The Continental Ladies’ Academy

Since Lavender left, the school has not been the same.

It was unseasonably warm last week, and though we had noticed her restlessness we were quite shocked when she walked into the classroom without her many layers of undergarments and petticoats, of satin and lace. She wore (now infamous) leather breeches and a linen shirt which looked marvelously breezy. Sister Mary Tortella, not to be confused with the thinner Sister Mary Margaret, immediately cracked her stick on the lectern and told Lavender to make herself proper.

Lavender’s chin went up and she silently took her seat by the open window. We could tell that if only one were allowed to cane royal flesh, then Sister Mary Tortella would have gladly done so at that moment. Instead she called for Our Lady the Duchess, under whose auspicious guidance our schooling takes place.

Our Lady found the classroom in a tizzy, for it was beyond Sister Mary Tortella to control us with Lavender in such a state, and we were all flushed and breathless in our corsets by the time Our Lady entered, her bustle dwarfing the doorway.

Our Lady took in Lavender’s rebellious pose, which spread all the way up to the roots of her hair, causing her plait to go very messy indeed. I was much distracted by the sudden cheerfulness on Lavender’s face, as she had seemed stubbornly aloof beforehand. I wondered if she knew something we didn’t. The classroom fidgeted, waiting eagerly for her sentence.

“Your Royal Highness, this disgraceful behaviour neither becomes you nor submits to the rules of this institution. You will come with me directly or be removed by my ladies.”

“Then I have a choice?”

How daring! Such a collective intake of breath!

“I would not describe it as such, Your Highness,” Our Lady said, icy as a northern queen. The me then would have quailed.

“Oh. Well, I’d rather not.”

Lavender got up from her desk. She stood on her desk. She moved with tantalizing confidence to the windowsill, smiled at us, and jumped.

The rush to the window cannot be described. Sister Mary Tortella’s scream will go down in the history of the Continental Ladies’ Academy, drowning out all others. I should like to know if Our Lady screamed, but I doubt it. I was quick enough to get a decent view, and saw Lavender jump to a lower branch on the pear tree, then swing down to earth and run off, her mussed brown hair disappearing into the forest.

As it is the tame kind of forest with no brush to obstruct a good run, and no nasty animals to fear, I fell passionately in love with the idea. And so, as Our Lady could tell, did the rest of the classroom.

We live in the calm before a storm. We are young ladies keeping our eyes downcast, our many layers in place and our hair immaculately dressed. We copy our lessons and we copy and pass notes, ink whispering about Lavender’s escapade. Making plans. The Sisters watch us eagle-eyed and Our Lady is seen quite often. But Our Lady is not the all-powerful figure she was; once flouted, authority is difficult to regain. She has not discovered, or has not been able to halt, the widespread sewing of skirts into breeches.

There is a rumour that they have placed guards in the grounds. But we laugh.


About Elizabeth Cook

Elizabeth Cook is an economist who enjoys good food and tea, and games of squash and Dungeons and Dragons. Most of her interests are inherited from her father, who is an English and Latin teacher. Although she will pursue an MA in economics she would much prefer to hole up in her room and write.

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