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

Griselda was glad to escape to her own room that she might have time to think over her position and decide what was best to do, and what was the next step to take.

She laid aside her dress and hoop, and put on a long morning-gown which Lady Betty had discarded because the colour was unbecoming; and then, opening her desk, chose a very smooth sheet of Bath-post paper, and sat with her quill pen in her hand as if uncertain what to write.

But her face was by no means troubled and anxious; on the contrary, it was happy, almost radiant, in its expression.

Griselda had not had an experience of many lovers; indeed, the sweet story had never been told to her till Leslie Travers told it; and there was a charm for her in thinking that her heart had responded so fully to him and given him her first love.

Foolish protestations like Sir Maxwell Danby’s had indeed been made to Griselda since her arrival at Bath, but a certain stately dignity had kept triflers at a distance, and it might be said of Griselda, that she

    “Held a lily in her hand-
    Gates of brass could not withstand
    One touch of that enchanted wand.”

It was the lily of pure unsullied womanly delicacy, which contact with the world of fashion in every town is too apt to touch, and even wither with its baleful breath.

It would not be fair to say that in the Bath assemblies this baleful influence was all-pervading.  Then, as now, there were many who, by their own guilelessness and purity, repelled the approach of what was harmful in word or jest.

But what is now spread over a wide surface was-in those days of small centres like Bath and other places of fashionable resort in or near London-pressed within a narrower compass, and thus the evil and its results were more prominently brought forward.

But is not the canker at the root of many a fair flower of womanhood in the higher circles of our own time?  Do not maidens and matrons, young and old, of our own day permit, nay, encourage, the discussion of scandal and improprieties in their presence, which by their very discussion tend to stain the pure white flower of maidenhood and motherhood?  Is it not true that familiarity with any evil seems to lessen its magnitude, and that continual conversation about matters that are even perhaps condemned, has the effect of making the speaker and hearer less and less guarded in their remarks, and less and less “shocked,” as they perhaps at first declared themselves to be, at some sad lapse from the straight path amongst their acquaintances and friends?

It would be distasteful to me, and it would not add to the interest of the story I have to tell, were I to draw a picture true to life of Sir Maxwell Danby.  He was an utterly unscrupulous and base man.  He had no standard of morality, except the standard of doing what best satisfied his own selfish and low aims.  How it was that he had determined to win a woman like Griselda, I cannot say, so utterly different as she was from the many women who had fallen into his power.  But the fact remained that he was determined to win her, and if he failed, his love-though I desecrate that word by applying it to any feeling of Sir Maxwell Danby’s-would assuredly turn to hatred and determination to do what he could to destroy her happiness.

As Griselda sat that evening with the light of two tall candles in their massive brass candlesticks, shining on her beautiful face, there was no shadow over it.

What if Lady Betty renounced her, and turned her out of the house?-well, if the whole world were against her, she was no longer alone.  She was his, who loved her, and was ready at any moment to take her to his heart and home.  “I must write to him,” she was saying as she stroked her cheek with the soft feather at the end of her quill; “I must write to him and tell him all-everything! and then he will know what to do.”

Soon the pen began to move over the paper, and she smiled as she put it through the “sir,” which had been written after “dear,” and substituted “Leslie.”

How strange and yet how sweet it was to look at it!  And then she went on: 

“I said you must wait till I called you by your name!  You have not had to wait long.”

She wrote on till she heard a bustle on the pavement below her window.  She went to it, and looking down saw the link-boys with their torches and the chair in which Lady Betty was being carried off to the Assembly, and the chair was followed by another, and several dark figures shrouded in long cloaks were in attendance.

It was a clear frosty evening.  The sky was studded with countless stars, and the fields and meadows then lying before North Parade, made a blank space of sombre hue where no distant forms of tree or dwelling could be traced; while beyond was the dim outline of the hills, which stand round about that City of the West.  Lonely heights then!-now crowned by many stately terraces and houses, where a thousand lamps shine, and define the outline of the crescents and upward-reaching streets and roads.  But gas was not known in that winter of 1780!  It lay hidden in those strangely-mysterious places, with electricity and the power of steam, waiting to be called out into activity; for those hidden forces are old as the eternal hills, only waiting the magic touch of some master’s hand, to be of service to men, who are but slow to recognise whence every good and perfect gift comes.

When the house was quiet, Griselda returned to her desk, and slowly and deliberately finished her letter.  It was not long, and covered only one side of the sheet.  Then it was folded with care to make the edges fit in nicely, and nothing remained but to seal it; and she was about to light the little taper, and get the old seal from the corner of her desk, when a tap at the door was followed by Graves’s entrance with a tray.

“Your supper,” she said shortly, “Miss Griselda.”

Graves’s voice and manner were so unusual that Griselda started up.

“What is the matter?” she asked.  “Why do you look so miserable?  Was she trying your patience-you poor dear old Graves-past bearing?  Graves, why don’t you speak?” But Graves’s mouth was close shut, and she looked as if determined not to answer.  “Look, Graves, I have written a letter to Mr. Travers, and told him what Lady Betty said to me; that is, I told him she said she would cast me off, unless I did as she chose in a matter which I could not explain in a letter, but connected with Sir Maxwell Danby.”

“She can’t cast you off!  You were left to her in the will for maintenance.  I do know that much.”

“Yes!” Griselda said vehemently-“yes! like any other of my uncle’s goods and chattels!  Oh, I am free now!-I am free!-or shall be soon!  I will not think of vexing matters to-night of all nights!  What a dainty little supper!  I like oyster-patties.  Ah! that reminds me of your promise, Graves.  Have you been to Crown Alley?  Did you take the soup? and were you kind in your manner to the poor little girl?  Graves, did you go?”

“Yes, Miss Griselda, I went.”

“And what did you think?  Had I made too much of the misery, and want, and wretchedness of that poor man?”

“No, Miss Griselda-no, my dear!” said Graves.

“I must go again in a day or two, and you shall come with me.”

Graves relapsed into silence again, and then Griselda put the important seal on her letter, and addressed it, and gave it to Graves, with instructions to send it safely by the hand of David early the next morning.

“It is a comfort to have told him all!” she said, as Graves finally left the room.  “And how happy I am to be no longer a chattel, but a part of the very life of another, and that other a man like my Leslie!”

Sweet were Griselda’s dreams that night, all fears seemed to have vanished, and the image of Sir Maxwell Danby bore no part in them.

Women of Griselda’s type, tasting the cup of happiness for the first time, are inclined to drink deep of its contents.  Perhaps only those who have not felt the loneliness of heart like hers can tell how great was the reaction.  Hitherto she had been plainly told she was an encumbrance, and that her business in coming to Bath was to get a settlement in life as soon as possible.  It was this that had made her maintain the cold, reserved demeanour which was, as I have said, unlikely to make her popular in the mixed assemblies of Wiltshire’s Rooms and the Pump Room.  She had surrendered the citadel of her heart with a whole and perfect surrender; and while the gay crowd was bent on enjoyment, and beaux and belles were trying who could be first in the exchange of pleasantries and jokes not of the most refined character, Griselda dreamed her dreams, and slept in peace; while Graves, carrying the letter downstairs, stopped from time to time, and murmured: 

“I have not the heart to tell her!  I dare not tell her!  Or, if I do, not to-night!-not to-night!  How could I spoil her happiness to-night!  May the Lord call her, and may she hear His voice, for I fear trouble lies before her, poor lamb!”

It is wonderful what perseverance and energy can effect!  Even in the very prosaic and commonplace circumstances of a removal from Rivers Street to King Street, these qualities were conspicuous in the Herschels.  Miss Herschel had worked with a will from daybreak to nightfall, and the stolid Welsh servant, Betty, had been infected with the general stir and bustle of the household.

By nine o’clock that evening Mr. Herschel was established in his observatory at the top of the house, without a single mischance happening to any of his mirrors or reflectors, and without the loss of a single instrument.  It was a night when the temptation to sweep the heavens was too great to resist, and although he felt some compunction when he heard the running to and fro below-stairs, and his sister’s voice raised certainly above concert-pitch in exhortations to Betty and entreaties to Alick to be sharp and quick, he had fixed one of his telescopes, and was lost in calculations and admiration at some previously unnoticed feature of the nebulae, when his brother Alex came into the room.

“We have got supper ready,” he said, “and Travers is below offering help-rather late in the day-and the only help he can give now is to help to eat the double Gloucester cheese and drink the Bristol ale.  But come, Will; you have had no proper meal to-day!”

“Humph! what,” Mr. Herschel said, “did I say?  Nineteen millions of miles, or eighteen and three-quarter millions?  Yes, Alex-yes.  Can I be of any assistance?  How about the violins and the harpsichord?  There are several lessons down for to-morrow, and Ronzini will be here about the oratorio.  I ought to have gone to Bristol, but it was impossible.  There’s the score of that quartette in G minor, Alex-is it safe?”

“Yes-yes.  I pray you, brother, trust the sagacity of your workers, and repay them with a scrap of gratitude.”  Then yawning, “If you are not as tired as any tired dog, I am; and I am off to bed, such as it is, for there is only one bedstead put up-that is the four-post for you.  Lina and I have decided to sleep on the floor.”

“Nonsense!  I shall not sleep to-night, I have too much to settle.  Let good Lina take some rest for her weary limbs.  And, Alex, to-morrow, we must see about the workshop in the garden and the casting for the thirty-foot reflector, for I can have no real peace of mind till that is an accomplished fact.  The mirror for the thirty-foot reflector is to be cast in a mould of loam, prepared from horse dung.  It will require an immense quantity; it must be pounded in a mortar; it must be sifted through a sieve.”

Alex shrugged his shoulders, and made an exclamation in German which brought a laugh from his brother.

“Poor Alex, is the lowest yet most important step of the ladder distasteful to you?  I will not trouble you, my boy, nor will I enlist Lina in the service against her wishes-do not fear.”

“I fear no work for you, William,” Alex said, “when music is concerned, you know that; but -”

“I know-I know,” William Herschel said, patting his brother’s shoulder; “but, remember, I make even music-yes, even music-that heaven-born gift, subservient to the better understanding of that goodly host of heaven, beyond and above all earthly consideration and mere earthly aims.  But let us go to supper.  We must eat to live-at any rate, young ones like you must.  Come!”

The room below was not in such dire confusion as might have been expected.  The harpsichord was pushed close to the wall, with a company of violin, violoncello, and double-bass cases, standing like so many sarcophagi in serried rows.

The table was spread with a clean cloth, and a large drinking-cup of delft ware, supported by three figures of little Cupids, with a bow for a handle, was full of strong ale.

A large brown loaf, and a Cheddar cheese, looked inviting; while a plate of Bath buns, with puffed shining tops, indented with a crescent of lemon-peel, showed the taste for sweet cakes which all Germans display.

“My good sister,” Mr. Herschel said, “you are a wondrous housewife; we must not forget to give the mother far away a true and faithful report of your skill-eh, Alex?”

“Skill!” Caroline said.  “There is not much skill required-only strength.  Come, Mr. Travers, take what there is, and overlook deficiencies.”

Then the legs of the mahogany chairs scraped on the bare boards, and the four sat down to their meal.  The grace-cup was passed round.  Miss Herschel, drawing a clean napkin through the handle, with which those who took a draught wiped their lips and the edge of the cup.  The conversation was bright and lively, and Leslie Travers, who was in the first joy of Griselda’s acceptance of his love, thought he had never before tasted such excellent bread and cheese, or drunk such beer.

“There is a ball at Lady Westover’s to-night, Travers,” Alex said.  “You are absenting yourself from choice, I doubt not.  I absent myself from necessity.”

“You could have gone, Alex; only I warned you I had no time to get up your lace-ruffles to-day; and you are so reckless with your cravats-all were crumpled and dirty.”

“My dear sister, I do not complain.  I heard, by-the-bye, Travers, that the voice of the Assembly Room is unanimous in declaring Miss Mainwaring the reigning beauty; but -”

“But what?” Leslie asked.

“There are two or three men inclined to make too free with her name.”

Leslie’s brow darkened.

“I know of one,” he said; “but, sir, if you should chance again to hear a word spoken of Miss Mainwaring, you may remind the speaker that she is my promised wife.  She has, unworthy as I am, done me the honour to look favourably on my suit this very day.”

“Indeed! you are a fortunate man,” Alex said heartily.

“I came with the purpose, madam,” Leslie said, turning to Miss Herschel, “to ask if you will, when agreeable to you, give Miss Mainwaring lessons in singing?  I am,” he said, colouring, “responsible for the price of the lessons, only I do not desire to let Miss Mainwaring know this.”

“I must look in the book of engagements,” Miss Herschel said; “we are over-full as it is.  The days lost in the removal threw us back, but,” she said, drawing a book with a marble-paper cover from her capacious pocket, “I will run my eye over the lists, and try to arrange it, William.”

But Mr. Herschel had left the room; he returned in a few minutes to say: 

“Lina, the men will be here as soon as it is light to-morrow about the furnace; and, Lina, I shall be glad to have the micrometer lamp and the fire in my room.”

“Yes, William;” and the question of singing-lessons for Griselda Mainwaring, or anyone else, was for the time forgotten.

Far into the night did that loyal-hearted sister, tired with a hard day’s work, assist her brother in the arrangement of his new study-his sanctum sanctórum, on the top-floor of the house, made memorable in the annals of Bath and the records of the country, to which he, William Herschel, came a stranger, as the spot where his labour received the crown of success in the discovery of Uranus.