Heads swivel in the direction of the new teacher, who is seated between LeFarge and Mrs. Nightwing. She wears a suit of gray flannel, a sprig of holly pinned to one lapel. I recognize her instantly as the woman who arrived in the dead of night. I could share this information. It might make me quite popular at the table. Most likely, it would cause Cecily to run immediately to Mrs. Nightwing and inform her of my nighttime activities. I decide to eat a fig instead.
Mrs. Nightwing rises to speak. My fork, which was so very close to tasting happiness, must be stilled at my plate. I utter a silent prayer that she will be brief, though I know this is very much like asking for snow in July.
"Good morning, girls."
"Good morning, Mrs. Nightwing," we answer in unison.
"I wish to present Miss McCleethy, our new instructor in the arts. In addition to drawing and painting, Miss McCleethy is knowledgeable in Latin and Greek, badminton, and archery."
Felicity flashes me an excited smile. Only Ann and I know how happy this makes her. In the realms, she proved to be quite a skilled archer, a fact that would no doubt startle those who think she is concerned only with the latest fashion from Paris.
Mrs. Nightwing drones on. "Miss McCleethy comes to us from the very esteemed Saint Victoria's School for Girls in Wales. I am fortunate indeed, for I've known her as a dear friend for many a year."
At this Mrs. Nightwing gives Miss McCleethy a warm smile. It is astonishing! Mrs. Nightwing has teeth! I have always assumed that
our headmistress hatched from a dragon's egg. That she is in possession of a "dear friend" is beyond me.
"I've no doubt she will prove an invaluable asset to us here at Spence, and I ask you to welcome her warmly. Miss Bradshaw, perhaps you'd be willing to sing a song for our Miss McCleethy? A carol would be nice, I should think." Ann rises dutifully and walks between the long tables toward the front. As she goes there is a bit of whispering, a snicker or two. The other girls never seem to tire of tormenting Ann, who keeps her head down and endures their cruelty. But when she opens her mouth to sing "Lo, How a Rose E'er Blooming," her voice, clear and beautiful and powerful, silences every critic. When she finishes, I want to stand and cheer. Instead, we give a round of brief, polite applause as she walks back to the table. Cecily and her friends make a point of not acknowledging Ann at all, as if she hasn't just sung for the whole room. It's as if she doesn't exist for them. She's no more than a ghost.
"That was splendid," I whisper to her.
"No," she says, blushing. "It was terrible." But a sheepish smile lights up her face anyway.
Miss McCleethy stands to address us. "Thank you, Miss Bradshaw. That was a nice start to our day."
A nice start? It was lovely. Perfect, in fact. Miss McCleethy has no passion at all, I decide. I shall be forced to give her two bad conduct marks in my invisible ledger.
"I look forward to meeting each of you and hope to be of service. You may find that I am an exacting teacher. I expect your very best at all times. But I think you will also find that I am fair. If you put forth effort, you shall be rewarded. If not, you shall suffer the consequences."
Mrs. Nightwing beams. She has found a kindred spirit, which is to say, someone devoid of all human joy. "Thank you, Miss McCleethy," she says. She sits, which is our blessed cue to begin eating.
Ah, grand. Now to the bacon. I lift two thick slices onto my plate. They are like heaven.
"She sounds a jolly sort," Felicity whispers naughtily, nodding toward Miss McCleethy. The others titter behind closed mouths. Only Felicity can get away with such outright cheek. If I were to make such a remark, I'd be greeted with stony silence.
"What a strange accent she has," Cecily says."Foreign." "Doesn't sound Welsh to me," Martha adds. "More Scottish, I should think."
Elizabeth Poole drops two lumps of sugar into her brackish tea and stirs daintily. She's wearing a delicate bracelet of golden ivy, no doubt an early gift from her grandfather, who is rumored to be wealthier than the Queen."She could be Irish, I suppose," she says in her tight, high voice."I do hope she isn't a Papist."
It wouldn't be worth my time to point out that our own Brigid is Irish and Catholic. For people like Elizabeth, the Irish are fine--in their place. And that place is living under stairs, working for the English.
"I certainly hope she is an improvement on Miss Moore." Cecily takes a bite of jam on toast.
At Miss Moore's name, Felicity and Ann go silent, eyes down. They haven't forgotten that we were responsible for the dismissal of our former art teacher, a woman who took us into the caves behind Spence to show us the primitive goddess paintings there. It was Miss Moore who told me about my amulet and its connection to the Order. It was Miss Moore who told us stories about the Order, and that, in the end, was what led to her fall. Miss Moore was my friend, and I miss her.