Edith's New Governess

By HandPrince

Chapter 4. Edith Donates To Charity

   Flora wrote two letters that evening by the light of her room’s paraffin lamp.  She would have preferred the clarity of an electric light, such as the ones recently installed at Miss Windgate’s.  But when Flora, at dinner, had made mention of the Academy’s new lighting, Mrs. Fogarty pronounced electric lights “perfectly ghastly,” and dismissed them as a vulgar fancy which would soon pass.  She’d added that those wretched devices threw every wrinkle and blemish in a lady’s complexion into sharp relief.

   Flora composed her first letter to Miss Windgate and the staff at the Academy, praising the beauty of Wippingham Manor, the Fogarty estate etc., and providing a chronicle of her first day as governess there – with a relatively more candid account of events than she had provided Mrs. Fogarty in the drawing room.  She had nearly finished when there came a knock at her door.  In an unscheduled intermission from her labours, Flora soon found herself playing hostess to a merry little Lily, clad in her brand spanking new kitchen maid’s uniform which the seamstress had just completed for her, and eager to show it off to Miss Field.   At Flora’s invitation, Lily deposited herself on Flora’s knee, prattling happily as Flora undid the child’s cap and brushed the pretty tangles from Lily’s curly locks of coppery-golden hair.

   “There you are!” came an exclamation from the open doorway after several minutes had passed.  There stood a petite woman in her early-twenties, with weary-looking eyes, clad in a black dress, white apron and cap identical to the one Lily wore. “Off to bed with you! I’ll teach you to come in ‘ere a-bothering Miss Field!” Lily, large brown eyes widening, slipped off of Flora’s knee and scurried to the doorway in a trice.  Then looking warily up at the woman, she hurriedly edged herself sidelong along the hallway wall out of Flora’s sight, her hands pasted across the seat of her skirt, plainly deeming that area at risk of a possible swat as she passed.

  “You must be Miss Reid,” exclaimed Flora graciously, rising from her seat to approach the woman before she could walk off.  “If you can spare a moment, pray do come in.”  Regarding Flora for the first time, the woman glanced both directions down the hallway to ensure no one saw her, then sullenly entered, closed the door behind her, and dropped the faintest hint of a curtsy before seating herself on the bedside at Flora’s bidding.

   “’elen’s me name. Begging your pardon, Miss. My Lily won’t trouble you no more, I’ll be seein’ to that shortly.” With a stern expression, she nodded her head towards the wall separating her and Lily’s room from Flora’s.  Flora importuned her to please not chastise the child, explaining that Flora had invited Lily to visit.  Flora then pronounced Lily an altogether delightful little girl and a credit to her mother.

   Helen smiled wanly, unable to prevent her icy countenance from thawing somewhat.  “You’re not at all popular in these parts, Miss.  If me or me sprog was to be seen as chummin’ with you, it’d go poorly for the both of us.”  In response to Flora’s queries, the woman revealed that this was her first position in service; and that she’d had the good fortune to secure it due to the precipitous departure of the previous maid, the need for a prompt replacement, and a glowing letter of recommendation from a certain gentleman.  Lily’s father? “I ‘aven’t laid eyes on ‘im since before me lassie was born.”  When asked how she had managed before taking her current position, Helen’s visage hardened again, “That’ll be quite enough of your prying if it’s all the same to you, Miss.  And now I’d best be on me way.” She rose and strode to the door.  Flora requested that Helen give Lily an extra goodnight kiss from Flora as the woman opened the door, peered out ensure her departure would go unwitnessed, dropped another barely detectable curtsy, and closed the door behind her.

   Flora waited in suspense, concerned that Helen might make good on her earlier intention to give Lily more than merely a kiss.  As she sat in quiet vigilance, Flora resolved never again to inquire into the nature of Helen’s previous profession, already having little doubt as to its character.  Voices, muffled but audible, came through the wall for a few minutes, then silence.  Neither the rhythmic smacks of a maternal palm against soft childish flesh nor a little girl’s tearful wails of pain reached her ears.  With a sigh of relief Flora settled back to her task.

   For her second letter, Flora largely copied her first verbatim. But she added effusive gratitude for the gifts of the second-hand gowns, now so essential for Flora since she was to dine with the mistress of the house every night and must arrive appropriately attired.  A family, of course, expected a governess in their employ to dress well, especially if invited to dine with them.  But to do so every evening without wearing the same few gowns repeatedly would have otherwise proven a near-impossible challenge on wages of just two and ten per month.  This latter missive Flora addressed to her benefactors and then retired, exhausted, to her bed.

   The following morning, after Edith and Flora had finished their breakfast trays in the schoolroom, Flora informed Edith that she should have a penmanship drill for her first lesson that day.

   “Oh Miss Field, must I?” responded Edith, dispiritedly.

“Oh Miss Fields, must I?” responded Edith, dispiritedly.

   “Yes Mistress Fogarty, you must.  You shall perform every lesson your governess assigns you, without complaint.  Practising your handwriting may prove dreary at present, but in future you shall benefit from your mastery of a proper lady’s hand.  Your penmanship defines you.  Posterity shall know you by your letters.”

   With a sigh, Edith, at Flora’s direction, procured pen, ink and paper.  She brightened slightly at the news that Miss Field had assigned her to rewrite, in cursive script, a page from ‘A Pilgrim’s Progress,’ a book Edith enjoyed.

   Once she had Edith set to her task, Flora slipped out of the schoolroom and made her way to the main entrance.  Sure enough, a sterling tray sat near the front door, upon which lay a single letter addressed to Reginald Fogarty M.P., Parliament, London, in Edith’s childish hand.

   Flora took a deep breath, turned, and looked about her, as if admiring the grandeur of the foyer, but in fact checking for witnesses.  She detected none.  In a twinkling, she placed her two letters on the tray, retrieved Edith’s and slipped it into her blouse.  Then she returned to the classroom to check on Edith’s progress, and until luncheon busied the child with drills rewriting specific letters that gave her difficulty, (her “f’s” in particular), followed afterwards by French lessons.  Flora wished to assure herself that by the time Edith might have liberty to check that tray in the entrance hall, the mail would surely have long gone and the child would assume her missive had set forth upon its journey to her papa’s hand.

   Once Edith’s school day ended, she had no thought of checking the mail tray, only of rushing outside to play - after her obligatory departing curtsy to Miss Field, of course.  Miss Field’s rules concerning curtsies were a bother, but another of Miss Field’s smack bottoms would surely prove far more bothersome indeed!  Out in the manor park, Edith skipped rope along its flagstone pathways, happy to be quit for the moment of Miss Field, of her myriad rules, and of the ever-present menace of a spanking should Edith fail to obey them.  Edith hoped her letter to papa would arrive swiftly and that he would write back with equal swiftness telling mama to dismiss Miss Field at once.  Edith need only take care to watch her ‘tone’ and remember her curtsies for a little while longer, and then she should find herself henceforth liberated from the terrible shadow of Miss Field’s punishing palm.

   Through the hedges to her left, Edith spied flashes of movement coming down the lane on the other side.  She peered through a thinner section for a few moments until all at once Lily came into view.  “Lily!” ordered Edith, “come over here at once.”  The astonished Lily complied, pressing her face into the hedge to see Edith as best she could through the foliage.  “Why aren’t you at your work?” Edith demanded sternly.  Lily replied that she had been at Charity School in the town and was on her way back home now.  After a few moments of thought, Edith continued, in a tone of command, “crawl through to my side.”  Puzzled, Lily got down on her tummy and with difficulty negotiated her way beneath the dense branches until she was almost out.  “Not all the way through, not yet!” snapped Edith, “If someone sees us together I shall be whipped.”

   Edith knelt a couple feet from Lily and blocking her from view.  She then gazed carefully back over her shoulder towards the manor.  Dozens of windows included Edith within their prospects, and behind any one of them might stand a pair of eyes of someone who might notify Mama of Edith’s fraternisation with the forbidden Lily.  Edith instructed Lily to wait in hiding until Edith reached a certain tree fifty yards hence.  Then Lily was to begin walking, not running, staying far behind, until Edith found a safe place for them to talk.

   Lily did as Edith bade, and emerged from her covert once Edith gained that tree.  Upon seeing Lily coming, Edith immediately continued to walk, not yet certain of her destination.  Perhaps the labyrinth?  The two of them wouldn’t be seen, but might readily be heard.  Then she thought of the perfect spot.

   Eventually, checking over her shoulder at intervals to ensure that Lily still followed, Edith arrived at a tumbledown shed near the border of the park. Overgrown with ivy, it leaned close to collapse, its sod roof partially caved in. Once certain that Lily could see where Edith had gone, she stepped inside and awaited Lily's arrival.  Piles of broken crockery and rusted discarded gardening implements covered the floor.  As Lily approached, Edith peered out of cracks between the rotting wallboards in each direction to ensure no one watched. Lily entered.

   “Please. Why are we ‘ere, Miss Edith?” she asked, after dropping a respectful curtsy.

   “My mama told me I would get a spanking if she catches me speaking to you.”

   “What’s ‘a spanking?’”

   “It’s a word Miss Field uses.  It means a smack bottom.  She spanked me yesterday morning, very very hard!”

   “Miss Field whipped you!?” exclaimed the incredulous Lily, “but… she’s so… nice!”

   “Nonsense! If you were her pupil, you would know!  I shall be ever so glad when my papa makes my mama dismiss her.  You are lucky you get to go to your school instead of Miss Field.”

   Lily murmured almost inaudibly that she would be very sad if Miss Field had to go.  Then at normal volume, “at my school, nippers get caned.”

   “Caned?! Oh my! That sounds simply dreadful!  Your schoolmistress canes you??”  Edith had once overheard her parents discussing a letter from her eldest brother's boarding school saying he had been caned for possession of a flask of cherry brandy, and associated caning with big strong boys, not with delicate children her own age and of the fairer sex.

"Caned?! Oh my! That sounds simply dreadful!  Your schoolmistress canes you??” 

   “Oh not me, Miss Edith.  Girls almost never catch it. And when they do it’s near always the same two lassies for 'oppin’ the wag together.  Mostly it’s boys.”  In response to Edith's nod of interest, she continued, “I like me school far better than workin’ in the kitchen.  Easy work, it is.  You just sits at yer bench and write on yer slate what yer schoolmistress tells ye to write.  If ye do that proper and don’t come in late or play up ye shan’t be caned.”  Lily paused, then continued, “But Miss Edith, why are we-“

   “Unlace my boots, Lily,” Edith commanded. 

   Lily knelt and began to fuss with the knot of Edith’s left boot. In a tone of concern she murmured, “Please Miss Edith, I mustn’t be too long in returning or Cook’ll gi’ me the batty fang for sure.”

   Edith tossed her head haughtily, “Cook never whips me! She daren’t!  Not even when I tied her apron strings to the water pipe when her back was turned!” Lily looked up at Edith with a gasp of amazement tinged with admiration.  Edith, pleased to have an appreciative audience, continued, “The kitchen maids got all bent over their work so Cook couldn’t see them laughing.  And Cook just said-” here Edith brandished an imaginary wooden spoon, and then thundered, “If ye were a bairn ‘o me own, ye wouldn’t be a’sittin’ for a fortnight as I live and breathe!” Lily collapsed on the cluttered floor, beside herself with laughter, with Edith soon joining in.

   Once the children’s mirth had subsided, Edith, in a less imperious but still autocratic tone, declared, “It shouldn’t please me for Cook to thrash you. So unlace my boots now and be quick about it.”

   As Lily undid the knot and began loosening Edith’s laces, she remarked,   “Cook and Miss Field ‘ad a terrible row last night.” Edith’s interest piqued and she urged Lily to tell her more.  “I ‘elped Miss Field pick a dress to wear, and I forgot me errand for Cook.  So Cook caught me and Miss Field tried to save me from a whipping.  I still caught it, but Miss Field did ‘er level best on my account.  She was a brick she was!”

   As Lily undid the knot of Edith’s right bootlace, Edith frowned in silence for several moments, trying to square her present impression of Miss Field with that of a woman striving to save a little girl from a thrashing rather than administer one.  “With what did Cook whip you?”

   “With ‘er wooden spoon, she did.”

   “Oh, THAT little thing of hers couldn’t have hurt very much.”  Without a word, Lily finished loosening Edith’s laces. Then she grasped the rear hem of her threadbare frock, turned her back to Edith and lifted the garment high, exposing her backside to Edith’s view.

   Edith gasped at the sight of Lily’s overlapping pink crescent and oval spoon marks and also at the sight of Lily’s absence of undergarments.  “Oh Lily, that must have hurt something awful!” Then, “take off my boots and put them on.”  Lily had to be told twice, not certain she’d heard correctly the first time.

   Once she had them on, Lily cried, “Oh fittums! What lovely daisy-roots ye ‘ave, Miss Field!  They fit me perfect!  I wish I ‘ad a pair just like 'em!”

   “You do,” declared Edith magnanimously. “It is my wish that you shall have these very shoes.”  

   After several moments of stunned silence, Lily began to cry.  “Oh Miss Edith!”  Lily scarcely knew what to say.  She’d had shoes in the past, but never ones half so finely made as these.  After thanking Edith effusively, Lily became grave, and queried, “But if I wear these back to the house... what’ll you wear?”

   Edith frowned.  She hadn’t thought through her plan in its entirety.   “I shall wear them back, and give them to you later.”

   “But Miss Edith, where will you give them to me?  What if someone sees us and tells your mum?  Then you’ll have to get a sp-“

   “I’ve got it! I shall hide them somewhere only the two of us know, and you may fetch them later on!”

   “But Miss Edith,” replied Lily after a thoughtful pause, “What’ll I say when Cook or me mum asks me where I got’em?  They’ll think I stole 'em from you.”

    Edith brightened. “I shall place them in our missionary barrel by the stables, and you shall take them afterwards.” She continued in an excited rush, “And no one shall see us together, and if someone asks, you shall tell them the truth, that they were in the missionary barrel.  You shall need stockings too. I shall put two pairs inside.  Nanny shan't miss them.”

   And thus their little intrigue took shape.  The next morning, shortly after the church clock tolled the half-hour, Edith emerged from a side entrance close to the stables, deposited her boots and stockings into the barrel, and disappeared back indoors.  Moments later, a second small figure emerged, this time from beneath a hay pile in the stable, hurriedly donned the boots, and dashed off towards the village as fast as her newly-shod feet could manage, lest she arrive late and thus incur the schoolmistress's displeasure, and her cane.

<--- Chapter 3             Chapter 5 --->

(c) Copyright 2023 by HandPrince
This is fiction. Please don't discipline
your children this way.

 For permission to reprint:
handprince at hush dot com


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