THE GOVERNESS OF BELGREEN MANOR
“Darling,” Arthur Colborne said, twirling his wife around the dance floor. “I dare say that you dance with the grace of a thousand angels.”
Caroline looked up at him with a brilliant smile and winked at him.
“And I dare say that you dance with the grace of an angry demon,” she said.
Arthur laughed. He was not a bad dancer, of course. Caroline was teasing him, as she often had in the six years they had been married.
On the night they met, Arthur had been so taken with her beauty that he had turned into a clumsy fool. He found himself forgetting dance steps and placing his foot so that she accidentally kicked it on more than one occasion. He had been horrified, but Caroline had giggled a little more each time.
By the end of the night, they had shared four dances and had agreed to see each other again the following day. Their love had been so strong and so complete that they were married just weeks later. As he looked into his wife’s eyes, Arthur realized he was still every bit as infatuated with her as he had been on the night they met.
The dance came to an end, and Arthur kissed his wife atop her head as he escorted her from the dance floor. They walked together to the refreshment table where he fetched them two flutes of champagne. He handed one to Caroline, who took it from him with another sweet, bright smile. They touched their glasses together, leaving their toast unspoken. They each sipped from their respective flutes, then Arthur gave his wife a gentle, sweet kiss on her lips. He stroked her cheek, admiring the same beauty that had him spellbound all those years earlier.
The pair stood watching the dancing couples in comfortable silence. Arthur smiled softly at those who were looking at one another as he and his wife had before they began their brief courtship. He silently wished them all the love and happiness he and his beloved Caroline had been fortunate enough to experience since they were wed.
From beside him, Caroline coughed suddenly. He looked at his wife to see her gently patting her chest with her hand. He gently touched her back, frowning.
“Are you all right, darling?” he asked.
Caroline nodded and waved a hand in front of her face. It was another moment before she could speak.
“I am perfectly fine,” she said, her voice hoarse. “I think the champagne just tried to…”
Before she could finish her sentence, the half empty flute slipped from her hands. She reached out and took hold of Arthur, who just managed to catch her as she fell. He ignored the stares and the cautiously approaching people as he tried to help his wife to her feet. She regained her balance, still clutching onto him and giving him a weak, sheepish smile.
“Oh, forgive me, my darling,” she said. “I suppose it was the coughing that made me a little unstable on my feet for a moment.”
Arthur studied her, his eyes wide.
“Are you sure you are well?” he asked.
Caroline took a deep breath and nodded weakly.
“Yes, dear,” she said. “I am quite all right.”
Arthur shook his head, unconvinced. Her face was suddenly very pale, and her hands were trembling. He found himself not yet willing to release her. As he moved to pull her close to him, he felt her body buckle. Before he could move to catch her again, Caroline tumbled to the floor, unconscious.
Arthur took Caroline home immediately and sat by her bedside until the first rays of the morning sun were visible through the window. She rested well, her breathing was regular, and her skin had regained its healthy color and glow. By the time the doctor arrived, Caroline was awake and trying to convince Arthur to let her get up and begin her day.
“Darling,” she said, smiling sweetly at Arthur. “I am fine. There is no need for such a fuss. And certainly, not for a doctor.”
Arthur caressed her cheek.
“Well, my dear,” he said. “He has already arrived. Besides, there can be no harm in making sure that all is well.”
Caroline rolled her eyes playfully but relented. Arthur kissed his wife and left the room so that the doctor could see to her.
A few moments later, the physician emerged. He said that Caroline appeared to be well and that she had likely simply gotten herself too excited the evening before. Thrilled, Arthur arranged a picnic for him and his wife and their two little daughters, Agnes, aged three, and Sarah, aged two.
The family enjoyed the day, and Arthur went to bed that night feeling relieved that everything seemed fine, just as the physician had said. However, when Caroline suffered her next fainting spell just a few weeks later, the prognosis was much more troubling.
“Consumption?” Arthur asked, collapsing in the chair that sat outside his wife’s room. “But you said all was well when you came to see her after her first episode.”
The physician shook his head sadly.
“I believe that the disease must have been in too early a stage for me to detect then,” he said.
Arthur stared at the doctor for a moment.
“But there is something you can do,” he said.
The doctor shook his head sadly.
“In most cases, consumption is fatal,” he said. “She may have several more months yet, but I advise you to spend those helping her get her affairs in order. I am terribly sorry, Lord Belgreen.”
With that, the physician excused himself, leaving Arthur staring helplessly at his hands. After several moments, Arthur rose. He was determined to find a doctor who could help Caroline. He refused to believe that his wife was terminally ill. If the doctor had been wrong with his diagnosis the first time, wasn’t it possible he was wrong this time? He went into Caroline’s room and comforted her, assuring her that he would find a physician who could help her. Unfortunately, he was wrong.
Over the next few months, Caroline’s condition only continued to worsen. Arthur had every physician in London visit their home, only to be given the same prognosis each time. Even when she seemed to be improving, the doctors told him it was only a temporary improvement because her lungs had suffered so much damage during the progression of the illness that she would never fully recover.
At last, Arthur decided that, when Caroline was feeling up to it, he would take her overseas to France or India and find another doctor who could help her. When he broached the idea to her, however, she simply stroked his cheek and smiled sadly at him.
“Arthur, my clumsy darling,” she said. “You must stop your fretting.”
He looked at his wife as though she was mad.
“Stop fretting?” he asked, incredulously. “You might as well ask me to cross the ocean by walking.”
Caroline shook her head and took his hand.
“I have accepted what is happening to me,” she said, her voice sad but sure. “And, while I do not ask you to accept losing me, I do ask that you not expect the impossible. There is no doctor in the world who can cure consumption, or else more people would know of such a cure. Trying to take me overseas would likely only serve to end me more quickly than if I simply remain here and enjoy the time I have left with you and the girls.”
Arthur looked at her, dumbfounded. He wanted to tell her she was giving up too soon, that she must fight and let him do what he felt was best to help her. He wanted to assure her that he could find someone to get her well, if she would only allow him to try. But, as he looked at her ever-weakening body and her tired but resolved eyes, he knew that he was being selfish and unrealistic.
He knew she was right about traveling too. It would only shorten her already diminishing life and make her too sick to spend any amount of quality time with her family before her passing. Fighting back a sudden flood of tears, he nodded.
“I will comply with your wishes, darling,” he said.
Caroline smiled, relief replacing the sadness in her eyes.
“Thank you, my love,” she said. “And, at this moment, I wish for nothing more than to have a picnic with you and the girls. It is a beautiful day outside, and it would be a shame to waste it sitting in here, as I do every single day of late.”
Arthur nodded and made the arrangements at once. He had to carry Caroline outside once the picnic had been set up, but seeing the brilliant smile on her face and hearing the music in her laughter made it all worthwhile to him. That was the last good day he spent with his wife.
From that day on, Caroline’s condition steadily declined. She had good days, where she felt especially creative and euphoric, but her physical energy failed her more by the day. He had many supplies brought to her bedside so she could practice various crafts with their daughters. He was grateful for the time she wanted to spend with Agnes and Sarah, because he spent much of that time in his study, crying.
He could not come to terms with the idea that his beloved wife was dying. Despite Caroline’s wishes, he wrote letters to doctors in France, Spain, and even India. However, those who were kind enough to respond told him precisely what the London physicians had: There was nothing that could be done for her.
In the last week of her life, Caroline could hardly lift her head from the pillow. Arthur knew she did not have much longer to live, so he sent their daughters to stay with his mother. He avoided disrupting her rest, though deep down, he simply could not bear to see her suffering as she was. One night, however, she called for him. Her maid came to fetch him from his study, her face grim. Without a word, Arthur understood the request. He hurried up the stairs and entered his wife’s room, giving her a warm smile.
She looked so pale and fragile. It appeared as though the bed had grown to five times its size against her frail, too-thin frame. Her gown was clearly clean and freshly changed, except for the still drying blood on the white cloth just below her chin. Her face was dull and near lifeless, and Arthur bit his lip furiously to suppress a sob. As soon as she heard him enter, she turned her head weakly. Her eyes lit up, looking just as beautiful as they did strange and foreign in her deathly sickly face. She gave him a weak smile.
“Darling,” she said, her voice a hoarse whisper.
“You should be resting, my love,” he said. “Save your strength.”
Caroline shook her head weakly.
“There is no strength left to save, my dearest,” she said. “And too little time left for what I wish to say.”
Arthur squeezed his eyes closed, praying for strength. Everything in him wanted him to insist that she not say the things he dreaded to hear. But in his heart, he knew that she was right to do so.
“Tell me anything you wish, my sweet,” he murmured, kissing the top of her head to disguise the tears that had managed to slip from his eyes.
Caroline nodded, covering her mouth weakly with a cloth as a coughing fit overtook her. He waited, looking away to keep her from watching his heart break.
“Promise me that you will eventually remarry,” she said bluntly.
Arthur stared at his wife blankly.
“You do not know what you are saying,” he said, trying more to convince himself than his dying wife.
She nodded slowly, coughing again.
“I do,” she said. “And I am thinking of the girls as much as I am thinking of you.”
Arthur collapsed in the chair beside her bed, fumbling for words.
“How could I… You can’t possibly…” he said, shaking his head in bewilderment.
“You can, and you must,” she said, gazing at him intently. “You must not spend your life suffering over me, especially for the sake of Agnes and Sarah. They need to see you happy and well, and they will need a woman who can mother them.”
At this, Arthur broke. He put his head in his hands and began to cry. He could not adjust to the idea of life without Caroline. How could she possibly expect him to entertain the idea of remarrying?
Caroline reached out and took his hand. With surprising strength for her condition, she squeezed it, stroking it with her clammy fingers.
“I shall not rest easy unless I know that you and our girls will be all right,” she said. “You must promise me that you will do this.”
Arthur shook his head again and looked at his wife, his eyes blurred with tears.
“I can never love a woman as much as I love you,” he said.
Caroline smiled weakly.
“You have loved me very well, darling,” she said. “And I know that you have a great deal more love left to give. You will find a woman to whom to give that love, and I am certain that she will love you in return.”
Arthur stared at his wife. Even at the end of her life, she was the most beautiful and wise woman he would ever know. He knew he would never be able even to consider what she was asking, but he could not bear the thought of disappointing her on her deathbed, just as he had failed to save and protect her in life.
After a moment, he wiped the tears from his eyes and nodded.
“I will promise to try to do as you ask, my love,” he said. “I will do my best to do what is best for the girls.”
Caroline gave him a knowing smile.
“And for you as well?” she asked.
Arthur laughed, despite his debilitating sadness. His wife had always been sharp and observant. Of course, she had noted his careful selection of words.
“For myself as well, darling,” he whispered.
Satisfied, Caroline closed her eyes. Arthur held onto her hand, watching the rise and fall of her chest. Within moments, her chest movements were no more. He did not need to touch her to know that she was gone. He began to cry once more, rising to kiss his wife on the forehead.
“I love you forever, Caroline,” he said.
Juliet Barnet sat at the back of the ballroom, watching couples merrily assemble in preparation for the next dance. She sighed, trying to keep her head high, rather than focusing her gaze downward at her nervously wringing hands in her lap.
She tried not appearing too worried or desperate as each gentleman walked past without so much as a glance in her direction. It was not something to which she was unaccustomed, but it still made her heart fall a little each time it happened.
Her father had made it clear to her that she must make every effort to find a potential suitor, as he had never failed to do ever since she had made her society debut. However, there was one crucial difference between then and now. She was currently on her third London Season, and she was no closer to finding a good husband as she had been after her debut.
She had tried to maintain the optimism she had previously felt after having been formally introduced to London’s high society, but two failed seasons did not bode well for a young lady. She had no doubt that, if she had a third unsuccessful year, her father would arrange a marriage for her, just as he had for her sisters.
With a sigh, her heart began to ache for Mary and Harriet. Shortly after their debuts, their father, the Duke of Lymington, had accepted offers for marriage for his eldest daughters to secure business ventures with the noblemen in question. The young girls had dutifully complied with their father’s wishes, but the idea of such a marriage for herself made Juliet shudder.
She did not dislike the idea of marriage; in fact, she very much welcomed it. But she did not understand the point of marrying out of necessity or obligation, as her parents had, rather than for love.
From the corner of her eye, Juliet saw her father approaching, accompanied by an older gentleman. She rose quickly from her seat, giving her father a warm but tense smile.
“Juliet, my dear,” Lord Lymington said, kissing his daughter’s cheek. “I trust you are enjoying yourself?”
Juliet nodded, praying that her true feelings were not as prominent on her face as they felt in her heart.
“This is a lovely ball, Father,” she said, kissing him in return.
“Very good,” her father said, beaming. He gestured to the older man at his side. “I would like to introduce you to James Faraday, Earl of Falstone.”
Juliet curtseyed politely to the Earl.
“How do you do, my lord?” she asked.
The Earl appraised her with an odd expression. She forced herself to hold his gaze, all the while hoping her father was not about to say next what she feared he was. When the Duke spoke again, however, her heart sank.
“Lord Falstone has requested the next dance with you, darling,” he said.
Juliet felt her smile tremble, but she held her head as high as she could.
“Of course, Father,” she said, choosing to not address the Earl directly. “It would be a pleasure.”
“Splendid,” he said. “I shall leave you to it.”
After a brief bow to the Earl, Lord Lymington turned and walked back in the direction from whence he and Lord Falstone had come.
“You look very lovely, my dear,” Lord Falstone said as he led her onto the dance floor.
Juliet forced another smile and dipped her head politely.
“Thank you, my lord,” she said.
The Earl grinned at her, looking her over with eyes that appeared a little too hungry for her liking. He nodded slowly, as though agreeing to some unspoken request.
“Yes,” he murmured, pulling her a little closer to him than was necessary for the upcoming dance. “Very lovely, indeed.”
Juliet tensed, trying to avoid the Earl’s strange gaze. She let him lead in the dance, praying with every stiff step that it would hurry to its end. When it at last concluded, she made her escape from him as quickly as possible and found her mother.
The Duchess smiled at her daughter until she saw the distressed look on Juliet’s face.
“What is it, darling?” she asked.
Juliet shuddered, glancing in the direction of the abandoned Earl, who was still watching her with his leering eyes.
“Only the most horrible dance I have ever experienced,” she whispered, keenly aware of the guests who were standing nearby and might overhear.
Her mother followed her gaze and nodded knowingly.
“He does seem to be very interested in you,” she said, frowning. “Nevertheless, my dear, the dance is over. Try to enjoy yourself for the rest of the evening. I am sure there is another more suitable gentleman just waiting in the wings to dance with you.”
The Duchess gave her daughter a brief embrace and a kiss on the cheek. Then, she excused herself to speak to another group of guests, who had approached to tell her what a lovely ball she was hosting.
Juliet hoped her mother was right; that another man would ask her to dance before the evening ended. She would do anything to avoid another awkward, uncomfortable dance with Lord Falstone.
However, no such gentleman offered her a single dance. That was, of course, except for the Earl, with whom she danced twice more. Each time, the look in his eyes grew more intense, and Juliet desperately wished she could flee from him, and from the ball, and hide in her bedchamber. She knew, however, that she could not make such a scene.
She suffered the dances with the Earl wearing the same false smile and, when the second one ended, she hid herself in the far back corner of the ballroom, leaving her hiding spot only after her mother announced the end of the ball. She stood firmly beside the Duchess as the guests departed, careful to not make eye contact with Lord Falstone as she helped her mother thank everyone for attending and wish them a good evening.
When the last guest had left, she hurried to her bedchamber, carefully avoiding her father. Fortunately, he seemed to be engrossed in a very serious conversation with her mother and paid her no mind.
She moved as quietly as possible until she was safely behind the locked door of her bedchambers. Once inside, she sighed. A few moments later, her maid Patricia entered the room, as she did every night, and helped her dress for bed. She feigned fatigue to avoid conversation with the woman, and, soon enough, she was left alone with her thoughts once more.
She sat on the edge of her bed; her nerves still too rattled for her to attempt sleep. She looked out of her window, imagining every detail of the gardens she could see during the day, even though it was too dark to see. She envisioned it, trying to let the beautiful green of the bushes and the vibrant colors of the blooming flowers soothe her and help her relax. Each time she blinked, however, she could still feel the Earl’s bold grip on her.
Despite the comfortable warmth of the room, she shivered. She told herself that, if her father had known how Lord Falstone would touch her, he would not have given the man permission to dance with her. Even though the Duke was a strict businessman, he still had his sense of propriety. He would never allow a man who was not married to one of his daughters to engage with them in such a manner. Would he?
Just as she was about to lay her head on her pillow and try to sleep, the door to her room opened once more. Juliet looked to see her mother enter and close the door behind her. She smiled, until she saw the distressed expression on her mother’s face.
“I am glad you are still awake, darling,” the Duchess said, almost whispering.
Juliet frowned, wondering at her mother’s secrecy.
“Is everything all right?” Juliet asked.
The Duchess stepped forward with her hands clasped tightly in front of her. She slowly approached the bed, sitting beside Juliet and taking her hands in her own. She bit her lip and looked at her daughter for several moments.
“Your father will wonder where I am,” she said, still whispering. “So, I must be quick.”
Juliet’s heart raced. She knew what her mother was going to say before she continued speaking, but she held her breath and waited anyway. Swallowing a lump in her throat, she nodded wordlessly.
The Duchess took a deep, shaky breath, removing one of her hands from Juliet’s to wipe her face. Only then did Juliet realize that her mother was crying. She instinctively squeezed the hand that was still covering her own.
“Mother?” Juliet asked weakly.
The Duchess shook her head and tried to smile. She took another breath and then turned to face her daughter.
“I just spoke with your father,” she said, her words heavy with sadness. “He has chosen a husband for you. I tried to talk him out of it, but he has made up his mind.”
Juliet looked at her mother, unspeaking. She did not need to ask her mother who her father had chosen. She felt certain that she already knew the answer.
“Well,” she said slowly, trying to put on a brave face for her mother. “If this is what must be…”
“No,” the Duchess said firmly, looking at her daughter with wide eyes. “You must not befall the same fate as your sisters. I cannot allow it.”
Juliet blinked, surprised. She knew that her mother loved her daughters, but it was unlike her to disagree with her father so expressly. She had always supported the Duke in every decision. That she would even suggest defying him was unprecedented.
“But what would I do?” she asked, looking at her mother. “If this is Father’s wish, then we must comply. And, perhaps, it will not be so bad.”
The Duchess shook her head, more firmly than Juliet could ever recall her doing before in her life.
“You must not marry Lord Falstone,” she said adamantly. “He is a terrible, ill-reputed man, and he will not make a good husband for you at all.”
Juliet listened to her mother’s words, shocked. Her father was willing to give her hand to a man who, clearly, was not a decent member of society. Surely, he would not do such a thing if he knew anything awful about the Earl, would he? But, if he did not know about Lord Falstone’s reputation, then how did her mother?
“Does Father not know?” she asked. She did not want the answer, but she needed to know.
The Duchess pressed her lips together.
“Your father is not one for gossip,” she said. “Even when the things that are being said are true. He would likely not believe anything that he did not see for himself.”
Juliet sighed. Somehow, that response was worse than the one she had feared. Her father would be willing to marry her to a man who was clearly shunned by society, all because he never witnessed any disreputable behavior. She felt that a father should be more discerning when it came to his daughters.
“Well, what can I do?” she asked again. “As long as I am in his home, Father can force me to do as he wishes.”
The Duchess nodded, determination replacing the agony in her eyes.
“You are correct, my dear,” she said. “That is why you must escape.”
Juliet gasped, covering her mouth.
“Mother,” she whispered, now understanding her mother’s odd interest in secrecy. “What on Earth do you mean?”
The Duchess shook her head, smiling sadly at her daughter.
“I do not yet know,” she said, her lip trembling. “I only know that it involves getting you as far away from here as we possibly can.”
Understanding dawned on Juliet, and she embraced her mother.
“But that will mean leaving you, as well,” she said. “I cannot do this.”
Her mother stroked her hair, sobbing into her shoulder.
“You must, darling,” she said, pulling away from her daughter and stroking her face. “You must not marry that man. I cannot bear the thought of seeing you trapped in a marriage with a bad man who will never love you or care for you as he should.”
Juliet’s own eyes filled with tears, and she bit her lip. The thought of leaving her mother behind was heartbreaking, but she knew that her father would not be dissuaded. And, if the Earl was a terrible man, she would suffer greatly for the rest of her life, was she to wed him.
With a tearful smile, she took her mother’s hand.
“All right, Mother,” she said. “When do I leave?”
The sun had just begun its slow ascent in the sky as Arthur stepped from his cabin and onto the deck of the ship. That was his favorite time of the day, when the weather was clear and beautiful, as it was at that moment.
The sea air was refreshing on his skin and in his lungs, and the view was more spectacular than that of any painting upon which he had ever laid his eyes. It was mornings like those that provided the salve that soothed his aching heart and soul over the loss of his beloved Caroline. Even three years after her death, he still spent a great deal of time mourning her. But the sea provided him comfort that he had failed to find in London.
His time at sea was nearing its end, however. His business interests in the Far East had been tended and settled, and a letter from his mother was beckoning him back home. A pang of guilt tainted the peacefulness that the salty sunrise had brought him as he thought of his mother’s letter. However, the guilt did not arise because of the reason for returning. It was because, despite that reason, he would have traded anything to not have to return.
When he had departed for his business travels, he had left his daughters, Sarah and Agnes, in the care of his mother. He had told them, and himself, that it was because they were too young to travel with him and that it was in their best interest that they stay in London, where they could properly socialize and receive education from a full-time governess.
Perhaps that was partially true, but deep down he doubted that their age would have mattered, even if they had been old enough to sail with him. They both looked so much like their mother, even at ages eight and nine, that Arthur found it difficult to look at them without experiencing the heartbreak of losing his wife all over again.
For that thought alone, he felt the burden of guilt. He knew that the girls missed Caroline too. They had been five and six when she passed away, which was just old enough for them to remember their mother clearly. He had tried for two years to raise them in the hopes that he could help them all move past losing the matriarch of their family. However, it had only become more difficult as the months dragged on, and he had, at last, decided to put them in the care of his mother.
Now, his mother was notifying him that the girls needed him, and all he could think was how much he dreaded returning to London, and to all of the memories of Caroline that were still too painful for him to bear. He tried to not picture his daughter’s faces as the London docks slowly came into view. He loved the girls dearly, but he simply could not prepare himself for everything that awaited him back home.
With feet that felt as heavy as his heart, Arthur stepped onto the docks. Followed by the ship’s crew members, who were seeing to his luggage, he slowly walked through the clusters of other people who were boarding or disembarking from other ships. He spotted the carriage that was to take him to Belgreen Manor, and his heart sank further. He sighed, giving the footman a tight smile as he stepped into the carriage. Once his trunks were secured, the carriage set off for the long trip to his London home.
Though Belgreen Manor was a few hours away from the docks, it seemed as though he arrived in no time. When the coach came to a stop in front of the expansive manor, Arthur remained inside for a bit, looking at the door with an aching heart.
For a moment, he considered ordering the footman to take him back to the docks, boarding the ship once more, and pretending that he had not received a letter. But guilt struck him once more and, with another sigh, he exited the coach.
Before he reached the door, the butler opened it, smiling warmly at him.
“Lord Belgreen,” he said, bowing deeply. “It is wonderful to see you again.”
Arthur smiled, returning the bow.
“It is wonderful to be home,” he lied.
“Your mother is in the parlor with the girls,” he said, gesturing for Arthur to come inside.
Arthur winced. He followed the butler to where his mother sat, watching his daughters playing with toys on the floor. They were the first ones to notice his entrance, and they paused their play, looking at him with wide eyes. Though he smiled at them, they made no move to greet him. When the butler announced his arrival, his mother rose and turned to him, nodding her head.
“Arthur, dear,” she said, also remaining where she stood. “It is good of you to come.”
Arthur walked slowly to the Dowager Marchioness and gave her a brief kiss on the cheek. Then, he knelt where his daughters were playing and gave them another smile.
“Agnes, Sarah,” he said, opening his arms. “I have missed you both. My, how you both have grown.”
The girls shared a look, neither of them moving.
“Of course, we have,” Agnes said, her voice defiant and cool. “We are eight and nine now.”
Arthur blinked, surprised at his daughter’s insolence. He shook it off and gave her another smile, opening his arms a little wider.
“Aren’t you going to give me a kiss?” he asked.
Sarah’s face softened a little and she started to rise from the floor. Agnes’s head whipped in the direction of her moving sister and she gave her head a small but firm shake. Then, the eldest girl rose quickly, reaching over and grabbing her sister’s hand, tugging her to her feet.
“We must go read for a while now,” Agnes said, dragging Sarah along behind her.
Sarah began to protest, but Agnes leaned in close to her face and hissed something that Arthur could not hear. Then, the girls proceeded up the stairs, Agnes stomping the entire way and Sarah’s head hanging as she followed silently.
Once the girls were out of sight, Arthur looked at his mother.
“Are they not finished with their governess for the day?” he asked.
The Dowager Marchioness shook her head slowly.
“Arthur, the governess resigned days ago,” she said. “For all of her efforts, she could not get the girls to obey and follow her instruction.”
Arthur chewed on the corner of his mouth. He supposed he might have guessed that something like that had happened. Why else would his mother insist so urgently that he return home?
“All right,” he said, sighing. “Then I shall place an advertisement in the London Times for a new governess first thing tomorrow morning.”
His mother shook her head slowly.
“That will not be necessary, dear,” she said dryly. “I spoke with the employment agency. They have agreed to send a new governess as soon as possible.”
Arthur stared at his mother.
“If that is the case,” he said, struggling for patience. “Then why did you insist that I return so soon?”
The Dowager Marchioness looked at her son, exasperated.
“As much as those girls need a new governess, they also need their father,” she said.
Arthur chuckled bitterly.
“Do you not think that they also need me to tend to business, so that I can continue providing for them?” he asked.
His mother smirked.
“Remind me, dear,” she said dryly. “Which business meetings did you postpone to return?”
Arthur opened his mouth, then closed it again promptly. Of course, he had not postponed any meetings. He had completed the last of his business ventures a few weeks ago, and he had not yet arranged to begin expanding any further. He had simply been sailing from port to port, tending to his existing business ventures from the ship and drifting aimlessly to try to keep his mind off his late wife.
Though his mother was not involved in any of his business dealings, he was unsurprised that she knew he was not in-between meetings. He supposed that she would know based on the amount of money coming into the household. He suddenly wished that he had been more proactive with arranging more business overseas while he was still abroad.
He shook his head and sighed again.
“What would you ask of me?” he asked.
The Marchioness tilted her head.
“I would ask that you spend time with your daughters,” she said matter-of-factly. “They have already spent too much of their lives without you. You do not wish for them to grow up without either of their parents, do you?”
Arthur clenched his jaw.
“You are not suggesting that Caroline’s death is my fault,” he said.
His mother shook his head.
“Of course not, dear,” she said. “But their father’s absence in their lives is.”
Once more, Arthur fell silent. He knew that his mother was right. However, he still found it painfully difficult to see his daughters. Could his mother truly not understand that?
The Dowager Marchioness rubbed her forehead, her expression somewhere between frustrated and defeated.
“I have done my best with Agnes and Sarah,” she said with a sigh. “But the simple truth is that they need you. There is nothing you can do about Caroline’s death, but you must not neglect the girls in your grief. I simply cannot handle the unruly behavior they have begun exhibiting as of late. And I believe that the biggest reason they misbehave is that they are seeking the attention of their father.”
Arthur ran a hand through his hair. He wanted to tell his mother that the new governess would be responsible for seeing to the girls’ education, including how to behave properly. But he knew that he would not win the argument. And deep down, he also knew that the Marchioness was right, as Caroline had been on her deathbed. The girls were lost without her, just as he was. No matter how difficult things were for him, he needed to do something to help his family.
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