The Schoolmaster’s Daughter — Episode 45

LOUISA awoke to hear the church bells pealing. It was six o’clock in the morning on Tuesday June 22, 1897 – the day of Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee. The Queen had been on the throne for sixty years and Louisa was twenty-eight years old.

Down in Kent, her father would be preparing for the celebrations at the school. Sadly, Aunt Charlotte hadn’t made it through the previous winter, having succumbed to a chest infection.

Edward, though, would be ably assisted by Edith and her husband Stephen, his ever-faithful assistant, now deputy headmaster.

“Mama! Mama! Are you awake?”

The bedroom door opened and a small golden-haired girl ran in.

“Good morning, Grace.” Louisa sat up and held out her arms to her daughter.

“Where is Papa?”

Louisa pulled Grace up on to the bed, the other side of which was empty.

“He’s gone to help get everything organised for the celebrations. We’ll see him later. Now we must dress and have breakfast so we’ll be ready in time for the parade.”

Shortly afterwards, as she closed the front door, Louisa again gave silent thanks to Aunt Charlotte for the legacy that had enabled them to pay for their little house.

The sea air must have softened her, or maybe she just came around to Louisa’s way of thinking in her own good time. They walked past the single-storey Foundry Lane School where Louisa had taught until her marriage.

Hearing the children’s voices floating across the yard, she could tell how excited they were and she missed being part of that, today of all days.

She had her own little girl now, though. Grace was tugging on her hand, the ribbons on her hat swinging as she pointed to the banner strung across the largest window. God bless her.

It was one of many such decorations on the brick buildings.

“Look at the pretty flags, Mama!”

Turning into Armitage Street, they came to the community shop. This had expanded into the premises next door – where the pawnbroker’s shop had once been – to make space for the boots and household goods it now sold in addition to groceries.

Mr Stafford was still in charge and often enquired after Edith, remembering the day when she was injured.

The upper floor had been turned into a reading room where Louisa taught a weekly evening class for young working women eager to improve their literacy skills, or just wishing to learn more about what was going on in the wider world.

Who knew what challenges or opportunities might come their way in the approaching 20th century?

By now, people thronged the town centre with a mounting air of anticipation.

Around the next corner, a small group stopped by a shop to admire the display in the window.

Louisa still felt a thrill when she saw the name on the wooden board. Jevcott, Baker and Confectioner.

She lifted Grace up to see the large cake that took pride of place in the window, next to a framed photograph of Queen Victoria.

Shaped like a golden crown, the cake was covered with intricate decoration and brightly coloured jewels made out of sugar.

“Your papa made that – isn’t he clever?”

The new machinery had made breadmaking less arduous, leaving George more free time to develop his talent for confectionery.

The shop was closed to customers today but a man in a white apron appeared, carrying two large baskets of freshly baked rolls.

“Good morning, Mrs Jevcott,” he said.

“Mr Jevcott has already left and gone to the Drill Hall.”

“Thank you, Bert. I hope you’ll be finishing soon, too.”

“Just as soon as I’ve loaded these into the cart and delivered them to the town hall.”

By the time Louisa and Grace had walked to the town hall, where once again tables and chairs had been set out for a celebratory lunch, the dignitaries were preparing for the parade.

Watching the mayor strutting in his regalia, Louisa’s mind went back to the conversation she’d had with George on the day of his father’s funeral, when he’d told her that she couldn’t become a mayor because she was a woman.

Well, there had been a female mayor in a town in New Zealand a couple of years ago. It had been all over the newspapers. Who was to say it couldn’t happen here one day?

She glanced down at Grace and wondered what path her daughter would choose to take when she grew up.

Then she placed her free hand on her swelling stomach and thought of the new baby she was carrying.

Perhaps this time they would have a son, – or a sister for Grace. Either way they would be welcomed and loved. What a year to be born – the year of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee.

Her reverie was broken by the sound of the band and the arrival of the Rifle Volunteers.

Grace began to dance on the spot and Louisa clapped in time to the music. Really, she was applauding the younger Jevcott boys, George’s brothers, and how they had flourished under his guidance.

She knew how proud his parents would be if they could see them now, marching with the band. One was a bugler, the other a drummer, and they were both as tall as George.

And then came Corporal George Jevcott himself, marching proudly with his head held high. He hadn’t made it to Sergeant yet but he was well on the way.

He was also highly respected throughout the town as a tradesman who was fair to his customers and his employees.

As Louisa raised her hand to wave to him, her golden wedding band glinted in the bright sun.

She was looking forward to the firework display that would bring the day’s celebrations to a close. This time there would be no need to hide in the walled space behind the fountain.

She would stand beside her husband to watch them exploding in the sky. He hadn’t been able to give her the stars, but he had given her something far more precious – his enduring love.

The End


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!