The Schoolmaster’s Daughter — Episode 09

GEORGE’S parents came to the school house as soon as they could and expressed their grateful thanks to the Marchingtons.

The police constable also called, wanting to interview George about the fire, but the doctor insisted that he needed to rest and wasn’t to be disturbed any more just yet.

Edith was practising the piano in the drawing-room when Louisa asked her to stop as George was sleeping.

“Mr Knibb’s apprentice is staying here?” she asked, quietly closing the piano lid. “So is he a hero? Or did he start the fire, as the police seem to think he might have done?

“Was he trying to murder the baker and that awful man we saw with the sacks of flour?”

“So many questions, little sister,” Louisa said, sinking into a chair. “I’m certain he did not set fire to the bakery and, yes, he is a hero for risking his own life to save the baker’s pony.”

Aunt Charlotte huffed loudly as she went past the open doorway.

“Another of your father’s waifs and strays. Well, I won’t be waiting on him hand and foot. Matilda can see to him from now on.” Louisa felt sick at the thought of Matilda, the pretty housemaid, going into George’s bedroom and speaking to him alone.

“Aunt Charlotte, I could . . .”

But her aunt was already out of earshot.

Perched on the piano stool, Edith leaned forward, a mischievous grin on her face.

“You could what, exactly? My, you do have a soft spot for him, don’t you?” Louisa jutted out her chin.

“I just want to be helpful.”

Picking up her sketch pad and pencils she sat down again but found it hard to concentrate on her drawing whenever she heard Matilda’s footsteps passing by on her way to George’s room.

Matilda was fifteen with rosy cheeks and a cheerful manner. She came from a large family, with several older brothers, and took this task in her stride.

Louisa felt that she was more relaxed about it than she was when asked to look after more distinguished guests. As Aunt Charlotte had said, though, Louisa’s father did invite people of all ranks to stay as the need arose.

On the second day, the police constable came back and spent half an hour questioning George about the fire.

Louisa knew the conversation would have tired him and that she must bide her time.

The following day, Dr Townsend pronounced that George was making a steady recovery.

“It helped that he was in the stable rather than the main building,” the doctor told Louisa in the hallway after he had examined George during his morning rounds. “He’s also a very strong young man, used to physical exertion.”

“Was he asking after Alfie?”

“Yes and I was pleased to be able to say that the pony is also recovering well from his ordeal. He’s in good hands with my stable boy.”

The doctor put on his hat.

“Now, Miss Marchington, I have a busy schedule and must bid you good day.”

Louisa had letters to write and decided to do so at the small desk in her bedroom.

Soon George would be up and about. Perhaps she could show him the garden, full of spring flowers. She worked at her correspondence until it was time for lunch.

As Louisa opened her bedroom door, she saw Matilda coming up the stairs carrying a tray. The maid was humming as she walked past.

Matilda took the tray into George’s room, leaving the door slightly ajar. Louisa waited, expecting her to come back out after a few moments, but there was clearly some delay.

She heard George say something she couldn’t quite catch, then both George and Matilda laughed out loud.

At last the girl came out and closed the door. Louisa thought that her face was more flushed than usual, and felt her own cheeks start to burn.

Was she jealous of the little maid? That would never do. Louisa took a deep breath to compose herself then went downstairs for her own lunch, though she had lost her appetite.

She had a social call to make in the afternoon but was back in her bedroom by the time Matilda came up with the tea tray. Before she knew what she was doing, Louisa rushed out and took the tray from the maid’s hands.

“I’ll deal with this, Matilda.”

Surprised, the maid hesitated. Then she gave a brief bob.

“Yes, miss.”

The tray was laden with slices of bread and butter, jelly, blancmange and a small pot of tea. Cook had obviously tried to make it look tempting.

Not having acquired the skills to be a good servant, Louisa struggled to open the door while holding the tray, but eventually managed it and entered the bedroom. George was already sitting upright in anticipation of refreshment. He was wearing a nightshirt sent from home and his dark curls fell around his face.

As he stared at her, Louisa’s knees began to knock. George was the first to speak.

“Good afternoon, Miss Marchington. This is a pleasant surprise.”

“Please, call me Louisa.”

She advanced towards him cautiously, fearful that the tray would slip from her shaking hands at any moment.

“How are you feeling now?”

“Much better, thank you.” George straightened the bedcovers. “I’m very grateful for all your family has done. Your father’s kindness and generosity, your aunt’s ministrations. And Matilda has been so helpful. Is it her afternoon off?”

Louisa set the tray down on the bed with a bump.

“Doctor Townsend told me you were much recovered so I thought you might appreciate some company. May I?” She gestured to a chair beside the bed, George smiled.

“Of course, it is your home, after all. Although you looked quite at home in my little house the other day.”

Louisa blushed as she sat down.

“That wasn’t my idea, although I was very pleased to meet your mother. Sadly my own mother is no longer with us. I help out with the Townswomen’s Committee. We raise money for good causes and organise bazaars and concerts, that sort of thing. We’re making exciting plans for the Jubilee celebrations in June.”

George looked glum as he picked up his spoon.

“Maybe I’ll be more excited about it nearer the time but I don’t feel like celebrating anything at the moment. I was looking forward to completing my apprenticeship but the fire has put paid to that as far as my contract with Mr Knibb is concerned. I can’t afford to wait until they find new premises or rebuild the old shop.” He attacked his food angrily.

“And they’re trying to blame me! Can you believe that? Cronk told the police constable that I was in the bakehouse when the fire broke out. That much is true. But he should have been there, watching the bread, and where was he? Upstairs asleep – and that’s where the fire started. If you ask me, either Cronk or one of the Knibbs knocked a candle over.”


Tracey Steel

Having worked on a number of magazines over the years, I have found my perfect place on the “Friend” as I’m obsessed with reading and never go anywhere without a book! I read all of our stories with a mug of tea close by and usually a bit of strong cheese too!