There was the stare. Usually the phrase ‘piercing blue eyes’ was really an exaggeration, and yet, when it came to Miss Susan the headmistress found herself wondering how icicles could possibly appear in the middle of the summer, pointing directly at her. ‘You wished to see me?’ It wasn’t so much the eyes themselves, it was everything that lay behind them. Miss Frout did not entirely like having their attention on her. She was much more comfortable diverting attention, a skill she had perfected over the years as headmistress*.
‘Yes. Your classes have been doing very well.’ Too well. So well that firing the woman was impossible.
‘The parents certainly think so.’
There was a beat of silence. Miss Frout tried to gather her wits, and remember exactly what she was supposed to say. Baron. Right. Figuring out how reply to royalty, because even though she rarely behaved like it, the woman in front of her was a duchess.
‘I have received a letter from the Baron de Chumsfanleigh, who requests one of our fine teachers to travel to his district, and help set up a local school for his... subjects.’
There was a flicker. That happened sometimes when she tried to talk to Susan. Miss Frout credited it to the fact that she quite often took an extra gulp from the bottle in her desk before telling her to come in.
‘That is very interesting to hear, miss,’ said Susan.
‘I think you should be our representative. Your valuable skill set will bring a good reputation to the Academy beyond the city walls.’ Miss Frout was frowning as she said the words. They seemed to simply appear in her mouth before she had truly thought them.
‘I would be delighted, miss,’ the teacher said with an assuring note.
Susan smiled. This was not helpful for Miss Frout’s state of mind. As the door closed, the headmistress already had her hand down in the desk drawer.
*’Your little Angus is horrible in calculus? Look at the pretty picture he drew! Anna still hasn’t figured out the connection between letters and sounds? She looked so cute as a sunflower in the spring play!’ Jason still hasn’t stopped biting people? Well maybe you should start doing your job as parents.*
*Another skill you got as a teacher was to separate words you said clear and out loud, and words you whispered into your whisky glass in the evening.
Susan liked children. This was something that she found baffling when she stopped to consider it. She particularly liked teaching children. It had something to do with being allowed to correct idiocy before it got out of hand, and the children were required to listen.
The children at the school knew her as Miss Susan. She had quickly found out that children were some of the best judges of character you could possibly find. When necessary they developed a hive mind to deal with grownups. For the last year Susan had been subtly teaching the other teachers how actually teach. Miss Frout did not exactly like this, however, she did like the revenue it brought in when parents heard that this school actually managed to teach their little ones more than ‘sit down and shut up’.
The children caught on quickly, so even though the teaching regime had become stricter, the children had become more resourceful. If they wanted to make certain homework was not checked in Quirmian, they encouraged Mister Witherleigh’s interest in bad puns and neurotic tally of how many Morporkian words had spread to Quirm.
‘Like a plague! Infecting one of the noblest languages by the Circle Sea.’
Personally Susan thought this good practise for adulthood, where young minds already skilled in manipulation were leaps and bounds ahead of their peers.
She believed herself to also be good at reading people, partly because of a heritage which allowed her to see exactly what was there, but mostly because not being a good people reader when surrounded by children meant being greeted one morning with a chalkboard full of swearwords and an empty chocolate box*.
Susan was also good at categorizing people. And the category ‘royalty’ did not fit the category ‘willing to spread knowledge to the people’. So she was curious. A lesson she had finally learned about herself after experiencing disrupts in the space-time continuum, acting as an anthropomorphic personification and, in one disturbing instance, learned the meaning of Hogswatch, was that she did not like boring and repetitive days. Though being a teacher almost had a guarantee against this, she had become so adept at handling a class she was getting... bored. And her family really did not do well with bored.
That was how, after securing the proper papers from the school secretary, she found herself on the next diligence out of Ankh-Morpork, heading for Chalk country.
*Excepting the nougat, but we all know that doesn’t count.