The Schoolmaster’s Daughter — Episode 30

LOUISA did pray and tried to clear all thoughts of George Jevcott from her head. She threw herself into her charity work, church activities and social calls. She went for walks when she knew she was unlikely to bump into him.

But she couldn’t banish him from her heart. Every time she went downstairs, she found herself glancing to see whether a letter had arrived and every ring of the doorbell made her jump.

Going into the drawing-room one morning, she was surprised to find Aunt Charlotte there, feather duster in hand and an apron over her dress. Her aunt looked equally flustered. Then she put down the duster and raised her chin.

“Sometimes the lady of the house has to make sure standards are maintained, especially when there is only a small staff.”

“I understand, Aunt. Matilda can’t be expected to do everything, though I know Cook cleans the kitchen and the scullery.

“Edith and I would be happy to help more where we can.”

Aunt Charlotte sighed.

“We could afford more servants but your father is against it. He is not a mean man – quite the opposite. Rather than employ another maid, he prefers to spend his money on those less fortunate. Even though one could argue that giving a girl a job as a maid would be helping her and her family.”

Louisa nodded towards the framed portrait that Charlotte had been cleaning.

“Thank you for taking care of our mother’s picture – and of us when she died. That was very kind, so perhaps you and Papa aren’t too dissimilar.”

“It was my duty.” Charlotte sat down. “Your poor mother had no surviving sisters whereas your father had me. My own chances of making a good marriage and having my own household were slipping away. Edward was always my favourite brother, so it made sense.” Louisa frowned.

“I always assumed you had chosen not to marry. Was that not the case?” She gulped and waited for the recriminations.

Instead, Charlotte rang the bell pull. A few moments later the maid appeared in the doorway.

“Matilda, please bring a pot of tea and two cups.”

The maid gave a little bob and left.

Charlotte sighed again.

“As you have no mother to help you and Edith find suitable husbands, it’s my duty to guide you in such matters. If talking about my own experiences will help then talk about them I must, no matter how painful.”

“Thank you, I appreciate it.”

“When you hold a certain position in society, there are expectations,” her aunt continued. “Some might think that a headmaster’s daughter would naturally go on to become a headmaster’s wife. Your father’s assistant seems to entertain such notions. While Mr Allsop is a good and educated man, you must aim higher.”

Matilda returned with the tray and began to set out the tea things on the small table between the two chairs.

It seemed to Louisa that she did so more slowly than usual. Perhaps in the hope of overhearing a piece of gossip?

Louisa recalled the time when George stayed in the spare room to recuperate after the fire. How she’d heard him laughing with Matilda when the maid went into his room with his food.

George had later said they were old friends. In her current confusion, Louisa was torn between wondering whether Matilda would relay anything to George that would give him cause to be jealous, or whether Matilda might herself have designs on him.

Charlotte picked up the teapot.

“That’s all, Matilda. You may go.”

Giving another bob, the maid did as she was instructed, giving Louisa the briefest of glances on her way out.

Louisa watched her aunt fill both cups. When her features were relaxed, her face looked younger and softer.

She wore her grey hair in a severe chignon on the back of her head and her brows were heavy above her green eyes. But she had good cheekbones and when she smiled her eyes sparkled as much as the necklace she always wore.

It was easy to see that, once, she might have been considered a beauty.

Charlotte stirred her tea. Then she fixed her gaze on Louisa.

“You and your sister probably see me as a crusty old maid.”

Louisa began to protest but her aunt waved her hand.

“I did have admirers in my day, but your grandfather discouraged them. He was convinced they were only interested in my money. Your grandmother, however, worked tirelessly to find me a husband. She dreamed of marrying me to a duke or a lord, but such men weren’t interested in the daughter of an industrialist.”

Louisa put down her cup and saucer.

“What about you? Were you in love with anyone?”

“Oh, yes, and I believed he loved me. He even asked my father for my hand.” A cloud passed across her face.

“When my father said no and that he’d cut me off without a penny if I married without his permission, you couldn’t see that man for dust. Within months he was engaged to someone else. So it turned out that my father was right. That man was more interested in money than he was in me.”

“I’m so sorry to hear that.” Louisa felt genuine sympathy for her aunt.

“Thank you. You must learn from my experience.”

“Surely there are many honourable men? You were just unfortunate.” Charlotte wagged her finger.

“You and Edith are decent young women from a good background. Oh, I know some people are trying to make trouble for your father over this community shop business but anyone with sense can see what he has done for the people of this town.

“He has built the school up into the success that it is today. He is bound to give you some kind of settlement, but not enough to attract fortune-hunters. We must find you a husband who has more money than you and who will appreciate your finer qualities.” She sat back with a look of triumph.

Louisa was shocked.

“You make it sound so clinical, Aunt!” In the distance the back doorbell rang.

Charlotte rose to her feet.

“Excuse me, I need to see if that’s the butcher’s boy. He brought the wrong order yesterday and Cook is too soft with him.”

Just before she left the room, she gave a rare smile.


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!