Angela Birkenshaw Sees What She Wants.
Just a few months earlier, a new student had arrived in the school. An older girl by name of Angela Birkenshaw.
She was about to change Robert's life in ways he could not possibly have foreseen. He would also change hers, but she would be the one to set that ball rolling. She knew that he couldn’t, and wouldn’t. Not in that unforgiving environment.
Miss Birkenshaw came to the Beldune school for her final year from abroad, and that year was now coming to an end. She would soon have to make a decision about her future; whether to stay for another year in the school by paying the fees, or getting a job, or going off to university.
She was a studious and quiet young woman of almost nineteen years; older than the other girls in their final year because she had missed so much academic time at her previous school through injury, and had to repeat an entire year.
She was nothing like most of the other girls; was determined, goal-driven, studious, observant, exceptionally intelligent, had few friends in the new school, and had too little time to make any with her busy academic schedule. Once she knew what she wanted out of life, she pursued that course without any hesitation or retreat.
Her plans for herself took a major turn when she had been in the school no more than two months. By the end of that first term she knew exactly what she wanted in life, but did not know how to go about getting him.
She learned that his name was Robert Illingsworth, the only man in the school. She'd tried to ignore him ever since she had arrived in the school. He did not figure in her plans, though he often was front and center in the overheard conversations of the other girls. However, he was immune to all of them, and to her too when she had thought to be polite, but that was because he didn’t know her, and she was only one face in hundreds. It rattled her that he could be so ill-mannered in ignoring her when she was only trying to be polite. Somehow she intended to change that.
That was when she recognized that she was attracted to Robert in a way she did not fully understand. She had persisted, and had striven to engage him in innocent conversation on several occasions in passing, when there were no other girls around, even with observations about the weather, but he was immune to listening to, or seeing any girl in that personally difficult environment and did nothing but smile briefly and nod to her.
She soon realized that he was not being ill-mannered, but self-protective, after the revealing tricks some of the older girls constantly tried to play on him. He had become suspicious of all of them, including her, so had mostly ignored her.
Learning what tricks some of the other girls tried to play on him, she began to see things from his point of view. He had to ignore all of them.
She could see that Robert never directly observed any girl, or held her glance, knowing the dangers; and rarely allowed any eye contact unless he was helping them in some needed way and had to get their undivided attention. However, Angela had not given up on him, and knew that as she learned more about him, she would eventually find a way behind his armor and would begin to have him notice her, but not in as extreme a way as some of those other, relatively shameless girls intended.
She was patient. One had to move slowly to catch certain things in the proper way, like catching a shy monkey with its arm in a narrow necked jar with sugar in it. If you tried to catch the monkey by running at it, you could not succeed, and it would soon be up the nearest tree, but you could let it trap itself when it grabbed some sugar, and could not withdraw its hand from the heavy jar because it had its fist closed on the sugar. At that moment, with a slow and indirect approach, then you could get it.
She would think carefully about how she would ensnare, Mr. Illingsworth.
Her first opportunity came when there had been a fire drill that had evacuated the school. She did not leave, knowing that it was only a drill, but stayed behind in the school office and made good use of her opportunity while the personnel filing cabinets were unlocked in the principal’s office, to see the employee files, including the one which interested her: ‘Robert’. Just that one name. That must be him.
She had seen that name several times as she was called upon to put files away for the headmistress. It was a substantial file, growing fatter by the month. And then she took a look at her own thin folder from the students’ filing cabinet beside it.
She photocopied them both to read later, and replaced the originals, keeping an eye on the proceedings in the grounds outside of the office window. They would be another ten minutes, if not longer, taking roll-call.
Angela stuffed the copies of both files into her briefcase to read later in the privacy of her room, before she destroyed them.
Before she was missed from the roll-call outside, she left the school by a side door and joined the ranks of the older girls.
Her own file, consisted of her previous academic record which she already knew about, and a letter from her previous school. She was not sure what to make of it. It was general flattering about her academic abilities, but had described her as a ‘rebel to convention’ and other things.
‘Questions everything’, ‘Challenges authority’, ‘Breaks all rules without regret or regard for consequences’. ‘Miss Birkenshaw is academically far beyond even many of her teachers, and will either succeed to the highest of expectations, or will suffer such disappointment as to make her disappear completely off the face of society.’ Whatever that meant.
There was nothing she could do to change anything, other than to briefly consider adding another, more constructive letter of her own making, to her folder.
She picked up that second folder that had been identified only as, ‘Robert’.
She could see that he had been in the school almost two years. There was a list of what he had managed to do to change the school; what was still left to do; and a separate list of incidents that he had been innocently caught up in, along with letters from concerned parents. All of those letters had a thick red marker drawn across them as though Miss Bagnold had written them off. Others, more rational, thanked her for the help that Mr. Illingsworth had been when he had somehow helped their daughter overcome some difficulty.
She also learned that Robert’s real name was Christopher Robin Illingsworth, and yet he had chosen the name of ‘Robert’, to go with him through life. There was nothing wrong with his given names, other than that he might have been ridiculed over them at one time.
He had served with distinction in the military, had been severely wounded, hospitalized for a long time, and then had been honorably discharged.
She needed to get to know him, and what was more important, have him get to know her before the school year ended, but she soon found that he was very difficult to approach, and time was slowly running out for her.
The more she learned about Robert, the more she wanted to connect with him, meet him, let him meet her, and for him to see her for what she was, and not just another of these immature, empty-headed girls intent on having him compromise them with their eager compliance. Though that might also not be a bad thing, if that was what it would take to attract him.
Her opportunity to get to know him came a few weeks later, as the school year was approaching its end.
Being denied something always made it much more desirable. Angela wanted him to notice her, however that might be achieved, believing that once he noticed her and got to know her, that the other girls wouldn’t stand a chance.
The difficulty with all of that, was that she was only one of fifty older girls in the last grades of the upper school, and she got lost in all of the ‘noise’.
He noticed none of them in his self-protective mode of operation. There had to be a way to get through to him.
Her motives were selfish, though pure. Mostly pure, but this was a dog-eat-dog world, and if something had to be sacrificed in the process, then so be it.
When she thought more about it. She wasn’t sure about the purity bit. She might have to be creatively flexible with her morals where he was concerned. After all, he was a man, and would have little patience with girlish hesitation, so she decided that she would be as forward as necessary when the moment came. She was saved from some of that, by what happened one stormy night when he actually came to her, rather than she, having to seek him out. The rest of it would now be up to her. It took her about ten seconds to decide the way it would be.
That night, the night of the heavy rains that flooded the hockey field, she met Mr. Illingsworth face to face, alone, with her in only her nightdress. Mostly, in her nightdress! And, boy, did she get to meet him! At last!