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

It was the height of the Bath season in 1779, and there was scarcely any part of the city which did not feel the effect of the great tide of amusement and pleasure, which set in year by year with ever-increasing force, and made the streets, and parades, and terraces alive with gaily-dressed fashionable ladies and their attendant beaux.

The chair-men had a fine trade, so had the mantua-makers and dressmakers, to say nothing of the hairdressers, who were skilled in the art of building up the powdered bastions, which rose on many a fair young head, and made the slender neck which supported them bend like a lily-stalk with their weight.  Such head-gear was appropriate for the maze of the stately minuet and Saraband, but would be a serious inconvenience if worn now-a-days, when the whirl of the waltz seems to grow ever faster and faster, and the “last square” remaining in favour is often turned into a romp, which bears the name of “Polka Lancers.”  There was a certain grace and poetry in those old-world dances, and they belonged to an age when there was less hurry and bustle, and all locomotion was leisurely; when our great-grandmothers did not rush madly through the country, and through Europe, as if speed was the one thing to attain in travelling, and breathless haste the great charm of travel.

And not of travel only.  Three or four “at homes” got through in one afternoon, is a cause of mighty exultation; and a dinner followed by an evening reunion, for which music or recitations are the excuse, to wind up with a ball lasting till day-dawn, is spoken of as an achievement of which any gentlewoman, young or old, may feel proud.

The two ladies who were seated with their maid in attendance in a large well-furnished apartment in North Parade on a chill December morning in the year 1779, awaiting the arrival of the hairdresser, had certainly no sign of haste or impatience in their manner.  The impatience was kept in reserve, in the case of the elder lady, for Mr. Perkyns and his attendant, for Lady Betty had now passed her premiere jeunesse, and was extremely careful that every roll should be in its right place, and every patch placed in the precise spot which was most becoming.  Lady Betty’s morning-gown was of flowered taffety, and open in front displayed a short under-skirt of yellow satin, from which two very small feet peeped, or rather were displayed, as they were crossed upon a high square footstool.

“Griselda, can’t you be amusing?  What are you dreaming about, child?”

The young lady thus addressed started as if she had indeed been awakened from a dream, and said: 

“I beg your pardon, Lady Betty; I did not hear what you said.”

“No, you never hear at the right moment.  Your ears are sharp enough at the wrong.  I never saw the like last evening at Mrs. Colebrook’s reunion.  You looked all ears, then.”

“It was lovely music-it was divine!” Griselda said earnestly, and then, almost instantly checking the burst of enthusiasm which she knew would find no response, she said: 

“Will you carry out your intention of paying a visit in King Street?  Mr. and Miss Herschel receive guests to-morrow forenoon.”

“Indeed, I vow I have but little inclination that way, but we will see.  But, Griselda, take my word for it, you are playing your cards ill-staring like one daft at that singer who is no beauty, and forgetting to acknowledge Sir Maxwell Danby last evening when he made you that low bow.  Why, child, don’t you know he is a great catch?”

Griselda’s cheeks flushed crimson.

“Your ladyship forgets we are not alone.”

“Ha! ha! as if my waiting-maid was not in all my little secrets.  No love-story is new to her, is it, Graves?”

The person thus referred to, who had been engaged in plaiting ruffles with a small iron, and sprinkling the fine lace with a few drops of starched water as she did so, on hearing her name, turned her head in the direction of her mistress, and said: 

“Did you speak, my lady?”

You know-you know, Graves.  You know all about my billets-doux, and my pretty gentlemen.”

If Melia, otherwise Amelia Graves, knew, her face showed no sign of intelligence.  It was a stolid face, hard and plain-featured, and she was a strange mixture of devotion to her frivolous mistress, and strong disapproval of that mistress’s ways and behaviour.  The real devotion and affection for a family she had served for many years, often gained the day, when she turned over in her mind the possibility of leaving a service which involved so much of the world and its customs, which she was the indirect means of encouraging by her continuous attention to all the finery and gauds, in which Lady Betty Longueville delighted.

Lady Betty was the widow of a rich gentleman, to whom she had been married but a few years, when death ended what could not have ever been more than a mariage de convenance.  An orphan niece of Mr. Longueville’s, the child of a sister who had made what was considered a mésalliance, had been left to Lady Betty as a legacy, and was particularly mentioned in Mr. Longueville’s concise will.  His estate in Ireland devolved on the next heir, but Mr. Longueville had accumulated a pretty little fortune, which he had the power to settle on his wife.  The estate was entailed, but the money was his to leave as he chose.  Lady Betty had fully grasped the situation before she had accepted Mr. Longueville’s proposal, and the understanding that Griselda Mainwaring was to be thrown into the bargain was rather agreeable than otherwise.  Strange to say, Mr. Longueville did not leave Griselda any money, and simply stated that his niece, Griselda Mainwaring, the only issue of the unhappy marriage of his sister, Dorothy Mainwaring, nee Longueville, was to be companion to his widow, and maintained by her, Lady Betty Longueville, for the term of her natural life.

It did not seem to have struck Mr. Longueville that either Lady Betty or Griselda might marry, and Griselda was thus left as one of the bits of blue china or old plate, which, being not included in the entail, fell to Lady Betty with the “household effects, goods and chattels.”

Perhaps the feeling that she was a mere “chattel” weighed at times on the tall and stately Griselda, whose grave eyes had ever a wistful expression in them, as if they were looking out on some distant time, where, behind the veil, the hopes and fears of youth, lay hidden.

Griselda was outwardly calm and even dignified in her manner.  She moved with a peculiar grace, and formed a marked contrast in all ways to the little vivacious Lady Betty, whose grand ambition was to be thought young, and who understood only too well how to cast swift glances from behind her fan upon the gay beaux, who haunted the city of Bath at that time.  For although the palmiest days of the Pump Room, under the dominion of Beau Nash, were now long past, still in 1779 Bath held her own, and was frequented by hundreds for health, to be regained by means of its healing waters, and by thousands for pleasure and amusement.

Amongst these thousands, Lady Betty Longueville was one of the foremost in the race; and she spent her energies and her talents on “making a sensation,” and drawing to her net the most desirable of the idle beaux who danced, and flirted, and led the gay and aimless life of men of fashion.

Graves was presently interrupted by a tap at the door; and, putting down the lace, she went to open it, and found the hairdresser and his assistant waiting on the landing for admission.

The hairdresser made a low bow, and begged ten thousand pardons for being late; but her ladyship must know that the ball to-night in Wiltshire’s Rooms was to be the ball of the season, and that he and his man had been dressing heads since early dawn.

“That is no news to me, Perkyns.  Am I not one of the chief patronesses of the ball?  Have I not been besieged for cards?  Tell me something more like news than that.”

The assistant having spread out a large array of bottles, and brushes, and flasks on a side-table cleared for the purpose, Mr. Perkyns wasted no more time in excuses; he began operations at once on the lady’s head, while Griselda was left to the hands of the assistant.

Lady Betty was far too much engrossed with her own appearance to take much heed of Griselda’s; and it was not till something like a discussion was heard between the young lady and the “artist” that she said sharply: 

“What are you talking about, Griselda?  Pray, make no fuss!-you will look well enough.  A little less curl on the right side, Perkyns.  Oh! that bow is awry; and I will not have the knot of ribbon so low.  I said so last week.”

“The top-knots are not worn so high, my lady.  Lady Cremorne’s is quite two inches lower than the point you indicate.”

“Folly to talk of her!-a giant who might be a female Goliath!  As if her mode was any rule for mine!  I am petite, and need height.  Thank goodness, I am not a huge mass of bone and flesh, like my Lady Cremorne!”

“As you please, my lady-as you please.  But it is my duty to keep my patronesses up to the high-water mark of fashion.”

“I dare say folks with no taste may need your advice; but as I am blessed with the power of knowing what I like-and with the will to have it, too-I insist on the top-knot being at least two inches higher.”

“Very good-very good, my lady.  What is it, Samuel?”-for the assistant now approached.

“Shall I proceed to Sydney Place, sir?  I have finished this young lady’s coiffure.”

“Finished!-impossible!  Why, child, come here; let me see!  Why, you are not made up!-no rouge, nor a touch to your eyebrows!”

“I do not desire it, madam; I do not desire to be painted.  I have requested the hairdresser to refrain -”

“Well, you will look a fright for your pains by night!  Nonsense, child! powder must have paint.  However, take your own way, you wilful puss!  I have no more to say.”

“I have done my best to persuade the lady,” Sam said; “but it is useless-it is in vain;” and, with a sigh, he began to gather together the cosmetics and the little pots and bottles, and prepared for departure.

Mr. Perkyns turned from the contemplation of the top-knots to give a passing glance at Mistress Mainwaring.  He shrugged his shoulders, and murmured: 

“A pity that what is so fair should not be made still fairer!  But do not stand wasting precious time, Samuel; proceed to Sydney Place, and announce my speedy arrival.  You can leave me what is needful, and I will follow and bring the smaller bag.  Be quick, Samuel; and do not go to sleep-on a day like this, of all days!”

Samuel obeyed, and took leave; while Griselda, after a passing glance at her head and shoulders in the mirror, retired to her own room on the upper story, and, taking a violin from a case, began to draw the bow over the strings.

“If only I could make you sing to me as their fiddles sang last night!  If only I had a voice like that sister of Mr. Herschel’s!  Ah! that song from the ’Messiah’-if only I could play it!” And then, after several attempts, Griselda did bring out the air of the song which, perhaps of all others, fastens on ear and heart alike in that sublime oratorio: 

    “He shall feed His flock like a shepherd.”

“So poor it sounds!” Griselda said; “so poor!  I will get to Mr. Herschel’s, and ask if he will teach me to play and sing.  I will.  Why not?  Ah, it is the money!  She dresses me, and keeps me; and that is all.  She would do nothing else.  But I have bought you, you dear violin!” Griselda said, pressing her lips to the silent instrument, where the music, unattainable for her, lay hidden.  “I have bought you, and I will keep you; and, who knows?  I may one day make you tell me all that is in your heart.  Oh that I were not at her beck and call to do her bidding; speak to those she chooses; and have nothing to say to those she thinks beneath her!  Ah me!  Alack! alack!”

Griselda’s meditations were interrupted by a sharp knock at the door; and Graves came in with a bouquet in her hand, tied with pale primrose ribbon.

“That is for you, Mistress Griselda.  The gentleman brought it himself; ‘and,’ says he, ‘give it to the young lady in private.’  And then he had the impudence to offer me a crown-piece!  Says I, ’I don’t hold, sir, with sly ways; and I don’t want your money.’  Then he looked uncommon foolish, and said I was quite right; he hated sly ways.  He only meant-well, I knew what he meant-that I was not to let my lady know you had the ‘buket;’ but I just took it straight into the room, and said, ‘Here’s a buket for Mistress Grisel;’ and, what do you think? she was in one of her tantrums with Mr. Perkyns, who vowed he would not take down her hair again; and there she was, screaming at him, and you might have had fifty bukets, and she wouldn’t have cared.  Ah, my dear Mistress Griselda, these vanities and sinful pleasures are just Satan’s yoke.  They bring a lot of misery, and his slaves are made to feel the pricks.  Better be servants to a good master-better be children of the Lord-than slaves of sin.  It’s all alike,” as she gave the violin-case a touch with her foot; “it’s all sin and wickedness-plays, and balls, and music, and -”

“Nonsense, Graves!  Never tell me music is wrong.  Why, you sing hymns at Lady Huntingdon’s Chapel-that is music!”

“I don’t hold with that altogether; but hymns is one thing, and foolish love-songs another.  I am trembling for you, my dear; I am trembling for you, with your flowers and your finery.  The service of the world is hard bondage.”

Griselda had now put away her violin, and had taken up the flowers which she had allowed to lie on the table, till her treasured possession was in safety; and, as Graves departed, she said, as she saw a note hidden in the centre of the bouquet: 

“I am sure I don’t care for these flowers; you may take them down to her ladyship, if you please.”

But Graves was gone.

A girl of twenty was not likely to be absolutely without curiosity, and, though Griselda tore the scented, three-cornered billet open, and read the contents with some eagerness, her face was flushed and her lip curled as she did so.

“To the fairest of the fair!  These poor flowers came from one who lives on her smile and hungers for her presence, with the prayer that she will grant him one dance to-night-if but one -”

Then there was a curious tangle of letters, which were twisted in the form of a heart, the letter “G” being in the shape of a dart which had pierced it.

Griselda tore the note in pieces, and said: 

“Why does he not send his ridiculous billets to the person who wants them?  I hate him, and his finery, and his flattery.  I know not which is worse.”

Hours were early in the eighteenth century, and by seven o’clock the two ladies met in the dining-parlour of the house in North Parade ready for the ball, and awaiting the arrival of the sedan-chairs, which were attended by Lady Betty’s own man.

Lady Betty had recovered her good temper, and her rose-coloured sacque, with its short-elbow sleeves and long puckered gloves, was quite to her mind.  The satin skirt was toned down by lamp-light, and the diamond buckles on her dainty shoes glistened and gleamed as she went through a step of the minuet, with her fan held in the most approved fashion.

“Upon my word, we are a pretty pair to-night!  But, do you know, Carteret vowed he thought I was younger than you were at the last ball!  Fancy!  I, a widow, not quite fat, fair, and forty, but in my thirties I freely allow!  Child, you look as pale as a ghost!  But it is a vastly pretty gown.  Lucky for you it did not suit my complexion; dead white never does.  But perhaps you are too white-all white.  For my part I vow I like colour.  Your servant, madam!  How do you fancy my new curtshey?” and the little lady went through elaborate steps with her tiny twinkling feet, and made a bow, which, however, she was careful should not be too low to run any risk of disarranging her high coiffure, the erection of which had cost so much trouble and sorrow of heart.