Read CHAPTER XIII - THE PLOT THICKENS of Her Season in Bath A Story of Bygone Days, free online book, by Emma Marshall, on

The money which Griselda had brought the day before had added some comfort to that bare room.  A good fire was burning, and the bed on which the man lay was covered with blankets.

There was wine, too, and food; and thus, all unawares, the daughter had performed a daughter’s duty, and had ministered to the comfort of the last sad hours of that wasted life.

But it were vain to try to tell how Griselda’s whole nature shrank from this sudden revelation-how the impulse was strong to leave the room before consciousness returned to the dying man-so intensely did she dread the recognition which she knew must follow.

For Graves had risen from her knees; and, going to the table, had taken a small case, and a letter from it, saying: 

“He showed me these last night; they tell their own tale.”

Poor little Norah had resumed her place by the bedside, exhausted with her long watching.  She had slipped down on the floor, and had fallen into a doze.  When Graves touched the case, she sprang up: 

“No; you must not.  Father said I was to let no one touch it till she came.  No -”

The movement, and the child’s voice, roused the sick man.  He opened his large eyes, and looked about him-at first with no expression in them; but presently those black, lack-lustre eyes became almost bright as he fastened them on Griselda, and said, in a collected manner: 

“Yes; I am glad I have lived to see you.  Look! there is the portrait of your mother, and a letter from her, in which is her wedding-ring.  I would not bury it with her; I kept it for you-her child-her only child-my child.  Let me hear you call me ‘father!’ I was so cruel-so base-she had to flee from me-my poor Phyllis!”

Griselda had opened the case, and stood irresolute with the portrait of her mother in her hand.  A lock of light hair was twisted into a curl, fastened by a narrow band of small pearls.

The mother’s face, lovely yet sad, looked up at the daughter’s, and seemed to express sympathy and pity for her.

Deeply had the mother suffered-would her child be like her in this, as in outward form and semblance?  The likeness was so unmistakable, that, except for the different style of dress, the miniature might have been painted as a portrait of Griselda herself.

“My mother!” she whispered softly; and, to the surprise of those who stood by, the sick man said, in a voice very different from the raving tones which had been ringing through the room and reaching to every part of the house: 

“Yes; your mother.  I remember you, little Griselda-little Griselda.  I took you to Longueville, and left you there.  You cried then to leave me; you weep now to find me.  Well, it is just.  I have been a wicked wretch; I have but little breath left-but take my poor little one out of this-this stage-life.  Take her, and try to love her; she is your sister.”

“I will,” Griselda said.  “I shall have a home soon-she shall share it.”

“I thought as much-I hoped as much.  He looks worthy of you, Griselda.  Norah,” he said, “this is your sister-your princess, as you call her; she will care for you.  You will be a good little maid to her?”

“Yes, father,” Norah said; and then, with touching simplicity, she put her little hand into Griselda’s, and, looking up at her, she saw tears were coursing each other down her cheeks.

“Will you pray for me?” the dying man said.  “Pray that I may be forgiven.”

“Pray for yourself, father,” Griselda whispered.

He heard the word fall from her lips; and, putting out his long, thin, wasted hand, he laid it on her head as she knelt by the bed, and said: 

“I pray to be forgiven, and for blessings on you.”

“For Christ’s sake!”

The voice was from Graves, who, in broken accents, called upon the Master whom she loved to have mercy on the poor penitent who lay dying.

Then little Norah, nestling close to her father, repeated the 23rd Psalm; but before she had ended, her father became restless, and fumbled for the paper, and said: 

“The ring-the ring-her mother’s ring!”

Griselda put it into his feeble, uncertain grasp, and he murmured: 

“Put it on-put it on; and forgive me for all the misery I caused your mother.  I broke her heart; and then the flames-the cruel flames-took from me the other poor child who loved me.  My wife-Norah’s mother-well, if she had lived, I should have broken her heart, too.”

After this there were no coherent words-all was confusion again; and before the Abbey clock had struck out eleven, the spirit had passed away.  Who shall dare to limit the love and forgiveness of God in Christ?

With this sad story of a misspent and miserable life we have no more to do here.  It rolls back into the mists of oblivion with tens of thousands like it in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and in all the centuries since the world began.  We dare not say such life-stories leave no trace behind, for true it is that the evil lives, when the doer of the evil is gone.  The two daughters of this unhappy man were bearing the consequences of his sin.  The child cast penniless on the cold world, the beautiful girl by her side suffering as only such a nature could suffer from the sense of humiliation and distress that her father had been a man whose very name must perish with him-for who would wish to keep it in remembrance?  Oh for the good name which is better than riches to leave to our children!  Surely, when troubled for the future of our sons and daughters, we may strive to leave them that which is better than silver and gold-the inheritance of a good name, of parents who have been honourable members of the great commonwealth, true to God, and true to man, and have scorned the paths of deceit and guile, as well as the ways of open sin and treacherous wickedness.

“We must get back, Miss Griselda.  Her ladyship will be returned.  We must go at once.”

“Yes.  But Norah-the child?”

“I will take care of her,” Brian Bellis said.  “See! she is almost stupefied with her grief-she will scarce heed your departure!”

“I cannot leave her-poor little girl!  She has no one in the world but me!” Griselda said, in a tone of deep emotion.

While they were thus speaking, the stairs creaked under the weight of Mrs. Betts, who, with one of the actors from the theatre, came to inquire for Lamartine.  Mrs. Betts was a coarse, loud-voiced woman, but her nature was kind, and she pitied the child who had done so much for her father with all her heart.  She was a woman of decision too, and, with one glance at the bed, she lifted the almost unconscious Norah in her arms, and turning to the pale, haggard man, who had been acting in Lamartine’s place, she said: 

“You bide here while I take the child to my lodgings.  And we must give notice of the death, and club to get him decently buried.  Mr. Palmer will give a guinea, and we’ll all follow in the same line.  Harrison, do you hear?”

“Yes-yes,” the man said hurriedly; “but don’t leave me long alone here.  I-I don’t care to have the company of a dead man for long.”

“You are an arrant coward, then, for your pains!  There, go into the inner chamber, and I’ll be back in half an hour.  Turn the key in the lock,” Mrs. Betts said, as she began to trudge down the dark stairs with Norah in her arms-“turn the key.”

But the man sprang to the door: 

“Don’t-don’t lock me in!  I’ll stay; but don’t lock the door!”

A scornful laugh from Mrs. Betts was the answer, and Graves coolly turned the key as she was told.

Brian Bellis had gone down to look for Zach and the torch, but no Zach was to be found.  He had made off to earn another gold-piece, and had performed his errand well, as the event proved.

Poor Griselda had need of the support of Graves’s strong arm as she hurried her along to the North Parade.  What if Lady Betty were before her!  What if it should come to her being really refused admittance to the house!  Graves trembled to think of it, and of what she would personally be made to suffer if she were not at her post in her mistress’s bedroom at the appointed hour.

Griselda had really no thought about this.  Her one longing was to get back-back to her room, where she could pour forth her trouble, and consider how she should tell him who had loved her so well, that she was the daughter of the man by whose bedside they had stood together, all unconscious that they were doing anything more than responding to the entreaty of a child who was almost starving, and who was the only friend the wretched man seemed to possess.

To Graves’s intense relief, Mrs. Abbott opened the door, and, in reply to the anxious question, said: 

“No, her ladyship is not come home.  Nobody has been here since Zach returned to say you did not want him any more.”

“I never said so!” Graves exclaimed.  “We’ve groped home as best we could, for the rain and mist put out the lights, and as to the lamps, the glass is so thick with damp you can scarce see a spark in them.”

While Graves was speaking, Griselda had gone wearily upstairs.  Her cloak was saturated with rain, and as she unfastened her caleche the masses of her hair fell back.  At the top of the first flight she stopped.

“Graves! ask if a messenger has brought a letter for me.”

“No,” Mrs. Abbott said, answering-“no.  Not a soul has been near the house since you left it.”

“No letter!-no letter!” Griselda murmured; and then, when she reached her room, she threw aside her cloak and seated herself, with folded hands, staring out into the embers of the fire with a look in her face which made Graves say, as she hastened towards her: 

“My dear! my poor child! don’t look like that.  It is over now-and a mercy too.  There will never be any need to tell-no one need know.  It’s safe with me, and no one else need know.  Come, let me help you to bed before I am wanted elsewhere.  Come!”

“I am not going to bed,” Griselda said.  “I must wait till he comes or sends again.”

“We’ll, the gentleman won’t send at this time of night, that’s certain!  Come, they will be back at any minute now!  Let me put you to bed.  I declare,” said Graves, shuddering, “a change in the weather like this is enough to give one rheumatism!  I don’t call the Bath climate so wonderful-frost one day, thaw and rain the next!”

Graves made up the fire, and then, finding Griselda quite determined to sit up, she left her to fetch some refreshment, wisely thinking that to urge her against her will was hopeless just then.

“She will come round, poor child!  It is a dreadful shock!  I almost wish I’d told her last night; but I hadn’t the courage to do it.  I make no doubt the Lord is leading her to Himself by a rough path.  But I don’t like that look in her face; it is not natural.  She ought to cry; tears are always softening to grief.  Not that one can call it grief to lose a father like him!”

No, it was not grief, but it was deep pity; and it was shame, and soreness of heart, and wounded pride.

Then that letter she had written in the fulness of her first joy-that letter, by which she cast herself upon Leslie Travers, and confided to him her trouble about Sir Maxwell.  He had never answered it.  He had come to the house, it is true, but he had been sent away.  Hours had gone by since, and he made no sign.  What could she think but that he had looked with an unfavourable eye upon that outpouring of her full heart-perhaps thought her reference to Sir Maxwell’s hateful addresses unmaidenly, unwomanly?

Griselda went over all this again and again, sitting as Graves had left her, her head resting against the back of a high Chippendale chair, her feet on the brass fender, her hands clasped, and the wealth of her beautiful hair covering her as with a mantle.

“How shall I tell him?” she said at last.  “I must tell him; he must know; he will not wish me to be his wife now, perhaps.  There is little Norah; I cannot part from her.  How selfish I am!  I am not thinking of her, or of anybody but myself.  Oh, what a cruel, cruel blow to all my hopes!  Ah, mother! mother!” she exclaimed as she suddenly remembered the case she had dropped into her wide pocket with the ring and the letter.  “Ah! mother!”

For as her cold hands drew out the case, and she pressed the spring, it flew open, and the mother’s face seemed to have a living power for the daughter.

Sympathy and maternal love and tenderness were all seen on that beautiful countenance; and yet there was a strength in the lines of the lovely mouth, those rosy, curved lips, parting as if to say, “Be of good courage! the battle may be sore; but victory comes at length.  Trust, and be not afraid!”

Then tenderly and reverently Griselda unfolded the yellow paper, to which a ring was fastened with many clumsy stitches of silk, and read the faint characters of the few lines which were traced there.

“I send you back the ring, as the tie between us is broken, Patrick.  Keep it for our child; she is in safety at Longueville Park.  Do not molest her; leave her to a better home than you can give her.  You took her there by my request; leave her there.  Before you read this I shall be no longer on earth; but I have forgiven you, dear, as I hope to be forgiven.  Ours has been the wrong.  Oh, do not let the child suffer!  Leave her in the place where I was born and bred, and fulfil your vow, never, never to do aught which may turn her uncle’s heart against her.  It is my last request-my last hope!  Adieu, Patrick!”

These words were so blurred that they were illegible; and Griselda sunk on her knees by the chair, and the tears, so long frozen, poured forth in a flood till her full heart was relieved.

Graves, coming in an hour later, found her with her fair head bowed on her arms, asleep.  Youth had triumphed over sorrow of heart, and sleep had come, as it does come, with gentle power to blot out for a time the sorrows of the young.  Graves’s eyes filled with tears as she looked at her, and, taking a quilted cover from the bed, she threw it over her, putting a pillow under her head, and murmuring: 

“Alas, poor dear!  I fear the worst for her is not over.  May God help her! for man’s help is vain.  I can only pray for her.  I dare not wake her-not yet-not yet!”