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Libby 1-3

May 14, 2018 11:41AM
With the death of Mr Everard, the Swanley Court School is short of a trustee. The Bishop of Norchester suggests his own Godson, one Lucius Belvoir, whose avocation and business are horticulture. Libby is keen to involve her girls with growing food for the table or flowers for the parlours and asks Lucius to fill the vacant post. After a rather unfortunate start, since Lucius is bedevilled by a misapprehension, Lucius and Libby begin to form a somewhat stormy partnership, united over the problems caused by some of the choicer spirits from the harsh Oxford school. The Goyder twins are now old enough to be more use than problem, but are keen to be out in the world before the O'Toole twins are old enough to cause mayhem. Add to the mix Lucius' much younger brother, who has a deformed hip, the problems surrounding the orphan girl he meets and brings with him, and the malice of a family the Belvoirs have informed on, and the transition to a new trustee is never going to be quiet and peaceful.

June 1812

Chapter 1


“Is that a missive in a lady’s hand, Lucy?” asked Mr. Marcus Belvoir .
“I’m not sure, it’s almost boyish in a way, and don’t call me ‘Lucy’, Marc.”
“Would you prefer your soubriquet ‘Lucky’ Lucius?”
“To Lucy? Definitely, you scrub.”
Marc chuckled. His brother, Lucius, was many years his senior, and did not make any patronising concessions over the diseased hip Marc had born from childhood.
Lucius flipped open the seal, and read.

Swanley Court School for Impoverished Gentlewomen
15th June 1812

Dear Mr. Belvoir,
Your name has been put forward to me by the Bishop of Norchester, who is my uncle, as he is your Godfather. He has suggested that you might be willing to fill a vacant space as trustee to the charity school at which I am head preceptress and one of the trustees.
Uncle George suggests that you may wish to take a personal interest in introducing the girls to horticulture, at least, I believe it was horticulture that he wrote. You know what Uncle George’s handwriting is like, but I cannot think he was advocating you introducing them to a mortician, which is what the word looked like at first glance.”

Lucius chuckled.
“Almost I balked there, at the idea of introducing orphan girls to horticulture, but the woman diffused my irritation by adjuring me not to introduce them to a mortician. Uncle George’s handwriting really is bad, he should get reading glasses.”
“That’s the church for you, vanitas vanitam, omnia est vanitatum,” said Marc.
“True enough,” said Lucius.
“The duties of trustees are not too onerous if you do not wish to take a personal approach. We meet twice a year to discuss the budget and what may be needed, and as Mrs. Macfarlane, who endowed the orphanage, and gave her gracious home to it, is very generous we have always been able to offer any skill an orphan needs.”
“I suppose they learn enough to be governesses or maids,” said Lucius, cynically. “What she means by horticulture will be for teaching botany I expect.” He raised an eyebrow as he read on.
“We do not expect all the girls to be alike, and try to train them to turn their interests into skills which will bring them respectable jobs for those who must earn their own living; we have some paying pupils who help to subsidise the others. Not all the girls are capable of higher mathematics, Latin or Greek, though we expect them all to acquire a little Latin to help them with their English, and enough French and Italian to at least recognise those languages. I will sorely miss Daisy, who gabbles happily in French, Italian, Hungarian, Gaelic, Latin and Greek, as well as having a thirst for literature and capability with Euclidean mathematics, and she runs her own business; but we have a few potential bluestockings lower down the school. Others prefer to develop their practical skills; Felicity is keen to be a modiste, and her twin, Philippa, is probably going to stay with us to teach horsemanship and carriage driving to younger ones. Cleo is hoping to be a housekeeper and would have liked to have been a doctor, were the profession only open to girls.
The reason I am hoping you might introduce horticulture is that I am capable of teaching botany, but not propagation, soil properties and so on. We have a couple of talented artists who might, with the right skills, be able to turn their hands to landscape gardening as an alternative artistic endeavour. Also our poor Frances, who is wanting, loves flowers, and is perfectly trainable, and might be able to learn more than I can teach her if you can either help out, or suggest a teacher in lieu of your own experience.
I have probably been too effusive in my hopes to bring in a new skill to my girls; but you may blame Uncle George for giving me the idea.
Yours sincerely,
Elisabeth Freemantle,
Principal.”

“Well I’m damned,” said Lucius.
“Undoubtedly, but over what in particular?”
“Seems as though the woman is treating it as a real school and is turning out bluestockings.”
“Maybe you should look for a wife there,” Marc chuckled.
“Very funny, Marc! I am eight and thirty, I am not about to look for a brat who is likely to be younger than you.”
“Oh, well, you can pick a bluestocking for me,” said Marc. “Make sure she reads Cicero.”
“That’s unlikely,” scoffed Lucius.
“So are you going to accept the position?”
Lucius considered.
“I confess, the challenge appeals to me. Will you object to me leaving you alone?”
“Not in the least; I am never alone while I have a library.”
“You’re an antisocial scrub,”
“Says the man who turns down invitations left, right and centre from ambitious mamas of eligible daughters.”
“It is not antisocial to avoid being legshackled to shallow little idiots.”

Woodhill Hall
Hobbeshithe St Martin
Suffolk

18th June 1812

Dear Miss Freemantle,

Uncle George’s writing is truly execrable, but I cannot think that even so unworldly a man as he is would be likely to recommend a mortician, and as my avocation is horticulture, your untangling of his atrocious hand is quite accurate.
I confess myself daunted at the idea of dealing with a child who is wanting, not being used in the least to those who are mentally afflicted. However, I am used to people treating my brother as though he were mentally afflicted, which irritates me more than a little, since he has a physical affliction only. I have to take it on trust that as a preceptress you are aware of the difference, and are not unfairly judging the unfortunate Frances.
You have intrigued me, I am afraid, and my initial urge to burn your letter was stopped by your description of your graduated bluestocking, who you do not praise as a successful governess but as one who runs her own business.
What skills do you teach, and what professions do you aim for your indigent girls to take up? I do not wish to give my time to some vague venture.
Yours,
Lucius Belvoir.”


“A trifle curt,” said Elinor, handing the letter back to Libby.
“I thought so, but I suppose he has been importuned out of the blue,” said Libby. “And as a trustee he will have every right to know what the girls learn,”

“Swanley Court School for Impoverished Gentlewomen
June 20th 1812

Dear Mr. Belvoir,
As a potential trustee you are quite correct to ask for the subjects studied. Please, however, be aware that you would be a trustee and not a governor, and whilst suggestions are always welcome, Mrs. Macfarlane has entrusted the curriculum to me, and extends her full trust that I will fulfil the needs of the girls.”


“What, does the blasted woman think I’m about to interfere?” demanded Lucius.
“Probably,” Marc twitched away the letter to look at it. “If she’s a maiden lady of uncertain years, she’s doubtless used to interfering papas who have less idea than a duckling who think it would be quite nice for their dunderheaded daughter to learn Italian, watercolours and harp, when the girl can scarcely manage her own language if not punctuated by titters, can barely draw breath let alone a picture, and cannot hold a tune in a sack.”
“You’re probably right. Give it back.”
“Don’t get on your high horse. It’s a school I wouldn’t despise.”
Julius’ eyebrows went up, and he returned to the letter.

“As I have mentioned, those girls who are capable learn French, Italian, Latin and Ancient Greek. I have to note that Daisy’s extra linguistic accomplishments have been acquired through chatting to our Hungarian pupil and the several Irish ones and their older siblings. We do not, as a general rule, offer such exotic studies.
We teach all the girls the four rules of number and basic accounting; Euclidian mathematics is available to those who want to learn more, whether from interest or in the hopes of securing a position preparing boys for university.
History is taught from a text book written especially for the school by one of our past preceptresses, who left us in order to marry. She writes children’s novels for us as well. These are supplemented with an introduction to the classics by children’s stories of the heroes of Troy by the betrothed husband of one of our former pupils. We also have a number of story books, some of which have a historical theme, but reading for pleasure is a skill we encourage as much as obtaining knowledge through doing so. Imaginative play on the part of the younger ones is also instructive, though I confess I doubt that William I shouted “Yoiks, Tally ho!” when hunting Hereward the Wake through the fens.”

“A progressive approach to teaching history,” murmured Lucius.
“Yes, sounds fun,” agreed his brother.
“We tackle geography with globes for the older ones, using dissected maps for the younger ones. It is not a favourite study, but we try to make learning the topography and location demonstrate why the principle exports and imports are what they are. I am always happy to discover that the principle exports of Spain are Sherry wine and Merino wool, not Joseph Bonaparte and Guerrillas. Having had a pupil whose father was at Corunna means that there is at least some interest in political geography, and the older ones read the dispatches, and mark the current dispositions of our forces on the Peninsula. Philippa is disappointed that it is unlikely that there will be a position for her as master of horse to any cavalry regiment.“
“I’m not sure that it is healthy for girls to take an interest in war matters,” said Lucius.
“Nonsense; if they can follow the war it means they ain’t addle-pated ninnyhammers,” said Marc.
“Botany is taught throughout the school, and some botanical illustration is expected, though excellence not required. An understanding of the mechanism of pollination is an early introduction to instructing the girls about the intricacies of their own bodies, which is none of your business. We undertake some simple scientific principles for those older girls who are interested . Allied to such studies are the practical nursing studies we require all the girls to learn, for who knows when one might be in a situation to need such things. We have an expert in that field, being a woman who earned a medal for her nursing at the Battle of the Nile.
The arts are not neglected; we have a visiting art teacher whose work is not exhibited in the Royal Academy solely because of her sex. Her father is an exhibitor. Art is available to all who are interested, and extra lessons available to those with talent, or those who wish to learn more to improve on their other skills, such as design for lace-making. We have a skilled embroideress and lace maker on the staff who instructs those girls who are interested; they may start earning by selling piece-work if they wish.
Music and various instruments are taught. I require all the pupils to have a grounding on the pianoforte, to understand the principles of the scale &c, but do not require those who are tone deaf to cover more than the basics. Those who are more able may learn the harp, the harp-lute, the guitar, the flute, the recorder, the pandean pipes and members of the violin family as we are very lucky in our resident music teacher. She also teaches dancing, which is excellent exercise as well as good for the memory, and a skill any girls hoping to be governesses should have. Naturally we are careful of our more delicate girls, and provide aids for those with disability, like the special boot the doctor designed for the child with a club foot, who now runs and dances as well as any of her fellows. I should mention that Dr. Macfarlane is on premises at all times for the convenience of the girls.”

“I wonder if he could do anything about my hip if he has helped a girl with a disability most people write off,” said Marc, correctly divining where his brother had reached in the letter by his thoughtful frown.
“We can ask, I suppose; when I’ve met them,” said Lucius, harshly. “Do not get your hopes up falsely,”
“I’m used to not even thinking of hope,” shrugged Marc. “At least I can ride.”
Lucius smiled; Marc might be accounted a bruising rider, pushing himself as far as he might in compensation for the disability.
“I believe that covers all the regular lessons. Until recently we had a financial advisor, who helped those girls who wished to start themselves up in business, or experiment with the stock market. Mrs. Macfarlane offers an interest-free loan to all the older girls, and whether they place it safely in the funds, to have such interest as may accrue to help them start out, whether they prefer to speculate, or whether they wish to invest in something specific was what the late Mr. Everard helped with. He was the trustee you are to replace. Unfortunately, his son feels unequal to giving his aid in this matter, but we are looking for a replacement visiting tutor, and Mrs. Macfarlane is taking the lessons in economics in the meanwhile, being more capable than most, since the majority of her fortune was forged by her own efforts in this endeavour.”
“Good grief, that must have terrified the men; this doctor must be made of stern stuff indeed,” said Lucius.
“You sound ridiculously outraged; you want to worry if one of the females in charge is teaching them to pick form to bet on the gees,” said Marc.
“Now that would be ridiculous,” said Lucius.
“And as ridiculous for a schoolmaster to do so,” said Marc.
“Should I buy you a curly wig and a corset so you can go there?”
“The corset is a deterrent,” admitted Marc.
“As you may see we have a varied curriculum. Most important is that our girls are happy, since they have been robbed of a childhood by circumstances beyond their control. We aim to work with them to discover whether they have an aptitude for teaching, in which case being a governess is the best course to follow; or in business, in which case they may do as Daisy has done, in setting up a Milliner’s shop, with her own employees; or for embroidery, to sell to modistes and so on, or to design fashion, and be a modiste, which is Felicity’s aim. Sarah plans to illustrate books, and is a good enough artist to do so. Others consider housekeeping to be preferable to being a governess, and I cannot dispute that it might, at times, be a preferable situation.
Incidentally, I am not the sort of idiot who cannot tell the difference between mental and physical incapacity. Frances is training to be a nursery maid as she loves the infant siblings of our scholars, but I would not wish to deny her another outlet for her meagre talents if there is one. Being essentially unable to cope in the world, the orphanage will keep her for the rest of her life, in such a capacity as she might fulfil. And she will be helped to reach her full potential in the same way as those with physical disability are given support to live full and normal lives. We do not believe in disability at Swanlea Court, only in those children who need a little more help.
Yours sincerely,
Elisabeth Freemantle.”

“And that told me,” said Lucius.
“I wish they took boys,” said Marc.


Chapter 2

Woodhill Hall
Hobbeshithe St Martin

June 23rd 1813

Dear Miss Freemantle,
Thank you for your lengthy and detailed epistle on the gospel according to Elisabeth.
I confess myself frankly sceptical that you can manage to be so gushingly warm regarding a pack of orphans and yet manage to run a school within budget and with any degree of excellence. Before I make a final decision about whether I intend to become a trustee of a foundation which sounds too good to be true, I intend to visit, and I will not warn you when I intend to visit either, so I may see a normal day, and not find myself presented with prettied-up little puppets. Expect me unexpectedly in a few weeks.
Yours,
Lucius Belvoir.”


“What an insufferable man!” said Libby, in the staffroom, tossing the letter to Elinor.
Elinor read it, her eyebrows rising, before passing it to the doctor.
“He’ll aye be in for a surprise,” said Graeme. “And I thought the tone of his firrrst letter was gey friendly.”
“So did I,” said Libby. “I wonder what changed his mind?”
“Maybe he described our facilities to someone who owns a school and runs it on a shoestring,” said Elinor. “Most schools could not manage as well as we do; because we made a significant investment in it in the first place.”
“Well, I am not going to worry about it,” said Libby. “If he does not wish to be a trustee, we will find another somewhere else to take poor Mr. Everard’s place. I have the upper school on Ship Tax, so I will see you all later.”
The upper school was made up of two new pupils, the Goyder twins, Kitty Walker and Hermione Driscoll. Frances might be the same age, but she was not suited to formal lessons. Kitty and Felicity struggled a little, but their fellows kept them from failing. The new girls were a bit of an unknown quantity, though Julia Spencer had a love of learning which would do her no harm. She and Penelope Belfield had come from a school in Oxford, as had half a dozen other pupils; it was the school attended briefly by Emma Spink, and her ordeal there had so shocked the Macfarlanes that they had set out to deliberately ruin the owner, in order to close the school down. Julia had been placed there by her mother as punishment for having been forced to the bed of her stepfather; and Penelope, orphaned, was placed there by her aunt and uncle to be punished until she stopped stuttering so she could earn her own way. Both children were thin and wan, and in need of kindness.
Libby was encouraging the class to talk to her about the ways in which Charles I tried to get money, angering his people, when there was a knock on the door, and Mrs. Baxter, the housekeeper came in, with a tall, blond man following her.
Mrs. Baxter dropped a curtsey.
“Beg pardon, Miss Freemantle, this man says he is here to inspect the school.”
“Ah?” said Libby. “Thank you Mrs. Baxter; he may sit at the back of the class and when we have finished, one of you will perhaps show him around.”
“I will, Miss Freemantle,” said Hermione. “I’m used to deans and bishops and things.”
“Thank you, my dear,” said Libby.
“I think I’d like to talk to the pupils,” said Lucius, striding forward. He pointed at Penelope. “You! Why are you so skinny and pale?”
Penelope cringed. Such peremptory manners reminded her of her uncle.
“A little gentleness of manner would not go amiss,” said Libby.
Lucius sneered,
“Gentleness of manner? Why it is plain to see which of your pupils are paying pupils, and which are the charity girls; those two are the orphans,” he pointed to Julia and Penelope, “And the rest are paying students. There is a clear difference in how those two are fed. So much for health and happiness.”
Libby was staring openmouthed, and even the twins were silenced.
It was Julia who leaped to her feet.
“You stupid man!” she shouted. “I am the only paying student here, and Pen and I are recovering from ill-treatment in our previous school. As are the other six who were rescued from it. How dare you sneer so at Mrs. Freemantle who is an angel on earth, who will not permit children to be beaten or shut in cupboards or starved! Why don’t you find out some facts before you throw around your ill-conceived ideas? And you stop frightening Pen by acting like her uncle or ... or I’ll bite you!”
“Hear hear!” said Philippa.
“Thank you, Julia, that will do. You may go and wash your face if you wish; take Penelope with you, and then take her to the kitchen for some chocolate,” said Libby. “The rest of you may dismiss and woe betide you if you are not able to tell me the result of the levying of ship tax next time, you will have to read about it on your own. Mr. Belvoir is going to sit down while I talk to him.”
She pretended not to hear as all the girls let out a low hiss as they walked past Lucius.
He had sat, looking taken aback.
“I ...” he said.
“Before you utter another word which you are likely to regret,” said Libby, “And before you tender an apology to me, and prepare yourself to apologise to Penelope, let me tell you that I will not have some big bully march into my classroom and begin haranguing one of my girls, especially the most vulnerable child in the school who may have been within weeks of death by starvation when the doctor brought her into my care. The eight pupils who look unhealthy come from a school which used withholding meals as a punishment, in addition to beating, locking in cupboards and so on. One child came to us with broken fingers which had never been set, punishment for writing poetry, and was further punished by the piano teacher for being clumsy over scales for having broken fingers. These children are vulnerable, and I planned to write to you after school today, in response to the letter I received just before this class, warning you that the new pupils might be less than equal to answering in class until they are settled, in order to avoid an incident like this. Now do you understand why I want you to apologise to Penelope?”
“I ... I do,” said Lucius, feeling as though he had just been asked by the headmaster of his long-ago schooldays if he understood why he was being given six of the best for having introduced grains of gunpowder to old Grimble’s desk so it exploded a little bit when he crashed the lid down in his usual way. He had received a further two cuts with the cane for saying that if the desk had splintered it might have hurt his schoolfellows, and had not shown remorse for frightening his teacher.
It had been a splendid bang.
He did actually understand the punishment of having to apologise, imposed by the schoolmarm.
“I am glad you understand,” said Libby. “Indeed, a gentleman would apologise to this whole class for having made erroneous assumptions. And I am not going to even tell Julia off for putting you right, because it’s the first time she’s stood up for herself, even if it was standing up for Penelope, because she has suffered most terrible things in her own home.”
“And she is a paying student? Who would pay for their child to be put through so much?”
“A parent, in her case, who cannot face the idea that an adult male may be at fault rather than a, at the time, little girl of twelve,” said Libby. “Or in the case of some, a parent, often a lone father, who has permitted his daughter to get out of hand, and who does not know what a school advertising strict discipline really means. Julia was not quite accurate, as Kitty Walker is also a paying pupil, because she is the ward of a rich man, but she is also an orphan, so likely Julia misunderstood. We do not make any difference between orphans and paying students, and so it is not obvious to the other girls. Kitty and her little sister are paid for by Baron Chisterley, who has care of their brothers, since his own home is an asylum for boys. It is run with the help of his wife, one of our former pupils.”
“Good grief! How many orphans and how many paying students do you have?”
Libby counted to herself.
“We have ten paying students, an unprecedented number, because we offered to take them from the school that was closed down, and give them a chance to learn to be normal little girls,” said Libby. “They have suffered almost as badly as if they had had a bereavement. We have a dozen orphans, or rather, orphans who are not being paid for. That includes Penelope, whose aunt and uncle were glad to sign away her guardianship to Dr. and Mrs. Macfarlane. I am not counting the infants in the nursery, as one can hardly turn away the siblings of older girls when a whole family is orphaned.”
“I ... I had not thought of that. I think most schools would do so.”
“Well, what then is to be done with those infants? They cannot take care of themselves. We have an extensive nursery which includes the Macfarlane children.”
“Oh, Mrs. Macfarlane is still within childbearing years then? I assumed she was an elderly woman,” said Lucius.
Libby regarded him with a frown.
“You appear to be very good at assuming things,” she said. “You assumed that I am stealing from the orphans for the benefit of paying students, and failing to attend to the health of the same. I am not sure if I would recommend accepting you as a trustee if you are such a gullible fellow as to make quite risible and puerile assumptions based on nothing but conjecture and your own lurid imagination.”
Lucius flushed.
“I confess I was also surprised to see so young a woman as you introduced as Miss Freemantle,” he said. “The only schools I have ever seen were run by older women. And I wondered at a young woman being able to make such an endowment.”
“Mrs. Macfarlane was my pupil and was misled into believing that she was going to die young,” said Libby. “She amassed a fortune for her father by telling him how to speculate, and when he died, continued to add to it, all in the expectation of leaving it to help clever orphaned girls. Our own doctor was able to demonstrate to her that her previous doctors had weakened her dangerously for no good reason, and she was delighted to be able to make a living endowment in order to enjoy seeing young girls grow up with the joys of education. She is in her early twenties, and I would not suggest you irritate the doctor with your tactless comments. He is not so forbearing as I am with regards to fools.”
“I am very sorry I made assumptions. I visited another school and based my expectations on it, as it is said to be a model charity school.”
“Sometimes I wish I were not a lady, so I might snort at such foolishness,” said Libby. “I’ve had Daisy’s report on the London Asylum at Lambeth and it was not complimentary. Yet it is hailed as a model institution. We are not an asylum, but somewhere between a school and a second family for our girls, and though we are careful with the accounting, Mrs. Macfarlane has always said that where there is need, it costs what it costs.”
“I see,” said Lucius. “I would like to start again.”
“You may do so after tendering apologies to Penelope and to the class in general,” said Libby. “I strongly suggest you make it sound sincere; though the twins are too old for playing practical jokes as a general thing, you may be certain that they will not hold back to punish those they see as bullies of those of their own.”
“I am not a bully!”
“Oh? Picking on Penelope, who is terrified of answering anyone, looked like bullying from my point of view,” said Libby.
“Oh! I wished only to highlight what I saw as your subjection of her ... I have always fought against bullies, all my life. I would not want to be one.”
“Well, here is Penelope, with Julia; come in, girls, Mr. Belvoir would like to explain himself.
Lucius had stood up to bullying teachers at school and faced down his own father when Marcus had been shown to be sickly, refusing to let his baby brother be farmed out to the gin-sodden wretch in the village who took rejected children for a fee, and had protected his brother all the youngster’s life, but he quailed before Julia’s accusing eyes and Penelope’s terrified ones.
“Firstly, er, Penelope, I need to apologise to you for frightening you,” he said. “I did not mean to be a bully. I misunderstood the situation, and thought that I was uncovering an injustice. I saw two neglected girls, and jumped to conclusions. You are a most excellent friend, Julia, to put me right, and to show me my errors. I would like to start again if I may, and learn about the school without jumping to conclusions.”
Julia regarded him,
“Handsome is as handsome does, but it was a gracious apology, wasn’t it, Pen?”
Penelope nodded.
“I had a schoolfriend who stuttered,” said Lucius. “One of the teachers mocked him. I put gunpowder one the edges of his desk so it made a loud detonation when he slammed the lid.”
“Were you punished?” asked Julia.
“Yes, and it was worth every stripe to see him terrified,” said Lucius. “He was stuttering in fear. And next time he started on Tim, we all whispered ‘b-b-b-bang’, and he could hardly cane the lot of us, or send us to the head, for he would have looked foolish.”
Penelope managed a smile.
“Th...th...thank ...y...you,” she said.
“Thank you for forgiving me,” said Lucius. “I need to apologise to your fellows.”
“I should think you do,” said Julia, who seemed, thought Libby, to have finally found her tongue “The twins were planning awful retributions.”

Faced with some stony faced girls, Lucius almost stammered through his second apology and explanation. Philippa raised a hand.
“What would you have done if it had been a school where some girls were ill-treated, sir?” she asked.
“I would have done my best to get them away, and find a kind lady to care for them,” said Lucius. “I live in a bachelor household with my young brother, he is hardly older than you girls, so I could not have taken them home. Indeed, I am not sure what I might have done other than exposing such in the newspaper.”
“I suppose you mean well, then,” said Philippa, “And not everyone is as clever and as rich as Dr. and Mrs. Macfarlane to deliberately ruin the school to steal our new schoolfellows a little bit.”
“I believe I may approve of your benefactors,” said Lucius.
“Well, we might not disapprove of you,” said Philippa. “Please don’t be silly again.”
“I shall endeavour not to,” said Lucius, almost meekly.
He was not used to such forthright and self-possessed young women!


Chapter 3

Swanley Court School
25th June

My very dear Marc,
You will laugh, and you may laugh, as Pliny once wrote, not that I have caught, like him, three very fine boars, but have been, I fear, caught being a boor.
You recall me ranting, of course, having been to that model Charity School in Norchester, and finding it most depressing; well, to my shame, I went looking for problems at Swanley.
I have egg on my face and I had to eat humble pie to half a dozen irritated maidens who looked at me as though I strangled puppies for a living.
Apparently the benefactress and her husband, and I believe I have the precedence correct in that description, found out about a school even worse than the one I visited, and set out to ruin it, and, in the idiom of one of a pair of twins I cannot tell apart ‘steal them a little bit.’ I made a foolish assumption that some pupils were less well cared for than others, and was thoroughly told off, first by one of the half-starved maidens, and then in cold and thoroughly grammatical English by the head preceptress. And I admit that one reason for my leaping to conclusions was the fact that she is young, no more than thirty, I wager, and extremely pretty. She is also very, very starchy, which I suppose I deserved, and her girls plainly adore her, so there must be more to her than starchiness. In the normal way I might have said that she had had a whole field full of orris roots rammed up her to leave her so well stiffened, but the smiles she bestows on her girls reminds me that the iris is a very pretty flower as well as making a better starch than the wild arum.
I had at least been warned, by the time I met Mrs. Macfarlane, that she is a mere slip of a girl. She is also breathtakingly beautiful, if blondes are to your taste. Do you remember the Renfrew chit, the one you described as the ‘vision of overdone loveliness’? well, take away the overdone, and the girl would be plain in the shadow of the woman who endowed this school. I am not sure if I envy the doctor, or pity him; he has married a woman whose beauty, brains and wealth are enough to make any man wonder that the three can be combined, and find in her too a generosity rarely found in anyone, and a sense of humour too, I believe.
I think I would be unable to live up to such a woman, but Dr. Macfarlane also seems popular with girls and staff alike. They call him ‘Dr. Mac’, but he is Graeme to everyone in the staffroom, as indeed all the preceptresses are on first name terms. They all show deference to Miss Freemantle, even Elinor Macfarlane, who pays for it all.
I have discovered that there is a ‘brother’ school, run by an alumnus, or should that be alumna? Of Swanley, and her husband. I cannot help thinking that one should refer to former Swanley girls ‘and their husbands’, as they are encouraged to be unnervingly free-thinking and forthright.
You can stop laughing right now, Marcus Oberon Belvoir. Just because I have complained about the simpering manners of the local lovelies, overdone and otherwise, and their refusal to debate an issue, does not mean that I do not find their precise opposites a little perturbing. And if the doctor is an example, I do not, in any way, wish to denigrate his manhood, for he is no doormat to his wife, and ... it is hard to describe it, but the atmosphere in the staffroom would be best envisioned as being a bit like a man’s club, a meeting of equals, who can argue amicably, share amusing stories, and chat as friends. The doctor is neither deferred to for being a man, nor treated as some alien being, nor barely tolerated as Mrs. Macfarlane’s husband. It is truly as though there is a tacit agreement that there is no difference between the sexes, which everyone accepts. It is very odd.
However, I was telling you about the other school. It is under the aegis of Baron and Lady Chisterley, and I am told by Kitty Walker, whose brothers are there, that it specialises in teaching mathematics and engineering, as Lord Chisterley has an interest in engineering in general and canal building in particular. I know you are more interested in the classics, but an opportunity for education beyond what you may obtain from the Rev. Pender is something to consider, and would accustom you to being with others if you are ever stout enough for university.
Forgive me mentioning it, but it is a practicality which has to be taken into account.
Having made you morose by being brutally honest, I will now try to raise your spirits again with a tale shared by a Miss Joliffe, who teaches the little ones.
They have been studying Charles and Mary Lamb’s simplified tales of Shakespeare, and having been reading ‘The Merchant of Venice,’ Miss Joliffe asked them what lessons they might take away from it. A child named Phoebe put up her hand, and answered in all solemnity “Never trust a lawyer because they can twist your words around.”
Apparently Phoebe is Jewish, and the message Miss Joliffe was hoping to instil was that give and take between peoples of different beliefs would save a lot of problems. However, if you ask me, this Phoebe isn’t so far out.
Your loving brother, Lucius.”



Woodhill Hall
Hobbeshithe St Martin

28th June

Dear Lu,
The Reverend Pender announced in church this morning that there is a strong rumour that we are now at war with America. Perhaps the fighting might be brought to an early conclusion if you send off this monstrous regiment of not-yet-women to the colonies to subdue them.
This brother school sounds interesting. If you find that the Freemantle woman was not exaggerating with regards to the school, and the other school is run on similar lines, I would certainly be interested, so long as riding is permitted. I would not mind learning about engineering, it is certainly more interesting than your own hobby of playing in dung and restricting your love-life to marrying roses to each other.


“Whelp!” said Lucius.
“Do you share or is it private?” asked Graeme.
“It’s a letter from my brother,” said Lucius. “He expressed an interest in Lord Chisterley’s school.” He flushed as Graeme’s eyebrow went up in query. “Marcus is twenty two years my junior; he is sixteen, and though ahead of many Cambridge men in some respects, his education has been sporadic. He has a diseased hip, and pain often leaves him on laudanum for days at a time.”
“No’ a healthy state of affairs,” said Graeme. “Did ye want me to look at him and see if there is anything to be done?”
“I was not about to ask on so short acquaintance, and before I decide if I am going to be a trustee.”
“It is enough that you are the Bishop of Norchester’s Godson; I will see him,” said Graeme. “Having just become a faither again, however, I have no desire to leave ma wife and son for the ither end of Suffolk, so you will either have to wait until I am satisfied that I may leave my wife and children wi’out chance of puerpal fever, or you will have to send for the boy to post here.”
“But ... he has a limp ...”
“It did not stop Daisy Ellis from coming here from Clackbury in Norchestershire, which is even further, a wee girrrl of fourteen with a club foot. Surely your brother is no’ sae puir-speerited?”
Lucius flushed, angrily.
“He is not poor-spirited at all; indeed, too often, the reverse. I merely worry about him, and try to hide from him that I do worry about him,” he said. “You would not be concerned about him?”
“I would think it advisable for him tae bring a man with him, if he has one,” said Graeme. “Daisy’s blasted vicar sent her alone, wi’oot a moment’s thought aboot wha’ might befa’ her, and losh! it a’most did. We got tae the coaching inn as some muckle-moothed Abbess was aboot tae kidnap her for her gowden beauty. She was oor first pupil, and I have to say is by way of being a favourite of oors. Elinor had a hasty letter from her yestereen, that she has marrit her beau in greater haste than she had intended, tae prevent a distant, but titled, relation from trying to lay claim to her tae marry her tae his grandson. Ah, of course, you dinna ken; Daisy may be making a useful competence wi’ her ain endeavour, but it transpired a few months ago that her parents had no’ died impovereeshed, but indeed left her a fortune, forebye. The baron had a gamester for a faither.”
“Ah, I see,” said Lucius. “I keep hearing the name of this Daisy, she seems to be popular. Marc will regret not meeting her, she of all people will not despise him for his disability.”
“I do not think you will meet anyone here who will despise him for that,” said Graeme. “Only if he does not make as much of himself as he might. Is he interested in engineering?”
“He said it would be more interesting than ....” Lucius read out Marcus’ disparaging comments on his rose breeding. Graeme laughed.
“He does not have green fingers then,” he said.
“No, he is horse mad, and a classical scholar,” said Lucius.
“Weel, when ye write back tae him, ask if he wud like tae visit, forbye,” said Graeme.
“Thank you,” said Lucius, returning to his brother’s letter.

“I should like your advice, Lu; I know that Tom Brock and Michael Pole went into the South Elmhams and swapped all the signposts about, so you could not tell which South Elmham it was, and Sir Henry Harkness in South Elmham St Peter had out a doctor from Bungay when his wife was brought to bed, and the doctor was so hopelessly lost that mother and baby both died. Should I inform on them? I know they did not mean anyone to die, but I heard them boasting after church that they hoped it would lead to someone ending up in a ditch, which could be nasty for someone aged or infirm. It was before we heard what had happened to Lady Harkness, but they did not seem to be bothered. I felt sick that a prank should lead to deaths, and they are older than I am. It is not just that I dislike them for their making may game of me when I was able to attend the grammar school in Monkshithe for a while, is it?
Your loving brother,
Marc.


Lucius drew a long breath, and tossed the letter to the doctor. Graeme elevated an eyebrow, and read it.
“He should aye write tae this Sir Henry, and leave it tae him whether he takes it tae the law, or takes it oot on their worthless hides,” he said.
“Thank you, doctor. I thought so, but I dislike that pair cordially. They had a game called ‘Marc rocking’ where they would push him back and forth between them until his hip failed and he fell.”
“I’d no’ be above helping yon Sir Henry wi’ a mickle rough justice if it were closer tae hame,” said Graeme.
Lucius got out paper to pen a letter.

“Swanley Court School
30th June 1812

Marc;
Write immediately to Sir Henry and tell him what you heard. He knows you well enough to know that you will not be safe if you speak out rather than writing. It is then up to him to call for the vigour of the law, or to take his belt to their homes and demand that their fathers give over their sons for rough justice. If he chooses the law, you will be called as a witness, but nothing can be done about that, and I will see that you have enough men about you to protect you in that unlikely eventuality. You know what is the right thing to do.
I have mentioned you to Dr. Macfarlane, whose wife has not long been brought to bed of a son, and though he will not leave her, he extends an invitation to you to come to Swanley Court for him to look you over. He does not foresee you having any problem getting here, since their first pupil made it alone from Norchestershire with a club foot, at just fourteen years old. He felt that bringing a servant was more sensible than coming alone, but I am not sure who you would bring. Cocker is too old, and is needed to care for the house, and you will want Jed to care for our riding horses while you are gone. Perhaps Jed can suggest someone.
I confess I will not be displeased to have you out of the house once you have reported what you heard from Brock and Pole to Sir Henry. They are vicious boys, and their fathers are hardly any better.
Indeed, I think it would be better to shut up the house, and ask Jed to take the horses to Sir Henry or one of our other neighbours for safe keeping, but Sir Henry will understand the reasons. Cocker must go to his daughter; give him two months’ wages in advance, and we can sort this out when we both return.
Your loving brother,
Lucius.
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