Esther, Tuesday 7th January 1851

Tuesday 7th January

Lambert Place

My chamber


There is more thought than action in the life of a girl like me. At least, those activities given to us consist primarily of sitting at the window and watching the people pass and hurt, or perhaps—if we’re lucky—sitting in the garden and watching the flowers grow. The most exciting thing that happened today was that I dropped a stitch in my knitting.

Given to us only is thinking, because no sane-minded person can lose their thoughts, but I often think that society would rather like it if we deigned not to think, either. Deep thought can be corruptive, I freely admit—if I had not thought, I would never have realised what a bully is this society.

Yet life is but a game, and I know my position and my journey all so very well. I have no wish to rebel.

Abbie is of a different essence entirely. Why, just earlier while I was sat in Elizabeth’s chamber, her and I gossiping with Gennie as she laid the fire, Abbie danced in, clad in nought but her vests and petticoats and singing some rowdy public house ballad.

“Why, really!” I said to her. “A gentlewoman you are, and yet also are you prancing about in your bloomers and belting out a drunkards’ song! I don’t know what you’re thinking, Abigail Lambert!”

“Well, you’re not to say what the future holds,” Abbie retorted. “For all you know, maybe in fifty years’ time the ladies will all be strippers and drunkards, and a better time of it they’ll have than we do now.”

I was speechless! It was Elizabeth, the peacemaker, to take up the argument—or rectify it.

“Esther didn’t mean that at all,” she said, her face pale as snow and passive as stone. “And no one can say what might come in the future. I, certainly, don’t know about mine.”

“Well, I know about mine—and so should both of you,” I told them. “Marriage, children, children’s children, plague and death. That is the future for us and you can’t change that.”

“Watch me try!” said Abbie.

I just begged her to stop trying to defy reality. She’s going to land herself in deep trouble one of these days—and I don’t want to be the one who must get her out of it. Perhaps I should just keep her at arm’s length till she settles down to her teenage years.

She must resign herself. I don’t see how it can be so very difficult—but then, I myself am positively intolerant of anyone who thinks in a manner dissimilar to my own. I don’t hide myself behind a bushel of shadows; nor do I flaunt my virtues.

Well, I hope that, at any rate. A man can never pledge a guarantee on his own behaviour. I can’t see in the mirror what colours my vibrations convey. I can only see a statuette, whose only warmth of façade is the rosy-redness of her cheeks; and that, indeed, is merely a mark of the fool.

Foolish it is, to live without revolt! Yet what could I gain by rising up in anger, and resenting the very life which I am programmed to live?

No; I am content.

“Abbie, put some clothes on, won’t you?”

“‘Abbie, put some clothes on’,” she mimicked, parrot-like and parrot-shrill. “Why should I? You’re not my mistress, and this is my house.”

I sighed. “I am your elder sister, so therefore I have the right to correct you and direct you in the ways of a prudent human being. Secondly, this is Father’s house. It is your home, but it does not belong to you.”

“It’s okay, Esther,” she giggled. “I don’t take it for granted that I have shelter and welcome here forever—unlike you. Why, see that silly gold cross you’re wearing now? You love that, don’t you? Well, just remember that it doesn’t belong to you. It belongs to Father—just like the very clothes you’re wearing.”

Quite irredeemable!

I’m thankful I can rely upon Elizabeth not to disappoint me in such a way. I respect people who don’t push themselves forward, though sometimes I find it hard to deduce what they are thinking. Elizabeth doesn’t know it, but she’s beautiful. In a way that is almost terrifying. I don’t know why; she is both very black and very white at the same time, though her lips are pinkish-crimson.

Once we had a family photo taken, but Abbie—she was very small at the time—painted the glass over Mother’s scarf. Six sallow faces in black and white and fearful grey, with a vivid scarlet-coloured scarf strangling our mother. I have never forgotten that image, even though Gennie wiped the paint off before Mother herself could see it.

Elizabeth is like that photograph: she is a melting contrast, with a piercing splash of spirit and vitality right at her core…somewhere. I don’t often see it.

The End

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