I have mentioned Madam Jeen Snellflort previously. Those who heard her story seemed to divide into two groups. The first group appeared to feel that the lady had made her successful escape from the nightmare that was the Misenbart academy for young ladies, so she would now settle down to quietly living happily ever after. The other smaller group gave the impression that Jeen was destined to do more and perhaps greater things.
The problem was that whilst Jeen had successfully removed herself from education, she couldn’t remove education from herself. Indeed there is much to commend in a life given to educating the younger generation. If there is nothing else, there is the instant obedience of your pupils, the unstinting gratitude of their parents, and the generous recognition of your services by a respectful community.
All these things she missed, and to be honest her new life of wealthy idleness began to drag. After all, there is only so much one can take of slouching about your pleasant (and exquisitely manicured) gardens whilst a well trained domestic staff panders to your every whim. Bringing you such things as a suitably subservient letter from your usurer or perhaps the latest poetic masterpiece published by a friend, all accompanied by a glass of excellent white wine from your own vineyard.
Madam Jeen, rather to her own surprise, found herself longing for the classroom again. For a little while she fought against it but eventually took counsel with friends. Rather to my surprise I was one who was summoned to advise her. I suppose it was because I had in some small way encouraged her poetry. Perhaps a dozen of us gathered with her over an excellent lunch and she laid before us her thoughts. She was pondering the wisdom of starting her own school.
This idea we discussed around the table, with people raising various issues and eventually a plan emerged from out of our combined wisdom. Madam Jeen nodded wisely and thanked us graciously for our help. She then ignored our plan entirely.
She took a pleasantly appointed house in Dilbrook, and it was to become ‘The Conservatory for the education of maidens of good family.’ The latter was merely to ensure that necessary fees could be paid. Whilst Jeen didn’t as such need the money I noted that she’d taken on my point that people don’t value something they get for nothing. When I asked her who exactly she was looking for as her pupils she said, “Unmarried girls who are sharper than ordinary and who have the brains to cozen somebody into paying their fees.’
The academy was a modest success. Madam Jeen gave some thought to tutors. I was called upon to teach a class on modern poetry which every young lady had to attend. Perhaps more interestingly I taught another, somewhat more exclusive class on how to ‘be’ a poet. This was attended by thoughtful young ladies of limited means who were considering their options.
There were other classes obviously; the pupils learned rhetoric, accountancy, acquired a smattering of the physical sciences, as well as a familiarity with the lesser arts. Some even did a little blacksmithing.
I believe that the ‘circus skills’ course was also popular. I asked Madam Jeen about it, she merely pointed out that her pupils would hopefully go on to become mothers and have children of their own to amuse. I could see the sense in her argument, and many of the skills were games and tricks that would work well in the nursery. It must be confessed that the knife throwing part of this particular course surprised me. Still if a young lady is going to break off an engagement and throw her ring at her rejected suitor, a certain skill and dexterity is probably helpful.
There were other lessons taught as well. Some of the tutors were distinctly disreputable. It seems that Madam had decided that her charges were sooner or later going to have to learn to cope with that sort of individual and it might as well be sooner and in a controlled manner. It might have been with this in mind that the dancing classes were designed. Most schools merely teach a pupil a few old stalwarts and perhaps one or two of the more modern dances. Madam Jeen wanted a syllabus that would keep a pupil exercised and capable of dancing anything.
One issue that always arises with young ladies of this age is the presence of young gentlemen. Put a score of attractive and intelligent young ladies in a building and you will find it as infested with young men as a grain warehouse is with rats. Here Madam was wiser than I would have expected. She had a very simple rule, known to all. Any young gentleman caught would get a sound thrashing and would be ejected ignominiously from the building. However, any young man who was introduced to her by three of her ladies would be allowed to visit and socialise under moderate supervision, with one proviso. He had to prove that he had made his way into the school and had taken a token from her study. This did at least restrict visitors to the supremely competent and generally charming. It was a school joke to refer to these young men as ‘Madam’s Gentlemen Adventurers.’
The school was a modest success. Few wealthy families would send their daughters to it, although quite a few girls of inadequately explained parentage would have their fees paid by a shadowy ‘uncle’ figure. Quite a number of girls whose families believed in education but couldn’t afford it found they could obtain scholarships. In her previous posting, one of the few pleasures available to teachers was the swapping of scurrilous gossip about parents. Madam Jeen had heard enough to know who was vulnerable to a suggestion that they would like to assist in helping the virtuous poor.
Still whilst never prospering, the Conservatory survived well enough. By their very nature, the pupils who passed through were unlikely to become the leaders of our city. Still they came to attention in other ways. I remember being present when one, considering her honour questioned, kicked the wine glass out of a gentleman’s hand as he was putting it to his lips. Given she was wearing a floor length ball gown at the time, even Calina Salin was impressed when I mentioned it to her. It certainly got the young lady in question an invitation to consider a career working with Calina.
Another, who went on to become the wife of a respected usurer and mother of his five children, could still hit a recalcitrant waitress with a thrown chop bone at thirty yards, and was seen to do so at the annual dinner of the Honourable Company of Usurers, Collection Agents and Official Consignees over which her husband presided as the current year’s chair.
Madam Jeen taught a little herself, but managed to foist the inevitable administration of onto the broad shoulders of one of her ‘old girls’ who showed a definite aptitude for such arcane subjects as budgeting, cash flow, and delicate moral blackmail. So whilst not profitable, the Conservatory ‘washed its face’ (as old Miser Munford used to say.) Indeed once it was established, Madam Jeen realised that she still had plenty of spare time left, and still felt a craving for excitement. She was at an end of term party, chatting to the father of one of her pupils. He had been speaking with the passion of a collector about Falan Birling’s commode. Even though he’d never seen it, he coveted it for his collection. Slowly it dawned on her that the ‘Gentlemen Adventurers’ might well be an asset she’d overlooked. But that’s another story for another time.
Educations vary, there are alternatives…..
I have read all the stories of this series and this is by far my favourite. I felt the characters were so well drawn and I really cared about their fate. Fantasy readers – form a queue for the next book – but I’ll be first!