One night, everything changed.
Only four girls of the ten that had been there earlier, were still there an hour later when there was a tap at the door which led from their area into the rest of the uppermost floor of the school, just under the roof.
Their conversation immediately dried up and they listened with suddenly beating hearts leaping into their throats. They were not supposed to be where they were at this time of night.
It was repeated. Someone had heard them talking, and it had to be Miss Bagnold from that direction. They always kept that door locked once they retired, and were loath to open it to find out if it was her, and that they were then in trouble. They melted off to their rooms, saying nothing, leaving Angela to decide what to do, and to deal with Miss Bagnold. It had to be her, there was no one else it could be, and Angela would not get into trouble where the other girls would.
The tapping was repeated a little more loudly. Angela could hear keys rattling and knew then that it was the headmistress. Better not force her to use her keys to let herself in. She walked over, threw back the dead-bolt, and opened the door. She had nothing to hide. The other girls had gone to their rooms by then and were, no doubt, safely in their beds.
It wasn’t Miss Bagnold.
She did not recognize him at first, standing there outlined in the dim lights along that corridor. What was a man doing here? A moment of fear surged through her body recalling how lightly she was dressed, in a very flimsy kind of nightdress that was old and even a little threadbare, but was suitable for warm summer nights, and she had absolutely nothing else under it. Then she saw that it was Mr. Illingsworth, the man that all of the girls entertained in their innermost private thoughts whenever they saw him, and dreamed secret thoughts about when they retired and touched themselves intimately, just as they hoped that he would soon touch them. Fat chance of that!
Angela was not totally immune to those thoughts either.
Had he read her mind and responded to her silent clarion call for him to come to her and rescue her? But from what? She had been thinking of him, was always thinking of him. She was not sure what to say, and blurted out the first thing that entered her mind.
“What are you doing here?”
Had he come for her, to rescue her from this drab and cheerless existence, as she often dreamed of him doing?
Of course not, idiot!
He looked at her, shocked by what he saw standing there, and what he could see of her. He must look like a deer caught in the headlights for a moment. He stood his ground, rather than fleeing, as he would from the other girls, especially if they had been so lightly dressed with nothing hidden, the way she was standing in the light. Admittedly the light was a weak one, and it was behind her, but it illuminated her body through, yes, actually shining through her nightdress, and with other things actually poking… firm… proud, disturbing things, firm against the thin fabric, as though she was suddenly feeling cold, with her nipples responding. She could not retreat either.
Then, she saw that he was holding something in his arms. A small, living bundle with shoes and socks, and hair. One of the younger girls! As nervous as he seemed to be, he couldn’t go anywhere, not with that to look after. Where had he found her? He needed her help in some way.
He held that small girl snugly up against his chest. The girl, was holding onto him just as tightly.
A thousand thoughts went through Angela’s head in that split second of indecision.
Why was he here? No, never mind that. He was here now, and another opportunity like this might never appear again. She would have to play this cleverly. Her very life--yes; her life from this moment forward--depended upon it.
She considered inviting him in. She’d often imagined this moment when he came to her in her dreams and what would happen between them after that.
No! She must not invite him in! When the other girls heard a man’s voice, they would be encouraged, out of curiosity if nothing else, to re-emerge from their rooms, and she might lose her advantage with so many poorly dressed damsels parading tantalizingly around, eager to show off their thinly clad bodies, and striving to get his attention in whichever way they could. They would all be doing their versions of the dance of the seven veils to torment him, which they had actually practiced doing one night in the privacy of their lounge area. It would be sure to turn any man on, seeing that done just for him. By the time she got to the second veil, any red-blooded man would be all over her, but in this case, with her, there was only one veil; a single, flimsy, and very thin, nightdress.
Angela unhesitatingly stepped out into the corridor with him, pulling the door behind her.
She heard it latch. Damn! She was locked out!
Never mind, he had the keys to let her back in. If he decided to let her escape him and let her back in before other things happened between them. She felt breathless.
“Mr. Illingsworth.” She looked at the girl in his arms. Damn, again! He was not here for her, but to ask for her help with this little one. She felt strangely disappointed, even let down. Nonetheless, a girl needed to work with what she was presented with, and it was a start.
The lucky little girl in his arms was one of the first-year girls. She was fully dressed, as well as being wrapped in a heavy blanket. He was carrying what had to be her small backpack, swinging from his arm supporting her. She was damp and had been outside of the school in that rain. Curioser and curioser.
“How may I help you?” He seemed relieved to hear that she would help him in some way.
“This girl…. She needs help.” At least he was keeping his voice down, so no one else would hear them talking.
“Is she injured?"
“No. She is wet and cold. Nothing more than that. I cannot... should not, look after her. Touchy situation.” He swallowed hard. She could see his difficulty.
“Where did you find her?” Angela reached out to take her, but the girl just shrank closer to him, as any girl would, being held in those arms. Angela herself would fight off any number of girls if that were her, held like that by him.
He was pleased at Angela’s rapid understanding of the delicate situation.
“I found her ten minutes ago huddled under the stairs in the basement, wet and shivering. I was about to leave the school and head home, but when I found her there, I couldn’t.”
Of course he couldn’t.
That was the most he had spoken to her; to any girl, all year. It was a start.
He must have been in the school working late on something he couldn’t do during the day when all of the girls were thundering along the corridors like a herd of charging elephants ready to mow down everything in their path.
The small bundle was shivering. He held her closer.
“Actually, my cat found her and got my attention or I would never have seen her.”
His cat had also followed him upstairs, and Angela could see him—another hormonal male—in the background. It followed him everywhere around the school, but only when it was quiet. It knew all about girls, just as he did, but Robert had no choice but to be where he was, most of the time. The cat had a choice, and stayed in his work area during most of the day, only to emerge and wander the school at night, on the prowl. A horny male, on the hunt, prowling the school corridors for a female cat. The thought was amusing and worth relating to the other girls sometime to get their juices flowing before she admitted to it being a ‘fixed’ tom-cat--if it was ‘fixed’-- but was soon put to one side.
“Who is she?”
“Her name tags in her packed clothes say that she’s Marjorie Langdon, one of the first-year girls. She’d packed a bag and was probably running away, but got caught in the rain and got soaked. I was lucky to find her. She’s very wet.”
There was a towel around her head. He had managed to dry some of her hair. At least he had presence of mind to bring her to the one place where he could leave her to be seen to in safety.
Angela reached out and touched her by the face and neck. “We’ll have to see what she needs. Possibly a hot bath. There is a bathroom where I can take her out of the hearing of any of the other girls,” she pointed farther along the corridor.
“I can look after her tonight, but someone will have to tell Miss Bagnold as soon in the morning as possible.” She sighed. “I guess that will have to be me. Unless I can cover this up and find out why she was running away.”
“Thank you.” He sounded very grateful to have had this responsibility lifted from him.
“She could have slept in my storeroom downstairs with His Majesty there, for company”—he referred to his cat behind him—“but I couldn’t leave her alone, and I certainly couldn’t take her with me. That might have been misconstrued. Nor could I stay with her as I would have to do." No, of course he couldn't. "As late as it was, I thought of you.” It was exciting of him to admit that to her, that he had thought of her.
She understood. He was on a tightrope all of the time in that school, never knowing what would be coming at him next. And he had thought of her? How nice. It was a start.
“I did the only thing I could, short of approaching Miss Bagnold, and I didn’t want to do that at this time of night. I remembered you, as being older, more mature, very... assured, polite and…”—and what? He was blushing. She waited, but he did not continue along that same line—“so, knowing where you slept, and that you had a private room to yourself, I came up here. I would have disturbed no one else if I could have avoided it. Fortunately you let me in before I needed to use my keys.” So he knew where she slept, and had thought of her; better and better.
And what would he have done then? It did not bear thinking about, but the possibilities were intriguing. If it was a hot and uncomfortable night she often slept with her bed turned down, and even dispensed with a nightdress. What if he had come upon her then, with her in that vulnerable and naked state, and even without panties? How would he have awoken her and what would she have done about it? That Sleeping Beauty tale, the less respectable one, came to mind, in which the prince awoke her, not with a kiss, but with something far more solid than that. The imagined possibilities would be worth dreaming about, but some other time.
Angela agreed with his reasoning. But how did he know where she slept, or that she was alone? And he would have awoken her somehow? She would definitely dream about that, later, and how she would have liked to have felt him waking her up, but dreams and reality rarely coincided.