Edith's New Governess

By HandPrince

Chapter 9.   Edith Has Her Dinner

      "If you don't eat your meat," declared Flora firmly, as she reached across the nursery table and shifted the bowl of tapioca off of Edith's tray and out of her reach, "you can't have any pudding!"

   "But Mama doesn't make me-"

   "You aren't dining with Mama tonight, my girl," interrupted Flora.  "She has important guests over for dinner as you well know, and hence you are dining here in the nursery with nanny and me.  And at this table, Mistress Fogarty, your governess' rules apply, not your Mama's."  The child stared at her plate in glum silence.   "You have scarcely touched your roast ptarmigan," Flora added.  "I shan't permit you to forgo sound nutrition only to fill up on sweets.  Now finish your meat like a good girl, and no back chat."

   "But Miss Field!  It's not f-"

   "I said no back chat!" snapped Flora and silenced the child with a stern look.  Edith sullenly lowered her gaze to her plate once more but made no move to eat.  Several moments passed as Flora gave nanny a glance of apology for this unpleasant interlude during the woman's dinner time. 

    Flora had weighed Edith's table manners and found them wanting ever since her first evening dining with the Mrs. and Miss Fogartys.  But Flora had avoided admonishing Edith except for behaviors for which she had first heard Mrs. Fogarty admonish the child; and those came only infrequently.  Flora could not risk the  diminution of her authority in her young charge's eyes sure to follow upon witnessing her governess overruled by Mama.  And she relished this evening's brief opportunity to instill better deportment in the child now that Edith's governess's authority held sway at her dinner table for once, rather than her Mama's.

   "I'm not hungry," exclaimed Edith, sulkily.  She had felt hungry when she'd first sat down with nanny and Miss Field.  But this had been her most unpleasant dinner in memory, perhaps ever.  Miss Field kept finding fault with her, ordering her to sit up straighter, chiding her as unladylike for taking too large of a bite, scolding her for chewing with her mouth open when Edith didn't believe she had done so, and then condemning as 'backchat' Edith's protestations of innocence in that regard.  And Miss Field had twice upbraided her for an absentminded elbow on the table, and once for reaching for the salt rather asking for it to be passed.  Edith's appetite steadily waned and her petulant indignation waxed as found herself repeatedly in the wrong and a recurrent target of Miss Field's disapprobation. She hid her anger as best she could, although this task steadily increased in difficulty.  But hide it she must, knowing Miss Field quite capable of deeming certain tones of voice or facial expressions matters for discipline should they manifest themselves too obviously.  But oh Heavens!  A tapioca pudding would taste so heavenly now and would surely lighten her wounded spirits!

   "Very well then," replied Flora with a smile,  "your pudding shall not go to waste.  I am quite fond of tapioca actually.  Perhaps, nanny," Flora glanced towards Mrs. Brown, "you and I, shall split Edith's bowl between us?"  Nanny nodded assent.

    "OH!" wailed Edith and exploded from the table in tears, knocking over her chair in her rush. She fled through the entrance-way into the adjoining night nursery, flung herself face down onto her bed, and gave way to a flood of furious crying.  Crouching in a corner of her mind lay the awareness that she'd just been dreadfully naughty.  But she'd been an overfilled balloon - burst asunder by one final prick. And as her rage, frustration, and unhappiness poured out into her pillow, the prospect of a smacking from Miss Field seemed, for a few moments at least, of trifling consequence.

    Flora excused herself to nanny and rose to follow. 

   "That were an awful lot of new rules for her to learn all at once," exclaimed Mrs. Brown, with concern, "a few too many perhaps."

   "Or perhaps," retorted Flora, regarding the woman narrowly, "haste is of the essence since she plainly has a great deal of catching up to do!"

   "That she does, that she does.  But there is only so much one can expect the poor mite to learn in half an hour."

   "I shall be the judge of that," snapped Flora as she disappeared through the doorway into the night nursery, ignoring the woman's parting plea that Flora "not be too severe" with the girl.

   Standing beside Edith's bed in the dimness, Flora commanded, "Stop! This! Nonsense! At! Once!" clapping her hands loudly five times to punctuate each word.   Thought Flora, as she seated herself on the girl's bedside, there can be no gainsaying the efficacy of hand claps in winning the attention of a child previously chastised by those selfsame hands. 

    The sharp reports of Miss Field's claps, and her tone, spurred Edith to quickly twist onto her back lest the seat of her dress prove too tempting a target for Miss Field's palm.  And she strove to swallow her tears as best she could.  A horrid feeling of dread rebounded from that corner of her mind in which it had crouched moments earlier.  Her fleeting courage passed.  The terrible prospect of being turned over Miss Field's knee now felt every bit as consequential as ever - fear having all but replaced fury.

   Mrs. Fogarty had informed Mrs. Brown earlier that nanny was to accompany Edith to the main dining room after dinner when sent for.  It was Mrs. Fogarty's wish that Edith don her very best Sunday frock and be made especially presentable, so as to charm the Earl and Countess Reddend for a few minutes with what a well-behaved and pretty daughter the Fogartys had, followed by her restoration to the nursery.  Mrs. Fogarty hoped to win their sponsorship for her upcoming charity event to benefit the village clinic, and would be most displeased if Edith appeared teary eyed and out of sorts.  And she would likely hold Flora responsible should that occur.

    Flora frowned as Edith dried her face with the apron of her pinafore and shifted herself into a sitting position beside her governess.  "P-please Miss Field! I'm ever ever so so so sorry!" Edith entreated, taking Flora's left hand in both of hers and looking up imploringly at her governess.  "I-I didn't mean to be naughty just now!  It just happened!  Please oh please believe me!"

    Flora discerned at once that Edith spoke truly.  Still, naughtiness is naughtiness even when it "just happens," as tantrums so often do.  Under normal circumstances Edith would be receiving her spanking now as remuneration for her ill-mannered outburst.  But circumstances were far from normal.  Flora had no desire to spoil the impression her employer wished to make upon the Reddends by sending Edith swollen-eyed, distraught, and obviously freshly-smacked, to be presented to the Lord and Lady below.  But she also had no intention of allowing Edith to discern this fact, lest the child look for ways of twisting such disciplinary hesitancy on Flora's part to Edith's advantage in future.

    Miserable with suspense, Edith stammered out the question foremost in her mind.  "Miss Field... a-are you," she tried to swallow, failed, then continued, "are you... g-going to whip me now??"  The child's shoulders hunched with anxiety and her small frame shuddered slightly as she uttered those last words.  Her gaze fell from her governess's eyes to her governess's lap.

    Regarding Edith sternly, Flora feigned indecision.  "That depends," she replied slowly in an ominous tone, continuing to regard the child sternly, as if mulling over a weighty decision as yet unsettled.  Edith took a breath and opened her mouth preparing to speak, but Flora silenced her with a finger across her lips.  "You may not speak until you are given permission!"  Edith hung her head again and silently upbraided herself for having gotten herself into this parlous circumstance.

    "Edith, look at me."  The child raised her gaze to Flora's.  "At table, did you decide beforehand, 'I shall run from the room without asking to be excused because I wish to be willfully naughty,' and then you did so?"  Edith emphatically shook her head from side to side, uncertain if she was permitted to speak yet.  "Or, on the other hand, did you act before you had a chance to think?"  An emphatic up and down shake of a little head followed.  "So you weren't wilfully naughty, and that is to your credit.  Still, your misbehavior just now exhibited an absence of self control.  No one possesses the virtue of self control at birth.  It must be instilled in children... by means of discipline!"  Flora allowed that portentous word to hang in the air for several seconds as Edith squirmed with unease.  "For your lack of self control," lied Flora solemnly, "I'm rather inclined to put you over my knee and spank you good and proper!"

   By the light through the open doorway leading back to the day nursery, Flora noticed with satisfaction tiny glistening specks of moisture beginning to appear on Edith's forehead.  Since a spanking isn't truly an option, thought Flora, a bit of wholesome fear must suffice in its stead.  "But perhaps," continued Flora, as if newly viewing the question from a fresh perspective, "that might be overly hasty." She took Edith by her hand and rose from her bedside.  "Come with me."

   Edith followed Miss Field back into the day nursery and to her place at the table.  Miss Field explained that Edith would now have another chance to show she had sufficient self control so as not to warrant a dose of discipline.  Edith nodded silently, still wary of Miss Field's earlier admonition not to speak unless given permission.  And how could she ask for permission to speak without first speaking, and thus risking being deemed willfully disobedient for doing so??

   Miss Field explained that Edith would demonstrate her self control by finishing every bit of her roast ptarmigan.  Edith regarded her plate, and found it a loathsome sight.  Her meat had gone cold, and Edith had never liked ptarmigan even when it was hot, at least not how Cook prepared it, in a greasy onion sauce which had now congealed.  But, like a slavering wolf standing over a cornered rabbit, the frightful possibility of yet another smacking across Miss Field's knee loomed ever present in her mind.  So Edith steeled herself to her task.  She took bites as large as she dared take without risking making Miss Field cross, and swallowed each as quickly as she could with a minimum of chewing.

    As Edith undertook her assigned exercise in self control, Flora contemplated the child's general conduct in the days since her introduction in the master bedroom to that novel use of Mama's hairbrush.  Flora had felt then that Edith's chastisement had concluded prematurely, without fully thawing the icy hardness of disobedience in her young heart and thus bringing forth the warm softness of compliant repentance.  And Flora now deemed herself vindicated in light of the child's subsequent misbehavior and attitude.  A quick learner when it suited her, Edith had rapidly gained insight over the past fortnight regarding just how much Miss Field would allow her to get away with, without quite crossing the line and earning herself a chastisement. 

    Nanny and Miss Field silently exchanged glances as she methodically cut pieces off her slab of meat and in short order transferred them to her mouth and then to her stomach, until at last every bit was gone.  "That's my good girl," cooed nanny, relieved that Edith appeared to be out of trouble.  Miss Field appeared to relax somewhat as well.  Perhaps, Edith wondered, might I be allowed my pudding now? 

   But suddenly even tapioca pudding didn't seem appetizing any more.  Indeed, with a growing sense of alarm Edith realized she had better not put anything else into her stomach, as her urge to vomit gradually grew.  If only she were permitted to speak!  She hoped her nausea would pass, but instead it just grew steadily more urgent.  Edith realized that she would have to visit the water closet and soon.  But she had already narrowly escaped a smack bottom that evening for rushing from the table without asking to be excused, and she dared not repeat that selfsame infraction now.  But how could she ask to be excused without disobeying Miss Field's command not to speak until given permission?!  ?

    "PleasemayIbeex-" Edith covered her mouth with both hands and rushed towards the bathroom, her stomach spasming violently.  Some vomit had already squirted between her fingers by the time she reached the water closet.  Closing her eyes, she removed her hands from her mouth and gave her tummy liberty to convulse at will.  Two long heaves came in close succession, followed by a shorter one after she'd had an opportunity for several deep breaths.  The emptiness of her stomach came like a blessed relief.  But with a stab of fear, Edith felt a hand upon her shoulder.  Had Miss Field come to give Edith her smacking now?? 

   The hand drew her close and Edith, eyes still closed, immediately recognized the familiar smell of nanny.  "There there, my lamb," the old woman cooed, "let's get you out of your pinafore before it soaks through to your frock."  Edith opened her eyes, and held her arms aloft to let nanny remove the garment, which Edith now saw had splatters of sick down its front.  Nanny placed the soiled pinafore in a bucket from along the wall and placed the bucket under the tap to fill and allow the garment to soak.

   Still seated at the table, Flora pondered this fresh turn of events.  Had Edith truly been sick?  Flora suspected she very likely had, but wasn't entirely certain.  If Edith had stealthily induced vomiting with a finger down her throat, she wouldn't have been the first little girl in Flora's experience to play up in such a manner.  Perhaps this was a case of girlish histrionics, Edith's stratagem for getting the better of Flora and undermining Flora's discipline program?  Although she doubted it, Flora, wishing for certainty, rose and entered the bathroom.

   Edith clung tightly to nanny and began to cry heavily as she saw Miss Field enter.  Edith couldn't remember a time in her brief life when so much had gone so terribly wrong in so short a time. And was she to be whipped now by Miss Field?? Oh, it was simply too awful!  The little girl clung to nanny with all her might, her small form shaking with deep heaving sobs.

   Mrs. Brown met Flora's gaze steadily as she entered.  Before Flora could speak, the woman said, "if you're wondering if this child is just joshing, I can tell you for a fact she is not. I've known her since the night she were born.  And that's a good deal longer than you I daresay.  So if you're about giving this little one a smack bottom, I won't allow it, not unless the Missus herself tells me to stand aside I won't." 

   Just as Flora had again begun to think Mrs. Brown as merely a sweet empty-headed old lady, another side of the old woman reemerged, a side which Flora had encountered just once before while trying to compel Edith to take her cold bath on Flora's first day as governess.  The woman's eyes as she steadily met Flora's gaze possessed a subtle glint, faintly feral, like unto a mother bear vigilantly watching over her cub.  Flora inly bristled at this challenge to her disciplinary purview, but maintained an impassive countenance.

   Flora had more than enough experience with the ploys and subterfuges of discipline-dodging little girls to recognize Edith's flood of tears as nothing of that nature - simply the sorrow of a child in the midst of an uncommonly trying day.  No interrogation was necessary.  "I entirely agree, Mrs. Brown," declared Flora in a clipped tone, meeting the woman's eyes.  "I hadn't the slightest thought of giving Edith a smacking," lied Flora. "I merely entered to discover if I could be of any assistance to you."

   Nanny's visage softened.  "Well you can ring for the scullery maid to clean the sick off the floor for a starter."  Flora did so.  Then came a knock on the nursery door, which Flora opened to reveal one of the footmen, (thankfully not Randy), announcing that the lady of the house requested the presence of Mistress Fogarty and Mrs. Brown in the main dining room.  Flora replied that Edith had had a "mishap" and bade the man wait out in the hall, assuring him of the imminent emergence of the two personages he sought.

    Back in the bathroom, Edith sat on the side of the bathtub and let nanny bathe her face repeatedly in cold water to conceal the evidence of her recent tears, and with a wet cloth, clean away splatters of sick which had fallen onto loose strands of the girl's hair.  Then she dried the wet spots with a clean cloth and was giving the child's hair a thorough brushing when Flora came back in.

   Edith had been crying too hard to hear nanny's earlier words to Miss Field; she had only been aware that nanny had spoken something.  The little girl glanced warily at Miss Field as she reentered, but most of her earlier fear had faded.  If Miss Field intended to give her a smacking, she likely would have done so ere now.  Hence Edith deemed herself probably safe. 

   "It's an awful shame," mused Mrs. Brown aloud to Flora as she continued to brush, "that here we be, sitting in the midst of the greatest empire that ever there was, where the sun never sets. And some little girls," she nodded at Edith, "have so much, while right here in Behrendshire we have other little girls that barely have anything to wear."  Flora, still concealing her displeasure, agreed that this was indeed a sorry state of affairs, and expressed her hope for its prompt rectification. 

"Since you asked if you could be of assistance," the woman continued, "on top of the wardrobe nearest the hearth is a heap of whites which this one," she nodded at Edith, "has outgrown just a wee bit. When you have time, will you be a dear and take them to the missionary barrel for me?"  With a glance at Flora and a subtle smile bespeaking words left unspoken, the woman added, "surely some poor lassie just a wee bit smaller than this one shall put them to good use?"  Feigning inner reflection, she added, gazing off at no direction in particular, "why... perhaps you yourself might know of some deserving little mite fitting that very description?"

    Naturally, Flora agreed at once.  Mrs. Brown's obvious intent to place these items into Lily's possession somewhat softened Flora's displeasure towards the old woman, but without resolving Flora's irksome sense of a score yet unsettled.  Before she could examine the items, though, a knock came at the nursery door.  "You rang, Miss?" asked Helen Reid.  With her bucket and mop in one hand and her scrub brush in the other, she had arrived prepared for whatever chore might await her above stairs. 

    Flora directed Lily's mother to the spatters of vomit on the floor.  Just after the scullery maid entered the bathroom and began filling her bucket, Mrs. Roberts emerged therefrom, accompanied by brand spanking clean Edith.

    "Edith," declared Flora, "your Mama, nanny, and myself, all need you to be on your very best behavior when your Mama presents you to the earl and countess.  Is that understood?"  Edith nodded inattentively, this being perhaps her half dozenth iteration of this selfsame admonishment from one adult or another.  "When you return, you will make your ablutions, undress, and go to bed at once.  You shall have no further food until your breakfast tomorrow." Edith nodded again.  She felt not the least bit hungry and deemed this punishment as trifling as a "smacking" from nanny's arthritic hand.

   "Now now, Miss Field," protested Mrs. Roberts, "isn't that a wee bit too-"

   "Mrs. Roberts!" snapped Flora, "I'm afraid I must remind you that my decisions are and shall remain paramount in the realm of discipline for Mistress Fogarty.  I shall therefore thank you never to interfere, or in any such matters to set your will against my own!"  Before the woman could answer, Flora continued, "and I would strongly advise you not to involve Madam as you earlier insinuated you might do.  Mrs. Fogarty has no patience with members of staff bothering her about their disputes with one another.  And furthermore, she hired me precisely on account of my experience and efficacy as a disciplinarian, in part I daresay, due to her perception of yourself as deficient in that regard!"

    The old woman's lips tightened with anger and she met Flora's eyes coldly for several seconds, then looked down at Edith.  "Well then, my pet," she said gently, "we'd best be getting ourselves to the dining room shouldn't we, before your Mama is cross with the both of us.  Wait for me in the hall, there's a good girl."

   Edith dropped a hurried curtsy to her governess and disappeared out the nursery door, relieved to be out of Miss Field's view.  Now a new danger loomed.  What if she said or did the wrong thing in front of the titled guests?  Mama would be frightfully cross with her if she did.  And would she send for Miss Field to chastise her??

    Back in the nursery, the nanny set to work placing each of the three dinner trays onto a low table by the doorway for a footman to retrieve, while pointedly ignoring the governess.  The latter, deeming herself victor in that last exchange of words, turned to the wardrobe and began sifting through the heap of items destined for charity.  There to her satisfaction lay an assortment of little petticoats of various styles, camisoles which could double as nightwear, knickers, and drawers, all of which appeared ideal for a child of Lily's stature.  She barely noticed Mrs. Roberts opening and then closing the bottom drawer of the dresser on the other side of the doorway.

   The nursery door closed behind Mrs. Roberts, to Flora's relief, leaving herself quite alone save for Helen, now finishing up with her mopping.  "Just doin' me job is all," Helen muttered when Flora thanked her.

   "Helen, I wonder if you would be so kind as to do me a further service?"  Helen sighed wearily and stood, awaiting her new orders in silence.  Flora beckoned her to the wardrobe, presented her with the heap of clothing, and asked, might she take this to the missionary barrel? or better yet, to a certain little girl of her acquaintance in need of such items?  Helen frowned and in a hard tone responded, "I can't be a-do'in nought as might get me the chuck wi'out no reference! Not wi' winter a-comin' on and no place to go for me-" her tone softened with a hint of anxiety, "or me Lily."

    Flora assured her that nanny had the authority to set these items aside for needy little girls and that Helen would commit no fault for conveying them to Lily.  And in the unlikely event of some trouble from the Missus, Flora pledged to take full responsibility and to testify most emphatically to Helen's blamelessness in the entire matter.  Helen looked to Flora, to the garments, then back again, twice.   Her steely expression gave way at last to a faint smile.  "Well I'm powerful grateful to ye' then.  An' me lil' nipper 'll be powerful chirpy 'bout it as well, I'm bound!"

   Helen took the garments under her left arm which held her scrub brush, excused herself and turned to go.  "I appreciate you taking this chore off my hands, Helen," Flora remarked.  "As you can imagine, I shouldn't wish to run into Randy in an empty hallway!"

   Helen turned in surprise.  "'Aven't you 'eard?  Got the sack 'e did!  Mr. Carlson said 'e were on-" Helen paused for a moment, "on 'approbation'  'e called it, on account of Randy a-botherin' the kitchen maids and a-puttin' 'is 'fingers where'n 'e oughtn'.  I s'pose 'e 'spected ye were so unpopular-like that 'e could do wi' ye as 'e pleased."  Flora thanked the maid effusively for this welcome news.  "Good riddence to 'im I say," continued Helen.  "And there's several younger maids as used to talk ill o' you who now won't 'ear one word spoke wrong against ye', Miss Field.  Ye' did that boy right they say - gi' 'im just what 'e long deserved, you did. And so say I!"

   Once Helen had taken her leave, Flora, flushed with pleasure at how well this evening had turned out, sat herself at Mrs. Brown's desk and began to write.

   Edith descended the stairs slowly, her hand in nanny's, doing her best to help steady the old woman.  Nanny's other hand gripped the balustrade as she painstakingly negotiated each step.  Edith hoped Mama's requirement of her presence in the dining room would not prove lengthy.  Miss Field had ordered her put straight to bed afterwards, but hadn't said Edith mayn't have a candle.  The prospect of herself in one of her satin nightdresses, curled up under covers rendered toasty by nanny's bedwarmer, and with her copy of "At The Back of the North Wind" before her, seemed a most inviting port in her storm of this unhappy evening.

   Back in the nursery, Flora completed the following note for the nanny:

[it ran]
My dear Mrs. Brown,

   As I ordered previously, Edith is to be put to bed straightaway upon her return from the dining room.  Her candle is to be extinguished and she is not to have games, toys, or amusements of any sort accompanying her to bed.  Please convey to her that she is forbidden from asking you for any food until her breakfast upon the morrow; and caution her that should she do so I shall treat that as a serious breach of discipline, the consequence of which she well knows.  Her restrictions shall conclude upon taking her breakfast. 

[signed] Miss Field

   "Good evening, my Lord," intoned Edith just as nanny had instructed her, lowering her eyes and dropping her daintiest curtsy before the Earl of Reddend.  He smiled oddly, looking her up and down with keen interest, and nodded.  Seated at the dining table at the place normally occupied this past fortnight by Miss Field, the earl didn't impress Edith as a particularly grand fellow despite his fine clothes and title.  Short in stature, his ruddy face was wrinkled with age, his nose appeared swollen, and his breath smelled of brandy.  Edith pretended not to notice when he patted his lap and beckoned her to sit thereon, as she crossed around to the seat she normally occupied, and dropped an identical curtsy.  "Good evening, Lady Reddend."

    "My goodness what a perfectly charming child you are," replied the countess with a smile.  She was closer to Mama's age than her husband's, but not quite as pretty, thought Edith, who couldn't tell if her breath also smelled of brandy or not, on account of the woman's cloying perfume.  She wore a splendid cream-coloured gown, festooned with what appeared to be tiny diamonds.  "Your first London season is not as far off as you likely imagine, Miss Fogarty," continued the woman, affably, "you shall be presented at court and shall curtsy to the Queen herself, as you doubtlessly know.  Do you look forward to that day, my dear?"

   "Yes, my Lady," answered Edith, although in fact she had truly given the matter little consideration, since her first London season did indeed seem to lie in a dim future epoch, despite the woman's words.

   "My compliments to your governess," the woman declared, "clearly she has taught you well in the manner of curtsying to your betters."

   "I already knew how before she came along!" blurted Edith, displeased at hearing Miss Field receive undue credit of any sort.  To Edith's right, Mama shifted in her seat and Edith at once realised herself at fault.  "But," the little girl continued hastily, "my governess gives me a great deal of practice!"

   "And if she in the least measure resembles my governess at your age," laughed the woman merrily, "I daresay she gives you something else if you don't curtsy when you ought to!  Am I right?"

   Edith felt herself begin to blush once she caught the woman's meaning, feeling rather too embarrassed to reply.  "Edith?" said Mama in a tone of warning.  Mama's meaning was clear. Ignoring a direct question from Lady Reddend was plainly forbidden.

   "I must curtsy when meeting her and when taking my leave and when passing her in the hallways.  Should I ever forget she promises me a smacked bottom," replied Edith mechanically, resentful at being forced to divulge such information to a stranger, but hiding this emotion with great care.  "But," she added with fresh animation, "I have never once forgotten, so she hasn't ever smacked me for that." 

    The countess's smile disappeared as she regarded Edith skeptically.  "Never?  Are you certain you aren't telling a falsehood, my girl?" 

    From across the table, her husband leaned drunkenly in Edith's direction and declared with half serious, half jesting solemnity, "Every liar shall have his portion in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone," then chuckled to himself.

    Edith's indignation swelled.  She wanted to stamp her foot as hard as she could and shout at both of them that she was not a liar.  But of course she held her breath instead and strove to conceal her anger.  Thankfully, Mama came to her rescue.  "Our Miss Field is Edith's very first governess.  And she has been in our employ for scarcely a fortnight.  So I have every confidence Edith is not dissembling."

   "Then I am glad of this news," replied the countess to Mama, her smile returning. 
To Edith, she continued, "I daresay I find
thoroughly dismal the thought of such a darling girl as yourself being smacked."

   "Yes, Madam!" piped Edith, leaping at the opportunity to concur with the woman upon a sentiment with which Edith so wholeheartedly agreed.  

   "Has your governess any severer punishments for you then smack bottoms?"

   Edith found this question baffling.  How could Miss Field possibly punish her with greater severity than by giving her a spanking??

   "Edith?" chided Mama, "Lady Reddend asked you a question."

   "No My Lady," replied Edith to the countess, then, "did your governess smack you?" hoping to shift the focus of this particular line of conversation to some other little girl besides herself.

   "Edith!" scolded Mama gently, "don't ask impertinent questions!"

    Lady Reddend waved aside Mama's concern and answered, "Yes she did indeed... when I was fortunate."

   Edith regarded the woman with bewilderment.  Had she misspoken?  Had Edith heard her incorrectly?

   "A proper smack bottom when necessary never did a child any harm," continued the countess, as much to the other adults present as to Edith.  "I didn't enjoy them of course, no child does.  But they were over quickly.  And I generally deserved them.  But when she would lock you in the dark closet for hours with only water and a few leftover crusts of bread, that was quite another matter."

    "Locked? For hours?" asked the astonished Edith.  "But... what if you had to...to... visit the water closet?" 

    "You simply didn't!"

    "But..." Edith struggled to think of a decorous way to pose her urgent question, "what if you... what if you just couldn't...?"

    Sensing the child's meaning, the countess replied with a sigh, "in that case you were in disgrace and you got a birching?"

    "What is a 'birching?'"  With mounting horror, Edith listened as Lady Reddend explained the nature of a birch rod and its use.  Across the table, Lord Reddend, whose chin now rested upon his sternum, began to snore.  "Does a birching hurt... as much as a smack bottom, Lady Reddend?"

    "Oh dear me, child, far far worse!  The soundest of smackings is the merest trifle compared to a birching. So count yourself fortunate to have a far kindlier and less strict governess in your Miss Field than I had in mine.  On some occasions my governess left me bloody. "

    Fearing being seen as impertinent, but unable to contain herself, Edith frowned and remonstrated, "Nanny says I mustn't ever say that word, that it is terribly rude."

    The countess laughed and smiled warmly at Edith.  "What a darling little innocent you are!  No my dear, I didn't swear just now.  I meant her rod sometimes broke my skin and drew a bit of blood."  Edith's horror redoubled.  She knew of brutal treatment of children, albeit mostly in books.  But she'd never imagined that such barbarities could befall little girls of the better classes such as young Lady Reddend... or perhaps... Edith herself??  With Lady Reddend apparently done with her reminiscence, and Edith quite at a loss for words at her realization that the countess viewed Miss Field as a soft, lenient disciplinarian, an awkward silence fell for several seconds. 

    "Lord Reddend," exclaimed Mama, loudly enough to bring the man sputtering back to wakefulness, "was your recent shooting party a success?" Sputtering awake, the earl began to expound upon the shortcomings of his gameskeeper and blame the man for the declining pheasant population on the Reddend estate.  Mama, her hand below the view of her guests, discretely signaled nanny.  The woman slowly rose from her inconspicuous seat in the corner, took Edith's hand, and unobtrusively led her away. 

   As they began to mount the stairs, step by step, again holding the old woman's hand to help support her, Edith asked, "was I good, nanny?"

   "Good enough, I'd wager," replied nanny curtly, intent upon climbing stairs rather than conversation.

   Gaining the top of the stairs, Edith released nanny's hand trusting her to walk the remaining distance to the nursery by Edith's side unassisted. 

   As Flora began her descent of the back stairway, she paused.  It crossed her mind that in view of Helen's news of Flora's newly elevated popularity among at least some members of staff, perhaps she might consider taking the front stairs and braving the bustling kitchen and dining area?  She would save a considerable number of steps should she do so.

   But Flora couldn't deny that Cook intimidated her.  Flora may have gotten the better of that woman once.  But she preferred to forego a repeat engagement, especially in the very midst of Cook's domain.

   Edith stepped past the green baize door into the nursery and heaved a deep sigh as she at last felt herself out of danger.  Only her bed and her book lay before her.  But no sooner had she begun to luxuriate in this cosy sense of safety then she suddenly realized she was hungry - ravenously so.  Nanny stood by her desk, reading a sheet of paper.

   "Nanny I'm dreadfully hungry!" she whined.

   "That you are," the woman replied with a deep sigh of her own, "but there's nought to be done about it til the morrow - Miss Field's orders.  Complaints never filled an empty belly, my girl, so let's hear no more of that."  She led Edith into the night nursery.  "And let's have you out of your frock, then."

   Edith lifted her arms high and permitted nanny to undress her layer by layer, and then get her into her nightgown.  Perhaps, she hoped, her book might soon distract her from the grumblings of her tummy.  As Edith quickly washed her face and hands in the basin, Nanny disappeared back into the day nursery and returned shortly afterwards with the warming pan full of fresh glowing coals.  Slipping the hot metal round and about between Edith's sheets for half a minute or so, she motioned for the child to climb into bed.  Nanny had warmed her bed nicely, as she always did, and now only one thing remained.

   "Nanny, light my candle so I can read," commanded Edith.

   "You're to have no candle and no reading - Miss Field's orders.  Get you to sleep now and when you wake up perhaps it will be the breakfast trays arriving that wake you."

   Edith burst into tears of self pity and wailed into her pillow while nanny, ignoring her, undressed and donned her own nightgown as the child gradually cried herself out. 

   In times past, when cajoling Edith to finish the contents of her plates, nanny had on occasion besought Edith to think of the starving children in India, to which Edith had been wont to retort that nanny could jolly well send it to them then, which generally ended that line of conversation.  (In the most recent instance, though, and the only one since Miss Field's arrival, nanny had become cross and threatened to report Edith to her governess for "cheek").  Starving children had never been more than a vague amorphous concept in Edith's mind - until now. 

   Edith couldn't manage more than a few seconds at a stretch without urgent thoughts of food again crowding her mind.  Those poor children!  It felt this dreadful just to be tucked into bed with no dinner; but how must they feel having nothing for days and days? or even weeks?  Edith's imagination could not encompass such suffering. 

   Instead, she fixed upon suffering such as her imagination could encompass, albeit barely so.  She pictured herself locked in the inky blackness of the closet of Lady Reddend's cruel governess, desperate to visit the water closet, but forbidden, and with no idea if release from her prison lay near or far in future.  And then she imagined the worst - her battle not to soil herself, lost - lying in the darkness amidst her stench and filth, knowing that she was now "in disgrace" and would surely be whipped with a perfectly horrid birch rod until her bottom bled.  Miss Field's methods did indeed seem soft and lenient in comparison. 

   Upon opening her apartment door, Flora gasped with delight at the sight of Lily's freshly made gingham frock and lacy pinafore laid out side by side on her bed.  Now she should have the pleasure of presenting them to Lily when the child arrived for her nightly visit.

   Nanny had begun extinguishing the candles in the day nursery.  The light through the doorway dimmed with each until it failed completely and only starlight through the windows remained.  The wind had risen, rattling the panes slightly in their frames.  Never before had this familiar sound seemed to Edith so forlorn and desolate. 

   From the darkened day nursery came the sound of a drawer pulled open, then closed again, followed by nanny's footsteps.  Her dark shape appeared in the doorway briefly then vanished in the gloom as she proceeded further into the room.

   To Edith's surprise, nanny didn't climb into her own bed, but sat down on the side of Edith's and silently guided her to a sitting position.  Into Edith's hand she pressed something smooth and cool, which Edith recognised after a moment as the base of a ceramic bowl.  Taking hold of it with her other hand as well, she brushed against a spoon whose handle clinked against the bowl's rim.

   There, as she drew the bowl near her face, came the aroma of tapioca pudding.

<--- Chapter 8             Chapter 10 --->

 (c) Copyright 2024 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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