At Bowerly Hall – 10

A FEW days later, Mary and I went to visit Sarah and Charlotte. The vicarage was a pleasant rambling house built of grey Yorkshire stone. Sarah looked pleased to see us as she welcomed us inside.

The interior reminded me sharply of Chelmley Wood. My throat constricted and it was a moment before I could speak. The rooms were of shabby elegance and there were books everywhere.

The atmosphere evoked my dear father. My sense of loss was intense. It took Sarah’s gentle guiding hand to bring me back to the present day.

“Will you take a seat, Amelia? I’ll call for tea. Charlotte, you may take Mary with you to the nursery and show her your toys.”

“Thank you.” I managed a smile.

“Are you all right?” Sarah asked. “You’re rather pale.”

“I’m fine, really. It’s just that your home reminds me of mine. Or rather my old home where I grew up.”

“And these are sad memories?”

“No, they’re all happy, but I miss it and I miss my dear departed father. Forgive me, Sarah, I have no wish to bring a gloom to your day.”

“Not at all,” she said, “I completely understand. I’m so sorry you lost your father. I suppose that is why you are now a governess.” I nodded.

“Yes, my circumstances were such that there was no alternative. I had to find work. I’ve been very lucky to find a place at Bowerly Hall.”

“Still, it’s hard work looking after a lively child. I love my little sister with all my heart but she exhausts me some days.”

“Charlotte’s your sister?” I asked in surprise.

“Yes, of course. Why? Did you think she was mine?” Sarah laughed.

I blushed. That was exactly what I had thought. It hadn’t occurred to me that Sarah might still be unwed at her age.

Thinking about it now, it made perfect sense. She had told me she cared for her father at the vicarage. She had made no mention of caring for a husband, too.

“There is a large age gap between Charlotte and me,” Sarah said. “My poor mother had eight children, but Charlotte and I are the only survivors.”

“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to pry,” I told her.

“Please don’t apologise, I should have introduced us properly that day at the meadow. Any misunderstanding is entirely my fault.”

She smiled mischievously.

“You really think I’m old enough to be mother to an eight-year-old?”

“Oh!” My fingers flew to cover my mouth. How rude of me. Sarah could barely be more than twenty-two, like myself.

“I’m teasing you, Amelia, it’s quite all right. I’m flattered you think I’d make a good mother. I hope very much one day to be one when I do get married.”

“Are you – do you have someone in mind?” I seemed incapable of making polite conversation today!

Sarah took it in her stride. She was very relaxed and I realised that we were chatting like old friends rather than two young women who barely knew each other. I felt myself slowly relax, too.

She flushed prettily at my question.

“My father has a curate, a Mr James Smith. He is a very kind and gentle man.”

“You have feelings for him?”

“There is no understanding of that nature between us,” she said quickly, “but, yes, I hold him in very high regard.”

The prettiness of her features, lit up with describing him, made me think he was a lucky man. I hoped there would be a happy future for them.

“What about you?” Sarah asked. “Is there anyone special?”

“Not at all,” I said with a rueful smile.

“My father and I led a quiet life at Chelmley Wood and we didn’t have many visitors. It wasn’t possible to make the acquaintance of any young men. If I had gone to London it might have been different but that didn’t happen.

“I have never regretted it. I enjoyed being with my father and roaming the countryside. If I had a husband he might have forbidden me my freedom.”

“That depends very much on the husband one chooses,” Sarah said tartly.

For some reason, an image of Viscount Bowerly flashed before me. His brooding good looks and piercing blue eyes.

What kind of husband had he been? It wouldn’t have surprised me if he’d kept his wife imprisoned in a tower. He was a mysterious, dangerous sort of man.

The tea and cakes had arrived and Sarah busied herself pouring the liquid into delicate teacups and offering a plate of small cream fancies.

“How do you like Bowerly Hall?” she asked, once we both had tea and cakes.

“Lady Anne is lovely, don’t you find?”

“I am beginning to find my feet at the Hall,” I said. “Lady Anne has made me most welcome. Not everyone is quite so pleasant.”

She raised her eyebrows in surprise and I told her about Mrs Dane and Mrs Bell, but made sure to say how friendly Peggy was.

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!