A Question of Law

Circumstances of war make for unusual actions in a school.

By Jane Fairweather

It was heavenly on top of these Cornish cliffs, Jaqueline Hawkins thought; the sky was a radiant blue, the sea a most beautiful green and no cloud to be seen. Jaqueline fixed her eye on the criss-crossings of a couple of large birds. In Greece, at one time, they would have been thought of as gods in disguise, so beautiful were their movements.

And apart from the sea’s quiet lapping it was so quiet. In London, before Miss Charlton, their headmistress, had girded up her loins and moved Hawk House School to the peace of the West Country, there had been constant background noise from the artillery in Flanders on the Western Front, besides the city noises of rumbling carts and screeching trains, and from time to time the explosion of the bombs from the great beetle-like German planes, the ‘Gothas’, those modern Harpies whose advent had decided Miss Charlton to move her school.

But one thing linked the school in London and Cornwall; she still had to spend too much time dealing with unruly girls, but for this afternoon at least Jaqueline was not going to think about such things, or about the War and her dear brother Franky having to survive unpleasant things in the Trenches. But then she gazed down the great cliff besides where they were enjoying their picnic and realized how dangerous it was. Really they must be careful not to fall.

“Miss Hawkins, we really must compliment Cook on her sandwiches!” Her assistant house mistress cut in; there was nothing like Miss Fairfax for reminding her of the true realities of the world.

“With all the U boats sinking our ships we are lucky to be out of London; my sister says food is getting jolly scarce there.” Miss Fairfax was saying.

“True enough, Miss Fairfax.” Jaqueline replied. “But still today is heavenly, so let’s enjoy it while we can.”

There was a brief silence. During it Jaqueline vaguely fitted Miss Fairfax into the scene. She was only twenty-two or three and not long out of college. Her red hair had been put up into a bun and was further concealed by her summer bonnet. With her undoubted interest in men, Miss Fairfax ought to be Psyche, Jaqueline decided, though in that case where was Eros? But then the headmistress’s grave face, which was full of the lines of age and duty, was floating before her eyes.

“Her first appointment,” Miss Charlton had said significantly. “I’d have preferred a higher class of girl, but the best of them are all going as nurses, now the War is on. I am sorry to land you with her; she is the best I could do. You will have to keep an eye on her. And don’t let her cane anyone; she would not have the faintest idea what she is doing. More likely to need caning herself, in fact! That is a joke, of course, Miss Hawkins, not too be taken too seriously! But do keep an eye on her. I’ve a feeling she may need watching with men for her own sake. She strikes me as not that virginal and I would rather one of my mistresses did not end up in disgrace. It would be bad for her and even worse for the reputation of Hawk House.”

Jaqueline sardonically took in Miss Fairfax’s short, stout body, sitting upright in its bright red summer dress. Miss Fairfax ought not to be attractive and yet she always got glances from men. Perhaps it was the red hair or more probably the vivacious face. It would be kindest to describe her as ‘buxom’, she supposed; both bottom and breasts were on the large side and she was generally plump rather than muscular, though not quite fat. It would be an interesting backside to thrash, not that it was likely to happen. Not that she had thrashed that many backsides; they just did not use the cane on the scale of boys’ establishments, but occasionally it was a very useful implement.

From this she drifted into odd thoughts about Hermes’ caduceus, or was the caduceus a magic wand under another name? Did the cane convey some ancient magic to its recipient? Most girls hated it, of course, and would do anything to avoid it, but she had known the odd silly creature that it seemed to do something for in some odd way. Was there anything wrong with that, or not? She was not quite sure whether it mattered.

She thought all this while Miss Fairfax started to moan on and on about the latest battles on the Western Front, and how bloody and unnecessary it all was, and hoping her younger brother would not join up, though he was almost certainly bound to do it when all his friends were. Not an unreasonable thing to be worrying about. But, Jaqueline decided she was more interested in pondering the old gods of Greece and the madnesses and beauties they and the Fates forced on men, so she did just that, while indulging Miss Fairfax’s quite genuine worries about her brother with the odd sympathetic ‘yes’ and more often ‘no’.

Would Miss Charlton, who liked having a good Grecian on her staff, but was a very devout Christian, altogether approve? Was she was thinking, Jaqueline asked herself, that her real religion was paganism, like dear Mr Swinburne, who she had met once when she was very young and he was very old? And there were very improper rumours she knew about Mr Swinburne and an order of nuns who were apparently keen on flagellation. Not that a lady like herself was supposed to know about such things, but men tended to trust her with scandalous information; it had happened on more than one occasion. Still this sun and this silence were here to be enjoyed and hopefully Miss Fairfax would not notice how close her superior was to sleep, provided she continued to say ‘yes’ or no’ at hopefully significant moments.

*         *          *

It was around half past four when the two mistresses got back to the school after their quiet picnic. The stone of the ancient squire’s residence, which Hawk House was renting as its temporary home, was almost luminous in the lingering September light. It had such an unworldly beauty that was not pretty at all, which made Jaqueline forgive the rather Gothic feeling the building’s clinging ivy and decaying mortar always conveyed to her, and indeed the shabby paintwork, which she knew Miss Charlton was addressing as a matter of urgency. Stepping into the dark entrance hall, however, she had one of those feelings one gets, that there was something very wrong. She shrugged her shoulders and assured herself she was being silly. She glanced at the Hall clock and noticed it said 4.40, which was slightly later than she had thought. Still, it being Saturday, dinner was not till eight and no one was expected to be anywhere till then; it was one of the more pleasant customs of the school. She could have time to change and wash and read, unless something had happened while she was away enjoying herself on the cliffs. She felt almost guilty about enjoying herself.

She said something to Miss Fairfax about being sweaty and needing to go to her room and change, and headed up the ancient and very dark oak stairs, which creaked in ghostly fashion as she strode up them. This would have been eerie but for the sounds of girls skylarking after their Saturday afternoon off. Since the school’s arrival in Cornwall, Miss Charlton had taken to letting the girls go off in groups and chaperone themselves on Wednesday afternoons and Saturday. Jaqueline was not entirely easy about this, though it meant she got some very welcome time to herself, for she was always distrustful of teenage girls without adult supervision. However, in the three weeks the school had been resident here absolutely nothing had happened to fulfil Jaqueline’s fears.

She walked along the first landing where the mistresses had their rooms. Her own was at the end of the landing and on the corner of the building. She opened the door and went from the darkness of the landing into the plentiful light that poured from the windows on each side of her domain. She had been allowed first choice of rooms by Miss Charlton, which had been a nice compliment and indicative of her high standing in the school, and as she entered she thought how well she had chosen. There was ample space even with a desk, wardrobe, several bookcases, a very comfortable sofa and the single bed that she seemed to have been confined to for life. She paused to wonder rather bitterly if she would ever have a bed-mate. It seemed strange, almost wrong, for someone who got on so well with men to be still a virgin at thirty-three. However she shrugged her shoulders and undressed before pouring water from the large jug on the wash stand into the bowl and lightly sponging herself.

She had just put on fresh stockings and underclothes and was about to replace her yellow summer dress with the rather severe black skirt and white blouse she always wore for her official duties, when her eye caught the envelope that had been thrust under the door. Her mind went back to the premonition something was very wrong that she had felt coming through the front door. However, she determinedly shrugged her shoulders and insisted to herself that it was just another note from Miss Charlton and probably about something very trivial. The headmistress had a habit of drawing her attention to some very trivial aspect of school life and asking her to do something about it.

Jaqueline strode rather uneasily across the room and picked up the envelope. She opened it expecting the usual page and a half in the headmistress’s difficult scrawl requiring her to sort out something that did not in fact need sorting out. However, it said:

My dear Miss Hawkins,

I do hope you had a good picnic. I am sorry to trouble you, but could you please come and see me at your earliest convenience in my study. Something most worrying has occurred. 

         Yours 

      Maria Charlton 

“Comes of letting girls go out unchaperoned!” Jaqueline said aloud to herself.

However she was well aware that Miss Charlton hated to be kept waiting, so she finished dressing as quickly as she could and scurried out of the door.

*         *          *

“Really there is no reason to apologise for being late, Miss Hawkins; we are not running to a timetable, you know, and I am sure you came as quickly as you could.”

Jaqueline was left to wonder if this was what Miss Charlton meant and she had rather overdone her apologies, or Miss Charlton meant exactly the opposite; you never knew with Miss Charlton. One thing, however, was perfectly clear; Miss Charlton had undoubtedly been crying, which was most unlike her. Moreover, the Headmistress seemed slow to say what she had called Jaqueline in to see her about. The possibility of yet another death in the War flashed across her mind. It could not be her own brother, could it? Franky had always been given to rashness and his winning the Military Cross, or whatever it was called, had rather worried her. She shivered slightly and felt a tear come into her eye.

“This is very difficult for me,” Miss Charlton said finally. “You know how fond I am of Adeline Morris.”

Jaqueline refrained from saying the whole school knew their headmistress had a crush on Adie Morris and Adie had done rather well out of it.

“As you know her father was one of the first people to die in this horrible war and her mother was in a bad way with her health (cancer I believe) and indeed as you may or may not know passed away last year. Adeline had no real relatives and after her Mother’s medical bills had been paid there was almost no money, at least according to the solicitor. I waived Adeline’s fees and let her stay on rather longer than our girls normally do. It was in my mind to let her try some teaching eventually this year and pay her for it.”

“Very kind of you, Miss Charlton.” Jaqueline said and meant it, for she had not previously known why Adie was always being picked out for one thing or another.

She wondered what on earth was coming next. Adie Morris, in her view, was a rather silly girl but in the circumstances no doubt she deserved all the help she could get. She realized Miss Charlton had stopped talking and was crying, which embarrassed her.

“Whatever the problem with Adeline I am sure we can sort it out, Headmistress.” She said rather formally, but intending to be kind.

Miss Charlton stopped crying.

“Thank you for your support, Miss Hawkins, but this is a dreadful mess. Janet Smith and Elaine Compton both came to me separately this morning with the same story. They both said they had lost a postal order; one of them was for five bob and one for half a crown. They both said somebody must have stolen their postal order. Well you know what girls are like! I thought almost certainly they had lost them in reality, but it was strange there were two of them; and moreover they had not had a lot of time to lose them. They had both gone and got them off their housemistress, Miss Duncan, last evening with the idea of cashing them at the village post office to buy some buns on their Saturday out. And it worried me that Miss Duncan told me they had both apparently been flaunting their intention to encash their wealth at Friday breakfast.

“Anyway I thought the postal orders were most likely lost and I and Miss Duncan (they are both in Buzzard as you probably know) had a good look, but could find nothing. I still thought they were most probably lost, but Miss Duncan pointed out the only place the postal orders could be cashed was the village post office, so rather reluctantly I trotted down there, more than half hoping, I must say, that if theft was involved then the thief would have had the wit to find somewhere else to cash them. Anyway the Post Mistress was very obliging. She had cashed the two postal orders. Neither of them was crossed or made out to anyone, which I have warned parents about over and over again.”

“And she described Adeline, presumably?” Jaqueline asked abruptly, eager to get to the end of this rather weary peroration.

“Yes, she was all too clear about the long gold hair over her shoulders and the clear blue eyes and the fact she is tall for her age. It could not be anyone else.”

“No, it could not be anyone else.” Said Jaqueline wearily.

“I went to her room and found some money in her desk drawer. Not the right amount, but I knew it was most unlikely she had any money at all. But when she came back this evening she admitted the whole thing. She had treated herself to a cream tea. I feel it is partly my fault; I should have allowed her some pocket money.”

“Well clearly there is no choice but to ask her to leave the school.” Said Jaqueline briskly. “We simply cannot tolerate stealing. We never have and we never will.”

“No doubt, though where she will go to, I really do not know. But there is worse, Miss Hawkins, I am afraid.”

Jaqueline groaned inwardly.

“The Post Mistress gave me, in effect, an ultimatum. If I do not report Adeline to the Police, she will.”

“By when?”

“How should I know? But if Adeline ends up in court it will be dreadful for the reputation of this school. Besides, if she has a police record, who would employ her?”

“But surely someone has to make a complaint for that to happen?” Jaqueline asked, trying to remember what little she knew about such things.

“I am fairly sure that even if we don’t act in loco parentis and complain to the Police on behalf of the girls who had their Postal Orders stolen, the Post Mistress can still go to them about fraud. Whether she can go to them about theft if we don’t complain, I would doubt.”

“But surely if Adeline was convicted of fraud it would mean prison, more likely than not.” Jaqueline responded, suddenly seeing why Miss Charlton was so upset.

“Precisely what I have been thinking. She might just get off with a fine, I suppose, if she pleads guilty and I tell them about the poor girl’s problems, but there is a reasonable chance she would end up in a prison cell. Or Borstal, don’t they call it now for girls of Adeline’s age? Not that I suppose there is much difference and either way she would be with some very unpleasant people.”

“And quite apart from Adeline, what damage it would do to our reputation if one of our girls was convicted of fraud?” Jaqueline ejaculated.

“Whether we like it or not we are a commercial undertaking and we could well lose most of our pupils if it happened.”

There was a long silence as Jaqueline reflected that if this happened she would probably get another job, but not that easily, and Miss Charlton would be ruined. The only good thing was that she had not taken up the kind offer to buy some shares in the school.

“I would quite like it if you went and talked to Adeline. You might well see something I have missed.” Miss Charlton was saying rather despairingly.

“Yes, of course Miss Charlton. Where is she?”

“I locked her in her room.” The Headmistress responded.

Jaqueline reflected that one reason for Adie Morris’s present unpopularity was she had been given a room of her own as if she were a mistress and the other girls had resented it furiously because the Five Uppers and below were in dormitories and all the other older girls had to share. However, it seemed best not mention this, even though it made her angry, so she said with just a touch of forced levity that she would go and talk to ‘the villain of the piece’. Miss Charlton silently handed her the key and thanked her.

Then Jaqueline walked out of the still adequate light of the Headmistress’s study into the semi dark outside, headed down the corridor and started to climb the stairs. As she went, she felt she was taking part in some Greek tragedy that had only just been discovered, an ancient papyrus that had somehow survived in Egypt. They were cursed, she decided, and nothing could help Adie Morris, Miss Charlton or Hawk House School; they were doomed beyond a shadow of doubt.

*         *          *

It would be wrong to say that this dire mood had left Jaqueline Hawkins when she shut the door to Adie Morris’s room and locked it over three quarters of an hour later, but she was suddenly up against facts that more or less contradicted Miss Charlton’s and she did not know whether to laugh or scream at the ridiculousness of the situation that was enveloping her.

The trouble was Adie’s version was plausible, or almost plausible. Yes, she had cashed the postal orders, but at the request of the two girls; and she had told the Post Mistress she was doing it on behalf of two younger girls. Yes, she had spent some of the money on a cream tea at the village café, but only after she had missed the two owners of the postal orders, who had already gone off on their expedition. She had no idea where they were heading and she was cross at the waste of her time. Yes, she had borrowed the money, and she should not have done, but she had over thirty pounds left to her by her Mother in a bank account and she had every intention of repaying the money as soon as she could get in to Truro. It was what she had been intending all along, and left to herself it was what she would have done. Miss Charlton had totally misunderstood her. She was not guilty of fraud or theft, only of a rather silly exasperation that had led her to borrow money that admittedly she should not have borrowed.

It could well be a pack of lies, Jaqueline concluded. It probably was, but it was also a clever defence that a court sympathetic to a pretty orphan might just swallow. Ironically, that would help the school because it would avoid a senior pupil being convicted of fraud. But on the face of it the evidence of the two girls and the Post Mistress was likely to trump Adie’s version. The likelihood, as Miss Charlton had remarked, was that Miss Adeline Morris was heading for a prison cell and quite possibly her lies would add some time to her sentence. And in that case the damage to the school would still be done. But there was still the nagging doubt that Adeline might have been set up. She was not popular and asking her to cash the postal orders, if it had happened, seemed odd. But giving Adeline the postal orders to cash and then accusing her of theft would make sense if you were trying to set her up. But then she paused and realized that the girls could not have known that Adeline was going to indulge herself in that cream tea and spend their money on it.

For a second, she thought, that settled it, but then another uncomfortable thought hit her. What if the girls knew that Adeline was inclined to ‘borrow’ things? That narrow line on the border of theft and borrowing? It was scarcely impossible they were counting on her spending some of the money from the postal orders and Jaqueline Hawkins had known some very devious girls in her time.

She had now almost descended three flights of stairs and was approaching the large entrance hall of the house. She suddenly realized that Mary Howe, the head girl, was moving rapidly towards her up the stairs and her skirts were swishing splendidly. It was one of the privileges of rank that the head girl was allowed to wear adult clothes if she wanted, and Mary very definitely did. Mary was rather too keen on being an adult before she was.

“Miss Hawkins, the village policeman is in the Head’s study. I gather it is important, but Miss Charlton has gone for one of her walks and I had to tell him it is unlikely she will be back before dinner at eight, so he asked to see the next important person, which I suppose is you. I’ve given him a pot of tea. I thought it might keep him happy and there is a cup for someone else.”

“Well I suppose I had better not keep him waiting then,” Jaqueline remarked.

She glanced at the Hall clock, noticed it was 6.10, and mentally agreed with Mary that if Miss Charlton took her normal time over her evening walk she would not be back for at least an hour, quite possibly nearer two; no doubt Miss Charlton wanted to think about the Adeline Morris problem. So far as she could, she had better deal with this herself; she did not trust Miss Charlton not to make a mess of it. But would she be thanked for dealing with it? However she was not a person to duck responsibility and she strode purposefully towards the study, opened the door and went in.

The constable had sat down in one of the armchairs and was sipping appreciatively at a cup of tea. He was at least fifty and had a large white moustache and beard.

He looked up and asked: “I imagine you are Miss Charlton, are you Ma’am?”

“No, Miss Hawkins, her deputy.” Jaqueline replied, thinking she was Miss Charlton’s deputy, though it had never been formalised.

“Well I suppose you will do, Miss. You probably know what it is about. I am here to take one of your students, a Miss Morris, into custody for stealing postal orders and cashing them.”

Without saying anything Jaqueline helped herself to a cup of tea from the pot that Mary had so thoughtfully provided for the constable and then sat down facing him.

“I’ve heard a certain amount, but I’d like to hear it from your lips.” She said noncommittally.

“Yes of course, Miss Hawkins. Miss Morris, as I understand it, came down to the Post Office as soon as it opened and cashed two uncrossed postal orders. Miss Glenn, the Postmistress, thought Miss Morris was looking awkward and a bit shifty like, but there was no reason not to cash them, so she went on and did it. Later, Miss Glenn says, your Headmistress, Miss Charlton, comes down and tells her the postal orders were stolen and identifies Miss Morris from Miss Glen’s description, though she seems a bit reluctant to press charges. When she had a chance, which wasn’t till an hour ago, Miss Glen comes and sees me and makes her complaint when she finds out Miss Charlton has not been to see me herself; and now here I am to deal with the matter. Seems shut and closed to me, unless you have something to tell me I don’t know.”

“The poor girl is an orphan. Her father was killed at Mons, he was a major in the regular army and her mother died a year ago of cancer. The parents fell out with the rest of the family and, for practical purposes, she has no relatives and no money as far as I know. It would be horrible if she went to prison!” Jaqueline pleaded.

She leaned forward arching her face towards the constable. She reflected she was guessing about the relatives and quite possibly lying about the money if Adie had just told her the truth about having £30 in the bank. However, for the school much more than for the ridiculous Adie Morris, she was determined to do her best to find a way out.

“Well that’s as maybe, Miss Hawkins; there are plenty of people with problems as bad, who don’t go taking other people’s money.”

She wondered if she should bring up either Adie’s rather less than water tight defence, or her own uneasy suspicions that in spite of all the evidence it was just possible the girl had been very neatly set up. However, something told her the constable would not be interested.

“Miss Glenn did say,” said the constable unexpectedly. “That she would be very happy like if something were to happen unofficial like to Miss Morris. She doesn’t much like courts for young ladies, but she feels summat needs doing.”

“We do occasionally cane girls, but she is nearly twenty!” Jaqueline said, feeling very startled; this was one solution that had never entered her head; the oldest girl she had caned had been fourteen and it was generally understood that older girls were not liable to the cane.

“Hush me dear.” Said the constable. “Who mentioned the cane? I said something unofficial like. Up to you what that might be. I would not want to be charging you with assaulting a young lady, now would I? But if I could tell Miss Glen that the money was repaid and the school had disciplined the girl, without being too precise, I think she might be quite happy.”

“I can certainly go and do something now while you finish your tea, if you like.” Jaqueline said briskly, making it up as she went along. “I am sure the girl won’t offend again.”

She got up to go, but then he was saying something about a contribution to his retirement fund. It was a blatant request for a bribe for his silence and she nearly refused, but there seemed no alternative and she very reluctantly took the keys from the drawer in Miss Charlton’s desk, took out the school cash box, unlocked it and extracted five one pound notes. He took them with a smile, slipped them in his pocket and poured out another cup of tea. She put the cash box back and just to be on the safe side slipped the keys into the small pocket in her skirt.

“I will go and deal with the situation.” She said, trying desperately not to grind her teeth and wondering if she was letting the school in for further contributions to the constable’s retirement fund.

“See you in a bit, me dear.” Said the constable.

She strode out into the hall. As she had rather expected Mary Howe was still hovering, though it was difficult to know if she had been listening at the keyhole.

“Go and get Miss Fairfax and bring her to my room immediately.” She said briskly in a way that precluded questions.

The girl scurried off to the top floor where Miss Fairfax had her room and, with luck, was reading or changing. Jaqueline swept along the landing and into her room. Then she reached on top of the wardrobe and took down the three canes she kept there. After some thought she chose the long one with a crook handle. She had used it once before on three most unpleasant juniors who had taken it into their heads to extract money and sweets from a rather lonely, thoroughly nice, girl. Not an occasion she liked to dwell on too much.

There was a knock at the door. Mary Howe and Miss Fairfax were there.

“I am going to cane Adeline Morris for theft.” She said as if it was the most normal thing in the world, “I want you both to go and march her here without the slightest argument. When she is here you two will put her over the end of my sofa and hold her. I will pull up her skirts and cane her. From what I know of Adeline, she will almost certainly make a fuss, so just hang on to her. And out of kindness to Adeline you will tell nobody about this. Is that clear? Once this is done her crimes are forgotten.”

Miss Fairfax looked shocked, Mary rather too excited, but at least they headed off to the culprit’s room. There was a slight anti-climax as Jaqueline remembered she had Adie’s room key in her small skirt pocket under the keys of the school cash box and she had to call them back. She left the door to her own room open; if Adie was struggling a lot it would make it easier to haul her through into the room.

However, when the victim arrived she was thoroughly pitiful. The tears were streaming down her cheeks and she was alternately begging not to be caned, which she had clearly been told she was going to be, and pleading that she had not stolen anything. Jaqueline purposefully shut the door. Miss Fairfax and Mary did as they had been told and marched the victim unceremoniously to the end of the sofa and pushed and pulled her over the end of it. Jaqueline struggled for a little while with the girl’s skirts, but eventually got them up to reveal a pair of white cotton drawers. The bottom was quite small with two neat round buttocks.

“Right, Miss Morris,” she said just before the beating began. “You are old for this, but you thoroughly deserve it and I am going to take great pleasure in giving it to you. But do bear in mind, Miss Morris, the alternative would have been to hand you over to the tender mercies of the local constabulary which would, I can assure you, have certainly involved the disgrace of a conviction in court and quite probably prison. It is to avoid that I am now going to give you six of the best.”

There was a tremendous: “Please NO!” From the victim, who did not seem in the mood to appreciate the niceties of the situation.

The cane swished and whacked and the girl screamed through the whole proceeding, kicking wildly and struggling. Jaqueline found a certain rather unpleasant pleasure in swinging the cane as hard as she could and hitting the same narrow area of the lower buttocks each time. It was cruel, she thought, but very well deserved. She paused briefly after the sixth stroke and enjoyed the heart-felt moaning and weeping. Really, she thought, the girl had got off lightly. However she did not say so, but told her two helpers to let Adie go, wondering why they had not done so already. The girl made a very shaken retreat in the direction of her room. Jaqueline put the canes away and thanked her helpers. She had the impression they were quite exhilarated, which surprised her, for she had been half expecting protests.

“She won’t do that again in a while.” Said Miss Fairfax.

Jaqueline reminded them that this event was not to be mentioned again, thinking as she said it that quite a lot of people must have heard the screams. No doubt it would go down in the folk lore of the school as the day Adie Morris got whipped, or would they even remember the girl’s name? The story would probably alter with time.

*         *          *

“Do I understand you rightly, Miss Hawkins? You have thrashed a twenty year old girl and bribed a member of the local constabulary? And you have implicated two other members of the school in this unpleasant business.”

Jaqueline began to wish she had waited till after dinner before drawing Miss Charlton’s attention to what had happened in her absence on her walk. Perhaps she should not have been so keen to report, though she had felt very much it was her duty and had waited in the headmistress’s study for her superior’s return.

“I felt it was very much in the interests of the school to get it over and done with; and I felt sure you would agree that there was no real alternative.” She replied as calmly and carefully as she could manage.

“The interests of the school do not require you to act in a totally illegal and high handed fashion. Frankly, I would rather have let the stupid girl take her chance in court; they might well have taken pity on the stupid creature. As it is, you have left us open to having to pay off this wretched policeman for the foreseeable future and there is always the possibility that Miss Morris might take legal action against us. You have made a bad situation a great deal worse, Miss Hawkins. And I always thought you had good judgement!”

“But…” Said Jaqueline, totally bewildered.

“No buts, Miss Hawkins. Your employment here is at an end and that is all there is to it.”

“You are dismissing me?”

“Yes, with immediate effect. Come and see me in the morning and I will give you two months’ pay before you go. You cannot go this evening, it is too late. You have not been a bad servant of this school, I must admit, but this is impossible to tolerate.”

Jaqueline staggered out of the door, feeling rather as if she had been whipped herself.

She went up to her room, thinking she would ask Cook for some sandwiches as she could not face seeing everyone at dinner for the last time. She sat and cried for a while.

Then she thought back to her strange thoughts on the cliff earlier in the day. Had those couple of birds in the beautiful sky been messengers from the gods warning her of this sudden storm in her life? She both smiled at the idiocy of this and found herself half believing it.

And was the very unpleasant pleasure she had felt while whipping Adie Morris the other side of what Mr Swinburne must have felt with his Nuns? She wished she had had the courage to discuss flagellation with the great poet. They could have done it quite properly since it undoubtedly came into various ancient religious rites. Instead they had rather formally discussed Sappho and the intriguing new fragments that were coming to light in the excavations in Egypt.

Then she thought about her brother in the trenches and all he must be undergoing, which seemed to make Greek Gods and her memories of Mr Swinburne and indeed her whole teaching career very unreal and unimportant. Perhaps she should join the VADs and do voluntary nursing? That way she would at least be doing something real and close to her brother and the rest of the men who had found themselves in the Army in this strange awful war.

It would at least, she thought with a very wry smile, save Miss Charlton the embarrassment of having to write her a reference for another teaching job.

And with that she went almost happily in pursuit of sandwiches.

The End

© Jane Fairweather 2016

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