Obsession Online - Claire Lorrimer Page 0,1

it securely into a smooth knot with a pearl pin, and started once more to regale the maid with further descriptions of the luncheon, and of the handsome Brook Edgerton.

‘He’s Sir Walter Edgerton’s son,’ she elaborated. ‘He’s been abroad these past three years and he told me he was twenty-four years old.’ Finally running out of breath, she came to a halt.

Bessie shook her head. ‘Best you stop thinking too much about the young gentleman,’ she cautioned as she completed the arrangement of Harriet’s hair. ‘If he be as handsome as you say, like as not he’ll have found himself a wife long afore you’s old enough to be wed.’

Harriet sighed. ‘I just wish I was older now!’ she repeated wistfully. ‘I’m tired of people saying, ‘Goodness me, all your sisters married and you still a little girl!’

She paused for a moment, her expression thoughtful.

‘I suppose if my sisters hadn’t been so much older than me, I would never have been allowed to have you as my friend, Bessie.’

Nor would she herself be so blessed! the older girl thought, recalling the beautiful sunny day some ten years ago when she had first set eyes on the little girl from the manor. Miss Harriet had been leaning over the farm gate watching her as she came out from her house with a plate of scraps for the hens. Their cottage had been given to her father by Harriet’s father, Sir Charles Drake, when he had employed him as his gamekeeper. Bessie was the eldest of his eight children.

Although in the past she had often seen the family from the big house in church on a Sunday, Bessie had only very occasionally caught sight of the youngest girl as she came out of church, her hand held by the Drakes’ nanny.

On a bright spring afternoon, Bessie had been astonished to see the five-year-old child unaccompanied, although she knew the nanny had recently left Sir Charles’ employ in order to go to Ireland to look after his eldest daughter’s babies. A governess was now in charge of Miss Harriet, the one remaining child.

According to Bessie’s mother, the woman, having first been employed when Miss Una, the eldest of the young ladies was only six, was well into her sixties now and ready to retire, but Sir Charles had begged her to stay on as his motherless youngest would be feeling the loss of her familiar nanny and might need the security of someone she knew to give the little girl lessons in the morning and supervise her daily routine.

Sir Charles had agreed that the governess should enjoy a rest in the afternoons after settling the child with suitable activities not requiring adult supervision. These were of necessity indoor occupations, and Mary, the nursery maid, reported that she often saw the little girl looking wistfully out from the schoolroom window, and heard her say how much she wished she could spend the afternoon outside picking blackberries or strawberries in the summer, or that she had a friend with whom she could play.

It was on one such day when the sun was dancing on the white pages of the book Harriet was tired of reading, that she had crept quietly down the servants’ staircase, past the butler’s pantry and out through the garden door.

She had known at once where she was going – across the lawn, through the vegetable garden and down to the gamekeeper’s cottage. She had heard the parlourmaid say that the gamekeeper, Mr Benson’s Labrador had birthed thirteen puppies, and that he intended to keep the most promising two to train as gun dogs.

Agog to see them, Harriet had slipped out of the house unnoticed.

Although Bessie’s numerous brothers and sisters ran all but wild round their yard and the nearby farm, the older ones looking after the younger, she knew from her mother’s accounts of the days when she’d worked as a parlourmaid at the manor that the young ladies were never allowed to go out of doors unsupervised. Their late mother, Lady Drake, had been extremely protective of her offspring, but after she had died in childbirth Sir Charles had taken no interest in nursery affairs.

By the time Harriet was old enough to escape from the schoolroom that spring day, Bessie, the gamekeeper’s eldest daughter, was fifteen years old and more than happy to show the little girl where to find the hen’s eggs, how to feed the ferrets and, best of all, she took her to play for a while