Read CHAPTER XVI - IN THE EARLY MORNING of Her Season in Bath A Story of Bygone Days, free online book, by Emma Marshall, on

Griselda returned to her room to watch the timepiece, and listen for the striking of the Abbey clock, as the slow hours passed, and she paced the floor in her restlessness from the fireplace to the window, and then back again from the window to the fire.

About ten o’clock Graves came in with a cup of chocolate, and to tell her that Mr. Cheyne, the doctor, had seen Lady Betty, and pronounced her really ill this time.  She was to keep in bed, and if not better on the following day, he must let blood from her arm.

“Do you know the doctor, Miss Griselda-this young Doctor Cheyne?”

“I may have spoken to him.  Yes, I have seen him; but what is he to me?”

“He asked for you, that’s all,” said Graves; “how you did, and whether -”

Graves stopped.  It was a habit of hers to break off suddenly in her speech, and Griselda scarcely noticed it.

Is the boy, Brian Bellis, come back?”

“No, Miss Griselda; he won’t be here again to-night.  I hear he is nephew to the Miss Hoblyns, the mantua-makers, and that they look sharp after him; they would not let him run about the streets at midnight.”

“Midnight!  It’s not midnight!  Oh, Graves, I am so tired!”

“Go to bed, and sleep till morning; that is my advice to you, and read a verse in God’s Word to go to sleep on.  You’ll never know rest till you find it in the Lord, my dear.  Let me help you to undress.”

“No, I am not going to bed.  Promise, Graves, if Brian Bellis comes to the door with a letter you will bring it here.  Promise -”

Graves nodded her head in token of assent, and departed.

There are few troubles, and few anxieties, which do not find a temporary balm in the sleep of youth.

And Griselda, worn out at last, threw herself on her bed, and fell, against her will, into a deep and dreamless slumber.

The Abbey clock had struck eleven when Graves, softly opening the door, found the fire low, and the candles burned out; while on the bed lay Griselda, dressed, but with the coverlet drawn over her under the canopy of the old-fashioned tent-bed, which was the bed then commonly in use for rooms which were not spacious enough to receive a stately four-poster.

Graves had a small tin candlestick in one hand, and a letter.  She carefully shielded the light, and, looking down at the sleeping girl, murmured: 

“I cannot wake her.  I will leave the letter on the bed; she will see it in the morning the first thing-better she should not see it till then.  I promised to bring it, but I did not promise to rouse her if she was asleep.  Poor child!  Poor dear!  May the Lord pity her and draw her to Himself!”

Graves moved gently about the room, and put the tinder-box near the candlestick, and then softly closed the door, and went downstairs to sit by the side of the fractious invalid, who declared she could not be left for a moment, and who kept her patient handmaiden awake for hours, till at last she, too, sunk into a heavy sleep.

Never a night passes but in the silent watches some hearts are aching, some sick and weary ones are tossing in their uneasy beds, some suffering ones are racked with pain, either of body or mind!  Our own turn must surely come; but till it does come, we are so slow to realize that for us, too, the night that should hush us to repose, and bring on its wings the angel of sleep for our refreshing, will bring instead sorrowful vigils by the dying, mourning for the dead, or cruel and biting anxiety for the living, so that tears are our meat, as we cry, “Where is now our God?”

Griselda slept on, and it was in the chill of the early morning before the dawn that she awoke.

She started up, and at first could not remember what had happened.  It was quite dark, and she sprang from the bed, and, groping for the tinder-box, struck a spark, and lighted a candle.

She was still scarcely awake, and it was only by slow degrees that she recalled how the evening before she had waited, and waited in vain, for a letter-his letter! an answer to hers-in which in a few words she had told him of her father, and asked him to release her from her promise if so he pleased.  Then she had asked if his silence since the letter she had written two days before, meant that he desired her to think no more of him.  Only to know, and not to be kept in uncertainty, she craved for a reply-she begged for it-by the hand of Brian Bellis, who had brought this, her last appeal.

“No answer, no answer!” she exclaimed; “and hark! that is the clock striking-three-four.  No answer-it is all over!” And as the words escaped her lips she saw lying on the floor a letter, which had fallen from the bed when she had sprung from it.

She picked it up, and became quiet and like herself at once.  She saw by the address it was from Leslie Travers, for in the corner was written:  “By the hand of Brian Bellis.”

The tall candle cast its light on the sheet of Bath post, which had been carefully sealed, and threw a halo round the young head which bent over it.

“I have received no message from you”-so the letter began-“but, dearest love, sweetheart, could you dream that any circumstance could alter my love for you?  Nay, Griselda, I will not permit such a possibility to enter my head, or wake a sorrowful echo in my heart.

“My only love, I am yours till death-and death may be near!  I go to-morrow to meet the man on Claverton Down who has first persecuted you with his suit, and then, rejected, has vilely slandered you.  I gave him the lie, and he has challenged me to fight, and as a man of honour I cannot draw back.  If I live-I live for you; if I die-I die for you.  I would there were any other way whereby I could vindicate your honour and my own.  I am no coward, nor do I fear death; but I think these duels are a remnant of barbarism, meet for the old Romans, perchance, over whose buried city we move day by day, but unworthy of men who call themselves by the name of Christ.

     “My love, when you read this letter, be not too much dismayed.

“When the dawn breaks over the city, we shall have met-that base man and I-and it may be that I shall fall under his more practised hand.  If it is so, I commend you, in a letter, to my poor mother.  You will weep together, and you shall have a home with her, and you will be united in sorrow.  The child-your sister-shall be her care, as she would have been mine.

     “I have made my last will and testament-duly attested; and in
     that you are mentioned as if you had been my wife.

     “And so I say farewell, my only love.

     “L.  T.”

A strange calm seemed to have come over Griselda as she read these words.

The restlessness and feverish anxiety of the preceding days were gone.  In their place was the firm resolve-immediately taken-to stop this duel with her own hand.  That resolution once taken, she did not falter.  But Claverton Down!-how should she reach it?  There was no time to lose.  The dawn broke between seven and eight-it was now four o’clock and past.

The Bible lay open on the table, and her eye fell upon the words:  “They that wait on the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up on wings like eagles; they shall walk and not be weary; they shall run and not faint.”  I do not think that Griselda had ever known up to this moment what it was to wait on the Lord.  Perhaps faithful Graves’s words had struck deeper than she knew!

“I want strength now,” she said.  “Give it to me, Lord!  Direct me-help me-for I must go on this quest alone.”

Then she made ready for her departure, wrapping herself in the long cloak she had worn when she went to her father’s dying bed, and covering her face with a thick veil under her hood.

The few hours’ sleep had refreshed her, and she felt strong to perform her mission.

“Only not to be too late,” she said; “not too late!”

The courage of many a woman would have failed in prospect of a walk in the dark through the suburbs of Bath.

There were watchmen here and there, and she might ask the way of one, perhaps; but no one must know her errand, or she might be stopped from performing it.

The clock struck five, in deep sonorous tones just as Griselda crept noiselessly downstairs, and with trembling hands drew back the bolts of the door, turned the key in the lock, and, closing it behind her, went out into the winter’s morning.

The sky had cleared, and the rain of the past two days had ceased.  There were breaks in the clouds, and in a rift Venus, in full beauty, seemed to smile on Griselda with the smile of a friend.

Widcombe Hill had to be climbed, and then beyond, at some distance, Claverton Down stretched away in gentle undulations.  In 1790, it was a desolate and unfrequented tract of moorland, with here and there a few trees, but no sign of habitation except a lonely cottage or hut, at long distances apart.

Griselda’s figure, in its black garments, did not attract attention from a boisterous party who had just turned out from a night’s revel.  Their coarse songs and laughter jarred on her ear, and she shrank under the shadow of a church portico till they had passed.

Presently the watchman’s voice broke the stillness as he ascended Widcombe Hill.

“It’s just six o’clock, and a fine star-lit morning.”

Yes, it was a fine morning.  The rift in the clouds had widened, and above, the sky was clear, and the host of heaven was shining in full glory.

After two or three nights, when dull lowering skies had made astronomical observations impossible, the change in the weather was welcome to those who “swept the heavens,” and found in them the grand interest and beauty of their lives.

The Herschels had returned to their new home, after a long and fatiguing day in Bristol.  There had been not a little worry connected with the arrangements for the oratorio, the proper distribution of the parts, jealousies amongst the performers, and missing sheets of score.  But Caroline Herschel immediately recommenced the arrangement of the new house, which a day’s absence in Bristol had interrupted.  The sorting of books and music, the instruction of Betty in her duties, with not a little scolding for the neglect of the work she had been left to get through during her mistress’s absence.

Mr. Herschel, after taking slight refreshment, went to his new observatory at the top of the house, and began to arrange all his instruments and draw a plan for the furnace, which he intended to make in the workshop below, where the tube for the great reflector was to be cast.

A stand, too, for the large instrument would have to be carefully constructed, and William Herschel was in the midst of his calculations for this, and preparation of a plan to give the workmen early on the ensuing week, when a tap at the door announced Caroline.

“William!” she said, “the sky is clear.  Venus is shining gloriously.  Can I help to arrange the telescope?”

“Yes-yes,” William Herschel said, going to the window and throwing it up.  “Yes; lose no time, for it is getting on for morning.”

Presently Caroline said, as she looked out: 

“There is a chaise waiting at the end of the street, with post-horses.”

But her brother’s eyes were directed upwards, and he scarcely noticed her remark.

“Well,” he said, “get the micrometer.”

Caroline’s feminine curiosity was roused, and presently she saw a figure muffled in a long cloak glide down the street to the opening where the carriage stood.

This was followed by another, and then, after some delay, the chariot drove off.

Alexander Herschel did not generally take part in these nightly vigils, although he lent his assistance in the daytime in the workshop, and in the correspondence about the music, which was very frequently necessary.

But about six o’clock Alexander appeared, and said: 

“Did you hear carriage-wheels roll off not long ago?”

William Herschel did not answer.  He had just brought a double star into the proper focus, and Caroline stood by with note-book and pencil, ready to write at his dictation.

“Yes,” she said, in a low voice; “I heard carriage-wheels.  What of that?”

“There is a rumour in the town that Leslie Travers is to fight a duel on Claverton Down-with that beast, Sir Maxwell Danby-this morning.”

“I do not believe it is true,” Caroline answered.  “Hush, Alex!” for William Herschel called out:  “Write!  Attend!”

The necessary figures were jotted down, and then Caroline said: 

“Do you think Leslie Travers was going off in that carriage?”

“I have no doubt of it.  I shall follow and find out.”

“Take care, Alex-do not get mixed up in any quarrel; and there is the new anthem of Spohr’s at the Octagon this morning.  You will be wanted.”

“Well, what if I am?” Alexander said.  “Surely, Caroline, the life or death of a friend is of more importance than an anthem?”

“You do not know that it is life or death; you are conjecturing.  Yes, William, I am ready!”

This was characteristic of Caroline Herschel.  It was not really that she had no human sympathies or affections; on the contrary, her love for her brother was absorbing, and she had but one aim-to soar with him to the unexplored regions of space; and to effect this, the business in hand, whether it was music, or mixing loam for the mould of the new tube, or in giving a lesson in singing, or in singing herself at a concert, was paramount with her.  Such characters, persistent, and with single aims, are often misunderstood by natures like Alexander Herschel’s, who love to skim the surface, and pass from one thing to another, as their mood changes.

“You take it mighty coolly,” he said, “that the life of a man we call our friend is in peril.  I confess I am not so hardened.”

And then he closed the door with a bang, and ran downstairs.