(Note: now complete! Four chapters in total.)
So here we go again, with the start of another idea that won't leave me alone. :)
Here's another of my favorite Discworld girls, Susan, in a tale inspired by wondering what transpired between Hogfather and Thief of Time for her to leave her job as a governess and take up teaching. Sometimes, leaving a responsibility behind isn't an easy thing to do...
Not complete yet, but with my new Discworld Family Values poster on the wall above my desk, and Susan's entire family scrutinizing me as I sit here, I imagine I won't be able to leave it alone for too long. :) Thank you, Mr. Kidby, for the added inspiration....
(Again, any footnotes are positioned relatively closely to the associated paragraphs for ease of scrolling.)
This, Susan thought grimly as she stared at the letter, was all her grandfather's doing.
She hadn't asked for this job. She'd never even considered pursuing it, before he put the gears in motion. Like most of the other strange things thrust upon her over the past several years, like talking ravens and skeletal rats and even self-styling hair (which wasn't entirely a nuisance, but was decidedly odd nevertheless), choice was not a part of the package. Family obligations simply seemed to take over.
And hers was not an ordinary family.
She sank back into the armchair that sat in one corner of her bedroom. The Gaiters, her current employers, had conspired to make the little room cozy. In their definition, this had extended to frilly bed trimmings and doilies, overly plush rugs, flower-patterned glass on the gas lamps, and a wardrobe with suspiciously pink accents. It wasn't tacky, precisely, just -- overeager. They had been remarkably quiet about the changes Susan had subsequently made, which leveled out the color palette and stripped the room of its unnecessary trimmings. She had, however, kept the chair. The chair was comfortable. On nights like this, she needed the chair.
The letter she was gripping in her left hand meant she'd have to give up the chair, and the room, and the Gaiters, because the letter was offering her a new job. But for once, considering what her grandfather usually got her into, it was a perfectly sensible job -- and that was somehow the hardest thing to swallow.
In the back of her mind was the nagging memory of the conversation, just a fragment really, that had started all this:
TELL ME, ARE YOU LIKELY TO TAKE UP TEACHING ON A LARGER SCALE?
"I hadn't planned to."
Hadn't planned to, no. But here was the letter of acceptance from the Frout Academy, which she'd received this afternoon -- after an interview with the headmistress during which, Susan had to admit, she'd presented herself as the perfect person to fill the open position. She felt somehow responsible about it. Walking into the school and talking to the instructors, with their perpetual naivete about how to handle the darling children in their classes, * had left her with the unshakable urge to Straighten It All Out. She'd even taken a certain pleasure in speaking with another young teacher -- oh, dear, it was already another teacher -- in the hallway, who'd merrily said, "I always strive to encourage children to the best of their abilities," and then stared back at Susan as she calmly pulled the rug out with, "Oh, I always encourage them beyond their abilities. I find that very often they get there."
And as quickly as that, she'd gotten herself into this.
Which meant, she thought with a sigh as she looked away from the letter and toward a small portrait of Gawain and Twyla by her bed, she'd have to get herself out of this one.
[ * ...these darlings being the sort that tormented the awkward children, mocked the teachers, and generally arranged it so they got as much of an education as they'd have received by staying at home and studying the carpet.]
"Oh, my," was, perhaps not surprisingly, the first thing Mrs. Gaiter said.
"Yes," her husband said distantly. "Well."
Susan sighed and waited for a reply that lasted more than one syllable. It took a few moments for this to occur, which gave her a chance to look around the study.
She'd been in here a handful of times, but she wasn't that familiar with the details. At one glance she took in the small library -- more frequently dusted than it was used -- and the drinks cabinet, then the desk with its clutter of business papers, and the massive painting above it of a hunting expedition, which was clearly there to present an air of class. It was all, for this family, a bit predictable. In fact, the most unusual sight in this room was Mr. and Mrs. Gaiter being present at the same time. They had hired Susan as a governess because their social and business circles so frequently kept them from the home, and, more often than not, each other; Susan sometimes wondered how the children had been born in the first place.
That was, come to think of it, almost solely how they were being referred to in this conversation -- just "the children." Susan began to grit her teeth after the third occurrence. They did have names.
"Well. Have you -- have you told the children about this?" Mrs. Gaiter asked.
"Not yet. I wanted to speak with you first, of course."
"Naturally. Yes." Mr. Gaiter managed the two words, then fell silent for a moment before continuing. "May I ask why you'll be leaving us?"
Mrs. Gaiter jumped in, her eyes slightly wide. "Is it... a family matter?"
Susan resisted the urge to sigh again. She knew what was meant. The Gaiters had always been in awe of Susan's lineage -- the publicly-known part of it, at any rate -- because she was, after all, a duchess. They were still a bit stunned by her apparent lack of concern over this. The Gaiters were desperately ambitious to raise their own standing, and never knew what to make of the fact that once they got there, they might run into more people like Susan. It wasn't at all what they had been expecting. She sometimes felt she ought to put on a bit of a show, just to reassure them.
The last question they'd asked her, though, was a bit tricky to answer. Susan eventually settled for, "Not directly. My grandfather recommended me for a teaching position."
In person, no less -- well, personification, anyway, Susan thought, her lip twitching. What a scene that must have been for Madam Frout. Most people, knowing perfectly well that Death did not actually walk about the Disc on two bony legs, simply refused to see this when he approached to speak to them. * They merely assumed that the man was dreadfully thin, poor thing, must be somewhat ill, but he's a... compelling speaker, isn't he, and hasn't it gone a bit cold in this room?
[ * This was true when he wasn't actually there to collect them, of course. During that final conversation, perception becomes much clearer. ]
Mrs. Gaiter, without Susan's knowledge of the strangeness of that recommendation, latched onto the part she immediately understood. "Teaching," she repeated. She looked at her husband, who glanced back and shrugged a bit helplessly. Yet another un-duchess-like thing to do, they were no doubt thinking. "Erm... which school?"
"The Frout Academy," Susan replied.
"Good school," Mrs. Gaiter said absently. "I'd considered it once for the children...."
"Bit wishy-washy, though, with that Learning Through Fun business."
Susan, who had considered much the same thing on seeing it in practice, nevertheless tensed at the inherent insult.
Mrs. Gaiter, who was apparently used to offhand comments like this from her husband, ignored it, blinked and asked, "And when will you be starting there?"
"The term begins at the beginning of next month. I've agreed to report in two weeks for orientation."
They both nodded, looked at each other, and finally back at Susan. Mrs. Gaiter managed, "Well, we'll be very sorry to see you go... I imagine the children will miss you dreadfully...."
Susan, who'd been trying not to think about that, suddenly found it difficult to do anything except nod in reply. And then, as the Gaiters trailed off and began to look at each other again, more nervously this time, Susan took the opportunity to excuse herself from the conversation.
Neither of her employers noticed that this did not involve leaving the room.
Susan merely drummed her fingers on the chair arm for a moment, then rose from her spot across the desk from the Gaiters. They were already talking animatedly, completely oblivious to their ex-governess-to-be, who had exercised one of her family talents and simply vanished from sight.
She watched them in debate there, growing ever more tense as the conversation tone escalated. If the Gaiters could have seen her, they would have noticed three faint, scratch-like lines appear on her cheek beneath the incipient flush.
"I don't know who we're going to find on such short notice, really I don't --"
"There's that Tracy girl we spoke to last month, while visiting the Foster's; she was looking for a new job, remember?"
Susan did. She'd met her. She was looking for a new job because she was ready to be fired from her existing one, and no wonder.
"I wasn't convinced she would be worth it. Perhaps we could put out an advert again...."
"And go through another round of interviews, and Gawain barging in and interrupting each time to ask if she liked horses, or what her opinions were about giving out treats, or what she was prepared to do about the monsters under the bed...."
"Depends on what sort," Susan had replied smoothly, to the Gaiters' horrified surprise, and Gawain's rapt attention. "A bogeyman, for instance, can be defeated with a blanket...."
"She's disabused them of most of those notions, anyway," Mr. Gaiter muttered. "Although they're awfully peculiar about that poker."
"I don't know -- I just don't know," Mrs. Gaiter said, passing one hand over her face. "We'll just have to start looking, and start looking quickly."
Susan grimaced. The thought of them hurrying into any decisions on this made her nervous. In fact, the prospect of anyone else looking after (she winced as she thought it) the children made her nervous. There was that Responsibility thing nagging at her again -- that worry that whoever else was in line wouldn't do it properly.
She eventually turned away. If she listened to much more of this conversation, she'd start having second thoughts. She walked out of the room to go check on the -- on Gawain and Twyla one more time, who were safely tucked into bed, and, as Susan saw when she peeked underneath the beds and into the wardrobe, still alone in the room. And then she went downstairs for her coat, and headed outside.
If anyone could have watched her go, they might have noticed that in her state of agitation, she hadn't bothered to open a door once.
---- To be continued, as Susan tries to go out for a quiet drink and instead gets set off on a side project from her grandfather, which doesn't quite take her mind off things....