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A Legend of Winterfells

No. 3

Introduction to the “Contract”
Written for “A Little Girl’s Law-Book”

Kent, 26th June, 1830

“Sir!”

“Are you sure it is not “dear Sir” Miss Alicia Diggles?”

“It is not a lady’s writing, ma’am — here is some Greek, and three ologies — one of Miss Boreham’s school exercises, I suppose — all her pupil’s are classicked.”

“Sir,”

“Pray, don’t read it, Miss Diggles! I dare say it’s a circular copy of the Jew’s Appeal for Hemancipation.”

“No, Lady Linklade, it seems to be about Shemancipation.”

Sir, We are very grateful for your attention to our interests. But as ladies are permitted to enter Temperance Societies, are you not afraid they may not become tea-tables? May not το Κάλον be as powerful as Tokay? Why, since the lights of the “Many” are become so popular, should not women remember that Nature has given them the majority? You are kindly providing us with a kaleidoscope of literature — no doubt an elegant emblem of the agreeable miscellany in our minds: but who told you women ought not to understand laws and politics? No such thing was ever said or written except by Men. We defy you to the proof without exception. How do you know how many women were a the Council of Nice? Perhaps not so many as should have been or the selection would have been fairer. At a council much later, a decree was proposed that we “had no souls”, and was outvoted only by one or two. So much for your politeness in Christendom. Asia and Africa can answer for themselves; but even in histories not written by women, no slight mention is made of us. Had Pilate no wife, and Paul no sisters? What said Plato, Socrates, and Demosthenes? Who taught Alfred and scolded Oliver Cromwell? However let us suppose what you please — suppose, as Swift said, we have been and are only animals rather less amusing and more expensive than monkeys — this is a sufficient reason for Reform. Let your societies include one for the noblest kind of temperance — a temperate use of power. Elevate your subjects and disdain the strength which is built on their ignorance. But it is not strength. No real advantage can be obtained by rendering your sisters, wives, widows and orphan daughters helpless ignorant of their personal rights and property. Let a few men of your own class — men of knowledge, courage, and benevolence provide these tea-parties with a primmer containing the simple institutes of common law as it concerns common things. Half the time bestowed on a sonata — one fiftieth of that occupied by a sampler would acquaint a girl with all the provisions made by the laws of England for distributing legitimacy. She is expected to understand, at least to read a million of pages in French, Italian, and German — to know all the ologies not excepting demonology, yet not one word is said to her of the rules of debtor and creditor, of landlords and tenets, of the most ordinary forms of business. Not one woman in twenty — perhaps not one in a thousand knows what is the meaning of a Bond, or the distinction between a Bill of Exchange and a bank-note. Now let us see if these things can be stated plainly, briefly, and distinctly: if they cannot, they want reform, unless you are afraid the female frogs should play to familiarly with the Log of Lόγος.”

“Very strange,” said the reader, “and is this all you found in the reticule?”

“All but one halfpenny!” answered Miss Alicia Diggles; “we saw the bag itself in the long lane near the hedge. Very old black velvet and only one halfpenny! Some winner in a chancery-suit, I dare say. But who can Loghouse be? O perhaps it’s the lawyer’s villa near the pond, and this is his black bag!”

The mysterious letter to the editor of a provincial newspaper was read with these and other usual comments to the listeners around a tea-table at an obscure boarding-house. Every inmate could a tale unfold, and the new-reader laid aside the “Leeds Mercury” at add another, as she said, to the thousand proofs of woman’s ignorance and its miseries. “In Holland I knew a lady who had lived forty years with the advantages of her husband’s high place in society. Being childless, they educated an orphan niece as their heiress. Among the many assistants in her education was a German musician of rare talents, but unfortunate and advanced in age. He became blind, and Colonel V., his pupil’s generous uncle, gave him bread and shelter under his roof. In what is called the prime of man’s life, Colonel V. was seized with apoplexy, and expressed, by the most vehement gestures, his desire to make some communication. But he was speechless, incapable of writing, and expired in a few moments. His wife’s anguish allowed no thought of herself, even had she known the cause of his. When means of subsistence became indispensable, her rights as a widow required proof. None could be found. Her marriage had been at Gretna Green in very early youth — half her life had been spent with her husband in various parts of India and America; even her identity admitted doubt, and in her absolute ignorance of common law, she had not preserved or regarded any evidence of their legal union, which either in forgetfulness or in blind reliance on tomorrow, he had left unregistered. His niece’s husband seized his property, the pension due to a widow was refused of course, and her common friends excused their neglect by questioning her prudence. Except a few jewels she had no resource, and an almshouse was offered as her asylum. She endeavoured to find one first for the blind artist, now without bread. But the blow which had crushed her seemed to have awakened him to life. He sought pupils, laboured for any price, and brought half his small gains every week to his poor friend. Gratitude made her heart strong, and seeing her existence was his hope and recompense, she struggled to preserve it. He became celebrated and one of his patrons obtained for the widow — so I may venture to call her, a pension sufficient to render her life easy and his death happy.”

The sisterhood of Winterfells suspended their game of whist to listen, and a little fair-haired girl, the only plaything of the circle, left her book of rebusses. The widow whose story had arrested her frolics, found her after supper with her feet on the newest doll, and her hands on a quire of foolscap.

“A new copy-book, Little Poussette?”

“O no, Ma’am! The story of my life.”

“Pray read the first page! Is it in prose or verse?”

“True, every word true. I mean to write a little more every day till I am seven years old, then I will fold it up and seal it, and it shall be a long letter for you, such as I see you write sometimes, you know.”

“Sit on my footstools and read it now.” The happy little authoress instantly unfolded

Agnes’s Story

Cleverness is not the chief thing in education — health is better but truth is best.

I was born in Kircudbright, a town in Scotland, was very thin, and everybody thought I should not live; even Kate, my old nurse, thought I would die. She did not observe the little flannel jerkin (made for me) but went and cut a piece out of a pair of trousers. But soon I grew strong enough to walk, holding Kate by the arm. Then I went to London to see Grandmama. When I was about 16 months old I took castor oil — it made me well. But the thing I loved most was Caesar, a large Danish Dog who was born at Glenarm when I was 3 years old. When I was 4 years old, I went to Park Gate — it was September, delightful, mild, lovely season. At that time Bell nursed me. The next time I went to Park Gate I was 5 years old. About three weeks after at Park Gate, Mama took notice of the grass-plat before the door. It was wet when it rained — Mama took up some stones. But the good farmer saddled his mare Susy and put one or two cart-loads of pebbles; and Mama said, ‘I should like to have the tree cut.’ So the good-man of the cottage cut the tree in the shape of a cathedral window. Mr Sharp’s son brought me a black rabbit: good Mr Sharp built it a house — but in 3 weeks and 2 days he was dead. And we made him a bed by the sea-shore of glittering stones. Then came a little grey rabbit, but I left the tub open and away he ran. We then went to Skipton, then to London, and then to Woolwich in Kent. The first day we came, we dined on mutton-chops. Our room was large; it had a blue and red carpet, a four-post bed with white dimitty curtains, and a sofa trimmed with with white dimmity, and two tables. My Mama sent one away, but she kept a little Pembroke table, and a painted deal wash-stand and 4 chairs. The next day we had a sweet dumpling. Mama got me a rocking-horse, a dove, a canary-bird, and a little black kitten.”

“I have a great deal more to say,” added the story-teller, closing her little work, “but I shall have time enough before my birth-day.”

“Well, I like your style — brief and straight-forward. No roundabout descriptions or fine sentences, except the first, which you mean, I suppose, for the moral of your tale. But you say nothing of what you have learnt?”

“I cannot remember all my books.”

“Nor your trinkets and the pretty things from the Bazaar?”

“Really I forgot — Let me see — I have two necklaces, a ball, and ark, and the planets.”

“Do you recollect no birthday dances? no plays?”

“O yes — one last January — and the elephant and Mazeppa’s horse at Astley’s, and I — I have a theatre myself. I can act Lady Griselda Baillie and Little Poussette.”

“But you have not said one word of the launch of the King’s yacht?”

“Because I love Caesar and Ivy Cottage better.”

“And now,” said the little scribe, “will you not write me a story?”

“You shall write it yourself — it will be very like your own, and not much longer.”

“But that will be charming! Look, here is ruled paper in a nice marbled cover. O begin now! — it is not eight o’clock yet — I would rather write than play with my Kings or my maps, or my dominoes —”

“Or your shop from Scotland?”

“I play with that on Saturdays — come, ma’am, what shall I say first?”

Mrs Mornay considered a few moments. “Say I was born in a bow-fronted house in Portland Road, near green fields and a white farm-house” — “No garden?” — “Yes, with a white almond tree.”

“And what do you remember first?”

“A good-natured woman who scolded my uncle for wondering whether the puny little thing would be blind nine days.”

“What next?”

“A little box covered with blue velvet and silver flowers — a little boy, or as I thought a waxen baby, which Nurse Hannah laid among flowers — I never saw it again — my brother was buried.”

The child was silent, for she remembered three funerals thought they were not named in her little story. She looked up for further instructions.

“Then I remember a long walk to Primrose Hill with my father, and a long sweet sleep under a heap of pillows. My nurse thought I had been stolen by an Irish gypsy who sold strawberries — my father searched every hedge and pond — nobody thought of the garret-bed till night.”

“How glad your Papa must have been! And what did your Mama say?”

Mrs Mornay was silent a few minutes. Then she answered in a sadder tone. “My mother was always ill — Papa was my playfellow. Well, then we had a long journey. I remember a steep hill called Rumboldsmoor, an old castle, a market-cross, and a very old house with bee-hives, a brook and stepping stones, and a grandpapa who called me his darling.”

“How pretty! I have written all about the hives and the brook. Where is he now?”

“He died, and I remember wearing black seven times. Then my first fine frock was worn to wait upon a little lady, with soft silky hair and cheeks like half-ripened peaches. She wore no finery though she was a King’s grand-daughter.”

“And did you wait on her as Bell waits on me?”

“No, I used a word you cannot understand yet. I went to pay morning-visits as Miss Alison visits you.”

“O I don’t like visiting. We won’t write much about that! Tell me your next journey.”

“I remember three — three summers in Scotland, a little bay pony, and a tame robin red-breast.”

“At Park Gate, our own dear, dear Park Gate?”

“Not quite. My uncle’s house was large and lonely. But I cannot tell you how beautiful it looked in the summer moonlight — the sea sparkling, and the hills all blue among the clouds.”

“O that must have been Balmae! Balmae with its great pillars and many windows! Do you know Mama and Bell and I used to carry my little waggon-full of tea and sugar to the old gardener? — But I must write all down. — Now, what comes next?”

“Many, many long winters in one room — but some fine geraniums and a lemon-tree lived in it. They lived as I did, losing their green leaves one by one, and their bright sweet blossoms, but their roots were strong and the stems stood upright even when the hard frost stripped them bare. Then I went to a strange country and a strange house; and — now I am going home —”

The little girl laid down her pen, not quite able to write this long sentence. She began to play with her long pencil, and drew on the first page of her own story, a sketch of “Lapin’s Grave.”

The little historian went to dream of the “Lady’s Story,” while the lady herself, sheltering her candle from the wind which whistled through the thin curtains of her only room, began to muse over the pages we have copied exactly, except a few thick-headed commas and curly-tailed capitals. “The child is right — her journal contains nothing but notices of kind and lovely things. She mentions no funerals or balls, no trinkets, task, punishments. The blessings and beauties of innocent life are all she has remembered. Why should I do more? This is the best and wisest memory — perhaps the true secret of a child’s happiness.” The widow opened a packet of letters, the only relics of her past life, sighed as she looked again on the child’s brief history of seven days, and thought how little more her own remembrance of seven times seven years would furnish. “Yet how many comforts and enjoyments even her short life has contained! How many which millions never know or forget till they are lost! Bread and raiment, and easy bed, a warm hearth, books, quiet, safety and sufficient liberty. When she wakes from that sweet sleep, she shall see how some have lived without them.”