Some people seem to not so much live their lives as to be passengers in them, carried along at the convenience of somebody else. One such person was Madam Jeen Snellflort. Orphaned at a tender age she was made the ward of her great-uncle. This gentleman was a man of immense dignity, absolute propriety, and limited imagination. He was of some considerable age when he acquired a ward, having managed to pass through a busy life without family encumbrance. So as soon as was decent he packed the child off to the Misenbart academy for young ladies. This august institution was considered to provide the perfect education for daughters of families with adequate means and few original ideas.
The academy stands in its own grounds to the north of Port Naain, surrounded by hedges of quite impressive impenetrability. Local yeomen organise day trips to go and visit the hedge and stand there marvelling at it. The hedge is bounded by the Misenbart Brook. The name might conjure up images of a pleasant stream. Instead I would like readers to think of it in terms of a moat. It was too deep to wade and too murky to swim with confidence.
At the age of seventeen, Madam Snellflort discovered that her great-uncle, impressed by her academic achievements, had managed to get her enrolled upon the staff of the academy. The salary was derisory, but she got a room, and a school teacher’s uniform. She was also now old enough to take part in the full range of social events organised by the academy.
Her uniform, of which she had two, each was cleaned on alternate weeks, was simple. There was a long dress which fastened with a high collar at the neck and reached down to the ankles. It was so buttressed with underpinnings and similar that the wearer might indeed pass as female but was never going to look feminine. Underwear provision was generous; the drawers were long enough in the leg to tuck into the ankle boots all teachers wore. There was also a selection of shifts to be worn under the dress, in winter all were worn simultaneously.
The whole ensemble was topped off by a round ‘pillbox’ hat of sturdy construction. It was of the same design as those issued to the girls who were known to use theirs as mounting blocks on equestrian days.
The social life for mistresses and girls over sixteen consisted of four dances a year. These were held in conjunction with a nearby Sanatorium for young men recovering from debilitating conditions. At these events the Great Hall was cleared and furniture was limited to a line of chairs along each of the side walls. Young gentlemen sat on one line of chairs, and young ladies on the other. Should a young gentleman wish to ask a lady to dance, he would make his way up onto the stage. There in state sat the Principal of the Sanatorium and the Head Mistress of the Academy. The young gentleman would ask the Principal for permission to dance with a particular young lady. The Head Mistress would send a maid to the young lady in question and ask her if she wished to dance. If she agreed, she too went up onto the stage and the young couple were formally introduced. They could then descend from the stage and dance.
Madam Snellflort, (all teachers were known as Madam, whether they were married or not. Even the sole male employee on site, the elderly hedge-warden, was known as Madam.) did manage one act of rebellion. She secretly wrote poetry and having found my name from some set text sent her poetry to me. I replied, using Shena’s good offices. Shena merely instructed Mutt to have one of his female acquaintances deliver my letter.
As poets go she has merit, her verse can be a coruscating, vitriolic, critique of much that is wrong in modern education. I suspect that her verse helped her remain human throughout these years.
At the age of twenty-one she was summoned into the Head Mistress’s study to receive some sad news. Her great-uncle had died. Madam Snellflort asked for a brief compassionate leave to make preparations for the funeral, being the deceased’s only surviving family member. This was of course granted, although the Head Mistress did stress that she didn’t want members of her staff making a habit of this sort of thing.
Madam Snellflort made her way to her great-uncle’s house. Once there she discovered that she was now mistress of a considerable country estate along with a number of profitable city business interests.
It was obvious to her, as an intelligent and sensitive young lady, that she was now responsible for the livelihoods of a lot of people who worked for the estate or in her other businesses. Within ten minutes of reading the will, she had written her resignation from the Misenbart academy for young ladies.
It has to be said that since she left the academy, her poetry has lost some of the vitriol. Also she no longer follows the academy dress code to the letter, if at all.