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The Governess Game Tessa Dare 2022/8/3 13:55:23

Once she’d returned to the bed, Daisy opened the box and drew out a gold pendant on a slender chain. “Here.”

“Oh, that’s lovely,” Alex said.

“It’s a locket,” Daisy said proudly. She picked open the latch to display a painted miniature. “That’s Mama.”

Alex took the pendant in her hand, holding it closer for examination. “How beautiful she was.”

“Oh, yes. She was very beautiful. She was brilliant at singing and cards. And clever, too. She always knew just how to make you feel better, if you had a stomachache or cough.”

“It would have been better if she hadn’t known,” Rosamund said.

“Why would you say that?” Alex asked.

“That’s how she caught her death. She was helping nurse the neighbor’s boy when he was ill with the putrid throat. He got better, but not before making her sick. She wasn’t so very clever after all.”

“She was,” Daisy retorted angrily.

“She ought to have never gone. Anyone could see what would come of it. It was stupid of her.”

“Rosamund,” Alexandra said gently.

Daisy jumped to her feet. “You can’t say that. Take it back.”

“I shan’t take it back.” Rosamund tossed aside her book and stood. “It’s the truth. Mama was stupid and reckless. She cared more about mending the neighbor boy than she cared about staying alive for us.”

“That isn’t so,” Daisy yelled through tears. “You’re mean and spiteful and I hate you.”

“Well, I hate her.” Rosamund tore the necklace from Daisy’s hand and threw it across the room. It bounced off the wall and clattered to the floor. She stood there for a moment, breathing hard and staring at the wall. Obviously struggling not to cry.

Alex approached her gingerly. “Rosamund.”

“Don’t.” The girl flinched, recoiling from the touch. “Don’t touch me. Leave Daisy alone, as well. Don’t pretend to mother her. You’re leaving at the end of the summer. And when you’ve gone, we won’t miss you at all.”

Rosamund ran from the room. Daisy had retreated to a corner, where she curled her knees to her chest, buried her head in her arms, and sobbed.

Alex wanted to soothe them both, but she knew well from her own youth that the loss of parents couldn’t be healed with biscuits or hugs. The girls needed time, and they needed to know they were safe. Safe to rage or shout or cry, without being told to hush. With her, they needn’t pretend they weren’t hurting inside. If nothing else, she could give them that—for a few more weeks, at least.

She found the locket and turned it back and forth in her hands. Thankfully, it appeared undamaged from its disastrous flight across the room. The hinge had been tweaked, but she was able to bend it back in place with a bit of gentle manipulation. After replacing the necklace in the French inlaid box, she returned it to the trunk at the foot of the bed. In digging for her treasure, Daisy had made quite a jumble of the playthings and blankets that filled the chest. Alex pulled it all out, planning to fold, sort, and organize the contents as she replaced them.

When she reached the bottom of the trunk, however, she found a mysterious bundle, roughly the size of a teapot. It had been tightly wrapped in oilcloth and bound with a length of twine.

Which was tied with a cat’s-paw knot.

Alexandra ran her fingers over the twine, considering. Children needed privacy, just as adults did. Poking through the girls’ secrets could damage what fragile trust they’d built. She decided to replace the bundle beneath the other contents, close the trunk, and say nothing about it.

And then she changed her mind.

An anxious weight had settled in her stomach, heavy enough to pin her to the floor. She wouldn’t rest easy until she learned what was in the bundle.

With a quick look over her shoulder, she picked apart the knot with her fingernail and carefully unfolded the oilcloth. What she found inside made her heart wrench.

Everything two girls might need, should they wish to run away.

Money, chiefly. Alex did a quick counting, and the total was above ten pounds. That was an impressive number of coins, no doubt pilfered one by one from Chase’s pockets and carefully hoarded over the months.

Oh, Lord. Rosamund was always making quips about her “escape plan,” but Alex had believed her to be joking. The preparation reflected in this bundle was serious indeed.

Aside from the purse, Alex found a tiny book of coaching timetables, maps of London and England, a flint and tinderbox, a pocket knife, a ball of twine, and a compass. The same compass that had gone missing a few weeks ago. Apparently, it hadn’t gone missing at all. It had joined the rest of Rosamund’s cache.

Last, she found a simple sewing kit. Needle book, thread, and a small pair of shears. Her lips curved in a bittersweet smile. At least she’d convinced Rosamund of the value of needlework.