The Mystery at Falconbridge Hall(6)

By: Maggi Andersen


She wished he didn’t always sound as though he was giving a lecture. Might he be visualizing her under glass?

Vanessa attempted to change the subject. She didn’t care to be compared to his lordship’s butterflies. “Do you like to read, Miss Blythe?”

Blythe’s eyes lit up. “Oh yes. I love books.”

Pleased, Vanessa said, “We can enjoy them together.”

“Then I shall allow you free reign over my library, Miss Ashley.” His lordship put down his cup. He pulled one of Blythe’s locks, stood, nodded to Vanessa, and strode from the conservatory.

Blythe and Vanessa stared after him in silence.

Vanessa felt strangely flat. Had her appearance disappointed him? She hadn’t been employed for her looks, surely.

She had decided to return to her room when Blythe spoke. “My party frock is pink. What color is yours?”

“I didn’t bring one,” she said surprised. “There will be little reason to wear it.”

“Father has invited guests on Saturday. There will be music.”

“Oh. Well, how nice. But governesses don’t go to parties.”

“Miss Lillicrop did.”

“Did she?”

Thick black lashes hid Blythe’s blue eyes from view like a shutter over a window. “I watched her from my window. She danced on the terrace.”

Vanessa would have loved to ask with whom, but Mrs. Royce appeared with the maid to clear away the tea things.

“What books have you read, Blythe?” Vanessa asked, eager to draw the child out.

“Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is my favorite.” The girl’s face flushed with pleasure.

“There are many wonderful stories. I promise we’ll read a new one every few weeks.” Vanessa ran a list of texts through her mind.

“How nice you seem,” Blythe said in her cool little voice. “Will you stay longer than Miss Lillicrop?”

“I certainly plan to,” Vanessa said, her curiosity aroused. Mrs. Royce spoke from the doorway. “Your music teacher is waiting, Miss Blythe.”

“Goodbye.” Blythe climbed down from the chair and left the room.

“I gather Miss Lillicrop was the former governess?” Vanessa asked the housekeeper.

“That is correct.”

“She didn’t stay long?”

“A few months.”

“So soon? Did something happen?”

“You’d best ask the master about that.” Mrs. Royce’s tone made it quite clear she would discuss it no further.

Left to her own devices, Vanessa walked out into the garden.

***





Julian glanced out the window and saw his new employee cross the terrace with a determined stride. She had been a surprise. He was glad women had dispensed with the bustle; he liked the natural sway of a woman’s hips. He’d met Miss Ashley’s grandfather, the Earl of Gresham, but never her father, the ne’er-do-well younger son who had cut himself adrift from his family and left his daughter penniless. Julian found the former earl to be too haughty for his tastes, couldn’t see beyond the end of his long nose, and the elder son now in possession of the title was no better, or so he’d heard. He returned to his ledger, this wouldn’t get his work done. He had much to do before departing for the Amazon.

***





Vanessa took the path that appeared to lead to the lake. The air was still and hot, and all the flowers and plants in the garden beds drooped. The path led her into a thick copse of trees where it was cool and dim. Moments later, she emerged into the sun and approached the folly beside the lake. A welcome fresh breeze blew the damp curls from her brow. The folly was an elaborate structure, the Grecian columns intricately carved with leaves and flowers. Steps led up to the arched front facing the water. Inside, was a crimson velvet chaise longue one might find in a boudoir, wicker chairs, and a table. The perfect place for she and Blythe to come for a picnic or even an English lesson. It would be more pleasant in this lovely spot.

Vanessa wandered back to the house and returned to her bedroom. She curled up in a chintz chair, her chin propped in her hand. Her new employer remained in her thoughts. Because she’d never met anyone quite like him, she supposed. He seemed a decent sort, but was there something cold blooded about killing insects and placing them under glass?

Blythe’s subdued nature troubled her. It wasn’t shyness. The girl was too self-contained. So often alone, Vanessa expected she’d had to be. She was determined to introduce some fun into Blythe’s life. Vanessa had been so much more fortunate to have been blessed with a loving mother until grown. And growing up she’d enjoyed far more freedom, which she believed mattered more than material things. How carefree she’d been, at least until the last year when things had gone terribly wrong.