I have served God for thirty-two years, eight months and sixteen days at the Lanchester Girl’s School. Though I am well aware that my superior knowledge and strict organization, coupled with my intense desire to honor God and make His kingdom great, has been a decided asset to the school, I have always remained a humble man, only desiring to serve God in that place and win for Him souls that are of no use to anyone else. The orphan girls placed under my protection have always been well cared for and thoroughly educated both in the spiritual and practical realms. I have enjoyed the honor of bringing three of my pupils to repentance upon their deathbeds, and feel quite certain of receiving a vast reward in a future life beyond the grave.
For thirty-two years, five months and twenty-six days my work ran smoothly and was well appreciated by all I knew. My momentous efforts as Master of the Academy had reached the ears of the heiress-daughter of the late benefactor, the Earl of Warlington, (by what means I know not, since I merely supplied her with quarterly updates). She had informed me most graciously that she intended to look in upon the establishment soon to view the property for herself.
No sooner had this intelligence reached me than I at once, in my paroxysm of joyful expectation at her anticipated arrival, began to take a precise inventory of all the buildings belonging to the school. By these means I detected that three of my impish pupils possessed rag dolls of their own construction and a fourth had a small (though any size is an abomination) tin of mint candies received from who knows where. After disposing properly of these articles of frivolity, I examined the teachers and promptly dismissed two—one because she was too lenient in the discipline of the children placed under her, the other because she required too large a salary.
I then proceeded to have the place scoured from cellar to ceiling, the girls being taught industry by healthy participation in the useful tasks of whitewashing all the walls and mending and dying all garments and bedding until the dormitories were all I could desire, being neat and orderly, and so perfectly symmetrical that each child found it necessary to count her way down the walkway to find her own bed.
I then undertook, every morning at five o’clock sharp to have the pupils awakened by a large bell, which considerably boosted the efficiency of the establishment. I also managed time from my extensive duties as Master to speak to them every morning of the shame and vice into which they were born and to instruct them in the fate of wicked girls.
And so matters stood, everything in good order awaiting the arrival of the institution’s benefactress, when an unexpected happening upset all of my careful preparations, and left me as you see me now.
I was seated comfortably in my office one fine March morning, taking a much-deserved break from my studies and preparations for the upcoming Sabbath, when the woman in charge of overseeing the cooking and cleaning hurried in and hastily addressed herself to me.
“Mr. Boliver, sir,” she dropped a low curtsey and I inclined my head in acceptance of her show of reverence. “Mr. Boliver, sir, there be a young ‘oman as wishes to speak to ye, sir.”
“Oh?” I sat up in my chair and surveyed the makeshift maid with a weak attempt to assume interest. “One of the pupils?” I said, more by way of statement than a question.
Mrs. Pimpernell, for that was the worthy lady’s name, shook her head.
“What is her name and where is she from?” I muttered, with much effort arousing a slight amount of curiosity in myself.
“She didn’t say, sir, but she’s a right nice lookin’ young ‘oman.” The wrinkled face beneath the ruffled cap was unusually earnest and the dull eyes twinkled.
I glanced sharply at the withered woman. “Looks are deceitful,” I snapped and clasped my hands together pensively. “Now then, Mrs. Pimpernell, what is her business?”
“She ‘ouldn’t say, sir, only but that she must speak a-to ye, sir.” Mrs. Pimpernell curtseyed again: a quick, nervous, little curtsey which, I noted in satisfaction, was caused by a profound respect for myself.
I allowed my tone to express my annoyance. “Show her in then, but mind--” as the scrawny woman turned to leave “--you tell her to keep it short. I’m quite busy.”
“Yes, sir,” Mrs. Pimpernell dropped another curtsey and hastily exited.
“Good morning, Mr. Boliver, sir,” I glanced toward the door to see a slim figure, cloaked in a heavy shawl, with a straw poke-bonnet in her hand. I surveyed the “right nice lookin’ young ‘oman” narrowly before speaking. I did not wish her to be long in ignorance of my importance.
“Take off your cloak and hang it and your bonnet on the far peg,” I ordered gruffly and she turned to obey. “Now,” when she had finished, “sit down.”
She had a stately grace that irked me. Dressed as she was, in a plain, modest charity dress, I thought her regality singularly unbecoming. I noted as she took her seat, that she had a face which many heathens would likely term “beautiful”. One must always be cautious of attractive girls, as the devil is more likely to take up his abode in them than in their plainer sisters.
“What is the business which you thought so important as to disturb me during my hour of study?” I demanded, coldly glaring down into her smooth, round face.
“Forgive me,” she smiled pleasantly. “I was not aware of your habits.” I frowned. Another mark against her, I thought, she seems almost to be mocking me. “I understand,” she continued complacently, “that you recently discharged two teachers. I am looking for a position, and would be willing to come on here at low wages.”
I was unpleasantly startled. I rose from my chair and took a turn around the room while allowing this information sink in. I stopped again before my desk. “I do not like your looks, young lady,” I stated flatly.
“Forgive me, sir, I cannot imagine why, since I believe I am dressed even as you would have me. As for my personal features, I cannot help them. Looks are deceitful. I beg you to give me a chance to prove my character.” The corners of her mouth twitched, and I noted with evident satisfaction that she controlled her smile this time, since I saw no reason for jesting.
“What is your name, young lady,” I folded my hands behind my back and strode judicially across the room. I stopped and stared sternly at her, as she hesitated.
“You may call me Andrea.”
“I would prefer not call women by their Christian names, in order to avoid undue familiarity. You may please to give me a surname.” My tone was intentionally icy as I returned once more to my desk.
“There is none,” her grey eyes met mine unflinchingly as she made this bold statement.
“Very well, then, Miss Andrea, we will not debate that point, though what it says of your parentage is all but flattering.” My voice dripped with satire as I made this answer.
“I need not be flattered,” she responded in the same even tone, and I ground my teeth in vexation. I could not explain it at the time, though now I understand better what caused my remarkable repugnance to her.
“What school do you come from?”
“The place of education has little bearing on the education, Mr. Boliver. You of all people should know that. I ask that you examine me and determine if I be a fit instructor for the girls of this academy.”
The look I gave her was filled with disgust. “I see, Miss Andrea, that you do not intend to be easy to work with, but are resolved to be stubborn. You would assuredly be a bad influence on the girls placed under my care, therefore I must dismiss you at once!”
“Examine me first, if you please, Sir.”
The hot blood turned cold in my veins and I sank into my chair in utter astonishment. I raised my hands into the air to express my horror and then let them drop limply into my lap. “Your upbringing has been singular!” I exclaimed, rigidly laying my arms across my desk. “I don’t know what to make of you!”
“Make of me a teacher, and I shall be well satisfied,” the young lady folded her hands in her lap and waited expectantly.
“You are provoking, Miss Andrea,” I stated grimly, taking a slate and a slate pencil from my desk. “How old are you?”
“Nineteen years, Sir,” she answered, without blinking.
“Very well. We shall examine you and see if your confidence be well merited,” I announced, scowling darkly as I pushed the slate across the desk.
How she ever convinced me to take her, I can’t possibly imagine. I seem to recall some vague impression of her on her knees to me begging, though it must have been fond imagining for I know she
certainly would not. Maybe it was her strange authoritative attitude, or the fact that she agreed to come for a very small monthly stipend. At any rate, I installed Miss Andrea as a teacher, which hasty step I am destined to regret to my dying day. Trouble started brewing very shortly after her arrival.
The first hint I got of an oncoming storm was the day I came to hear recitations among the pupils.
The orphan girls were clustered around the small table, all dressed becomingly in black frocks with crisp white pinafores. Morning exercises had just begun when I approached to listen in upon the prayer.
Miss Andrea did not perceive me, which was my full intent, as I stood silently behind her chair and observed her carefully as she smiled around the small circle upon her pupils, which smile they returned, and reverently bowed her head. “Father, God, I thank Thee for Thy gift of life, which Thou hast bestowed upon us all. I thank Thee for the love and grace, which Thou hast lavished on us all, and Thy gift of Thy son, the Christ. Enable us to go about our work as if for Thee and guard us all from sin. Bless those who benefit us here and make Thy face to shine upon us. Amen.”
“Amen!” chorused the dozen or so girls and again those provoking children of poverty smiled up at the young lady.
“Excuse me, Miss Andrea,” my voice rolled like thunder down the room, causing a hush to fall upon teacher and students alike. “What do you mean, breaking the rules for prayer time like this?”
She seemed startled. “Forgive me, sir, and do not think that I am being disrespectful to speak to you so, since you did ask me. I noticed that the girls fidget in their seats when they hear the same words prayed over them every morning.” She raised her eyes to my face with an expression of deep humility, which I was singularly gratified to see.
“Then punish them!” I stated flatly, turning to take in the whole room crowded with the pale faces of the daughters of charity. “I will excuse you this once, but remember in future that we do not reward offenders at this institution; we punish them. They must be trained to sit still during a prayer, and you are utterly without excuse before God if you do not teach them to do so!”
“Pardon me, sir, but oftentimes governing by love benefits more than governing by tyranny,” her eyes remained imploring as she gazed up at me.
“Love cannot feed their bellies or save them from vice, Miss Andrea.” I explained in an attempt to be patient.
“But it can supplement when nothing else avails to fill them, and it may pave the way for leading them to salvation.”
I was frustrated that she would continue to press a point that I had already been lenient enough in making clear to her. Angrily I shook my finger in the young teacher’s placid face. “I am Master of this establishment and will be treated as such!” I paused to see that she comprehended what I was saying before continuing. “If you do not wish to speak respectfully to me, you may pack your bags and leave at once. I have permitted too much from you already. In a short time this school’s benefactress Miss Eleanor Warlington will visit this academy and everything—do you follow, everything? —must be in perfect order. All rules must be followed to the letter! Do you understand?”
She reached her hand up to push my finger away from her face and her eyes turned stony, but she answered steadily, “Yes, sir, perfectly.”
Hardly a week later I was horrified to find that young lady in my office on my return from a walk. She was seated placidly in a plush armchair awaiting my arrival with her usual—shall we say smug?--expression.
Everything about that woman vexed me and I seriously considered dismissing her then and there, however, she was a very well-educated young lady and I knew I was lucky to have her at such a low price. Her pupils did improve rapidly as well, though what bewitching caused it I’ll never guess. I am now sure the devil resides in her. I never came across a more stubborn and willful girl, even in my nearly thirty-three years of parochial work among girls birthed in the deepest degradation.
“What is it?” I demanded irritably, hoping to impress upon her the impropriety of venturing into my office without an invitation. I took my seat and waited impatiently for her to speak.
“I must go into town to the post office, sir,” she began, folding her smooth hands in her lap, “to mail a letter.”
“Well!” I broke in roughly. “And what is that to me? Will you persist in bothering me till you have tormented me to distraction? Cease wasting my time! Go, you aggravating wretch, and get back!”
“I have not finished,” she stated deliberately, holding her head up defiantly and looking me squarely in the face. “Hear me through before you insult me, sir. I wish to take my class with me. It is a beautiful day and they are restless from being cooped up like this. The exercise will do them good, as will the fresh air and sunshine, and I shall be glad of their company.”
I could feel my face growing hot with rage at the impudence of this young teacher. “Why do you proffer a request which you know to be strictly against institution rules, Miss Andrea? Cease your silly chattering and answer me that!”
She tilted her head slightly and narrowed her eyes to look at me. I knew from the look in her eyes that her devilish mind would soon evidence itself clearly. “Because the institution rules are bad ones.”
I caught my breath in horror. “Miss Andrea, I will not tolerate your impertinence!” I exploded, leaping from my chair and rising to my full imposing height before her. “I created the rules myself and they must be adhered to! If the girls want exercise, let them go into the grounds that are allotted for that purpose. Besides, women must become accustomed to the fact that their place is in the home, not out of doors roaming about in the ‘fresh air’.”
“But sir,” I recall clearly that Miss Andrea’s soft voice dropped it’s authoritative ring and became pleading. “But sir,” she appealed, searching my face for the sympathy which I was determined not to give her. “The yard is so close and small, with no flowers or grass and very little sunshine. It’s so stuffy it nearly stifles them. Do let them come with me, just this once, Sir.”
Enraged I began to pace the floor. “The yard is quite adequate for their needs, Miss Andrea. I should know, considering the fact that I laid the plans to have it fenced about, and know exactly the amount of ground allotted to this purpose. Flowers are vain things, which are here today and tomorrow are thrown into the furnace. I will not have the girl’s heads polluted with such nonsense! The girls may not leave the premises. It has been placed under my authority to protect them by my wisdom, which is far greater than your own, and children such as these are wicked enough without being tempted by the frivolity of the
world. Besides, were I to say yes today, it wouldn’t end there, but you would wish to take them out every day! I must carefully guard the girls entrusted to my care against the world, Miss Andrea.”
“Until, of course, you dump them out upon it’s mercies immediately succeeding their arrival at a ‘specified’ age.” She said bitterly, scrutinizing my face with an almost inhuman rigidity.
“We do not have funds to care for them any longer, Miss Andrea, and they are then quite capable of supporting themselves.”
“But sir,” Miss Andrea knit her brow in consternation and chewed her lip, as she seemed to be searching for the proper words to express her sinful ideas. “If they know nothing of the world, they are more likely to be taken in by its snares!”
“They need not participate in sin, to know it, young lady. Those who fall are thick-headed girls who forget the teachings of holiness and the fear of retribution which I have impressed upon them here,” I answered triumphantly.
“No one willingly obeys from fear,” the young teacher muttered under her breath, but I caught her words and sneered at the lack of understanding, which they displayed. “And so, sir,” she resumed her accustomed air, “you remain inflexible concerning the walk?”
“Absolutely,” I rejoined decidedly, seating myself, the flush of victory still hot upon my brow. “Stay--” as she rose to leave, taking her hat from the peg. “There is another matter I wish to discuss with you, and since you have done me the disservice of summoning yourself to my office to appear before me uncalled for, I may as well broach the subject now.”
Miss Andrea reseated herself with a courtly grace while I looked on in distaste. “Pray begin, sir.” Her voice was, as ever, calm and collected.
“Word has reached me,” I began sternly, glaring down into her round face which appeared so obstinately unconcerned in the chair opposite me, “of expensive chocolates bestowed upon a certain pupil of this institution. What do you have to say for yourself, Miss Andrea?”
“Indeed, sir, I do not see that it is of any consequence to you, considering the fact that I purchased the chocolates with my own pocket money as a special present to the girl of whom you speak.” She was infernally blatant!
I drummed my fingers upon the marble top of the desk and rolled my eyes heavenward, muttering frustrations to myself. “Young lady,” I groaned. “It is a most extravagant and frivolous use of money that should be used for the Lord’s work, or saved up for a future time of trouble. You are spoiling the child and building in her extravagant tastes that it is inappropriate to gratify. You are a curse to this establishment!”
“Sir,” Miss Andrea responded, drawing herself up proudly, “the girl is not well, and I was merely trying to tempt a failing appetite. You do not have to subsist on watery gruel as the children do, or you, too, would pity them. What is it to you, if I choose to be generous?”
“The children,” I remarked, laying a strained emphasis on every word, “should be thankful for everything they are so blessed as to receive. They are debtors to charity and must keep that in mind. If the girl is too stubborn to eat what is placed before her, she does not deserve to be rewarded for her obstinacy.”
“You know that is not the case, sir.”
“I know more than you do, you fool, and will not be dictated to by you, as to what I should and shouldn’t do! Who are you to imagine you can counsel me in the management of this school?”
She opened her mouth, as if to speak and then clamped it shut again, no doubt realizing that it was useless to argue with my superior logic and flawless principles. I knew I had won, and thrilled with my victory, I took one final stab.
“If you wish to stay on as a teacher at this respectable academy, you will honor your betters and abide by institution rules. If you do not wish to submit yourself to my guidelines, you may go back whence you came—wherever that may be. Do I make myself clear?”
“Very clear, sir,” she answered softly, rising to take her leave. “Very clear.”
Several weeks slipped past and Miss Andrea behaved herself according to the institution rules for the most part, though I reproved her on various occasions for being too merry and inclined to frivolity. She was altogether too cheerful in my opinion for such work as this, however, I knew that a lengthened time at the Academy would successfully rid her of such faults.
The most significant occurrence on which she incurred my reproof for her childishness was on a chilly afternoon when, hearing peals of laughter issuing from the grounds, I descended thence from my
study and discovered that giddy young lady in concert with several of her pupils engaged in a very rowdy game of some unworthy nature.
“Miss Andrea, what do you mean by this terrible clamor?” I demanded hotly, as I reached the scene. “It is a disgrace to our institution to be involved in such infernal racket. What will the passers-by think? Besides this, I cannot study!"
“We were playing, Sir, and the passers-by will be rejoiced to hear the sounds of merriment coming from such a dismal quarter as this!” She answered, pulling off the scarf that had been bound tightly about her head and disclosing her flushed face and sparkling eyes. I thought she looked absurdly childish with her hair falling down in untidy little wisps around her face. “We were taking our exercise, and I wished to teach them Blind Man’s Bluff—a game I used to play when I was young. Would you care to join us?”
“Miss Andrea,” I strove to control my frustration at this further breach of formality. “We do not allow ‘games’ at this institution. The girls are to be trained to act properly, and in ways befitting young ladies. They may walk for exercise and nothing more. Anything beyond this is extraneous, unnecessary and worldly.”
“Forgive me, Sir.”
I turned away well satisfied with her answer, though now I am quite certain that there was a hint of sarcasm in her voice.
“Forgive me for presuming to enjoy myself, and teaching these poor girls to do likewise. I see now what monstrous sin such enjoyment is, while it is no benefit to the body at all.”
And so, time progressed and no sign of the academy’s benefactress, Miss Eleanor Warlington.
Early one morning, about two months after the arrival of Miss Andrea (with no surname) I found myself restless and unable to sleep, and rising about four o’clock, drew on my dressing gown and house shoes and made my way to my study to stoke up the fire, for it was quite chilly and the flame had nearly died out.
As I sat musing at my desk upon all of the weighty and noble sacrifices which I, God’s humble servant, had made throughout the years, and of the faithful work which I was even then carrying on (as I
had been since my youth) a glimmer in the window of one of the buildings caught my eye and startled me from my reverie.
You must understand that being a man of my honorable character and high standing among all people, I did not wish to incur scandal by rooming in the same structure as all of the young girls admitted to the institution as well as the lady teachers. I had therefore caused a modest apartment to be constructed across the grounds for the accommodation of my sleeping, the peace necessary for my study habits and the reception of any visitors who might chance to visit the Academy.
This circumstance will explain at once why I was able to see the light in Miss Andrea’s window-- for I determined at once that it was her window, meaning that it was indeed she who was responsible for the unnecessary burning of oil.
Grinding my teeth in vexation to see that she was stirring a full hour before the morning bell, I determined to request her presence in my office directly after breakfast with the intention of giving her a severe lecture and dismissing her promptly.
Accordingly, at seven o’clock, I sent for her and received her in my comfortable little study, completely unsuspecting of the abominable interview that was destined to ensue.
“Good morning, Mr. Boliver, Sir,” she began with a false show of humility as she stood in the doorway, undoubtedly surmising that she was in disgrace. I could see from her face that she was resolutely determined to do all she could to maintain her position, but I was even more determined that she should not.
“Be seated,” I ordered, coldly fixing my eyes on her unflinching face. Why hadn’t I seen it before? There was no doubt about it now, it was obviously a devilish face, smoothed over by the Father of Lies himself so that she might appear even as an angel of light.
She took her seat, without comment, and folded her hands placidly in her lap, as was her habit when unoccupied, waiting for me to begin. I noticed with disgust that those useful appendages were smooth and white—a mark of vanity and laziness altogether unfitting in girls of her social status, particularly those raised on charity, as she evidently was.
“Miss Andrea,” I began sternly, adjusting my chair to better view her. “This is the fourth time I have had to rebuke you for misdemeanor, though I have graciously allowed many small things to go unnoticed.”
“Indeed?” She responded raising her fair eyebrows in evident surprise. “I am unaware of any ‘small’ misdemeanors, Mr. Boliver, as I was under the impression that everything not measuring up precisely to institution guidelines is viewed as a capital crime, by you.”
“Do not be saucy to your elders!” I snapped, glaring terrifyingly upon her. She continued to gaze stonily up into my face. It seemed she would try to bewitch me.
“Would you be so kind as to explain the necessity of a light in your room this morning, a full hour before the stated time to rise?” I demanded hotly.
She smiled slightly and leaned comfortably back in the high, hard chair. “Oh that is it, is it? Well Sir, a few of the girls have begun the habit of coming to me every morning before the others are stirring to read the Bible and pray. Surely you can not object?”
I rose from my chair with great dignity, and paused for effect before I made my next statement. “I most certainly do object! The girls will catch their death of cold being up in the chill of the morning gallivanting about!”
“Mr. Boliver, the girls will be no more chilled huddled together in my room, than they will be shivering under the threadbare blankets on their beds all alone. I have been meaning to speak to you about this for some time, sir. The girls really need more coverings than those they currently have. And the poor children can’t even tell which bed is theirs either. You really ought to paint their name at the headboard at least, or some such thing to make it feel like their own bed, instead of a prison cell!”
“Miss Andrea,” I cut in, angry that she had wondered off the subject and intentionally ignoring all that she had said. “Who gave you authority that you should presume to teach or guide young impressionable souls into the paths of truth? You, yourself, seem to me little more than a heathen—“
“I, a heathen, sir?” And the wicked young lady laughed right out with much evident amusement.
“That is what I said,” I growled. “It is no laughing matter that I can see. You may be intellectual enough to feed the children’s brains, but you are not qualified to fill their souls.”
“Pray, why not?” Her grey eyes gazed boldly, searchingly into mine and she leaned forward in her chair, awaiting my reply.
“You are not ordained, foolish girl!” I snapped and ferociously ran my fingers through my greying hair. “Heaven forgive my folly in unwittingly allowing you to pollute this establishment and pervert the gospel of truth!”
“Mr. Boliver, if I am saved, and love the Lord Jesus, there is no reason why I cannot preach the good news just as well as you. Perhaps better, considering the fact that I seem to love him better, and honestly desire to serve Him, not just to glorify myself.” Her eyes were flaming now and her brow was knit in consternation.
“God forbid!” I ejaculated and then checked myself, determined to see how much damage had been inflicted, by this daughter of vice, upon my pure establishment. “Come now, what have you told them?”
“Why, the truth, of course, sir, of which I often doubt your honest understanding despite your study,” she rejoined bitterly. “That Christ came, He died as atonement for their sins, and has been raised again, and that they can go to be with him in paradise after death if they believe in him.”
“And have they nothing to do, themselves? What must these ignorant girls do to gain this wonderful salvation of which you speak?” My voice sank to a whisper as my rage mounted and my face grew hot.
“They must accept God’s free gift of eternal life, certainly, and believe. That is all.”
She was so blatant, so deceitful, so full of wickedness that I could hardly stand and my breath came in short, forced gasps. “Nothing else?” I raged.
In righteous wrath I began to pound my fist upon the marble top of the desk shouting, “You would fill heaven with wicked children? You would send all the scum of the earth to glory merely by having them believe that God loves them?”
“Certainly, Sir. That is exactly what God intended, and if you understand it so thoroughly you are well on your way to salvation. ‘It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I did not come to call
the righteous, but sinners to repentance.’ Of course, I explained to them that if they love the Lord, they will loathe sin and wish to serve Him.” Her calmness drove me nearly to distraction.
“And what of retribution?” I hissed.
“What of it, sir? You seem to have spent much time in study upon that topic. They know well enough from you, and have heard all of their lives from the same source that the unforgiven shall perish in the eternal fire. Strange you never explain how to be forgiven, isn’t it?”
“No, you fool!” I pounded on the desk again till my hand began to ache with the blows. “What of retribution to those who ‘believe’ as you would have it, and yet fail to obey?”
“ 'Those whom the Lord loveth, He chasteneth, and He scourgeth every child whom he receiveth.’”
At least she understood one small bit of truth, I thought bitterly as I glared down upon her.
“You must not be His, or he would reprove you severely,” I stated regally, turning meditatively from her to pace the room.
“Actually, He has blessed my work quite richly, and I have already been enabled to bring twelve young lambs into His fold, Sir. I should think that you might rejoice with me.” She sat, regarding me solemnly, her grey eyes clear and annoyingly placid.
“Twelve!” I groaned, slumping back in my chair, weak with horror. “Twelve little sinners led into the path of deceit! You illegitimate daughter of a bastard, do you know what you have done?”
“Mr. Boliver, I resent the libel you insist on bestowing on me. My parents union was quite honorable, as were those of their parents before them! I will not hear them spoken of in such a disrespectful way by anyone, and certainly not a self-righteous Pharisee like you!” She had flushed crimson at my words, but now her face was a deadly grey and she had bolted from her chair and was leaning over my desk with her eyes nearly burning out of her head.
“Well, well,” I said, slightly startled by her sudden vehement manner. “The poor are all the same.”
“You are the most hypocritical man I have ever seen, to talk so, and yet claim to serve God!” Miss Andrea’s accusation struck a tender chord with me, as she pounded the desk in her turn. “There are quite
as many noble hearts among the peasantry as among the clergy. I take that back—I say there are more, Mr. Boliver! Jesus says ‘blessed are the poor, for they shall inherit the earth’! Yet you treat them as dirt! You will have quite an account to render of yourself and your stewardship on judgment day. I pity your hard heart, sir.”
What a speech to fling in the face of a man who had served God for nearly thirty-three years! Imagine my righteous indignation at the shameful, insulting words thus thrown at me from such a wretch as this. My anger was now fully aroused, but with my firm will and saintly forbearance I controlled myself and deliberately shoved an important paper across the desk at her.
“That is your dismissal, Miss Andrea!” I articulated, laying a pointed stress on each word. “Take it, pack your bags, and go! Leave this establishment by noon today and never dare to come back. Do you hear me?”
“Yes, sir,” a strange light of determination crept into the young lady’s eyes, and holding her head erect with pride, she rose to leave. “I imagine Miss Eleanor Warlington will have something to say on this matter.”
“What do you mean slandering this school’s benefactress in that way, you young imp?” I sneered, pushing back from the desk with a slightly easier attitude.
“I have taken careful note of everything that goes on here, and your care for this academy, Mr. Boliver, and I intend to speak to Miss Warlington about your management of it. I think she will agree with me.”
“Miss Warlington will never even speak to such a creature as you,” I snarled, sitting bolt upright in my chair and staring with hatred after the retreating form of the young teacher.
“We shall see,” was the only reply.
Of course I had no fears that Miss Eleanor Warlington would side with the willful young lady whom I had dismissed that day upon any of the matters which she deemed so important. Miss Warlington was a high bred noble woman, the benefactress of this meticulous institution and the daughter of the rich and stately earl who had placed me in the position of Master of the school.
I had actually, some time before, begun to wonder at the delay, since many weeks had passed since I had received notice of her intended arrival, and it was especially trying having to keep everything in top order for her expected visit. At length I sent a letter of inquiry to Warlington Hall, to be opened by anyone, requesting that we might have the benefit of a date for the sojourn of the lady.
The response I received was indeed startling. The housekeeper intimated that Miss Warlington had departed some weeks previous to the present time, with the apparent intention of coming to grace our lovely establishment with her presence. Indeed, everyone at the Hall was quite astonished by my letter, as they had all begun to wonder at the length of the Mistress’ stay. Moreover, she affirmed that she had received a letter from Miss Warlington pertaining to certain household matters, in which she had understood the young lady to state that she was currently at our school!
I replied that I could not account for this circumstance in any way, as I had assuredly not laid eyes upon the youthful heiress, and thought Mrs. Piper (for that was the name of that good lady, who kept house at the Hall) must be mistaken. Surely the young lady must be attending to some other business connected to the disposal of her large establishment, and the supposed referral to the Academy must have been only mentioned in the future tense.
Mrs. Piper assented that it very well might be so, and she admitted, as well, that she had no way of verifying what she recalled, as the letter had been disposed of after the household matters had been properly taken care of. She also added that her mistress was a very independent young woman and may well have gone off on her own without explaining to anyone the true nature of her errand, and she promised to request her young mistress to notify me of her intentions, as soon as she herself should make contact with the young lady.
Satisfied for the time being, I had resumed my regular course of action and resolved to worry myself no longer about her ladyship and her upcoming visit.
And so it was with great pleasure, and I must admit, evident relief, that I received a letter from Warlington Hall, shortly after the events above narrated, to the effect that Miss Eleanor Warlington would find it a pleasure to come and view the academy at the end of the month.
Exactly two months and twenty days after the moment upon which a serious annoyance to my work took place in the form of a young lady devil applying for a teaching position, I was seated at my desk reflecting on the past year (for I had celebrated a birthday anniversary only a short time before). All was very pleasant to my mind, with evidences of a job well done, excepting the last two months, about which I felt strangely dissatisfied. I was certainly relieved to have gotten rid of that hellish Miss Andrea at last, (though I regretted that I had been fool enough to ever allow her to step foot in the buildings), especially since I had just received information that Miss Eleanor Warlington would make the academy a visit that very afternoon.
I thought with pleasure over the perfectly boring buildings (for such buildings as are paid for by charity should be utterly devoid of all hilarity and frivolity) and perfectly symmetrical dormitories, when Mrs. Pimpernell startled me from my reverie.
“Mr. Boliver, sir,” she exclaimed shrilly, hurriedly dropping me a curtsey. I nodded my head ever so slightly to accept her bow. “Mr. Boliver, sir, she’s here!”
“ ‘She?’ ” I drug out the word to express my displeasure. “As in Miss Warlington? Really, Mrs. Pimpernell, you should speak more respectfully of your betters. She does have a name, madam.” I quickly straightened the papers that littered my comfortable desk and sat up straight in my chair. “Show her in, Mrs. Pimpernell.” Mrs. Pimpernell remained standing by the door, making no motions to obey, and staring at me in wide-eyed—well, I’m not completely sure what her face expressed, but it was wide-eyed. Now, I know that I am quite a handsome man, when I am business-like, however this gaping on the part of the housekeeper was quite inexcusable.
“Well?” I exclaimed angrily. “What’s so intriguing? Did I or did I not bid you to show her in?”
“Yes, sir, but—“
“No buts!” I roared pounding my fist on the desk as was my habit when I needed to terrify a woman into submission. “Now! Go now! Do not keep me waiting!”
“Yes, sir,” Mrs. Pimpernell squeaked, executing one of her trademark curtsies as she fairly fled from the room.
“Good morning, Mr. Boliver,” there was something strangely familiar about the authoritative voice which greeted me and I found myself searching the files of memory to recall where I had heard it before. It must have been her father, surely. I smiled grimly at the queenly figure that glided regally into my study, and stepped around from behind my desk, holding out my hand. “Good morning, Miss—” I froze before my hand touched hers and stared stupidly into the steely grey eyes that looked coolly up into mine. She withdrew her hand as she took in the effect her presence was making on me. I could feel my face purpling with rage at this imposter!
“Miss Andrea,” I controlled my voice with great difficulty. “This is indeed a surprise—I was expecting the institution’s benefactress at this time, and I must admit I resent your intrusion.”
“So she is coming at last?” The young lady’s voice dripped with satire. “Well, I am glad to hear it. I shall wait here with you until she appears, and then we may talk pleasantly together of all of our suggestions for change in this academy. If you recall, I said I would speak to her about my views?”
“Miss Andrea,” I growled, glancing hastily toward the door. “ I forbade you ever to come back! What do you mean by this unexpected visit?”
“Excuse my saying so,” the young lady signaled me to be seated and then disposed herself in my easy chair behind my desk, “but I wrote my intentions of arriving today, and you have just invited me in. What a cold welcome for the benefactress of this school! I have come a second time, to review this establishment, as it’s rightful mistress. How foolish of you to think you could ban me from my own institution! Who pays your salary anyway?”
I dropped weakly into the chair she had pointed out and stared at the familiar face before me, with my mouth gaping open, “Miss Andrea,” I stuttered, searching for words.
“Miss Warlington,” she interrupted, correcting me. “Mr. Boliver,” casually, “This is a very nice office—however it is not much in keeping with the rest of the institution. Do you think it fair for you to study in luxury while the pupils, for whom the gifts I have given to the school were intended, should sit, crowded onto wooden benches, day in and day out? Tear down all your costly walls and fences and refurnish this office more suitably and you will find that you have money in abundance to care for all of the sick girls you speak so much about, but don’t even know the names of!”
“But Miss Warlington, the office of the Master is what visitors see and we must keep up appearances, everyone knows that!” My voice trembled and my words came out more as a moan than anything else.
“Hypocrite!” The word hissed from between her teeth and fell sizzling on my head. “You are a selfish hypocrite!”
“Miss Andrea—” I could feel the anger bubbling inside me like the lava in a hot volcano, as my stolid manner returned to me.
“Miss Warlington,” she corrected again. “Why you continue in this post I can’t imagine. It’s plain to me that you hate the girls—you certainly do not love them as you claim! I am amazed, not only that you were not replaced long before this time, but also that you have remained of your own accord! What pleasure do you get from starving a school full of orphans?”
“Miss Warlington,” I now rose from the chair into which I had sunk in a moment of weakness and began pacing the room with short, agitated steps. “I have been in this position nearly twice as long as you have been living—“
“All the worse for the Academy.” She would persist in cutting me off. “And this is your excuse for hardening your heart? I should think it would cause you to pity the poor fatherless creatures, after seeing their sufferings, not hate them as you do!” Miss Warlington’s eyes flashed fire as she set her firm jaw in angry tensity.
“You misjudge me, my dear,” I began again, controlling my frustration so far as to speak endearingly. “I hate their bodies, and punish their sin, so that their souls may be saved in the day of judgement! For nearly thirty-three years I have served God among these children and I am confident of my reward, even if you do not appreciate what I do. God says, in the world I will have tribulation, but I am a great man and can come through strong and pure gold.” I came to a stop in front of the desk.
“You deceive yourself,” Miss Warlington’s voice was low as she gazed almost pityingly at me. “Think, Mr. Boliver, think what these poor girls have suffered! No mother, no father! You do not know how they feel, deprived of both their parents, frightened and alone in the world. God has enabled me to
sympathize. You know I am an orphan as well, though because my father was rich I can thank heaven I was not cast on your mercy. I can sympathize whole-heartedly! At least you could try.”
“Miss Warlington—“ I attempted to defend myself, but she silenced me with her hand.
“You are the closest thing these girls have to a father, Mr. Boliver.”
“Me?” My eyes were surely popping out of my head in horrified disbelief at this statement.
“Certainly,” she responded, leaning her elbows comfortably on the desk. “All children need love-- paupers no less than princes. You are the closest thing they now have to a father—you are their mental and spiritual leader. You should be showing them love, reflecting what their Father in heaven is like! Instead, you rain down punishment and discomfort upon them as if you would have them experience hell on earth to prepare them for the one in eternity, and you claim to be their benefactor—the guardian of their souls! What sort of a portrait of God are you giving them?”
I drew myself up with dignity. “ I do not have to remain here to be insulted by you,” I stated peevishly.
“Oh, but you will stay until I am finished with you,” Miss Warlington glared at me from behind my desk.
“A pretty thing you have made of this school, Mr. Boliver. It’s more like a prison! No colors, no play, no enjoyment, no one-on-one relationship with God, no love? I will not have my girls treated like this! No wonder only three poor creatures were terrified into committing their lives to Christ by you and that on their deathbeds! What an epitaph for this school and your management of it thus far! Now, shall we be able to come to a reasonable solution for running this establishment in a humane manner?”
“Miss Warlington,” here I broke loose and began pounding on the desk. “You do not understand! You cannot understand! You were raised in the lap of luxury and are utterly unacquainted with the sacrifices I have made! You know nothing of governing such wicked children as these! They are born of bad blood, and take much trouncing to reform—“
“Which poverty and privation have already done for them. They are no worse than any other children, Mr. Boliver! We are all sinners—you among the greatest in your misleading of God’s little ones!
Besides, you are wrong. I have spent two months here as a teacher, observing how you dealt with the girls and in that time have managed to bring fully a dozen lost lambs safely into the fold of the Good Shepherd.”
“I have done my best and that is all that can be asked, Miss Warlington. For thirty-two years, eight months and sixteen days I have—“
“Yes, have, is correct, Mr. Boliver. Past tense, have! For thirty-two years, eight months and sixteen days you have tormented the miserable souls out of these hapless children, and here I put my foot down and say that it stops!” She leapt from the leather-backed chair and leaned over the desk, glaring at me. “Since you insist on viewing the world through the eyes of a Pharisee, you may just please to take yourself out of here by eight o’clock this evening. You are dismissed.”
I stood, staring at the raging young lady in utter astonishment. I had never seen her indulge her temper so, and felt that it must reflect the inhabitance of the Devil himself. Her face was flushed and her eyes glittered savagely. My feet seemed glued to the floor, and I could not take my eyes from her face.
“I shall be mistress of this school myself, as well as benefactress, and will hope, with God’s help to do some great good by it.” She resumed her seat, her cool manner returning, and began to rearrange the desk. “You need never show your face here again, sir. Good day.”
And so, after thirty-two years, eight months and sixteen days spent serving God at the Lanchester Girl’s School, I find myself as you see me now: a homeless man, wandering aimlessly down the highway with a certificate of discharge in my hand.
The infamy of it! After all I have done to promote the cause of God, and to drive the natural wickedness from the children birthed in vice and shame, and after all my faithful management and wise distribution of funds, to be cast off like a used-up article! Dismissed without even a chance to defend myself! Driven from all I hold dear and those I strove to serve!
Curses upon that woman! She called me a Pharisee!