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August 14, 2015
A great house stood alone atop a hill in the rolling county of Kent. Locked within the great stone walls behind a series of doors sat a young lady. She was a tall girl—much taller than others her age. She had golden hair and eyes the colour of a cloudless sky on a summer’s day. She was slender but endowed in no small nor excessively large portion with all that was considered womanly. Truly, there were few in all the land who rivalled her beauty.
Many a gentleman had fallen victim to her loveliness. They would flatter her with words, gift her with treasures, and bow to her every wish. None, however, ever met with her approval. One man was too poor, a mere peasant, said she. Another did not have appropriate taste in jewels; his presents were much too small. Still, another had fortune and understood how to select a proper gift for a lady of her quality, but he was unable to dance. No gentleman possessed enough perfection to please this young lady. All were found wanting.
There was no limit to the discontent of the young lady. Very little ever pleased her. Her maid was too slow. Her food too cold. Her dresses too plain. She wailed and whined; she fidgeted and fussed; she harangued and harassed until all bent to her will. Still, she was not happy.
Then one day, when the Prince of Derbyshire and his bride had had enough of her tempers, a great lady was sought for her help. This great lady ruled Rosings with the strength of ten men. None who fell under her power remained as they had been. Although the prince had never bowed to her will, many a lesser man did, and it was for this reason the prince sought her out.
Having a great love for the prince and a wish for him to be happy, the great Lady of Rosings sent her most charming servant to tempt the young lady into following him. The gallant and charming servant danced with the young lady at parties; he gifted her with presents; and he spoke of his great wealth and deep affection for her.
The young lady was pleased by his attention and words. Not only was was tall and handsome, but he was also witty and amiable. He was, according to the young lady, all that a suitor should be. Indeed, he was an irresistible force that compelled her to follow where he led.
Therefore, one night as the young lady’s parents and sisters slept at their estate in Hertfordshire, this servant leant a ladder against the wall of the manor house, and entering her room declared his love for her in such a fashion that she willingly stole away into the night in a quest to be married.
Happily, she clung to him as they raced through the night to Rosings. Luckily for the servant, the young girl had never given much heed to her lessons and was unaware that their carriage fled south and not north.
The sun was just thrusting its fiery arms above the horizon as the handsome servant handed the young lady out of the carriage and escorted her into a great hall.
The young lady was impressed by the grandeur of the home and imagined the new gowns that would be needed to match such splendour. She would need a red one for the dining room through which they passed as well as a green one with gold trim for the drawing room, and one made of the finest amethyst velvet for the dances that would be held in the ballroom.
The servant led her to a small room off to the right. He lifted her hand to his lips. “Wait here,” he said with a smile and then departed, securing each of three heavy doors behind him.
Horror overtook the young lady as she realized she had been tricked into a trap. “Let me out!” she cried as she stamped and knocked. “Let me out, you evil toad!”
When finally, the young lady had given up on beating on the door, a voice called to her. However, it was not the voice of her handsome suitor but the shrill voice of the Lady of Rosings. “You shall not be out until you are ready. There are blankets upon the floor. Lie down and sleep,” she commanded.
“I shan’t sleep,” huffed the young lady. “I shan’t do anything you ask. I shall only do as I please.”
“Then you shall be tired, and you shall be hungry and thirsty and cold for you shall receive neither food nor drink and no fire shall not be lit for you until you have slept.” The young lady could hear the clomping of the great lady’s shoes echoing through the halls of the house as the Lady of Rosings walked away from the young lady’s prison.
The young lady looked about for a chair upon which to sit. To her great dismay, the room was barren save for a pile of blankets and pillows stacked along one of the smooth curved walls and a candlestick that stood to the right of the door. The candle upon that candlestick was hissing and sputtering, the flame dying into the darkness of her confinement. As it spit for the very last time, a small ray of light, allowed entrance to the room from a window high above her, crept across the room. In this new light of day, the young lady could see that the ceiling was high, as high as three regular rooms. A series of three windows lay about halfway between her and the pointed arch of the ceiling. It was through the first of these windows that sunshine began to dance with the shadows of the tower.
“I am cold,” complained the young lady to the emptiness of the small grate before the fireplace.
“As am I,” said a voice from above and behind her.
The young lady spun about and sought the source of the voice. Above the door, on a balcony that jutted out into the room, sat a maid.
The maid pulled a tattered and worn blanket more snugly about her shoulders. “We shall remain cold until you have bowed to the great lady’s wishes.”
“Why should you remain cold? It is I alone who is locked in this prison.” The young lady pouted.
“You are wrong,” replied the maid. “I, too, am to remain confined to this balcony and small room for as long as you are in your fine room below.”
“Fine room,” huffed the young lady. “It is but a dungeon.”
“But it is spacious and has a fireplace and three windows,” countered the maid. “My room has neither heat nor light. I am entirely reliant on the light that will filter through your windows and the heat that will rise from your fire.”
“Why is the great lady so cruel?’ cried the young lady. “Does she not provide for her servants?”
“The great lady is not cruel. She treats her servants well.”
“But you are locked in a small cold room! That is not treating them well!” The young lady was indignant.
The maid shook her head. “While it is true that the Lady of Rosings brought me her, I am not her servant but yours. I must depend on you to provide for my needs. Until you have slept, both my comfort and yours will be adversely affected.”
“But I do not like to be told what to do.” The young lady folded her arms and stamped her foot.
“And you think that I do?” demanded the maid.
“You are a servant. Is it not expected that you shall be told what to do?” The young lady could not hide her surprise.
“It is expected,” replied the maid, shifting to find a more comfortable place to sit on the floor of her balcony, “but it does not stand to reason that I enjoy being ordered about. However, it is the station in life into which I was born — that I cannot change. But, perhaps if I am fortunate and perform my tasks well, I shall one day work for a kind mistress who requests my assistance rather than demands it.”
The young lady felt the sting of the words as if they had been a hand that reached down and slapped her face. Her cheeks burned as she recalled the way in which she had always stormed about yelling at the servants in her father’s home, berating them for matters that were of little concern to anyone but herself.
She looked at the pile of blankets and then to the maid. It was a small thing she was asked to do. Sleeping was not a hardship. This one thing she could do to provide for her maid whose very existence relied on her. And so, she spread out the blankets upon the wooden floor, piling them to make a bit of a cushion. Then wrapping herself in the warmth of a soft quilt she drifted off to sleep.
When the young lady awoke, a crackling fire filled the grate and spread its warmth about the room. A bed with a thick mattress stood at one side of the room, and a chair and a table spread with a sumptuous feast stood on the other.
“Maid,” called the young lady, “are you warm?”
“I am,” said the maid. “I thank you, miss.”
“Do you have food?”
“I do not. I am once again at your mercy to provide for my hunger.”
The young lady looked around the room. She could stand on a chair, but that would not be high enough to reach her maid, even if she placed it on top of the table. “But, how shall it be done?”
“I have been given a basket upon a small rope.”
“Then lower it at once so I may fill it for you,” demanded the young lady.
The maid moved to do her lady’s bidding, but the young lady forestalled her. “Pray forgive me,” said the young lady. “I did not phrase that well, at all. Allow me to try again.” She smiled and then said, “Please lower the basket so that I may fill it for you.”
The two young women ate in silence, hungrily devouring the food that lay before them. When the meal was over, and the young lady’s hunger was satisfied, the dishes and table covering faded before her eyes.
There was a scraping of stone upon wood as a section of the wall opened into the room. The Lady of Rosings stepped through the opening, motioning for her footmen to place a work basket upon the table.
“There are materials here for three dresses. Have them ready in two days when I return, and I shall give you the key to one of the doors to this room.” Having given her directive, The Lady of Rosings stepped back into the opening, and the wall slid back into place.
Immediately, the young lady began working on the dresses. This was a task she could manage with ease. Sewing had always been a skill and source of pleasure for the young lady. Of course, a large amount of the pleasure had always come from the fact that she was creating something for herself, but in a way, she was this time as well. Three dresses would bring her one key and one step closer to being released from her confinement.
As she worked, the young lady talked with her maid. She told stories of her childhood and family and listened intently as the maid share about her life. The young lady compared the two tales. The shortcoming of her life paled in comparison to the want that her maid’s family had endured due to a poor master.
And so the two days passed amiably. Food appeared when it was needed. The fire never went out, and the bed was the most comfortable bed on which the young lady had ever slept.
At the end of the two days, the wall slid open once again. A footman entered the room and gathered the work basket and dresses.
“Well done,” said the great lady. “Your work will be most appreciated by the needy of my village.” She nodded to a second footman who produced a key and extended it to the young lady. “This key,” said The Lady of Rosings, “opens one of the locks that keep you confined to this room.”
Eagerly the young lady snatched the key from the footman and raced to the door. She tried to turn the key, but the lock would not move. “You have lied!” she fairly shouted at the great lady. “This key does not open this lock.”
“I have not lied, child. The key that I have given you does indeed open one of the doors to this room. It just is not that door. The next key that you earn may open this door.”
The young lady pushed aside the anger that welled up inside of her. “What must I do to earn the next key?” she inquired.
“I shall return tomorrow, and you will give me one item from this room without which you are willing to live. This item shall be given to a family who is in great need. If your selection pleases me, I shall give you the key. If it does not, I shall require you to give up not one but two items from this room and the key shall not be yours. Choose wisely.” With that, the great lady was gone.
The young woman paced the room. “What shall I choose? How shall I know what will please the great lady?” She flopped on the bed and looked to her maid for a response.
“Beg pardon, miss, but I cannot tell you what to choose. It must be your choice or the great lady will be seriously displeased.”
Silence ensued. The young lady lay upon her bed watching the sun’s light pass from one window to the next as the day faded into night. She thought of her maid’s tale about her family.
They had once been landowners until the father had died and an evil relative had inherited, casting the family out and forcing them to work as servants upon his land. It was into this world of servanthood that her maid had been born. She had known hard work almost from the time of her birth. Their master had been miserly and paid very little. Heat was in short supply and food almost nonexistent.
The young lady looked about the room. Her provisions were meager. She had a fire, a bed, and food when it appeared. Which of these things could she live without?
If she gave up her fire, not only she but her maid would also suffer. She would be willing to shiver in the cool, damp tower but to impose such upon her maid was unthinkable.
She could give up her bed, but a bed seemed hardly a generous provision for a family that might be cold and hungry.
The wall scraped against the wooden floor rousing the young lady from her fitful slumber.
“I must have your decision,” demanded the great lady. “Which item will you give me?”
The young lady rubbed the sleep from her eyes. “Two halves make a whole, do they not?”
“Indeed, they do. But, I cannot see what that information signifies,” replied the great lady.
“And three parts can also make one whole, can they not?” the young lady continued.
“This is true, but I still do not see why this information signifies,” said The Lady of Rosings.
“It signifies,” said the young lady, rising from her bed, “because my decision is based on parts for I cannot give up one item.”
“Then you shall give up two of my choosing and not receive a key,” cautioned the great lady.
“I shall be given a key,” said the young lady confidently. “I shall not give up one item, but I shall give up three parts.
“I cannot give you my maid’s portion of the meals, nor can I live long without food. So, I have decided to give up my portion of one meal each day. That is the first of three parts.
“The second part is one log from my fire. I cannot give you all my heat as my maid would suffer. Though I may choose such suffering for myself, I cannot choose it for another.
“The third part is my bed. Leave only enough bedding so that I might sleep with some comfort upon the floor. These three parts make one whole item.”
A pleased smile spread across The Lady of Rosings’ face, and she nodded to her footman, who handed a second key to the young lady.
This time, instead of racing to the door to test the key, the young lady merely placed it in her pocket and remained in her spot.
“You will not try the door?” asked the great lady.
The young lady shook her head. “Not until I have completed the next task.”
The Lady of Rosings’ brows rose in surprise, but the look of pleasure remained on her face. “You are content not to know?”
“I am,” said the young lady, and she meant it. There were three doors, and she only had two keys. Whether one door remained locked or all three did, the young lady would be just as surely trapped in this room. Therefore, she would wait until her departure was assured. “What shall my next task be?” she asked.
The great lady tilted her head and studied the young woman that stood before her. She was still tall and fair, but a true beauty had begun to glow through her eyes and soften her features. This pleased The Lady of Rosings very much. The young lady’s lesson was nearly at an end. Indeed, with such a change as the great lady saw in the young lady, it might be concluded now, but there must be one final proof of transformation before the lesson could be called a success.
“Very well, your next task is twofold. First, you must live without the items that you have chosen for the next week. Secondly, you must choose one of the gowns that you already own to wear to the ball at the end of the week. No new fabrics or embellishments will be provided. You must work with what you already have.” As The Lady of Rosings spoke, a wardrobe appeared in the room.
“When the sun has progressed to the second window on the seventh day, you must be ready to attend the ball. Your maid will be allowed to assist you.” Again as the great lady spoke the room altered. A flight of steps descended from the balcony connecting the maid’s room with the main tower room. “Then you shall have your third key.”
When the great lady had left, the maid came down from her balcony and assisted the young lady in sorting through the dresses. The maid cooed over the lovely gowns that were in the wardrobe. Gowns which at one time the young lady had deemed not good enough. It was a thought that caused the young lady to blush.
“The blue dress would suit your eyes quite nicely,” the maid suggested. “And I could create a sweeping arrangement with your hair decorating it with these flowers.” She held out a wrap that had seen better days but bore delicately-made silver flowers.
“Perhaps we could put some of the sliver trim from that wrap on the sleeves and bodice of the gown.” The young lady began to feel excited. “Do you suppose you will be allowed to accompany me as my chaperone?”
“Maids do not attend balls, miss.”
“It is a shame. You have been so very good to me.” The young lady looked at the wardrobe that was filled to overflowing with gowns. Surely, there was one way she could express her gratitude for the maid’s help. “The green one would look lovely on you. It is not too fancy so that it may be worn to services or even about the village. You may not be going to the ball, but you shall have a new gown.”
The two ladies worked for many hours on the two gowns, altering the fit of each gown and attaching new trims that had been pilfered from old gowns. By the seventh day, both ladies had a beautiful gown to wear when the doors of their prison would be opened.
“I see you have succeeded quite beautifully with your task,” complimented the great lady as the sun slid past the first window and started to shine through the second. “You must try your keys.”
The young lady placed the second key in the first door, and the lock clicked open. She pushed the heavy door open and placed the first key in the second lock. Again, the lock clicked open. “I need the key to the third lock,” she said, turning to the great lady.
“You have possessed the key to the third the door, for some time now, my child,” said The Lady of Rosings. “For you see, contentment is the key to freedom. You have learned to be content following the directions of others. You have learned to content yourself with the knowledge that you are assisting others. You have learned that contentment does not reside in the number of things you possess. You are ready to be out. Tonight, you shall be presented to society as the lady you have always been intended to be.”
“But there is yet one door and one lock,” the young lady said in confusion.
The Lady of Rosing smiled. “Try the door, my dear. It has never been locked.”
The young lady tried the door and found that it was indeed unlocked. Slowly, she pushed it open. On the other side of the door, the grand ballroom glowed brilliantly in candlelight.
“Your key, my lady,” said the Prince as he bowed before her. In his hand, he held a silver necklace upon which a small silver key sparkling with stones the colour of a calm, peaceful sea hung.
The Prince’s bride took the necklace and fastened it around the neck of her youngest sister. “May you always be peaceful and content,” she said as she pulled her sister into her embrace.
At this, as well as numerous other balls that followed, a line of young men had formed wishing to dance with the beautiful young lady. Carefully she considered each one as they danced, selecting and narrowing her choice of suitor. No longer did she look at their fortunes. No longer did she look for their gifts. No longer did she look to critique their dancing.
Instead, she looked to their heart. She looked for their generous spirit. She looked for their grateful disposition. She looked for their care of others. Eventually, she found her match, a man of the cloth, giving and good. And one year to the day of her release from the Tower at Rosings, Miss Contentment, as she had become known, joined her hand to her beloved, and together they began their happily ever after in the parsonage at Kympton.
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