At Bowerly Hall – 05

MY charge was a clever child, quick to understand and to remember all that I taught her. She had a talent for art and I felt that she could improve to a good standard if she applied herself well to our painting lessons.

I looked up to see that it was midday and the sun was shining brightly outside.

“Let us wash our brushes and tidy up, then we’ll have a walk outside for some fresh air,” I said.

Mary looked worried.

“I’m not allowed to play outside.”

“What nonsense! It will do you good.”

I wanted to add that she stood in need of a bloom of roses in her cheeks but stopped myself.

“Besides, we won’t be playing, but rather walking which is very good for both the body and the mind.”

She still looked unconvinced. She bit at her lower lip as if she was about to cry.

“Mary, what is it?” I asked as my heart went out to her.

I put my arm around her thin shoulders and felt her shake.

“Come, tell me what is bothering you. I shall put it right.”

“Nanny said only naughty girls go outside. She said that proper young ladies must stay in and be good and still and silent. I know I was often naughty. Nanny said my mama would not have liked me.”

I gasped. What a terrible thing to say to a young child who was motherless!

I gathered her in closer. She rubbed at her wet eyes until I found my handkerchief and urged her to use it.

“I have never met your nanny but I know for certain that your mother loved you. Every mother loves her child, no matter what they do. Don’t you think that your mama is watching you from heaven? She knows you to be a lovely girl who is clever and quick with a good heart.”

Mary peeped up at me shyly.

I wanted to find Mrs Smith and shake the woman for her evil words. I doubted that Mary’s father would have known what was going on − or Lady Anne. There was no-one to tell them.

“We shall put on our coats and take a short walk,” I said firmly. “Some pure, fresh air will do us good. Remember, Mary, I am now in charge of you, and I want you to be as happy and industrious as you can be. That will please your grandmamma and your father very much.”

Mary managed a smile. I helped her on with her soft blue velvet coat and matching bonnet. She clutched at me tightly and my chest warmed.

I was already fond of my charge. Her light blonde hair was very pretty and her brown eyes had lost their tears. I wondered if she took after her mother in looks.

We walked from the back of the house, across the formal lawn and through the walled kitchen garden until we were out on to the meadows I had glimpsed from the nursery window.

The air smelled sweet with the fading blooms of campion and knapweed.

Mary soon livened up enough to skip beside me. It was a fair stretch between Bowerly Hall and the sea but I enjoyed the exercise and the sense of freedom.

Here I could, for a moment, forget the tensions of the house and its staff.

Although, glancing back I noticed a face at the window on the second storey. Whoever it was stepped back quickly. I did not know if it was a man or a woman, family or servant.

I soon forgot my unease as a light breeze ruffled our skirts and Mary laughed and tried to catch the falling leaves from the scattered trees.

Ahead of us were two figures.

As we neared I saw one was a young woman, perhaps my age or slightly older. The other was a child.

Mary hesitated when the girl turned and waved. I pushed the small of her back gently.

“Go,” I said. “A playmate is waiting.” Mary shook her head.

“I’m not allowed to play with the village children. If I see them when we go to church, I must turn my head away.”

I sighed. No doubt this was Nanny’s stern advice once more.

“There can be no harm in being nice to this girl,” I said. “Besides, I shall be right behind you. Go on, now.”

Reluctantly, she walked forward.

The other child ran to her. She had a red ball and began to throw it high in the air and catch it. Every time she did so, she giggled.

Mary watched until the girl threw it to her. She caught it nimbly and soon they were laughing and playing together.

The young woman approached me, smiling shyly.

“Good afternoon. I’m Sarah Wyckham, from the vicarage. You must be Miss Mary’s new governess.”

News travelled fast, I supposed, in small places like Bowerly.

“Yes, I’m Amelia Thorne. Pleased to make your acquaintance.”

Sarah was taller than me, with brown hair just visible under a large bonnet. Her clothes were neat and clean but not fashionable. I didn’t judge her on this.

My own clothes would soon lose their modishness. I could hardly afford new fabric nor a dressmaker to make me gowns.

“Are you going to the beach?” Sarah asked.

“I had thought to do so, but it’s further away than it looks from the house.”

“Do be careful of the cliff edge,” she warned. “The meadows end rather suddenly and there is no wall nor hedge between the grass edge, and a very long drop down to the rocks.”

I shuddered and realised I would be compelled to keep a good grip on Mary if we ventured so far.

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!