The Teacher at Orchard Hall: Christian Historical Romance by Rose Harrison

First, Happy New Year! I’m really excited to start posting this story which I have worked on for going on seven years! During November of 2014, I participated in my first National Novel Writing Month competition. If you don’t know that means, it’s where an author tries to complete a novel (50,000 words) in one month. I actually hit 42,077 words that year! I might have made it but had to wimp out on the last two days as we were moving and I just needed to return to my sanity. I had an 18 month old and a 3 year old at the time!

During that month, I realized the story that began as a JAFF would work better as an original work. That honestly terrified me. I had never finished an original work before. After NaNoWriMo ended, I needed a break from that story and focused on other projects rather than finishing it. A few months later, I had an idea for a full series that would include the NaNo book.

My idea was a group of female school friends had vowed to marry only for love after witnessing a teacher at their school change because of its power. However, real life threw the girls curve balls and tested their commitment. Additionally, I wanted to include real life Regency events, such as the Year Without a Summer and the Assassination of Prime Minister Spencer Perceval. So, I began writing Clara and Stephen’s story, a tale of a second chance at love between a dour school teacher and the beau from her youth. However, my writing stalled.

Over the last seven years, I’ve stopped and started on Clara and Stephen’s story. I decided that it would be better to publish it last as a prequel after the series was already completed and successful. I wanted to write it as a Regency Romance. I even pitched the series to a publisher. They already had another series like it, but I was encouraged to try other publishers. It turned out that they all wanted the series to be steamier than I felt comfortable writing. I began to think that was it for this series.

However, during the summer of 2020, I felt led to begin writing Inspirational and Christian works. I believe my JAFF works qualify as Inspirational because they focus on hope and positive things. However, I had never called them such before. I hadn’t read Christian Romance in awhile but had been easily frustrated by what I found there before. I would find one book that I really enjoyed, but then the next would be too preachy or too saccharine. I began to realize that I would need to write what I wanted to read in the genre, just like I do with JAFF. It’s taken quite a leap of faith and I still honestly have no idea if I’m doing it “right,” but I figure that didn’t stop me years ago and I shouldn’t be timid now either.

Since this is Christian Romance, there is a faith element that only Christ can solve. In addition to marrying for love, the students see the effect of Christ on Clara and promise to live for Him. However, real life can take a number on faith. Additionally, since I have eleven stories planned and there are nine fruits of the spirit plus faith and hope, one quality will be explored in each book.

I will be using a new pen name to differentiate the genres, but I’ll be posting them on this site. So it’s not a secret pen name, just one for clarification’s sake.

Chapter One

Scarborough, 1807

Giggling, carefree girls irritated her more than anything else in the world. Didn’t they know their happy lives could crumble in an instant? Clara Lumley, Orchard Hall School for Girls’ youngest teacher, glared down the main hall at a group of girls. In the ten years she had been educating the next crop of society’s empty-headed, passably pretty, and tolerably rich debutantes, she had never met a group she could not curtail. Long ago, she used the same glare on her sisters. 

Marching to the gaggle of ninnies, Clara saw the precise moment the favorite of the group noticed her. The young lady in question, Sylvia Linwood, silenced and nudged her friends. The other girls soon fell in step, but Clara’s watchful eyes did not miss the shifting of a book behind Miss Cecilia Ward’s hand.

“Hand it over,” Clara said.

“I do not understand what you mean,” Miss Linwood said sweetly. Her large eyes and angelic face could allow her to get away with highway robbery.

Unfortunately for Miss Linwood, Clara needed this job far more than any highwayman needed his stolen acquisitions. “That won’t do. Miss Ward, you know the rules. Forfeit the contraband, or I shall ring for Mrs. Alderly, and you will be dismissed immediately.”

Terror lit Miss Ward’s eyes, and she handed over a small book. 

Miss Linwood met Clara’s gaze. “It is my book, Miss Lumley.”

Clara turned it over in her hands. Histories, or Tales Past Time. Clara knew the book well. As a young girl, she reveled in the fairy tales translated into English by Robert Samber. The topic would certainly fit Miss Linwood’s romantic sensibilities. However, she could easily read it in original French. She was one of the most intelligent and cleverest of this odd circle of ladies. No, Clara would wager the book belonged to Miss Ward. 

Miss Ward was very much like her mother — a former opera singer and social climber, currently the third wife to her fourth husband, an aging baronet. Clara had been only a few years older than these girls when she discovered the pretension and vanity of tradesmen who found themselves grotesquely wealthy.

“Then I shall return it to your father at the end of the term,” Clara said. “As the book is yours, you will write an essay on the comparing Queen Elizabeth’s handling of the Spanish Armada and Eleanor of Aquitaine’s involvement in her son’s revolt.”

“Com — comparison?” Miss Linwood’s voice squeaked. 

“Indeed. You will turn it in at the end of the week.” Clara thrilled at the perplexed look on the insurrectionist’s face. “Now, return to your rooms. The dinner bell rings in an hour. I believe Miss Linwood and Miss Jenners have already been late twice this term, and I have no shortage of essays to assign.”

“Yes, ma’am,” the ladies whispered, and Clara resumed her walk to the stairs.

Once in her room, she tossed the book on her bed. Fairy tales! She disagreed with Mrs. Alderly’s curriculum for young ladies — surely they needed more than to be an adornment to some man — but fairy tales could not be further from what life offered. However, the girls of this school were blessed far more than she ever was. The students were made up of a few daughters of peers and heiresses from the landed gentry. However, the real money came from sources like Miss Ward, whose family skirted the edge of propriety, and those like Miss Jenners, whose family owned a large and lavish house and park with just a few tenants. Their income came nearly entirely from trade, not the land.

Brushing out her blonde hair and re-pinning the tight coiffure, Clara could not help but recall her life at fourteen. Her father had died when she was young, and her mother married a country clergyman when Clara was nine. She joyfully welcomed Dorothy, called Dottie the following year, and hoped for many more siblings. Her wish was granted at fourteen when Esther was born. Sadly, her mother died from a fever outbreak months later. 

Clara maintained her happy disposition, however. Spending her summers with her new grandfather, a doctor, she took an interest in medicine and the science of preventive disease. Clara counseled her step-father on the importance of smallpox variolation. However, he desired to wait until the children were older as many became sick with a weaker version. Then, disaster struck the family when Clara was seventeen and on holiday with her grandparents. Dottie and Esther became ill with the pox. Seven-year-old Dottie’s rash remained flat, unlike the usual course of the disease, and her fever was very high and raged for days. When, at last, it broke, her senses remained addled. 

The illness caused Clara to cut her holiday short. She would never regret coming home to assist Dottie and Esther; she only hated how faithless her one suitor proved. Refusing to understand her reasons for departure, he broke their engagement and then left the country for duties in India. 

There proved no compassion about Stephen Clifford. He was determined to demonstrate his father, an earl whose title was revoked due to perjury, innocent. Clara smoothed the skirt of her black wool gown. She supposed Stephen succeeded there. A few years later, Francis Clifford was reinstated just before dying. The title passed to Stephen’s elder brother, and, last she heard, Stephen remained in India. 

Clara’s step-father died shortly after Lord Clifford, and, resisting the advances of her step-father’s benefactor, she argued for her sisters to live in a small cottage on the estate. Clara worked first as a governess for her landlord but then took a position at the Orchard Hall school. It was several hours from home and did not allow her to visit often. She wished with all her heart Dottie and Esther could live nearer, but the physician did not believe a move would be suitable for Dottie. 

The door clicked behind Clara as she left for dinner, and with it, she locked the door on melancholy musings of a missed youth as well. She was no princess in a tower, and she needed no prince to rescue her.

Instead of joining the others in the drawing room for pre-dinner conversation, Clara descended to the kitchen level. Once there, she knocked on the housekeeper’s room. The door inched open as the occupant inspected her. Clara smiled down at the lad charged with the task of keeping the room secured. She held out a piece of candy, and he snatched it away, grinning from ear to ear as he opened the door wider and dashed off. 

Just before entering the room, Clara caught the scullery maid’s eye and nodded in the direction of the room. While she waited for the maid to enter, Clara set down her bag and laid out the instruments she would need. A moment later, the maid entered, looking nervous.

“You sure I won’t be in no trouble if we’re caught—”

“We will not be caught, Sadie,” Clara reassured the girl. “Besides, Mrs. Alderly supports inoculation. It is only me giving it that she objects to, so only my position is at risk.”

“You’re awful kind to do this, Miss. I can’t afford—”

“No, no. We don’t talk of money.”

“You fancy lot sure are strange. Money is all I can think about it.”

Inwardly, Clara agreed. Finances consumed her. More particularly, the fear of losing income. All the more reason to focus on the job at hand. “Now, you will feel a prick, but hold still.” 

Clara took her clean knife and made a small incision in the maid’s exposed upper arm. Sadie jerked a little but remained as still as possible. “You can breathe,” Clara teased the girl. Her reaction was quite normal. Most of the people Clara had inoculated held their breath. Indeed, Clara had done so as well. 

With practiced hands, assured of their movements, Clara used tweezers to carefully remove a pustule from its wooden case.

Sadie gasped. “That’s the smallpox?”

“No.” Clara shook her head. “This is from cowpox and is much safer. Do you not remember me explaining this?” She frowned at her patient.

“I’m sorry. I remember the important part, though,” Sadie said with a timid smile. “I won’t get sick — not like I would with smallpox.”

“Exactly,” Clara said as she brought the pustule to Sadie’s arm and used a strip of clean linen to rub it in before tying it around the limb. She stepped back.

“That’s all there is?”

“It’s as simple as that.” 

Sadie looked at her arm, then rolled her sleeve down. 

“Now, you will contract cowpox and have a mild fever and a few spots. Do you remember when Maggie was sick last month?” Sadie nodded. She shared a room with Maggie. “It should be just like that. Doctors have discovered that cowpox provides immunity to smallpox but is hardly ever deadly.”

Sadie looked at her in confusion. Clara sighed, then simplified her words. 

“Thank you again, Miss. I lost my brother to the pox three winters ago. I’m the only one in the house that ain’t had it since I was living here, then. You must have a very big heart. God bless you!”

She sent Sadie back to work and returned her items to her bag. Although Mrs. Alderly had not given Clara permission to vaccinate the staff, the headmistress knew as well as Clara that they could not afford to pay a physician. Mrs. Alderly believed in the science, and Clara had the experience. Thus, the headmistress turned a blind eye and pretended she did not know that one of her teachers was doing such manual work. 

Clara exited the room and shut the door, noting that the boy from earlier had returned to his position near the housekeeper’s office. He had other duties earlier in the day, but in the afternoon, when students moved more freely about the house, Mrs. Alderly had tasked Robert with securing the room which housed all of the school’s finest service items. Robert loved playing the part of an important man, taking on the role of a butler in most other houses. 

She caught a flash of white skirt rounding a corner ahead of her, and Clara’s eyes narrowed. Clearly, Mrs. Alderly had reason to believe her students were less than obedient and wandered down hallways to which they did not belong. Unfortunately, from the brief glimpse, Clara could not identify the student. All the students wore white gowns, befitting their positions as young ladies of society and not yet out. 

With dinner beginning, Clara’s tasks as a teacher were officially ending for the day. She spared no concern over the student out of bounds and what she might have seen. Despite Mrs. Alderly’s scolding about teachers mingling with the below-stairs staff and needing to remain firmly in the position of respectable and refined, Clara had no fear her job was at stake over vaccinating the staff. She also did not have as big a heart as Sadie seemed to think. There were days when Clara almost doubted she still had one. On those days, she welcomed the near ever-present grief instead. The pang in her breast over her regrets was preferable to feeling dead inside. No, she vaccinated Orchard Hall’s staff because she feared the school closing over an outbreak. 

Steeling herself from the observance of others and to the ridiculousness of a penniless spinster going through the motions and pomp of a Society evening, Clara crept into the drawing room just before the gong sounded. She joined the queue of teachers and entered the dining room with them. One day, their pupils would dine with their husbands and entertain their friends. For Clara, that was an impossible flight of fancy. She no longer dreamt of a loving husband and children. Now, she craved security but had learned the hard way that no one but she could provide it.

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