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   Chapter 18 GOOD QUEEN ANNE.

Fallen Fortunes By Evelyn Everett-Green Characters: 22144

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


Sir Grey Dumaresq bent the knee before the little upright figure in the great carved chair, and the courtiers and ladies pressed one upon the other, as far as etiquette permitted, to get a sight of a personage who, for the moment, was all the talk of the town.

In her gentle, rather thin and high-pitched voice the Queen spoke, and a deep hush fell upon the great room.

"Rise, Sir Grey. I have sent for you here, inasmuch as I have heard much of your story from both the Duke and Duchess of Marlborough, my very good friends; and I have desired to see you, and to hear somewhat of many matters from your own lips."

"Your Majesty has but to speak, and I will answer."

"I hear that you did first encounter his Grace of Marlborough upon the field of Ramillies, and that you did there render him no small succour in a moment of personal peril."

"It was my good fortune, madam, to possess a horse of great courage, and strength, and mettle; and when the Duke was for the moment surrounded by a party of the enemy, and had to force his own horse to a perilous leap, which caused him to fall and become useless, I was able, being close at hand, to mount him upon my good steed, which carried him through that day, which his own genius and courage has rendered for ever glorious."

"How came it that you did adventure yourself into the heart of the danger, not being a soldier, or having any call to risk your life in the cause?"

"Madam, I am an Englishman, and every true-born Englishman is called to adventure himself wherever he may by happy chance be able to serve his country. That is my excuse for being where perchance I had no right to be, save the right of which I have spoken, and of which I pray that your Majesty will not rob me. To serve his Queen and his country must needs be the desire of every man worthy the name, be he soldier or be he none."

A smile played over the pleasant countenance of the Queen. The pale, handsome face, the graceful bearing, the courtly address of the young man, pleased her well. Simply attired, without any of the extravagances of frippery which distinguished so many courtiers, and with his own curly brown locks floating round his head, his appearance was striking and prepossessing enough. To be sure, the Queen could resent any too great easiness in dress amongst her courtiers; and when one of her ministers, coming in haste, had appeared before her in a small wig, such as gentlemen used at their toilets, rather than in full dress, she had remarked to her ladies that she supposed his lordship would present himself in his night-cap next! But there was nothing slovenly in the rich plainness of Grey's attire; and he looked so much the poet and the dreamer, with the pallor of illness still upon him, and that slimness of figure partly due to privations now past, and partly to his active and temperate life, that the Queen regarded him with increasing favour, and a smile of decided approval was his reward.

"Well and bravely spoken, my young knight. And let me in my own person thank you for the service rendered that day to one who has been, and still will be, I doubt not, his country's most able defender. Had aught befallen the Duke on the field of Ramillies, a glorious victory would have become, I cannot doubt, a fearful defeat. France would have swept the Netherlands with her victorious armies, and there would have been none with genius and power to roll back the tide of battle. Wherefore England herself owes you a debt of gratitude, Sir Grey, which must not be forgotten."

"Madam, I have been richly repaid already for any poor service of mine-first by the gracious favour of the Duke, and now in still fuller measure by these words from your Majesty. Had fortune not so far favoured me that I was close at hand at the moment, I cannot doubt but that a score of others would have done what I was favoured by doing. To serve the man who serves his country so well is its own reward."

"Ah, my young friend, it is easy to see you were never bred up in courts," spoke the Queen, with a smile for Grey, and a quick searching glance round at the knots of courtiers and gentlemen filling the room. At this most of them shrank back, a little abashed at her look and her words. Shameless place-hunting was all the fashion of the day; and for any man to make light of service rendered, and to desire no reward, was a thing almost unheard of.

But after having just launched this shaft, the Queen said no more on that subject. She was by nature timid and gentle, and though not lacking in wit or in a quiet penetration, which was not always appreciated by those about her, was for the most part an indulgent mistress, not disposed to overmuch blame even where she saw weakness.

"And I hear more of you than this, Sir Grey. You are not only a man of prompt action, but you are also a dreamer and a poet. I have read with pleasure your romance of pure chivalry, and I would that we could find in these degenerate days more knights and gentlemen, more spotless maidens and virtuous women, such as those of whom your pen delights to tell, and my ears delight to hear."

The young man bowed low, the crimson flush, which praise of his courage had not evoked, dyeing his cheek now that the child of his brain and hand was praised. The Queen continued graciously,-

"I have heard the whole romance, and its beauty touches my heart, and pleases also those amongst my ladies and gentlemen as are best able to appraise the merits of such poetic work. I desire, Sir Grey, that you will dedicate the tale to me, as one who has read and approved it, and would desire it to be widely known and read in the land. To be a patron of all true and beautiful art is the privilege of rulers, and therefore do I give this charge to you. I desire that such a story as you have conceived and penned should be circulated amongst my faithful subjects. They will learn from it loyalty, love, purity, and singleness of heart, and surely no nation can thrive or excel in which these virtues be absent."

A little buzz of amaze and gratulation went round the room as the Queen spoke thus. The young man's fortune as a writer was assuredly made. A second Philip Sidney had suddenly come to light. All the world would delight to honour the man approved of royalty.

Grey himself was speechless. Such a eulogy was altogether unexpected and bewildering. If Dame Fortune had, in the past, showed an unkind face towards him, surely she was atoning for her frowns by the most gracious of smiles now.

Perhaps the young author's confused and blissful silence pleased the Queen more than any florid words of gratitude such as she was used to hear. She spoke again, still in her most gracious and kindly way.

"Moreover, Sir Grey, I have heard somewhat of your history from his Grace of Marlborough, and it doth appear to me that you have been scurvily treated with respect to your rightful inheritance, the manor of Hartsbourne, which, though your property, you are debarred from enjoying. I have made strict inquiry into this matter, and have sent down special commissioners to seek speech with your kinsman now in possession, and to make some settlement with him for the restitution to you of the estate. It is not fitting that one to whom the country and its Queen owe a debt of gratitude should be ousted from his inheritance either by the cunning craft of a greedy miser, or for lack of means to satisfy a creditor and release his lands from debt. From what hath been told me, I misdoubt that unscrupulous means have been employed to oust you from possession and enjoyment of your house and lands. But whether or not this be so, it is not fitting that things should longer continue as now. Sir Grey Dumaresq of Hartsbourne Manor must live upon his hereditary acres in becoming style. That fiat hath already gone forth. England's Queen and people will have it so. It were shame to both if the preserver of her great General should go unrewarded."

Grey, overwhelmed by the magnitude of the grace bestowed upon him, could only sink upon his knees before the Queen, murmuring some confused but heartfelt words of gratitude and loyalty. The royal lady gave him her hand to kiss, and looked smilingly upon him.

"Sir Grey," she said gently, "had you come hither to the Court at once on your return, boasting of what you had done, displaying the Duke's token, and seeking fame and fortune for yourself, belike I should have thought but little of the matter. I am for ever hearing the petitions of those seeking great things for themselves-seeking place, preferment, emoluments, with or without desert. Had you come thus, you had been lost in a crowd. I perchance should scarce have heard your name. But you have asked nothing for yourself. You endured hardship, privation, misery; you thought not scorn to win your bread-and the bread of another who had befriended you-by following a humble vocation. With that in your possession which would have at least placed you above want, you faced want itself rather than stultify your noble act by seeking to trade upon it. You rather sought to win the fame you merit by using those great gifts of poetry and art which it hath pleased God to bestow upon you. Therefore are you different from others; therefore hath your story touched the heart of your Queen; therefore is her favour won, in that she can value a man who seeks and asks nothing for himself, but rather desires that the glory of a noble deed shall be its own reward."

Again she tendered her hand, which Grey kissed in deepest reverence and gratitude. Then at a sign from the Duchess, who had all this time been standing behind the Queen's chair, he rose and made a deep inclination.

"I thank your Majesty a thousand times," he said in a very low voice. "I have no words in which to tell my gratitude, but I pray Heaven that in the future I may have the opportunity to show how deep and true that gratitude is."

"Deeds, and not words, will be your motto through life, I take it, Sir Grey; and in such fashion shall you best please your Queen and serve your country."

Then Grey found himself, he scarce knew how, in the outer room, thronged by courtiers and nobles and gentlemen, all eager to make his acquaintance, all agog to hear such parts of his story as were yet unknown to them, and above all eager to read the book of which it had pleased the Queen to speak in such high praise. To these worthies Grey was already a rising star, and they longed to bask in the light of his rays.

Quietly and courteously Grey replied to direct questions and to the advances showered upon him by the Court; but he disengaged himself as quickly as he could, and was glad to find himself in the coach which had brought him, and on his way to Marlborough House, where he was still a guest. For although he had quickly mended from his hurts, his hosts would not hear of his returning to his old quarters; and the Old Lion had been equally insistent on this point when Grey visited him, which he did on the f

irst opportunity, to tell in person his marvellous tale.

"Nay, nay, my boy; you are now Sir Grey Dumaresq, and your life will run in different grooves. I did guess from the first that you were not what you seemed, and ever have I hoped that you would be restored to your rightful position in the world. As for me, I am well content. I have no lack of tendance-thanks to the liberality of the Duke, and to that wonderful personal visit he did pay me, which has raised me to a pinnacle of glory in the eyes of all men here. It contents me well to know that I am not forgotten, that you still have kindly thought to spare for the Old Lion. But for us to dwell beneath the same roof would not now be fitting or seemly. So think of that no more."

"When I have a roof of mine own I shall think of it much," spoke Grey with quick decision; "but for the nonce I am naught but a guest beneath that of the hospitable Duke. Well, let it remain so in the present; but for the future I make no pledge."

It was more than a week now since those words had been spoken, but they recurred to Grey's mind as he was driven homewards through the sunny streets. Hartsbourne! The name seemed to thrill in his ears like a clarion note of joy. Hartsbourne-his own old home-so well-beloved, so fair! Could it be possible that he would be master there again? The thought filled him with a sense akin to intoxication. The blood mounted to his head; he almost laughed aloud in his joy. Hartsbourne and its revenues his own! His romance published, and bringing him gold as well as fame! What might he not accomplish? How often had he dreamed in bygone years of what he would do for the restoration and adornment of the beautiful old house, and how he and his mother would live there in peace and happiness! True, that last part of the dream could not be realized now. His mother lay sleeping beneath the churchyard sod. Her eyes beheld, he doubted not, fairer sights than these. But yet, must his dream be altogether without fulfilment? Was there none other-nearer, dearer, if possible, than a mother-who might be the sharer of his joys? Had he not read something dazzling, wonderful, well-nigh unbelievable, in one pair of sweet eyes whose light seemed shining on him now? His lips had not dared to frame as yet either question or protestation; but did they not understand each other? His heart beat high with rapture. Perfect love had cast out fear. He knew that they belonged to each other for time and for eternity. And now what hindered him from taking her to his heart, and telling her that he had loved her from the first moment of their meeting?

The Duke sat in his private closet, where he transacted his more important business, and Grey stood before him, having been summoned thither from his own apartments. He was received with a pleasant smile, and bidden to be seated.

"Well, my young friend," questioned the Duke, who, having been absent from home for a few days, had not seen his guest in private just recently, "and how has the world been serving you? And how goes the matter of the book?"

"Ah, I must tell you of that. I had, as your Grace did warn me, quite a levee of publishers desiring to issue it, each with some tempting offer as to payment. But I did as you bade me, and referred the matter to Mr. Poysner, by whose advice, I told them, I should be guided. And, in sooth, methinks he hath advised well; for not only have I received a handsome sum in gold already for the work, but I shall receive more according to the sale; and it is even now being printed as fast as the presses can work. Her Majesty is to have the first copy, bound with the choicest skill that can be brought to bear upon such work. Other choicely-bound volumes are to be reserved for my friends, after which it will be sold to the public; and already they say that the book is being eagerly asked for. Truly the word of a Queen and the patronage of the great are mighty factors in the world of letters!"

"As men of letters are fast learning, my young friend," replied the Duke with a smile. "Genius without a patron is like (as some wag remarked not long since) 'Paradise Lost' without the devil! It falls flat and unfruitful on unheeding ears. But now for another matter of import to yourself. Have you had news from Hartsbourne since her Majesty did speak to you anent that matter?"

"No, my lord; I have heard nothing. My servant Dick was sent thither by request to answer certain questions made by her Majesty's messengers, but he hath not yet returned, and I know nothing of what has transpired there."

His face expressed a keen desire for information, and the Duke at once satisfied this wish.

"Something strange has happened there which simplifies matters not a little. Your kinsman, Mr. Dumaresq, when questioned by the Queen's Commissioners as to his rights and position there, showed a number of papers which seemed on the face of them fair and right; but his uneasiness was manifest, and awoke suspicion. Also it was not clear that he possessed all the rights he claimed over the estate, or that Sir Hugh had signed all the papers; for upon some the writing of the name looked to practised eyes little like his. The more Mr. Dumaresq was questioned, the more uneasy did he become. So they left him that day, saying that they would come again on the morrow and finish the inquiry. By that time your man Dick had arrived, and he with an old man upon the place had long talk with the messengers that night in the old man's room. It seems as though Mr. Dumaresq or his servant must have had some way of listening to what passed. A terrible suspicion was broached that your father's end was hastened by foul means. This was a point which the Commissioners declared must be thoroughly investigated later. They went away, but on the morrow returned-to find Mr. Dumaresq dead in his bed. His servant said he had been subject to seizures of late, and that agitation had probably caused the attack. Old Jock Jarvis and your man Dick are, however, strongly of opinion that he precipitated his own end by the use of perhaps the very same drug which he is suspected of having employed in your father's case. Be that as it may, the man is dead, and he has died without a will, so that whether or not he was ever legally entitled to what he so long held, you are now absolute master of Hartsbourne and all its revenues, without the need of any action or interference upon the part of the lawyers of the Queen."

Grey stood like one in a dream. He could scarce take in the meaning of it all. He had known that Hartsbourne was to be restored to him-he had had the Queen's word for that-but he had expected vexatious delays, complications, and difficulties. He had not dared to let himself hope to escape these. And now the Gordian knot had been cut-cut in a rather terrible fashion, perhaps, but still effectually cut. He was absolute master of his own again. He could ride to Hartsbourne and take possession so soon as his kinsman was laid to rest in the grave, where all enmity and all unhallowed secrets are buried. He had not found his tongue to express his feelings before the door opened and a secretary glided in and whispered something into the Duke's ear.

"He comes in good time," spoke Marlborough; "let him enter at once. Probably he brings news of the matter in hand."

Grey looked up, and behold there was Dick, travel-stained and bespattered with mud, but with a glowing, eager face, evidently full of news.

"Well, sirrah," spoke the Duke, smiling, "so you have come post haste with news. What wonderful tidings do you bring?"

The man made his semi-military salute, first to the Duke and then to his master. He needed no further encouragement in order to unburden himself of his tale.

"May it please your Grace, and you, my master, I have news of a wonderful discovery made by Jock and myself at Hartsbourne at dawn to-day. We have had our eye sharp upon old Judas, as we call Mr. Barty's wall-eyed Peter; and we have known right well that he has been up to some trick of his own ever since his master died. He has been prowling like a wild beast all about the house. We have heard him knocking and even sawing, when he thought himself alone there. It was old Jock to whom the thought first came. 'The old man has some secret hoard; and Judas knows of it, but not the place. He is looking for it, trying to find it ere he is turned out. Well, that is a game that two can play at. You and I will look too, Dicon.' That is what old Jock said. Whilst Mr. Dumaresq was buried, and his man must for decency's sake go and stand beside the grave, we searched the house from basement to garret; but we had no more luck than Judas had."

"But you have had luck ere this, honest fellow; I see it in your eyes," spoke Marlborough with a laugh. "Come, let us know what you found, and what is the value of the treasure."

"It was to me the thought came," spoke Dick, with honest pride. "I was lying awake at night puzzling and pondering, when suddenly I remembered that first and only night you spent there, master, and how that you saw the old man suddenly appear behind your bed with a shining knife in his hand, and that he vanished ere you could grapple with him, and it seemed more like a vision than a reality. But I sprang from my bed, and I roused old Jock, and I yelled in his ear, 'Man, man, I know where the treasure is hid! Behind the wall of the tapestried guest-chamber, where my master slept, and where the wall did move from behind the bed head, and let his foe steal upon him unawares!'"

"Good thought!" ejaculated Grey excitedly; "and was it so?"

"We rose and dressed, and made our way into the house and up to the bed-chamber, and a tough job we had. And, my master, you must pardon us for the havoc we have made of woodwork and panelling; for the trick of the opening we could not find till all had been hewn away. But when it was at last laid bare, we saw the spring, and then the wall swung inwards with a noiseless, ghostlike motion, and within was a secret chamber well-nigh filled with coffers, some containing jewels-Dumaresq jewels, I doubt not-some gold pieces, some silver vessels. We did not open all. We had found enough. Master, there are the savings of years-the revenues of the broad lands which were paid to him-stowed away in yonder chamber. Oh, I can almost forgive him his villainies, now that all hath come to you! It is all there: it is all safe. We did pack Judas off with his wages and his belongings, and his master's clothes, which, I trow, none will grudge him; and we did get in a few trusty fellows from the place who hate Barty and long to see Sir Grey reigning at Hartsbourne again. And having made all safe, and the house in charge, under Jock, of these trusty lads, I did take horse forthwith to bring the news to my master, and here am I."

"And you shall not lose your reward, my trusty Dicon," spoke Grey with fervour; "for the love and trust of a loyal heart is worth more than treasure and gold."

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