A True and Faithful Narrative

A True and Faithful Narrative

by Katherine Sturtevant

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780374300722
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Publication date: 04/18/2006
Edition description: First Edition
Pages: 256
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.70(d)
Age Range: 12 - 18 Years

About the Author

KATHERINE STURTEVANT's At the Sign of the Star was a
Booklist Editors' Choice, and in a starred review they said,
"Readers will end the book hoping for a sequel." The author lives in Berkeley, California.

Read an Excerpt

A True and Faithful Narrative

By Katherine Sturtevant

Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Copyright © 2006 Katherine Sturtevant
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4299-3942-3



He came to see me before he sailed for Italy.

It was toward the end of Lent, not many weeks past my sixteenth birthday. I was not expecting to see him, and did not understand, at first, why he had come. I thought he meant to buy a book, and then, when I saw him draw a folded note from the pocket of his bright green waistcoat, I supposed he was there to deliver a message from his sister, Anne, who was my dear friend. But he had come for another reason.

Later, when we heard what befell him, I remembered certain things: the colors of his clothes, the way the spring air had chilled his nose to brightness, how the sea-coal glowed in the grate, and the scents of turpentine and lavender wafting up from my apron. I remembered, too, the softness of his fingers as he put his shillings upon my palm, and the way he let his hand linger on mine.

There I stood, mouth agape, and knew not what to say.

But before that came the argument with my father. We were only four at breakfast, and that counted Deb, the chambermaid, who always sat with us at table. My father's apprentice had already opened the bookshop, and the little ones ate with Bridget, the nurse. I was reading a story which Mademoiselle de Scudéry had written, and had brought it with me to the dining room. There I sneaked glances at it lying open in my lap while I drank my chocolate and ate a bit of cold sparrow pie. It was a thrilling tale, filled with all manner of perils: storms, shipwrecks, pirates, and many abductions of the heroine, Mandane, by her daring suitors. I had quickly seen that she would always remain true to Cyrus, her beloved, but in spite of that I picked up the book every chance that came, and could hardly wait to learn what I already knew.

At first I paid little heed to what was said as I ate. I seldom did, for our talk at table was often dull. Susannah, who had been my father's wife nearly four years, was kind in her way, but she was greatly more interested than I in how to relieve the pain of a baby who cuts his first milk tooth, and what will best protect a tapestry from moths. Useful knowledge, I allow, but lean subjects for conversation. That day Susannah and Deb rattled on about how greatly new hangings were needed in the parlor. In a little while, Betty, the cook-maid, brought in some bread and butter, and then left again. At last Susannah asked my father how his business did, and that was when I looked up from my story.

"Well enough," he answered her. "But I have resolved that I will not publish Mr. Phillips's account of Lord Stafford's execution, after all."

"I'm glad to hear it," Susannah said. "The tide is turning in this business of the Catholics, and I know not whom 'tis more dangerous to offend. Silence is surely the wisest course."

My father's jaw tightened with displeasure. "That is not my reason," he said. "There is more to be considered when publishing a book than who will be offended. Mr. Phillips made a fine story of the affair while we were at cards one night; I felt sure that what he wrote would be worth reading. But the thing is all a muddle, and peppered with lies throughout."

I saw that this was the chance I had been dreaming after day and night. "Can it not be written over, by someone with greater art?" I asked. "I know that sometimes you have put the stories of others into your own words."

"I have not the time," he said, but he began to chew more slowly, as though he was thinking it over.

I judged the moment ripe. "Then let me do it, Father! You know I'm forever busy with my quill. I will fix the muddle."

I saw from his glance that he was both surprised and troubled, but all he said was, "Nay, Meg. This is not women's work."

"Please, Father. I am well practiced."

"It is serious business, Daughter. The censor will go over every word."

"If you would but look at some of the things I have written —"

"I don't need to look at them. Give me their titles; that will be enough."

I sat still for a moment, thinking of titles that might surprise and impress him: Discourse on the Duties of Children Toward Their Parents, perhaps, or Reflections on the Sermons of Reverend Little.

"A title, Meg. The things you write have titles, I presume? What is your latest?"

"A Maid's Secret: Relating ..." Then I faltered.

"Relating?" my father prompted.

I took a breath and spoke quickly and loudly. "Relating the Strange and Wonderful Events That Befell a Virgin in Faraway Lands, and How She Escaped Her Evil Captors. And 'tis very good! Much better than some of the stories we sell here in the shop!"

"Margaret! You are immodest," Susannah said.

"However good or bad it may be, it does not fit you for the sort of writing that must be done to publish Mr. Phillips's account," said my father. "Mr. Barlow, however, might try his hand at it." Will Barlow was my father's apprentice.

"Will! You think that Will is more fit for this task than I am? You think that Will is more serious than I am?"

"Hold your tongue, Meg," Susannah said sharply.

"Will stays up until one in the morning playing cards at the tavern night after night!"

My father slammed his spoon against the table. "Stop this racket at once!" he said. "Quarrels are not salutary for a woman in Susannah's condition."

Silence fell upon us all. I looked at Susannah, but she did not look at me. Instead she lifted a corner of her apron and examined it, as though she saw a stain. She was with child, then. Again.

I mumbled my congratulations, and Susannah nodded her thanks. After that I said nothing more, and as soon as I dared, I rose to leave the table. Just then, however, little Toby came running into the dining room.

"Meg!" he called out as he ran to me, and I took him into my arms without thinking. Mine was the warm body he knew the best, for we had shared a bed since his baby sister, Eleanor, was born.

"He is always running from his nurse," my father said with a frown.

Toby clung to me and whispered into my neck, "You must take me to the house of office, Meg. Bridget makes me go alone!"

"The woman is too harsh with him," Susannah said, not for the first time.

"We must not indulge him this way, or he will never learn to obey her," my father replied.

"Bridget hits me, always!" Toby cried out as I set him down. "I hate her! I wish that she may grow a long beard!"

"Be silent, Child!" my father shouted. "Mind your tongue and mend your ways, or I will be the one who does the hitting!" Then he spoke more quietly. "Listen to me, Tobias. You must never, never wish ill upon another, for you know not what harm may come of it."

"Surely it was only a childish fancy," I said.

"You, Margaret, of all people, ought to know what power lies in words. Why are we forbidden to curse, if curses are feeble and impotent? Speech is a weighty business."

"Yes, sir," I said obediently, for I had angered my father enough that morning. But I thought to myself that it would be difficult indeed to know if a hard fate had come through ill wishing or through some other cause.

When my father had gone to the bookshop, I took Toby by the hand and led him to the house of office, which was in the basement. Of course he did not like to go alone, for it was dark and the smell from the vault was foul. I well remembered the first time my own nurse had made me go there by myself, but I could not recall how old I had been. It was true that Toby was somewhat overtimid, and we were all a little anxious about it. But he would not grow more brave from Bridget's cuffs.

I waited while he sat on the close-stool, and when he was done I emptied the pan into the vault, where the night-soil waited to be taken away by the cart. Then I sent Toby back to Bridget, hoping she would think he had gone by himself, after all.


That morning it was my task to oil the furniture in the parlor, which Deb had dusted before breakfast. Susannah made the oil from candle ends and turpentine, and added a bit of lavender to sweeten the air. I began with the hinged table that my father sat at when he studied manuscripts. My mind was free to wander as I worked, and at such times I often thought about the stories I was writing, and how I might better what I had done. But this morning I was still stinging from my father's scorn, and all I could think of as I slid my oily rag across the table was that it was Will Barlow's fault. When Robert Barnes had been chief apprentice my father was glad to have a daughter with a sharp mind and a ready tongue, but when my father signed Will Barlow in Robert's place, things changed. Will was quick and clever, and my father valued him above any apprentice that had ever been bound to him. But being clever in business did not mean that he was skilled with words, and I felt certain that I could do more justice than Will to the account of Lord Stafford's execution.

I finished the table and knelt beside the walnut armchair so that I would not have to stoop to reach the carving on its back. As I followed the scrollwork with my rag, I thought again of what my father had said, that Mr. Phillips told a fine story, but that the manuscript was riddled with lies. What was the difference, finally, between a story and a lie? It was something I had pondered before. Reverend Little preached that we lie from greed and from fear, but he said naught of stories. Madame Clarke, who had been my teacher, told me that stories carry truth in their message, though their particulars may be invented.

"Like the story of Dick Whittington, who came to London with nothing but his cat and became Lord Mayor?" I asked her.

"Nay, Meg, that is no moral tale but a sop to hungry apprentices."

"Like the story of the apprentice who fought ten Turks single-handed, and vanquished them all?"

"Like the stories in the Bible," Madame Clarke said, opening that book.

"We are not going to study the Bible yet again?" I asked in dismay.

I was two years in Herefordshire, studying with Madame Clarke. Besides my catechism, she taught me how best to carve a hen and to make a mulberry jelly, though I cannot say I learned her lessons well. I was not an earnest pupil. How could it have been otherwise, with me so many miles from London, from family and friends, from news and gossip and all that made life dear to me? In Herefordshire there was naught to do but study, and take long walks among the fruit trees, and listen to Madame Clarke's brother preach at the village church. When the boredom of it all overcame me it was not unnatural that I should torment my teacher a little, and I know not who was the gladder when I finished my studies at last, and was returned to my father's bookshop, at the sign of the Star in Little Britain Street.

And yet I knew that Madame Clarke had done me no small service, for besides the stories from the Bible she taught me the ones told by the Greeks and the Romans, and sometimes, after my French lesson, we studied Latin, though my father had said it was not good for girls. He did not think the classics a proper subject for those of the female sex, lest it make them unfit for marriage.

The very word marriage made my jaw grow tight. I gave the chair leg one last rub and yanked my rag back. Then I went to the oaken settle that stood against the wall and attacked it as though it were a traitor to the realm. I hated to think of marriage, and for long months I did not let the idea of it enter my brain, but now Susannah's unwelcome news had brought it to mind once more.

I could not help wishing she had not conceived again so soon. With each new baby came more changes. Already we had one apprentice instead of three, for we had not the space to house three, nor the wherewithal to feed them. Now children slept where once servants had, and servants where apprentices had lain, and I did not know where we would put another body, however little it might be.

But all that was nothing compared to the real matter, which was my father's property, and the way my share of it grew smaller with each birth. Before my father remarried I had not worried about my future, for I was his heir then, and likely to have my pick of many eager suitors. But now little Toby would inherit the business, and if I did not marry soon, my father's fortune would be so many times divided that nothing would remain for my dowry.

"You are needed in the shop, madame," Deb said from the doorway. "I'm to finish in here."

I straightened to look at her, much surprised. It was rare that I was asked to help with the business before dinner. Generally my father kept the shop in the morning, and sent Will to do his errands. But I learned nothing from staring at Deb's round face except that she was resentful, for which I did not blame her, for now she must do my work and her own as well.

"Do you know why my father has summoned me?" I asked.

"Mr. Moore has gone out. 'Tis Mr. Barlow who begs your assistance."

Now that was surely a lie. Will Barlow never begged for anything.


The shop was my favorite place in all the world. From a child I had loved everything within: the oaken counter, the gleaming wooden floors, the wainscoted walls. I loved the fireplace surrounded by Delft tiles the color of cream, and the four cane chairs grouped before it, where poets and playwrights, physicians and philosophers sometimes sat and argued. Most of all, of course, I loved the books, from the unbound pages that lay upon the table to the volumes with gilded leather covers that were hid on shelves behind curtains to keep them from the black soot that sifted through the air.

There were no customers in the shop when I entered, which surprised me. "Why, nothing is stirring," I said, looking around. "What help can you need from me?"

"Your father asked me to look over a manuscript this morning," Will answered. "You will mind the counter while I read."

I felt my anger rising, and wrestled with it as I might with a dog that snatched a joint of beef from the table. Will didn't need my help; he might as easily have read between customers, as I often did. He sought only to give me orders that I must follow whether I would or no. I saw that he was watching me, the way he always did, to see if he had struck a spark with the flint of his command. There was something in him that seemed to take satisfaction in seeing me lose my temper, which was why I fought to keep it. So I did not answer him, but only took my place behind the counter, while he went to a chair by the fire, stuck out his long legs, and began to study Mr. Phillips's story. He was the sort of youth who is careless with his posture and careful of his clothes. The curls of his wig were inky black, and his moustache was brown with a hint of red. But it was his little mouth I most disliked, for it often bore a mocking smile, and I sometimes feared I was the one it mocked.

I had Mademoiselle de Scudéry's romance with me, and at once I settled into reading it, but after a very few minutes he began to pester me.

"This is a sorry piece of work," he said.

I made no answer.

"Strange that he does not write better; over a pint of sack he is a great wit."

"Perhaps he did not drink enough sack while he was writing."

"Too much drink is more likely to harm prose than to help it," he said.

"You know more of drink than I."

After that he didn't speak for a few minutes. I took great satisfaction in having silenced him, and at the same time wished he would speak again, and say more of what he read.

By and by my wish came true. "This is dull as river rock," he said. "No wonder your father wishes me to try my hand at it. I wager I can liven it a little."

I almost told him I would take that wager, but managed to keep a latch upon my tongue.

Then he said, "What book is that?" And without waiting for my reply he continued, "You read more than anyone I ever saw."

"Not more than my father."

"He is a man — and a bookseller."

"I am a bookseller as well."

He did not contradict me, but smiled in a pitying way that made me want to pull the hairs from his moustache. "When I have my own shop I will not sell such things as this," he said. "There is too much risk of offense."

"Not every bookseller has courage enough to speak the truth," I allowed.

But he did not rise to my bait. "A merchant must always be prudent if he expects to stay in business." I made no reply, and he continued, "When I have my own shop I will not sell so many plays and verses."

"Because few buy them, I suppose?"

"To be sure."

"Yet someone must publish them."

"Someone always will. And you, if you had the running of a bookshop, what would you sell there?"


Excerpted from A True and Faithful Narrative by Katherine Sturtevant. Copyright © 2006 Katherine Sturtevant. Excerpted by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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A True and Faithful Narrative 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 5 reviews.
joririchardson on LibraryThing 3 months ago
This book has a very vivid, realistic historical setting. Great characters and a very interesting plot. It is the sequel to "At the Sign of the Star" but can be read alone as well.I loved this book, it is sweet and endearing. Really good book!
abbylibrarian on LibraryThing 5 months ago
In this sequel to At the Sign of the Star, we find our heroine Meg at 16 years old and trying to decide if she wants to marry (and if so, who?). Her inheritance has been lost with the birth of her young half-brother, so Meg knows that she'll have the best chance of the life she wants if she marries a bookseller... But then there's also the brother of her best friend. Edward made his interest known before he was to set sail for a business trip. Meg, surprised and not knowing what to say, made a joke about him being captured by pirates so she could write his story... Then when Edward really is captured by pirates, Meg feels it's on her head to raise his ransom... Another great historical novel with great characters. Meg is a totally spunky girl, but the supporting characters are well-developed, too. I'd recommend both Sturtevant's books to the young writers in your life.
marnattij on LibraryThing 5 months ago
16-year-old Meg yearns to be a writer. She reads extensively and writes as often as she can, neither of which are easy for a girl in 17th century England. Courted by two men, Meg makes a fleeting comment that one of them be captured by pirates so he'll have an interesting tale to tell. When that is precisely what happens, Meg realizes the true power of words and the uses them to redeem herself. Sequel to At the Sign of the Star. Great historical fiction that gives flavor of the period. Many details are included but they do not bog down the story at all. Gentle romance for younger readers.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I have read this book as an assignment for my world lit class. Expecting it to be very boring, I was very surprised this is one of the best books I have ever read. The detail and setting is amazing, following the love story and her struggles is very interesting.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago