Papa’s Rules – Sue Lyndon, Celeste Jones

Miss Katrina Wickersham eyed him from across the desk. Her manners, dress and posture bespoke a privileged upbringing, yet somehow Lord Alexander Cavendish felt quite certain that Miss Wickersham rarely engaged in the gossip, intrigues and rivalries which were the preferred entertainments for women of her social set. Though they had spent less than forty minutes in each other’s company, Miss Wickersham’s personality was no mystery. From the prim knot of her hair to the shiny point of her boots, Miss Katrina Wickersham was all business. Quite clearly, she was a woman of purpose. “It would appear,” she said, “as though everything is in order.” The corners of her lips turned up in the tiniest of what might pass for a smile. “If you will sign here,” she pointed, “here and here,” she pointed twice more, flipping the pages back and forth in an efficient and no-nonsense sort of way, which did not surprise him in the least. Before inking his quill, he gazed upon her until she finally looked away. He had no desire to dominate her, but he did wish to ascertain that she was, in fact, human in some way. He never liked to question his own judgment, and so he attempted to engage Miss Wickersham in conversation to ease his mind before he put ink to paper. “Can you tell me more about Cammie?” Though his features were composed, as had been drilled into him since childhood, Lord Cavendish’s heart struck a rapid pace as the name of his future bride passed his lips. To his pleasure, Miss Wickersham’s countenance softened slightly and she became, he noted, rather pretty, in an austere sort of way. “Cammie has been under my care for six years. I found her upon the streets of London.

” Miss Wickersham closed her eyes briefly as though hiding from an unpleasant vision. “A young man purporting to be her brother was dragging her up the stairs of a London town home where he intended to hire her out as a scullery maid. No doubt it was the best the brother could do for her, at least she would have a roof over her head and food on the table.” Miss Wickersham paused, collecting her thoughts. “I knew the family to whom he had promised the girl, a notorious household with a reputation for cruelty and deprivation. The terrified child was screaming and crying and doing everything she could to promise she would behave and be a good girl, but from the looks of both the brother and the sister, it was clear that money for food was the issue and not the unfortunate child’s behavior.” Alexander gasped and reared back, appraising the woman across from him with a new sense of intrigue. “Oh, how shocking,” he said, involuntarily. “Yes,” Miss Wickersham said, jutting out her chin defiantly and purposely passing her gaze about the opulent room in which they were seated, “not everyone in this life is as fortunate as you, Lord Cavendish.” She sniffed the words and his gaze landed on the silver handled letter opener on his desk, wondering how much food that one item might buy for a hungry little girl.

Properly chastened, he asked another question. “How were you able to obtain Cammie from her brother?” “I am not without my methods of persuasion,” Miss Wickersham said. “A wad of bills and the promise of a safe home and secure future for her were enough. I do not doubt that simply the notes would have been sufficient, but I feel it is important to assure family members, when my little charges have them, that the child will be well cared for…forever.” Her green eyes bore into him until he spoke. “I understand,” he said, “I have every intention of seeing to Cammie’s needs and wants.” “That is my expectation, sir.” * * * “Miss Wickersham would like to see you, Cammie,” Garland, the bossiest of all the caregivers, said in an impatient tone. “But I am not done playing,” Cammie replied with a pout, straightening the checkerboard in front of her. Garland gazed down her nose.

“You know what happens when you do not obey Miss Wickersham.” That was all the reminder Cammie needed, though she was not happy about it. She was in the middle of playing checkers with her best friend, Hyacinth. “I must go, Cynny,” she said, giving Garland a meaningful glare before walking out of the room ahead of the older girl. “Hard to believe you are nineteen years old, Cammie, given the way you behave sometimes. We’ll have none of that attitude around here,” Garland said, giving Cammie’s backside a firm swat that sent all the young ladies in the social room into a fit of giggles. “Cammie’s in trouble,” a couple of them chanted. Before crossing the threshold, Cammie turned and stuck her tongue out at the lot of them then spun back around and ran smack dab into the not amused form of Miss Wickersham. Looking up at the woman who was her guardian and caretaker, Cammie found herself on the receiving end of one of Miss Wickersham’s well known and roundly feared scowls. “Camellia,” she said, hands on hips, “is that any way for a young lady to behave?” Subdued, Cammie cast her eyes downward.

“No, ma’am.” “That is correct,” Miss Wickersham said, taking Cammie’s hand and leading her down the hall of the manor which housed several dozen young ladies who had been taken in by Miss Wickersham over the years. The two of them arrived at Miss Wickersham’s private parlor where tea had been laid out. Cammie’s heart sang. When Garland had told her Miss Wickersham wished to see her, she felt certain someone had tattled on her about sneaking a kitten into the older girls’ room last night, but clearly that was not the case if the table was filled with sweet cakes, biscuits and cucumber sandwiches. Minding her manners, Cammie stood by her seat until Miss Wickersham bid her to sit. She crossed her hands over her lap and waited for her hostess to pour the tea, as a well-behaved young lady ought. “Thank you for inviting me to tea, Miss Wickersham,” she said, using her best grown up manners. “You are welcome, Cammie.” Miss Wickersham favored her with a rare smile.

“I have some good news for you,” Miss Wickersham said as she poured a cup of tea for Cammie and laced it with two spoons of sugar and a hearty dose of milk, just the way Cammie liked it. “Good news? What? Please, tell me!” “Now, now, remember your manners, Camellia. Is that the way a proper young lady behaves? Particularly one of my young ladies?” “Nooo,” Cammie said, chastened. “I am sorry, Miss Wickersham.” Miss Wickersham put two biscuits and a slice of cake upon a plate and set it in front of Cammie. Her eyes went wide at the bounty of sweets. Usually Miss Wickersham kept her charges on a strict diet and only allowed sugar laden treats on Saturdays, though sometimes she relented and Cook served puddings for girls who had a birthday. Of course, few of the young ladies at Miss Wickersham’s actually knew the exact day on which they were born, but Miss Wickersham assigned each a birthdate, usually based upon the day they arrived in her care. “If you please, Miss Wickersham, what is the good news you have to share with me?” A satisfied smiled turned up Miss Wickersham’s lips as she set her cup in its saucer and placed both upon the linen covered table between them, all the while maintaining ramrod straight posture. “Thank you for asking in such a polite way, Camellia,” she said.

Cammie smiled, glad that she had made her teacher happy. Despite her stern demeanor, Cammie knew Miss Wickersham could also be warm and kind. Maybe even loving. All the girls in her care, though they could be mischievous at times, wanted to please Miss Wickersham. Cammie was no exception. She hated to imagine what might have become of her without the intervention of Miss Wickersham. Every now and then, Cammie remembered what her life had been like before she came to be one of Miss Wickersham’s girls and a shiver of fear ran through her. Life had been unbearably hard and scary. Very scary. She and her brother were alone on the streets of London where kindness seemed not to exist at all, even for a couple of orphans.

Her brother, Robert, had tried to care for her, but the task was Herculean and risk lurked around every corner. As she had gotten older, she had tried to help the situation by venturing out from the dark alley where they had a makeshift shelter, but a young girl alone on the streets attracted the wrong sort of attention and Robert had boxed her ears and taken her shoes to ensure she did not venture far from where he left her. She knew he hated to be so strict with her, but he was only a boy himself, trying to provide for the two of them with the few coins he could earn making deliveries for local merchants. Sadly, they were usually merchants from the mills and not grocers. Though Robert occasionally brought her a pretty scrap of fabric, she would have much preferred some bread or an apple. There was never enough food. She always felt cold due to inadequate clothing, and her brother, though Cammie liked to believe he tried his best, he simply did not have the time or energy to give little Cammie the love she craved. Sometimes, late at night, Cammie thought about Robert and where he might be now. She loved him, because he was her brother and he had done what he could for her. Even his attempt to hire her out had been well-intentioned.

What else could a girl of her circumstances have expected or hoped for? But, she was wholeheartedly grateful to be at Talcott House where she was warm and fed and safe. Her mind wandered, traveling back to a night from long ago when she was lying in bed awake and Miss Wickersham found her during her nightly bed check. When Cammie looked up from her pillow and saw Miss Wickersham hovering over her, her stomach did a flip flop. Miss Wickersham did not like it when her little charges did not follow the rules. But, Cammie could not help it that sleep simply would not come that night. Holding a finger to her lips to indicate the necessity of quiet, Miss Wickersham took Cammie’s hand and guided her from the room she shared with Hyacinth, Rosie and Daisy and down the hallway to Miss Wickersham’s study. Miss Wickersham wrapped the chilled girl in a blanket and set her upon the sofa with strict instructions not to move, then left and returned a few minutes later with a mug of warm milk and two of Cook’s best biscuits. While they nibbled on their treats, Miss Wickersham asked Cammie why a little girl who had played all day long and had even been out in the fresh air for a picnic with her friends was not able to sleep. Cammie took her time chewing a tiny bit of biscuit and studied her teacher. She did not want to upset Miss Wickersham by mentioning her brother, but she also knew it was wrong to lie.

“There are times when I cannot sleep and I think about my brother. I worry that he will find me and make me go with him back to that awful house where I would have to be a servant.” Miss Wickersham’s thin brows flickered upward as though she was surprised and just as quickly returned to their rightful place above her eyes. Miss Wickersham preferred everything to be in its rightful place. Miss Wickersham cleared her throat. “I am sorry that you are unable to sleep. As you know, proper rest is an important part of a young lady’s upbringing. It helps her to grow and be healthy. Sleep encourages pretty skin and hair and bright eyes.” Cammie tried not to laugh because Miss Wickersham harped on the value of sleep all the time.

No wonder Cammie had been worried about punishment when Miss Wickersham had found her. “Yes, ma’am,” she said. “Perhaps I need to explain things to you better than I did when you arrived. You are older now, so I expect you can understand if I tell you in a more grown up way. Shortly after you came to live with us here at Talcott House, I went to court to be declared your legal guardian. Your brother has no right, no matter what happens, to try to take you away. You are mine. Mine to care for until I find you a proper papa. A papa who will love and care for you for the rest of your life. You need never worry again about being cold or hungry or forced to work for cruel people.

Do you understand?” Mouth agape, realization washed over Cammie. Until then, she had never fully understood the impact of what it meant to be a resident of Talcott House and be one of Miss Wickersham’s girls. Never worry about being cold or hungry again. A papa to care for her all her days. “Yes, Miss Wickersham,” she said when she was able to control her emotions suf iciently. “I think I do understand. Thank you.” “I know how dif icult your early years were, Cammie. That is why I have made it my mission for all my charges to be given the childhood they never had. Each girl will be cherished and adored for the rest of her life.

Would you like that?” “Oh, yes. Thank you, Miss Wickersham,” Cammie said and never had trouble sleeping again. “Cammie,” Miss Wickersham used a stern tone that brought the girl out of her reverie. “Cammie, are you daydreaming again?” “No, Miss Wickersham,” she replied, sitting up straight. “I was just remembering when you told me that I would live here until you found a papa for me and I never needed to worry about being cold or hungry or frightened ever again.” “I remember that conversation,” Miss Wickersham said. “I hope you have been happy here at Talcott House.” “Oh, yes, Miss Wickersham. I have been very happy. In fact, I could not imagine a better place on the whole earth,” she said spreading her arms wide.

“What about living in a big manor house with your very own papa to love and care for you and be your husband? You would like that, would you not?” Cammie’s heart fluttered and a funny feeling warmed her lower parts. A papa! She had been wanting a papa ever since she came to Talcott House and Miss Wickersham and the other girls explained to her about how every little girl got to have a papa of her very own someday. Papas were special men who would love and care for their little girls, but also be their husbands and help them to make babies of their very own, too. It had sounded like a dream come true to Cammie. She had even accused some of her housemates of making up tales to tease her because she was new. But, she was soon assured by none other than Miss Wickersham that it was all very true. Miss Wickersham worked very hard to find precisely the right papa for each of her girls. And now Miss Wickersham had a papa just for her. Her heart fell into her shoes. After waiting all this time, what if she did not like her papa? Or what if he did not care for her? “Cammie,” Miss Wickersham said, leaning toward her, “I thought you would be happy at this news, but you do not appear to be so.

Do you not appreciate that I have found a papa and selected you out of all my girls to be his bride?” “Oh, yes, Miss Wickersham, I am exceedingly grateful. But,”—She paused trying to put together all of the confusing thoughts flying through her brain—”I will be sad to leave here. And…what if he does not care for me?” “Ah, I see why you are worried, but never fear, Miss Wickersham is here. I have met with your new papa and talked with him very extensively about you…” Cammie gasped and felt her face heat. “Really? What did you say?” “I told him you were a very well-behaved young lady who is sometimes easily distracted. Is that not correct?” “Yes,” Cammie said with a giggle. Happiness bubbled up inside her, and she thought she might float around the room. A papa! “Please, tell me all about my new papa. When can I meet him? Is he handsome?” She had always imagined a very handsome papa for herself whenever the girls talked about it. Dark and brooding, but he would smile and cuddle her to his strong chest, because he was the best papa ever.

And she would be the very best little girl, ever. She was sure of it. “His name is Lord Cavendish and when you are married, you will become Lady Cavendish.” Cammie gasped. “A lady!” “Yes, a real lady.” “Miss Wickersham”—Cammie threw herself into the arms of her teacher—“you have made all my dreams come true. When may I meet him?” Miss Wickersham pried the girl’s arms from around her neck and returned her to her seat. “We will leave in two days’ time,” she said. “That will give you an opportunity to pack your things, to say good-bye to your friends and —” “Ohhhh,” Cammie cried. “Will I never see Hyacinth or Daisy or Rosie again?” “Cammie.

” Miss Wickersham turned strict. “It is rude to interrupt when someone is speaking. If you are to become Lady Cavendish, you must curb your outbursts.” She pointed to the corner where a hard wooden stool was perched. “Go to the naughty chair for your impertinence and when you have finished, then we will continue our discussion, but only if you are able to hold your tongue.” “But what about my papa?” Minimally obedient, Cammie stood and made her way to the appointed punishment, but she dragged her feet and kicked the stool once she reached it. “I want to know about my papa!” Miss Wickersham, always efficient and sparing in her movements, navigated the short distance between herself and Cammie in record time, taking her firmly by the shoulder and, while holding Cammie at arm’s length, rapidly applied three swift swats of a ruler to her backside. “Now, sit and be quiet or you will force me to spank you on the bare. How do you think Lord Cavendish will feel about a bride who arrives with a reddened bottom because she cannot behave herself properly?” “Oh,” Cammie said after Miss Wickersham released her arm. “I apologize, Miss Wickersham,” she said softly as she climbed upon the stool.

“But, I want to meet my papa sooo badly.” “An apology that includes the word ‘but’ is no apology at all, as well you have been told, Miss Camellia. I had great hopes for you and Lord Cavendish, but now I must reconsider. Perhaps you need additional lessons before you can be trusted to represent Talcott House amongst society. Once you leave here, your actions will reflect on everyone at Talcott House, and if you misbehave, it will make us all very sad and embarrassed. It might make it more difficult for me to find papas for all the girls here. You do not want to do that, do you?” “No, Miss Wickersham,” she said to the corner, eyes straight ahead, though her vision blurred from the as yet unshed tears forming in her eyes. Miss Wickersham would not really send another girl to be her papa’s bride, would she? Cammie’s heart weighed heavy in her chest and she clasped her hands together in her lap, her right leg swinging against the leg of the stool. Her bottom stung slightly in the aftermath of Miss Wickersham’s firm application of the ruler, and she squirmed a bit on the chair in an effort to alleviate her discomfort. “Stop moving and be quiet.

” Miss Wickersham set a book upon Cammie’s head, forcing her to keep it level and be still. “Use this time to think about how to be a proper bride for Lord Cavendish and how to make me proud of you. When your time is up, if you have done as I have instructed, I will tell you all I know about your papa.”

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