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Dorothy had wronged her father in supposing that he was willing to
let her starve to death in the street. He had, as a matter of
fact, made efforts to get in touch with her, though in a roundabout
and not very helpful way.
His first emotion on learning of Dorothy's disappearance had been
rage pure and simple. At about eight in the morning, when he was
beginning to wonder what had become of his shaving water, Ellen had
come into his bedroom and announced in a vaguely panic-stricken
'Please, Sir, Miss Dorothy ain't in the house, Sir. I can't find
'What?' said the Rector.
'She ain't in the house, Sir! And her bed don't look as if it
hadn't been slept in, neither. It's my belief as she's GORN, Sir!'
'Gone!' exclaimed the Rector, partly sitting up in bed. 'What do
'Well, Sir, I believe she's run away from 'ome, Sir!'
'Run away from home! At THIS hour of the morning? And what about
my breakfast, pray?'
By the time the Rector got downstairs--unshaven, no hot water
having appeared--Ellen had gone down into the town to make
fruitless inquiries for Dorothy. An hour passed, and she did not
return. Whereupon there occurred a frightful, unprecedented thing--
a thing never to be forgotten this side of the grave; the Rector
was obliged to prepare his own breakfast--yes, actually to mess
about with a vulgar black kettle and rashers of Danish bacon--with
his own sacerdotal hands.
After that, of course, his heart was hardened against Dorothy for
ever. For the rest of the day he was far too busy raging over
unpunctual meals to ask himself WHY she had disappeared and whether
any harm had befallen her. The point was that the confounded girl
(he said several times 'confounded girl', and came near to saying
something stronger) HAD disappeared, and had upset the whole
household by doing so. Next day, however, the question became more
urgent, because Mrs Semprill was now publishing the story of the
elopement far and wide. Of course, the Rector denied it violently,
but in his heart he had a sneaking suspicion that it might be true.
It was the kind of thing, he now decided, that Dorothy WOULD do. A
girl who would suddenly walk out of the house without even taking
thought for her father's breakfast was capable of anything.
Two days later the newspapers got hold of the story, and a nosy
young reporter came down to Knype Hill and began asking questions.
The Rector made matters worse by angrily refusing to interview the
reporter, so that Mrs Semprill's version was the only one that got
into print. For about a week, until the papers got tired of
Dorothy's case and dropped her in favour of a plesiosaurus that had
been seen at the mouth of the Thames, the Rector enjoyed a horrible
notoriety. He could hardly open a newspaper without seeing some
flaming headline about 'Rector's Daughter. Further Revelations',
or 'Rector's Daughter. Is she in Vienna? Reported seen in Low-
class Cabaret'. Finally there came an article in the Sunday
Spyhole, which began, 'Down in a Suffolk Rectory a broken old man
sits staring at the wall', and which was so absolutely unbearable
that the Rector consulted his solicitor about an action for libel.
However, the solicitor was against it; it might lead to a verdict,
he said, but it would certainly lead to further publicity. So the
Rector did nothing, and his anger against Dorothy, who had brought
this disgrace upon him, hardened beyond possibility of forgiveness.
After this there came three letters from Dorothy, explaining what
had happened. Of course the Rector never really believed that
Dorothy had lost her memory. It was too thin a story altogether.
He believed that she either HAD eloped with Mr Warburton, or had
gone off on some similar escapade and had landed herself penniless
in Kent; at any rate--this he had settled once and for all, and no
argument would ever move him from it--whatever had happened to her
was entirely her own fault. The first letter he wrote was not to
Dorothy herself but to his cousin Tom, the baronet. For a man of
the Rector's upbringing it was second nature, in any serious
trouble, to turn to a rich relative for help. He had not exchanged
a word with his cousin for the last fifteen years, since they had
quarrelled over a little matter of a borrowed fifty pounds; still,
he wrote fairly confidently, asking Sir Thomas to get in touch with
Dorothy if it could be done, and to find her some kind of job in
London. For of course, after what had happened, there could be no
question of letting her come back to Knype Hill.
Shortly after this there came two despairing letters from Dorothy,
telling him that she was in danger of starvation and imploring him
to send her some money. The Rector was disturbed. It occurred to
him--it was the first time in his life that he had seriously
considered such a thing--that it IS possible to starve if you have
no money. So, after thinking it over for the best part of a week,
he sold out ten pounds' worth of shares and sent a cheque for ten
pounds to his cousin, to be kept for Dorothy till she appeared. At
the same time he sent a cold letter to Dorothy herself, telling her
that she had better apply to Sir Thomas Hare. But several more
days passed before this letter was posted, because the Rector had
qualms about addressing a letter to 'Ellen Millborough'--he dimly
imagined that it was against the law to use false names--and, of
course, he had delayed far too long. Dorothy was already in the
streets when the letter reached 'Mary's'.
Sir Thomas Hare was a widower, a good-hearted, chuckle-headed man
of about sixty-five, with an obtuse rosy face and curling
moustaches. He dressed by preference in checked overcoats and
curly brimmed bowler hats that were at once dashingly smart and
four decades out of date. At a first glance he gave the impression
of having carefully disguised himself as a cavalry major of the
'nineties, so that you could hardly look at him without thinking of
devilled bones with a b and s, and the tinkle of hansom bells, and
the Pink 'Un in its great 'Pitcher' days, and Lottie Collins and
'Tarara-BOOM-deay'. But his chief characteristic was an abysmal
mental vagueness. He was one of those people who say 'Don't you
know?' and 'What! What!' and lose themselves in the middle of their
sentences. When he was puzzled or in difficulties, his moustaches
seemed to bristle forward, giving him the appearance of a well-
meaning but exceptionally brainless prawn.
So far as his own inclinations went Sir Thomas was not in the least
anxious to help his cousins, for Dorothy herself he had never seen,
and the Rector he looked on as a cadging poor relation of the worst
possible type. But the fact was that he had had just about as much
of this 'Rector's Daughter' business as he could stand. The
accursed chance that Dorothy's surname was the same as his own had
made his life a misery for the past fortnight, and he foresaw
further and worse scandals if she were left at large any longer.
So, just before leaving London for the pheasant shooting, he sent
for his butler, who was also his confidant and intellectual guide,
and held a council of war.
'Look here, Blyth, dammit,' said Sir Thomas prawnishly (Blyth was
the butler's name), 'I suppose you've seen all this damn' stuff in
the newspapers, hey? This "Rector's Daughter" stuff? About this
damned niece of mine.'
Blyth was a small sharp-featured man with a voice that never rose
above a whisper. It was as nearly silent as a voice can be while
still remaining a voice. Only by watching his lips as well as
listening closely could you catch the whole of what he said. In
this case his lips signalled something to the effect that Dorothy
was Sir Thomas's cousin, not his niece.
'What, my cousin, is she?' said Sir Thomas. 'So she is, by Jove!
Well, look here, Blyth, what I mean to say--it's about time we got
hold of the damn' girl and locked her up somewhere. See what I
mean? Get hold of her before there's any MORE trouble. She's
knocking about somewhere in London, I believe. What's the best way
of getting on her track? Police? Private detectives and all that?
D'you think we could manage it?'
Blyth's lips registered disapproval. It would, he seemed to be
saying, be possible to trace Dorothy without calling in the police
and having a lot of disagreeable publicity.
'Good man!' said Sir Thomas. 'Get to it, then. Never mind what it
costs. I'd give fifty quid not to have that "Rector's Daughter"
business over again. And for God's sake, Blyth,' he added
confidentially, 'once you've got hold of the damn' girl, don't let
her out of your sight. Bring her back to the house and damn' well
keep her here. See what I mean? Keep her under lock and key till
I get back. Or else God knows what she'll be up to next.'
Sir Thomas, of course, had never seen Dorothy, and it was therefore
excusable that he should have formed his conception of her from the
It took Blyth about a week to track Dorothy down. On the morning
after she came out of the police-court cells (they had fined her
six shillings, and, in default of payment, detained her for twelve
hours: Mrs McElligot, as an old offender, got seven days), Blyth
came up to her, lifted his bowler hat a quarter of an inch from his
head, and inquired noiselessly whether she were not Miss Dorothy
Hare. At the second attempt Dorothy understood what he was saying,
and admitted that she WAS Miss Dorothy Hare; whereupon Blyth
explained that he was sent by her cousin, who was anxious to help
her, and that she was to come home with him immediately.
Dorothy followed him without more words said. It seemed queer that
her cousin should take this sudden interest in her, but it was no
queerer than the other things that had been happening lately. They
took the bus to Hyde Park Corner, Blyth paying the fares, and then
walked to a large, expensive-looking house with shuttered windows,
on the borderland between Knightsbridge and Mayfair. They went
down some steps, and Blyth produced a key and they went in. So,
after an absence of something over six weeks, Dorothy returned to
respectable society, by the area door.
She spent three days in the empty house before her cousin came
home. It was a queer, lonely time. There were several servants in
the house, but she saw nobody except Blyth, who brought her her
meals and talked to her, noiselessly, with a mixture of deference
and disapproval. He could not quite make up his mind whether she
was a young lady of family or a rescued Magdalen, and so treated
her as something between the two. The house had that hushed,
corpselike air peculiar to houses whose master is away, so that you
instinctively went about on tiptoe and kept the blinds over the
windows. Dorothy did not even dare to enter any of the main rooms.
She spent all the daytime lurking in a dusty, forlorn room at the
top of the house which was a sort of museum of bric-a-brac dating
from 1880 onwards. Lady Hare, dead these five years, had been an
industrious collector of rubbish, and most of it had been stowed
away in this room when she died. It was a doubtful point whether
the queerest object in the room was a yellowed photograph of
Dorothy's father, aged eighteen but with respectable side-whiskers,
standing self-consciously beside an 'ordinary' bicycle--this was in
1888; or whether it was a little sandalwood box labelled 'Piece of
Bread touched by Cecil Rhodes at the City and South Africa Banquet,
June 1897'. The sole books in the room were some grisly school
prizes that had been won by Sir Thomas's children--he had three,
the youngest being the same age as Dorothy.
It was obvious that the servants had orders not to let her go out
of doors. However, her father's cheque for ten pounds had arrived,
and with some difficulty she induced Blyth to get it cashed, and,
on the third day, went out and bought herself some clothes. She
bought herself a ready-made tweed coat and skirt and a jersey to go
with them, a hat, and a very cheap frock of artificial printed
silk; also a pair of passable brown shoes, three pairs of lisle
stockings, a nasty, cheap little handbag, and a pair of grey cotton
gloves that would pass for suede at a little distance. That came
to eight pounds ten, and she dared not spend more. As for
underclothes, nightdresses, and handkerchiefs, they would have to
wait. After all, it is the clothes that show that matter.
Sir Thomas arrived on the following day, and never really got over
the surprise that Dorothy's appearance gave him. He had been
expecting to see some rouged and powdered siren who would plague
him with temptations to which alas! he was no longer capable of
succumbing; and this countrified, spinsterish girl upset all his
calculations. Certain vague ideas that had been floating about his
mind, of finding her a job as a manicurist or perhaps as a private
secretary to a bookie, floated out of it again. From time to time
Dorothy caught him studying her with a puzzled, prawnish eye,
obviously wondering how on earth such a girl could ever have
figured in an elopement. It was very little use, of course,
telling him that she had NOT eloped. She had given him her version
of the story, and he had accepted it with a chivalrous 'Of course,
m'dear, of course!' and thereafter, in every other sentence,
betrayed the fact that he disbelieved her.
So for a couple of days nothing definite was done. Dorothy
continued her solitary life in the room upstairs, and Sir Thomas
went to his club for most of his meals, and in the evening there
were discussions of the most unutterable vagueness. Sir Thomas was
genuinely anxious to find Dorothy a job, but he had great
difficulty in remembering what he was talking about for more than a
few minutes at a time. 'Well, m'dear,' he would start off, 'you'll
understand, of course, that I'm very keen to do what I can for you.
Naturally, being your uncle and all that--what? What's that? Not
your uncle? No, I suppose I'm not, by Jove! Cousin--that's it;
cousin. Well, now, m'dear, being your cousin--now, what was I
saying?' Then, when Dorothy had guided him back to the subject, he
would throw out some such suggestion as, 'Well, now, for instance,
m'dear, how would you like to be companion to an old lady? Some
dear old girl, don't you know--black mittens and rheumatoid
arthritis. Die and leave you ten thousand quid and care of the
parrot. What, what?' which did not get them very much further.
Dorothy repeated a number of times that she would rather be a
housemaid or a parlourmaid, but Sir Thomas would not hear of it.
The very idea awakened in him a class-instinct which he was usually
too vague-minded to remember. 'What!' he would say. 'A dashed
skivvy? Girl of your upbringing? No, m'dear--no, no! Can't do
THAT kind of thing, dash it!'
But in the end everything was arranged, and with surprising ease;
not by Sir Thomas, who was incapable of arranging anything, but by
his solicitor, whom he had suddenly thought of consulting. And the
solicitor, without even seeing Dorothy, was able to suggest a job
for her. She could, he said, almost certainly find a job as a
schoolmistress. Of all jobs, that was the easiest to get.
Sir Thomas came home very pleased with this suggestion, which
struck him as highly suitable. (Privately, he thought that Dorothy
had just the kind of face that a schoolmistress ought to have.)
But Dorothy was momentarily aghast when she heard of it.
'A schoolmistress!' she said. 'But I couldn't possibly! I'm sure
no school would give me a job. There isn't a single subject I can
'What? What's that? Can't teach? Oh, dash it! Of course you
can! Where's the difficulty?'
'But I don't know enough! I've never taught anybody anything,
except cooking to the Girl Guides. You have to be properly
qualified to be a teacher.'
'Oh, nonsense! Teaching's the easiest job in the world. Good
thick ruler--rap 'em over the knuckles. They'll be glad enough
to get hold of a decently brought up young woman to teach the
youngsters their ABC. That's the line for you, m'dear--
schoolmistress. You're just cut out for it.'
And sure enough, a schoolmistress Dorothy became. The invisible
solicitor had made all the arrangements in less than three days.
It appeared that a certain Mrs Creevy, who kept a girls' day school
in the suburb of Southbridge, was in need of an assistant, and was
quite willing to give Dorothy the job. How it had all been settled
so quickly, and what kind of school it could be that would take on
a total stranger, and unqualified at that, in the middle of the
term, Dorothy could hardly imagine. She did not know, of course,
that a bribe of five pounds, miscalled a premium, had changed
So, just ten days after her arrest for begging, Dorothy set out for
Ringwood House Academy, Brough Road, Southbridge, with a small
trunk decently full of clothes and four pounds ten in her purse--
for Sir Thomas had made her a present of ten pounds. When she
thought of the ease with which this job had been found for her, and
then of the miserable struggles of three weeks ago, the contrast
amazed her. It brought home to her, as never before, the
mysterious power of money. In fact, it reminded her of a favourite
saying of Mr Warburton's, that if you took 1 Corinthians, chapter
thirteen, and in every verse wrote 'money' instead of 'charity',
the chapter had ten times as much meaning as before.
Southbridge was a repellent suburb ten or a dozen miles from
London. Brough Road lay somewhere at the heart of it, amid
labyrinths of meanly decent streets, all so indistinguishably
alike, with their ranks of semi-detached houses, their privet and
laurel hedges and plots of ailing shrubs at the crossroads, that
you could lose yourself there almost as easily as in a Brazilian
forest. Not only the houses themselves, but even their names were
the same over and over again. Reading the names on the gates as
you came up Brough Road, you were conscious of being haunted by
some half-remembered passage of poetry; and when you paused to
identify it, you realized that it was the first two lines of
Ringwood House was a dark-looking, semi-detached house of yellow
brick, three storeys high, and its lower windows were hidden from
the road by ragged and dusty laurels. Above the laurels, on the
front of the house, was a board inscribed in faded gold letters:
RINGWOOD HOUSE ACADEMY FOR GIRLS
Ages 5 to 18
Music and Dancing Taught
Apply within for Prospectus
Edge to edge with this board, on the other half of the house, was
another board which read:
RUSHINGTON GRANGE HIGH SCHOOL FOR BOYS
Ages 6 to 16
Book-keeping and Commercial Arithmetic a Speciality
Apply within for Prospectus
The district pullulated with small private schools; there were four
of them in Brough Road alone. Mrs Creevy, the Principal of
Ringwood House, and Mr Boulger, the Principal of Rushington Grange,
were in a state of warfare, though their interests in no way
clashed with one another. Nobody knew what the feud was about, not
even Mrs Creevy or Mr Boulger themselves; it was a feud that they
had inherited from earlier proprietors of the two schools. In the
mornings after breakfast they would stalk up and down their
respective back gardens, beside the very low wall that separated
them, pretending not to see one another and grinning with hatred.
Dorothy's heart sank at the sight of Ringwood House. She had not
been expecting anything very magnificent or attractive, but she had
expected something a little better than this mean, gloomy house,
not one of whose windows was lighted, though it was after 8 o'clock
in the evening. She knocked at the door, and it was opened by a
woman, tall and gaunt-looking in the dark hallway, whom Dorothy
took for a servant, but who was actually Mrs Creevy herself.
Without a word, except to inquire Dorothy's name, the woman led the
way up some dark stairs to a twilit, fireless drawing-room, where
she turned up a pinpoint of gas, revealing a black piano, stuffed
horsehair chairs, and a few yellowed, ghostly photos on the walls.
Mrs Creevy was a woman somewhere in her forties, lean, hard, and
angular, with abrupt decided movements that indicated a strong will
and probably a vicious temper. Though she was not in the least
dirty or untidy there was something discoloured about her whole
appearance, as though she lived all her life in a bad light; and
the expression of her mouth, sullen and ill-shaped with the lower
lip turned down, recalled that of a toad. She spoke in a sharp,
commanding voice, with a bad accent and occasional vulgar turns of
speech. You could tell her at a glance for a person who knew
exactly what she wanted, and would grasp it as ruthlessly as any
machine; not a bully exactly--you could somehow infer from her
appearance that she would not take enough interest in you to want
to bully you--but a person who would make use of you and then throw
you aside with no more compunction than if you had been a worn-out
Mrs Creevy did not waste any words on greetings. She motioned
Dorothy to a chair, with the air rather of commanding than of
inviting her to sir down, and then sat down herself, with her hands
clasped on her skinny forearms.
'I hope you and me are going to get on well together, Miss
Millborough,' she began in her penetrating, subhectoring voice.
(On the advice of Sir Thomas's everwise solicitor, Dorothy had
stuck to the name of Ellen Millborough.) 'And I hope I'm not going
to have the same nasty business with you as I had with my last two
assistants. You say you haven't had an experience of teaching
'Not in a school,' said Dorothy--there had been a tarradiddle in
her letter of introduction, to the effect that she had had
experience of 'private teaching'.
Mrs Creevy looked Dorothy over as though wondering whether to
induct her into the inner secrets of school-teaching, and then
appeared to decide against it.
'Well, we shall see,' she said. 'I must say,' she added
complainingly, 'it's not easy to get hold of good hardworking
assistants nowadays. You give them good wages and good treatment,
and you get no thanks for it. The last one I had--the one I've
just had to get rid of--Miss Strong, wasn't so bad so far as the
teaching part went; in fact, she was a B.A., and I don't know what
you could have better than a B.A., unless it's an M.A. You don't
happen to be a B.A. or an M.A., do you, Miss Millborough?'
'No, I'm afraid not,' said Dorothy.
'Well, that's a pity. It looks so much better on the prospectus if
you've got a few letters after your name. Well! Perhaps it
doesn't matter. I don't suppose many of OUR parents'd know what
B.A. stands for; and they aren't so keen on showing their
ignorance. I suppose you can talk French, of course?'
'Well--I've learnt French.'
'Oh, that's all right, then. Just so as we can put it on the
prospectus. Well, now, to come back to what I was saying, Miss
Strong was all right as a teacher, but she didn't come up to my
ideas on what I call the MORAL SIDE. We're very strong on the
moral side at Ringwood House. It's what counts most with the
parents, you'll find. And the one before Miss Strong, Miss Brewer--
well, she had what I call a weak nature. You don't get on with
girls if you've got a weak nature. The end of it all was that one
morning one little girl crept up to the desk with a box of matches
and set fire to Miss Brewer's skirt. Of course I wasn't going to
keep her after that. In fact I had her out of the house the same
afternoon--and I didn't give her any refs either, I can tell you!'
'You mean you expelled the girl who did it?' said Dorothy,
'What? The GIRL? Not likely! You don't suppose I'd go and turn
fees away from my door, do you? I mean I got rid of Miss Brewer,
not the GIRL. It's no good having teachers who let the girls get
saucy with them. We've got twenty-one in the class just at
present, and you'll find they need a strong hand to keep them down.'
'You don't teach yourself?' said Dorothy.
'Oh dear, no!' said Mrs Creevy almost contemptuously. 'I've got a
lot too much on my hands to waste my time TEACHING. There's the
house to look after, and seven of the children stay to dinner--I've
only a daily woman at present. Besides, it takes me all my time
getting the fees out of the parents. After all, the fees ARE what
matter, aren't they?'
'Yes. I suppose so,' said Dorothy.
'Well, we'd better settle about your wages,' continued Mrs Creevy.
'In term time I'll give you your board and lodging and ten
shillings a week; in the holidays it'll just be your board and
lodging. You can have the use of the copper in the kitchen for
your laundering, and I light the geyser for hot baths every
Saturday night; or at least MOST Saturday nights. You can't have
the use of this room we're in now, because it's my reception-room,
and I don't want you to go wasting the gas in your bedroom. But
you can have the use of the morning-room whenever you want it.'
'Thank you,' said Dorothy.
'Well, I should think that'll be about all. I expect you're
feeling ready for bed. You'll have had your supper long ago, of
This was clearly intended to mean that Dorothy was not going to get
any food tonight, so she answered Yes, untruthfully, and the
conversation was at an end. That was always Mrs Creevy's way--she
never kept you talking an instant longer than was necessary. Her
conversation was so very definite, so exactly to the point, that it
was not really conversation at all. Rather, it was the skeleton of
conversation; like the dialogue in a badly written novel where
everyone talks a little too much in character. But indeed, in the
proper sense of the word she did not TALK; she merely said, in her
brief shrewish way, whatever it was necessary to say, and then got
rid of you as promptly as possible. She now showed Dorothy along
the passage to her bedroom, and lighted a gas-jet no bigger than an
acorn, revealing a gaunt bedroom with a narrow white-quilted bed, a
rickety wardrobe, one chair and a wash-hand-stand with a frigid
white china basin and ewer. It was very like the bedrooms in
seaside lodging houses, but it lacked the one thing that gives such
rooms their air of homeliness and decency--the text over the bed.
'This is your room,' Mrs Creevy said; 'and I just hope you'll keep
it a bit tidier than what Miss Strong used to. And don't go
burning the gas half the night, please, because I can tell what
time you turn it off by the crack under the door.'
With this parting salutation she left Dorothy to herself. The room
was dismally cold; indeed, the whole house had a damp, chilly
feeling, as though fires were rarely lighted in it. Dorothy got
into bed as quickly as possible, feeling bed to be the warmest
place. On top of the wardrobe, when she was putting her clothes
away, she found a cardboard box containing no less than nine empty
whisky bottles--relics, presumably, of Miss Strong's weakness on
the MORAL SIDE.
At eight in the morning Dorothy went downstairs and found Mrs
Creevy already at breakfast in what she called the 'morning-room'.
This was a smallish room adjoining the kitchen, and it had started
life as the scullery; but Mrs Creevy had converted it into the
'morning-room' by the simple process of removing the sink and
copper into the kitchen. The breakfast table, covered with a cloth
of harsh texture, was very large and forbiddingly bare. Up at Mrs
Creevy's end were a tray with a very small teapot and two cups, a
plate on which were two leathery fried eggs, and a dish of
marmalade; in the middle, just within Dorothy's reach if she
stretched, was a plate of bread and butter; and beside her plate--
as though it were the only thing she could be trusted with--a cruet
stand with some dried-up, clotted stuff inside the bottles.
'Good morning, Miss Millborough,' said Mrs Creevy. 'It doesn't
matter this morning, as this is the first day, but just remember
another time that I want you down here in time to help me get
'I'm so sorry,' said Dorothy.
'I hope you're fond of fried eggs for your breakfast?' went on Mrs
Dorothy hastened to assure her that she was very fond of fried
'Well, that's a good thing, because you'll always have to have the
same as what I have. So I hope you're not going to be what I call
DAINTY about your food. I always think,' she added, picking up her
knife and fork, 'that a fried egg tastes a lot better if you cut it
well up before you eat it.'
She sliced the two eggs into thin strips, and then served them in
such a way that Dorothy received about two-thirds of an egg. With
some difficulty Dorothy spun out her fraction of egg so as to make
half a dozen mouthfuls of it, and then, when she had taken a slice
of bread and butter, she could not help glancing hopefully in the
direction of the dish of marmalade. But Mrs Creevy was sitting
with her lean left arm--not exactly ROUND the marmalade, but in a
protective position on its left flank, as though she suspected that
Dorothy was going to make an attack upon it. Dorothy's nerve
failed her, and she had no marmalade that morning--nor, indeed,
for many mornings to come.
Mrs Creevy did not speak again during breakfast, but presently the
sound of feet on the gravel outside, and of squeaky voices in the
schoolroom, announced that the girls were beginning to arrive.
They came in by a side-door that was left open for them. Mrs
Creevy got up from the table and banged the breakfast things
together on the tray. She was one of those women who can never
move anything without banging it about; she was as full of thumps
and raps as a poltergeist. Dorothy carried the tray into the
kitchen, and when she returned Mrs Creevy produced a penny notebook
from a drawer in the dresser and laid it open on the table.
'Just take a look at this,' she said. 'Here's a list of the girls'
names that I've got ready for you. I shall want you to know the
whole lot of them by this evening.' She wetted her thumb and
turned over three pages: 'Now, do you see these three lists here?'
'Yes,' said Dorothy.
'Well, you'll just have to learn those three lists by heart, and
make sure you know what girls are on which. Because I don't want
you to go thinking that all the girls are to be treated alike.
They aren't--not by a long way, they aren't. Different girls,
different treatment--that's my system. Now, do you see this lot on
the first page?'
'Yes,' said Dorothy again.
'Well, the parents of that lot are what I call the good payers.
You know what I mean by that? They're the ones that pay cash on
the nail and no jibbing at an extra half-guinea or so now and
again. You're not to smack any of that lot, not on ANY account.
This lot over here are the MEDIUM payers. Their parents do pay up
sooner or later, but you don't get the money out of them without
you worry them for it night and day. You can smack that lot if
they get saucy, but don't go and leave a mark their parents can
see. If you'll take MY advice, the best thing with children is to
twist their ears. Have you ever tried that?'
'No,' said Dorothy.
'Well, I find it answers better than anything. It doesn't leave a
mark, and the children can't bear it. Now these three over here
are the BAD payers. Their fathers are two terms behind already,
and I'm thinking of a solicitor's letter. I don't care WHAT you do
to that lot--well, short of a police-court case, naturally. Now,
shall I take you in and start you with the girls? You'd better
bring that book along with you, and just keep your eye on it all
the time so as there'll be no mistakes.'
They went into the schoolroom. It was a largish room, with grey-
papered walls that were made yet greyer by the dullness of the
light, for the heavy laurel bushes outside choked the windows, and
no direct ray of the sun ever penetrated into the room. There was
a teacher's desk by the empty fireplace, and there were a dozen
small double desks, a light blackboard, and, on the mantelpiece, a
black clock that looked like a miniature mausoleum; but there were
no maps, no pictures, nor even, as far as Dorothy could see, any
books. The sole objects in the room that could be called
ornamental were two sheets of black paper pinned to the walls, with
writing on them in chalk in beautiful copperplate. On one was
'Speech is Silver. Silence is Golden', and on the other
'Punctuality is the Politeness of Princes'.
The girls, twenty-one of them, were already sitting at their desks.
They had grown very silent when they heard footsteps approaching,
and as Mrs Creevy came in they seemed to shrink down in their places
like partridge chicks when a hawk is soaring. For the most part
they were dull-looking, lethargic children with bad complexions, and
adenoids seemed to be remarkably common among them. The eldest of
them might have been fifteen years old, the youngest was hardly more
than a baby. The school had no uniform, and one or two of the
children were verging on raggedness.
'Stand up, girls,' said Mrs Creevy as she reached the teacher's
desk. 'We'll start off with the morning prayer.'
The girls stood up, clasped their hands in front of them, and shut
their eyes. They repeated the prayer in unison, in weak piping
voices, Mrs Creevy leading them, her sharp eyes darting over them
all the while to see that they were attending.
'Almighty and everlasting Father,' they piped, 'we beseech Thee
that our studies this day may be graced by Thy divine guidance.
Make us to conduct ourselves quietly and obediently; look down upon
our school and make it to prosper, so that it may grow in numbers
and be a good example to the neighbourhood and not a disgrace like
some schools of which Thou knowest, O Lord. Make us, we beseech
Thee, O Lord, industrious, punctual, and ladylike, and worthy in
all possible respects to walk in Thy ways: for Jesus Christ's sake,
our Lord, Amen.'
This prayer was of Mrs Creevy's own composition. When they had
finished it, the girls repeated the Lord's Prayer, and then sat
'Now, girls,' said Mrs Creevy, 'this is your new teacher, Miss
Millborough. As you know, Miss Strong had to leave us all of a
sudden after she was taken so bad in the middle of the arithmetic
lesson; and I can tell you I've had a hard week of it looking for a
new teacher. I had seventy-three applications before I took on
Miss Millborough, and I had to refuse them all because their
qualifications weren't high enough. Just you remember and tell
your parents that, all of you--seventy-three applications! Well,
Miss Millborough is going to take you in Latin, French, history,
geography, mathematics, English literature and composition,
spelling, grammar, handwriting, and freehand drawing; and Mr Booth
will take you in chemistry as usual on Thursday afternoons. Now,
what's the first lesson on your time-table this morning?'
'History, Ma'am,' piped one or two voices.
'Very well. I expect Miss Millborough'll start off by asking you a
few questions about the history you've been learning. So just you
do your best, all of you, and let her see that all the trouble
we've taken over you hasn't been wasted. You'll find they can be
quite a sharp lot of girls when they try, Miss Millborough.'
'I'm sure they are,' said Dorothy.
'Well, I'll be leaving you, then. And just you behave yourselves,
girls! Don't you get trying it on with Miss Millborough like you
did with Miss Brewer, because I warn you she won't stand it. If I
hear any noise coming from this room, there'll be trouble for
She gave a glance round which included Dorothy and indeed suggested
that Dorothy would probably be the 'somebody' referred to, and
Dorothy faced the class. She was not afraid of them--she was too
used to dealing with children ever to be afraid of them--but she
did feel a momentary qualm. The sense of being an impostor (what
teacher has not felt it at times?) was heavy upon her. It suddenly
occurred to her, what she had only been dimly aware of before, that
she had taken this teaching job under flagrantly false pretences,
without having any kind of qualification for it. The subject she
was now supposed to be teaching was history, and, like most
'educated' people, she knew virtually no history. How awful, she
thought, if it turned out that these girls knew more history than
she did! She said tentatively:
'What period exactly were you doing with Miss Strong?'
Nobody answered. Dorothy saw the older girls exchanging glances,
as though asking one another whether it was safe to say anything,
and finally deciding not to commit themselves.
'Well, whereabouts had you got to?' she said, wondering whether
perhaps the word 'period' was too much for them.
Again no answer.
'Well, now, surely you remember SOMETHING about it? Tell me the
names of some of the people you were learning about in your last
More glances were exchanged, and a very plain little girl in the
front row, in a brown jumper and skirt, with her hair screwed into
two tight pigtails, remarked cloudily, 'It was about the Ancient
Britons.' At this two other girls took courage, and answered
simultaneously. One of them said, 'Columbus', and the other
Somehow, after that, Dorothy seemed to see her way more clearly.
It was obvious that instead of being uncomfortably knowledgeable as
she had feared, the class knew as nearly as possible no history at
all. With this discovery her stage-fright vanished. She grasped
that before she could do anything else with them it was necessary
to find out what, if anything, these children knew. So, instead of
following the time-table, she spent the rest of the morning in
questioning the entire class on each subject in turn; when she had
finished with history (and it took about five minutes to get to the
bottom of their historical knowledge) she tried them with geography,
with English grammar, with French, with arithmetic--with everything,
in fact, that they were supposed to have learned. By twelve o'clock
she had plumbed, though not actually explored, the frightful abysses
of their ignorance.
For they knew nothing, absolutely nothing--nothing, nothing,
nothing, like the Dadaists. It was appalling that even children
could be so ignorant. There were only two girls in the class who
knew whether the earth went round the sun or the sun round the
earth, and not a single one of them could tell Dorothy who was the
last king before George V, or who wrote Hamlet, or what was meant
by a vulgar fraction, or which ocean you crossed to get to America,
the Atlantic or the Pacific. And the big girls of fifteen were not
much better than the tiny infants of eight, except that the former
could at least read consecutively and write neat copperplate. That
was the one thing that nearly all of the older girls could do--they
could write neatly. Mrs Creevy had seen to that. And of course,
here and there in the midst of their ignorance, there were small,
disconnected islets of knowledge; for example, some odd stanzas
from 'pieces of poetry' that they had learned by heart, and a few
Ollendorffian French sentences such as 'Passez-moi le beurre, s'il
vous plait' and 'Le fils du jardinier a perdu son chapeau', which
they appeared to have learned as a parrot learns 'Pretty Poll'. As
for their arithmetic, it was a little better than the other
subjects. Most of them knew how to add and subtract, about half of
them had some notion of how to multiply, and there were even three
or four who had struggled as far as long division. But that was
the utmost limit of their knowledge; and beyond, in every direction,
lay utter, impenetrable night.
Moreover, not only did they know nothing, but they were so unused
to being questioned that it was often difficult to get answers out
of them at all. It was obvious that whatever they knew they had
learned in an entirely mechanical manner, and they could only gape
in a sort of dull bewilderment when asked to think for themselves.
However, they did not seem unwilling, and evidently they had made
up their minds to be 'good'--children are always 'good' with a new
teacher; and Dorothy persisted, and by degrees the children grew,
or seemed to grow, a shade less lumpish. She began to pick up,
from the answers they gave her, a fairly accurate notion of what
Miss Strong's regime had been like.
It appeared that, though theoretically they had learned all the
usual school subjects, the only ones that had been at all seriously
taught were handwriting and arithmetic. Mrs Creevy was particularly
keen on handwriting. And besides this they had spent great
quantities of time--an hour or two out of every day, it seemed--in
drudging through a dreadful routine called 'copies.' 'Copies' meant
copying things out of textbooks or off the blackboard. Miss Strong
would write up, for example, some sententious little 'essay' (there
was an essay entitled 'Spring' which recurred in all the older
girls' books, and which began, 'Now, when girlish April is tripping
through the land, when the birds are chanting gaily on the boughs
and the dainty flowerets bursting from their buds', etc., etc.), and
the girls would make fair copies of it in their copybooks; and the
parents, to whom the copybooks were shown from time to time, were no
doubt suitably impressed. Dorothy began to grasp that everything
that the girls had been taught was in reality aimed at the parents.
Hence the 'copies', the insistence on handwriting, and the parroting
of ready-made French phrases; they were cheap and easy ways of
creating an impression. Meanwhile, the little girls at the bottom
of the class seemed barely able to read and write, and one of them--
her name was Mavis Williams, and she was a rather sinister-looking
child of eleven, with eyes too far apart--could not even count. This
child seemed to have done nothing at all during the past term and a
half except to write pothooks. She had quite a pile of books filled
with pothooks--page after page of pothooks, looping on and on like
the mangrove roots in some tropical swamp.
Dorothy tried not to hurt the children's feelings by exclaiming at
their ignorance, but in her heart she was amazed and horrified.
She had not known that schools of this description still existed in
the civilized world. The whole atmosphere of the place was so
curiously antiquated--so reminiscent of those dreary little private
schools that you read about in Victorian novels. As for the few
textbooks that the class possessed, you could hardly look at them
without feeling as though you had stepped back into the mid
nineteenth century. There were only three textbooks of which each
child had a copy. One was a shilling arithmetic, pre Great War but
fairly serviceable, and another was a horrid little book called The
Hundred Page History of Britain--a nasty little duodecimo book with
a gritty brown cover, and, for frontispiece, a portrait of Boadicea
with a Union Jack draped over the front of her chariot. Dorothy
opened this book at random, came to page 91, and read:
After the French Revolution was over, the self-styled Emperor
Napoleon Buonaparte attempted to set up his sway, but though he won
a few victories against continental troops, he soon found that in
the 'thin red line' he had more than met his match. Conclusions
were tried upon the field of Waterloo, where 50,000 Britons put to
flight 70,000 Frenchmen--for the Prussians, our allies, arrived too
late for the battle. With a ringing British cheer our men charged
down the slope and the enemy broke and fled. We now come on to the
great Reform Bill of 1832, the first of those beneficent reforms
which have made British liberty what it is and marked us off from
the less fortunate nations [etc., etc.]. . . .
The date of the book was 1888. Dorothy, who had never seen a
history book of this description before, examined it with a feeling
approaching horror. There was also an extraordinary little
'reader', dated 1863. It consisted mostly of bits out of Fenimore
Cooper, Dr Watts, and Lord Tennyson, and at the end there were the
queerest little 'Nature Notes' with woodcut illustrations. There
would be a woodcut of an elephant, and underneath in small print:
'The elephant is a sagacious beast. He rejoices in the shade of
the Palm Trees, and though stronger than six horses he will allow a
little child to lead him. His food is Bananas.' And so on to the
Whale, the Zebra, and Porcupine, and the Spotted Camelopard. There
were also, in the teacher's desk, a copy of Beautiful Joe, a
forlorn book called Peeps at Distant Lands, and a French phrase-
book dated 1891. It was called All you will need on your Parisian
Trip, and the first phrase given was 'Lace my stays, but not too
tightly'. In the whole room there was not such a thing as an atlas
or a set of geometrical instruments.
At eleven there was a break of ten minutes, and some of the girls
played dull little games at noughts and crosses or quarrelled over
pencil-cases, and a few who had got over their first shyness
clustered round Dorothy's desk and talked to her. They told her
some more about Miss Strong and her methods of teaching, and how
she used to twist their ears when they made blots on their
copybooks. It appeared that Miss Strong had been a very strict
teacher except when she was 'taken bad', which happened about twice
a week. And when she was taken bad she used to drink some medicine
out of a little brown bottle, and after drinking it she would grow
quite jolly for a while and talk to them about her brother in
Canada. But on her last day--the time when she was taken so bad
during the arithmetic lesson--the medicine seemed to make her worse
than ever, because she had no sooner drunk it than she began
sinking and fell across a desk, and Mrs Creevy had to carry her out
of the room.
After the break there was another period of three quarters of an
hour, and then school ended for the morning. Dorothy felt stiff
and tired after three hours in the chilly but stuffy room, and she
would have liked to go out of doors for a breath of fresh air, but
Mrs Creevy had told her beforehand that she must come and help get
dinner ready. The girls who lived near the school mostly went home
for dinner, but there were seven who had dinner in the 'morning-
room' at tenpence a time. It was an uncomfortable meal, and passed
in almost complete silence, for the girls were frightened to talk
under Mrs Creevy's eye. The dinner was stewed scrag end of mutton,
and Mrs Creevy showed extraordinary dexterity in serving the pieces
of lean to the 'good payers' and the pieces of fat to the 'medium
payers'. As for the three 'bad payers', they ate a shamefaced
lunch out of paper bags in the school-room.
School began again at two o'clock. Already, after only one
morning's teaching, Dorothy went back to her work with secret
shrinking and dread. She was beginning to realize what her life
would be like, day after day and week after week, in that sunless
room, trying to drive the rudiments of knowledge into unwilling
brats. But when she had assembled the girls and called their names
over, one of them, a little peaky child with mouse-coloured hair,
called Laura Firth, came up to her desk and presented her with a
pathetic bunch of browny-yellow chrysanthemums, 'from all of us'.
The girls had taken a liking to Dorothy, and had subscribed
fourpence among themselves, to buy her a bunch of flowers.
Something stirred in Dorothy's heart as she took the ugly flowers.
She looked with more seeing eyes than before at the anaemic faces
and shabby clothes of the children, and was all of a sudden
horribly ashamed to think that in the morning she had looked at
them with indifference, almost with dislike. Now, a profound pity
took possession of her. The poor children, the poor children! How
they had been stunted and maltreated! And with it all they had
retained the childish gentleness that could make them squander
their few pennies on flowers for their teacher.
She felt quite differently towards her job from that moment
onwards. A feeling of loyalty and affection had sprung up in her
heart. This school was HER school; she would work for it and be
proud of it, and make every effort to turn it from a place of
bondage into a place human and decent. Probably it was very little
that she could do. She was so inexperienced and unfitted for her
job that she must educate herself before she could even begin to
educate anybody else. Still, she would do her best; she would do
whatever willingness and energy could do to rescue these children
from the horrible darkness in which they had been kept.
During the next few weeks there were two things that occupied
Dorothy to the exclusion of all others. One, getting her class
into some kind of order; the other, establishing a concordat with
The second of the two was by a great deal the more difficult. Mrs
Creevy's house was as vile a house to live in as one could possibly
imagine. It was always more or less cold, there was not a
comfortable chair in it from top to bottom, and the food was
disgusting. Teaching is harder work than it looks, and a teacher
needs good food to keep him going. It was horribly dispiriting to
have to work on a diet of tasteless mutton stews, damp boiled
potatoes full of little black eyeholes, watery rice puddings, bread
and scrape, and weak tea--and never enough even of these. Mrs
Creevy, who was mean enough to take a pleasure in skimping even her
own food, ate much the same meals as Dorothy, but she always had
the lion's share of them. Every morning at breakfast the two fried
eggs were sliced up and unequally partitioned, and the dish of
marmalade remained for ever sacrosanct. Dorothy grew hungrier and
hungrier as the term went on. On the two evenings a week when she
managed to get out of doors she dipped into her dwindling store of
money and bought slabs of plain chocolate, which she ate in the
deepest secrecy--for Mrs Creevy, though she starved Dorothy more or
less intentionally, would have been mortally offended if she had
known that she bought food for herself.
The worst thing about Dorothy's position was that she had no
privacy and very little time that she could call her own. Once
school was over for the day her only refuge was the 'morning-room',
where she was under Mrs Creevy's eye, and Mrs Creevy's leading idea
was that Dorothy must never be left in peace for ten minutes
together. She had taken it into her head, or pretended to do so,
that Dorothy was an idle person who needed keeping up to the mark.
And so it was always, 'Well, Miss Millborough, you don't seem to
have very much to do this evening, do you? Aren't there some
exercise books that want correcting? Or why don't you get your
needle and do a bit of sewing? I'm sure _I_ couldn't bear to just
sit in my chair doing nothing like you do!' She was for ever
finding household jobs for Dorothy to do, even making her scrub the
schoolroom floor on Saturday mornings when the girls did not come
to school; but this was done out of pure ill nature, for she did
not trust Dorothy to do the work properly, and generally did it
again after her. One evening Dorothy was unwise enough to bring
back a novel from the public library. Mrs Creevy flared up at the
very sight of it. 'Well, really, Miss Millborough! I shouldn't
have thought you'd have had time to READ!' she said bitterly. She
herself had never read a book right through in her life, and was
proud of it.
Moreover, even when Dorothy was not actually under her eye, Mrs
Creevy had ways of making her presence felt. She was for ever
prowling in the neighbourhood of the schoolroom, so that Dorothy
never felt quite safe from her intrusion; and when she thought
there was too much noise she would suddenly rap on the wall with
her broom-handle in a way that made the children jump and put them
off their work. At all hours of the day she was restlessly,
noisily active. When she was not cooking meals she was banging
about with broom and dustpan, or harrying the charwoman, or
pouncing down upon the schoolroom to 'have a look round' in hopes
of catching Dorothy or the children up to mischief, or 'doing a bit
of gardening'--that is, mutilating with a pair of shears the
unhappy little shrubs that grew amid wastes of gravel in the back
garden. On only two evenings a week was Dorothy free of her, and
that was when Mrs Creevy sallied forth on forays which she called
'going after the girls'; that is to say, canvassing likely parents.
These evenings Dorothy usually spent in the public library, for
when Mrs Creevy was not at home she expected Dorothy to keep out of
the house, to save fire and gaslight. On other evenings Mrs Creevy
was busy writing dunning letters to the parents, or letters to the
editor of the local paper, haggling over the price of a dozen
advertisements, or poking about the girls' desks to see that their
exercise books had been properly corrected, or 'doing a bit of
sewing'. Whenever occupation failed her for even five minutes she
got out her workbox and 'did a bit of sewing'--generally
restitching some bloomers of harsh white linen of which she had
pairs beyond number. They were the most chilly looking garments
that one could possibly imagine; they seemed to carry upon them, as
no nun's coif or anchorite's hair shirt could ever have done, the
impress of a frozen and awful chastity. The sight of them set you
wondering about the late Mr Creevy, even to the point of wondering
whether he had ever existed.
Looking with an outsider's eye at Mrs Creevy's manner of life, you
would have said that she had no PLEASURES whatever. She never did
any of the things that ordinary people do to amuse themselves--
never went to the pictures, never looked at a book, never ate
sweets, never cooked a special dish for dinner or dressed herself
in any kind of finery. Social life meant absolutely nothing to
her. She had no friends, was probably incapable of imagining such
a thing as friendship, and hardly ever exchanged a word with a
fellow being except on business. Of religious belief she had not
the smallest vestige. Her attitude towards religion, though she
went to the Baptist Chapel every Sunday to impress the parents with
her piety, was a mean anti-clericalism founded on the notion that
the clergy are 'only after your money'. She seemed a creature
utterly joyless, utterly submerged by the dullness of her
existence. But in reality it was not so. There were several
things from which she derived acute and inexhaustible pleasure.
For instance, there was her avarice over money. It was the leading
interest of her life. There are two kinds of avaricious person--
the bold, grasping type who will ruin you if he can, but who never
looks twice at twopence, and the petty miser who has not the
enterprise actually to MAKE money, but who will always, as the
saying goes, take a farthing from a dunghill with his teeth. Mrs
Creevy belonged to the second type. By ceaseless canvassing and
impudent bluff she had worked her school up to twenty-one pupils,
but she would never get it much further, because she was too mean
to spend money on the necessary equipment and to pay proper wages
to her assistant. The fees the girls paid, or didn't pay, were
five guineas a term with certain extras, so that, starve and sweat
her assistant as she might, she could hardly hope to make more than
a hundred and fifty pounds a year clear profit. But she was fairly
satisfied with that. It meant more to her to save sixpence than to
earn a pound. So long as she could think of a way of docking
Dorothy's dinner of another potato, or getting her exercise books a
halfpenny a dozen cheaper, or shoving an unauthorized half guinea
on to one of the 'good payers'' bills, she was happy after her
And again, in pure, purposeless malignity--in petty acts of spite,
even when there was nothing to be gained by them--she had a hobby
of which she never wearied. She was one of those people who
experience a kind of spiritual orgasm when they manage to do
somebody else a bad turn. Her feud with Mr Boulger next door--a
one-sided affair, really, for poor Mr Boulger was not up to Mrs
Creevy's fighting weight--was conducted ruthlessly, with no quarter
given or expected. So keen was Mrs Creevy's pleasure in scoring
off Mr Boulger that she was even willing to spend money on it
occasionally. A year ago Mr Boulger had written to the landlord
(each of them was for ever writing to the landlord, complaining
about the other's behaviour), to say that Mrs Creevy's kitchen
chimney smoked into his back windows, and would she please have it
heightened two feet. The very day the landlord's letter reached
her, Mrs Creevy called in the bricklayers and had the chimney
lowered two feet. It cost her thirty shillings, but it was worth
it. After that there had been the long guerrilla campaign of
throwing things over the garden wall during the night, and Mrs
Creevy had finally won with a dustbinful of wet ashes thrown on to
Mr Boulger's bed of tulips. As it happened, Mrs Creevy won a neat
and bloodless victory soon after Dorothy's arrival. Discovering by
chance that the roots of Mr Boulger's plum tree had grown under the
wall into her own garden, she promptly injected a whole tin of
weed-killer into them and killed the tree. This was remarkable as
being the only occasion when Dorothy ever heard Mrs Creevy laugh.
But Dorothy was too busy, at first, to pay much attention to Mrs
Creevy and her nasty characteristics. She saw quite clearly that
Mrs Creevy was an odious woman and that her own position was
virtually that of a slave; but it did not greatly worry her. Her
work was too absorbing, too all-important. In comparison with it,
her own comfort and even her future hardly seemed to matter.
It did not take her more than a couple of days to get her class
into running order. It was curious, but though she had no
experience of teaching and no preconceived theories about it, yet
from the very first day she found herself, as though by instinct,
rearranging, scheming, innovating. There was so much that was
crying out to be done. The first thing, obviously, was to get rid
of the grisly routine of 'copies', and after Dorothy's second day
no more 'copies' were done in the class, in spite of a sniff or two
from Mrs Creevy. The handwriting lessons, also, were cut down.
Dorothy would have liked to do away with handwriting lessons
altogether so far as the older girls were concerned--it seemed to
her ridiculous that girls of fifteen should waste time in practising
copperplate--but Mrs Creevy would not hear of it. She seemed to
attach an almost superstitious value to handwriting lessons. And
the next thing, of course, was to scrap the repulsive Hundred Page
History and the preposterous little 'readers'. It would have been
worse than useless to ask Mrs Creevy to buy new books for the
children, but on her first Saturday afternoon Dorothy begged leave
to go up to London, was grudgingly given it, and spent two pounds
three shillings out of her precious four pounds ten on a dozen
secondhand copies of a cheap school edition of Shakespeare, a big
second-hand atlas, some volumes of Hans Andersen's stories for the
younger children, a set of geometrical instruments, and two pounds
of plasticine. With these, and history books out of the public
library, she felt that she could make a start.
She had seen at a glance that what the children most needed, and
what they had never had, was individual attention. So she began by
dividing them up into three separate classes, and so arranging
things that two lots could be working by themselves while she 'went
through' something with the third. It was difficult at first,
especially with the younger girls, whose attention wandered as soon
as they were left to themselves, so that you could never really
take your eyes off them. And yet how wonderfully, how unexpectedly,
nearly all of them improved during those first few weeks! For the
most part they were not really stupid, only dazed by a dull,
mechanical rigmarole. For a week, perhaps, they continued
unteachable; and then, quite suddenly, their warped little minds
seemed to spring up and expand like daisies when you move the
garden roller off them.
Quite quickly and easily Dorothy broke them in to the habit of
thinking for themselves. She got them to make up essays out of
their own heads instead of copying out drivel about the birds
chanting on the boughs and the flowerets bursting from their buds.
She attacked their arithmetic at the foundations and started the
little girls on multiplication and piloted the older ones throu