Chapter 15 - Their Future Together: The Prison, aka School Days
It was late when the train pulled into the station. April was worried that they wouldn’t be able to get into the gates. Peter reminded her that the schools knew where they were and probably knew about the train’s delay. When they came out of the station, he was just about to take her hand when he saw Mr. Thomison, the headmaster talking with a very cross older looking lady.
“Sir,” he said, “Are you here to meet us? The train had a delay and we will need to get into the gates.”
The adults turned to them. The headmaster, with sympathy and understanding in his eyes, asked, "Peter Pevensie? April Treed?"
The lady spoke harshly, “I cannot believe you two went away unchaperoned! Well, that won’t happen again, not while I'm here!”
Peter’s eyes flashed with anger, but he said as respectfully as he could, "I beg your pardon, madam, but we are not sure who you are."
"Why, I am Mrs. Cromby, the new headmistress of Saint Finbar's. And you, young man, will mind your manners and speak respectfully in the presence of your elders. It is late, we must get you back to the schools."
While they walked Mrs. Cromby expounded on her theme of how life was going to be different now that she was in charge.
"The gates will be closed at 8:00 p.m. and not 10:00 p.m. There will be no day passes to that place you all call 'the pond' and very rarely into town. Common areas will be closed and visiting in the dormitory lobbies limited. We are going to make sure the students behave themselves and don't get into any more trouble. There will be expanded clubs and extracurricular activities to give the students something constructive to do rather than mill about flirting and fraternizing with each other."
April, rather bravely, broke in and asked, "Will they be expanding the dance program?"
Mrs. Cromby turned to her and almost attacked her with words. It was all Peter could do not to lurch over both adults and defend April. He might have if Mr. Thomison had not put a warning hand on his arm.
"Dance program? Do you mean that ballet program they have? What an abomination. No girls of mine will be up on a stage scantily dressed flaunting their bodies around for everyone to see. No! The dance program has been discontinued and the final spring performance cancelled."
"Oh," April cried, "But we have worked so hard and the costumes are beautiful and very modest..."
She was rudely cut off, "April, April Treed? You are that ballerina they told me about. Well, good thing I got to tell you. Maybe I will just save your soul a bit more. Dancing! Humph!"
Peter could feel April's pain from three feet away. It was as tangible as the cool night breeze on his face. How dare this woman? She was breaking April's heart. And, if there was no dance program, there would be no school here for April in the fall. He had to do something. But, they had reached the gates and April was being herded over and through the opening. Saint Finbar’s gate slammed as if it were locking April into a prison, and perhaps it was.
April couldn't help the tears that were running down her face. She had ran away from that horrible woman as soon as possible. Lucy and Susan were waiting in her room looking very worried. They hugged her and started asking questions. Why were they late? Was Peter okay? Why was she crying? By the time she was able to tell it all, they were speechless and very sympathetic about the dance program. Only when they finally got around to asking how the week went, did the clouds on April's face part and a smile break through. April was only able to share just a couple of details when the call came for lights out. She got ready for bed in the dark and then cried herself to sleep. Who knew when she was going to see Peter again?
At the school assemblies the next day the nightmare continued on both campuses. Everyone discovered all that Peter and April had been told. The worst news was that visiting hours in the residence lobbies would be limited to two hours on Saturday evening and three hours on Sunday afternoon. The only explanation offered was to 'protect our young ladies virtue and provide the young men with more constructive activities'. Of course, everyone soon knew the real reason...three girls had to leave the school because of their 'delicate conditions' and three boys had been expelled for 'inappropriate conduct'. Apparently, their families were some of the wealthier benefactors, and they mandated the rules be stricter. Edmund whispered to Peter that if the rules were any stricter they'd all be wearing jumpsuits and have picks in their hands.
Peter was in a state. He had no way of finding out how April was. After spending almost 24 hours a day with her for week...It would be one thing if she were far away and he could not get to her. But, she was right next door. The telephones in the halls were only for emergencies and no way to even get a note to her. It looked like he would have to wait until Saturday to see her and this was just Monday. It was going to be a long week!
That evening Edmund came breezing into their room holding something behind his back.
"Guess what we are going to do?"
Peter grunted, he was not in a good mood.
"Oh, snap out of it!" Edmund pulled two swords out from behind his back. "En gaurde! You are looking at the newest members of the fencing team! Actually we are all new members. They have just started it. You know, to take our mind off not seeing the girls..."
Peter looked up. Swords? Now that, he could do. He got up and fingered one of the blades. Thinner, longer, and lighter than he was used to, but it might be fun to learn the formal art and traditional techniques. He grinned and pointed the tipped sword at Edmund. They circled each other for a moment and then started testing the blades. They stopped when they were too winded to go any longer. Maybe this would be a welcome distraction.
"10 to 1 odds that you become captain of the team before two weeks are out," Peter said to Edmund. "You haven't lost the touch at all! I wonder if we could learn to fight left-handed?"
Edmund sat down, "So...are you going to tell me about your week? It sure was weird not having you at home. Even Susan seemed to miss you. You must have had a good time or something, that's the happiest I've seen you look yet."
Peter spent the evening telling Edmund about their adventures in Sway. Discreetly leaving out the parts that needed to remain between him and April, he told him about the grove, the books, and April's history. Edmund was enthralled and wanted to make plans so he and the girls could go to the grove too. He was horrified about Peter's poisoning and inspected the almost healed hand. He was incredulous at the story of Peter's interaction with April's father and agreed that maybe he should consider a different course of study. They were still talking when it was time for bed and by the time they finished Edmund was ready to find train schedules to make the trip.
Susan and Lucy were having a similar experience in their room, but without the swords. They were trying to keep April from packing up and going home. They finally appealed to her academic side and told her she would need to finish the term or she wouldn't be able to transfer. The thought of April not being at school in the fall especially distressed Lucy. April was miserable on multiple fronts. She had told them a little about their time in Sway but Susan seemed to disconnect when she mentioned Narnia, so she told about Peter's hand, her father, and the sightseeing. She knew Lucy was eager to hear about the other and she signaled to her that they would talk later.
Later that night, Lucy slipped into April's room while April's roommate was out and sat eagerly on the bed. April told her in great detail about the grove. She and Peter had thought to keep it a secret for them. But, they were afraid they wouldn't get a chance to take them there. Lucy got so excited when she heard about the trees, she wanted to leave right then to go to Sway. April was tempted to grab her and make a break for it. She really would rather be home if she couldn't dance and couldn't see Peter. Instead April told her about the journal and Lucy was speechless with wonder at April's history. Lucy was looking forward to her next adventure in Narnia and was hopeful that it would happen soon.
April wrote a long letter home. She was sure her parents would pull her out when they realized the dance program had been cancelled. In way, she hoped they would. This week had been the longest ever. Tomorrow was Saturday. She was sure Peter would come to her. If only she could wait patiently. At night she was tormented by dreams of him. When she awoke each morning, she realized it did her no good to be grumpy, he wasn't there to talk her out of her mood.
Peter and Edmund had fencing team practice on Saturday morning. There was just a handful of them, most of the boys wished to play cricket or rugby. Only two others had prior sword experience. Peter and Edmund had to pretend their skills were not so advanced and Peter made sure that Edmund (without his knowledge) was Captain of the team. He knew that it was hard at times for Edmund in Narnia when Peter, as High King, had to exert his authority over all of them. He often tried to make up for that in this world now that he could.
It seemed to take forever until it was time for the gates to open at Saint Finbars. There were an amazing amount of students waiting to get through. Frustrated at not arriving earlier he vowed tomorrow he would not let a minute of time be wasted. She was waiting for him in the packed lobby. There was no room for conversation, much less any privacy. He didn't care if anyone saw or said anything. He immediately took her in his arms and hugged her.
"Are you all right?" he whispered in her ear. "I love you, never forget that!"
She couldn't speak, tears were clogging her throat. She nodded.
Someone tapped him on the shoulder. "No hugging!" they shouted over the din of voices. He let April go and breaking a rule or not, he steered her out the door onto the porch. They sat down on the steps. There were a few other braves souls out here and they could at least hear themselves think. This situation was absolutely preposterous. He wanted to sputter and complain, but didn't want to waste the time they had. She looked so sad. He took her hand. There was probably a rule against that too, but he didn't care.
"Oh Peter!" she pulled up her knees and put her head down. "I don't know what to do. How can I be here if I can't dance? If I can't see you?"
He put an arm around her and she moved her head to his shoulder. "Hang in there, we'll make it through this. In two weeks we'll go to my parents’ home. Maybe they will help us find a solution. In the meantime, I will be here today and tomorrow and any time they open the gates."
Lucy, Susan and Edmund found them then. Lucy hugged Peter and Edmund. Lucy spouted, "It's not fair that they are doing this to us. They shouldn't keep brothers and sisters apart too!"
They all smiled at that and sat talking. Staff members came around but left them alone as long as they stayed on the porch. All too soon time was up and they had to part ways. Peter hugged April again and kissed her on the forehead promising to see her tomorrow. She watched him walk toward the gates and a sense of despondency settled over her. Lucy noticed and gave her a hug.
"It will be okay, April. It just has to be! You and I could go for a walk. There aren't any rules against that."
April nodded and they walked along the paths. When she came to the copse of trees where she had shared those moments with Peter she broke down. She sat on the bench and cried. Lucy came over and put her hand on April's back.
"Aslan can help you April. He can be here for you when Peter can't."
April raised her head to look at Lucy. She had forgotten that she wanted to talk with Lucy about Aslan. She asked Lucy to tell her what she thought, felt, and remembered about him. Just saying his name out loud seemed to make her feel better. Lucy talked for a long time and then they went to April's room to look at her grandmother's letter and journal. Lying in bed that night, April thought that maybe there was a purpose in this separation from Peter, that maybe Aslan did have a plan for them starting with the dreams that Peter had of her in Narnia. What a comfort that thought was. Although she felt a little silly, she tried talking with Aslan. She didn't know if he could hear her thoughts, or who might even be listening, but it helped her feel less desperate to try. She slept better that night than she had all week.
In the morning, she had a great desire to tell Peter about her evening with Lucy. She got frustrated for about the 100th time that she couldn't eat with him. Then she had a thought. She had two extra spiral bound notebooks that she hadn't used for classes. If she kept one and gave the other to Peter this afternoon, they could write notes in them during the week and then switch. It would almost be like having a conversation daily. Would he be interested or would he think that was too immature? She was self-conscious now after the conversation with her mother. She so wanted to be what he needed. She was pleased with her idea though. She would write him a note now before breakfast to start it out. If he didn't want to write back, that was okay.
She looked at the notebook's binding. The binding was plastic instead of wire. All the spare metal had been called into use for the war factories. It was a strange thought to realize that somewhere on the continent people could be dying to preserve her freedom. Not that you could ignore it, the signs of war were everywhere, GI's on the trains, dance halls and USO centers in the towns. Any time a wireless was playing, there was war news. Here they were isolated a bit though, which she was grateful for. She was also grateful that Peter and Edmund were too young to be conscripted or drafted. Some of the bigger boys lied about their ages to go and fight. She shuddered at the thought of Peter being in battle, although she knew he had been in many.
Peter was waiting for her in the lobby. He was so great to look at. It was Sunday, so he was in casual clothes. The first couple of buttons on his white shirt were open and the blue V-neck pullover vest matched his eyes. He had slight dimples in his cheeks when he smiled at her and his sensuous lips made her want for his kiss. She felt like she was going to melt into a puddle on the floor. Wait, was he laughing at her? She felt a little indignant, why was he laughing? He came over to her with a smile sparkling in those brilliant blue eyes.
"April, you were staring at me like you had never seen me before. What on earth were you thinking?"
She leaned up and slowly, almost provocatively, whispered in his ear, "That you are still so devastatingly handsome!"
She backed away to see his reaction. She was not disappointed. He smiled and the laughter in his eyes changed to... But, there were too many people around. She was beginning to see why they had these new rules. She didn't like them, but she understood.
The room wasn't as crowded today. They had opened the lobbies of the boy's residences as well to thin the crowds. They found a couch and sat. A little nervous, she showed him the notebooks. He thought it was a good idea. Relieved, she sat back as he read what she had written on the first page and to her surprise he leaned over and kissed her. She glanced around, no one seemed to notice, or care.
"What was that for?" she smiled.
"It was a bit of a test, and also, I couldn't be this close to you and not try, especially after what you just said."
"Peter," she bit her lip. "What color was your bed chamber at Cair Paravel?"
He looked at her, shocked, "Why would you ask that?"
"Was it burgundy, with gold edging? You had a four-poster bed with a curtain that surrounded all sides to keep out the lights and any insects. A golden threaded carpet with navy and burgundy designs in it. Two windows overlooked a beautiful bright blue sea. High ceilings with ornate stone carvings of Narnian creatures on them?"
She had rendered him speechless. He stared at her.
"You have been talking with Lucy. Are you trying to play a trick on me?"
April smiled, "I have been talking with Lucy, but not about your bedroom. We spent last evening talking about Aslan. It was wonderful. I know more about him now and actually tried to talk with him some. I feel more at peace."
"And, I had the most amazing dream...I was walking around your chamber at Cair Paravel, the one I just described to you. I saw it in my dream. The sun was just beginning to rise. You were having a bad dream. I went over and smoothed your forehead and kissed it just like I did when you were sick. Your expression changed to one of peace. Then, there was a knock at the door and I woke up."
Peter was wide eyed with disbelief. He pulled her close and she put her head on his shoulder.
"Brilliant, that is simply brilliant. We are meant to be together. I know it!"
They talked about many things. He told her about the fencing team. He was really enjoying it. It had not taken long for the coach to determine that he and Edmund had talent. They were helping to teach the others. All too soon time was up. She walked him out to the porch, reluctant to let him go. Next week seemed a long time away. He held her close and then left.
Peter, back in his room opened the notebook April had given to him. She had drawn a small calendar that showed the weekend they would go to his home. But for next Saturday, she had written "My Birthday". He sat up straight. Her birthday was next week? Of course, she would be born in April, April 27th. He was glad he had remembered to pick up the jewelry box before they left Sway. Now, would he be able to get passes for all them to go into town? He would work on it this week.
"What's up with you over there Peter?" asked Edmund.
"April's birthday is next Sunday. She is going to be 17!"
Edmund cackled with laughter, Peter threw a pillow at him. He shouldn't have told Edmund, already he was tired of hearing 'dating an older woman' wisecracks.
"Stop Ed! I have to tell you something. April is dreaming of Narnia. She told me what my chamber at Cair Paravel looked like."
It was Edmund's turn to sit up stunned. "No! You’re joshing right? Is it me, or does it seem the closer you two get, the more connected to Narnia she becomes? What on earth could it mean? You know, it is fun watching you two. I give you a hard time, but I really respect the way you treat her. You are good together. Do you think there is someone special like that out there for me too?"
"I hope so Ed. I would wish this for all of us. As great as our time was in Narnia. What I feel for April has added a richness and depth to my life that I never knew existed. I love that I don't have to choose between her and my memories of Narnia. She is weaving all the parts of my life together like a tapestry. Did I tell you that I used to dream of her in Narnia?"
Dear April, I met with my academic advisor today. He had great news. The advanced classes I have been taking qualify me to take a special exam to get next year's credit for them. If I do well, I can shave off a year of school. That makes me feel not so much younger than you! Also, he mentioned that most of the classes required for graduation can be taken at a university and some of those credits may apply for both courses. He is putting me into one extra class this term so I won't be short a credit. All that was left open was poetry, ick. He is sending a letter home to my father. I can talk with him about it when we visit.
Dear Peter, I had another dream about you last night. We were walking hand-in-hand on the beach below Cair Paravel. The waves were lapping at our toes and the most beautiful sunset was in the sky. All of a sudden, we looked up, there before us was a magnificent lion. You cried, '"Aslan" and ran to him hugging him. I stood back in awe not knowing what to do. He spoke to me, "Daughter, come to me." So I ran to him but said, "Sir, I don't know you well enough to hug you." He laughed and replied, "Oh, but you will! You will come to know me more and more. For I have come that you may have life and have it more abundantly." Then he breathed on me. The most incredible thing happened, beautiful silver petals began to flow from inside of me somehow. They formed and began to dance, the 'wake the trees dance' that I do. It was the most wonderful thing I have seen. The dryad bowed to Aslan and then became a part of me again. And I woke up.
Dear April, this poetry class may not be so bad. I miss you so much that everything I read makes me think of you like this one by Elizabeth Barrett Browning, I'm sure you have heard of it...
How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of Being and ideal Grace.
I love thee to the level of every day’s
Most quiet need, by sun and candlelight.
I love thee freely, as men strive for Right;
I love thee purely, as they turn from Praise.
I love thee with the passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood's faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints, I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life! And, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.
Dear Peter, I just received a letter from my mother. She included a note for you as well. They were blown away by the gifts you sent to them from Madeline's shop. When did you have time to do that? Father really liked his book on animal husbandry, mother loved the scarf and Elisa was over the moon with her new book and toy. That was really sweet and thoughtful of you!