The Schoolmaster’s Daughter — Episode 32

A month had passed since Louisa’s last conversation with George. He still attended church with his family and at church parade with the Rifle Volunteers but he didn’t linger after the service.

Louisa had placed the Jubilee photograph face down inside her writing desk alongside George’s letter, the wooden ring he had carved for her and the anonymous note.

So far her detective work had failed to yield any results. A trip to nearby stationers’ shops had shown that it came from a cheap type of notebook in ready supply.

As shopkeepers were the most obvious suspects she kept her eyes peeled in every shop she visited, in the hope of espying a bill or receipt written in a matching hand.

But as yet she had seen none.

On Saturday, Edith suggested they visit the shop to see how well it was doing.

They entered the small building. The wooden shelves were stacked with packets and tins. There was sugar, flour, oatmeal and candles among the commodities for sale.

Everything was spick and span, including the manager, Mr Stafford, and his assistant, Mr Mace, with their neatly trimmed moustaches and starched white aprons.

They stood proudly behind the gleaming wooden counter, ready to slice cheeses and cold meats at one end or serve freshly baked bread and cakes at the other.

“I know what you’d like,” Edith said, nodding towards the tray of ginger cakes.

Louisa was savouring the aroma but it didn’t smell as sweet to her as it used to. It brought back memories of Knibb’s Bakery and the first day that she had seen George.

She wasn’t sure she could bear to eat the treat that Edith had ordered and which was now being wrapped in paper for her.

She did her best to smile anyway.

“Thank you.”

As she reached for the small package, Louisa heard a loud crash behind her followed by a thump. For a moment time stood still as she took in the fact that she had been showered with broken glass.

She could hear women screaming and realised that she was one of them. The other was Edith, who had fallen to the floor and was lying prostrate with blood trickling from beneath her pink hat.

Nearby lay the brick that had shattered the shop window.

“Edith!” Louisa gasped in horror and fell to her knees.

Then there was pandemonium. As Mr Stafford pulled open a drawer and grabbed a piece of muslin to stem the bleeding, loud shouts were heard outside.

“Catch him! The vandal!”

“Don’t let him get away – call a policeman!”

Mr Stafford kneeled down next to Edith.

“Is she conscious?” Louisa asked.

“I think so. Would you remove her hat so that I may treat the wound?”

As Louisa gently removed the pins and lifted off her sister’s hat, Edith gave a low moan. On one side of her head, her hair was matted with blood.

Without looking up from his task, Mr Stafford addressed the shop assistant.

“Mr Mace, fetch Doctor Townsend. I’ll do what I can to make Miss Marchington comfortable but I’m concerned about the blow to her head.”

“Yes, Mr Stafford.”

Without stopping to remove his apron, Mr Mace rushed outside, narrowly avoiding a couple of people who were peering through the doorway.

“There’s a chair behind the counter,” Mr Stafford told them. “Please be good enough to bring it here so that we may sit Miss Marchington down.” Mr Mace came back in.

“One of the Rifle Volunteers has gone for the doctor. He said he could run there faster than I could.”

Louisa’s heart missed a beat.

“Rifle Volunteers?”

“A group of them were passing by on their way to the Drill Hall. Two of them caught the culprit and they’ve marched him off to the police station.”

With Mr Mace’s help, they manoeuvred Edith on to the chair.

“My head hurts. I want to go to sleep,” she mumbled.

Louisa took her hand.

“Edith, dear, you must try to stay awake. The doctor will be here soon.”

As Louisa moved her arm, small shards of glass fell off her sleeve. She glanced around at the cheeses and loaves on display.

“I fear some of your produce is ruined, Mr Stafford.”

“Miss Marchington, the most important thing is to make sure that you and your sister are safe. Then Mr Mace and I will clear this up. It’s probably not worth baking more bread today, and tomorrow is the Lord’s Day. On Monday we begin again. We will not be beaten by mindless criminals.” “Do you believe this a targeted attack?” He shook his head in disbelief.

“Why would anyone pick on our shop, when we’re trying to help the community? No, someone was trying to cause trouble.” Her father had evidently not told Mr Stafford about the anonymous threats, nor the chamber pot that had been thrown at them in the street.

Was the same person behind the notes? If so, he was now in police custody.


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!