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

When Griselda went down to the little lobby, she found Mr. Travers with a flushed and excited face, and Mr. Herschel trying to calm him.

“Take my word for it, my young friend, there are always two necessary to make a quarrel, and I should beware of yonder dandy, who bears no good character.”

“I will take your advice as far as in me lies, sir; but if he ever dares to speak again, as just now-in the presence of others, too!-to dare to speak lightly of her -I will not pick the quarrel, but if he picks it, then I am no coward.”

Dr. William Watson, who had come for a second time that day to visit the “moon-gazer” of the night before, had been a somewhat unwilling witness of the high words which had passed between Sir Maxwell Danby and Leslie Travers, and now seemed impatient to be taken upstairs to inspect the process of grinding and polishing the reflector for great twenty and thirty foot mirrors, which was then achieved by persistent manual labour.

Dr. William Watson was a Fellow of the Royal Society, and had come to invite Mr. Herschel to join the Philosophical Society in Bath, which invitation he accepted, and by this means came more prominently before the world.

Mr. Travers led Griselda to her chair, and as the boy lighted the torch at the door-for it was quite dark-a small and piteous voice was heard: 

“Oh, madam! cannot you do something for us?  I heard Mr. Herschel was kind, but he is hard and stern.”

“Mr. Herschel never gives alms,” Leslie Travers said; “be off!”

“Nay, sir; wait.  The child looks wretched and sad.  What is it?” Griselda asked.

“Oh, madam! my father was engaged to play at the theatre, and he has fallen down and cannot perform the part.  Mr. Palmer is hard, so hard, he says”-the child’s voice faltered-“he says it was drink that made him fall-and he has no pity; and we are starving.”

The group on the steps of that house in King Street was a study for an artist.  The shuddering, weeping child; the stolid chairman; the link-boy, with the torch, which cast a lurid light upon the group; the young man holding the hand of the tall and graceful lady, hooded and cloaked in scarlet, edged with white fur; then the open door behind, where an oil lamp shone dimly, and the maid’s figure, in her large white cap and apron, made a white light in the gloom.  It was a picture indeed, suggestive of the sharp contrasts of life, and yet no one could have divined that in that scene lay concealed the elements of a story so tragic and sorrowful, yet to be developed, and then unsuspected and unknown.

“Wait,” Griselda said.  “Tell me, child, if I can help you.”

“We are starving, madam, and my father is so ill!”

“I have no money,” Griselda exclaimed.  “Mr. Travers, if you can help her, please do so.”

“It is at your desire, for I can refuse you nothing; but I know Mr. Herschel is right, and that alms given like this, is but the throwing of money into a bottomless pit.”

As he was speaking the young man had taken a leathern purse from the wide side-pocket of his blue coat, and had singled out a sixpence and a large heavy penny with the head of the King in his youth upon it-big old-fashioned penny-pieces, of which none are current now.

Mr. Travers put the money into Griselda’s hand, and she held it towards the child.

“What brought you to Mr. Herschel’s?” she asked.

“Brian Bellis sings at the Octagon every Sunday; he told me Mr. Herschel was kind, but he was wrong; it is you who are kind.”

“Tell me where you live, and I will come, perhaps; or at any rate send someone to give you help.”

“We live in Crown Alley; but Brian Bellis will tell you, madam.  Oh!” the child said, “you are beautiful as the princess in the play; and you are good too, I know.”

“Come, be off, you little wretch.  We don’t care to stay here all night for you, and orders waiting,” said one of the chair-men.

“Will you find out Brian Bellis for me?  Will you discover from Miss Herschel if the tale is true-now-I mean now?  I will pay you extra for waiting,” Griselda said to the men.

“Can’t wait to obleege you, miss; if you don’t step in we shall have to charge double fare.”

Then Griselda got into the chair; the lid was let down with a jerk; the men took up the poles, and set off at a quick trot to North Parade.

The child was still standing on the doorstep, and Leslie Travers said: 

“You must not stand here.  The lady will keep her promise, you may be sure.  Now then!”

The child turned sorrowfully away, and the click of her pattens was heard on the stone pavement getting fainter and fainter in the distance.

Leslie Travers was thoughtful beyond the average of the young men of his type in those days, and as Miss Herschel’s servant shut the door-much wondering what all the delay had been about-he gathered his loose cloak round him, and walked towards the house his mother had taken in King Street, pondering much on the inequalities of life.

“Some star-gazing,” he thought, “and with their chief aims set above the heavens; some singing and dancing; some working mischief-deadly mischief-by their lives; and some, like that poor child, dying of starvation.  Yes, and some are praying to God for the safety of their own souls, or thanking Him that they are safe, and forgetting, as it seems, the souls of others-nay, that they have souls at all!  And others, like that angel, whose face is like the fair lady of Dante’s dream, or vision, seem to draw the beholder upward by the very force of their own purity and beauty.”

This may sound very high-flown language for a lover, but Leslie Travers lived in a day of ornate expression of sentiment, as the effusions in Lady Miller’s vase at Batheaston abundantly testified.

Leslie Travers was the son of a Lincolnshire squire, who owned a few acres, and had lived the isolated life of the country gentlemen of those times.

Leslie was the only son, and he had been sent to Cambridge; but his health failed before he had finished his course there, and he had returned to his old home just in time to see his father die of the ague, which haunted the neighbourhood of the fens before any attempt at proper drainage had been thought of, much less made.

Mrs. Travers was urged to shut up the Grange-which answered very well to the description of a moated Grange of a later time-and resort to Bath, for the healing waters might take their effect on her son’s health.  Mrs. Travers had now been resident in Bath for a whole year, and her figure in widow’s-weeds was familiar in the bath-room waiting for her son’s appearance after his morning douche.

But not only was her figure familiar in the bath-room, there was another place where she constantly took up her position, and where she could not persuade her son to follow her, and that place was the chapel which had been built by Selina, Countess of Huntingdon.

Mrs. Travers was at this time greatly exercised in mind about her son.  Since his health had improved, he had entered more into the gaieties of the city of Bath, and made friends of whom she could not approve.  The Pump Room was a place where many idlers and votaries of fashion found a convenient resort after the morning bath; and here many introductions were exchanged between the new-comers and those who had been frequenters of Bath for many previous seasons.  The present master of the ceremonies did not hold the sway of his famous predecessor; but outward decorum was preserved; and it was in the master’s power to refuse or grant an introduction if it was objected to by any parent or guardian.

Mrs. Travers was one of those sweet and gentle women, who are themselves a standing rebuke to the harsh and iron creed which they profess to hold by.  Mrs. Travers had lived in an atmosphere all her life of utter indifference and neglect of even the outward observances of religion.

The clergyman of the Lincolnshire parish where the Grange stood was a fair type of the country parsons of the time.  He hunted with the squire, drank freely of his wine, and was “Hail fellow! well met!” with those of his parishioners who had like tastes with himself.  A service in the church when it suited him, baptisms when the parents pressed it, funerals, a necessity no one can put aside, and administration of the Holy Communion on the three prescribed festivals of the year, were the limit of his parochial labours.

Who can wonder that a sympathetic and emotional woman, brought to hear for the first time a burning and eloquent appeal to turn to God, should very soon yield herself, heart and soul, to what was indeed to her a new religion!

She accepted the doctrine of her teacher without reservation, and the offer made her in God’s name of salvation-a salvation which drew a circle round the recipient, into which no worldly thing must enter-a circle narrower and ever narrower, which, as it closed like an iron band at last, round many a true-hearted man and woman, had all unawares shut in the very essence of that world they had in all good faith believed they had renounced.  For “the world’s” chief idol is self, and there may be worship and slavery to this idol in the closest conventual cloister, and in the hardest and most ascetic life that was ever led in this, or any other age.

But, as I said, no creed could make Mrs. Travers hard or austere.  Her sweet, pale face in its widow’s cap, and straight black gown with the long “weepers” and linen bands, gave her almost a saint-like appearance; and the smile with which she greeted her boy was like sunshine over the surface of a little tarn hidden in some mountain-side.

“Late-am I late, mother?  I am sorry, ma’am; but I was detained at Mr. Herschel’s by-by a child begging for money at the door as we were leaving.  She spoke of starvation and deep distress.  She had a lovely face, and it sounded like truth.”

“Poor little creature!  Can we help, Leslie?”

“One of the singers at the Octagon Chapel will direct me to the place-Crown Alley, a low street enough, by the Abbey churchyard.”

“Ah!” and his mother sighed; “a low place, doubtless.”

“The child’s father is an actor-he was hired to play here-and has had a fall, and is helpless.”

“An actor!” Mrs. Travers’ pale face flushed with crimson.  “An actor!  Ah, my dear son, one engaged in the devil’s work cannot claim charity from Christians.”

“I do not take your meaning, ma’am.  An actor may suffer, and his child starve as well as other folk, and need help.”

“I grieve for suffering, dear son, as you know; but -”

“But you condemn all actors wholesale.  Nay, my sweet mother”-and Leslie changed his tone-“nay, my sweet mother, it is not you who steel your heart; it is the doctrine taught you in the fashionable chapel yonder of lords and ladies, who reserve for themselves the right to the kingdom of heaven.”

“My son, do not speak thus; nor scoff at what you cannot yet understand.  If prayers avail for your conversion, constant and persevering, mine will at last be heard.”

“I thank you for your prayers, dear mother-they come from a true heart.  And now to supper, and then to my violoncello.  The Herschels are removing at once to this street-almost will their music be within ear-shot; and there will be great works in the garden, and the largest mirror in the kingdom will be cast.  Who can tell what may be discovered?  Now, mother, you do not see sin and wickedness in star-gazing, surely?”

Mrs. Travers shook her head.

“I would not care for myself to be too curious as to the secrets which God does not reveal.”

Leslie stamped his foot impatiently, and then said: 

“We cannot agree there, mother.  Every gift of God is good; and if He has given the gift of mathematical precision, and earnestness in applying it for the better development of the grandest of all sciences, who shall dare to say the man who exercises that gift is wrong?  For my own part, I feel uplifted in the presence of that great and good man-Mr. Herschel-and his wonderful sister.”

“‘When I consider Thy heavens the work of Thy fingers,’” Mrs. Travers quoted from the Psalms, “I say, with David, ’What is man, that Thou art mindful of him? or the son of man, that Thou considerest him?’ Such knowledge, my dear son, as that, after which you tell me Mr. and Miss Herschel seek, is too wonderful for me, nor do I wish to attain it.  Mr. Relley delivered a very powerful discourse on this matter last Sunday.  I would you had heard it, instead of listening to the music at the Octagon, where the world gathers its votaries every Sabbath-day to admire music, and forget God.”

Leslie knew, by past experience, that to argue with his mother was hopeless, and he therefore remained silent.  Something told him, when all was said, that he needed something that he did not possess.  When first threatened with consumption, and the grasshopper of his young life had become a burden, he had looked death in the face, and shuddered.  Life was sweet to him-music, and the beautiful things which were to him as a strain of music, were dear to his heart.

At a time when the natural beauties of field, and flower, and over-arching sky were far less to many than the coteries of fashion and the haunts of pleasure, so called, Leslie Travers had higher tastes, and yet he would fain have been other than he was.  Religion, as offered to him by his mother’s teachers, repelled him; and he cherished a secret bitterness against the grand ladies who sat on either side of the haut pas-described by Horace Walpole, in balconies reserved for “the elect” of noble birth-in Lady Huntingdon’s Chapel in the Vineyards.

The waters of Bath had worked wonders on Leslie’s bodily ailments.  He began to feel strong again, with the strength of young manhood; and now there had risen upon his horizon that bright particular star-that, to him, marvel of perfect womanhood-Griselda Mainwaring.  He had scarcely dared to take her name on his lips-it was a sacred name to him; and yet, in the lobby of Mr. Herschel’s house, he had heard the man, who had so broadly flattered her that she had shrunk from his words as a sensitive plant shrinks from a rough touch of a hand-say, in answer to a question from a casual acquaintance: 

“Who is she?  Low-born I hear, and a mere poor dependent on the bounty of Lady Betty.”

“Heaven help her!” had been the reply, “if that is all her dependence.”

Then with a laugh, as he tapped his little silver snuff-box, Sir Maxwell Danby had said: 

“She will easily find another maintenance.  A beauty-true; but a beauty of no family can’t afford to be particular.”

It was at these words-insulting in their tone as well as in themselves-that Leslie Travers had raised his voice, and angrily demanded what the speaker meant, or how he could dare to speak lightly of a lady who had no father or brother to be her champion.

“She has you!” had been the reply, with a sneer.  “Poor boy!”

How the quarrel might have ended even then, I cannot tell, had not the master of the house, Mr. Herschel, tried to throw oil on the troubled waters.  But the bitterness was left-a bitterness which Leslie Travers felt was hatred; and yet, if his mother’s Bible told true, hatred was a seed which might grow into an awful upas-tree, shadowing life with its deadly presence.  With that strangely mysterious power, which words from the great code of Christian morals are sometimes forced, as it were, to be heard within, Leslie heard:  “He that hateth his brother is a murderer, and we know that no murderer hath eternal life!”

Again and again, as Sir Maxwell Danby’s figure rose before him, and his narrow though finely-chiselled face seemed to mock him with its scornful smile, so did the words echo in his secret heart:  “He that hateth his brother is a murderer, and we know that no murderer hath eternal life!”

Late into the night the strains of Leslie’s violoncello rose and fell.  The largo of Haydn seemed to soothe him into calm, calling up before him the beautiful face of Griselda Mainwaring, as with rapt, impassioned gaze she had drank in the music of Caroline Herschel’s voice, as she sang, “Come unto Me ... and I will give you rest.”

“I love her!  I adore her!  I will win her if I serve for her as Jacob served for Rachel!  My queen of beauty!  Griselda!  Griselda!”