Since Lavender left, the school has not been the same.
It was unseasonably warm last week, and though we had noticed her restlessness we were quite shocked when she walked into the classroom without her many layers of undergarments and petticoats, of satin and lace. She wore (now infamous) leather breeches and a linen shirt that looked marvellously breezy. Sister Mary Tortella, not to be confused with the thinner Sister Mary Margaret, immediately cracked her stick on the lectern and told Lavender to make herself proper.
Lavender’s chin went up and she took her seat by the open window. We could tell that if one were allowed to cane royal flesh Sister Mary Tortella would have gladly done so at that moment. Instead she called for Our Lady the Duchess, under whose auspicious guidance our schooling takes place.
Our Lady found the classroom in a tizzy, for it was beyond Sister Mary Tortella to control us with Lavender in such a state, and we were all flushed and breathless in our corsets by the time Our Lady entered, her bustle dwarfing the doorway.
Our Lady took in Lavender’s rebellious pose, which spread all the way up to the roots of her hair, causing her plait to go very messy indeed. I was much distracted by the sudden cheerfulness on Lavender’s face. I wondered if she knew something we didn’t. The classroom fidgeted, waiting eagerly for her sentence.
“Princess, this disgraceful behaviour neither becomes you nor submits to the rules of this institution. You will come directly to be dressed or will suffer removal from this classroom.”
“Then I have a choice?”
How daring! Such a collective intake of breath!
“I would not describe it as such, Your Highness,” Our Lady said, icy as a northern queen. The me then would have quailed if I were the subject of her gaze.
“Oh. Well, I’d rather not.”
Lavender got up from her desk. She stood on her desk. She moved with tantalizing confidence to the windowsill, smiled at us, and jumped.
The rush to the window cannot be described. Sister Mary Tortella’s scream will go down in the history of the Continental Ladies’ Academy, drowning out all others. I should like to know if Our Lady screamed, but I doubt it. I was quick enough to get a decent view, and saw Lavender jump to a lower branch on the pear tree, then swing down to earth and run off, her mussed brown hair disappearing into the forest.
As it is the tame kind of forest with no brush to obstruct a good run, and no beasts to fear, I fell passionately in love with the idea. And so, as Our Lady could tell, did the rest of the classroom.
We live in the calm before a storm. We are young ladies keeping our eyes downcast, our many layers in place and our hair immaculately dressed. We copy our lessons and we copy and pass notes, ink whispering about Lavender’s escapade. Making plans. The Sisters watch us eagle-eyed and Our Lady is seen quite often. But Our Lady is not the powerful figure she once was; having been flouted, authority is difficult to regain. She has not discovered, or has not been able to halt, the widespread sewing of skirts into breeches.
There is a rumour that they have placed guards in the grounds. But we laugh.
© 2012, Elizabeth Cook
Picture from Redbubble.