Chapter Seven: Highland Temper
Back to: Chapter Six: A Class Divided Next: Chapter Eight: How not to slap a young lady
Chapter Seven: Highland Temper

I don’t know how much sleep I got that first night, my thoughts kept wandering towards home and Mother.

It seemed like I had only just managed to close my eyes when a shaft of light forced them to open again.

I lay blinking, waiting for my eyes to adjust to the morning light. Morning. At least I’d got some sleep. Hearing footsteps I sat up and saw Gladys clearing out the remains of last night’s fire from our fireplace.
“Good morning Gladys!” I said.
“Good morning Miss!” She replied. “Did we sleep well then?”
“Not too bad…” I didn’t want to admit being homesick and I cast around for a new topic. “Did you get that new housemaid yet or do you have to do all the rooms on your own?”
“Not yet miss, and I have young Dorcus Dunn to help me. Today she is helping by staying in the kitchen and not even going near a young miss’s curtains or clothes or fire!” Gladys winked at me and I giggled. I could imagine Dorcus would make a terrible housemaid! “But Tomas was a good lad this morning and fetched the firewood inside for me extra early, an’ the water too. An’ a bit of extra work never harmed nobody, that’s what me old ma used to say.”

“I hope that’s true, I might have to study awful hard! I’ve never been to school before!”
“Now there, enough of that frettin’. Plenty a lass who starts here hasn’t set a foot inside a school before and they do just fine. Now, I’ve set both your things out nice an’ neat so you don’t need to be searching for matching stockings before you’re a properly woken.”

“I’ve set your mail on your nightstand—” at this I sat up. “No, nothing for you but remember the sea post takes a good two weeks from home so don’t you be a frettin’. Make sure you wake that room-mate of yours is up if she sleeps past the waking bell as she does every other day and don’t let her dally over her letters as they look like they’re from those brothers of hers in which case don’t let her take them down to breakfast and get caught reading them at the table again and be sure to read those rules again and don’t be late to breakfast or you’ll as likely go without and get a scolding too!” Gladys bustled up her things and hurried off to continue her morning chores.
Despite Gladys’ assurances I was disappointed when I checked the mail just to make sure. There wasn’t anything for me. I crossed my fingers and hoped for tomorrow

The first day of classes went by in a whirl. In some lessons I was behind but I was ahead in others, but within half an hour I regretted not listening to everything Miss Brown had ever said about my Fraitessian Script handwriting. I vowed that as soon as she wrote me her new address I’d send off a letter to tell her she was right all along after all. It was admitting a defeat, but would show her just how much of a grown up young lady I’d become since my ninth birthday.

Mariah was clearly, as lady D’Winter had described her, the star pupil.

Jo was just as clearly the dunce and as luck would have it Jo ended up with the harder questions more often than not. When reciting our multiplication table in Mathematics she would always be called upon to give the answer for seven eights or nine twelfths rather than two eights or nine tenths.

When her turn came in geography it fell to her to point out some tiny country on the edge of civilization.

To make matters worse Mariah would always leap to give the correct answer whenever Jo, Henri or I gave an incorrect one. If one of her friends gave an incorrect answer, however, she would usually only give the correct answer after a bit of prodding from the teacher and gave it with an uncertain air. No teacher would scold an incorrect answer when even the best student was unsure of the correct one, but if a girl’s classmates leapt to correct her then they thought surely the incorrect answer must be the result of a lack of study and dedication.

All the teachers had the same solution for this which was to assign extra prep.

I found the school regime wasn’t that different to that of home only instead of servants telling me when to get up and when to study I had bells, and I found I sank into the routine more quickly than I’d expected too. I’d been at school a week and a half when a Wednesday afternoon found us all temporarily unattended near the end of Lady D’Winter’s art class. We were careful to keep chatter to a minimum as we didn’t want to be heard slacking off!
“Your painting is looking really good!” I said to Jo.

“I hope so! If I get any extra prep this week then I won’t have time to finish what I already have, let alone enough time to spend extra hours on this! But I can’t get this bowl right!”

“Like this!” Henri said leaning over. “Just curve the line like that, then put more shadows there and no one will notice it.”

“Oh, talking in class!” Mariah skipped over then sat herself on the table next to Jo’s station. “What are we talking about?”
“Nothing!” Jo snapped.
“You mind your manners or I’ll report you Miss Cox. Oh, Miss Joanes, doing another student’s work for her? Whatever would our dear Headmistress say to that? Does it count as cheating?”

“Mariah Luxom, you know very well I’m just helping Jo! See, look. Back at my own work, nothing to see here!”

“Well, you would have thought she would have asked MY advice! After all I’m the best artist in our class!” Mariah jumped down from the table. “let me see!” She said. “Here… Oh, woops!” Mariah’s brush dragged over Jo’s painting, leaving a big red diagonal streak like a gash across the canvas.

“Oh darling, I am so sorry!” she said in mock apology to Jo’s horrified squeal.
“The nerve of you Mariah, you did that on purpose!” I yelled.

“Roberta Hilton, how can you accuse me of such an act! I was trying to help, it was purely an accident! I’m sorry Josephine’s painting is ruined but I’m sure Lady D’Winter will allow her to start again!”

Jo burst into tears.

Before I could stop myself I let my highland temper boil over and gave her a good slap.

“And next time she’ll box your ears!” Jo yelled into Mariah’s stunned face.
“Roberta! Josephine! Just WHAT may I ask is going on here?” Who should have walked in just in time to witness my loss of control but Miss Jane. “Can our headmistress not leave you girls alone for five minutes!”

“I’m sorry Miss Jane!” Jo sobbed. “It was Mariah, she r—ruined my painting and I had w—worked so hard on it—”

“Nonsense Josephine! Do you expect me to believe poor Mariah played any part in this! You and Roberta will both stay after lessons to clean the art studio from top to bottom, neither of you will be allowed to join us in our nature walk on Saturday and you will both receive five black marks against your names.” Jo’s face fell. With a painting to re-do and now cleaning even I could not see how she was to get all her work finished.

“I also expect an apology to Mariah. Now, did any other girl have anything to do with this Mariah?” Mariah looked at Henri and I could just see her opening her mouth to accuse her of goodness knows what, and with the way things were going once accused she wouldn’t be able to convince Miss Jane of the truth either. But Henri was too quick for that.

“Excuse me, Miss Jane? I feel honour bound to own up for the small part I played in this--”

“Oh darling, you were hardly as bad as those other too! I could forgive you in a heartbeat!” Mariah changed tactics.

“Thank you for your honesty Miss Joanes but don’t for one moment think it will excuse you from punishment. You will join Josephine and Roberta this afternoon.” With that Miss Jane turned on her heel and stalked out of the room.

“Why Bobbie!” Jo said, wiping her eyes, after a moment of stunned silence. “I had no idea you had such a temper on you. I wish I could bottle that!”

“It’s the Highlander blood in me.” I said. “It gets the better of me… when provoked!” I gave Mariah what I hoped was a threatening look. “And on top of that, trying to dob in Henri. I’M the one that slapped you, though you well deserved it!”
“I— I didn’t tell! She turned herself in!”

“Only to keep you quiet! Who knew what story you were going to make up about me! I was going to tell her that after what you did to Jo’s painting that— that I jolly well cheered Bobbie on. In my head, at least.” Henri turned to Bobbie and said “At lease with me helping it won’t take so long!”
“You don’t know what I was going to say.”
“It’s not fair.” Jo sounded on the verge of tears again. “After what you did to my painting and now we have to stay back.”
“After what I did to your painting? I had a little, regrettable accident, and you two attacked me! What do you call that? Ladylike?” I don’t suppose I can expect any better from—”

“Accident! We all know it wasn’t!” Jo yelled back.
“Was too!”
“Was not, and it’s your fault Henri’s in trouble too!”

Tensions were starting to stretch again and I could just smell more trouble boiling over when, to my surprise, Marjorie came forward.
“Now, calm down all of you, Lady D’Winter will be back soon and there’ll be trouble for all of us if she finds you still arguing.” We all shut up.

“Good, now Jo, Mariah said it was an accident and she’s said sorry. It’s a shame but… I’m not sure you could have rescued that bowl anyway--”
“Yes she could have!” I cut in.
“It doesn’t matter now. And Roberta, we don’t slap people here, or box their ears. Miss Jane’s punished you two for that and Mariah did try to explain that Henri didn’t have anything to do with it.”

“No she didn’t!” Jo spoke up. “She just made it like she was downplaying Henri’s part.”
“How do you know? Miss Jane didn’t listen long enough for anyone to hear what I was going to say!”
“Since when does ‘not nearly as bad’ mean the same thing as ‘had nothing to do with it?’” I asked.
“It’s all right.” Henri said. “I don’t mind helping you all clean up. I’ll tell Lady D’Winter that it was a misunderstanding and she can believe me or not—”
“You can tell her? I think Mariah can tell her.” Jo said. “After all, she claims she tried to tell Miss Jane.”
“What do you think, Marjorie?” Jo ignored Mariah’s stammers and looked straight to Marjorie.

Footsteps in the hallway silenced our conversation and we all stopped our argument just in time for Lady D’Winter to enter. She surveyed the class with a serious look in her eye.

“Lady…” I started but she cut me off with a look

“I am very disappointed in you all.” She said. “I expected that I could leave young ladies of your age alone for a few minutes. Apparently I misjudged the moral fiber of some of you. I understand that appropriate consequences have been handed out and I will say no more on the events that shall never again be repeated in this school. Understood?”
We all nodded our heads. It was clear that Lady D-Winter would allow no discussion on the matter of who was to blame.

“Then class dismissed.”

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