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   Chapter 4 ON THE ROAD.

Fallen Fortunes By Evelyn Everett-Green Characters: 21954

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


With the first streak of midsummer dawn Grey Dumaresq was in the paddock, looking well to the condition of his horse, and grooming the soft, satin coat lovingly with his own hands.

"We must be up and away, my beauty, ere the sun be high. This is no place for either you or me, albeit every foot of ground is mine own, and it will go hard if I let that weasel-faced scoundrel filch it altogether from me. I know him now in his true colours. Heaven send the day may come when I shall repay with interest that which I owe him."

The horse tossed his head and neighed as though in response; and perhaps Dicon heard the sound from where he slept, for almost at once he was at his master's side; and old Jock came cautiously out by the doorway leading towards the house, and looked relieved and gratified to see the young master abroad.

"Eh, but I have been sore troubled with bad dreams this night," he said, as he shambled up. "Yon house is full of such, I take it. How slept you, my master? and how fare you this morn? It is good to see you looking so spruce and sound. Bad luck to the dreams that drove sleep from my pillow at last."

"I had my dreams too, Jock, and I have not slept since," answered Grey, with a significant glance at the old man. "Tell me, good fellow, what know you of the panelled guest-chamber, with the row of windows looking south over the park? Ha! why look you so, man? What know you of the chamber?"

"Did he put you there, my master? Then Peter lied to me, the false-tongued knave. If I had known that! No wonder the dreams were bad that came to me. The haunted room! Tush! it is not ghosts that hurt, but men who come and go at will and leave no trace behind."

"I thought so," spoke Grey composedly. "Then there is a secret way of entrance into that room?"

"Ay, behind the bed. I do not know the trick, but I have heard of it. Men have been done to death in that room ere this, and none the wiser for it. Oh if I had but known!"

Grey's eyes were fixed full upon the pallid face of the old man. He put the next question gravely and almost sternly.

"Tell me truly, my friend. Think you that this kinsman of mine would plot to do me hurt? He made profession of friendship."

"He made the same to Sir Hugh," answered Jock in a trembling voice, "and for long the master believed in him. But methinks he never would have died as he did, had he not come to live here with Mr. Barty at Hartsbourne."

Grey started and changed colour, clinching his hand,

"You think that this kinsman of ours compassed his death?"

Jock looked over his shoulder as though fearful of listening ears. He drew a step nearer; and Dicon, with fallen jaw and staring eyes, came up close to listen.

"How can I tell? I was seldom in the house. I work in the garden, and because I am a cheap servant, asking no money, but making a pittance by what I can sell, Mr. Barty has kept me here where he found me. But when the old master came, he often sent for me. Before he became too ill, he sometimes crawled to my little cottage yonder for a bit of chat. He told me the doctors and leeches told him he had but to rest and live simply in the country for a few years to be a sound man again. But for all that he dwindled and dwindled away, and was gone in two months."

"Did no leech attend him here?" asked Grey breathlessly.

"Not till the very last, when they sent me to Edgeware to fetch one who could do naught. Mr. Barty professed to know many cures, and the master believed in him. He eased his pain, but he sank into an ever-increasing, ever-mastering drowsiness, and he shrank away to skin and bone. It went to my heart to see him. Many's the time when I have wondered whether it would have ended so if he had not taken Mr. Barty's simples and draughts."

"Was he poisoned, then?" asked Grey, between his shut teeth.

Jock looked nervously over his shoulder; the word seemed to frighten him. He shook his old head from side to side.

"Nay, nay, how can I tell-a poor old ignorant man like me? But he used to say that you would likely never come home again (travellers met such a deal of peril, he would say), and then his eyes would gleam and glisten, for there was but the old master's life and yours betwixt him and the title and all."

Grey ground his teeth, and his eyes flashed. Somehow he did not doubt for a moment that foul play had been used to compass his father's death. Had he not escaped assassination himself that night only by the skin of his teeth?

"Could any man living throw light upon this matter?" he asked. "The leech from Edgeware, or any other?"

"I misdoubt me if any could, save wall-eyed Peter, Mr. Barty's man; and I trow his master makes it worth while for him to hold his tongue and know nothing."

"Gold will sometimes unloose a miscreant's tongue."

"Ay, ay, maybe; but Mr. Barty's purse is longer than yours, Sir Grey, and his mind is crookeder and his ways more artful. Don't you go for to anger him yet: hurt might come to you an you did. Get you gone from the place, and that right soon; for the sooner you leave Hartsbourne behind you, the safer it will be for you."

"Yes, my master; let us indeed be gone," pleaded Dicon earnestly. "This is a God-forsaken hole, not fit for you to dwell in. Take the store of gold pieces, and let us begone, for I trow that harm will come to you if you linger longer here."

It took little to persuade Grey to be off and away. Old Jock provided them with a meal, and they could break their fast at the old inn at Edgeware, through which they would pass. He had no desire to go through the farce of a farewell to his kinsman. He only desired to shake off the dust of his feet against him; and ere the chimes of the church rang out the hour of six, Grey was turning on the crest of a ridge of rising ground, to look his last for the nonce upon the old home he had dreamed of so many a time, and round which so many loving thoughts centred.

"Let kind Fortune but smile upon me, Dicon, and show me the way to affluence and fame, and I will yet be lord and master there, and the manor of Hartsbourne shall be one of the fairest in the land!"

"Why, so you shall, Sir Grey, and that right speedily!" cried honest Dick, who had an unbounded admiration for his young master, and an immense confidence in his luck, albeit no special good fortune had befallen him since he had taken service with him.

Dick had led a seafaring life during his earlier years, and Grey had picked him up in a shipwrecked, ragged, and starving condition on the coast of Spain some two years previously. In those days ship-wrecked sailors often had a hard time of it, even though the terrors of the galleys or the Inquisition did not loom quite so perilously before them as had been the case a century before. To find himself taken into the service of a young English gentleman of quality, and to be the companion of his travels, had been a piece of luck that Dick thanked Providence for every day of his life. He had been one of four servants at the outset; but as Grey's resources diminished, or his roving life took him into perils for which some men had little stomach, he gradually lost his retinue, till, for the past year, Dick alone had followed him, and the two had become friends and comrades, as well as master and servant. Now at their first halting-place, where they paused to let the horses breathe after a steady half-hour's gallop, Grey opened the wallet at his side, which he had filled with gold pieces from the casket (the rest he had sewn carefully into his clothes for safety), and counted out a certain number, which he shook in his fist as he spoke.

"Dicon, I am going to London to try my luck there. But, as I have ofttimes heard, fortunes are as easily lost there as won, wherefore it may be that I shall become a beggar instead of growing in wealth and greatness."

"Heaven forbid!" ejaculated Dick in passionate protest.

"Well, Heaven watches over the undeserving as well as the virtuous, so there is e'en hope for me," answered Grey with his winning smile. "But look ye here, Dicon. You have been a faithful rogue, and have served me well, and I hope we may company together many a long day yet. But inasmuch as there are uncertainties in life, and we are going forth into a new world, where perchance I may sink rather than swim, I desire to give you six months' wage in advance, whilst I have my pockets lined with gold, so that should any untoward chance befall me, as it has befallen better men than myself, I shall not have to turn you adrift unrewarded, nor will you, if you can be a wise varlet, and husband your resources, be thrown on the world without some means of support."

Dick seemed about to protest, but either the look on his master's face or some idea which had entered his own head held him silent. He took the coins without counting them, and producing a greasy leathern pouch, such as sailors often carry with them, he dropped the gold pieces into it one by one, tied it up, and fastened it safely in an inner pocket.

"That pouch stuck by me when I lost everything else in the world, and well-nigh my own life," said the fellow with a grin. "My mother did give it me when I first went to sea, and she told me as a wise witch woman had given it her. She thought 'twas the caul of a child; and like enough it be, for salt water never hurts it, and I was the only one saved of all the crew that went down off the Spanish coast. I'd sooner part with the gold pieces than with the pouch that holds them."

They both rode on with thoughtful faces after this brief interlude. Grey was turning over a dozen different schemes in his mind; but all were vague and chimerical. Now and again he looked at an amethyst ring upon his finger, and it came over him that the shortest cut to fortune might be to present himself as a suppliant for favour at the feet of the great Duchess of Marlborough, who was said to rule the Queen with a rod of iron, and whose known devotion to her husband would be certain to raise high in her favour any person who had rendered him so timely a service as that which Grey had been able to offer on the day of Ramillies.

But then, again, it seemed to Grey that to claim reward for that chance service, which had cost him nothing, was little better than playing the beggar or the sycophant. There was in his nature a strong strain of chivalrous romance-of love of adventure for its own sake, without thought of reward or favour. That encounter with the great Duke, the interview which had followed, the consciousness that he had done his country a notable service that day-all these things were very sweet to him, forming an episode pleasant to look back upon. If he now presented himself on the strength of it as a petitioner for place or favour, at once the whole thing would be vulgarized-he would be lowered in his own estimation, sinking to the level of one of the crowd of greedy fla

tterers and place-hunters who thronged the antechambers of the rich and great, and fawned upon them for the crumbs of patronage which they were able to dispense as the price of this homage.

Grey had seen this sort of thing at foreign courts, and his soul had sickened at it. Doubtless, in this great world of London it was the same. As a baronet, a young man of parts, with an attractive person, and, at present, a well-filled purse, he might not improbably please the fancy of the Duchess, and obtain some post in her household or about the Court that would give him a chance at least to rise. But the more he thought of this the less he liked the idea, and at last he flung it from him in scorn.

"I would sooner live in Grub Street, and drive a quill!" he said half aloud. "I could praise a hero with my pen, but I cannot fawn and flatter with my lips. And methinks I am not fit for the life of a place-man: I have been too long mine own master. Surely there are ways by which a man may rise in the world without abasing himself in his own esteem first. I will go to London, and look about me with open eyes. There are the world of politics, the world of art and literature, and the theatre of war, if other spheres should fail. Surely there must be a place for me somewhere; but I will not choose the latter if I can help it. I fear not death on mine own account; but I desire to live, and to grow rich, that I may square matters with yonder villain, and avenge upon him my father's untimely death!"

For that his father had been in some sort done to death by his false kinsman, Grey did not now doubt, though whether he would be able to bring that crime home to him later, he could not at present surmise. Much might be possible to a man with friends in high places; but these would have to be found and won ere any step could be taken.

Grey often felt within himself the stirrings of ambition. He had shown promise of something akin to genius in his Oxford days, and there had not been lacking those among his companions and tutors who had declared that he could win fame and fortune through academic laurels. But Grey had then turned a deaf ear to such propositions. He desired to travel and see the world, and he had done this with much zest. But the muse within had not been altogether silent, and he had many times covered sheets of paper with flowing stanzas or stately sonnets, which bore witness to the fire that burned within. His pencil, too, was not without cunning; and his study of the treasures of many an art gallery, many a foreign church, had given him knowledge and culture beyond what the average gallant of the day could boast. The double strand in his nature was very marked-a reckless love of adventure, and a delicate appreciation of the beautiful. Often he longed after the days of the early troubadours, when the two walked hand in hand. He pondered these matters in his busy brain as he rode onward in the sunny brightness of the June morning, and found it in his heart to wish that he was not thus possessed by such conflicting passions. He felt he would have had a better chance of success had his bent in any one direction been more decided.

They pulled up at the quaint old inn at Edgeware, and rode into the courtyard, where lackeys and hostlers were making merry together, and where some handsome horses were being groomed down, prior to being put into the cumbersome but very handsome coach that stood beneath the protecting galleries which ran round the court. The lackeys wore a livery of snuff-coloured cloth, with a quantity of gold lace about it. The panels of the coach were snuff-coloured, and there was much heavy gilding about it, which was being polished with great zeal by the servants of the inn. It was plainly the equipage of some person of quality, and had evidently put up there for the night, but was likely to be wanted shortly for the road again.

Grey dismounted, and leaving Dick in charge of the horses, made his way in through the low-browed entrance, along a sanded passage, and so to the public room, the door of which stood open. As a boy he had known this house, and it still seemed familiar to him, though it had changed hands since he had been there last, and his face was not known to mine host.

"Your pardon, sir," spoke this functionary, bustling forward on his entrance, "but this room is bespoke for my Lord Sandford. If you are wanting a meal, it shall be quickly served elsewhere-"

But at that moment a rollicking voice from the foot of the adjacent staircase broke in upon the excuses of the host.

"Gadzooks, man, but it shall be nothing of the sort. Set a cover for the gentleman at my table. Gosh! is a man so enamoured of his own company that he must needs drive all the world away?-Come in, sir, come in, and take pot-luck with me.-Landlord, see you give us of your best, or I'll spit you on your own jack! I've a great thirst on me, mind you; and let the dishes be done to a turn.-Take a seat in the window, sir; the air blows fresh and pleasant, but it will be infernally hot ere noon. I must be off and away in good time. In London streets you can find shade; but these country roads-hang them all!-get like What's-his-name's fiery furnace seven times heated if they don't chance to run through forest land!"

The speaker was a young man of perhaps seven-and-twenty, though reckless dissipation had traced lines in his face which should not so early have been there. He was dressed according to the most extravagant fashion of the day, with an immense curled wig, that hung half-way down his back; a coat of velvet, richly laced, the sleeves so short that the spotless lawn and ruffles of the shirt showed half-way up the forearm; a wonderful embroidered vest, knee breeches of satin equally gorgeous, and silk stockings elaborately gartered below the knee with bands of gold lace. He carried a fashionably cocked hat beneath his arm, with a gold-headed cane; and a small muff was suspended from his neck by gold chains. The muff held a golden snuff-box, with a picture on the lid which modesty would refuse to describe; and the young spark took snuff and interlarded his talk with the fashionable oaths of the day as a matter of course.

He looked curiously at Grey when they had taken their seats; for the traveller, though dressed with exceeding simplicity, and wearing his own hair in loose, natural curls, just framing his face and touching his shoulders, was so evidently a man of culture and of gentle blood that the dandy was both impressed and perplexed by him. For high-bred look and instinctive nobility of bearing Lord Sandford could not hold a candle to Grey Dumaresq.

"I saw you ride into the yard just now. Fine horse that of yours, sir-very fine horse! If he's ever for sale, mind you let me know of him. Lord Sandford-your very humble servant-always to be heard of at Will's Coffee House or the Mohawk Club. Seem to remember your face; but dash me if I can give it a name. Awful memory for names I have-know too many fellows, I suppose. Not that there are so many like you, either; but hang me, I must have met you somewhere before."

Grey had caught the fleeting memory, and answered at once,-

"We were at Oxford together, my lord. Not at the same college, though; but we have met, doubtless. My name is Grey Dumaresq-"

"Why, to be sure. Gad! but that's strange! Thought I wasn't wrong about a face! I heard you spout forth a poem once. Lord, it was fine, though I didn't understand one word in ten! Latin or Greek-rabbit me if I know which! And I knew your father, too; met him in London now and again. He's not been seen anywhere these eight or nine months."

"My father died last Christmas," spoke Grey gravely. "I did not know it myself, being abroad." And led on by Lord Sandford's questions, which, if not very delicately put, showed a real interest in the subject, Grey gave him a bare outline of his own life since quitting Oxford, and of the position in which he now found himself.

"Oddsfish, man-as our merry monarch of happy memory used to say-but yours is a curious tale. The ladies will rave over the romance of it-coupled with that face of yours. Oh, never say die, man! You've the world before you. What more do you ask than such a face, such a story, and a few hundred pounds in your pocket? Why, with decent luck, those hundreds ought to make thousands in a very short time. You trust yourself to me, my young friend. I know my London. I know the ropes. I will show you how fortunes are made in a night; and you shall be the pet of the ladies and the envy of the beaux before another month has passed. We will find you an heiress for a wife, and-heigh, presto!-the thing is done."

Grey started, and made a gesture as of repulsion, whereat Lord Sandford roared with laughter; and there was something so heartwhole and infectious in his laugh that Grey found himself joining in almost without knowing it. The man had a strong personality, that was not to be doubted, and at this moment Grey felt himself singularly lonely, singularly perplexed about his own immediate future. He did not know London. He had scarcely set foot within its precincts, save on the occasion when he went to bid his father farewell, and when it seemed to him that he stepped into Pandemonium itself. Since then he had visited many foreign capitals, and had accustomed himself to the life there to some extent; but only to the life of a traveller-an onlooker. Now he felt that something more lay before him-that it was as a citizen and a unit in the great hive that he must go. And how to steer his bark through the shoals and quicksands of the new life, he had very small idea. To win fame and fortune was his wish; but how were these good things to be achieved? Never had it entered his head to look upon marriage as a way of gaining either.

"Zounds, man, don't look like that! Better men than you or I have not been shamed to thank their wives for their promotion. But there are more ways of killing a cat than hanging. We'll look about and see. You put yourself in my hands, and I'll show you the ropes. No, no; no thanks. I want some diversion myself. Poor Tom Gregory, my boon companion, made a fool of himself over the wine the other night, and got spitted like a cockchafer by Captain Dashwood. I've felt bad ever since. I tried what a trip into the country would do for me. But dash it all, I can't stand the dreariness of it. I am on my way back to town as fast as may be. And you shall come with me. Nay, I'll take no denial. A man must have something to do with his time, or he'll get into a pretty peck of mischief. I've taken a liking to you; and I always get my own way, because I won't listen to objections."

So an hour later, when the coach rumbled out from under the archway of the old inn, Grey Dumaresq sat within by Lord Sandford's side, and Dick, with a puzzled but satisfied face, led his master's horse behind.

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