MoboReader> Literature > Fallen Fortunes

   Chapter 12 TRIUMPH.

Fallen Fortunes By Evelyn Everett-Green Characters: 23956

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


Grey gazed at himself in astonishment. His fear of the eyes of quondam friends vanished into thin air. Scarce would he have known himself. That others would know him, he could not believe. He had had no idea of the transforming properties of one of the great flowing wigs of the period; but when his own brown curls were covered and hidden beneath this mass of perfumed hair, his brows darkened and the skin of his face olive-tinted, his figure padded and arrayed in full military finery such as the Duke of Marlborough was wont to wear, he could almost believe that he saw that great warrior before his eyes, so cunningly had the artificers wrought. He looked younger than the General, but that was intended-an impersonation of youth and manly beauty and war-like prowess. This was what the author of the interlude aimed at, and this Grey looked to perfection, as he stood habited in the garments in which he was to appear before the public.

The Old Lion, himself transformed into an excellent presentment of Father Time, stood gazing at the young man with glowing eyes, directing the attendants to give a touch here or there to accentuate any point he wished brought out. Satisfaction beamed from every feature of his face. He seemed to see the town at his feet. In a week's time all London would be ringing with the fame of Jonathan Wylde.

It was just the sort of artificial scene likely to catch the popular taste. There was a rage for semi-mythological representations-dryads and nymphs and mermaids at the water theatre, Cupids and Psyches and heathen or classical deities at other places, whilst stilted and absurd allusions to Arcadian joys, nectar and ambrosia, spicy breezes of Paphos, or Hymen's seductive temples, fell trippingly from the tongues of every dandy with any claim to be a man of fashion, and were echoed in simpering accents by the ladies to whom this flowery nonsense was addressed.

The setting of the dramatic interlude had been carefully arranged. Father Time, with his flowing white beard, his scythe leaning against him, and his hour-glass at his feet, was seated aloft at one side of the stage overlooking a dim and vague expanse, which was supposed to represent the earth. There was something very majestic in the aspect of the old actor, whose name many still remembered, and a burst of applause followed the rise of the curtain. Curiosity was raised to a high pitch by the gossip already excited in dramatic circles, and the house was crowded to the ceiling with breathless and eager spectators.

The Old Lion delivered his harangue with all the fire and dignity for which his acting had been celebrated in past years. Seated upon his throne, surveying, as it were, the world, the crippled limbs no longer hampered him. A few telling gestures of the brown and skinny hand, the play of facial expression, the thunder or the melting pathos of his rich voice-these were all the aids he needed, and he used them with excellent effect. The audience sat spellbound. The young bloods even shrank and quailed and exchanged shamefaced glances as Father Time launched his thunders of scorn at the decadence of manhood, the decay of all true chivalry, the gilded luxury, the senseless folly, the gross extravagance he beheld on all hands. Where were the men? he asked, pointing a long and skinny finger straight at the house filled to overflowing with the fashion and wealth of the town. How did the youth of the great cities show their valour now? Why, by scouring the streets at night, setting upon helpless citizens, using them shamefully, even to leaving them half dead, with eyes gouged out, in emulation of the barbarous fashion of the Indian tribes, after which these gallants were not ashamed to call themselves. In the past men had laid down their lives to defend their country and the liberties of the subject; now they banded together to maltreat the very men who were set to maintain law and order. Of old, womanhood was sacred, and knights went forth to do doughty deeds for the honour of their ladies, and for the upholding of all the laws of chivalry, which they held dearer than life itself. Now young gallants delighted to show their reverence for womanhood by rolling some hapless citizen's wife or daughter down a sloping street in a barrel, laughing the louder if she screamed piteously, or even swooned with fright.

Was there a man yet left in the land? Where was such to be found? And tears streamed down the face of Father Time, as he made his moan, lamenting the days which had gone by, and fearing he would never see the like again.

Then came a telling pause of deep silence. The applause, which had broken out once and again during the monologue, had been hushed into shamed stillness at the last. Murmurs of sympathy and approval rose from the many present who hated and lamented the folly and extravagances of the day, and delighted to hear them so tellingly and scathingly reproved. Even the young bloods themselves could not but admire the skill and power of the speaker. They recognized the truth of the indictment, and felt a sense of shame and uneasiness which no preacher in the pulpit had ever aroused-perhaps because they so seldom went to listen, and only stayed to mock.

And then the silence was as suddenly broken by a tumultuous burst of amazed applause. A second figure had stepped upon the stage-tall, graceful, alert, instinct with strength and manly beauty; and a thundering shout went up from all the house,-

"The Duke! The Duke!"

Paying no heed to the tumult of applause, the Youth went slowly forward towards the throne upon which sat Father Time, and to him he made a deep obeisance. Then amid the breathless hush of the house began the animated dialogue betwixt the twain, wherein the Youth did strive to show that manhood was not yet dead, and to call to the notice of Father Time the things which he had seen, and which were yet taking place upon the face of the globe.

Then after a good deal of discussion, in which telling phrases were dropped on both sides, which evoked roars of applause and approval, the young man was called upon to tell of those great acts of which he spoke. Whereupon came Grey's great speech, descriptive of the battle of Ramillies, and the superb generalship and dauntless personal courage of England's great General.

The audience hung spellbound upon the words and gestures of the speaker. A breathless hush told of the effect produced. To those who had known the Duke, it seemed as though he himself were recounting the story of his victory. To those who had not, it was still a marvellous and soul-stirring oration, as though the strictures lately passed upon manhood by Father Time were in some sort swept away, and England's honour vindicated by this young champion, who represented the nation's idol.

The thing was an unqualified success. Behind the scenes the two actors were received with warm congratulation scarcely tinged by jealousy. Old Wylde was greeted by many a friend who had not troubled to recognize him during his days of eclipse; and in addition to the ovations from managers and actors, scores of men, and even of fine ladies, crowded round behind the scenes to shake hands with the heroes of the night, and satisfy their curiosity by gazing at them at close quarters.

This part of the business was little to the taste of Grey, who desired nothing so little as any recognition by former acquaintances. He saw one or two faces that he knew, but no one came near him to whom he remembered having spoken in his past life. He retained his heavy wig and military dress as he talked with those pressing round him. But as soon as he was able he disengaged himself from the crowd, and ordering a coach to be called, he and his comrade drove home together, weary but exultant.

"I told you how it would be!" spoke the Old Lion, as they stood together in their upper chamber, smiling at the remembrance of the scene just passed through. "I knew I had but to find the right man, and our fortune would be made! You were fine, boy; you were fine! I had reckoned upon you; yet one never knows how it will be till the moment comes. Some are struck with stage-fright, and blunder and trip, till all illusion vanishes. Others mouth and strut through pure terror of the myriad eyes bent upon them, and bring down ridicule and contempt upon their heads. But I had confidence in you, and my confidence was not misplaced. We have taken the town by storm this night; and as we have begun, so shall it be to the end."

Certainly it seemed as though this prediction were to be fulfilled, for every performance was crowded to the utmost limit of the two theatres; and the extraordinary resemblance of the young actor-whose name was quite unknown to the world-to the great Duke of Marlborough was the talk of the whole town, and raised an immense curiosity, which spread through all classes.

Grey called himself Edward White upon the playbills, and was thus known to the theatre managers, who could give no information about the young man save that he was a pupil of the old actor Wylde, who had written the piece, and cast it especially for himself and his protégé. When it was urged that the young man must have known the Duke, else how could he so accurately reproduce his tricks of voice and speech and manner, they drily shook their heads, saying that of his past history they were ignorant, but that as an actor they were satisfied with his capacity, and were struck by his similarity in figure and bearing to the great General.

The talk spread through the town, the theatres filled to overflowing, and crowds flocked behind the scenes nightly to get speech with the successful actors.

It was perhaps a week after the first performance, and Grey was just meditating the possibility of escape from the attentions of the fashionable mob, when a loud and resonant laugh broke upon his ear, and his face flushed deeply beneath its olive tinting.

Lord Sandford made his way through the crowd about him, and in a moment the two were face to face.

Grey had of set purpose taken up a station, according to his custom, in a place where the light was sufficiently bad. The passages and rooms behind the scenes were never brilliantly illuminated, and the shadows fell somewhat deeply upon his face; yet it seemed to him well-nigh impossible, as he looked full into the eyes of the man he had trusted, and who had failed him, that he should not at once be discovered.

But there was no trace of recognition in Lord Sandford's bold glance, though it rested upon his face with a shrewd curiosity.

"Good-even, sir. I have desired to see your performance ere this, but have always been hindered. A fine piece of acting as ever I saw. And yet your name is unknown to me, and I thought I knew every actor in the town and in the country."

"It is my first appearance, your lordship," answered Grey in his stage voice. "I owe my success to the kindliness of Mr. Wylde. I have had no previous training. I have to thank the public for a very kind reception."

"No previous training for the boards? I can believe that, my friend. But I warrant me you have had previous acquaintance with the great world. You are no stranger to my lord of Marlborough-that I will warrant."

"I did see him once, my lord; and there are some persons whom once to see and hear is always to remember. The impression of a great personality is not easily effaced."

Lord Sandford's bold eyes were roving over Grey's face and figure in a way that was disconcerting, but he would not flinch or abase his gaze. He, at least had nothing of which to be ashamed.

"I have seen you before, Mr. White," he remarked suddenly; "I cannot yet say where or when. But you have been in my company ere this. Say, is not that true?"

"To have been in your lordship's company is surely no great distinction," answered Grey, with slightly veiled irony. "Is it not wel

l known that Lord Sandford goes everywhere, is seen everywhere, and keeps company with all sorts and conditions of men?"

The young peer threw back his head and broke into a great laugh.

"Gadzooks, you have a ready tongue, my friend, and are not afraid to use it. Well, well, if you desire to tell me nothing, I will ask no more. Every man has a right to his own secret, though I make no pledge that I will not discover yours ere long. I have a mighty curiosity about some men's affairs, which I will gratify at my pleasure."

"Was it a threat?" asked Grey of himself, "and had he any suspicion?" He scarce thought so. He would have seen a glint of recognition in his eyes had he been known beneath his disguise. But he was glad when Lord Sandford turned away with another loud laugh, though his heart seemed to throb with a painful intensity as he heard his loud voice speaking to his companions,-

"Well, I must away to my Lord Romaine's house. My lady holds a rout to-night, and will be ill pleased if I present not myself. The Lady Geraldine will expect to see me. We must not disappoint the pretty birds. Who is for the rout, and who to stay for what fare they give us here?"

Grey turned away with his heart on fire. What meant that jesting allusion to the Lady Geraldine? Could it be that she had plighted her troth to him? What else could he expect to hear than that she would obey the wishes of her parents? If Lord Sandford were the husband chosen for her, how could she escape the fate of becoming his wife? Would she even desire to escape it? How could a pure and innocent maiden know the sort of life which he had hitherto led?

Lady Romaine's rooms were full of gay company, and a clamour of laughter and chatter rose up in a never-ceasing hum. The card-tables were crowded, and little piles of gold coins were constantly changing hands. Gay gallants fluttered hither and thither like great painted butterflies, first stopping before one fair lady and then hovering round another; taking snuff with one another; bandying jest or anecdote, quip or crank; putting their heads eagerly together over some bit of new scandal, and then going off in high glee to tell the news elsewhere.

There were a few grave politicians gathered together in one corner discussing the affairs of the day-the successful campaign on the Continent, and the possibilities of an honourable peace. There were none of the high Tories to be seen at Lord Romaine's house. He belonged to the Whig faction, and pinned his faith to Godolphin, whom he thought the finest statesman of the day. He was on friendly terms with all the men of the so-called Whig junto, and Lord Halifax and Lord Sunderland were to be seen at his house to-night, foremost amongst those who preferred quiet converse on weighty matters to the laughter and giddy talk in the larger rooms.

The Lady Geraldine had betaken herself to the inner apartment, where her father was to be found in converse with his friends. It interested her far more to listen to the topics of the day discussed by them than to receive the vapourings of the gilded dandies, or to hear the chatter of painted dames. To her great relief Lord Sandford had not appeared at the rout, and sincerely did she hope he would continue to absent himself. Of late his attentions had become more pressing, and every day she feared to hear from her father that he had made formal application for her hand, and had been accepted.

Geraldine did not want to marry him. From the first she had shrunk from his admiration, but had not been able to satisfy herself as to whether such shrinking were just or right. She knew her mother favoured him, and that her father thought he would rise to eminence if once he could shake off the follies and extravagances of youth, and settle down to wedded life with the woman of his choice. There was something attractive in his great strength, and in the manhood which was never eclipsed even when he followed the fashion of the day in dress and talk. But whilst she was hesitating, something had come into her life which seemed quite to have changed its current; and from that time forward she had resolutely set herself against Lord Sandford's suit, and received his attentions with a coldness and aloofness which whetted his desire and piqued his vanity as nothing else could have done.

There was one face for which Geraldine looked in vain, and had looked for many long weary weeks. Why she so desired to see that face, she could scarce have told; yet thus it was. But it never came. She asked questions now and again of some young beau who had lived in Lord Sandford's world; but it was little she could learn of what she so much wished.

"Oh, Sir Grey and my Lord Sandford had a quarrel. None know the cause, but they say 'twas about a woman. I know naught of it. But they parted company; and belike he has gone off to the wars, for none of us have set eyes upon him since the day when he lost the race, and went near to lose his life."

"How was that?" Geraldine had asked with whitening lips.

Then she had heard, with sundry embellishments, the story of the race, and the suspicions which had been aroused as to whether or not a trap had been laid for the young baronet, into which he had fallen, and had only escaped severe injury by a happy chance.

Geraldine's heart had been filled with horror.

"Think you that Lord Sandford had a hand in it?" had been her whispered question, to which a careless laugh was the answer. She gathered from more than one source that his companions believed Lord Sandford quite capable of such a deed; for he had the reputation of being a man good as a friend, but bad to quarrel with, and absolutely unscrupulous when his passions were roused. None would ever answer for what he might do.

A great horror had fallen upon Geraldine at hearing this tale-a horror which haunted her still after all these weeks. She could not forget how Lord Sandford had come upon her and Grey in the gardens of Vauxhall, and how he had spoken in a stern voice, and had carried her off with an air of mastery that she had been unable to resist. And almost immediately after this had come the quarrel-which men said was about a woman-and the disappearance of Sir Grey Dumaresq from the world which had known him. Her heart often beat fast and painfully as she mused on these things. Had he not promised her to give up that idle life, that gaming and dissipation which in their hearts they both despised? And he had kept his promise. He had broken loose from his fetters. He might now be living a life of honourable purpose elsewhere. But she had hoped to see and know more of him. She had not thought of his exiling himself altogether. True, if Lord Sandford were his foe, and such a dangerous one to boot, it were better he should be far away. And yet she longed to see him again, to hear his voice, to know how it went with him. Oft-times in the midst of such gay scenes as the one before her eyes her thoughts would go roving back to that golden summer morning when he had come to her upon the shining river; and she would rehearse in her memory every word that had passed, whilst her eyes would grow dreamy, and her lips curve softly, and her whole face take an expression which was exquisite in its tenderness and purity.

"Good-even, Lady Geraldine! I trust that your thoughts are with your poor servant now before you, who has been chafing in sore impatience at the delay in presenting himself here."

She raised her eyes, and there was Lord Sandford standing before her; and they seemed almost alone, for no one was near, the group of politicians having moved farther away towards the doorway commanding the larger suite.

She rose and made him the sweeping curtsy of the day; but he possessed himself of her hand, and carried it to his lips.

"I pray you treat me with none such ceremony, sweet lady. We may surely call ourselves something more than acquaintances, after all that has passed betwixt us. I may safely style myself your friend, I trow. Is it not so, Lady Geraldine?"

There was something almost compelling in the glance he bent upon her. There was a ring of mastery in his words, despite the gentleness he strove to assume. She felt it, and she inwardly rebelled, although she gave no sign.

"Friendship, I trow, my lord, doth mean something very near and intimate and sacred. I scarce know myself at what point an acquaintance doth become a friend. I would that all true and noble-hearted men and women would honour me by their friendship, for I prize not any other."

He looked at her searchingly, wondering what she meant, and if she were levelling any taunt at himself. The thought was like the sting of a lash upon his skin, and a flush rose slowly to his brow, out his voice was steady as he answered,-

"I care not how intimate and near and sacred such friendship be, provided it be vouchsafed to me, madam. I have not been thought by those who know me to be a bad friend; but it would ill become me to sing mine own praises to win the regard of the woman who is queen of my heart."

It was the first time he had spoken quite so openly, and Geraldine's fair, pale face flushed beneath his ardent gaze. What she would have answered she never knew; he held her gaze almost as the snake holds that of the bird it has in thrall. Yet, all the while, her heart was rebelling fiercely, and her vague doubts and misgivings were changing rapidly into a very pronounced fear and distrust and loathing.

But ere she had time to think what she should say, or he to make further protestations, a great rustling of silken skirts was heard, and in rushed Lady Romaine in a state of her usual artificial excitement and animation.

"Ah, my lord, there you are! They did tell me you had come. And it is said that you have been to see the representation of which all men are talking-the dreadful old Father Time, who says such horrid things, but is put to shame by a wonderful youth who is as like the Duke of Marlborough as though they were cast in the same mould. Tell me, is this so? What is it like, this performance? I have been dying to see it, yet never have done so. Tickets are scarce to be had-and such a price! All the town is flocking. Tell us truly, is it such a wonderful thing, or is it just something for empty heads to cackle over?"

"It is well enough," answered Lord Sandford carelessly, wishing the ogling lady farther at this moment. "The acting is good, and the piece not bad; there is power and wit in it, as all may hear, and it lacks not for boldness neither. But 'tis the resemblance of the young actor to the great Duke which is the attraction to the populace. I went to speak with him after all was over, to see if the likeness was as great close at hand as it seems on the stage."

"And is it so?" asked the lady breathlessly.

"No; the features in no way favour the Duke's, save that both are handsome and regular. But the carriage, the action, the voice-these are excellent. The fellow must have known his Grace in days gone by. But no man knows who he is nor whence he comes. He calls himself Edward White; but none know if that be his name or not."

A sudden flush mounted to Geraldine's face, and faded, leaving her snow-white. A thought had flashed into her mind; it set her heart beating violently. White! How often had he said to her, "Would I were white as thou!" He had gifts; she had told him of them. He had seen and known the Duke, and was tall and comely to look upon; and she had heard him speak with his voice and manner as he told her of their meeting. Everything seemed whirling in a mist about her. She was recalled to herself by hearing her mother exclaim, in her shrill, eager tones,-

"Then, by my troth, we will have them here, and see for ourselves what they can do, without the crowding we should suffer at the theatre. We will engage them for the first night they can come."

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