For the second time, I've read a book by Charlotte Mary Yonge. The review for the first one, as well as some info about the author, is here.
"The Stokesley Secret" was originally published in 1861; my copy was (you guessed it!) a free ebook from Amazon's Kindle shop.
While it is clearly meant as a children's book, adult readers can enjoy this book all the same - provided they don't mind the sometimes rather strong emphasis on Christian morals that used to rule in the nurseries of most English families during the Victorian era.
In short, the book tells the story of a large family (eight children!) who live in genteel poverty on an estate in Stokesley (a place in England that really exists). The father is a Marine Officer who is only home between assignments, his most recent one having been in the Crimean War. The mother worried herself sick over her husband while he was away, and became so weak that she has to be transferred to London to receive proper medical treatment. It is unsure whether she'll live or die, and the children are left at Stokesley in the care of a nurse (who is portrayed as a very unpleasant character, unduly spoiling the children and always taking sides with the wrong ones) and a governess.
That governess is the principal figure in the story. She is young (only 19!), and her main job is to teach the younger children. The two oldest boys attend classes in the village, but her schoolroom is still very lively with the others.
On top of school lessons, she is also to teach them manners, make sure they are punctual at their meals, say their prayers, go to church every Sunday and do not quarrel too much among themselves.
She does have a level head on her shoulders and can be strict when necessary, but also joins in the fun at playtime, which endears her to the children a great deal. Her "modern London ways" do not go down well with Nurse and some of the other staff at the house, but her main responsibility are the children, and there she succeeds really well...
...until one of the boys allows himself to be led astray by some up-to-no-good boys in the neighbourhood.
A secret plan (hence the title) the children have been hatching goes wrong because of his mischief, and sets the siblings against each other, much to the governess' grief.
Finally, the father returns from London, and is soon able to get to the bottom of things. I can safely say that all ends well; it's not spoiling the book for any of you as I doubt you'll want to read it anyway.
In places, it is overly sweet and moralising, whereas there are some really funny bits, and it makes me believe that the author was able to relate to children (and to how she felt when she was little) rather well. It's not a very long book and kept me nice, old-fashioned company for several train trips to and from work.