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The Silent Governess(6)

By:Julie Klassen

She walked up the high street where it curved to the north, and passed the village square. She saw a stately church beyond it, which she supposed to be St. Mary’s. Several fine carriages passed, and one coachman stopped to ask if she would like a ride.

“Are you for St. Aldwyns?” she asked hopefully.

He shook his head. “Not bound for Brightwell Court like every other fine lady in the borough? Big doings there tonight.”

Brightwell . . . There it was again.

Olivia shook her head. “Thank you anyway.”

She waited while the carriage passed, then watched as it turned through a gate and up a long, torchlit lane. Had her mother some connection to the place? Olivia felt compelled to lay eyes on this Brightwell Court. Then she would make her way directly to the vicarage.

Olivia walked through the gate, up the graveled lane, past several small outbuildings, and then, there it was. A tall, grey Tudor manor in an E-shape, with a many-peaked roof.

Had her mother friends here? Had she once visited or had a post here? Olivia certainly was not going to knock on the door and ask, especially while the owners were entertaining.

She started to turn back when the lively, happy music caught her attention. It swirled in her ears and swelled in her chest. She stepped carefully across the lawn, drawn by the light spilling from large mullioned windows. As she drew near she received her first good look into one of the grand rooms. Lovely women in fine gowns and distinguished gentlemen in black evening attire stood in groups, talking, laughing, bowing, eating, and drinking. A sigh escaped her.

Mesmerized, she slowly walked past the first wing, glimpsing a buffet graced by a life-size ice swan, towering jelly molds, a stuffed boar, and a huge golden bowl overflowing with fruits. She walked past the recessed courtyard of the shorter leg of the E, and then around the final wing, staring in each window, as if watching vivid tableaux lit by a hundred candles. As she rounded the manor, she walked by another window, open, she guessed, to release cigar smoke or the heat of the crowd. Her steps faltered. Inside what appeared to be a library, a dapper middle-aged gentleman embraced his middle-aged wife. They were alone. The man kissed the top of her head and stroked her back, murmuring some reassurance or encouragement near her ear. The gentle tenderness stung Olivia’s heart. She knew she should turn away, respect their privacy. But she could not. Then the man put his hands on either side of her face and said something. The woman nodded, her pale cheeks wet with tears. The man brushed them away with his thumbs and kissed the woman full on the mouth.

Embarrassed, Olivia lowered her head and walked away. She leaned against a shadowed tree to catch her breath. If only her mother and father might have shown such affection to one other instead of brooding silences and heated arguments. If only she herself might one day know such tender love.

A side door opened. Olivia froze beside the tree. Footsteps sounded on the flagstones of the veranda, followed by another set.

“Edward, wait.”

“This is not something I wish to discuss before the assembled company, nor the servants.”

“Must we discuss it at all?”

Olivia peered from behind the tree, looking for a way of escape. The veranda was mottled shadow and moonlight. Upon it, she glimpsed the same older gentleman from the library standing before a taller man, whose back was to her.

The taller man sputtered, incredulous. “Am I to simply forget what I read?”

“No, I don’t suppose you could. But it need not be a disaster, my boy.”

“How can you say that?”

“I have known all along and it has not altered my feelings.”

“But how did you . . . ? Where did I come from? Who was my mother, my—?”

“Edward, lower your voice. I will tell you one day if you really must know. But not today. Not on the eve of our departure.”

Olivia was chagrined to overhear such a personal conversation. What should she do? If she moved at all, even to lift her hands to her ears, they would see her.

The elder man put his arm around the younger man’s shoulder. “I am sorry you had to learn of it at all, and especially now, but nothing has changed. Nothing. Do you understand?”

The younger man slapped his chest, his voice hoarse. “Everything has changed. Everything. Or will. If . . .” His voice broke, and Olivia missed the rest of his sentence.

“There is nothing we can do about that now. Promise me you will not attempt to ferret out anything more until we return. Let it lie for now, Edward. Please. You have been given enough to adapt to already.”

“That is an understatement indeed, sir.”

The father turned his son back toward the manor. “Come inside, my boy. How cold it is. Your mother will wonder what became of us.”

The young man muttered something inaudible as they stepped to the door and Olivia released a breath she had not realized she was holding.

“May we not burden your mother with this right now?” the older man asked. “I want nothing to spoil this journey for her.”

His son sighed. “Of course. Her health must come first.” He held the door for his father. “After you.”

The older man pulled a sad smile and disappeared inside.

Olivia stepped from behind the tree, ready to make her escape at last. But the young man stopped suddenly, hand on the open door. He stood, staring blindly in her direction. Had he seen her? Heard her?

Her heart pounded. She took a step backward, hoping to further conceal herself in the shadows, and instead collided with something solid and warm. She cried out as a foul sack descended over her head and wiry arms grasped her by the shoulders and hauled her away.

Chapter 4

A poacher becomes an infirm old man if he be

fortunate enough to escape transportation or the gallows. . . .


When the sack was pulled from her head, Olivia found herself in a small parlor, staring at a bald man and a round, aproned woman. The man introduced himself. “I am John Hackam, village constable. Again.”

“Again,” the woman echoed. “No one else will take ’is term.”

The constable nodded to the woman. “My good wife.”

“What did the earl’s man catch ’er at,” Mrs. Hackam inquired. “Thievin’?”

“Mayhap,” Hackam replied.

An earl? “No,” Olivia protested. “I took noth—”

“No time to hear your tale o’ woe now, girl. I’ve an inn to run, and we are full up tonight.”

“Full up.” His wife nodded.

Mr. Hackam took Olivia’s elbow. “It’s the lockup for you tonight, and we’ll sort it in the morning.”

The constable led her from the inn’s parlor and out a side door to a windowless octagonal building some twenty yards distant.

“Court is held here at my humble inn regular-like, but the JPs are all at Brightwell Court tonight and can’t hear your case at present.”

He unlocked the heavy door and firmly, though not roughly, compelled her inside. The door shut behind her, enveloping her in darkness. She heard the key scrape in the lock and footsteps retreating. Weariness and fear competed for precedence within her.

Was this God’s judgment for what she had done? She berated herself yet again for not going directly to the vicarage.

Olivia blinked, trying to adjust her eyes to the darkness. Not complete darkness after all—a small red glow shone several yards away. A rat’s eye? No. A lit cigar. Suddenly a flame sputtered and sparked to life, illuminating a big man holding a candle stub in one hand and the cigar in the other.

Her heart lurched and stomach seized. Borcher!

The big man held up the candle and peered at her. She prayed he would not recognize her from Chedworth Wood.

“Well, well. What have we here?” He stepped closer and held the candle near her face. In the wobbling light, his fat lips curled into a feline smile. “The hoyden from the wood.”

“No. I—”

Tossing aside the candle, he slammed her hard against the door. Pain shot up her spine. She turned and banged on the door. “Help! Please help me!” A scream caught in her throat as Borcher slapped one hand over her mouth and with the other gripped her arm, pulling her back against him. He laughed a ghoulish giggle in her ear, his foul breath making her gag.

“I told ya I’d get ya, girlie. And now I have done.”

She struggled and tried to call out, but only a muffled murmur escaped his thick hand. Her mind reeled, No, no, no! She opened her mouth and tried to bite his hand.

“Not this time, pet.” He released her mouth only to grasp her neck with both hands. He squeezed until Olivia thought his thumbs would crush her windpipe. Something popped within her throat.

Olivia choked and struggled against the pain and suffocation, panic soaring as she struggled to suck in the thinnest stream of air. Was this what her mother had experienced? At least Olivia had been able to save her. Oh, God, she prayed. Please forgive me. I only meant to stop him. . . . She hoped he would not try again. Please watch over her, Olivia silently pleaded as her mind clouded over, the shutters of her brain closing tight.


Vaguely she heard something. A key in the lock? The door banged open, though Olivia could see none of the lamplight that surely was flooding in. Borcher growled and pushed her roughly away as he released her. She would have fallen, but strong arms caught her. She tried to breathe through a throat that felt sealed off. Crushed. She gasped painfully and smelled a man’s sweat and pipe smoke. Sputtering and sucking in panting breaths, her vision returned. The constable righted her, then scowled—first at her, then Borcher.