53: School Stories (Setting an example)

Lady Marianne Hulett could feel the warmth rising in her cheeks. It was not a rush of blood producing the sensation, ghost do not have blood. Rather it was some other spectral mechanism which had the same effect.

But its causality was similar in both mortal and mysterious . . . it was from annoyance, verging on vexation.

For some time Lady H had been complaining about the pranks a handful of the senior ghosts were playing on the mortals of the area.

This certainly did not find favor in her eyes.

She wanted those spirits in her fiefdom to be a good influence on the events surrounding the school and its environs. After all it was the institution founded by her husband, and as such she was deeply attached and dedicated to its success and well-being.

But for the second time in less than a week a prank had been played on a mortal on the grounds of the college. To add insult to injury, it had occurred right under her nose, so as to speak. Because on his way home after working a late shift down in Pinetown, as Sandy M (a recent school alumni) rode his motorbike past the chapel at midnight,  its engine suddenly and mysteriously quit working. The momentum of the bike allowed it to come to a stop in the concourse of the Harry Oppenheimer science wing.

The engine had started up again with the first kick-start, leaving Sandy perplexed. He being a mechanically minded soul kept the bike in mint condition, and he had never had any other issues.

When this happened for the second time, Lady H saw the worried frown on Sandy’s face. It signified that he was still puzzled by the mechanical implications. But, if it happened again, at midnight outside the chapel, there was a high possibility that Sandy would suspect the supernatural, and become nervous, and embellish the rumors of bad ghosts. It was the sort of thing that would give her ghostly efforts a bad rap.

Lady Mary Anne Hulett was about doing good things, not bad, hence the vexing tinge in her cheeks.

She was faced with the problem that plagues life in the spirit world. Unlike the mortals who are constantly running against the clock of life, once they cross into the spirit world they are faced with eternity, with its bane of boredom.

But even so Lady H was surprised at who was the perpetrator of the prank. Matt T as a mortal had always been one of the most feared science teachers in the school, and a absolute stickler for discipline, diligence and keeping to a precise schedule.

Yet, it seemed, even he had succumbed to boredom, even though his prank had doubled as a scientific (in spectral terms) experiment of a ghosts ability to interfere with chemical reactions, stopping the ignition fuel mixture for a few seconds.

The second prank had been a copycat one, done by Pip T the gymnastics master. He naturally having gravitated to gymnastics, had a flair for showmanship based on rote and repeatability which lays at the heart of gymnastics.

Lady H realized to snip things in the bud, she would have to speak to those involved, at least to the wives of the pranksters, seeing as, like in the mortal world, wives opinions mattered and wielded influence.

Hence she extended an invitation to Mavis T to join the next weekly meeting of ‘Our Ethereal Ladies of the Valley’.

They were to meet as usual, in the attic atop the tower of the old Rob Roy hotel.

Thus it was a few days later, that Lady H was first to float up into the attic. Looking down the valley she could see how a lingering cool front, left behind by the winter, was bumping into the moist warm air sweeping in from the Indian Ocean.

The mingling produce the mists which brushed the slopes of the Valley, like Lady H’s long hair had once gently brushed her bare shoulders as she ran her comb through its thick auburn strands. It had been when, as a beautiful young maiden, she had

waited with excited anticipation for the mingling with her husband.

But now, it did not take long for the member ladies to gather . Mavis T, as the invitee, took a seat normally occupied by that of a guest speaker, directly opposite Lady H’s old rustic leather thrown.

After each of them helped themselves to a cup of zephyr tea, Lady H formally convened the meeting.

Looking at them sternly one at a time, she said, “Ladies I’m concerned about the general behavior of the spirits in our area. Admittedly we do not have total control, but at least, the good Lord has ensured that the riffraff don’t have the power to make themselves visible, or heard.”

Lady H brought her gaze back to focus primarily on Mavis T.

“What the riff-raff get up to is not really my concern. On the other hand what bothers me is the actions of friends like us who are in a leadership position with special dispensations. What we do in their spare time, IS a concern.”

After pausing to take a sip of her tea Lady H went back to addressing the group.

“It has come to my attention that some of us, specifically some of our husbands have been playing pranks on young upstanding mortals in the area.”

The ladies of the group looked at each other and shook their heads curiously, indicating that they were not quite sure where all this was going.

“Yes I know that sitting around all day for the men is boring, but even so, I’m surprised at who it was who pulled the last one.”

Here Lady H fixed her eyes pointedly back on Mavis T, This also gave a clue to the others.

All at once it was clear to them who was being raked over the coals.

They too were surprised it was Mavis’s husband. They all knew her Matt as one of the most dour and deep sticklers for discipline and rules. But then how could they have wagered outcomes. Who would have predicted how Matt T would end up wrapping himself with religion for comfort, as he watched his darling Mavis whither away with cancer.

“Ladies what we need to do is set a better example. As you know the college is a school which prides itself on setting examples. A school such as this does not get a reputation of being one of the best in Africa if it were not for the example of good hard work, diligence, and good moral behavior. This starts right at the top and goes all the way down the chain to the most junior of the boys.”

Lady H was again fixing her gaze on Mavis T.

“I believe it is your husband who has been playing his pranks. I think it would behoove you to look at the example set by the rest of us and how we keep our menfolk in check.” THen she added “As we always have done.

Mavis being a very shy thin woman, almost emaciated clearly was affected by her ladyship’s rebuke.

This was rubbed in further by the agreeing nods of the other woman, especially that of ValH, the wife of X headmaster Jimmy H.

Val H went further to state how her husband/headmaster Jimmy H, had always made a point of emphasizing good behavior. How the examples he personally set served as a foundation for the school’s reputation all across southern Africa.

But suddenly, like the unfolding of the swans wings of an ugly duckling, all the gathered Ethereal Ladies of the Valley noted that Mavis was undergoing a transformation.

Her shriveled shapeless submission gave away to a flash of stubbornness. Her eyes narrowed and the green glint in them flicked back-and-forth between the others in the little turret.

“Oh yes.” said Mavis, “I remember an incident which is exemplary to show how the tradition has been fostered by example. Although probably not in the usual way.”

The others looked at her suspiciously. “What do you mean?” Val H asked cautiously.

Mavis looked all around and started in.

“Do you remember the old days back in the late 60s and early 70s, when our sister school, Epworth Girls school in Maritzburg, would once a year bus its seniors across to Kearsney for a dance with the boys in their final year here.

“Yes,” said Lady Marianne Hewlett, “I remember those occasions well.”

“I liked to sit up in the balcony close behind the chaperone masters as we look down on what was going on.”

“I must admit it had a vague similarity to sitting on the height of Chakas Rock on the North Coast in the old days, and watching as a shoal of sardines is being attacked by sharks.”

Lady Hulett sighed before continuing.

“It reminded me of the incongruity of my own youth, and the unusual dynamics of dating between disparate groups of young adults. At these dances the shyness of the girls congregated them, as if for safety, in one corner of the dance hall, like that shoal of sardines. Theirs was a shoal herded this way or that by the few roaming alpha sharks amongst the boys, dressed in their formal evening long grey pants and blazers.

Naturally there were some of the boys who had experience with girls. Possibly, even a hand full had already known what it was like to be with a woman. But in those days it was unusual.

Every now and again I could see how a boy would grab a girl from the shoal. Then frantically be danced around the floor until the song ended, whereupon being released, she would scramble ruffled and shaken back to her peers like a mouse escaping from a cat.”

“Well,” said Mavis, “At the end of the particular dance I recollect, soon after midnight, when the whole artificial affair had come to an end, the girls were packed back into the minibuses and headed to the school gates and out onto the main road up to Pietermaritzburg and Epworth.”

Mavis looked around. “However they only made it as far as the school gates. Their engines came to a stop. Unlike Sandy M’s motorbike they would not restart, no matter how much coaxing. Nothing could get them going.”

“Frantically teachers from all over the place had to be woken and gotten out of bed after midnight. The girls were packed into the cars like the occupants of the taxis heading down to the valley, where upon they were chaperoned back up to Epworth, arriving in the wee hours of the morn.”

“Go on.” implored Stella F as Mavis took a break.

“The next morning the mechanics took a look at the minibuses and it did not take long to find the fault. The bottom of the fuel tanks where filled with urine. Somebody or somebody’s had peed in the fuel tanks.”

Of course this caused great consternation and righteous anger at the apex of the school leadership, even though it may have caused a grin on the faces of some of the younger male teachers. Boys will be boys they may have said. But this is not what Jimmy H said at the special school assembly he called to decry the goings-on.

What a disgrace, he said, what a reflection on the upbringing of these boys. What abysmal senses of humor, not to mention the inability to think clearly and not comprehend the consequence of actions. The shame they have brought on the school. A shame which would take many years to repeal. Thank goodness it was a sister school, somehow he, Jimmy would be able to patch things over with the headmistress, and in some ways keep the whole affair inside the brother-sister school family.

The worst of all said Jimmy was how it showed that there were severe breakdowns in the standards and examples that the parents of these boys had instilled in their children. That the school could only do so much, and that it was a reflection on the perpetrators and the family.

Puffing up his chest and turning red in the face at the end of the special school assembly, Jimmy demanded that the perpetrators now have the guts and honor of owning up and taking their punishment. He would be waiting in his office as soon as the assembly dispersed.

“Well?” Pixy M queried as she and the others waited for Mavis to reach her conclusion.

“I think that is all I need to tell to illustrate my point.” said Mavis. “Even in a school such as ours, there will be incidents which may not be well received or helpful to the cause, but will at least provide some letting off of steam.”

“I think that the actions of my husband and others should be monitored and tolerated to a certain degree, because they provide a vent for their bored frustrations. And as we know just like with those boys at the dance, a certain tolerance and understanding should be exercised, as was the case after the school assembly.”

“What do you mean?” Val H asked, “What happened after the assembly?

Mavis fixed her eyes on Val H.

“Showing true courage and taking full responsibility for whatever punishment may be headed his way, a certain boy did indeed knock on Jimmy H’s office door after the assembly. He was caned with the 6 foot bamboo rod, but only 3 strokes instead of the usual 6.”

“Who was it?” Thea R asked.

It was Rob, Jimmy H’s son.