Read CHAPTER IX - WATCHED! of Her Season in Bath A Story of Bygone Days, free online book, by Emma Marshall, on

Scenes of poverty and sickness are familiar now to many a good and fair woman, of whom it may be said in the words of the poet Lowell, that

    “Stairs, to sin and sorrow known,
    Sing to the welcome of her feet.”

But few indeed were the high-born ladies a hundred and twenty years ago who ever penetrated the dark places where their suffering brothers and sisters lived and died in penury and want.

Class distinction was then rigid, and the sun of womanly tenderness and compassion had not as yet risen on the horizon with healing on its wings.

Thus the two wretched attics, furnished with the barest necessities of life-to which she ascended by dark, narrow stairs-was indeed a new world to Griselda Mainwaring.

She shrank back when the door of the room was opened, and turned away her head from the pitiful sight before her.  The sick man was propped up on his miserable bed, the child kneeling by him listening to, and trying to soothe, his incoherent mutterings.

Leslie Travers went in first and touched the child’s shoulder.

“I have brought the lady to see you, and to ask what she can do for you.”

Instead of answering, Norah held up her hand as if to beg Leslie to be silent, and continued to stroke her father’s long thin hands with one of hers, while with the other she pressed the rag of vinegar and water on his burning brow.

Presently the muttering ceased, and the breathing became more regular, and then Norah rose, and said in a low voice: 

“Nothing stops his wild talk till I kneel by him and hold his hand, and stroke his forehead; that is why I could not speak, sir.”  Then the child went up to the threshold of the door where Griselda still stood, and said:  “I thought you would come-I felt sure, lady, you would come; but do not be afraid, he is asleep now, and may sleep for an hour.”

Griselda felt ashamed of the disgust she could not conceal at what she saw.  But the true womanly instinct asserted itself, and pointing to an open door leading into another garret, she said: 

“May I go in there?”

“Yes, it is my room; it is where I put the clothes when I have mended them.  The queen’s gauze veil got torn, and I can mend gauze better than anyone, so Mrs. Betts gave it to me.  Mrs. Betts is kind to me.”  Then seeing Griselda’s puzzled look at the heterogeneous mass of finery heaped up on a table supported against the wall, as it was minus one leg, the child explained:  “I mend the actresses’ dresses.  Mrs. Betts is the wardrobe keeper at the theatre, and she has had pity on me, or-or I think we should have starved.”

“Well,” Griselda said, “I have brought you money to buy food, and surely you want a fire; and where is your bed?”

The child pointed to a mattress in the corner under the sloping angle of the roof, and said: 

“I sleep there most nights, but now he is so bad I watch by him.”

Griselda opened her sachet and took from it a crimson silk purse.

“Here are two guineas,” she said; “get all you want.”

Norah clasped her hands in an ecstasy.

“Oh!” she said, “this is what I have prayed for.  God has heard me, and it is come.  My beautiful princess has come.  You are my beautiful princess, and I shall always love you.  I will get Brian to buy lots of things; he will be here after school.  Does the gentleman know?”

“Yes, he brought me.”

“Then I shall love him, too; you are both good.  I shall try and make father know you brought the money; but he does not understand much now.  Hark! he is calling-he is awake!”

Norah hastened back to her post, and Griselda followed her.

Leslie Travers had been standing by the sick man’s bed, and Griselda, ashamed of her feelings of repulsion and shrinking, took her place by his side.

Suddenly a flash of intelligence came into those large dark eyes, and the man started up and gazed at Griselda, repeating: 

“Who is she?-who is she?”

“The dear beautiful lady who has brought us all we want.  Thank her, father-thank her!”

“Thank her!” he repeated. “Who is she?

Then an exceeding bitter cry echoed through the rafters of the chamber as if it would pierce the very roof.  And with that cry the man fell back on his pillow, saying: 

“Phyllis-Phyllis! come back-come back!”

Griselda started towards the door, and Leslie Travers caught her, or she would have fallen down the steep, narrow stairs.

“Take me away-take me away!  I cannot bear it!  Oh, it is too dreadful!  That face-those eyes-that cry!”

“Yes,” he said, carefully guiding her downstairs, and shielding her as much as possible from the inquisitive stare of the dwellers in the same house, taking her hand in his, and drawing it into his arm:  “You are not accustomed to such sad sights, the poverty and the squalor.”

“It was the man who frightened me.  What made him call Phyllis-Phyllis! that beautiful sacred name, for it was my mother’s?”

“He was raving; he fancied he was on the stage.  He will not live many days, and then we will see that the child is cared for.”

The “we” escaped his lips before he was aware of it; but the time for reticence was past.  He turned into the Abbey, and Griselda made no resistance.  Then with impassioned earnestness Leslie Travers told his love, and often as the tale is told, it is seldom rehearsed with more simple manly fervour.  For in the reality of his love Leslie Travers forgot all the flowery and fulsome love epithets which were the fashion of the day.  He did not kneel at her feet and vow he was her slave; he did not call her by a thousand names of endearment; but he made her feel perfect confidence in his sincerity.  This confidence ever awakes a response in the heart of a true woman, and makes her ready to trust her future in his hands who asks to guard it henceforth.

“Yes,” she had answered in a low but clear tone; “yes, I thank you for the kindness you do me.”

He tried to stop her, but she went on: 

“It is a kindness to take a friendless and penniless orphan to your heart.”  Then she looked up at him, and reading in his clear pure eyes the story his lips had so lately uttered, she added with a smile, through the April mist of tears in her beautiful eyes:  “Yes, it is a kindness, let me take it as such; but not leave myself your debtor, for I will give you in return all my heart, and be henceforth to you tender and true.”

He seized her hands in rapture, and kissed them passionately.

“We are in a church,” he said; “let us seal our betrothal here, and pray for God’s blessing.”

They were hidden from sight as they stood within the entrance of Prior Bird’s Chantry Chapel, and there, hand clasped in hand, the young lovers knelt and silently prayed for God’s blessing.

As they rose, Griselda looked round, and a blast of chill air came over her from the opening of a side door.  She shuddered, and said: 

“How cold it is!”

“Yes; cold and damp.  Let us hasten out into the sunshine.”

“Who opened that door?” she said.

“Some old woman, I dare say, who comes to dust and clean,” he answered, as they walked down the nave, surrounded, as it there was, with many tombs, and the walls crowded with tablets in memory of the dead.

Lady Jane Waller’s stately monument, and Bishop Montague’s, were then, as now, conspicuous; and Griselda paused for a moment by the recumbent figure of the Lady Jane.

As she did so, a figure, well known and dreaded, was seen coming from behind the monument.

Griselda clasped Leslie Travers’s arm with both hands, and said: 

“Let us hasten away-we are watched.”

But Leslie turned, and faced Sir Maxwell Danby.

“The shadow of the church is a better trysting-place than the shelter of the dwellings in Crown Alley,” he said, hissing the words out in what was hardly more than a whisper.

Leslie was on the point of retorting angrily, when he controlled himself: 

“This is not the time and place,” he said, “to demand an apology for your words, Sir Maxwell Danby.  I will seek it elsewhere.”

But Griselda clung to his arm, and tried to advance towards the side door to get away from the man, who had dogged her steps.

“Come-come, I pray you,” she said; “do not stay.”

And Leslie Travers, saying in low but decided tones, “I will seek satisfaction elsewhere,” let the door swing behind him, and he and Griselda passed out of the dim Abbey into the sunshine.

It was still bright and beautiful without, and the fair city lay under the shadow of the encircling hills, which were touched with the glory of a brilliant winter’s day.

A slight fall of snow had defined the outline of church and houses, and the leafless trees were sparkling with ten thousand diamonds on their branches.

The keen, crisp wind had dried the footways, and there was nothing on the smooth-paved roads to make walking anything but delightful.

“I want to take you to my mother now,” Leslie said.  “Will you come?”

“Will she be kind to me?” Griselda asked.  “Do you think she will be kind to me?”

“Kind!  Pride in you is more likely to be her feeling, I should venture to say.”

“But,” Griselda said, casting anxious looks behind, “I am really afraid of Sir Maxwell Danby.  He will go to the North Parade with all haste, or find Lady Betty in the Pump Room, and speak evil of me.”

“Let him dare to do so!” Leslie said.  “I will challenge him, if he dares to take your name on his lips!”

“Oh no, no!” Griselda said; “no!  Promise you will not quarrel with him?  He is a man who would be a dangerous foe.”

“He is my foe already,” Leslie said.  “As to danger, sweet one, I do not recognise danger where honour is concerned.  Do not talk more about this now, nor mar these first sweet hours of happiness.  Say it is not a dream, those blessed words you spoke in the church, Griselda?”

She gave him a look which was more eloquent than any words, and then said, in a low voice: 

“I feel as if I had found my rest.”

“Dear white-winged dove,” was the reply, “if you have been wandering over stormy waters tempest-tossed, let me love to think you have found your rest with me.”

They were now at the door of Mrs. Travers’s house; Leslie knocked, and it was opened by the old servant, who followed his young master wherever he went-a faithful retainer of the old type of servant, who, through every change and chance, would as soon think of cutting off a right hand as forsake his master’s son.

Giles had a most comical face-a mass of furrows and wrinkles, a mouth which had very few teeth left, and small twinkling eyes.  He wore a scratch yellow wig, and a long coat with huge buttons, on which was the crest of the Travers-a heron with a fish in its beak-a crest suggestive of the land of swamps and marshes, where herons had a good time, and swooped over their prey with but small fear of the aim of the sportsman-so few were the sportsmen who ever invaded those desolate wild tracks of water and peat-moss.

“Aye, Master Leslie,” Giles said, “ye’re late, and there’s company at dinner.”

“It is scarcely one o’clock, Giles.  Where is my mother?”

“Up above with the company; and not well pleased you are not there, either.”

“Oh!” Griselda said; “I do not wish to stay.  Please take me back to the Parade!  Let me see Mrs. Travers another day, please.  I ask it as a favour.”

She pleaded so earnestly, that old Giles interposed: 

“There’s room at my mistress’s board for all that care to come.  There never yet was a guest sent away for lack of room.”

“It is not that-not that,” Griselda said.

“Whatever it is,” Leslie said, “I cannot let you leave us thus”-for Griselda had moved to the door.  “Nay-now, nay-do not be so cruel!”

Here voices were heard on the stairs, and the next moment Mrs. Travers appeared, leaning on the arm of a man who wore a clerical dress, a black coat and bands, and a bag-wig tied with a black bow.

“My son, Mr. Relly,” Mrs. Travers said; and then she looked with dismay at the figure by Leslie’s side.

It was no time for explanation, and Leslie merely said: 

“Miss Mainwaring will dine with us, mother.”

“You are late, Leslie,” Mrs. Travers replied, in a low, constrained voice; and she did not do more than bow to Griselda, adding:  “Our mid-day meal has been waiting for some time.  Shall we go to the dining-parlour at once?”

Surely no position could be more embarrassing for poor Griselda.  All her dignity and gentle stateliness of manner seemed, under this new condition of things, to desert her.  Her large hat scarcely concealed the distress which was so plainly marked on her face, and tears were in her eyes as she said, in a low, trembling voice to Mrs. Travers: 

“I fear I intrude, madam?”

But Mrs. Travers was anxious to avoid what she called the hollow courtesies of the world of fashion, and thus she only replied: 

“Will you be pleased to remove your warm pelisse?  The air is very cold.  Abigail,” she said to a maid-servant who had appeared, “conduct this lady to the inner parlour, and assist her to lay aside her pelisse.  Now, Mr. Relly, we will take our seats, and my son will do the honours.”

Griselda hastily unfastened her pelisse, but instead of following the maid to the room, she held it towards her; and then, with a gesture which implied her trust in Leslie, she put her hand into his arm, and he led her to the dinner-table, where Giles had taken up his position behind his mistress’s chair.

The meal was, as Giles had intimated it would be, very bountiful.  Mr. Relly said a long grace, which was really a prayer, and which Griselda thought would never end.

During dinner the conversation lay between Mr. Relly and Mrs. Travers, if conversation it could be called.  It was rather an exchange of religious sentiments, quotations of texts of Scripture, seasoned with denouncements of the vanities of the world, as Bath spread them out for the unwary.  Griselda felt that many of Mr. Relly’s shafts were directed at her, and she felt increasingly ill at ease and uncomfortable.  It was only when she could summon courage to look at Leslie that her spirits rose to the occasion, and she answered him in low, sweet tones when he addressed her.

To the great relief of everyone except Mrs. Travers Mr. Relly took leave before the cloth was drawn, excusing himself on the plea of having to attend upon that aged servant of God, the Countess, who expected him to consult on important business.

“If I may be so bold, may I beg you to convey my dutiful remembrances to her ladyship?” Mrs. Travers said.

Mr. Relly assented, but in a manner which implied it was a very bold request to make, and then departed.

As soon as they were alone and Giles had left the room, Leslie rose, and going to his mother’s chair, he said: 

“I have brought you a daughter to-day, mother.  You have often longed for her appearance, and it is with joy and pride that I tell you Miss Griselda Mainwaring has done me the honour to promise to be my wife and your dear daughter.”

Mrs. Travers’s face displayed varying emotion as her son went on.  Surprise and disapproval were at first prominent; then the certainty that Leslie was in earnest, and that to turn him from his purpose was at all times hopeless, when his mind was set on any particular course of action, brought tears to her eyes.

“Oh, my son!” she began; but Griselda left her chair, and, coming to her side, she said: 

“Madam, I pray you to receive me as your daughter.  I will try to be a loving and true wife.  Madam, I am alone in the world, and as I have been so happy as to win the love of your son, you must needs think kindly of me.  I will strive to be worthy of him.”

This avowal was so entirely unexpected that Mrs. Travers could not at first speak.  This simple confession of love, this sad reference to her lonely condition, this promise to be a true and loyal wife-how unlike the coquettish and half-reluctant, half-triumphant manner which Mrs. Travers thought a Bath belle would assume under these circumstances!

“My dear,” she said, after a pause, during which Leslie had thrown his arm protectingly round Griselda-“my dear, may I do my duty to you as my only son’s wife?  I pray that you may be kept safe in this evil world, and that we may mutually encourage each other to tread the narrow way leading to everlasting happiness.”

Griselda bent, and said simply: 

“Kiss me, dear madam, in token of your approval;” and Mrs. Travers rose, and very solemnly putting her arm round Griselda, and holding the hand which was locked in her son’s, pressed a kiss on the fair forehead of her future daughter-in-law, and uttered a prayer for God’s blessing on her.  Then Griselda said, “I must return now to Lady Betty.  Will you come, sir?”

“Give me my name,” he said.  “Let me hear you give me my name.”

“There is time enough for that,” she said, rallying with an arch smile.  “We will come to that by-and-by.”

And soon they were retracing their steps to the North Parade, joy in their hearts, and that sweet sense of mutual love and confidence, which in all times, whenever it is given, comes near to the bliss of the first love-story rehearsed in Paradise.  Alas! that too often it should pass like a dream, and that the trail of the serpent should be ready to mar the beauty of the flowers of an Eden like Leslie Travers’s, and Griselda Mainwaring’s.