Monday, January 24, 2011

Estella The Heiress - A Glimpse Into The Condition of Wealthy Women In History


Adapted From A Story By Nora Ryeman
Her Christian name Estella Marie, her starry eyes and pale, earnest face, and her tall, lissom figure were the only beautiful things about Estella Keed. Everything else, dress, home, appointments, were exceeding plain. For her grandfather in whose house she lived was, though reputedly wealthy, a miserly man.
He lived in a large and antique house, with hooded windows, in Mercer's Lane, and was a dealer in antiques and curios. And his popular sobriquet was Simon the Saver (Anglicè, miser).
Stella was the only child of his only son, a clever musician, who had allied himself with a troupe of wandering minstrels, and married a Spaniard attached to the company, and who, when he followed his wife into the silent land, bequeathed his little girl to his father, beseeching him to overlook the estrangement of years, and befriend the orphan child. She inherited her name Estella from her Spanish mother, but they called her Molly in her new home--it was part of her discipline.
Simon Keed had accepted, and fulfilled the trust in his own peculiar way. That is to say, he had sheltered, fed, and clothed Estella, and after some years' primary instruction in a elementary school, had sent her to Miss Melford's to complete her studies.
Farther than this he had not gone, for she was totally without a proper outfit. In summer her patched and faded print frocks presented a pathetic contrast to the pink and blue cambrics, and floral muslins, of the other girls; and in winter, when velvets and furs were in evidence, the contrast made by her coarse plain serge, and untrimmed cape of Irish frieze, was quite as strong; indeed, her plainness was more than Quakerish, it was Spartan, she was totally destitute of the knicknacks so dear to the girlish heart, and though she had grown used to looking at grapes like Reynard in the fable, I am sure she often felt the sting of her grandfather's needless, almost cruel, economy. This was evidenced by what was ever after spoken of by us girls as the garden-party episode.
Near the old city was a quaint and pretty village, one famed in local history as having in "teacup," Georgian, times been honoured by a visit by Mrs. Hannah More, who described it as Arcadian.
It had a fine, well-timbered park, full of green hollows in which grew the "'rath primrose," and which harboured a large, Jacobean mansion, occupied, at the period of this story, by Dr. Tempest as a Boys' Preparatory School, and as Mrs. Tempest was an old friend of Miss Melford's, the senior pupils (both boarders and day scholars) were always invited to their annual garden- or breaking-up party, which was held in the lovely park.
Stella, as one of the senior girls, was duly invited; but no one deemed that she would accept the invitation, because her grandfather had been heard to say that education was one thing, and frivolity another.
"I suppose you won't go to the party," said impulsive Ivy Davis, and Estella had answered with a darkened face:
"I cannot say. When I'm not here I have to stay in that gloomy old house, like a mouse in its hole. But if I can go anyhow, Ivy, I shall, you may depend upon that."
Then we heard no more about the matter until the eventful day, when, to our surprise, Estella presented herself with the other day scholars, in readiness to go.
"Look, Gloria, look," said Ivy, in a loud whisper, as we filed through the hall, "Stella's actually managed to come, and to make herself presentable. However did she do it?"
"Hush," I whispered back, but, all the same, I also marveled at the girl's appearance.
Her heliotrope and white muslin skirt was somewhat faded, it was true, but still, it was good material, and was pretty. The same could be said of her cream blouse. The marvel and the mystery lay in hat, necklace, and shoes.
The hat was of burnt straw, broad brimmed, low crowned, and of the previous summer's fashion. It was simply trimmed with a garland or band of dull black silk, and large choux of the same, all of which might have been fresher; but in front was an antique brooch, or buckle, of pale pink coral and gold, which was at once beautiful and curiously inconsistent with the rest of the costume. Round Estella's throat was a lovely gold and coral necklace, and her small, worn shoes boasted coral and gold buckles. She had got a coral set from somewhere, where and how we all wondered.
Even Miss Melford was astonished and impressed by Estella's unwonted splendor, for touching the necklace, I overheard her say:
"Very pretty, my dear! Your grandfather, I presume, gave you the set? Very kind of him!"
Stella, with a flushed face, replied:
"He did not give it, ma'am," and the matter dropped.
Miss Melford and I presumed that Mr. Keed had simply lent his grand-daughter the articles--which likely enough belonged to his stock of antiquities--for the day.
It was a delightful fête--one of those bright and happy days which are shining milestones along the road of life. The peacocks strutted about on the terrace and made us laugh when they spread out their tails. We ate strawberries and cream under the elms, played all kinds of outdoor games on the greensward, and when we were tired rested in the cool, potpourri scented parlours.
I am of opinion that Estella enjoyed herself as much as any of us, though she became strangely quiet and downcast on our way home. But, as Ivy truly remarked, it was not to be wondered at; the fairy palace was left behind, and the rôle of Cinderella awaited her on the morrow.
Upon the day succeeding the party, we broke up. I went home to spend the vacation with my uncle and aunt, and when I returned to school I found as usual, on reassembling, that there were a few vacant places, amongst them that of Estella Keed. I wondered how this was, though I did not presume to question Miss Melford on the subject; but one autumn morning, when passing through Mercer's Lane, I came across Estella. She looked shabby and disconsolate, in her faded gown and worn headgear, and I asked her if she had been unwell.
"Oh dear no," was the response, "only very dull. I never go anywhere, or see any one--how can I help being so? I am only Molly now. No one calls me by my beautiful mother's name, Estella. I want to learn to be a typewriter, or something, and go and live in a big city, but grandpa says I must wait, and then he'll see about it! I detest this horrid lane!" she added passionately.
I looked down the long, mediæval street, with its gabled houses, and then at the old church tower (round which the birds were circling in the distance), and replied with truth that it was picturesque, and carried one back into the storied past.
"I am tired of the past--it's all past at ours--the jewels have been worn by dead women, the old china, and bric-à-brac, has stood in empty houses! It's all of the dead and gone. So is the house, all the rooms are old. I should like to live in a new house."
"Perhaps you want a change?" I said. "Why don't you come back to school?"
She shook her head, and glanced away from me—up at the old Gothic church tower, and then said hurriedly:
"I must hurry on now—I am wanted at home."
One December evening not long after, during Miss Melford's hour with us, at recreation, she said:
"Young ladies, you will be pleased to hear that your old schoolmate, Estella Keed, returns to us tomorrow."
On the morrow Estella came, but how different was she from the old and the former Estella!
She wore a suitable and becoming costume of royal blue, and was a beautiful and pleasant looking girl! Her own natural graces had their own proper setting. It seemed indeed as if all things had become new to her, as if she lived and breathed in a fresher and fairer world than of yore!
Perhaps because I had been sympathetic in the hour of trouble, she attached herself to me, and one day, during recess, she told me why she had been temporarily withdrawn from school.
"Gloria," she said, "grandfather never gave me his permission to go to the garden party—indeed, I never asked for it, for I was quite sure that he would not give it.
"But I meant to go all the same, and persuaded Mrs. Mansfield, the housekeeper, to help me. She it was who altered and did up an old gown of mother's for me to wear. But without the coral set I should not have been able to go; for, as you know, I had no adornments. I'd often seen them when on sale and wished for them; but I knew that they would neither be given nor lent for the party.
"Then Fate, as it seemed, befriended me; my grandfather had to go to London about some curios on the date fixed for the party, and I determined to borrow the set and make myself look presentable. All I had to do was to go to the window and take them out of their satin-lined case.
"I hoped to replace them before my grandfather returned from town, but when I got home from the fête I found that he had returned by an earlier and quicker train than he himself had expected to. He looked at me from head to foot, then touched the necklace and the clasp, and demanded of me sternly where I had been.
"I was tongue-tied for a few moments, and then I blurted out the truth:
"'Grandfather,' I said, 'I've been to Dr. Tempest's garden party as one of Miss Melford's senior girls, and as I didn't want to be different from the other girls I borrowed the coral set for the day. They are not hurt in the least.'
"The room seemed going round with me as I spoke, even the dutch cheese on the supper table seemed to be bobbing up and down.
"At last my grandfather spoke:
"'Take the set off and give them to me,' he said shortly.
"I yielded up the treasures with trembling hands, and when I had done so he told me I should not return to school, and then added:
"'Go to your room and don't let me hear of this affair again. I fear you are as fond of finery as your mother was.'
"You know the rest. I did not return to Miss Melford's, and I should not have been here now but for Dr. Saunders. Soon after the garden party my grandfather was taken ill, and the doctor had to be called in. I think he must have taken pity on me, and must have spoken to my grandfather about me. Anyhow, my grandfather called me to his bedside one day, and told me that he knew that he could not live many years longer, and that all he wanted was to leave me able—after he was gone—to live a good and useful life without want, and that if he had been too saving in the past, it was all that my future should be provided for. There was a strange tenderness in his voice. Strange at least it seemed to me, for I had never heard it there before, and I put my face down upon the pillow beside him and cried. He took my hand in his, and the silence was more full of hope and promise than any words of either could have been. I waited upon him after that, and he seemed to like to have me about him, and when he got better he told me that he wished me to return to school and to make the best use of my opportunities while I had them. He told me that he had decided to make me an allowance for dress, and that he hoped that I should so use it as to give him proof before he died that I could be trusted to deal wisely with all that he might have to leave."
Estella remained at school until I left, and the last time I saw her there she was wearing the red coral set which had estranged her from her grandfather as a token of reconciliation; and she told me that the old man's hands trembled in giving them to her, even more than hers did in giving them up, as he said to her with tears in his eyes and voice:--
"All that I have is thine."


Thirty-five years ago, inspired by the writings of Georgette Heyer, and little more than fresh out of high school, I wrote a Regency Romance novel entitled, A Very Merry Chase, which I finally published last year.  Then and now history in all it’s forms was my first love–especially women’s history. These days I have two degrees in history; however a graduate degree in women’s studies was not an option at the university where I received my MA so I had to make do with a more generalized degree. Thus, in every class I made up for the lack by researching the condition of women in each age that I studied. I have always been fascinated by women’s history, so I thought I would start sharing some of the lost treasures that I uncover. I believe that most people have curious minds and like glimpses of how the world was, and how things were perceived in the past. I firmly believe in the idea that we must remember history in order to learn from it, grow and hopefully cut down on the number of stupid mistakes that random impulse and intellectual curiosity and greed and a thousand other human motivators lead us to make.Smiles and Good Fortune,
Teresa Thomas Bohannon
Author of A Very Merry Chase
Founder of The LadyWeb Family Of Informational & Educational Websites
It is not wealth one asks for, but just enough to preserve one’s dignity, to work unhampered, to be generous, frank and independent.
– W. Somerset Maugham (1874 - 1965) Of Human Bondage, 1915

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