The Schoolmaster’s Daughter — Episode 10

CHOKING with indignation, George started to cough. Louisa instinctively put out her hand and patted him on the back.

As he leaned forward, exposing his bare neck, she could feel his warm body through the thin material of his nightshirt. Shocked by the unexpected intimacy, she pulled her hand away.

Composing himself, George looked sheepish.

“That’ll teach me for letting temper get the better of me. My apologies, Miss Marchington.”

“Louisa,” she said firmly.

George raised an eyebrow.

“Isn’t it funny? My employers insist I call them Mr and Mrs Knibb but do nothing to earn my respect. You, whom I respect naturally, ask me to call you by your Christian name.”

“You didn’t have any qualms referring to Matilda by her Christian name.”

“I’ve known her since we were children. Joseph, one of her brothers, is a particular friend of mine.”

He paused to eat a mouthful of pink blancmange, then licked his lips.

“You mentioned your mother. What happened to her, if I may ask?”

“She died in childbirth long before we moved here.” Louisa lowered her eyes. “So poor Edith never knew her and I hardly remember her at all. I just remember her comforting presence and soft reassuring voice as she sang me a lullaby.”

“A lovely memory to have,” George said. “I’m sure your mother would be proud of you – and Miss Edith. Of course you must do what is expected of a woman in your position, as I must do my duty and find work to relieve my parents of the burden of providing for me. Then, in time, I hope to be able to provide for a wife and family of my own.” Louisa hardly dared to meet his gaze.

“You have someone in mind?”

George finished eating, drank the last of the tea and put down his cup.

“No. Apart from my sisters’ friends, the only time I meet women is when I deliver bread. Half the time the cook is old enough to be my mother! I’m not walking out with anyone yet.”

They were both silent for a moment.

“I expect you’ll marry a lawyer or maybe a doctor, like Mrs Townsend,” he said.

Now Louisa did look at him – those warm brown eyes, chiselled jaw and crimson mouth. What would it be like to be kissed by his lips, she wondered.

“I hope to marry for love. All he needs to be is a good man with a kind heart. He could be a doctor or equally a miner, a farm labourer or . . .”

“A baker?” George smiled ruefully.

“Whoever you marry, Miss Louisa Marchington, will be a lucky man. But I doubt he’ll be a baker, or anyone who works with his hands. That’s just not the way these things are done.” He sighed.

“Don’t be late for your own tea. Please don’t get into trouble on my account.”

Louisa stood up and collected the tray.

“Tomorrow I’ll show you the garden. You should have fresh air.”

As she closed the door behind her, Louisa was aware she was being watched.

Aunt Charlotte was frowning.

“Why were you in that young man’s bedroom unchaperoned? Why did Matilda not come for the tray?”

“I was conversing with our guest. And I don’t see the difference between me or Matilda fetching the tray unchaperoned.”

Louisa went downstairs with her chin lifted as her aunt replied in a raised voice.

“Matilda is a maid!”

There was a frosty atmosphere in the schoolhouse that evening. Out at one of his many meetings, Edward wasn’t there to lift the mood as he usually did.

Louisa retired to her room early and read, choosing Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë. She’d read it several times before and turned the pages to the romantic reunion following a fire, then fell asleep dreaming of walking in the garden with George.

She awoke to see sunlight streaming through the curtains. Perfect. She dressed with care, fastening a brooch that had belonged to her mother on her blouse, and made sure her hair was coiled tidily on the back of her head before leaving her room.

Louisa stopped suddenly and stared in disbelief. The door to the room where George had been sleeping was wide open and the bed had been stripped.

What had happened? Where had he gone?

She picked up her skirt and ran downstairs, knocking past Edith who had got there before her.

“You’re too late,” Edith said, flattening herself against the wall. “Aunt Charlotte sent him away.”

Louisa found her aunt sitting at the breakfast table.

“Where is our guest?” she demanded.

“He was clearly well enough to go home to his family.” Aunt Charlotte reached for a napkin. “He left first thing this morning.”


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!