In going down from the church to the Small House Lily Dale had all the conversation to herself. During some portion of the way the path was only broad enough for two persons, and here Major Grantly walked by Lily’s side, while Grace followed them. Then they found their way into the house, and Lily made her little speech to her mother about catching the major. ‘Yes, my dear, I have seen Major Grantly before,’ said Mrs Dale. ‘I suppose he has met you on the road. But I did not expect that any of you would have returned so soon.’ Some little explanation followed as to the squire, and as to Major Grantly’s walk, and after that the great thing was to leave the two lovers alone. ‘You will dine here, of course, Major Grantly,’ Mrs Dale said. But this he declined. He had learned, he said, that there was a night-train up to London, and he thought that he would return to town by that. He had intended, when he left London to get back there as soon as possible. Then Mrs Dale, having hesitated for two or three seconds, got up and left the room, and Lily followed. ‘It seems very odd and abrupt,’ said Mrs Dale to her daughter, ‘but I suppose it is best.’ ‘Of course, it is best, mamma. Do as one would be done by — that’s the only rule. It will be much better for her that she should have it over.’
Grace was seated on a sofa, and Major Grantly got up from his chair, and came and stood opposite to her. ‘Grace,’ he said, ‘I hope you are not angry with me for coming down to see you here.’
‘No, I am not angry,’ she said.
‘I have thought a great deal about it, and your friend, Miss Prettyman, knew that I was coming. She quite approves of my coming.’
‘She has written to me, but did not tell me of it,’ said Grace, not knowing what other answer to make.
‘No — she could not have done that. She had no authority. I only mention her name because it will have weight with you, and because I have not done that which, under the circumstances, perhaps, I should have been bound to do. I have not seen your father.’
‘Poor papa,’ said Grace.
‘I have felt that at the present moment I could not do so with any success. It has not come of any want of respect either for him or for you. Of course, Grace, you know why I am here.’ He paused, and then, remembering that he had no right to expect an answer to such a question, he continued, ‘I have come here, dearest Grace, to ask you to be my wife, and to be a mother to Edith. I know that you love Edith.’
‘I do indeed.’
‘And I have hoped sometimes — though I suppose I ought not to say so — but I have hoped and almost thought sometimes, that you have been willing to — love me, too. It is better to tell the truth simply, is it not?’
‘I suppose so,’ said Grace.
‘And therefore, and because I love you dearly myself, I have come to ask you to be my wife.’ Saying which he opened out his hand, and held it to her. But she did not take it. ‘There is my hand, Grace. If your heart is as I would have it you can give me yours, and I shall want nothing else to make me happy.’ But still she made no motion towards granting him his request. ‘If I have been too sudden,’ he said, ‘you must forgive me for that. I have been sudden and abrupt, but as things are, no other way has been open to me. Can you not bring yourself to give me some answer, Grace?’ His hand had now fallen again to his side, but he was still standing before her.
She had said no word to him as yet, except that one in which she had acknowledged her love for his child, and had expressed no surprise, even in her countenance, at his proposal. And yet the idea that he should do such a thing, since the idea that he certainly would do it had become clear to her, had filled her with a world of surprise. No girl ever lived with any beauty belonging to her who had a smaller knowledge of her own possession than Grace Crawley. Nor had she the slightest pride in her own acquirements. That she had been taught in many things more than had been taught to other girls, had come of her poverty and of the desolation of her home. She had learned to read Greek and Italian because there had been nothing else for her to do in that sad house. And, subsequently, accuracy of knowledge had been necessary for the earning of her bread. I think that Grace had at times been weak enough to envy the idleness and almost envy the ignorance of other girls. Her figure was light, perfect in symmetry, full of grace at all points; but she had thought nothing of her figure, remembering only the poverty of her dress, but remembering also with a brave resolution that she would never be ashamed of it. And as her acquaintance with Major Grantly had begun and had grown, and as she had learned to feel unconsciously that his company was pleasanter to her than that of any other person she knew, she had still told herself that anything like love must be out of the question. But then words had been spoken, and there had been glances in his eye, and a tone in his voice, and a touch upon his fingers, of which she could not altogether refuse to accept the meaning. And others had spoken of it, the two Miss Prettymans and her friend Lily. Yet she would not admit to herself that it could be so, and she would not allow herself to confess to herself that she loved him. Then had come the last killing misery to which her father had been subjected. He had been accused of stealing money, and had been committed to be tried for the theft. From that moment, at any rate, any hope, if there had been a hope, must be crushed. But she swore to herself bravely that there had been no such hope. And she assured herself also that nothing had passed which had entitled her to expect anything beyond ordinary friendship from the man of whom she certainly had thought much. Even if those touches and those tones and those glances had meant anything, all such meaning must be annihilated by this disgrace which had come upon her. She might know that her father was innocent; but the world thought differently, and she, her brothers and sister, and her mother and her poor father, must bend to the world’s opinion. If those dangerous joys had meant anything, they must be taken as meaning nothing more.
Thus she had argued with herself, and, fortified by such self- teachings, she had come down to Allington. Since she had been with her friends there had come upon her from day to day a clear conviction that her arguments had been undoubtedly true — a clear conviction which had been very cold to her heart in spite of all her courage. She had expected nothing, hoped for nothing, and yet when nothing came she was sad. She thought of one special half-hour in which he had said almost all that he might have said — more than he ought to have said; — of a moment during which her hand had remained in his; of a certain pressure with which he had put her shawl upon her shoulders. If he had only written to her one word to tell her that he believed her father was innocent! But no; she had no right to expect anything from him. And then Lily had ceased to talk of him, and she did expect nothing. Now he was there before her, asking her to come to him and be his wife. Yes; she would kiss his shoebuckles, only that the kissing of his shoebuckles would bring upon him that injury which he should never suffer from her hands! He had been generous, and her self-pride was satisfied. But her other pride was touched, and she also would be generous. ‘Can you not bring yourself to give me some answer?’ he had said to her. Of course she must give him an answer, but how would she give it?
‘You are very kind,’ she said.
‘I would be more than kind.’
‘So you are. Kind is a cold word when used to such a friend at such a time.’
‘I would be everything on earth to you that a man can be to a woman.’
‘I know I ought to thank you if I knew how. My heart is full of thanks; it is indeed.’
‘And is there no room for love there?’
‘There is no room for love in our house, Major Grantly. You have not seen papa.’
‘No; but if you wish, I will do so at once.’
‘It would to do no good; — none. I only asked you because you can hardly know how sad is our state at home.’
‘But I cannot see that that need deter you, if you can love me.’
‘Can you not? If you saw him, and the house, and my mother, you would not say so. In the Bible it is said of some season that it is not a time for marrying, or giving in marriage. And so it is with us.’
‘I am not pressing you as to a day. I only ask you to say that you will be engaged to me — so that I may tell my own people, and let it be known.’
‘I understand all that. I know how good you are. But, Major Grantly, you must understand me also when I assure you that it cannot be so.’
‘Do you mean to refuse me altogether?’
‘Must I answer that question? Ought I to be made to answer it? But I will tell you fairly, without touching on anything else, that I feel that we are all disgraced, and that I will not take that disgrace into another family.’
‘Grace, do you love me?’
‘I love no one now — that is, as you mean. I can love no one. I have no room for any feeling except for my father and mother, and for us all. I should not be here now but that I save my mother the bread that I should eat at home.’
‘Is it as bad as that?’
‘Yes, it is as bad as that. It is much worse than that, if you knew it all. You cannot conceive how low we have fallen. And now they tell me that my father will be found guilty, and will be sent to prison. Putting ourselves out of the question, what would you think of a girl who could engage herself to any man under such circumstances? What would you think of a girl who would allow herself to be in love in such a position? Had I been ten times engaged to you, I would have broken it off.’ And then she got up to leave him.
But he stopped her, holding her by the arm. ‘What you have said will make me say what I certainly should have said without it. I declare that we are engaged.’
‘No, we are not,’ said Grace.
‘You have told me that you loved me.’
‘I never told you so.’
‘There are other ways of speaking than the voice; and I will boast to you, though to no one else, that you have told me so. I believe you love me. I shall hold myself engaged to you, and I shall think you false if I hear that you listen to another man. Now, good-bye, Grace; — my own Grace.’
‘No, I am not your own,’ she said, through her tears.
‘You are my own, my very own. God bless you, dear, dear, dearest Grace. You shall hear from me in a day or two, and shall see me as soon as this horrid trial is over.’ Then he took her in his arms before she could escape from him, and kissed her forehead and her lips, while she struggled in his arms. After that he left the room and the house as quickly as he could, and was seen no more of the Dales upon that occasion.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:14