Margaret was born and died in the village of Amerington. Her family, the Preedys, was 'poor but honest', and worked on the land like most of the people there. When she was twelve, her mother took her up to the big house, where the housekeeper liked the look of her and gave her work in the laundry.
It was hot and hard work, it being quite a big household, with children and servants and all, so there were always plenty of sheets to scrub, petticoats to iron, and those big white tablecloths she hated dealing with. Still, she was glad to be there, though it could get really hot and steamy in the Summer as she stirred the cauldron of boiling, steaming linen.
It was just such a hot day as this when she wiped the sweat from her forehead as she stabbed at the washing with the pole and pulled at her blouse, soaked in sweat. She was almost 16 now, and quite pretty, a typical country girl. She had already caught the eye of several of the local boys; one in particular, William Mutton, a big gentle giant of a man, always seemed to be walking by as she went to work.
He had said nothing to her, but she could tell he was interested as he looked at her in his shy way; he would touch his cap when he saw her, and sometimes came to their cottage to bring firewood or a rabbit for the pot. Her mother, a widow, was thankful for this, and encouraged her daughter to take an interest in the man. Margaret liked him well enough, but she preferred lads with a bit more spirit; anyway, he was several years older than her.
That day in the laundry, pulling at the thin material of her blouse as it clung wetly to her breast, she became aware that she was not alone. She turned round to see a young man, perhaps a little older than herself, watching her intently, leaning cross-legged at the door. She could tell by his clothes and demeanour that he was not of her class, but she did not recognise him as one of the boys from the big house. Still, he looked nice.
And so it was she accepted his offer of a drink of water from his flask, and accompanied him to eat her bread and cheese lunch by the stream. She discovered his name was Bertrand Donnelly, the Squire's nephew, and that he was on holiday from his studies in London.
She also discovered the water he offered her (and which she drank freely) was flavoured with not a little rum. She became dizzy and flushed with the alcohol and the heat, and the rather delicious feeling of his arm round her waist. She had never felt so strange, revelling in his caresses and his gentle words.
He laid her down under the trees, touching her soft warm skin wherever he could reach it under the heavy workday skirt, eventually freeing her from the confines of the white blouse with gentle prying hands. She was a country girl, she knew what was happening, but on this warm day it felt good, and she offered little resistance when he lay on top of her and smothered her small words of objection with his warm mouth.
Afterwards, she looked at him shyly as he lay beside her, then, realising she would soon be missed at work, she gathered up the ruins of her lunch, tidied her clothes and her hair, and ran off without a look behind her. Work continued that day, but Maggie was trembling and flushed and couldn't concentrate; she was glad when it was time to go home, where she went straight to the small room she shared with her sisters, and fell asleep thinking of a handsome face and oh, those wandering hands.
The next day when she was at work he came to her again, and every day for a week. There was not much conversation, just wonderful hot days and dreamy love under the elderflowers. Then one day, as Bertrand embraced her gently in their usual meeting place, she realised they were being watched. She sat up with a startled cry, trying to push Bertrand off of her. He looked round, then laughed. It was his cousin Robert, from the big house, watching open-mouthed.
To her horror, Bertrand did not stop what he was doing; rather he made a great show of fondling her body and unbuttoning his own clothing, She tried to stand up, but Bertrand pushed her onto her back and forced himself into her, heedless of her cries, all the while laughing and showing off to his cousin. She could not recognise him as the boy who had been so gentle. When he eventually stood up, he still would not let her go, but gestured to Robert to take his place. The boy looked worried, but could not resist, and Bertrand helped him by holding her down until he was finished.
When it was over, both boys walked away, Robert looking round sheepishly, but Bertrand went off without a backward glance. She never saw him again.
She cried herself to sleep that night; tears for her own naivety and for a lost love. In the morning she set her shoulders square and resolved to carry on with her life; after all, it was not so unusual in those days; many of the women in the village had no doubt been de-flowered by one of the gentry; there were probably several children who were unaware that their father was not the man their mother was wed to. That's how it was in those days.
And that's how it was for Maggie; as soon as she realised she was going to have a child, she knew she could never manage alone. It would be no good telling the folk at the big house; they would certainly not believe her story: so she turned to kindly, steady William Mutton. Within a month they were wed; and neither William nor anyone else made comment when Billy was born only six months later.
Margaret made the best of it, but the bright spark had gone from her life, and she carried on with her daily chores as best she could. William was quiet and kind, a solid hard-working man who doted on the child, even though his fragile frame bore no resemblance to either of them.
He was overjoyed when Maggie gave birth to his son less than two years later; but he wept bitter tears when the boy died after only two days on this earth. In 1779 Maggie gave birth to a stillborn daughter. Both are buried here in the churchyard in the unmarked graves reserved in those days for newborns.
William was a happy man when his long awaited son was born in 1782; a strong, large child, with the same thoughtful look of his Father. They called him Jack, after William's Father. Daisy, the apple of her Father's eye, came along three years later, followed at intervals of three years by Fred and Joseph.
The rest you know.
William was a broken man at the loss of his Maggie in childbirth so soon after his little angel Daisy had been taken; drowned in a terrible accident; baby Margaret Rose was too painful a reminder of his loss; anyway, what did a man know about looking after a baby? So when the squire's lady offered to raise her as her own, he gladly kissed her goodbye and tried to bring up his boys as best he could.
Alas, little Joseph, always a sickly child, died of the croup a couple of years later, at only four years of age. He was laid with his sister Daisy, sleeping the long sleep close to his Mother, and his unnamed sister and brother, with the other Holy Innocents.
His name was never added to Daisy's stone; there is nothing now to show he ever lived.
William packed up his belongings and moved away. Neither his grave, nor that of his three remaining sons is to be found in this churchyard.
Let us walk a little now, over to the other side of the church, where the road runs by to the town. See how this part of the graveyard is well tended; there are many freshly placed flowers here, and the graves are marked by different sorts of memorial. The stones are newer than the others - look, there is someone buried only this week - a mound of fresh wreaths and flowers covers the grave. It is too recent to have a proper stone yet, but a neat wooden plaque states :
15.6.1920 - 30.6.2000