The Schoolmaster’s Daughter — Episode 33

DR Townsend’s arrival ended her speculation for the time being. It was only when Edith was safely tucked up in her own bed, watched over by Aunt Charlotte, that Louisa, in her bedroom, began to shake, realising it could have been so much worse.

Sitting on the stool, she let down her hair and looked in the mirror. Her face was ghostly white.

The note that she’d kept as evidence was still in the drawer of her writing desk. Even without being able to see it, the words it contained felt more toxic now that her sister had been injured.

She picked up her comb and tentatively pulled it through a few strands of her long golden locks. Then she examined the comb for any splinters of glass.

She sighed. The task was going to take all night. There were times when it would be handy to have a lady’s maid. It was Matilda’s afternoon off and she could hardly ask Cook.

Downstairs, the doorbell rang. Men’s voices were heard in the hallway, her father, Stephen and a third she didn’t recognise. Was there a fourth?

Their words were muffled, then a door closed and she heard no more.

Needing fresh air, she changed into a warmer dress and refashioned her hair.

As she was crossing the hall on her way to the garden, the drawing-room door opened and Stephen came out.

“Ah! Just the person,” he said. “Please, would you come in?”

Perplexed, Louisa followed him into the room. Her father rose from his seat and took both of her hands in his.

“How are you feeling, my dear?”

“Better, thank you, Papa. My only concern is for Edith.”

“Doctor Townsend assures me she will make a full recovery and your aunt will take good care of her.” Edward smiled. “Thanks to the quick reactions of our Rifle Volunteers, she was treated promptly and the perpetrator was apprehended. I thought you might like to thank one of them yourself.”

As she turned, to see two uniformed visitors, they both stood up.

The police constable spoke first.

“Good afternoon, Miss Marchington. I’m relieved to see that you are unhurt. Private Jevcott here is the hero of the day. He witnessed the disturbance, chased the culprit and wrestled him to the ground, heedless of risk to himself. We’d be proud to have him in our own force.” George looked embarrassed.

“My father – Sergeant Jevcott – helped me to keep hold of him, sir.” His eyes met hers.

“You are both heroes, by the sound of it,” she said, “as is your colleague who fetched the doctor. My sister and I are very grateful to you all and thank you most sincerely.” Edward lightly touched Louisa’s elbow.

“I expect George needs to get back to the Drill Hall. Perhaps we could offer him a glass of lemonade first?”

“Yes, of course.” Louisa smiled at George, hoping that she looked more calm than she felt inside. “If you’d like to come with me.”

There was no sign of Cook in the kitchen, so Louisa poured two glasses of lemonade and offered one to George.

“Shall we sit in the garden?”

She led him to a small wrought-iron table with a chair either side in the shade of a large apple tree, where they could sit unobserved from the house.

George spoke first.

“I owe you an apology. I’m very sorry for what I said about your father’s involvement in the community shop. I misunderstood the situation and was worried for my future – and what I hoped might be our future.

“My new employer, Lieutenant West, has since set me right and assured me that we need not fear fair competition. And now your sister has been hurt! I can’t side with anyone who would do that.”

“Thank you. I think it may be coincidental that we were in the shop when the window was broken, but more shopkeepers have taken their sons out of the school and we’ve received another threatening note.” George sipped his lemonade.

“Have you shown it to the police?”

“No. When we received the first one, Papa didn’t want to make a fuss. He does understand why people will worry if they think their livelihoods are in jeopardy. I haven’t even told him about the latest note, but I kept it in the hope of identifying the handwriting. If the author is the person you caught, then the mystery is solved.” He shook his head.

“The man they arrested works at the nail factory and I know for a fact he can’t even write his own name. Someone else may have paid him to break the window, or he might just have been out to cause trouble. From the smell of alcohol on his breath, I’d say he was drunk.” Louisa put down her glass.

“He should have attended school more often, or come to Sunday school. Do you know how many adults can’t read or write?

“When I agreed to help at the Sunday school, I thought I’d just be helping young girls who were behind with their reading but you’d be surprised how many grown-ups come, too.”

George grimaced.

“I have to admit I wasn’t the best pupil in the class and there were more than a few times I skipped school altogether to go fishing. But I learned well enough to write down the bread orders and, thanks to the reading room at the Drill Hall, I’m still improving through reading the books and newspapers they have there.”

“I’m glad to hear it. I love reading.”

Louisa lowered her head, paused for a moment, then slowly looked back up at him. The late afternoon sun was slanting through the branches of the apple tree, giving his face a golden glow.

His glengarry hat was pushed down firmly on his head with dark curls escaping all around. His brown eyes glistened. Any anger Louisa had felt towards George instantly melted away.

“Your letter to me was so eloquent,” she said quietly. “I had hoped for another.”

“I would happily have written another if I’d known it would be so well received.”

He reached across the table and lifted her hand to his mouth. With the scent of ripe apples in her nostrils and a gentle breeze in her hair, Louisa’s senses were alive to the touch of his lips pressing urgently against her fingers.

A tingle went through her body, all the way to her toes.

“I must go,” he said reluctantly. “I’m meant to be practising for the next shooting competition.”

“Will I see you at church tomorrow?”

“Yes, my angel. I’ll be there.”

As Louisa let him out through the garden gate, he turned to her.

“If you bring the note, I’ll help you with your detective work.”


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!