Joanna Warrick looked up at the grand home in front of her. She barely had the courage to step out of the carriage, now that she was confronted with it. Her heart was heavy in her chest, and part of her wanted nothing more than to tell the driver to turn around and take her home.
But there was no home for her, not anymore. Or, to look at it another way, this house was her new home.
She sighed, and stepped down to the ground, taking the offered arm of the driver. He quickly turned away to fetch her luggage down, leaving her to her own devices. She looked around, spinning slowly on the spot to take in the view around the house itself. Acres of parkland stretched in every direction – the carriage had travelled through it for some distance after entering the gates.
It was more impressive than her family’s home had ever been, if for the grounds alone.
But for the house, she could say with sincerity that it was not any more grand or well-kept than that of her father. Yet here she was, ready to take up a position as little better than a servant inside it.
An older man, a butler by his appearance at the door, came down the steps to greet her.
“Miss Warrick, I presume?” he said.
“Yes,” Joanna replied, nervously adjusting her bonnet.
“The children are waiting in the school room to meet you. Come, I will show you where you need to go.”
Joanna glanced down at her bags, her only belongings in the world now, which the carriage driver had deposited on the floor at her feet.
“I’ll ask one of the housemaids to take those to your room,” the butler said. “My name is Jenkins. Please, do follow me.”
Joanna nodded and hurried after him as he turned to walk briskly away. She did not quite trust her voice or her words at that moment. Of course, she had interacted with servants like Jenkins many a time. The only problem was that she had done so as the daughter of the house, and as such, his superior. Now that things had changed and she had fallen so far, she barely knew how to act.
“I believe you have not met any of the Hardwicke family previously,” Jenkins was saying.
“No,” Joanna replied. “I… well, I lived far north of here. I’ve never even visited this part of England.”
Jenkins looked back over his shoulder, fixing her with an inscrutable gaze for a moment. “I suppose your mother thought that would be for the best.”
“Yes,” Joanna said, hearing her own voice crack just a little. “She felt it would be less difficult if I became governess to a family we had not met in social circles.”
The butler grunted slightly under his breath, which might have been taken for an agreement or for derision. Joanna did not feel tempted to ask which.
He led her through a grand open hall from the entrance, with corridors and doors snaking off in all directions. There was also a wide staircase leading upwards, though for the moment he took her to the right. Down a corridor with wooden floorboards which rapped smartly under her shoes, and finally to another door right at the end, where he paused.
“Now, listen,” Jenkins said, taking a breath and looking at her sternly. “They are children. That means you are in control. They must do as you say in terms of their education. You may not find that my lord, the Earl of Kelt, is open to conversation on this point. In other words, if they should misbehave, you will need to take them in hand – and quickly. If they see weakness in you, I assure you, you will be gone the way of the last governess.”
“What happened to the last governess?” Joanna asked. She wiped her hands, which for some reason hand suddenly become damp with perspiration, on the sides of her dress.
Jenkins’ face softened, becoming almost avuncular. “Never mind about that, for now,” he said. “They’re waiting. Have you been informed of their names?”
Joanna nodded, looking up to the ceiling briefly as she recalled what had been sent to her in the letter confirming her appointment. “They are Patience, who is sixteen; Samuel, who is nine; and the littlest, Amy, who is five.”
“Correct,” Jenkins nodded. He cocked his head at the sound of a chiming from a grandfather clock somewhere back down the corridor. “I must go, and you are already late. Let’s go in.”
Without waiting for a confirmation from Joanna, who would really have liked to wait a few minutes more at least, he opened the door and stepped smartly inside.
The children had evidently been deep in conversation, for they all stopped talking at once and looked up at the doorway. They were sitting on soft chairs inside the moderately-sized room, which held several bookcases, tables, and other learning instruments. Joanna saw a globe and a chalkboard before fixing her attention on the children.
“Are you the new governess?” the oldest girl asked. Patience’s voice was short and terse, as if she had prepared already to dislike Joanna. She had dark hair falling in ringlets down her back, tied with bright yellow ribbons, and a yellow gown to match. She was quite pretty, even despite the frown that settled on her features as she looked at them.
“Now, Miss Patience,” Jenkins remonstrated gently, placing a hand on Joanna’s shoulder. “This is Miss Joanna Warrick, your new governess. She has travelled far to be with you today.”
“Warrick,” Patience said thoughtfully, casting her eye across the room to a number of books that lay open on a table. “Aren’t you a lady?”
Joanna cleared her throat uncomfortably. “I… My father was a baron,” she said, quite unsure for a moment of what to say. Her cheeks burned, the shame of her situation coming to her fully.
“Why isn’t he your father anymore?” Amy asked, piping up with a curious tilt of her head. The youngest girl was darling, a picture of her older sister with the same ringlets, yet dressed in pink and with round, smiling cheeks.
“Don’t be silly, Amy,” Patience said, tossing her hair over her shoulder. “He’s dead.”
Joanna’s heart almost stopped in her chest. It was cruel, to hear it told so simply. She was flustered, her hands fluttering together in front of her. She managed to calm them and clasp them together, letting them drop down in front of her body.
With a great effort, she could respond. “Miss Patience is correct,” she said, clearing her throat to rid it of the obstruction before she continued. “My father passed away quite recently.”
“What happened to him?” Samuel asked, although Jenkins was obviously squirming in discomfort at their line of questioning. He was a small boy, pale and short for his age, and his clothes seemed too large. The dark hair on his head was cut short, though it was easy to see that he shared the curls of his sisters.
“I…” Joanna began, but looked to Jenkins for help, despairingly. How was she to talk about this with the young children who were to be her charges? How could she share with them her shame and grief, and they so young to understand it?
“I heard Edmund talking about it,” Patience declared. “He was telling Christopher. The baron’s failed him out of shame. They quite ran out of money, you see.”
“My lady!” Jenkins burst out, fixing Patience with a furious glare. “That is quite enough for the moment. Your governess will take you through your lessons now.”
He nodded to Joanna, then turned on his heel and left the room. Just like that, she was alone. Joanna was reminded of a novel she had read perhaps a year before, in which one of the characters had been thrown to wolves to be eaten. This, she thought as the door closed behind him, was probably how it had felt.
She cleared her throat for the umpteenth time and tried to grasp some control. “Children, I will need to take you through your paces first of all to see what lessons you are in need of. We’ll commence with some tests.”
All three children groaned, and Joanna gave them a small smile. “It won’t be too serious. You’ll see. I just want to know what you know. There’s nothing wrong with not knowing something yet, not for this test, at least.”
She moved in front of the chalkboard and picked up the chalk, and tried not to think about her father. The collapse of the bank, into which he had invested all of the family’s money, had been so hard on him.
She was not angry at him. He may not have had a good head for business, but he was her father, and he had always shown her love and affection. It was that same lack of concern for money that had him gifting her silk ribbons and puppies and new bonnets every time he went to the city. And hadn’t she enjoyed all of those gifts?
“Let’s start with the basics,” Joanna said, smiling down at little Amy. “We’ll go through the three R’s first. I want to see that you have a good foundation.”
Patience sighed loudly. “Isn’t this just for Amy’s benefit?” she asked.
“Not at all,” Joanna said, holding her smile without a pause this time. “I expect you and Mr. Samuel to know all of these basics already. You should pass easily, and if you don’t, then I know what to work on first.”
Though Patience made her displeasure known with a number of dramatic sighs and huffs, Joanna continued resolutely. She found with some relief that the children were well-learned, and though Samuel was of an age where he should have gone away to school, he did not seem to have fallen too far behind what she had expected.
“Our last governess told me how to remember that,” he said, proudly, after she had asked him to name some capitals from the globe.
“Oh?” Joanna asked, leaning closer for a moment. Patience and Amy were distracted with their own exercises, and after checking with a glance that they were not listening, Joanna saw her chance. “What exactly happened to your last governess?”
“Oh, Edmund didn’t like her,” Samuel explained. “He said she was too strict because she shouted at Patience.”
Joanna glanced over at Patience again, but the older girl was seemingly entranced by an examination of her own nails and fingers. “Was she your governess for a long time?”
“No,” Samuel shrugged. “Just as long as the last one.”
Joanna felt fingers of ice touching her spine. “How many governesses have you had, Samuel?”
The boy thought for a moment. “Well,” he said, “since Mama and Papa died, I think… maybe ten.”
“Ten!” Joanna felt her heart beating faster. She had suspected that there had been one or two before her, but not ten. And all since their parents died? Perhaps it had been many years ago… but then, Amy was but five years old, wasn’t she? “When…. When did your parents die?”
“Well, I’m nine now, so, hmm…” Samuel said, counting on his fingers. “A year and three months.”
Joanna stared at him, dumbfounded. To go through so many governesses, in just fifteen months? Some of them must have counted their stays in the days or weeks, rather than months!
“And why did they all leave?” she managed to ask after a moment’s pause.
“Edmund didn’t like them,” Samuel said, turning his attention back to the globe.
Joanna stared at the short curls on his head as he peered at the names of places painted onto the wooden surface. How was she ever going to last in a place like this?
Edmund looked out of the window of the carriage, sighing. He could see that they were still a long way from home, and the day was not getting any earlier.
“Can’t we go any faster?” he asked, leaning his head out to shout at the driver.
“No, my lord,” the driver said. “I’m afraid the roads are very muddy today. All the rain overnight. It’s pulling back our wheels and making the horses’ hooves heavy.”
Edmund sighed, and pulled his head back inside the carriage. What a mess. He was going to be late, and on the day that the children met their new governess.
It wasn’t as though it could have been helped. There was so much to do up at the London office. His father had run a tight ship, but in the months following his death, things had become rather less restrained.
Now it was up to Edmund to put everything back in its place. Although he felt he had been doing a good job, running things as his father had taught him, there were still a good many liberties that had been taken in his absence at the beginning.
He leafed through the papers he had brought along with him, so that he could continue working on the carriage journey home.
A note from Lord Kelverley made him pause, and shake his head in annoyance. The man had cornered him in the London office earlier that morning, trying to haggle him down on price.
“Your father was always a reasonable man, with a good head for business,” Kelverley had said.
“Yes,” Edmund had replied. “He had good enough sense not to offer you a lower price when you were dealing with him.”
“But, my boy,” Kelverley had entreated, although they were now equal in status. It was as if he had not noticed that his father’s death made Edmund the new Earl. “Times have changed. People have less confidence in the company now.”
Edmund had stood then, his chair scraping back across the wooden boards of the floor of his father’s office. “If you have less confidence in the company, you are more than welcome to take your business elsewhere. Since you do not, and since you come to me haggling like a fishwife, I can assume that you are attempting to test out whether I will give you some kind of discount out of inexperience. I can assure you, Lord Kelverley, that I am not going to fail. You will pay the same price you paid my father, or you will receive nothing at all.”
That had stopped the old Lord in his tracks, though it had done little good for the overall picture. The truth was that many of their customers, the loyal base that Edmund’s father had built up over the years, were not as eager to deal with his son. They had, of course, expected Edmund to step up to run the business perhaps a decade or more from now.
Instead, he had been forced to take the position as head of the company at just twenty-three years old. A year on, he knew they still thought him wet behind the ears, inexperienced, and liable to make mistakes.
Hadn’t he proved himself yet? Over a year, and the company had not burned to the ground. Far from it: he was keeping it afloat successfully, and had even made inroads towards expansion. The trouble now was maintaining their income enough
in order to finance it.
Edmund rubbed a hand over his forehead, sweeping a few loose curls back off his brow. “Oh, Father,” he muttered, staring at Lord Kelverley’s seal on the note. “What would you think of me now?”
Even as he said it, a foolish, prideful voice in the back of his head told him that his father would be pleased. That he had made the best of a bad situation, and that he hadn’t floundered, despite being out of his depth. All of that counted in his favour, and now that he knew what he was doing, he was sure he could allow the company to flourish.
The children were another matter. Edmund searched through the pile of papers for the advertisement he had seen, and read it over again.
Young lady from good family seeks a position as
governess. Well-educated in French, piano, deportment, drawing, history, use of
the globes, and other areas.
It did not say much, but it had been enough to prompt him to contact the address held by the newspaper. The arrangements had been made with Miss Warrick’s mother, who had been keen to reassure him that she was an accomplished and pleasant young lady – in spite of the fact that her family’s scandal had cost her the status she should have been granted.
Edmund closed his eyes for a brief moment, to think of his own parents. It was still a wound that lingered in his chest. The family had fallen victim to a wasting illness that had grasped hold of both their parents and Samuel almost overnight.
Edmund, his second brother Christopher, Patience, and Amy had somehow been spared. Even one of their servants, a housemaid who had been with the family for many years, succumbed to it and died a few days after her master and mistress.
Edmund could only praise God that Samuel had survived. Though he was much weakened, and behind other boys of his age, he was at least alive.
The problem now, of course, was that Edmund had essentially become the head of the family in the space of only a few days, and now he was responsible for three children – and one adult in the form of Christopher, who needed perhaps the most supervision of all of them.
At last, the carriage entered through the gates of the Hardwicke grounds, and Edmund breathed a sigh of relief. It felt good to be home again, though he knew he had not completed all of the work he should have done during the ride. He was simply too tired, and too worried about the children, to focus any longer.
He jumped down from the carriage without help, striding towards the door of his home with the sheaf of papers under his arm.
“Get the carriage cleaned up, Tom,” he called up to his driver. “I want those wheels clean for the morning. I’ve a feeling it will be drier, and we’ll need to press on.”
“Yes, my lord,” Tom replied, jumping down from his seat and moving to unhitch the horses.
“Jenkins, good,” Edmund continued, seeing his butler open the door as he approached. “Has the governess arrived?”
“Miss Warrick has been with the children since the afternoon, my lord. She was a little late to arrive.”
Edmund nodded thoughtfully. It was something to note, though not perhaps something to judge this new woman on too quickly. “The roads were awful today. I’m sure she ran into the same problems as I did.”
“Very generous of you, sir,” Jenkins said.
Edmund gave him a direct look, and the man had the good grace to seem abashed. “Send her to dine with me. I’ll take my meal shortly. I’ll simply change from my travel clothes and be down.”
“Yes, sir,” Jenkins replied, scurrying away down the corridor towards the kitchens as fast as his old frame could.
“You’re to meet him downstairs for your supper,” Mary said.
Mary was a plain, mousey young housemaid, who had helped Joanna settle her things into her new, cramped quarters in the servants’ wing. Her things, such as they were: only a few dresses, one or two of them nice enough to wear to a social occasion, a bonnet, and two pairs of shoes. The rest were a few small trinkets from home, and some material that she had been sewing to keep her occupied for the journey south.
Such was the total and sum of her worldly possessions. It did not feel like much, from a childhood spent with everything she could have asked for.
“Tonight?” Joanna asked, feeling stupid.
“Right now,” Mary said, her eyes lighting up with near-panic. “You’re to get dressed and go down right away.”
Joanna considered that carefully, looking down at herself. Truth be told, she didn’t have many options. The dress she wore now was fine for her day to day duties, and while she would normally wish to dress herself up for dinner, this was a rather different affair.
She had no desire to outshine her employer, and it might be construed as vanity or pompousness if she were to dress above her station now. After all, wasn’t she just a servant? She might have been a lady once, but those days were done.
“Thank you, Mary,” Joanna said. “I’ll just fix my hair, and be down shortly.”
Mary nodded and rushed out, apparently to go and ensure the dining room was clean and neat for her master’s meal. Jenkins was already down there, laying out silverware and ordering the cooks about.
Joanna sighed, and examined herself in the small glass that stood propped on the windowsill of her room. Her hair had been curled artfully overnight and placed into a neat chignon under her travelling hat. Now, though, after a long day,
the curls in front of her ears were straightening back out, and the chignon had come loose and messy.
She did her best to pin everything back into place, and twirled the front parts of her hair around her fingers repeatedly to try to make them curl. Finally, they only looked a little worse for wear, and she had to accept that it was the best she would be able to achieve.
Joanna’s stomach leaped inside her as she stepped outside of her room. The path back towards the main body of the house, and the waiting dinner, seemed horribly short. This was the first time that she was to meet her new employer – this seeming ogre of a man who had already dismissed ten governesses before her.
For a fleeting moment, she wondered whether unpacking had been unnecessary. Perhaps he would put her back in a carriage to her mother the next morning.
She approached the door, and saw Mary almost running down the corridor with a bundle of firewood in her arms.
“Mary!” Joanna called out in a half-whisper, causing the maid to pause and look her way. “Is he… of a pleasant mood?”
Mary shrugged, almost dropping her load. “He’s been out working and travelling all day,” she whispered back. “He was quite sour about my not having the fireplace ready. I must rush on!”
“Oh,” Joanna replied, standing still now in the corridor and watching Mary go into the room. From this spot, she could not be seen by anyone inside sitting at the table, and for a long moment she debated the possibility of simply standing here forever and never having to face him.
But she knew it was inevitable, and besides, perhaps Mary’s work at the fire would distract Lord Kelt for long enough that her entrance need not be so much of a spectacle.
Joanna stepped through the open doorway, holding her breath, and almost immediately saw her new employer sitting at the head of his table. She dipped into an ungainly, uncertain curtsey, almost tripping over her own feet.
“Miss Warrick, I presume?” Lord Kelt said.
Joanna could barely breathe. “Yes, Lord Kelt,” she said.
“Sit,” Lord Kelt said, his voice flat and sharp. “We have delayed dining for long enough already.”
Joanna fumbled for the chair, drawing it out and falling down gratefully onto its cushioned seat. She was glad of the support just then.
“Chestnut soup, sir,” Jenkins intoned, laying out a large bowl into the centre of the table. He began to ladle it out into individual portions for Joanna and Lord Kelt.
“You have met the children already,” Lord Kelt said. It did not sound like a question, though Joanna supposed that she was still expected to answer it.
“Yes, Your Lordship,” Joanna said. “I took some time to acquaint myself with their current learning. Tomorrow I shall be able to form a plan for their continued lessons.”
Lord Kelt grunted. “I trust you found them to be satisfactory.”
Joanna smiled shyly. “They are quite accomplished. Even Miss Amy is quite ahead of where I expected to find her.”
“Their education has not suffered since our parents left them in my care,” he said. There was a frown drawing down over his eyes that felt almost like an accusation. Had she insulted him perhaps, by suggesting that they might not have been developed? Oh, but she had not meant that at all!
“Indeed, that is evident,” Joanna said quickly. “I only mean that they are intelligent children.”
Lord Kelt said nothing, but began to eat his soup. Joanna followed suit, glad at least of the break. But the longer they went without saying a word, the more uncomfortable the atmosphere became. Soon she was wishing he would say something, anything at all. It was almost unbearable to sit like this, sipping soup in silence.
The metallic clanging of their spoons seemed almost to bounce off the walls, and Joanna hardly dared to swallow for how loud it sounded in her ears. The crackling of the fire was barely any consolation at all, and she even began to fancy that the room was too hot.
The second course, a roasted meat pie with carrots and parsnips, filled the space with a momentary flurry of activity.
Lord Kelt spoke briefly with Jenkins, and Joanna seized this as her chance to at least make some small conversation. If she was not the first to break the silence, then it was not as difficult – though she still felt out of place to speak to him without his first addressing her. Still, it was better than that interminable nothing.
“Are you often at work in the city, Lord Kelt?” she asked.
“Quite often,” he replied. “Several days out of the week. It is necessary in order to ensure that the business stays running. My father kept a townhouse, but I do not care for the practice. I would rather travel daily. It means I can watch over the children’s education and the upkeep of the house at the same time.”
Joanna swallowed a piece of pie, harder than she had intended to. For an awful moment she believed she would choke. The idea of him watching so closely over her work, when she knew already how exacting he could be, was not a comforting one.
“You care for them greatly,” she said, as soon as she had recovered.
“Of course I do. They are my siblings. Nothing is more important than family. Do you not believe that to be the case?”
Joanna looked up to find Lord Kelt staring directly at her, his gaze piercing through her. She found she could not remember how to breathe for a moment. His dark eyes seemed to contain a world of meaning, and though she could not fathom what it might be, the pain that had marred him at his parents’ death was plain to see.
“I do,” she replied, simply and quietly. It was difficult to hold back her tears at that moment, and she blinked quickly, though she did not look away.
Something changed in his face, softening it and making it more pleasant. “Forgive me. I had quite forgotten that you, too, recently lost your father.”
Joanna looked down at her plate and forced herself to resume eating her pie. “Thank you. It is a difficult time, for all of us.”
“I have no doubt,” he replied, recommencing his own meal.
Joanna took a few opportunities to sneak glances in his direction as they ate. Now that she had met his eyes, she was not quite as afraid to look at him. He had a noble nose and the same dark hair as his siblings, which curled effortlessly along his temples without appearing disorderly. His colouring suggested time spent outdoors, though not so much as to be rough or unsightly.
In short, he was quite a handsome man. He could be even more so if it were not for the frown that seemed almost permanently etched on his features, and the dark circles under his eyes that indicated a lack of sleep.
“It must keep you very busy,” Joanna said. “Your company, I mean.”
“Yes,” Lord Kelt said, looking even more tired for a moment, as if pointing it out only made him feel it the more. “It has been a long day, today in particular. I wanted to be home earlier in order to ensure you were settling well with the children.”
“We were quite comfortable,” Joanna said. She felt a pity for him. It was obvious that the man needed rest, though he was not likely to get it with so much laying on his shoulders. She did not envy him.
With almost a start, though, she realised that her own position could be much the same: she had to work for her keep now, and could not spend her days in idle leisure or pleasurable pastimes as she had before.
“I hope you have enjoyed your dinner,” Lord Kelt said, laying down his knife and leaning back in his chair. He was quite evidently finished with eating.
“Yes, thank you, your Lordship,” Joanna said, dipping her head.
“It won’t be a regular affair. I wanted to meet you on your arrival in our home, but from henceforth you will take your meals with the servants,” he told her, wiping his mouth with a cloth napkin.
“Of course,” Joanna said, more out of reflex than any real sense – for the commandment stung. All her life she had been the young lady of the house, and she had had servants to do her own bidding. Now to be relegated amongst them was hard to bear.
But she tried to remain humble. It was, after all, her place now. She trained her eyes carefully on the table and offered no complaint. It was better this way than getting nothing to eat at an empty table in an empty house.
“From tomorrow, I expect the children to be kept to a strict schedule. They are to learn as much as you can possibly teach them. Samuel, in particular,” Lord Kelt said, getting up from his seat. “You are to develop them, Miss Warrick, into the finest young people in the county. Are you able to accomplish that?”
Joanna thought of her three new charges as she stood: the kind Amy, weak but eager Samuel, and boisterous Patience. Though she had little confidence in herself, it was true what she had said. The children were well-learned already, and if
she had any skill at all in teaching them, they would develop further. “Yes, Lord Kelt, I think I am.”
“Don’t think, Miss Warrick,” he said over his shoulder as he left the room. “Believe. For if you are to remain in this household, accomplish it you must.”
Edmund shuffled the papers on his desk again, trying hard to concentrate. It was no good. He rang a small bell by his side, and waited to hear the familiar footsteps outside his door.
“Yes, my lord?”
“Jenkins, where are the children?”
Jenkins glanced behind him, as if he were expecting to find them there. “They are with their new governess, sir.”
“And where is that?” Edmund asked, barely able to maintain his patience.
“Oh – they are in the schoolroom, sir,” Jenkins said. “Miss Warrick did express some thought of a trip outside, but said it would wait until warmer weather, sir.”
Edmund nodded. He pushed his papers into some semblance of order on his desk and handed Jenkins two sealed envelopes. “See that these are delivered, will you?” he asked, standing up. Jenkins took them with a bow and was soon gone from sight.
Edmund stretched his arms above his head, feeling a relief at the movement. He had been sitting before his desk for too many hours already. A few more, and it would be time to dine with the children. There were pressing matters that needed to be dealt with amongst his papers, but nothing was more urgent to him than his siblings. It was past time to ensure the progress of their education.
Edmund moved through his home fluently, knowing the corridors like the back of his hand. Better, perhaps, having lived there since the day he was born in an upstairs room.
Much of the estate was tied in painful memories of his mother and father, but all the same, this was where he would stay. It was his birth right, and his heritage. This home had belonged to the Hardwickes since they took the seat of the Earl of Kelt some centuries before. He was not going to be the first to abandon it.
He slowed his pace as he approached the schoolroom, favouring silence and caution above speed. He waited until he could see into the room, through a small gap where the door had been left ajar, and paused there.
He had to know whether his brother and sisters were receiving the education they required. And if this new Miss Warrick were to raise her voice at them or mark the back of their hands with a ruler, well, she would hear from him about it.
“That’s beautiful work, Miss Patience,” he heard Miss Warrick saying.
Edmund leaned forward a little, and he could see Patience bending her head over some needlework. She was resting the hoop on her knees, and he could not see the design. Miss Warrick stood behind her, looking over her shoulder.
“Perhaps you could try a more complex stitch for the roses. Some French knots, perhaps, with couched threads to form the lines,” Miss Warrick continued.
Patience twisted her face. “I dislike French knots. They always twist on the needle and get too tight, and I get a knot in my thread that pulls right through the fabric.”
“Show me now,” Miss Warrick said, tolerantly. Edmund and she both watched as Patience drew the thread against her finger, spun it around the needle three times, and then attempted to push it back through the fabric.
“Ah, there,” Miss Warrick said, reaching out to guide her fingers. “Keep some pressure on the thread, so it will stay in place. You see? Now draw it through…. Yes, like that… Very well done.”
Edmund smiled at the self-satisfied look on his sister’s face, but then swallowed it. So, the woman had managed to teach her a single stitch; it was hardly a grand accomplishment. Whether the lesson would hold was another thing entirely again. He watched still, shifting his weight until he could just make out Amy’s small form through the slightest space between the wall and the door.
“How are you doing with your writing, Miss Amy? Let me see,” Miss Warrick said, leaning over the second girl now. “Oh! That’s very pretty indeed. But perhaps you might draw me some flowers during our art classes, little one. You must focus on your writing today.”
“I’m sorry, Miss Warrick,” Amy said, and she sounded so plaintive that it made Edmund’s blood rush for a moment. Surely, she was not afraid of the woman! Had she shouted at her, or punished her in some way?
“That’s alright,” Miss Warrick said. Her voice was kind and soft, and Edmund caught a glimpse of her smoothing down Amy’s hair affectionately. “Now, do you remember what to write?”
Edmund puzzled over it. She sounded gentle now, and did not remonstrate with the child. Perhaps she had changed her demeanour – perhaps even heard a sound of someone stepping outside. Had he not been careful enough? But no, there was no indication that Miss Warrick had heard him at all.
“Is Edmund home today?” Samuel piped up. Edmund shifted his position, but from where he stood in the hall, he could not see his little brother, try as he might.
“Why, yes, I believe Lord Kelt is working in his office here today,” Miss Warrick said.
“Can I go watch him?”
Edmund smiled to himself. Samuel was turning into a nuisance. He always wanted to watch his big brother work. For a short while, when they were between governesses, he had even allowed it. But it was no good; the boy asked thousands of questions, so much so that Edmund had not been able to get anything done at all.
“No, no,” Miss Warrick laughed. “You’ll have to keep at your lessons. Your brother won’t be too pleased if I let you escape me.”
“I’ll take my books,” Samuel tried.
“I’m afraid the answer is no,” Miss Warrick said. “You will see him at dinner. The harder you study, the quicker the time will pass. I should bury my nose in that book if I were you.”
“I like it here better anyway,” Amy said, her voice still so child-like compared to that of her older siblings. “Miss Warrick’s so nice and pretty.”
Miss Warrick laughed again, heartily this time. “Oh, Miss Amy, aren’t you the sweetest thing,” she said. “But you can’t get around me that way. Come, let me see your script… oh, that is well-written.”
“How do you think I should sew this part?” Patience asked. She sounded strangely shy, not at all like the strident young lady she normally was. It took Edmund a long moment to realise that she was probably quite unused to asking for help. He had
never heard her say such a thing, not to all the governesses whom he had employed.
“Let me see now… Ah, yes. Why don’t you take this part, like so…”
Edmund shifted his feet and watched Miss Warrick sew deftly, having taken the embroidery hoop from Patience’s hands. Her eyes were narrowed in concentration, and she quickly handed the hoop back, pointing out some technical details for Patience’s benefit.
Edmund waited in the corridor, a frown settling deeper on his face as time wore on. There was nothing he had heard that lay any fault at Miss Warrick’s door. No, she was all but the perfect governess: kind, patient, measured, and graceful. She used the same light deftness to correct a mistake as to deflect the children’s attempts to leave their books behind and play, or seek Edmund out in his office.
In fact, there was nothing he could reproach in her at all.
It was quite dissatisfying.
The grandfather clock in the main hall chimed, and Edmund quickly straightened up. He had quite lost track of time, listening to the children at their lessons.
Normally it would take him only a short while to form an assessment of a new governess, but he had been lulled into a relaxed state by Miss Warrick’s calm and gentle voice. She had attentively moved between the three children, despite the differences in their lessons and their development.
Now, to his alarm, he realised he had quite overstayed his intentions. The chime was a signal of the end of lessons, which meant –
The door to the schoolroom burst fully open, and Samuel nearly ran head-on into him.
“Edmund!” he exclaimed. “Why are you standing outside?”
“I’m… not standing,” Edmund said, keeping his eyes on Samuel so that he would not have to look up at Miss Warrick. “I was walking over to fetch you for dinner. I didn’t know if your new governess had been told about the significance of the chime.”
“We stopped for dinner yesterday,” Samuel pointed out.
“Ah, yes,” Edmund said. “Right. Well, come along, Amy and Patience. I’m sure Jenkins is ready to serve.”
He looked up and noticed Miss Warrick lingering by the doorframe, watching them.
“They were well-behaved, I trust?” Edmund asked, though he knew the answer for himself.
“Little angels,” Miss Warrick replied, smiling and tidying away a rogue strand of curls on Amy’s head.
“Wonderful,” Edmund said, hesitating. The way she stood there – did she think he would invite her to dine with them? He had made things clear the evening before. She made no move to follow them, however, and after a moment he supposed that he was perhaps putting a meaning onto her actions that was not really there.
He took Amy’s hand, nodded to Miss Warrick, and led Samuel away towards the main hall. Patience followed, brushing her long hair back over her shoulder with a careless grace.
After changing quickly to clothing more suitable for dining, Edmund sat at his table, watching his siblings attack their evening meal.
“So, are you enjoying your lessons?” he asked, trying not to sound too concerned.
“I love Miss Warrick,” Amy said, grinning and popping a pea into her mouth with her hands. “She’s really nice. And she drew me a horsey.”
“It’s called a horse, Amy,” Patience said, sounding bored.
“Leave her be,” Edmund chided. “And what of you, Patience? Do you like your new governess?”
“She’s satisfactory,” Patience said.
Edmund was taken aback. That was high praise, indeed. “Sammy?”
“I think she’s really clever,” Samuel said, furrowing his brow seriously. “She knows things.”
“A good trait for a governess, I have to admit,” Edmund said, amused. “So, you’d like to keep her.”
“Yes, please!” Amy shouted, making Samuel jump in his chair and Edmund laugh.
“Don’t shout!” Patience scolded her.
“Alright, everyone, that’s enough,” Edmund chuckled. “We’ll keep her. For now, at least. Now, you be sure to tell me if you feel that something changes.”
“Edmund, when is Christopher coming home?” Patience asked, changing the subject abruptly.
Edmund sighed, and put down his fork. He did not relish the idea of talking about Christopher. His closest brother in age, but perhaps the least in maturity. Even Samuel had his moments of wisdom and insight, between his childish play.
Christopher was in his own world, and wherever it was, it was not where he was meant to be.
“I’m not sure,” Edmund admitted. “I have heard from our friend, the Captain, that he did indeed enlist as he was supposed to. This time. They have him in training to be an officer. I expect he will be allowed to return home once he has completed his training.”
“Is it dangerous?” Amy asked, her little round face transforming into a worried pout.
“I’m sure he is in no danger,” Edmund told her. Privately he added to himself, not from the army at least. It was what Christopher got up to in his spare time that worried him the most. The lad had always seemed right on the verge of causing a scandal. Edmund had supposed it might be better when he was enlisted securely, but with him away from home and no way to keep track of his actions, it somehow seemed even worse.
“Will he bring some friends back with him when he comes?” Patience asked.
Edmund threw her a sharp glance. What interest of hers was it if Christopher should bring home some soldiers? That did not sit well with him at all.
“I should hope not,” he said. “Though, as you know, Christopher does as Christopher wishes. It’s possible that he shall bring some fellow officers on leave. But if he does, I will stress this: you are absolutely not, under any circumstances, to fraternise with them. You will keep to your studies.”
Patience looked upset, but she said nothing. She was becoming shrewd, that girl. Edmund knew he was going to have to watch her closely. A failure to argue with him today likely meant a disobedience tomorrow.
“Off to bed, all of you,” Edmund said, waving his hand since it was clear that they had all finished eating. “You have lessons in the morning, and I’m to London. We all need our rest.”
He retired to his own chambers, pausing as he passed the short walk to the servants’ quarters. This new governess might be suitable, after all. He was just going to have to watch her closely to make sure of it.