The Schoolmaster’s Daughter — Episode 21

THE sound of Louisa’s shriek brought other members of the household running to see what had happened.

Stephen and Aunt Charlotte were both out but Edith came out of the parlour and Edward emerged from his study.

Matilda also appeared straight from the scullery, cloth in hand, but on seeing the others were there she retreated to the kitchen to let Cook know that, whatever it was, it was being taken care of by the master.

“What on earth is the matter?” Edward asked.

With a trembling hand, Louisa pointed to the piece of paper on the floor. As Edward bent down to pick it up, Edith rushed to his side and they read the note together.

“Oh, Papa!” Edith wailed, clutching his arm. “This must be meant for you. Is your life in danger?”

“Keep calm, my dear.” He patted her hand to reassure her. “This is most probably a prank by one of the boys.

“If not, and the note is genuine, then the threat is aimed at me, I assume, because of my association with the community shop.

Sadly, not everybody believes it to be a good thing.

“I can understand that tradesmen might be concerned for their own livelihoods. There have already been several critical letters published in the Gazette.” He brandished the note.

“The author of this particular letter has obviously decided to dispense with detailed argument and go for a more direct message.”

Louisa took hold of her father’s free arm. “But what a horrible way to express it. And Edith’s right. Someone could mean to do you harm. Are you going to take the note to the police?”

He shook his head.

“No, I don’t want to inflame the situation. These are probably just empty words.”

“You don’t know that,” Edith insisted.

“Remember what happened to Knibb’s Bakery? Maybe the person who started the fire is the author of this note. Louisa, what was the name of that horrible man we saw with Mrs Knibb?”

“Samuel Cronk,” Louisa replied with a frown. “Don’t forget, he was exonerated as the fire was declared an accident. But, Papa, it could have been written by him. He was at the public meeting and I’m sure that he was one of those trying to shout you down.”

“And now he works for the baker from whom we buy our bread,” Edith added.

Edward put his arms around both his daughters and pulled them closer.

“Now, now. It’s only natural that you should be worried but please try not to be afraid or read too much into this. I won’t bother the police with this for the time being, but I will keep the note.” Edith still wasn’t satisfied.

“Shouldn’t we try to find out who sent it? I could ask Cook if she saw anyone come to the door, or maybe one of the neighbours noticed them putting it through the letterbox.”

“I will speak to Cook,” Edward said, “if it will make you feel better.”

He kissed them both lightly on the top of their heads.

“I suggest we don’t speak of any of this to your aunt Charlotte. There’s no need to worry her unduly.”

Both sisters agreed, although neither was happy, and the note wasn’t mentioned again for the rest of the day.

Louisa slept uneasily that night, her emotions a tumult of fear and despair.

Every little sound made her stiffen, as she strained to identify the cause. The leaves fluttering in the breeze outside her bedroom window sounded like someone picking their way through the bushes.

A chinking of metal – was that a would-be intruder trying the lock on the back door? She prayed Cook had pulled the bolt across and that God would protect her father.

How could her life have gone so quickly from dream to nightmare? Did George mean what he said about giving her all the stars in the sky, or were they just fancy words?

Louisa pictured his face as she wondered whether he was lying awake thinking about her. What was going to come of all this?


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!