Life was not so easy in the last quarter of the 18th Century; unless of course you belonged to that class of people who controlled the wealth of the land.
But growing up here in the Hampshire countryside was not so bad. At least the air was fresh - sometimes you could almost feel the breezes from the sea - not that Daisy had ever been there.
Daisy's Father worked on the land farmed by the people living in the Big House; by and large they were a good family to work for, and sometimes outgrown clothes for the children or his wife came Mr Mutton's way. Work was regular, so unlike many townsfolk at that time there was always food on the table and wood for the fire in Winter.
Daisy's Mother worked hard to keep their small cottage clean and tidy. She made the most of what they had, cooked and scrubbed and sewed, but all in all Margaret was satisfied with her life.
As the middle child of five children, from an early age Daisy was expected to do her share, whether a bit of weeding on the vegetable patch outside the door, or fetching in wood for the fire, a job she especially hated in the cold darkness of the Winter months.
Summers were sweet; the children ran free in the fields under the glorious Hampshire skies, played tag until they dropped, exhausted, onto their backs in the cornfield and counted the clouds hanging lazily above them.
Her best friend was David from the Big House; he was just a year older than her, and often away at school, but in the Summer he found his old playmate and he and Daisy would fish in the pond, throwing stones at the ducks, then settle down to talk dreams on the river bank. His parents were glad to see him occupied during his holidays, and made no objection to the friendship; but already school was changing the boy and their relationship was not quite so free and easy as it had been.
That’s how it was that Easter when Daisy had turned seven. She had been helping her mother prepare vegetables, and made sure the two younger children had had their bread and cheese for lunch.
She was getting rather bored with the company of her younger siblings, so when David arrived with his little brother Edward in tow - a rather sullen child, always whining and complaining - looking for something to do, she was only too glad to put on her cloak and go with them to have a look at the river. It had been raining on and off for what seemed like weeks; the river had increased its flow from its usual steady trickle to quite a fast rate; what's more, it was unusually deep in some places, and had actually burst its banks here and there. They started off by skimming stones across the torrent, then Edward started sulking because he couldn't throw as far as the others, so David suggested they stand on the little bridge, and race sticks in the current, which was much stronger than usual because of the floodwater.
This kept them occupied for some time, then Edward's twig did not reappear from under the bridge. He started to cry, and insisted his brother should go and look for it. 'don’t be silly Eddie, just get another one', replied David, who did not much like the idea of slithering about on the muddy bank. 'It's only a rotten stick.'. By now it had started to rain, and Daisy decided it was time to go back home. Edward was not convinced. He pulled away from his brother's hand and rushed down to peer under the bridge to try and find his plaything. 'Come back Eddie, it's too deep there' called David, but too late, Edward had already fallen in and was being carried along, in spite of his desperate attempts to get back to land.
The two children watched horrified as the little boy splashed and screamed; suddenly Daisy made a run for the bank, jumped in and pulled the crying child ashore, into the safe hands of his brother. She stood up and shook herself, soaking wet and covered in weed and mud. Her feet were squelching, and she lifted one muddy foot up to inspect the damage to her boots - she only possessed one other pair, her Sunday ones, and Mother would not be best pleased at the state of her everyday footwear.
Then - it all happened in a flash; she lost her footing, fell in the now rushing stream, and was gone almost before the boys realised what had happened.
The people in the village rallied round her family and searched all night until, just as the inky darkness gave way to a murky yellow glow they found her, not all that far from where she had fallen in, her body held down by a branch, partly covered by weeds. A wound on her temple bore witness to the stone her head had struck as she fell in. The search party crossed themselves and prayed to God that she had not suffered.
Her father carried her home; her mother screamed when she saw the terrible burden he bore in his strong brown arms, and she fainted into the arms of Beatrice Donnelly, David's mother, who knew that this woman's child had died in the act of saving hers.
And so it was that little Daisy went so early to the churchyard. Squire and Mrs Donnelly, ever mindful of the debt they owed this little one, paid for the funeral and the small memorial made from local stone.
They gave Margaret a little pendant, set with a blue jewel, in remembrance of her brave daughter. It was the only jewellery she had ever owned, apart from her plain wedding band.
She never took it off, and was wearing it until the day she too passed away, which was less than a year after Daisy had been laid to rest. She died, as many did in those days, giving birth to her sixth child, another red-haired daughter. Her Father called her Margaret Rose, after her mother.
Margaret's stone is just over there, next to Daisy, so she can comfort her child as they sleep. You can just about make out the inscription :
Margaret Mutton, beloved wife of William and devoted Mother.
1759-1793. R I P
The Donnellys paid for that too.