One For All

January 30, 1897
Sarah Waters

“May I have your attention, young ladies.” Mr. Carrington said.

Breakfast was being cleared away, but the dining hall doors were closed, ensuring no one had left early as some girls will do. The room had been filled with chatter and the sense of excitement which seems to have accompanied us on our return to school. I was keeping quiet even though several girls attempted to bring me into their conversations. My run-in with Mr. Bard earlier in the week had dampened my taste for gossip.

The room fell silent in pockets as each table came to the realization we were being addressed as a group. Ordinarily, I give little thought and less attention to the Carrington’s, but something drew my eye to Mrs. Carrington. She was sitting quietly with a stern look on her face. It all seemed typical enough until I noticed her eyes. They were red, as though she had been crying.

“Quiet down.” Mr. Carrington said.

The room was already quiet and he knew it. The man was always puffed up in his own importance. Some find it appealing in a man. I find it annoying. I had childish visions of sticking my tongue out at him for no other reason than to distract him from his purpose. Perhaps I should have tried, but the moment passed and the opportunity was lost.

“The young ladies of this house are always expected to represent themselves and this house with pride and dignity. Those who fall short in this task have always been disciplined and will always be disciplined. You and your parents accepted and agreed to these terms before you ever arrived here.” Mr. Carrington said.

He looked around the room, his gaze seeming to single out particular girls for a moment, bring each into his spotlight. In the moment his eyes locked with mine, I knew it was not for praise that he singled some out.

“I have not often been disappointed in the young ladies of this house. However, in recent days it as been brought to my attention, not all the young ladies in this house have been meeting this standard of behavior. It appears some of you have brought the frivolity of your holidays back with you to school. This is not appropriate and the accompanying behavior is not appropriate.” Mr. Carrington continued.

The atmosphere in the room turned from relaxed to tense. Girls shifted in their seats. Some were nervous, having guessed where Mr. Carrington’s speech was heading. Others were angry having sensed the deeper meaning in his spoken words; you are not meant to be happy. I understood it all, and was numb for it.

“It is clear to me, I must take steps to rectify this situation before it becomes completely out of control. Therefore, beginning today, any young lady who requires the discipline of the teachers or administrators of Primrose College more than one time in a week will be disciplined further by me on Friday.” Mr. Carrington said.

There was a collective gasp in the room.

“Those unfortunate enough to require my attention, will report themselves to the main hall of the manor in their nightgowns immediately following their final class for the day. They will line up, facing the wall and wait with their skirts raised above their buttocks and I will deal with each of them in turn. Any young lady who does not report as instructed or who attempts to resist her discipline will be subject to expulsion, without exception. For any of you who may be uncertain as to whether you should be reporting to the main hall this afternoon, Mrs. Carrington has a list.” Mr. Carrington said.

“That is not fair.” I said.

My words echoed the consensus of every other girl in the room. The words left my mouth louder than I expected, but it did not change my conviction in their truth.

“The acts of a few poorly behaved girls staining the reputations of all those who reside here, is fair? I think not, Miss Waters.” Mr. Carrington said.

I could feel eyes of every girl in the room on me. What they expected from me I do not know.
“I only meant we should have a knowing opportunity to avoid your discipline. I am certain everyone in this room will take you at your word.” I said.

“I am not so confidant as you, but I am not unwilling to compromise.” He said.

There was a slight smile on his lips and a glint in his eye.

“Compromise?” I asked.

“Yes, I think a single example could serve the purpose. You seem to be so willing to speak for everyone, perhaps you would also be willing to take their place in the hall this afternoon and serve as that example?” Mr. Carrington said.

Too late, I realized he had just maneuvered me into his trap. I could have said no, but I chose to be brave and stupid instead.

“Will you give me your word that no other girl will be discipline for behavior from before today?” I asked.

He nodded.

“You have it.” He said.

“Then we have an accord.” I said.

The day was long from that point on. Many of the girls thanked me, others told me I was insane. My classes were nothing more than a blur as I wondered just what horrors Mr. Carrington had in store for me. When the final bell of the day rang and I descended the steps of Primrose Hall to return to Carrington Manor, Edith, Elizabeth, Anna, and Penelope were waiting for me.

Ws walked in silence, but I could feel their strength and support being offered to me. I considered asking them what I should expect, but decided I would really rather not know. The journey to the manor felt as if it were a walk to the gallows.

I quickly changed into my nightgown and went to the main hall. I raised my skirts and forced myself not to blush. I pressed my nose against the wall and stared at the plaster. I counted things to keep my mind from straying too far; cracks in the paint, ticks of the clock, creaks on the stairs, footsteps in the hall, anything and everything.

At long last, Mr. Carrington grabbed my arm and pulled me into Mrs. Carrington’s private den. I knew my fate was upon me, but I let the fear drift away and faced it with the calm of the sea. I smiled at him as he lifted his heavy strap of leather and pointed it at me. He tried to hide it, but there was a hint of fear in his eyes. I am not so foolish as to believe it was me he was me of who he was afraid. I knew then, there was more to the circumstances than met the casual eye. Strings had been pulled and the puppet was in play.

“Remove you gown.” He said.

I lifted it over my head in a single motion and tossed it to the floor. Naked, I faced him without a hint of shame or embarrassment. There was nothing, but the coldness of the room between us. I did not try to cover myself or hide from his view. I think it shocked him.

“Bend over the desk.” He ordered.

And I did.

He wasted no time. The strap bit down hard into my buttocks, forcing my hips into the edge of desk and causing me to grunt despite my resolve to remain stoic. The burn of the first stroke built to a high and then the second the stroke came slicing down. I gripped the far edge of desk and gritted my teeth through the force of it. The initial pain was nothing to burn building, but there was nothing to be done except to bare it.

The next stroke brought tears to my eyes, but I held them in place. Not a drop would spill I told myself as I lay waiting for the more that would surely come. Through two more strokes I kept my promise. Then the sixth stroke fell on only my right buttock. I screamed and the tears began to fall. The next stroke followed closely and only struck my left cheek. I screamed again. He continued alternating from cheek to cheek until I had fifteen in all.

I lay sobbing on the desk.

Mr. Carrington grabbed my arm roughly and dragged me up. Without a word he pulled me out of the privacy of the den and into the dining hall where all the girls were seated and waiting for dinner to be served. I felt totally, utterly ashamed and I had done nothing, but take responsibility for the actions of others. I shook with the force of my sobs and wished they would all just look away, but they did not, could not, do anything else except stare.

“Take a good look, ladies. This is what will happen to you if your behavior does not improve immediately.” Mr. Carrington said.

There was not a sound in the room but my crying.

“Go and stand against the wall Miss Waters and do not even think about rubbing your bottom.” Mr. Carrington ordered.

Reluctantly, I obeyed.

Like I Care

Edith Bowen
January 29, 1897

"I swear it wasn't me!" Belinda Ferguson said.

The whine in her voice was irritating. On most days I would have ignored her.

"Tell me then, who?" I replied.

The look of shock on her face almost made me regret the indulgence immediately. She grasped for words, starting and stopping several times, before at last speaking in something resembling a coherent pattern.

"I'm not a tattle. I would not finger anyone, but someone has to know. Besides, you are one of us." She said.

Since my chastisement at the hands of Mr. Carrington, I have noticed a smugness with some of the girls or maybe it is my imagination. Either way, Miss Ferguson's statement brought those too recent memories to the surface. Fortunately for her, I detected no smugness in her tone.

"Continue." I said.

Miss Ferguson looked at me with uncertainty. I sighed, realizing she would need more coaxing.

"Tell me what happened." I said.

"It is complicated." She said.

I rolled my eyes and then hoped she had not noticed.

"Close your eyes, take a deep breath, and then start from the beginning." I said.

Part of me was honestly curious although mostly, I did not care. I was only indulging her need to make excuses because of the guilt I felt for having ignored her legitimate claims of unfairness earlier in the week. Whether my guilty feelings will outlast my patience remains to be seen.

"Well, it all began on the morning walk to Primrose Hall. Miss Cushing and Miss Sumter were walking ahead of me and talking. And their voices carried on the wind. It would of been rude not to listen, so naturally, I did." She said.

She paused and looked at me as if expecting to be scolded. I remained silent and waited for her to continue.

"They were speaking about Sarah, saying the most awful things. I know she does not have the best of roots and the west is yet to be properly civilized, but that is no excuse to make up stories. Sarah would never kill no one, she is not that sort. What she did for that man who tried to take Miss Basset is proof enough." Miss Ferguson said.

At the time, I gave little consideration to the subject matter being discussed. I nodded impatiently for her to continue, but later I would wonder how Miss Cushing or Miss Sumter could be aware of those unfortunate incidents in Miss Waters' past. It was only through reading Miss Waters' letters from home that I was aware.

"It would not be appropriate to have allowed such vicious babble to go on unanswered. After everything Sarah did for all of us, I simply could not hold my tongue." She said.

I was still unclear as to how a conversation between two unrelated girls, related to the trouble Miss Ferguson found herself in. Clearly, she felt there was some obvious connection and that I should understand everything.

"What does this have to do with your knocking Mr. Birchwood down on the school hall steps?" I asked.

"Obviously, it was Miss Cushing's fault."

"How so?"

"When I told her to stop spreading lies about Sarah, she got angry. She had the audacity to call me a busybody. Me!"

"And?" I prodded.

"Naturally, I slapped her."

I nodded, finally beginning to understand.

"The stupid cow shoved me. That is how I ended up colliding with Mr. Birchwood and we then ended up on top of each other at the bottom of the stairs. I didn't tell, but it really wasn't my fault. It should have been Miss Cushing feeling Mr. Birchwood's strap and not me." she said.

Against my better judgement, I made a decision.

"Go back to your room, but if you tell anyone I let you off, you'll get double what you otherwise would have. Understood?" I said.

Miss Ferguson stared at me with tears in her eyes and vigorously nodded her head in the affirmative.

"Go on then." I said.

As I watched her leave, I had the nagging feeling I would not only regret letting her off, but also the entire situation was likely more serious than it seemed. Miss Ferguson is a typical enough girl here at Primrose and I should not be callous to her woes, but she always has excuses. If I act like I care too much then none of them will respect me. It is a fine line I must walk and I fear I have misstepped.

For All To See

January 27, 1897
Sarah Waters

It was after class. The two of us were alone in the dimly lit room which suddenly seemed cold and large. I sat straight in my desk, not daring to move or even shift my gaze from the front wall. Mr. Bard paced the room behind me, keeping my nerves on edge and muscles tensed. I expected the worst because expecting more is often folly.

“Who do you think you are?” Mr. Bard asked.

His voice rang with irritation and the emphasis on the individual words gave me a hint of just how upset he was. The question itself, echoed in my ears and my brain scrambled to find an answer which could be spoken without making the situation all the worse.

“A student.” I said.

Safe, simple, short. What more could I say? Tell him my name and he will think me to be impudent.

“Is that what you call yourself?” Mr. Bard said.

Having just said as much, I felt the answer was obvious and the question rhetorical. The long silence with his question hanging in the air made me doubt myself. I counted to ten in my head and decided he was waiting for an answer, obvious or not.

“Yes.” I replied.

“Yes, what?” He said.

“Um, yes sir?” I said.

Perhaps it was unwise to respond in a questioning manner, but his manner had left me off-balance and uncertain to what he expected.

“Am I not your teacher?” He asked.

“You are.”

“Do I not deserve your respect?”

“You do.”

“Then why must I ask for it before you choose to give it?”

Are teachers taught to ask unanswerable questions? Perhaps they are not, but they all seem to be inherently good at it.

“You do not.” I replied.

I knew it was not the best answer, but it was the best answer I could come up with or at least the best of what I am brave enough to give voice.

“I see. Then your remarks about the monotony of my voice and the tiresomeness of my lectures was meant to be respectful?” He said.

Speaking of impossible questions to answer…

I could feel him standing close behind me. His warm breath fell on my neck and raised my hackles. I wished he would get it over with and spank me. Anything would be better than the delicate dance of answering his indelicate questions. I considered arguing for my first amendment right to speak freely, but discarded the idea as useless. Only men have rights under the Constitution in Mr. Bard’s view and to argue otherwise would only deepen the hole I have dug for myself.

Wish as I might that it were not true, I had said the words in gossip with other girls in the hallway. We were not in class and I had not thought to be cautious or quiet. Mr. Bard had heard although it was not my intention for him to hear, but I suppose that makes little difference in any regard.

He leaned down so his mouth was next to my ear.

“Nothing to say?” He asked.

“My comments were inappropriate, rude and perhaps worst of all, disrespectful. I am deeply sorry, sir.” I said.

The words ached coming out, but in someway it felt good to have said them. They were a cleansing of sorts, an acceptance of responsibility for myself and my actions which will allow me to learn and better myself from the unavoidable consequences.

“Very fine words, Ms. Waters. I even believe you mean them. Still, discipline must be maintained. You may now stand and strip.” He said.

I blinked at the command.

“But…” I started to protest.

“NOW!” He commanded.

I resigned myself to it. My hands shook at the task of undressing. My face flushed with embarrassment as I felt his gaze on my naked flesh. My hands and arms contorted themselves in a futile attempt to preserve my modesty. Mr. Bard enjoyed the spectacle with a wicked smile.

“Hands at your sides.” He said. “ You have nothing I have not seen before and unless your attitude and behavior have a marked improvement, I will see it many more times.”

Blushing to the bone, I complied and rested my hands by my sides. He stared at me in silence. I could feel his eyes taking in every part of me. He is not the first man to see me naked, and he will not be the last, but the experience remains a humiliating one, each and every time. It is not the exposure of my private flesh, but my utter compliance in its exposure that leaves me ashamed.

“Touch your toes.” He said.

I was only too glad to do so.

Mr. Bard took his time in securing the paddle from his desk. As much as I was hating every second, he was enjoying them. It is how it is meant to be, how it has always been and how it will always be.

The first crack of the paddle against my bare bottom rippled through my body. From my upside down view, I watched my naked breasts bounce and Mr. Bard watch them bounce. Just as they came to rest, he swung again, repeating the scene and increasing my blush both in face and bottom. He continued the cycle, making no attempt to hide his enjoyment while I conversely, tried to hide the pain and shame.

With fifteen swats delivered and my butt burning, Mr. Bard brought the paddle to rest against his leg. The look of satisfaction on his face was clear as the embarrassment on my own. Deserved as the spanking was, it felt all the worse because I knew he enjoyed every moment of it. I might have only myself to blame, but it would be easy to blame him as well.

I stayed in position, my fingers stretching to connect with my toes. Mr. Bard sat down on a nearby desktop and quietly drank in the view. It was only then, I began to cry. The burning pain in my bottom combined with the helplessness of my position finally broke through and I sobbed. I think he knew it would and he had waited for it.

“Stand up.” He said.

I did. My hands went immediately to my bottom.

“Hands at your side.” He commanded.

I complied although it was ever more difficult than the first time he had ordered it.

“Go and put your nose to the wall outside in the hallway. Keep your hands at your side and you can stay there until I tell you.” He said.

I began to collect my clothing to dress, thankful that the ordeal was mostly over.

“Naked, Ms. Waters. You publicly humiliated me and I intend to return the favor. You will stand naked in the hallway, so that everyone who passes by knows precisely what happens to naughty girls like you.” Mr. Bard said.

And so it was.

Life Is Not Fair

January 26, 1897
Edith Bowen

Belinda Ferguson is no stranger to my room in the after dinner hours. Like Mrs. Carrington, I have adopted the familiar tradition of providing reinforcing discipline for those young ladies who have required it during the school day. The girls in my charge are now well aware of my expectations and present themselves in an orderly line facing the wall outside my room. Miss Ferguson, being a frequent visitor, is often the first to arrive.

Naturally, I was not surprised to see her this evening. And keeping with her usual antics, Miss Ferguson blames her misfortune on the grumpiness of teachers. Perhaps if I had listened closer I might have realized then something was amiss. However, her story was so typical I brushed it aside as an empty excuse.

I raised and lowered my ruler a fitting dozen times while she lay bare bottomed over my knees. Her cries fell on deaf ears as did her complaints of unfairness. You would think I would know better than to ignore such complaints. I suppose it is to be expected my perspective has been permanently altered to reflect that of the disciplinarian rather than the disciplined. It was therefore only when I escorted Miss Ferguson out, I realized something was wrong. Later I would feel guilty about her tear stained cheeks and the way she held her bottom when she ran to her room. In the moment, I was too shocked by the sheer number of girls awaiting my attention. During the worst of weeks I have attended to a dozen girls or less. More then twenty girls stood waiting for me on this one night.

Were it only troublemakers I might have shrugged it off as a bad day, but most of them were quite the opposite. Gazing over them, I decided it was time to solicit information.

It took only a few moments for me to realize their stories were almost all identical. Each girl had committed only the most minor infractions or in many cases none at all. Irregardless, they had each been subsequently punished.

I was torn between letting the girls off for the seemingly injustice and protecting my reputation as a stern figure of authority. I instructed the girls to wait as they were and make my way downstairs to seek Mrs. Carrington’s advice.

"Have the teachers lost their minds?" I asked.

"Whatever are you talking about?" Mrs. Carrington replied.

"More then twenty of my girls have been disciplined today. Besides that being a record for a week not to mention a day, the stories they tell sound as if breathing has become a crime."

Sometime while I was speaking, Mr. Carrington entered the room.

"You should know better than to be so gullible. " Mr. Carrington said.

"Were I to listen to a single girl then gullible I would be, but when so many tell so similar a tale it would be foolish not to listen." I said.

"You are not fit for the position you hold if you will take the word of your girls over that of their teachers." Mr. Carrington said.

"If I had wanted your advice I would have sought you out. I came for Mrs. Carrington, not you."

"I have had about enough of your insolence." Mr. Carrington said.

"It is not insolence to deal in facts rather than fantasy."

I do not know what words I expected in response, but I did not expect silence. I faced him smugly thinking I had won. I should have known by the glint in his eye that I had not. The resounding slap of his open palm against my cheek set me straight.

Surprised, I stood gaping at Mr. Carrington. I think it was in that moment control shifted from me to him. My former meekness came rushing back and the confident person I have become was temporarily lost. I stood paralyzed in the familiar role of one who had pushed too far only to find there remain consequences.

What happened next was only a blur. Despite my every effort to protest I was soon head down over the back of the chair. My skirts were lifted up and left dangling around my head. If Mrs. Carrington had any objections she kept them to herself and instead, held me down.

"You-" Mr. Carrington said.

His infamous strap came crashing down on my up-turned posterior.


A second blow made my predicament crystal clear. I was getting a spanking.


The strap continued to impart its biting sting, emphasizing Mr. Carrington' s every word.


As the strap bit down once again, I squirmed and kicked trying to break free.


I cried out as much in frustration as for the burning pain in my bottom. Mr. Carrington relentlessly swung his strap once more for good measure.


Tears stung at my eyes as the strap made its point yet again.


Involuntarily, my legs kicked as the strap connected with my thighs instead of my bottom.


The futility of my situation became clear when the strap struck my thighs again despite my wild struggles to break free. I lay limp, resigned to my fate.


The strap fell not once, not twice, but four more times. When I was younger I would have cried and screamed and begged, for mercy. Now I simply closed my eyes and did my best to accept what was and will be.

At long last, Mrs. Carrington released her hold and I was able to stand. More like a naughty little girl than a grown women, I sheepishly stared at the floor. what further words were spoken I do not recall, but my responses were understandably more respectful.

The sting in my bottom was foremost on my mind as I climbed the stairs to my room. only when I reached the top of the stairs did I remember the line of girls in the hall. Right then I decided they would each share in my discomfort. It was not fair, but life is not fair, so why should I be?

What Lies Beneath

January 23, 1897
Edith Bowen

Although the days remain cool and there remain countless storms on the horizon, I feel we left winter back on the road to Primrose. It is impossible to walk through the halls of Carrington Manor without being affected by the hopeful energy surrounding all the girls. Even Mrs Carrington appears to be possessed by our new found energy. I have not forgotten the threats or dangers upon us, but right here, right now I am confident we will meet them and prevail above them.

From the outside, everything must seem as normal. The girls go about their business from Primose Hall to the library, to Carrington Manor. They spend their time studying the lessons they wish to learn and performing the chores they wish they left behind. It is just how things have always been.

But, It is only an illusion as thin as winters ice on a thawing pond in the early days of spring.

The irony is not lost on me. Only now, in my final months at Primrose, I understand the significance of the journey I have taken. When i first arrived I thought my life was over, but with time and perspective I can see now that was the day it began. Where I will go from here I do not know, but part of me will always remain etched in the history these walls surely hold.

I must remind myself, while the future is promising, the burdens of today remain. There are questions to be asked and answered by friends and foes alike. I was not always so bold, but more then the seasons have changed in my time at Primrose. where once I might have stood silence I can no longer hold my tongue.

I had the good sense to wait until we were alone. The classroom felt oddly cold as though the walls themselves knew are confrontation was as unavoidable as are flaring tempers.

"Was there something you needed Miss Bowen?" Mr Stark said.

"Did you know?" I asked

I tried to keep the accusation out of my tongue. If the look on Mr Stark's face was any indication, I failed.

"Know what?"

"Do not dare to play dumb with me."

"If you have something to say, then say it."

"Did you think you would never see me again? Is that why you invited me to your home?"

"Why do you ask questions when you have already decided on their answers?"

"Do not presume to know my thoughts."

"If they where not written on your face, I would not. "

"Then tell me I am wrong. Tell me you didn't know."

"The truth is not so simple. I did know and yes, I sent you to your fate anyway."

I wanted to cry. I wanted to flee from the room. There was no longer any place to hide from what I know to be true. His steady voice held no remorse nor did his words offer any excuse. I had prepared myself for anything but I had not expected this. There was only one thing left to say, only one question left to ask.

"Why?" I asked.

"Does it matter?"

"It does to me."

"Because those girls needed you more then I."

Between Trust And Truth

January 22, 1897
Sarah Waters

He is handsome. There is no doubt about it, and his attentions would otherwise be flattering were I not aware his motivations are anything but honorable. I can dream though and a wonderful dream it is when he stands before me. His eyes seem to be for me alone in those moments like this very afternoon. At the steps to Primrose Hall he waited for me.

A sharp blue sky and crisp air were the trappings of the day. The piles of snow melted in the warm gaze of the sun, leaving a rising steam coming from everywhere and nowhere. Bundled in a warm coat with only the collar visible and a hint of a black tie, Jonathon Goulding stood waiting. His eyes followed my every movement while my own avoided his gaze.

Another woman might have easily assumed his unfaltering gaze to be simple adoration. She might have fretted about hairs undoubtedly out of place or rumpled skirts from the long hours spent sitting in desks too small for adults. I was not so afflicted. I only wondered if the look on his face was joy or anger. In the subtle nuances I am coming to know as life, I realized the expression was very likely a portion of each emotion conflicted and conflicting within the man.

He offered his arm as I approached. I hesitated before taking it, but there was no reason to be impolite. I would have heard the gasps and awes of my peers had I not ignored them. We began to walk toward Carrington Manor as if it were the most natural thing for the two of us to do.

“It is good you made it back.” He said.

“No thanks to you.” I replied.

“I had nothing to do with what happened.”

“I never accused you.”

“I only meant to say I am glad to see you.”

“And now that you have said it?”

“Are you not glad to see me as well?”

“If I said I were, I think you would be unduly pleased with yourself and if I were to say I am not, I think you would be unduly saddened. What would you have me say?”

“Whatever words would come from your heart will do for me.”

“My heart has no words of its own.”

“Then cold silence shall reign.”

“Why must it be cold? Silence is not inherently so, or am I wrong?”

“You are not.”

“Then why do you call it cold?”

“Because when a woman’s heart is absent of words, she has no warmth.”

“Then you think me cold?”

“I think you bewilder me.”

“Yes I suppose you are unaccustomed to women bearing a brain as well as a heart.”

“I think you know better than to believe those words.”

“Perhaps. Was there more you wished from me than to express your gladness?” I asked.

“Indeed. The man you shot, what did he want with you?” He asked.

I stopped walking and withdrew my arm from his. I turned to face him and our questioning gazes met and locked. You can truly see a man for who he is within his eyes, but Jonathon’s were a maze of conflicts which revealed all and nothing at all.

“Are you asking to learn what I know or to know what I learned?” I replied.

“Do not play games with me Sarah. I can help you but I need to know the truth.”

“For there to be truth, there must be trust and I do not trust you.”

“The man you shot is dangerous, but he is a mere pawn to the men he works for. None of this makes any sense though, you should be nobody to them.”

“Maybe I am. I never said they were after me.”

He blinked in surprise.


“I think you already know but if you don’t you will not learn it from me.”

“This is not a game. You will not be safe until they have what or who they want.”

“Will we be safe after they have succeeded? I think not.”

Jonathon Goulding walked away, frustrated. I entered Carrington manor, confused.

Sticks And Stones

January 20, 1897
Edith Bowen

They had all known. It was written on their faces when we, the Primrose Girls, climbed the steps of Primrose Hall and entered the classrooms on the first day of classes in the new year. I do not believe they were directly involved, at least not all of them. Regardless, I took pride in the shock in their eyes. No one expected mere girls, like us, to make the journey alone.

The unspoken words filled the air in the classrooms. I think it was mostly praise but I am certain there was some grumbling as well from those who would have rather seen the end of Primrose with the hopes of Brown being expanded. They no doubt fail to understand, as a teacher of women they are as marked as those of us who attend as students.

There has been talk of Primrose closing since the first day I arrived within the gates, but until these recent days I had never understood the power behind such talk. I once thought of it as words used to discourage those who were not certain they wished to be here. Now, I realize they are words meant to discourage us all, but it is not the words which hurt.

Mr. Carrington’s failure to keep his word and the action of leaving us waiting without any knowledge of why, now that is hurtful. The surprise on Mrs. Carrington face was barely greater than her obvious jubilation at seeing us. In contrast, Mr. Carrington looked fit to be tied. His abrupt greeting was further evidence.

“What are you doing here?” He asked.

I nearly laughed in his face.

“School begins tomorrow.” Miss Bassett answered for all.

I would have left matters at that. The burning anger in my chest would have dissipated in time and I had no true need for confrontation, but there was that sigh. It was more of a huff and a puff, but unlike for the big bad wolf, we were not straw houses to be blown down. The way he rolled his eyes at Miss Bassett’s answer and the danger he left her in particular in was more than I could allow to pass.

“Yes, we are here. No thanks to you as you know. Do you have an excuse for us?” I demanded.

His eyes narrows as he turned to me.

“What excuse do you have for recklessly leading these young ladies into danger? It is no less than fortunate you arrived without disaster.” He said.

“I did what I had to do because you did not do what you promised to do. It is not I who endangered them, it is you.” I replied.

“There was a storm and with the fresh snow pack it was not safe to travel. It is a miracle you made it through.”

“Do not think to tell me lies. I will not believe them when I know the truth first hand. We weathered the storm in a barn because you sent no word of your plans or lack thereof. We crossed the miles of icy terrain on horseback and it was neither treacherous nor dangerous. The only treachery was yours and the only danger was men.” I said.

“In my house you will keep a more respectful tongue, girl!”

“If threats are all you know, understand this; if you ever so recklessly endanger even one of these girls again, I will be your worst nightmare.” I said.

“You already are.”

“Then just think how much worse it could get.” I said.

I turned my back on him, not because I had nothing more to say but because I did not want to waste my breath and also, I wanted him to know I am not afraid of him. It is not always the truth, but the look in his eyes told me he is afraid of something and I know better than to think it is me. Whatever it is, it makes me realize he is but a puppet on the stage and I will never fear a puppet.

“Come on girls, let’s get settled back into our rooms. Tomorrow is a big day.” I said.

The Return (Final Part)

January 19, 1897
Sarah Waters

I woke up in the morning to the sound of children playing. After the briefest moment of confusion I remembered where I was, the sheriff’s home. The children were his and they were happy which made me happy. Someday, I might like to have children and a husband and everything that means but on this day, I am glad to be alone.

The two girls could hardly sit still at the breakfast table. They had far too much energy to be contained inside but the winter weather would not permit them beyond the front door or perhaps it was more there father than the weather. He loved them, that much was obvious. I have had a bad taste in my mouth about sheriffs since early last year, but this man is doing a good job of changing all that.

“Did you really ride a horse a thousand miles all alone?” One of the girls asked.

I smiled and shook my head.

“Who told you that?” I asked.

“She did!” She said, pointing to her sister.

“Did not!” The accused girl exclaimed.

“Settle down.” The sheriff said.

The girls became quiet for a moment. There was a knock at the door and the sheriff rose to answer it. It was the doctor at the door.

“You’ll be happy to know the man you brought in will live.” The doctor said.

I was more than I could believe.

“Any idea who he is?” The sheriff asked.

“No, nothing to give a hint and I never seen him around before.” The doctor replied.

The sheriff nodded and the doctor left us to breakfast. As I began clearing it away, habit from home, the sheriff shooed the girls into another room giving us a touch of privacy.

“You feel like telling me what really happened out there?” He asked.

I paused for a moment but then went with my instincts which were telling me to trust him.
“He came into our camp in the middle of the night with three others. They were looking for one of the girls and things turned nasty. I managed to get a hold of the gun and shoot him. The others took off after that.” I said.

“How many of you girls were coming in?” He asked.

“All of us. Mr. Carrington didn’t show with the caravan to bring them in.”

“That’s what a hundred girls?”

“A few less. Not everyone returned from the holiday. Is Primrose truly closed?”

“Did they turn back after the incident?” He asked.

I noticed he avoided answering my question.

“No, they’ll be at Carrington Manor sometime this morning if not last night.”

“Then your school will still be open. They were only talking of closing because someone spread a rumor that none of the girls would be coming back.”


“If I knew that, I might have a better idea of what is going on around here. Do you know who those men were looking for?”

“I do.”

“But you’re not going to tell me?”

“I don’t think it’s my place to say.”

“I can’t protect her if I don’t know who she is.”

“She’ll be safe enough now, I think.”

“I understand you don’t trust easily and seems you’ve got good reason to be that way, but I’m here and I’ll help if you’ll let me. Not every man wants to keep the world in the dark ages.” He said.

His gaze was out of the room and toward his two girls although he could not see them, I think his eyes did anyway. Maybe when things are clearer, I will say more but for now, he is the sheriff and I still do not trust that name.

“I had best get myself to Carrington Manor. The girls will be glad to know our trip was not in vain.”

“Your horse is in the stable around the corner.” He said.

“Thank you.”

I left through the front door and he did not follow. I never turned to look back but I could feel eyes on me right up until I left town and returned to the grounds of Primrose College.

The Return (Part Six)

January 16, 1897
Sarah Waters

Edith reach me first, breathless from running. The pistol lay smoldering the snow in front of me. The man I had shot groaned on his back clearly in pain, but also clearly alive. In the moment I had wanted him dead. It was with hate in my heart I pulled the trigger and in the wake of it I trembled, afraid of myself and what I have become.

“Are you alright?” Edith asked.

“Yes.” I replied.

It was truth and lie wrapped together in the fiction of confidence I still portrayed to the others. Somewhere there were tears to be cried for what I had done, but they were not with me. The rest of the girls emerged for the woods and encircled Elizabeth and I. The faces were mixed with emotions from horror and fear to relief and jubilation. I felt hollow and alone.

I looked to Edith for guidance and found her looking back at me for the same. I looked away, unable to face the burden of leading. Margaret knelt near the man I shot and examined his wound. It would have been simpler if he were dead, but fate is not known for kindness.

“The bullet is lodged in him. He’s lost a lot of blood but with surgery he might survive.” Margaret said.

“Who cares?” Anna asked.

The coldness of her words echoed in harmony with the darkness in my heart.

“He might well deserve to die, but if he does it will be trouble for all of us.” Margaret said.

“Can you do the surgery?” I asked.

“With the proper tools and a more friendly environment, perhaps. But not here.” Margaret replied.

I waited for someone else to take charge. They all remained in silence and even blind I would have known they were all looking to me. I pushed aside my doubts and accepted the role given to me.

“Help me get him on his horse.” I said.

Edith and Anna both looked at me like I had lost my mind. It was fortunate Elizabeth, Penelope, and Margaret sprang into motion, following my orders.

Elizabeth and Penelope each got themselves under the limp man’s arms. Margaret and I grabbed the feet. I think it was the urgency of the situation that kept us synchronized. We had never practiced such a complicated choreography but with little trouble we soon had him on the saddle and balanced.

I picked up his discarded pistol from the snow for a second time. It was still warm to the touch and the weight of the small things still astounded me. The muscles in my arm were sore from the recoil of it when I pulled the trigger. There had been a time when I would never have picked it up, but that time had come and gone. That innocence was lost long before this night.

I pushed the thoughts of what had happened here from my mind. The pistol slipped gently from my hand to rest in my saddle bag. I mounted Jasper in a single attempt for the first time ever. It was unquestioned confidence that allowed it and I didn’t allow my pride or surprise to show on my face. Elizabeth looked at me in a way that reminded me of how we all looked at Mrs. Carrington. In the back of my mind I wondered if that was good or bad. For the moment it mattered not.

“Stay on the trail to Primrose, follow the train tracks when you can and head east when you can‘t. Don’t wait for me, I will head to Providence directly and meet you at Carrington Manor in two days.”

“Be careful, Sarah.” Elizabeth said almost as a plea.

I smiled at her and nodded. I looked at the other girls. There was concern in their eyes. I nodded again and then I grabbed the reigns and prodded both horses into a gallop. The man groaned at first and started to straighten. He fell limply forward after a moment and then there was only the sound of hoof on dirt.

I cannot say how many hours I rode. The sun was not yet up when I started off and it was setting again when I arrived in town. I had not spent much time in town before but I recalled the location of the sheriff’s office with clarity. As I rode up to the front door the Sheriff came out to meet me.

He took the reigns of the horse with the man on it and tied them to a post. I dismounted and did the same with Jaspers‘. The sheriff called his deputy out to help him with the man and soon a doctor arrived. The deputy and doctor carried the man away at a hurry down the street. It was not until they were gone that he spoke to me.

“Are you all right Miss?”

“I will be.”

“Do you care to tell me what happened?”

“He rode up on us in the dark. Frightened us and I shot him by accident.”

He was looking at my horse while I spoke. He opened my saddle bag and pulled out the pistol while I was speaking of it. The look on his face was impossible to read but for some reason I trusted him.

“Snuck up on you in the dark eh?”

“Yes, Sir.”

“Shot him accidentally?”

“Yes, Sir.”

“With his own gun no less.”

I stood silent.

He nodded and offered a sympathetic smile.

“You are one of the Carrington girls are you not?”

“My name is Waters, sir. I am a student at Primrose. I am proud to be associated with either of those names but I only reside at Carrington Manor while I am here. I am not one of her girls nor will I ever be.”

He chuckled deep in his throat.

“I stand corrected, Miss.” He paused for a moment looking toward his office and then turned back to me. “She is right about you I reckon. Only one thing she got wrong.”

“I am glad I failed to make a liar out of her on most counts. I must admit I am curious to know what she was wrong about?”

“She seemed to think you might be somebody someday.”

I bit my lip and held back as much anger as I could.

“If you will excuse me I have some distance still to ride tonight.”

“Seems you already are somebody, Miss Waters. The wife and I have an extra room if you want to stay the night. Your horse could use the rest and so could you.”

I did not trust myself to speak just then so I nodded and followed him home.

The Return (Part Five)

January 15, 1897
Edith Bowen

When Miss Waters finally agreed to stop for the night, it was already getting dark. The girls hustled about in the last vestiges of light to make a clearing in the snow. Miss Waters and I gathered wood and stones for a fire. Beans were cooked in a large pan over the fire and the girls ate heartily even though the food was less than any of us are accustomed. Sleep came readily with dreams fit for adventurers. We were all exhausted and exhilarated.

I would have screamed. I wanted to, but the rough hand clamped over my mouth and nose prevented the needed air for anything more than panic. My eyes shot open wide and scanned the blurry darkness for any sign of what was happening. I tried to move but I found my arms restrained and my legs unable to do anything more than kick uselessly at air and dirt. I was being dragged away from the camp.

“Hush.” a familiar voice whispered.

My vision began to clear and the hand over my mouth eased a little. I blinked and turned my head to see. It was Miss Waters.

“What are you doing?” I asked.

“Quiet. We’re not alone.” She said.

I bit my tongue to keep the flurry of questions in my head from coming out. Cold, groggy, and confused, I relied on my instincts and all of them told me to trust Miss Waters. Feeling more awake, I began to look around and it was then I saw them. Sarah had been watching them all along I realized and most importantly they had not seemed to notice us.

Had I not overheard Miss Waters’ conversation with Mr. Howe before we left, I would have thought they were a welcome sight. Knowledge however, is a dangerous thing and even the small amount I had told me these men were going to be trouble. Miss Waters had clearly made the same determination while I had been sleeping.

At first they seemed to only be looking and watching. Then they moved in closer and while nothing overtly told me they meant us harm, I could feel it in my bones. Something about the way the firelight flickered on their faces made them appear like demons.

“What are we going to do?” I asked.

“Wait.” Miss Waters replied.

I looked at her quizzically. Could she really mean to wait for them to attack someone before revealing ourselves?

“We have an element of surprise, but it will be wasted if we reveal ourselves now.” Miss Waters said.

I nodded my understanding, wondering just what it was she would expect me to do when the time for waiting was over. The men slowly walked through our camp, carefully stepping around the sleeping girls. After a moment I realized what Miss Waters had already understood; They were looking for someone.

My inclination was to assume they were looking for Miss Waters. The look on her face suggested she thought the same. We were both surprised when they stopped, apparently finding the one for whom they were looking. Instinctively, I looked to Miss Waters for guidance.

She was intent on watching the men. They grabbed the girl much as Miss Waters had grabbed me only minutes earlier. The light of the fire flickered just right and I recognized the girl instantly as Elizabeth Bassett. I choked down a reflexive gasp and continued to watch in silence.

Amazingly, they were able to move to the edge of the camp before Miss Bassett made enough noise to stir the other girls. For a moment I hoped that the girls waking would cause the men to leave Miss Bassett and simply run. I should have known better. Whatever reasons they had for going after Miss Bassett were clearly more important than any risk of being identified for authorities later.

“Damn.” Miss Waters said.

“What?” I asked.

“This is going to get messy.” She said.

We started moving back toward the camp. The girls were nearly all stirring from their sleep and some were standing up looking bewildered. Miss Cushing was the quickest to notice what was happening.

“Hey! Let her go.” Miss Cushing shouted.

One of the men pulled a gun and shot it in the air. Any girl not yet awake, was then. Anna dived to the ground and several other girls mirrored her. It is one thing to challenge a man with words but when guns are drawn it is time to join the meek.

Miss Bassett managed to break free from the man holding her for a moment. She kicked out and her boot struck the man who had fired the gun right underneath his chin. He choked and sputtered and stumbled and then turned on her. He swung his hand hard and the pistol slapped into her face sending blood spewing from her nose and mouth.

I gasped.

“Get the girls out of here, now!” Miss Waters ordered.

She did not wait for a response. Had I not been next to her I would never have seen her in the shadows as she approached the men. The knot in my stomach told me things were about to go from bad to worse, but Miss Waters had made her choice. The was no stopping her and for that, she was Miss Bassett’s only hope for escape.

I hissed to get the girls’ attention.

“This way!” I said.

The girls did not need to be told twice.

We scrambled through the trees and snow. I stayed at the back and Miss Cushing led the way. I stopped at the top of a hill and looked back. In the moonlight I could see the men on their horses and what must have been Miss Bassett with one of them. I could see no sign of Miss Waters and I wondered briefly if they had simply shot her and left her for dead while the rest of us had ran.
Miss Spooner turned back from the group and came to stand by me. Her steady hand grabbed my arm in support. I glanced at her and then looked back in the distance.

“There was nothing you could do to help her.” Miss Spooner said.

Then we heard the neigh of a horse echo in the night. The horse carrying Miss Bassett raised up in the air, sending its rider and Miss Bassett tumbling into the snow. A moment later two girls were running down toward the trees, away from the men.

The men were not willing to give up so easily though and gave chase on horseback. The girls had not a chance of outrunning them, but Miss Waters must have known from the start. As the first rider neared them, they dropped to the ground and the horse ran past unable to stop so short. The horse just behind was on them though.

Miss Waters swung a branch up from the ground, sending up a cloud of snow and startling the horse into throwing its rider as well. Even as the man scrambled to his feet on the ground Miss Waters swung the branch at him striking him over and over until he dropped unmoving in the snow.

Miss Spooner and I held our collective breath, unable to do more than watch the nightmare before us. The first man was back on them with his gun drawn. I could hear him sneer across the distance. The sound of his fist connecting with Miss Waters’ face, echoed in the night.

Miss Bassett tried to fight back, but she was ineffective. Her attempts did nothing but land her flat in the snow with more blood spilling from her injured nose. Miss Waters should not have been underestimated though. She might have been caught off guard for a moment but she was not far from finished. As she pushed herself up from the snow, I could see the anger beaming through her eyes. She spat blood in the snow like it was bad wine.

In what must have been a rush of adrenaline she doubled her fists together and rammed them into the man’s gut. I could almost hear the gush of air as it rushed out of his lungs leaving him gasping.

Miss Waters threw herself down to the ground and rolled in the snow coming up into a kneeling position facing the man.

He moved toward her.

Miss Bassett screamed.

A gunshot rang out in the air.

The night became eerily silent and I felt dread like a blanket on my shoulders. Neither Miss Waters nor Miss Bassett were moving. Miss Spooner and I ran down the hill toward our friends.

Three men got back on their horses and rode away at full gallop.

The Return (Part Four)

January 14, 1897
Sarah Waters

It was the smallest box under the tree at Christmas. I was surprised when Sam brought it to me. His eyes were watery as he watched me carefully unfold the paper it was wrapped in and slip the top off of the box.

“It was Dad’s.” Sam said. “I think he would want you to have it. Maybe through it he can still give you direction when you need it. God knows I can’t.”

At the time, it felt light in my hand, but now as I prepare to lead all these girls, it feels heavy. It is as if my entire burden rests within it. Everyone’s eyes were on me as I found north with my father’s compass and then turned east. I looked around at the girls, standing beside their saddled horses, maybe I should have smiled, but I did not.

“Once we head out there will be no turning back.” I said.

They were all dressed in flannel shirts and riding pants. Some of them nearly disappeared into their heavy coats and I could tell by the looks on their faces that most were at least a little uncomfortable in the unfamiliar garments. It had been Elizabeth Bassett’s idea, but it was a good one. From a distance we would appear as men and even as close as I was, I would not have noticed if there were a man in our midst.

Edith came up to stand beside me. I gave her a nod of respect, though not long ago I would never have done so, she has earned it from me now. In truth she deserved it even before I gave it, but those days are now in the past.

“If anyone doubts this is their path then go back now before it is too late.” Edith said.

No one moved. I should not have been surprised, they are after all Primrose Girls, just like me. Whatever had driven them to Primrose in the first place was as varied as the girls themselves, but there was one thing we all shared; Once those doors to Primrose were opened to us, there was never any turning back. Even if Primrose doors have truly been closed they will not remain that way, not when we stand united on the steps.

“Alright, it is time. Saddle up, we are moving out.” I said.

It took more time than I would have liked. All of the girls needed help getting up on their horses. The sheriff and a few men with him were watching and laughing at our comedy of errors, but in the end the horses were mounted and the men ignored. As we rode past them, there was no longer any laughter.

People gathered outside to watch as we rode past and out of town. There was a solemn quiet in the air and I realized the answer to the question I had once asked Mr. Bard; Sometimes people do know when the moment they are in is a moment for the history books.

“Do you feel it?” Edith asked.

We rode side by side at a slow trot.

“Yes.” I replied. “I think the world is trembling.”

“And you are not afraid at all?”

“Of what? Everything I ever feared to lose, I have lost. What more should make me afraid?”

“Men.” She said.

I laughed at the very thought.

“We’ll never make it in two days at this pace.” I said.

“They are not experienced riders.” Anna said.

“Maybe not, but by nightfall they will be. Take up the rear and make sure we leave no one behind.” I said.

Anna nodded although her face clearly said she did not agree with me.

“We are placing our faith in you.” Edith said.

“I’ll do my best, but at the end of the day I am just a girl. Just like you.” I said.

“You are not ‘just’ anything, Miss Waters. Of that, I am certain.”

I prodded Jasper to a gallop and listened for the others to follow. They did and faster than I expected, we were all thunder and hooves. The road was hard to follow and so I turned to the train tracks and kept father’s compass for the times when our path was unclear. I kept my uncertainties to myself and led with a steadiness I never knew I had.

The Return (Part Three)

January 13, 1897
Edith Bowen

An old woman once told me there are moments of such great importance in our lives that even in the midst of them it is impossible not to recognize them for what they are. As the sheriff told me Primrose College was no more, I realized this was one of those moments. The choices I make from this moment onward reflect my understanding of the graveness before me and more importantly my willingness to risk all that I am for all that I wish to be.

Call me selfish if you will but it is more than my future at stake. The hopes and dreams of a generation rest in my reckless hands, but do not think I am immune to the weight of that burden on my shoulders, nor the consequences should I fail. Fortunately, I will not bare it alone. Miss Waters stands as stubborn as I and will not let Primrose College and all that it means to so many fade without so much as a word spoken in protest.

Perhaps it was having no home to return to or maybe it was a sense there was more going on than was being revealed, but I could not simply follow the sheriff out of the barn when he commanded us to all go. I will never know for certain what drove me in that moment but whatever happens I will not regret my decision.

I stood my ground in the center of the barn and turned my back to the sheriff.

“We could go home.” I said.

My voice was louder than I had ever spoken before and I was not shouting. It was as if the force of my convictions were being translated into volume.

“We could give up on our dreams and the dreams of those yet to come. Is that what you will say to your daughters someday? Will you look them in the eye and tell them you came so far only to turn around and go home because a man with a shiny tin star told you to go? I will not.” I said.

I could feel the eyes of everyone staring at me. My legs felt weak but I was determined to stand my ground. I did not dare to contemplate what they must be thinking of me.

“Primrose College is more than a school. It stands as a beacon signaling a new age is coming to America. From the moment it first opened its doors there have been men trying to close them. If you want those doors closed along with everything they stand for, then go. Follow the sheriff and get on a train bound for home, but if you have dreams of a better tomorrow, then now is the time to persevere.” I said.

“Assuming for a moment you are right, how will we get to Primrose? There are no carriages or wagons waiting to take us.” Miss Sumter said.

“We ride.” Miss Waters said.

“You are joking.” Miss Sumter said.

“There are plenty of horses here and Anna and I have already made the trip ourselves from Primrose to here. Going back will be no different.” Miss Waters replied.

“We don’t have the equipment.” Miss Sumter said.

“Everything we need is right here.” I said.

“It is a two day trip for an experienced rider. If you girls go out there on your own that’s just how you’ll be, alone.”

“We aren’t alone, sheriff. We have each other and that is all we need.” Miss Waters said.

“Suit yourselves but I won’t be sending anyone out after you if you get in trouble.” The sheriff said.

“I wouldn’t have it any other way.” Miss Waters said.

The sheriff waved his hand in a dismissive gesture at us and walked away for the second time. I held my breath waiting to see if any of the girls would follow, but none did. They were all looking to me instead and for the first time in my life I knew without any doubt, this was where I belonged.

I set about giving the instructions to get us ready to leave on horseback by morning. There would be things left behind but with luck, there would be someone coming for them later. As the girls set to work, I found a moment to approach Miss Waters and offer my thanks, only before I could a man I recognized as Mr. Howe came up to her. I stood back just far enough to not be seen, but close enough to hear.

“You’re making a mistake Sarah.” He said.

“I should have known you were behind this.” Miss Waters replied.

“Not me, not this time. I have other reasons for being here.”

“And what might those be.”

“To warn you.”

“Consider me warned then.”

“Go home Sarah, before you can’t.”

“You already took my home from me.”

“These people will kill you.”


“I can’t say.”

“Mr. Howe, if you think your cryptic warnings will scare me off then you have obviously not come to know me as well as I know you.”

“I don’t want to see you hurt.”

Miss Waters exploded in laughter.

“Tell your boss I’m not afraid of him and I’m not turning back, not now, not ever.” She said.

“You don’t have a clue what you are mixed up in, do you? Mr. Parker is only one player and believe it or not he’s one of the more civilized. You’ve angered the wrong people and they will bury you if you don’t walk away.”

“Let them try and what has begun as a whisper will turn to a roar. In any case I’m not afraid of dying.”

“No, you’re just afraid of living.” Mr. Howe said. “I didn’t really think you’d listen but I had to try. You’ll have to find your own path, I just hope it’s not the same as your father’s.”

With those words he turned and walked away. I waited in the shadows for a moment longer before approaching. I was going to ask if she was alright but the look in her eyes stopped me.
“Don’t worry his bark is mostly worse than his bite.” She said.

I nodded and looked around the barn at the girls. I wonder if we are headed into more trouble than we can handle, but it is already too late to turn back and even if it was not, I do not believe any of us would.

The Return (Part Two)

January 12, 1897
Sarah Waters

We had huddled together with our blankets wrapped tightly around us through the cold night while the barn walls creaked and the wind whistled passed. Dawn was a long time in coming but it did come and as the first rays of light shone through the cracks in wooden walls around us, I could see the relief on the other girls’ faces and knew it was mirrored on my own. I rose and stretched and opened the barn door to the outside world wondering what havoc awaited us, but there was only sunlight glistening over fresh snow like rays of hope guiding us into a new day.

Edith roused the few girls who had managed to find solace in sleep through the night or simply succumbed to exhaustion in the pre-dawn hours. I grabbed a shovel and began the hard work of clearing a path from the door to the street. Anna joined me much to my surprise and then several others did as well although not the likes of Penelope Sumter or Emma Chesterfield. I guess hard work is just too hard when sitting on a pedestal and trying to keep an imaginary crown from falling off your head.

With all the help, the path was cleared in less than an hour and just in time for the local sheriff to arrive. He had brought along some help and looked a bit surprised that we had already cleared our own path. The women in this town must be smart, allowing the men to do all the backbreaking work while they wait inside the warm kitchen with a fresh pot of coffee. If I had only known, I would have made coffee and waited for the chivalrous men to clear us out.

The sheriff walked passed us with only a tip of his hat and a mumbled greeting. It was clear he was looking for Edith as he stepped inside the barn. I followed mostly out of curiosity but also because I had agreed to stick around until the situation for the other girls was made clear. I think Anna would have just left them were she on her own, but I have a sense of responsibility for them, misplaced as it might be, but I am not one to just turn my back and walk away.

“Good morning. I see you ladies made it through the night.” The sheriff said.

“We endured as we always do. Have you any word from Primrose College or Carrington Manor?” Edith replied.

“We got through to Providence but your school is closed up. I’m told to get you ladies on trains home and you’ll receive word from Primrose College when you can come back.” The sheriff said.

“Are you saying Primrose College has been shut down?” I asked.

My question startled the sheriff and Edith scowled at me, but having overheard it all, I could not simply stand by quietly.

“That is what I’ve been told.” The sheriff replied.

“Was there any reason given?” Edith asked.

“I’m sorry. All I know is they want me to send all you ladies home.” The sheriff said.

“That does not make any sense.” Edith said.

“Excuse me, but who are ‘they’?” I asked.

The sheriff blinked at me like I had slapped him.

“Pardon me?” He said.

“These people who are telling you the school is closed and we need to be sent home. Who are they?” I asked.

“It was an expression Miss… Who are you anyway?”

“Miss Waters. Expression or not, you have been communicating with someone or is it you that wants us to go home?”

“I don’t much like your tone, Miss Waters.”

“I don’t much like you not answering my question.”

“Miss Waters, please. I will handle this.” Edith said.

“Handle it however you like. I just want to know who is telling the sheriff here to send us home.”

The sheriff was bristling with anger but oddly enough he remained silent. The idea that Primrose College would have closed without any notice to us, the students, seemed ludicrous at best. It is not that I suspect the sheriff of having ulterior motives but I think it is safe to assume whomever he has been speaking with does.

For Edith’s sake, I decided to walk away. I am certain the sheriff was not going to be forthcoming with the information I sought and quite probably the name he was withholding would mean nothing to me in any case. The people who pull the strings like Mr. Parker tend to do so from a distance so as to escape notice, but I notice them and unless I am wrong, so did my father.

The air outside was lighter and I breathed easier having left the mystery of Primrose’s closure in Edith’s hands. I decided I would not be turning back without finding out for myself if the sheriff was telling the truth.

The Return (Part One)

January 11, 1897
Edith Bowen

I never believed the fantasy would last forever. There were no tears in my eyes as I stood on the platform beside my packed bags. Mr. Stark had felt it best if we were not seen together and so his coach had left me on the steps of the station. The holiday had been a wonderful escape from the dreary reality of my life and even with it over, I have no regrets.

The wait was not long and the train pulled into the station only a few minutes after I arrived. It was a beautiful sight and one I have never given much attention to before. The cool black metal of the engine, the intricate turning of the wheels on their rails pulling the train forward, the puff of white steam floating above, and the shrill of the whistle, made it all complete. Fantasy and reality collide and it is time to return.

Mr. Stark had paid my ticket for first class over my less than sincere objections. I feel only a small twinge of guilt which outshined by the excitement of a new experience I never expected to enjoy. All said, I enjoyed the luxury, but could never shake the feeling I did not belong. Perhaps it is true we are born to our stations in life. I know my place and I do not hate it. That is something different at least, from the girl who first arrived at Primrose College more than three years ago.

I cannot help but compare then against now. The holiday was my first real trip away and back since I arrived all that time ago. My first thoughts then had been to run away, now I would run to Carrington Manor because while not quite home it is as close as I know. The familiar sounds and smells inside the walls cannot be said to be missed but their remains a nostalgia for them.

Most of all it is the exciting reality that my time here is soon to come to an end which is in itself a fantasy now becoming a reality. When I first arrived at Primrose I was full of anger and hate at the cruelty of this life and the world surrounding it. I never dreamed of a future, I did not believe there was any place in which I belonged, but I have changed. The world around me has changed and life may still be cruel but it is not only such. It is the tender moments, like this holiday, which temper the cruelty with something more, something better, and make this life worth living.

Stepping off the train, I saw the gathering of my fellow Primrose Girls immediately. I straightened my back, gathered my bags, breathed a puff of icy air and set myself to join them. The gathering was less than what had left, but that has always been the case after the holidays. Primrose is not for every girl and every girl is not for Primrose. Without a proper train station to the school, I expected the return would be somewhat less on average than normal but then those who would return this time, would belong.

I greeted the girls with a smile. Several gave me curious looks, especially Margaret Spooner who was strangely missing her escort, Edgar. I suppose it is to be expected, as those who have known me the longest are aware I have no place to go for the holidays and more so know that I have not means to travel in luxury. I changed the subject before questions were asked because I do not know if I am strong enough to keep secret that which must be kept.

“Where is Mr. Carrington?” I asked.

“That is the question of the day.” Emma replied.

Margaret’s roommate has a way of being in everybody’s business. I should have expected she would be the one to answer my question but I had hoped for someone, anyone else. Foolish of me I suppose.

“Has no one seen him?” I asked a little louder.

“No one. Not even the station manager knows anything.” Emma said.

I looked around to see a few nods of confirmation between those girls who were paying attention. Several others were gathered around in a tighter circle and seemed much more interested in something other than our transportation back to school.

Margaret caught me eye looking toward the group and she gave me a crooked smile as she stepped to my side.

“Penelope.” She said simply.

It was not much of an explanation as they go, but for those of us who know Miss Sumter, her name is quite often synonymous with trouble. I nodded to Margaret.

“What mischief is she up to this time?” I asked.

“From her moaning and carrying on it seems her holiday was simply dreadful” Margaret said.
I shook my head at Margaret’s attempt to sound like Miss Sumter as she emphasized the word ‘dreadful’.

“She does not know the meaning of the word.” I said.

“If only she knew that.” Margaret said, rolling her eyes toward the sky.

We were interrupted then, by a middle aged man who proclaimed to be the station manager.

“Good afternoon ladies. Is there someone in charge here?” He asked.

I turned to face him with my best air of authority.

“I am the senior girl here.” I said.

“Yes, very good. We have been trying to get word from Primrose College as to the whereabouts of your transportation from here. Unfortunately, we have not had any success.”

“Have you tried Carrington Manor directly?” I asked.

“No, but it is of no matter in any case. There is a storm front moving in and it would be quite impossible for you to travel through it. The town sheriff is on his way here and has secured accommodations for all of you until morning.” He said.

“Thank you, that is most considerate. Would it be possible for me to use a telephone though and attempt to contact Carrington Manor directly so they will know our situation?” I asked.

“A telephone? Miss, I realize you ladies are accustomed to luxuries of the like but you’ll find no such newfangled devices here. We have a telegraph office just inside and you are welcome to use it, but that is the best I can offer.” He said.

I blinked blankly at him, trying to decide if I should be angry at him or humored by him.

“A telegraph?” I mimicked, “Perhaps you are unaware good Sir, but the telegraph office in Providence burned to the ground in November. I cannot imagine how you would not know but assuming you did not, how could your telegraph office be so incompetent as to send messages to a place which does not exist?”

“I am quite certain a temporary office has been erected in Providence, Miss. In any case the matter will not be resolved this day.” He said.

It was then, conveniently timed, the sheriff arrived.

“Good afternoon.” The sheriff said.

I turned to face him.

“Are you in charge, Miss?” The sheriff said.

“Bowen.” I replied, “It would appear not.”

The sheriff nearly choked on a chuckle as he tried to suppress it.

“It seems we have a small bit of a situation as I imagine you know. We’ve been unable to determine if your transportation is in route or still in Providence. There is storm headed this way and it might well have kept them from heading out. Either way I’ve managed to secure an accommodation for you ladies for the night.” The sheriff said.

“I thank you for that but I would like to make some effort to contact Primrose College or Carrington Manor.” I said.

“That should wait until morning.” The sheriff said.

“If it must.” I said.

“I understand your frustration but there is little more to be done today.”

“Very well. When do we leave for our accommodations?”

“Is now good?”

I nodded.

“Ladies!” I said, “Gather your bags up. Our transportation is not here and we have accommodations for the night.”

My shout caught most of their attention and those who were still too engaged in other conversations were prodded by those who had heard. It took little time and we were formed in an orderly group with our bags, walking out of the station and down the street with the sheriff leading the way.

The town was barely deserving of the name, with only a few structures near the train station. Scattered on the surrounding grounds were houses and barns indicating it was little more than a farming community. Compared to Providence it was backward and uncivilized, but not long ago there was hardly anyplace that was any different.

The walk was relatively quiet except for a few moans of complaint about the unfairness of having to walk whilst carrying their own bags. Miss Sumter was the loudest of course and I mean to have a word with her about it later, but such matters can wait until the familiar surroundings of Carrington Manor.

As we approached a large barn it became clear to me, it was the sheriff’s destination. I almost wished Penelope were in charge because I can only imagine the verbal lashing she would have delivered to the sheriff. I am not quite so gifted but I did not remain silent.

“A barn?” I said.

“We don’t have anything else large enough.” The sheriff said.

From his tone it was clear he was embarrassed.

“Surely, there is some alternative.”

“You can wait on the platform back at the station.” He replied.

I glared at him. He shrugged.

“We may well freeze in there just the same.” I said.

“I’ve got plenty of blankets and we can keep a small fire to keep it warm. I know it is less than ideal but it is the best I can do.”

“Then we will endure.” I said.

He nodded.

Inside the barn I could tell the girls were fuming but surprisingly they minded their manners. We also found Miss Waters and Miss Cushing were already present inside. They looked somewhat surprised to see the rest of us.

“How did you two end up here?” I asked.

“We couldn’t ride out today with a storm coming and this was the only place in town that could provide shelter for our horses.” Miss Cushing replied.

“I see. We seem to be in the same predicament. Are you riding back to Primrose tomorrow?” I asked.

“That’s the plan.” Miss Waters said.

“Would you be kind enough to wait until we get word from Carrington Manor as to transportation for the rest of us?” I asked.

“It would be better to ride back with the group but Mr. Carrington wouldn’t allow it on the way out so I doubt he’ll be any different for the way back.” Miss Cushing said.

“We can wait a short while but if we don’t leave by noon we’ll be forced to spend another night here.” Miss Waters said.

“I would appreciate it. We may need you to carry a message through if we can’t reach anyone.”

“Why don’t you just ride back with us?” Miss Cushing asked.

“Most of these girls are not equipped to do so and none of us have a horse available.” I replied.

“Arrangements can be made if needed.” Miss Waters said, “Still, we’ll wait but if we are making the trip anyway might as well have some of you go with us.”

“We’ll decide on that when the time comes.” I said.

The girls nodded. The sound of rain and then hail echoed inside the barn. We huddled around the fire with blankets tightly wrapped around us. Sleep was elusive for most of us and the night was colder and longer for it.