A Soldier’s Daughter

September 5, 2015

A Soldier’s Daughter, by G.A. Henty, published in 1906, covercontains three stories. Each one is set in a different continent, but they are all very adventurous. What is more, they all show the bravery of girls — an unusual way to present them at the beginning of the twentieth century, when girls were expected to act like “ladies,” and adventures were considered to be the exclusive province of men.

The first story, “A Soldier’s Daughter,” tells us about Nita, the daughter of a major in a British military camp in Darlinger, India. The following quotes give an idea of what Nita’s father expected from her:

I have quite made up my mind at last, Nita, when I return from this expedition, to pack you off to your uncle in England; you are getting a great deal too old to be knocking about in a barrack-yard, and there are no ladies here who would keep you up to the mark. I know that you are a favourite with all the officers, but that only makes matters worse. You have been a regular tomboy for the last five years, and it is quite time that you were
taught to behave as a young lady.

I like a woman who can play an accompaniment to a good old English, Scotch, or Irish song.…

… there is no more necessary accomplishment on the frontier than for a woman to be able to make her own clothes.

But Nita is a very brave girl. One day, when her father is away with most of the troops, a local tribe attacks the camp, and Nita is captured. Nita not only manages to escape, but after a long, perilous, and adventurous trip, she and an officer — whom she rescued! — finally manage to reach a British camp, where Nita’s father, who thought his daughter was dead, can hold her in his arms again. And of course Nita is proclaimed a heroine!

The second story, which is situated in Germany, is called “How Count Conrad von Waldensturm Took Goldstein.” This is about a young count, who, after a war in which his father was killed, finds out that a rival Baron from a neighbouring castle has attacked Waldensturm and kidnapped the count’s sister Minna, with the purpose of marrying her to the baron’s evil son. With the help of the people of the villages, who are as eager as Count Conrad himself to overthrow the Baron of Goldstein, he is able to free his sister, and, with tricks and an ambush, to kill Baron Goldstein and his son, and make himself master of Castle Goldstein. And all this would not have been possible without the help of Bertha Grun, the daughter of a villager, who was appointed by the baron to be Minna von Waldensturm’s lady-in-waiting.

The last story takes us to Australia, and is called “A Raid by the Blacks.” The Roberts family are living on an outlying farming station in Australia. In those days, when life on a remote farm was extremely hard, people could use all the hands that were available, for every task. But look at the differences in education Effie and her brother received:

The boy, who was now fifteen, had been for the past two years at Sydney, living at his uncle’s and attending school. In another year he was to return to the station. He had gone most reluctantly, but his father had said: “I can quite understand your liking this life, Ned, but I don’t wish you to grow up simply a bush farmer. The colony is increasing fast, and there will be plenty of openings for a young fellow of intelligence and a fair education. I hope that by the time you grow up I shall be able to settle you on a farm like mine, and stock it well for you, if you decide upon following this sort of life, or to start you in any line that you may like to adopt in Sydney. You have had two years of running wild, and if you remain here you will speedily forget what little you have learned; but in any case, three years at school will be a great advantage to you.”

Effie, the daughter, was now fourteen, a strong healthy girl who could ride any horse on the station, had been taught to use both pistol and rifle, and was as bold and fearless as a boy.

Effie had her own tasks on the farm:

Effie went out twice a day with food for the horses, and each time carried a dozen large apples in her apron, which she gave them after they had eaten their corn.

Effie still was a girl of her time, however. When she had to escape the farm in boy’s clothes to ride off and get help from the neighbours, she was a bit embarrassed:

As Effie felt shy about appearing in boy’s clothes, Mrs. Talbot lent her a blouse and skirt.

The reader should note that the stories in A Soldier’s Daughter are not “politically correct” by today’s standards, in terms of how different races are presented. But the book is a creature of its time, and in my opinion, Nita, Bertha and Effie showed that they were real heroines!

This post was contributed by DP volunteer Eevee.


Wilson’s Tales of the Borders and of Scotland

October 22, 2014

Wilson's Tales

Distributed Proofreaders has posted the last of the 24 volumes of Wilson’s Tales of the Borders and of Scotland: Historical, Traditionary, and Imaginative. The original 66 stories were collected by John MacKay Wilson (1804-1835). He began publishing them weekly in 1834 as editor of the “Berwick Advertisor.” His unexpected death at age 31 the following year left a widow with an inadequate income. The executors of the estate and friends of the family then gathered a further 233 tales, which were published for her support. Alexander Leighton, one of the major contributors of stories, published the collection in the 24-volume set which is now complete at Project Gutenberg.

The short stories of these collections paint vivid pictures of life in the Borders — deaths and marriages, shipwrecks and celebrations, the ordinary and extra-ordinary events in the lives of people living on the edge of both Scotland and England. These details and more about the tales and the editors of the collections can be found at The Wilson’s Tales Project.

Hundreds of Distributed Proofreaders volunteers collaborated for over ten years to ensure the wide availability of these delightful and historical tales. The first volume was posted in February of 2004, and the last in September of 2014. There were several challenges facing the DP team in their effort to accurately render the tales as the editors intended. In addition to period spelling and grammar, the tales are full of words from the local dialect and dialogue modified to help the reader hear the border speech patterns. These contribute significantly both to the charm and the historicity of the tales, but also caused thousands of words in each volume to fail traditional spell-checkers and to need verification, sometimes with research. Congratulations to the Distributed Proofreaders team, who have continued the work of Mr. Wilson to preserve these stories for future generations to enjoy.

This post was contributed by a DP volunteer who worked on Wilson’s Tales.


Spinning-Wheel Stories

February 13, 2014

Some time ago I smooth-read Spinning-Wheel Stories, by Louisa May Alcott. What a fun book to read! I enjoy Alcott’s story-telling style, and her ability to inject small morals into stories without being too preachy most of the time. She has occasional lapses, as most authors do, but in general she is able to capture and hold my interest. This particular book is a collection of short stories, recited to amuse children who are visiting their grandmother over the Christmas holidays. The children are kept indoors by severe winter weather, and are slowly going stir-crazy. In an effort to amuse the children, Grandmother and Aunt Elinore tell them stories each evening.

One of my favorite little stories in this book is the incident where the children are romping in the attic, and they discover the old spinning wheel. Almost everything else in the attic is dusty and obviously has not been touched for a long time. But the spinning wheel is clean and there is still flax on the distaff. The children lug the spinning wheel down to where Grandmother is sitting next to the fire, and the girls ask her to teach them how to spin.

Grandma's Story

Grandma’s Story

A thrilling tale ensues, as the wheel goes round and round while Grandmother begins her story. There are wolves, a race, and much excitement in this story! And best of all, it’s a true tale of Grandmother’s life.

If I still had young children, I would love to read this book with them. The stories told here recount events from days long gone by: spinning wheels, big-wheel bicycles, young girls learning to cook, heroic Native Americans, and many others. I think youngsters today would probably enjoy the stories, given an opportunity to read them.


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