eyes. And Patten dressed me in such a hurry this morning—which was really my fault, and I know my wig's not straight—and there you stand staring at it as though you wanted to kiss it—I mean Cleone's letter, not my wig. That ridiculous Mr. Tressider told Cleone that it was the best course he ever hoped to ride over—meaning 'the worst' of course, so Cleone's quite wretched, dear lamb—but oh, Barnabas, it would be dreadful if— if you were—killed—oh!" And the Duchess shivered and turned away.
"Would you mind? So much, madam?"
"Barnabas—I never had a son—or a daughter—but I think I know just how—your mother would be feeling—now!"
"And I do not remember my mother!" said Barnabas.
"Poor, poor Joan!" sighed the Duchess, very gently. "Were she here I think she would—but then she was much taller than I, and—oh, boy, stoop—stoop down, you great, tall Barnabas—how am I ever to reach you if you don't?"
Then Barnabas stooped his head, and the Duchess kissed him—even as his own mother might have done, and so, smiling a little tremulously, turned away. "There! Barnabas," she sighed. "And now—oh, I know you are dying to read your letter—of course you are, so pray sir,—go back and fetch my fan,—here it is, it will serve as an excuse, while I go on to look at the horses." And with a quick, smiling nod, she hurried away across the paddock after the others. Then Barnabas broke the seal of Cleone's letter, and—though to be sure it might have been longer—he found it all sufficient. Here it is:
The Palace Grange, Eltham, Midnight.
Ever Dearest,—The race is to-morrow and, because I love you greatly, so am I greatly afraid for you. And dear, I love you because you are so strong, and gentle, and honorable. And therefore, here on my knees I have prayed God to keep you ever in his care, my Barnabas.
IN WHICH SHALL BE FOUND SOME ACCOUNT OF THE GENTLEMAN'S STEEPLECHASE
Truly it is a great day for "The Terror," hitherto known as "Four-legs," and well he knows it.
Behold him as he stands, with his velvet muzzle upon old Martin's shoulder, the while the under-grooms, his two-legged slaves, hover solicitously about him! Behold the proud arch of his powerful neck, the knowing gleam of his rolling eye, the satiny sheen of his velvet coat! See how he flings up his shapely head to snuff the balmy air of morning, the while he paws the green earth with a round, bepolished hoof.
Yes, indeed, it is a great day for "The Terror," and well he knows it.
"He looks very well, Martin!" says Barnabas.
"And 'e's better than 'e looks, sir!" nods Martin. "And they're laying thirty to one ag'in you, sir!"
"So much, Martin?"
"Ah, but it'll be backed down a bit afore you get to the post, I reckon, so I got my fifty guineas down on you a good hour ago."
"Why, Martin, do you mean you actually backed me—to win—for fifty guineas?"
"Why, y'see sir," said Martin apologetically, "fifty guineas is all I've got, sir!"
Now at this moment, Barnabas became aware of a very shiny glazed hat, which bobbed along, among other hats of all sorts and shapes, now hidden, now rising again—very like a cock-boat in a heavy sea; and, presently, sure enough, the Bo'sun hove into view, and bringing himself to an anchor, made a leg, touched the brim of his hat, and gripped the hand Barnabas extended.
"Mr. Beverley, sir," said he, "I first of all begs leave to say as, arter Master Horatio his Lordship, it's you as I'd be j'yful to see come into port first, or—as you might say—win this 'ere race. Therefore and wherefore I have laid five guineas on you, sir, by reason o' you being you, and the odds so long. Secondly, sir, I were to give you this here, sir, naming no names, but she says as you'd understand."
Hereupon the Bo'sun took off the glazed hat, inserted a hairy paw, and brought forth a single, red rose.
So Barnabas took the rose, and bowed his head above it, and straightway forgot the throng and bustle about him, and all things else, yea even the great race itself until, feeling a touch upon his arm, he turned to find the Earl of Bamborough beside him.
"He is very pale, Mr. Beverley!" said his Lordship, and, glancing whither he looked, Barnabas saw the Viscount who was already mounted upon his bay horse "Moonraker."
"Can you tell me, sir," pursued the Earl, "how serious his hurt really is?"
"I know that he was shot, my Lord," Barnabas answered, "and that he received a violent blow upon his wounded arm this morning, but he is very reticent."
Here the Viscount chanced to catch sight of them, and, with his groom at "Moonraker's" head, paced up to them.
"Viscount," said his Lordship, looking up at his son with wise, dark eyes, "your arm is troubling you, I see."
"Indeed, sir, it might be—a great deal worse."
"Still, you will be under a disadvantage, for it will be a punishing race for horse and man."
"And—you will do your best, of course, Horatio?"
"Of course, sir."
"But—Horace, may I ask you to remember—that your father has—only one son?"
"Yes, sir,—and, father, may I tell you that—that thoughtless though he may be, he never forgets that—he is your son!" Saying which the Viscount leaned down from his saddle, with his hand stretched out impulsively, and, this time, his father's clasp was very light and gentle. So the Earl bowed, and turning, walked away.
"He's—deuced Roman, of course, Bev," said the Viscount, staring hard after his father's upright figure, "but there are times when he's—rather more—than human!" And sighing, the Viscount nodded and rode off.
"Only ten minutes more, sir!" said Martin.
"Well, I'm ready, Martin," answered Barnabas, and, setting the rose in his breast very securely, he swung himself lightly into the saddle, and with the old groom at "The Terror's" head, paced slowly out of the paddock towards the starting post.
Here a great pavilion had been set up, an ornate contrivance of silk and gold cords, and gay with flags and bunting, above which floated the Royal Standard of England, and beneath which was seated no less ornate a personage than the First Gentleman in Europe—His Royal Highness the Prince Regent himself, surrounded by all that was fairest and bravest in the Fashionable and Sporting World. Before this pavilion the riders were being marshalled in line, a gallant sight in their scarlet coats, and, each and every, mounted upon a fiery animal every whit as high-bred as himself; which fact they manifested in many and divers ways, as—in rearing and plunging, in tossing of heads, in lashing of heels, in quivering, and snorting, and stamping—and all for no apparent reason, yet which is the prerogative of your thoroughbred all the world over.
Amidst this confusion of tossing heads and manes, Barnabas caught a momentary glimpse of the Viscount, some way down the line, his face frowning and pale; saw the Marquis alternately bowing gracefully towards the great, gaudy pavilion, soothing his plunging horse, and re-settling his cravat; caught a more distant view of Captain Slingsby, sitting his kicking sorrel like a centaur; and finally, was aware that Sir Mortimer Carnaby had ridden up beside him, who, handsome and debonair, bestrode his powerful gray with a certain air of easy assurance, and laughed softly as he talked with his other neighbor, a thinnish, youngish gentleman in sandy whiskers, who giggled frequently.
"....very mysterious person," Sir Mortimer was saying, "nobody knows him, devilish odd, eh, Tressider? Tufton Green dubbed him the 'Galloping Countryman,'—what do you think of the name?"
"Could have suggested a better, curse me if I couldn't, yes, Carnaby, oh damme! Why not 'the Prancing Ploughman,' or 'the Cantering Clodhopper'?" Here Sir Mortimer laughed loudly, and the thinnish, youngish gentleman giggled again.
Barnabas frowned, but looking down at the red rose upon his breast, he smiled instead, a little grimly, as he settled his feet in the stirrups, and shortening his reins, sat waiting, very patiently. Not so "The Terror." Patient, forsooth! He backed and sidled and tossed his head, he fidgeted with his bit, he glared viciously this way and that, and so became aware of other four-legged creatures like himself, notably of Sir Mortimer's powerful gray near by, and in his heart he scorned them, one and all, proud of his strength and might, and sure of himself because of the hand upon his bridle. Therefore he snuffed the air with quivering nostril, and pawed the earth with an impatient hoof,—eager for the fray.
Now all at once Sir Mortimer laughed again, louder than before, and in that same moment his gray swerved and cannoned lightly against "The Terror," and—reared back only just in time to avoid the vicious snap of two rows of gleaming teeth.
"Damnation!" cried Sir Mortimer, very nearly unseated, "can't you manage that brute of yours!" and he struck savagely at "The Terror" with his whip. But Barnabas parried the blow, and now—even as they stared and frowned upon each other, so did their horses, the black and the gray, glare at each other with bared teeth.
But, here, a sudden shout arose that spread and spread, and swelled into a roar; the swaying line of horsemen surges forward, bends, splits into plunging groups, and man and horse are off and away—the great Steeplechase has begun.
Half a length behind Carnaby's gray gallops "The Terror," fire in his eye, rage in his heart, for there are horses ahead of him, and that must not be. Therefore he strains upon the bit, and would fain lengthen his stride, but the hand upon his bridle is strong and compelling.
On sweeps the race, across the level and up the slope; twice Sir Mortimer glances over his shoulder, and twice he increases his pace, yet, as they top the rise, "The Terror" still gallops half a length behind.
Far in advance races Tressider, the thinnish, youngish gentleman in sandy whiskers, hotly pressed by the Marquis, and with eight or nine others hard in their rear; behind these again, rides the Viscount, while to the right of Barnabas races Slingsby on his long-legged sorrel, with the rest thundering on behind. And now before them is the first jump—a hedge with the gleam of water beyond; and the hedge is high, and the water broad. Nearer it looms, and nearer—half a mile away! a quarter! less! Tressider's horse rises to it, and is well over, with the Marquis hard on his heels. But now shouts are heard, and vicious cries, as several horses, refusing, swerve violently; there is a crash! a muffled cry—some one is down. Then, as Barnabas watches, anxious-eyed, mindful of the Viscount's injured arm—"Moonraker" shoots forward and has cleared it gallantly.
And now it is that "The Terror" feels the restraining bit relax and thereupon, with his fierce eyes ever upon the gray flanks of his chosen foe, he tosses his great head, lengthens his stride, and with a snort of defiance sweeps past Carnaby's gray, on and on, with thundering hoofs and ears laid back, while Barnabas, eyeing the hedge with frowning brows, gauges his distance,—a hundred yards! fifty! twenty-five! steadies "The Terror" in his stride and sends him at it—feels the spring and sway of the powerful loins,—a rush of wind, and is over and away, with a foot to spare. But behind him is the sound of a floundering splash,—another! and another! The air is full of shouts and cries quickly lost in the rush of wind and the drumming of galloping hoofs, and, in a while, turning his head, he sees Slingsby's "Rascal" racing close behind.
"Bit of a rasper, that, b'gad!" bellows the Captain, radiant of face. "Thinned 'em out a bit, ye know, Beverley. Six of 'em—down and out of it b'gad! Carnaby's behind, too,—foot short at the water. Told you it would be—a good race, and b'gad—so it is!"
Inch by inch the great, black horse and the raking sorrel creep up nearer the leaders, and, closing in with the Viscount, Barnabas wonders to see the ghastly pallor of his cheek and the grim set of mouth and jaw, till, glancing at the sleeve of his whip-arm, he sees there a dark stain, and wonders no more. And the race is but begun!
"Dick!" he cried.
"That you, Bev?"
"Your arm, Dick,—keep your hand up!"
"Arm, Bev—right as a trivet!"
And to prove his words, the Viscount flourished his whip in the air.
"Deuce take me! but Jerningham's setting a devilish hot pace," he cried. "Means to weed out the unlikely ones right away. Gad! there's riding for you!—Tressider's 'Pilot''s blown already—Marquis hasn't turned a hair!"
And indeed the Marquis, it would seem, has at last ceased to worry over his cravat, and has taken the lead, and now, stooped low in the saddle, gallops a good twelve yards in front of Tressider.
"Come on Bev!" cries the Viscount and, uttering a loud "view hallo," flourishes his whip. "Moonraker" leaps forward, lengthens his stride, and away he goes fast and furious, filling the air with flying clods, on and on,—is level with Tressider,—is past, and galloping neck and neck with the Marquis.
Onward sweeps the race, over fallow and plough, over hedge and ditch and fence, until, afar off, Barnabas sees again the gleam of water—a jump full thirty feet across. Now, as he rides with "The Terror" well in hand, Barnahas is aware of a gray head with flaring nostrils, of a neck outstretched, of a powerful shoulder, a heaving flank, and Carnaby goes by. "The Terror" sees this too and, snorting, bores savagely upon the bit—but in front of him gallops Tressider's chestnut, and beside him races the Captain's sorrel. So, foot by foot, and yard by yard, the gray wins by. Over a hedge—across a ditch, they race together till, as they approach the water-jump, behold! once more "The Terror" gallops half a length behind Sir Mortimer's gray.
The Marquis and the Viscount, racing knee and knee, have increased their twelve yards by half, and now, as Barnabas watches, down go their heads, in go their spurs, and away go chestnut and bay, fast and faster, take off almost together, land fairly, and are steadied down again to a rolling gallop.
And now, away races Carnaby, with Barnabas hard upon his left, the pace quickens to a stretching gallop,—the earth flies beneath them. Barnabas marks his take-off and rides for it—touches "The Terror" with his spur and—in that moment, Carnaby's gray swerves. Barnabas sees the danger and, clenching his teeth, swings "The Terror" aside, just in time; who, thus balked, yet makes a brave attempt,—leaps, is short, and goes down with a floundering splash, flinging Barnabas clear.
Half-stunned, half-blinded, plastered with mud and ooze, Barnabas staggers up to his feet, is aware in a dazed manner that horses are galloping down upon him, thundering past and well-nigh over him; is conscious also that "The Terror" is scrambling up and, even as he gets upon his legs, has caught the reins, vaulted into the saddle, and strikes in his spurs,—whereat "The Terror" snorts, rears and sets off after the others. And a mighty joy fills his heart, for now the hand upon his bridle restrains him no longer—nay, rather urges him forward; and far in the distance gallop others of his kind, others whom he scorns, one and all—notably a certain gray. Therefore as he spurns the earth beneath him faster and faster, the heart of "The Terror" is uplifted and full of rejoicing.
But,—bruised, bleeding and torn, all mud from heel to head, and with a numbness in his brain Barnabas rides, stooped low in the saddle, for he is sick and very faint. His hat is gone, and the cool wind in his hair revives him somewhat, but the numbness remains. Yet it is as one in a dream that he finds his stirrups, and is vaguely conscious of voices about him—a thudding of hoofs and the creak of leather. As one in a dream he lifts "The Terror" to a fence that vanishes and gives place to a hedge which in turn is gone, or is magically transfigured into an ugly wall. And, still as one in a dream, he is thereafter aware of cries and shouting, and knows that horses are galloping beside him—riderless. But on and ever on races the great, black horse—head stretched out, ears laid back, iron hoofs pounding—on and on, over hedge and ditch and wall—over fence and brook—past blown and weary stragglers—his long stride unfaltering over ploughland and fallowland, tireless, indomitable—on and ever on until Barnabas can distinguish, at last, the horsemen in front.
Therefore, still as one in a dream, he begins to count them to himself, over and over again. Yet, count how he will, can make them no more than seven all told, and he wonders dully where the rest may be.
Well in advance of the survivors the Viscount is going strong, with Slingsby and the Marquis knee and knee behind; next rides Carnaby with two others, while Tressider, the thinnish, youngish gentleman, brings up the rear. Inch by inch Barnabas gains upon him, draws level and is past, and so "The Terror" once more sees before him Sir Mortimer's galloping gray.
But now—something is wrong in front,—there is a warning yell from the Marquis—up flashes the Captain's long arm, for "Moonraker" has swerved suddenly, unaccountably,—loses his stride, and falls back until he is neck and neck with "The Terror." Thus, still as one in a dream, Barnabas is aware, little by little, that the Viscount's hat and whip are gone, and that he is swaying oddly in the saddle with "Moonraker's" every stride—catches a momentary glimpse of a pale, agonized face, and hears the Viscount speaking:
"No go, Bev!" he pants. "Oh, Bev, I'm done! 'Moonraker's' game, but—I'm—done, Bev—arm, y'know—devilish shame, y'know—"
And Barnabas sees that the Viscount's sleeve is all blood from the elbow down. And in that moment Barnabas casts off the numbness, and his brain clears again.
"Hold on, Dick!" he cries.
"Can't Bev,—I—I'm done. Tried my best—but—I—" Barnabas reaches out suddenly—but is too far off—the Viscount lurches forward, loses his stirrups, sways—and "Moonraker" gallops—riderless. But help is at hand, for Barnabas sees divers rustic onlookers who run forward to lift the Viscount's inanimate form. Therefore he turns him back to the race, and bends all his energies upon this, the last and grimmest part of the struggle; as for "The Terror," he vents a snort of joyful defiance, for now he is galloping again in full view of Sir Mortimer Carnaby's foam-flecked gray.
And now—it's hey! for the rush and tear of wind through the hair! for the muffled thunder of galloping hoofs! for the long, racing stride, the creak of leather! Hey! for the sob and pant and strain of the conflict!
Inch by inch the great, black horse creeps up, but Carnaby sees him coming, and the gray leaps forward under his goading heels,—is up level with Slingsby and the Marquis,—but with "The Terror" always close behind.
Over a hedge,—across a ditch,—and down a slope they race together, —knees in, heads low,—to where, at the bottom, is a wall. An ancient, mossy wall it is, yet hideous for all that, an almost impossible jump, except in one place, a gap so narrow that but one may take it at a time. And who shall be first? The Marquis is losing ground rapidly—a foot—a yard—six! and losing still, races now a yard behind Barnabas. Thus, two by two, they thunder down upon the gap that is but wide enough for one. Slingsby is plying his whip, Carnaby is rowelling savagely, yet, neck and neck, the sorrel and the gray race for the jump, with Barnabas and the Marquis behind.
"Give way, Slingsby!" shouts Sir Mortimer.
"Be damned if I do!" roars the Captain, and in go his spurs.
"Pull over, Slingsby!" shouts Sir Mortimer.
"No, b'gad! Pull over yourself," roars the Captain. "Give way, Carnaby—I have you by a head!"
An exultant yell from Slingsby,—a savage shout from Sir Mortimer—a sudden, crunching thud, and the gallant sorrel is lying a twisted, kicking heap, with Captain Slingsby pinned beneath.
"What, Beverley!" he cries, coming weakly to his elbow, "well ridden, b'gad! After him! The 'Rascal' 's done for, poor devil! So am I, —it's you or Carnaby now—ride, Beverley, ride!" And so, as Barnabas flashes past and over him, Captain Slingsby of the Guards sinks back, and lies very white and still.
A stake-fence, a hedge, a ditch, and beyond that a clear stretch to the winning-post.
At the fence, Carnaby sees "The Terror's" black head some six yards behind; at the hedge, Barnabas has lessened the six to three; and at the ditch once again the great, black horse gallops half a length behind the powerful gray. And now, louder and louder, shouts come down the wind!
"The gray! It's Carnaby's gray! Carnaby's 'Clasher' wins! 'Clasher'! 'Clasher'!"
But, slowly and by degrees, the cries sink to a murmur, to a buzzing drone. For, what great, black horse is this which, despite Carnaby's flailing whip and cruel, rowelling spur, is slowly, surely creeping up with the laboring gray? Who is this, a wild, bare-headed figure, grim and bloody, stained with mud, rent and torn, upon whose miry coat yet hangs a crushed and fading rose?
Down the stretch they race, the black and the gray, panting, sobbing, spattered with foam, nearer and nearer, while the crowd rocks and sways about the great pavilion, and buzzes with surprise and uncertainty.
Then all at once, above this sound, a single voice is heard, a mighty voice, a roaring bellow, such, surely, as only a mariner could possess.
"It's Mr. Beverley, sir!" roars the voice. "Beverley! Beverley—hurrah!"
Little by little the crowd takes up the cry until the air rings with it, for now the great, black horse gallops half a length ahead of the sobbing gray, and increases his lead with every stride, by inches—by feet! On and on until his bridle is caught and held, and he is brought to a stand. Then, looking round, Barnabas sees the Marquis rein up beside him, breathless he is still, and splashed with mud and foam, but smiling and debonair as he reaches out his hand.
"Congratulations, Beverley!" he pants. "Grand race!—I caught Carnaby—at the post. Now, if it hadn't been for—my cravat—" But here the numbness comes upon Barnabas again, and, as one in a dream, he is aware that his horse is being led through the crowd—that he is bowing to some one in the gaudy pavilion, a handsome, tall, and chubby gentleman remarkable for waistcoat and whiskers.
"Well ridden, sir!" says the gentleman. "Couldn't have done it better myself, no, by Gad I couldn't—could I, Sherry?"
"No, George, by George you couldn't!" answered a voice.
"Must take a run down to Brighton, Mr.—Mr.—ah, yes—Beverley. Show you some sport at Brighton, sir. A magnificent race, —congratulate you, sir. Must see more of you!"
Then, still as one in a dream, Barnabas bows again, sees Martin at "The Terror's" bridle, and is led back, through a pushing, jostling throng all eager to behold the winner, and thus, presently finds himself once more in the quiet of the paddock behind the "White Hart" inn.
Stiffly and painfully he descends from the saddle, hears a feeble voice call his name and turning, beholds a hurdle set in the shade of a tree, and upon the hurdle the long, limp form of Captain Slingsby, with three or four strangers kneeling beside him.
"Ah, Beverley!" said he faintly. "Glad you beat Carnaby, he—crowded me a bit—at the wall, y' know. Poor old 'Rascal' 's gone, b'gad—and I'm going, but prefer to—go—out of doors,—seems more room for it somehow—give me the sky to look at. Told you it would be a grand race, and—b'gad, so it was! Best I—ever rode—or ever shall. Eh—what, Beverley? No, no—mustn't take it—so hard, dear fellow. B'gad it—might be worse, y' know. I—might have lost, and—lived—been deeper in Gaunt's clutches than ever,—then. As it is, I'm going beyond—beyond his reach—for good and all. Which is the purest—bit of luck I ever had. Lift me up a little—will you, Beverley? Deuced fine day, b'gad! And how green the grass is—never saw it so green before—probably because—never troubled to look though, was always so—deuced busy, b'gad!—The poor old 'Rascal' broke his back, Beverley—so did I. They—shot 'The Rascal,' but—"
Here the Captain sighed, and closed his eyes wearily, but after a moment opened them again.
"A fine race, gentlemen!" said he, addressing the silent group, "a fine race well ridden—and won by—my friend, Beverley. I'll warrant him a—true-blue, gentlemen. Beverley, I—I congratulate—"
Once more he closed his eyes, sighed deeply and, with the sigh, Captain Slingsby of the Guards had paid his debts—for good and all.
WHICH CONCERNS ITSELF CHIEFLY WITH A LETTER
And now, the "Galloping Countryman" found himself famous, and, being so, made the further, sudden discovery that all men were his "warmest friends," nay, even among the gentler sex this obtained, for the most dragon-like dowagers, the haughtiest matrons, became infinitely gracious; noble fathers were familiarly jocose; the proudest beauties wore, for him, their most bewitching airs, since as well as being famous, he was known to be one of the wealthiest young men about town; moreover His Royal Highness had deigned to notice him, and Her Grace of Camberhurst was his professed friend. Hence, all this being taken into consideration, it is not surprising that invitations poured in upon him, and that the doors of the most exclusive clubs flew open at his step.
Number Five St. James's Square suddenly became a rendezvous of Sport and Fashion, before its portal were to be seen dashing turn-outs of all descriptions, from phaetons to coaches; liveried menials, bearing cards, embossed, gild-edged, and otherwise, descended upon St. James's Square in multi-colored shoals; in a word, the Polite World forthwith took Barnabas to its bosom, which, though perhaps a somewhat cold and flinty bosom, made up for such minor deficiencies by the ardor of its embrace. By reason of these things, the legs of the Gentleman-in-Powder were exalted,—that is to say, were in a perpetual quiver of superior gratification, and Barnabas himself enjoyed it all vastly—for a week.
At the end of which period behold him at twelve o'clock in the morning, as he sits over his breakfast (with the legs of the Gentleman-in-Powder planted, statuesque, behind his chair), frowning at a stupendous and tumbled pile of Fashionable note-paper, and Polite cards.
"Are these all?" he inquired, waving his hand towards the letters.
"Them, sir, is—hall!" answered the Gentleman-in-Powder.
"Then ask Mr. Peterby to come to me," said Barnabas, his frown growing blacker.
"Cer-tainly, sir!" Here the Gentleman-in-Powder posed his legs, bowed, and took them out of the room. Then Barnabas drew a letter from his pocket and began to read as follows:
The Gables, Hawkhurst.
MY DEAR BARNABAS,—As Cleone's letter looks very long (she sits opposite me at this precise moment writing to you, and blushing very prettily over something her pen has just scribbled—I can't quite see what, the table is too wide), mine shall be short, that is, as short as possible. Of course we are all disappointed not to have seen you here since the race—that terrible race (poor, dear Captain Slingsby,—how dreadful it was!) but of course, it is quite right you should stay near the Viscount during his illness. I rejoice to hear he is so much better. I am having my town house, the one in Berkeley Square, put in order, for Cleone has had quite enough of the country, I think, so have I. Though indeed she seems perfectly content (I mean Cleone) and is very fond of listening to the brook. O Youth! O Romance! Well, I used to listen to brooks once upon a time—before I took to a wig. As for yourself now, Barnabas, the Marquis writes to tell me that your cravats are 'all the thing,' and your waistcoats 'all the go,' and that your new coat with the opened cuff finds very many admirers. This is very well, but since Society has taken you up and made a lion of you, it will necessarily expect you to roar occasionally, just to maintain your position. And there are many ways of roaring, Barnabas. Brummell (whom I ever despised) roared like an insolent cat—he was always very precise and cat-like, and dreadfully insolent, but insolence palls, after a while—even in Society. Indeed I might give you many hints on Roaring, Barnabas, but—considering the length of Cleone's letter, I will spare you more, nor even give you any advice though I yearn to—only this: Be yourself, Barnabas, in Society or out, so shall I always subscribe myself:
Your affectionate friend,
3 P.M.—I have opened this letter to tell you that Mr. Chichester and Ronald called here and stayed an hour. Ronald was full of his woes, as usual, so I left him to Cleone, and kept Mr. Chichester dancing attendance on me. And, oh dear me! to see the white rage of the man! It was deliciously thrilling, and I shivered most delightfully.
"You sent for me, sir?" said Peterby, as Barnabas re-folded the letter.
"Yes, John. Are you sure there is no other letter this morning from—from Hawkhurst?"
"Yet the Duchess tells me that the Lady Cleone wrote me also. This letter came by the post this morning?"
"And no other? It's very strange!"
But here, the Gentleman-in-Powder re-appeared to say that the Marquis of Jerningham desired to see Mr. Beverley on a matter of importance, and that nobleman presenting himself, Peterby withdrew.
"Excuse this intrusion, my dear Beverley," said the Marquis as the door closed, "doocid early I know, but the—ah—the matter is pressing. First, though, how's Devenham, you saw him last night as usual, I suppose?"
"Yes," answered Barnabas, shaking hands, "he ought to be up and about again in a day or two."
"Excellent," nodded the Marquis, "I'll run over to Half-moon Street this afternoon. Is Bamborough with him still?"
"No, his Lordship left yesterday."
"Ha!" said the Marquis, and taking out his snuff-box, he looked at it, tapped it, and put it away again. "Poor old Sling," said he gently, "I miss him damnably, y'know, Beverley."
"Marquis," said Barnabas, "what is it?"
"Well, I want you to do me a favor, my dear fellow, and I don't know how to ask you—doocid big favor—ah—I was wondering if you would consent to—act for me?"
"Act for you?" repeated Barnabas, wholly at a loss.
"Yes, in my little affair with Carnaby—poor old Sling, d' you see. What, don't you twig, Beverley, haven't you heard?"
"No!" answered Barnabas, "you don't mean that you and Carnaby are going—to fight?"
"Exactly, my dear fellow, of course! He fouled poor old Sling at the wall, y'know—you saw it, I saw it, so naturally I mean to call him to account for it. And he can't refuse—I spoke doocid plainly, and White's was full. He has the choice of weapons,—pistols I expect. Personally, I should like it over as soon as possible, and anywhere would do, though Eltham for preference, Beverley. So if you will oblige me—"
But here, once again the Gentleman-in-Powder knocked to announce: "Mr. Tressider."
The thinnish, youngish gentleman in sandy whiskers entered with a rush, but, seeing the Marquis, paused.
"What, then—you 're before me, are you, Jerningham?" he exclaimed; then turning, he saluted Barnabas, and burst into a torrent of speech. "Beverley!" he cried, "cursed early to call, but I'm full o' news—bursting with it, damme if I'm not—and tell it I must! First, then, by Gad!—it was at White's you'll understand, and the card-room was full—crammed, sir, curse me if it wasn't, and there's Carnaby and Tufton Green, and myself and three or four others, playing hazard, d'ye see,—when up strolls Jerningham here. 'It's your play, Carnaby,' says I. 'Why then,' says the Marquis,—'why then,' says he, 'look out for fouling!' says he, cool as a cucumber, curse me! 'Eh—what?' cries Tufton, 'why—what d' ye mean?' 'Mean?' says the Marquis, tapping his snuff-box, 'I mean that Sir Mortimer Carnaby is a most accursed rascal' (your very words, Marquis, damme if they weren't). Highly dramatic, Beverley—could have heard a pin drop—curse me if you couldn't! End of it was they arranged a meeting of course, and I was Carnaby's second, but—"
"Was?" repeated the Marquis.
"Yes, was,—for begad! when I called on my man this morning he'd bolted, damme if he hadn't!"
"Gone?" exclaimed the Marquis in blank amazement.
"Clean gone! Bag and baggage! I tell you he's bolted, but—with all due respect to you, Marquis, only from his creditors. He was devilish deep in with Gaunt, I know, beside Beverley here. Oh damme yes, he only did it to bilk his creditors, for Carnaby was always game, curse me if he wasn't!"
Hereupon the Marquis had recourse to his snuff-box again.
"Under the circumstances," said he, sighing and shaking his head, "I think I'll go and talk with our invalid—"
"No good, my boy, if you mean Devenham," said Tressider, shaking his head, "just been there,—Viscount's disappeared too—been away all night!"
"What?" cried Barnabas, springing to his feet, "gone?"
"Damme if he hasn't! Found his fellow in the devil of a way about it, and his little rascal of a groom blubbering on the stairs."
"Then I must dress! You'll excuse me, I know!" said Barnabas, and rang for Peterby. But his hand was even yet upon the bellrope when stumbling feet were heard outside, the door was flung wide, and the Viscount himself stood upon the threshold.
Pale and haggard of eye, dusty and unkempt, he leaned there, then staggering to a chair he sank down and so lay staring at the floor.
"Oh, Bev!" he groaned, "she's gone—Clemency's gone, I—I can't find her, Bev!"
Now hereupon the Marquis very quietly took up his hat and, nodding to Barnabas, linked his arm in Tressider's and went softly from the room, closing the door behind him.
"Dick!" cried Barnabas, bending over him, "my dear fellow!"
"Ever since you spoke, I—I've wanted her, Bev. All through my illness I've hungered for her—the sound of her voice,—the touch of her hand. As soon as I was strong enough—last night, I think it was—I went to find her, to—to kneel at her feet, Bev. I drove down to Frittenden and oh, Bev—she was gone! So I started back—looking for her all night. My arm bothered me—a bit, you know, and I didn't think I could do it. But I kept fancying I saw her before me in the dark. Sometimes I called to her—but she—never answered, she's—gone, Bev, and I—"
"Oh, Dick—she left there weeks ago—"
"Then oh, Bev,—tell me where!"
"I promised her to keep it secret."
"Then—you won't tell me?"
"Won't! won't! Ah, but you shall, yes, by God!"
"By God, but you shall, I say you shall—you must—where is she?" The Viscount's pale cheek grew suddenly suffused, his eyes glared fiercely, and his set teeth gleamed between his pallid lips. "Tell me!" he demanded.
"No," said Barnabas, and shook his head.
Then, in that moment the Viscount sprang up and, pinning him with his left hand, swung Barnabas savagely to the wall.
"She's mine!" he panted, "mine, I tell you—no one shall take her from me, neither you nor the devil himself. She's mine—mine. Tell me where she is,—speak before I choke you—speak!"
But Barnabas stood rigid and utterly still. Thus, in a while, the griping fingers fell away, the Viscount stepped back, and groaning, bowed his head.