Feb. 18th, 2008

mistressmaryquitecontrary: (secretmary)
The worst blow: they put her in the lowest class for maths, with the wide-eyed little girls in short skirts who sniffle in class and cry at night for their nurses. Mary can add and subtract, it’s true, but she doesn’t know the least thing about a times table, and long division is as far beyond her as organic chemistry. She’s never been taught any of this. It’s been years since anyone tried.

So she sits in the back of the class, her legs twice the length of everyone else’s, and sullenly works through long lists of sums that she knows how to do, knowing full well that at this rate she’ll never catch up to the others her age.

She sits sullenly at mealtimes, too, and picks at her food with her fork in the old Missy Sahib way. She hasn’t eaten this little in years, but she’s not running wild on the moors anymore, or working in a garden, or skipping-rope. They take exercise walking about in stiff rows. There’s nothing to put pink in her cheeks or give her any stomach at all.

Which is not to say she’s always silent. She opens her mouth to talk when they do reading and when they do history and geography; in fact, she talks a good deal more than she ought, and often more loudly, too. She can’t help herself. The girls say such stupid things, and none of them have ever been anywhere at all.

(The worst was the time that Miss Spenlow said, with great pride, that now they lived in the age of enlightenment and there should be no more wars – at least, not among civilized people. Mary nearly jumped out of her seat at that, because of course there would be more wars. She knew there would be some, and though she could not tell how she knew, she had to tell them how stupid it was not to be ready – how stupid it was not to prepare – to think that everything was always going to be all right, forever and ever.

Miss Spenlow had been starting to be almost fond of queer, opinionated Mary before then, but after this she begins to wonder if Mary really does have an oddly violent turn of mind.)

She doesn’t mind learning French so much – she’s in the lowest class there, too, but at least there are one or two other girls her own age who know as little as she does. She says the words carefully to herself at night, la fille, le garcon, l’ecoliere, and though her accent is not good she memorizes the vocabulary as quickly as anyone. Quicker, because she’s going over the words in her head when the other girls are giggling amongst themselves, at mealtimes, or in the sitting room, or in their own rooms at night.

(At night, Lottie sneaks next door, though she’s not supposed to, where she can find sympathetic talkers and sympathetic ears, and leaves Mary to herself. That suits Mary very well.)

She gets through the dancing lessons by pretending she’s holding a sword.

The story of what she has said to Lottie has spread; there are one or two girls, indignant over their behavior to her friend, who call her the Indian Savage. But no one has yet thought to call her Mistress Mary, Quite Contrary, and that is something.


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January 2012

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