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Wiltshire’s Rooms were illuminated by many wax-candles, shedding a softened and subdued light over the gay crowd which assembled there on this December night.  Lady Betty was soon surrounded by her admirers, and showing off her dainty figure in the minuet and Saraband.

There were three apartments in Wiltshire’s Rooms-one for cards and conversation or scandal, as the case might be, and one for refreshments, and the larger one for dancing.

Griselda was left very much to herself by her gay chaperon, and it was well for her that she had so much self-respect, and a bearing and manner wonderfully composed for her years.  She was anxious to make her escape from the ball-room to the inner room beyond; and she was just seating herself on a lounge, as she hoped, out of sight, when a young man made his way to her, and, leaning over the back of the sofa, said: 

“I could not get near you at the concert at Mrs. Colebrook’s last evening.  Nor could I even be so happy as to speak to you afterwards.  Less happy than another, madam, I accounted myself.”

Though the speaker was dressed like the other fashionable beaux who haunted the balls and reunions at Bath, and adopted the usual formality of address as he spake to Griselda, there was yet something which separated him a little from the rest.  His clear blue eyes knew no guile, and there was an air of refinement about him which inspired Griselda with confidence.  While she shrank from the bold flatteries and broad jests of many of the gentlemen to whom she had been introduced by Lady Betty, she did not feel the same aversion to this young Mr. Travers.  He had come for his health to take the Bath waters, and a certain delicacy about his appearance gave him an attraction in Griselda’s eye.

Lady Betty Longueville called him dull and stupid, and had declared that a man whose greatest delight was scraping on a violoncello, ought to have respect to other folk’s feelings who detested the sound.  Music accompanied by a good voice, or music like the band at Wiltshire’s and the Pump Room, was one thing, but dreary moans and groans on the violoncello another.

“You were pleased with the music last evening, Mistress Mainwaring?” Mr. Travers was saying.

“Yes; oh yes!  Do you think, sir, Lady Betty and myself might venture to pay our respects to Mr. and Miss Herschel?”

“Indeed, I feel sure they will be proud to receive your visit.  To-morrow afternoon there is a rehearsal and a reception in Rivers Street.  I myself hope to be present; and may I hope to have the honour of meeting you there?”

“I will do my best, sir.  But I am by no means an independent personage; I am merely an appendage-a chattel, if you like the word better.”

“Nay, I like neither word,” the young man said; “they do not suit you.  But to return to the visit to-morrow.  Could you not make it alone?”

Griselda shook her head, and then laughing, said: 

“It depends on the temperature.”

“But a chair is at your disposal.  I can commend to you two steady men who would convey you to Rivers Street.”

But Griselda shook her head.

“I was not thinking of wind and weather, sir; but of the mood in which my lady finds herself!”

A bright smile seemed to show that Griselda’s point was understood.

“The Lady Betty is your aunt?”

“Hush, sir!-not that word.  I am forbidden to call her ‘aunt,’ it smacks of age and does not seem appropriate.  I was Mr. Longueville’s niece, and, as I told you, I am a chattel left to Lady Betty for the term of-well, my natural life, I suppose.”

“Nay, that word might be well altered to the term of your unmarried life, Mistress Griselda.”

Griselda grew her calm, almost haughty, self at once, and her companion hastened to say: 

“You must see and know Mr. and Miss Herschel.  Now, at this moment, while all this gaiety goes on, they are in silence-their eyes, their thoughts far away from all this folly and babble.”

“Are they so wrapt in their production of music?” Griselda asked.

“I said they were at this moment engrossed in silence, for the music of the spheres is beyond the hearing of mortal ears; it is towards this, their whole being-brother and sister alike-is concentrated, at this very moment, I will dare to say.  Mr. Herschel and his sister lead a double existence-the one in making music the power to uplift them towards the grand aim of their lives, which is to discover new glories amongst the mysteries of the stars, new worlds, it may be.  What do I say?  These things are not new, only new to eyes which are opened by the help of science, but in themselves old-old as eternity!”

“I am a stranger in Bath,” Griselda said.  “I have never heard of these things-never.  I listened enchanted to Miss Herschel’s voice last night, to her brother’s solo performance on the harpsichord, but of the rest I knew nothing.  It is wonderful all you say; tell me more.”

But while Leslie Travers and Griselda had been so engrossed with their conversation as to be oblivious of anything beside, a stealthy step had been skirting the card-room, passing the tables where dowagers and old beaux sat at écarte, and other card games, with fierce, hungry eagerness, till at last Sir Maxwell Danby wheeled round, and, bowing low before Griselda, begged to lead her to the minuet now being formed in the ball-room.

“I do not dance to-night, sir,” Griselda said.  “I thank you for the honour you do me.”

Down came Sir Maxwell’s head, bowing lower than before, as he murmured: 

“Then if I may not have the felicity of a dance, at least give me the pleasure of conducting you to supper.  Several tables are occupied already, and let me hope that this request will not be refused.”

While Sir Maxwell had been speaking Mr. Travers had left his position at the back of the lounge, and had also come to the front and faced Griselda.

The two men exchanged a cold and formal salutation, and then Sir Maxwell seated himself carelessly on the vacant place by Griselda’s side, which Mr. Travers would not have thought he was on sufficiently intimate terms to do, and throwing his arm over the elbow of the sofa with easy grace, and crossing his silk-stockinged legs, so that the brilliants on the buckles of his pointed shoe flashed in the light, he said: 

“I will await your pleasure, fair lady, and let us have a little agreeable chat before we repair to supper.”

“I think, sir,” said Griselda, rising, “I will rejoin Lady Betty.”

“The minuet is formed by this time, and her ladyship is performing her part to perfection, I doubt not.  Let me advise you to remain here, or allow me to take you to supper.”

Griselda gave a quick glance towards Mr. Travers, but he was gone.  She felt she must do one of two things:  remain where she was till the dance was over, or repair to the refreshment-room with her companion.

On the whole it seemed better to remain.  Two ladies whom she knew slightly were seated at the card-table nearest her, and there might perhaps be a chance of joining them when the game was over.  For another quartette was waiting till the table was free.

“You look charming,” Sir Maxwell began; “but why no colour to relieve this whiteness?  I vow I feel as if I, a poor mortal, full of sins and frailties, was not worthy to touch so angelic a creature.”

Griselda was one of those women who do not soften and melt, nor even get confused, under flattery.  It has the very opposite effect, and she said in a low, but decided voice: 

“There are topics less distasteful to me than personalities, sir; perhaps you may select one.”

“Ah! you are cruel, I see.  Well, I will only touch one more personality.  Why-why do I see no choice exotics in your hand, or on your breast? the colour would have enhanced your beauty, and relieved my heart of a burden.”

Griselda made no reply to this, but, rising with the dignity she knew so well how to command, she walked towards the open door of the next room, and said: 

“Mr. Travers, will you be so good as to take me to the ball-room that I may rejoin Lady Betty Longueville?”

The young man’s face betrayed his pleasure at the request made to him, and the discomfiture of his rival-rather I should say the hoped-for discomfiture, for Sir Maxwell Danby was not the man to show that he had the worst in any encounter.  He was at Griselda’s side in an instant, and was walking, or rather I should say ambling, towards Lady Betty, and, ignoring Mr. Travers’s presence, said: 

“Your ladyship’s fair ward is weary, nay, pining for your company, my lady.”

Lady Betty shrugged her shoulders, and said: 

“I vow, sir, she has enough of my company, and I of hers!  Now, Griselda, do not look so mightily affronted; it is the truth.  Let us all go to supper; and make up a pleasant little party.  You won’t refuse, Mr. Travers, I am sure.”

“With all my heart I accede to your plan, Lady Betty,” Sir Maxwell said, “though I see your late partner is darting shafts of angry jealousy at me from his dark eyes.”

So saying, Sir Maxwell led the way with Lady Betty on his arm, and Griselda and Mr. Travers followed, but not before Griselda caught the words: 

“Upon my honour, she acts youth to perfection; but she is forty-five if she is a day.  Did you ever behold such airs and graces?”

Griselda felt her cheek burn with shame and indignation also, for had she not heard Lady Betty say that young Lord Basingstoke was one of her most devoted admirers? and yet she was clearly only a subject of merriment, and the cause of that loud unmusical laughter which followed the words.  But Griselda had passed out of hearing before Lord Basingstoke’s friend inquired: 

“Who is the other?  She looks like a ‘Millerite’ and an authoress.  He would be a brave man to indulge in loose talk with her.  Upon my word, she walks like a tragedy queen!”

“There’ll be the story of Wilson and Macaulay told over again.  We shall have her statue put up to worship!”

“I don’t know what you are talking about,” said the young lord, with a yawn.

“My dear fellow, have you never heard of Madam Macaulay, the writer of nine huge volumes of history, who deserted the reverend Dr. Wilson and married a young spark named Graham?  She is Mrs. Graham now; has retired from the gay scenes of Bath with her young Scot, who feeds on oat-cakes and such-like abominations.”

“Lady Betty will be following suit-not the white lady,” said the young lord.  “I think I’ll try and get an introduction,” he said, “and lead her through the ‘contre danse.’”

“You won’t get the introduction from Lady Betty.  I’ll lay a wager she will be too wary to give it; but I must look after my partner, so ta-ta!”

Truly the world is a stage, across which the generations of men come and go!  Assemblies of to-day at Bath and Clifton, and other places of fashionable resort, may wear a different aspect in all outward things, but the salient points are the same.  Idle men and foolish women vie with each other in the parts they play.  Age wears the guise of youth, and vanity hopes that the semblance passes for the reality.

Literary women may not write as Mrs. Macaulay did nine volumes of ill-digested and shallow history, and become thereby famous, and it would be hard to match the profane folly of a clergyman like Dr. Wilson, who in his infatuation erected a statue to this woman in his own church of St. Stephen’s, Walbrook, adorned as the Goddess of Liberty-an infatuation which we must charitably suppose was madness.  Nor would such a woman be the rage now at Bath or anywhere else.

Lady Miller was of a higher order of womanhood.  She created a literary circle in a beautiful villa at Batheaston, inviting her friends to contribute poems and deposit them in a vase from Frascati.

It may seem to us ridiculous that successful contributors should be crowned by Lady Miller with all due solemnity with myrtle wreaths.  But there is surely the same spirit abroad at the close of the nineteenth as marked the last years of the eighteenth century.  The pretenders are not dead.  They have not vanished out of the land.  There are the Lady Bettys who put on the guise of youth, and the Mrs. Macaulays who put on the appearance of great literary talent.  They pose as authorities on literature and politics, and they are often centres of a coterie who are fully as subservient as that which Lady Miller gathered round her in her villa at Batheaston.  They may not kneel to receive a laurel crown from the hands of their patroness; but, none the less, they carry themselves with the air of those who are superior to common folk, and can afford to look down from a vantage-ground on their brothers and sisters in the field of literature, who, making no effort to secure a hearing, sometimes gain one, and win hearts also.  It may be when the memory of many has perished with their work, that those who have laboured with a true heart for the good of others, and not for their own praise and fame, may, being dead, yet speak to generations yet to come.