Read CHAPTER VI - GRAVE AND GAY of Her Season in Bath A Story of Bygone Days, free online book, by Emma Marshall, on

“The quality” of Bath and of other towns and cities in England, a hundred years ago, knew nothing-and, except in rare and isolated instances, cared less-of those who were reduced to the lowest depths of poverty, and whose struggle for daily bread was often in vain.

It was in a low, unhealthy quarter of Bath-that queen of the West-that the child, who had begged for money at Mr. Herschel’s door the evening before, was seated in an attic-chamber, with a heap of finery before her.  Her little slender fingers were busy mending rents in gaudy gowns, sewing beads on high collars, and curling feathers with a large bodkin.

Stretched on a bed in the corner of the room lay a man, whose pale face, sunken eyes, and parched white lips, told of suffering and want.  A sigh, which was almost a groan, broke from the man, and the child got up and left her work for a minute that she might wet a rag in vinegar and water and lay it on her father’s forehead.

“Is it your leg pains, father, or is your head worse?”

“Both, child; but my heart pains most.  I am fallen very low, Norah, and there is nothing but misery before us.  Child! what will you do when I am gone?”

Norah shook her head.

“We will not talk of that, father.  You will get well, and then you will act Hamlet again, and -”

“Never!  The blow to my head has clean taken away my memory.  ’To be or not to be!’”-then followed a harsh laugh-“I could not get the next line to save my life!  But, Norah, it is your condition which eats like a canker into my heart.  You spoke of a kind gentleman and a beautiful lady yesterday, who did not spurn you.  Find them again, implore them to come here, and I will move their very heart to pity by the tale of my sorrows!  They will, sure, put out a hand to you.”

“The lady was beautiful as an angel, father; but I don’t think grand folks like her will care for us.  But,” she said, brightening, “I shall get some money for this job Mrs. Betts gave me; and I am to go to the green-room and help the ladies to dress.”

“No!” the man said, his eyes flashing-“No!  I command you not to enter the theatre!  Do you hear?”

The child knew when her father’s dark eyes flashed like that, and he spoke in the tones of tragedy, that remonstrance was useless; and the doctor said he was never to be excited or contradicted, or he might lose his senses altogether.

“As you please, father,” Norah said meekly, and then returned to her needlework; and the heavy breathing in the corner where the bed was placed told that her father slept.

About noon there was a sound of feet on the stairs, and a tap at the door, and a curly head was thrust in.  Norah held up her finger and pointed to the bed, but said in a low whisper: 

“Come in, Brian.”

“I’ve brought you my dinner,” the boy said.  “I did not want it.  It’s a meat-pie and a bun.  I don’t care for meat-pies and-come, Norah, eat it!”

Norah’s blue eyes filled with tears.  She was so hungry, but she knew her father might be hungry too.  She glanced at the bed, and Brian understood the glance.

“Meat-pies are bad for sick folks,” he said, shaking his head.  “Very bad!  He mustn’t touch it.”

“I’ll keep the bun then, and p’raps that may tempt him with a drop of the wine you brought yesterday.  But, Brian, he is very ill!”

“Well, eat your pie, and then we’ll talk,” the boy said.

“Not loud, or he may wake.”

“I have something to tell you.  There’s a young gentleman who plays the violoncello grandly!  He comes to the Octagon, you know, and I believe it was that very gentleman you saw at Mr. Herschel’s yesterday.  I’m going to hunt him up; and I’ll bring him here, and he is certain to be good to you.”

“I don’t want to beg!  Oh, Brian, I do not like to beg, and be spurned like Mr. Herschel spurned me yesterday!”

“He was in a hurry-he did not mean anything unkind.  But I have got to sing a solo at a rehearsal, and I must be gone.  Cheer up, Norah!  What’s all this rubbish?”

“It’s the theatre dresses.  Mrs. Betts, the keeper of the wardrobe, gave me the job.  She will pay me, you know.”

Brian nodded, and then left the room.  His quaint little figure, in knee-breeches and swallow-tail short coat, with a wide crimped frill falling over the collar and the wrist-bands, would excite a smile now if seen in the streets of Bath.

Heavy leather shoes, tied with wide black ribbon, and dull yellow stockings, which met the legs of the breeches, and were fastened with buckles, completed his attire.  But the fine open face, with its winning smile, and white forehead shaded by clustering curls, could not be disguised.  Brian had a charm about him few people could resist.

He lived with his aunts, who were fashionable mantua-makers and milliners in John Street, and their rooms were frequented by many of the elite, who came to them to consult about the fashion and the mode, although the Miss Hoblyns’ fame was not, in 1779, what it became when the Duchess of York consulted them as to her “top-gear” a few years later.

At this time they were young women, and had only laid the foundation of the large fortune which the patronage of the Royal Duchess is said to have built up at last.  Brian Bellis was therefore lifted far above anything like poverty, and his aunts gave him a trifle for his pocket, as well as his schooling, and were proud of his prominence in the choir of the Octagon Chapel, where on Sundays the sisters always appeared in the latest fashions.  Indeed their dress on Sundays was eagerly scanned by ladies of the fashionable congregation as we might scan a fashion-book in these days.

Brian had seen Norah several times with a burden he thought too heavy for her to carry, and he had gallantly taken the basket from her hand and carried it for her.

Those were the days when there was money to pay for marketings, and before the accident happened which had laid her father low.  But Brian was not a fair-weather friend, and that meat-pie and bun were not the first that he had bought out of his pocket-money for the now forlorn child.

He was running away to the rehearsal for next Sunday’s music, when he jostled against Leslie Travers, who was coming out of the Pump Room.

Brian came to a dead stop, and said respectfully: 

“Sir, there is a man and a little girl in great want in Crown Alley; the child was at Mr. Herschel’s door last night.”

“This is a lucky chance,” Leslie Travers said, “for I am looking for Brian Bellis.  Are you Brian Bellis?  I know your face amongst the singers in the Octagon”-adding to himself, “a face not likely to forget.”

It was lighted now with the fire of enthusiasm, as he said: 

“Oh! sir; yes, I am Brian Bellis, and I can show you the way to Crown Alley; not now, for I have to be at the rehearsal.  But, sir, I will come to the Pump Room this afternoon, and I will go with you then.  I wish I could stay now, but I dare not.  Mr. Herschel never overlooks absence from a rehearsal for Sunday.”

“Very good; I will be there.  Come to the lobby about four, and you will find me.”

The Pump Room was full that afternoon.

Lady Betty was of course there, laying siege to the young Lord Basingstoke, and laughing her senseless little laugh, and flirting her fan as she lounged on a sofa, with the young man leaning over her.

Sir Maxwell Danby had had a twinge of gout, and was in an ill temper.  He did not care two straws for Lady Betty, but he did not like to see his territory invaded, knowing, too, that a peer weighed heavily in the balance against a baronet.

Griselda had rebuffed him too decidedly for him to risk another public manifestation of her repugnance to him, and he watched her with his small close-set eyes with anything but a benign expression.

Griselda was surrounded by a mother and two smart, gawky daughters, who were strangers at Bath, and were of the veritable type of “country-cousins,” which was so distinct a type in the society of those days.  Now refinement, or what resembles it, has penetrated into country towns and villages, and the farmers’ wives and daughters of to-day are more successful in presenting themselves in what is called “good society,” than were the squires’ and small landed proprietors’ families when “the country” districts were separated by impassable roads from frequent intercourse with the gay world beyond.

These good people talked in loud resonant tones, with a decided provincial twang.

“La, ma! what a fine lady that is!” said one of the girls.  “Did you ever see such a hat?”

“And look at the gentleman courting her!”

“Hush now, my dear!  He is a lord, and the t’other is a baronet.”

“Well, we are in fine company.  I wish we knew some of ’em.  I say, ma -”

At this moment the very stout mamma dropped her fan, and Griselda, who was nearest to it, picked it up and handed it to her with a gracious smile.

“Thank you, my dear, I am sure.  Won’t you take a seat here?” she continued, gathering together the ample folds of her moreen pelisse trimmed with fur, and edging up to her daughters, who were on the same bench.

A quick glance showed Griselda that Sir Maxwell was meditating a raid on her, so she accepted the offer, and almost at the same moment the Marchioness of Lothian appeared, and Sir Maxwell advanced to her, bowed low, and led her to a seat.

At least he would show Griselda, that if she chose to slight him, a live Marchioness was of a different mind.

The band now struck up, and Mrs. Greenwood beat time with her large foot, and nodded her head till the plume of feathers in her hat waved like the plumes of a palm-tree in the tropics.

Her daughters did not allow the band to hinder their remarks on the company, as some promenaded up and down, and others reclined, like Lady Betty, on the crimson-covered lounges.

Presently Griselda received a nudge from one of the young ladies’ rather sharp elbows: 

“Pray, miss, who’s that fine gentleman walking with?  He is looking this way.  Bab, don’t giggle, I think he was speaking of us.”

“Who is the lady?”

“The Marchioness of Lothian,” Griselda said.

“Lor’, ma; do you hear?” Miss Barbara exclaimed, leaning across Griselda, “that’s a Marchioness!”

It really gave these good people intense pleasure to be in the same room with those who rejoiced in titles.  It gave Mrs. Greenwood a sense of added importance, and made her even dream of the possibility of some lord falling in love with Bab.  Thus a return to the remote country town of Widdicombe Episopi, where Mr. Greenwood farmed his own acres, and lived in a house which had come down to the Greenwoods from the time of Charles II., would be a triumphal return indeed.

“I shouldn’t wonder, miss, if you was a titled lady,” Mrs. Greenwood said, as the music stopped, and conversation in more subdued tones was possible.

Griselda smiled.

“No, I have no title of honour,” she said.

“Ah, well! you look as if you might have, and that’s something.  I do like to see a genteel air; as I say to Bab and Bell, it’s half the battle-it’s more than a pretty face.  We are come to Bath for Bell’s health.  She has been so peaky and puling of late.  Do you take the waters, miss?”

“No,” Griselda said.  “I am quite well.”

“Then you came for pleasure?”

“Yes,” Griselda replied.

“Well, I am very proud to have made your acquaintance.  We have apartments in the Circus.  There’s no stint as to money.  Mr. Greenwood said-that’s the squire, you know-’Go and enjoy yourselves.  But I thank my stars I’ve not to go along with you, that’s all.’”

At this moment Leslie Travers entered the room, and looking round with the quick glance of love saw Griselda, and Griselda alone.

But who were the people she was seated with?  Lady Betty called him by name, and stopped giggling behind her fan to do so.

“Here, Mr. Travers; go, I beseech you, and rescue Griselda from those Goths, into whose hands she has fallen.  What a set!  Goodness! it’s as fine as a play!”

Leslie crossed the room, and bowing before Griselda, said: 

“Lady Betty would be pleased if you joined her, Miss Mainwaring.”

Griselda rose, and, bowing to her three companions, walked towards the opposite side of the room.

“I knew she was somebody,” Mrs. Greenwood exclaimed.  “Lady Betty-did you hear?  And what a vastly genteel young man!-one of her admirers, no doubt.  Well, girls, shall we take a turn?  For my part I am getting sleepy;” and a prolonged yawn, which was heard as well as seen, announced the fact to those who were near that Mrs. Greenwood had had enough of the Pump Room for that day.

“My dear girl!” Lady Betty exclaimed when Griselda joined her.  “Who will you take up with next?  Those vulgar folks!  Did you ever see anything like the feet of the young one?  I declare I’d wear a longer gown if I had such duck’s feet!-and the waddle matches-look!”

Lady Betty’s giggle was a well-known sound in any society she honoured with her presence, and when she could get a companion like the empty-headed Lord Basingstoke, she delighted to sit and “quiz” those whom she thought beneath her in the social scale.

“Griselda!  She is offended.  Look how she is strutting off!  He! he! he!”

And Lord Basingstoke echoed the laugh in a languid fashion, Lady Betty leaning back and looking up at him with what she thought her most bewitching smile.

“I think it is very ill-bred to make remarks on people!” Griselda said, “and very unkind to hurt their feelings, as you must have hurt that lady’s.”

Griselda spoke with some vehemence, which she was apt to do, when her feelings were strongly moved.

“You see how I’m lectured,” Lady Betty said, with the usual accompaniment-“the giggling fugue,” as her enemies called it.  “Griselda,” she said, trying to hide her vexation, “you are very good to look after my behaviour.  Poor little me!  I want someone, don’t I, Mr. Travers?  It is news to hear I am ‘ill-bred.’  What next, I wonder?”

But Griselda held her own, and repeated: 

“I must think it ill-bred in any society to turn other folks into ridicule, and I am quite sure no one can call it kind!”

“My dear, may I ask you to mind your own business?” was said sotto voce as Lady Betty rose, declaring it was time for her third glass of water, and Lord Basingstoke escorted her to the inner room, where the invalids assembled to drink the waters.