Annabelle and Shelley were hiding in the trees when Ruth and Jane arrived at the boat shed that afternoon. They watched silently as the rowers launched a pair and gently stroked their way out into the middle of the river. As soon as the rowing shell was out of sight, the spies emerged from their hiding place and ran back to the school.
The afternoon training session was perfect, the starts were great and the girls put in a couple of hard sprints before heading back to the shed. As they rounded the last bend, Jane in the bow seat got her bearings with a quick look over her shoulder and noticed a couple of people standing on the jetty.
Mrs Clutch, the school Principal, waited in silent fury with Mrs Berry, the head of sports, as Ruth and Jane silently lifted the boat out of the water and turned it upside down. Annabelle Purvis and a small gaggle of brat-packers chortled with smug satisfaction as they watched proceedings from the bank of the river.
Jane and Ruth carried the rowing shell into the shed, followed by the Principal and sports mistress. As the girls stored the boat on one of the racks, Principal Clutch glared in anger while Mrs Berry looked at the ground with the quiet disappointment of a teacher whose trust had been betrayed.
“You’ve both wilfully ignored an explicit instruction,” the Principal snapped.
“Yes Principal, but it was my idea. We just …” Ruth started to say before the Principal motioned her to stop with a raised hand.
“I don’t want to hear any excuses. You are both suspended, pending possible expulsion. I will contact your parents as soon as I get back to my office,” Principal Clutch told a devastated Jane and Ruth.
Just before 5.00 the following afternoon, the Thomas ute pulled into the car park next to the imposing Victorian mansion at the centre of Lushers College for Ladies. The mansion purchased more that a century ago with a bequest from the gentleman explorer Sir Cedric Lusher now housed the school administration and Principal’s office.
Jane and her parents, Dean and Madge Thomas, walked over to join Ruth and her father who were waiting at the bottom of the steps leading up to the front door. Although worried about the summons to the Principal’s office, Dean and Madge were pleased their daughter had managed to find a friend at the school. They both liked Ruth and her father, Abraham Goldsmith, seeing him for what he was, an unpretentious man who clearly loved his daughter.
“Do you think they will be expelled Abraham?” Dean anxiously asked as they walked up the steps.
“I don’t think it will come to that,” Abraham replied calmly. “I’ve had some dealings with Mrs Clutch before and I’m sure we’ll be able to sort things out.”
Principal Clutch was seated behind her large desk when the girls and their parents entered the wood-panelled office. The summonsed were left standing while the facts were established, after which the Principal asked the girls to leave the office. As the door clicked shut, Mrs Clutch indicated the three chairs in front of her desk and waited until her visitors were seated before speaking.
“A grave affair, I’m sure you all agree.”
“Yes very serious Mrs Clutch,” Abraham Goldsmith replied, knowing she was likely to be unsettled by his failure to use the expected title of, Principal.
“Worthy of expulsion? The thought has crossed my mind,” the Principal said in a sombre voice.
“Oh I hope not,” Madge replied defiantly. “We so wanted our daughter to do her last two years of schooling here.”
“I’m sure they meant no harm, Principal” Dean offered.
“Perhaps not Mr Thomas, but still this is a very serious matter,” the Principal replied gravely.
“Indeed it is Mrs Clutch,” Abraham Goldsmith said with equal solemnity.
“No, they were only training,” Dean insisted, the pitch of his voice rising. “No one got hurt or anything,”
“Be that as it may Dean,” Abraham said smoothly, “I’m sure both girls realise that they acted foolishly.”
“Worse than foolish, I’m afraid. They deliberately disobeyed me. Such defiance can not be left unpunished.”
“No, of course not.” Abraham agreed.
Madge, picking up on Abraham’s lead, quickly added, “Yes, we all agree rules should be obeyed.”
“Such a pity,” Abraham said with a shake of the head. “I’m sure they only had the good of Lushers at heart, Principal. The desire to win another State Title for the school clouded their judgement.”
After a little more ‘toing and froing’, Principal Clutch told the parent she was willing to give their daughters one last chance. Jane and Ruth were called back into the office and stood beside the desk unsure of the fate that was about to befall them.
“How long before the State Championships, Ruth?” the Principal demanded.
“Six weeks, Principal.”
“In that case, you will both be banned from using the school’s rowing facilities for a month starting today …”
“But that’s not fair,” Jane blurted out. “We won’t have a chance then.”
“I decide what’s fair Miss Thomas,” Principal Clutch replied with cold authority. “You have your parents to thank for not being expelled.”
“Yes Principal,” Jane said quietly as her head drooped.
“Right now you are on very thin ice,” the Principal continued. “Don’t think for a moment that I have forgotten about the incident at the Opening of the Equestrian Centre.” (28)
After the meeting, Dean and Madge Thomas walked out of the building chastened and embarrassed by the whole ordeal. Abraham Mr Goldsmith’s reaction to the confrontation couldn’t have been more different; he felt positively invigorated and insisted the two families go to a nearby restaurant for a quick meal to celebrate their daughter’s spirit.
In the next episode, “Brown Jacket”, Jane and Ruth hear what Principal Clutch has planned for them and consider withdrawing from the State Titles.