The Schoolmaster’s Daughter — Episode 29

GEORGE reached into his pocket and pulled out a ring made of wood. He held it out to Louisa.

“Thank you! It’s so beautiful, and all the more so because you made it for me.”

She took the ring from him and admired it. Then she put it into the small drawstring bag that she carried for safe keeping.

“I shall treasure it always.”

“One day, perhaps, I shall be able to give you a better ring.” George couldn’t keep the smile off his face. “I’m going back to baking.”

“How did you manage that?” He gestured at the camp.

“It’s all thanks to this – the Rifle Volunteers. Yesterday I took a turn at serving the evening meal and passed comment on the quality of the bread. Or rather, the lack of quality.” He gave a chuckle.

“One of the officers, Lieutenant West, overheard and asked what made me such an expert.”

Louise frowned. “Was he angry?”

“Not at all. I explained that I used to work at Knibb’s Bakery until the fire put paid to my apprenticeship. This morning, he came to find me. You won’t believe what he said next! He owns three bakery and confectionery shops and has just purchased another.”

He paused to let the tension build.

“Don’t tease,” Louisa said, pulling at his jacket sleeve. “Where is this new bakery?”

George’s smile grew even wider.

“It’s Knibb’s old shop – the very same! But it’s been modernised and Samuel Cronk won’t be working there. I’m to be taken on as second assistant baker and will learn more about confectionery as well as fancy breadmaking.

“Even better, Lieutenant West will arrange for me to finish early enough in the evening to attend drill and rifle practice. What do you say to that?”

“Oh, George, I’m so happy for you!” Louisa would have loved to give him a hug but was mindful there might be people watching. “I did try to get you a position in the bakehouse at the new community shop but they already had someone in mind.”

“That was a kind thought. But I wouldn’t have wanted to work there anyway.” Louisa was astonished.

“Why ever not?”

He took off his cap and cradled it.

“Well, it’s not a proper shop, is it? It’s a form of charity.”

“It isn’t. The shopworkers – and the bakers – will be paid a wage and the customers will have to pay for the goods they buy,” Louisa explained. “If the shop makes a profit, the customers who buy shares will benefit, but it’s not charity. It’s about fairness.”

“How is it fair to other shopkeepers?

Won’t it put them out of business? I’ve an ambition to own my own bakery and hoped you might see a future there with me.

“If this new shop undersells the other traders, how are we meant to get on?”

There was anger in his voice. His brown eyes hardened and his smile disappeared.

Louisa was indignant.

“Now you’re starting to sound like Samuel Cronk and those other men who were at the public meeting.”

“Maybe because they had a good point.” She felt the colour rising in her cheeks.

“They’ve behaved disgracefully! My father received threatening letters and was attacked in the street. You defend that?”

“No, but perhaps your father should stick to being a headmaster and stay out of business.”

“How dare you?” Louisa took a step back.

“How dare you speak so of my father?” Just then, a burly soldier appeared.

“What’s going on here? Is anything the matter, miss? I hope this man isn’t bothering you.”

Louisa struggled to regain her composure.

“All’s well, thank you. I’m just leaving.”

George moved as if to stop her but the other soldier barred his way. Instead he called out.

“Lou – Miss Marchington! I’m sorry. Forgive me for being such a hothead.”

“I must rejoin my sister. Good day.” She turned away quickly so he wouldn’t see her eyes were brimming with tears.

Had she been foolish to think that they could ever have a future together? Was the gulf between them too wide?

Suddenly she wanted to be anywhere but at the camp. Did George really believe those things he’d said? If so, he wasn’t the man she thought he was.

Edith was still with her group of friends when Louisa caught up with her. She saw at once that her sister was upset and took her to one side.

“What’s the matter? Didn’t you find George Jevcott? I presume that’s where you went off to.”

Louisa nodded.

“I did find him but I wish that I hadn’t. He’s no better than Samuel Cronk and the others.”

“Surely you can’t mean that? I know I’ve been teasing you but I also know you to be a good judge of character.”

“Well, this time I made a mistake.” Edith touched Louisa’s arm.

“Stay here with us. You know Hannah and her brother James? We’ll watch the fireworks together later.”

Fireworks were the last thing that Louisa wanted to see. She remembered the explosion of golden stars in the sky at the end of the Jubilee celebrations and the taste of George’s kiss on her lips.

“No, thank you. I suddenly feel very hot and tired. I’m sure Hannah and James will be happy to escort you home.

“I can see Papa over there, talking to the Colonel. Perhaps he’ll go with me on the earlier train.”

She weaved her way through the crowd of soldiers, sweethearts and wives, looking back over her shoulder now and again in case George should try to come after her.

Her father also noticed that Louisa seemed out of sorts.

“Are you unwell, my child?”

“I think I feel a headache coming on. Would you mind if we went home? Edith is in good hands with Hannah and James Stephens.”

“I would suggest that it’s the heat but you look quite pale. Maybe it’s the sound of so much gunfire.”

Edward was still concerned as they sat opposite each other in the railway carriage travelling home.

“I hope I haven’t brought this on by exposing you to unpleasantness. Are you still shaken by that incident in the street?” She shook her head.

“Papa, why do you think the tradesmen are so opposed to the community shop? Can’t they see what you and the other men on the committee are trying to do?”

“They’re afraid, my dear. Some are afraid of making less profit because that is how they measure their own worth.

“Others fear they won’t be able to support their families; we can’t condemn them for that.”

“I suppose not.”

She thought. Had she misjudged George and acted too hastily?

Her fingers closed around her drawstring bag and felt the shape of the wooden ring that he’d made for her. Then she gave a heartfelt sigh.

“Life is so complicated sometimes.” Edward lightly touched her hand.

“Then we should pray for God’s guidance.”


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!