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.

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