Chapter 1

The gentleman shivered as he waited for an answer. The large, imposing woman in front of him was taking her time thinking.

"Well," she said after a lengthy pause, "there is one girl I think could be what you are looking for. Isabella has been with us for 8 years. In that time she has learned to cook, clean, and sew. But, her talent lies in caring for children. It is really most remarkable to see. She is very shy, almost never says a word to adults but in the presence of children she is transformed. She had a difficult life before she came to this orphanage but because she is not Catholic, she can't join the order and would have to gain a position soon. Now, she is a few months from her sixteenth birthday but don't let her age dissuade you, she is very capable. Quiet, but capable."

The gentleman relaxed with a sigh, his wife had been right, the good sisters at the orphanage were the best resource.

"May I inquire as to her difficult life? Bear in mind, it would have no sway in my decision to hire her to look after my son's house and children." He wasn't trying to be nosy but maybe the information could help.

"Her father was a local fisherman, able to make a decent living. His wife died about a year after Isabella was born and as he couldn't take her to sea he married quickly and poorly. The step-mother was two faced, when Charles was home she was the kindest, most gentle mother ever. However, as soon a the ship cleared port, Isabella was beaten and locked up. When the boat came back in the harbour Isabella was freed and told never to say a word. That is why she hardly speaks now. Mind, she will answer a direct question. She is not simple, in fact she is one of the more intelligent girls I have ever raised but closed off. Except with children. Now, as you said before, your granddaughters are only two months old?"

"Yes, but in those two months that my wife and staff have been caring for them, my son, in his grief has let his home go to ruin. His housekeeper died in the same flu that took his wife. He won't let his mother or myself into the house but we have an intervention of sorts planned. We will get him out and sober while Isabella puts the house to rights. By the time my son is himself again the babies will be settled in their nursery with a caring nanny and housekeeper and all will be well." The gentleman sighed again, not quite convinced of his wife's plan, but willing to give it a try.

"How did Isabella come to be placed here?"

Mother Superior had been hoping that the gentleman would not ask this question.

"Charles' ship came back to port only hours after leaving one spring. There had been a sudden death of one of the hands and they decided to return. When he got home he found his daughter badly beaten and lock in the garden shed with a small loaf of bread, carafe of water and chamber pot. Her step-mother was in the house drunk and raving. To this day no-one is certain if she killed him or if he killed her but they were both found dead a day or two later and the child was brought here. The house and the ship were sold off and the money placed in trust for Isabella when she turns eighteen. There is not much for her, she would have had to secure a position to keep herself after she leaves here at eighteen but if you can promise me no harm will come to her, I can let her go early."

"I promise. Although my son is not himself right now, he would never harm a lady. We raised him as a gentleman. His medical education is finished and he will be returning to doctoring as soon as he is able. May I meet Isabella and explain the position?"

"Come with me to the nursery, you can see her with the children and then meet with her over tea."