Miss Lavender’s School

We all came to Miss Lavender’s for different reasons, and in different ways.

Emma came because the Gaunts had always come to Miss Lavender’s. Her mother had come, and her mother’s mother, and her mother’s mother’s mother, all the way back to the Conquest, when Marguerite de Gaunt insisted on enrolling despite her father’s opposition. Back then, Miss Lavender’s was one of the few schools that accepted both Normans and Saxons. When I say the Gaunts are wealthy, I mean that they are very, very wealthy. We’ve all been to their house in Concord and their other house on Nantucket. They’ve made their fortune in every way possible: whaling and railroads and silicon chips. And don’t they know it! Except for Emma, who is refreshingly normal. I mean, I was worried about sharing a room with a Gaunt.

Matilda came because she had to. Her father was a Tillinghast, and the Tillinghasts are almost as old a witch family as the Gaunts. But he decided that instead of managing the family business, he was going to be an artist. And then he married another artist. His parents had died when he was young, and he had been raised by his aunt, old Matilda Tillinghast, in a large house near Boston Common. She believed in duty to one’s family, not in going off to North Carolina and painting what she considered ugly, muddy landscapes. So she cut him out of the will. That was all right, until he got sick with one of those illnesses that take all of your money if you haven’t got health insurance, which he didn’t. And so he died, and Matilda’s mother had no money and piles and piles of hospital bills. And then one day she received a letter from old Aunt Matilda saying that she would pay to send young Matilda to Miss Lavender’s, and if she did well, she would be written back into the will. No wonder Matilda was in a terrible mood the day she arrived.

Mouse came because she was hiding out. I’ve told her story elsewhere, in “Lessons with Miss Gray,” but I left out a couple of things. Like that her father was a powerful warlock who had gone very, very wrong. Her mother was one of the Wild Women of the Forest, the ones who dress in white and wear shoes of bark. Miss Emily Gray rescued her and brought her to Miss Lavender’s. She wasn’t actually a witch – witches are always human, and she was only half that. She was more like her mother than her father anyway. But Miss Lavender’s was the one place that Miss Gray could look after her and protect her.

And why did I go to Miss Lavender’s? The Graves are an old witch family too, although nothing like the Gaunts or Tillinghasts, or even the Sitgreaves before the scandal. And my guardian sent me. “Thea,” she said, “Mrs. Moth is willing to offer you a scholarship. It’s Miss Lavender’s or the public high school, and we both know what that’s going to be like.” Exactly like the public middle school: more eating lunch alone and “Hey, Graveyard. Seen any ghosts lately?” That’s what it was going to be like. Being from a witch family doesn’t exactly make you popular in rural Virginia. So I went.

And it’s a good thing too.  I don’t know what Matilda, Emma, and Mouse would have done without me.  (Just kidding.  They would have saved the world just fine.  But I’m glad I went.  I would have missed out on so much, if I’d stayed in Stone Gap!  And I wouldn’t be here in Boston, writing about it for you.)

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