The Schoolmaster’s Daughter — Episode 07

LOUISA wasn’t sure how much comfort she’d been to them but hoped her visit had helped them in some way.

She wasn’t prepared for what came next. At the last house of the terraced row, the door was opened by a middle-aged woman with a kindly face who showed them into the small front room.

“Good morning, Mrs Jevcott,” Mrs Townsend said. “How are you? Has Martha recovered from her fever?”

As Mrs Jevcott went to move a pile of garments from one of the chairs the doctor’s wife waved her hand.

“Please don’t let us disturb your work. We can both easily stand and I see that you’re busy.”

“Thank you – indeed, I am. That’s one blessing.”

Mrs Jevcott gave a warm smile as she sat down and continued to sew the shirt that she was mending.

Her own clothing, though worn, looked well cared for and the room was clean and neat.

“May I introduce Louisa Marchington,” Mrs Townsend said as they stood on the rag rug before the fireplace.

“Pleased to meet you, Miss Marchington.” Mrs Jevcott sighed. “Martha is much better, thank you. She’s just secured a position as a housemaid at Limes Place and my Ellen has settled into married life, but I do worry about the two youngest boys. I don’t want them to fall into bad company but they’re always out on the street when they’re not at school and goodness only knows what they get up to.”

Louisa was startled to hear a pony and cart pull up outside.

“That will be George,” his mother said.

Before Louisa had time to fully compose herself, George was crossing the threshold with a cottage loaf in his hand.

He seemed equally shocked to find Louisa standing in his front room.

“I don’t have much time to do my own baking when I have a lot of sewing to do,” Mrs Jevcott explained. “So George buys a loaf and drops it off when he’s out making deliveries.”

Willing her voice not to tremble, Louisa turned to him.

“Doesn’t Mr Knibb pay you in bread as part of your wages?”

George smiled ruefully.

“Not even stale bread. Nor does he lower his prices for me. He doesn’t seem to apply the same rules to Mr Cronk, though, on the grounds that he lives at the shop so it comes under bed and board.

I have to make all the leftovers up into a bread pudding each day but Mrs Knibb doesn’t share that with me, either.”

“Now don’t go complaining to your master,” Mrs Jevcott chided him gently. “Be off with you before your other customers complain you’ve kept them waiting.”

As he took his leave, George’s gaze lingered for a moment in Louisa’s direction. Then he was gone and the sound of Alfie’s hooves faded away.

“They seem like a nice family, the Jevcotts,” Louisa said to Mrs Townsend as they walked back through the town.

“Yes, they are. Sergeant Jevcott is a hard worker and a stalwart of the Rifle Volunteers. I believe George, who you met just now, was somewhat wayward as a child, but he seems to have become a fine young man. He just needs to stay out of trouble, complete his apprenticeship and then settle down with a good wife.”

Louisa stopped herself from saying this wasn’t the first time that she had talked to George.

She wasn’t sure what Mrs Townsend might think or whether she might mention it to Aunt Charlotte. Especially as their previous conversation had been unchaperoned.

And even more especially considering the thrill and fear she felt inside at the thought of George taking a wife.

She was still turning it over in her mind that night, when sleep wouldn’t come.

* * * *

As dawn broke Louisa rose and splashed cold water on her face from the china jug on the washstand.

She told her reflection in the mirror to come to her senses. A young man’s fancy might turn to romance in the spring, but she was a headmaster’s daughter and had to keep her mind on higher things.

She threw open the curtains. The golden glow in the morning sky seemed brighter than normal.

Listening for birdsong and the sounds of the town coming to life, she heard voices shouting in the distance. Then she saw a plume of thick, black smoke.

It curled upwards and billowed menacingly across the rooftops and chimneypots. One of the shops in Market Street was on fire.

An icy chill gripped her heart.

“Please God, no!”

She dressed and ran into the corridor. Edith’s bedroom door was still firmly shut but downstairs her father was already putting on his coat and hat.

“Papa, did you see the smoke and flames?” Louise asked as she frantically buttoned her boots and grabbed her gloves.

“I did.” Edward opened the door. “Come, we may be of some use if we hurry.”

By the time they reached Market Street, the way ahead was blocked by onlookers and others who had come to help.

There was a good deal of shouting and above the human voices came the sound of horses whinnying.

“Alfie!” Louisa cried as she followed her father through the crowd.

“There’ll be more than a few hot cross buns in there by now!” one wag at the front shouted. “Toast, anyone?”

As Louisa had feared, Knibb’s Bakery was on fire. The flames were rising towards the sky from the back of the building. The local fire engine had already arrived and the firemen were dousing the flames as best they could with the hose.


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!