MoboReader> Literature > Fallen Fortunes

   Chapter 16 A NIGHT ADVENTURE.

Fallen Fortunes By Evelyn Everett-Green Characters: 21988

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


The all-important Duchess of Marlborough had taken one of her sudden and somewhat vehement and exacting likings for the Lady Geraldine. This was a matter of no small gratification to Lord and Lady Romaine, notwithstanding the fact that the mother felt some jealousy and vexation that her daughter should have been singled out for this distinguished lady's favour, whilst she herself was entirely passed over. Still she was woman of the world enough to accept the situation with philosophy. She always declared freely that the Duchess bored her to death, and that she would never be able to put up with her temper and her autocratic ways. But she was glad enough to let Geraldine visit at Marlborough House whenever an invitation (or rather summons) came for her; and Geraldine herself was glad and thankful to go, for here at least she was safe from the unwelcome and ever more pressing attentions of Lord Sandford. And above and beyond this, her parents were disposed to treat her with more respect since she had been "taken up" by the Queen's favourite. When she begged of her father not to make any promise to Lord Sandford regarding the disposition of her hand, he laughingly consented to wait awhile; for in his heart he began to wonder whether his beautiful daughter might not do better for herself. Lord Sandford's reckless expenditure was becoming the talk of the town, and unless he had larger reserve funds to draw upon than were known, he might possibly find himself in awkward straits. In the house of the Duchess, Geraldine might possibly meet admirers with more to recommend them or at least with prospects more sound and secure. It is true that Lady Romaine still upheld her favourite Sandford's suit as warmly as ever; but Lord Romaine was quite willing to accede to his daughter's request, and to let things take their own course without bringing matters at once to a climax. Lord Sandford was not to be dismissed; but Geraldine was not to be coerced.

It was natural that the girl should welcome with pleasure and gratitude a friendship which brought her immunity from what promised to become something very like persecution. Her occasional visits to Marlborough House formed the brightest spots in her present life.

If the Duchess were proud, capricious, autocratic, and uncertain in temper, as her detractors declared, at least she possessed warm and deep feelings, and could be infinitely agreeable and kindly when she chose. To Geraldine she was uniformly gentle and sympathetic. Perhaps she already felt that she had passed the meridian of her days of power. The kinswoman, Abigail Hill (now Mrs. Masham), whom she had first introduced to the Queen, was rapidly rising in royal favour, and seemed likely to prove not only a rival, but a supplanter. It had not come to that yet; and the return of the Duke, covered with glory and honour, averted for a while the calamity already overshadowing her. But so clever and astute a woman could not be altogether blind to the Queen's waning affection; and perhaps the consciousness of her own faults and shortcomings, and her unguarded temper, helped at this juncture to soften the asperities of this rough but sterling nature, and disposed her to take pleasure in the sincere and undisguised affection and admiration of this beautiful girl.

Geraldine on her part took great pleasure in the society of one who held in a semi-masculine contempt the follies, frivolities, and buffooneries of the present day code of manners. Of men and women alike, the Duchess spoke with hearty scorn, her eyes flashing and her lips curling in a fine contempt. Her influence at Court had always been on the side of gravity, decorum, and what the fashionable dames and gallants called "dullness." She and the Queen were at one in all these matters, as they were at one in their ideas of conjugal fidelity and the sacredness of the marriage bond. The Queen was as devoted to her weak-minded husband as the Duchess to her victorious lord. Both held in detestation the laxity which prevailed in the world of fashion, and neither cared for the criticisms passed upon the dullness of the Court, so long as its virtue was preserved untainted.

Geraldine, sickened by what she saw and heard at the gay routs to which she had been taken in her mother's train, felt the solemn stately gravity of the Duchess's house as a haven of rest. She spent her time during her visits in the private apartment of the great lady, where the latter came and sat whenever she had leisure to do so, writing short notes to her husband, to be dispatched by special couriers, or talking of him and his triumphs, or the prospects of the war or of parties at home, to one who was eager to learn and ready to take a keen and intelligent interest in all, and whose sincere admiration and affection, expressed rather in looks and little unconscious actions than in words, seemed to soothe and refresh her not a little, accustomed as she was to full-mouthed flatteries to her face, and the scheming of jealousy behind her back.

With the return of the Duke came a break in these pleasant visits. But the break was not final in any sense of the word, and Geraldine received many little affectionate notes, expressing a hope of seeing more of her when they could escape from attendance at Court, and enjoy a season of privacy in their own house. At first it was necessary for the Duke to be constant in his attendance at Whitehall or Kensington Palace, and the Duchess went with him. But a day came at last when Geraldine was summoned to Marlborough House, to spend the afternoon with the Duke and Duchess, and to remain through the evening with the latter, as the Duke had to attend a meeting of friends at Lord Halifax's house, and the Duchess desired to keep the girl, asking that her chair might not be sent for her until eleven o'clock.

Geraldine was pleased and excited by this prospect; for as yet she had never seen the Duke at close quarters, though from all she had heard of him from his wife and others she felt as though he were familiar to her, and her admiration for him was very great. She had heard of his weakness where money was concerned, and she knew that he had more than once changed sides in his politics, and even in his loyalty. But those were days of change and confusion, when it was often difficult to see the way clear before one, and when the outlook varied so continually with changes of dynasty and of foreign and domestic policy that a perfectly consistent and straightforward walk in life was a thing almost impossible of achievement. The girl was not disposed to criticise him or suspect him of overmuch self-seeking. Still less so when the charm of his personality was brought to bear upon her. She well understood all she had heard respecting his powers of fascination, and felt that she could have listened for ever to the music of his voice, watching the changing expressions of his handsome, mobile features, and the graceful telling gestures of his beautiful white hands.

They enjoyed a little quiet dinner in their private apartments, almost unattended by servants. And it was as they sat with wine and dried fruits before them, awaiting the moment when the Duke must take his leave, that he suddenly addressed his wife,-

"Ha, Sarah! There is a question I have wanted to put a hundred times, but ever when it sprang to my lips the moment was not favourable. Tell me, has a young gentleman of prepossessing appearance ever presented himself to you with my amethyst ring as token of his good faith? I did surely tell you of the narrow escape I had at the battle of Ramillies, and how that I was saved and helped by the timely assistance of a gallant young English traveller."

"You did, my good lord; and I have greatly desired myself to see and to thank this young gentleman for the service rendered. You did warn me that you had bidden him come to me, if in need of any favour or influence. A warm welcome should have been his at any time, but he has never presented himself."

"Let us hope, then, that he has prospered without our aid," spoke the Duke. "He did tell me somewhat of himself, and I do remember how that I thought his future something uncertain. But the details of his story have escaped my memory, and I fear even his name is not clearly remembered. It was Grey-the Christian name-that do I recollect; for he said it was that of a kinsman of his whom I had overthrown at Sedgemoor in the days of the rebellion in the west. Grey, Grey-yes, that is clear; but for the rest-"

"Could it have been Sir Grey Dumaresq?"

Geraldine's was the voice which broke in here. They turned and looked at her. Her face was flushed: her eyes were bright. The Duke smiled as he made instant reply.

"Grey Dumaresq-that was the name. Say, fair lady, is this man known to you? I would fain renew my acquaintance with him, and show him some token of gratitude."

"I know not where he is now," answered Geraldine. "For a while he was dwelling with Lord Sandford, as his friend and comrade. But they say that they had some quarrel. Strange stories were told of them. And Sir Grey disappeared-no man knows whither. Many whispers and rumours have gone forth concerning him, even to the one which said that he had taken the part of the Youth in the representation you did witness, your Grace, at the theatre."

"It was not Grey Dumaresq whom I did see afterwards," spoke Marlborough quickly. "I do not forget faces. I should have known him instantly. That report could not be true."

Geraldine's face was changing colour every moment; her breath came thick and fast. Heretofore she had spoken no word of this matter, which had been on her mind night and day for long. Now an impulse of speech came over her.

"Ah, but the actors have changed," she said. "I did hear from our servants that the old man who played Father Time was taken ill the very night that they played at our house; and your Grace doth know," turning to the Duchess, "how that my dress caught fire, and how that the young actor did spring down and extinguish the flames, escaping away ere we could call him back to thank him. It was then that I made sure. I had suspected it before; but when I saw his face so near, I could not doubt. It was he."

"Extraordinary!" exclaimed the Duke. "How could things have come to such a pass with him? Why had he not sought you out, and told of his adversity? To be sure, many a gentleman born to fortune falls upon evil days, sometimes through no fault of his own. But with my token-well, there was no need for this. I must consider what should be done. Have you seen him since, Lady Geraldine?"

"Nay; and he has not been acting of late. Two strangers, or rather two other actors, have been playing the parts since that night. I did ask of my mother leave to send and seek him out, that we might at least give him thanks for the service rendered me; but she would not believe I had recognized him aright-she

said it was but my fantasy; and for the rest, if the man wanted a guerdon, he had but to come and ask for it. Hence, nothing has been done."

"Well, 'tis a strange story; and yet, as I saw that representation at the theatre, I did say within myself that some eye-witness of the battle of Ramillies must have planned and written it. We will think and speak more of it anon. Stranger things have befallen ere this. It would please me well to befriend a gallant and chivalrous youth, too proud or too noble to ask favours for himself. I told him he had something of the poet in him. He may have a career before him yet. Well, sweetheart, I must needs be going now; but I will return ere midnight, and Lady Geraldine will beguile the hours of my absence."

He rose, and kissed his wife with a lover-like devotion which sat gracefully upon him, and which to Geraldine seemed in no wise ridiculous, notwithstanding the fact that this couple had grown-up children, married themselves. It was a beautiful thing, she thought, to see how their love survived, and grew in depth and intensity. She was able to speak of the Duke, when he had gone, in terms which brought smiles of pleasure to the wife's face.

It was a happy evening for Geraldine; for the flame of hope leaped up in her heart, and she felt as though something bright and beautiful had come into her life. The Duke had shown interest in the subject of the young actor, who had saved her from injury on the night of the performance at their house. He did not gibe at her half-formed fancy. On the contrary, he seemed disposed to examine for himself the possible truth of the tale. He would seek out Grey-for Grey, she knew, it was. He would raise him out of obscurity and poverty into the position to which he was born. There seemed no end to the possibilities of good fortune which might come to him with the favour and gratitude of the Duke. The girl passed a happy, dreamy evening, these fancies weaving themselves into a background for her thoughts, whilst she talked with the Duchess of the Duke's magnificent reception, of the palace of Blenheim being erected at the cost of the nation for a residence for him, and of the honours to which he was likely to attain through his genius and the favour of her Majesty.

She was in the same happy frame of mind when she got into her chair shortly before midnight; for the Duchess kept her talking till past the time arranged, and it never occurred to her to be afraid of the darkness of the ill-lighted streets. She had her bearers-her father's liveried servants. And, after all, the distance to traverse was not so very great.

She had not proceeded far, however, before she was aroused from her pleasant reverie by the sounds of shouts, yells, and hurrying steps. She felt her own bearers break into a run, and the chair swayed from side to side in a fashion that was alarming. Something struck sharply against the panels, then a shower of missiles seemed to rattle against its side. Her own men yelled aloud in fear or pain, and next moment the chair seemed to be heavily dropped, and the air was rent with sounds of strife, the fall of weapons, and cries of pain and terror. There was no mistaking what had happened. She was the object of some attack from the street bullies; but whether by a luckless chance or by premeditation and design, the frightened girl could not guess. The thought of Lord Sandford and his unscrupulous ways flashed into her mind, and a shudder ran through her frame. She could see little or nothing of what was going on without. Her breath had dimmed the window-panes; there was scarcely any light in the streets. Never was any creature more helpless than a lady shut into one of the cumbersome chairs of the period. She could by no means get out, or even let down a window from within; and before many minutes had elapsed, the girl was perfectly certain that her bearers had run wildly away to save their own skins, and that she was left to the mercy of one of the lawless bands of street marauders, the terror of the helpless old watchmen, powerless to cope with them, the scandal of the whole town.

For a moment it seemed as though pursuers and pursued had alike left her alone, and she made at that juncture a frantic but useless effort to escape from her prison. Then roars of laughter and the trampling of feet assured her that her foes were coming back, and she closed her eyes and set her teeth, and, clasping her hands, tried to frame a few words of prayer, for she knew not what next would betide her. A hand seemed fumbling with the chair. In another moment it would be thrown open. But ere that moment had arrived a new sound arose. More footsteps came tearing along-a fierce voice-shouts of derision-more blows-more oaths-cries of pain and anger-fierce threats-savage recriminations. What was going on? Had some one flown to the rescue? Oh, when would the horrid scene end? These men were capable of doing to death any single or unarmed man who tried to stand between them and their brutal pastimes.

But what was this? Another sound! The roll of wheels-a commanding voice that she knew ringing through the darkness of the night, dominating all other sounds.

"It is the Duke-the Duke himself!" cried Geraldine, falling back almost fainting on the cushions; but the next minute lights were flashing round her, then the head of the chair was lifted off, and she saw the Duke himself bending towards her, his face full of concern and anxiety.

"What! The Lady Geraldine! Then, indeed, I come in good time. Are you hurt, sweet lady? Answer quick! For these villains shall not escape so easily, if you are."

"No, no, I am not hurt; but I fear me some one is who came to my rescue. I heard him shout to them to stop their coward play. They were about to look inside the chair, but they all turned upon him with shouts of derision and fury. I trow he gave them blow for blow, for I heard them yell and swear the fiend was in him. Oh, I fear me they must have been too many for him, and that he has been injured in my defence. Pray, your Grace, let your people see to it. I might have been grossly ill-treated but for his opportune arrival."

"There is a young man lying in the roadway here, your Grace," spoke one of the servants, "his clothes half torn from his back, his head bleeding, and his arm broken. I think he is not of that band we dispersed, for I saw one of them deal him a kick and swear a lusty oath at him as they ran off."

"Oh, it is my preserver-I know it is!" cried Geraldine, with tears in her eyes. "Ah, your Grace will know what to do."

"Why, put him into the coach, and take him home," spoke Marlborough at once, his well-known humanity towards his wounded soldiers extending instantly to this injured citizen, who had risked perhaps life itself on behalf of law and order, and in defence of some unknown victim. "And as for you, Lady Geraldine, you must likewise return with me. I cannot suffer you to be abroad with these bands of ruffians prowling the streets. I will send a message to your father's house, and your dispersed servants will doubtless find their way home in time. Lord Romaine shall know you safe; but you must return with me to-night."

Geraldine was only too thankful to do so. The very presence of the great Duke, calm and fearless, dissipated her fears and gave her confidence. She saw him superintend the lifting of the injured and unconscious man into the coach, heard him give directions to the servants to drive direct to Marlborough House, and then he himself took up his position beside her chair, and walked with it till they entered the hall of his great house, where she was suffered to alight, to be met by the Duchess (to whom a messenger had been hastily dispatched), and embraced by her with a motherly solicitude of which Lady Romaine would have been quite incapable.

"My dearest girl, what a terrible fright has been yours! Oh, how I rejoice that no hurt has come to you! I should never have forgiven myself for detaining you so long. Ah! and what have we here? Poor creature! he surely is not dead! What a ghastly object! Come away, dearest; it is no sight for you. What? He came to your rescue? One against a band? No wonder he has been roughly handled. Oh, he shall be well tended; I warrant you that. Yes, let him be carried into yonder ante-room. He shall have his wounds washed and dressed, and we will hear his story later. Geraldine, my love, what ails you? What do you see that you should look like that?"

For Geraldine's eyes, fixed upon the face of the wounded man being carried into the hall under the personal direction of the humane Duke, had grown fixed and glassy, and every drop of blood had ebbed from her face, leaving it of a marble hue.

As the sense of the Duchess's questions penetrated to her senses, the girl grasped her by the hand and whispered in tones of unrestrainable emotion,-

"It is he! it is he! And he has laid down his life for me!"

"It is who? What mean you, child? Do you know the-the gentleman?" asked the Duchess, perplexed and bewildered in her turn.

Geraldine's grip on her hands was firmer and faster.

"It is he of whom we were speaking but this evening. It is Sir Grey Dumaresq himself."

With an exclamation of amaze, the Duchess stepped forward to get a better view of the white and blood-stained face. She saw now that, despite his torn and muddy garments, his lack of all the fine adjuncts of the man of fashion, even to the falling wig, so essential to the equipment of the "gentleman" of the day, it was no low-born personage who had been carried into their stately house. Something of the refinement of the young man's face and features could be distinguished even in the midst of the disfiguring wounds and bruises and mire stains. She grasped her husband by the arm, and whispered in his ear,-

"Husband, look well at yonder man, for Geraldine declares it to be Sir Grey Dumaresq, of whom we were speaking but a few hours back. What a strange thing, if it be!"

Marlborough bent over the young man, less with the intent of identifying him at the present moment as of ascertaining the extent of his injuries, and whether life yet remained whole in him. Experience on the battlefield had given him considerable powers of discerning these things, and he knew that the bludgeons and rapiers of the young bloods of London streets could do as deadly work as the bullets and sword-thrusts of actual battle.

Opening the young man's vest to ascertain whether the heart still beat, he saw something sparkling lying within, and the next moment had uttered a quick, sharp exclamation of astonishment.

Beckoning to his wife to approach, he held up the token-the amethyst ring which he himself had given to the stranger who had risked so much for him upon the field of Ramillies.

"Then Geraldine is right!" cried the Duchess in great excitement. "It is Grey Dumaresq; he is found at last."

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