Disclaimer: Not mine, never will be.
Requested by ponddepression. Special thanks to Ally for helping me.
There certain questions children should never ask adults. Questions which may tug at their curiosity, but which they should never bring forth in subject. At least that is what Clara was taught as a child. Sit still, remain quiet, do not question anything. Questions lead to thoughts, thoughts lead to ambitions, and they can't have that, now can they? So a good child must always accept what they are told and what their place is.
But Clara knows that simply cannot be. Children are never as obedient as their parents expect them to be. Children are, after all, children. They are meant to learn, to question, to feed their curiosity. A child without an ambition is a child without a dream, and a child without a dream is no child at all.
So Ms Montague encourages the children to ask her any and all questions that they might have.
"Are you old enough to be our governess?" Digby asks her during one of their lessons. "You don't seem old enough."
"If I wasn't old enough, I wouldn't be your governess."
"You aren't as old as our last governess."
She knows he is not really concerned with her age or whether she is younger than his last governess. The boy has made it perfectly clear that he did not like the woman. He is simply curious about Ms Montague.
"You shouldn't judge a book by its cover, Digby. I happen to be far older than your last governess. I was born behind the clock face of Big Ben when it was first built."
"But that was over forty years ago! I don't believe you."
"It accounts for my acute sense of time, does it not?"
Digby tries to protest, but Clara silences him this time. Not because she will not answer his questions, but because she knows he is simply avoiding his lessons. First he must complete his work and then she will tell him the story, but not a moment sooner. He grumbles but does not argue with her.
That night Clara tells Digby and Francesca the first of her definitely true stories.
"Are you going to die?" Francesca asks her one afternoon.
"We all die at some point. However, I have no intention in doing so in the near future. Why do you ask?"
She frowns and he doesn't have to continue for Clara to understand. After all, everyone knows the story of the children's previous governess. It isn't the sort of thing anyone forgets, much less a child. Francesca, the clever girl she is, understands that she needn't answer the question. Instead she tells her governess something else.
"You shouldn't go near the pond. It's not safe."
Clara smiles. "You need not worry, Francesca. If I were to fall in, I would simply ask my fish friends to help me."
"You're friends with the fish?"
"Of course. I did invent them."
By the time Clara finishes explaining the definitely true story of how she invented fish (because she dislikes swimming alone), there is a smile on Francesca's face and not a hint of fear in her eyes. She doesn't ask the governess about death again.
One evening, when she goes to their bedroom to put them to sleep, she finds the children active and running around, chasing one another with pillows. Her amusement, however, does not remain. The children, for some reason she cannot understand, are more active than normal. They refuse to sit still, much less lay in their beds long enough to fall asleep.
"We don't want to sleep!"
"We want to play a game!"
"Oh, let us play a game, Ms Montague!"
"Yes, please! A game is much better than bed, Ms Montague!"
"Enough!" She snaps, dropping her proper accent. "It's time for bed, for the both of ya!"
The children freeze and stare at her. It takes her an entire moment to realise what she's done. She coughs and repeats herself, in a proper voice this time. However, the children have already noticed and she knows there will be no going back from this.
"Your voice," Digby marvels. "Do it again, Ms Montague!"
"It was ever so wonderful!" Francesca asks. "Please let us hear it again Ms Montague!"
Clara shakes her head. "No, no, children. That was my secret voice. Only good boys and girls may hear it more than once."
"Oh, please let us hear it again."
"If we go to bed, may we hear it again?"
Ms Montague pauses to consider the children's request. After a moment she nods. "I will make an exception this one time, but you mustn't tell. A secret voice is, after all, a secret." The children nod enthusiastically and in no time they are tucked into bed.
That evening, Clara learns a new trick.
One autumn evening, after they have had their dinner, Ms Montague encourages the children to finish their birthday presents for their father. His birthday, after all, is only a week away and one should always prepare in advance rather than leaving such tasks to the last moment. Francesca practices a piano piece which she plans to perform for him, while Digby chooses to give his father a drawing. A drawing of him with his father, sister, and governess.
"Well done, Digby," she tells him, glancing over his shoulder. "This is your finest drawing yet, if I may say so. But are you sure you should include me?"
He neither looks up nor answers her question directly. "Francesca says you will be our new mother."
"Nonsense. I very well can't be your governess and your mother, now can I?" she tells him. He does not reply. At that moment, she notices that Francesca has stopped her playing as well. She looks over and sees the girl frowning.
"If you are not to be our new mother, does that mean you will leave us?"
Clara smiles softly and holds out her hand. Francesca obeys her silent request, walks over to her governess, and takes her hand. Clara takes Digby's hand with her other, and looks both the children in the eyes as she speaks. "Someday, yes. One day the two of you shall grow too old for a governess and when that day comes, I must leave."
"Then I shall never grow up!" Digby cries.
"But you must. Both of you must. You will grow up and no longer require my services," she explains. Francesca opens her mouth to protest, but she does not let her. "But," Ms Montague says, "I will remain here as long as you need me, and not a moment less."
"Do you promise?"
"I promise," she nods. Then, before she can say anything more, Francesca wraps her arms around her, and hugs her. It takes Digby less than a moment to do the same. She stands still, startled. However, she quickly recovers and hugs the children back. "Now," she says once they release her, "I believe you have presents which need completion." Francesca and Digby laugh, chime "yes, Ms Montague" together, before they return to their work.
Clara smiles and spends the remainder of the night watching her children.