How to Claim a Governess’s Heart – Bridget Barton

Lord John Hughan paced the area between his desk and chair. Though his footfall was muted by the lush Persian rug, his irritation could be felt. Writing had always been a passion of his, and he knew from a very young age that it would be a career choice for him. However, now having been given a deadline to find success in the venture, he found he had little, and possibly nothing, to say. Lord John had only arrived in London a week earlier determined to prove his brother, the Duke of Ludford wrong. Second born to a distinguished dukedom only ensured that next to no decisions in Lord John’s life would be of his own choosing if he hoped to keep his living. Most often, fathers and elder brothers decided the situation of younger siblings in such a case. Ludford had been no exception. Usually, second siblings were pushed to clergy work or military life. Ludford had insisted on the latter owing to Lord John’s physique. The late Duke of Ludford, their father, had often commented throughout John’s youth that he was lucky to so clearly have skills blessed by God to be successful in life. Despite a physical form that towered even over his older brother, Lord John had no desire to join the military. In fact, if the truth were told, he abhorred violence. His mother called it a gentle soul, and not with appreciation. His father had insisted that military training would root it out of him.

He wasn’t entirely sure that either opinion was altogether correct. Though he did not wish to fire a gun in the face of an enemy, he did not shy away from standing for virtue when the occasion arose. Likewise, he was sure that a stint in the military would never alter his opinions on where his true talent lay. In black hessian boots, he marched silently across the floor, hoping that some change in his pacing might reignite inspiration within him. He paused at the window, pulling back the thick velvet curtain. The London streets outside were barely visible in the darkness. It had started to rain that afternoon, and like his missing creativity, it hadn’t let up once. Visual rings around the streetlamps gave the only view of the fashionable street’s inhabitants. Despite the dismal weather, it was still bustling with activity. He let his mind relax and wander for just a moment.

His gaze followed carriages rushing towards destinations and pedestrians struggling, head bent, against the storm. His eyes focused on a particular couple that came into the light under a streetlamp just next to his garden gate. It was a woman heavily cloaked and soaking wet. He could see wisps of hair that dangled out from her downturned bonnet, dripping water at regular intervals. Gripped tightly by her hand was a small girl. She too had on a heavy cloak, though clearly much finer than the lady’s. The child’s one hand was gripped in her maid’s, the other was tucked tightly in a fur muffler hanging from around her neck. The lady struggled to move forward in the heavy wet coat and dress while keeping the child at her side and a large carpet bag slung over her opposite shoulder. Lord John let his mind wander for a moment while he watched the two. What could they possibly be doing out in a storm such as this? That maid is certain to meet hellfire when they return home to not care to protect the child against the weather.

As Lord John watched them, much to his astonishment, they paused just before his own house. Pulling a slip of paper from the folds of her dress, the maid studied it, looked at the house, and studied the writing again. Determined that she was correct, she pushed open the white gate and made her way forward. Lord John was bewildered by this. He certainly was not expecting company. Few knew of his coming to London as he had made it a point to keep it to himself. He had hoped it would result in fewer distractions from his work. Even if his brother had told of his whereabouts to others, what purpose would a child have to come to him, and at such a late hour? Lord John left the window and returned again to the space behind his desk. Instead of pacing as before, however, he situated himself in his high-backed leather chair. The knocking on the door followed by the high clicking of the housekeeper’s shoes told him he was to be interrupted.

He wanted to at least appear that he was busy writing his latest manuscript, even if no words had found their way to the page tonight. “Beg your pardon, sir,” a soft voice came through the door with a knock. “Enter,” Lord John called in a voice that seemed as if he was deep in work. Lord John set down his pen just as Mrs. Smith, the housekeeper, entered the room. He covered up his blank papers quickly so it appeared as though he were working hard. “I am sorry to interrupt, but a curious visitor has come to the door,” Mrs. Smith informed him, with her hands presently placed in front of her. “A visitor at this hour?” Lord John questioned, looking at his pocket watch. He saw Mrs.

Smith’s grey eyebrow raise in questioning, and he guessed his acting skills were very wanting. Lord John let out a breath as he pocketed his timekeeper. “I must confess I was at the window and saw them enter the garden. I’m sure you know I had no plans to receive company tonight. Did the visitors give names?” “Yes,” Mrs. Smith said with a soft smirk on her lips. “They were a sodden mess, so I hope you don’t mind that I took the liberty of showing them into the house. I couldn’t bear to have the little one in the rain any longer. The lady is a Miss Bridget Thatcher, and she brings with her a Miss Betsy Smelting.” “Betsy? That is my cousin Frank’s daughter.

Why on earth would she be here, and all on her own?” Lord John spoke though he more mused to himself. As a lover of books and writing, he found nothing could stir the imagination quite like an unexpected mystery. “Miss Thatcher gave me no reason for their arrival only that she has requested to speak with you, sir,” Mrs. Smith answered. “Should I show them into the drawing-room or keep them dripping in the hall?” she added to bring him back to the present from his sudden musing. “Yes, of course. Show them in. Make sure Perkins has a roaring fire and does his best to dry their outer things. I will join them in a moment.” Mrs.

Smith nodded and turned to do his bidding. She was an able woman and had already ordered Perkins to prepare the parlour for the guests. She also knew well enough that Lord John Hughan had done little work on his manuscript since his arrival a week ago, this night being no exception. She had known Lord John since his early teenage years as he and his family returned to their London home quite often for the season. She rather hoped that this small distraction was just what he needed to alleviate the pressure that was so clearly keeping him from his work. Lord John entered the parlour to find his two mysterious guests huddled in front of the fire. The lady was bent over little Betsy rubbing the child’s hands to bring warmth back into them. There was still a good deal of the lady’s hem darkened by water, and a small pool formed at her feet, supplied by sodden ringlets of hair dripping towards the ground. “Do you suppose John will remember me?” the child asked. “Of course he will,” the lady responded as she continued to warm the child by the fire.

“Your parents spoke very highly of him. You may not remember as you were so little when he last saw you, but he loved you dearly. Your father said he often gave you horse rides on his back every night before bed when he came to visit you.” “But I was not more than four when he saw me last,” Betsy answered, looking to the lady for confirmation in her surmise. “I have changed so much now that I am in my eighth year.” Lord John cleared his throat, seeing that they had no awareness of his entrance, “You may be several years older now, but there is little chance I could ever forget such a sweet little girl.” Betsy turned at the announcement, both of them slightly startled by the sudden male intrusion into their conversation. Betsy’s small face was still somewhat round in a babyish fashion. Though her golden blonde hair was wet and sticking to her, she had a rose to her cheeks that told him she was still very well despite the rain. Betsy came rushing forward in her excitement and wrapped her little wet body around Lord John before he even had a moment to respond.

“Miss Betsy, please, have a care. Remember what we discussed,” the lady reprimanded though not at all in a harsh manner. Betsy gave a gasp of remembrance before taking a step back to stand politely before the gentleman. She stood tall for just a moment before curtsying most politely. “I am pleased to see you again, Lord John,” Betsy said in a memorised fashion. Lord John bowed in like fashion, though struggling to keep a smile from forming on his lips, and responded in like greeting. Truly Lord John was astounded at how much the child had grown and changed. It had been at least four years since he had seen his very favourite cousin, Lieutenant Frank Smelting, his wife Elisabeth, and their little girl, but still, he struggled to grip how fast the time had passed. “And I presume you are Betsy’s maid?” Lord John asked, turning his attention to the woman behind the child. “I am her governess, Miss Bridget Thatcher.

I was charged with seeing her safely to you, sir.” “I am not sure that I could say your task was done quite well as you both are here at an extraordinary hour and nearly soaked through. Could you have not taken a care to hire a carriage.” “I did, sir,” Miss Thatcher replied, raising her chin just slightly. “Unfortunately, the man must have misunderstood me and deposited us at the wrong address. He left before I could call him back. We have been wandering about the streets for the last hour or so, attempting to find your residence. It was impossible to hail another carriage in such a downpour. I am just glad that we found you in the end.” “Well, in that case, I am glad to hear that it wasn’t a lack of common sense on your part that has caused such a dangerous situation for Betsy.

Though I should not expect Frank to hire someone that he didn’t consider the highest quality, so I apologise for my accusation.” “No apology necessary, sir,” Miss Thatcher replied. Lord John could easily see that this lady was of a good sense of mind despite his first assumption and understood his own concern for the child. He invited both of them to sit, Miss Thatcher insisting that Betsy take the sofa closest to the fire without hesitation, and studied the lady for a brief moment. She was dressed in not a fine dress, but one taken care of to look nice. It was of a solid grey fabric covering almost every inch of her body down to the wrists and ankles. Her hair was pulled back in a tight chignon with what he had guessed was once properly placed ringlets around her face. Her face itself was kindly looking though not the most handsome he had seen in his life. It had a slightly angular shape with a pointed chin and a sharp nose. Still, her eyes, large as a doe, were soft blue-green against the harsh lines giving her a sweet and kindly aura.

“Perhaps you could make it clear to me why Frank felt the need to send his daughter and governess to me?” Lord John never expected those eyes to grow bigger, but they seemed to double in shock at his question. “Did you not receive the solicitor’s letter? It was sent just over a week before our arrival.” “I am afraid I received no such letter. Is there something wrong?” Lord John asked, starting to get a sense of foreboding. Miss Thatcher glanced at the child seated next to her, with a look of pain at having to repeat the words of the letter in Betsy’s presence. “Lieutenant and Mrs. Smelting are…they are…” Miss Thatcher had trouble producing the words. “Mama and Papa have gone to heaven,” Betsy finished solemnly. “What? How?” Lord John blurted out. Looking at the child, he corrected himself, “Never mind that.

What is to become of sweet Betsy?” “You see, that is why we are here, sir. Lieutenant Smelting made it very clear in his will that his final wish is that you would take charge of Miss Betsy. As I have been with Betsy for the last three years, she knows me well. I thought it was only fitting that I stay with her for as long as I’m allowed.” Miss Thatcher finished her words, putting an arm around the girl’s shoulders. Betsy cuddled up to her comforting embrace effortlessly. Lord John could easily see that the love between the two was much more than merely a teacher and student. Lord John tried his best to process all this information as quickly as possible. He understood that, naturally, Betsy would be sent to a member of the Hughan household. Frank Smelting was the only son of Lord John’s Aunt Agatha.

She was the sole younger sibling to his father, the late Duke of Ludford. Lord John, his elder brother the duke, and their young sister Agatha, named after their aunt, were the only family Betsy had to his knowledge. What was most perplexing to him was that Frank had decided to turn the child over to him and not his brother. Surely such a thing would be expected in the situation. Not to mention Lord John was a man of little money at present. He had no title of his own, no relative looking to pass along an inheritance. By all accounts, he was the least likely to secure a respectable upbringing for Betsy when compared to the duke. He was once again brought back keenly to the fact that he had a year left of allowance from his family before he was forced to choose a life of his brother’s choosing or quite possibly destitution in the life of his own choosing. “Are you not sure that Betsy is to be the ward of my brother, the Duke of Ludford? Don’t get me wrong, I am happy to have Betsy with me, but I fear a grave mistake has been made.” “I know the situation is slightly peculiar, but Lieutenant Smelting was quite clear that he wished you to be Betsy’s guardian.

I know it is a lot to take in all at once,” Miss Thatcher added quickly. “I had hoped you would have made time to process the information as it was laid out in the letter. I had no idea this would be the first you hear of it. “If you would like, Betsy and I will return to our lodgings until you are prepared to further discuss the matter.” “It is far too late at night for you to be returning anywhere. I wouldn’t dream of risking even the walk to a carriage for Betsy in this weather. I am not entirely in a position to be taking on a ward at the present time, but clearly Frank wished it, and I won’t disregard it without consideration. “I will have a room aired for you both for the night. If it is most convenient for you, Miss Thatcher, would you be willing to stay on here with Betsy, or do you already have other employment lined up?” “Actually, Lord John,” Miss Thatcher said, sitting up a little straighter and fidgeting with her hands. “I have no future arrangements made at present.

I rather hoped to continue to stay with Betsy if it were at all possible. I have several letters of recommendation that I am happy to give you,” she added quickly. “That won’t be necessary, I trust Frank’s judgment. Understand, however, that I cannot promise you anything permanent. I must first sort out my affairs and decide what accommodations will be in Betsy’s best interests.” “Of course, I understand, sir,” Miss Thatcher responded visibly relaxing. Lord John studied them both for a second longer before coming to his feet. At least one decision could be made tonight, while many more would still need working out. Ringing the bell on the side table, Mrs. Smith immediately appeared.

Lord John suspected that she had been waiting outside the door, attempting to hear who the mysterious visitors were.


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