But Barnaby delayed beyond all precedent. The visitor's dinner was served, removed, his wine was set, the fire replenished, the hearth clean swept; the light waned without, it grew dusk, became quite dark, and still no Barnaby appeared. Yet, though John Willet was full of wonder and misgiving, his guest sat cross-legged in the easy-chair, to all appearance as little ruffled in his thoughts as in his dress--the same calm, easy, cool gentleman, without a care or thought beyond his golden toothpick.
'Barnaby's late,' John ventured to observe, as he placed a pair of tarnished candlesticks, some three feet high, upon the table, and snuffed the lights they held.
'He is rather so,' replied the guest, sipping his wine. 'He will not be much longer, I dare say.'
John coughed and raked the fire together.
'As your roads bear no very good character, if I may judge from my son's mishap, though,' said Mr Chester, 'and as I have no fancy to be knocked on the head--which is not only disconcerting at the moment, but places one, besides, in a ridiculous position with respect to the people who chance to pick one up--I shall stop here to-night. I think you said you had a bed to spare.'
'Such a bed, sir,' returned John Willet; 'ay, such a bed as few, even of the gentry's houses, own. A fixter here, sir. I've heard say that bedstead is nigh two hundred years of age. Your noble son--a fine young gentleman--slept in it last, sir, half a year ago.'
'Upon my life, a recommendation!' said the guest, shrugging his shoulders and wheeling his chair nearer to the fire. 'See that it be well aired, Mr Willet, and let a blazing fire be lighted there at once. This house is something damp and chilly.'
John raked the faggots up again, more from habit than presence of mind, or any reference to this remark, and was about to withdraw, when a bounding step was heard upon the stair, and Barnaby came panting in.
'He'll have his foot in the stirrup in an hour's time,' he cried, advancing. 'He has been riding hard all day--has just come home-- but will be in the saddle again as soon as he has eat and drank, to meet his loving friend.'
'Was that his message?' asked the visitor, looking up, but without the smallest discomposure--or at least without the show of any.
'All but the last words,' Barnaby rejoined. 'He meant those. I saw that, in his face.'
'This for your pains,' said the other, putting money in his hand, and glancing at him steadfastly.' This for your pains, sharp Barnaby.'
'For Grip, and me, and Hugh, to share among us,' he rejoined, putting it up, and nodding, as he counted it on his fingers. 'Grip one, me two, Hugh three; the dog, the goat, the cats--well, we shall spend it pretty soon, I warn you. Stay.--Look. Do you wise men see nothing there, now?'
He bent eagerly down on one knee, and gazed intently at the smoke, which was rolling up the chimney in a thick black cloud. John Willet, who appeared to consider himself particularly and chiefly referred to under the term wise men, looked that way likewise, and with great solidity of feature.
'Now, where do they go to, when they spring so fast up there,' asked Barnaby; 'eh? Why do they tread so closely on each other's heels, and why are they always in a hurry--which is what you blame me for, when I only take pattern by these busy folk about me? More of 'em! catching to each other's skirts; and as fast as they go, others come! What a merry dance it is! I would that Grip and I could frisk like that!'
'What has he in that basket at his back?' asked the guest after a few moments, during which Barnaby was still bending down to look higher up the chimney, and earnestly watching the smoke.
'In this?' he answered, jumping up, before John Willet could reply-- shaking it as he spoke, and stooping his head to listen. 'In this! What is there here? Tell him!'
'A devil, a devil, a devil!' cried a hoarse voice.
'Here's money!' said Barnaby, chinking it in his hand, 'money for a treat, Grip!'
'Hurrah! Hurrah! Hurrah!' replied the raven, 'keep up your spirits.