Mister John Smith was in despair. Nothing could save him. No one could help him. There was no hope of stopping the misery he was wallowing in. Life didn't seem as bright as it was before, and the new books he had ordered three weeks ago that arrived just that morning held no appeal to him now. The beautiful day he could observe through the window on the second floor of the school building seemed bleak despite the sunshine that was pouring generously on the tall grass in the school garden. A bunch of flowers (pink and white carnations, not roses, never roses, it’s too banal) stood in a vase, and the poor blossoms looked so forlorn it seemed they were ashamed of themselves. John sent little Henry fetch the bouquet for him that morning after carefully researching the meaning of the flowers he wanted to present to someone special. Pink and white carnations seemed to be a safe choice as they meant “tenderness” and “to someone sweet and lovely”, and John was too much of a chicken to gift red tulips that symbolised “passion” to the woman of his dreams in fear that she would find that inappropriate, or worse, scandalous.
Not that Miss Rose Tyler wasn't acting inappropriate or scandalous from time to time.
Mister John Smith realised that he didn't mind that at all.
It all seemed to have gone to waste now, his endeavors. Miss Rose wouldn't talk to him. She wouldn't even so much as look at him. At all! What was he to do? What was he to say? Mister Smith was crushed. Shattered. Rejected, ruined, restless. How could everything go so wrong in a space of half an hour?
And why in the world was he at fault? He was doing his job. John Smith was adamant about his job responsibilities, he had never taken them lightly. Everything he did was strictly by the books, and no one, and he meant it, no one could accuse him of disobeying the instructions.
No one but Miss Tyler, that is.
The day started out perfectly. John Smith woke up, did a sequence of the morning exercises («Mens sana in corpore sano»), ate his morning tea and enjoyed the fresh newspaper brought in by the maid, cleaned up nicely and reminded the little Henry not to forget to take the order from the post office and to buy flowers in town while picking up the books. He sent a note with the bouquet preferences to the florist with the boy.
John went through a lot of trouble to find one particular volume of poetry he wished to give to Miss Tyler. It was a small poetry book that was filled with nothing but poems about love. He had to make sure that no poems were deeply tragic as for some reason Miss Rose seemed to be saddened every time anyone at school would talk about star-crossed lovers or people whose love ended unhappily.
It seemed strange and a little out of place – people were losing each other all the time, whether it was because of the army, the illness, the social status difference (Miss Rose's eyes ignited dangerously when the kitchen girls in the school commented on the couple in town who ended up in an unequal marriage, and the maids scurried away after she told them to bite their tongues if they had nothing kind to say), and many, many other reasons. It looked naive. Miss Rose was young but the look in her eyes told him the story of many woes and worries, and it seemed outlandish to call the young woman naive.
Sometimes it seemed that the belief in true love was the only thing that kept her afloat in the world. Miss Rose would look desolate from time to time, and John had no idea as to what could happen in her life to make her so lost and almost desperate when it came to love.
And then there was the whole business with the love stories with the sad endings.
John knew from the rumours that Miss Rose was barely older than twenty. Could she have suffered the tragic loss of a young gentleman that has left such a mark on her countenance? Some ladies were in the courtship game from a very young age, after all...yet there was no evidence to Rose ever being married, engaged or even widowed.
Forbidden love, perhaps? Miss Rose was quite adamant and protective of unequal lovers if she ever heard about them...John’s heart constricted painfully when he thought about someone else occupying Miss Rose’s heart, mind and soul.
Mr John Smith wanted Rose all to himself, he realised with horror. How improper it was to claim a lady as his own, even if he did so in the privacy of his thoughts!
Still, it all was for nothing now.
His perfect day (the one where he woke up and sent Henry for his parcels and flowers and so on and so forth) went downhill the moment Miss Rose noticed him hitting Frank Caples' palms with his cane after the boy broke several of the school rules that and the previous morning.
John knew that Miss Rose was a compassionate and sympathetic person, and that her heart went out to the younger boys present at the school especially, but this was the whole new level. She was somewhat of a mother figure to the youngest boys, and it seemed so strange to John for she was so young and didn't have children of her own. He thought it was something that was entirely female, that all-encompassing love and the wish to care for the hurt and the sad ones.
Not that Miss Rose wouldn't huff and stomp away to the library angrily if he said something like that to her. Even as a compliment. John had learned not to comment anything gender-related to Miss Rose early into their friendship. His words about the tenderness of women and the women's weaknesses that inspire men so made Miss Rose choke on her tea. The whole dining room witnessed Miss Rose Tyler snorting and muttering something about the dark ages that evening. Rocastle didn't acknowledge that remark, and John suspected that the man knew the reason why Miss Rose acted so out of place. Did something happen in young Miss Rose's life that made her the way she was now? Or was he indifferent to the female staff’s troubles?
Anyway, the boys would always seek refuge in the library where Miss Rose spent a good portion of her working day. She would offer handkerchiefs and bandages when the kids wouldn't go to the Matron, she would dry up their tears and offer them tea when they'd miss their parents, console them after bullying from the older boys.
Miss Rose resented bullying. John could swear he noticed her fists clenching and unclenching every time a fight happened between unequal opponents, she would mutter angrily each time she had to bite back the scolding because it was absolutely not her place to interfere, and she huffed and rolled her eyes at the headmaster's words that it wasn't a librarian’s business to break fights between the boys, much less a woman’s place to do so.
John sputtered when he heard Rose murmur “stuffy bastard” under her breath. The headmaster didn't hear that, of course, but John couldn't take a normal breath for a solid minute and caused quite a ruckus (the headmaster even sent for Matron, but John had assured him that a glass of water would be the best remedy for his ailment).
John knew that the smug smile that threatened to curve Miss Rose's lips into a pretty crescent wasn't the fruit of his ill imagination.
What a woman!
He knew she abhorred the violence. He knew she was tender-hearted.
He didn’t imagine she could be so cold and unrelenting when it came to forgiveness.
It was written in the list of rules at the school: misbehaving, skipping classes, inappropriate language and cheating on examinations were to be prosecuted either by the teachers or the headmaster himself. The severity of the punishment was to be left to the teachers or, as mentioned before, to the headmaster. Frank, the boy who received the said punishment, was caught climbing out of the window during the Maths class, he swore like a sailor when one of the menservants found him and refused to hand in the English essay that he hadn't submitted in the day before.
Frank's behaviour was unapologetic and purposeful. He didn't feel remorse (besides, perhaps, apart from Miss Rose's witnessing his swearing spell. The boy blushed and looked down, ashamed, for he, like other boys at the school, was quite taken with Miss Tyler, and never wanted to look bad in her eyes.)
All in all, the boy was guilty. Frank knew what was coming and he misbehaved knowing what the consequences would be like. The boy deserved the punishment!
Not in Miss Rose's opinion, obviously.
Try as he might, John couldn't understand what the big deal was. It was the usual routine. These were the rules. It happened everywhere, and it was one of the best ways to discipline rebellious minds. The boys were fighting each other all the time, for Heaven's sake, and they sometimes suffered injuries far worse than a couple hits with a cane could inflict.
Miss Rose Tyler couldn't care less.
She always seemed quaint, that Miss Tyler. If John didn't know better, he would have said that Miss Tyler fell from the sky and from a different time (that was, of course, entirely impossible). The girl looked...out of place. Alien, even. Like she wasn't supposed to be there. Like she wasn't from London as she insisted she was but rather from somewhere entirely else, from somewhere with different rituals, different morality, completely different traditions and customs. The things Miss Rose said or did sometimes, the way she talked or the way she behaved left John gob-smacked half the time, if not 80% of the time. Miss Rose rolled her eyes and tapped her foot impatiently when the headmaster Rocastle explained her duties several times. The explanations seemed abundant even to John and it was clear that Miss Rose wasn't some empty-minded lady who couldn't understand simple tasks, yet the rolling eyes gesture was scandalous for the woman of her upbringing. John could swear Miss Rose was of a noble upbringing, everything but some of her quirks indicated so. Her dressing style was impeccable, the dresses were elaborately decorated and sewn according to the latest fashion, although not ostentatious or tasteless; her hair, while almost unnaturally light, were worn precariously in unsteady updos that Miss Rose attempted to do herself (John suspected Rose had a lady maid before joining the boarding school and was having difficulties while getting ready for the day); Miss Rose resented corsets with all her might, she yawned during the prayers (to John’s never-ending astonishment) and made dozens of mistakes according to the etiquette rules book; she looked confused every time John asked her opinion about some famous historical occurrence and her French left much to be desired.
Miss Rose Tyler was a mystery. A contradiction. A mathematical problem. By all means she could have been a lady’s maid or a seamstress yet she wasn’t. Miss Rose knew how to read and write perfectly even though her speaking manner was outlandish and resonated unusually in the school staff’s ears. She was a librarian yet she wasn’t all that keen on reading the books save for some novels and looked puzzled sometimes when the teachers or the boys asked her for something popular in the library.
Miss Rose was a noble woman yet she was not. She was compassionate towards the workers of the school that were lower in the social position yet she never tolerated anyone being ill-mannered to one another. She eyed the Matron suspiciously each time the older woman was in the same room as Miss Rose, and Jone found it peculiar that the two women didn’t create a friendship of some sort as they were close to each other in social status and interests.
Miss Rose was the most enigmatic woman John had ever met and he had all the chances of courting her...right until today.
John didn’t see Miss Rose at dinner that evening. She pleaded that she was feeling unwell and Mr Rocastle hurriedly ushered her to her small room upstairs. One of the maids brought her tea and buttered bread after everyone finished dining and John didn’t see her again that day.
No lessons were planned for Saturday, at least, no lessons were planned for John because the boys had an outing in the forest overnight to develop their survival skills. John offered to assist in organising the camping party but was assured by Mister Rocastle that it wasn’t his turn this time and he could have the day off along with the rest of the school staff.
John cherishes the hope of seeing Miss Rose during the day off, he begs Heavens for a moment of her attention so that he can talk to her, explain the strict system of rules at school, how he didn’t have any choice but to follow them to ensure the discipline during the lessons, to establish his teaching position and to receive appropriate respect and recognition from his students.
Alas, his hopes and prayers are broken like crystal glasses from the Rocastle’s cabinet when he does see Miss Rose but doesn’t get even a minute alone with her. It seems that the woman of his dreams made it her life’s work to avoid him skilfully. Miss Rose is already finished with her morning tea when John enters the staff kitchen, she spends lunch in the maids and servants’ kitchen (barely anyone at school bats an eye at Miss Rose’s quirks anymore and Mr Rocastle is far too busy having lunch in private) and she skips dinner whatsoever just to keep him on toes (so he thinks).
John is devastated and he is positively sure that Miss Rose intentionally ignores him because she hasn’t uttered a word to him all day apart from a frosty “Good Morning” drowned by a chorus of the other teachers when he greeted his colleagues that morning.
Miss Rose always seeked his companionship as much as he seeked hers. John fancied that they were like magnets, always gravitating towards each other, him being the ‘-’ sign and her being the ‘+’ sign. Miss Rose was definitely the positive one in their...John didn’t dare to say “relationship” to describe him and Miss Rose so he says friendship. “Friendship” is still smaller than “relationship” yet it is bigger and deeper than “acquaintance”. Yes. Quite right. Friendship.
Friendship that went up in flames the moment Miss Rose saw something her heart had disagreed with.
The moment Miss Rose saw John doing that disagreeable act.
An act which was completely natural and accepted in the society: misbehaving children needed to be disciplined and a set of school rules stated exactly what John or other professors were supposed to do.
After all, it was Miss Rose Tyler’s fault that she deemed the rules ‘barbaric’ and ‘cruel’. You’d think they didn’t punish children at all in London, or that she wasn’t punished at least once as a child in the all girls school…
John gasped, sitting up on a bed suddenly. Good Lord, what if Miss Rose was traumatised by some cruel act from her childhood inflicted by a strict relative or a heartless teacher at the boarding school? He knew that the fair sex was treated gentler yet still they were disciplined physically, too. What if someone abused Miss Rose at school? Did she live through something distressing that made her heart go out to anyone who suffered through punishments, too?
John shuddered. No one at school was intentionally cruel to the boys, not ever. Discipline actions were taken fast, without much ado, and boys (save for the younger, new ones) never fussed or cried during punishments. John couldn’t imagine being deliberately pitiless to the children. He shuddered and wrapped the blanket around his shoulders tighter, praying that Miss Rose’s intolerance to violence was not a consequence of disturbing events from her past.
The past people knew almost nothing about.
Truly, everyone knew little about Miss Rose Tyler at the boarding school. She had a mother back in London and her father died in an unfortunate accident (in the circumstances unknown to the school people), she had a wealthy relative who took it upon herself to provide young Miss Rose with a decent education at the boarding school, a yearly allowance and and who arranged a position as a librarian at the Farringham School for Boys. The mysterious generosity of said female relative was explained by the lack of that lady’s own children, so she made it her responsibility to bring Miss Rose up as a proper lady.
It was a bigger mystery, however, that Miss Rose was yet to be married. She wasn’t an old maid and she still had several years before she would have been considered a spinster but it was strange to see such a beautiful, well-mannered (well, mostly) young lady with a tender heart without a diamond ring on her ring finger.
Not that John minded that mysterious fact terribly. It was a fact that could assure his victory in pursuing Miss Rose romantically, in the end.
If he manages to cross the abyss that formed between John and Miss Rose ever since the godforsaken morning of yesterday.
He’ll talk to Miss Rose tomorrow. Yes, yes, tomorrow sounds like a sound plan. Tomorrow, after the service is over and the priest finishes the sermon, the parishioners will scatter from the small village church and John most certainly will catch the evasive Miss Rose to have a nice, calm talk.
For now, however, little was left to be done but wait. John puffed out a long-suffering breath and stretched his hand to grab a leather-bound journal. The soft brown material was familiar to John’s palms and he welcomed the familiar feeling that came over him every time he took the small notebook into his hands. It shouldn’t have had such a calming effect on him but it did. The madness encased into the pages of the was far from normal. It was unconventional, non-traditional, unorthodox. A little blasphemous, even. Who was he to contradict God’s laws and instructions? To think that there are beings of another world entirely; people travelling space and - how scandalous! - time; women wearing pants and short skirts and expressing familiarity while in the company of men. Women, in trousers! Smoking, working as much as men do (and more), visiting pubs and bars; people demonstrating their sexual and romantic escapades in public in the light of the day.
The dreams that John saw were wild, colourful, teeming with shocking, disgraceful details. John deemed himself a progressive person, a man of the future, but seeing a future like that, even if only imaginary, made him uneasy. He didn’t feel ready to face such a world. It was...too much.
Apart from the space and time travelling bits. Now that sounded exciting!
Especially if he were to have a loyal companion in the face of one and only Miss Rose Tyler.
Or simply Rose, for it was how John called his brilliant companion in his bizarre dreams.
It certainly helped that Rose was wearing peculiar blue trousers and close-fitting blouses in those dreams. And smiled at John, and kissed his cheek, and held his hand without her lacy gloves…
John shook his head in mortification. How shameful of him - to think about Miss Rose in such an inappropriate way. He tugged his ear, blushed and snatched one of the pencils lying helter-skelter on the desk and started gently outlining Miss Rose’s portrait wearing her beautiful pink dress.
John felt a little mischievous, so Miss Rose wasn’t wearing gloves in his drawing, and the sleeves of the pink dress showed her bare shoulders.
Sunday morning came and after attending the service at the nearby church, John was ready to act on his feelings. He could stand Miss Rose’s aloofness no more and he made numerous mistakes in the hymns and stepped on Lady Beverly’s dress’s trail, stumbled over his own two feet and nearly collided with the three gentlemen who were stepping out of the church.
All these were unimportant to him at the moment - he noticed Miss Rose alone (at last!) heading to the gazebo surrounded by vine and orange-red rose bushes.
John stopped for a moment at some distance, observing Miss Rose. She looked slightly paler than usual (must be the headaches she suffered from) and she took off her frilly gloves again. Only God and Miss Rose herself knew why she hated wearing the usual accessory with all her might. John would have smiled if it wasn’t for the state Miss Rose was in. She seemed positively melancholic while she was sitting under the roof of the gazebo, dappled sunlight playing on her pink dress (his favourite!), gloves aside on the bench, cradling something in her palms.
John drew nearer and looked at the object of Miss Rose’s attention closer.
There, in her small palms, she was clutching her late father’s fob watch. Miss Rose showed them to John once, sharing a woeful story of her father’s demise. The watch was far from the pretty and posh ones one might see at the watchmaker’s but they held their own charm and were dear to Miss Rose.
John squares his shoulders and clears throat to gently announce his appearance. Miss Rose jumps, fob watch falls into the folds of her dress skirt and she presses a hand to her heart in surprised fear.
“Forgive me, Miss Ro...Miss Tyler, it was not my intention to startle you,” he offers, walking to the steps of the gazebo.
Miss Rose nods but doesn’t look like she’s willing to talk.
John is far too wired and has suffered enough romantic anguish for decades to come.
He closes his eyes for a moment, breathes a silent “sorry” to the etiquette rules and slides onto the bench opposite Miss Rose. Strangely, she doesn’t look scandalised, as if him inviting himself into her hiding place isn’t the worst violation of good manners at all.
Miss Rose narrows her eyes, annoyed by John’s audacity, but makes no move to yell at him or to stand to go away. She purses her lips and looks away, clasping the watch in her palms so strong that her fingers turn white.
John forbids the hope that Miss Rose missed him, too, to bloom. She might just be too well-mannered to start a ruckus over his behaviour so as not to cause trouble to school or to him; that’s how good-hearted Miss Tyler is.
He searches for words desperately and tries to catch his interlocutor’s eyes but to no avail. Miss Tyler is staring to her left stubbornly, the watch encased safely into the small ‘house’ she made with her palms. John breathes in deeply, loudly and starts again.
“Miss Rose...if only you weren’t so unrelentless. Please, just listen to me,” beseeches John in hopes of softening Miss Rose’s heart to him.
Her shoulders rise imperceptibly to her ears and she looks far too tense for John’s liking. He never wants Miss Rose to feel stressed and uncomfortable in his company.
“I understand that you are the kindest woman I have ever encountered, Miss Rose, I believe you have the softest heart on Earth and I know you do your utmost to help anyone who requires sympathy.” It seems that Miss Rose is blushing a little although she attempts to disguise it by lowering her head suddenly and hiding behind her church hat. John resents the gigantic hats of the era, hates the awful gardens of flowers and ribbons and feathers on them. Miss Rose’s hats are smaller, almost out of fashion because of their size and modest decorations yet John still dislikes them. She hides behind them like she is hiding now!
But...is that a smile John sees on Miss Rose’s face? Oh, has her heart finally thawed out a little to his miserable case? Now would be the fine time to prove his point and win her forgiveness.
John will surely die if Miss Rose doesn’t forgive him and if their gentle friendship dies over something so little meaning and impossible to change; something like school rules. He has to make Miss Rose see that he is a Professor who honours the rules and values the discipline.
If only John knew how wrong he was in starting to protect the school laws again.
“Miss Rose, I need you to understand that the boys are sent to the school to grow up and turn into honest, law-abiding gentlemen. Knowledge is not everything, I mean, of course, the theoretical knowledge of theories, equations, world’s greatest literary works,” John pauses to take a breath, for he is talking far too fast in his haste to amend the relationship...the friendship between them. “But the most important thing, of course, is the respect to the law, to the country, the wish to follow and obey the rules that keep our society so successful in our endeavours.”
John avoids looking at Miss Rose yet he begins talking faster when he notices how rigid her slender fingers that clutch the watch are.
He forefeels trouble and continues fervently.
“Our society’s strict rules allow the citizens to be morally obliged to each other and our country. The brilliant minds and the perfect study and work discipline allow our scientists and inventors to bring the best in the world to help humanity to survive, to become better. Our country has achieved so much, Miss Rose, and it’s mostly because of the discipline and the rules that keep us all safe and content.”
Rose huffs abruptly at the words “all” and “safe and content” and John flinches. He should choose his next words carefully.
“Miss Rose,” he wants to take her hand desperately but stops just before extending his palm to hers. He can’t allow anything inappropriate to happen. “Miss Rose, I understand your wish to avoid any kind of violence, I do, it’s in your nature,” John cringes when Miss Rose fists the fabric of her dress harshly and looks for all the world like she’s ready to run away. John treads cautiously. “We all respect your gentleness but sometimes it’s not...that is...it’s not appropriate, you see? The boys have to learn to fend for themselves, Miss Rose, they have to learn to behave themselves, to differentiate the right from wrong, the good from the bad. If we do not discipline them, it will leave disastrous consequences for future generations,” John dares to peek at his speaking companion and immediately wishes that he hadn’t uttered a word.
Miss Rose’s face is white save from her cheeks which are blazing with shocking crimson patches, her eyes gleam almost violently and her lips are pressed so firmly that it leaves them pale as marble.
John searches for a way out while bringing up his hand in placation.
“The boys suffer greater pains and misfortunes from the fights and folly between themselves, school’s disciplinary punishments are hardly noticeable…,” he is interrupted when Miss Rose jumps up, furious, and tries to rush past him.
In the act of sudden boldness, John jumps up from the bench and stands in her way, forbidding Miss Rose to run away when he made such a fool of himself in her eyes, again.
He can’t stand it anymore, he can’t. John wants Miss Rose to respect him, to see the best of him, to share her love with him, to love him. Never has he ever been in love in his thirty-four years, never has he wanted to romance a woman like he wants to woo Miss Rose, never has he seeked someone’s approval as much as he needs Miss Rose to think him worthy of her.
John stands there, arms splayed comically at the entry of the gazebo, forbidding Miss Rose to leave. The young woman looks right about ready to slap him as she stares at his “stupid bowtie” and mutters, “The audacity of the wanker…”
His eyes bulge at the dirty insult that falls from her lips but he decides to deflect her attention and to catch her surprised by asking the question that worries him.
“Miss Rose, Miss Rose, tell me, please, did you suffer through a traumatic experience at the boarding school? Were you mistreated, Miss Rose? Were you hurt? I can’t imagine anyone abusing you, I swear I can’t, but people have done worse things…,” John’s bravery grows when he sees his companion’s surprised stare, when she doesn’t reply and doesn’t make a move to get past him or to slap him. John takes Miss Rose’s left hand, gently holding between his bigger palms, and asks with all the tenderness that he can summon from the depth of his soul:
“Miss Tyler, were you? Is that why you feel so righteously insulted when you witness something similar? Rose, please, tell me honestly, were you mistreated like that? Was it at school?” her God name falls carelessly from his lips, he slips but he doesn’t care for the etiquette rules, not anymore.
All that he cares about, all that truly matters is this radiant young woman whom he loves passionately, who must have been handled roughly, cruelly in her past to make her so adamant about something so small as school rules.
Her lower lip trembles but Miss Rose isn’t crying. She is standing there, wide-eyed, barely breathing, rosy-cheeked and splendid even in anger, even in surprise.
Hope takes residence in John’s heart once again, blossoming under Miss Rose’s softening gaze.
Maybe, just maybe, not everything is lost.
John clasps Miss Rose's warm palm like a drowning man would clutch to a lifeline. He notices the change in her demeanour when it happens and exhales slowly, expecting her answer. His own palms are shaking, he feels cold from all the worrying that he does. The object of his worries looks touched by his words, her pink lips stretch in a cautious smile.
“Bless you, Mister Smith,” Rose begins with a small laugh and then stops for a moment as if rethinking her decision. “John”, his heart jumps to his throat from elation - Miss Rose called him by his name! “I grew up unlike you. Mum...mother and father didn’t have a lot of means when they married and it became worse when my father died things went downhill. My mum and I lived, so to say, humbly, and where we lived the things and rules weren’t quite like in polite society and according to etiquette rules,” Miss Rose confesses quietly as if she feels awkward talking about her past. “I bet the etiquette book would be thrown at anyone who dared to teach us youngsters how to behave, although as little girls we loved to pretend to be princesses and ladies,” she smiles a little ruefully at the memories. “Thing is, John, although I’ve never been punished physically, I’ve seen a lot of violence. To the kids, to the women. Women from the working class suffer through a lot of cruelty, you know? Little girls especially, they are an easy target...Now, stop worrying, John,” gently admonishes Miss Rose when she notices how worked-up he turns at hearing her words.
“I promise I wasn’t hurt by any adult figures, John, I only received some bruises and scratches when we fought with the girls about toys or boys that we fancied,” Miss Rose looks up at him through the eyelashes and smiles mischievously when she sees him blushing adorably. “But seeing this - seeing kids punished physically, John, it kills me. No one should be treated like that. No adults, no children, even the most misbehaving ones. It seems so...barbaric. We’re in the twenty... twentieth century, not in the dark ages, no one should be humiliated and hurt like that.”
John is suspicious of the little slip up with the century but loses all traces of coherent thoughts when Miss Rose, Rose, looks him straight into the eyes, trapping him, mesmerising him.
He is a Sailor to her Siren song.
“There are other ways to teach a child discipline, John. You can do so without punishing them physically. You can make them realise they did something wrong by talking to them or making them do something they don’t entirely enjoy like writing essays or doing boring chores if the talking doesn’t help. I know you, John, I know that you are better, better than the people who resort to violence,” Miss Rose, Rose, all but begs him as she curls her slender fingers around his.
John swallows nervously and doesn’t quite know what to say. It’s hard to concentrate when Rose’s thumb caresses the back of his hand gently, the touch so simple yet so intimate. After long moments of nervous ruminating John stutters:
“Rose, I don’t think I have any other choice…”
John expects her to be exasperated at his stubbornness, indecision and insecurity again but she only smiles sweetly and offers:
“John, you always have a choice. Always. Sometimes we are just too scared to make the decisions that are right and we end up clinging to the safer, wrong ones again. Be brave, John, choose kindness. I know that in your heart you disagree with the school policy. I know you want to be kind.”
John shutters his eyes when he feels the onslaught of emotions that cause tears to brim. This woman...this bright, compassionate, forgiving, generous woman breaks his resolve, all the arguments that he has to defend himself: how the boys would think him weak for not disciplining them, how the headmaster would discourage John’s behaviour, how the staff at school would shake their heads at his strange behaviour. But the moment John looks into Rose’s eyes he doesn’t care anymore. Let them mock him. Let them sneer at him. It matters not if John knows that Rose is proud of him, the society’s opinion means little to him when the woman he adores supports him.
Rose hums sympathetically, still not letting go of John’s hand. They stand there, hidden by the ornate leaves of the vine, obscured by the scarlet roses that look like tiny flames in the afternoon sun. Rose says nothing while he’s regaining control on his emotions, caressing his fingers with her own.
It’s such a sweet, gentle gesture, the hand holding, the shared affection that flows through their souls. John prays he never loses this, Miss Rose, her friendship, her respect, the fondness she experiences for him. Him! Plain history professor Smith, the clumsy teacher who confuses his own two legs, the one who stutters when he’s too worried, the one who disappointed Miss Rose all those days ago. By God, John doesn’t deserve her. John doesn’t deserve a gem of a woman that Rose is yet she is looking at him affectionately, smiling sadly as if she knows what John is thinking about.
He inhales shakily then makes a solid decision of pursuing the future with Miss Rose, not abandoning the bond that they’ve created. He can’’t do that, not after experiencing what it was like living without seeing Rose, exchanging opinions with her, enjoying her apt attention when he was sharing a story from his past, without listening to the gentle platitudes and encouragement that she bestows generously on everyone around her. John wants to make her smile. He wants to shower her with tokens of his affection, to read to her, to draw her beautiful face, to kiss her lips and palms without fear of overstepping the moral boundaries. He wants to court her properly but he needs time before he manages to arrange a new flower order in the city nearby, he needs time and her mother’s address for asking Mrs. Tyler’s consent to courting her only daughter, he needs to make his intentions clear to Mr. Rocastle.
Time it is, nods John silently to himself, and doesn’t ask Miss Rose about her thoughts upon him courting her. For now. They’ve lived through some soul-taxing days, they need no more excitement for now but the excitement of the newly found peace.
Right this moment, he chooses to bring her hand to his lips and places a reverent kiss to the tips of her fingers. The gesture is wildly scandalous and would have certainly ended up in him getting a dressing down from the headmaster and Rose shunned away from the school in shame. They are safe, however, John checked, no one can see them in a gazebo secluded by flowers and vines; the parishioners are far too busy enjoying the sun, tasting the lemonade at the church fair and discussing the upcoming season of weddings, the new additions to the families and christening ceremonies, the best cake fillings for the cricket parties. It’s a peaceful, serene atmosphere, and John and Rose enjoy the long-awaited harmony and calmness that returned to their easy camaraderie.
John is valiantly plucking a rose for his Rose from the bushes when one of the maids calls out Rose’s name, having lost the lady. John is startled and trips, causing his bowtie to catch on one of the rose thorns but not before winning the most beautiful flower of all. Rose giggles delightedly and snorts, unladylike, but John revels in the sound of her unrestrained laughter. He presents her the flower with great flourish, bowing before giving it to Rose. She grins at his antics and thanks him wholeheartedly when she notices that John removed the thorns from the stem. When did he manage to do that? He only beams in reply.
They come back separately, Rose first to join the procession of the female school staff, ladies whispering between each other excitedly, John several minutes later from the other way of the gazebo. John needs no scandal around Rose, Miss Rose, and him, although nothing would deter him from his beloved from there on.
The boys love him for not punishing them. The younger ones take delight in his no-violence policy, the older boys express no disrespect when he simply gives them mind-numbing tasks and chores instead of the usual disciplinal routine. The most rebellious ones get a ticket to a speaking session with Miss Rose, chaperoned by John. The mortification of being a disappointment to a lady like Miss Rose works as a catalyst to the troublemakers to stop harassing the school staff and causing mischief during John’s lessons.
It’s a little secret between Miss Rose, John and anyone who gets a detention and even Jeremy Baines doesn’t breathe a word to the headmaster when he learns about that.
It’s a little victory but a victory nonetheless.
It’s a choice that makes the school experience more pleasant for all.