A Lack Of Evidence

February 16, 1897
Edith Bowen

“What evidence do you have?” The sheriff asked.

The question should have been asked two days ago. If Elizabeth Bassett were a first year student it would have been because first years have a habit of leaving suddenly and unexpectedly. Miss Bassett, of course, is no first year but her family’s troubles are hardly a secret despite her attempts to keep them as such. My first and immediate conclusion when I heard she was gone, was she had left. Miss Waters had a different opinion.

Over the course of the weekend, Carrington Manor was turned upside down searching for clues as to where our wayward peer had gone. The assumption was she had been taken against her will, but all evidence was to the contrary. On the word of Miss Waters, the sheriff had pursued an illogical investigation doomed to failure. I made my thoughts clear early on and surprisingly found myself in total agreement with the Carrington’s; students leave Primrose all the time for hundreds of reasons and they never say goodbye or give any explanation for those of us left behind.

So, there we stood in Mr. Carrington’s study. Miss Waters, Mister and Misses Carrington, and the sheriff. The five of us were exhausted, but at last it was time for truth and explanations. Miss Waters stared at the ground and shook her head. I think perhaps she was doubting herself for the first time since it all began on Friday afternoon. I have respect for her, make no mistake, but she was wrong and for that, there is always a price to be paid.

“Nothing.” Miss Waters said.

Her voice was little more than a hoarse whisper, but it was clear enough. I am certain she knew something, heard something, but whatever it was, she was unwilling to divulge it. Without finding anything to support her claims, it left us with little choice.

“Then on what basis, have you wasted all our time?” I demanded.

Perhaps it was cruel, but if it was not said by me, it would have been said by someone.

“Elizabeth would not have left without a word to anyone. It is not in her nature.” Miss Waters said.

“Keeping secrets is precisely Miss Bassett’s nature. It has been the single most consistent trait in her behavior since she first arrived here. You clearly do not know her as well as you think.” Mr. Carrington said.

“Why would she leave and where would she go?” Miss Waters asked.

“Only she could answer why but as to where, she undoubtedly went home, wherever that might be for her now.” The sheriff said.

“But…” Miss Waters began.

“Enough, Miss Waters. You have wasted enough of the sheriff’s time and there is nothing to support your wild theory. If you know something to alter the situation, now is the time to speak. Otherwise, you would be wise to apologize to the sheriff and keep your head down.” Mrs. Carrington said.

All eyes were on Miss Waters. She bit at her lip and fidgeted her hands for a moment while staring at the floor. She raised her head for a moment to look at me and when she did not find the support she expected, she looked back at the floor.

“I am sorry to have wasted your time. I must have been mistaken.” Miss Waters said.

The words sounded strained and I can only imagine how difficult it was to say them. Miss Waters is not in the habit of apologizing nor doing what others have told her to do. I am proud of her for swallowing her pride for once. Perhaps even she has learned a thing or two in the weeks since our return.

The sheriff nodded.

“Quite alright, Miss Waters. I hope at the very least our diligence has set your mind at ease.” The sheriff said.

“Thank you sheriff. You have done ample to set all our minds at ease.” Mr. Carrington said.

Miss Waters, wisely remained silent and merely nodded her head in agreement with Mr. Carrington.

“If there is nothing else then, I will be off.” The sheriff said.

Mr. Carrington nodded and offered his hand to the sheriff. The two men shook hands and then walked out toward the front door. Mrs. Carrington turned to Miss Waters and I could see there was anger in her eyes. I decided it would be best for all if I spoke first.

“Miss Waters you will wait for me in the hall outside my room.” I ordered.

She looked up at me in surprise.

“Now, Miss Waters.” I said.

She decided not to argue and left quietly. Mrs. Carrington looked at me and shook her head like a disappointed mother.

“Why do you protect her?” She asked.

“I am not.” I replied.

“That girl needs to a learn a serious lesson here.”

“I agree and she will, I promise.”

“A lecture will not be sufficient.” Mr. Carrington said.

He returned alone.

“I will take care of it.” I said.

“You had better, because if you do not I will and it will not just be Miss Waters to whom I will be attending. Are we clear?” Mr. Carrington said.

“Yes, sir.” I replied.

Our eyes met. Mr. Carrington’s stern expression softened as he realized I was as serious as he. Miss Waters will soon learn just how serious that is.

Everything Wrong

February 13, 1897
Sarah Waters

Mr. Stark raised his arm high in the air and held it there for a moment. I think he was admiring the view and he was not alone in it. I held my breath almost without knowing and waited for the inevitable fall of his arm and the loud crack of leather on naked flesh which would accompany it. No one made a sound.

Then it happened. Over and over, the strap rose and fell leaving behind a neat series of blazing, red stripes, pulsating with stinging pain. Ten I counted in all, but it was only a meager justice if the truth be told. Had the choice been mine it would have been double that at the least. Fortunately for Miss Ferguson, I was only a spectator in the crowd with no influence to call upon.

Gossiping was her crime. Stupid, gossiping in the middle of class had her marched to the front of the room, dress and undergarments removed for a proper striping and shaming of the silly girl. Still, it felt a little like justice for me. She is after all, the girl who has been doing her best to undermine my reputation with twisted tales of last May. If she had any concept of how much she hurt me by dragging that past into the present, she gave no sign of remorse. She seems almost proud of herself.

Justice is not always easy to find, but I will take what I can get and be happy it is more than nothing.

At the end of the day, I descended the steps to the street watching Miss Ferguson wincing as she did the same. She cried to her friends about the injustice and for a change, I was smart enough to keep my thoughts to myself. Besides, Mr. Goulding was waiting at the street along with another young man I recognized as Miss Sumter’s brother, Wilbur.

“Are you looking for Penelope?” I asked.

Mr. Sumter looked confused for a moment before replying.

“No. Have you seen Miss Bassett?” Mr. Sumter asked.

“Not since breakfast. I am sure she will be back at the manor within the hour though.” I replied.

Mr. Sumter nodded and gave a quick smile of thanks.

“Miss Waters, might I have a word?” Mr. Goulding asked.

“I’m in such a good mood, I’ll even let you have two.” I replied.

Mr. Sumter fell into a coughing fit, no doubt brought about by the cold February air. Mr. Goulding offered me his arm and I took it without a thought. We walked down the sidewalk until we were far enough away that no one would hear us.

“What do you know?” Mr. Goulding asked.

His words had the sound of accusation in them.

“More than some, less than others.” I replied.

“Elizabeth Bassett is missing and somehow I doubt you are ignorant of it.”


The shock on my face must have convinced him he was wrong, because immediately his tone changed.

“You really don’t know. I’m sorry.”

“You can’t just leave it at that. What is going on?” I asked.

“Miss Bassett left for school as usual this morning but all indications are she never arrived. She missed all her classes. Her room looks like she packed all her things and left, but if she did, she seems to have told no one.”

“Have you talked to Miss Sumter?”

“Of course, she swears nothing was out of place this morning when she left.”

“The man I shot, he told me there was someone still after her.” I said.

“You spoke to him? When?”

“A few days ago. He was trying to scare me out of town and I think he wanted me to take Elizabeth with me.”

“Why didn’t you tell me?”

“Who are you that I should tell?”

“I’m trying to help.”

“Maybe, but you have too many secrets and you often do as you just did.”

“What did I do?”

“You avoid my questions and try to distract me from noticing.”

“You need to trust me. I can help.”

“If it is my trust you want, you will have to earn it first. I’ve told you what I know in any case.”

Mr. Goulding nodded. He looked at me as if he was going to tell me something, but then he changed his mind. I could see it in his eyes, the trust he wanted from me was also lacking from him. I almost followed him when he turned and walked away, but whatever it is between the two of us will have to wait for another time.

Looking For Tears

February 12, 1897
Elizabeth Bassett

So, there I was.

I trembled because it was expected, not out of some misguided fear. The classroom seems infinitely larger from the front and the students, infinitely more intimidating. The boys sat with their smug grins, hidden behind stoic expressions of feigned disapproval. It is all in contrast of truth, just like me.

It is getting hard to breathe.

Deception is not me but it is what I have become. I do not even know where the lies end and the truth begins anymore, but the world I have constructed is coming tumbling down. Nothing can stop it now, the light will shine on the dark shadows and all my secrets will be revealed. Maybe Penelope is right, maybe it is time to run.

It began with the little things and I suppose that is how all things begin. One lie leads to another and another and each step is small in its taking and rationalized easily by the standards of the step before. Still, there comes a point when you look back at where you have come from and realize it is such a long way to fall. I do not know where it went from insignificant to wrong, perhaps it never did or always was, but it is not the issue now in any regard.

What happened to me?

The face in the mirror is no longer me. The innocent girl with the grand dreams of a fairytale life haunts me with the disappointment showing sadly in her eyes. I thought I knew right from wrong. Somewhere in the twists and turns I have lost my sense of direction. I thought by holding onto a purpose I could find my way, but without direction, a purpose can lose its luster until all that was once good and right slips away.


The pain is right and good. I would cry if I could, perhaps before it is over I will. My upside down view of the room seems more right than the upright view for which I traded it. Smiles are like frowns and that means something although I do not know quite what. Expression is in the eyes and mine are vacant.


The sound was hollow as my soul. I knew there was trouble on the horizon and I pretended not to care. My father had been so secretive in the summer months and strangely silent since I returned to school. I should have known in September, but it was not until late in November I began to worry in the slightest. Self absorption is my only excuse and it is a wretched one.


Even after Sylvia’s letter I told myself all was fine. I knew better, but I liked the fantasy. I flirted with Mr. Sumter, as if I had not another care in the world and shamefully, I did not. I took joy in the annoyed expressions of my friend, Penelope and when she spoke of family I changed the subject to avoid talking about mine.


I did nothing wrong I told myself. I did nothing right either, myself told I. Now, it is too late and there is nothing to do but wait and hope and pray. Father’s business is no more, the apartment is as it was, full and empty. Mother is gone, father is gone and I am here.


Something terrible has happened and I think it might be all my fault.


“Do you think you can behave now?” Dr. Phallic asked.

My eyes were tearless. My heart held an honest answer, but I compromised once again and said the sensible words. They were another lie, but what is one more?

“Yes, sir. Sorry sir.” I said.

“Good, then take your seat, Miss Bassett.”

I have my reasons for what I have done, but they seem less just now and more selfish. I thought if my goal was to help others it would naturally follow that I would help myself, but that is wrong. If I cannot help myself, then I can help no one at all. It was arrogant to think otherwise.

I righted myself once again and sat rigid in my chair. The sting was comforting but nowhere near what I deserved. I wonder what he would do if I wadded up a page and threw it at him in class tomorrow? Perhaps then he will make me cry.

The Perplexity Of Family

February 10, 1897
Penelope Sumter

February 2, 1897

Dearest Penelope,

I realize this letter will arrive too late to be of any use beyond the comfort it brings me to pen it. At long last I am leaving for Providence and will be with you soon after this letter arrives or possibly even before. What a laugh that would be!

I should have left with you and never looked back, but even though I know I will never meet with father’s approval, I still find myself trying. No more though, not for me. It is past time I stood on my own and made my own way in this world. In Providence I have the opportunity and means to do so and I get to be close to you while I am about it. I do not expect you will understand, not because you are a woman but because you are not a second born son.

I leave our childhood home today with the realization I left it for the last time, months ago when I first accompanied you to Primrose College. Had I known then all that I know now, I would never have come back at all. Father and James cut me out of affairs a long time ago for reasons I may never understand. Today, I cut them off and for reason they will likely never understand, know or think to know. Shed no tears for me little sister, I am happy for once and that alone tells me I am doing what it right for me.

Although I am aware you tire of my mentioning her name, please tell Elizabeth I will see her soon. There is much to be discussed, much to be done, and a world to change.

Wilbur Sumter


February 3, 1897

Dear Penelope,

It is my sad duty to inform you our brother Wilbur is no longer a welcome member of our family. His obsession with Miss Bassett has irreparably clouded his judgment and blinded him to the realities of this world. When Mother attempted to talk some sense into him, he flew into a rage and beat her with his bare fists. Mother is strong and will recover in time, but there is no room in our home for such a monster.

Father had a warrant sworn out on Wilbur this morning, but it seems he has already fled. Should he contact you, as he well might because of your proximity to Miss Bassett, send a message to me at once and do not let him know you are aware of what he has done or he might harm you as well. I have no affection for Miss Basset but I would not wish our demented brother on anyone, it would be best if you could keep her away from him if at all possible.

A man by the name of William Howe is on his way to Providence now. It would be most wise of you to assist him in convincing Miss Basset to accompany him out of Providence until such time as Wilbur can be apprehended. Mr. Howe will contact you when he arrive, but it is imperative you keep your contact discreet. Above all, Miss Waters must not be aware of his presence or she will undoubtedly complicate matters and endanger the lives of everyone.

Wilbur has lost his head and there is no sadder duty than to confront your own blood in the way we must. You are a strong woman like our mother and I know you will do what you must. Father and I are very proud of you, little sister.

J. Sumter

Water Under A Bridge

February 9, 1897
Edith Bowen

“You care too much Edith.” She said.

“I could say you do not care enough, but then you would take offense.” I replied.

I sipped cautiously from the teacup she handed me. It felt strange and comfortable all at the same time. A year ago it all would have been a normal day, but so much has happened since then. We have both said and done things to be regretted.

“You are young and prudence may appear as callousness to your eyes but that does not make it so.” Mrs. Carrington said.

“I make no accusations of callousness. I do not agree that your actions are always prudent though. Perhaps I am not fully aware of all that I should be, but I can not imagine what state of affairs would support turning a blind eye to the morale of the girls.”

“I do not turn a blind eye. These girls, as you should well know, carry a heavier burden than most of them are aware. Their actions whether intentional or not can and do have far reaching consequences not just for themselves but for young women all across this country, maybe even the world.”

“I dare say you exaggerate.”

“Do I? I think you underestimate the example being set here. You fought for the joint classes with Brown and, as my husband said so clearly at the time, you do not have the slightest comprehension of what you began.”

“You and your husband underestimate my comprehension. Change does not occur easily and when the opportunities for great change present themselves we must be prepared to seize those moments.”

“No matter the consequences?” She asked.

“No matter the consequences.” I replied.

I am not certain I believed the words I uttered instinctually, but I was not prepared to surrender my convictions for the sake of being amiable. Mrs. Carrington sipped her tea quietly, considering me and my words and then, to my shock, she nodded.

“What is done, is done. I will not dwell any further on whether you were right or wrong in that choice. In any case, I invited you here not to discuss the past but the present and future.” Mrs. Carrington said.

“You are concerned about the behavior of the girls since our return.” I said.

It was fact. I sipped my tea, confident I knew where the conversation was going.

“Four of them in particular, maybe five.” She said.

I raised my eyebrows at the thought. How could she have narrowed her concerns down to four or five girls when I myself could count a dozen first years alone that needed watching?

“I assume you are going to tell me their names.” I said.

“Of course. Two of them are your responsibility, Miss Ferguson and Miss Cushing, the others, Miss Bassett, Miss Sumter, and Miss Spooner are mine.”

“I do not think we will be having any more trouble from Miss Cushing or Miss Ferguson. Both have been especially quiet since your husband dealt with them on Friday.”

“It is likely the quiet before the storm. The conflict between them represents not just their own feelings and emotions but that of the other girls as well. Miss Waters, and you, have become something of a role model to the other girls here. Your past is less than endearing but it does not have the controversy which is rooted in Miss Waters’.”

“Miss Waters is not a role model nor should she be one. I fail to see why her past, controversial or not, should have any bearing on the behavior of the girls.”

“Whether you accept her role with the girls or not, it is a reality and her past is more relevant than even she knows. Miss Cushing is digging into that past and what she finds will divide the girls.”

“You obviously know more than you are sharing.”

“I only know that Miss Cushing is adept at deception. She will stir up trouble in the hopes she can come out on top.”

“And what of Miss Ferguson?”

“She sees through Miss Cushing well enough but she seems blind to Miss Waters’ flaws. At some point this will unravel and I do not know how she will effect the others when it does.”

“What should I do about it?” I asked.

“Let your head decide what to do about them, not your heart. I am confident you will find a way to diffuse the situation without matters getting out of hand.”

“I appreciate the confidence but I remain open to suggestions. What of the others? Is there anything I need to know?”

“Miss Bassett is clearly distracted from her studies and Miss Sumter has become increasingly daring in recent weeks. There are rumors she is flirting with one of the teachers and if they turn out to be true, it could be a devastating blow to Primrose. Miss Spooner, I am concerned about for more private reasons but how she deals with those matters could well effect us all.” She said.

I let the ambiguities stand. Today was a big step toward repairing the fractured relationship I have with Mrs. Carrington and I am happy for what she did choose to share with me. There is still a matter of trust to be regained between us, but the road is open once more and while the conversation is strained and guarded it is better than the silence which has reigned for so long now.

Men On The Side (Part Two)

February 6, 1897
Sarah Waters

“Are you okay?” I asked.

I knew the answer was no, but I was at a loss for words to say. She is my friend.

“I’ll be fine.” She said.

Her eyes were still red and she winced with every move. It was no secret what had happened or why, but the details were a maze of contradictions. The only thing I am certain of is I was the reason.

“Why would you fight with someone over me?” I asked.

Anna looked at me and for a moment I thought she was going to cry again. She cried all through the night, quietly, as if she was ashamed of it. I wanted to provide some form of comfort but I knew I could only make it worse.

“It isn’t true is it?” She said.


“You would never kill anyone would you?” She asked.

I saw all their faces again. Angry, desperate men, but men with wives and children depending on them. They were dead because of me, some by my own hand and all with a terrifying question on their lips, “Why?” I closed my eyes, but they would not go away and then there was the one face which answered it all, but he is not dead, not yet.

“Why do you ask?” I said.

She fumbled in her pocket for a moment and then produced a folded clipping from the Denver Post. I did not need to read the words on the page, I knew the story well enough, I lived it.

“It’s all true.” I said.

My voice was hoarse and the words came out at barely a whisper, but she heard them just the same. The disappointment was obvious in her eyes and in her stance. She swallowed and said nothing at all. The weight of silence rested heavy in my chest.

“I’ll understand if you hate me.” I said.

“Why Sarah?” She asked.

The question echoed in my head with the voices of all those men. What answer can I give?

“I…I…” I said, trying to find something to say.

“It doesn’t matter. You are here now and all of that is behind you, in the past where it will remain.” She said.

I nodded, tears in my own eyes. She wrapped me in an embrace and together we shed tears of regret and pain. It was something we both needed to do. The shame and guilt will never slip away, but there is comfort in the sharing and in the knowing there are days ahead in which we might find the way to make right all our wrongs.


I never saw him coming. He grabbed my arm from behind and before I could even make a sound his other hand covered my mouth and nose. I struggled of course but he had me. Dragged from the street in broad daylight, he threw me against a wall in a shady alleyway. His hands released me and only then did I know him.

“Quiet or you’ll attract attention.” He said.

I considered my options and decided talking was the best.

“Why would I not want it?” I asked.

“Because then you’ll never know what I have to tell you.” He said.

“Are you certain I wish to know?”

“That’ll be your choice Miss Waters, but you don’t strike me as the kind of woman who prefers to remain ignorant.”

“You know my name.”

“When a woman shoots you and then saves your life, you make it a point of learning her name.”

I nodded.

“Are you going to kill me?” I asked.

“If I wanted you dead, you’d be dead. I came to warn you.”


“Because I owe you and I don’t owe anyone anything, ever.”

“So what’s your warning?” I asked.

“The man who wants your friend, isn’t giving up. There’ll be men coming for her and no one can protect her all the time.”

“Who is he?”

“I can’t say.”

“That’s not very helpful.”

“Ask your friend, she probably knows. I’ve never met the man myself, he sends me work from time to time and goes by the name, Mr. S.” He said.

“What makes you think she knows?”

“The people he sends me for, they’ve always done something. She looks innocent enough but if he is after her, she most likely did something to him.”

“What do you expect me to do?”

“Nothing. I sent you a package, you’ll receive it next week and inside you’ll find information on the men that are coming. Maybe it will help you.”

“Why didn’t you just tell the sheriff? I can’t stop them on my own.”

“I did tell the sheriff and he’ll do what he can, but they aren’t coming just for your friend anymore. The contract includes me and you now, dead or alive.”

“And you? What are you going to do?”

“I on my way out of town and you’d be wise to do the same, but I reckon you won’t.”

“So you are just going to run like a coward?”

“Call it what you will, but I like living.”

“You men are all the same. You stay on the side and pretend you are not involved. Why should I believe a word you say?”

“Because I got no reason to lie and frankly, I don’t care if you do or don’t. I’m giving you the information that can save your life. What you do with it is up to you.”

The Power Of Ink

February 5, 1897
Edith Bowen

The pen is mightier than the sword.

In 1839 Edward Bulwer-Lytton wrote those words, but he was not the first nor the last to express such sentiment. It is even rumored Thomas Jefferson himself expressed the very same concept in a 1792 letter to Thomas Paine. Words alone can make a brave man cower in fear, turn a traitor to a hero, or give honor to a common band of thieves. Such is the power of ink to mold our views and rarely will we question their veracity or their purpose, be it to nourish our minds or corrupt our souls.

The trouble began with a simple newspaper clipping. The facts reported within were true enough, but lies are not always told with untruths. The omission of pertinent facts or details can maliciously alter perceptions. Therefore, by what measure do we discern truth from deception?

There is no easy answer.

The growing feud between Miss Ferguson and Miss Cushing is evidence enough. The blindly faithful and the perpetually skeptical have always been a grievous pairing. In hindsight, I should have done more to separate the girls, but I had optimistically hoped they could resolve matters amongst themselves.

Fighting was not what I had in mind.

"What were you thinking?" I asked.

I paced the width of the rug in Mrs. Carrington's den. The two sorrowful looking girls stood downtrodden before me. I kept my hands clasped behind my back for fear if I did not, I would strike one or both of them. Their shameful display, at the base of the college steps no less, will be a blight on all of Primrose for weeks and months if not years.

"She started it." Miss Ferguson said.

I stopped pacing and stepped close to the girls. My hot breath fanned wisps of their disheveled air. Neither dared to look me in the eye.

"Shut up!" I shouted.

Miss Cushing's lips began to move as if she was going to mention she had not spoke, but she must have thought better of it. A single tear ran down Miss Ferguson's cheek. I did not care.

I turned my back on them and walked to Mrs. Carrington's desk. I stared down at the crumpled and torn newspaper clipping. The words told a story about a girl accused of murder and set free not by acquittal of guilt but by national politics playing out in a small town. I turned back to face the girls holding the paper up in my hand.

"Where did you get this?" I asked.

The girls remained silent.

"It is irrelevant anyway. Why either of you are concerned about the words written here is beyond my comprehension. How you could believe the scribbling of someone you don't know about someone you barely know are worthy of disgracing yourselves, the college, this house, and all the girls herein, astounds me." I said.

"We are living with a killer and you expect us not to care?" Miss Cushing said.

"I do not recall giving you permission to speak. In any case, you should know better than to blindly accept as truth anything that is written." I replied.

"It is a newspaper clipping based on facts. You can choose to ignore them but ignorance protects no one." Miss Cushing said.

"It's all lies. You are only doing this because you are jealous." Miss Ferguson said.

"Jealous? I could never be jealous of a peasant like her." Miss Cushing said.

"You are the peasant!" Miss Ferguson said.

They were about to come to blows again and a small part of me was tempted to let them. Violence will not settle their differences and I would be as guilty as they, were I to allow my personal feelings to dictate my actions.

"Enough!" I said.

They both glared at me but smartly closed their mouths.

"As you well know, Mr. Carrington will deal with you both for fighting. I cannot alter this nor do I have any desire to do so. Never before have two girls behaved so despicably while at this school. I sincerely hope you each learn a severe lesson today so that we will never again need to speak of this. As for Miss Waters, If I ever learn of the two of you discussing her again you will think Mr. Carrington a light hand compared to what I will do. Are we clear?" I said.

They meekly nodded and then there was a knock on the door. Mr. Carrington entered the room carrying his heavy strap. I left him to it, gently closing the door behind. As I ascended the stairs, I could hear the girls each screaming in turn as they no doubt felt the sting of his leather. I have always pitied those poor girls trapped inside that den, but not today, not these girls, not this time. I wished them all the pain for all the girls, becauseMr. Stark was right; we must teach them to make good decisions because if we do not, everything Primrose College stands for will fall.

Painful As It Is

February 3, 1897
Edith Bowen

My evenings are filled with tending to the girls unfortunate enough to have crossed a teacher during their day at school. Most tell stories of being punished for minor and inconsequential mistakes and the administration of further discipline from me merely adds insult to injury. Even the best behaved of girls seem unable to avoid the wrath of the Primrose teachers in recent days. Where hope and excitement had accompanied our return, all is quickly becoming bleak despair.

For myself, I could smell it coming like rain in the air on a cloudy day. From the moment I sat up in bed I knew it was going to be a difficult one. I dropped my hairbrush whilst brushing my hair and then as I dressed, two of the buttons came off my dress. If that were not enough, I left the buckles on my shoes undone and nearly fell down the stairs as I stepped out of them on my way to breakfast.

The school day started out surprisingly well in contrast to my morning. It was not until the afternoon when my feeling of dread returned. At first, I attributed it to my mixed emotions in regards to Mr. Stark. Our time together gave me new insight into his character which has left me confused as to my own feelings toward him. When his condescending tone falls upon me and his egotistical words berate me I find myself as likely to smile as frown in response.

“In all my years teaching I have never encountered a more pathetic student.” Mr. Stark said.

There was no doubt in anyone’s minds of whom he was referring. He slapped his open palm on my desk making everyone jump. He barely glanced at me, but instead paced the floor in front of me like a caged lion. It was plain enough to see, he was working himself up to something.

Unfair as it is, I have become accustomed to being the target of his verbal assaults in class. I am after all the only female in his senior English course. While I will not be the first Primrose Girl to graduate, there are not many who have come before me and I am the only one who will do so this year. I comfort myself with those facts and the pride that comes with them.

“Your penmanship is on par with a two year old and your vocabulary is only slightly better. If you have an original thought in your head, you have failed miserably to express it on any level.” Mr. Stark continued.

I might have shed tears for such comments prior to the Christmas holiday, but now I understand. He attacks my work because it is unacceptable for my work to ever be better than the young men’s whom I share the classroom with. Every insult is a compliment in disguise.

I smiled despite the sour words.

“Why are you smiling? Are you an idiot? Do you find your failures amusing or do you think a pretty smile will make it all better? I have news for you little girl; in my classroom, brains matter more than beauty.” Mr. Stark said.

My smile faded, but only slightly. Mr. Stark took notice.

“Am I getting through?” He asked.

Everyone waited to hear what I would say. I considered my options carefully, but I did not think I had much to worry about.

“Yes, sir. I will try harder.” I replied.

“No matter how hard you try, you will always fail because a woman simply does not have the brains.” The young man sitting next to me said.

“Precisely.” Mr. Stark said. “Why do you waste our time, Miss Bowen?”

Anger welled up inside me.

“Why do you? You know damn well my work is superior to that of these apes you call students.” I said.

As soon as the words had left my lips I was sorry to have said them. Some thoughts are not meant to have a voice. The slap across my face only served as confirmation.

“Insolent girl! How dare you talk like that in my classroom.” Mr. Stark said.

I chose silence as the lesser of evils.

“Stand up girl.” Mr. Stark ordered.

I did not even think to disobey. A moment later, I was bent over my own desk, facing the classroom and Mr. Stark raised my skirts and lowered my bloomers, giving him alone a view of my nakedness. I blushed for the boys, but did not look at their grinning faces nor meet their intense stares.

I could not see, but from the first stroke, I knew the implement to be his trusty ruler. The modest thwack of the wood against my exposed flesh stung like cold water on a warm day. There were six delivered before tears stung at the corners of my eyes and eight before the first spilled onto my cheeks. At a dozen, my feet were stomping as if the act could help ease the pain and by the eighteenth and final stroke I was a pitiful girl with a blazing bottom. I sobbed remorse whilst staring at the pool of my tears, collected on the chair to my desk.

Mr. Stark sent me to stand the rest of the class in the corner. My red, throbbing, buttocks remained naked and visible for all in the class to see. I was ashamed for the spectacle. Every noise, every breath in the room felt like a commentary on my state and none of it was positive in my thoughts.

When it was all over and the classroom was empty except for the two of us, I decided it was time for truth. I turned to Mr. Stark. His eyes shown with remorse but his expression remained strict.

“I was out of line.” I said.

“Yes, you were.” He replied.

“Why did you bait me?” I asked.

His eyebrow raised.

“Bait you? I did no such thing.” He said.

“I do not mean to be contrarian, but you did indeed and we both know it.” I said.

“Do not presume to know what I know. Arrogance does not suit you Edith.”

“Were it just today and only between you and I, I would not presume anything at all. However, what happened here is only a new version of the same tale I have been hearing from every girl at Primrose. I am not a simpleton.”

“Your behavior today would say otherwise.”

“You are avoiding the subject.”

“Which subject is that?”

“There is something going on with the teachers here at Primrose and I will know what it is whether from you or elsewhere.”

“If you only look to see what you know, you will not see that which is plain to be seen.” Mr. Stark said.

I blinked as I tried to follow his logic or lack of it.

“What is that supposed to mean?”

“It means, your assumptions blind you to the truth at your feet.”

“What truth is that?”

“It is the girls and not the teachers who bring trouble to Primrose.”

“Your phrases are more eloquent but your words are as transparent as Mr. Carrington’s. Ever since we returned from holiday, there has been a surge of discipline, brought about with weak excuses.”

“Your outburst in class was not a weak excuse. Your behavior was uncalled for and inappropriate.”

“Inappropriate, I will concede, but uncalled for I will not. You baited me with absurd accusations of failings and shortcomings you know I do not possess. You insulted me repeatedly until you succeeded in angering me. Had I not said what I did, you would have continued until I said or did something else. Admit it, you were bent on punishing me today.”

“Will it make your words any less wrong?”

“No, but it will make yours easier to bare, if I knew why you spoke them.”

“The reasons are varied and not readily explained. Suffice to say, just as you are not certain you are ready for the world, the world is not certain it is ready for you.”

“Then you have been told to discipline us?”

“Not in so many words, but the fate of Primrose hangs on the actions of a few. If we are harsh and strict, perhaps those few will make the right choices when the time comes.”

“If you would just tell me the whole truth, I could help.”

“You would try, but the ability to make good decisions is something one must learn for themselves.”

I could have pressed on, but I could tell he had said as much as he was going to say. There was truth in his words and wisdom as well. For all the complaints of all the girls, there is one undeniable truth, we are not innocent bystanders, but active participants making choices both wise and unwise. It might well be true, painful as it is, the actions of our teachers may well be for our own good.

Men On The Side (Part One)

February 2, 1897
Sarah Waters

Jonathon Goulding was waiting on the steps for me when I left Carrington Manor this morning. I watched as Elizabeth Bassett passed him on the steps and there was a glance between them which spoke volumes about a story of which I know nothing more than curious rumors. Someday, I will ask her directly, but for now it is only one of many questions and nowhere near the top of the list. With her gone, his eyes were only for me and he barely grunted polite greetings to the other girls as they went. I took my time descending, observing him for some clue as to his purpose this time.

He tipped his hat and lowered his head at me, as if the social conventions of the privileged would matter to me. I took his arm when he offered it and smiled politely. We began the walk toward Primrose Hall and for a moment I felt like all was right in the world. If only we could live our lives in such moments, then nothing else would ever matter.

But, everything matters.

“We have only so many steps to take before we must part. Tell me, what brings you to me on this day?” I said.

“I am not certain I wish to tell you.” He replied.

I giggled at the thought.

“You are a strange man.” I said.

“How so?”

“Do you often come to tell people things you do not wish to tell them?”


“And you do not find the concept strange?”

“I do not. Unusual perhaps, but not strange.”

“Are they not synonyms?”

He opened his mouth and then closed it before speaking.

“Would it be so painful to admit I am right?”

“Not if it would make you happy.” He said.

I laughed again.

“My happiness is not dependent upon you.” I said.

“The man you shot, he is free.” He said.

There was a somberness in his tone and the abrupt change in subject left me feeling off balance. The lighthearted conversation was suddenly heavy. I took a measured breath before speaking again.

“Why should I care?” I asked.

“I think you know.”

I nodded.

“Tell me anyway, just to be sure.” I said.

“He will be coming for you and Miss Bassett as well I think.”

“So, you did know who they were after.” I said.

“Not at first, but I have learned the truth.” He replied.

“What do they want with her?” I asked.

“I do not know.”

“Who are they?”

“I cannot say.”

“Always questions with you and never answers. What good are you to me, Mr. Goulding?”

“I am trying to protect you.”

“Should I run away in fear? Cower beneath some stone in the forest? If that is your expectation, you shall be disappointed.”

“I am only asking you to be cautious. There is trouble enough at Primrose these days and even a little more could cause irreparable damage.”

“Why don’t you tell me everything?”

“Because I cannot.”

“I am sure that is convenient for you, but it means nothing to me.”

“If I told you all that I know, you would turn this delicate situation into an explosive one. There are more lives at stake, than yours and Miss Bassett’s. Try to understand.”

We reached the steps to Primrose Hall and stopped walking. I let go of his arm and turned to face him. There was frustration in his face again and I could feel it within myself as well. Perhaps we are on the same side and even want the same things, but I do not fully trust him and I can see he feels the same by the look in his eyes.

“You were right, you should not have told me anything at all. All I really want is to walk up these stairs and attend my classes in peace.” I said.

“And you say you do not want to runaway and hide? I am not so foolish or so gullible as to believe you are nothing more than a simple schoolgirl, Miss Waters.”

“Whatever you think you know about me Mr. Goulding, you are wrong.”

“Perhaps, but maybe I see you better than you see yourself.”

“So, this man, will he come for me?” I asked.

“He will.”

“What would you have me do?”

“Simply be aware. I will do what I can to stop him but do not make yourself an easy target.”

“And Miss Bassett?”

“I think it best if she does not know.”


“Because unlike you, she will only act more foolishly not less.”

“So, you think me a fool.” I said.

“I…” He stammered.

“Go on Mr. Goulding, I have classes to attend and you obviously have pressing matters as well.” I said.

I left his presence before he could say anymore. For all the trouble he wished to save me, he caused enough of his own. I slipped into Mr. Bard’s classroom only a moment after the bell chimed, but late is late. Mr. Bard made certain I understood.

“Nice of you to join us Miss Waters.” Mr. Bard said.

“My apologies, sir. I was unavoidably detained.” I replied.

“Flirting on the steps of the Hall is not unavoidable detainment.”

“Yes, sir.” I said.

I stared at floor, embarrassed to be caught in a misleading statement.

“Come here.” He ordered.

Reluctantly I walked to the front of the classroom. When I stood before him he turned and walked to the corner. He brought the stool from it and set it to rest in front of me.

“Bend over it.” He said.

I bit my lip and then decided to do as I was told without comment. It felt more than a little awkward and even more so when he raised my skirts and parted my bloomers to bare my backside for the class to see.

He walked over to his desk and picked up his paddle. He swung it in the air as he walked back over to me. I closed my eyes as I felt the swoosh of air flow over my body. My bottom was still rather tender from Mr. Carrington’s strap on Friday evening.

The first swat made me gasp and tears sprang from my eyes.

“I think ten swats should be enough. Do you agree Miss Waters?”

“Yes, sir.” I said.

“Excellent, you may count the rest.” He said.

He waited a mere heartbeat before swinging again.

“Two, sir.” I said.

The next came before I even finished speaking.

“Three, sir.”

Mr. Bard took a moment to walk in a circle around me and then swung the paddle hard, just as he reached the completion of it. I cried out and tears fell freely from my eyes.

“Four, sir.” I said.

He swung again.
“Five, sir.” I counted.

He paced from side to side.

“Let this be a lesson to all of you ladies, I will not tolerate tardiness.” Mr. Bard lectured.

He stopped off to my left side again and then raised the paddle high in the air only to bring it crashing down with such force, my legs went flying up in the air. I screamed as the burning pain rippled through my buttocks.

“Six, sir.” I managed after a moment.

The next two were given one after the other with such speed and force I could not count them separately. My legs kicked in the air and I wriggled against the stool, gasping for air.

“Seven, eight, sir.” I said between sobs.

He swung again before I could brace myself for it. My legs flailed in the air and grabbed the legs of the stool until my knuckles were white, just to stay down upon it.

“Nine, sir.” I said.

The final one was low and caught the back of legs. The force of it tipped me off balance on the stool and I landing on my side on the floor with the stool tipped over as well. My hands grabbed my tortured bottom and I sobbed.

“That makes ten I believe.” Mr. Bard said.

I could only nod. He allowed me a few moments to collect myself although I only used them for tears and massaging my bottom. His strong arms lifted me off the ground and righted the stool. He placed the dunce cap on my head and gestured for me to sit on the stool.

Wiping tears from my eyes, I sat upon the stool and winced as I did. The only thing which made it alright was the silence in the room. The other girls were not laughing at me, or the situation. I would be angry at Mr. Bard, but the fault is not his alone.

Class was understandably long and afterward it was nice to have some sympathy.

“Was it worth it?” Anna asked.

“No.” I replied.

“Interesting, I would have thought Mr. Goulding would be worth any price.” She said.

The girls around us giggled at the thought, although I am not sure any of them would willingly trade a sore bottom and the humiliation of sitting on the dunce stool for an evening with Mr. Goulding let alone a few minutes of conversation on the school’s steps. I rubbed my bottom ruefully.

“The only things worth so much are the ones we want but cannot have.” I said.

Anna’s eyes narrowed to slits and her cheeks flushed with a hint of anger, but she laughed with the rest of the girls and said nothing more. Clearly she has the wrong idea of Mr. Goulding’s interest in me. There is no romance of which to be jealous.