âGood morning, Miss Paley.â
The expressionless tones increased the young teacherâs apprehension as she sat down in the offered chair at the spotless mahogany divide.
âGood morning, Miss Foster.â
âI am sorry I had to ask you in on a Saturday morning. It has nothing to do with your Friday Club meeting yesterday. Iâm glad that you have responded to my advice several weeks ago about that. Thank you.
âThis is concerning the History class last Monday with Form IV,â she continued. âYour enthusiasm for this subject is an inspiration to the girls. History has a reputation for being dull, but youâve accomplished wonders.â
History last Monday? What had she done now?
âSome parents have said they are amazed at the sudden interest their child has gained for history. I can only say, âWell done.â â
The cat was playing with the mouse again. Esther gripped the arms of her chair as she waited for the pounce.
âUnhappily, I have had a serious complaint from one of the girlsâ parents. I appreciate that enthusiasm needs a verbal outlet on occasion, but the choice of expression demands great care. I think you understand that. For example, we do not expect the excitement of spectators at a hockey match to be expressed in one of our school assemblies, do we?â
Thatâs for sure, thought Esther. Highly unlikely from what Iâve seen so far of school assemblies.
âAny expression of delight or appreciation must be suitable to the occasion and the sensitivities of those present.â
In the brief pause, Esther was tempted to bang her fist on the precious polished mahogany and tell her to get on with it.
âTo get to the point,â said Miss Foster, âI do not expect a History lesson to be punctuated with such an expression as âPraise the Lord.â
âFor someone with your religious background and American church life it may be a very commonly-used phrase, but there is an old adage with which I am sure you are familiar: âWhen in Rome, do as the Romans do.â That principle is very applicable here in Westcliffe. We have proper limits to our expression of feelings.â
Each carefully pronounced syllable from those thin lips was emphasised by the small steel-blue eyes. Eyes that could stare without blinking. Eyes that controlled. Eyes that had watched countless submissions â submissions of both small and great.
And they watched Esther.
âI am very sorry indeed, Miss Foster,â she said. âI donât even remember saying âPraiseâŚ â â
âExactly!â Miss Foster leapt in. âThat is precisely my concern. âPraise the Lordâ is a very serious statement to make, a statement not to be spoken casually as if it were some cheap and easy catch phrase. As a passing comment on some historical point, it is immensely inappropriate. In the Church of England, expressions of praise to Almighty God are made carefully with proper thought and meditation. He is not merely one of us, in reference to whom we can throw out the odd comment here and there.â
âI know very little about the Church of England,â Esther said. âI am very sorry.â
âI accept your apology, Miss Paley.â
âItâs just that I love the stories of people in the past, and I really do get excited at the ways things work out. I just canât help seeing it all as Godâs wonderful care for this world. Perhaps thatâs when I said what I did. Iâm sorry.â
âYes, I accept that. I shall expect you to make sure that particular phrase, or any similar expressions, are not heard in History lessons again.â
âThank you, Miss Foster.â
The sun shone in her apartment when she got back, but its brightness highlighted her feeling of despondency.
The weekend looked bleak.
The future looked bleak.
Everything looked bleak.
How long before I put my foot in it again?