Nell

Nell by Elizabeth Bailey

Book: Nell by Elizabeth Bailey Read Free Book Online
Authors: Elizabeth Bailey
give up her doll, which Henrietta was prone to take out of the desk at any time that suited her.
    Counting was accomplished with the girl’s own wooden bricks—when she could be persuaded to leave off building to find out how many she had used.
    ‘There now,’ said the nurse when three requests had been ignored one day. ‘We’re deaf and blind when we want to be, ain’t we? Oh, when we don’t want to learn nothing, there ain’t nobody going to make us, is there, Miss Hetty?’
    Nell could have slapped her. Not that Henrietta paid the woman the slightest heed. It seemed that she was indeed deaf and blind to Duggan’s little digs. Or perhaps she was so used to the woman’s nagging words that she had become adept at ignoring them. Nell elected to follow the child’s lead, refusing to become discomposed by Duggan’s frequent interruptions.
    A set of toy soldiers that had belonged to Henrietta’s father in his childhood were found to be another means of counting, together with learning to sing. Nell made the soldiers march to the song, so that Hetty began to copy her. She used the doll to introduce the child todance, and had recently taken the little girl on to the roof walkway to try out some steps for herself. Mrs Whyte had found, upon request, some braid and ribbons, with which Nell began Hetty upon the art of weaving as a preliminary to sewing and knotting a fringe.
    When all else failed, Nell read to the little girl from Mr Perrault’s collection of fairy tales, and found that Henrietta knew all the stories so well that she would frequently interrupt in order to interpolate the next bit. Wondering who had read to her in the past, and reluctant to ask anything at all of Duggan, Nell questioned the housekeeper.
    ‘Is it Duggan?’
    Mrs Whyte set down her teacup. ‘Joyce? Bless you, no, ma’am! Why, she can’t read, not with any great fluency. She’s a country girl is Joyce. No, no, Miss Faraday. She might tell the child a story or two, but she wouldn’t think to read one.’
    Not altogether surprised, Nell tried not to be satisfied by this intelligence. ‘Then it must have been Lady Jarrow.’
    The housekeeper looked dubious. ‘I suppose she might. Though it weren’t my notion that her ladyship took time nor trouble with the babe.’
    ‘But she must have given her some attention. She could not have ignored her own daughter.’
    Mrs Whyte became distressed and, to Nell’s eye a little uncomfortable. ‘She weren’t in a state of mind to think of anyone but herself, ma’am.’
    Nell’s instinct was to probe, but she withheld it. She would not put the housekeeper in the unhappy position of betraying what she had rather not. Yet those few hints that had been thrown out could not but pique her interest, particularly in light of Lord Jarrow’s troubled words. Itwas clear that his marriage had been disappointing, if not downright unhappy, but nothing more concrete had been revealed in the period since Nell’s arrival.
    Only one circumstance had given her further evidence of the deep-seated rancour that drove him. The first Sunday had arrived with no mention of prayers or church, and Nell—brought up to correct Christian conduct at the Seminary—had been forced to enquire about it.
    Lord Jarrow had looked blank. ‘Church?’
    ‘Surely, sir, you keep some form of worship?’
    His lip had curled. ‘For what purpose?’
    It had been Nell’s turn to stare. ‘To keep faith with your Maker, my lord. For Henrietta’s sake, if not your own.’
    He had uttered a harsh laugh. ‘You suppose it will make a difference?’
    ‘It must always make a difference, sir!’
    At which, his eyes had flashed fire. ‘Don’t preach at me, Miss Faraday! If you choose to genuflect and mutter for the benefit of the Almighty, you may do so at your leisure. But you will not inflict your meaningless prattle upon a creature who has enough to endure without looking for salvation to a merciless God who has long since abandoned

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