Miss Perumal smoothed out the wrinkles on her spiral-patterned sheets. Reynie was the one who was in trouble, but somehow she felt butterflies in her own stomach.
The children (along with Mr. Benedict, Number Two, and sadly without Milligan who was still in the hospital) had returned from their ''adventures'' the afternoon before last. There had been scoldings and hints at punishments to come, but these unpleasant things had been overshadowed with relief and admiration for the brave children.
The household had settled down for the most part. Milligan was to come home tomorrow and continue healing from the comfort of Mr. Benedict's house. Mr. Benedict and Number Two had finally convinced the rest of the household that they had indeed survived their abduction and were –wholly and indisputably- not ghosts or hallucinations.
Now the matter of retribution needed to be dealt with and Miss Perumal did not like it any more than the children did. Over the last year she had done her best with Reynie, trying to make the awkward transition from mentor to mother as smoothly as possible, but while she had plenty experience teaching children, she had never before attempted to raise one.
The cyclone in her heart picked up speed as she pondered how to deal with this… situation. What Reynie and his friends had done was bold but well-intended, not wrong so much as upsetting. And dangerous.
What was the appropriate punishment for something bold, well-intended, upsetting and dangerous?
Miss Perumal's adopted son called out to her in Tamil. It was his usual word for her, which pleased her very much.
Reynie peaked inside the door and, apparently satisfied that Miss Perumal was alone in the room, slipped in quietly and took a seat across from her.
Miss Perumal fixed her face into a stern, no-nonsense expression and decided not to beat around the bush. ''You've gone too far, mister. Running away when we were already worried sick about Mr. Benedict and Number Two was rash and inconsiderate. You also forced Milligan to follow you into danger. What if we had lost all seven of you in one day?''
Reynie made no attempt respond. He sat quite still and tried his best to hold her gaze.
She sighed softly. ''You've come against Curtain before and seceded, but you're not invincible Reynie; and neither are your friends.''
''We were afraid the whole time,'' Reynie was careful to keep all tones of defiance out of his voice. ''but Number Two is our friend, and Mr. Benedict is a genius….''
Miss Perumal noticed Reynie hesitating before going on and knew he was about to say someone she wouldn't like.
''His life is worth more than ours.''
Miss Perumal was inclined to leap up and shake Reynie until he realized the ridiculousness of his words, then she came up with a better reaction. She curled her lip into a wry frown and asked sharply, ''How do you think he would feel about that?''
Reynie bit his lip. ''He's humble, Amma-''
''-and caring. He would rather die than have you children lay down your lives for him, and if you ever say anything like that again I'll spank you.''
Reynie's eyes moved away from hers. A small frown played on his lips. Miss Perumal resolved to have Mr. Benedict speak with him. It would do Reynie good to hear it from the gentle man's own mouth.
''I need you to understand the seriousness of your actions,'' I sound like my Amma, ''so you are grounded –inside- for a month. No TV, no radio, no newspaper.''
Miss Perumal knew Reynie didn't really like the TV or radio anyway, but the children were always clamoring for news of the ''outside world''. This was the best she could do.
Reynie nodded obediently. She could find no hint of disappointment or relief in his eyes and wondered what he thought of her choice. Mr. and Mrs. Washington had chosen something along the same lines, and Mr. Benedict had given Constance a load of chores and a series of the least aggressive warnings Miss Perumal had ever heard. Milligan was unable to punish anybody from the hospital.
How much of that did Reynie know? Probably all of it.
What's done is done, and what an obvious statement. I hope he –they- learn from this. I don't ever want to be that afraid again.
I tried to use Stewart's style, I hope it worked. He mentioned that the children were in trouble when they got home but he never said exactly how any of them were punished, so I thought writing about it would be a good chance to have a mother\son piece about Miss Perumal and Reynie. Milligan's ''lecture'' was one of the highlights of the book for me, I swear. :)