What a lovely name for a girl, I thought, and not all that uncommon for women in the 1700s, but then I began to wonder whether that really was her name, or a marketing ploy by her father, in the same way that Windscale became Sellafield. Picture the scene:
In the rural idyll of the rolling hills of Derbyshire, Mrs Ezekiel Wild sat by the fire knitting yet another plain grey smock for her husband as she hummed her favourite hymn.
Suddenly, Ezekiel burst into the rude cottage, shaking rude plaster from the rude wall as he slammed the rude wooden door back on its rude leather hinges.
‘I can stand it no longer!’ he wailed. ‘The child is driving me verily nuts with her constant nattering!’
Mrs Wild continued her twining of wool and clacking of wooden needles, oblivious to her husband’s lament until he reached over and removed her homemade ear-defenders, fashioned from discarded lambs’ tails.
‘I said, she’s got to go,’ he said slowly and clearly so as not to be misunderstood. ‘We must find her a husband before I do her a mischief.’
The object of his ire was Chatterbox, the eldest of their six daughters and the last to remain a spinster. The one who had learned to speak at two months old and hadn’t stopped since.
‘You must find her a husband, one who is deaf for preference and for his own mercy’s sake.’
‘But I have tried and tried to find her a suitable suitor,’ bemoaned Mrs Wild. ‘I even put a notice on the parish board — Articulate farmer’s girl seeks good listener with GSOH — but I had no takers.
‘I can’t understand it,’ she sighed. ‘Charity and Patience had no trouble finding themselves suitable husbands, as did Goodwife and Beltingcook. Even plain Handywithamop was able to find happiness with Geoffrey the Shaker at Ye Olde Tea Shoppe, but I fear poor Chatterbox will die an old maid.’
‘Not if I can help it,’ growled Ezekiel as his daughter followed him through the door, only halfway through the sentence she’d begun at breakfast time.
‘It’s Stockport Wife Market for you, my girl.’ he muttered under his breath, failing to get a word in edgeways.
‘So our daughter has a husband at last,’ beamed Mrs Wild. ‘How on earth did you manage it?’
‘Twasn’t easy,’ rejoined her husband. ‘The competition was fierce. George Shufflebottom had his twin girls, Chastity and Diligence, on a “Buy One Virtue Get One Free” offer. But I managed to palm off Chatterbox on Joseph Chatterton for a couple of sovs.’
‘And he didn’t mind her constant nattering?’ asked Mrs Wild in wonderment.
‘Not really. I took the precaution of giving Chatterbox a Victory V to suck on and that and the gag helped to muffle her quite a bit. I told him the occasional mumblin’ he could hear was just her religious devotions.
‘Oh, and I had to change her name. The focus group in the tap room at the Dog and Parsnip thought that Chatterbox ‘ad too many negative connotations in a prospective wife, so we settled on calling her Silence instead.’
‘What!’ said Mrs W, ‘You re-christened our daughter and gave her a silly name like Silence when she’s been a Chatterbox all her life? A name handed down through generations of my family, yea unto the middle ages?
‘Apart from anything else, you could be ‘ad up under Ye Trades Description Act!’
‘It’s not so much a re-christening, more a re-branding exercise,’ explained the self-satisfied Ezekiel, not entirely sure what he meant by “a re-branding exercise” other than that it sounded like a smart thing to say.
‘I could see that it was her name that’s been holding her back all these years. And anyhow, how stupid do you think Joseph would have felt introducing his wife as Chatterbox Chatterton?’
With that, Ezekiel parked himself in his favourite chair, loaded his pipe and warmed his feet by the fire, sighing contentedly as he appreciated the new found quiet of his home. And the two sovereigns in his pocket.
Silence (and her absent chatter) truly was golden.