The author deserves high praise for her ability to capture the reader's attention and engage one in both the mystery and the romance of this delightful story!
Vanessa Ashley felt herself qualified for a position as governess, until offered the position at Falconbridge Hall. Left penniless after the deaths of her artist father and suffragette mother, Vanessa Ashley draws on her knowledge of art, politics, and history to gain employment as a governess. She discovers that Julian, Lord Falconbridge, requires a governess for his ten-year-old daughter Blyth at Falconbridge Hall, in the countryside outside London. Lord Falconbridge is a scientist and dedicated lepidopterist who is about to embark on an extended expedition to the Amazon. An enigmatic man, he takes a keen interest in his daughter's education. As she prepares her young charge, Vanessa finds the girl detached and aloof. As Vanessa learns more about Falconbridge Hall, more questions arise. Why doesn't Blythe feel safe in her own home? Why is the death of her mother, once famed society beauty Clara, never spoken of? And why did the former governess leave so suddenly without giving notice?
The maid’s head appeared over the banister rail. “The master will see you now.”
Vanessa walked up the wide oak stair to where the maid awaited outside a door. A deep voice answered her knock. Vanessa turned the knob thinking how she would have liked to wash before meeting her new employer; it was difficult to appear cool and in control when so hot.
The room she entered was also gloomy. A gas lamp glowed where a man sat in shirtsleeves and braces, his dark head bent over a desk. She took two uncertain steps and paused in the middle of a crimson Persian rug. Vanessa clasped her hands together and inspected the room. Shelves of leather-bound books lined one wall. Heavy bronze velvet drapes, pulled halfway across the small-paned windows, framed a narrow but magnificent view of parkland where broad graveled walks trailed away through well-grown trees. She suffered a sudden urge to walk across, pull the curtains back and throw open a window.
Lord Falconbridge put down the butterfly under-glass he had been examining and pushed back his leather chair, rising to his feet. As she edged closer, he donned his coat and came to shake her hand. “Miss Ashley.”
“How do you do, my lord?”
He motioned her to sit then sat himself.
He would be in his mid-thirties, she guessed. His good looks made her feel even more untidy. His dark hair swept off a widow’s peak, and he had a deep cleft in his chin. He removed his glasses, and his eyes were a similar bright blue to the butterfly. Dark brows met in an absent-minded frown as if she was an unwelcome distraction. “Welcome to Falconbridge Hall. I hope you had a good journey?”
“Yes, thank you, my lord.”
“You’ve come quite a long way. You must be tired.”
“I broke my journey with an aunt in Taunton, my lord.” Her aunt was quite elderly, and Vanessa had slept on the sofa, but she didn’t feel at all tired. She expected fatigue would strike once the initial rush of excitement had faded.
“My sympathies for your loss, Miss Ashley.”
“You have had no experience as a governess, I believe.”
“Do you like children?”
“Very much, my lord.”
“Then you have had some involvement with them.”
“Yes, I was very fond of my neighbors’ children. I minded them quite often as their parents were both in business.”
“You had no opportunity to marry in Cornwall?”
“I had one offer, my lord.” The widowed vicar, Harold Ponsonby, had offered, in an attempt to rescue her from the heathenish den of iniquity in which he found her.
He eyed her. “And you refused him?”
Might he think her imprudent? “Yes.”
“Do you have a particular skill, Miss Ashley, which you can impart to my daughter?”
“No, my lord.” She drew in a breath. She had not expected such a question. “Sadly, I did not inherit my father’s artistic talent, but I have my mother’s enquiring mind and her interest in history and politics.”
“Politics?” He stared at her rather long, and she wished again that she’d had time to tidy herself. “We shall see how you get on. The rest of the day is your own. We will discuss your duties in the library tomorrow at ten. Mrs. Royce, my housekeeper, will show you to your room.” With an abstracted glance at his desk, he rose and went to pull the bell.
The mahogany desktop was completely covered with pens and papers, a microscope, a probe of some kind, a set of long-handled tweezers, a large magnifying glass and a small hand-held one, tomes stacked one on top of the other in danger of toppling, and the butterfly in its glass prison, its beautiful wings pinned down, never to soar again. Caught by its beauty and premature death, Keats’s poem Ode to a Grecian Urn, rushed into her head. “Thou, silent form, dost tease us out of thought…As doth eternity.”
The viscount swiveled, and his eyebrows shot up. “Pardon?”
Vanessa jumped to her feet as heat flooded her cheeks. She'd said the words aloud. She must have had too much sun. “Keats, my lord.”
“Are you a devotee of the Romantics?”
“Not especially.” Annoyed with herself and, irrationally, with him for pursuing it, she said, “Forgive me, it was a random thought.”
He folded his arms and studied her. “You are given to spouting random philosophical thoughts?”
She tugged at her damp collar. “Not usually. I’m a little tired, and it’s been so hot.” Hastening to change the subject, she stepped over to the wall covered in framed butterflies of all sizes and colors. One particular specimen caught her eye. “Exquisite.”
She felt his presence disturbingly close behind her. “Which?”
She pointed. “This one, with patches of crimson and deep blue on its wings.”
“You have a good eye. That’s a Nymphalidae from Peru. Do you know much about butterflies?” She looked at him, finding his blue eyes had brightened.
“Very little, I’m afraid,” she said, aware her contribution to this discussion would prove disappointing. “We get many orange ones with black spots in Cornwall.”
“Dark green Fritillary.” The interested light in his eyes faded.
“That can’t be. They’re orange,” she said.
“That is their name, dark green Fritillary.”
“Why would they call it dark green when …?” Her voice died away at the impatience in his face.
“That species is common and of little interest.” He studied her. “Unless you took notice of some interesting aspect of their habitats?”
“No, not precisely, my lord … uh, they seemed to gather in trees and grasses ….” She nipped at her lip with her teeth, as he nodded and turned away. Would a governess be required to know much about butterflies or botany? Beyond Cornwall, her knowledge of flora and fauna was barely worthy of comment.
A woman entered the room, her neat figure garbed in black bombazine, with a lacy cap over her brown hair and a watch pinned to her breast. A large bunch of keys jangled at her waist. Vanessa thought her to be in her early-forties. She had a pointed nose and sharp eyes that looked like they would miss little.
“Ah. Mrs. Royce, this is the new governess, Miss Ashley. Please give her a tour of the day nursery and school room and introduce my daughter to her before you take her to her quarters.”
“Miss Ashley.” His lordship nodded. “I shall see you here again at ten o’clock tomorrow. We’ll discuss your plans for teaching my daughter. I’m extremely keen that she becomes proficient in mathematics, the French language, and botany.”
“Botany, my lord?” Vanessa’s fears were realized. Completely unprepared, she looked around wildly at the books lining his shelves. Might she have time to bone up on it? She read some knowledge of her discomfort in his eyes and lifted her chin. “Surely English and history are equally as important?”
“That goes without saying.” He turned back to his desk. “Tomorrow at ten.”
Research: The Writer's Guide to Everyday Life in Regency and Victorian England Kristine Hughes