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Fiction

Under the cloak of darkness, Anne sneaks from her father’s house and follows the Wharfe River upstream heading into town. The moon is full and bright, lighting her way. The sounds of frogs singing and crickets chirping keep her company as her bare feet squish along the wet ground. Anne is on her way to do something while she still has time to do it. She turns eighteen next year and her father has been doubling his efforts to find her a husband. What she is about to do goes against society as a whole in 15th century England. She doesn’t know what it means for her future as part of the community, but this is something she must do. She has to satisfy her curious nature.


She was with her parents in town today. While they were working, she came upon a man painting a picture of the marketplace. It intrigued her, his use of shape and light, how he blended the colors to match what he saw. She always wondered how paintings were made. She has only seen a couple of them in her lifetime, but they were astonishing. She didn’t understand how someone could transfer what they saw to a piece of canvas. She still didn’t, but she felt closer to understanding. She drew close to the man, looking over his shoulder, watching as he worked with much interest.


“You seem fascinated,” a shaky voice cracked behind her.


She turned and saw an elderly man leaning on a cane. “Sorry, I am a very curious girl. My mother says it will be the death of me. My father is having a hard time finding me a suitor because of it.”


“Nothing wrong with a little curiosity. What else fancies you, my dear?”


“I want to read, especially the Bible. I have asked my father to teach me. He said it is not for women to know the word of God. That it is a woman’s place to listen to her father until she is wed, then she is to listen to her husband.”


“And this societal norm does not suit you. That is fascinating. What else?”


“Everything, I guess. I asked my father how an onion grows, since he is a farmer. He said it was not a woman’s place to understand a man’s labor.”


“Is that so. Hmm. Go on.”


“I want to know how they make laws and why we make laws. They are not explained to me, but I know they exist. Some seem good, others bad, and I don’t know which ones are real. I want to know more about the people who lived before us. I want to know why the river flows in the direction it does. I want to know why the moon changes shape. I want to know how to build a house. I want to help my father's farm become more successful. That is not even the beginning, sir. There is so much in the world that arouses questioning.”


“Interesting indeed. I am Professor William Black. This is very uncommon, but so is your nature. How would you feel about an education?”


“An education. What’s that?”


“It’s learning how to read. It’s learning the how’s and why’s of nature and society. It’s learning mathematics, the working of numbers. It’s gaining the ability to reason for oneself. It’s obtaining the ability to think philosophically and testing theories. It’s learning to appreciate the finer things in life and understanding foreign cultures. By the time we are done, you will understand how the world works, as well as the means to satisfy all your curiosities.”


“That sounds amazing, Professor! You would really do that for me?”


“I would, but you have to use your knowledge for the advancement of society. Then, you must pass it on.”


“I would, I honestly would, but there is no way my parents will allow me to do such a thing.”


“Hmm. You see that house right there with the sloped roof. That one is mine. I will leave a candle lit in the windowsill. If you find yourself able to join me, as long as that candle is lit, come on in, Miss?”


“Greenfield. Anne Greenfield.”


#


The marketplace is different to Anne at night. All the vendor carts are gone. The moon casts eerie shadows that seem to take a life of their own. Feral cats are heard screeching through the chill night air. Yet, Ann is ecstatic to walk through the empty marketplace and find Professor Black’s candle still lit. She knocks lightly on his door, and he opens it excitedly.


“Miss Greenfield! Welcome. I was hoping you would find a way. I took a nap after our meeting just in case this was the way. Snuck out, did you?”


Shyly, Anne says, “Yes.”


“No need to be embarrassed. You are about to embark on an adventure that will make it all worthwhile.”


At his desk, by candlelight, Professor Black starts her with the alphabet before moving on to numbers, telling her that they will be the foundation for everything she will learn. He plays her a song on the piano and they discuss the elements of the music, going over pieces of the song several times so Anne can familiarize herself with the concepts. Anne is having so much fun learning these things, she loses track of time.


She runs out the door with a thank you to her teacher. She storms through the marketplace and into the wilderness. She stumbles over a tree branch, skinning her knee, and dirtying her dress. She looks up and sees the sun rising. When she gets home, she knows she is too late. Her father is normally in the field and mother will be cooking breakfast. She pushes open the door to find her parents sitting at the table with furious expressions.


“Where have you been young lady, and do not lie,” her father growls.


“I met a man at the market, a professor. He offered me an education. I knew you would have said no, father, so I snuck out and went to his home,” Anne replies meekly.


“Blasphemy! Women do not need educations! They need men! Is this man ready to marry you? Taking a young woman into his home during the depths of night. Have this man no decency?”


“He is quite the gentleman, but he’s old enough to be my grandfather. I’m not going to marry him!”


“We’ll see about that! As God as my witness, you will not be sneaking in and out of my house to do the devils work with this professor. You’re of age. You’re past the age. If it wasn’t for you constantly questioning everybody about everything, I would have had you married off a long time ago. If this man wants the right to educate you, he can earn it proper. Let’s go. I want to meet this professor.”


#


There is an impolite knock on the door that nearly causes Professor Black to spill his tea. He didn’t get much sleep last night and is looking forward to a little rejuvenation, but that will have to wait. Grabbing his cane, he heads for the door, albeit not fast enough. Another loud bang erupts from the entryway.


“Hold on, hold on, I’m almost there.”


Upon seeing the old man, Robert Greenfield’s demeanor softens a little, but he keeps his tone firm. “Sir, we need to talk about my daughter,” he says, pushing Anne through the doorway.


“Ah, you must be young Miss Greenfield’s father. I’m Professor William Black. Nice to make your acquaintance,” the old man says, offering his hand.


Robert ignores the gesture and pushes by him. He gazes around the professors home. It is filled with books, scrolls, maps, and art. He has a piano with a violin on top. On his desk sits an abacus, a writing quill, and some parchment. “I understand you are educating my daughter, putting ideas in her head. Women don’t need such things. That’s why they have husbands and fathers.”


“But for someone as quizzical as Anne, life will be much more fulfilling if she were educated.”


“What education do you need to birth babies and do as you’re told.”


“One of the things she wants to learn is farming and how to improve your harvest. Have you ever considered teaching her yourself and leaving things for her to manage.”


“Not once. That brings me to why I am here. She is of marrying age, but she is difficult, too curious for her own good, and opinionated. Nobody wants her and after last night, I am tired of her. If you are willing to do it properly, she is yours. Then you can educate her all you want.”


“I am a smidge too old to remarry, but I have a son who lives in town. He is a business proprietor, mainly soaps, but he does well. He is closer to her age. Care to arrange a meeting.”


“Yes, I do. When?”


“Come back tomorrow for lunch. He will be here.”


#


The following day, Robert and Anne put on their Sunday best and returned to the professor's home. There they meet Robyn Black, a tall man with dark hair and dark eyes who possesses a charming smile. Anne is not only taken by his looks but by his manners. She has never been treated like such a lady in all her life. He is, however, twenty years older than she, which might explain the chivalry.


“Miss Greenfield, my father has told me a lot about you. You desire to be an educated woman. That is not common. Quite frankly, it is unheard of. What do you plan to do with all this knowledge once you obtain it.”


“For one, Mr. Black, I will find gratification in gaining said knowledge. I am a very curious woman. For two, I do want to have a family and I do not want to raise idiots. I do not want them to believe things just because someone told them so. I want them to be able to search out the truth on their own. Too many liars in the world, Mr. Black. And three, I believe by educating my children I can provide them with more opportunities, so they can live better lives.”


Turning to the professor Robyn says, “You are right, father. I like her. She will make the perfect wife, mother, and a shrewd business partner behind the scenes once she finishes her education.” Turning to Robert he asks, “May I ask for your daughter’s leave to accompany me in the garden. I would like to get to know more of her.”


Anne sits on a small swing tied to a tree branch in the garden while Robyn pushes her. He tells her of his business ventures and his travels. Anne listens intently, mentioning that someday she would like to travel too. She shares her stories of life on the farm, some of them bringing laughter to the garden. They walk arm-in-arm about the garden. Anne stops to inspect and smell each variety as they pass them by, asking Robyn each one’s name. When they rejoin their fathers inside, Robyn is so enchanted by Anne's curious ways, playful banter, and the way she carries a conversation, that he asks Robert for her hand in marriage.


Robert agrees, but with terms. “Anne is to stay with me until she is married. All educational activities are to cease until after she is married. Anne, once you are married, I don’t want you around the farm ever again, or associating with your brothers and sisters still living in the community.”


Robert breaks his daughter’s heart, but she accepts his terms.


Robyn and the professor waste no time in arranging the wedding ceremony. Asking Robert his opinion on the wedding plans, location, and guest list, Robert says, “Her mother and I will be the only ones in attendance only to give her away. Do as you please.”


Despite being a small wedding, it takes months, nearly a year, before the day comes that Anne sees Robyn again. Invitations had to be sent and arrangements had to be made for traveling families, but it was all worth it. Robyn looks dashing standing at the end of the aisle with the professor at his side. Anne feels beautiful in her mother’s wedding dress, holding a bouquet of wildflowers she picked herself before the ceremony. 


Anne looks for her father and her mother after the ceremony, but they are nowhere to be found. This momentary sadness disappears when Robyn takes her by the arm to meet her new family before the celebration begins. It’s a night of music, accompanied by singing, dancing, drinking, eating, and laughing. Robyn’s family tells Anne tales of Robyn from birth to manhood, which has Anne laughing to the point of tears. She is having the time of her life until she feels a longing for friends and family back home.


“What is it, child,” the professor asks, taking a seat next to her.


“Nothing. It’s just that I was having the time of my life until I thought about those I’ll be leaving behind. Why is my father being so cruel about this.”


“I cannot speak what another man thinks, but what you are venturing on is not a normal practice in society. Your father might find shame in this. You might change society, Anne. Someday, maybe all women will receive an education when society sees it is beneficial for women to be educated. You’re an explorer and a pioneer. Be proud of what you are venturing on and use it wisely. Perhaps one day, your father will come to his senses, and you will see the people from your past again, but now it is time to focus on your future.”


Anne leans over and kisses the professor on the cheek. “Thank you for everything, the faith, the encouragement, the teachings, and, most of all, that handsome man you call a son.”


#


 Anne and Robyn spent a month in London after their wedding. She continued her education as soon as she got home. She and Robyn had five kids: two boys and three girls. The boys grew up and took over the family business, expanding it. The girls found work in the homes of royals due to their educations, which they passed on to the noble’s children whom they raised. Anne’s curiosity was never quenched, but at least she got to spend her life watering it. She and Robyn traveled a lot, mainly because Anne was obsessed with history. She frequented the libraries, which some people found peculiar. What Robyn loved most about Anne was that he was no longer alone at night. Instead, he had a beautiful woman whose views and opinions challenged his own, leading to discussions that kept them up half the night. She had one theory, though, that Robyn couldn’t help but laugh at. Who would ever believe that the Earth was round.

April 22, 2024 08:26

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12 comments

Kristi Gott
20:37 May 02, 2024

Very well told with skillful writing technique and writing style. Very creative to use the 1400s historical era. Well developed, distinctive characters. Unique and compelling story with good plot arc. I enjoyed this journey to the past!

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13:02 Apr 30, 2024

This really hit home. Such a well told story that makes you feel something when you read

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Helen A Smith
09:01 Apr 28, 2024

It must have been painful to have such a yearning for education and not be able to have one. The only women educated at this time world have been the fortunate ones whose fathers deemed it was acceptable. The story was easy read, but it left me with a sadness for anyone in this situation now. At least she had the chance to broaden her horizons - albeit through her husband.

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Ty Warmbrodt
10:54 Apr 28, 2024

Yeah, I kind of regret writing this story because I failed to keep the audience in mind. The prompt was exploration so I went with the Renaissance era instead of Victorian. During the Victorian era I could have given the audience a protagonist who finds her independence, but I couldn't do that in The Renaissance. It didn't really cross my mind, but one reader was a little offended.

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Helen A Smith
11:27 Apr 28, 2024

There might be more leeway there although in Victorian times, I think it would still have been difficult for women to go against their fathers - the chance for an education would have improved somewhat. I don’t think women started getting the vote in Uk till after First World War for example. It’s not that long ago really. A lot has happened since then. I think we are all learning on here from others. I know I am. Even when at times (for me) writing feels like an uphill task, I’m learning something (hopefully). Still, a good story and not ...

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10:41 Apr 26, 2024

Nice story, and a hopeful ending. Children and the expectations of their parents is a never ending cycle!

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Yuliya Borodina
12:09 Apr 25, 2024

The story is well-written, though the fact that the rebellious act of learning was still only possible through marriage left a somewhat bitter aftertaste for me. Especially, since Anne was kind of just handed off to Robyn because the professor felt he himself was too old to marry. I am happy that the world is evolving away from those particular follies of the past.

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Ty Warmbrodt
12:29 Apr 25, 2024

Yeah, 1400s. Couldn't have her going independent in that time period.

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Mary Bendickson
14:53 Apr 22, 2024

Yea for Anne. Robyn was perfect for her. Thanks for liking my Aspen

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Alexis Araneta
14:22 Apr 22, 2024

Ah, my Austen-devouring heart just loved the feel of this. Beautiful use of imagery. In my head, as soon as Robin and Anne are married, her husband and the professor make up for what she's missed and she becomes very well educated. Lovely work !

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Trudy Jas
12:13 Apr 22, 2024

Empowering women, this week. Way to go!

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Hannah Lynn
11:55 Apr 22, 2024

I’m glad Anne had the courage to search out her eduction to live a better quality of life!

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