PRELUDE

by John Vincent © 1988

The Headmaster was scribbling away in his journal when the knock on the door came.  He quickly closed his diary (his confidante for over twenty years), slipped it into the top drawer of his desk, then turned and pocketed the key.  His hand instinctively reached up to brush back his greying hair, before realising that it wasn't necessary, since it was only one of the pupils he was expecting.
    He cleared his throat.  "Come," he said loudly.
    There was a moment of hesitation before the door opened and a rather sour-faced sixteen year-old girl stepped inside.
    "Ah," he said, "Come in, Dorothy.  Please take a seat."
    He indicated the chair he had earlier placed in front of his desk - his usual habit whenever this sort of situation arose.  He remembered full-well the many time he himself had had to stand fidgeting and uncomfortable before some headmaster or other in his own school days, and he preferred not to inflict the same on his own pupils now that he was on the other side of the desk.  When he had been first appointed Headmaster of the school, some of the older teachers had criticised the promotion on the grounds that he was "too soft," but there was no denying that the atmosphere had improved immensely since then.  A regime of "disciplined benevolence," as he liked to call it.
    The girl slumped down into the chair and stared dejectedly at her hands.  For a moment he studied her features and reflected that with a girl as good-looking as Dorothy was, one would have expected an entirely different sort of problem to arise; the sort of problem which (on the extremely rare occasions that it did arise) he preferred his wife - who was also a teacher at the school - to deal with.  But the sort of trouble Dorothy usually got into was oh so different.
    "Now," he began, "Are you going to tell me what this is all about, Dorothy?"
    She continued to stare at her hands.
    He leaned forwards and tried to catch her eye.  "Dorothy?"
    He sighed, leant on his desk, propping his chin up with his left arm, and deliberately looked past her at the wall behind the chair.
    "Okay, Ace," he said, tiredly, "What's it all about?"
    Finally she looked up at him.  "Sir?"
    "Ah, so you're in one of those moods, are you?" he asked.  "All right, we'll start from the beginning, shall we?  As part of your art project this term, I am reliably informed that you were making a short cine film, part of which required a small explosion on a model set.  Neither I - nor your art teacher - expected you to blow up half the art room."
    She grinned impishly.  "I miscalculated?" she hazarded.
    The Headmaster suppressed a smile himself.  "I think that's very unlikely, don't you?" he said.  "We both know that you know enough about explosives so as not to make such a 'mistake'. I know, because I taught you most of it."
    "Well, Sir," she said, "That's what happens when you carry on teaching."
    "I teach because we're short of teachers," he said, "Not to show girls how to blow up my school.  Now, why did you really do it?  I am aware that the actual cine camera was on the other side of the art room when this 'accident' occurred - and that it happened to be running.  Perhaps you wanted a slightly larger explosion as the piece de resistance to this film of yours. Is that it?"
    Ace nodded dejectedly.
    "You know I should be very cross with you," he said.  "Several thousand pounds worth of damage to a school building; God knows how much explaining to the governors; and I'm going to have great trouble keeping this out of the local newspapers. I can see the headline now: 'Rambo pupil blows up school'!"
    "I'm sorry, Sir," she said.
    "Anyway," he sighed, "I'll have to suspend you, you know that?  Two weeks to think about your future.  Look, Ace, you're a bright kid.  You're certainly the best chemist we've had through this school for years, but you've got to realise that there's more to doing Chemistry 'A'-Level than home-made explosive."
    "I know, Sir," she said, "But it gets so boring at times."
    "School?"
    "Everything."
    He leant back in his chair.  "Do you want to tell me about it?  If you're unhappy, it can help to talk to someone about it."
    "Well," she began, "It's just that at times I feel so out of place here - that I don't really belong."
    "Do you think this has something to do with being an orphan?"
    "Dunno - could be," she said.  "I know the odds are against it, but I like to think they'll come and find me someday and take me away."
    The Headmaster looked at her sorrowfully.  It was an impossible dream, and he knew that she knew it deep down.  He stood up and turned to look out of the large window behind his desk.
    "Take you away where?" he asked.  "Out of London?  England?"
    "Further than that," he heard her say, as he stared into the clear sky.
    "Where, then?"
    He was suddenly aware that she was standing by his side, and was looking up as well.
    She nodded.  "Out there."
    He swallowed hard.  "How far?"
    "All the way," she said.
    He turned away and sad down at his desk again, shuffling some papers abstractedly.  "That's a lot to hope for, don't you think?"
    "Far too much, I suppose," she said, sadly.  "After all, things like that just don't happen, do they?"
    He smiled wistfully.  "No," he said, "I don't suppose they do."
    "So what are you going to so?" she asked.
    "Like I said, I'm suspending you for two weeks.  We'll see how you feel about carrying on after that, okay?"
    He turned to look at her, and she glanced away from the window, smiling.  "Thanks," she said.
    Ace turned and walked towards the door.  When she reached it, she stopped and looked back at him.
    "I promise I won't let you down, Mr Chesterton," she said.
    "I know you won't, Ace," he replied.
    The door closed after her and he sat thinking for a moment. Then he unlocked the drawer of his desk, took out his journal, and opened it at the earliest entry - late in November, 1963....

FIN

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