Miss Ponsonby's Proposal by Caroline F. Preston (pseudonym of Horatio Alger, Jr.)
Author: Alger, Horatio, 1832-1899.
Title: Miss Ponsonby's Proposal.
In: In: Gleason's Literary Companion. Boston : F. Gleason. Vol. 6, no. 10 (March 11, 1865)
Format: 4 columns ; 28 cm.
Horatio Alger Collection.
Other Title: Gleason's Literary Companion
Location: AP 2 .L546a (Special Collections)
Optically scanned and encoded by Mark A. Williams
Horatio Alger Digital Serials Project, Northern llinois University Libraries
Thomas Barry stood behind the counter of a large dry-goods store on Broadway, busily engaged in refolding some calicoes which he had displayed to customers, when a lady entered the store. Though there were a dozen clerks present, she, after a rapid glance, walked up unhesitatingly to our hero's counter.
"What can I show you Miss?" he asked politely, observing a momentary hesitation on her part.
Again she hesitated, looked rapidly about her, and then in a low voice, inquired, "Sir, may I inquire if you are married?"
"No Miss," returned the clerk in considerable wonder.
"Then will you marry me?"
Thomas started as if he had been shot.
"Iâ€”I beg pardon," he stammered, I don't comprehend you."
Again the lady looked hurriedly on either side to make sure that she was not overheard, and said rapidly, "I have an uncle who is scheming for my property. I am not safe till I have a legal protector. But if my proposal is not agreeable to you, I will apply elsewhere."
"Stay a moment, Miss. Let me think," said Tom. "It is soâ€”so unexpected."
"Quite reasonable. What time do you go to dinner?"
"I leave the store at one o'clock."
"Then at one precisely, I will pass on the other side of Broadway. In the meantime you can be making up your mind. If you accept my proposal, you will cross the street and join me. Otherwise you will keep on your way. How do you like the arrangement?"
"Excellently. Allow me, in order to divert suspicion, to show you some calicoes."
The young clerk displayed a few patterns, but none suited the lady. While she was examining his goods, however, Thomas had an equally good opportunity of examining her face.
She might be twenty-eight, so he judged. This was six years older than himself. She was not pretty, nor was she, on the contrary, absolutely plain.
Under ordinary circumstances he would never have taken a fancy to her. But, as Tom justly thought, these were not ordinary circumstances. She had property, and Tom had not. His salary of four hundred dollars, which was the utmost he could extract from his not over generous employers, Messrs. Hurry and Drive, he found quite insufficient for his numerous wants, and compelled him to a degree of economy which he found very unpleasant. It was quite out of the question for him to go to the theatre more than once a week, and as to the opera, he was obliged to forego that altogether. Now if he were only married, how agreeable it would be to live at his ease, and escape from the thraldom of daily drudgery behind the counter. True the lady before him did not realize his ideal. But suppose he should encounter some one that did? His narrow means would not permit him to marry. What a triumph it would be for him to enter as a wealthy customer the store in which he was now an humble clerk. How all his fellow shopmen would envy him!
All these considerations passed rapidly through the head of our hero, and he had nearly made up his mind before the lady left the store.
"At one o'clock!" she said in a low voice intended for his ear alone. At the same time she contrived adroitly to slip a card into his hand.
He looked at it after she had left him. It bore the name of Grace Ponsonby.
"Grace Ponsonby!" Tom repeated to himself with an air of satisfaction. "I like that name, it has an aristocratic sound. No doubt a wealthy family. Iâ€”I wonder how she happened to select me."
Tom furtively glanced into a mirror, and complacently stroked an incipient moustache, which had' been incipient for several years. He thought he saw in the mirror sufficient cause for the lady's preference.
"I saw her look around," said Tom to himself. "She, no doubt, liked my appearance better than that of any of the rest. She's evidently a woman of sense."
You seemed quite interested in the lady who just left us," remarked Joseph Wheeler, a fellow clerk, rather significantly. "May I congratulate you?"
"O nonsense!" answered Tom, but he blushed against his will.
"I see how it is," said the other smiling. "So you're caught. Poor fellow! I suppose we must all come to it sooner or later. Invite me to the wedding, wont you?"
Tom seized a yardstick and brandished it menacingly. Wheeler retreated.
At last one o'clock came.
Tom had made up his mind. The Rubicon was passed. He had determined to marry Miss Ponsonby, and thereby circumvent the fraudulent designs of the avaricious old uncle.
With some difficulty he obtained a half holiday.
As he passed out at the shop door, he observed Miss Ponsonby on the opposite side of Broad way.
He crossed over.
"Have you decided?" she asked.
"And you accept my proposal?"
"Thanks. Then there is no time to be lost. I fear every moment that, my uncle will interfere to prevent our marriage. But I see you are curious. As we walk along I will give you the particulars of my position."
"You must know that my father died some years since, leaving me a certain amount of property of which my uncle was to retain the charge until I married. If I should die unmarried he will inherit it all. You see, therefore, how great an interest he has in keeping me single."
"Yes I see," said Tom, moved to indignation. "What an avaricious old hunks he is?"
"Yes, I am afraid he is. But you can't imagine what extremities he has reported to, for the sake of compassing his ends. Some months since, he shut me up, and I only escaped from confinement this morning."
"Good Heavens! Can such things be tolerated in a civilized country?"
"People didn't know it. He was too cunning. I shall not feel safe till we are married."
"I will protect you, dearest"â€”it was rather ridiculous, but he had forgotten her first nameâ€”"No one shall dare to molest you when you are my wife."
She leaned more heavily on his arm and Tom felt exhilarated by the anticipated change in his circumstances.
They had turned off from Broadway, and were now passing through a pleasant street.
"I wonder where we shall live," thought Tom. "I should rather like to know how much money she's got. However I suppose I shall know before long. Perhaps I can judge some thing if I inquire where her uncle lives. I wonder whether it's on Fifth Avenue."
Tom made the inquiry.
The lady only shuddered.
"Don't mention his name," she said. "It frightens me lest he should be on our track. When we are married I will conduct you to him."
By this time they had reached the modest house of a clergyman.
He was at dinner but would be at leisure directly, so the servant said.
The two were shown into the clergyman's study, and two minutes later the minister entered.
Tom with a rising blush announced his business.
The clergyman, and old gentleman with white hair looked benevolently at the pair, and was proceeding to perform the marriage ceremony when a loud ling was heard at the door.
The lady turned pale.
"Don't let him in," said she vehemently. "It's my uncle."
"He can't interfere," said Tom soothingly. "You're of age. Go on, sir."
"I would rather wait a moment," said the minister in some perturbation.
"No, no, no!" exclaimed Miss Ponsonby in an excited manner.
An instant later, a tall man of fifty entered the room.
"It is as I suspected," he said, "Grace, what does this mean?"
Tom felt it time for him to interfere.
"Sir,'' said he boldly, "your niece is of age, and you cannot prevent her marrying whom she pleases."
"May I ask how long you have known her?"
"I don't see what that has to do with the question," said Tom a little confused. "I understand your motives, sir, perfectly. You wish to defraud this young lady out of property which is rightfully hers. Sir," addressing the clergyman, "I request you to proceed with the marriage ceremony."
The clergyman looked irresolute.
"One moment," said the intruder quietly, "and then if this young man desires you to proceed, I will interfere no further objection. It is my duty to make him acquainted with the fact that she is not of sound mind."
I understand all that," said Tom significantly. "You want the continued charge of her property."
"On the contrary, I will cheerfully surrender that property to you, if you choose after this information to marry her. Being but two thousand dollars it will be a pecuniary gain for me to do so."
"Isâ€”thisâ€”true?" asked Tom in dismay.
"You may satisfy yourself on that point by any means you choose. Reference to the Probate Court will probably satisfy you. However if you are still desirous of marrying the lady, instead of interposing any obstacles, I will agree to add five hundred dollars to her small inheritance. What do you say?"
"Iâ€”I'd rather not," gasped Tom looking askance at Miss Ponsonby whose features were twitching nervously.
"Wont you marry me?" she exclaimed, clasping her hands.
"Wont you marry me?" She exclaimed; clasping her hands.
"Youâ€”you must excuse me," said Tom edging off from her with alarm depicted upon his face.
"Then how can I become the queen of Timbuctoo?" demanded the lady in a tone of anguish.
"The queen of Timbuctoo!" repeated Tom in a ludicrous state of bewilderment.
"Yes, you're the king of Timbuctoo, first consul to the emperor of Siam. Do you think I would have agreed to marry you otherwise?"
"Where's my hat?" demanded Tom.
"Then you're not willing to marry her?" asked the uncle.
"Marry her! I'd rather marry a Cherokee squaw!"
Tom went back to the store with his bright visions of wealth dispelled, yet rejoicing inwardly that he was still a bachelor. He has made up his mind, in future, steadfastly to refuse all proposals, come from what quarter they may.