In Closing With Open Eyes

Penelope Sumter
December 31, 1896

Elizabeth this! Miss Bassett that! If Wilbur says her name just one more time this year I swear I will kill him in his sleep tonight. Lucky for him, the year is almost over. The two of them were nearly impossible to be around for the drive home and watching them say goodbye at the train station was pure hell and to make it worse, hell had frozen over, complete with icicles and lots of yellow and brown snow.

The two hours from there to home with Wilbur might as well have been two hours alone for all we spoke. What do you say to a man who is living in a fantasy world and fails to notice the road signs? If anyone knows the answer to that, keep it to yourself because I am not interested in the slightest anymore. When the day comes that Wilbur walks head first into reality, I want to be there watching and laughing as payback for this trip.

Mother was her usual self for the holidays. Annoying, annoyed and a complete annoyance. If she was ever a pleasant woman it was long before she met my father and a decade at minimum before I was born. I really do not know how my father tolerates her constant bickering. Maybe she is why he prefers to work all the time and always seems grumpy.

“Do you call this clean Penelope?” She asked inspecting my clothing that first day home. We had been in my bedroom with no one else around still she felt the need to add my name into every criticizing sentence leaving her mouth.

“This packing is atrocious Penelope.”

I know. They made me do it myself and I broke two nails getting the cases closed! Why could father not have sent me to a more decent institution?

I held my tongue.

“Did I raise you to be a slob Penelope?”

Maybe not, but you did not raise me to do hard or industrious work either. I am supposed to supervise servants doing chores not doing them myself.

I bit my cheek to smile pleasantly despite the words throbbing in my temple.

Eventually she set her sights on Wilbur and I was grateful to be alone. Unfortunately solitude was not to be mine for more than seconds. Jason entered my room only minutes behind mother. He was no more pleasant to see.

I did not believe him at first but the rest of vacation has proven his word the truth. He claimed my father was so angry he did not wish to see or hear me during the holidays. It seems Wilbur was told not to bring me home nor to bother coming himself but rather than listen, he chose to ignore the message. On the one hand I completely understand why Wilbur would ignore it but on the other I cannot help thinking we might have enjoyed ourselves more in his flat.

So it would seem father believes I am an embarrassment to him because of my associations and actions at Primrose College. The amusing part is he and Jason seem to believe Miss Bassett is some sort of woman’s liberation activist. If she knew she would be tickled pink but in reality she is just another girl in a woman’s college with dreams of a better future than past. If that is a political movement then the entirety of the human race is a member.

Between the hate from Jason and the love from Wilbur, I am sick of hearing about my roommate. You cannot blame me, it is as if my existence has somehow become secondary to hers even in my own family. When Jason and Wilbur began arguing about her again this afternoon I lost hold of my tongue and I think it was perfectly understandable.

“If Miss Bassett is so Goddamn important to you both why the hell aren’t you both with her? I don’t give a crap what she said to whom and when or why she said it. She’s a snobbish brat with impulse control problems who likes to pretend she’s from a better home than she is. That doesn’t make her the devil or an angel it just makes her like almost every other girl in Primrose College and they all have one damn thing in common, they aren’t me!” I shouted.

It felt good to shout. It felt like the whole world finally fell silent and opened its lazy ears and eyes to notice I existed. Wilbur and Jason both stared at me, mouths agape waiting for flies. Mother glared. Father walked into the room for the first time since I have been home.

“Watch your language Penelope.” Mother scolded.

“I would like to see you in my study Penelope.” Father said.

If mother was the determining factor I would have been certain I was heading for a proper whipping but the look in father’s eye told me his request had an entirely different basis. I rose and walked quietly to my father’s study. He closed the doors behind us and then pulled a chair out for me. It was a polite gesture but one he has not extended to me in a very long time. He sat behind his desk, his hands folded on top of it.

“We have important matters to discuss. I have not wanted to burden you with knowledge you do not need but things have changed. A new year is beginning and with it I have decided it is time for a new start between us. You must never repeat what is said in this room today, beyond these walls. Do you understand?” He said.

“No, but I think I will.” I said.

He nodded.

“It time you knew the truth about Primrose. I wish it were not necessary, but your world is about to change forever.” He said.

It was my turn to nod. Then he told me everything.

Christmas Illumination

December 25, 1896
Edith Bowen

“Do you miss them?” I asked.

I was snuggled warm in his arms, laying peacefully in his bed. Gently, he kissed the top of my head and his arms seemed to wrap tighter around me.

“All the time.” He replied.

“Then why do you do it?”

“It is complicated. They have a better future this way.”

“I do not mean to be contrary, but futures have a way of not becoming what we expect of them.”

“For wrong or right I chose what I believe to be best. I do not know how else to live.”

“Whatever they will get from their grandparents cannot replace a loving father.”

“I am here when it matters most.”

“How do you know?”

“I know.”

“But…”

“Hush Edith. Has anyone ever told you, you talk too much?”

“No.”

I smiled as he attempted to tickle my sides. I squirmed free and rolled out of bed into the cold morning air. I expected him to follow but he just stared at me with a look of pure contentment on his face. Suddenly, I was self conscious about my nakedness in front of him. It was absurd after the night we had just shared but I blushed all the same.

My eyes darted away from his gaze and out the frosty window. In the distance, over snow covered hills, the sun kissed the morning sky with a brilliant gleam of light. For a moment I stood illuminated in its golden warmth. He took in a sharp breath and I turned back to him.

“You look like an angel.” Jeremiah Stark said.

“Merry Christmas.” I replied.

'twas The Night Before

December 24, 1896
Sarah Waters

‘twas the night before Christmas and all through the house every creature was stirring even the mouse. From bedroom to living room, all was a flurry as I settled in home from a winter’s long journey. My mother was fussing about nothings for something while we said all the niceties as though they could matter. Away I had been for such a long time, the company was pleasant despite all the chatter.

Along came my brother, his wife at his side, we smiled and hugged with nothing to hide. Laughter and tears were shed in turn as we spoke about father and words that still burn. I said all the things I wanted to say, Sam tried to explain how matters were gray. In the end we agreed, love is all we need. We have all our differences still to resolve, but at least our family did not dissolve. The night at its end, I climbed up the stairs, home sweet home for many more years.

Season's Greetings from The Primrose Girls!

We are currently away, spending time with our family and friends during the holiday season.

The Primrose Girls will have only three more posts this year, December 24, December 25, and December 31. New stories will resume in regular postings beginning, January 11, 2009 with an exciting week long series entitled, The Return.

May your holiday season be warm, happy, and filled with family and friend from near and far.

Devotion

December 19, 1896
Margaret Spooner

“Look. It’s snowing.” I said.

Edgar rolled his eyes. I could have slapped him it made me so angry.

“We should be in my apartment in front of the fireplace.” He said.

“I am right where I belong. You didn’t have to come with me.”

“I couldn’t very well let you go alone.”

“I’ve traveled home alone many times before.”

“I would never have allowed it.”

“You would never have stopped it.”

“I beg your pardon.”

“As you should. These journeys home are not frivolous desires. Christmas is about family and I will not spend such a day apart from my family so long as there is breath still in me.”

“When we are married, I will be your family. Will you be as devoted to me as you are to your mother and father?” Edgar asked.

“Who says my devotion is to my parents?”

“You are avoiding my question.”

“No, I am questioning the premise of it.”

“Then tell me simply, will you be devoted to me as a wife should be to her husband?”

“In my own way.”

“What does that mean?”

“It means that my devotion may not always be as you expect it to be.”

“I see.”

“I doubt you do. Will you be devoted to me?”

“Need you even ask?”

“You asked it of me, I think the question returned is only fair.”

“I am here.”

“And that is your answer?”

“If I were not devoted to you, I would not be here, nor for that matter, would you.”

The train whistle blew. The station was just up ahead and I was almost home. I was happy, but Edgar was not. To think of it, I do not believe Edgar has been happy in some months now. I wonder if it is because his parents are so far away in Spain or if it is because of something else, perhaps me.

I believe I am not what Edgar wants me to be, but I do not think it is I who have changed. He should have known I am not the kind of girl who dreams of a fancy wedding and a six bedroom home filled with crying babies. I am not even certain I want a child at all. Edgar and I may not be as compatible as I once thought we were.

When Edgar asked me to marry him, I expected the engagement to be fun and exciting. All these months later, I have now learned the reason this period of betrothal shares its name with a military term for battle. Even the illusory moments of peace are merely strategic pauses in an ongoing conflict. In the end, will we find peace in compromises or will our two lives be so incompatible that the war never ends?

Keeping Spirits Bright

December 18, 1896
Charles Birchwood

Dickens may have had it right about Christmas. BAH HUMBUG! I for one think differently, nothing is more perfect than a cold winter morning, with snow fluffy and light on the ground. My children’s hands tucked warmly in my own and my loving wife snuggled against my chest as we walk through aisles of evergreen with the fresh scent of pine in the air. We take each step in time with the rhythm of Christmas carols sung bright and cheerily from voices young and old.

Our search might last for hours, but the selection of the family Christmas tree is an all important event. Choose a tree too small or too full or not full enough and the season might be ruined by the ill looking object in our living room. Chosen wisely, it will glitter from the corner of the room with neatly wrapped packages concealed below. It graces the room with beauty and joy and peace in my marriage.

The First Noel, circa 1833 in Christmas Carols Ancient and Modern by William B. Sandys

The first 'Noel the angels did say
Was to certain poor shepherds in fields as they lay;
In fields where they lay keeping their sheep,
On a cold winter's night that was so deep.

Noel! Noel! Noel! Noel!Born is the King of Israel!

They looked up and saw a star
Shining in the east, beyond them far;
And to the earth it gave great light,
And so it continued both day and night.

Noel! Noel! Noel! Noel!Born is the King of Israel!

And by the light of that same star
Three wise men came from country far;
To seek for a King was their intent,
And to follow the star wherever it went.

Noel! Noel! Noel! Noel!Born is the King of Israel!

This star drew nigh to the northwest:
O'er Bethlehem it took its rest;
And there it did both stop and stay,
Right over the place where Jesus lay.

Noel! Noel! Noel! Noel!Born is the King of Israel!

Then did they know assuredly
Within that house the King did lie;
One entered in then for to see,
And found the Babe in poverty.

Noel! Noel! Noel! Noel!Born is the King of Israel!

Then entered in those wise men three,
Full rev'rently upon their knee,
And offered there, in his presence,
Both gold and myrrh, and frankincense.

Noel! Noel! Noel! Noel!Born is the King of Israel!

Between an ox-stall and an ass
This Child there truly borned was;
For want of clothing they did him lay
All in the manger, among the hay.

Noel! Noel! Noel! Noel!Born is the King of Israel!

Then let us all with one accord
Sing praises to our heavenly Lord
That hath made heaven and earth of nought,
And with His blood mankind hath bought.

Noel! Noel! Noel! Noel!Born is the King of Israel!

If we in our time shall do well
We shall be free from death and hell,
For God hath prepared for us all
A resting-place in general.

Noel! Noel! Noel! Noel!Born is the King of Israel!

It Came Upon The Midnight Clear, written by Edmund Sears, published on December 29, 1849 in the Christian Register of Boston.

It came upon the midnight clear,
That glorious song of old,
From angels bending near the earth,
To touch their harps of gold:
"Peace on the earth, goodwill to men,
From heaven's all-gracious King."
The world in solemn stillness lay,
To hear the angels sing.

Still through the cloven skies they come,
With peaceful wings unfurled,
And still their heavenly music floats
O'er all the weary world;
Above its sad and lowly plains,
They bend on hovering wing,
And ever o'er its Babel sounds
The bless├Ęd angels sing.

Yet with the woes of sin and strife
The world has suffered long;
Beneath the angel-strain have rolled
Two thousand years of wrong;
And man, at war with man, hears not
The love-song which they bring;
O hush the noise, ye men of strife,
And hear the angels sing.

And ye, beneath life's crushing load,
Whose forms are bending low,
Who toil along the climbing way
With painful steps and slow,
Look now! for glad and golden hours
Come swiftly on the wing.
O rest beside the weary road,
And hear the angels sing!

For lo!, the days are hastening on,
By prophet seen of old,
When with the ever-encircling years
Shall come the time foretold
When peace shall over all the earth
Its ancient splendors fling,
And the whole world send back the song
Which now the angels sing.

Some Things Never Change

December 17, 1896
Anna Cushing

Mom and Dad were waiting on the platform for me. I saw them as soon as I reached the steps to descend from the train, but Dad waved at me anyway. I approached them with my sack in tow, feeling lower class without the usual porter carrying my cases.

Mom nodded curtly as though she was indifferent to my return home. Dad, was not so callous. He wrapped his arms around me, lifted me a foot off the ground and spun me around in a circle while kissing my cheeks. I guess he missed me.

“How was your trip?” Dad asked.

The station was still spinning even though my feet were stationary, back on the ground.

“Dreadful.” I replied. “First class is not what it used to be.”

“Should I have a word with the conductor?” Dad asked.

“My toast was burnt, my hot tea was cold and can you believe they demanded money for a pillow? I feel like I’ve been robbed.” I said.

“How dreadful.” Mom said.

Her tone suggested anything but dread. I suspect she was laughing at me on the inside.

“Wait here, I will be back shortly.” Dad said.

He went off to find the conductor. I pity the man, knowing Dad’s wrath, it is likely someone will be going home without a job. On the other hand it is extortion to withhold pillows from first class passengers. If I had wanted to sleep on wood, I would have traveled in third class with the barmaids and peasants.

“You could have kept some of that to yourself.” Mom said.

She had a disapproving glint in her eye.

“What for?” I asked.

“It is Christmastime.”

“And because of that I should lower my standards?”

“No. You should have a heart.”

“I resent the implication that I do not.”

“I know you have one, dear. There are times, though, when it is blacker than coal.”

“I wonder where I get that from?” I asked.

Mom fell silent. I had not meant to argue with her on this trip home. In her letter, she sound as if she genuinely missed me and it had made me miss her as well. It left me with hope that maybe things could be different between us. I should have known better.

The ride home was quiet. Dad was smiling and clearly content to have me home again. Mom was frowning and I think she, like I, was wondering if there will ever come a time when we can spend five minutes together without falling into arguments. For my part, I doubt it, not because I want it to be this way, but because it always has been this way.

Going away to Primrose College did not change anything or at least not anything which really matters. Maybe in the years to come it will, but for now it is merely refuge from becoming too much like my Mom. I could do worse than marrying a man like Dad, but it is the only part of her life I think of as good. The look in her eyes makes me wonder if she might think so as well.

The Third Wheel

December 16, 1896
Penelope Sumter

“What is she doing here?” I demanded.

Wilbur glared at me with annoyance blatant in his eyes. Elizabeth bit at her lip and looked as if she wished to be anyplace but where she was. On this we were agreed.

“Where are your manners?” Wilbur demanded back.

“I don’t see how we have time to go to New York and still make it home in time for Christmas.” I said.

“She is going to Florida and I told her we would take her as far as Charleston.”

“There is a train station just outside of town. Why can’t we drop her there?”

“Because I said so. Now stop being so rude.”

I climbed into the automobile next to Wilbur and decided it was time to keep my thoughts to myself. No point in making a scene especially when it is obvious there will not be a satisfactory result.

Wilbur took several minutes to arrange my bags in the boot. He must have been in a good mood because he did not complain I was taking too much. Still looking annoyed, he slammed the boot closed and got in behind the driving wheel. Moments later we were cruising toward home.

“I thought you two were friends.” Wilbur said.

“We’re roommates.” We replied in unison.

“Why is everyone assumes because we share a room, we are friends?” I continued alone.

“You are friends.” Wilbur said.

Elizabeth remained notably silent.

“Says who?” I asked.

“Anyone who ever watches the two of you interact.” Wilbur replied.

“Looks can be deceiving.” I said.

“Do you really dislike me that much?” Elizabeth asked.

“No, that’s not what I’m saying.”

“Then what are you saying?” Wilbur asked.

“Nothing.” I said.

“That generally works better when you keep your mouth shut.” Wilbur said.

I gave him my annoyed look and then stuck my tongue out at him. Elizabeth giggled. Wilbur stopped the automobile. You would think on the way home for Christmas he would have a sense of humor at least.

“If I have to stop the auto again, you’ll be going over my knee. Understood?” Wilbur said.

“Yes, Wilbur.” I replied.

“That goes for you also Miss Bassett. I expect the two of you to be well behaved for the entire trip and if you can’t manage it, I will do so for you.”

“Yes, Mr. Sumter.” Elizabeth replied.

“As for you,” Wilbur shook his index finger in my direction, “ I believe you owe Miss Bassett an apology.”

“What for?” I asked.

“For being a rude, inconsiderate brat.” Wilbur said.

“I was not.” I said.

“Were too.” Elizabeth said.

“Was not.” I said.

“Were too.” Elizabeth said.

“Enough!” Wilbur shouted.

“Relax Will, It’s almost Christmas.” I said.

He shook his head at me.

“I must be crazy to be driving with two women.”

Elizabeth and I were smart enough not to agree verbally although we were both nodding our heads. Wilbur decided to ignore it and started the car again. I know I should not feel like I do about Elizabeth being with us. Maybe I am jealous of her growing relationship with Wilbur or maybe I just needed some time away from her. Either way, it will be a long trip home and I am sure Wilbur will be stopping along the way.

We were all silent for a few miles. I guess we all had our own thoughts to keep us busy. Mine were about pushing Elizabeth out of the automobile while we were still driving. I can only imagine what her and Wilbur were thinking.

"Are we there yet?" Elizabeth asked.

My head nearly hit the dashboard, Wilbur stopped so fast. I would like to say I enjoyed watching her get spanked. Unfortunately, it was obvious they were both enjoying it way too much. I am not quite sure how I can be a third wheel in an automobile built on four, but I am.

Just The Ticket

December 15, 1896
Elizabeth Bassett

My bags were packed and sitting on the gravel drive of Carrington Manor. I stood beside them in the cold morning air, watching my frosty breath float away into the clear horizon. A hundred girls, just like me, stood beside me waiting for their turn to board the wagons that would deliver us to the rail platforms two days outside of town.

“Where is your ticket?” Mr. Carrington asked.

It was my turn to board.

“It will be waiting for me at the window.” I replied.

David promised to arrange it, all I needed to do was wire him once I got there.

“Without a ticket, you are not going.” Mr. Carrington replied.

“But I can’t get a ticket unless I get to the station.”

“I’m sorry but, this is a one way trip with the wagons and I can’t risk have any of you girls needing a way back here.”

“I won’t. My brother will send a ticket for me. Read the letter if you don’t believe me.” I pleaded.

“I’m sorry Miss Bassett, you’ll have to stay here unless you have a ticket now.”

“But…”

“Take you things back inside and stop wasting my time.” Mr. Carrington ordered.

I would have liked to have argued longer, but it was of no use and the other girls were beginning to get annoyed with me. We all knew his rule, whether we agreed with it or not was another matter. I had hoped the Christmas spirit might have given Mr. Carrington a heart, but if anything it has made him a more stubborn man.

I promised myself I would not cry. My bags felt heavier than before when I lifted them from the ground and trudged the short distance back to the house door. I looked back over my shoulder at all the lucky girls, heading home and as I closed the door to the outside, tears were streaming down my cheeks.

There are many things in this world which are unfair. Most of them, I ignore or accept as necessary, but to be alone at Christmas when you should be with those who love you, is too much to expect. With every step toward the stairs leading back to my room, my rage against Mr. Carrington’s injustice grew stronger. Unfortunately, it was Wilbur and not Mr. Carrington whom I nearly trampled in my blind rage.

“Whoa! What’s wrong?” Wilbur said.

His strong hands gripped my shoulders after I had ran headlong into him. I nearly slapped him, but the genuine concern in his eyes stopped me.

“Nothing.” I said.

I sniveled and tried to wipe my cheeks on my dress sleeve.

“You’re upset.” He said.

“Of course I am.”

“Why?”

“It doesn’t matter.”

“Of course it does.”

He guided me to a chair in the dining room and made me sit down. He kneeled beside and took my hands in his.

“Tell me what happened.” He said.

Something about his manner made me feel utterly foolish and childish. Everything came blubbering out of me about my dad failing to send a ticket despite his promises, about the letter from Sylvia and how devastatingly unbearable it would be to miss my nephew’s first Christmas. Once I started talking it was like I could not stop, but Wilbur only listened until I finished.

“I’ll get you to your brother’s for Christmas.” He said.

“What? How?” I asked.

“Penelope and I are heading home as soon as she finishes packing. You can come with us and I’ll get you on a train to Florida from Charleston.” He said.

I know I should not have, but I threw my arms around him, kissed his cheek and buried my head in his chest as I squeezed him with all my strength. His hands patted my back and returned the hug in kind.

“Thank you.” I said.

Snow Ride Home

December 14, 1896
Sarah Waters

It will be a long trip home. The train ride is long enough, but with Union Station burned to the ground, it is two days ride to the temporary platform. Mr. Carrington is arranging to take the majority of girls by wagon, leaving Monday morning. Unfortunately for me, if I do not board the train by tomorrow night, I will not make it home in time for Christmas.

The cold facts left me only a single option; I have to ride Jasper out on my own. I packed a sack with most of my possessions, leaving little behind and causing the eyebrows of Emma and Victoria to be raised. They clearly hoped I would not be coming back and I suspect they started a rumor. It matters little enough to me, so I have chosen to ignore it and them.

An hour before sunrise I woke and raised myself from bed. Quietly I grabbed my sack and slipped out of the room and down into the stables. Jasper was wide awake and more than ready to go. As I began to saddle him, I heard a noise behind me and turned. Anna walked in holding a tightly rolled sack of her own.

“What are you doing here?” I asked.

“I’m going with you.” She replied.

“You would be safer to wait and go with Mr. Carrington tomorrow.” I said.

“I’m not leaving Poseidon here and Mr. Carrington won’t let me ride him beside the wagon, so I might as well ride with you. Besides, it’ll be safer if we ride together.” She said.

“I can take care of myself.”

“So can I.”

Our eyes locked for a moment and I knew she was not going to back down anymore than I would.


"Okay.” I said.

Anna smiled at me, shaking her head.

“You know most of them don’t think you’ll be coming back.” She said.

“Is that what you think?”

“It doesn’t matter what I think.”

“Maybe it matters to me.”

“You’ll be back.”

I nodded in agreement to her smile. We led our rides to the door and opened it. Outside another horse and a man I recognized all too well was waiting; Jonathon Goulding.

“Good morning.” He said.

I glanced at Anna who looked particularly sheepish right at that moment.

“What are you doing here?” I asked.

He did not answer straight away so I climbed on Jasper and prodded him toward the gates into Providence. Anna and Mr. Goulding quickly followed and soon we were riding three wide on the campus street.

“It’s good to see college life has not changed you.” Mr. Goulding said.

“What is that supposed to mean?” I asked.

“You are still the rudest girl I have ever met.”

Anna sputtered, but otherwise kept her thoughts to herself.

“And yet, you keep coming back for more.” I said.

“If you would rather I leave, I know my way home.”

“Stay or go as you please. I hear it’s a free country.”

“Then I shall stay with you if nothing more than to ease my own conscience.”

“Are you feeling guilty for something, Mr. Goulding?”

I glanced at the burnt remains of the train station as we approached it. Mr. Goulding followed my gaze with quizzical eyes.

“Should I be?” He asked.

I considered things for a moment and wondered if the note which once seemed such damning evidence against him was a diversion from the truth.

“Can I trust you?” I asked.

“Of course.” He replied.

“Try and keep up. It’s a long ride and my train leaves at 9PM tomorrow night.” I said.

We exited the campus onto the streets of Providence and paused with what remained of Union Station to our right. The sun was starting to come up and the light sparkled on the open fields of snow beyond. The road was clear for a short ways ahead, but soon we would be making our own road through the snow and ice.

“Shall I lead the way?” Mr. Goulding asked.

Anna and I shared a smile and then kicked off to a gallop, leaving a trail of icy dust for Mr. Goulding to follow.

Wine On A Tap

December 13, 1896
Edith Bowen

The floorboards creaked as someone behind me shifted their weight in their desk. Next to me, a young man bristled with such obvious annoyance, I found it difficult not giggle. I forced my attention back to the task before me. My steady hand returned to the half written page and with a quick dip in the ink well, my pen was writing again.

Words flowed like wine on a tap and all the while I could feel Mr. Stark’s eyes upon me. I struggled to lay the words down on the page at the same speed they flowed through my thoughts. My hand cramped, but I did not pause for fear of losing clarity. Concentration was the key.

On Mr. Stark’s desk an hourglass rested. As the sands of time poured through it, I poured my soul onto parchment in black blood called ink. Like a taut piano wire, poised to snap, tension filled the room. Minutes passed like seconds and if you listened carefully you could hear the sand falling through the glass. It was as loud and as eerie as hail falling in a windstorm in the pitch black of night.

I was penning my final words when Mr. Stark placed the book he had been pretending to read down on his desktop. His nimble fingers silently lifted the bell on his desk. In unison with the final drop of sand, he rang the bell. Time was up and pens were laid to rest.

Mr. Stark moved up and down the aisles of desks, taking each student’s pages. One by one he collected them all, dismissing each student in turn until he and I were alone. I sat nervous in my seat as he read the words I had written. I never doubted he would read them, but I had hope to be far from his classroom when the time came.

As he hummed through my work, I fidgeted in my seat. The rawness of truth I had laid upon the pages left me feeling exposed and vulnerable. I might well have been less frightened to dance a cancan on a bar room stage, completely naked. Mr. Stark seemed to sense my discomfort and rested a supportive hand on my shoulder. I tried to smile.

“I am surprised.” He said.

I turned my head to face him and blushed under his knowing gaze.

“I do believe there is more to you than I first realized.” He continued.

“Are you angry?” I asked.

“No, far from it.” He replied.

“Then I can go?” I asked.

Mr. Stark donned a crooked smile and sat down in the desk next to mine.

“Where would you go?” He asked.

I almost said the obvious. Then, I understood the question he was asking was more meaningful than the obvious. Our eyes met briefly, but my embarrassment was still too great to allow me to return his gaze. I stared at the floor instead, thinking.

“Come home with me.” He said.

I looked up at him, blinking in surprise.

“Now?” I asked.

He chuckled.

“For Christmas. I know you have no family to spend it with and I would like you to spend it with mine.”

“You are married?” I asked.

His finger was devoid of a ring.

“Not for a long time. My children are young though and I think they will like you.”

“W-why me?” I asked.

“Why not?”

“You do not even like me.” I said.

He chuckled again.

“Come spend Christmas with me and my family.” He said.

“Is that an order?” I asked.

He stood up and offered me his hand. I took it and stood up next to him. He raised his index finger under my chin and lifted my head so I had to look him in the eye.

“Does it need to be?” He asked.

“Do you really want me to be there?” I asked.

“I do.”

“Then I will think about it.”

Without warning, he leaned forward as if to kiss me, but he stopped when his lips seemed too close not to touch. His breath was warm on my face and it was all I could do not to lean that extra bit forward. I held my breath, waiting, wondering what he would do next. In the closeness, my heart melted and all the embarrassment and uncertainty faded back into the nothingness from whence it came. I gazed unashamed into his eyes.

“Okay.” I said.

“Is that a yes?”

“Yes.”

“Are you excited?” He asked.

Let me count the ways, but I only smiled in response.

Fear And Failure

December 12, 1896
Elizabeth Bassett

I have been having a lot of nightmares again. They are different than before . I wake up feeling like I have been running for miles. The sheets are damp with sweat and twisted in knots from my tossing. But, none of that is what really bothers me; it is that they are about me which is truly frightening.

In the past, my nightmares have been about friends, acquaintances, or friends yet to be, but these are only about me. I am the their center and in the past the center has always been the wrong place to be. My concentration is wrecked.

After Sylvia’s letter, I had hoped to hear from father. I thought perhaps he would tell me I needed to stay at school because we could not afford for me to travel home, but I did not expect silence. I would not worry except the nightmares are foreboding and I fear something terrible has happened or is about to happen.

Somehow in the midst of all this I have to pull myself together long enough to finish out the semester and pass my exams. The professors do not make it easy, but if it was easy, everyone would be here. Mr. Bard is quickly shaping up to be the worst of my daylight problems. If I thought it possible, I would say he was trying to compete with the terror of my nightmares.

His first examination question was subjective at best. Perhaps his pets know beyond doubt whom he rates as the ten most influential men in history, but as for myself, the only person I certain is on the list is Mr. Bard. The egotistical bastard no doubt thinks he is the number one most influential man in history for the simple fact he teaches it. On a better day, I might even argue that point.

The second question was only slightly better for it requested actual facts. Its flaw was only in that it required a successful answering of the first question. The years in which those influential men were born is no doubt easy to obtain should you know their identities. I took a guess at Mr. Bard’s date of birth, sometime around the birth of Christ.

The third question was simply offensive and I refused to answer it. How dare he request I feed him back his bog filled rhetoric on the reasons why a woman’s vote is without merit. I considered a long winded exposition on the exact opposite, but fortunately a small amount of common sense intervened and I wrote the simplest response which I hoped would satisfy both him and me.

“Because men say so.”

I have little doubt he will fundamentally agree with my statement and at the same time miss the reason why I also believe the statement to be true. Is it called irony or just stupidity when a teacher fails to meet the standards of his students? Either way, Mr. Bard is quickly becoming my worst nightmare. I hope there is at least one question on the exam which actually required studying history, otherwise I fear I will fail utterly and completely.

In The Moment

December 11, 1896
Penelope Sumter

I am cold.

The fire provides no warmth for me. My father would not approve. Wilbur would not even approve and if they would agree, then I must be very bad indeed. I wrapped the blanket tighter around me and moved closer still to the fire.

I noticed him from the beginning. His secretive glances were not lost on me although I pretended not to notice. Sometimes he seemed oblivious to me but that was just part of the charade. His wandering eyes are not for me alone, but they are mine for this moment.

And sometimes a moment is everything.

I remember the first time our fingers brushed. It was like a static shock between us. I jerked away as though burned in the fire but my eyes were filled with wonder. I think he saw it because he looked deep into me and then winked before turning away and moving on. I told myself it was only my imagination.

But dreams fill the emptiness.

There is something in his shoulders or maybe it is his smile. When I gaze upon him, the world fades. Only he and the things he touches are vibrant and alive. Is it wrong that I wanted to be vibrant and alive? No, I think we all are searching for that feeling. It eludes us in shadows and the dark corners where angels fear to tread, but I am no angel.

I am beautiful.

His eyes make no secret of his desires. His course hands on my soft skin sends a shiver from Heaven down my spine. The gentle touch of his lips on my earlobe followed by a nibble, forced my eyes closed. Every rational thought was banished as his fingers ran through my hair.

Steady fingers unfastened the buttons holding my dress up. It fell free to the floor, guided by gravity and his hands. An unsteady breath in the moment and my trembling fingers found the buttons on his shirt. One by one they slipped through the fabric until flesh and hair were all that existed between us.

And time was without meaning.

The floor was our bed. Our lips met with passion and left with the taste of sweet sweat. Hot and wet we rolled into each other, again and again. The flame of his desire devoured me from head to toe. His tongue caressed me until I could only lie limp in his arms.

But my heart would not be still.

Charles Birchwood can never be mine for more than a moment. I will take what I can and I promise not to mourn that which I cannot. The fire crackles in his fireplace as he adds another log. His warm arms wrap themselves around me and hold me close to his chest. It feels safe and secure, but it is illusion.

I am cold.

Thinking Position

December 10, 1896
Sarah Waters

“Ouch! One sir.” I counted.

I had very nearly convinced myself I would never again be in this position. Reality intruded and as is customary, it did so rudely.

“Ow! Two sir.” I said.

I strained to keep my fingertips in touch with my toes. The prospect of bending my knees or parting my legs to make the stance any more comfortable was unacceptable on account of my classmates. No doubt several of them were enjoying my spectacle and for those who were not, I do not think they were complaining either.

The paddle slapped down against my bottom again, ringing out like a gunshot while my fleshy cheeks wobbled and bounced. It is amazing how much sting only a few swats can impart.

“Three sir.”

To be fair, I was raised to treat my instructors with more respect than I showed. It is not that I think I was wrong, but sometime in the last year I seem to have forgotten how to disagree without being disagreeable. Not living with my mother anymore probably has something to do with it.

“Four sir.”

Tears stung at my eyes. It is not that being on my own has been such a bad thing, but with mother there were always eggshells on which to walk. It was good practice to keep me from coming off as arrogant or impolite with strangers and friends alike.

“Ow! Five sir.”

My fingers left my toes and flew half way to grabbing my blazing bottom before a shred of self control returned and I forced myself back into position. Tears flowed without further restraint and I sniffled staring at my toes again.

“Stay in position, Miss Waters. That one will not count.” Mr. Stark said.

There were a hundred things I could have said, but only one of them was the smart thing to say. Luck for me, I am not dumb often.

“Yes sir.” I said.

I could hear the girls gossiping in the room. Some of them were even bold enough to giggle. My face was flushed with the shame and embarrassment of having my bare bottom spanked for all to see.

“Five sir.”

It is likely my father would also have given me a spanking had I talked to him the way I had to Mr. Stark. Probably, even if he knew I had spoke to anyone that way. That does not mean I agree with the consequences, only that I understand from where they come.

“Six sir.”

Staring at my toes with my bottom ablaze and the painful awareness of spectators is far from and ideal place to think. Still, it seems only natural to reflect on one’s actions while in such a position. Maybe I have crossed some lines and maybe it is about time someone started holding me accountable again.

“Seven sir.”

I know better than to think myself perfect. Anger has controlled me too often in these recent months and beyond that are feelings I do not yet quite understand, but I think one of them is guilt. The world at large has been the recipient of my anger and with every angry word or action my soul is burdened more with guilt.

“Eight sir.”

Mr. Stark has a ludicrous view of the use of contractions. Hardly anyone speaks without them these day, but he chooses to ignore the reality of life and demand we speak “properly” as he calls it. Part of me understands, part of me rages against it.

“Nine sir.”

Whatever my personal views, it was wrong of me to harass him for his methods. He is the teacher and I the student. When, where and why I forgot that simplicity I do not know, but I think it will be a long time before I forget it again.

“Ten sir.”

The Anatomy Of Love

December 9, 1896
Margaret Spooner

“There is more to life than your anatomy books.” Edgar said.

He was right. I would not have argue with him were it not for his lousy timing. The night before an anatomy exam is hardly the time to debate the subject’s relative importance in the scope of life. Clearly, there is more to life than what is on the inside.

“Not now, Edgar.” I said.

“If not now, then when?”

“Next week. You are coming home with me for Christmas are you not?”

“No, with the train station burned down and the nearest boarding platform is two days ride, three days by wagon. I am not going and neither are you.”

“What?”

“It is only Christmas. Besides, we will still be together.”

“Only Christmas? It is not Christmas without family.” I said.

“We are each other’s family now.”

“You are not my husband yet and if you try to keep me from my family, you never will be.”

“I will decide what is best and I will not tolerate threats from you. Is that clear?”

I should have backed down then. It was the right thing to do. Edgar does love me, of this I am certain. Still, being separated from my family at the most wonderful time of year is not a sacrifice I am ready to make. The matter of the train station aside, I feel trapped.

“I have made no threats. I am going home for Christmas.”

“The trip is too dangerous, we are staying here.”

“You are a coward. I am going home and you can do as you wish.”

Edgar raised his hand high in the air as if to slap me, but then changed his mind. He turned on heel and stomped away like a spoilt boy. It was mean, but I laughed until the door slammed shut. Then I cried.

Morning came too soon. Dr. Phallic passed out the examination books and then quietly took his seat at the front of the room. It was hard to see the questions on the page because of the questions in my mind.

Is Edgar the right man for me?

Does Edgar believe in the same things I do?

Will Edgar allow me to be a doctor?

Why did mother change her mind about Edgar?

Do I really love him?

Does he love me?

Does he know me?

Do I know him?

Do I really want to marry him?

Why does he want to marry me?

The questions blurred the reality of the exam. Time ran and out and my answers felt incomplete. It was not the physical anatomy leaving me baffled, but the anatomy of love. How am I supposed to know if Edgar is the right man for me?

Sugar And Spice

December 8, 1896
Anna Cushing

Mud is for boys, dolls are for girls. I can understand how girls like Sarah get it confused but when the teachers at school forget, I find my patience lacking. I hate the smell of wet of clay. The slimy texture of it on my hands and then worse, later as it dries, the skin cracks. Such things are clearly for boys.

It is not as though I had a choice. I had to take the art class, Daddy insisted. I sent him letters about the class work and all he did was send me letters saying how proud he was of my efforts. Not exactly the response I hoped for, but then everything has a price and overall it has been worth it to come to Primrose.

Today was my biggest challenge and while I may not have excelled in this one thing, at least I have not given up. The semester’s final test of my artistic ability came early this morning. The air was still chilled enough to see our breath in the classroom when we arrived.

Fortunately, the cold was fleeting. Once the kiln was fired up, the room became uncomfortably warm. We rolled up our sleeves and dug into our blocks of damp clay. Some of the girls claim they feel a release of tension as they massage their fingers through the wet mud, but personally I think they are allowing their imagination to run a little too wild. One does not massage clay like they would a man.

The test seemed simple enough; mold the clay into a vase, glaze and fire the finished product which with luck should stand on its very one base and hold water. I agree a vase that does not balance itself would not be very functional although I can think of ways to correct for the minor instability. However, a leaky vase is another matter entirely and so it was certainly at the top of my lists of things not to accomplish.

As my usual, I started with my clay too wet and then allowed it to get too dry. The middle ground necessary to mold the clay without it becoming mush or dry as a brick often eludes me. In time I got it right and the final project came together with better success than I expected. I must admit I am pleased with myself and I look forward to Spring when I can put some fresh flowers in it and keep it next to my bed.

It was almost not to be. Emma Chesterfield was up to her usual. Dirty looks and snide remarks under her breath as if she thinks I will ever care what her demented mind thinks. On my way back from Primrose Hall she started throwing snowballs at my back and nearly knocked me down. The vase went flying through the air and I was certain it would be shattered into a million pieces.

Luckily, it landed softly in a bank of snow. Enough was enough, but Daddy taught me long ago you do not play fair, you play to win and so I did. I ran behind the snow bank where my vase had found safety and packed a mean snowball in my hand. It was not long before Emma showed herself.

“Are you afraid?” Emma taunted.

“No, but you should be.” I replied.

“So, why don’t you come out and face me or are you crying?” She continued.

I shrugged and stood up to face her. She threw another snowball at me but I ducked aside and it sailed passed. Then I threw mine. It hit her in the chest with a thud.

“Ow!” She screamed.

Emma lost her balance on the icy sidewalk. Her legs scrambled as though trying to run but it was never going to be enough. Suddenly she was tumbling backward with her feet in the air and her butt smacking hard, down against the concrete. I tried to not to laugh, really I tried.

On the ground, she was sniffling and her hands were rubbing her chest. I picked up my vase. Her fingers found the small rock I had packed in the middle of my snowball and the look on her face was one of true understanding.

“You are crazy!” She shouted.

I smiled at her and walked away. Maybe she will wizen up over the holidays, but I doubt it.

Distractions

December 7, 1896
Charles Birchwood

I have never much liked the concept of grading. Music is as much about talent as it is about effort and it seems a touch unfair to mark a student down for a lack of talent when tremendous effort has been put forth. Likewise, it is insanity not to recognize and reward those with talent. My conundrum is not easily solved.

The girls here at Primrose have all been willing to put forth effort but few of them have excelled. It is I suppose to be expected. There will be no grand symphonies performed at a woman’s college anytime in the near future and I should not berate myself for the failing to allure exceptionally talented young ladies to the college in my first semester.

Still I am dreading the coming week of testing. Listening to Caroline practicing all weekend has been horrendous enough. Even the children have begged her to stop. Caroline is many things but a pianist is not among them and I fear she is likely more apt than the majority of my other pupils.
I can imagine the grating frustrations all ready. The pianos will sound flat or sharp, the violins like they are strung with straw and the flutes as dog whistles. I will smile and try to reassure them they are doing fine all the while grinding my teeth and praying for my eardrums to burst.

I envy the deaf Beethoven who never had to once hear his beautiful arrangements by the inept musicians of my world. I have even considered it might not have been winter which chased the birds from the trees this year but the imminent threat of Miss Chesterfields’ off key vocals.

Strange to think of my father now, but he told me something once which I might well have to adapt for a modern purpose. It was shortly before a recital in my teenage years and I was exceptionally nervous because of the large assemble audience. “Picture them naked.” He had said. Naturally, I asked why and her replied, “It will give you something to take your mind off the pain.”

On that day my imagination had not quite been up to the task. Shortly after appearing on the stage, I vomited. The room cleared out and then I played one of my best performances ever. My father and mother were embarrassed but I was quite pleased at the time. I wish I had thought of it deliberately, but no one is perfect.

However, my father’s idea of nudity does have merit for the exams. What better way to get through the examination process than by having the girls perform in the nude? I can grade them on their maturity, redness of cheeks, and physical attractiveness. The method seems as random as attempting to grade their talent versus effort in the musical foray.

And, it should be noted their young nubile bodies will certainly provide sufficient distraction from their almost certain lack of musical talent. I wonder how Dean Steadward would react to the suggestion? Perhaps other teachers would appreciated the concept as well. All final examinations could be given with the ladies nude. I am certain it would hardly change their view of examinations; they are widely hated. The teachers though might find it a reason to look forward to the whole experience.

Yes, I must mention this at the next board meeting.

Take Me Away

December 6, 1896
Anna Cushing

I needed a ride to clear my head. Poseidon is always willing and so we left when the sun was just coming up. The early flicker of morning light on the snow is a little like magic. Nothing really changes, but everything is different.

The week started bad. Mondays are always difficult to face, but this one was a waking nightmare. It started off at breakfast when I inadvertently sent Victoria tumbling halfway down the stairs. Miss Bowen saw the whole thing.

“Miss Cushing, what do you think you are doing?” She demanded from the top step.

I had ran to make sure my roommate was uninjured although admittedly I would not have minded much if she had sprained an ankle.

“It was an accident Miss.” I replied.

“Accident or not, you could have killed someone. Wait for me outside my room.” She said.

“Miss…”

“Now, Miss Cushing.”

Reluctantly, I climbed back up the stairs and walked the few feet to her door. I felt ridiculous just standing there, especially knowing that Miss Bowen was not inside but a short distance away. I was relieved to not have to wait too long.

Inside her room, Miss Bowen made no waste of time in getting to the bottom of matters. If it had not been my bottom I would have appreciated her efficiency and lack of pointless scolding. Suffice to say, twelve licks of her desk ruler later and all was forgiven if not precisely forgotten. Sitting at breakfast was uncomfortable, but more because of Victoria’s snickering than Miss Bowen’s efforts.

Then there was Tuesday. I was met on the steps of Primrose Hall by none other than Jonathon Goulding. If there is a better looking man in all of Brown, I have yet to see him and the fact he was directly looking for me was quite flattering. That was until he started asking all about Sarah.

“Is Miss Waters well?” He began.

I nodded feeling numb.

“Has she spoke of me?”

I shook my head to the negative, unable to voice my answer with the nausea building in my stomach.

“I am concerned about her. I sent her a note the other day and she never replied.”

I nodded again not knowing what he expected me to say.

“Can you give her this note from me?”

He handed me a sealed envelope. I nodded taking it in my limp hands.

“Thank you, Miss.” He said.

And then he walked away. In what sick and twisted world does Sarah Waters get the attention of a man over me?

The week could have ended then and there for all I cared but God must have felt I needed a longer lesson in humility because Wednesday came upon me and offered no better. In the final hours before bed after dinner I was studying downstairs in my whites. As I left for bed the other girls began pointing and giggling. Would you believe I had some smudge black coal all over the back of my gown? Who leaves coal laying around in the study?

Thursday was peaceable, except Mr. Stark slapped his ruler on my hands a half dozen times for bending the corners on the pages of my book. It is my book, so why he should care about the condition of the pages is beyond me. Further, what possible improvement will there be in my turning of pages when my fingers are raw and sore? If teachers made sense they would not be teachers, father always says something like that and I am beginning to agree with him.

Friday came along none to soon. Unfortunately, the day boded no better for me. I angered Mr. Bard because I suggested it was our responsibility to protect the Cubans from the Spaniards. I spent the remainder of the class sitting on his stool in the corner wearing that ridiculous dunce cap and nursing a blistered backside. Thankfully there are no men in the class.

Immediately following Mr. Bard’s class, I found myself arguing with Dr. Phallic. Normally, I would have shut my mouth, but after the week I have had it was just too much to take. The idea the moon could have anything to do with the behavior of people, animals, and the tides of the oceans is simply outrageous. My rational disbelief of his scientific “facts” was met by ten bruising swats of his giant paddle. To make matters worse he delivered them in class and on my bare bottom in front of boys, girls, God and everyone not previously covered.

That is why this morning I just needed to get away from everyone. Somehow I have to alter this course of bad things happening. Riding on my sore backside feels about like getting walloped all over again but at least there is no one around to see me cry.

Once, The World Was Flat

December 5, 1896
Sarah Waters

I used to think of the past in terms of what happened and what did not happen. In retrospective, this was too simple a view and failed to encompass the reality of my very own experiences. How many times did Sam and I argue over how particular incidents of our childhood occurred? Granted there was often the ulterior motive of staying out of trouble to contend with but in the scope of history, there exists similar moments and it is the victor who writes the stories.

“I trust everyone is now familiar with the history surrounding the discovery of the Americas. Miss Waters, your opinion please. Was Christopher Columbus a genius or a madman?” Mr. Bard said.

The questions seemed absurd to me.

“A genius.” I replied.

“Why?” He asked.

“He overcame tremendous opposition and eventually found success although his discovery was an accident his concept of sailing west instead of east from Europe was a stroke of brilliance.” I replied.

“Our views could not be more different Miss Waters. Columbus was a drunk and a fool. He sought to find a new and faster route to the East by traveling west. Every reputable cartographer in the world understood a simple concept Columbus could not grasp. Columbus believed the earth was only a fraction of the circumference it is because he could not grasp elementary mathematics. Had he not found unexpected land he would have starved his men to death at sea. In my view, these are the actions of a madman not a genius.” Mr. Bard said.

“If his logic was known to be so fatally flawed, then why would Spain have financed his voyage?” I asked.

“Politics, Miss Waters. In 1492, Spain had nothing to lose and everything to gain from exploring the waters to the west. King Ferdinand knew Columbus’ maps were wrong but he also knew that there was the possibility of new lands waiting to be discovered. If there was a genius in the discovery of the Americas it was King Ferdinand.” Mr. Bard said.

“Are you saying it is your view that financing a madman can be genius?” I asked.

“It is my view that the difference between a genius and a madman is the side of history he lands upon.”

“I don’t understand.”

“What if Columbus had never returned from his voyage? What if his ships had all been destroyed by the hurricane they encountered? Would we recount him as anything more than a footnote in Spanish history and if not would his mark be anything more than that of a lunatic who took a hundred men to their deaths?”

“Are you saying Columbus was a madman who is wrongfully remembered as a great man?”

“His ideas were insane for his time and for ours. His discovery and survival were mere accidents. So yes, I am saying Christopher Columbus was insane and history prefers to make him a great man rather than confront the harsh reality that sometimes it takes a lunatic to help the world along.” Mr. Bard said.

Part of me wanted to continue arguing but the rest of me knew he was right. Teachers are supposed to be right, they are supposed to have the answers, maybe I forgot that after all that has happened or maybe I have learned no one is infallible. Asking the questions is not just a right, but a responsibility.

Now that my eyes have been opened I am starting to realize the past is as much an open book as the future. That is not to say the past can be changed, but it can be re-perceived in such a way as to alter the significance and repercussions of events. Dr. Phallic would recognize the dilemma as the chicken or the egg, but the real question is not what came first, but from where it came.

“Silence, Miss Waters.” Mr. Bard said. “Have you reconsidered your answer?”

“Yes. Maybe he was both.” I said.

Mr. Bard smiled.

“Now you are learning.” He said.

Where Is It Written?

December 4, 1896
Margaret Spooner

Would anyone have expected William Shakespeare to stitch straight? I do not believe so. So, why is it I am expected to write with perfect penmanship? Only God and Mr. Stark can answer that questions and neither of them are talking. Well, Mr. Stark does talk but he rarely actually says anything.

He always stares with his beady eyes and crinkled nose. Maybe he does not like me or maybe he thinks it is below him to teach women. Whatever his problem is, he is bent on making life miserable for me. If it were not for the college’s mandate to attend four years of English lessons I would not ever have set foot in his classroom.

“Is this an R, an S, or an N?” He asked.

His crooked finger pointed at the page on my desk and his smelly hand blocked the view of the rest of the word. Without context how was I to answer his question?

“I don’t know.” I replied.

“Pardon me?” He said.

I rolled my eyes at his irritating pretense to not understand contractions. On the very first day of class he had made his feeling quite clear on the use of the contractions and their recent rise in popularity amongst even the best families in the nation.

“I cannot say while your hand is blocking the word.” I said.

“Miss Spooner it is not relevant what the word is or is not, the letter, each and every letter, must be legible. How many times must we have this discussion?”

“At least once more.” I replied.

I rolled my eyes at the ceiling. He waved a ruler at me.

“Perhaps I have a better solution.” He said.

“Oh, yes sir. Wallop my hands really good and maybe my penmanship will improve while I cannot hold a pen.”

“No, I will not give you the satisfaction of such an excuse. You will write 500 lines for me in perfect penmanship and you will do it before you leave this room today.”

“I have an appointment at three.” I said.

“Then you had better get started.” He replied.

I looked at the clock on the wall, it read two o’clock. The good doctor in town was expecting me at three to assist in a surgery. The choice between learning to write and learning to perform surgery was not a choice at all.

“I am sorry Mr. Stark, but I am expected elsewhere and I cannot reschedule this late.” I said.

“Are you defying me Miss Spooner?”

“You may call it what you wish. I am short of time all ready and must be leaving now.”

“I will expel you from this class if you leave without completing the lines I have requested.”

I stood up and gathered my things. There was nothing more to say and anything I could say would only provoke him further. I walked to the door.

“Someone needs to have a word with you about your priorities.” He said.

I turned with my hand on the doorknob.

“The mere fact you suggest my priorities are in question is proof enough you place undue importance on your own Mr. Stark. You never even asked about my appointment. How do you know which is more important when you do not even know the choices?” I said.

I turned the knob and walked out before he could reply. I hope he does expel me from his class, but I doubt he will keep his word.

The Split Carrot Snowman

December 3, 1896
Penelope Sumter

The manor was dark as I crept quietly down the stairs. After every few steps I stopped and listened just to be certain there was no one else around. I tiptoed into the general study and closed the door as quietly as possible. I nearly knocked Michelle down when I turned around to face the room.

I raised my finger to my lips to shush the girls’ giggles in the room. Surprising to me was the room was packed. I knew the new girls were hardly a righteous bunch but I had no idea it would be so easy to corrupt so many of them.

“Do we have everything?” I whispered.

“I think so.” Michelle replied.

“Be certain before we go out.”

Michelle nodded and then turned to the others.

“Carrot?” Michelle asked.

“Here.” A girl held it up for all to see.

“Two pieces of coal?” Michelle asked.

“Here.” Another girl held up the coal.

“Eight buttons?” Michelle asked.

“I have them.” A shy girl said from the back.

“Scarf?” Michelle asked.

A girl waved it in the air without a word.

“Mr. Carrington’s hat?” Michelle asked.

One of the girls tossed it in the air and then neatly caught it with a smile and a wink.

“That’s everything.” Michelle said.

I nodded, impressed with the girls, they were almost as good as we were last year. Only difference being we did not need the older girls to give us the idea then. It is too bad Elizabeth did not feel up to joining us, but then she has not been sleeping well lately.

“Let’s get going then. Remember to keep it quiet and watch what you are doing.” I said.

The girls nodded. Quickly and carefully, the girls climbed out the window to the outside one by one. We assembled in three groups of four and began rolling up are respective giant snow balls. There was no need to worry about size this year as the snowfall has been plentiful.

It took us no more than half an hour to assemble and decorate our snowman. The carrot got broken in two though and at first the fat stubby part was shoved into the middle of the face and the pointy end was inserted in the lower part of the middle. Most of the girls were blushing at the sight.

“It’s Dr. Phallic.” Michelle said.

The girls roared with so much laughter I was certain we would be discovered, but no one came. I swapped positions between the carrot pieces and took a step back. The girls looked at me with curious gazes. I smiled back.

“It’s more accurate this way.” I said.

Buttons and coal and carrot in place, scarf around the neck and hat on top we stood back and admired our handiwork. Then as quietly as we stepped out we snuck back in and slowly, two girls at a time, we climbed the stairs and returned to our beds.

The next morning we came to breakfast and no one gave a clue of the night’s activities. From the outside one might have thought it was a perfectly normal morning. That was until Mr. Carrington opened the front door for us to leave.

“Holy shit!” He exclaimed.

The girls in the hall clasped their hands over their mouths but most of them could not help but giggle. Whether it was Mr. Carrington’s uncharacteristic use of profanity or the sight of the white giant blocking the exit from the house is open for debate.

“Does this mean it’s a snow day?” Michelle asked.

Mr. Carrington stared sternly at her.

“It does appear we are snowed in.” She said.

It was obvious he was very close to laughing himself but he was still holding it in. Then his eyes fell upon the carrot stub I forgot to remove from the mid-section. His face turned beat red.

“Penelope Sumter!” He yelled.

How did he know it was me?

Power Play

December 2, 1896
Edith Bowen

“Miss Bowen, please remain after class.” Mr. Stark said.

He placed my writing booklet on my desktop and tapped it lightly with his fingers before moving on and distributing the remainder of booklets. The knots in my stomach kept me from opening the cover to see the inevitable poor grade residing inside for my latest attempt at literary expression.

One dry mouth, two sweaty palms and forty minutes later, class was dismissed. I sat perfectly still in my desk. My shoulders and back were straight and my nervous hands were folded together on my desktop. It was all I could manage not to tap my feet with impatience as the other students exited in mass. Finally, the door closed and we were alone.

I did not dare to look about. His eyes on me raised hackles on the back of my neck. The cool air wafting through the room from the exodus was enough to make me shiver, but I resisted the urge. I was nervous and scared and I was adamant not to show it.

“Alone at last.” Mr. Stark said.

I kept quiet, uncertain where the conversation would lead or even if a response was desired.

“Do you know why I have kept you after?” Mr. Stark asked.

“No, sir.” I replied.

“Could it be your work is unsatisfactory?”

“If it is, I will try harder.”

“If you are capable of better then why do you wait for my criticism before demonstrating your true proficiency?”

“I had done the best I can given my existing knowledge, but if I have failed I will strive to learn in what manner I have failed and how I can avoid such failure in the future.”

“And if your failure cannot be overcome?”

“I cannot foresee nor imagine any failure I cannot correct with practice.”

“You cannot become more than you are and it is what you are which is a failure.”

“Am I to understand I cannot achieve your expectations because I am a woman?”

“You think me unfair.”

“Do not presume to know my thoughts of you and do not inquire into them as you will well not like the answer.”

“To be clear, your failure is not being a woman, but rather being a woman who does not accept being a woman.”

“We are what God has made us. I am a woman and I am content with my sex. It is my status in your contrived male dominated society to which I object.”

“You would rather concern yourself with politics and economics than the raising of children?”

“They are one and the same it is only in flat world they remain disconnected.”

“You are a singular spirit, Miss Bowen.”

“So, I am unlike other women you know. Am I too much a woman for you or not enough?”

He came around to the front of my desk to look me face to face. With a chuckle, he place his index finger under my chin and pushed my head up a little higher.

“You are a proud one. Stand up.” He ordered.

I considered refusing the command. It would have been simple enough and certainly aggravating for him. He wanted to prove how in control he was and my instincts told me he needed to be corrected. As a simple matter of fact, control resides within ourselves and must be surrendered to another in order for them to wield it. In the end, I complied because I wanted to stand. The difference may be imperceptible though observation but that does not negate its existence.

“Very good.” He said.

“Shall I beg or roll over next?” I asked.

He stepped closer to me until our noses were nearly touching. I could feel his warm breath on my face and the faint scent of peppermint twitched in my nostrils. Our eyes met and I forced myself to meet his without blinking.

“Would you like that?” He whispered.

“Like what?” I breathed.

“To be treated like a pet.”

“I am not loyal and I do bite.” I replied.

“I would not have it any other way.” He said.

His lips brushed against mine almost as if by accident. My eyes closed to better enjoy the sensation and my lips followed his until he pressed against me and took my breath away. His arms wrapped around me and pulled me closer to him. I responded by encircling him with my own . As we shifted and maneuvered our bodies I briefly wondered if he was kissing me or if I was kissing him.

The moment seemed to last an eternity, but still it was not long enough. He pushed me back and held me at arms length away. The look in his eyes was primal like a savage on the prowl. I met the look with one of my own and my lips curled upward in a dangerous smile.

“This is not appropriate.” He said.

“You should be punished.” I said.

“Me? Surely a young lady like yourself knows better than to tease an old man like me.” He replied.

I slapped him across the face and picked my booklet up from my desktop. He grabbed hold of my arm as I started to walk away. I turned back toward him with fury in my eyes.

“Let go.” I commanded.

“Sit down.” He ordered.

I slapped him again.

“Let go.” I commanded.

His fingers loosened and then released my arm. I turned and walked away.

“Edith!” He called.

I ignored him.

“Edith!” He called.

I walked out the classroom door.

“Miss Bowen!” He called.

The desperation in his voice echoed in the empty hallway. I turned briefly to look at him before descending the stairs to the main floor and flashed him a mischievous smile. Perhaps now he understands who is in control.

The Fear Of Failure

December 1, 1896
Elizabeth Bassett

My father shook his disappointed head at me. My mother would not look in my direction at all. I fell to my knees before them, tears bursting from my eyes. I wanted to beg for their forgiveness but my voice abandoned me. The light tapping of father’s foot echoed in the room like a booming drum. Mother’s disappointment was sharper though, her steady avoidance cut through me like a rusted blade. They turned their backs to me and walked away.

The brightness of the room faded to black in an instant. Mother and father were long gone and I was all alone on the cold floor. Rough hands grabbed at me from the darkness. I tried to pull away but there was no escape. My clothing was torn from me a shred at a time until I was left naked and shivering cold. A woman’s laugh made me feel ashamed.

“Failure.” A chorus of female voices chanted over and over again.

I stayed huddle to the floor, each repetition of the word felt like a bee sting to my pride. Tears fell freely from my eyes drenching my body in their salty warmth. The darkness became dizzying, spinning out of control, faster and faster. I wanted to scream but my voice remained absent.

Suddenly, it all stopped. The dark became light and the light became white. The white was Dr. Phallic’s lab coat as he stood over me shaking his index finger at me like a naughty girl. I tried to back away but I was trapped against a wall. He mocked my attempt at escape.

“Every action has an equal and opposite reaction.” Dr. Phallic admonished.

From behind his left shoulder, Penelope appeared. She was smiling and waving at me. Her gold locks bounced around her shoulders as if she were skipping, yet she was standing still. She blew me a kiss.

“It’s not just physics.” She said.

From nowhere my father appeared kneeling next to me. His rough hands grabbed my shoulders and he forced me to look at him. His hair grayed as I watched and wrinkles enveloped his skin. His lips pursed in a stern look.

“You’ll never matter. You are nothing. You will always be nothing.” He shouted.

He shoved me back into the darkness and I was all alone again. I could barely breathe but I tried to stand anyway. I kept falling down again and then I fell without a bottom. Faces and voices whisked by all of them scolding and disappointed. People I knew and many I did not, I had failed them all. Equations rushed by followed by the laws of the universe they were at once simple and non-sense. My mind felt like it would explode and then I felt air back in my lungs and my voice returned. I screamed.

Cold hands grabbed my shoulders and shook me. Penelope’s curly hair brushed against my cheeks. My eyes snapped opened to see her concerned face staring down at me.

“Wake up!” She said.

I blinked as the room came into focus. Penelope looked at me with blatant worry in her eyes. I took a deep breath and closed my eyes again for a moment. I took comfort in the solidity of the bed beneath me and the constant of my friend’s touch.

“Are you all right?” Penelope asked.

“Yes, it was only a bad dream.” I said.

“Like before?” She asked.

I shook my head in the negative.

“No, it was only science and math.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes, I promise.”

She smiled and nodded but beneath the surface of acceptance I could see she did not believe me. I wonder if I was talking in my sleep.

A Cold Winter's Morning

November 30, 1896
Charles Birchwood

There is nothing like the taste of a hot cup of tea on a cold winter’s morning. I know it is not quite winter yet, but the white snow on the ground outside argues convincingly otherwise. I lit the fireplace in the living room and with Phillip’s help, the dining table was relocated in place of the sofa and table normally occupying the space nearby. It was not strictly necessary, but I saw no reason why we should not enjoy the warmth of the fire through breakfast and afterward. Caroline had exams to prepare for and I exams to prepare.

I sipped my tea, enjoying the inner warmth it provided. Caroline sat across from me at the table and did likewise. Her books were neatly stacked beside her on the table as my music sheets were gathered near me. Neither of us were eager to get started with the necessary work despite knowing procrastination would not lessen the load nor ease the related stress.

“Another cup?” Caroline asked.

I glanced inside my cup to notice it was indeed empty. I nodded in the affirmative and sighed as I picked up the stack of music to begin my work. Caroline rose from the table, placing our cups on the tray with the teapot and disappeared into the kitchen.

As often happens, I quickly became lost in my work. Time slipped by without being noticed until I realized I had completed a substantial portion of my work and Caroline had yet to return. She was still in the kitchen. I could hear her moving about.

“Caroline?” I called.

“Yes, dear?”

“Have you received word back from England on our tea yet?”

“Pardon me?”

“You have been a long time in preparing the tea, dear.” I clarified. “Is there a problem?”

“Oh, no. It’s almost ready.”

I could have pursued the matter further, but I chose otherwise. After all what purpose would be served by my calling attention to facts of which she is all ready aware? Moments later she returned with the tray and poured me a fresh cup which I immediately began sipping.

Caroline grudgingly opened one of her books and began reading. I turned my attention back to my own work knowing she need no distractions from me. It was strangely comforting to know she was there nearby with her own tasks to accomplish but still with me. Never before had I realized how much I enjoy the simplicity of proximity to my wife. My work load suddenly became lighter and smiling became easier.

That was all until I noticed, quite by accident, Caroline’s book was upside down. I must admit the situation gave me pause. Did she expect me to catch her and do something? Was she manipulating me or was this a cry for help? Should I ignore it and allow her to face the consequences of failure in her studies? There were no easy answers.

“Are you attempting to fool me or yourself?” I asked.

“Whatever do you mean?” She replied, all innocence.

“Your book is upside down and I find it hard to believe you are not so aware.”

“Oh.” She blushed.

“Are you going to answer me?”

“Do I have a choice?”

“No.”

“Then I believe I will answer you.”

“And yet you still have not.”

“I don’t feel like studying.” She whined

“We must often do things we do not feel like doing.”

“Could we not snuggle in front of the fire for awhile first?”

“We can do that when we have each finished.”

“But I want to do it now.”

“Then you should have ample encouragement to do complete your work.”

“A few minutes won’t make any difference.”

“If such is true then why do you persist in arguing with me?”

“Because I want a break.”

“How could you possibly need a break when you have yet to begin?”

“Charles…”

“Turn the book right side up and do your work.”

“No.”

“What did you say?”

“You heard me.”

“You had better hope I heard you wrong.”

“I said, no.”

I pushed my chair back and stood up without a further word. Walking around the table, I grabbed Caroline by the wrist and pulled her out of her chair. She protested, but I ignored her and half dragged, half pulled her to the front door. I pulled it open and propelled her outside.

Dressed in only her nightgown and robe, she looked at me as though I had lost my mind. She shivered as soon as her feet hit the snow on our doorstep. I did not wait for her to protest more than she all ready had, but instead closed the door and turned the lock.

A moment later there was pounding on the door.

“Who is it?” I asked.

“Charles you open this door this minute or you’ll be sleeping on the sofa for the rest of the year!” Caroline shouted through the closed door.

“Do you really think I am going to tolerate your threats or that they will motivate me to open the door any sooner?”

“I’ll freeze!”

“Are you going to do your school work if I let you back in?”

There was a noticeable pause and silence as she considered her options and response.

“Yes.” She finally answered.

“Why don’t you think about it for a few more minutes and I’ll check back to see if you are certain.” I said.

“Charles, it’s cold out here!”

“I hadn’t noticed.”

She started pounding on the door again.

“The sooner you stop pounding on the door the sooner I’ll think about opening the door.” I said.

“Charles!”

“You are going to stand out there for ten minutes of quiet whether it starts now or an hour from now is entirely up to you.”

Amazingly, there was silence. I sat back down by the fire and watched the clock tick away the minutes. Phillip came downstairs while I was waiting and sipping my tea.

“Where is Mommy?”

“She had to step out for a few minutes.” I said.

“I want some milk.” He said.

“I think we can manage that without her.” I replied.

The two of us went to the kitchen and I heated some milk on the stove for him and his sister. Phillip happily carried the glasses upstairs without a second thought about his mother, but I know the boy is far from dumb and most likely heard more than enough to know precisely where his mother was and why.

I glanced at the clock and decided it was time to bring her in even though it had only been seven minutes. I opened the door to find Caroline shivering quietly with her arms wrapped around herself.

“Are you ready to do your schoolwork?” I asked.

“Y-yes.” She said through jittering teeth.

I guided her back inside and sat her back down at the table with her books. Her seat was close to the fireplace so there was no doubt she would quickly be warmed by the flame. She turned toward the fire to warm her hands more directly.

“Schoolwork.” I ordered.

“Let me warm my hands.” She pleaded.

“Do you want to go back outside?” I asked.

“No.”

“Schoolwork.” I ordered.

“Yes, Charles.”

Peace at last. I am sure she expected a different reaction from me, but it is never good to be too predictable. No doubt the cold was far more effective than any additional warmth would have been on a cold winter’s morning like this one.

A Least Expected Letter

November 29, 1896
Margaret Spooner

November 21, 1896

Dear Margaret,

With a little luck this letter will reach you in time to wish you a warm Thanksgiving but if it is late know I was thinking of you. I wish you would write more often, but I understand you are very busy at school. We do not talk enough when you are home and it is only while you are away I realize just how much I have to say.

I am proud of you. I know you do not think I am. You always think I do not understand you and sometimes you are right. The medical books are beyond my abilities, but I do know what it feels like to want something more for your life than the role dictated by society.

I saw so much of myself in you while you were growing up and I have tried to protect you from the disappointments I suffered. I can see now it was a mistake for many reasons. Most of all it was wrong because you are not me, you are more. I shared your dreams as a girl, but I never had your passion or your perseverance. I did not believe you as you do and that was my flaw.

When I met your father, my dreams were dying and I made the choice to be with him and let them fade away forever. Only they never left, they haunt me as what ifs. Watching you fight for yourself despite every obstacle in your path has made my memories all the more painful. It is not your burden though, it is mine and I apologize for not explaining all of this a long time ago. You deserved to know.

With all the turmoil in the nation right now, I worry about your safety. It is unavoidable because I love you and I will not ask you to surrender your dreams so that I might sleep knowing you are safe. You are a grown woman and you know full well the risks you take. This is your life to live and it should not be stolen from you for the fears of others. I think you know to what whom and what I refer.

In this spirit I want assure you if you choose not to marry at this time your father and I would understand. Edgar is a good enough man, his family is well connected and his future is undoubtedly bright, but none of that means he is the best choice for you. You have chosen a unique path for your life and only you can know if Edgar will be an asset or hindrance to it. The choice is always yours, but then I believe you know that all ready.

Warmest Wishes,
Mother

Meddlers

November 28, 1896
Sarah Waters

“Edith wants to see you.” Emma said.

I had only just walked into our room with the thoughts on nothing more than curling up beneath my warm covers and falling asleep at the end of a long day. Emma’s tone was just smug enough in what she thought she knew to make me want to slap her. I did not give into the temptation although a wicked voice whispered in the back of my thoughts about how much better I would feel if I did.

Instead, I turned around and left as quickly as I had entered. I knocked softly on Edith’s door so as not to attract attention. The door flew open and I could see she had been impatiently waiting for me. I stepped inside and she closed the door behind me.

“What’s wrong?” I asked.

She looked nervous. She did not look me in the eye but instead looked down at the floor. She shifter her wait from foot to foot like a naughty child waiting for parents to pass judgment. When my patience was reaching its limits, she finally spoke.

“I’ve done something and you are most likely going to be mad.” She said.

“What?” I asked.

“Just promise me you will listen to everything before you say anything.”

I regarded her carefully. My mind spun circles wondering what she could be talking about and how it would effect me and why it would anger me. Her eyes gave no clue except she was truly afraid I would not understand. I wanted to reassure her but I realized it could leave me in an awkward position if she was indeed correct.

“I will listen.” I said.

She nodded and gave me a brief smile.

“It started before I knew you well. There were the letters you received and I watched you tear them and discard them without ever reading them. You seemed so unhappy when you arrived and I tried to talk to you but you were always so defensive. I felt I had no choice.” She began.

I could have said many things as I began to understand just where the conversation was headed but I chose to bite my tongue and honor my promise to hear her out. She licked her lips and swallowed before continuing.

“I thought reading by reading the letters I would come to understand you better and maybe I would be able to help. Of course as you know, nothing ever goes according to plan.” She said.

She bit her lip as she paused and looked at me, perhaps searching for some sense that I understood.

“What have you done?” I asked.

“Nothing. Everything. They are only words on a page, but they come every week. That says something even if you don’t want to hear it or aren’t ready to hear it. I know it is none of my business and I had no right to invade your privacy like this, but you should really read this letter.”

She handed me the page, unfolded. There was no attempt to disguise she had read it. I took the page from her and held it in my hand. My hand shook with anger or fear or maybe both. I wanted to read the words and at the same time I wanted to throw it into the fire and forget I had ever known of it. In the end, it was the look in Edith’s eyes that made me read it.


November 18, 1896

Dearest Sarah,

I miss you more with each passing week and I do not know what more I can say to win back your affection. I am sorry for how I behaved after father’s death and for how I shunned you when you needed me the most. You were right about everything, but I was too stubborn to acknowledge it. If you could see your way to forgiveness and offer me another chance to be the brother you deserve, I will not fail you again.

I have given up hoping you will one day send me a letter. I wonder if you even read the pages I send, but I will never stop trying to make things right between us. Like it or not you are my little sister and I will always love you no matter where you are or what you have done. I was as broken as you at father’s passing, but unlike you I did not manage my grief. I made mistakes I would do anything to correct if only you will give me the chance.

Enclosed, I had sent you a ticket home for your Christmas break. I do not know if you are willing to come home, but I will wait at the station for you and pray you find your way. If you do not come I will understand how you feel. I know not all wrongs can be righted and not all sins can be forgiven and if I have crossed that line with you, it will forever be my shame.

As always, I hope this letter finds you well and that you are happy in all things. Mother and Deborah send their love and I send mine as well. I know you are more than capable of taking care of yourself, but I still worry about you everyday.

All my love,
Sam



I finished reading the letter and Edith shoved the train ticket into my hand. I was torn between anger and sadness. A tear dripped from my eye as I remember my brother from long ago, not the man who had shouted at me in anger in his attic, but the boy who had always stood by me.

“Go home for Christmas.” Edith said.

“You don’t understand.”

“No, I do understand. I can’t ever go home again because my family is gone forever. Yours is waiting for you and because of a tiff you are casting them off as though they are dead. Don’t wait until they really are gone before giving them another chance.” Edith said.

“It’s not that simple.” I said.

“Yes, it is. He’s apologized for what happened between you in every letter he has sent. The man knows he made a mistake now it’s up to you to forgive.”

“Some things can’t be forgiven.”

“Most things can be. Go home and give your brother a chance.”

“It’s not your business. You’ve had no right to interfere.”

“You’re right, but you are my friend and I’m only trying to help you. The longer you wait to go home the more likely you never will. Take a chance and give them one more.”

She was adamant about it. There was no swaying her opinion. She knew the facts well enough, the letters undoubtedly made it all clear. I wanted to be angry at her, but somewhere in the back of my mind I knew she was right and that made it impossible to be angry.

“All right. I’ll go.” I said.

Happy Thanksgiving!

November 27, 1896
Edith Bowen

It snowed overnight. I looked out my window and it was as if the world beyond was a perfect portrait of a winter holiday. The ground was covered with a thick blanket of powdery white snow. It glistened in the morning sunlight without even a single set of footprints to mar the vision.

Every year since my parents death, I have dreaded the holiday season. While everyone else gathers with family I sit by a fire in solitude. Smiles, hugs and kisses are passed around and I have only myself to wrap my arms around. The tears cried are of joy and happiness, but not mine. Mine are sad and lonely tears longing for the days long past when I too had a family to love.

This year is different. I still miss my family but for the first time I am understanding family is more than blood. My friends are my family now, and for a change I have some. Sarah and Anna met me in the hall just outside my room. They were both smiling and so was I.

“Have you looked outside?” Anna asked.

“Yes, it’s beautiful.” I said.

“It’s almost like being home.” Sarah said.

“Does it snow often in Colorado?” I asked.

“Only half the year.” She replied.

We started down the stairs together.

“Where are you from, Edith?” Sarah asked.

It has been a long time since anyone asked me that question and an even longer time since I had thought about home. I was in too good a mood to allow bad memories to ruin it.

“I don’t remember.” I lied.

“That’s so sad.” Anna said.

I smiled at her and squeezed her hand.

“All of that was a long time ago, this is my home now.” I said.

“You’re right. Home is where the heart is.” Sarah said.

“I like that.” Anna replied.

“My mother used to say that when I was small.” Sarah said.

“I wonder why.” I said.

“She was far from any home she had ever known.” Sarah replied.

I nodded thinking of the simple truth in the words. We take with us all that we are in every step. Home is not a place but a feeling and the feeling comes from within us, from our strengths and weaknesses, and our hopes and dreams. If we cannot find peace and comfort in our own skin then we never shall.

I joined the kitchen staff for the day. It was Mr. Rollings suggestion I continue to practice what I had learned about measurements by helping with the large meal for Thanksgiving. I had no objection, surprising, I enjoyed the experience of baking. Not only did I learn, but I had fun doing it. Perhaps someday I will have a kitchen of my own.

The kitchen was busy all day long. Our girls rotated in and out helping in bits and pieces until at last the grand meal was prepared. Potatoes were mashed, gravy was boiled, turkeys were roasted, corn was shucked, pies were baked and rolls were buttered. It smelled like heaven. Of course no such day can go without incident and there were several to be sure, but I think one in particular will always belong to this Thanksgiving.

Victoria arrived late for her turn in the kitchen. No one wanted to make an issue of it so her tardiness was ignored although far from unnoticed. Timing being an issue, it should have been no surprise she burned her apple pie. It would have been ignored as well had she not thrown it across the room hitting Belinda square in the chest.

Belinda screamed as the hot fruit and juices soaked through her dress and burned her skin. I would have sent Victoria to her room and had Margaret tend to Belinda were it left up to me, but unfortunately for Victoria, Mr. Carrington was standing in the doorway at the exact moment she threw.

“Edith tend to Belinda. I will deal with Miss Mathewson.” He ordered.

I had not the courage to argue although I firmly believe holidays should be free of punishments. Deep down I knew Mr. Carrington was correct not to overlook such ridiculous behavior but would it really matter to wait until tomorrow? I think not but it is his kitchen.

I enlisted Margaret to assist Belinda and the two of the disappeared into the wash room. Meanwhile Victoria shrank back against the wall as if it could protect her from Mr. Carrington’s wrath. If anything it merely ensured she had no place left to go. Mr. Carrington grabbed a large wooden spoon off the counter as he closed in on the frightened Victoria.

“Turn around.” He commanded.

“Please, I’m sorry sir.” She pleaded.

“Turn around.”

She turned to face the wall. Mr. Carrington reached down and grabbed the hem of her skirt and pulled it up in the air. He then raised the spoon high in the air and swung it down to connect with a loud clap underneath her skirts. She jumped in response.

Mr. Carrington repeated the effort a dozen times leaving Victoria in tears and massaging her buttocks while jumping up and down like a little girl. Mr. Carrington stood there in front of her with the spoon still in his hand, lecturing her about safety in the kitchen, when Mrs. Carrington walked in.

“Mm… It smells good in here ladies. What’s cooking now?” She asked.

She was clearly oblivious to Mr. Carrington and Victoria by the wall. Without thinking I replied.
“Victoria.”

Mrs. Carrington looked confused until her eyes found Mr. Carrington holding the spoon menacingly at Victoria. Mr. Carrington turned around to look at me, shocked by what I said I think and when his eyes met with Mrs. Carrington’s they both smirked. The other girls began laughing and even Victoria had a rueful smile on her face. I blushed, embarrassed by my thoughtless remark.

A short while later, with the tables sat and everyone gathered, the meal was served. Mr. Carrington appeared happy and Mrs. Carrington was too. I looked around the room feeling content myself and I noticed not all the girls were smiling. Several of the freshman girls were not only sad but crying quietly in their seats.

I should have realized before, but I had not. Many of these girls were experiencing their first holiday away from home and family. I felt their tears as if they were my own because in a way they were. I glanced at Mrs. Carrington and her eyes shared my concern. In past years there had never been so many girls and as a result these days had been better managed. I pushed my chair back and stood up to the room.

“On the first Thanksgiving, the Pilgrims were far from home. They huddled in a dining room with friends and strangers, taking refuge from the cold winter outside, much as we are doing today. While there are no native Indians offering us food, there is a native family from these parts who offers us this shelter and the food on our table. The customs here may be different from those you are used to, and the scents and sounds may not be those which are familiar, but that is no different than those early Pilgrims either. They learned today was a day to be thankful not mournful.

And so, we should all remember no matter who or what we are missing today we have much to be thankful for as well. Be thankful, those you love are warm and safe. Be thankful, you are with friends. Be thankful for the warmth and food provided here for us all. Be thankful, for all that you have, not just today, but everyday.” I said.

Glasses were raised and clinked and while the sad looks did not disappear, there were less teardrops falling. Dinner was served and all was well. We laughed and we cried and we smiled and we frowned, but most of all we were thankful for each other.

After dinner I gathered with my new friends, Sarah and Anna, Elizabeth and Penelope, and Margaret. We talked about school and teachers and the futures we hope for. I listened with warmth in my heart and for the first time in a very long time, I felt at ease. All these years alone and finally I have a new family to call my own. Our sisterhood shall last long after we leave the halls of Carrington Manor and no matter the miles that come between us or the choices we make in the years to come, we will always have each other, sisters by choice, Primrose Girls forever.