Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Maura The Munificient - The Tale of A Wealthy Young Lady Who Solved Her Own Problems

Maura The Munificient
Adapted from a tale by
Nora Ryeman
Maura was the most popular girl in the school. She would have been envied if she had not been so much loved. The reason was that she was amiable as well as pretty, she had plenty of pocket-money, and was generous to a fault. If a girl had lost, or mislaid, her gloves, Maura would instantly say, “Oh, don’t make a fuss, go to my glove-box and take a pair.” Or if a pupil’s stock of pin-money ran out before the end of the quarter, she would slip a few shillings into her hand, merrily whispering:

“For every evil under the sun, There’s either a remedy, or there’s none; I’ve found one.”

Maura was heiress of Whichello-Towers, in the north, with the broad lands appertaining. She was an orphan, her nearest relative being her uncle, a banker, who was her guardian, and somewhat anxious about his charge. So anxious indeed that he sometimes curtailed her allowance, in order to teach her prudence.

“Maura, my dear, waste is wicked even in the wealthy; you need wisdom as well as wealth,” said Miss Melford to her one day. And indeed she did, for sometimes the articles she bought for others were singularly extravagant and inappropriate.

When Selina, the rosy-cheeked cook, was married from the school, the teachers and pupils naturally gave her wedding presents. My gift took the form of a teapot, Margot’s of a dozen of fine linen handkerchiefs, and the others (with the exception of Maura) of things useful to a country gardener’s wife.

Maura bought a dress of heliotrope silk, elaborately trimmed with white lace, and as the bride truly observed, “Fit for a princess.”

But the heiress of Whichello had a lodging in all our hearts, and when I, one midwinter morning, saw her distraught with a troubled look in her soft brown eyes, I was grieved, and begged her to confide in me.
“If I do, you cannot help me, Gloria,” said Maura. “The fact is, I’m short of money.”

“Not an unusual state of affairs,” rose to my lips, but the words changed as I uttered them.

“Poor Maura! Surely you have a little left?”

“Only these,” and she drew out two shillings.

“Well, you must draw on my little bank, until your uncle sends your next remittance,” was my reply.

“It isn’t any use. Gloria, you are nice, and sweet, but your money would only be a drop in the ocean! I’m not to have any money all next quarter. This letter came this morning. Read it.”

I did. It was a letter from Maura’s guardian, who informed her that he desired to give her an object lesson in thrift, and, therefore, would hold her next remittance–which had already been anticipated–over. He also intimated that any applications to him would be useless.

“Well, things might be worse,” was my comment, as I returned the letter. “You must let me be your banker and must economise, and be prudent till the next cheque arrives.”

“Yes, I will–but—-”

“But what, Maura?”

“I’m in debt–dreadfully in debt. See.”

With this she drew some papers from her pocket, and handed them to me.

One by one I looked them over. The first was a coal dealer’s bill for a fairly large load of coal.

“That,” said Maura, “was for old Mrs. Grant, in Black-Cross Buildings. She was so cold, it made me quite creepy to look at her.”

I opened another. This was from a firm of motor-car and cycle dealers, and was the balance due upon a lady’s cycle. I was perplexed.

“Why, you said you never intended to cycle,” I said, with amazement, “and now you have bought this Peerless bicycle!”

“Yes, but it was not for myself,” she said, “I gave it to Meg Morrison to ride to and from her work in the City! Trams and ‘buses don’t run to Kersley, and it was a terrible walk for the poor girl.”

“Could not Meg have bought one on the instalment system for herself?”

“Why, Gloria, how mean you are! She has seven brothers and sisters, and four of them are growing boys, with appetites! The butcher and baker claim just all she earns.”

I opened the third yellow envelope, and was surprised to see a bill with: To Joseph Greenaway, Furniture Dealer, one child’s mahogany cot £1 10s, upon it.

“Maura,” I cried, “this is the climax. Why ever did you buy a baby’s cot–and how came Mr. Greenaway to trust you? You are only a minor–an infant in law!”

“Oh, do stop,” said Maura; “you’re like Hermione or Rosalind, or–somebody–who put on a barrister’s gown in the play—-”

“Portia, I suppose you mean?”

“Yes, Portia. Mr. Greenaway let me have the cot because I once bought a little blue chair from him, for Selina’s baby, for which I paid cash down.”

It is impossible to describe the triumphant manner in which she uttered “cash down,” it was as if she had said, I paid the national debt.

“Now,” she proceeded, “I’ll tell you why I bought it–I was one day passing a weaver’s house in Revel Lane, when I saw a young woman crying bitterly but silently at the bottom of one of the long entries or passages. ‘I fear you are in trouble’ I said. ‘Is any one ill?’

“She shook her head. She couldn’t speak for a moment, then whispered:
“‘Daisie’s cot has followed the loom!’

“I asked her what following the loom meant.

“‘O young lady,’ she replied, ‘the weaver’s trade has been mortle bad lately, and last week I sold Daisie’s cot for the rent–and when the broker took it up I thought my heart would break; but hearts don’t break, missie, they just go on achin’.’

“Daisie was her only child, and the cot was a carved one, an heirloom in which several generations of the family had slept!

“I had only a florin in my purse, but I gave her that, took her name and address and walked on.

“But the woman haunted me. All the rest of the day I seemed to see her weeping in the long, grey street, and to hear her sobbing above the sound of the music in the music-room, and when I woke up in the middle of the night, I thought I would go to Mr. Greenaway the next day, and ask him to let me have a cot, and I’d pay him out of my next quarter’s pocket-money. The very next day he sent the crib–’From an unknown friend.’ That’s all, Gloria! Now, what shall I do?”

“Go and tell Miss Melford all about it,” said I. “Come, now.”

Maura shrank from the ordeal, but in the end I persuaded her to accompany me to the cedar parlour, where the Lady Principal was writing.

A wood fire burned cheerily on the white marble hearth, and the winter sunlight fell brightly on the flower-stand full of flowers–amidst which the piping bullfinch, Puffball, hopped about.

Miss Melford, with her satin-brown hair, and golden-brown silk dress, was a pleasant figure to look upon as she put down her pen, and said sweetly:

“Well, girls, what is it?”

Maura drew back and was silent, but I was spokeswoman for her; and when I concluded my story there was silence for a few moments.

Then Miss Melford rose, and putting an arm round Maura’s shoulders, gravely, but at the same time tenderly, in her own sweet way, pointed out the moral of the situation, and then added:

“You shall accompany me to see the people who have generously (if unwisely) allowed you to have the goods, and I will explain matters, and request them to wait.”

Maura was a quiet, subdued girl for a time after this, but a few days later she knocked timidly at Miss Melford’s door. Miss Melford was alone, and bade her enter. Once in the room Maura hesitated, and then said:

“Please, Miss Melford, may I ask a favour?”

“Certainly, my dear! What is it?”

“If I can find any right and honourable way of earning the money to pay the bills with, may I do so?”

“Assuredly,” said Miss Melford, “if you will submit your plan to my approval; but, Maura, I am afraid you will find it is harder to earn money than you think.”

“Oh yes, I know money is hard to get, and very, very easy to spend. What a queer world it is!” was Maura’s comment, as she left the room.


There was to be a Children’s Fancy Dress Ball–a Bal Masqué, to which all Miss Melford’s senior pupils were going, and little else was talked of weeks before the great event was due!

Margot was to go as Evangeline, and I was to be Priscilla the Puritan Maiden, but none of us knew in what character Maura Merle was to appear. It was kept secret.

Knowing the state of her finances, both Miss Melford and the girls offered to provide her costume, but she gratefully and firmly rejected both proposals, saying that she had made arrangements for a dress, and that it would be a surprise.

And indeed it was, for when we all assembled in the white drawing-room, in readiness for our escort to the Town Hall, Maura was what newspapers style “the cynosure of all eyes.”

She wore a frock of pale blue silk! and all over it in golden letters were the words: “Sweets from Fairyland.”
Her waving golden hair was adorned by a small, white satin, Trigon hat, ornamented with a blue band, on which were the words: “Fairy Queen.”

From her waist depended an elaborate bonbonnière, her sash was dotted all over with imitation confections of various kinds, her blue satin shoes had rosettes of tiny bonbons, and her domino suggested chocolate cream.
There were of course loud exclamations of–”What does this mean, Maura?”

“Why, you are Fairy Queen, like the Fairyland Confectioner’s Company’s advertisements!” but all Maura said was:

“Girls, Miss Melford knows all about it, and approves.”

At this juncture, Miss Melford’s voice was heard saying: “Follow me, my dears,” and we all filed out of the room, and down the stairs to the carriages in waiting. The Town Hall was beautifully decorated, and the costumes were delightful. There were cavaliers, sweeps, princesses, and beggar-maids, but no one attracted more notice than Fairy Queen, who instead of dancing glided about amongst the company, offering fondants and caramels from her big bonbonnière.

The young guests laughed as they ate the sweetmeats, and rallied her upon the character she had chosen.
“Why have you left Fairyland?” asked a musketeer, and Fairy Queen replied:

“Because I want you all to have fairy fare.”

“Won’t you dance, Fairy Queen?” asked Bonnie Prince Charlie, persuasively, but Fairy Queen curtsied, and answered:

“I pray you excuse me, I’m on duty for the Company in Wayverne Square.”

I guessed that there was something behind all this, and the sequel proved my conjecture true.

For when the Bal Masqué was a golden memory, Maura came to me with a little bundle of receipted bills in her hand, saying:

“Look, Gloria, “Fairy Queen” paid these. I was with Ivy in a confectioner’s one day when the mistress told us that a member of the newly started firm of sweetmeat manufacturers, who traded as the Fairyland Company, had said that he wished he had a daughter who could go to the ball as Fairy Queen, and exploit his goods.

“I thought to myself: ‘Well, Maura Merle could do it,’ and I went to the Company and offered to undertake the duty, subject, of course, to Miss Melford’s permission.

“They said they would give me a handsome sum, and provide the dress, and I wrote to Uncle Felix, and begged him to let me have his sanction.

“His answer was: ‘The money will be honestly earned, earn it.’

“So I did! The Company were much pleased with me, and here are the receipted bills. I need hardly tell you how much I enjoyed being what a newsboy in the street called me, ‘The Little Chocolate Girl!’”
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… and besides the truth of the matter is, most of women’s history was never written, and if was written it was downplayed, so in many cases our only real source of insight into a woman’s station in life were stories and women’s journal articles written by men, and sometimes women, for upper class ladies to read. 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 the Regency Romance novel, A Very Merry Chase

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

No comments:

Post a Comment