Some people seem to not so much live their lives as to be passengers in them, carried along at the convenience of somebody else. One such person was Madam Jeen Snellflort. Orphaned at a tender age she was made the ward of her great-uncle. This gentleman was a man of immense dignity, absolute propriety, and limited imagination. He was of some considerable age when he acquired a ward, having managed to pass through a busy life without family encumbrance. So as soon as was decent he packed the child off to the Misenbart academy for young ladies. This august institution was considered to provide the perfect education for daughters of families with adequate means and few original ideas.
The academy stands in its own grounds to the north of Port Naain, surrounded by hedges of quite impressive impenetrability. Local yeomen organise day trips to go and visit the hedge and stand there marvelling at it. The hedge is bounded by the Misenbart Brook. The name might conjure up images of a pleasant stream. Instead I would like readers to think of it in terms of a moat. It was too deep to wade and too murky to swim with confidence.
At the age of seventeen, Madam Snellflort discovered that her great-uncle, impressed by her academic achievements, had managed to get her enrolled upon the staff of the academy. The salary was derisory, but she got a room, and a school teacher’s uniform. She was also now old enough to take part in the full range of social events organised by the academy.
Her uniform, of which she had two, each was cleaned on alternate weeks, was simple. There was a long dress which fastened with a high collar at the neck and reached down to the ankles. It was so buttressed with underpinnings and similar that the wearer might indeed pass as female but was never going to look feminine. Underwear provision was generous; the drawers were long enough in the leg to tuck into the ankle boots all teachers wore. There was also a selection of shifts to be worn under the dress, in winter all were worn simultaneously.
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