The carriage pulled up outside what I could have only described as, well, a mansion. I suppose it was just a large house by Victorian standards, but nowadays it would have fetched a fortune, with the mile-long drive leading to a four-floor building containing six bedrooms, two parlours, a dining room, two kitchens and accommodation for servants as well as a music room and an enormous garden.
"Here we are," said Grace kindly. "Your new home." And me? I could only stare, trying to make sense of my change in fortunes. My parents would miss me, and I would miss them, but it was generally a love-hate relationship and we didn't get on particularly well. Plus there was the fact that this couldn't possibly be real, that I would be going home soon.
"Thank you," I replied politely, since it was the only thing I could think of to stay. "It's very kind of you." A liveried servant opened the carriage door and helped us out, although I was sure I could have managed by myself, and we made out way up the wide front steps to the front door with its polished knocker and smart butler.
"Good morning, Madame," he said to Grace. "Good morning, Sir." Alexander acknowledged him with a nod. "And you must be the little girl they have taken in, am I right?"
"Yes," I said, though inside I was seething at being referred to as a 'little girl', for I did not consider myself to be one. "My name is Elizabeth." Then I was hurried inside by my new family and shown into a parlour that seemed mostly to be full of straight-backed wooden chairs and awfully 'proper' paintings.
"Well, Elizabeth," said Alexander. "I am sure this will all be very new to you, and I know that things will be hard, but we hope you will adjust well and enjoy yourself. You will meet your siblings soon, but first we would like to introduce you to your governess. I don't suppose you have had lessons before?"
"Yes," I said, puzzled. "Where I lived before I learned English, Maths, Science, Italian, French, Music, Art, History..." I trailed off, seeing their shocked expressions. "It was a very modern school." Much more modern than they knew, I added in my head, and more than they would be finding out any time soon.
"Well, I see you have been well educated," said Grace, rising to the occasion magnificently. "In that case, a governess is hardly necessary, although no doubt you would wish to continue your studies." I murmured some agreement and she continued. "We have also engaged a piano teacher, since it is a skill that all young ladies must learn."
I was glad to hear that: in London, I'd been very into music and had recently taken up the piano. "Will I be allowed to dance?" I asked, thinking of my old classes and the friends I had left behind. And my shoes, still sitting in my bedroom at home ... they were expensive, hard to replace.
"If you so wish we will enrol you in classes at the school, yes," said Alexander. He looked slightly puzzled. "Although I must say, you are a little old to start. Most children begin very young."
"Oh, I've taken classes before," I said, endeavouring to reassure him. "I got to a high enough level to be able to teach the younger ones. Patrick always relied on me to learn the new steps and teach the littlies."
"Patrick? Your dance teacher was a man?" He looked shocked.
"Of course," I replied. "My other teacher was a man, too. Nicholas." What was so unusual about that, I could not see, but I decided to change the subject before things got too confusing and difficult to explain. "But I have no clothes except those I'm wearing now. What should I wear?"
"Oh, we'll engage a tailor for you," said Alexander carelessly. "Now, I have business to attend to. Perhaps Grace would take you into the little parlour upstairs while I work?" It was taken as read that we women would, of course, have no part in important affairs. Feeling snubbed, I followed Grace out of the room.