Reserve and Reticence – Part Eight

Eight – Persuasion   Looking up into Stephen’s face, Beth suddenly saw him through a haze of tears. He was toying with her, he could not be serious. “L … love? You speak of love when … all you wanted before was …” She could not speak those hideous words aloud, she simply could not. “To bed you?” Stephen completed for her, then smiled sadly before he continued. “Dear Lord, but I have made a blithering mess of it, haven’t I? Forgive me, my love, for hurting you with my haughty ways.” And he took her in his arms where … Read more

Reserve and Reticence – Part Seven

Seven – Rectification   The next day, Beth was to find out that His Lordship had left the house. She had gone to bed right away the previous night, after the baron and Ben Merton had stepped outside. Ruby insisted on that since Beth’s face still showed a tinge of grey. The smallpox situation had changed for the better in more than one way. All patients were recovering nicely, their fever gone and their rash reduced to mere pimples. The children were up and playing again. Little Johnny was suckling his mother’s breasts with enthusiasm again, to his parents’ delight. … Read more

Reserve and Reticence – Part Six

Six – Priorities   At that moment, someone banged on the kitchen door, and Beth heard a voice, shrill with horror and panic, calling out her name. Ruby’s voice …  In a frenzy, Beth tore open the door, pelted down the stairs, past an astonished Stephen and snapped open the kitchen door. “Oh, Beth! I think little Johnny has caught the disease! Look! He is burning up with fever and he won’t suckle!” She dumped a bundle into Beth’s arms and threw herself in the arms of her husband, who was as horrified as she. For a few moments, Beth … Read more

Reserve and Reticence – Part Five

Five – Fighting Side By Side   For the next three days, Beth and the baron worked side by side in never-desisting labour. There was much to be done during the day and the night. The children’s fever had risen a bit, making them very tired. They were asleep most of the day and had to be spoon-fed because of their weakness. The baron – as Beth was prone to notice – was very good at this. This fact baffled her, to be honest. She had never known him to be patient or simply kind to small children. By God, … Read more

Reserve and Reticence – Part Four

Four – Besieged   Life settled into a strange pattern in the quiet village of Woolworth on the Brixton Abbey estate in Leicestershire. Every activity plied itself to the routine of St Mary’s Primary School, yet the school was no longer a school, it had become a hospital. Nevertheless, there was a strict schedule to its activities. First tasks every day were the ablutions and breakfast, which took a part of the morning. The children were not so ill that they could not take care of their personal hygiene nor help Beth preparing bacon and eggs. At least, not all … Read more

Reserve and Reticence – Part Three

Three – A Curse Came Upon Us   On April 3th 1820, little Josie Robinson stayed home from school. Her eight year old brother, Crispin, the eldest of the two, came to inform Beth about it. Mr Robinson, Brixton Abbey’s steward, thought his daughter’s fever was way too high to leave her bed. Two days later, all the children were home and in bed, with a high fever, a cough and an ache in every muscle and limb of their small bodies. Stephen Fenton came to Beth’s cottage to tell her Lily and Oliver were also ill and that she … Read more

Reserve and Reticense – Part Two

  Two – A Visitor from Abroad   The following weeks, Beth and Mr Sage organized the school to the best of their abilities by applying a strict routine of learning and playing. Alternating lessons with physical exercise and periods of relaxing did wonders for the children’s concentration. There were twelve pupils at the school, six of each gender, ranging in ages from six to twelve. Mr Sage, the assistant curate, was in charge of the boys of whom there were two farmer’s boys, Mattie Benson, ten, and Peter Rathcliff, twelve. They had French and Latin together with Oliver Fenton, … Read more

Reserve and Reticence – Part One

One – A Fine and Unforgettable Day   On one of those rare, sunny days in March 1820, the village of Woolworth, near the estate of Brixton Abbey in Leicestershire, was teeming with people wearing their best clothes. They were celebrating the opening of St Mary’s Primary School for children – girls as well as boys. This joyful event was due to the indefatigable exertions of Miss Elizabeth – Beth – Williams, daughter of Woolworth’s former vicar and previously, governess to Lily and Oliver Bradley. It had been a lifelong dream of Beth’s, to teach children – and especially girls … Read more

The Counterfeit Governess – Part Twenty

Twenty – The Agreement   On Boxing Day morning 1819, Stephen Fenton, Baron Brixton, was pacing the Aubusson carpet in his library in what might be called a state of agitation. He positively had never felt thus uncertain in his whole life, he mused. Stephen was waiting for his governess to come and have a meeting with him regarding the arrangements to be made for her charges. That was the pretext of the meeting, as far as he was concerned. But in truth, there was a more important issue he wanted to settle; how was he going to make Beth … Read more

The Counterfeit Governess – Part Nineteen

Nineteen – The Lures of Temptation   As soon as his right arm encircled her lower back, Beth found herself yielding to Stephen’s enticing, as if it were the most natural thing to do. He took her right hand into his left one, inducing her to place her other hand on his shoulder. When he started moving in a circular way, she felt the muscles in that shoulder shift and flex in a most agreeable manner. He was strong and well-built and … very male, with the faint scent of cologne and tobacco assaulting her senses, making her body respond … Read more

The Counterfeit Governess – Part Eighteen

Eighteen – A Time For Reflection   Mrs Bradley’s funeral occurred on the Tuesday before Christmas 1819. It was a remarkable event with the whole village and the occupants of Brixton Abbey attending the service at St Mary’s church. The Reverend Mr Carter, assisted by his curate, Mr Sage, moved the congregation to tears with his praise of Mrs Bradley’s virtues, all of which were only very true, as Stephen knew. His children were sitting very still and white-faced, clasping their governess’ hands as they sat on both sides of her. Stephen could clearly see their distress but also, their … Read more

The Counterfeit Governess – Part Seventeen

Seventeen – A Great Sorrow   “Oh, Miss Williams, Granny Bradley is so very ill! The fever will not abate, and I am at the end of my tether!” Ruby wrung her hands in despair and sobbed inconsolably. Beth quickly ran past her and entered the cottage. Mrs Bradley’s body on the bed seemed to have shrunken so much that Beth was instantly in a panic. Ruby had covered her with a cotton sheet but Beth could see the ravishing effects of the fever all too well. The old lady’s face was ashen but her cheeks bore bright red spots … Read more

The Counterfeit Governess – Part Sixteen

Sixteen – Coming Closer   Struggling for balance, Beth gripped the edge of the desk and prayed her legs would not buckle beneath her. All the blood seemed to drain from her face and the air from her lungs. It should be declared a crime to be so overwhelmingly handsome as Stephen was looking just now, she thought. His proud bearings, his powerful body, his beloved face, eyes as blue as ice on a sunny winter day, eyes scorching hers. No, she was wrong. Eyes softening suddenly as if … no, that could not be! Before her incredulous gaze, he … Read more

The Counterfeit Governess – Part Fifteen

Fifteen – Struggling   “Confound it, man!” Fenton glared at Ben Merton in frustration and raked his hand through his hair in sudden misery. “Does it not occur to you that I might be worried about my children? That I am concerned if they are safe, fed, clothed, cared for?” He realized with a shock that it was true! He did worry about his children, even though he had never done so before. But now, at this very moment, he needed to know how they fared. Merton, however,  stood his ground, an expression of profound stubbornness upon his ruddy face. … Read more

The Counterfeit Governess – Part Fourteen

Fourteen – Organizing the Search   The first days of December brought snow and frost in a most severe manner, keeping man and beast inside with gusts of Northeast winds. The small village of Brixton buried itself indoors to await better times and to prepare Christmas. There was still no word of Mademoiselle Guillaume and her charges. Stephen Fenton and his mother had grown quite a bit dispirited over the whole affair. Not, that the Baron had not done everything he could about it. He had been to London to consult his lawyers about his legal rights in the affair. … Read more

The Counterfeit Governess – Part Thirteen

Thirteen – Uproar   For the second time that night, Stephen dashed after Beth but this time, she outran him and reached her room to close and lock the door, right in his face. He spent the good part of an hour pleading in whispered tones to listen to him so that he might explain himself. He still did not grasp what he had been amiss in his conduct nor what he was going to explain but still, he tried to make her hear him out. To no avail, for there was no sound coming from Beth’s room, not even … Read more

The Counterfeit Governess – Part Twelve

Twelve – First Battle   Five seconds later, Stephen caught Beth on the first floor landing and gripped her arm in a crushing hold. The force of it caused her to whirl around and bump into his chest so violently that tears of sudden pain filled her eyes. She had a stinging reproach ready on her lips but Fenton did not grant her a chance to speak. He dragged her along to the nearest door, forcefully shoved her inside and threw the door shut, never releasing the vice-like grip on her arm. “Confound it, Beth Williams! I will have you … Read more

The Counterfeit Governess – Part Eleven

Eleven – Frantic Searches For Answers   Beth knew she had to act – somehow do something sensible and to the point – but her brain seemed too numb to find answers. She had always feared the Dowager Baroness for the cruel, cold-hearted woman she was, since that long-ago day when her father had been dismissed as a vicar by Lord Septimus Fenton. Beth, frightened with awe for the tall, stern master of Brixton Abbey as he strode into the vicarage’s tiny parlour, instinctively looked at the mistress for compassion, because she hoped the baron’s wife would somehow soften him. … Read more

The Counterfeit Governess – Part Ten

Ten – Complications   The dowager’s words rang clearly, and Beth heard them as she was about to step into the room. She froze in horror. Dispose? Did the dowager know what Beth was up to? Had she recognized her? Or had Fenton told her about her? Too many questions, too little answers! She looked at Stephen and was surprised to see a look of pure dismay on his face, yet he said nothing in response to his mother’s quip. Instead, he walked toward her and bowed, his mocking smile firmly in place. “Ah, Mademoiselle Guillaume, I trust you received … Read more

The Counterfeit Governess – Part Nine

Nine – Entrapped   She had no means of escape now, Beth realised with a shock, nor did she wish to. She was where she wanted to be, in Stephen Fenton’s arms. The very weak reservations that started in her befuddled mind about why she wanted to kiss her mortal enemy, soon faded away when his lips wrenched open hers and his tongue invaded her mouth, claiming it in violent attack. He pressed her to his hard chest, and Beth swore she could hear her ribs crack but still she did not mind! She only tried to bring her body … Read more