After I had changed out of my dance clothes and been re-laced into the dreaded tight bodice, it was time to eat, just Marie, myself and Grace in the lonely little parlour. Alexander, I was told, was working. And then, once the plates had been cleared away by another servant, Marie fled to her playroom and it was time for the governess to arrive.
I had been dreading that, picturing a harsh lady in her fifties with iron grey hair and a face like a poker, her bag heavy with thick books which I was expected to enjoy, and slates on which I was expected to write with squeaking pencils. But she wasn't a bit like that in reality, much to my great relief: her hair was light brown and held back with two thick plaits, crossed over and skewered in place by a long needle-like pin, and she was dressed in a pale blue dress with a cream shawl. She seemed young.
"Good afternoon," she said, shaking my hand. "You must be Elizabeth. My name is Stroud. Emily Stroud." She turned to Grace and greeted her similarly. My adoptive mother led us upstairs to a room I hadn't yet seen, which contained two wooden desks, a blackboard and a bookcase, an abacus standing at the ready. Obviously, this was the schoolroom.
"I hope you will be comfortable," said Grace, before taking her leave, so that we were alone. I stood uncomfortably near the door and waited to be told what to do, not having had any experience of this sort of meeting before.
"Come, sit down," she said, gesturing to the desk. I sat on the edge of the wooden chair and wished that my dress wasn't quite so tight. "Now, I am to be your governess in the forseeable future, and I hope that we'll become friends, since there is no point teaching someone you hate, as they won't learn anything. How much schooling have you had in the past?"
"Quite a lot," I said. "I studied History, Geography, Biology, Chemistry, Physics, French, Italian, Music, Drama, Art, English and Maths, among other things." Of course that list would impress her; how could it fail to? No other girl in this age would be as well educated as me, I was willing to bet. And I thought state education was bad.
"I see." She couldn't help raising her eyebrows: I felt like laughing, but contained the urge, since it would probably not be helpful. But it was funny to see how people were shocked by the twenty-first century norm. "Well, in that case, I may find that you know more than me on some of those subjects. Where have you got to with algebra?"
I knew I was in for a hard time then, since algebra had never been my strong point and the Victorian understanding of it was very different, using different methods and different theories. I found myself in a constant state of confusion, but I did my best not to fall too far behind, and as far as I could work out it seemed to work. At the end of the two-hour session (we had moved on to History, where I fared no better--at my old school we had been working on the Second World War which, let's face it, caused a few difficulties in this 1895 class), I was exhausted.
"We will leave it there for today," Miss Stroud told me. "If you could finish off those sums for tomorrow and perhaps learn those dates." I nodded. "I believe I am going to like teaching you, Elizabeth." Which was just as well, seeing as she was stuck with it for a while now. I retired to my room, deciding to work on the 'homework' later.
Now, what was it Madame had said about my grand battements? Ah yes, a little lift there, and turn the left foot out more ...