Fandom(s): Doctor Who
Characters: Headmaster Rocastle, Joan Redfern
Word Count: 2032
Summary: The headmaster wrestles with replacing the resigned teacher quickly, so that the students' education does not suffer.
The distant clanging bell heralded the growing rumble of fifty pairs of schoolboy feet, clad in hard-soled shoes, emerging from the classrooms and thundering down the mahogany staircases, out into the warm September sunshine. The young gentlemen were instructed to maintain decorum at all times, but even the most hardened teacher could not expect them to hold in their excitement during their short break in afternoon classes. As the herd rushed by the teachers’ lounge, neither of its occupants looked up: even though school had only been in session for two weeks, they were already accustomed to this daily occurrence.
Both of the teachers jumped when the door burst open three minutes later and Rocastle strode in. As usual, the headmaster's expression was stern, but it carried a rarer emotion: frustration. Dumping his portfolio and books on a table, he snatched the mortarboard from his head and ran his hand over his closely-cropped gray hair as he began pacing around the room, his black academic robe billowing behind him. "I can't continue to do this. I'm an English teacher! I don't know enough about the Crimean War to teach it! And they can tell. They're testing me. I know it!" He dropped his cap on a nearby table.
"Welcome back to the classroom, Headmaster." Looking up from his papers, Hawkins, the languages teacher, laid his pen on the table and shot Rocastle a mocking grin. "It's been a few years for you, hasn't it?"
"Since before you signed on here. Five years, perhaps."
"You'll pick it right back up," Andrews, the maths teacher, chimed in. He placed his bookmark into his book and clapped it shut, then picked up his teacup. "Give it some time, Henry."
"I don't have time." Circling back to the table, he grabbed one of the books and shook it at Andrews. "I'm reading only one chapter ahead of my lessons, and I don't remember a bit of it from my school days. That was over thirty years ago! How am I supposed to teach it?"
"Skip to something you know? The Boer Wars, maybe?" Andrews sipped his tea.
Jerking straight, Rocastle lifted his chin with a supercilious air. "It is my duty to provide the boys with not only a superior education, but also a sense of continuity. They were in the middle of the Crimea when Davenport resigned, and they need to complete it."
Hawkins picked his pen back up and marked something on the paper in front of him. "They'll probably learn as much from you as they would have from him."
Rocastle set his jaw. "Davenport was our oldest and finest teacher, Hawkins."
With a bark of laughter, the languages teacher rolled his eyes. "Davenport was a hidebound old grouch. All he did was read to the boys from his dusty books and have them recite it back to him."
"That's all I'm doing."
Hawkins shook his pen at the headmaster. "But you have an excuse. You're just tiding them over until they get a real teacher."
Rocastle stepped over to the languages teacher, towering over the seated man. "Davenport may not have been receptive to your new-fangled methods and ideas, Roger, but that does not mean he was ineffective."
"The fact that he was ineffective means that he was ineffective," countered Hawkins, crossing his arms. He was not cowed at all by the headmaster's stance. "He was too concerned with his status and his pride and making the boys fear him that he didn't teach them a damned thing. This school is better off without him. Anyone we get will be an improvement, and we're bound to get one soon."
The headmaster began wandering around the room again, shaking his head. "Not soon enough for my tastes. The advert should have appeared yesterday, all across England. I think Phillips even paid for one up in Glasgow. But we've at least a week before we get any applicants." He dropped into an armchair. "And even if we find someone who's qualified, who knows how long it will be before he can get here? But all that is immaterial. We are already two weeks into the year. Any teacher with the level of talent we require here at Farringham is already hired elsewhere."
Andrews placed his teacup back on its saucer. "Now, you're just being a pessimist, Henry."
"I'm being a realist. It might not have been so bad if Davenport had resigned during the summer." He held up his hand to stop Andrews' protest. "Yes, yes, I know. I'm not being charitable. He was holding out as long he could and only left when Dorothy got worse. She needs to be in London. But if we'd had a month or more before school started, we would have had our pick of applicants. Now, we'll be scraping the bottom of the barrel."
"I'm sure we'll get some fine candidates." Hawkins' tone was placating.
"That's why you're not headmaster, Hawkins. You haven't yet learned to see how the rest of England affects this one little school." Sighing, Rocastle heaved himself out of his chair. "A cup of tea, and back to reading about the war." Striding over to the cupboard, he poured himself a cup and retreated to the corner chair with his book.
Silence descended on the room as the teachers returned to their employments. It was broken fifteen minutes later by the bell for classes and a second rush of students, this time heading in from the outdoors. A few minutes later, the lounge door opened and a woman in a dress and apron, with her light brown hair tied up in a bun, entered, carrying a large, thick envelope.
"Ah, Headmaster! I had hoped I would find you here."
"Matron Redfern." The headmaster, as well as the other two teachers, rose from their seats to greet the school's nurse, though Andrews and Hawkins sat back down immediately afterwards. "How can I help you?"
"An express arrived for you. I got it from Ames just now." She crossed the room and held the envelope out.
"Ah, thank you." Setting his book on a nearby table, Rocastle accepted the envelope and carefully unsealed it. As the matron stepped to the cupboard to tidy the tea things, he pulled its contents out and leafed through it, his face slowly darkening with a puzzled frown.
The matron peered at him. "Is everything all right, Headmaster?"
"Er, yes. Yes, it is. Everything is fine." He glanced at Hawkins and Andrews. "This is an applicant for Davenport's position."
"You see! People are responding in excellent time!" As he caught the look on Rocastle's face, Andrews' broad grin fell. "Is something wrong with him?"
Rocastle shuffled back to the first paper in the sheaf. "His name is John Smith. A friend of someone on the faculty perhaps? You'd think someone would tell me if they were recommending a friend."
Andrews shrugged. "Not one of mine. Why do you think that?"
"It's been a day since the advert went out." He shook the sheaf at the maths teacher. "This has arrived too quickly."
"Well, sir, that's what an express is for, isn't it?" The matron cocked her head with an encouraging smile.
"Look at this." He handed the papers around to the other faculty members. "Honours at the University of Birmingham. An excellent record at King Edward's School -"
"Oh, that is a fine school!" Hawkins nodded to Matron Redfern. "I applied there when I first graduated from university."
Rocastle continued to recite the curriculum vitae. "Awards for excellence. Strong history of extracurricular activities for the boys. And community activities. He's even enclosed letters of recommendation, from the headmaster of King Edward's School and some colleagues."
"He sounds perfect for us." Hawkins looked up from the paper he was looking over to see the opinions of the nurse and the other teacher, who nodded at him in agreement.
"Too perfect," the headmaster grunted.
"Oh, come now, Henry." Andrews stood up and exchanged papers with the headmaster. "I know you have to weigh each candidate carefully, but there's something to be said about too much suspicion."
"If he is so excellent, why is he applying for a position now?"
"Here. In his letter." Matron Redfern held up the two sheets she was inspecting. "He says that familial obligations prevented him from returning to King Edward's School by the start of the school year and he is now looking for a new, permanent position."
"Ah," Rocastle murmured as he scanned over the sheet he had acquired from Andrews. "Aha! He has no military experience. That is a must for this institution."
"I don't have military experience," remarked Hawkins.
Andrews piped up immediately. "Neither do I."
The headmaster pursed his lips. "A history teacher at our school must have it."
The maths teacher shook his head. "That's not a requirement. You know that. You're simply looking for a reason to say no."
The matron held up her papers again. "Look at the rest of his letter. I understand that you are attempting to fill this position quickly and I expect that you would be hesitant to offer a permanent position to someone with little or no knowledge of their abilities or suitability. I am willing to move to your village and fill the post for three months, during which you may evaluate my performance and make your decision or locate a more suitable candidate for your school. That is a very reasonable offer."
Rocastle snorted. "Too reasonable. He sounds desperate."
Andrews threw up his hands in frustration. "What could possibly be the matter?"
"Too fast, too talented, too accommodating, too perfect!" Rocastle paced around the room, his hands clasped behind his back, crumpling the paper he held. "Call it a soldier's intuition. When things are too perfect, it's a trap."
The maths teacher stared at him, dumbfounded. "A soldier’s intuition?" he finally sputtered. "This is a school, Henry, not an army, and we are not at war. If I'm not mistaken, you seem to think that hiring this man will ruin Farringham. Be reasonable. The worst that could happen is that his credentials are falsified and you have to let him go, and the students learn nothing for a few weeks.”
"Hire him just for the three months, and use the time to find a teacher that's flawed enough for your peace of mind." Rocastle glared at Hawkins for that jibe, and the languages teacher responded with a cheeky grin.
"You know," prodded Andrews, "if you sent off an express today, he might be here in as quickly as two days. Only two more days of lectures about the Crimean War."
Rocastle wagged a finger at the maths teacher. "Now, that is hardly fair."
"I really don't see your objection, Headmaster." Matron Redfern kept her tone neutral and reasonable. "Hiring this man would provide us with a teacher trained to teach history, which is what our boys need, and give you the time to find the right man to fill this post, if he doesn't meet your standards."
"All right! All right!" Rocastle strode around the room, retrieving John Smith's papers from the three faculty members. "I'll consider it. I will discuss this with Phillips, and we will send off an express today if we decide to hire him." Throwing the three of them stern looks, he fetched his books and disappeared into the corridor.
Silence settled as the three faculty members stared at the door for a moment. Matron Redfern clasped her hands together in front of her. "I feel very sorry for Mr. Smith."
"Why's that?" Hawkins brushed his sandy hair back as he leaned back in his chair.
The matron stepped to the cupboard to pour herself some tea. "The headmaster doesn't like being wrong. If he hires him, he'll run him through the wringer to find something that will prove he was right all along."
Hawkins shook his head. "I wouldn't worry. If Mr. Smith is half as good as his curriculum vitae claims, he's exactly what we need."
"If only Rocastle would recognise that." Andrews returned to his seat and picked up his book. "Ah, well. Time will tell."