Reserve and Reticence – Part Twenty

Twenty – A New Step Toward the Future   By the time the necessary explanations had been given, the long summer day was nearly over and Beth and Stephen had returned to The Queen’s Head with Oliver. The boy had consented to accompany them home but only because Mr Charles Thornton had convinced him of the necessity of a proper education. “You need to learn all about accounting and economics, young fellow!” Mr Thornton had lectured. “You must know how the machines operate, what techniques are used to make cotton, how to manage a factory like Marlborough Mills, if you … Read more

Reserve and Reticence – Part Nineteen

Nineteen – A Lesson Gained the Hard Way   Having hired a horse from Burton, Stephen galloped into Manchester at breakneck speed. He was seething with rage at Oliver’s incredibly stupid decision of hiring himself out to a cotton manufacturer, just to taunt his father and prove his rebellion. As Stephen knew all too well, a cotton factory was a hellish place, especially for the small children the money-eager factory owners were so fond off. Employing a child was very profitable, their wages being very low. Their protests were non-existent, since often the child’s wages were the only source of … Read more

Reserve and Reticence – Part Eighteen

Eighteen – Solutions   The following morning, Stephen and Beth set off for Manchester in the Brixton Abbey travelling coach, a comfortable and spacious carriage that easily accommodated eight people, if necessary. Each of them was lost in their own thoughts as they progressed through the luscious, green fields and hills of Leicestershire. Beth pondered over the account Stephen gave her of his conversation with Oliver. Because he had been raised as the heir to a title and an estate, Stephen behaved exactly as his father once had. He was firm and strict in dealing with his equals, yet stern … Read more

Reserve and Reticence – Part Seventeen

Seventeen – Consequences   Pacing before the empty fireplace of their bedchamber, Beth failed to find solace in it. She came up here after a yet another day of fruitless searching, wanting to escape the chaos downstairs, where servants and family were going about their businesses in a dazed way, upset as they were with Oliver’s disappearance. She fervently hoped Stephen would come home with some good news about the boy, who was now missing for three whole days. Three days! Hundreds of horrors could have befallen Oliver as he wandered the dark country roads all by himself and without … Read more

Reserve and Reticence – Part Sixteen

Sixteen – Looking For A Missing Boy   After it had become evident that the missing Oliver was not to be found on the Abbey grounds, a large party was assembled, consisting of all footmen and tenants, who were not immediately necessary to the estate’s adequate daily functioning. Their mission was to begin searching in an ever widening circle, starting from the Abbey grounds and through the fields and woodland surrounding the estate. Stephen explained this to the assembly in clear words. “Last night, my son went to bed at his usual hour of nine o’ clock, as the maid … Read more

Reserve and Reticence – Part Fifteen

Fifteen – Troubles Anew   During the following days, Beth mostly devoted herself to her husband’s recovery. It was greatly needed. Stephen, whose fever caused him to lose a full stone, still felt fairly weak, and was greatly irritated by it. He could only manage half of the work he had set his goal to, an experience that was utterly new to him. It was Beth’s task to watch over her beloved husband and see that he did not overdo it.   ~~~~   It was the end of May, and the weather granted mild, sunny days, crisp mornings and … Read more

Reserve and Reticence – Part Fourteen

Fourteen – Regaining Dignity   Poor Dr Forrester almost fled from the baron’s bedchamber, his face flushed like that of a little boy who just got caught with his hand in a biscuit tin. Beth shook her head in mild disapproval. “You should not have done that, my lord. The good doctor has worked himself into exhaustion to save you.” “I know, my love, and I will express my gratitude to him in due time. But now, I have other plans.” He grinned mischievously at her and held out a hand. “Come here …”, he breathed and Beth obeyed, suddenly … Read more

Reserve and Reticence – Part Thirteen

Thirteen – A Glimpse of Heaven   Consciousness lurked at the edges of his mind but proved too hard to grasp. Extreme weakness prevented him from doing what he most wanted; to open his leaden eyelids, to move his granite limbs, to let words past his cracked lips. It was as if he were immersed in a tepid sea of slowness yet it seemed of vital importance to him that he should fight this drowsy state and become awake. His body itched something terrible, he realised suddenly. His body … he became fully aware of it, when the itch plagued … Read more

Reserve and Reticence – Part Twelve

Twelve – An Unexpected Approach   It was yet another night when Beth and Henrietta were keeping watch next to Stephen’s bed, unable to find rest and sleep. Henrietta lay stretched out on the sofa, covered by a blanket against the chilly dawn of May. She had finally given up the fight against exhaustion and dozed off. Beth sat in her chair beside Stephen’s bed and held his hand in hers. That hand was yet again hot and damp because her husband was drenched and shivering with high fever. With a sigh of utter wretchedness, Beth reached for the leather … Read more

Reserve and Reticence – Part Eleven

Eleven – A Struggle For Life   Now that she had managed to negotiate a truce with her mother-in-law, Beth was able to concentrate on Stephen to the full. She certainly needed to do just that. Stephen was getting sicker by the hour, his fever rising to an incredible pitch. After a couple of hours, he became completely oblivious to his surroundings, suffering from long spells of heat, which left him soaked in sweat. Shivers of cold raked his body, breaking even more perspiration. After a few hours, the rash broke out, and it was worse than any Beth had … Read more

Reserve and Reticence – Part Ten

Ten – Savour the Moment   Stephen woke to the sound of voices coming from the connecting dressing room, where Hawkins was admonishing Trixie, now Beth’s lady’s maid, to be quiet. He smiled and turned his head toward his wife whose naked body lay beside him. She was lying flat on her stomach and her delicious little derriere stuck up like that of a child. The sight of those perfectly shaped pink peaches gave him a sudden jolt of desire so strong he wanted to grab her, turn her onto her back and yet again take her on the spot! … Read more

Reserve and Reticence – Part Nine

Nine – Lull Before the Storm   “Thank you, Hawkins. I won’t be needing you anymore tonight,” Stephen said as his valet finished dressing him for his wedding night. “Very well, my lord.” Something in his valet’s tone made Stephen raise an eyebrow at him but his long-term servant – close as a friend – showed him a face as impassive as a statue’s. “Out with it, Hawkins! What is it?” “I do not know what you mean, my lord! I just wanted to wish you good luck.” Now, there was a grin on Hawkins’ face as he hurriedly left … Read more

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