The Life We Choose – Episode 52

It was near noon when Mr Leadbetter finished making notes and snapped his briefcase shut.

“I’d like a word with you before I go,” he told Sarah. “Dismiss the children for the rest of the day.”

The room emptied in record time, and Mr Leadbetter did not mince his words.

“I’m here because there’s been a complaint from the new dominie that many of the children from Langrigg are not attending school. He told me that you are running a school of sorts here, so the Board felt that enquiries should be made.”

Sarah suddenly felt the heat of the anger that was rising in her.

“When I assisted my father, he always complained that there was poor attendance among the children, which wasn’t surprising, since they’d to walk upwards of two miles to the school,” she said.

Mr Leadbetter stared at her in astonishment.

“The School Board have been approached about this several times,” Sarah went on, “by Mrs Mary Ellen Walker. Nothing was done. She asked me to start a class for the younger children, and the Wee School, as it’s known, has grown from that in a few months.”

“Ah.” Mr Leadbetter gave the ghost of a smile and wagged his finger at Sarah. “But there are children here who are of an age where they should be attending the dominie’s school. And while I am on that particular subject, I should mention that several dates of birth are missing from the register.” He paused for breath. “That Alexander Maxton, for instance. A boy who seemed to be altogether too big for his seat,” he finished triumphantly.

“A boy who truanted nearly every day when my father was dominie,” was Sarah’s reply. “And he’s not alone in that. I’m not going to turn him and others like him away, even if their parents decline to give their dates of birth. If these children are going to have any chance at all in life, they’ll have to start by learning their lessons.”

Mr Leadbetter stared at her for what seemed a very long time and Sarah suddenly felt very tired.

He cleared his throat.

“I like much of what I’ve seen here today, Mistress Morrison, and I commend you for your efforts. However, I must report back to the School Board, and until I have their final decision on the matter, I must ask you to suspend teaching.”

Sarah stared at him.

“Close the school?”

“Yes. I’ll be in touch with you as soon as a decision has been reached.”

With a curt nod, he left Sarah rooted to the spot with shock until the tears overflowed.

* * * *

Mary Ellen, making her usual visit to the house, found Sarah with eyes red-rimmed from crying.

“Dinna take on so, Sarah,” she told her briskly. “Everything’ll work out just fine, you’ll see. Leadbetter liked what he saw. And the bairns’ll enjoy their wee holiday, even if they drive their mithers demented.”

Daniel came in at that and was told the news. He struggled to control his anger as Mary Ellen signalled to him with a slight shake of her head.

“Would this no’ be a good time for Sarah to go and see her father, Daniel?” she asked. “She’s been worried about havin’ to close the school so that she could get away to Edinburgh for a few days. Now the problem’s solved.”

Sarah’s expression brightened.

“What do you think, Daniel?” she asked.

“It’s worth considering,” was his answer.

The expression on his face told Mary Ellen that there should be no delay.

Bit by bit, Sarah’s spirits rose as the arrangements were discussed for her to leave the next day.

“The sooner ye’re away, the sooner ye’ll be back,” Mary Ellen said encouragingly as plans were made.

Alan Spink

Alan is a member of the “Friend” Fiction Team. He enjoys working closely with writers and being part of the creative process, which sees storytelling ideas come to fruition. A keen reader, he also writes fiction and enjoys watching football and movies in his spare time. His one tip to new writers is “write from your imagination”.