At Bowerly Hall – 03

I HOPE you will be happy here, Amelia,” Lady Anne was saying. “Charles has left the organisation of a governess for Mary very much to me. He is busy with running the estate and breeding fine horses.

“You will teach Mary some reading, writing and arithmetic, of course. I would like her to learn to paint watercolours. Do you speak French?”

I nodded. I did indeed speak French and was glad that my father had educated me well. Besides French, I had a good knowledge of botany and geology from helping with his studies and I thought how nice it might be to teach Mary a little of those subjects on milder days in spring and summer.

I began to warm to my task. Hopefully tutoring would come easily to me.

“There is not much here in the way of entertainment for a young lady,” Lady Anne said. “I hope you won’t find living here too lonely. It is rather an out-of-the-way property but that is how Charles and I prefer to live. We go to London in the summers, of course, but you will stay here with Mary.”

I assured her that I would not be lonely and hoped that was true. I enjoyed reading and writing and country walks.

Once we had chatted, Mary was sent in the company of a maid upstairs and I was shown by the same footman to my rooms. There was a large bedroom which was to be mine.

It was prettily decorated in yellow and pale lemon and had a fireplace in which a small fire was crackling.

The window looked out to the back of the house and to the grey sea in the near distance. It would be fun to take Mary down to the beach, I decided. She was such a sickly-looking child, some fresh air would be of benefit.

An adjoining door linked my bedroom to a pleasant sitting-room. Again, a lit fire graced the room and made it cosy. I could imagine myself spending quiet hours here with embroidery or books, or perhaps entertaining a friend, should I make any.

At that moment there was a knock on the door. I called out to whoever it was to come in.

A tall, thickset woman in middle age appeared.

“Miss Thorne? I am Mrs Dane, the housekeeper. I came to introduce myself and tomorrow you can meet the rest of the staff.”

“How do you do, Mrs Dane,” I said politely and extended my hand to shake hers.

She seemed awkward. Was it my cultured accent that put her off? Had she been expecting a girl of lower birth?

I was keen to put her at ease.

“I haven’t met Viscount Bowerly yet. What is he like?”

If I had hoped to relax her, it had the opposite effect. She pursed her lips as if she’d say nothing, and then made a visible attempt to be at ease.

“Lord Bowerly is a good employer. He is fair in his dealings with the staff and that is all we need to know.”

I felt I had been rebuffed and put firmly in my place. I wasn’t sure what to say next.

“You will wish to take your meals in your sitting-room.” Mrs Dane filled the silence. “I will arrange that with Cook. Do you have everything you need?”

I opened my mouth to protest. I did not want to take my meals in my room. I wanted to eat in company.

Yet she had made it quite clear that I was expected to do so.

“Yes, thank you, Mrs Dane, I have all I could ask for.”

She nodded swiftly and left me there, shutting the door on her exit.

Mrs Dane’s words reminded me that I had not had any dinner. It was dark outside and rather late. There was a bell to pull to summon a servant but I didn’t dare to use it. No, I would walk downstairs and find the cook instead.

There was no-one about as I trod softly down the stairs. I had no idea where the servants’ hall was and my intention was to explore the ground floor until I found a staircase to it, or to ask the nearest footman.

I didn’t want to intrude on Lady Anne. She had been kind to me but I knew I must not assume a familiarity which might not exist.

I had stepped out into the wide hallway when a door was flung open nearby and a man came striding out. He hadn’t seen me and I saved myself by jumping backwards.

His onward movement halted and I stared up at him. He was so tall!

I was aware of two burning blue eyes ranging over me. He was dressed impeccably for dinner. Before he spoke, I knew that this must be Charles, Lord Bowerly.

“Forgive me,” he said in a clipped tone which rather indicated his disinterest in whether I did or not. “I did not see you there in the shadows.”

“It is of no matter,” I said, but my heart beat fast and my cheeks felt hot.

“You must be Miss Thorne, Mary’s new governess. My mother will have spoken with you?”

“Yes, thank you.”

I mouthed the words politely while I took surreptitious note of him. A strong jaw indicated determination and his shoulders a powerful physique.

“You will find Mary a healthy child with too much energy. I’m told she must be curbed for her own good. A strict education fit for a girl is what I wish you to provide, Miss Thorne.”

Healthy? She was far too white, and thin.

As for curbing her energy, what did this mean? Who had told him that?

“An education, at any rate.” I smiled, leaving out the word “strict”.

He frowned then, a dark glower which made me shrink back.

I sensed a dark aura around him. It made me afraid.

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!