Mary Russell’s War (twenty-eight): advice in the stables
9 February 1915
My blessed solitude, broken only by the occasional presence of Mrs Mark inside and the sounds of Patrick Mason out, could not last. Indeed, I was fortunate to be granted as many days as I was. But in the end, my aunt descended upon Sussex, bringing with her many trunks and much complaint. Unfortunately, her arrival happened to coincide with the end of a string of fair, dry days. Gales and occasional hard showers ended my freedom to wander the countryside, or as much of it as I could manage at a time before my various ill-healed injuries demanded rest. With the change of weather, I have taken instead to my room, well supplied with reading material from the shelves of the sitting room. The books here are old, but entertaining—and my mind has balked at anything resembling work.
While on the topic of light reading, I must say that I found this month’s instalment of Valley of Fear oddly disturbing. Not, I hasten to say, because of the accumulations of plot, although the tale does seem to be going in many different directions at once. No, what troubles me is the passivity of the heroine. This vivacious young woman has been assigned one suitor, whom she dislikes and fears, then falls beneath the spell of a hot-tempered and troublingly pushy young newcomer. Stories such as this seem designed to encourage a reader to contemplate herself and her future, but I must say, the thought of coming under the influence of a handsome young man with a good singing voice and “pretty, coaxing ways” causes me to feel uneasy. I may be more intelligent than many girls my age, but I’m afraid that does not mean I will be immune to love’s stupidity.
A day or two after reading The Strand, I made my way down to the stables to have a conversation with Patrick. Mother’s farm manager—my farm manager—is a man with little formal schooling and a great deal of what Father called “hard sense”. I sat on a bench with my back to the stables door, his old mare dozing at my shoulder, and told him about my concerns. He may have been embarrassed at the unwonted intimacy of my questions, but since he was working on some piece of machinery, he could bury his face in its gears and pretend not to hear me. Until I asked him directly if he thought I should worry about the danger of marrying a man with pretty ways.
He made a sound very like one of his horses when it gets straw dust in its nose, and told me that I was too sensible for that. But I persisted, asking him what a person could do to ensure they were not in a position of idiotic vulnerability.
He shoved his face even further into the innards of the machine, and mumbled something. “Pardon?” I asked. “I said,” he replied, “seems to me that it’s the girls without interests in life what gets into trouble.”
Interests in life. It is true: a lack of goal leaves a person as directionless as a sailing ship without wind. What I need is a goal: to enable me to overlook the caustic presence of my aunt, and to take me beyond my present state of emptiness.
Mother and Father both expected me to go to University. I am fifteen years old, and with every week of idleness, I fall further behind my peers. This must stop. Time to by-pass the sections of book-shelf that hold the pretty novels and essays, and turn to the meat of the matter.
It seems to me I saw a Latin grammar there, somewhere.
Read the rest of Mary Russell’s War here.