MoboReader> Literature > Fallen Fortunes

   Chapter 15 DARK DAYS.

Fallen Fortunes By Evelyn Everett-Green Characters: 22582

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


For above a fortnight things went very strangely for Grey in that upper room which had been for so long his home. The Old Lion was very ill-dangerously ill for many days; and though the leech was called in several times, and sometimes gave a medicine which brought relief, it was little his skill availed, and the tender nursing of the young man was undoubtedly the means under Providence whereby the sick man's life was saved.

But Grey himself was suffering from severe prostration, from an intermittent fever, and from much pain from his burns, which were slow to heal and made his task of nursing very difficult.

Nevertheless he would let no one else rob him of this labour of love; for none could soothe the sick man as he could, and if left to other care, he always became restless and feverish.

As for the world without, that was altogether blotted out from Grey's thoughts. He never even heard of the return of the Duke of Marlborough from his glorious campaign of victory; he never knew of the grand procession through the streets from Whitehall to Guildhall, and thence to the Vintners' Hall, where the victor of Ramillies was feasted by the civic authorities, after the standards taken at the great battle had been flaunted through the streets and acclaimed by a huge and enthusiastic crowd.

All this, if he heard rumour of it, passed through his brain unheeded. He did not even know that the Duke attended a performance at Drury Lane of "Time and the Youth," and laughed and applauded the representation, in which so much subtle flattery had been introduced. Always eager for popular applause, the Duke was not a little delighted by the ovation he received in his own person, and in the words of the interlude itself, which were cheered to the echo by a house crowded to suffocation. Afterwards the actors were summoned before him, and each received a purse of gold from the hands of the Duchess. And she told the Duke how that the young actor had been so brave and prompt in the saving of the life of her favourite, Lady Geraldine, at the private performance of the piece a short while back. So great a lady as the Duchess could not be expected to note any difference in the actors of the interlude, and none explained her error, for what did it matter? Anthony Frewen and Lionel Field were drawing just as well as the original pair had done, since the enthusiasm for the Duke was increasing with his presence in England. They asked lower terms for their services, and they gave none of the trouble that the Old Lion had done by his autocratic demands and his hasty temper. The managers of both theatres were well content with matters as they were, and congratulated themselves that nothing more had been heard of their former employés. Wylde's uncertain health would render his re-engagement a matter of some difficulty, if not of impossibility; and Anthony Frewen had openly declared that he would act only with Field. They had studied together. They understood each other, and they wanted no "interloper" coming between them.

This was in substance what Grey heard when, after three weeks of anxiety and watching, he found that their exchequer was almost empty, and realized that he must bestir himself again to earn the needful weekly sum to enable them to live comfortably, and provide the wherewithal for the sick man's needs. His hands were now almost well. He had discarded his sling and could use his arm freely. The fever had left him somewhat weak, but he believed he had power to take his part without any fear of failure, and he sought out the friendly stage-manager, Mr. Butler, to tell him as much. Little did he anticipate the answer he received.

The matter was fully and kindly explained; but there seemed no hesitation about the decision.

"I am sorry-very sorry-Mr. White. But what are we to do? Frewen and Field are both old stage favourites. Their return has been hailed with approval in many quarters. They have acted all this time together, and Frewen declines to act with any other. It is possible that he fears in you a rival; for there is a dash and a divine afflatus (if I may use the phrase) in your acting which is lacking in that of Field. Talent is always ready to be jealous of genius. It may be that the matter lies in that nutshell. However this may be, these are the facts. These two mean to do well; they refuse to be separated, and therefore-"

"I understand," answered Grey quietly. "It is quite right, I suppose. For myself I care little, but for Mr. Wylde I have my regrets. After all, it is his piece that is filling your pockets. Has he no claim upon you for that? I know not what the law may be; but can you suffer him to be in want whilst his genius is bringing you such success?"

"Well, well, well, we will see what we can do. I am sorry, very sorry, that you ever gave up your part. Oh, I know it was inevitable. You were not able for it; and you showed magnanimity in your instruction of another. But it was a mistake on your own part-the countryman and the viper-did I not warn you? A man of more worldly wisdom would have done differently."

"If you will only see that Mr. Wylde lacks not for the necessaries of life, I care nothing for my own loss," answered Grey with perfect truthfulness. "I am young and strong; I have the world before me. But whilst he is ill I cannot leave him; and if I lose my post here, how can I hope to support him through the bitter winter now upon us? I can face destitution for myself, but it were shame to let him suffer."

"Well, well, he shall not starve; we will do something for him. I promise you that. But it was a thousand pities that you did not receive the purse of gold from the hands of the Duchess last week. That would have set you on your feet for some time to come; and, after all, it was for you it was really meant. Field should be made to divide it."

"No, no," answered Grey, with sudden haste and imperiousness; "I touch no gold that I do not earn." And when he heard the story of the performance at which the Duke had been present, he rejoiced greatly that he had not played the "Youth" that night. He felt as though the eagle eyes of the Duke would have penetrated his disguise; and how could he have met the victor of Ramillies again in the garb of an actor, winning his bread on the London boards?

There was a curious strain of pride in the young man's nature. Although his short dramatic career had been so successful, he shrank with the deepest distaste from recognition by any of his former friends. He hated the very thought that the name of Grey Dumaresq should be linked with that of the actor of the "Youth."

In the same way he had always abstained from making any use of the token of favour bestowed upon him by the Duke of Marlborough as a pledge of friendship. He always carried the ring about his person, hung round his neck by a silken cord. But although he knew it would win for him the patronage of the great Duchess, whose influence with the Queen, if not the paramount power it once was, was still very great, he had never been able to make up his mind to use it. He had not learned how to present himself as a suppliant for favour. He felt that he had talent. He desired to see that talent recognized and rewarded. But to go about seeking for a patron to push him into notice was a thing he had never brought himself to do. Whilst living with the Old Lion he had rewritten his romance, and had made of it a very delicate piece of workmanship, which might well win him fame if he could but get it taken up. But hitherto he had been too busy to think much about the matter. The romance must wait his greater leisure. Now, however, turning away from the theatre feeling very certain that his dramatic career had closed as suddenly as it had opened, he began to realize that something must be done to keep the wolf from the door; and his thoughts instinctively turned to his pen with a certain joy and pride. For therein lay more real delight to him than in the plaudits of assembled crowds. If he could win fame in the realms of literature, he would with joy say farewell to his brief career as actor.

Walking thoughtfully along, he almost ran into two men who were strolling arm in arm along the pavement. Stopping short from the recoil, he looked at them, and saw that they were Anthony Frewen and Lionel Field-the very two whose amicable partnership had ousted him from his hoped-for employment. But there was no rancour in Grey's heart. Already his facile and eager mind had turned to other themes. He would have held out his hand in fellowship to his quondam pupil; but the young actor's face had suddenly flushed a deep crimson, and he pulled his companion down a side alley, laughing loudly, and affecting not to have seen the other. Plainly, he feared reproaches and recriminations, and was stung by the goad of an uneasy conscience.

Grey smiled a little as he pursued his way.

"It is something strange," he mused, "how that a man can never forgive one whom he has injured! Had I supplanted him, he might have swaggered up to demand explanation or redress, and we might even have made it up again; but since he has injured me, he will have none of it. I am henceforth to him an outcast."

Grey was not disposed at once to return home, to encounter the keen eyes and perhaps the burst of righteous indignation which no doubt his news would awaken within the breast of the Old Lion. That Wylde had had some fears of what the event had justified, Grey was aware. He knew the emulations, jealousies, and small cabals of the theatre, and how a young actor, raised by lucky chance to a post of eminence, is suspected and plotted against by others as an interloper. His own reputation and Grey's brilliant success had served them in good stead so long as he was able to retain his own place; but now that his influence was withdrawn, and Grey had shown himself not indispensable, the thing which he foresaw had come to pass; and the young man regretted it more for his master's sake than for his own, save for the immediate difficulty of seeing where the daily necessities of life were to come from.

But at least he had obtained a promise that something should be done for the old man, and he could surely fend for himself.

He was walking northward along the frost-bound road. A spell of bitter weather had succeeded the torrents of rain which had characterized the earlier part of the winter. Icicles hung from the eaves, and the water was frozen in the gutters and puddles. The sun hung like a red ball in the clear frosty sky, and there was a biting keenness in the air which made rapid motion a necessity.

Grey was not depressed, though he was grave and thoughtful. He walked on rapidly, one thought chasing another through his brain. Had it not been for the necessity of taking care of his old friend, he would have liked well enough to walk all the way to Hartsbourne, to see old Jock and faithful Dick, from whom the recent almost impassable state of the roads had sundered him. During the days of his extreme poverty Grey had hidden himself even from Dick. But with brighter times he had written to his faithful henchman; and once the latter had visited him at his new abode, and had accompanied

him to the theatre to watch the performance there, which had filled him with pride and joy at his master's triumph, albeit he felt a pang of pain to see him reduced to such a method of earning his bread.

That was the last time they had met, for the constant rains had made the roads well-nigh impassable. But the frost had come as a friend to travellers, and Grey felt sure that Dick would not be long in availing himself of the changed conditions for a visit to town. It might be indeed that they would meet one another, if only he persevered in his walk. He wanted news of Don Carlos-now his one valuable asset. Much as it went against him to sell his beautiful horse, he brought himself to contemplate it as a possibility. As a poor man in London, the creature was of little use to him, and there were a score of wealthy young bloods who had offered again and again to purchase the horse at his own price. The strained shoulder had entirely recovered. The creature was as sound as ever. Perhaps-perhaps-Grey had got as far as that, when he suddenly heard himself hailed in rapturous tones as "Master! master!" and there was Dick racing to meet him at the top of his speed.

But the honest fellow's face was troubled; and scarce had Grey time to greet him ere the evil news was out.

"He is stolen, master-he is stolen! Don Carlos is gone! Oh, it has been foul play from first to last! We had kept him so safely, Jock and I. The old skinflint had no notion of his being there. He grazed out of sight of the house, and at night was never brought in till after dark. But that one-eyed Judas must have discovered the secret at last, and told his master. We never suspected it; but I will wager it was so. Then they played this scurvy trick on me. They said the old man was dying. The doctor must be fetched at all cost. I and my nag, who paid our board, were known to be living with old Jock. I galloped off to Edgeware for the leech, and Jock was kept within doors, making hot large quantities of water, never allowed for a moment outside the brew-house, where stood the great copper filled with water. I rode away gleefully enough, for I had no fears for the old man's life, though of course I would not have him die for lack of succour. I found the leech, and bade him ride back with me full speed; but we had both been long making the journey, for the roads were like troughs of mire, and the beasts flagged sorely when urged. We were forced to let them pick their way as they could, and so it was well-nigh dusk ere we arrived. He went up to the sick-room, and I to groom down my jaded horse and fetch in Don Carlos. When I went for him to the far paddock, he was gone! The rails were down. There was abundant trace of trampling hoofs and footprints of men. He had given them trouble; but they had him at last. The horse was stolen!"

Grey listened in silence. He felt somewhat as did the patriarch Job when one after another the messengers of evil tidings came with their words of woe. He scarce heard all that Dick was saying now-whom he suspected of being in complicity with his unscrupulous kinsman in this matter. But one name arrested his attention, and he stopped to ask a quick question.

"Lord Sandford! What said you of him?"

"Why, master, as I was telling you, when I began to make inquiry here, there, and everywhere, I heard that my Lord Sandford had been seen as near as Edgeware, and that he had been asking something about a horse. More I cannot find out; but it is enough for me. There is devilry in the matter, and Barty Dumaresq and Lord Sandford are both mixed up in it. I have come to town to see you first, and then to get some knowledge of his lordship's stables, and I'll wager I'll find out before very long where the Don is hidden away."

Grey's eyes flashed with anger. Was it possible that this man should sink to plotting a common theft? Or was it his kinsman who had stolen the horse, and sold him for a great sum to the young nobleman, who had always coveted the creature? This was most probably the truth, for the recluse of Hartsbourne had plainly feigned illness to get Dick and Jock out of the way. The whole thing was a dishonourable conspiracy, and he could only hope that Lord Sandford's part in it had been merely that of purchaser. If he had stooped to plot a theft with the old miser, he would be a worse and a meaner villain than Grey would willingly believe, since it was already the talk of the town that he would wed with the Lady Geraldine Adair so soon as the spring-tide should come.

Master and man discussed the matter for some time, and Grey agreed that Dick should carry out his plans, and report to him of the result at intervals. It was above a week since the horse had vanished; but the state of the roads had prevented the man from attempting the walk to London before, and he did not desire to be burdened with his own horse, as he knew not where he might have to lodge, or what was likely to turn up.

"Our fortunes are at a low ebb just now, good Dicon," said Grey as they parted. "You have but a few gold pieces left, and our exchequer is almost bare. But we must hope that Dame Fortune, who has shown a frowning face of late, will treat us to some of her smiles again. For the world is a harder place than once I thought it, and life a sorer struggle."

"But you have the Duke's token still, sir?" spoke Dick eagerly. "You need not despair whilst that remains. They say he is in London now. Why not take it boldly to him, and remind him of yourself and his promise? They say he has a kindly heart, as well as a gracious manner."

"I believe that is true," answered Grey with a smile. "Yes, why not go to him? Why not? Ah, Dicon, I would that life looked as simple to me as it does to you. But perhaps-perhaps- Who knows what may next betide? At least, so long as the token remains, I have still a card to play; and who can tell but that the last card shall take the trick and win the game?"

The sunlight had faded by the time Grey reached the attic, and the fire had burnt itself out to a handful of ashes. Wylde was turning restlessly upon his bed, coughing more than he had done of late; and Grey reproached himself with his long absence, though he quickly had things comfortable and bright again. But the old man must needs hear of his journey to the theatre; and though he professed himself in no wise astonished, it was plain that the blow struck home.

His protégé had been set aside for another. They ceased to regard him as a power. He was laid upon the shelf, and another had stepped into his place. His word carried no weight. No one cared whether he lived or died. He had brought success and prosperity by his talents to others, but he was to be left to die in obscurity and want. Ah well, better men than he had been treated just so. He desired of Grey to leave him to die alone, and to go forth and make his own way in the world that had no room for a feeble and broken man whose work was done.

Grey soothed him as well as he was able, but he could not find much to say that was hopeful or encouraging. He dared not speak of any promise of help from the theatres, lest the old man should wrathfully refuse to receive alms, where justice was denied. So he represented that there was still money left in their purse, which was in a measure true; but the funds were so excessively scanty that in a few days they would be quite exhausted. And when the old man at last passed into slumber, Grey went carefully over all his possessions, which had increased somewhat of late, and carefully detached from his clothing any ornaments which might be sold for small sums to eke out their subsistence till something should turn up. For it was evident that Wylde must not be left long by himself, as this day's experiment had proved. And how was Grey to obtain any sort of paid work, were he to be tied to this attic and to almost constant attendance upon his old friend and master?

How the next days passed by Grey scarcely knew, for the Old Lion had a relapse, medicines had to be obtained, together with food such as his condition required; and although a small sum of money had been sent by Mr. Butler, with an intimation that the same amount should be paid weekly for the present, it had soon melted away, and there came a night when Grey had not so much as a penny left in the purse, and he himself was almost faint for want of food.

But the old man lay sleeping peacefully; the fire burned clear and bright. The night was fine and cold, and Grey slipped forth into the streets, wrapping himself well up in a voluminous cloak belonging to his friend, which completely disguised him.

A strange desperation seized him, and he cared not what he did. He entered tavern after tavern, singing a roundelay in one, telling a story in another, reciting a speech or a part of a dramatic scene in another, and once going through the whole dialogue of "Time and the Youth," taking both parts himself, but so changing his aspect from moment to moment that his audience was electrified, and silver coins as well as coppers were his portion on this occasion.

He had now enough for two days' needs. He had supped well, and now must return home. He felt as though he had passed through a strange black dream; but he had learned how at a pinch the next day's wants might be supplied-at least until he had been the round of all the taverns and coffee-houses, and men were tired of him. But he would not think of that yet.

He, Sir Grey Dumaresq, had sunk to playing the buffoon in pot-houses, to earn coppers from the idle sots who frequented such places. He laughed aloud as the thought presented itself to him thus. Dame Fortune had proved a sorry shrew so far as he was concerned. Was there any lower turn in her wheel that he must presently experience?

He had wandered some distance from home, since after having supped he had been fired to try his luck at some of the more fashionable resorts of the day; and his last performance had been given at a coffee-house in one of the better localities, though for the life of him he could not exactly tell where he was.

It was long since he had walked in these wider streets, and the night, though starlight, was very dark. Suddenly a sound as of blows and cries wakened him from his reverie. Instinctively he started to run in the direction whence they came, and almost directly he met some fellows wearing livery fleeing helter-skelter, as for dear life, from a band of young Mohawks or Scourers, as they termed themselves, who made the terror of the town at night. In the distance there was still some tumult going on, and Grey, half guessing the cause, rushed onward, not heeding the pursuit he passed. A lamp dimly burning over a house showed him the outline of one of those chairs in which ladies of fashion were carried to and fro from house to house. Plainly the liveried servants in charge of the chair had been chased away, and its occupant was now at the mercy of the half-drunken young bloods against whom Father Time had inveighed so eloquently.

Grey understood in a moment, and with a cry of rage and scorn he flung himself into the heart of the fray, intent upon the rescue of the lady in the chair, whoever she might be.

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