The Schoolmaster’s Daughter — Episode 28

EVER since the seaside excursion on Edith’s birthday, Louisa had been careful not to say anything to Stephen that might give him false hope and made sure to avoid being alone with him.

She just prayed that he didn’t have any serious thoughts about asking her father for her hand in marriage.

She hadn’t had the opportunity to talk to George who was busy preparing for his own trip. Every summer the Rifle Volunteers went away to camp for a week. A notice in the Gazette announced that the men would be travelling there by train on Saturday afternoon.

Edith didn’t need much persuasion to go for a walk at just the right time. As it happened, so many of the Volunteers’ friends and relations also lined the road to the station that the sisters were inconspicuous in the crowd.

The band led the way, playing a jaunty tune as the men marched behind in full uniform, complete with rifles and haversacks.

“Poor George, he must be so hot,” Louisa whispered to Edith, waving her handkerchief as he passed. Although he kept his eyes front, she was sure that he knew she was there.

Edith pulled a face.

“Why would he want to sleep on the ground in a tent for a week, anyway? There might be wasps or worms. Imagine waking up to find a large spider sleeping on your pillow. I can’t think of anything worse!”

“I don’t know,” Louisa replied. “It sounds like fun. And I’d love to try shooting at a target, just to see if I could hit it. Why do men get to have all these adventures while we’re expected to enjoy embroidery, playing the piano and making polite conversation?

“Anyway, we can at least see what it’s like and judge for ourselves. Let’s ask Papa if we can visit the camp on the public open day – it’s only sixpence a ticket. There’s going to be an inspection, all sorts of competitions and fireworks.”

Edward agreed to go with them to the open day and Cook packed a small lunch hamper. Along with hundreds of other visitors, they took the special train to the station in the nearest village.

From there they walked to the camp, which was spread out over a grassy plain as far as the eye could see.

“I didn’t expect it to be so big!” Edith exclaimed. “It’s a city of tents.” Louisa laughed.

“That’s because it’s the whole regiment, not just our local company.”

They followed the crowd to the open space where the assembled companies were lining up to be inspected by the Colonel. Then the men took part in a shooting contest.

As the targets were set up, the ladies jostled for the best seats on the sidelines.

“Do you think George will be competing?” Edith asked.

Louisa shaded her eyes with her hand.

“I can’t see him. Remember he’s only been a Volunteer for a short time – I expect these men are among the most

experienced. But it will be exciting all the same and we can cheer for our company.”

When the shooting contest was over and the prizes had been presented by the Colonel’s wife, Louisa left Edith chatting to friends and slipped away to see if she could find George.

He was standing with two other Volunteers by the entrance to a large marquee. As soon as he saw her, his face lit up. He made his excuses to his companions and walked towards her.

“There was I, thinking I had no visitors, and it turns out I have the best visitor I could have hoped for,” he said brightly. “Did you enjoy the shooting competition?”

“It was thrilling,” Louisa replied. “Especially when it was announced that Sergeant Jevcott was among the prizewinners!”

His eyes twinkled.

“My father did well. One day, perhaps, it will be my name they call out, if I practise hard enough.”

“I’m sure of it.’

“Well, I may not be a winner yet but I do have a small token of my affection for you.”

He gently guided her away from the crowd as he spoke.

“On the first day of camp, we went foraging for ferns and wild flowers to dress our tents. Ha! You look surprised. Does that not sound like a manly thing to do? Well, if nothing else it helps to distinguish one tent from another.

“While I was searching, I came across a broken branch and thought there was something beautiful about the grain of the wood. So I brought it back and used my knife to carve this for you.”


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!