Edith's New Governess

By HandPrince

Chapter 17. Helen Receives a Letter

    Flora salted her roast goose and began cutting it into bite sized pieces as she reflected on the previous day's events while Edith, between bites, prattled to her Mama regarding her current painting.

    Flora's plan had succeeded beyond her wildest imaginings.  She had introduced Lily, scrubbed clean and in her new frock, to Mrs. Fogarty as if by happenstance, in the hope that Lily’s comeliness and charm might soften Mrs. Fogarty’s heart.  And indeed it had.  Could Flora now engineer a lifting of Mrs. Fogarty's prohibition upon congress between the two girls, thus releasing Flora from her duty of chastising Edith should Flora catch her again violating that prohibition?  She must proceed with the utmost care.

    The previous afternoon, Lily had remained on Mrs. Fogarty's lap until the hallboy had explained that hers and Flora's chairs were needed to set up for the auction.  Flora, noting the time with concern, had told Mrs. Fogarty that Lily must return to the kitchen now, where Cook expected her.  Mrs. Fogarty, plainly not desiring the loss of Lily's company just yet, had scoffed and retorted, "Surely Cook shan't mind if Lily arrives a trifle late."  

    "Gi' me a right skelpin' she will!" chirped Lily anxiously.

    Mrs. Fogarty had frowned, and half to Lily, half to herself, declared, "We had best see about that now hadn't we," before surrendering Lily to Flora to accompany back downstairs to resume her duties.

    Swallowing a delicious bite of roast goose, Flora remarked that Cook had outdone herself and that the Fogarty household was quite fortunate to have her.  "I do hope she doesn't work little Lily too terribly hard," mused Mrs. Fogarty aloud.

    "She works her frightfully hard, Mama," piped Edith from across the table.  "And she beats her too!"

    Turning to her daughter, Mrs. Fogarty inquired, "And how did you become so knowledgeable about her affairs?"

    "Your daughter speaks true, Mrs. Fogarty," Flora quickly interjected, wishing to prevent a continuation of her employer's line of questioning.  "Cook is dreadfully hard on the poor girl.  And she beats her for the slightest of infractions.  I had the misfortune to witness one such episode with my own eyes."

    With a wave of her hand, Mrs. Fogarty replied, "I have already been advised of the matter."  (By Lily herself at the very least, Flora surmised).  "And I instructed the Housekeeper this morning to convey to Cook that under no circumstance was Cook to chastise Lily henceforth, and that if Lily required correction, Lily’s mother alone should be sent for to see to it that such correction was carried out."

    Edith's sharp intake of breath was audible, her eyes wide with delight.  For a moment she met Flora's eyes across the table - their interests, for once, aligned, and happily so.

For a moment she met Flora's eyes across the table - their interests, for once, aligned

    Seeing her opportunity, Flora launched into her soliloquy, inwardly rehearsed many times over the past weeks, regarding the salutary effect which teaching a subject has upon the retention of such subject in the mind of the teacher.  Mrs. Fogarty nodded agreement throughout. 

    "Might I suggest, Mrs. Fogarty," inquired Flora in conclusion, "that Edith receive those selfsame benefits by instructing Lily in the schoolroom?"

    The woman's face fell.  She frowned and replied, "The Fogarty family doesn't employ you to divide your attentions between Edith and a servant girl, Miss Field."

    Prepared for this response, Flora assured her employer that her full pedagogical attention would of course remain upon Edith alone, and again extolled the benefits for Edith of instructing another with Edith's newly-acquired knowledge.  A tense silence ensued.  Edith finally blurted, "Please Mama!  Please may I-"

    "Very well, Miss Field," concluded Mrs. Fogarty, ignoring her daughter.  "We shall try this arrangement you propose.  Mind you, it shall proceed purely on a trial basis."

    Edith's countenance, at first one of elation, then changed to one of confusion.  "Mama, how may I instruct Lily without talking to her?"

    "Of course you shall talk to her, dear," sniffed her mother, "what a foolish question."

    "But mama, you said I mayn’t-"  Flora frowned at Edith and shook her head No subtly but emphatically, dismayed at Edith's tactlessness.  Flora wished the table narrower so she could give the child a discrete kick. "-talk to Lily," concluded Edith plaintively, oblivious to her governess's wordless admonishment.

    This, for a moment, brought Mrs. Fogarty up short.  Flora held her breath.  Then the woman straightened herself in her chair with immense dignity and declared, "Nonsense.  I said nothing of the sort and we shall hear no more about it.  Finish your peas, dear."

    The evening of the following day, in keeping with her nightly routine, Lily sat in Flora's room on Flora's knee, prattling happily about below-stairs gossip as Flora brushed her hair.  The two froze and met each other's eyes with consternation at the sound of a scream of either rage, despair, or perhaps both, on the other side of the wall, coming from Helen and Lily's room.

    Flora and Lily hurried next door to find Helen face down on her bed in tears, a crumpled paper gripped in her right fist.  "Damn that bastard!  Damn 'im to 'Ell!" she wailed furiously, over and over, beating the mattress with her fist still clutching the paper.

    "Mummy!  Mummy!  What's 'appened?!" burst Lily, her face ashen, kneeling on the bed at her mother's side.  Flora surmised, as she seated herself at the foot of the bed, that Lily had rarely seen her mother cry.

    Turning her head and spotting a gaggle of maidservants gathered in the hallway drawn by the noise, Helen barked, "Close me damned door an' bunk off the lot 'o ye!  I can't 'ave ye all up in me business!"

    "My dear Miss Reid," inquired Flora, "Whatever is the matter?"

    "YOU'RE wha'evers the bloody matter!" roared Helen, noticing Flora's presence for the first time and flinging the crumpled paper onto Flora's lap.  "If'n y' 'adden't brought me Lily above stairs for that bleedin' auction, that toff 'd never laid 'is eyes on 'er and we wouldn't be in this nasty jar!" indicating the paper with a wave of her hand.

    Flattening the paper, Flora discovered a letter from Lord Reddend.  "Miss Reid, the seal is unbroken.  You haven't even read-"

    Springing to her feet, Helen shouted, "Git out!  Git out o' me room 'afore I busts y' chops!" with such venom that Flora, horrified, leapt to her feet herself.  She backed towards the doorway, her one hand gripping the letter and her other raised to ward off a possible blow.  Lily dashed between the two women, begging her mother please not to strike dear Miss Field, as Flora retreated to the hallway followed by Helen's slamming of the door.

    Seated in her room, Flora regarded the sealed letter on her lap, wondering if Helen's flinging of it at her person constituted permission to open and peruse its contents.  After a minute's reflection, she concluded that it had.

[it ran]

My Dear Miss Reid,

    It has come to my notice, upon inquiry amongst certain members of my staff, that your employment by the Fogarty family at Wippingham occurred under the most precipitous of circumstances.  Doubtless you bore a letter of reference, as that estimable family would never deign to employ any servant save one of the most spotless antecedents and upright character.

    Since you were hired upon the shortest of notices, your reference couldn't possibly have been verified.  However, I am more than honored to be of service to your employers in that regard, contacting the previous household wherein your were in service and establishing beyond all doubt the veracity of your reference letter and of the unimpeachable probity of your background.

Your humble servant,
Lord Henry W. J. Bottomley, Earl of Reddend

P.S.  Should your charming daughter henceforth grace my house unaccompanied on a weekly basis with overnight visits, I fear I shall find myself so thoroughly engaged in entertaining my young guest that I regret I shall have no time to undertake the verification of your background as outlined above.  Please inform me, within the week at the very latest, of your assent to this latter arrangement.


    With difficulty, Flora stifled her impulse to scream every bit as loudly as Helen had.  That execrable nonce!  That blackguard!  That villain!  Had he no shame??  How dare he continue his pursuit of Lily after his humiliation at the auction in full view of Behrendshire high society?  How dare he!

    Flora lay back on her bed, the implications of the earl's letter sweeping her thoughts into a maelstrom.  Plainly Lord Redden did dare and had no shame.  His proposed visits to Tawsingham Abbey by Lily were out of the question... weren't they?  However much Helen wished to keep her scullery maid position, surely she wasn't desperate enough to agree to that monster's proposal... was she? 

    Flora wished she could feel certain.  Did Helen have family? any refuge to which to flee upon dismissal from her present employment?  She had curtly terminated Flora's polite inquiries into her background in conversations past, leaving Flora to now fear the worst.  Were the two Reids to be turned out in the snow with nowhere to go?  Unthinkable!  But what could Flora do?  What could she possibly do??

    Now the thought which Flora had strained to banish from her mind rose unbidden to the fore.  Helen was entirely right.  Flora had caused this catastrophe with her intrigue of escorting Lily to the bring-and-buy with intent to win over Mrs. Fogarty.  If only she had not brought Lily above stairs; that titled ruffian would never have laid eyes on Lily and recognized her from... likely from a brothel that he himself had patronised!

    A timid knock on her door drew Flora from her guilt-wracked reverie.  Rising, she opened and admitted Helen.   "Miss Reid," blurted Flora, "I know you can never forgive me but please allow me to express how profoundly sorry I-"

    "Shut yer gob," scoffed Helen gently, plainly no longer angry.  "Enough o' yer twaddle.  It's me as come t' apol'gise to you for speakin' so cross to ye." Flora motioned for Helen to take a seat on the bedside while seating herself on her chair.  "You've been naught but sweet as peaches to me and me sprog since we come 'ere.  An' I knows ye meant well a'bringin' 'er up above stairs like y' did."

    "Miss Reid, if I may be so bold, how did you divine the contents of this letter without having opened it?"

    "The earl's man as delivered it to me door said as it were from 'im.  And seein' as what 'appened when m' Lily where up there wi' you,  me 'earin' from 'im meant 'e knows the 'ole of it and I'm to lose me position 'ere, an' that surely."

    "But why didn't you open it and-"

    "Truth be told, Miss Field, I never did learn to read so well - just printin' on signs an' labels an' that.  And I never learned t' read scribble scrabble 'andwriting like 'is.  I 'adn't much time for schoolin' workin' in the mill as I did when I were a wee sprog."

    Flora frowned.  "Surely the mill provided lessons for you.  The law requires it."

    "We gots a bit 'o lessons but mostly just sums an' recitin' from the Bible by memory they was.  And whene'er reformers or inspec'ors or such lot come about, y'd stand there w' the Bible in yer 'and an' recite an' look down at yer page like ye was readin' off it.  Then when they was gone, y'd get back to yer work.  An' y'd fetch yerself a right thrashin' if ye was slow at yer work!"


"An' y'd fetch yerself a right thrashin' if ye was slow at yer work."

    "Where will you go?"

    Helen sighed, "The work 'ouse at Cherrybun Crossin' I s'pose."

    "You and Lily?!  In a work house!  Oh dear me no!  That cannot be.  I shan't allow it!"

    Helen smiled ruefully.  "It's pow'ful kind o' ye to say so Miss.  But I can't see as 'ow ye gots much say as to what's 'llowed and what's not."

    Unable to refute Helen's assertion, dearly though she wished to, Flora then summarised Lord Reddend's letter for Helen.  Helen coloured, her hands in tight fists, her face a mask of rage, as Flora relayed the "offer" in the earl's postscript.

    "I trust, Miss Reid," inquired Flora tentatively, "That you won't agree to-"

    "OF COURSE I bloody well won't agree!!" snapped Helen, wheeling, her eyes flashing at Flora.  "Cut that blighter's throat in 'is sleep an' bloody well 'ang for it I will afore I let's 'im anywheres near me Lily!  An' that's a promise!"

    Flora murmured a hurried apology for having doubted Helen's resolve, then, "We shall write him a letter of response together, Miss Reid, telling him precisely that!" Turning her chair from Helen to her desk, Flora eagerly procured paper, pen and ink.

    "I can't see as what good it'll do, Miss, but twill do me 'eart good to know as 'e 'eard me promise!"

    "His letter proves that he must have made you and Lily's acquaintance at..." Flora paused, "at your... previous place of employment," she concluded awkwardly. 

    "Seein' as 'ow I'm t' be losin' me position 'ere any'ows, ye might as well be knowin' as it were a gen'lmen's 'ouse.  I 'spect as ye's ferreted out that much already on ye's own."

    "Then we've got him!" declared Flora triumphantly.  "In this letter he all but confesses to having visited a house of ill repute himself.  We can use that against him in our reply!"

    "I don't 'spect as that'll matter as much as ye figures it will, Miss," said Helen resignedly.  " 'is sort comes out on top in the end.  Always do."

    Checking for Helen's approval prior to each sentence, Flora put pen to paper, clinging to her hope that the threat of exposure of Lord Reddend has a patroniser of brothels might result in a standoff, with Miss Reid continuing in her maid's position and with Lily out of his grasp.

[it ran]

My Dear Earl Reddend,

    Many happy returns of the Season of our Saviour's birthday to yourself and to her Ladyship.

    It is my pleasure, my Lord, to inform you that I am in receipt of your missive of the 17th of December.

    I do pray that yourself, Lady Reddend, your entire staff, and the deserving poor at the Charity Hospital, shall two days hence enjoy the abundance of leftover comestibles you had prepared for tomorrow's ball at Tawsingtale Abbey.  Given the considerable volume of eleventh-hour cancellations you have doubtless received since the singular events of Mrs. Fogarty's charity auction, all of the above personages will have a great deal to eat indeed, lest such comestibles spoil!

    I shan't imagine attendance at any future soirees you may attempt to host at your home will find themselves enhanced upon Behrendshire society's discovery of the circumstances and venue of our first meeting. Can you?  I trust you'll concur that it rebounds to our mutual benefit that such information remain known only to the two of us.

    Regarding your postscript, Mistress Lillian Reid regrets to inform you that she finds herself otherwise engaged and hence unable to accept your kind offer of an overnight visit with you this week or any subsequent weeks for the remainder of her years.

    Please be assured that should I, her mother, discover you within half a furlong of my daughter at any time or place henceforth, I shall cut your throat and gladly ascend to the gallows and be Damned for said action, in preference to the alternative you propose.

    I pray the Lord that should your proximity to my daughter necessitate said action on my part, as I writhe eternally in the flames of Hell, may He grant me the dispensation of placing yourself immediately adjacent to myself in that Place of Torment. Thus shall I forever derive solace from witnessing your sufferings whilst enduring my own.

Most obsequiously yours,
Helen Reid

<--- Chapter 16             Chapter 18? maybe... --->

(c) Copyright 2024 by HandPrince
This is fiction. Please don't discipline
your children this way.

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