Read CHAPTER VII - THE VASE OF PARNASSUS of Her Season in Bath A Story of Bygone Days, free online book, by Emma Marshall, on

“I am glad to be allowed the chance of speaking to you, Miss Mainwaring,” Leslie Travers began.  “I wanted to tell you that I have found a clue to your poor little protegee of last evening.  I am going to visit her, guided by the boy, to whom she referred me.”

“That is good news!” Griselda said.  “Will you be sure to let me know if I can do aught for her?  Oh, I would that I was not dependent on others!  I do long to help the poor and sad!  I must try once more to get Lady Betty to make me ever so small an allowance.  But,” she added, with sudden animation, “I have many jewels and trinkets which were my grandmother’s, and came to me at her death.  Will you sell some for me?  I had thought of selling a necklace to pay Mr. Herschel for his lessons; but it will be better to feed the starving than learn music.”

“You must let me make all due inquiries first, madam,” Leslie Travers said.  “I do not desire that your charity should be ill-placed, and many beggars’ tales are false.”

“That child was telling the truth!” Griselda said.  “I knew it!  I felt it!”

“You can then judge of truth or falseness by the unerring instinct which is one of the gifts of true womanhood?  I would hope-I would venture to hope-that, tried by that instinct, you would trust me, and believe that all I say is true.  May I dare to hope it is so?”

“Yes,” Griselda said, looking straight into the pure, clear eyes which sought hers.  “Yes; I could trust you.”

“Could?  Change that word to do.  Say you do trust me.”

His voice trembled with emotion, and Griselda’s eyes fell beneath his ardent admiring gaze.  The story of his love was written on his face, and Griselda Mainwaring could not choose but read it.  The compact between them might have been sealed then, had not a quiet, gentle voice near pronounced Mr. Travers’ name.

“Leslie, my dear son!”

Griselda turned her face, flushed with crimson, towards Leslie’s mother.  He hastened to relieve Griselda’s evident embarrassment by saying: 

“May I have the honour of presenting you to my mother, Miss Mainwaring?  I have promised to meet my guide to the house we were speaking of.  I will return hither, mother; meantime, may I hope you and Miss Mainwaring will have some conversation which will be agreeable to both?”

“I will await your return, Leslie.  But do not exceed half an hour, for the dark streets are not pleasant, especially for old folk like me, who have to pick my way carefully.  Have you been long a visitor to Bath, madam?” Mrs. Travers said, as she seated herself with Griselda on one of the benches.

“We arrived in November, madam.”

“Have you a mother and sister?”

“No, no!” Griselda said passionately.  “I am alone in the world-an orphan.”

“Ah, may the God of the fatherless be your Friend.  You will make Him your Friend, my dear?  This is a place fraught with danger.  I feel it for my son-and how much more is it full of danger for you?”

“There are many beautiful things and interesting people in Bath.  Do you know Mr. and Miss Herchel, madam?”

“I know them by report,” was the reply.  “My son is a musician, and attends Mr. Herschel’s classes.”

“It is not only music for which Mr. Herschel is famous.  He is an astronomer, and reads the star-lit heavens like a book-a poem-a poem more wonderful than any written by earthly hands.”

Mrs. Travers was surprised.  She did not expect a child of the world-a fashionable young lady-to speak so seriously on any subject.  But it was her duty to improve the occasion, and she said: 

“I would rather read the Word of God than the star-lit skies, since the safety of the soul is surely a more important duty than to pry into the secret things of God.”

“But He stretched out the heavens.  He raises our thoughts above by their contemplation.”

“Ah, my dear young lady, this is the vain tradition of men.  Let me urge you to come to our chapel in the Vineyards on the next Sabbath, and hear the truth rightly divided by Mr. Relly.  Do not be affronted at my boldness!”

“Oh no!  I am obliged to you for caring about me.  I have so few who do so care.”

“I can scarcely believe it!” Mrs. Travers said.  “So young and fair.  Surely there are those who stand in the place of parents to you?”

“No; I know of none such.  But here comes my aunt, Lady Betty Longueville.  She will desire me to return, as we are expected at a small party to-night at Lady Miller’s.”

Sir Maxwell Danby, who had been watching his opportunity, now came forward: 

“If you have quite done with yonder Niobe, will you permit me to escort you to your chair?  No?  You are walking?  That is better; I shall have more of your company.  Let me place your hood over your head-so!  What a wealth of loveliness it hides!”

Griselda turned away impatiently; but as Lady Betty was in advance with Lord Basingstoke, she was obliged to follow them.

Sir Maxwell made the best of his opportunity, and held Griselda’s hand as it rested on his arm, though she drew back from such familiarity.

“That old gentlewoman,” he said, “was reading you a lecture on the sins of the world and its frivolities.  I could see it; I have been watching you from afar.”

“I am sorry, sir, you had no better subject of contemplation,” was the reply.

It was but a step to North Parade; and, just as they reached it, Leslie Travers turned the corner from South Parade.  It gave him a thrill of disgust to see Griselda on the arm of a man who he knew was no fit companion for any pure-minded woman, and a pang of jealousy shot through him, and got the better of his discretion.

“If you had waited, Miss Mainwaring, I should have returned at the time I appointed, and I could have told you of what I had seen.”

“You did find her?  You know, then, her story was true?”

“Yes, but the half had not been told; but more of this hereafter.”

“I should be obliged to you, sir,” Sir Maxwell began, “not to hinder this young lady any longer.  She is under my charge, and I must move on.”

“Who hinders you, sir?” was the answer.  “Not I. Your goings and comings are matters of supreme indifference to me.”

Sir Maxwell laughed.

“Boys are always outspoken, I know; and, like puppy dogs, have to be licked into shape.”

“You shall be made to apologize for this insult, sir; and were you not in the lady’s presence -”

“Oh, pray, Mr. Travers, do not be angry; no harm is meant.  I shall look for you to-morrow to tell me the whole story of the poor little girl.  Good-afternoon.”

Then Griselda stepped on quickly to the door, and Sir Maxwell bowed his “Good-bye,” taking her hand and kissing it.

“Why so cruel to me,” he asked, “when I would be your slave?  Nay, I am your slave, and do your bidding.”

“If so, Sir Maxwell, you will allow me to pass into the house, and I wish to do so alone.”

“I dare not disobey your orders, though I am invited to a dish of tea by her ladyship; only”-and he hissed the words out between his thin lips-“beware of puppy dogs-they show their teeth sometimes.  Adieu-adieu!”

Lady Betty was in high good-humour in the drawing-room.  A dainty tea-service had been set out-delicate cups with no handles-and a silver tea-pot and cream-jug; and Lord Basingstoke had taken up his favourite lounging attitude by the fire.

“What have you done with Sir Maxwell Danby, child?”

“He left me at the door.”

“Where are your manners, not to invite him to come in?” Lady Betty said sharply.  “I shall never teach you the proper behaviour, I believe.”

“You might spare me before witnesses,” Griselda said angrily.  “If, indeed, I offend you, I will not inflict my company any longer on you.”

Then, with a dignified curtsey, Griselda swept out of the room.  It was terribly irritating to catch the sound of Lady Betty’s laugh as she did so, and the words, “A very tragedy queen-a real stage ‘curtshey.’”

Griselda hastened to her room, where she found Graves getting her change of toilette ready for the evening, and kindling a fire in the small grate.

“Oh dear, Graves! what a weariful world it is!  Graves, tell me-now, do tell me-something about my mother.”

“I have told you all I know many a time, my dearie.  She was a fair flower, nipped and withered by the breath of this same world you speak of.  May God preserve you in it!”

Griselda had thrown herself into a chair, and laid aside her cloak and hood.  All her beautiful hair fell over her shoulders like rippling waves of gold.

“Dear Graves, I have met a gentleman often, who is not like the rest of the world’s votaries.  His name is Travers; his mother frequents the chapel in the Vineyards.  Take me thither with you next Sunday!  Say you will, Graves!”

“I will take you if her ladyship is up in good time; but I can’t get off early if she chooses to lie a-bed.  But you would not go to scoff, Miss Griselda?”

“Nay; I have done with scoffing.  But, Graves, do you ever think of the miserable poor who have no food and no clothing, like a poor child I saw on Mr. Herschel’s doorstep t’other night?  This Mr. Travers has tracked her at my desire, and I want to sell some trinkets to feed and clothe her.  Hand me the large box; I rarely open it.  I did sell the amethyst-brooch to buy my violin, and now there are the two necklets my grandmother left my mother, and which came to me by will; and there are some other trinkets-a silver scent-box and golden ear-drops.  Make haste, dear Graves, and let me do what I wish.”

“Well,” said Graves, “I suppose you can do what you will with your own; but, all the same, I don’t hold with selling property-you may want it yourself some day.”

“True-ah, that is true!  I wonder how it came about that I had no maintenance!”

“Your poor dear mamma had her portion on her marriage with that good-for-nothing, and he made away with every penny.  Then Mr. Longueville took you as you know, and gave you a home.”

“Yes; he was good to me.  I remember coming, I think, when I was four years old.”

“You poor little thing!” Graves exclaimed.  “Yes, I can see you now, in your black pelisse, so shy and so strange!  If your poor uncle had never married, it would have been all right; but there, my lady could draw water out of a stone by her wiles and ways.  It’s no use moaning over spilt milk.  Here’s the box.  Now, don’t be in a hurry to sell, as I tell you these trinkets are all you’ve got in the world.  I must go and look after her ladyship’s buckles; she wants a blue rosette sewn on her shoes, and the buckles taken off.  It is all vanity and vexing of spirit.  She’ll be as cross as two sticks to-night; she always is, when she has been to the Pump Room, drinking these waters for fidgets and fancies-they upset folks’ stomachs, and then other folks have to put up with their tantrums.”

When Graves was gone, Griselda pulled the little table towards her; and, taking a small key from her chatelaine, unlocked the box.

“Yes,” she thought, “it is as Graves says, I have nothing in the world but these jewels.  It seemed till to-day that I had no one in the world to care for me; but now I think he does care for me.  He is not like those gay, foolish men who treat women as if they were dolls to be dressed up, or puppets to move at their bidding.  No, he is of another sort, I think.”  And the swift blush came to her fair cheek.  “What if he loves me!  It would be sweet to be taken from this hollow existence-dressing and dancing, and looking out for flattery and admiration.  If he were near, that dreadful man would not dare to talk to me as he does-he would not dare if I were not an orphan; and my only protector-that silly creature who drives me nearly wild with her folly -Well, let me hope better times are coming.  Now for the jewels.”

The box was lined with cedar, and as the cover was raised a faint, sweet odour of cedar mingled with otto of roses came with a message from the past.  Through the dim haze of long years that scent recalled to Griselda a room, where a tall dark man had sat by the embers of a fire, the box before him, and some words which the fragrance mysteriously seemed to bring back.

“It was her wish, and the child must go.”  The child!  What child?-and whither did she go?  It was herself-it must have been herself-the man meant.

Then it was all haze again.  The light that had penetrated the mists of the past, and brought the scene before her, was obscured once more.

That man must have been her father; but she had no memories of him either before or after that day, which had risen like a phantom before her, called up by the faint sweet scent of the old jewel-box.

The necklets were very fair to look at-one of pearls, with a diamond clasp, and initials on the gold at the back, which were her dead mother’s.  No, she could not sell that; but there were heavy ear-drops of solid gold, and a set of gold buttons-these would surely fetch something.  The amethyst necklace, with its lovely purple hue, had never belonged to her mother; and she put it, with the gold buttons and ear-rings, into a small leather box, and was pressing down one of the compartments, when a drawer flew open she had never noticed before.  In the drawer were some diamond ornaments and rings; a piece of yellow paper was fastened to one of the rings: 

“Deserted by the husband I trusted, I, Phyllis Mainwaring, leave to my only child, Griselda, these diamonds.  I place them out of sight, safe from dishonest hands.  When I left him to get bread he knew nothing of them, or he would have sold them.  They are my poor darling’s only inheritance, and I leave them secure that one day she will find them.  Let her take with them her unhappy mother’s blessing.”

This was indeed a discovery.  Griselda had always remembered that this box had stood in her room at Longueville House.  She remembered her uncle bidding her bring it to him, and that he placed in it the trinkets left to her by her grandmother, but never had anyone suspected the existence of the diamonds.  No one knew, that when the man whom she had married was running through her little fortune, the unhappy wife had, in her despair, converted a few hundreds into diamonds, and hidden them away from all eyes in that old jewel-box.

Griselda’s eyes filled with tears.  She pressed the bit of paper to her lips, and, wholly unconscious of the worth of those precious stones, she closed the drawer again upon that unexpected discovery, and, putting the small box safely in the drawer of the bureau, she took her violin from its case, and tried to wake from it the music which lay hidden in it.  As she played-imperfectly enough, yet with the ear of a musician-her spirit was soothed and comforted; and these verses, written in a thin, pointed hand, were dropped into Lady Miller’s vase that evening with no name or cypher affixed, and the mystery of the author was not solved: 


“Loveliest strains are lying,
Waiting to awake,
Till a master’s hand
Shall sweetest music make.

“Life’s best gifts are waiting
Till a magic power
Calls them from their hiding,
In some happy hour.

    “Brightest hopes are watching
      For their time of bliss,
    When a kindred spirit
      Greets them with a kiss.

    “Dreams of purest joys
      Shadows still remain,
    Till the day-star rises,
      And loss is turned to gain.

    “Sadness, grief, and sorrow,
      Like clouds shall pass away,
    If only we in patience wait
      Till dawns the perfect day.”

“This author may claim a wreath,” Lady Miller said, “but perhaps she likes best to be uncrowned.”

There was endless discussion as to the author of what seemed to be considered a poem of unusual merit, and one and another looked conscious, and blushed and simpered, for no one was unwilling to take the honour to herself.  Lady Betty was sure it was only the dear Marchioness who could have written them, only she was too modest to declare herself.

“Mock modesty I call it!” said Lady Miller, who was a bright, jovial woman, and had nothing of the grace or sentimental air which the verse-makers of those days wore as their badge.

Not a single person thought of taxing Griselda with the verses, so quiet had she been in these assemblies, seldom expressing any opinion as to the poems of other people.  Griselda was not in the charmed circle of the elite of Parnassus, who had a right to wear one of Lady Miller’s laurel crowns, and yet the verses, such as they were and poor as they may seem to us, were superior to the bouts rimes on a “buttered muffin,” which, report says, were once dropped into the Roman vase at Batheaston.

At the time of which I write, Lady Miller’s sun was declining.  Scarcely two years later, she died at the Clifton Hot Wells, at a comparatively early age.  But in her day her reputation spread far and wide; and some of the contributions, notably one from Sheridan’s able pen, were full of real, and not, as was too often the case, affected feeling.

This reunion to which Lady Betty and Griselda went on this December night was not one of the Fairs of Parnassus which were held every Thursday.  It was a soiree, to which only a select few-such as marchionesses, and embryo duchesses, and future peeresses-were bidden.

Lady Miller’s health was failing, though she tried to hide it; and even now a cough, which was persistent, though not loud, prevented her from reading the effusions which were taken haphazard from the vase, dressed with its pink ribbons, and with crowns of myrtle hanging from it.  Six judges were generally chosen to decide on the best poems, and the authors were only too proud to come forward and kneel to receive the wreath from the hand of this patroness of les belles lettres.

How old-world this all seems to us now! and how we think we can afford to sneer at such folly and such deplorably bad taste as the poems then thought worthy display!  “Siren charms” and “bright-eyed enchantress,” “soft zéphyrs” and “gentle poesies,” might be the stock expressions always ready to lend themselves to rhymes, with a hundred others of the like nature.  But these reunions had their better side; for reading verses was better than talking scandal, and apostrophes to bright eyes and ladies’ auburn locks better than the discussion of the last duel or elopement, which, in the absence of “society papers,” were too apt to form the favourite topic of the beau monde.

Lady Miller may have won her myrtle crown for attempting to set the minds and brains of her friends at work, even if only to produce doubtful bouts rimes where sense was sacrificed to rhyme, and sound triumphed over subject.

We have our Lady Millers of to-day, although there are no pink-ribboned vases in which contributors drop their poetical efforts.