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   Chapter 17 IN THE HOUSE OF THE DUKE.

Fallen Fortunes By Evelyn Everett-Green Characters: 21903

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


When Grey became next aware of any sensation, it was of a throbbing pain in his head, which gradually asserted itself and dissipated the black cloud of unconsciousness which had blotted out for the moment time and space and memory itself. He had no desire to open his eyes; but in a faint and feeble fashion he began to wonder what it was that had happened, and what was the cause of this pain. Gradually he felt also a strange powerless numbness in one of his arms, which he was unable to move. Also he felt that he was reposing on something very soft, with a scent of lavender in his nostrils, and a warmth and comfort to his body that went far to atone for pain in some of his members.

He heard the fall of coals in the grate; he knew that he was lying between smooth linen sheets; his soothed senses seemed to take in an atmosphere other than that of the attic which had so long been his home. He thought of Hartsbourne; it almost seemed as though he were back there once more. He decided that either this was a dream, or else that all which had gone before was one. Perhaps he was, in truth, a boy, and had been dreaming of manhood's struggles, manhood's crosses. Perhaps when he awoke, it would be to find his mother bending over him, and to hear of some boyish escapade in which he had hurt himself. Such things had been in the past, and might be again; but sleep overtook his drowsy brain ere he had reasoned matters out.

How long he slept he knew not; but suddenly he woke with a mind more clear. The events of the previous evening came back to him sharply defined-the emptiness of their treasury; the urgent need upon him to obtain food and money; the shifts to which he had been reduced in so doing; and last of all, that race towards some lady's chair, attacked by street ruffians; the short, sharp tussle round it, and the rain of blows which had stretched him senseless in the gutter.

Yes, he remembered it all now, and could account for the pain in his head and arm. But what had befallen him since, and where was he now? As these questions asserted themselves, Grey opened his eyes; and what did he see?

He was lying in one of those huge canopied beds in which our ancestors delighted. He lay deep in a nest of down, fair linen sheets and silken coverlets were spread over him, and crimson curtains were drawn round three sides of the bed. He saw lace ruffles upon the night-robe in which he lay, and the air was charged with an aromatic fragrance which might haply proceed from a mixture of drugs and perfumes. But it was not upon these matters that Grey's attention was concentrated, but upon a quiet figure seated at a small table beside a brightly-blazing fire, his eyes bent fixedly upon the pages of a roll of manuscript spread open before him, and illumined by the soft radiance of a cluster of wax tapers set in a rich silver candlestick of many branches. This man was attired in a flowing dressing-gown (as we now call such a garment) of richly-embroidered silk, fastened at the throat with a jewelled clasp, and bound at the waist by a girdle of golden cord. The falling hair from the ponderous wig served in part to veil the face, which was turned slightly away from the bed; but as the reader moved to turn the page, and to trim one of the candles with the silver snuffers, his face was fully revealed to Grey, and the young man uttered an exclamation of astonishment, striving to start up in bed as he did so.

"The Duke himself!"

The words were scarcely articulate, for his tongue was dry and his voice sounded hoarse and strange in his own ears; but at the sound of it the Duke rose quickly from his seat, and came forward towards the bed with a pleasant smile upon his face.

"Ah, my young friend, so you have come to your senses. That is well-that is very well. Nay, nay; seek not to move. You must needs remain quiet awhile, to mend you of your hurts; but I trust they are of no very serious nature, and that you will soon be sound and whole."

"But, your Grace, how come I here? What means it that I find myself in such a place as this? I surely am not dreaming. It can be none other but the great Duke of Marlborough himself!"

"And wherefore not," questioned the Duke, smiling, "since it was hard by my house that you were felled by ruffians, and in defence of a lady who had but lately left my doors? So now the mystery is explained; and we meet again, Grey Dumaresq, not on the field of battle this time, albeit you, who escaped without a scar or scratch at Ramillies, lie wounded here at Marlborough House. And right glad am I to welcome you within my doors; for it was but a few hours earlier that I was speaking of you with my wife, and wishing that I might meet you once more."

"Your Grace does me too much honour," spoke Grey in bewildered accents, "to bring me to your house, to sit up by my side-"

"Tush! That is but the habit of an old campaigner. My couch wooes me not as it does other men. I am used to little sleep and hard days. I live something too soft when I reach this land. Besides, yonder scroll absorbed me. For that you are responsible, my friend. Did I not tell you when first we met that you had the face of a poet? And for me there is stronger attraction in the poetry of prose than in that which expresses itself in rhyme and metre, which has a fashion of halting, like a horse whose legs begin to fail him, and who changes his feet or stumbles ever and anon."

The colour swept over Grey's pale face. He remembered now that the packet containing his romance was buttoned up tightly in the breast pocket of the outer coat which he wore that day. Doubtless, it had fallen out when they took off his clothes, and there it lay spread out upon, the table, more than three parts read by the Duke himself.

"I ask no pardon for my boldness in thus scanning your romance," proceeded the great man kindly, "albeit I did open the packet with intent to discover if it might contain your place of abode, so that I might send word to your friend where you were and what had befallen you. Now wherefore this start and upraising? Did I not tell you it behoved you to lie still? Must I call the physician from his slumbers to repeat his orders himself?"

"I crave your Grace's pardon," answered Grey, sinking back upon his pillows; "but your words did bring back to me the remembrance of a sick old man, dependent upon me for tendance and care. When I left him, I knew that for many hours he had all that he did need beside him. But if I am long detained from his side, he must needs suffer lack and hurt."

"Nay; but I will see that he does neither. Tell me only where he may be found, and I will send a trusty messenger to do all that is needful, and make arrangements for his comfort during the time which may elapse before you can return."

So Grey gave the needful information, and the Duke issued some orders to his servants in the outer room, returning to the bedside with a face expressive of a kindly curiosity and wonder.

Sitting down at the bedside, and entering into friendly talk with the young man, it was not difficult to draw from him a full and detailed account of all that had betided since they first met upon the field of Ramillies, and Grey had gone back to his native land to see what fortune had in store for him there.

The Duke made an excellent and sympathetic listener. He was sincerely interested in this young man. He owed him a personal debt of gratitude. Both he and his wife suspected that Lady Geraldine Adair, her favourite, was more than a little attracted by young Sir Grey Dumaresq, whom she had admitted to have met more than once during his brief career as a gentleman of fashion and the friend of Lord Sandford. They had seen self-betrayal in her face last night when he was carried in senseless, and she knew that he was her unknown preserver, who had diverted the attack of the young street ruffians from her chair, and had thus given time for the Duke's carriage to come up; and it had recalled to their minds and hearts the memory of their own young courting days, when John Churchill was paying his addresses to Sarah Jennings, and they could see and think of nothing but each other and their love. That Grey Dumaresq had fallen upon evil times there could be no manner of doubt, and that his fortunes were at the lowest ebb was manifest; yet the Duke, as he listened to the tale, was revolving many matters in his mind, and only spoke to lead the young man on by some well-timed question to express himself with more freedom and detail.

As for Grey, when once the ice had been broken, he had no desire for reserve. There was a strange sense of comfort and relief in pouring out his tale into sympathetic ears. The only matters he held back were his suspicions of others-firstly, those respecting his kinsman, and any possible hand he might have had in hastening his father's death; and secondly, those concerning Lord Sandford and his possible treachery towards himself. It seemed to him unfair to speak of unproven suspicions of crime or evil plotting to one so high in station as the Duke of Marlborough, whose smile or frown might mean so much to those who merited it. But of all else he spoke with frank freedom and unreserve; and at the last, when his tale was told, he saw the kindly gaze of the Duke bent upon him with shrewd searching inquiry.

"And so, Grey Dumaresq, you came actually to know the lack of food; and yet you bore upon your person all the while the token I had given you, telling you that you had but to show the same to my wife, and she would find means of rewarding you for the service done to her husband."

"I had had my reward in your Grace's favour and kindness," answered Grey with quiet dignity; "I prized that token as a thing most precious. Yet I never desired to use it as a means of gain. I will not say I never thought of it," he added, after a moment's pause, his colour slightly rising as he spoke; "and perchance had matters gone so with my old friend Jonathan Wylde that privation or starvation nearly threatened him, I might e'en have swallowed my pride, and become a suppliant for favour. But I should have fallen in my own esteem had I been forced to such a step. It may be pride-false pride-haughtiness of spirit-I know not; but in the days of my prosperity I would not seek to curry favour by making capital out of something which I desired to retain as a pleasant memory. And when poverty had fallen upon me, and I had dropped my name and my title, and was known only as a poor actor, living in obscurity and poverty, how could I hope to be admitted to the presence of the Duchess? How could I desire to parade my fallen fortunes before the eyes of her train of servants? Your Grace had called me friend-that was my reward."

With a smile the great man slowly shook his head. Although a love for money amounting to greed was his own besetting sin, he could a

dmire disinterestedness and honourable pride in others. He knew that had Grey played his cards well, seeking only personal advancement and place, he might by this time have risen, through the influence of the Duchess, into some position which would have secured him ease and affluence. He knew that in his place he would not have scrupled to do this, nor would nine-tenths of the men of the day. Although he smiled at the romantic folly and chivalrous scruples of the youth of poetical temperament, he could yet admire those highly unpractical qualities which had gone near to bring him to ruin.

"Well, my young friend," he said at last, "there must be an end of this masquerading in rags and tatters. I shall make it my business to bring your case before the Queen herself. I trow that you have been scurvily treated by your kinsman, and that that matter requires investigation. In addition to this, no man with that book in his hands," and he pointed to the roll upon the table, "should lack for daily bread. There should be a fortune in it, or in the hands of the man who owns the brain that conceived and the hand that penned it. See here, Sir Grey. The Queen is not exactly a critic of literature or a patron of all genius, but she has a love for what is pure and beautiful and simply true. I warrant that yonder romance will go home to her heart. My wife shall take it and read it to her this very afternoon, when she is to be in attendance upon her Majesty. When that has been done, take my word for it, you will have half the publishers of the town crowding cap in hand to crave the favour of bringing it out for the world to read. Oh, you need not blush, like a young mother when her firstborn babe is praised! I trow I know a good book when I see it; and that is one which will mightily please her Majesty, since it sings the praise of pure love and chivalrous fidelity, and all those virtues which seem well-nigh out of date, but which the Queen would fain see restored as in the bygone days of knights-errant and King Arthur's Round Table."

"I was told that there was no sale nowadays for aught but scurrilous libels and bitter lampoons, or at best for political pamphlets treating of subjects of which I know naught."

"Ay, men love garbage, when they can get it; and the strife of bitter tongues is entertaining to those who would fain believe all that is bad of their fellows. Yet are there enough pure and loving souls left in this great Babylon to appreciate such work as yonder; and when once her Majesty's favour has been shown to it and its writer, you will see how these same publishers will change their tone. Every aspirant to literary fame needs a patron, and your patron shall be the Queen."

It was almost too wonderful for belief. Grey was not sure still that he did not dream. And after he had swallowed the draught which his host mixed and held to his lips, he quickly fell into a sound slumber from which even dreams were banished. But when he woke again the sun must long have been up, and surely he was again dreaming; for here was Dick himself, clad once more in the livery of a well-to-do servant, standing at his bedside with a tray containing a light but savoury breakfast.

"Dicon! Why, will wonders never cease? Man alive, how came you here?"

"Why, if you will but sit up, and let me give you of this broth which has been specially prepared for you, I will gladly tell you all. Master, my dear master, I trow that all our troubles are ended now!"

"If I could be sure I were not dreaming, good Dicon, belike I might say the same; but my head is so bewildered, I know not what to believe. Yet it is good to see your honest face again, even in a dream."

"Faith, I am no dream, master, and my tale can soon be told. I came into the town soon after dawn, to tell you I had discovered Don Carlos in Lord Sandford's stables at St. Albans, where he keeps the beasts he uses for racing and such like. And no sooner had I stepped into a tavern not so far from here for a pot of ale and crust of bread, when I did hear that all the town was ringing with the tale of how young Sir Grey Dumaresq, who had disappeared mysteriously not long since had risked his life not far from Marlborough House in beating off a gang of Mohawks from besetting and perhaps injuring the Lady Geraldine Adair, who was returning homewards after an evening spent with the Duchess. Nay, master, what ails you? You are white as a ghost. Lie down again, and let me fetch the leech."

"Nay, nay, good Dicon; 'tis but a passing qualm. Heed it not. So it was the Lady Geraldine who was in that chair?"

"Yes; and there is no knowing what might have befallen her, but for the timely arrival of Sir Grey. That is what all the town is buzzing about. Well, when I heard that, I thought I would make bold to present myself here, and lay claim to be your servant. And who should come to speak with me but the Duke himself, who even remembered having seen my face that day at Ramillies! I vow he did talk with me for hard upon an hour; and I did tell him-oh, I told him everything that I could think of-things I have not yet dared to speak to you, my master. I have told him what Jock Jarvis and I do think of old Barty at Hartsbourne, and what I think of my Lord Sandford, and how he did first seek to cause you to break your neck, and then robbed you by foul means of your horse-the horse that carried his Grace so bravely through the battle of Ramillies. Oh, I saw how his eyes flashed. I trow he will have a rod in pickle for my Lord Sandford yet! He is a noble and knightly gentleman; and when he had heard all I had to say, he did call me an honest fellow; and he gave me some gold pieces, and sent me out with one of his servants to get me a livery such as it became Sir Grey's servant to wear. And he told me to come back to wait upon you, my master, for that he and her Grace were about to go to Whitehall to attend upon the Queen this afternoon and evening; and I warrant they will tell a tale to her Majesty which will put a spoke in some fine gentleman's wheel."

Grey lay back upon his pillows breathless with wonder and excitement; but it was excitement of that joyful kind which acts rather as a tonic upon the system than as a deterrent to recovery. He sent Dick away to make inquiries about the Old Lion; and as the man went out, the Duke's physician entered and examined the wound upon Grey's head and the condition of the broken arm, which he had skilfully set, and ended by permitting his patient, after other two hours of quiet rest, to leave his bed for a few hours to sit in the adjoining room for a while under the care of his servant.

"Had you been like too many of our young gallants, full-blooded, heated with wine, softened by gluttony and rich living, these injuries might have involved blood-letting and other severe remedies. But your temperate life and meagre living of late tell in your favour now. You need heartening up and strengthening by good food and a little old wine carefully administered, and you will soon cease to feel any ill effects. I congratulate you heartily on the occasion which has brought you once again into the notice of the Duke, who can be a stanch and true friend, as I have reason to know."

When Dick returned to him he was laden with fine clothing, such as Grey had been wont to wear, and which the man spread out with an air of pride and delight that was good to see.

"See there! The Duke's own clothes-those he wore some few years since, when he was something slimmer than now. He bade his man look them out for you, seeing that your own garments were all torn and mud-bespattered-"

"Ay, and of fustian, in lieu of cloth, and silk, and velvet," added Grey, as he looked smilingly at the rich clothing before him. "Well, well, Dicon, when one comes suddenly into the midst of an enchanted palace, one must take the good the gods provide. But tell me of Mr. Wylde. Have you learned aught concerning him?"

"Why, truly yes. I saw the messenger who had been to him; and at the sight of the Duke's livery the whole house was astir, and not a creature there but will wait hand and foot upon the old man till other arrangements for him can be made. The fellow saw him and gave him news of you, and he was right well content. He said he should lack for nothing; and the man did leave with the host two gold pieces sent by his Grace, and told him that he would have to answer to the Duke if aught went amiss with him. After that you need have no fear."

Grey's last anxiety thus set at rest, he seemed to have nothing left to wish for. He drowsed away another hour in peaceful dreamy fashion, and felt fully equal to the fatigue of being dressed by Dick, and walking with the help of his arm into the adjoining room-a pleasant sunny apartment, on the table of which stood a great bowl of pure white snowdrops, at which Grey gazed with an infinite delight; for the sight of white flowers always brought back to his mind one particular face and form, and the very thought of his nearness to her last night set his heart beating tumultuously within him.

He was lying back luxuriously in a deep armchair, beside the glowing heat of the fire. The sunlight filtered in through the great mullions of the window, and the light seemed to concentrate itself upon the whiteness of the flowers near at hand. Dick had retired into the inner room to set his master's things in order there. Grey was alone-alone with his bewildering thoughts of happiness to come, scarce knowing how much of all he had heard could be true, or what would be the outcome.

Had he slept as he sat there musing? What was that sound somewhere in the room? He lifted his head and looked round. A tall, slender, white-robed figure was standing outlined against the rich tapestry of the wall behind. He had not heard the door open or the arras lifted. But she was there; and somehow he was not astonished. It seemed only natural to see her, the golden shafts of sunlight seeming to cling to her, and to follow her as she came slowly forward with that inimitable grace of movement he knew so well.

For one moment he sat spellbound, and then struggled to his feet, holding out his hands.

In a moment she was beside him, holding them-holding them fast; for he was weaker than he knew, and he swayed a little, a mist before his eyes. Then he was back in his chair, and she was standing over him. She was holding something to his lips. He drank, and his senses cleared.

"Forgive me," she said; "I should not have come yet; but I so longed to thank you myself, and to be assured that you had not suffered too much in my service."

"I could not suffer too much in such service," he answered. "And from my heart I thank you for coming. I have been so hungry for the sight of you, Geraldine."

"And I too," she answered in the lowest whisper, as she just touched his hair lightly with her hand.

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