Because I just can’t take anything seriously, a few years ago I wrote a slightly tongue-in-cheek Austen-esque short story called ‘Grace’ for a few friends. Below I offer you, in all her nonsensical glory: Grace.
Grace paced impatiently across the room, looked at the clock on the mantelpiece again and threw herself onto the window seat. She waited a few minutes then got up again with a further glance at the clock. The post was late today and Grace was expecting a letter from her sister, lately a Burlington, more recently a Hatherley, Mrs. Colonel George Hatherley of Pelmont Hall to be exact. Her sister had only been gone for six weeks but she was missing Georgiana terribly. They corresponded regularly and Grace looked forward to the latest missives from her older sibling, with news of London and all it had to offer her newly betrothed sister.
Grace’s attention wandered for a moment and it was in that moment that the front door was answered and Fanny, the maid, took delivery of the day’s post. In that bundle of letters was the remedy to Grace’s current affliction, the long-waited London letter. Grace read with great interest and decided a swift reply was in order.
Cowden, 26 May 1789
My Dearest Georgiana,
After a most anxious and worrying time for me, your ever-patient and loving sister, your latest letter from London finally arrived. I will, with my reply, endeavour to make myself worthy of your having taken the trouble obvious in your note.
In answer to the most important issue you so rightly bring up in your letter, I most certainly advise you to choose the robin’s egg blue silk rather than the daffodil yellow. It pains me to remind you of Mary Bell’s coming out ball and the distress you were in that night. I will not speak again on what is probably a most unpleasant topic for you, but my putting myself at the risk of incurring your great displeasure should be evidence of the strength of my feelings on the blue silk.
Now, I hope you are not unhappy with me, for I have a bit of tragic news to impart. Dear Old Tom has died. He passed away peacefully in his sleep, and Father arranged for a simple, dignified service for him and a burial in the churchyard under the apple tree. He was with our family for 32 years, and deserved a service almost as much as any of our own family. But that left us with a dilemma: we needed to replace him quite quickly, so father hired a stable-hand called Dick. He seems to have a way with the horses, he settled in with them remarkably fast and father and I are waiting to see how he works out. We are not terribly worried, however, it just doesn’t signify.
You will of course be absolutely in a fit to know about the Turner’s ball last Thursday. We had 37 of us, with 14 couples. I danced nine out of ten dances, the first two with Oswald of course, four with Emily, one with Crispin Turner, one with Henry, and one short one with Mr. McNeillage. I know I am promised to Oswald (dear me, I really am going to be very ill-fitted for matrimony, I cannot even call my future spouse by the name he deserves, Lord Wildsmith, goodness how strange that seems!) but I must confess to you I am secretly glad I have a year left until I must leave Father. As we suspected the weather might turn before the end of the ball, we ordered the post-chaise for our return home, and I was given further evidence of Dick’s evident skill as a horse-hand. I am sure Father made the right choice by him.
That is about all of the news for now. I will not keep you any longer with my ramblings, for I know how busy you are. My love to your Colonel,
I remain, your most loving sister,
Having replied to her sister’s letter, as well as a few others she was absolutely obliged to write, Grace returned to her needlework. She was not long at her task when she heard a knock at the parlour door and Fanny escorted an unexpected guest into the room.
“Emily! I am surprised!” Grace exclaimed. She put down her work and rushed over to hug her best friend. “Dear, now I am very worried indeed, did we have an engagement that I have, in my great ignorance, forgotten about?”
“Oh no, dear, sweet Grace, do not, I pray, be so hard on yourself! It seemed so nice a day out, and I was tearfully bored at home, what with Henry not returning home until two days hence, that I thought to myself that a visit to my dear friend was in order”
“Oh I AM glad, I was concentrating very poorly on my sewing, and I am desperately in need of distraction. You have arrived to rescue me from my ennui just in time. It is such a lovely day out and a shame to be inside, shall we go for a stroll? Oh, I have just the thing! One of the mares was brought to foal last week, a darling thing, shall we go and see? Oh do lets!”
Emily had only to put her hat and shawl back on and Grace decided on her grey bonnet with the new mauve ribbon she had attached only yesterday, her grey gloves, and half shawl. They were soon wandering down the path to the stables, admiring the spring flowers and chatting about persons of their acquaintance. They arrived shortly at the stables and were admiring the new foal when they heard a noise behind them.
“Oh, beggin’ your pardon, Miss Burlington, I didn’t realise you were here. And Miss Emily too. I’m sorry for interrupting you.” It was the new stable-hand, Dick. Having said the right things, instead of leaving, Dick lingered, seeming to wait for something.
“Dick, don’t worry, I wanted Emily to see the new foal. But while you’re here, can you tell us how she is doing?” Grace inclined her head slightly and nodded at the foal.
“Well Miss Burlington, HE is doing just fine. He’ll be a strong one, he will, a real winner by my account. If you’ll pardon my saying so, you don’t know much about horses, do you?” Grace blushed and turned away while Emily concentrated on the foal intently. Dick smiled wryly and ran his hand through his sandy brown hair. From under his unruly mop his stormy blue eyes stared at Grace. She turned just in time to catch his gaze before he turned back to his work. Both Grace and Emily decided almost at the same time that they had enjoyed the foal enough for that day and hurried from the stable.
Emily was more quiet than usual on the walk back to the house. Grace knew there was something her friend wanted to say, and gave her the opportunity. “What did you think of the foal?” she asked.
“Oh, he was a darling, a divine creature,” Emily answered.
“Yes.” Grace wanted to hear what her friend was really thinking, but didn’t want to appear rude. As it happened, Emily became a bit more forthcoming with her feelings.
“Grace, that servant. How do you and your father put up with such insolence? I know I cannot abide a rude servant. Especially one as scruffy as that one. Wherever did you find him?”
“My father found him, I’m not sure where, you know I have nothing to do with the hiring of the stable hands. He replaces Old Tom. Yes, I fear he can appear a bit gruff but he is ever so good with the horses I really don’t know what Father would have done if he hadn’t found him when he did. Old Tom was dear to us but he had let things around the stables slip a great deal. His last few years he wasn’t as able to perform his duties as he should.” She leaned over and plucked a daisy from the path before continuing. “Dick has not only caught up on everything Old Tom was meant to have done but got ahead of himself as well, and has done many jobs around the stable that he was not hired to do.”
Grace found herself faltering, for she had not meant to defend Dick’s rudeness, only to explain how much he was needed around their estate. But she found she had warmed to the topic more than was seemly and blushed again. Not only did she blush, but the remembrance of the way Dick looked at her, like he knew just what she was thinking and shared the thoughts, made her knees give way.
“Grace, heavens me, are you all right? Goodness, we really should get you into the house. I do think you are quite unwell.” Emily rushed Grace up the remainder of the path, yelling for Fanny. “Fanny, oh thank goodness you’re here, Grace is ill, we must get her upstairs to her bed at once.” They guided Grace up the stairs and to her room. Both Fanny and Emily helped her to her bed.
After Emily had said her goodbyes, and Fanny had brought her a cup of hot chocolate, Grace settled back in her bed and closed her eyes. Despite the pain that had developed in her head, she soon drifted off into a fretful sleep.
She was in a field, a soft breeze blowing through her violet muslin dress, her horse standing nearby. She turned to look, and approaching over a nearby hill was Dick, looking handsome and in complete control of the noble beast he was riding. He was cantering towards her, staring directly into her eyes. He reined in, dismounted, and came towards her. Without a word, he took Grace in his arms and —
“Grace, are you sleeping? I was on my way over to visit you, and passed Emily on her way out. She said you were unwell, but I had to come and see for myself. Your maid tried to stop me but I would not take no for an answer. Are you recovered?” Grace woke, her dream fading into distant memory. Standing in her doorway was Gertrude, a most unwelcome guest.
“Gertrude, my dear, I am well, just tired. As you can see, I am somewhat indisposed to receive company at present. If you’ll be so kind as to wait for me in the parlour, I will be with you shortly.”
Grace sighed and watched Gertrude leave the room. Not even her brusqueness with Miss Boucher could dampen the woman’s spirit. The widow was always cheerful, obstinately so. Her visit was just what Grace needed to take her mind off of the events of the day. Gertrude Boucher was a veritable cornucopia of information when it came to the other residents of Cowden. She knew many of the more intimate details of these families. And there was the Turner’s ball of last Thursday to discuss.
Grace entered the parlour just as Fanny was serving tea. Gertrude stood as she entered the room but Grace waved her hand at her and indicated that she should sit. They waited for Fanny to leave the room, and then spoke at once:
“I am sorry for the interruption…”
“I am happy for your visit…”
“Oh Grace, really, I am sorry if my appearance inconveniences you. I was terribly concerned when Emily told me of your indisposition.”
“Thank you for your concern, Gertrude, but as you can see I am quite recovered. So, let’s talk about the ball, shall we?” Grace was anxious to put the memory of the stable visit behind her. “Did you see the dress Philippa St John-Smythe was wearing? Good heavens, it was an absolute disaster, honestly, what did she think she was doing?”
The conversation went on in that vein. Every detail of the ball commented on, every hat discussed, every dress dissected. Before they knew it, dinner was ready and Grace’s father had returned from town. Of course it would have been exceedingly ill-mannered of Grace not to invite Gertrude to dine with them. After a simple dinner of salmon with minted new potato’s and steamed carrots, and dessert of raisin cake and treacle, a coach was called to take Gertrude home.
Grace and her father were alone in the house again and having an after-dinner brandy when her father brought up that one subject which was guaranteed to invoke an emotional response of such severity in Grace that she could hardly breathe. “Grace, have you been to see the new foal?” her father asked.
“Yes Father, Emily and I went to see the animal earlier today.” Grace thought it best not to mention the meeting with Dick to her father.
“And what did you think of him?” Grace grew flustered. Did her father know her thoughts? Did he mean the foal, or the man?
“I thought him exquisite, the most beautiful creature I have ever seen in my life,” Grace answered, and meant every word.
“You show remarkably good taste and common sense, and for that I cannot take credit. I can only imagine it must be something your dear mother left with you when she was taken from us. I am satisfied that you are ready to become a wife yourself, and as such have decided to move up the date of your nuptials to Lord Wildsmith. I have had word today of his early return from his business in India. My dearest daughter, although it grieves me to give you up to another, you will become Lady Wildsmith in six weeks’ time.” With that, her father bid her a good night and left her to her thoughts.
After a fretful night filled with odd dreams and images, Grace woke the next morning with a groggy head and in a particularly heavy mood. Later today the usual guests were arriving for the Thursday tea and game of whist. Today in particular was special because her sister and her sister’s new husband were also joining the party. Grace needed to be completely aware of all proceedings.
She decided to take a walk before breakfast to help clear her head and lighten her mood. It was a beautiful day; the early spring sun was streaming through Grace’s bedroom windows and the birds were singing. She dressed without the help of her maid, letting her hair remain undone and hanging freely down her back. Grabbing her shawl, she left quietly through the back door and started down the path. She had no destination in mind, just following where her feet carried her. But before she realised it, she was outside the stables.
She hesitated, listening outside the door for sounds. She knew if anyone had come by she would have much explaining to do but she couldn’t help herself; something beyond her understanding compelled her to remain.
Inside the stables came the muffled sound of someone humming, a deep, comforting sound which vibrated through Grace. The noise got louder and Grace knew it was coming towards her, towards the door. She panicked and started to turn back up the path towards the house when the door opened and hit her ankle. Grace let out a cry of alarm and twisted, falling at the same time as Dick rushed forward to catch her.
With a wry look on his face Dick said, “You should be a bit more careful Miss, the stables can be a dangerous place.” Grace looked up into his face, realised with great embarrassment that she was still being held firmly by Dick, and quickly straightened herself up.
“I’ll have you know that I can look after myself, I have been used to the stable grounds since I was a child,” Grace was still flustered and stumbled over her words. She turned to start back to the house but her twisted ankle stopped her taking more than two steps. She once more started to fall when just in time Dick reached out to her again.
“You better sit down for a bit, Miss, you’ve hurt your foot and it needs to rest for a few minutes.” Dick helped Grace over to a bench and stood by her while she sat down. “So, what are you doing up so early, if you don’t mind me enquiring, Miss?”
Grace was still embarrassed but managed to mumble an explanation. “I couldn’t sleep, my head was terribly muddled when I woke so I thought I would take a short walk. I thought perhaps the brisk morning air would help me to think more clearly.”
“And what’s got you so muddled then? What does a lady like yourself need to think about, that she wanders around unaccompanied and nearly does herself a good deal of harm?” Grace wasn’t able to tell whether Dick was serious about wanting to know more about her particular situation, or if he was just making fun of her. She did, however, desperately need someone to talk to and her sister wasn’t arriving until later that day. Her head had begun to ache with all the thoughts swirling around, and the nearby presence of Dick was not helping. In fact, if anything, he made her head feel worse. But she decided he looked like a nice person. And her father DID trust Dick with the running of the stables so he must be trustworthy.
“Well, I’m not sure someone like you will understand, but here it is. I must marry someone not of my choosing in a very short time. I have only just found out and have not quite got used to the idea. I know it is my duty to my father to do this, and I know I am being a very bad daughter in feeling this way, but I cannot help it.” There. Grace had said it. And now that she had put into words that which had been, up to now, only thoughts to be avoided, she felt lighter. Like a great weight had been lifted from inside her.
Dick looked at her in a thoughtful, quiet way then sat down beside her on the bench. He looked like he wanted to say something to her but was uncomfortable with even the thinking of it. “Well, Miss, if you don’t mind me stepping out of my place, I think I’ve got some advice that might help. I’ve come to understand a thing or two working with horses and it’s given me the chance to watch people, if you take my meaning. I’ve learned there are some things in life that you just have to do, it’s your duty. Oh, people approach their duty in a number of ways: some complain, some run, some just resign themselves and get on with it. Any way you do it, there’s not much can be done about duty, it’s a part of life.”
With that, Dick stood, dusted some straw off of his trousers and said “I should help you back to the house, you’ll soon be missed by the others.” He looked uncomfortable, but offered his arm for Grace to lean on. Together they managed to get Grace to the main house, where a great fuss over what came to be known as “Grace’s Misadventure at the Stables” was interrupted by the timely serving of breakfast.
Later that day Grace was sitting with her leg raised on a cushion on the footstool when Fanny showed Emily into the parlour. She rushed over to Grace and threw her arms around her friend’s shoulders.
“Dearest Grace, whatever have you done to yourself, my goodness you are in terrible shape, you look poorly indeed!”
“Emily darling, you are sweet, but don’t worry, it’s not serious. The doctor has been, my father called for him after breakfast, he has told me to keep my foot raised for the afternoon and I’ll be perfectly fine.” She stopped and adjusted her dress before continuing. “Are you able to stay for a while, I do so need to speak to someone, I fear there is something heavy weighing upon me and I must speak of it, I simply must.”
“I am your oldest and closest friend, and you know you can speak of anything. In me you have a most willing audience.”
“Well, it’s just that, I am greatly troubled, perturbed even, I know not what to do.” Grace sighed.
“What is it, my friend? You have gone quite pale, should I call Fanny? Oh my, tell me what to do to help you?”
Grace took a deep breath and spoke. “You know in six weeks I am to be married to Lord Wildsmith, and up until a few days ago I was perfectly satisfied in marrying a man twice my age and of little familiarity to myself. I know it is my duty as a daughter to follow my father’s wishes in all things, I truly do. But lately I have had, well, feelings. Feelings of a most disconcerting nature. I fear I am no longer content to perform my familial obligation, and this very fact is enough to distress me greatly. But there is more, and of such a grave nature I fear the telling, as if speaking these thoughts during the light of day makes them real.”
She hesitated and Emily took both of her friend’s hands in her own. This small act of kindness gave Grace the courage to continue her discourse. “I fear I am falling into the darkest hole from which there is no escape. I don’t know how to share what I am feeling, for surely there can be no words in the world to describe such thoughts.” Grace took a deep breath, preparing herself, then spoke. “Emily, the object of these most intense feelings is someone of our acquaintance, someone you yourself have met, and indeed spoken to. He is Dick, our new stable hand.”
There was complete silence in the room. Emily’s face was difficult to read and Grace was in no state to try to decipher it at that moment. She had just shared the deepest part of her psyche with her best friend and now had no idea what sort of reaction might be expected. If indeed any reaction at all was to be forthcoming from her dearest friend, for it seemed Emily was still digesting the tale Grace had delivered. After what seemed like an eternity, Grace could hold her tongue no longer.
“For the love of God Emily, speak, please, say something, anything. Reprimand me if you must, tell me you hate me if you feel so compelled, but hold your silence no longer!”
Emily looked at her friend, a searching gaze that asked much and gave away little. She sighed, stood, and walked to the window, leaving Grace sitting with her foot on the pillow. “Grace, as I have already said to you this very day, I am your dearest friend and I always will be. And what you have shared with me today shows me you trust me, beyond anything I could ever have asked of you. But I am still in a bit of shock over what you have told me.” She turned back to her friend. “Oh, please don’t look so terrified, you needn’t worry, I won’t share one tiny bit of your secret with anyone, I promise. You must, however, allow me to ask you one thing: are you absolutely sure of your feelings? Do you love him?”
While Grace was grateful for her friend’s discretion, she was rather thrown by the directness of the question. Did she love him? Was she sure? Could she be mistaken? She paused for a moment, for that was all it took, and answered.
“Yes. I do.”
That evening, after the guests had arrived and dinner had been served, Grace helped her father set up the whist tables. Their group consisted of Grace and her father, Emily and her recently-returned brother Henry, Georgiana and Colonel Hatherley, Lord Wildsmith and Gertrude Boucher. Henry served as a Captain on the frigate Waterloo, and was in town for a week only. Emily was overjoyed at having her brother back, even if only for a short time. They corresponded regularly while he was at sea but it was not the same as sharing thoughts and ideas in person, saying the words out loud as they invent themselves.
Georgiana and her Colonel spent most of dinner staring into each other’s eyes, and making comments that only the other would understand. A stern look from Mr. Burlington put an end to the inappropriate glances over the beef, and the hushed remarks over the pudding.
Lord Oswald Wildsmith really did come into his own when confronted with a room of willing listeners. He had recently returned from a trip to the orient and had many exotic tales with which to delight the enthralled group. During a break between stories, Lord Wildsmith discussed matters of business with Henry and Sir Burlington, a topic not for the involvement of women. Grace’s future husband had apparently decided to invest a large sum in the business of tea and had procured a partner for this venture.
“Yes, an Earl, no less, William, Earl of Peebles. Nice chap, had a bit of a nervous disposition, made me wonder if the old fellow should be in such a risky business as that of the tea trade but no matter. He’s got money and I’ve got brains. And by Jove, with a little hard work and luck, we’ll make our fortunes!” Lord Wildsmith was enthusiastic about his work, to say the least, and Grace couldn’t help but eavesdrop on the continuing conversation. “…imagine, a fellow of his rank, not to say his age, clambering into the field with the workers and getting his hands dirty. Astounding! But according to him it’s the only way to understand the business of tea properly. Tried to convince everyone we met of this. Teaching his son to think the same way. Incredible.”
Grace’s attention started to wane and she focussed instead on the discussion on the other side of the table, where Gertrude was monopolising much of the conversation. A widow who made herself available for such occasions as weddings, funerals, village fetes, and whist parties, Gertrude kept the entire group entertained with amusing anecdotes about the residents of Cowden: their comings, and their goings. She also made up the last of the second set of players.
But the gods play cards with the lives of mere mortals and sometimes the best plans, no matter the dedication and effort with which arranged, go awry. In the case of the Burlington’s whist party, the apple of discord was Grace’s father. He decided at the latest possible moment that he did not wish, after all, to join the others in their game, choosing instead to look over some business papers that had arrived that day from his solicitors in London. Which left the others with a dilemma: there were now only seven players. After much discussion and deliberation, a decision was reached. Georgiana and Colonel Hatherley, Gertrude, and Lord Wildsmith would play; Emily, Grace, and Henry would amuse themselves until the card players decided they needed a break. And so the evening progressed.
As the players started their first rubber, and Henry had taken leave of the ladies temporarily to check on a matter concerning his coachman, Emily took Grace aside and quietly, casually enquired after her well-being. Grace gave her friend a look that suggested that she knew exactly what her friend meant, sighed and said “Emily dear, there is no need for you to hide your true thoughts from me, I can detect their hidden meaning well. My feelings are set and quite unchanged. Every day I accompany my father to the stables where we are given a full report of the new foal by our stable hand, and everyday my heart soars a thousand miles to hear him speak a single word. I find myself delirious one moment, then without rhyme or reason, saddened nearly to the point of making an exhibit of myself the next. I know not what to do, or indeed if I want to do anything, for I am sure that I shall never know such agonising happiness or exquisite misery as I feel now.”
She had finished her dialogue when Henry re-joined them and desired of Grace to know everything she had been up to and involved in since last they met. Grace cast a sideways glance at Emily, and received one back which contained just enough information to assure her that her dearest friend had not shared anything of Grace’s current unusual situation with her brother. She described a few books she had read, and the balls both she and Emily had attended, with perhaps a bit more enthusiasm about the dresses and hats of the other attendees than she felt. But she knew she had succeeded in keeping her true feelings hidden from Henry when he started to make fun of her, referring to both her impending nuptials and her future husband’s character by nicknaming her “Lady Tea”. Mortified, she shushed Henry, but not without rewarding him with a hug for making her forget her turbulent emotions, even for only a very short time.
When the evening finally came to a close and the coaches had departed, Grace was even more convinced her earlier feelings were, indeed, true. She was more convinced than ever before that she loved Dick. And that she could not, under any circumstances, marry Lord Wildsmith.
The next couple of weeks passed by in a blur for Grace. Her sister and friend helped to make plans for her upcoming nuptials, but while Grace participated in these activities with a seemingly improved disposition, her heart was not interested. She longed for a distraction, anything, however small, which would take her away from the interminable planning of her future by others and which would throw her into the path of her desired destiny, one shared with… him.
One evening, after a particularly trying day viewing bridal silks and pellises and veils from Wardour Street, Grace was working on her cross-stitch in the parlour. Her father seemed to be reading some papers his solicitor had sent from London but, in actuality, he was watching Grace. He looked thoughtful, as if gathering his nerve, and finally cleared his throat.
“Grace, I wish to speak to you on a topic of some great importance. I shall speak plainly and require your forgiveness should I say anything which may offend your delicate sensibilities. I know you are nervous about your upcoming wedding to Lord Wildsmith but I cannot help but feel that you are somewhat more distracted than is usual in these situations. From what I have been able to fathom from careful enquiry, these occasions elicit feelings of happiness and elation but I see in you only worry and despair. Grace, you are my youngest daughter and you are very dear to my heart. I would do anything to see you happy. My dearest, I must know the cause of your distress. I had, up until now, assumed it was mere nerves which made you so uneasy. Please trust your father and let me help you.”
Mr. Burlington had never before expressed anything like these sentiments before and at this moment she truly felt the depth of his feelings for her, father for daughter. She had been looking into her hands the entire time he was speaking, and now looked up into his waiting, anxious face. She opened her mouth, a thousand thoughts vying to free themselves and reassure her parent. But she could not speak, she had no words. Her eyes flooded with the sudden release of weeks of pressure, confusion, and helplessness. She got up abruptly and ran from the room and out the door.
She fled, her eyes blinded by the tears that had now started to flow in earnest. Not knowing or seeing where she went, she ran, almost hysterical now, going where her slippered feet took her. After a few minutes she found herself at the stable. Still confused and irrational, she climbed the ladder to the upper loft and found herself in Dick’s sleeping quarters. She was in the loft alone and, had she been thinking clearly, would have realised the impropriety of the situation and extricated herself immediately. But her mind was clouded, her feelings blocking all perception of the right and wrong she had been taught since birth. She wandered among his things, running her hand over the pillow he slept on, the towel he used to wash with. Not even the dirty shaving cloth, sitting in the wash basin, escaped her exquisite touch. The very act of being in contact with his belongings had a troubling effect on Grace, and, along with the emotions and earlier outburst, caused her to swoon, deeply, profoundly, onto the floor by the foot of his bed.
Mr Burlington watched his youngest daughter fly out of the house and knew he had to find her. He engaged the help of the footman and together they ventured out into the murky night.
Fanny witnessed the entire scene between father and daughter from the dining room, and felt for her poor mistress. Fanny, although a quiet and hardworking girl, kept a close eye on the comings and goings of the household. She saw much but said little. She saw her mistress’ blushes when a certain stable-hand’s name was mentioned, and was greatly acquainted with Miss Burlington’s illicit feelings and dreams. It wasn’t her place to say anything to the master of the house, but she did have it in her power to help fate on this occasion. She sent the kitchen hand up the road to the Inn, where Dick met with friends on his nights off, with a message to return to the house on a matter of great urgency. Dick’s reaction upon receiving such a message was one of puzzlement. Assuming that one of the horses was ill, he bid his friends good evening and hurried back to the house.
He was met by Fanny upon arriving, who explained the situation. His help was needed by the master to find Miss Burlington, who had run out into the night with inadequate clothing and a seeming absence of good sense. Dick understood instantly and assured Fanny he suspected where he might find her mistress. He quickly followed the path from the house to the stable, thinking only of the distress of Grace, the restoration of her comfort his only motivation. When he arrived at the barn, all was quiet. He checked each of the stalls and found only its usual occupant, quite undisturbed. Confused, he was about to head back to the house when his mind chanced upon an idea so strange he knew not what to think of it. He slowly climbed the stairs to the loft and found, to his great surprise and dismay Grace, lying at the foot of his bed. He approached, knelt down and softly said her name. She stirred ever so slightly.
She stirred again and, finally, became conscious. At first unclear as to her surroundings, she was soon made to understand by Dick that she was in the stable. Barely aware of his presence, she looked around and saw it was true. She knew not how long she had lain there, but it was now dark, the only light being cast by the candle Dick had in his hand. Her gaze followed his hand to his arm, then shoulder, and to his face, where a pair of concerned eyes looked down at her. Without a word Dick tried to help her to her feet but this very act of tenderness caused the very feelings which brought her here to resurface, and she swooned again, this time onto his bed.
Dick, with a keen grasp of the circumstances in which he found himself, knew what he had to do. He gathered her up in his arms and prepared to carry her to the house when he heard a noise coming towards his loft. A light appeared at the top of the stairs, followed by Mr Burlington’s anxious face. Concern was quickly followed by anger as the scene before him presented itself. His daughter in the arms of a man not her husband, and they both on his bed.
Not normally a man given to overreaction, his emotions got the better of him when he saw his helpless daughter at the hands of, what seemed to him, as evil a man as could ever walk the earth. Without waiting for an explanation, he rushed over to the bed and, before he could even think of the consequences of his actions, reined a fury of blows upon the stable-hand. Dick raised his hands to protect himself, and in doing so allowed Grace to slip and fall onto the floor. The sickening noise of her hitting her head caused sense to flood back into Grace’s father and he stopped. Dick tried to help her but was frozen into inactivity by the icy stare of the master of the house. By this time the footman had arrived and, with her father’s help, they carried the insensible Grace to the house. As they were leaving the stable, Mr Burlington’s last comment was thrown back in disgust over his shoulder to the stunned Dick.
“I never want to see you again! I want you gone, you and your belongings. If I ever see you again, Sir, I will send you straight back to the hell from which you came!”
Dick watched him turn and leave. He knew that there was no point in trying to reason with Mr Burlington, for no explanation would be accepted. The master’s daughter, found in his arms. It was fate, cruel and harsh, but he must leave this place. One day perhaps he might be given the chance to exonerate himself but, tonight, he must go. He packed his few belongings and with a word of goodbye to the new colt, departed.
At the house Grace was placed on the settee in the living room and a cold cloth placed on her forehead. The very same kitchen boy who had earlier delivered the message to the Inn was now sent to fetch the physician. Grace was still and pale, and her father feared the worst. After an anxious eternity the doctor finally arrived and assured Mr Burlington that, while his daughter’s situation was serious, it was not grave. He produced salts from his bag and, after a few moments, Grace’s eyelids began to flicker. A small moan escaped her lips and she began to shiver. The doctor pronounced this a very good sign and, with instructions to supervise her at all times, said he would be back in the morning to check on his patient.
Grace was watched all through the night and into the dawn, in turns by Fanny and Mr Burlington. Nothing coherent was heard from her in that time, just moans and strange syllables. However, as dawn approached, she seemed roused by the birds singing. Her eyes opened and focussed on her father sitting beside her, holding her hand.
“Father, where am I? What happened?”
“Hush darling, you were ill, but you’re better now. You gave us quite a scare. We found you in the stable, do not you recall?”
But Grace had already slipped into unconsciousness again and remained in that state until the doctor arrived. He examined her, listened to her breathing and felt her pulse. Her breathing was regular, as was her heartbeat, all good signs. The doctor left a tonic to be given when Grace was able to sit up, and prescribed rest and quiet.
After a further worrying few days Grace was able, with help, to sit up in bed tolerably well. She was still weak and as yet unable to receive visitors but took a small amount of food and drink to please her father. By the end of the week her father deemed her well enough to speak to her of what happened that dark, dark night.
“Grace, there is something I must speak with you about, if you feel strong enough.” Mr Burlington knew he must be careful not to say anything that would cause a relapse in his already delicate daughter.
“Father, what is it? You look dreadfully concerned.”
“No Grace, I am quite well. It is you I wish to speak about. I need to know if…” emotions caused the restriction of his throat and stilled the flow of words, such was the enormity of the situation, and the need of the man. “I must ask you a very delicate question, that is, I need you to tell me, well, the stable-hand, did he…my dearest daughter, did he… harm you in any way?” He finally said that which had preyed on his mind for days now, but was equally apprehensive of the answer he might receive, for he was certain he was unprepared for the worst possible scenario.
“Hurt me, Father? I’m not sure what you mean. I…” Grace paused, stared deeply into her father’s concerned face and finally perceived his meaning. “I understand. And no, Father, I am unharmed.”
Mr Burlington breathed his first free breath for a week. No words could describe his feeling of relief. The relief was soon overtaken by puzzlement. He now needed to know what, exactly, had taken place that night. But how to gain this information? Grace saw the feelings fleetingly cross her father’s face and knew that she had to calm his fears.
“Father, that night, after we spoke, I needed to be alone. I needed solitude to gather my thoughts. I knew not where to escape and found myself at the stable, where the intensity of my feelings overwhelmed me and I fell into a deep state. I remember nothing until I was found and guided back to sensibility.” Here Grace paused, wondering how much of herself she should share with her parent. She decided after a mere few seconds to spare her father the full extent of her predicament and only reinforced that which had already been said: that she was not hurt, and that Dick had only been trying to help.
At this, Mr Burlington coloured, looked flustered, made his excuses and hurried from the room. Grace assumed her father had some suddenly remembered business to attend to and weary from the conversation, lay back down and slept.
Mr Burlington hurried downstairs to his study. He had much to think about and reparations to consider. He had been wrong. Entirely, completely wrong. He had made a gross error of judgement, he whom others considered steady in his opinion. He had acted without thought, an unpardonable sin. He must remedy the error somehow. He must find Dick.
The next week saw much activity in the Burlington household. Grace recovered and Mr Burlington rued. But along with the remorse came the decision to actively seek redemption. Mr Burlington sent word to anyone who had the power to help him in his task: find the stable-hand. His efforts were to no avail, for no sightings were reported nor any word sent back as to his whereabouts. It seemed the man had simply ceased to exist.
One afternoon, as Mr Burlington wrote yet another letter to an acquaintance whose help he so desperately needed, he received an unexpected visitor. Fanny entered the study and said, “If you please Sir, Lord Wildsmith is in the parlour waiting to speak with you”.
Now here was a surprise. What could Lord Wildsmith wish to speak to him about? He hurried downstairs. “Lord Wildsmith, my dear Sir, to what do I owe the extreme pleasure of this visit?”
“News has reached me of a most disturbing nature, indeed I hardly know where to begin. I am afraid it involves your daughter, Burlington, and a recent episode involving a member of your staff.” Lord Wildsmith looked expectantly at Mr Burlington, as if silently urging him for reassurance of some kind. Mr Burlington, believing honesty would be rewarded, decided to share everything he knew with Lord Wildsmith.
Grace’s father relayed the tale. He waited expectantly for Wildsmith’s response. Lord Wildsmith took in all he had been told, and paused to consider what he must needs tell Burlington. He sighed and said, “I understand. I was given incorrect information but I am completely satisfied I have now heard the truth. However, I am afraid the truth of the matter has not changed my mind, and I am here to deliver news of a somewhat unpleasant nature . I have thought about this a great deal over the past few days and I am convinced I have made the correct decision. I’m afraid I must break off my engagement with your daughter. No…” he held up his hand to still Mr Burlington’s protest, “no, Burlington, I’m afraid it must be so. At my age, I am looking for a more, how can I put it, a more settled wife. Someone more even, both in emotion and action. At my stage of life, I cannot be constantly worrying that my wife is despairing over this or that, running off and swooning without regard to propriety. No Burlington, I remain firm.” And with the minimum required pleasantries, he hastened from the Burlington household and lives.
Three months later, the Burlington household had settled back into a reasonable facsimile of the life they had lead before the events of the stable and engagement. Grace and her father spoke very little of the episodes that had caused so much distress, both believing that looking forward was a more effective remedy for ills than looking back. Secretly, a small part of Mr Burlington was pleased to have retained the company of his youngest daughter. And, just as secretly, Grace was pleased to continue in the role of companion to her dearest parent. She was happy to lead a quiet life, much to the dismay of her elder sister who believed the remedy for all Grace’s woes was a ball. She spoke so frequently of neighbourhood balls, believing herself subtle, that Grace agreed to attend the final soiree of the season if only to relieve her sister of HER suffering.
The day arrived, along with it the madness that accompanies a household with two women preparing for an evening. Georgiana had been staying with her sister for a week now, ensuring that no change of mind occurred. Satisfied there would be no last minute change of plans or mind, Georgiana breathed a sigh of relief that her months of hard work had paid off. Grace was to finally leave the house and enter public life again. For this feat Mrs Hatherley took all the credit, and felt all the pride, that was her due as a good elder sister.
The music was exquisite, the flowers perfect, and the company comfortable. Grace was welcomed back warmly. Yet still she felt an emptiness, like a great deep blackness enveloped her for which no light existed. She danced, but with no joy. She conversed, but with no animation. She only desired to return to her quiet existence with her father.
She was preparing to leave when she felt a tap on her shoulder. She turned and saw an impressively-dressed gentleman looking down at her. He bowed deeply, apologised for having to introduce himself to her unaided by a friend or family member, and begged her forgiveness for his impropriety. Upon rising from his bow he looked directly at Grace with searching blue eyes and a wry grin upon his face.
Grace suddenly felt her breath stop, her heartbeat quicken, and her stomach clench with the fluttering of a hundred butterflies. For grinning down at her was Dick, HER Dick, whom she had never thought to see again. But this was no stable-hand. This was a gentleman of some consequence, with all the accoutrements and mannerisms of someone having been born to a position of greatness. She could hardly contain her excitement. Her joy, however, was swiftly overtaken by suspicion.
“Dick, can it be you? I wonder that I am still awake, for I must have fallen asleep and am dreaming.”
“My darling Grace, of course it’s me. But I can see you are puzzled. Surely you are happy to see me?”
“Of course I am happy to see you. I never told you how I felt but I know you are aware of my feelings, for how can you not be aware of such a thing as enormous as this? But how came you to be here? I do not understand.”
“Ahh, my Grace. I have a tale to tell, one you will be amazed by. Let us go sit in the tea room where it is more quiet and I shall share all with you.”
They moved to another room where conversation could be conducted more easily. Dick told his tale. He was not Dick the stable-hand but Richard Longsword, the seventh Earl of Peebles. On that fateful night, he left the Burlington household with every intention of returning when he could prove his innocence. But he had had word of his father’s death, the sixth Earl, and had to return to his ancestral home in Peebles. He explained that his father had sent him out into the world to learn a greater consideration for those less fortunate than him and his family, with a view to learning better how to run his own family estate when the time came. He had taken a number of jobs before joining the Burlington household.
“And when I first saw you, I thought that the good Lord himself had blessed me for all my trials, for I truly believed He had sent me an angel. I love you Grace, I have since the very first moment we met.”
These were the very words that Grace had waited all her life to hear. Her mood was instantly lifted and the great darkness that had enveloped her was suddenly filled with light. She felt whole again.
“Grace, if you will again forgive my impudence, I have visited your father and gained his approval. I would be honoured if you would consider giving me that thing which would make me the happiest of men, if you would consent to be my wife.”
Grace could hardly speak, her feelings overwhelmed her. But she did manage to voice her happy acceptance before rushing into his arms, where she remained the rest of her life.