Authors: Lauren Baratz-Logsted
Tags: #Ages 12 & Up
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Boston New York 2010
For Jack Baratz (1921–1992),
my father, a man who believed
in stretching the mind every day:
I still miss you, Dad.
Copyright © 2010 by Lauren Baratz-Logsted
All rights reserved. For information about permission to
reproduce selections from this book, write to Permissions,
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company,
215 Park Avenue South, New York, New York 10003.
Houghton Mifflin is an imprint of
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.
The text of this book is set in Adobe Garamond.
Book design by Susanna Vagt.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
The education of Bet / by Lauren Baratz-Logsted.
Summary: Denied an education because of both her gender and
background, sixteen-year-old Elizabeth cuts her hair and alters suits
belonging to Will, her wealthy patron's grandnephew, to take his place at
school while Will pursues a military career in nineteenth-century England.
[1. Sex role—Fiction. 2. Schools—Fiction. 3. Social classes—Fiction. 4.
Orphans—Fiction. 5. Great Britain—History—19th century—Fiction.] I.
Manufactured in the United States of America
DOC 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
Thanks go to:
Julia Richardson, for being my kind of editor;
Pamela Harty, for being my kind of agent;
Lauren Catherine, Greg Logsted, Robert Mayette, and
Andrea Schicke Hirsh, for being my kind of writing group partners;
Lucille Baratz, for being my kind of mother;
Greg Logsted, for being my kind of husband;
Jackie Logsted, for being my kind of daughter.
As you can see, my world is filled with my kind of people.
I am a very lucky woman, indeed.
Everything I needed to wear beneath my clothes was already in place.
I selected a shirt the color of unspoiled snow, eased my arms into the sleeves, slowly did up the buttons from narrow waist to chest and finally to neck. It felt peculiar to wear something on my upper body, in particular my waist, that did not bind my skin like a glove. How odd not to feel constricted where one expected to. The trousers that I slid up over the slight swell of my hips were made of black superfine wool, and I buttoned these as well. This was even more peculiar, the sensation of the expensive fabric against my calves and thighs.
A sound in the outer hallway brought me up short. Was someone coming? The threat of intrusion, of discovery before I'd finished, terrified me. It was a danger I lived with daily, as natural to my new life as a lack of danger had been to my old one. But after a long moment spent stock-still, hearing no more noises, I concluded that the sounds were of my imagination's making, a product of my fears.
I was well practiced in the art of tying ties, and I commenced doing so now, taking up the length of black silk and fitting it around my collar. Then I took the ends and fashioned a knot that I knew without looking would fall at a slightly rakish angle. My intention was to convey that perfect mix of convention (I was wearing a tie) and indifference to convention (I did not care how that tie looked). Over all, I put on a black superfine wool coat that matched the trousers.
Only then, when I was fully dressed except for shoes, did I turn to confront my reflection in the looking glass.
And what did I see there?
A clean-shaven young gentleman about sixteen years of age, with thick black hair so wavy there was almost a curl to it—there would be, on humid days—and eyes nearly as dark; pale skin; generous lips; a fine straight nose. The young man looking back at me was handsome and gave off an air of self-confidence.
There was just one problem; two, actually.
The barely discernible bulge in the front of the trousers had been created by a carefully balled-up pair of stockings.
And the young gentleman—
—was a girl.
"William, I am
disappointed in you!"
Paul Gardener always addressed his great-nephew as William when he was displeased with something he had done.
I was seated on a chair by the fireplace, sewing, my long skirts around me, as I had been just a moment before when a servant at the door to the drawing room had announced Will. The drawing room ran the length of the house, from front to back, and had large windows at either end that cast long shadows now that night was nearly upon us. The ceiling was a blinding white, while the walls were painted scarlet, punctuated with well-placed brass candle fixtures; the master of the house and I were seated at the room's far end. There was an enormous area rug, also in scarlet but accented with cream, and a large bookcase containing all of the master's favorite volumes, of which I'd read more than a few.
"Bet." Will acknowledged me with a nod after first greeting his great-uncle, as was proper.
"Will." I returned the nod but saw no reason to rise for the occasion, although I was happy to see him. I was always happy to see Will, no matter what the circumstances.
Paul Gardener did not rise either. It was difficult for him to do so without assistance. In the past few years, he had aged a great deal. Indeed, both eyes, formerly a sharp blue, were now so fogged by cataracts that he glimpsed only flashes of the world through thick clouds, and it was one of my jobs to read to him from the papers or from books when he was of a mind to be read to. Still, despite his many infirmities, Paul Gardener took great care in his dress and appearance; his proud mane of hair was white and thick. I had seen artists' renderings of him when he was younger and knew that in his youth he had been nearly as handsome as Will.
"I had somewhat hoped you would be happy to see me, Uncle," Will said with a wry smile.
I dared look at Will no longer for fear I would break out into laughter, so I cast my gaze back down upon my sewing. It was not so much that the sewing needed to be done as that I needed something to do.
I am happy to see you!" the old man sputtered. He looked befuddled for a moment as he corrected himself, "Well, that is, if I
see you." After that brief moment of befuddlement, he recalled his outrage. Raising a gnarled fist, he shook the sheet of paper he held clenched in his hand. It was a letter, and ever since I'd read its contents to him last week, he'd been holding it pretty much every moment I had seen him. "What," he thundered, "is the meaning of this?"
Without needing to look at what his great-uncle was holding, Will knew to what he was referring.
"It means," he said, "that I have been sent down from school."
Which is a nice way,
of saying that you have been expelled.
"I understand that!" the old man said. "I may be blind, or near enough, but I am not stupid. But what I don't understand—what I cannot understand, William—is
Will's expression softened from its usual air of studied indifference. Whatever else Will was, he did not like to hurt his great-uncle; still, he would not do what was against his nature merely to please. He opened his mouth to speak—perhaps even to make an effort to sound contrite—but he was stopped by the grandfather clock at the other end of the room banging out the hour.
"Oh." Paul Gardener lowered his fist. "It is time for dinner."
No matter what was going on around him—including storms outside or within the house—Paul Gardener would have his meals on time.
"The Boers could show up here in London," Will had said to me on his last visit home, "they could march up right to our door and enter, weapons drawn, and Uncle would say, 'You may kill me in half an hour, but first I must finish my supper.'"
Will approached his great-uncle's chair and, placing his strong hand under the elderly man's elbow, helped him to his feet. "Uncle?" Will invited, holding his own elbow out so that he might escort the old man to the dining room.
They were nearly through the doorway when Paul Gardener paused and cocked his head, listening. His eyesight may have been awful, but his hearing was perfect.
"Elizabeth?" he called back to me, having detected the absence of any following footsteps. "Aren't you dining with us this evening?"
He said this as though I were always welcome at the table, and yet I always waited to be asked, never assuming anything. I knew that indeed my presence was
"Of course, sir," I said, at once setting aside my sewing. It would never have occurred to me to say no.
As I followed behind them, I saw Will turn his head and glance back at me over his great-uncle's shoulder. His smile was devilish, and I returned it in full.
have just been saved by the bell.
But that saving did not last long, not even through the soup course.
"Really, William, how many times does this make that you have been sent down from a school? Is this the second or the third?"
The dining room was another long room—really, the entire house was filled with long things—and the walls were covered in white wallpaper with a rose pattern. There were framed mirrors on three walls, a china closet, a curio cabinet, and a sideboard on which breakfast was often set out. A large Oriental carpet covered much of the hardwood floor, and the chairs we sat on were ornate, the seats and backs covered in rose crushed velvet, the carved mahogany trim intricate. The mahogany table itself could have sat twenty easily, but we three congregated at one end, Paul Gardener at the head while Will and I faced each other.
Overhead, the chandelier shimmered brilliantly.
"It is the fourth," Will admitted, at least having the grace to look embarrassed at this admission.
A maid entered, Molly, and she silently proceeded to bring the platter of roast beef to the master. Sara followed behind her with the potatoes, and Ann brought up the rear with the assorted vegetables.
"This last does not really count as being
" Will said, smiling as though pleased to be able to make this distinction.
The old man looked surprised. "It doesn't?"
"Not at all," Will said as Molly brought the platter to his side. "Since it was end of term, and we were all going home anyway, this falls more under the heading of my being requested never to return."
"Oh." The old man looked as though his great-nephew had succeeded in scoring an important point. "I see."
Sometimes I wondered if there was anything Will couldn't get away with.
Will studied the food on his plate, and I took advantage of his being preoccupied to look at him.
Will and I had much in common in terms of appearance. Really, given how alike we were, it was no wonder I sometimes thought of Will as my brother. I was very tall for a girl, and we were both lean, although I had some slight curves in places he did not. We both had dark eyes—although his proud eyebrows were slightly heavier, and my lashes were longer—and black hair. The texture of our hair was even similar: wavy with a tendency to curl when the weather was humid. Of course, my hair was very long while his was trimmed much shorter. Oh, and I did not need to shave.
Funny, I did not think myself pretty, and yet I did find Will handsome.
Those two words called my attention back, and looking to my side, I saw Molly standing there, waiting for me to serve myself from the platter.
The servants always called me Miss Smith whenever the master and Will were around, but simply Elizabeth when they were not. It was a thing I had never gotten used to, as though I were two different people in one body.
"Thank you, Molly," I said, helping myself.
She dipped a curtsy, as she had done after serving the other two, but the one she dipped for me seemed to have some irony to it.
Well, who could blame her?