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Authors: Brenda Jagger

Flint and Roses

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Brenda Jagger
Flint and Roses
Brenda Jagger

Brenda Jagger was writer of historical fiction, best known for her three-part ‘Barforth'family saga.

Jagger was born in Yorkshire, which was the setting for many of her books including
. The recurring central themes of her work are marriage, womanhood, class, identity, and money in the Victorian Era.

Her work has been praised for its compelling plots and moving storylines as well as its exacting emotional descriptions. Her later novel
A Song Twice Over
won the Romantic Novel of the Year Award in 1986.


‘For she's made of flint and roses'
John Davidson

Chapter One

My mother had been a light-hearted seventeen on her wedding day, my father a stern, fastidious forty-nine, and although no part of their marriage contract required her to be broken-hearted at his death some twenty years later, it was generally assumed that without him she would not know which way to turn.

Possibly she had not loved him—in view of his age and his gloom and his autocratic disposition many people would have been surprised if she had—but she had certainly depended upon him. He had been much more to her than a husband. He had been her teacher, on whose judgment of matters ranging from the care of her immortal soul to the choice of a parasol, she had unquestioningly relied. He had been her guardian, taking care never to expose her to the dangers of going out alone, keeping a supply of sensible, solid women on hand to accompany her about the town when he could not. He had been, beyond all doubt, her master, whose decisions had been considered absolute.

‘Poor Elinor,' they said when his illness first struck. ‘She will not have the slightest notion how to face the world on her own.' ‘I fear he has gone, madam,' the doctor told her, positioning himself to support her should she crumble and fade away then and there at his feet. ‘Oh dear!' she said. ‘Oh dear—how terrible! I think I had better be alone!' And going downstairs, as gentle and unassertive as a captive dove, she stood for a moment in the centre of the darkened drawing-room, and there, fancying herself unobserved, began to spin out her skirts in a billowing, carefree dance—my father's pampered, submissive little wife no longer, but a girl who had once been poor enough to marry an old, austere man for his money and to regret it.

She had been Miss Elinor Barforth of Low Cross Mill, daughter of a careless father who, at a time when the cloth trade was thriving and other men making their fortunes, had committed the sin of extravagance, which had inevitably led him to the far greater sin of poverty. Instead of harvesting his profits and ploughing them back into his weaving-sheds, Grandfather Barforth had spent them on fancy waistcoats and fancy women, and at the time of her marriage my mother had had little to recommend her but her slight, dainty figure, the pale blonde ringlets framing her porcelain complexion, the unusual blue-green colour of her eyes—qualities not much valued in a wife by the hard-headed Yorkshiremen of our industrial, industrious Law Valley. And in our town of Cullingford, where a man's worth was measured by his standing in the Piece Hall and at the Cullingford Commercial Bank, she must have been astonished and intensely grateful when my father, Mr. Morgan Aycliffe, had offered to take her as his second wife, without a dowry.

My father had been well-to-do all his life. The son of a master builder he had inherited a business so well established that his own hands had never been obliged to trouble themselves with bricks and mortar. He had been, not brilliant perhaps, but shrewd, a man who knew the value of being in the right place at the right time and how to get there, so that at a moment when the steam-engine, the spinning frame, the power-loom had brought vast industrial expansion to the North—a vast influx of humanity with it—my father had been on hand to fill the bare, West Riding landscape with the six-storey mills, the towering chimney-stacks, the warehouses, the ‘unkempt sprawl of workers'cottages which had transformed the pleasant townships of Bradford, Halifax, Cullingford and Huddersfield into grim-visaged factory cities.

There had been two textile mills in Cullingford when my father built himself a house in the then almost rural tranquillity of Cullingford's Blenheim Lane. Twenty-five years later, when he had buried his first richly dowered wife and engaged himself to marry my mother, there were fifty, most of them constructed to his designs by gangs of Irish navvies he had imported for the purpose, while Blenheim Lane itself, at its lower end, was malodorous with factory smoke, raucous with factory operatives, emerging only as it climbed the hill out of town as a fit place for a gentleman to reside. And having inherited one fortune and made another, having married a first wife for profit and a second for pleasure, he had turned, in his later years, to the fresh delights of power.

Cullingford, in the year I was born, had no politicians, since politics had been designed for gentlemen, for those who owned the land rather than those who scratched a living from its soil or defaced it with their foul-belching commercial enterprises. Government—always—had been aristocratic, an affair very largely of the southern, agricultural counties, where one solitary but noble gentleman might control the votes of half a dozen constituencies. And while the North remained a bleak, forgotten upland where hill-farmers precariously raised their sheep and cottagers wove the fleeces into cloth, taking a week, perhaps, to produce one coarse, laborious piece, there had been no one to complain. But the steam-engine and the power-loom put an end to that, my father being one of the first to join the campaign for Parliamentary Reform, demanding that our new-born industrial towns, crammed with so many newborn millionaires, should no longer be forced to accept the rule of country squires, that Parliament should cease to be a meeting-place for landed gentlemen and listen to the voice of the belligerent, possibly vulgar, but increasingly prosperous North.

‘Cullingford must have the vote,' my father had insisted, finding no lack of millmasters and ironmasters, worsted-spinners and brewers to support him, and, when the vote had been obtained, he had secured election himself and served Cullingford's interests most faithfully until the day he died.

Yet for all his gifts of public oratory, my lather was an almost completely silent man in his private life, his one pleasure being the refined but solitary pursuit of rare china and porcelain, items of Sèvres and Meissen which he displayed in the glass-fronted cabinets of his drawing-room, promising unmentionable doom to any child depraved enough to touch. But the temptation, in fact, seldom came our way, for my father, who was not fond of children in any case, could rarely bring himself to admit us to his drawing-room, preferring, when absolutely necessary, to meet us on our own ground, upstairs in the nursery wing devoted to our care.

There had been a son of his first marriage, a most unsatisfactory young man, who, having objected to a stepmother younger than himself, had been banished from hearth and home, his name erased from the family Bible, from the last will and testament, from our memories. And I cannot think that, at his time of life, my father had welcomed other children. Yet we existed, not even boys who could have been groomed to help him in his business or succeed him at Westminster, but girls who would be very likely to cause him trouble, would certainly cost him money. Daughters, and since the only profit a man can expect to make from a daughter is the acquisition of a useful son-in-law, we were, from our earliest days, moulded deliberately for that very purpose, not by our mother, whose sole task in life was to entertain her husband, but by such nannies and governesses as were considered best qualified.

The guidelines of our education were very clearly set down. Respect for authority first of all, since a girl who learns to obey her teachers and her father will extend the same wide-eyed, unquestioning docility to her husband. Punctuality next, since gentlemen do not wish to be kept waiting—every morning of my childhood finding me up and dressed by six o'clock to begin a day irrevocably divided into tidy, busy hours, controlled by the nursery clock which could tell me far more precisely than any governess exactly when I must put my sketchbook away and take up my embroidery frame; the very moment when I must cease to play my scales and begin the daily chanting of French verbs and English prayers, without listening to either.

We were taught to sing and to smile; to speak without really saying a word; enough mathematics to appreciate the value of our dowries; enough religion to make us understand that God, having created us weak and female, had also designed us for the convenience of man, an arrangement it would be sinful even to question. We were taught to be innocent by the simple procedure of removing from our sight, our grasp, our hearing, anything which might arouse our curiosity. We were taught to be industrious in private—mending our own stockings and petticoats—but to be idle in public, displaying a piece of cobweb fine embroidery in languid hands, since a woman who has no work to do herself offers proof of her husband's ability to pay servant's wages. We were taught to dress for the occasion, to be appalled by a crumpled glove, a shower of rain, to go into maidenly raptures at the sight of newborn kittens without daring to ask how it was they had appeared so suddenly in their basket, since no one is quite so innocent as all that and we knew the question would be termed ‘improper'. We were the perfectly mannered daughters of Morgan Aycliffe—as bereft of individuality as our mother—who would go to our bridal beds, in due season, as quietly as we had gone to our piano practice: obedient, punctual, innocent, accomplished, and very bored.

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