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"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!"
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