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   Chapter 10 THE OLD LION.

Fallen Fortunes By Evelyn Everett-Green Characters: 19545

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03

Grey Dumaresq, having settled matters with his servant, and adjusted the disarray of his own dress and person, turned towards a group of men who were standing round Lord Sandford, making believe to laugh and jest, but showing some vague symptoms of uneasiness as they cast sidelong glances in the direction of their erstwhile comrade.

Grey walked straight up to Lord Sandford, and looked him full in the eyes. Did the glance of the other quail ever so little before his? He thought so, but could scarce be certain.

"My lord," he said, "I have to thank you for many acts of kindness and courtesy, and a certain liberality of treatment which I have received at your hands and within your doors. In taking my farewell, I wish freely to acknowledge all this debt. But other matters which I need not specify, yet which are well understood by your lordship, have transpired to change the relations betwixt us; and I wish to add that I desire to be beholden to no man. In the rooms allotted to me in your lordship's house there is a quantity of wearing apparel, jewels, trinkets, for which I have no more use. I pray you have them sold, and the amount thus realized will reimburse you for all charges you have been at in my maintenance during the time I have dwelt beneath your roof. That is all I have to say.-Gentlemen, I wish you a very good day."

And lifting his hat with quiet dignity and grace, Grey made them a general salute and turned upon his heel.

But Lord Sandford's voice came thundering after him. "Do you desire to insult me, sir? Am I a beggarly inn-keeper, that I should sell a guest's belongings to pay my bill? What do you mean by such words? Do you desire that I should demand satisfaction for them at your hands?"

Grey did not know whether this man desired to fasten a quarrel upon him or not, and, truth to tell, he did not care. He just turned his head over his shoulder, and threw back an answer in tones of scarcely veiled contempt.

"That is for your lordship to decide. I shall have pleasure in giving any satisfaction demanded at any time, and in any place appointed. For the rest, a man who has sought to compass the death of a comrade by a foul trick need scarcely fear to soil his hands by the touch of his gold. Again I wish you good-day, my lord."

And without so much as turning his head again, Grey Dumaresq walked off, his head held high, neither observing nor returning the many salutes and bright arch glances shot at him from the lane of bystanders through which he needs must pass, but walking like a man in a dream, and so disappearing from view along the white road which led Londonwards.

Round Lord Sandford men were buzzing like bees disturbed.

"Insolent young jackanapes!" "What did he mean?" "What was his motive in such an insult?" "What will you do, my lord?" "Whither has he gone? Whither will he go?" "Is it true that he is ruined?" "He has lost his horse, at least. None will give him a score of guineas for the beast now." "How did it chance?" "Was it an accident?" "What meant he by his words?" All were pouring out these and like questions; but there was none to answer them, till Lord Sandford himself spoke.

"The fellow's wits are gone astray," he cried in his loud, dominating tones. "It is the Dumaresq blood. Sir Hugh was just such another-mad as a March hare half his time, flinging his gold to the winds, and quarrelling with every man he met. Like father, like son. It has been coming on for days. I misdoubted me if ever he would ride this race. He came and told me he must reform. That was ever his father's cry, and he would disappear into the country for a while, and reappear again as gay as ever. 'Tis the same with the son. I saw it then, and I strove to combat the madness; but 'tis ill dealing with the lunatic. You see what we get for our pains! Tush! let the fellow alone. I did wrong to answer him. Let him go his own way, and we will think of him no more."

And Lord Sandford, with a heavy cloud upon his brow, and a look about the corners of his mouth which warned those about him to say no more, but leave matters as they were, flung away from them, and made his way back alone to the inn, from which he was presently seen to issue forth in his gorgeous chariot, driving furiously along the road which led to St. Albans.

His boon companions, thus left to their own devices, went over to the spot where the strange thing had befallen at the race, and where the country folk had gathered with shakings of the head and questionings beneath their breath; and there, plain for all men to see, was the yawning hole with the open trap hanging down, and the marks of the heavy fall of the good horse, whose escape with whole bones was little short of a miracle.

An old countryman was holding forth to a knot of eager questioners, now swelled by Lord Sandford's friends.

"I mind well when there was a house here; 'twas pulled down when I were a young chap. And the well must ha' bin hereabouts. That old trap has been in the ground ever since I can mind; but there be no water now, and the sand has pretty nigh silted it up. I've a-looked in many a time, and the hole gets less and less deep. When I saw them setting up the brushwood and things here, I made sure they had covered the trap well. I walked about it, but never saw sign of it. If I'd a thought of danger, I'd ha' told one of the fine folks. I suppose they never seed it. The grass and stuff do grow long and rank this time o' year. And so the gentleman's horse trod on it, and it gave way with him. Mercy me, but 'tis a wonder he didn't break his neck then and there!"

Lord Sandford's comrades looked each other in the eyes, and drew a little away. All knew that something strange had passed upon him of late, and that there was some rupture betwixt him and the man who had but lately accused him of seeking to compass his death.

"Did he know?" "Was it plot or plan of his?" whispered one and another; but none could give the answer.

* * * * *

A wild, wet September day was drawing to its close, amid pelting squalls of cold rain, when a tall young man, gaunt and hollow-eyed, pushed his way into a small coffee-house in an obscure thoroughfare somewhere in the region of Drury Lane, and took a seat in a dark corner as near to the stove as he could get, for he looked pinched with cold, and his plain and rather threadbare black suit was pretty well wet through. As soon as he was seated, he drew from his breast a roll of paper, which he regarded with solicitude. That at least was dry, and he heaved a sigh that sounded like one of satisfaction.

In this narrow street the daylight had completely faded, though it was not yet six o'clock. The room was furthermore darkened by clouds of tobacco smoke which the guests were puffing forth. The smell of coffee mingled with the ranker fumes of the tobacco, and the clink of cup and spoon made ceaseless accompaniment to the talk, which went on in a continuous stream.

Grey (for it was he) leaned his head on his hand wearily, and fell into something like a doze as he sat in his shadowy corner. He was exhausted in mind and in body. He was faint with hunger, and yet half afraid to order food; for his funds were dwindling almost to the vanishing point, and as yet he had found no means of replenishing his exchequer. But he had not been able to resist the temptation to escape from the buffetings of the tempest, and when the boy in attendance upon the guests came to ask his pleasure, he ordered some coffee and bread, and devoured it with a ravenous appetite when it was set before him.

The pangs of hunger stayed, if not appeased, he began to look about him, and to wonder into what manner of company he had thrust himself. He had never before been inside this house, though he had, in the first days of his new career, taken his meals in some of the numerous coffee or chocolate houses, or the taverns which abounded throughout the town. Latterly he had generally bought his food at the cheapest market, and had eaten it in the attic to which he had removed himself and his few belongings. He was beginning to wonder how long he should be able even to retain that humble abode as his own. Dame Fortune's smiles seemed quite to have deserted him, and abject poverty stared him grimly in the face.

A smoking lamp had been brought in, and hung overhead, lighting up the faces of the company with its yellow glare. There was something strange and Rembrandt-like in the effect of the picture upon which Grey's eyes rested. Leaning back dreamily with his head against the wall, he could almost fancy himself back in one of those foreign picture galleries, in which heretofore he had delighted, and where so many hours of his time had been spent.

But this was a living picture, shifting, changing, breaking up into groups and re-forming again; and the hum of talk went on unceasingly, as one after another took up the word and launched forth his opinions, generally in florid and flowery language, and with much gesticulation and indignation.

What first struck Grey as strange was the anger which seemed to possess all these men. That they were in no good case was well-nigh proved by the shabbiness of their dress, and by the fact of their being gathered in this very humble and cheap place of resort, which would not tempt any but those in adverse circumstances. But over and above their poverty, they seemed to be railing at neglect or injustice of some sort, and ever and anon would break out into virulent abuse of some person or persons, whose names were unknown to Grey, but who evidently were characters well known to the others of the company.

"There is no such thing as justice left, or purity of taste, or any such thin

g!" shouted a handsome, well-proportioned fellow, whose face had attracted Grey's notice several times, and seemed dimly familiar to him. "Look at the mouthing mountebanks that walk the boards now! They strut like peacocks, they gibber like apes. They have neither voice, nor figure, nor talent, nor grace. But, forsooth, because some fine dame has smiled upon them, or they are backed by a nobleman's patronage, they can crow it over the rest of us like a cock upon his dunghill, and we, who have the talent and the gifts, may rot like rats in our holes!"

"Shame! shame! shame!" cried an admiring chorus.

"Look at me!" thundered the young man, his eyes flashing. "Who dares say I cannot act? Have I not held spellbound, hanging on my lips, whole houses of beauty and fashion? Have I lost my skill or cunning? Has my voice or has my grace departed from me? Wherefore, then, do I sit here idle and hungry, whilst men not fit to black my boots hold the boards and fill their pouches with gold? Why such injustice, I say?"

A chorus of indignation again arose; but out of the shadows came a deep voice.

"The answer is easy, friend Lionel; arrogance and drink have been the cause of your downfall. How could any manager continue to engage you? How many times has it happened that you have come to the theatre sodden with drink? How many representations have you spoiled by your bestial folly? They were patient with you. Oh yes, they were very patient; for they knew your gifts and recognized them. But you met friendly rebuke or warning with haughtiness and scorn. You would listen to no counsel; you would heed no warnings. The end should have been plain to you from the beginning, an you would not mend your ways. I told you how it needs must be; and now the time has come when you see it for yourself. Worse men are put in the parts that you excelled in, because they can be depended upon. No drunkard can ever become great. Put that in your pipe and smoke it, Lionel Field."

At the sound of this new voice, speaking out of the shadows of the ingle-nook, a great hush had fallen upon the room. Grey leaned forward to obtain a view of the speaker, and the firelight played upon the striking features and iron-gray hair of a very remarkable-looking old man of leonine aspect, whose voice was of that penetrating quality which makes itself heard without being raised; and it was plain that something in the personality of the man lifted him above his fellows, for all listened in silence whilst he spoke, and even the arrogant young actor looked for the moment abashed.

"Who is it?" whispered Grey to the man next him; and the answer came readily, though spoken in a cautious whisper.

"His name is Jonathan Wylde. Once he, too, was a famous actor; but long illness crippled his limbs, and he has fallen into poverty. He is always called the Old Lion, and methinks the name suits him well. He is a very lion for courage, else would he not dare to rebuke Master Lionel Field. For he is one who is ready with his fist, or with knife or bludgeon, and it is ill work meeting him when he is in his cups."

Grey looked with interest and attention at the old man in the shadows; but he was leaning back again, and spoke no more. The talk surged round him again from the rest; they spoke of the plays that were being enacted at the various theatres, and of those who were playing the various r?les. Some of them stood up and rolled forth bits of Congreve's witty and sparkling dramas, and disputed as to whether the "Old Bachelor" or the "Way of the World" were his happiest effort; whilst some declared that the "Double Dealer" was the best of all. They talked excitedly of the revival at Drury Lane of Farquhar's "Love and a Bottle," which had scored such a success some fourteen or fifteen years previously. And there were some who lauded and some who depreciated Colley Cibber and his "Careless Husband" and "Love's Last Shift," which were favourites throughout the town.

It was a new world to Grey; but he listened with a certain fascination, for the drama had always attracted him, and he watched the gestures of the actors and listened to their mouthing periods with something between wonder and amusement. He could understand that these men had been failures. Only Lionel Field appeared to have any true histrionic gift, and the cause of his downfall was plain to be read after the speech of the "Old Lion." From time to time, as the light flickered upon the striking face in the ingle, Grey caught a fine-lipped smile upon it, and once or twice he thought the old actor's eyes met his in a gleam of humour. But of that he could not be sure-it might be but the trick of the firelight; and presently wearied nature asserted itself, and the young man passed from drowsiness to actual sleep, and knew nothing more till a sharp grip upon his arm roused him to a sense of his surroundings.

It was the tapster who thus shook him; and when he opened his eyes, Grey saw-or thought, at least-that the room was empty. What the time was he had no idea; but it must be late, and he rose hastily to his feet with a muttered apology at having overstayed the closing time.

At that moment there emerged out of the shadows of the ingle-nook a bent figure, dignified even in its infirmity, and the voice which Grey had heard before spoke in quietly authoritative accents.

"Bring hither coffee and a dish of eggs for two. The wind and rain yet howl around the house. This gentleman will sup with me ere we go home. Go and serve us quickly, for we have both a good stomach, and would eat ere we depart hence."

The tapster vanished quickly to do the bidding of the guests, and Grey turned a wondering glance upon the Old Lion, whose face, framed in its shaggy gray hair, looked more leonine than ever, the bright eyes shining out of deep caverns from under bushy brows, the rugged features full of power, not unmixed with a curious underlying ferocity. But the glance bent upon Grey was kindly enough.

"Sit down, young man; I would know more of you. I have a gift for reading faces. I have marked yours ever since you entered this room. Tell me your name. Tell me of yourself, for you were not born to the state to which you have now fallen."

"My name is Grey," was the ready answer. Grey had dropped his title and patronymic with his fallen fortunes, and used his mother's name alone. "My father was a country gentleman. I was gently reared, and was at one time a scholar at Oxford, where I dreamed many dreams. Afterwards I travelled abroad, returning to find my father dead and my home in the hands of a kinsman to whom it was mortgaged by my father. The small fortune I received I squandered foolishly in a few weeks of gay living with young bloods of the town. I wakened from my dream to find myself well-nigh penniless, disgusted alike with myself and those I had called my friends. I have ever been something ambitious. I misdoubt me I am a fool; but I did think that I might win laurels upon the field of literature. I have never lost the trick of rhyming, and jotting down such things as pleased my fancy, whether in prose or in verse. Do I weary you with my tale?"

"No, sir-far from it. Let me hear you to the end. I did see you take forth a roll of paper from your breast as you came in. That action, together with your face, told me much. You have the gift of a creative fancy. You have written a poem or a play."

"Neither the one nor the other, but a romance," answered Grey, the colour flushing his face as it flushes that of a maiden when the love of her heart is named by her. "I scarce know how to call it, but methinks it savours more of a romance than of aught besides. When I was rudely awakened from my pleasure-loving life, saw the folly and futility thereof, and desired to amend, I did take a quiet lodging high up in a building off Holborn, and there I did set myself to the task, and right happy was I in it. I had a score of gold pieces still left me, and my needs I did think modest; though, looking back, they seem many to me now. The weeks fled by, and my work reached its close. When my romance was finished, my money was all but spent. For the past week or more I have been seeking a publisher for it. In my folly I did think that it would bring me gold as fast as I wanted. My eyes have been rudely opened these last days."

The Old Lion nodded his head many times.

"You made a mistake in seeking a publisher, young sir. You should first have sought a patron."

Grey's face flushed slightly, and he hesitated before he spoke.

"Others have said the same to me; but there are difficulties. I have not learned to go cap in hand to cringe for patronage to the great ones of the earth." But, as Grey saw a slight smile flicker in the old man's eyes, he added rather hastily, "And then I desire not to be known and recognized by those whom I did know ha my former life. There is scarce an antechamber in those fine houses where patrons dwell where I might not meet the curious and impertinent regard of those who would know me again. That I will not brook." And now Grey's eyes flashed, thinking of Lord Sandford, and how he would chuckle to hear how low his rival had fallen. "No; if I am to succeed at all, I must needs do so without a patron. If I fail, there is one resource left. Able-bodied paupers are sent to the wars. I can go thither and fight."

Again a smile flickered over the Old Lion's face; but the tapster was entering with the smoking viands, and the gleam in Grey's eyes bespoke the wolf within him.

"Set to, my friend, and make a good meal. When we have cleared the trenchers, you shall come with me to my lodging. I would hear the end of your tale; but that can wait till after supper."

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