The Schoolmaster’s Daughter — Episode 17


THE Marchingtons and Stephen then went back to the square in front of the town hall where tables covered in white cloth had been set out in long rows. The last of the chairs were just being pushed into place on either side.

Supervising the table decorations, Mrs Townsend thrust a box full of green ferns into Louisa’s arms.

“Miss Marchington, please would you be kind enough to put these into the empty vases down the centre of the last row of tables? The guests are already starting to arrive.”

They were coming from all directions, a thousand of the town’s poorest and oldest inhabitants. Some were eagerly sitting down with their plates and cutlery in anticipation of the promised meal while others nervously held back.

Stephen was guiding a frail old lady who walked with the aid of a stick.

“How on earth are the caterers going to serve so many before the food goes cold?” Louisa asked him.

“We’ll all help – and it looks like reinforcements have arrived.”

He gestured towards the Rifle Volunteers, who had just returned and soon swung into action.

As fast as the caterers delivered the cooked beef, potatoes and bread it was taken to the tables and served up by the great and good of the town, assisted by the Volunteers.

As the guests tucked in with gusto, a photographer set up his tripod and began to capture the happy scene for posterity.

No sooner had the last plateful of the first course been set down than the plum puddings came out.

Drinks were provided, too, and it was while Louisa was taking a brief respite in the shadow of the town hall that George came by, carrying a large jug of ale.

“Good afternoon, Miss Marchington. What a beautiful day.”

“Yes.” She put up her hand to shield her eyes from the glare of the midday sun. “My sister Edith has gone to fetch our parasols. I hope our guests are not too hot. I see some have brought their umbrellas to provide some shade.”

“I think they’re all just grateful for a hearty meal. I know my grandmother is.”

It was Louisa’s turn to be embarrassed. It hadn’t occurred to her that any of George’s relations might be there.

As she fumbled for the right reply, George saved her with a broad grin.

“She’s just been served her pudding by the mayor so now my grandmother thinks she’s the Queen herself.”

Relaxing, Louisa laughed.

“How delightful. It’s that kind of day, isn’t it?”

“Will you be going to the pleasure gardens later for the sports and entertainments?”

“We have the children’s tea first then, yes, we will be going. Edith has talked of little else for weeks.”

“Then perhaps I’ll see you there,” George said and went back to refilling glasses.

Louisa lingered for a while, watching the ease with which he chatted to everyone and the particular kindness he showed to those who had difficulty eating or drinking.

Stephen caught her eye and it was back to business. They walked to the school where the pupils had begun to arrive.

Each child was given a special commemorative medal which they pinned proudly on their chest.

Formed into orderly lines, they set off on their own parade through the streets, with groups of children from other schools joining along the way, singing as they marched to the square.

Sitting down on the chairs recently vacated by the lunch guests, the children eagerly awaited their own treat.

The vicar raised his hand to quieten them and they said grace before the caterers produced a large quantity of bread and butter and cake washed down with tea.

Once again, the indefatigable band played in the background.

Louisa couldn’t help humming to herself as she moved between the tables distributing shiny pennies for the children to keep as souvenirs. Their faces beamed as each child thanked her.

When the last coin had been given out and only crumbs remained on the plates, the mayor brought proceedings to a close. “Three cheers for Her Majesty, Queen Victoria!”

The high-pitched response was deafening.

Unable to contain herself any longer, Edith pulled Louisa and Stephen to one side.

“Should we find Papa and Aunt Charlotte or go straight to the pleasure gardens?” “I’d be honoured to escort you both,” Stephen said.

So, with the assistant schoolmaster in the middle, the trio followed the families to the park where the fair was in full swing.

 

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!