Stark Contrast

November 6, 1896
Edith Bowen

From that first day at the train station, I think I knew the moment I saw her, my life would never again be the same. Sarah Waters has brought forward within me the dreams I myself did not know I had. It is not merely her, but it is everything any part of her touches is forever changed and while at first I saw only the possibility for destruction, now I see hope.

Even the newspaper headline declaring William McKinley, President of the United States failed to dampen my spirits. It is becoming increasingly clear to me that winning the little battles will in their own time lead to winning the war, but in the meantime the war continues to advance against our cause of for every battle we win there remain thousands we are losing. Someday that will change, I truly believe that now.

These thoughts occupied me instead of the English lesson Mr. Stark was endeavoring to teach. It was not the wisest of things I have done but in perspective it is also far from the dumbest. Still, not paying attention while being the only female in the room could be looked upon as masochistic in the very least.

“Is my lecture boring you Miss Bowen?” Mr. Stark queried.

I nearly jumped out of my desk. The boys seated around me laughed. Mr. Stark silenced them with a single look before turning his attention back to me.

“I am sorry, sir.” I replied.

“Indeed you are Miss Bowen. A sorry excuse for a student, a sorrier excuse for an English student, and the sorriest excuse for an aspiring English teacher as I have ever had the misfortune to encounter. Sit up straight!”

I inhaled deeply and pushed myself farther up in my chair. I kept my head locked straight ahead despite every impulse demanding that I look away. Mr. Stark towered over me, standing in front of my desk. I stared straight ahead at his belt buckle rather then tilting my head up to see his face.

“Take out a sheet of paper and begin writing the sentence, ‘I will not daydream in Mr. Stark’s classroom because if I do, he will paddle my bare bottom blue.’ 500 times if you please, Miss Bowen and I will have them before you leave this room today. Am I understood?” Mr. Stark said.

I swallowed hard before answering.

“Yes, sir.” I replied.

“I certainly hope so for your sake Miss Bowen.” He said.

He resumed his monotonous lecture about the variances between American English grammar and British English grammar. I set about to my task in best penmanship and again tuned out his droning voice.

His lecture had long ended and the sun was setting outside by the time I finished the 500th repetition of Mr. Stark’s sentence. My hand was long passed cramping and simply numb I shook it without notice as I stood and collected my many sheets to deliver to Mr. Stark. He remained sitting at his desk, ignoring my existence entirely.

“Have you finally finished?” He asked.

“Yes, sir.” I said.

“Let me see them.”

“Here they are sir.”

“You may stand and wait while I review them.”

“Thank you sir.”

“Stop wringing your hand girl, it is supposed to hurt.”

“Yes, sir. Sorry sir.”

There was silence as he looked over the pages I handed him. When he finally put the down he looked rather pleased with himself.

“I realize you do not like me very much Miss Bowen. I am not as lenient with you as Ms. Maple no doubt was and I will not change my methods on the grounds that they irritate you. As you wander off to your dormitory tonight, think about this; I could have bent you over your desk and paddled you in front of all those boys today and I would have been entirely justified to do so, but I did not. Instead I chose to attempt to teach you a lesson in the same way I would have tried to teach it to one of those boys. Take heed and do not test me again for next time I will do precisely what you have written here. Do we understand each other?”

“Yes, sir. Thank you sir.” I said.

“Excellent. I will walk you to the Carrington Manor if you will just wait by the door for a moment.”

“It is not necessary.” I said.

“I will be the judge of that.” He said.

I waited by the door and after only a minute as he promised, Mr. Stark offered me his arm and donned his hat. The walk to Carrington Manor was pleasant if unusual. I felt safe next to him even in the relative darkness and that surprised me. He did not stop at the steps but escorted me all the way to the door.

As I stepped inside he tipped his hat to me and bowed just slightly.

“It has been a pleasure, Miss Bowen. I wish you a pleasant evening.” He said.

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