Rebecca ran into the cottage, tears streaming down her face. She flung her school satchel across the room. The white owl sleeping up in the corner opened its eyes, ruffled its feathers and stared down at her.
"I hate school, and I hate our new teacher that sneaky meanie Miss Baroom."
"Hang up your wet cloak and satchel," Miranda ordered. "Did you rub Sally down?"
"And fed her and left her in the barn," Rebecca said.
This was one of the good things about school. She was allowed to ride Sally the family horse there and back. Rebecca had loved school when she started. Old Madam Friton was a wonderful teacher. She was pleased with Rebecca's standard of reading and writing. She had helped her learn the multiplication tables and praised her sketching. Then she had suddenly collapsed and died.
It was the first day with the new teacher. Rebecca had taken a strong dislike to Miss Baroom even before she introduced herself to the one room school. She was tall and thin, with red hair curling in ringlets that looked like snakes. She had mean eyes nearly as red as her hair, a long nose and a thin nasty mouth.
"She failed everyone on everything," Rebecca burst out. "She sneered at my writing. She jeered at Tam's spelling, and used the cane on Janine Friton for stuttering. She was still crying when school closed. It's been the most horrible day of my life."
Miranda stood up, sliced some bread and jam and reached for the kettle to make hot cocoa. Rebecca sat at the table and drank hot cocoa and ate slices of bread and blackberry jam. She started to feel better.
Rain poured down outside, but the cottage was cosy. The savoury odour of stew rose from the pot over the fire. Willyum, her baby brother, played in the playpen George had made before leaving. Rebecca decided that she missed her father George. He had left at the start of the bad weather to work in some far off mines.
"Don't know why the Fritons board her when Miss Baroom is so mean to everybody," Rebecca grumbled.
"It is the only place with room to board her," Miranda said. "You wouldn't like her boarding here?"
"No," Rebecca agreed with a shudder. "Guess she is welcome to stay at the Friton place."
"Well, she is the new teacher, so try not to upset her," Miranda warned. "Try to learn all she can teach you. She has come very highly recommended."
That was on Monday. After that the school week only got worse. Miss Baroom realizing that Tam and Janine were the Friton children, favoured them disgracefully. They no longer got bad marks, caning or the sharp edge of her tongue.
The rest of the class chanted multiplication tables, wrote out endless spelling lists and copied out texts about geography. They also started being nasty to each other. The bigger children thumped into smaller children, and the smaller children lied, sneaked and told tales. The pleasant atmosphere of the small one room school was completely gone.
At last it was Friday. The rain had cleared, and it was a sunny cold afternoon. Sally's bare back was warm and comfortable as she ambled along the track that led back to the cottage.
"She is so mean," Rebecca fumed. "She's even mean to her pony. I saw her kick it hard when she rode in this morning, and the poor pony hadn't done anything."
"Poor Emmaline," Sally agreed.
Rebecca nodded. She understood the language of animals. "Funny name for a pony though," Rebecca said. She was warm and comfortable and a bit sleepy as she swayed to Sally's slow amble.
"She isn't a pony," Sally said.
Rebecca sat bolt upright, suddenly very wide-awake.
"What do you mean she isn't a pony? What is she?"
"Some sort of bewitched human," Sally said. "Her memory is gone, so she doesn't know."
Rebecca started to shiver despite the warm cloak she was wearing. Not only was the new teacher a nasty mean person, but she must also be a witch! How nasty could you get, bewitching a human to use as your steed? Also she had a whole classroom of unprotected children to work her spells on!
Rebecca sat up straighter. Life was suddenly going to get very difficult. Everyone thought Miss Baroom was a teacher who was most highly recommended! Also no one in the district believed in witches!