- 9. The Schoolmaster’s Daughter — Episode 09
- 10. The Schoolmaster’s Daughter — Episode 10
- 11. The Schoolmaster’s Daughter — Episode 11
- 12. The Schoolmaster’s Daughter — Episode 12
- 13. The Schoolmaster’s Daughter — Episode 13
- 14. The Schoolmaster’s Daughter — Episode 14
- 15. The Schoolmaster’s Daughter — Episode 15
IT was agreed that Stephen would live in the schoolhouse while he settled in before looking for lodgings. Louisa told him the history of the town and gave him advice on the best place to buy books, writing paper and ink.
In the evenings, while she sat drawing, she enjoyed listening to Stephen and Edward discussing school matters. It all helped to take her mind off George Jevcott.
One afternoon, when classes had ended for the day, Stephen asked Louisa to go with him to a bootmaker’s shop that her father had recommended.
“I’m not yet familiar with all of the backstreets,” he explained.
Edith gave her sister a quizzical look when she agreed to show him the way but Louisa considered the assistant schoolmaster to be a suitable chaperone. If anyone else thought otherwise, that was their lookout.
Their route took them past the nail factory. By the time they were on the way back, the day’s shift had just ended and the factory workers were spilling out into the street, a heaving mass of grey caps, worn faces and tired limbs.
“We should cross to the other side.” Stephen checked there were no carts or cabs approaching before stepping off the pavement.
Louisa was just about to follow him when someone roughly elbowed her aside, almost causing her to lose her balance. Trying to steady herself, she grabbed the jacket sleeve of another factory worker.
As he turned to face her, she gasped.
“Miss Marchington!” George looked as if she had caught him committing a crime instead of doing an honest day’s work.
“Is this your new place of employment?”
“Yes, I, er, my father managed to put in a good word for me,” he stammered.
A few of his workmates turned to stare as they pushed past. George’s face began to redden and she realised she had once again embarrassed him.
He tipped his cap.
“Please excuse me, my mother will have dinner waiting.”
With that, he was swept away in the crowd, many of whom were heading towards the public house.
Louisa crossed the road to join Stephen with a heavy heart. So George hadn’t left town; that was some consolation.
But he didn’t look happy and the chances of getting to know him better seemed more remote than ever.
* * * *
It was a Monday evening in May and the schoolroom was about three-quarters full. Most of those at the public meeting were men but Louisa also wanted to hear her father speak. She sat next to Stephen, near the front.
Edward Marchington was sitting behind a long table with several other speakers. There was an air of anticipation as everyone waited for the meeting to start.
People talked in low voices and rustled papers, standing or moving aside now and then to let latecomers fill the empty spaces.
At seven o’clock precisely Edward stood up and the room fell silent.
“Good evening, gentlemen,” he said. “And, er, ladies. As announced, we’re here to consider a proposal to start up a new kind of business in our town. One that would enable local people to buy essential goods at fair prices and reward loyalty.
“It is with great pleasure that I introduce our first speaker, Mr Sparrow, who will explain in more detail how this works.”
Louisa listened with rapt attention as the speaker, a wiry man with thinning grey hair and a northern accent, described how similar shops had already started up in other towns with some success.
“The idea is to raise capital to fund the business by offering shares at one pound each,” he explained. “This makes it possible for working men to become shareholders.”
The audience clapped politely as he sat down at the end of his speech and the vicar was introduced. He described the hardships faced by some parishioners which had been exacerbated by the long, harsh winter.
Dr Townsend, who spoke next, talked about the effects of poor nutrition on people’s health.
As chairman, Edward summarised their arguments.
“Surely even the poorest in our community should be able to buy a loaf of bread,” he concluded.
As heads nodded in agreement, there came a shout from the back of the room.
“What about the bakers? Don’t they deserve a fair price for their labours?”
“And the butchers!” someone else shouted. “Do you plan to put traders out of business? What about loyalty to us?”
Edward gestured for them to calm down.
“Gentlemen. We do not intend to put anyone out of business. I’m sure there will be enough custom for everyone.”