Charlotte was shaken. But she was not stupid. Clearly, Lady Dorothea did not want her in the house. Charlotte knew she now lived in the Manor at her own peril. Monsieur Le Bas entered the kitchen unexpectedly and herded her into a corner of the warm room.
"Charlotte? You are are upset, but do not let this debacle trouble you."
"Monsieur, you do me a disservice to mistake tonight's incident for other than it was - an attempt to banish me from this house. The Lady hates me. I can no longer work here."
"What! Mon dieu Charlotte! You would abandon all that we have worked for together because of, because of . . . her! You talk of mistakes Charlotte, but that would be the biggest mistake - no crime - of all. A petty woman's jealousy and you are turned away from pursuing your gift and this work which will affect history and be our legacy for future generations? If you are willing to do do this, you are not the apprentice I thought you were. I have wasted my time with you!"
Despite her youth, Charlotte had the wherewithal to once again marvel at the unapologetic selfishness of her male superiors. Unseeing of her own plight, their only concern was their work and the extent to which she helped or hindered them in their magnanimous plans. "Monsieur, Lady Dorothea employs and houses me in the capacity of chamber maid. I have no other gainful employment and no other home or family. Without her favour, I will be smartly turned out into the street with nothing. I am grateful to you for teaching me and for rescuing me tonight, but you must see, that my position here is now temporary only. Lady Dorothea will be rid of me, I am sure of it!"
"No Charlotte. Sir Benjamin will not allow it. You are too important to my work. Please, trust me. Trust Sir Benjamin. The truth is Charlotte, I have come to rely on you. You are my hands now. My future is tied to yours. I will find a way to save us. Please, say you will wait for me to talk to Sir Benjamin about our position and see what we can come up with?"
At the moment, Charlotte had no other alternative; there was nowhere she could go. She had to think. She nodded her consent.
"But hurry Monsieur. I am not safe here."
Her thoughts immediately turned to Father Simmons. When had she last seen him? Had it really been a whole year ago - when he had escorted her, spare and bony girl that she had been - to the kitchens of Lamerton Hall? Catholic priests weren't received at good houses. But the housekeeper, Mrs Brand, was a secret Catholic - secret, because she would most definitely have been dismissed from employment were her secret to come to light, no matter her length of loyal service to the family or that she was the best housekeeper Lamerton had ever had. Mrs Brand had been furious with the priest for having come there, thereby risking her position in the household. At the time, Father Simmons had arrived at Lamerton on the pretext of seeking alms of unwanted food for the poor. But variously thanking God for Mrs Brand's virtuous gifts of generosity and compassion, at other times begging and at others, cajoling and shaming her, Father Simmons had worn Mrs Brand down. In the end, it was the sheer terror Mrs Brand felt at not being able to be rid of her erstwhile priest and of being discovered with no good reason for having allowed him two hours of her precious time, which finally convinced her to take the scrawny lass on. She would worry about persuading Lady Dorothea of the girl's worth to the household later. Mrs Brand's thoughts at the time had only been about how to best get the stubborn, demanding and meddlesome priest out of her kitchen!
Charlotte felt warmed by the memory of the indefatigable priest. Father Simmons was a good man. She had known only one other good man in her life - her father - and he was dead. 'Father Simmons is still the only really good man I know', thought Charlotte to herself. And with that, Charlotte resolved to talk to the priest on the morrow - her Sunday off and obtain his counsel about the current crisis.
Dorothea would not allow herself the self-indulgence of anger. She had to think clearly and without emotion. She sat in front of her dressing table and gazed at her reflection in the looking glass. A tremor ran involuntarily through her heart as the thought insinuated itself in her mind. The jewellery chest rested on the mantelpiece behind her. Even as she stared at it through the looking glass, her ruby necklace impressed its loveliness on her memory - the stones glinting in the morning light as her then, new husband, placed them against her white flesh. Could she . . . . Might she dare?
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Charlotte TrueHistorical Fiction
Inspired by the non-fictional, historical lives of Sir Joseph Banks, Nicolas Baudin, Captain William Bligh, Matthew Flinders and John Macarthur, this 'coming of age' story is set at the dawn of the nineteenth century. It describes Charlotte, an Eng...