The Schoolmaster’s Daughter — Episode 43

LATER, back at the schoolhouse, Edward told Louisa that Mrs Townsend had requested she call on the doctor’s wife the next day.

“Did Mrs Townsend give any reason?” Louisa asked cautiously, wondering whether her father knew about her previous visit.

“Only that your last conversation had been interrupted.”

Father and daughter eyed each other in silence for a moment.

Edward was the first to speak.

“Amelia Townsend is a good woman. I understand how hard it must be for you at times such as this, not having a mother to turn to, but you know I am always willing to listen.”

Louisa nodded, promising herself that she would talk to her father as soon as she knew whether her plan would come to fruition.

As she walked through town the following morning, she knew exactly what she wanted to do. Something that George had said after the funeral had made up her mind for her. The drizzle of rain couldn’t dampen her determination.

To her delight, Mrs Townsend willingly agreed to help and together they set the wheels in motion.

Luck was also on her side and, a week before the Marchingtons were due to move to Kent, the postman brought the letter that she’d been waiting for.

Wanting to tell George as soon as possible, she wrote him a note and entrusted it to Matilda to deliver safely and discreetly.

Telling Edith and Charlotte that she wouldn’t be going with them would be hard, and who knew what Stephen would think.

But first Louisa needed to tell her father and that would be hardest of all.

She went to find him in his study where he was making notes for his successor at the school.

Louisa sat down and swallowed hard, not knowing how to begin.

Edward stopped writing and studied her expression carefully. Then he put down his pen, removed his spectacles and took both of her hands in his.

“Let me make this easier for you, my child. You’re not coming with us, are you?”

She looked up at his face.

“How did you know?”

He smiled.

“Well, I have known you for all of your life and believe I know you very well. Also, Charlotte tells me that you haven’t begun to pack your belongings yet.”

“I will need to start packing soon. Doctor and Mrs Townsend have kindly offered me lodgings. Their daughter is to be married soon and they have a large house.”

Louisa gazed around the room, at the now empty shelves that were previously lined with her father’s books and the peg where he used to hang his gown and mortarboard.

“As a woman, I don’t have as many opportunities as you,” she continued. “I can’t stand for mayor. But I’ve enjoyed teaching girls at the Sunday school and I want to continue helping others.

“I heard that there was a shortage of women teachers because so many were leaving when they married. So I asked Mrs Townsend to arrange an introduction to the Chairman of the School Board and I’ve been offered a post at Foundry Lane School.

“I’ll start as an assistant but in time I’ll be able to take an examination to gain a certificate and become a qualified teacher.”

Edward took a little time to absorb the news.

“That’s very commendable, my dear. I’m proud of you. But don’t you wish to marry and have children of your own?”

“Oh, Papa, I wish very much to get married but only to the right man at the right time, and that time isn’t now.”

Edward’s eyes were moist with emotion as he tenderly kissed the top of her head.

“Then you have my blessing. I’m sure you’ll be an excellent teacher.”

Aunt Charlotte was less understanding.

“Not coming with us! Whatever are you thinking, Louisa? Surely your first duty is to your family – especially your father.”

“But Papa doesn’t object,” Louisa protested.

“You mean he says he doesn’t object, because he isn’t self-centred.”

“And you think I am?” Louisa’s eyes flashed with indignation.

Aunt Charlotte drew herself up to her full height.

“I think you’ve lost your senses! A woman in your position doesn’t need to take paid employment. Voluntary work, yes, charity work, yes, that’s expected, but what kind of man will now see you as a potential wife?”

The best kind, Louisa thought, but she kept that thought to herself.

Stephen was also perplexed.

“There are schools for girls in Kent, you know, Louisa. Children everywhere need instruction.”

Edith was both more sympathetic and more perceptive.

“It’s George Jevcott, isn’t it? He’s the reason you want to stay. Is he going to ask Papa for your hand?” Louisa shook her head.

“He needs to support his family until his brothers are older. His mother takes in mending but that doesn’t bring in a great deal of money. And now they’ve lost their father, those boys need someone to look up to and set them on the right path. Then George wants to establish himself as a baker. In the meantime, I shall teach and lead my own life.”

“You’re either very brave,” Edith said, “or very foolish. How can you be sure that George will still want to marry you after all that time? How long are you prepared to wait for him? You might end up being an old maid like Aunt Charlotte.”

“Shh,” Louisa said, closing the parlour door in case they were overheard. “I have no intention of becoming an old maid.”

“You will! You’ll become one of those spinster schoolmistresses with a sour face and old-fashioned clothes and your nose will gradually turn into a beak!”

Both sisters burst out laughing. Oh, she would miss moments like this, Louisa thought with a pang.

“Edith, dear, that blow to your head seems to have done you permanent damage, despite the doctor’s assurances that you had recovered.”

“But how can you be so certain?” Edith persisted in a more serious tone. “How do you know you’ve made the right decision?”

“When you fall in love with someone, you’ll understand how I know.”

The same question had occurred to Louisa but she dismissed it from her mind. George wouldn’t let her down.

She had another wobble when William, Dr Townsend’s groom, came with the carriage to collect her cases.

Everyone else’s belongings were stacked separately, ready to go to Kent.


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!