Merle’s Crusade (book #119)

Rosa Nouchette Carey, nd but the earliest copy in the BL is 1889.

Front cover

"She wept noiselessly towards us"

Merle is a strong-minded woman who wants to work although her uncle and aunt are prepared to support her on their limited income. She can’t become a governess, “‘not even a nursery governess'”, because of “the great difficulty and stumbling block of my young life”:

I had been well-taught in a good school; I had had unusual advantages, for Aunt Agatha was an accomplished and clever woman, and spared no pains with me in her leisure hours; but by some freak of Nature, not such an unusual thing as people would have us believe, from some want of power in the brain – at least, so a clever man has since told me – I was unable to master more than the rudiments of spelling. …
As a child I have lain sobbing on my bed, beaten down by a very anguish of humiliation at being unable to commit the column of double syllables to memory …
For a long time my teachers refused to admit my incapacity; they preferred attributing it to idleness, stubborness, and want of attention; even Aunt Agatha was puzzled by it, for I was a quick child in other things, could draw very well for my age, and could accomplish wonders in needlework, was a fair scholar in history and geography, soon acquired a good French accent, and did some of my lessons most creditably.
But the construction of words baffles me to this day. I should be unwilling to write the simplest letter without a dictionary lying snugly near my hand.

This early account of what seems to be something like dyslexia is interesting.

Merle becomes a children’s nurse, “‘the upper nurse, I mean; for, of course, there is an under nurse kept'”, as her employer says in embarrassment when interviewing her – “‘one feels a little uncomfortable at seeing a gentlewoman desert the ranks to which she belongs'”. Merle thinks that looking after children “would indeed be a gentlewoman’s work”.

In the picture, Merle is sitting down with one of the children in her lap. He has had a life-threatening attack of croup. His mother, who hates the social obligations of her position as the wife of a politician and philanthropist, has just come back from a party to which she went dressed as Berengaria, the wife of Richard I.

Merle is treated differently to the other servants, despite trying to know her place. She says

My mistress was very particular about this. She would never hear of my being out late alone.
‘It is all very well for Hannah or Travers [other servants],’ she would say, but in your case it is different.’

Much religion – Merle persuades her employer to live a less worldly life.

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Wonder if I’ll ever find a book where I’ve read all the books in the ads. I’ve usually read one or two. I must seek out “Miss Nettie’s Girls”.

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