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

When the first heat of passion was over, Leslie Travers went sorrowfully towards his home in King Street.

Mr. Beresford would not leave him till he saw him safely to the door, which was opened by Giles, who greeted his young master with a yawn, and said: 

“The mistress has been a-bed these three hours.  Ye are burning the candle at both ends, Master Leslie.”

Something in Leslie’s manner struck the old servant.  He preceded his young master to the parlour, threw on a log, and lighted two candles, which stood like tall sentinels on either side of the mantelshelf, in heavy brass candlesticks.

“There’s nothing like light and warmth if folks are down-hearted,” he said to himself; “and really the young master looks down-hearted.  Ah! it’s the world and its ways.  The mistress has the best of it.”

Little did Giles’s mistress think, as she slept peacefully that night, how the leaden hours dragged on in the room below, where Leslie Travers sat and wrestled with that most relentless foe-an uneasy conscience.

A hundred years ago duels were common enough, and any man who was challenged would have been scouted as a coward if he had not accepted the challenge.

Leslie knew he had thrown the lie back to Sir Maxwell Danby, and that he should be called upon to answer for it, perhaps by his life.

He was no coward, but this very life had become sweeter to him than ever before, during the last few days.

He had gained the love of the woman who was to him a queen amongst all women, and now in vindicating her from the tongue of the slanderer, he might perhaps be on the eve of leaving her for ever.

He had often looked death in the face when he had been lying ill at the Grange, and sometimes for utter weariness it had seemed no fearful thing to die.  Since his mother had come under the influence of Lady Huntingdon’s ministers, Leslie had heard a great deal of “the King of Terrors,” as Death was termed in their phraseology, and he had often thought that it had not worn that guise to him in times of sore sickness-rather, as a friend’s arm outstretched to lull his pain and give him peace.  But now-now that the strength of his young manhood was renewed-now, when life was as a pleasant song in the possession of Griselda’s love, in dreams of a useful happy life, with her to sympathize in all his hopes and aims-parting from life, and all that life holds dear, was very different.

As he sat by the fire, or left his chair and paced the room, he seemed to hear words spoken in the very inner recesses of his soul.

I say unto you, love your enemies, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them that despitefully use you and persecute you.”

“Yes,” he argued, “yes; but it is not for myself, it is for her!  That man’s disappointment and disgust at her rejection of his suit will goad him to say all evil of her-my pure, beautiful Griselda!  And yet -”

Then he went hopelessly over the past week.  That child who had come to the Herschels’ doorstep; the pity which she had called to life; that expedition for the relief of the suffering man-if-if only that had never been, all this had been averted.  All for a stranger, a worthless stranger, who was probably neither deserving of pity or help.

If he had known how close between Griselda and this man the tie was, how far the poor dying actor was from being a stranger to her, would his feelings have been different? would the truth have changed the aspect of things for him-made the situation more or less painful?  I cannot tell.

The gray January dawn, creeping in through the holes in the shutters, and penetrating the room where the fire had burned out, and the candles died in their sockets, found Leslie in a fitful doze in the chair, into which, after walking up and down the room during the night, he had sunk at last from sheer exhaustion.  On first waking he could not recall what had happened.  He stretched his stiff limbs, and then the faint pallor of the dawn showed him the familiar objects in the room, and the present with all its stern realities became vivid.

He tottered upstairs to his bed, not wishing his mother to find him dressed in his gay evening clothes, when she came down to breakfast.

As he passed her door he heard her voice raised in prayer.

To pray aloud, in pleading earnest tones, had become a habit of the good people with whom Mrs. Travers had cast in her lot, and Leslie paused as he heard his name.

“My son! my son!  Convert him, turn him to Thee, for he is wandering far from Thee, in pursuit of the vain pleasures of a sinful world!”

“I need your prayers, sweet mother,” the poor fellow murmured, as he passed on to his room near hers.  “Perhaps to-morrow I shall be beyond their reach.  Oh! that great mystery beyond!”

The message came, as he expected, brought by Mr. Dickinson, who was to be Sir Maxwell’s second, and Leslie referred him to Mr. Beresford to act for him.

“It’s a pity you can’t square matters without fighting,” Mr. Dickinson said.

He was the good-natured, easy-going man who had been in the jeweller’s shop on that day when Sir Maxwell had first had his evil suspicions roused.

“It’s a pity, but Sir Maxwell is bent upon fighting, so the sooner it is over, the better.  He is an old hand-and you?  Can you handle a sword?”

“Fairly well,” Leslie said.

“It is proposed to have a round with swords.  The place-Claverton Down, out Widcombe way; the time-dawn, to-morrow.  It is Sunday, by-the-bye, and we are safe not to be hindered.  What answer shall I take to Danby?”

“Say I am ready,” Leslie said; “ready-aye, ready!”

“You don’t feel inclined for a compromise, then?”

“No, I do not.  He has heaped insults on me which I have overlooked, but he has dared to slander one whom I love better than life.  Do you suppose I can brook that?”

“Dear! dear!” exclaimed Mr. Dickinson.  “Women are the bottom of half the mischief that is brewed in the world, I do believe.”

Mr. Dickinson had not been gone long before Mr. Beresford arrived.  He ran in to the Herschels to excuse himself from accompanying them to Bristol, saying he had urgent business, and then returned to his friend.

All the arrangements were made, and the utmost secrecy agreed on.

“No one need know”-hesitating-“certainly not Miss Mainwaring or my mother.  I will employ to-day in setting my house in order, and leave letters behind me.”

“Don’t say ‘behind me,’ man.  Hundreds of people who fight do not get a scratch.  You will be all right, and marry the lady, and live happy ever after.”

“I am in no jesting mood, Beresford; and although you profess to look on the whole affair as a joke, you do not do so, in your secret heart.  You do not forget, any more than I do, that last month we walked together to Claverton Down to see the spot where Viscount Barre asked for his life of Count Rice, not much over a year ago."

“Ah! that was a different matter.  We are to have no pistols, only a little sword-play.  I hope one of Danby’s evil eyes may be put out, and, better still, his tongue slit.  Aim at his mouth, with that end in view.  Yes, try for the mouth and eyes, Travers.”

“Has the matter got wind in Bath?” Leslie asked.

“Oh! the gossips have got hold of the quarrel.  But dear heart, man, there is seldom a day but there is a war of words in the Assembly or Pump Room.”

Leslie Travers spent the rest of the day in his room, excusing himself to his mother on the plea of indisposition.  And, indeed, she was too much occupied with a prayer-meeting at the Countess of Huntingdon’s house to do more than pay Leslie a visit at intervals, see that his fire burned brightly, and exhort him to take the soup and wine she carried to him herself.  Thus, all unconscious of the sword which was hanging over her, gentle Mrs. Travers went on her way.

Unconscious, too, of trouble affecting their near neighbour and friend, Mr. and Miss Herschel were at Bristol, rehearsing, amidst the congratulations of the audience privileged to be present, the great oratorio to be performed in a few days under the baton of Ronzini, who was to conduct it.

Unconscious of the peril in which Leslie Travers stood, Griselda was occupied with the event of the previous night-her father’s death-and the necessary confession to Leslie Travers, of her relationship to the dying man, by whose bedside they had watched together.

The house in North Parade was unusually quiet that day, for Lady Betty had caught cold, and kept Graves in perpetual attendance.

A few visitors arrived, but were refused admittance, and Griselda waited in vain for any message from Leslie Travers.

She had begun several letters to him, and then torn them into fragments.

Then there was the thought of poor desolate little Norah, as she saw her carried away from that attic where her father lay dead, in Mrs. Betts’s arms.

Had she not promised to befriend her? and how could she fulfil her promise?

Graves kept out of her way; she had heard enough from Zach to make her fear the worst about the quarrel between Sir Maxwell Danby and Mr. Travers.  She dreaded to be questioned, and yet she longed to speak.

Lady Betty was a fractious invalid, and she was constantly crying out that her illness was brought on by the conduct of that minx upstairs, telling Graves to let her know she never wished to see her face again-that she had disgraced her, and that she might beg her bread for all she cared; that she hoped Sir Maxwell would fight that young jackanapes, and get him out of the way.  Then she cried that she had got the smallpox-her back ached, her eyes ached-she must have the doctor.  Graves must send for the doctor-Mr. Cheyne, a young man who claimed to be a grandson of the great Dr. Cheyne, who had been a celebrated doctor in Bath in the days of Beau Nash.

Graves preserved a calm, not to say stolid, manner, and this could alone have carried her through that long, dull winter’s day.  Her anxiety did not centre in Lady Betty, nor the pimple on her cheek, which she thought might be the precursor of the dreaded smallpox, which the little lady awaited Mr. Cheyne’s assurances to confirm, and professed to believe that she was smitten by that dreadful malady.

Graves’s heart was occupied with the sorrow of the young mistress upstairs, not with the fancied illness of the lady who, propped up in bed in an elaborate nightgown, surmounted by a cap furbished with pink ribbons, was enough to wear out the patience even of her patient waiting-woman.

Mr. Cheyne was slow in making his appearance, and the long, dull day had nearly closed, and still he did not answer the summons sent to him by David at his mistress’s request.

Graves had sent Mrs. Abbott’s daughter up to Griselda’s room with her dinner, and preferred waiting till it was nearly dark before she stood face to face with her.  She dreaded lest her face should betray the fear at her heart.

It was nearly dark when she came to Griselda’s room.  She found the table covered with letters and papers, and the case with her mother’s portrait and the old jewel-case standing on it.

“I thought you were never coming-never,” Griselda said, in an injured voice.  “Oh, dear Graves! do a kind thing for me this evening!  Go to Crown Alley, and take this money for Norah’s black dress.  Oh, dear Graves!  I must wear a black gown; he was my father.  Look!” she said; “I have put on her little wedding-ring.  There is a posy inside.  I need those words now-’Patience and Hope.’  Why won’t you speak, Graves?  It is as if you had not heard.”

“I hear-I hear, my dear; but as to leaving her ladyship, I don’t see how I can do it-not till she is off to sleep.  If the doctor came, he might give her a draught to settle her.”

“I do want you to go to Crown Alley, and to-to King Street, to take a letter to Mr. Travers.  It is so odd; so unaccountable, that he never writes nor sends.  I must know why.  Perhaps he has heard that I am that poor man’s daughter, and he feels he can’t marry one so low-born.  Yet it is not like him to cast me off, is it, Graves?”

“Well,” said Graves, “I’ll try what I can do; but, after all, I’d as lief you left the letter till to-morrow.  Leave it till to-morrow.”

“To-morrow!  No; who can tell what to-morrow may bring?  No; I cannot wait.  Graves, I feel as if I should go mad, unless I hear soon if Mr. Travers is angry, and has cast me off.”

“You may be sure he has not done that, my dear; you may be at rest on that score.”

“How can I rest?  Well, he must be told about my father-my father!  I Do you think he has found it out, and that this keeps him away?”

“No; I don’t,” said Graves shortly.

“Hark! there’s a ring!  Run down-run down, and see who it is!  Run, Graves!”

Graves departed, glad to be released, and returned presently: 

“It’s the boy, Miss Griselda.”

“The boy!  What boy?”

“The boy that came the night the man”-Graves corrected herself-“the gentleman, Mr. Mainwaring, was dying.  He has a message for you.”

“I will come down and see him.  He shall take this letter to King Street.  He shall wait and bring me an answer.  I shall meet no one on the stairs.  Let me pass you.”

Brian Bellis was standing in the entrance-hall, and Griselda went eagerly towards him: 

“Have you brought me tidings?”

And Brian replied: 

“I have taken Norah home to my aunt’s house.  I’ve had a piece of work to do it; but they will keep her till after the funeral.  He is to be buried to-morrow afternoon.  I thought you would like to know this, madam.”

“Yes-yes,” Griselda said; “and I will reward you for your care of Norah.”

“I want no reward, madam,” Brian said quickly.  “Have you any commands?-for it is late.  The actors at the theatre have subscribed for the burial; but -”

“Not enough-I understand.  Follow me upstairs-gently-softly,” she said, as she led the way to a small room at the head of the stairs where Graves worked.

Griselda pointed to the door; and then going to her own room on the upper story, she took up the letter she had at last written to Leslie Travers, and the packet of money she had sealed for Graves to take to Crown Alley.  When she rejoined Brian, she said: 

“I entrust you with these two packets.  I had them ready.  The money is for the-for my sister.  Let her have decent black, and proper mourning; and there are two guineas for the funeral of-her father.  But,” Griselda said, with a strange pang of self-reproach she could not have defined, as she felt how little the death of her father and her sister’s sorrow weighed in the balance against an aching fear and anxiety about Mr. Travers-“but this letter I want you to put into the hands of Mr. Leslie Travers in King Street.  For this-oh!  I would reward you in any way that you desire.  Bring me an answer back, and I will owe you eternal gratitude.  Do you hear?”

Yes, Brian heard.  It seemed all but impossible that this tall, beautiful lady should clasp her hands as a suppliant to him.  His large, honest eyes sought hers, and the appeal in them touched his boyish heart.

“I will do what you wish, madam, and as quickly as I can.”

“Thank you-I thank you, dear boy, with all my heart.  Oh, that you may bring back a word to comfort me!-for I am shadowed with the cloud of coming, as well as past, misfortune; and I scarce know how to be patient till the pain of suspense is relieved.”  Then, laying her hand on Brian’s shoulder, she said:  “Promise to see Mr. Travers, and put the letter in his hand.”

And Brian promised, and kept his promise faithfully.