“I shall give them lessons while we go about it,” Eloise continued, using the tone of voice her mother used when it was clear she would brook no argument. “They are currently without a governess, aren’t they?”
“Indeed,” the nurse said, “the two little monsters glued—”
“Whatever the reason for her departure,” Eloise interrupted, quite certain she didn’t want to know what they had done to their last governess, “I’m sure it has been a monstrous burden upon you to assume both roles these last few weeks.”
“Months,” the nursemaid bit off.
“Even worse,” Eloise agreed. “One would think you deserve a free morning, wouldn’t one?”
“Well, I wouldn’t mind a brief trip into town. . . .”
“Then it’s settled.” Eloise glanced down at the children and allowed herself a small moment of self-congratulation. They were staring at her in awe. “Off you go,” she said to the nurse, bustling her out the door. “Enjoy your morning.”
She shut the door behind the still-bewildered nurse and turned to face the children.
“You are very clever,” Amanda said breathlessly.
Even Oliver couldn’t help but nod his agreement.
“I hate Nurse Edwards,” Amanda said.
“Of course you don’t,” Eloise said, but her heart wasn’t into the statement; she hadn’t much liked Nurse Edwards, either.
“Yes, we do,” Oliver said. “She’s horrid.”
Amanda nodded. “I wish we could have Nurse Millsby back, but she had to leave to care for her mother. She’s sick,” she explained.
“Her mother,” Oliver said, “not Nurse Millsby.”
“How long has Nurse Edwards been here?” Eloise asked.
“Five months,” Amanda said glumly. “Five very long months.”
“Well, I’m sure she’s not as bad as all that,” Eloise said, intending to say more, but closing her mouth when Oliver interrupted with—
“Oh, she is.”
Eloise wasn’t about to disparage another adult, especially one who was meant to have some authority over them, so instead she decided to sidestep the issue by saying, “It doesn’t matter this morning, does it, because you have me instead.”
Amanda reached out shyly and took her hand. “I like you,” she said.
“I like you, too,” Eloise replied, surprised by the tears forming in the corners of her eyes.
Oliver said nothing. Eloise wasn’t insulted. It took some people longer to warm up to a person than others. Besides, these children had a right to be wary. Their mother had left them, after all. Granted, it was through death, but they were young; all they would know was that they had loved her and she was gone.
Eloise remembered well the months following the death of her father. She had clung to her mother at every opportunity, telling herself that if she just kept her nearby (or even better, holding her hand), then her mother couldn’t leave, either.
Was it any wonder that these children resented their new nursemaid? They had probably been cared for by Nurse Millsby since birth. Losing her so soon after Marina’s death must have been doubly difficult.
“I’m sorry we blackened your eye,” Amanda said.
Eloise squeezed her hand. “It looks much worse than it actually is.”
“It looks dreadful,” Oliver admitted, his little face beginning to show signs of remorse.
“Yes, it does,” Eloise agreed, “but it’s starting to grow on me. I think I look rather like a soldier who’s been to battle—and won!”
“You don’t look like you’ve won,” Oliver said, one corner of his mouth twisting in a dubious expression.
“Nonsense. Of course I do. Anyone who actually comes home from battle wins.”
“Does that mean Uncle George lost?” Amanda asked.
“You father’s brother?”
Amanda nodded. “He died before we were born.”
Eloise wondered if they knew that their mother was originally to have married him. Probably not. “Your uncle was a hero,” she said with quiet respect.
“But not Father,” Oliver said.
“Your father couldn’t go to war because he had too many responsibilities here,” Eloise explained. “But this is a very serious conversation for such a fine morning, don’t you think? We should be out swimming and having a grand time.”
The twins quickly caught her enthusiasm, and in no time they were changed into their bathing costumes and headed across the fields to the lake.
“We must practice our arithmetic!” Eloise called out as they skipped ahead.
And much to her surprise, they actually did. Who would have known that sixes and eights could be so much fun?
. . . how fortunate you are to be at school. We girls have been presented with a new governess, and she is misery personified. She drones on about sums from dawn until dusk. Poor Hyacinth now breaks into tears every time she hears the word “seven.” (Although I must confess that I don’t understand why one through six do not elicit similar reactions.) I don’t know what we shall do. Dip her hair in ink, I suppose. (Miss Haversham’s, that is, not Hyacinth’s, although I would never rule out the latter.)
—from Eloise Bridgerton to her brother Gregory,
during his first term as a student at Eton
When Phillip returned from the rose garden, he was surprised to find his home quiet and empty. It was a rare day when the air wasn’t exploding with the sound of some overturned table or shriek of outrage.