From the diary of Beatrice Mellor, housekeeper at Blackheath Manor:
I worry about him, my boy.
He’s changed and I’m afraid I know the reason why.
Thomas James Worsley is the son of my late employer. So he’s not really my son — my husband and I were never so blessed, but nonetheless I nursed him.
I nursed him when he was as helpless as a babe returned to Blackheath after the war with Napoleon.
He was near death; the pneumonia had a strong hold on him. Each breath rattled through his lungs and I feared it would be his last.
I nursed him. I fed him when he was too weak to feed himself. I stayed with him night after night even when the doctor all but pronounced him dead.
I encouraged him when it seemed there was no hope. But I knew him. He was a fighter. Even when he got into scraps with his brothers, he would always been the last to yield. That fighting spirit helped him to live to another Christmas and then another.
I hadn’t realised he was blind at first, not when he was so ill and he spend more time in fever than not. And his leg! So many breaks in those bones and so many scars that he cannot straighten it for any length of time without pain…
My dear boy…
The way his brother treated him was shameful, but it’s not my place to question the Earl’s decision, mine is to do my duty and care for the people under my charge. And that is what brings me to this dilemma.
There’s a new addition to the household, a governess for the little misses.
Her name is Ella Montgomery and she knows.
She has seen Thomas and he seemed enraptured by her. I haven’t seen him this happy since the spring of 1815 – six years ago.
This can only end badly. I fear for him. His body has been broken, but what of his heart?
About the Book
In her first posting as governess, Ella Montgomery discovers beautiful Blackheath Manor hides family secrets and suppressed passions. Mysterious piano music in the darkness of night draws Ella to the talented Thomas Worsley, the brother of her employer, the Earl of Renthorpe. Grievously wounded in the Napoleonic Wars, Thomas is held prisoner at Blackheath by more than his blindness and scars. Driven by bitter jealousy, the Earl has ensured Thomas is only a memory, his name etched on a marble memorial in the Bedfordshire village graveyard. Drawn together by their love of music, Ella and Thomas begin a clandestine affair, but how far will the Earl go to keep his family’s secret?
Ella crossed to the small window and looked out over the dales where she caught a glimpse of the village through the grove of trees and farmlands beyond, all wearing a blanket of snow.
Turning back to the room, Ella unpacked her precious few belongings. Before hanging them in the wardrobe, she laid her dresses on the bed to smooth them out – a winter Sunday dress of felt, the color of ripe raspberries, a forest green walking dress, and a Sunday dress for summer in soft buttery yellow linen, along with her slate grey day dress. The first three were all gifts from the Bishop’s wife. They were hand-me-downs, but still of the finest quality and not too out of fashion.
As she hung the dresses up, she reflected that Mrs. Stanton’s generosity had more than doubled her wardrobe. Before that she had owned only the grey day dress in addition to the black one she wore now.
Ella placed her most valued possession on the bed – her father’s Bible. She stroked the black leather cover, rubbed soft with age, and opened it. Inside were her father’s commentaries. Seeing his handwriting made her feel as though he were alive once more. Ella closed her eyes. The sharpness of his loss had barely lessened over the year.
She had never felt more miserable in her life.
The chimes from the grandfather clock echoed up the stairwell, registering the fourth hour of the afternoon. No one had yet brought the promised meal to her room – not that she was hungry, anyway.
She straightened her back, suddenly struck with the resolve to at least do something.
Although Mrs. Mellor had set a timetable, Ella was the girls’ governess, and therefore they were her responsibility. She would see them now and introduce herself before they were to be presented to their parents at bedtime.
Ella took a tentative step or two toward the staircase and looked up to the top floor. She could hear no sounds there. If she listened hard, she could hear maids downstairs preparing the dining table. Then she looked to the left and the right. If the school room was on this floor, perhaps the nursery was as well.
She knocked on several closed doors and received no response. The house was a jumble of passages and Ella soon found herself at the last door before a narrow stone spiral staircase. The sounds of kitchen activity below confirmed her belief these were the servants’ stairs.
She heard movement from behind the door – the scrape of a chair and a softly grunted curse. A moment’s indecision, then her hand was raised to knock on the door when Mrs. Mellor startled her for the second time today.
“Are you looking for something, Miss Montgomery?” she asked sharply.
Ella turned and found the woman’s expression as cold as the day outside.
“I’m seeking the nursery, Mrs. Mellor.”
“You won’t find it here.”
“Then if you would kindly direct me–”
“On the second floor. It is the room above yours. Use the main staircase, not the servants’. You do not want to give the wrong impression when you are new here.”
Mrs. Mellor extended her arms, drawing attention to a tray of food which Ella, so focused on Mrs. Mellor’s stern expression, had not noticed. The tray bore an elaborate silver savory dish warmed underneath by two small votive candles. Beside it was a platter of fresh fruit, a wedge of cheese and a sweetmeat dish filled with nuts.
“Oh,” said Ella, “I hope you didn’t go to too much trouble on my account.”
The woman frowned a moment, then saw Ella’s gaze upon the tray and her look became glacial.
“This is not for you. I have more important duties than to be scullery maid to a governess. Get out of my way.”
Mrs. Mellor set the tray on a side table opposite the door on which Ella had been about to knock. With cheeks flushed red, Ella turned and hurried back down the passageway. Behind her as she fled, she heard a male voice answer Mrs. Mellor’s authoritative knock on the door.
Ella found the main stairs and started climbing, mentally berating herself. She had been here a scant two hours and gotten off on the wrong foot with one of the most important people in the house.
Her first post had not started well – and she had a horrible feeling it was not going to get any better.
Nocturne is a novella from Elizabeth Ellen Carter whose full-length titles include Warrior’s Surrender, Moonstone Obsession, and Moonstone Conspiracy.