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

The door of the house in North Parade was opened by Graves.

“Where have you been?” she said anxiously.  “Dinner is not only served, but just finished.  There have been tantrums about it, I can tell you.  You may prepare for a fuss.  Her ladyship -”

“Perhaps,” Griselda said, turning to Leslie-“perhaps you had better pay your visit to-morrow.  Let me see Lady Betty alone.”

Graves, who saw the hesitation, now said: 

“Yes, Miss Griselda, her ladyship is in no mood to see a stranger.  You had best bid the gentleman good-day, and come in.”

“It may be it is best,” Griselda said.  “So good-bye-good-bye till to-morrow.”

“Unless we meet in the Assembly Room,” Leslie said, holding her hand; and bending over it, he pressed it to his lips again and again, as if he could not give it up.

She drew it gently away, and then ran with a light step to her own room.  Graves followed her.

“What does it mean, my dear?” she asked.

“It means that I am no longer alone in the wide, cold world.  Oh, be glad for me, Graves, be glad!  I am to be the wife of a good man-Mr. Leslie Travers.”

“Good!  Well, there is none good-no, not one!  He may be better in the eye of man than the rest, but good!-he may be a moral man.”

“He is everything that is noble and good!  Oh, Graves, I am so happy!”

“Poor child!-poor child!” the faithful woman said, as she smoothed the bow on the wide hat before putting it away-“poor child!  Well, you’ll need a protector.  There’s a great to-do in the dining-parlour.  I heard your name again and again; and her ladyship and that man who is so often here-worse luck-were making free with it, I can tell you.  There! that’s her bell-ring-ring-ring!  And here comes David.”

David was the man-servant, and tapped sharply at the door.

“Mistress Graves, are you here?  Is Miss Mainwaring here?  She is wanted by her ladyship in the sitting-room-now,” he added-“this instant.  Do ye hear?”

“Yes, I am not deaf,” was Graves’ retort; “so you needn’t make a noise like so many penny trumpets.  You had better change your dress, my dear.  Here is your blue skirt and flowered-chintz gown-and your hair is all falling down.  Come!”

Griselda was putting away the money she had received for her jewels, and then submitted to Graves’ hands, as she changed her morning-gown for a pretty toilette of chintz and under-skirt of blue brocade.

“I must be quick, or she will ring again,” Graves said.  “There!  I thought so”-for again the querulous bell sounded, and hurrying feet were heard on the stairs.

“Her ladyship is in a regular passion,” David said, through the door.  “You’ll repent it, Graves, as sure as you are alive.”

“Hold your tongue, and be off,” was the reply; “I can take care of myself, by your leave!”

David grumbled a reply, and again departed.

In other times, Griselda would have shown some sign of desire to avert the storm of Lady Betty’s anger; but to-day she went through her toilette without any undue haste.

“Graves,” she said, “I want you to go to Crown Alley for me, and see a poor, man who is dying, and take him some comforts.  Surely there are plenty of wasted luxuries that might be of use to him!  And, Graves, he has a dear little girl-such a clever child!-and as lovely as an angel, though half-starved.  Graves, will you take some of that mock-turtle soup and a bottle of wine before night to N, Crown Alley?”

“Well, to say the truth, Miss Griselda, I ain’t partial to low places like Crown Alley, and -”

“But you might talk to the man of good things-you might tell him of the love of God.”

Graves shrugged her shoulders.

“I must tell him first of the wrath of God-poor dying creature!-if he has been mixed up with theatre folk.  It’s awful to think of him!”

“Do go-to please me, dear Graves,” Griselda said.  With a sudden impulse, she stooped and kissed her rugged face as Graves bent down to arrange a knot of ribbon on the chintz bodice.  “Oh, Graves, I am so happy!  I want to make someone else happy.  Don’t you understand?  Do go; and take what you can in your hand.  Now, what do I care for scolding?” she said.  “I feel as if I had wings to-day;” and in another moment Griselda had tripped downstairs, and was at the door of the sitting-room, where on a sofa reclined Lady Betty.

Lady Betty was fanning herself vigorously-always a sign of a coming storm; and Sir Maxwell Danby was leaning back in an armchair, toying with his snuff-box and the trifles hanging to his watch-chain.  The ruffles on his coat were of the most costly lace, and so was the edge of the long cravat, which, however, was peppered with the snuff he was continually using.

There was a gleam of something very much the reverse of kindly intention in his little deep-set eyes, and cunning and malice were making curves round his thin lips, though, on Griselda’s entrance, a smile, which was meant to be fascinating, parted them; and, rising in reply to her curtsey at the threshold of the door, he bowed low, advanced to her, and, offering his hand, said: 

“May I beg leave to hand you to a chair?”

Then, as Griselda drew her hand away and turned on him a look of disgust, Lady Betty almost screamed out: 

“What do you mean by flouncing like that, miss?  Sit down at once, and hear of the honour this gentleman proposes to do you.  He offers you what you little deserve.”

“Nay-nay, my lady,” Sir Maxwell began; “that is impossible for any man to offer.  A diadem laid at this fair lady’s feet would be all too little for her deserts.  But may I venture to address a few words to your fair ward? and then I will take my leave, and await with anxiety a reply-say, to-morrow at this time.  I would not hasten her.  Madam,” he began, with his hand on his heart-“madam, I pray you to listen to my poor words; and, as you listen, believe that they come from one weary of the hollow insincerities of a gay world, and longing to rest itself on something real and steadfast.  I see in you the perfection of womanhood.  I adore you; and Lady Betty favours my suit.  I can offer you a position-a social rank-not to be lightly esteemed.  Danby Hall is my ancestral home, and thither I crave leave to convey you, ere many months have passed, as its beautiful mistress, and -”

“Sir,” Griselda interrupted, as this suitor bent on one knee, with due care not to cause a rupture between the silk stockings which met his knee-breeches by too sudden a génuflexion-“sir, I must beg you to desist.  Surely, Aunt Betty, you have not encouraged this gentleman to pursue a suit which is distasteful to me?”

Then, as Lady Betty began to raise her voice, Griselda turned to Sir Maxwell, who was finding his position uneasy, for his joints were not as supple as they had been twenty years before: 

“Sir Maxwell Danby,” she said, her voice trembling, in spite of every effort she made to control it, “I thank you for the honour you do me, but I decline to accept the proposal you make me.”

“She only means to put you off, Sir Maxwell; she will think better of it-she shall think better of it.”

“Nothing will change my purpose-nothing can change it.”  Then, though it seemed almost sacrilege to bring to light what lay like a fount of hidden joy in her heart, she looked steadily into the face of the world-worn man, who quailed before the clear glance of those young pure eyes.  “Nothing can change my purpose, sir; and for this reason-I am pledged to another.”

“Ha! ha!” broke out almost involuntarily from Sir Maxwell “I understand.  Lady Betty, let me warn you that this fair lady is in some danger from designing folk, who frequent the lowest purlieus of the city.  I warn you; and now”-with a low bow-“I take my leave.”  And casting a Parthian arrow behind as he made another low bow at the door, he said:  “And unless you receive my warning in good part, you will see cause to repent it.  It may be you will have to repent it through another.”

Griselda’s face blanched with fear as she turned to Lady Betty: 

“Tell me,” she exclaimed, “what that bad man has been saying of-of me, and of another!”

“Saying!  That you have misbehaved yourself, miss; and that you have been taken to Crown Alley by that canting hypocrite whom I detest.  Speak to him again, and you leave this house. Dare to refuse Sir Maxwell Danby’s offer, and I cast you off.  You had better take care, for your poor mother disgraced herself, and -”

“Stop!” Griselda said; “not a word about my mother.  I will not hear it.  But, Aunt Betty, I will not listen to the proposal made me by Sir Maxwell Danby.  I would not, as I have told you, marry him were there no other man in the world; but, as it is,” she said proudly, the fire of her eyes being suddenly dimmed with the mist of gentle tears-“as it is, I am the promised wife of Mr. Leslie Travers.  He will see you to-morrow on this matter, and -”

“I will not see him.  You shall marry Sir Maxwell; he has a fine fortune, and a fine place.  You are mad; you are an idiot-a fool!  Go to your room, miss, and keep out of my sight till you come to your senses.  Get out of my sight, I say!”

How long this tirade might have raged I cannot tell, had not David announced “Lord Basingstoke.”  Shallow waters are easily lashed into a storm, and as easily does the storm spend itself.

Lady Betty quickly recovered herself, and as Griselda left the room she heard her aunt’s usual dulcet tones and the inevitable giggle as the young lord, who was sorely at a loss how to “kill time,” sank down in the chair Sir Maxwell had so lately left, and the usual badinage went on and received an additional piquancy by the arrival of two or three more idle people who had been to the Pump Room for their afternoon glass of water, and missing Lady Betty, had come to inquire for her health, and to talk the usual amount of scandal, or harmless gossip, as the case might be.

The various love affairs on the tapis were discussed in their several aspects, and Mrs. Greenwood’s plain daughters were made the target for the shafts of foolish satire.

“Could you fancy, my lady, that the vulgar mother asked young Mr. Beresford what his intentions were because he had danced twice with that fright, her daughter Bell, out of sheer pity?  Lor’, what fun young Beresford is making of her!”

“Ridiculous! vastly amusing!” exclaimed Lady Betty.

“But there is another marriage spoken of.  I hear you are to give your beautiful ward”-Lady Betty’s friends always took care to call Griselda a ward, not a niece-“to Sir Maxwell Danby.  He has a fine place, upon my word,” said an old beau, who posed as a young one.  “He has a fine place, and a pretty fortune.  I congratulate you, madam, and the young lady.  For my part, I always have reckoned her the belle of Bath this season.”

Lady Betty smiled, and accepted the congratulation and the admiration at the same time.

“Sir Maxwell had just left her,” she said.

“Where is the young lady?” the old gentleman asked.  “Upon my word, Danby is a lucky fellow.  There are many who will envy him.  I confess I am one.”

“Yes.  I say, where is Miss Mainwaring?” Lord Basingstoke asked.

And Lady Betty, flirting her fan vigorously, said: 

“She has a headache, and will not be at the Assembly to-night, I fear.”