LAST night I dreamed I was a child again and my father a young man. The great hall was lit with candles and the first dance had begun.
The ladies’ dresses rustled as they spun, laughing, to the music.
I awoke, still with the lingering scent of burning beeswax in my memory.
The room was cold, the girl not yet having lit a fire in the hearth, and I shivered. It took a moment to realise where I was. Not at my childhood home but at Mrs Bidens’s house in an unfashionable part of London.
She was a dear friend of my mother and had kindly taken me in until I could find my feet. I dressed without the help of a maid and was pleased to manage the task with not too many difficulties.
It reminded me that I must have fortitude and learn quickly, for my life had changed almost overnight.
Downstairs, Mrs Bidens was already up. She was dressed in her usual black bombazine with a lace cap covering her grey hair.
We sat together for breakfast although I could find very little appetite. Today I had to leave this sanctuary and travel north into the unknown.
For now, I took a little toast and eggs.
Mrs Bidens looked concerned.
“I wish I could keep you here,” she said. “I’m so sorry you have to leave.”
The truth was, she wasn’t wealthy. She owned a modest house left to her by her husband and had a meagre income. It was not enough to support two women.
No, I knew it was essential that I earn my living.
“If only your father . . .” her voice trailed away.
“It wasn’t his fault.” I was quick to defend him. “The accounts and the running of the estate had got quite out of hand before he realised his factor was so unreliable.”
“What a pity everything had to be sold. Your uncle seemed adamant that the house must go, too, to pay off the debts.”
“Yes, the house has been sold. Uncle Timothy had no intention of living there, in
any case. He much prefers the London social life.”
“Perhaps if you had had your debutante season . . .”
Again Mrs Bidens found it difficult to complete what she wanted to say.
She blamed my father for my situation.
What she didn’t know − couldn’t know − was what a kind and loving father he had been to me.
He may have failed to provide me with a coming-out ball or a London season to hunt for a husband but in all other ways he had been the perfect parent. He had been so engrossed in his studies that he hadn’t seen that I had grown up.
To be honest, I didn’t miss the social whirl my friends had enjoyed. Being of a shy, retiring nature, I was happy to stay at home with Papa and help him gather his shells and plants in the countryside nearby.
But Papa had been dead a year. A long year, in which I had lived with my Aunt Lucy and Uncle Timothy.
I was not made welcome. Indeed, it was made plain to me that I was a burden to them.
When the legal knot surrounding Chelmley Wood had finally been unravelled, my uncle took me aside and told me that I had to find work. I could no longer stay with them.
So, here I was, with dear Mrs Bidens. It had been wonderful staying these last few weeks with her.
I had never known my mama, but Mrs Bidens had been able to tell me stories about her and the fun the two friends had shared growing up.
What a contrast she was to Aunt Lucy’s sour face and bitter tongue.
“I do hope this position works out for you,” my dear friend was saying.
I pulled myself away from my musings and back to the present moment.
“I’m sure it will do very nicely,” I said with a smile, though all the while my stomach flipped painfully.
“I haven’t seen Anne for many a year but her granddaughter is of an age now to need a governess. I see God’s hand in this, for you must have a place to live and work.”
She patted my hand.
“Bowerly Hall is a gorgeous house, if a little . . . isolated. That part of Yorkshire is rather exposed to the weather, mind you. You must be sure to wrap up warmly.
Summer is almost done.”
“And what of the child’s father? What of the viscount himself, my new employer?”
Mrs Bidens frowned.
“I remember him as a boy being rather solemn, but of the man he has grown into, I cannot say. He is a widower, as you know. I daresay he finds it rather difficult looking after a small child of seven. Which is lucky for you, my dear. As Mary’s governess, you will have a position at Bowerly Hall and a roof over your head for a few years. A measure of security for a long while.”
And after that? I could not think further than my new life at Bowerly.
What life would bring when Mary was grown, I had no idea. For the moment I would have employment, board and lodgings and a small monthly salary.