The Wall is Mended
With one accord Jill Pole and Eustace Scrubb ran inside Experiment House and to their respective dormitories to take off their picturesque Narnian clothes to put on the ugly and practical school clothes that are inevitable in any school in England and which manage new depths in a thoroughly modern establishment which goes to the lengths of making patent kinds of underwear a part of the uniform.
By the time they had changed and managed to stroll outside again there was no hole in the wall at the back of the shrubbery and the huge lion was gone. The police had arrived and were staring with disbelief at a lack of hole and lack of lion and lack of people with swords while the headmistress had hysterics.
One of the policemen quietly led the head to sit in the police car, talking to her quietly and kindly.
The sergeant glanced over at the two neat looking children.
"Laddie, miss, would you mind telling me what has been going on here?" he said.
"What all the time sir?" asked Eustace.
The sergeant had got out his pencil and notebook and paused after licking the end of his pencil.
"You mean the…..incident….today is not the first?" he said.
"Well sir, the last term is all we know and the first two weeks of this term" said Jill "But it's been pretty dire."
"Indeed?" said the sergeant.
"Oh yes, sir" said Eustace "The headmistress believes that bullies and thieves and the like are more interesting than ordinary kids who just want to be left alone."
"And people like Cholmodley Major are allowed to – to manhandle girls" said Jill "And make them show…. Well it's very embarrassing. But apparently it's a case if inappropriate development and he is to be pitied. The girls with bruises and embarrassment aren't to be pitied. We aren't interesting enough."
"Like little kids with Chinese burns and bruises who are terrified aren't to be pitied because they aren't interesting either" said Eustace "She can't see normal things sir; and if there aren't enough interesting psychoses I fancy she makes things up."
"Like lions and men with swords?" said the sergeant.
"Oh dear, not again" said Jill. "And she actually called the police this time? It must be getting worse."
The sergeant scribbled furiously.
"I think the best thing is for me to come and see the second mistress" he said "Or is it a master? I can't say I approve of this whaddya call it, co-education."
"Nor do I" said Jill "And it's a second mistress. Though Eustace is a chum, it's not much fun with some of the bigger boys looking in a horrid way at girls. My parents thought it would be good to grow up not embarrassed at being around boys, but I think they expected there to be some kind of discipline in the school not the strongest allowed to do as they want so long as they were interesting. And when I told them that nobody got punished for bullying and things they didn't believe me."
"And MY parents are progressive" said Eustace gloomily. "They believe that all children naturally develop an hierarchy based on strength of character and learn to exhibit self control. They're a bit barmy I'm afraid."
"I'll say" said the sergeant. "Unfortunately there isn't a law against parents being barmy. As for your parents, miss, I imagine that a lot of things are going to be coming out about this school and they'll have to believe you."
"I am glad" said Jill fiercely "It's rotten having your own parents think you're telling lies just to conceal homesickness and then you feel more rotten and the bullies pick on you more because they can see it."
"Well I fancy THAT will change, miss" said the sergeant "We'll have a few policewomen up here, and the police surgeon and someone from the education authority. I'll just take your names if I may….."
Eustace and Jill took Sergeant Blackett – such his name turned out to be – to see Miss Berringer, the second mistress. Miss Berringer kept her position in the school by not getting caught handing out some small discipline.
Eustace had been on the receiving end the previous term, and when he thought back to his angry resentment he squirmed.
Miss Berringer looked kindly on Jill and with some wariness on Eustace whom she had seen behaving much better since the holidays.
"Miss Berringer knows how to pick out bad behaviour" said Eustace to Sergeant Blackett "And if you're behaving badly if you've any kind of fairness in you, you realise pretty soon that sometimes you pay for your rotten acts. I fell into the cowardly habit of snitching last term because it was easier than being beaten up; but my cousins stayed with me over the holiday and they helped me to find a backbone."
"I'm delighted to hear it Eustace" said Miss Berringer "And you have behaved very well this term. What is going on exactly officer?" she addressed Sergeant Blackett.
"Well, Ma'am, it seems the headmistress has run mad, imagining lions and broken walls and armed ruffians and all" said Blackett "As if there weren't seemingly enough little Borstal thugs here already."
Miss Berringer had been about to protest that they were not THAT bad, when the thought of a beautiful, elephant sized leonine hindquarters made her recall that she had been brought up to tell the truth.
"Some of them are very badly behaved" she said "Too badly behaved for any decent school to keep; but Miss Candler liked to psychoanalyse them."
"A good birching might have done more good" grunted the sergeant who did not believe in softness for criminal behaviour.
"Quite possibly sergeant; but I have a sick sister who is dependant on me keeping my job" said Miss Berringer "And this is the only school near to where she lives so I can be on hand. I cannot go against Miss Candler."
"You will be able to if she gets sacked" said Sergeant Blackett. "Or put away for seeing lions that aren't there."
Miss Berringer was about to open her mouth to mention that there HAD been a lion; but Jill slipped a hand into hers and smiled up at her as confidingly – and it may be said with more genuine feeling – as she had done when she was fooling the ettins.
Miss Berringer decided that there was a time for total truth and a time when not mentioning details like large shining lions was still not telling a lie.
"Now Jill, Eustace, perhaps you will tell me what you were doing in those odd clothes and with weapons and who the other boy was and why the lion was not as frightening as a lion should be" said Miss Berringer when she had got rid of Sergeant Blackett.
The children exchanged glances.
"It takes a lot of swallowing for a grown-up" said Eustace reluctantly "And I'm not sure if we're supposed to talk about it; I think if you didn't mind, unless there was a sign from Aslan we'll say nothing and take any discipline for that if it's cheek."
That was unlike the old Eustace!
"Whatever it is, my dear you have grown from it" said Miss Berringer softly. "I am sorry; I would have liked to have known more."
There was a loud and definite purr; and a breath of warm wind.
"Oh Aslan! THANK you!" said Jill. "Well Eustace, you were cheeky enough to ask but I should say that's a sign, wouldn't you?"
"It is rather" said Eustace. "Would you mind if we had a glass of water, Miss Berringer? This is a long story."
"I'll ring for tea" said Miss Berringer "At least if we are to have discipline here servants will be easier to keep! And I fancy the despicable dozen are lying low for the moment."
With tea and bread and butter – the delicate and thin kind with enough butter on rather than thick uneven slices and butter spread anyhow as is more normal school fare – Eustace proceeded to tell his story, not sparing himself. Miss Berringer listened with absorbed attention.
Jill took up the take of how she had become involved to give Eustace a break.
Miss Berringer reflected that at any other time, or hearing his second hand she would have credited two children with an excellent imagination and no more. But the wall had been destroyed and remade; and lions that size – SUCH a lion that she longed to run to, and bury her face in his fur and sob out her fears for her sister – just did not belong in prosaic England.
"Your sister will come to me when it is her time" the voice was speaking to her only; and Miss Berringer was somehow comforted.
"Aslan… we know him by a different name here, don't we?" she said.
"Oh you DO understand" said Eustace. "My parents think all that sort of thing is nonsense; will you teach us about Him here?"
"I will" said Miss Berringer "I will hold Sunday School classes and anyone who wishes may come" she added. Some of the other children might want to attend too; and it would also that way not smack of favouritism. "You know that I must be stern with you because you have given me this gift of knowledge?"
"Yes ma'am" said Eustace "Caspian always expected more of Rillian than of anyone else. It's the same sort of thing. Please, ma'am, I'm not sure how many of THEM are curable."
"I'm more interested in the majority than in a few little borstalites" said Miss Berringer firmly.
Sergeant Blackett had meanwhile encountered Cholmondely Major in rounding up the bullies as named by Jill.
"Look here sergeant" said Cholmondely "You can't do a thing about me; my father's a chief constable. I'll have you sacked if you try."
Sergeant Blackett was angry.
"You try that, son" he said "I do my job without fear or favour. But thank you for information to pass on to MY chief constable – who is NOT your father – that yours is corrupt. I'm sure he'll be very interested."
Cholmondely Major tried to hit Sergeant Blackett, which was a bad move; and instead of being one more naughty child to be questioned found himself shortly in handcuffs and in a police car under arrest for assaulting a police officer.
It would probably not come to court but it would make the newspapers even if the boy could not be named. 'Chief Constable's son assaults policeman after leading school riot' would not make pretty reading.
It could have made things nasty for Sergeant Blackett if the nasty boy's probably equally nasty father HAD been chief constable of this county; but fortunately Major Cholmondely had been limited in the number of schools prepared to accept his wretched offspring.
In the meantime, the atmosphere of telling of one's misdeeds for maximum attention meant that most of the bullies told all the things they had done with a kind of lugubrious glee. Blackett reflected how sad it was that they seemed to expect rewards for such aberrant behaviour. Well a confession was always good to have, and with signed statements – he had found a wet sort of schoolmaster to be their parent figure so nobody could accuse the police of coercion – there would be a lot of ructions and certainly the openings for civil suits against the school if not criminal proceedings against some of the bullies!
Miss Berringer spent a lot of time on the telephone that afternoon asking certain parents to remove their children, and assuring some angry fathers that as the police were in the school, any assaults upon her person WOULD be prosecuted.
She barely got any further than telling Major Cholmondely that his older son had been arrested before the telephone almost exploded in vituperation and a veritable cannonade of verbal abuse. Miss Berringer was tempted just to hang up but decided against it; and when he paused for breath she said tartly,
"I'm sure the Kaiser was very impressed by your harsh language IF you got close enough to the front line to deliver such a barrage. I however am not and I suggest if you want more information you apply to the correct authorities. Good day!" and THEN she hung up.
She had heard the operator giggling on the line just before she did so however.
Miss Berringer could finally act as she saw fit; and she intended to do so.
The police had finished with the despicable dozen; and of the ten Miss Berringer had intended to expel, Cholmondely Major was not a problem being in custody. The other nine she summoned to her office with the cold announcement that their supposed many repentances to Miss Candler appeared to be nothing but pretence and so they would have to suffer the consequence of expulsion and would go to the infirmary forthwith to be quarantined until their parents arrived and that if they did not see fit to stay there, they would find it uncomfortable to be anywhere else if she was forced to take all their clothes except hospital gowns.
That put paid to the dishonourable ones.
And without Cholmondely there, they WERE still children and would not consider assaulting an adult. Cholmondely might have incited them to do so; as a policeman's son he feared not mammon. Miss Berringer supposed she should be glad not to have a Bishop's son as the children of churchmen reputedly feared neither God nor mammon according to the old saying.
Eustace and Jill gathered up the other upper thirds and a large proportion of the lower fourth too, though in that school, being progressive, they were called 'first years' and 'second years' because the normal method of counting was too difficult for the erstwhile Head. With their new-found confidence they had a charisma that meant that the other children followed them, mostly fairly listlessly.
"Look here" said Eustace, who was still rather inclined to lecture "We juniors have just been freed from tyranny and the police have taken away Cholmondely Major and the rest of Them are going to be expelled; Pole and I did some eavesdropping" he explained hastily "And Miss Berringer is in charge. Now she's a good egg."
"That's not what you said last term, Scrub" said one of the other boys.
"Last term I made an ass of myself" said Eustace "I grew up a bit in the hols with my cousins, all right? Anyway, what I want to say is, there's going to be rules and stuff from now on I reckon and those rules are what protect us little kids from rotters like Them. So I reckon it's up to us to do our best to obey the rules and show up inspectors that Miss Berringer can do a better job than Candlewax did. Right?"
"I'm with you Scrub!" squeaked little Spivvins, whose secret Eustace had kept even when his arm was well twisted and pins stuck in him by Edith Winterblott.
"Why should we?" said Edith Jackle, one of Their toadies, in the second year.
"Because if I were your, Jackle, I'd keep very quiet when They aren't here to protect you any more" said Jill "We accept that people sneak out of fear and to prevent being attended to by Them but it doesn't mean that you won any popularity awards by doing so. Scrub and I thought you all might like to know what we found out; and be ready to adapt to this being a proper school. But get yourselves in trouble if you like; I don't care."
On the whole the group were murmuring assent; when things are frightening and different, anyone who will stand out as a clear leader to reassure is a figure who will be followed; and Eustace realised to his sudden horror that some of the juniors were starting to call out questions to him and expected him to have the answers! He held up a hand.
"One at a time" he said. "Blackiston, yes I am sure that They are going. And Pole actually saw Cholmondely Major being led to a police car in handcuffs. Cholmondely Minor, I don't know if you are going to be withdrawn or not. You might want to make a clean start; nobody blames you for having to tell you brother things but if you want to start anew here without him I should think most people will be fair enough to give you a fresh start; and if anyone tries to bully you because they dared not get their own back on your brother when he was around, well any such bully will have me to deal with."
"Well said" agreed Jill "Tim Cholmondely can't help his brother. If he starts being like him when he's no longer a junior then we'll step on that behaviour, Scrub and me. And no, Jackle, that doesn't mean we're going to replace the bullies because we'll only respond to bullies. That's the difference. Like England fighting the Nazis because they're bullies; they started it and the lions of England are going to finish it" she added proudly.
"Then we are all agreed to help out Miss Berringer by following her lead? Excellent" said Eustace. "May I suggest that as we are supposed to be doing prep right now, we actually surprise our teachers and get down to some work? I for one do not wish to leave school an ignoramus fit only to be employed as a – a gravedigger or something."
It cannot be said after a term and a bit of total slacking on the part of the first years, and another whole year of the same for the second years, that this was met with universal approval; but it is a measure of Eustace's Narnia-gained charisma that the youngsters went unwillingly but obediently to their desks to get out books to study.
It would take them a long time to catch up with children of their own age in reasonable schools; but catch up they eventually would.
And the reign of fear was over.
It may be noted that overnight the name board saying 'Experiment House' came down and a new one commissioned by Miss Berringer went up in its place declaring the school to be 'Lioncourt Hall'.