Just in front of the porch, I nearly collided with a tall angular woman coming out carrying a large
bell. I skidded to a halt in a cloud of dust and fell backwards into a sitting position at her feet.
She looked down at me with a thin sort of smile. ‘I know some children enjoy school,’ she
remarked, ‘but such enthusiasm to get inside, even before the bell, is truly remarkable.’ She helped
me to my feet then rang her bell vigorously while I dusted myself off.
I inspected her with interest. She was as straight as a gun barrel and her old-fashioned dress
hung from her shoulders almost to the ground, hardly touching, it seemed, anything inside. If it
weren't for the dress, I would have thought her a man except that, as she swung her bell, just the
hint of a curve showed itself briefly in all the places where women were the most rounded. A whistle
hung from her neck on a thin, blue cord.
At the sound of the bell, all movement, all sound in the yard, ceased. She turned to me and held
the bell towards me. ‘Here, hold this. No, not like that: by the clapper, not the handle.’ She addressed
me by my name, so she knew who I was. I was doubtless the only new boy enrolled after term had
started. ‘I'm Miss Hangar, the Head Teacher.’
The vicar turned his gaze in my direction. I disliked the way he ran his eyes all over me. I felt a
hot rush of embarrassment. ‘Oh the dear boy,’ he gushed, bouncing up and putting his hand on my
head. ‘Welcome my son. How you must have suffered in London. But you'll be all right here, under the
care of your dear loving aunt.’
I felt an immediate dislike of him and his manner. I could in no way consider myself his son; I was
in serious doubts about the lovingness of my aunt; and I detested the touch of his hand. I wriggled
out from under it and feigned interest in a nonexistent object on the far horizon.
‘Silent little chap isn't he?’ observed the vicar.
I smouldered inside. I could have kicked him: hard!
‘Say good-morning to Father Hardcross,’ ordered my aunt with a steely look in her eye.
‘Good-morning Reverend Hardcross,’ I said mechanically. Damned if I was going to address him as
‘Father’. My aunt didn't; she used the term ‘Vicar’.
‘It's customary to address the vicar with the title Father,’ chided my aunt.
‘He's not my father,’ I muttered between clenched teeth.
Miss Hangar from The Gables