MoboReader> Literature > Fallen Fortunes

   Chapter 7 A FAIR FACE.

Fallen Fortunes By Evelyn Everett-Green Characters: 21771

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


If Grey Dumaresq was a man who craved a variety of experiences, and wished to see life under different aspects, he was getting his wish now; for the gay world of fashion, into which he suddenly found himself plunged, differed in toto from any of his former experiences; and so swift was the pace, and so shifting the throng amid which he moved, that he often felt as though his breath were fairly taken away, and as though he had suddenly stepped into a new existence.

Lord Sandford had chanced upon the young baronet at a moment when a blank had been made in his own life by the sudden and violent death of one who had been his boon companion and friend. The gay young man, who had fallen in a foolish duel a few weeks before, had been the inmate of his house and the companion in all his freaks and follies; so much so, that without him the young nobleman felt for the moment bewildered and lost, and had absented himself from town with a view to "getting over it," as he hoped: for he despised himself for any sign of weakness, and would not for worlds have had his comrades and boon companions know how the loss had affected him.

Then, as it seemed just by a lucky chance, this young and attractive man had fallen as from the very skies at his feet. Grey Dumaresq, new to the world of London, curious and speculative, willing to see all, learn all, participate in all, seemed exactly the person to fill the gap in his life. Grey had no place of abode; why, then, should he not occupy the vacant chambers in the wing of the great mansion in the Strand which Lord Sandford used as his customary lodging, when he was not spending his time with friends, or making one of a gay party elsewhere? Grey had no valid reason for declining the invitation pressed upon him. Lord Sandford was a masterful man, and his strong personality impressed itself upon Grey with something between attraction and repulsion. But, on the whole, attraction seemed the stronger power, and curiosity to know more of this man and his life held Grey's soul in thrall. He had always experienced a vivid curiosity to taste life in its various forms, to know and understand the thoughts, the feelings, the aspirations, the ambitions of other men. His travels had given him insight into many matters; but he felt that these new experiences were likely to be more searching, more exciting, more full of keen personal interest. He had been, as it were, a spectator heretofore; now he was to be a participator.

He had not meant to be any man's guest; he had meant to take a modest lodging of his own, and look about him for something in the way of employment, but Lord Sandford had roared with laughter over such a notion.

"What! Sir Grey Dumaresq going cap in hand to some proud place-giver to ask for patronage, or I know not what! Gadzooks, man, with that face, that figure, that horse, and a purse full of guineas, you can do better than that! Trust yourself to me. I'll show you where fame and fortune lie. You shall redeem your rat-infested old house in a very brief while, if you will but trust yourself to my guidance. You be Damon to my Pythias-or is it t'other way round, eh?-and I'll show you the royal road to the goal you want."

For lack of any definite plans, Grey had consented for the nonce to accept Lord Sandford's advice, and had quickly found himself installed in some gloomy and stately yet luxurious chambers in a vast house, of which only a portion was open for use, and the rest given over to a neglect and decay that Hartsbourne itself could scarcely rival.

"But we shall change all that some day," spoke Lord Sandford, with a careless laugh, as Grey expressed his surprise at the vast rooms and long galleries shut up and infested by rats and spiders. "Oh yes, we shall change all that some day; but what does a bachelor want with such a house as this? What should I be the better for a crowd of liveried servants, eating off their heads, idling away their time dicing and drinking? What have I to give an army of scullions and cooks to do-I who seldom take a meal at home after my morning chocolate? No, no; I know a trick worth two of that. I don't ruin myself to keep a crew of fat, lazy rogues about me, cheating me at every turn. Half a dozen fellows and a few kitchen wenches do well enow for me; but when Lady Sandford comes to her husband's home-ah well! then we shall see the difference."

But though he talked jestingly from time to time of the Lady Sandford that was to be, he gave Grey no hint as to whether his fancy inclined more to one or another of the many gay maidens with whom he chatted and flirted, danced and romped, in the fashion of the day; and so bewildering and dazzling were these young madams and their surroundings that the newcomer was lost in a maze of wonder and bewilderment, and found it hard to distinguish one face from another, until he met one, different from all the rest.

But Grey was not left idle; he had small time for musing. The very first day of his sojourn in London he was surrounded by a fluttering crowd of tailors, glove-sellers, barbers, fencers, sellers and purveyors of every imaginable ware, who all professed their eagerness to serve him, and quoted Lord Sandford as a patron who could swear to their honesty and the excellence of their goods.

Into the midst of this motley throng Lord Sandford thrust himself, laughing his great hearty laugh, and quickly sent to the right-about two-thirds of the importunate crowd-a jest here, a keen thrust there, a slap on back or shoulder in another quarter, emphasizing his forcible hints. And when the room was cleared of all but the lucky few, he flung himself into an armchair with another laugh, telling Grey he was sorry his knaves of servants, who looked for perquisites everywhere, had let in this flood of rogues upon him, but added that he must needs have the wherewithal to cut a proper figure in London town, and forthwith set about the business of ordering an outfit for the young man which almost took his guest's breath away.

"Poof!" he cried, when the latter strove to remonstrate, "you have plenty of money; and these rascals can wait if it suits your pleasure. Father's memory! Oh, be hanged to all such mawkish sentiment! You need not think less of your father because you wear a blue coat in lieu of a black! Rabbit me! but you are of a different world from this if you keep alive your father's memory for six months after his decease! No, no; you must cut a figure. Sir Hugh's name is clean forgot by now. I'll eat my boots if 'tis not so. I'll have you as gay as my fancy paints you. No black-no sables for the gentleman, I tell you. Let us see those other patterns. Ah! here is something more like."

Grey submitted. In sooth, he cared but little for the colour of his clothes, or the set of his hat, or the cut of his coat. He let Lord Sandford have his way for the most part, only insisting here and there upon soft and tender tints, and showing a predilection for white, which his friend quite approved.

"You shall be a foil to me, not a rival. I have learned that art from the ladies. I like to blaze like old Sol in his strength; you shall rather recall gentle Luna amid her galaxy of stars. Faugh! One's tongue gets into this silly trick of speech, so that one cannot drop it even betwixt man and man! But you are right to think that white becomes you well. You will look a pretty fellow, in all conscience, when you have added a peruke to your other adornments."

But here Grey stood firm. Nothing would induce him to cumber his head with one of those mountains of hair. In vain the perruquiers displayed their wares; in vain Lord Sandford bantered and laughed, and made out that he would be reckoned as a mad fellow by the young bloods of the city. Grey would not yield an inch. He had always found his own hair sufficient and comfortable, and he would wear it to the end. And as the discomfited perruquier at last departed, Lord Sandford broke into another of his great laughs.

"I' faith you are right, man. I like you the better that you have the courage of your opinions, and care no whit for fashion. You'll be a match for more than the perruquiers yet. There's a fighting strain in your blood. I can see it in the glint of your eye. Well, you shall not lack opportunity to fight as well as to laugh here in London town; but we'll not have cold steel or hot lead again. I've seen enough of that cursed duelling to last me for a lifetime."

Grey was quickly to discover the nature of the battles in which he was to take a part, and at the first he shrank from them with an instinctive aversion he could not well have defined, being no grave moralist or philosopher. Contests of skill or of luck at the gaming tables were all the rage of the day with the young dandies of the town, and the man who could keep a steady head, and in some cases a steady hand, was certain in the long run to obtain advantage over his fellows. At one club a game something like our modern billiards was all the rage; and, of course, a man who was moderate in his cups could score heavily over the reckless, dissipated bloods, who were seldom sober after sundown. Dice and cards had their vogue at other places; and though some of the games played were those purely of chance, others required no small skill and a clear head to ensure success, and it was here that Lord Sandford's strong head and Grey's cool blood and temperate habits gave them the advantage.

The young man had not been a fortnight in town before finding his capital doubled, as well as all bills paid to the astonished tradesmen, who seldom looked to receive their money within a twelvemonth. He was disposed to be troubled at this easy fashion of making money; but Lord Sandford laughed him to scorn.

"Zounds, man, what does it matter? Those young popinjays are bound to lose their money to some one. Why not then to honest fellows like you and me, who pay our bills and do good to the community with the money? Scruples! Faugh! you must rid yourself of them! Sir Hugh Dumaresq's son need not trouble himself thus. Let us eat and drink, for to-morrow we die. Isn't that good Scripture?" But the reckless young lord paled a little at the sound of his own words. He had seen sudden death once too often for his peace of mind of late.

In sooth, Grey felt but little scruple in taking his winnings. The young man was not greatly in advance of his age, although he was indued with a nature more finely strung and aspirations more lofty than belonged to most. Gambling was so much a matter of course both in this and in other lands, and the devotees of the amusement so numerous and so bent upon their sport, that it would have needed stronger convictions than Grey as yet possessed to make any stand on such a point. He took the same risks as the others, and if his coolnes

s of head, steadiness of hand, and quick observation and memory served to make for success in his case, he rather regarded this as a witness to his superiority, and felt only a small sense of reluctance in pocketing his gains; which reluctance he could only attribute to a lingering memory of words spoken by his mother when he was a growing boy, and news came to them from time to time of Sir Hugh's losses over cards, and the necessity for further retrenchments upon the already impoverished estate.

But the cases being so dissimilar, Grey did not see that he need debar himself from this easy highroad to fortunes, as it then seemed. Nobody was dependent upon him. Nobody was there to grieve over his troubles or to rejoice over his success. His honest serving-man was in sooth the only being in any way deeply attached to him; and Dick was as delighted at his master's brave appearance, and at the golden stream running into his pocket, as though he had achieved some great success or triumph.

There was one way by which Grey had pocketed considerable sums of money that was very congenial to him, and had given him some very happy hours. This was the speed and strength of his horse, which Lord Sandford had made boast of, vowing in the hearing of some of the smartest dandies of the town that Don Carlos would beat any steed against whom he was pitted-a challenge eagerly taken up by the young bloods, proud of their own horses and horsemanship, to whom trials of skill and strength, and contests over which wagers might freely be exchanged, were as the very salt of life.

So either out at Hampstead, or at Richmond or Hampton Court, Don Carlos had been set to show the metal of which he was made, and had come off easy victor in every race and every match, whether flat running, or leaping, or a course of the nature of a steeplechase had been elected. His strength and speed, sagacity and endurance, had never once failed him, and already he was the talk of the town, and Grey could have sold him for a great price had he been willing to part with his favourite.

Many bright eyes had smiled upon the young centaur, many languishing glances had been cast at him. He had been called up again and again to be presented to some high-born dame, or some bevy of laughing maidens, and he had bowed with courtly grace, and received their sugared compliments with suitable acknowledgments. But no face had attracted him as that face he had seen once at the water theatre, almost upon his first appearance in the gay world. He knew that it belonged to Lady Geraldine Romaine; and often his eyes roved round some gay assemblage, searching half unconsciously for a sight of her tall and graceful figure, and the sweet, earnest face, so different from the laughing and grimacing crowd in which he now moved. Grey had not known much of women, so far. His college life first, and then his roving career of adventure, had hindered him from making friendships save with those of his own sex; and his deep love for his mother had preserved as a living power his chivalrous belief in women, and a resolute determination to disbelieve the idle, malicious, and vicious tales he heard of them on all sides. Womanhood was sacred to him, and should be sacred to the world. That was his inalienable conviction; and he had striven to be blind and deaf to much of what had often been passing around him, that he might not sink to the level of the men he met, who would tear to tatters a woman's reputation for an evening's pastime, or revel in every ugly bit of scandal or tittle-tattle that the young beaux' valets learned from the lackeys of other fine folk, and retailed with additions at the door of the theatre, the gates of the Park, or on the staircases of the fashionable houses whither their masters and mistresses flocked for amusement, unconscious or heedless of the gossip spread abroad about them by their servants at the doors.

Grey took no pleasure in the society of these fashionable dames. His tongue had not learned the trick of the artificial language then in vogue. He was disgusted by the gross flattery every lady looked to receive, and the lisping platitudes of the attendant beaux filled him with scorn. It was small wonder that he chose rather the society of men of more virility and stronger fibre, such as Lord Sandford and his chosen friends; for though many of them were wild young rakes, and not a few had a very doubtful record, yet Grey knew little enough about that, and found them not without attraction, although the higher part of his nature revolted from much that he saw and heard. Nevertheless, he regarded it all as a part of the experience in life which he craved, and he might have become in a short while just such another as these, had it not been for an incident which suddenly arrested him in his career of dissipation, and turned his thoughts into different channels.

It had been early June when he came to town, and now July had come, with its sultry suns and breathless nights, when Grey ofttimes felt after an evening over cards that it was mockery to go to bed, and lounged away the residue of the night at his open window, enjoying the only coolness and freshness that was to be had, as the wind came whispering from the river charged with refreshing moisture.

Sometimes the river seemed to call him; and at such times he would lay aside his finery, clothe himself in some plainer habit, and betake himself through the silent house, where the night watchman was always found slumbering at his post, out through the big courts and down to the river steps, where a few light wherries were always kept moored, one of which he would select, and shoot out upon the glimmering river to meet the new day there.

Some of his happiest hours were spent thus; and at such times as these he felt rising within him a vague sense of unrest and of disgust. He had come to the world of London to conquer fate, to make for himself a name and a career; and here he was wasting day after day in coffee-houses or clubs, with a crowd of idlers whose thoughts never rose above the fancy of the hour, whose only ambition was to kill time as easily and pleasantly as possible, and to line their pockets with gold, that they might have more to throw away on the morrow.

Was this what he would come to? Was this what he was made for? Would he become like unto them, a mere roisterer and boon companion, a man without aspirations and without ambition? His cheeks burned at the thought; and he sent his light craft spinning rapidly up the stream as the questions formed themselves.

It was an exquisite summer morning. The bells in the many towers and steeples of the city had chimed the hour of five. The sun had long been up, yet the glamour and glory of the new-born day still lay upon the sleeping city and the dewy meadows of the opposite shore. Grey rowed on rapidly, yet drinking in the beauty of all he saw. He knew not how far he had rowed; he had lost count of his surroundings; he was absorbed in a deep reverie, when he was suddenly brought up breathless and wondering by the sound of a voice singing-a voice so clear and sweet and true that he asked himself whether it could be any creature of earth that sang, or whether it might be some nymph or mermaid such as sailors spoke of in their wondrous tales.

He gazed about him. He saw that he was passing a garden, and that a group of weeping willows overhung the water at this spot. The singing seemed to come from thence. Burning curiosity possessed him, and he very slowly and softly rowed himself onwards, till the prow of his boat met the drooping boughs with a soft rustle. The song ceased suddenly. Grey turned in his seat, and drew himself within the sheltering shade; as he did so, a quick exclamation broke from him. He dropped his oars as he exclaimed,-

"The Lady Geraldine!"

* * * * *

How had it come about? Grey never could have said. But now it was all told-the story of his chequered life. She had been silent at the first-not exactly resentful of his intrusion, not unwilling to let him have speech of her again, but quiet, with a maidenly reserve and dignity which had acted upon him like a charm. It brought back to him the memory of his mother, and her noble dignity. The look in her eyes recalled those things that he had learned at her knee, and those aspirations after true greatness of life which she had cherished and fostered. Suddenly his present life looked to him utterly sordid, mean, and unworthy; and in a burst of confidence, for which he could have given no reason, he told her all his tale, encouraged by the soft and earnest glances of her beautiful eyes, although she scarcely spoke a word from beginning to end.

And now she looked at him with a great compassion in her face.

"Oh, it is sad, it is sad!" she said in her earnest musical tones. "I know a little how sad it is. I see it too. But you are a man. You are strong, you are your own master. Why do you let yourself be made the sport and plaything of fate? Oh, do not do it! Rise to your calling as a man, as a gentleman, as a Christian! You can-I know you can! I read it in your face! What is Lord Sandford to you? The acquaintance of a few weeks. What are his comrades to you? You know that in your heart you despise them. Then will you make yourself as one of them? Will you sink to their level? Oh no, no, no! Break the fetters; they cannot be fast riveted yet. Break them, and stand a free man, and then see what the world has to offer you."

She was gazing at him now, not shyly, not as a maiden archly coquetting with a handsome young swain, but as a woman yearning to reclaim one whose footsteps had well-nigh slipped in the mire, and whose whole soul was stirred by the effort.

Grey listened like a man who dreams; and yet his eyes were on fire, and his heart was kindled to a great flame-shame at his own weakness, yearnings after vanished memories and half-forgotten aspirations struggling together with some new and utterly unknown emotion which seemed to come surging over him like a flood, leaving him speechless, motionless.

She had risen, and now held out her hand.

"You will triumph yet. I am assured of it. And I shall pray God to give you His strength and grace. Farewell, sir; we may meet again sometimes. I shall hear of you. I shall listen to hear naught but good. Your mother's voice shall plead through mine. Give up evil companions; give up idle dissipation, and all that it brings in its train. Lead the higher life of the Courteous Knight, the Spotless Knight, the Knight of the Holy Grail. Did we not speak of them all when first we met, and methought you looked such a one yourself? Be true to that better self; and so I say farewell again. May God be with you!"

She was gone, and Grey stood looking after her as a man who sees a vision.

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