At the next Fencing lesson in Sport, I grabbed a foil and sought a place in line when I felt Langley's hand on my forearm.
"You'll sit out," Langley said.
"You'll sit out today and for the rest of the week. Punishment. For your attack on a fellow Young Lady." At this, my face must have contorted into something resembling resistance because Langley twisted my forearm inward. Pained, my fingers jolted straight out in response. The foil fell from my grasp and clattered to the pavement.
Langley released me and I swore under my breath. But not quite under my breath enough because Langley's eyes widened with shock. The Middles giggle-gasped behind me.
"And for that, a Check, Miss Portia!" Langley barked. The giggle-gasps dropped into dead silence. Caught between swearing again and fainting, I froze. I couldn't believe it. A Check.
I swallowed my upset as Langley pointed a thick finger at my nose and growled, "A Check for the vulgarity of your language. Not for the vulgarity of your violence. Be thankful for that. Take a seat."
"Ms. Langley, please --."
"Take. A. Seat."
As all watched, I moved to the stone bench at the far edge of the courtyard. With each step, my feet felt heavier with shame and guilt.
Checks were shared with all faculty and administrators at the Academy, as was the offence for which they were issued. If a student received four Checks, they earned a Private Appointment with Lady Mac.
'Private Appointment' was a terrorizing phrase. Most assumed it meant sitting across from Lady Mac while she lectured, for far too long, about 'decorum' and 'dignity'. But there were other whispers of more nefarious punishments. Back in September, a rumour spread like fire about an Upper Year who earned a Private Appointment, went to Lady Mac's office and was never, ever seen again. Had she been returned to her parents in shame? Pushed out the window of Lady Mac's office, which sat at the top peak of the tallest turret? Was she... still up there? No one knew.
And now I, in my short time at the Academy, was on the path to a similar fate. I slumped onto the bench, drained of spirit. Worse than even all of that, I wasn't allowed to Fence.
Viola took her place in the line, obedient and compliant once more. No longer interested in standing out or challenging Langley. A knot in my stomach clenched. Like something was dying on the inside.
Aside of me, the Fencing line was two more short. Des had claimed 'womanly concerns' and retired from class. Beadie had not appeared at all. It was becoming clear that Beadie colluded with Langley for her many unexplained absences. There was a deal in place that I didn't understand all the pieces of; a favour or an agreement. One that did not appear to include protecting her friends from egregious discipline. I scowled at the back of Langley's head throughout the class as I sat alone and ignored. I wanted to rage and lash out, but knew it would not serve me well. So I settled on quiet contempt and narrowed-eyed seething. Childish but it did give me a measure of comfort.
When Sport ended, the other Middles scattered. We had seven minutes to sort ourselves and appear in the dining hall for midday meal. Arrive beyond seven minutes and you risked a Check.
The fast exit of the others left Viola and I alone in the courtyard. She opened her mouth as if to speak, her expression open and inviting. But then she frowned, seeming to change her mind.
She hurried inside. I couldn't find my voice to call after her to stop and she was quickly gone. I followed, giving chase to her hurrying form as she wound through the corridors and ducked into the water closet. I was hardly through the door when she whipped around and snapped,
YOU ARE READING
When troubled Ophelia is found dead, four of her classmates are accused. With conviction and punishment a foregone conclusion, the girls - Portia, Beatrice, Viola and Desdemona - plot a daring escape in order to unravel the conspiracy behind the mur...