Read CHAPTER III - ANOTHER SIDE OF THE PICTURE of Her Season in Bath A Story of Bygone Days, free online book, by Emma Marshall, on

There was not a cloud in the sky on that December night, and the “host of heaven” shone with extra-ordinary brilliancy.  The moon, at her full, was shedding her pure silvery light upon the terraces and crescents of the fair city of the West, and there were yet many people passing to and fro in the streets.  The link-boys had but scant custom that night, and the chair-men found waiting for the ladies at Wiltshire’s Rooms less irksome than when, as so often happened, they had to stand in bitter cold and darkness long after the hour appointed for them to take up their burdens and carry them to their respective homes.

In a room in Rivers Street a woman sat busily at work, with a mass of papers before her-musical scores and printed matter, from which she was making swift copy with her firm, decided hand.  She was so absorbed in the business in hand, that she did not feel the weariness of the task before her.  Copying catalogues and tables could not be said to be an interesting task; but Caroline Herschel never weighed in the balance the nature of her work, whether it was pleasant or the reverse.  It was her work, and she must do it; and it was service for one she loved best in the world, and therefore no thought of her own likes or dislikes was allowed to enter into the matter.  Presently a voice was heard calling her name: 


The pen was laid down at once, and Miss Herschel ran upstairs to the upper story to her brother.

“Help me to carry the telescope into the street.  The moon is just in front of the houses.  Carry the stand and the instrument.  Be careful!  I will follow with the rest.”

“In the street?” Caroline asked.  “Will you not be disturbed by passers-by?”

“Nothing disturbs me,” was the reply.  “I answer no questions, so folks tire of putting them.  It is such a glorious night-there may not be another like it for months; and the moon is clearer than I have seen her since I had the seven-foot reflector.”

As William Herschel spoke, he was preparing to carry the precious reflector downstairs-that outcome of many a night-watch, and many a weary hour of purely manual labour.  Turning the lathe and polishing mirrors was, however, but a small part of his unflagging perseverance.  This perseverance had evolved the larger instrument from a small telescope, bought for a trifle from an optician at Bath.  That telescope had first kindled the desire in William Herschel’s mind to produce one which should surpass all its predecessors, and help him to scan more perfectly those “star-strewn skies,” and discover in them treasures to make known to future ages, and be linked for ever with his name.  Caroline Herschel was his right hand.  She was his apprentice in the workshop-his reader when the polishing went on; and often, when William had not even a moment to spare for food, she would stand over him, and feed him as he worked with morsels of some dish prepared by her own hand.

“You have copied the score for Ronzini, Caroline?”

“I have nearly finished it.”

“And you have practised that quick passage in the song in ’Judas Maccabaeus’?”

“Yes; but I will do so again before to-morrow.  It is our reception-day, you remember.”

“Yes; where is Alexander?”

“He is at the Ball at Wiltshire’s.  He was at work all the morning, you know,” Caroline said, in an apologetic tone.

“Work is not Alex’s meat and drink; he likes play.”

In a few minutes the telescope was adjusted on the pavement before the house; and the faithful sister, having thrown a thick shawl over her head, stood patiently by her brother’s side, handing him all he wanted, writing down measurements, though her fingers were blue with cold, and the light of the little hand-lanthorn she had placed on the doorstep scarcely sufficed for her purpose.

At last all was ready, and then silence followed-profound silence-while the brother’s eyes swept the heavens, and scanned the surface of that pale, mysterious satellite of our earth, whose familiar face looks down on us month by month, and by whose wax and wane we measure our passing time by a sure and unfailing guide.

Caroline Herschel took no notice of the few bystanders who paused to wonder what the gentleman was doing.  She stood waiting for his word to note down in her book the calculation of the height of the particular mountain in the moon to which the telescope was directed.

Presently he exclaimed, “I have it!-write.”

And as Caroline turned to enter the figures dictated to her, a gentleman who was passing paused.

“May I be allowed to look into that telescope, madam?” he asked.

Caroline only replied in a low voice: 

“Wait, sir; he has not finished.  He is in the midst of an abstruse problem.”

“I have it-I have it!” was the next exclamation.  “Write.  It is the highest of the range.  There is snow on it-and-yes, I am pretty sure.  Now, Caroline, we will mount again, and I will make some observations on the nebulae-the night is so glorious.”

“William, this gentleman asks if he may be allowed to look into the telescope.”

“Certainly-certainly, sir.  Have you never seen her by the help of a reflector before?”

“No, never; that is to say, by the help of any instrument so gigantic as this.”

William Herschel tossed back his then abundant hair, and said: 

“Gigantic!-nay, sir; the giant is to come.  This is the pigmy, but now stand here, and I will adjust the lens to your sight-so!  Do you see?”

“Wonderful!” was the exclamation after a minute’s silence.  “Wonderful!  May I, sir, introduce myself as Dr. Watson, and may I follow up this acquaintance by a call to-morrow?”

“You will do me great honour, sir; and if you care for music, be with us to-morrow at three o’clock, when my sister there will discourse some real melody, if so it should please you.  Is it not so, Caroline?”

“There will be more attractive music than mine, brother,” Miss Herschel said.

“I doubt it, if, as I hear,” said Dr. Watson, with a low bow, “the musical world finds in Miss Herschel a worthy successor to the fair Linley, who has made Sheridan happy-maybe happier than he deserves!”

Caroline Herschel bowed in acknowledgment of the compliment, and said: 

“Miss Farinelli carries the palm, sir.  Now, brother, shall we return to the top of the house?”

She was almost numb with cold, but she made no complaint; and when the telescope with all the instruments had been conveyed to the top story, she patiently stood far into the night, while her brother swept the heavens, and took notes of all he said, as his keen glances searched the star depths, and every now and then exchanged an expression of wonder and delight with his faithful friend, and the sharer of all his toils and all his joys.

So, while the gay world of Bath wore away the night in the hot chase for pleasure, this brother and sister pursued their calm and earnest way towards the attainment of an end, which has made their names a watch-word for all patient learners and students of the great mysteries of the universe, for all time.

“The thirty-foot reflector, Caroline!  That is the grand aim.  Shall I ever accomplish it?  We must make our move at once, for I must have a basement where I can work undisturbed.  I find the pounding of the loam will be a work of patience.”

“Like all work,” Caroline said, as she retired, not to bed, but to the copying of the score, from which occupation she had been disturbed when her brother called her.

“Expenses are ahead,” she said to herself.  “Money-money, we shall want money for this thirty-foot; and, after all, it may be a vain hope that we shall produce it.  Thirty-foot!  Well, music must find the money.  Music is our handle, our talisman which is to turn the common things into gold.”

“Well, Alex, is that you?  Have you been playing as usual?”

“Playing, yes; and you had better play too, you look quite an old Frau, Lina.”

“I don’t doubt it-not I; a contrast to your painted dames at Wiltshire’s.”

“One, at least, was not painted.  She is a queen!-she is lovely.”

Caroline laughed a little ironical laugh.

“Another flame!  Poor Alex! you will sure be consumed ere long.”

“You won’t laugh when you see her, Lina; and she is coming to-morrow to listen to your singing.  Travers has told me she was raving about your singing at Madam Colebrook’s the other evening, and he is to be here to-morrow and introduce her.”

“He is very obliging, I am sure,” said Caroline with another little laugh.  “There is a letter to Ronzini which should be sent by a messenger early to-morrow to Bristol.  Can you write it?”

“It is early to-morrow now,” replied Alex.  “Stay, good sister.  I must to bed, and you should follow, or you will not be in trim to sing to the lady fair to-morrow.  Come!”

“The bees make the honey, Alex; it would not answer if all were butterflies.  You are one of those who think that folks were made to make your life pleasant.”

“Bees can sting, I see,” was Alexander’s remark.  “But give me a kiss, Lina; we don’t forget our old home-love, do we?  Let us hold together.”

“I am willing, dear Alex; if I am crabbed at times, make excuses.  These servants are a pest.  I could fancy this last is a thief:  the odds and ends vanish, who knows how?  Oh!  I do long for the German households which go on oiled wheels, and don’t stop and put everyone out-time and temper too-like these English ones.”

“We will all hasten back to Hanover, sister, with the telescopes at our backs, when -”

“When the thirty-foot mirror is made.  Ah!-a -”

This last interjection was prolonged, and turned into a sigh, almost a groan.

When Alex was gone his sister got up and walked two or three times round the room, drank a glass of cold water, opened the shutters, and looked out into the night.

The moon had passed out of the ken of Rivers Street now, but its light was throwing sharp blue shadows from the roofs of the houses, and the figure of the watch-man with his multitude of capes as he stood motionless opposite the window from which Caroline Herschel was looking out into the night.

Presently the dark shadow of the watchman’s figure moved.  He sounded his rattle and walked on, calling in his ringing monotone: 

“It is just two o’clock, and a fine frosty morning.  All well.”

As the sound died away with the watchman’s heavy footsteps, Caroline Herschel closed the shutter, and saying, “I am wide awake now,” reseated herself at the table, and wrote steadily on till the clock from the Abbey church had struck four, when at last she went to bed.

Her naturally strong physique, her unemotional nature, and her calm and quiet temper, except when pestered by her domestics’ misdemeanours, were in Caroline Herschel’s favour.  Her head had scarcely touched the pillow before she was in a sound refreshing sleep, while many of the votaries of fashion tossed on their uneasy beds till day-dawn.