|Nell Wilson was just pouring herself a second cup of tea when she heard the rattle of the letter box. “Goodness, what on earth is that? I wasn't expecting any post, were you? I told Megan not to bother forwarding anything as we'll be back next week and I thought we both needed a proper rest without any business matters getting in the way. It's been a fairly hectic summer one way or another.” |
She stopped talking, realising that her companion had risen from the table and left the kitchen.
Less than a minute later Hilda Annersley was back in the room, bearing a white envelope and a surprised expression. “It's from Meg Kelly! I didn't expect to hear from her so soon.”
“She's only been home for five minutes,” said Nell, as she carefully unsealed the envelope. "I hope there is nothing wrong with the family.” She put the pencil-addressed envelope aside for re-use and began to read Meg's letter aloud.
“Dear Nell and Hilda,
I hope you are having a lovely and restful time on the moor and that the weather is being kind. According to all reports the weather here this summer has been as wet as the weather in England. Weren't we so lucky with the weekend of Gren's wedding? I had a postcard from her this morning. All it said was 'Having a lovely time, everything in full working order!' but that was the news I wanted.”
Nell laughed and, after a moment, Hilda did the same. “Well, it isn't the sort of information one normally seeks but in this case I am glad to know. Meg had great faith in the Professor's skill but I know she was concerned. What else does she say?”
“The family welcomed me with open arms but are holding off the main celebrations until Saturday, thank goodness, when my father will be home and possibly also Alex. It was such a joy this morning to have breakfast with Granny Kelly, Mickey and Kate. He brought in fresh morning rolls, still warm from the oven, and spread, though thinly, with Granny's home-made raspberry jam they were delicious. Mickey is delighted with his book and will send a thank you letter as soon as he has tried out an experiment or two. Ma is in fear and trembling at the very thought. We only got electric lights in the house in 1938 and she still doesn't really trust it!
Kate is also thrilled with her book and she is threatening, sorry, I mean promising, to send you some seeds! They are still growing vegetables in the communal back green and she just loves being down there, grubbing among the carrots and kale.
Now, just in case you are wondering why you are getting this early epistle, it's because I am so revved up that I need to write it down or I shall explode! Ladies, I have met an ecclesiastical Miss Bubb with bells on! It all started because I had promised to meet Kate from school to go and buy new gym shoes for her..............”
….......Meg strolled along the Overgate, reflecting on a fairly packed few hours which had included a comforting talk with Stella, a meeting with senior staff at the College, lunch with her mother and Kate and a couple of refreshing hours with her sister-in-law and the children.
There were more people than usual at the school gate, mothers, grandmothers and aunts waiting to take their charges for the prescribed sandshoes. Meg was welcomed warmly and returned the smiles and greetings, stepping smartly aside to avoid the first rush of released pupils. Kate usually came running if she was being met, so Meg was surprised and then alarmed to see her coming slowly forward, head bowed, her arms crossed in front of her and her classmates surrounding her.
Meg hurried towards her “Kate, what's wrong, honey?” Kate turned a tear-stained face up to her sister but couldn't speak.
“She got the belt, missus, and it wisna fair!” said one of the other children.
“What?” cried Meg, appalled.” She had never had the Lochgelly tawse brought down on her own hands but she had seen its effects on classmates who had incurred the wrath of a teacher and thought the practice barbaric. How could this happen to Kate who was a well behaved and studious child? She gently took hold of Kate's arms and looked at her hands. Her palms and fingers were red and swollen and, to Meg's absolute fury, her right wrist was bruised, a sign that whoever had administered the punishment had broken the rules. “Why did you get the belt, Kittykat?” she asked softly. Kate struggled to answer.
“Sister said she was a thief and a liar, because of the sweeties.” piped up little Denny Murphy who lived in their close. “She's red rotten, Meg!”
Just then a tall nun in full regalia and white cornette swept out of the school and made a beeline for Meg and Kate.
“Ah, Mrs Kelly,” she began coldly, then, noting Meg's ringless left hand, her expression became even less pleasant and there was a distinct sneer in her voice. “Oh I beg your pardon, Miss Kelly! Your daughter has been punished for....”
“That's the bairn's big sister and she's Dr Kelly to you!” Meg recognised the voice of Lizzie Brady, who was among the group still at the gate and hoping for a drama.
“You sort her, Meg!” called another woman. “Gave my Jimmy the belt because she said his hankie was dirty - on the first day back!”
Meg, her arm round Kate's shoulder, looked the nun straight in the eye. “Can you give me one good reason, Sister, why I should not take my sister to the police station and have you charged with assault?”
Sister Ignatius was outraged. “How dare you speak to me like that! I have total authority to punish her as I see fit! This child is, if not a thief, certainly a liar! ”
With difficulty, Meg held on to her temper. “Sister, the rules are clear.” She lifted Kate's poor stricken right hand. “If you hit the wrist it is assault – and I have witnesses.” She gestured towards the women who had come closer. “Take her all the road, Meg!” advised one woman. “We'll back you up!” There was an angry murmur of agreement.
This promising rammy was brought to an end by the arrival of the formidable tweed suited figure of the school's headteacher, Miss McGrory, followed by Sister Marie-Therese.
“Sister Ignatius, Dr Kelly, shall we go inside? I am sure these ladies are anxious to collect their children and be about their business.” This was said with a meaning look in the direction of the women who reluctantly drifted off, speculating about the outcome. “She'll find Meg Kelly's no a soft backie,” opined one. “That's right enough,”agreed another. “though that old bitch is lucky it wasna Bella or the auld wife meeting the bairn. She'd have been on her backend looking for her teeth!”
Sister Ignatius stalked along, complaining bitterly that Meg had spoken to her in a most disrespectful manner. “That is most unlike Meg so she must have had good reason!” snapped Sister Marie-Therese. Meg, still seething, said nothing till they reached the office then told her tale.
“Let me see your hands, Kathleen.” said Miss McGrory. Kate held out her hands. Miss McGrory's lips tightened. “Sister Marie-Therese, will you take Kathleen to the medical room, please?”
The little nun put her hand on Kate's shoulder and steered her off to have the poor sore hands and wrists bathed..
Miss McGrory looked at Sister Ignatius. “Sister, I am sure you know that hitting the wrist constitutes assault but would you like to tell me why Kathleen was belted?”
“She brought in a large box of sweets which she had passed round her classmates! When I questioned her she claimed that they had been a gift from the American Ambassador.” She gave a scornful laugh. “ I did give her the opportunity to tell the truth but she persisted in her lie so I punished her.”
Meg, blessing the impulse which had made her take the Ambassador's note to show Eileen, took it from her handbag and handed it to Miss McGrory. The headteacher read it, handed it to Sister Ignatius and addressed Meg.
“I had no idea that you were wounded in action, Margaret. When did this happen?”
“The bit about the Purple Heart was just a joke. I did an emergency repair to a G.I. who had been a bit too eager to clear a minefield and I stepped in a rabbit hole and sprained my ankle on the way back! The Ambassador was very generous with his gifts. Kate was anxious to treat her friends so I gave her the sweets for them.”
Mrs McGrory looked at her colleague. “Why did you assume that Kathleen was not telling the truth, Sister? Do your pupils normally tell lies?”
Sister Ignatius bristled. “Certainly not! My pupils are truthful and honest!”
“And you are suggesting that mine are not?” asked Mrs McGrory coldly.
Sister Ignatius made no reply.
“Well, Sister, I hope you are not only ready to apologise to Dr Kelly - oh, sorry, Margaret, you are still Major Kelly, of course – who I hope will not take this matter to the police,” Meg signalled her assent.`.. though if she wishes to complain to the Bishop that is a matter for her, but also that you will apologise to Kathleen in the class tomorrow.”
“I, well, this is, um, Major Kelly, I apologise for my error and, um, I shall apologise to your sister in the morning.”
…..”So there we were”, wrote Meg. “A nod being good as a wink, as soon as I had bought Kate's gym shoes and treated her, and several of her classmates, to sarsaparillas in Greenhill's, I hied me down to the Cathedral and made my protest to the Bishop. I think Sister Ignatius's career at St Andrew's School will be shorter than she expected!”
“Good for Meg!” exclaimed Hilda. “But, tell me, Nell, am I ever going to hear the full tale of Miss Bubb?”
“Not today!” returned Nell, “ In case you haven't noticed, the sun has made an appearance and as soon as I deal with the dishes, we are going for a lovely walk to talk of pleasant things.”
Author's Chapter Notes:
Another longish update. The belt incident is based on an incident in my own school career........