At Bowerly Hall – 02

THERE were tears on both sides as I boarded the train to York. I waved until Mrs Bidens’s figure grew tiny and vanished from sight.

Then I was truly alone. The knowledge of this gripped me and my throat tightened painfully.

The mournful hoot of the steam engine echoed my feelings.

To distract myself, I unpacked the basket Mrs Bidens had given me to see what food there was for lunch.

It was an odd thought that, by the time I ate it, I would be far away from London, far away from the familiar south. Chelmley Wood, nestled in the gentle South Downs, flashed in front of my eyes, until I put it from me firmly.

That part of my life was finished. Now I had to look ahead to the north.

My bones ached by the time I finished my journey. First the train, with its smoky taste of coal and ever-rattling windows, then the crowded stagecoach and finally a lift on a farmer’s cart.

The old man tipped his hat as I clambered off, my luggage at my feet. Soon he, too, was out of sight.

I was glad of my thick layers of petticoats. The wind was whipping up around me, a few early autumn leaves twirling in the air. I hugged my shawl closer.

Ahead of me, through the hedgerows and the gathering dusk, I saw Bowerly Hall.

It was a great grey block of a house, a sombre square looming over the fields beyond. No finesse, no charming curlicues of stone carvings nor Grecian columns. A plain, sturdy northern abode.

Such were my thoughts as I picked up my bags and walked towards it.

There had been unsettling talk amongst the stagecoach travellers. When they heard where I was heading, I had spotted raised eyebrows and a few exchanged glances.

One woman, a lively gossiping type, told me why. Apparently there had been a spate of thefts in the county.

When I remarked that I couldn’t see how that would affect me, her gaze slid quickly away.

I felt it to be a nonsense. She was the sort who liked drama, I decided.

When I reached the house, I had a dilemma. Was I to enter through the front door? Or was I to present myself at the servants’ entrance?

To be a governess was to be neither fish nor fowl. It would be down to the family and how they perceived me.

I hoped very much to be accepted by all within Bowerly.

Luckily, as I hesitated, a small figure came running out of the main door. It was a little girl, quite thin and pale-faced, but her eyes sparkled and she had a wide smile for me.

“You must be Mary,” I said.

Her mouth opened in surprise.

“How did you know that? I know that you are Miss Amelia Thorne because my grandmamma has told me. Will you come inside with me and meet her?”

She took my hand with sweet childish confidence and so I was drawn inside the rather gloomy house. A footman took my luggage and indicated I should go to a room immediately to my left.

Mary led the way. My heart was pounding with nerves, but I needn’t have worried. The dowager viscountess rose from her chair and came towards me with a welcoming smile.

“Amelia, how lovely to see you at last. Hannah Bidens didn’t do you justice when she wrote with her descriptions. You are a very attractive young woman. You are very like your mother. Except she was a little taller, I think.”

“You met my mother?” I whispered. I couldn’t believe my luck. Perhaps Lady Anne would have stories to tell me.

“Indeed I did. It was many years ago, of course, when I went visiting with Hannah. Your mother was her playmate and the three of us had a merry time.

“But we can talk of this later. Right now I must call for tea. You look exhausted. Come and sit with me.”

“Will there be cake?” Mary piped up smartly.

Lady Anne looked at her sternly but there was a twinkle in her gaze that told me she was fond of the child.

“It is past your bedtime, Mary. You may stay for a moment to greet Miss Amelia and have a tiny slice of cake but then you must go upstairs before your papa returns.”

At the mention of her father, Mary looked rather frightened.

I felt my stomach twinge. What kind of man was he? Would he be happy that I was here?

It was vital that I keep this job. I had nowhere else to go.

I touched the cameo brooch at my throat. It was my talisman. My mother had left it in her will to me for when I came of age.

It was one of the few things Papa had remembered to carry out correctly. On my eighteenth birthday I had received the brooch and a few pieces of her jewellery.

I prayed I would never need to sell them.


Tracey Steel

Having worked on a number of magazines over the years, Tracey has found her perfect place on The Friend as she’s obsessed with reading and never goes anywhere without a book! She reads all the PF stories with a mug of tea close by and usually a bit of strong cheese too!