“Are you telling me, Mr Wharton, that there is really nothing at all? My father left me nothing?” Georgette Darrington was so shocked that she felt nauseous.
“I am afraid not, Miss Darrington. It is not that he chose to leave you nothing, my dear. Rather the sale of the house will barely cover the debts he accrued in his lifetime. In truth, he has made it clear that you shall be the sole beneficiary of whatever the residue is after the debts are cleared. Unfortunately, there is no residue.”
“But he will have known this, Mr Wharton. My father would have been very well aware of the size of his debts and the value of his house. He would have known very well that he was leaving me destitute, and yet he chose to say nothing. He chose to give me not one moment’s grace to gather my thoughts and work out what I ought to do next.”
“I daresay things feel awfully raw at the moment, Miss Darrington. It is only a week since you buried your father, and this must be a most distressing time for you.” Mr Wharton delivered what Georgette thought was truly the biggest understatement she had ever heard.
Georgette had mourned her father as much as it was possible for her to do given the relationship they had. His passing had distressed her and had rather given her the feeling of being an orphan, despite being almost one and twenty years of age.
The reading of the will, however, was truly equally as distressing. In many ways, more so, because it was tinged with fear. Of course, when the reality of it finally settled itself within her mind, Georgette Darrington knew that she would no longer be simply afraid but would be rather terrified. Because, if what the attorney was telling her was absolutely true, then she was not simply homeless, but also penniless.
“Raw?” Georgette said, surprised by how calm her voice sounded. “Yes, I daresay.”
“And you have no family to go to?” Mr Wharton was asking a question he already knew the answer to.
The reason Georgette Darrington was the sole heiress to her father’s estate, albeit a non-existent one, was because there were no male heirs, even in terms of extended family. In truth, Georgette was the very last of the Darringtons, and her father had no other family to speak of. If she had any relations remaining on her mother’s side, then Georgette did not know it. And, in any case, nobody, man or woman, would have inherited in Georgette’s maternal family anyway.
In truth, she rather wished that her mother had come from a bigger family. If she had, then Georgette would not be entirely alone and without options at that moment. She would have had, if nothing else, at least a few relations to whom to write and beg for shelter. And it would have been begging in every sense of the word, for it would seem that she would not even have a few pounds a year with which to keep herself. Georgette’s father had spent every last penny and more besides.
Edward Darrington had neither been an easy father nor a hard one. He was simply incredibly detached from his only child, presumably disappointed that she was not a male. It had always struck her that he was further disappointed that she was the one and only child he and his wife had managed to produce in the fifteen years they shared together before Georgette’s mother had died.
Whilst he had not particularly showered the motherless Georgette with affection, he had not specifically made many demands of her either. In truth, she had been rather left to go her own way and, if she was entirely honest, had quite liked it.
Georgette had not especially thought much of marriage beforehand, rather thinking herself to have a good deal of time in which to contemplate the matter. And her father, seemingly having no ambitions for her in that sense, simply left her to herself.
Edward Darrington had not urged her to find a man of wealth or title, nor even one who had neither of those things. In truth, Georgette had been quite grateful for it, for she had known many a young woman with a rather determined family forcing her into the path of a man she did not want.
“Mr Wharton, I have no family,” Georgette said, bleakly. “I have no family; I have no money, and now I have no home. I truly have nothing, do I?” She looked up at him with sorrowful, dark brown eyes.
“Did you have no notion whatsoever of your father’s spending?” Mr Wharton said, although his tone was in no way judgemental.
“I knew that my father liked the card tables and the drink; I just did not know how much. What I mean is, I had no idea how much he was spending on the card tables. It must have been the card tables, after all, for a man could not spend an entire house on drink and live to be fifty, could he?”
“No, indeed.” Mr Wharton shook his head sadly. “Your father, I am afraid to say, is reputed to have developed the habit of bidding rather large amounts. Perhaps he was simply trying to win back enough money to save himself and thought the larger amounts might do it.”
“No, I know my father a little better than that. He liked the thrill of such things. He would bet on anything, as long as there was something to be gained from it. I daresay that, in the end, with the thrill lessening, the only way to get that same excitement back would be to gamble larger amounts.”
“Whatever the reason, my dear Miss Darrington, it would appear that he has left you in rather a sorry sort of a state.”
“I simply cannot imagine, nor do I really want to hear, the figure that my father owed. Our townhouse in London, when it is sold, would certainly fetch a tremendous amount of money. If that barely pays my father’s debts, then I feel truly ashamed of him.”
As she spoke of their London townhouse, Georgette felt her throat tighten. For the first time since the terrible news had been delivered, she rather feared that she might cry. In her mind’s eye, she was looking up at the huge house with its white stone frontage and great columns either side of an immense black door. There were four floors to the great house and windows everywhere. She could hardly believe that it would very soon no longer be her home.
And what of the staff? Her father had kept a butler and housekeeper, a valet, a cook, and two maids. Not to mention a stable-hand.
“Oh, my goodness, I am going to have to tell the staff, am I not?” Georgette’s voice trembled audibly. “And really, I have no idea what I am to say to them. They will have to find work elsewhere and at such short notice.”
“Just be sure to promise them all a very good character reference. If they are good staff and are provided with a good character, then they will manage perfectly well. They will find work very easily in London in another home of good standing,” the attorney said kindly. “You have other concerns, Miss Darrington. It is time to think of yourself and only yourself.”
“I do not know where to begin.”
“Forgive me for asking, nay intruding, Miss Darrington, but do you have an understanding of any sort with a young man? Is marriage a possibility at this juncture?”
“You need not ask for my forgiveness, Mr Wharton. It is clear that you are simply trying to help me,” Georgette said, blinking hard. “And no, I do not have an understanding with anybody. And I daresay that now, that would be quite impossible.”
“Perhaps not impossible,” Mr Wharton said, but Georgette could tell from his tone that he was simply trying to soothe her.
For Georgette knew that it was impossible. Even if she had hoped to marry for love, still there would have been certain expectations of finance, status, and class that any future husband would expect. Of course, had she already been well on her way to marriage, it would likely not have been an issue. However, to actually tempt a young man into matrimony when she had nothing to offer but her homeless and penniless status would be impossible. Not only that but where was she to meet such a young man now?
Despite the fact that she was the daughter of a minor baron, the Honorable Miss Georgette Darrington, no less, still, she had nothing. And her title was so minor that it would not matter to anybody, and she would probably do well to forget it. In truth, it was barely a title at all.
“Mr Wharton, you know as well as I do that invitations are not going to come quite thick and fast to me anymore. After all, where would they be sent? I have no home.” Georgette felt thoroughly miserable. “I suppose this shall be the test of my friends, shall it not? Let us see, when all is known, and everybody has heard of the downturn in my fortunes, just how many of my friends and acquaintances are keen to see me.”
“You are looking into the future already, Miss Darrington. You will upset yourself even more than is necessary with thoughts of friends and acquaintances. They are, as are the staff, much further down your list.”
The ageing attorney rose from the seat behind his desk and strode towards the door of his office. When he opened it, Georgette could hear him speaking to the housekeeper and asking for some tea to be sent in. In truth, Georgette thought that she would hardly be able to swallow the tea, even if she tried.
For a few moments, Georgette simply looked around the austere office. She wondered if she would ever see inside it again, or ever need the services of an attorney. After all, the very poorest would hardly expect such things, would they?
Feeling almost as if she had slipped into a dream, Georgette stared hazily around the room. She let her eyes fall upon the two walls which were lined with shelves. There was not a spare space on any of the shelves, each and every one of them crammed to capacity with great leather-bound legal volumes and stated cases.
The remaining walls were painted a rather dark and unappealing green colour, a sort of brownish green which, added to the fact that the windows were really rather small, made the whole room seemed cramped and somewhat airless.
“I have asked for some tea to be sent in, Miss Darrington. I realize what a dreadful shock you have had, and I cannot imagine quite how you must be feeling.”
“You are very kind, Mr Wharton. In truth, I cannot say for sure that I shall be able to drink the tea, but I shall try nonetheless.” Georgette realized that she was being incredibly polite and wondered quite where she might need such manners in the future. Would she ever be in good society again?
“It rather feels like the only comfort I can offer you, my dear,” he said and, judging by his expression of sad helplessness, he clearly meant it.
“Mr Wharton, what on earth should I do?” Georgette said, just as the housekeeper bustled into the room carrying a laden tea-tray.
Mr Wharton waited until his housekeeper had set their tea things and left the room before he spoke again.
“In truth, there are very few options for a young lady of breeding who has fallen on hard times. However, you do have an exemplary education and the wit and intelligence to make good use of it.”
“By teaching?” Georgette said. “But surely, to open a dame school, one needs to at least have a house in which to teach the children.”
“I was not talking of setting up a school, my dear. As you quite rightly point out, you shall have no accommodations for such a thing. No, I was rather thinking of your perhaps taking up a position as a governess.” The moment he had finished speaking, the old attorney looked down into his teacup.
“A governess?” Georgette said, unable to hide the mixture of surprise and disappointment in her voice. “I could not possibly become a governess. Really, I could not.”
“But it would be a most suitable method of overcoming your particular struggles at the moment, Miss Darrington. You would be provided with food and board and, assuming you are able to procure the right position in the right household, you would be paid quite reasonably.”
“I had never thought that my life would come to this. I had never for one moment imagined that I would become a governess, a stranger in the home of others, no prospects nor even security. I can hardly bear it, Mr Wharton.” And, finally, Georgette Darrington began to cry. “I am terribly sorry, do forgive me,” she said between sniffs as she drew an immaculate white lace handkerchief from the long sleeve of her gown.
“I realize that this has all come as a terrible shock, and for you to have to make a decision about your future so very quickly is truly appalling, Miss Darrington. But make a decision you must, my dear, because you have so little time. Please believe me that I would not have suggested such a position had I not thought of everything else possible. In truth, there is no respectable job for a lady of genteel upbringing who has suddenly found herself impoverished. No respectable job, that is, except governess. I am rather afraid that so many young ladies turn to the profession because they have found themselves suddenly as you have, in dire financial straits and with no other options. I really am most terribly sorry.”
“Then that is it, is it not? My future is set.” She shook her head in disbelief. She looked at the clock on the wall and could hardly believe that only twenty minutes had passed since first she had heard of her terrible circumstances.
Only that morning, as she had prepared herself to visit her attorney for the reading of her father’s will, Georgette had found herself wondering quite what the future would hold. She knew that she would not miss her father a great deal, even though his passing had saddened her. He had never been a particularly warm man, and since her mother passed when she was but fifteen years, he had taken very little notice of her at all.
But he had provided for her and provided well. He had ensured that she was as well-educated as her mother had always wanted her to be, and she truly wanted for nothing. Whilst she was not an ostentatious young lady, she knew that she had only to ask for a new gown and a dressmaker would be sent for. It was not a thing that she took great advantage of, but it had always been rather a comfort to know that she was well looked after.
If only she had known the truth. If only her father had told her long ago of their troubles, then at least she would have had time to plan. She would not have so easily dismissed out of hand the attentions of many a suitable young man. Had her father been honest with her, Georgette would have realized the importance of being realistic, rather than carefree and most exacting in her wants concerning a husband.
If only her father had given her that one thing. If only he had given her time, for surely that was not something he had gambled away also.
“Do take a seat, Miss … Miss …?” Mr Shelford Winstanley, proprietor of the Winstanley Employment Registry, had clearly forgotten her name the moment she had given it.
Had she described herself as the Honorable Miss Georgette Darrington, then perhaps he might not have forgotten it quite so readily. However, Georgette knew that when one was penniless and homeless, to describe oneself in such a way was simply ridiculous.
“Darrington. Georgette Darrington,” she said, a little impatiently.
“Yes, of course,” he said and smiled at her. He had rather a long nose, and his small, beady eyes were quite close together. All in all, Georgette rather thought that he looked like some sort of bird of prey. “And please do take a seat, Miss Darrington,” he insisted again, this time holding a chair out for her.
“Thank you, Mr Winstanley.”
Georgette had only ever heard of employment registries because that was where her father tended to procure servants for his own household. And he had always referred to such establishments as servant registries because, in truth, that was exactly what they were. Everybody of her acquaintance referred to them as servant registries, and she could not help thinking that Mr Winstanley was somehow trying to give himself airs or at least give his little establishment airs, at any rate.
When she had first told her dearest friend, Henrietta Sheridan, of the dreadful circumstances in which she found herself, she had barely been able to speak the words. When she had finally come to tell Henrietta that she intended to find a good servant registry and offer her services in the hope of employment, she had simply cried. And Henrietta had cried also.
“Is it really so very bad, Georgette?” Henrietta had said, dabbing at her eyes with a crisp white handkerchief as Georgette herself did the very same.
“It is as bad as it can possibly be, Henrietta. The house in which we now sit in is soon to be sold to the highest bidder so that my father’s gambling debts might be paid off.”
“But surely there will be something left?” Henrietta had said hopefully.
“The attorney rather thinks that the proceeds from the sale will just about cover my father’s debts. There will be nothing left.”
“And must you really go to a servant registry office?” Henrietta had said, stumbling over the words.
“I have talked the whole thing out with Mr Wharton, and he can see no other path to choose. After all, I have no family. I have no near or distant cousins, nor anybody with whom I might stay. If I do not seek work as a governess, I shall have nothing. At least as a governess I shall, if nothing else, have a roof over my head and food to eat.”
“And, in truth, you will not be treated as one of the servants.” Henrietta, good friend that she was, had hurriedly dried her eyes and done what she could to appear optimistic.
“No, I shall not be exactly treated as one of the servants, but I shall not be one of the household either. I shall be neither one thing nor the other, shall I? Is that not the very tragedy of the governess?”
“I am sure that it would be far worse to be one of the servants, Georgette. At least you will be able to study and have pride in the fact that you are teaching all which you yourself have learned. You will be an educator, my dear.”
“Oh, Henrietta, whatever am I going to do without you?” Georgette had said, smiling through her tears. “Who will pretend that all shall be well when I am alone and do not have you with me?”
“I am not pretending, my dear. And even if we are parted, I shall write to you constantly. We shall still be friends, Georgette, wherever you are.”
“And I fear you shall be my only friend, Henrietta.”
“But you have so many friends and acquaintances, my dear Georgette. You really must not think that way.”
“Oh, Henrietta. When news of my misfortune is all over London, I shall be friendless. No young lady wants me as a reminder of what a sudden change in fortunes looks like. And none of them shall know what to say to me, so would choose not to speak to me at all than to have to suffer the awkwardness of such a conversation. My friends are not all as you are, Henrietta. You are a true friend, and that is all.”
“So, Miss Darrington, what sort of work would you be looking for?” Mr Shelford Winstanley brought Georgette back to the here and now with his curiously high-pitched voice coupled with the dreadful scraping of his chair as he drew it back.
“Governess,” Georgette said a little sharply, and then thought better of it. After all, she very much needed Mr Winstanley. Her pride was telling her that he ought to have known by her mode of dress and obvious genteel upbringing that she was not seeking a position as a housekeeper, but she knew she was simply being sensitive and that her sensitivity would do her no good in the end. “I am looking for work as a governess, Mr Winstanley.” She attempted a polite smile.
“Of course,” he said, smiling back and seemingly unaware of her poor humour. “And have you recently left a position?” He leaned forward and, as he tipped his head down a little, Georgette thought his nose looked even longer.
“No, Mr Winstanley. I have not left a position, nor have I ever had one. I have not worked before, you see.”
Georgette saw a smile pass fleetingly across his lips. In her world, never to have worked was a sign of status. In the world of Shelford Winstanley, it was likely a sign of uselessness. For a moment, Georgette pondered the differences of class. Work was unheard of in one, and its lack frowned upon in another. Well, since she was very much entering a lower social status, then she would have to accept all that came with it.
“Oh, I see.” From the look on his face, Georgette knew that Mr Winstanley was finally gathering that her circumstances had taken a sudden and dramatic downward turn.
No doubt, he had seen many a well-bred young lady who had suffered a similar fate coming through his doors.
“But I can assure you that I have a first-rate education, Sir,” Georgette said, somewhat defensively.
“I have no doubt, Miss Darrington.” Mr Winstanley smiled reassuringly. “And everybody has to start somewhere, do they not?” She knew he was trying to make her feel better but, in truth, it was not working.
“Indeed,” she said. “So tell me, do you have anything suitable?”
“At the moment, I have filled all of the governess requirements from my clients,” he said, and Georgette felt her heart sink. Once again, she was having her time wasted, and she knew that she had none left to lose. “All but one, that is.”
“Oh, so you do have a suitable position?” Georgette knew that she had snapped a little but could not quite take to his way of doing things. After all, if he had a suitable position, then why not simply say so?
“I have a position, Miss Darrington, but whether it is suitable or not, I shall leave to your own discretion to discover.”
“What exactly do you mean, Mr Winstanley?”
“I have a position on my books which has been there almost continually for the last six months. I have filled it three times, and no less than three governesses have left the position within weeks of arrival. To be perfectly honest, this is the first time that I have been utterly frank in that regard, but I can see no reason for being any other way. You see, I rather fear that the three governesses I sent out there were quite unprepared for what they found and, as such, were rather disquieted by the whole thing and very quickly returned to me in search of other positions.”
“Goodness me, whatever has gone so very wrong on three occasions? Surely there is something wrong with the place?” Georgette said, her mouth going a little dry as her common sense began to tell her that this was her only hope.
“As I understand it, the children in question are not the problem. Rather, it is the employer himself. He has rather an intimidating manner and is little interested in solving any problems which a new governess might find in her new position.”
“Such as?” Georgette said, not keen to be flannelled upon the subject.
“Such as problems with other staff members. There is, I believe, a children’s nurse who was particularly awkward and a certain amount of isolation for the governess to endure.”
“Is that not common for a governess? Not the awkward nurse, I mean, but rather the isolation. After all, the governess is neither fish nor fowl, is she? She is a woman of breeding with no money and therefore does not fit well with either the servants or the master.”
“I see that you have a somewhat pragmatic approach to the whole thing, Miss Darrington; a quality that will, undoubtedly, serve you well if you choose to take this particular position.”
“What else can you tell me about the family?”
“The master of the house is not father to the children, but rather their guardian. As I understand it, he is not a particularly willing guardian, and it was a responsibility that he never sought. There are two little girls of around four or five years; twins, no less.” He paused for a moment. “As to the position itself, it is fairly standard fare for a governess. You are to teach the children the three Rs, as you might expect. On top of reading, writing, and arithmetic, you must also teach the children the typical run of accomplishments. French, piano lessons, watercolour painting, poetry. Whatever you have at your disposal as far as accomplishment training is concerned.”
“Well, I have all four of those things at my disposal, Sir, and more besides. And as for the three Rs, I shall have no problem whatsoever in teaching reading, writing, and arithmetic,” Georgette said, thoughtfully. “And what are my conditions to be if I choose to take the position?” As nice as it was to discover that she had all of the necessary learning of her own to be able to pass on, the practicalities of her day-to-day life and her payment was going to be really rather more important to her, at least for the time being.
“Well, I must say that the position is particularly well paid. Eighty pounds a year is being offered.” He smiled at her, and Georgette could hardly believe that he was, indeed, smiling.
“Eighty pounds a year,” she said, her tone entirely flat. In truth, she could not believe that she would have so little.
“Miss Darrington, I realize that this is the first time that you have undertaken such a thing, but I must tell you that the going rate for a governess is something more akin to twenty pounds a year.”
“Twenty pounds a year?” she said, incredulously. “That is what my father paid the servants.”
“Well, the governess gets a little more than the servants, but ordinarily not very much. And sometimes, there is nothing to choose between the wage of a servant on the upper scale of things and a new governess.”
“Really, I had no idea.”
“But your conditions would be rather better, I feel sure. You would not necessarily be sleeping in servants’ quarters. Obviously, you would not be integral to the main living area of the house, but you would certainly be set a little apart from the other staff.” He smiled again.
It was the very idea of being set a little apart that gave Georgette the very worst feeling. Being set apart would be a very good way of ensuring that she was never accepted by the other staff. And, in truth, she was not sure she would have a great deal in common with them even if she were not set apart.
All in all, Georgette knew that the life of the governess was a life of limbo. A woman of good breeding suspended in a world where she could neither progress on her own account nor marry suitably well. She would simply be stuck there with the sort of pay that was so low she would never be able to save her old age. And, having very little time off and few connections, the idea of escaping such a life and into a suitable marriage seemed an impossibility. Add to that the fact that she would almost certainly be denied the right of simple friendship, even company, and she really wondered what, if anything, life had left to offer her.
“And what of the family, Mr Winstanley?” Georgette said miserably.
“Ah, well the house and grounds are, I believe, truly spectacular.” Mr Winstanley seemed suddenly to be warming up. This was obviously all that this position had to recommend it, and he was going to sell it for all it was worth. “The household is immense, Miss Darrington, employing almost fifty staff.”
“Fifty staff?” Georgette said, quite surprised. For a moment, she thought sadly of the seven staff she had had to write character references for. “Then it must be a very large house.”
“The largest in Oxfordshire, Miss Darrington,” Mr Winstanley said and, despite the fact that this was clearly something of a problematic vacancy for him, he seemed suddenly puffed up with pride.
“Oxfordshire, Sir?” Georgette said rather shrilly. In truth, she had not imagined that the position would be outside of London.
“Yes, Miss Darrington; Draycott Hall is in Oxfordshire.”
“Draycott Hall?” Georgette said, silently trying to work out how many miles there were between London and Oxford. Not, of course, that it mattered a great deal. After all, there was nothing left in London for her to come back to.
“Yes, Draycott Hall. It is the country seat of the Duchy of Draycott.”
“Duchy?” Georgette said, her eyes wide with surprise.
“Yes, I rather forgot to mention that your employer would be Hamilton Whitehall, the Duke of Draycott.”
“A Governess for the Brooding Duke” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!
When Georgette Darrington’s father dies suddenly and with serious debts, she imagines things cannot get any worse. But when her attorney tells her that the family home must be sold to pay the debts, leaving her penniless and without a home, her only choice is to become a governess.
In no time at all, Georgette finds herself in the grand mansion of the Duke of Draycott, teaching his delightful, orphaned nieces. But, the more time Georgette spends with the little girls, the more she realizes they are missing their home and life in Wales, not to mention their own language. Georgette must find a way to convince the Duke to take an interest in the girls’ lives, and she must also find a way to keep their native language alive despite his determined instructions to the contrary.
As the tragic tale of the Duke’s sister and her forbidden love unfolds, Georgette must struggle with the deprivations of her lowered status, not to mention the spiteful plots and schemes of a jealous housekeeper and nurse. As her loneliness threatens to overwhelm her, Georgette must find a way put the splintered family back together, even as she battles her own feelings of love for the handsome, taciturn Duke.
“A Governess for the Brooding Duke” is a historical romance novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.