The Schoolmaster’s Daughter — Episode 05

LOUISA was enjoying the easy nature of this unexpected conversation, although she wondered whether he was always this talkative.

If George spent as much time talking to each of his customers, no wonder it took him so long to complete his daily deliveries, incurring Mr Knibb’s wrath!

“Have you ever considered joining the Rifle Volunteers yourself?”

“Alas, my hours at the bakery make that kind of thing difficult, but it will be worth it if, one day, I become master of my own business.”

George turned his head to look at her.

“And you, miss, if I might be so bold, where might I have seen you before? Are you a lady’s maid at one of the big houses? Your face looks familiar.”

If the question had come from someone else Louisa might have been offended, but from George, smiling warmly as he waited for her answer, she found the directness disarming.

“Well, we did meet briefly yesterday at the bakery but you seemed a little distracted at the time,” she said slowly. “It’s possible you’ve also seen me at church. Or perhaps at the grammar school where my father, Edward Marchington, is headmaster.”

George looked thunderstruck.

“I’m so sorry, Miss Marchington. How could I have made such a terrible mistake? Please accept my apologies. I don’t know what I was thinking, blathering away to you like that.”

“Oh, it’s quite all right,” Louisa began as he brought the pony to a halt, clearly flustered. She felt dreadful for causing George to be embarrassed in front of her again.

It clearly wasn’t all right for George, though.

“Pleased to meet you, Miss Marchington, but now I must bid you good day.”

With a brief nod, George walked briskly to the back of the cart, took out a basket of bread and went through the nearby gate, leaving Louisa standing alone on the pavement.

Deflated, she turned back in the direction of the schoolhouse.

Was it so wrong for them to engage in conversation, she wondered. Did it matter that George came from a working family and she was the headmaster’s daughter?

It was only because her father had been born into a wealthy family that they were able to live comfortably on his salary. But then, that might make it even worse in George’s eyes.

She remembered Edith’s laughter from the day before. Why shouldn’t she marry a baker’s apprentice, if he was a good man? Really, Louisa couldn’t fathom it at all.

* * * *

On Sunday Louisa went with the rest of the household to the morning church service.

This being the first Sunday of the month, the town’s company of Rifle Volunteers were attending church parade. During the working week, these men were clerks, factory hands and railway porters.

Now they had swapped their ledgers, machines and luggage trollies for rifles, drums and bugles, which they carried proudly, their expressions gleaming as brightly as the buttons on their red jackets.

Walking past the line of soldiers, Louisa found herself wondering which of the non-commissioned officers was Sergeant Jevcott, George’s father. Although she was by no means an expert on military rank, Louisa recognised the three stripes that denoted a sergeant.

She could see at least two in the company. Neither looked like George. One sergeant was burly with a black, bushy moustache. The other man was of slighter build but carried himself with a quiet dignity.

As she drew level with him, Louisa saw that he had warm brown eyes. Just like George, she thought, taking her place in the family pew near the front.

While she waited for the service to start, she twisted around to see whether he was also sitting somewhere amidst the large congregation.

As she tried to peer through the forest of hats, with their extravagant decorations of feathers and flowers, she felt a prayer book rapping her knuckles.

“Louisa!” Aunt Charlotte hissed. “You should be setting a good example. Sit still!”

“I’m sorry, Aunt Charlotte.”

She turned to face the front and bowed her head.

Even though the vicar was a good preacher who spoke from the heart, Louisa found it hard to concentrate on the sermon.

It was when the members of the congregation were filing out at the end of the service that she saw a familiar figure silhouetted in the arched doorway, shafts of sunlight falling on his dark, curly hair as he replaced his cap. He was looking ahead, flanked by two women.

By the time Louisa had followed everyone else outside, her progress hampered by two elderly ladies in front who seemed to have all the time in the world, George was halfway down the path towards the road.

As his group passed beneath a broad oak tree, he glanced over his shoulder and looked right at her.

Hoping that Aunt Charlotte wasn’t watching, and with her heart racing, Louisa gave him a discreet smile.

George nodded and turned back to his companions who were busy chatting with each other.

The shorter woman looked old enough to be his mother. Louisa fervently hoped that the younger woman, now taking his arm, was George’s sister.

Just before the trio disappeared around the bend George once again looked back and this time he, too, smiled.

“What a beautiful morning!” Mrs Townsend exclaimed as she passed by with her husband, Dr Townsend.

“Yes, indeed it is,” Louisa agreed.


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!