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Title: A Teacher and a Housemaid: Four O'Clock in Early September
Fandom(s): Doctor Who
Characters: John Smith, Joan Redfern
Pairing(s): None
Rating: G
Genre: Adventure
Word Count: 2115

Summary: John Smith explores the school he's just taken a post at, and meets some of the faculty.

[ Master Post ]

Oblique references to Circular Time: Autumn

If one pays close enough attention to the way a writer words his essays, one can tell quite a lot about his personality. John had only been teaching at this school for four days now, and he thought he had a pretty good grasp on a couple of the boys in his classes. Take Hutchinson, for example. His style was disdainful and mocking, often pretentious, as if he felt that the subject matter - the wars in the Americas in the previous century - were not worth his time; he was probably quite the bully in his house.

John tapped three paragraphs with his thumb. Except these. The three paragraphs were clever and insightful, not just rephrasings of the readings. The style was not like anyone else's in that class. So whose? He picked up his pen then paused, tapping the handle against his lips. A younger housemate. Someone easily forced into doing his work for him. It had to be. He just needed to figure out which one; this unknown boy was brilliant and worth cultivating.

Screwing the cap back on, he set the pen down, then stretched his back. He'd been at this too long, since his last class had ended, and he really needed to take a walk. It would serve the double purpose of giving him more opportunity to memorise the layout of the manor house that made up the main part of the school. He still wasn't used to it, and had already spent an hour prowling the halls after getting lost after dinner two days ago.

Today's circuit would be the exploration of the second floor. One wing was dubbed Lloyd House and was home to half of the student population; the other half lived in a detached building on the grounds, called Innes House. The boys were fiercely loyal to their houses, and they provided some friendly rivalry in academic and sporting pursuits. The rest of the second floor was devoted to staff offices, except for the music room, which was the largest chamber on the level. John strolled around both wings, noting the locations of the stairs with respect to prominent landmarks in each of the hallways. One of the landings had a wide window and, pausing to gaze out at the grounds, John noticed that a group of boys was out on the lawn, setting up a game of cricket. He smiled; he used to love cricket, when he was younger.

Without consciously making a decision to do so, John found himself strolling out of the school to watch the impromptu cricket game as the bells in the chapel struck four o'clock. The early September sun cast long shadows across the lawn, reminding him that the daylight would be dying soon, and returning again, weak and cool, in another fourteen hours, the cycle of the beginning of autumn. It was paralleled by the cricket game he was watching, really. There weren't enough boys for two teams, so two boys were the batsmen, and the rest were fielding. When a batsman was dismissed, one of the fielders replaced him as batsman and the boy took his place on the field. It was a grand circular dance, with boys leaving and returning, like the light of the sun every day. The idea of repeated renewal appealed to him, as opposed to a single game or day, occurring once, a linear event, with a single beginning and a single, definite end.

John blinked. When had his simple, pragmatic self ever turned so philosophical? For a moment, his lips curved in self-mockery, and he idly wondered where he got such strange notions. Silly things.

Standing far enough away from the cricket field that the boys knew that he wasn't there to oversee their game or command them to return to their houses, he watched them play. The shouts of the boys, the crack! of the bat on the ball, and the frantic running after the bright red ball or between the wickets both entertained and soothed him. They were at their best here, competing with their peers freely, unfettered by the demands of education and discipline, unconcerned with time wasted or duties being shirked. Those could wait.

"Ah, cricket! A fine sport for young gentlemen!"

John turned to see another teacher approaching from behind him, a shorter, somewhat rotund man with peppered hair. "Ah, good afternoon, Mr. -" His memory failed him and he coloured. He only remembered that this was the maths teacher.

The older man smiled. "Andrews. George Andrews." Coming abreast of John, he clapped him on the back companionably. "No worries, Mr. Smith. Too many new names and faces to commit to memory, I daresay. I'm not offended, not in the slightest. You may call me George."

John smiled in relief and nodded. "George. I'm John."

George jerked his head towards the pitch. "Do you play? There's a village team, always looking for players."

John shook his head. "Oh, I love the game, but I haven't played in such a long time, since I was a young man. Feels like it's been centuries."

The maths teacher stepped back and looked him up and down. "You're still a young man, and you've a good build for the sport. Not like some of us." He patted his round midriff with both hands. "You should have a go at it, for the rest of the season." He leaned in close and whispered. "If it's any consolation, they aren't very good, so they'd welcome you even if you didn't know which end of the bat to hold."

John held his hands up in front of him and shook his head. "Oh, I couldn't. I'd be rubbish. And I don't know anyone here yet." He could not imagine walking up to a bunch of strangers and asking to join their cricket club.

George waved dismissively. "Oh, go on! You live here now, part of the community. One day, you're going to move out of the bachelor faculty apartments into the town and you'll have to meet people. What better way than in a sporting club, where you just have to throw a ball around and not have to actually talk to anyone?" He laughed and elbowed John. "Eh?"

Crossing his arms, John smiled. "I'll consider it. I'm still getting used to it here, and there's not much time left in the season. Perhaps next year. Cricket always comes back around again."

"Fair enough. Though..." The shorter man tapped his chin. "We could also use another teacher to manage recreation here. You know, organizing games between the houses, coaching duties. Great way to get to know both the teachers and the students."

John wagged a finger at George. "Now that, that sounds far more appealing. Working with the boys and a bit of fresh air..."

He never got to finish his thought as a well-hit ball beaned one of the fielders on the forehead and the boy staggered. Both the cricket players and the two teachers rushed over to him, and the students stood back to let the adults examine their companion.

The men stood on either side of the student. "Oh, Johnson, you’re going to have a nasty bruise there," George remarked absently, as he checked the boy's eyes. “Look at me. Yes, that’s it.”

John turned to one of the few boys whose names he remembered. "Parker, run to the infirmary and tell the nurse to prepare. We'll bring him there." The boy immediately sprinted off.

"Yes." The maths teacher nodded at John. "To the nurse, unless you know more about this kind of thing than I do."

"Not at all. Here, Johnson, is it? Let me. Just relax." John gathered the boy into his arms and carefully lifted him, making sure not to jostle his head. "Please lead on. I'm not sure where the infirmary is."

George led John into the school building, followed by a handful of the students; the others had returned to what was left of their abandoned game. The infirmary was on the ground floor, in what probably had once been a very large sitting room in a wing on the opposite end of the building from the headmaster's office. It consisted of four unoccupied beds, the nurse's desk, and a few cabinets of supplies. Near one of the beds, a woman in a nurse's dress with her light brown hair arranged in a neat bun was turning down one of the beds.

Calling to John, she gestured at the bed. "Lay him here, if you please." John lowered him onto the bed, and the nurse cradled the boy's head to make sure it was gently positioned on the pillow. "Thank you." As John pulled the blankets up to cover the boy's torso, the nurse examined her charge, and he stepped back to get out of the way.

“Now, what exactly happened?” The nurse placed a hand on the boy’s shoulder and shushed him. “You should rest yourself. Mr. Andrews can tell me.”

“A cricket ball. Hit well off the bat.” George stepped forward and pointed at Johnson’s forehead. “Right here. You can see, it’s starting to colour already.”

“Yes, I see.” She checked the boy’s eyes, then asked him a few simple questions, which he answered with a quiet voice. “I don’t think you have a concussion, but I’d like to keep you here for the evening to make sure. I’ll get you a bit of ice to try to keep the swelling down.” She turned to his friends. “I’ll have to ask you to clear off for a while, let him rest. You can come back after dinner, if you like, and please bring him some of his schoolbooks.” The boys thanked her and left the infirmary.

The nurse nodded at John. “Thank you for bringing him in. You’re the new history teacher, aren’t you?”

“Yes, I am. John Smith.” He extended his hand in greeting and she shook it with a formal smile.

“Matron Redfern. I run the infirmary here at Farringham.”

“She also plays mother to all of our boys," George cut in. "She keeps them in line and gives them the love they need to grow and develop. I don’t know what we’d do without her, John."

Embarrassed, she smiled and looked away. "Oh, you make me sound so grand! I assure you, I do nothing more than tend colds and bandage cricket mishaps."

"Nonsense," replied John. "Every school needs a mother's touch, for the boys to grow into fine men. I look forward to working with you, Matron Redfern." He nodded gallantly.

"Thank you, Mr. Smith. I look forward to working with you, too. But for now," she inclined her head at the boy in the bed, "Johnson does need his rest. I must ask you and Mr. Andrews to please leave us."

"Oh, certainly. Good afternoon." The two men nodded at the Matron and stepped out, bidding each other goodbye, as George was heading for his home in the village.

Climbing the stairs to his apartments, John reflected on the afternoon, having met another faculty member and gotten to know another better (though he really should have remembered George's name from earlier), become more familiar with the layout of the school, and found an extracurricular activity to get involved in. Only a few days ago, he had been apprehensive about this appointment, a new life in a strange village, meeting new colleagues and making friends, creating a home for himself. The idea of a complete change in circumstance had scared him, but now that he was here, the situation was oddly familiar and he found that he was enjoying not only getting to know the school and its people, but also the process of discovery.

On the third floor landing, he paused at the window, as he had done not long before. There were a couple of boys left on the cricket pitch, practising their bowling. Their game was all but forgotten, the cyclic rhythm of its innings interrupted by the injury of one of their companions. Of course, all things must end, but John felt a pang of sadness at the termination of the game. Pressing his lips in a thin line, he glanced one last time at the boys on the lawn, then resumed the climb to his study.