MoboReader> Literature > Fallen Fortunes

   Chapter 19 LOVE'S TRIUMPHING.

Fallen Fortunes By Evelyn Everett-Green Characters: 21308

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03

"Mother, I cannot. I have tried-in all truth, I have. But it is all of no avail. I cannot love Lord Sandford. I cannot be his wife."

"You could be his wife very well, if you chose obstinate girl; and as for loving him-poof!-love matters little when there is wealth and title, broad lands, and all that heart can desire into the bargain. You put me out of all patience with your mincing ways and disdainful airs. What more do you want than Lord Sandford offers? Does a countess's coronet not satisfy you? Do you desire to be a duchess, and take precedence of your own mother?"

And Lady Romaine brought her ivory fan down upon her daughter's shoulder with a tap that was almost like a blow. Tears of vexation and disappointment stood in her eyes. In her hand held an open letter, across the bottom of which the word "Sandford" could be easily read, traced in a large and firm hand.

Before Geraldine had found words in which to reply, Lady Romaine had burst out again more petulantly than ever.

"To think of all the trouble I have been at with you! Do you think I want a great lumbering girl, looking ten years older than her years, and with all the affectations of a Quaker-horrid people!-in her gait and dress and speech, for ever in my train? Do you think it is pleasant for me to hear men laughing at your prim ways and silly scruples, and wondering where you learned them? Do you know what they call you behind your back? 'Mistress "No, I thank you, sir."' Faugh! it makes me sick. Who are you, to hold up your opinions against the whole world? It makes me blush with shame and anger. And then, when I have gotten you a suitor in one of the best known nobles of the gay town, and reckon to have you off my hands and in the keeping of a husband who will know how to deal with your airs and graces, you must needs turn stubborn as a mule, and refuse his offer. Lard! it makes me sick to think I should have such a daughter."

"I am very sorry that you are vexed, mother," answered Geraldine quietly, "but my father does not seem greatly to desire the match with my Lord Sandford. He did speak of it to me awhile back, but of late I have heard nothing anent the matter from him."

"Tush, girl! your father is no judge in such matters. He is wrapped up in politics, and has no thought to spare for other things more close at home. And because, forsooth, Lord Sandford finds the Court too dull for him, and is seen there but seldom, your father must needs think lightly of him. As though half the gayest and most fashionable of the younger nobility did not eschew the deadly dullness of the Queen's presence-chamber! Why, I should die of boredom in a week had I to dance attendance on her Majesty. Lord Sandford shows his good sense by staying away. Oh to hear the tales some of them tell! Saints preserve me from the like!"

Geraldine answered no word. She hoped that the had now blown itself out. Not to her mother could she speak of those tender, wonderful, beautiful thoughts and hopes and feelings which had lately come into her life. In her heart of hearts she knew herself beloved of Grey Dumaresq-knew that it would not be long ere he declared himself. She had heard also rumours of what the world was saying about him-that his name was becoming known to all men, and that he was regarded as one who would rise to eminence and prosperity. But it was not for these things that she loved him. Her heart had been his long before-almost before she knew it herself-in the days of his poverty and obscurity, when she dreamed of him, rather than thought consciously, wondering whither he had gone, and what he was doing, and whether he was holding fast to the resolutions he had made. She knew how her heart had leaped at sight of him in the guise of the Youth-how he had flown to her rescue before all others when peril menaced her. Then her eyes had been opened to the love which had sprung up all unknown in her heart; but she had lost him once more, only to find him again in the unknown champion who had risked his life, without knowing for whom he did it, in the dark streets of London some few weeks back now. Since then she had seen him but once, and their words had been few, but their eyes had spoken more eloquently than their lips, and she knew that she had only to possess her soul in patience, and that all would be well. The Duke and the Duchess were her friends: that would be enough, and more than enough, for her father. As for Lady Romaine, she had always been the warm advocate of Lord Sandford's suit, and being ignorant of what was passing elsewhere, jealous of her daughter's friendship with the Duchess, wrapped up in her own trivial round of vanity and pleasure, imagined that the only way of getting rid of the incubus of this grave and stately daughter was by marrying her off-hand to the only suitor whom the girl had ever tolerated for a moment. Therefore this absolute refusal on Geraldine's part, and the indifference of Lord Romaine, who had merely told her he would not have the girl forced to any such step against her will, awoke in her a chagrin and vexation which were hard to bear, and which vented themselves in positive tears of passion and pain.

"Then you shall give the man his dismissal yourself, you minx, you obstinate hussy!" cried the enraged lady at last, flinging down the letter upon the table. "He says he will come to hear his fate to-morrow evening, and I vow I will have no hand in the telling of the tale of your shilly-shally and folly. Here have you been leading him on all these months-"

"Mother, that is not true," spoke Geraldine, rising to her feet and flashing one of her strange, earnest glances full upon her mother's face; "I did never lead him on. I did never encourage him. I did but obey your strict injunctions to speak with him, to make his acquaintance, to try if so be that I might learn to return the affection with which he professed to honour me."

"And was that not enough to encourage him, in one who played the prude or the vixen so well in other quarters?" fumed Lady Romaine. "That you, who chose to send away every other man who addressed compliments to you with a flea in his ear-that you should suffer him to attend upon you, and seem to take pleasure in his converse-was not that enough? Why make yourself the talk of the town with him, to send him away now?"

The injustice of this accusation caused the girl's cheek to flame; but she retained her self-control, and answered gently: "Methinks you are hard to please, mother; for whether I send men away or listen to them awhile, I am always in the wrong. I did but do your bidding in the matter of Lord Sandford, and I do not deny that I found him ofttimes an interesting talker, and that for a while I was willing to regard him as a friend. But then, as I came to know more and to hear more, my opinion was forced to change. I fear me that Lord Sandford himself did change, and for the worse. Nevertheless, I would not judge him; only this I say-that I cannot and I will not marry him."

"Then go your own way and die a spinster, soured with your own tempers and megrims!" cried Lady Romaine in a towering passion, as she swept from the room, her high heels clattering on the polished floor, her draperies making an angry hissing, like that of a snake disturbed. "I wash my hands of you from this time forth. Give Lord Sandford his dismissal yourself, and lose me one of my best and most useful friends. That is always the way with daughters. Young vipers they should be called!" And having now reached the door, Lady Romaine passed out and banged it hard behind her, as a further mark of her displeasure.

Geraldine, left alone, took up the letter and read it. It contained a definite proposal for her hand, was written to her mother (always Lord Sandford's friend and ally in this), and asked leave for the writer to present himself upon the following evening to learn his fate. The girl raised her eyes with a start, for it was upon the following day that the Duke and Duchess had invited themselves to dine with Lord and Lady Romaine, and to bring with them a guest whom they desired to present afresh to their hosts. Lady Romaine had shrugged her shoulders and professed to be bored at the prospect, though in reality somewhat gratified at the idea of entertaining such illustrious guests. Her lord had been undisguisedly gratified, and believing the invitation in some sort due to his daughter, had regarded her with increased favour. But as Geraldine revolved the situation, it seemed to her a strange and rather dangerous complication that Lord Sandford should appear upon that very night; for was it not said that he and Sir Grey Dumaresq had quarrelled bitterly, and that the former had even sought to compass the life of his friend?

Geraldine went to seek her father, but he was not to be found. Her mother refused her entrance into her rooms, and the girl was forced to await the result of the following evening without communicating her vague fears to any one. After all, who would be likely to heed them, and what could she say? It was only the vaguest rumours she had heard; the rest was but her own intuitions, which others would never consider.

"Sir Grey Dumaresq, let me present you to my daughter, Lady Geraldine Adair, whom you will perhaps lead to the dinner-table when the time comes."

So spoke Lord Romaine, his face beaming with gratification and pleasure. The Duke and Duchess had arrived, the last of the select company invited for that day, and the Duke had held a short, low-toned conversation with his host, which had brought many gratified smiles to the face of his interlocutor. Now Geraldine's hand was within that of the young baronet, and her voice trembled a little as she said to her father,-

"Sir Grey and I have met before."

"Ah yes; I believe that is so. But Sir Grey's appearance was something too brief and meteor-like that last time. Now I hope he comes as a fixed star to shine steadily in the sky. If all we hear be true, his brilliance will add a lustre to the times in which he lives."

"You do me too much honour, sir," answered Grey a bow; but there was no time for more, for the company was already moving, and Geraldine's hand was upon his arm, and the delicate fragrance which seemed always to cling about her brought a strange intoxication to his senses, which made speech at the first difficult to him.

Perhaps she shared this feeling, for she was silent too; but the delicate flush upon her face, and the soft shining of her eyes, enhanced her beauty to an extent which made many marvel that they had not observed

it before. Now and again the eyes of the undeclared lovers met in a quick, eloquent glance; but for a while they did not directly address one another, for the table was silent, listening to the words of the Duke, who was addressing his host, and discussing with him some matter of general interest. It was only later on, when the hum of talk became more dispersed, that Geraldine was able to say in a low voice,-

"I have heard of the success of your book. It has made my heart glad and happy. I did read some or it ere it went to the Queen. I thought it more beautiful than I can say."

"It should be beautiful, in all sooth, fair lady," answered Grey in a very low voice, "for the thought of it was inspired by the looks and words of one who is of all living creatures the fairest, the purest, the most precious. If my poor work meets with success in the world, it will be due not to any skill of mine, but to the goodness of two gracious ladies, one who inspired and the other who approved its motive."

Geraldine's face burned; there was a great joy in her heart. She could not misunderstand the look he bent upon her. Could it indeed be true that she had had any part or lot in this matter? The thought was bewildering, unspeakable. She sat as one in a dream. She heard him tell softly the tale of those strange events which had brought him unexpected wealth and prosperity. She realized that the time of trial and poverty and struggle was over, and that the sun of success was shining in his sky, and her heart was glad within her. Yet she rejoiced to think that he had faced privation and poverty bravely, and had sought by no unworthy way to mend his broken fortunes. She had trusted him and loved him in the hour of darkness: she was not ashamed to admit it now; she was proud and glad that it had been so.

Later on in the evening they found themselves together and alone in the little room at the far end of the reception suite, where they could talk undisturbed and unheard. It was sweet with the scent of violets, and the soft light of the wax candles in silver sconces illumined it only dimly. He closed the door, and let the curtain fall across it, and then he held out his uninjured hand to her. The broken arm, though mending fast, was still in a sling.

"Geraldine! my beloved!"

She went straight to him then, like a bird to its nest. No protestations were needed between them. They loved each other, and they knew it.

How long they had been alone, they did not know-time flies so quickly at times like these. It seemed but a few minutes to them, though it might well have been an hour, when the handle of the door was turned, and the curtain drawn back. Geraldine uttered a little cry of startled amaze. It was Lord Sandford who hail entered, and she had forgotten his very existence!

Had her mother, in one of her spiteful moods, told him that he would find her here? It was not impossible; and the girl's face grew a little white, for Lord Sandford's rapier dangled at his side, as was indeed the fashion of the times, and he was a man upon whose hot passions nobody could absolutely reckon. Strange stories had been told of him before this.

The young Earl stood for a moment framed in the doorway, his powerful face set in lines the meaning of which it were hard to read aright. Grey had risen and stood close to Geraldine, his eyes fixed vigilantly upon the massive figure of the man who had once been his friend. To the girl it seemed as though their eyes met, and glanced one against the other, like the blades of duellists in a preliminary pass. Her breath came thick and fast. She felt the anxious, tumultuous beating of her heart.

Lord Sandford was the first to break the tense silence.

"Lady Geraldine, I came hither to-night to receive an answer to the offer of marriage which I sent to you through your mother, Lady Romaine. Is this the answer you have prepared for me?"

He looked straight at the girl, and then at Grey, with a wide, unabashed gaze that did not shrink or falter. Grey made one step forward, and spoke in low, quiet tones.

"My lord, you may receive your answer at my hands, for the Lady Geraldine Adair is now my promised wife."

"Lady Geraldine," spoke Lord Sandford, "is this the truth?"

"It is, my lord, albeit I had not meant to give you your answer in such like fashion. I thank you for the honour you have done me; but my heart is given elsewhere."

"Right!" spoke Lord Sandford, in his resonant and emphatic tones. He had dropped the curtain behind him, and now came forward several paces. His face was not easy to read, but he held his head proudly, and looked the lovers straight in the eyes. "I would not have it otherwise, Lady Geraldine; for you have chosen well. You have chosen such an one as you must needs choose. Like will seek like; virtue, fidelity, purity, and honour must fly upward, will not be dragged downward. I saw it from the first; and at the first I rebelled. I swore it should not be so. I stooped to dishonour to remove an obstacle from my path. I thought I had succeeded; but soon I knew I had not advanced my cause one whit. I was rightly served. I did wrong with open eyes. I sinned, as it were, with a cart-rope; and I have had my deserts. I lost my friend, but I won no wife. I was outwitted, at every point. I went on hoping. I am not a man who easily gives up what my heart is set on. Up to the last I hoped to win. But yesterday, after my letter was written and dispatched, I knew that I was beaten at every point."

"Yesterday," faltered Geraldine.

"Even so, lady. I have been absent from town of late; but yesterday in the afternoon I returned. I went as usual to the coffee-house to learn the news, and I learnt it."

Lord Sandford's gaze flashed full upon Grey. He stood squarely in front of him, and held out his hand.

"Grey Dumaresq, I did once seek to do you a great and a grievous wrong. I confess the same with shame of heart. Will you accept my hand in friendship now, and with it my heartiest good wishes for your happiness in life with the lady of your choice?"

Grey did not hesitate; his hand was in Lord Sandford's, clasping it close. All was forgotten, at that moment save the old attraction and fascination which this man had exercised upon him from the first.

"I love the lady of your choice," spoke the Earl, without the faintest shade of hesitation in his tone. "I have loved her long. I doubt me if ever I shall love another in like fashion. And because I love her with every best and truest feeling of my heart, so am I able to desire above all else in the world her best happiness. That happiness she will find with you rather than with me. I am not fool enough not to know that. If I could have won her, I would have sought to make her happy. I swear it before God! But having failed, I yet desire above all things to see her happy with the man of her choice; and I say that she has chosen wisely."

It was indeed a triumph of love. The innate strength and nobility of this man's nature had been brought out by the honest fervour of his love. He had enough greatness of soul to be able to give the right hand of fellowship to his successful rival, though he himself must forego that happiness which he had long been seeking to attain. Grey felt that in the days that were to come Lord Sandford must needs show himself in different colours from those of the past. This victory must surely be a stepping-stone on which he would rise to higher and nobler things.

Geraldine now stood before him, all shrinking over, her eyes alight with pure womanly gratitude, admiration, and affection.

"I thank you, my lord, for such good words. Forgive me if I have ever misjudged you."

"Nay, lady, you never did that; you did but appraise me too truly."

"Yet I had ever some liking for you, my lord-think it not otherwise-save when I thought, I feared-"

"Yes, yes; I know, I understand. Friendship you had for me, so long as I deserved it; but love-never. And you were right, Lady Geraldine; you were right to withhold that. Perchance if your sweet eyes, like wells of liquid light, had not seen so clearly, had not read the secrets I sought to hide, my own love might not have blazed so fiercely. It is ever the unattainable which men desire to possess. But let us think of that no more. Let us bury the past, and live anew in the future. Friendship is left to us-a friendship which, I trust, will last a lifetime." And so speaking he turned once more to Grey, and said with a smile lighting his face,-

"And shall I, for a wedding-gift, restore to you your good horse, Don Carlos, at present in my stables at St. Albans?"

He spoke so freely and openly that Grey heard him in amaze.

"Have you Don Carlos?" spoke Geraldine, much astonished. "I did think that he was stolen from Sir Grey."

"And so think I; but I have had no hand in that business, save that I did hear something of the matter, and fearing foul play I resolved to become master of the gallant beast. Grey had disappeared, I knew not where. My evil anger had burned itself out, and I loathed myself for what I had done in the past. I thought that I might perchance make some reparation by purchasing the good horse he loved, since I heard it was to be sold, that I might keep it awhile, and restore it to its owner if kind fortune gave me the chance. It seemed to me all the amends I might ever make to the steed and his rider for the mischief I sought once to do to both. So, my friend, the horse is yours whensoever you like to lay claim to him. I restore him the more readily in that none of my people can ride him. He brooks not long a strange rider on his back. He has condescended to carry me for a brief while, but he goes unwillingly; he frets after his old master. He would win no races for a new one. So tell me only where and when to deliver him, and you shall have him so soon as you desire. I trow the old miser of Hartsbourne, who, I hear, is now dead, filched him from you by subtlety, for you would never sell your friend."

Grey, ashamed of the thoughts he had harboured against Lord Sandford in this matter, told the whole tale of the creature's disappearance; but he added, with a smile,-

"I suspect that whatever price you paid for him is lying in one of the coffers now discovered in the old house, and I will gladly buy him back."

"Nay, nay; that must not be. It is my wedding-gift to you or to your gentle lady here; and all I ask is, that upon some future day you will suffer me to visit you in your wedded home at Hartsbourne, and see Don Carlos and his master united once more."

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