‘Good morning, Miss Wilmot.’
Maud entered the schoolroom to find Sir Dominic standing by the window. The sunlight streamed in, putting his face half in profile. It emphasised the set of his jaw.
She stepped back, then raised her own chin as she crossed the room and placed on the table the large jars she had borrowed from the kitchen earlier that morning. The glass glistened in the sunlight, making the foliage she had gathered inside them appear even more vivid green.
‘Good morning,’ she replied, unsmiling, with the slightest nod of her head. Overnight, for she had struggled to sleep as usual, her indignation at the master of the house had not abated. She had resolved to display the utmost propriety towards him at all times.
‘I thought I would come and see that you have what you need here in the schoolroom for today’s lesson. But I see you have already been busy,’ he said.
‘Since just after dawn,’ she admitted. ‘I was fortunate to find what I needed around the vegetable patch.’
He frowned slightly as he studied the contents of the jars. ‘Are these of sufficient size for your purposes?’
She ran her finger over the lid of one of the jars, where she had made the holes for air. She’d not only caught caterpillars, but a butterfly, too. ‘These jars are large enough for insect homes.’ She couldn’t suppress a sigh. ‘Ideally, of course, I’d have a vivarium.’
His raised eyebrow met the other in a slight frown. ‘You are already teaching me something, Miss Wilmot. I’m not familiar with the word. What is a vivarium?’
‘It’s a Latin term,’ she told him eagerly, unable to hold back her enthusiasm. She picked up one of the glass jars. ‘It’s a most innovative idea. Imagine this insect home being four or five times the size. That is the size of a vivarium. They are big glass cases or domes, with ventilation, where caterpillars and butterflies can be observed alive, without harm. Mr Ward of London has made some marvellous ones that are being used on long sea voyages to collect specimens, I believe. But we can make do.’
‘Thank you for enlightening me.’
Maud stiffened as she put the jar back with the others on the table. She wondered, for a moment, if he was mocking her enthusiasm, but she could discern no trace of mockery on his face. Instead, he was studying the insect homes with increased interest.
The door from the nursery opened.
~~ excerpt from The Master’s New Governess: Eliza Redgold
Beautiful Butterflies …
In The Master’s New Governess heroine Maud Wilmot collects (but does not harm) butterflies. Many species of butterflies fluttered across British landscapes in the Victorian era, when the romance is set. Butterfly-catching was a popular hobby, and ‘The Butterfly Vivarium or Insect Home: being an account of a new method of observing the curious metamorphoses of some of the most beautiful of our native insects’, by Henry Noel Humphreys, published in London in 1858, became a best seller.
Sadly, many British butterflies are now rarely sighted. The Swallowtail, Britain’s biggest butterfly, is threatened with extinction due to salination of Britain’s lakes and marshes. The small tortoiseshell is also facing declining numbers.
You can learn more about butterflies from The Association for Butterflies (you can even attend Butterfly College) support Butterfly Education and Awareness Day (US) or aid their conservation in Britain by joining The Big Butterfly Count.
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