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Angelique kept her head bowed as she followed Monsieur Leveque into his study. She could feel Cook’s gaze on her back as the oak door slammed shut behind them. No doubt she had witnessed this summons many times before, although, for Angelique, it had come sooner than she expected. The justice would be summary, no doubt. He would dismiss her, and she would leave the house the same day. She had known what he was like before taking the position. His reputation as a hard taskmaster had preceded him. She knew of several governesses who had left his home within days, hours even, of having undertaken the task of teaching his two young sons. Some of their own volition, some dismissed. What each of them had in common was that they would not speak of what had occurred whilst they resided in his home. But Angelique was determined. She would not allow him to intimidate her. She had wished to avoid him, to work well with his sons, and gain experience as a governess.
Monsieur Leveque sat behind the oak desk in a high-backed chair. He was silent, contemplative. He did not invite Angelique to sit. She glanced around the library, certain she would show no fear. The walls were lined with leather-bound books. She had visited this room before, but not when Monsieur Leveque had been home, had opened cabinets, taken books down and turned the pages with care. She had even taken one or two back to her room. He was a man of taste. The titles were those read in the salons of Paris, she was quite certain. She had been impressed.
“My sons like you, Mademoiselle.”
His voice was surprisingly soft.
“And why wouldn’t they, Monsieur?”
He looked surprised at her boldness. Maybe previous governesses had been compliant, unwilling to stand up to him. But she knew she was a good governess, and that they were learning much with her. She would not be mistreated.
“Because, Mademoiselle, they have never liked a governess before now. And neither have I. But still, you are not perfect. There have been infractions. And there must be punishment. We must all learn that there are consequences for our actions.”
Angelique gulped but didn’t look away. That would be admitting her fear. She held her hands before her demurely and held his gaze. He was an austere-looking man, but his face wasn’t without charm. There was much gossip in the surrounding area about his wife. That she had left and fled to Paris with a lover, leaving her husband and the boys behind. If this were true, it might account for his severe demeanour. His dark hair curled over his collar, and his moustache was neatly trimmed. He could be considered a handsome man; the planes of his face were regular. He dressed formally, and his clothes were well cut. She could tell he was appraising her in return, taking in her grey governess’s dress, and her neat figure. She wondered what his wife looked like. Was she handsome too? Pretty? There were no portraits of her around the house for Angelique to judge. She had a fleeting thought about how it would feel for him to touch her, to rest his hand on her cheek. She pushed that thought away.
She drew breath.
“Punishment, Monsieur? You must be mistaken. And I was in the middle of a lesson with Serge and Charles. I must return to them. We were learning about the Americas. They will spoil their work if I am gone from them for too long. They can be disobedient, at times.”
She knew she was taking a chance, criticising his sons. But she felt the only way to gain respect, and keep her place, was to be honest with him.
“Cook is sitting with them, for now. The boys tell me you allow them to talk during mealtimes.”
The tone of his voice had altered slightly. Still soft, it had an edge to it, something she was unable to grasp. Was her punishment to be dismissal?
“We talk of our day together, Monsieur. Of what we have seen on our rambles, for example. How we translate our observations to paper the next day. It is all productive, I assure you.”
Her voice trailed away as he rose from his chair and walked to the corner of the room, where a riding crop rested against a wall. Her eyes widened. The boys had spoken to her of the punishment he meted out to them, on occasion. Across their hands. Surely he wasn’t going to mete out the same punishment to her? A grown woman in his employment. How would she face his sons with marks across her hands? How would she ever make them obey her again? She flushed.
“I have rules, Mademoiselle. You were made fully aware of them when you accepted the post. And my rules must not be broken. I do not accept disobedience from my sons, or from my servants. Over here, please.”
Angelique stayed exactly where she was. And she stayed silent.
“If you prefer, Mademoiselle, I could dismiss you. But I believe your family is in great financial need. I believe it would not sit well with them if you were to be summarily dismissed and returned to them, penniless and without references, would it? I know your father well. He is a proud man.”
Angelique knew Monsieur Leveque was correct. Father was proud. He had once been a wealthy man, but had lost much money in an ill-fated adventure in the West Indies. Once he had moved in the same circles as Monsieur Leveque, but no more. He would be most displeased if Angelique were to return home so soon. He had entreated her to work hard.
“And, Mademoiselle, I would ensure you would never work as a governess again in this town.”
His voice was raised now. He lifted the crop and whipped it against his desk. Angelique could see grooves there, where it had been whipped before. For the benefit of his sons, or other governesses? she wondered. She could not afford to lose her position, so she walked over to him, remaining upright and proud as she did so. He would understand she was not going to submit to a lashing willingly. He would know of her displeasure. He paid her wages, but he did not own her. She stood before him now, her face defiant. He breathed deeply, heavily. He flexed the crop, and stroked it against the palm of his hand. She waited for him to ask her to hold her hands out before her for him to hit them. She closed her eyes. If the pain became too intense she would make her thoughts wander. But that did not happen.
“I can see why my boys are so fond of you, Mademoiselle.” He stroked the tip of the crop down her cheek, and across her shoulder to the lace edge of her dress. He traced a line down to her décolletage. She shivered. This was unexpected. But not unpleasant. In fact, she felt a tiny frisson of what she could only describe as excitement. He plucked at a ringlet that fell to one side of her ear with his left hand, and tugged slightly. The sensation was strange, a mixture of pain and sweetness.
“You are pretty. And clever. I can see that you understand me better than the others. They would have fled by now.”