So! She was away at last! Charity resisted the overwhelming compulsion to turn and glimpse, for a final time, the little place of Richmond where she had been so very happy. Her own home she had vacated some two days previously, having lodged for the ensuing two nights at the Lamb and Flask in the main part of the village. She simply would not have been able to bear having to be picked up by the post chaise from outside of her own front door. There had been copious tears as she had bade farewell to the old homestead and to Mrs Murdoch and James. They had been requested by the solicitor to pack the young lady off and then to themselves lock and depart from their former place of employment and residence. The solicitor knew that he should be able to rely on Mrs Murdoch handing him over the keys to the property, as he had requested. He had, as solicitor, made the arrangements for Miss Cottrell to be accommodated at the inn and called on her twice, just to ensure her, he told himself, of his most earnest and sincere intentions to work on her behalf. In actuality, the young woman's allurements had not gone unnoticed and his eyes had all but undressed her at their meetings.
However – Charity, young innocent that she was, had not noticed this fact. He had even toyed with the idea of courting the orphaned girl, but had turned his thoughts from that direction when he thought upon the plain but wealthy young woman his mother had in mind for him. She had watched the postilion load her small amount of luggage onto the coach’s roof and then had climbed the rickety steps into the interior. Charity had been timidly afraid of whom and what might constitute her travelling companions and it was with a pronounced sigh of relief that she saw the dignified expression of a travelling elderly man of the cloth and his portly wife. She began to adjust to the jolting and swaying movements that the badly-sprung vehicle made, for there were no springs as such, just thongs of leather suspended hammock fashion to keep the travellers away from the structure and skeleton of the coach’s interior. Though, to be frank, she was more than pleased that she had layers of protection in the form of her cloak, which acted as a blanket beneath her posterior.
The elderly cleric’s wig shone with snowy abundance in the sunshine of the morning, for he had removed his hat. He did not pay too much attention to Charity, studying, so it seemed, assiduously from his Good Book. His wife on the other hand cast piggy red rimmed eyes in Charity’s direction, pursing her lips together with a stubborn willful expression upon her florid features. She sniffed loudly, then turned her fat woman’s gaze to stare hard through the window. The coach stopped at Kingston and a young dandy joined the travellers. By this time, Charity was feeling more than a trifle nauseous, though she endeavoured against letting the blanching feeling rise to her throat or show in her face.
The young blade smiled openly and frankly at his companions and settled himself into the corner opposite Charity, who was by this time blushing mildly and staring intently towards the floor. She was more than pleased that she had decided on wearing her next best gown of grey and blue striped muslin with an under petticoat of white silk, edged with French lace. The young man extracted a small leather-bound tome from an inner pocket and pretended to peruse it, all the time spying Charity over the golden edges of the paper.
‘Heavens,’ she thought to herself, ‘I really must get out to stretch my legs and take in some mouthfuls of fresh air at the next stopping station.’ She was, by this time, feeling decidedly queer. The young gentlemen, noticing her extreme discomfiture, asked in a refined and dignified tone if he could be of any assistance.
“I’m afraid I feel rather queasy,” admitted Charity, the sickness now making her complexion almost as white as the cleric’s wig.
The young blade leant his head through the partly opened window: “I say! Coachie, Coachman...” The coach thundered on, the man’s voice swept away by the fast flowing currents of turbulence that the coach’s speed caused to whirl around the conveyance. He tried again.
“Coachman: I say – d’you mind stopping for a few minutes?”
At last the coachman gleaned that something was amiss. He pulled the horses to an abrupt halt and in the ensuing silence the gentleman was able to state again his request, which, seeing as the coach was now stationary, did occur to the young gentleman as being somewhat irrelevant.
He pushed the steps down and helped Charity from the coach, and she stood, trembling slightly but grateful to be able to draw in such gulps of fresh air that within a few minutes she began to regain some of her normal colour. The cleric and his spouse sat, tightlipped, looking with impatience at each other.
“Thank you so much. I feel better now. Perhaps we should resume the journey?”
“Agreed,” replied the blade heartily. He escorted her back to her seat but motioned her to sit still whilst he withdrew a small flask containing spring water. This he unscrewed and proceeded to pour a measure of liquid into the exposed top, which also served as drinking vessel, albeit of small proportions. Charity smiled sweetly and took the drink. She wetted her somewhat parched lips and passed the cap back.
“All right coachman, you may resume. Apologies, dear fellow travellers.” He inclined his head with a slight nod towards the elderly man and his wife. They said nothing, merely glared in affronted indignation. The coach thundered off down the narrow roadway. Charity closed her eyes and tried to comfort herself with the thought that the journey could not last forever. Smiling, and pleased with his courtesy, the young man resumed the apparent study of his book but in fact had placed the opened book upon his knees and stared with open and appreciative admiration toward his beautiful companion.
She was a delightful dolly, by Jove, and more than an ample handful. His eyes traced the outline of her breasts through the slip of a scarf which was tied over her bosom. At length they approached the outskirts of London and, with the novelty of such sights, Charity soon forgot her sickness. Soon they were past the villages and headed towards cosmopolitan London Town. She knew that she should feel intimidated by the handsome and stately buildings which were to form the new vistas of her living and working place, but she was all but breathless through anticipation as the coach drew along into Bloomsbury.
She had arrived and stood now, her portmanteau at her feet, outside the imposing building which proclaimed itself to be ‘Ames House’. Nervous with trepidation and excitement, she pulled the knocker and let it swing, to land with a thudding sound upon the door: her very first mistake, as she was soon to realise.
Servants were requested to gain admittance to the house by means of the side door to the left of the main entrance. This door was half hidden by copious amounts of ivy falling over it. The heavy, polished door was opened by a liveried lackey, complete with ornate and old fashioned flame-coloured wig, styled à la the water dog’s. “Yerse?” Charity looked into a pair of cold grey eyes, like those of a dead fish. “I am arrived to take up the post as My Lord and Lady Wentworth Ames’s child’s governess.” “Use the servants’ door then, woman.”
The door was all but slammed shut in her face. It did not presage to be a fair omen. She could have pinched herself for being such a fool. Hoisting up the heavy portmanteau she searched for the side door. She walked up and down alongside the gold-topped black painted railings, missing the door at first and second perambulations because of the abundance of foliage which concealed it. On the third sortie, or to be more precise, drudge past, she spotted it and with a sigh, knocked loudly on said door. She heard footsteps hurrying towards her. The door was eased open on freshly oiled hinges. Before her stood the same lackey whom she had spoken to before. “Yerse?”
Again she repeated her role in the household. She bit her lip, trying to keep her temper from boiling up. It would never do to let her feelings show in a situation like this. After all, she must create the best impression she could. She was, as she considered, merely on probation for three months. The haughty dusted eyebrows of the servant rose, shaking the fringe of his powdered wig.
“Well, you’d best come in then, hadn’t you?” His voice was high-pitched and sulky, like a small child’s. Charity followed the minion into a corridor, passing by a couple of doors. He made no attempt to help her with her belongings. “Wait here.”
Again she placed the portmanteau upon the thin carpeting which served as obviously eminently suitable for those of the lower orders to step on. She reached up to straighten her hair, her cap.
Charity could not see who spoke, because an enormously high- backed wooden settle was the only thing which confronted her vision. “What? ... Oh yes. Send her towards me; then wait for a minute.” The lackey bowed his head low and retreated to stand sentinel at the door. He motioned that Charity go towards the settle.
The sound of birds was all but deafening. They fluttered and flew around the inside of a huge light bamboo cage, all shapes, all sizes, a profusion of colours which outdid the rainbow for versatility.
“Come here then, girl. I cannot see you if you must continue to gape into the back of me neck.”
The aristocrat poked her head around the side of the wooden seat, her wig even more fiercely scarlet than the lackey’s.
She looked to be no more than thirty years of age, but even at this distance, it was hard to observe accurately, for her face was painted in thick paint, whiter than a ghost’s. Two blotches of rouge glowed upon her cheeks. Charity propelled herself forward. She felt scared. “Stand there girlie.”
The lady surveyed the newcomer through a pair of lorgnettes.
She licked her scarlet lips: “I suppose you’ll have to do. Master Jeremiah is five and a half years old, as undoubtedly your most esteemed relative would have informed you. I believe you haven’t had any experience in work of this nature before. Still, we shall just have to wait and see, shan't we? Now,” she bent her head to examine a piece of paper upon her lap.
“Miss Charity Cottrell, late of Richmond: your wages will be in the region of £5 per annum; you have one day off a week and - mark me gel – I’m more than generous as regards other employers, and your quarters are to be located at the top of the house, over Master Jeremiah’s nursery and playroom. No gentlemen friends, mind you! I think you’ll find that we’re a happy, perhaps slightly unusual, household to work for; but I can assure you, you would be hard stretched to find better than us, what with your lack of work experience and qualifications, anywhere in reputable London Town.”
She obviously wanted Charity to relax and shot her a broad smile, which was unfortunately marred by the imperfection of her yellowed and decaying teeth and livid red gums.
Charity was beginning to feel more than fractionally worried that she had selected the correct apparel. Her palms were sticky with travelling and anticipation and she could feel the unnatural pace of her heartbeats. There was too, she discovered, as she tried to swallow, a dryness to her throat. Perhaps she should have requested a glass of water? The footman, all striped silver and black velvet, with – as she scrutinised, - soiled white lace shirt ruff and cuffs, minced towards her. “The mistress will receive you now.”
He eyed her luggage. "You may leave that here." He pointed to a cupboard overhung with a faded but exquisite tapestry. She hastily thrust the case behind the hanging folds. The sight of the main entrance all but took her breath away. For the occupants had chosen not to have it in the style of their own times, but rather as that of a Tudor homestead, so that her eyes were confronted with a medley of luxuriantly idiosyncratic styles. A small waterfall sprinkled away in waters where white and pink water lilies floated. As she galvanised her wits, she saw that the upper portion of the entrance hall and lobby, proffered a balcony which ran the squared length of the place.
As she looked behind her, she saw a magnificent twin set of stairs rising to merge into one flight behind the gigantic carved statue of a hawk-master and his bird. There were coloured panes of glass in an arching, almost medieval style, window. The carpeting running along the middle of the hallway floor was rich and thick, mainly in scarlet and gold but worked like the Persian artistry to be found in illuminated scrolls and upon tapestries. Fluted edges, scrolls, peacocks, exotic flowers, figures and animals made a feast of visual display.
The footman and Charity stopped outside of a partly-opened door. Charity could hear the chatter of various bird voices issuing forth from within. The lackey cleared his throat and, casting a careful eye, slanted in Charity's direction, knocked loudly upon the door. “Enter!”
He stepped into the room and gestured mutely and impatiently that Charity should stand beside him: “The new governess, Ma’am, appears to ’ave arrived." “Huumm...”
“Come, you shall sit here awhile and take a little sup with me. LATIMER. Come here, man!”
The woman bellowed to the servant. She stared at Charity for a minute without saying anything, then made to open her mouth as the footman appeared at her elbow. “Tea for two” she snapped, without removing her gaze from Charity’s face, “And make it snappy Latimer.”
The man all but ran from the room, Charity observed over the top of the carved backrest to the settle, whose wooden hardness had been softened by innumerable cushions along the sitting and resting portions and against the back.
“I do have some wigs I shall want to try out on you. All my servants are required to wear red hair pieces. I trust you have no objection. Good.”
She answered her own question; not that Charity would have raised any objection. She was in no position to do that. Her new employer looked down at her hands and toyed with a large ruby ring upon one finger:
“You'll find that the household is not large. Jus’ meself, me ’usband Lord Wentworth Ames and me little brother, Fitzroy Rispian, Lord Rispian that is. Watch him,” she looked up into Charity’s face, “He’s known to favour a pretty face and he won’t merely stop at the face me dear – jus’ a word of warning.
“Don’t ever say ‘No’ to him, whatever happens, dear me, no, or . . .” The woman's voice rose in a hysterical wail, “I shall be obliged to ask you to quit! Got me? Good!”
She puffed out her cheeks: “Whaddya think of me birds? Pretty, eh? I’ll open the cage in a trice.”
The footman appeared again, carrying this time a heavy silver tray. Charity involuntarily put her hand to her mouth as she espied amidst the plates of tea things a bottle with two crystal, long stemmed glasses.
“Come here then girl. WHAT!? D’you intend to eat and drink standing up?” My Lady Wentworth Ames patted a space beside her on the seat. Judging by how things were going, Charity would soon have to acquire a hard head with dealing with her new surroundings.
Whatever would dearest Papa have had to say, drinking before supper time? Not that Charity had ever drunk at all!
Charity managed a wan smile as she settled herself next to her new employer on the settle.