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Title: The Staff-Room
Author: Josephine Tey (writing as Gordon Daviot)
* A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook *
eBook No.: 1600301h.html
Language: English
Date first posted:  March 2016
Most recent update: March 2016

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The Staff-Room


Gordon Daviot

Cover Image


First Published in Plays by Gordon Daviot, Vol. 3, Peter Davies, 1954

This e-book edition: Project Gutenberg Australia, 2016


                          MISS CARTER
                          MISS HINCH
                          MISS BOYD
                          MISS SIGGINS
                          THE HEAD
                          MR WOODINGTON SMITH

                             THE STAFF-ROOM

The scene is the staff-room of a girls' High School, in the middle of a
Spring morning. In the rear wall is a door; near the corner, and to the
right of it, as one looks at the stage, a large window. Between the door
and the window is a small table, and above it hangs a large baize
notice-board, liberally covered with notices. Against the right wall is
another small table, and occupying the centre of the room is a large
one, strewn with books and attaché-cases and guarded by rush-bottomed
chairs. Against the left wall is a set of book-shelves, divided into
compartments so that each member of the staff may know her own
boundaries and not cause trouble by trespassing. A basket chair is
turned to what would be the fireplace in the fourth wall, and at the
back, below the window, is a cretonne-covered couch.

At the moment the room is empty except for MISS CARTER, the classics
mistress, who is correcting exercise-books at the side table.
MISS CARTER is thirty-two, but looks forty-five and does
not care. She has a round, flabby face and a round, flabby body, and her
hair is done in thick, greasy plaits round her head in a way that she
fondly hopes is classical. As usual, she is completely absorbed in her
work. Every now and then she draws her pencil vigorously through a word
and utters a loud 'humph'. When she has uttered her third 'humph'
the door opens and MISS HINCH comes in.

MISS HINCH is the English mistress. She is tall and thin and weary, and
her ash-fair hair is always on the verge of falling from its insecure
knot at her neck. She likes that knot, however. It suggests art and
literary coteries, and most of MISS HINCH'S life is suggestion. It is
like the knot; ineffectual and posing.

She goes in silence to the table and begins to take the books out of
the attaché-case which she has been carrying. MISS CARTER utters
another 'humph'. MISS HINCH pauses in the act of laying down a book,
and then lays it down with an exaggerated gentleness which suggests that
it is only by superhuman self-control she refrains from flinging it on
the floor. She picks up the four-folded piece of blotting-paper from the
middle of the table, examines it, sighs impatiently at its exhausted
condition, and throws it into the waste-paper basket under the table.
She goes to the drawer on the down side of the table, and finds it

  HINCH: There's no blotting-paper, Carter.

                                                          [No answer.]

  HINCH: Carter, there's no blotting-paper.

   [CARTER turns round, the mists of correction still hovering about

  CARTER: Isn't there any in the drawer?

  HINCH: If there was I shouldn't be fussing.

  CARTER: There must be some somewhere. There! (Pointing triumphantly)
There's a bit—in the waste-paper basket.

  HINCH: Yes, I've just put it there.

  CARTER: Oh? What's wrong with it?

  HINCH: It is too literally blotting-paper.

  CARTER: (helpfully) Well, I should take it out again, if I were you.
It seems to be the only bit on the horizon.

  HINCH: But look here, Carter, it's your job to keep this room supplied
with stationery. You can't expect us to use blotting-paper as filthy as

  CARTER: (mildly) It's your own fault for not asking for it at the
proper time. You all know that stationery times are from nine to
nine-fifteen on Mondays and Thursdays. If you don't ask then, you'll
have to do without. Besides, everyone is far too extravagant with
blotting-paper. When Siggins spilt her milk yesterday she mopped it up
with a piece that wasn't more than half-used.

  HINCH: You're a gold-mine to the company, aren't you, Carter?

   [CARTER, already reabsorbed in correction, takes no notice. HINCH
      sits down at the large table with her back to the window and
      arranges her books for correction. She peers into the various
      attaché-cases and abstracts a fairly clean sheet of blotting-paper
      from one. She begins correction with a red-ink pen and a
      fastidiousness which is a direct contrast to MISS CARTER'S blue
      pencil and heavy hand.]

  CARTER: (blue-pencilling) Humph! (Three lines further) Humph!

  HINCH: Carter, I wish to goodness you'd get out of that habit!

  CARTER: What habit?

  HINCH: That 'humphing'.

  CARTER: I wish to goodness Dorothy Baker would learn a little common
sense, even if she can't learn Latin. Why don't her people take her away
and make a lady of her? It's all she's fit for.

  HINCH: I think she's a nice child. You can't blame her if she doesn't
think her future is going to be empty because she can't translate

  CARTER: It's Ovid.

  HINCH: Well, Ovid. I should say that she had too much imagination to
take well to dead languages.

  CARTER: Oh, I forgot you were friendly with Mrs Baker. Sorry! (She
giggles a high giggle, which comes particularly ridiculously from her
bulk) Quite the wrong thing to say!

   [Enter MISS BOYD. She is the gymnastics mistress, and is dressed
      in the usual blue tunic and black stockings of her tribe. She is
      about twenty-five, and has a quiet but alert air. A looker-on at

  HINCH: Don't be silly. Dorothy writes the best essays in her form. I
don't see why she should be considered mentally deficient just because
she doesn't take any interest in Latin. (To BOYD, who has crossed in
a leisurely fashion to the open window and is staring out into the
sunlight) Don't you think so, Boyd?

  BOYD: What?

  HINCH: What is Dorothy like for you?

  BOYD: Dorothy who?

  HINCH: Dorothy Baker.

  BOYD: (indifferently) Oh, nice kid. Awfully flat feet, though.

  CARTER: How are you free just now?

  BOYD: My patient isn't here today.

  CARTER: Well, I must say, some people get off easily. I wish forms
took to being absent so that we could have unexpected free times—and
no correction to do.

  BOYD: Cheer up, Carter! When someone falls off the fire-escape no one
brings the mangled heap to your door. It's an ill wind, you know.
Besides, you know you'd be bored stiff if you had a 'free'. Oh, blast! I
have a hole in my stocking. (She sits down on the couch, removes her
shoe, pulls the stocking forward at the toe so that the hole at the heel
disappears, and resumes her shoe)

  HINCH: D'you know, Boyd, that Amy Higgs and Betty Bartlett were kicking
the netball along the corridor to the garden door yesterday afternoon,
and they didn't make the slightest attempt to stop because I was coming.
I had actually to step aside to avoid the ball.

  BOYD: Oh?... Sorry!... I expect they were on their way to games and
feeling a bit above themselves.

  HINCH: Well, it isn't the kind of thing we can afford to encourage. The
discipline in this school is a byword already. Not that you could expect
anything else with a Head who thinks yelling is good for children. But,

  BOYD: I'll talk to them, if you like. They can miss their next game.
That will sober them, I'll warrant.

  HINCH: No girl is allowed to miss a game as a punishment.

  BOYD: Oh? Well, I didn't know that before. But surely the punishment
should fit the crime.

  HINCH: No girl is allowed to miss a game. And, anyhow, I would rather
you didn't say I complained. I've no desire to find myself in Amy Higgs'
black books.

   [BOYD makes a slight grimace, swings her legs on to the couch, and
      lies there looking out of the window.]

  CARTER: Do you know what Amy Higgs did in Grimmett's lesson yesterday?

  HINCH: No?

  CARTER: Grimmett asked them to suggest a question for their next French
debate, and Amy suggested 'Are form mistresses bad form?'

  HINCH: I told you she was an odious child!

  CARTER: That was just to show that they knew all about the row between
Grim and Kelly over having the fifth form.

  HINCH: What did Grim do?

  CARTER: Nothing, apparently. Looked silly, I expect.

  HINCH: She is a dreadful funk. Besides having no conscience in other
respects. She took the only Swiss bun on the plate at break today,
although she knows quite well that I always have it. Just because the
Head kept me talking and I was a minute or two late. I had to have a
Chelsea, and I simply loathe Chelsea buns. And she always bags the
Punch first on a Wednesday. It never seems to occur to her that
someone else might like to see it first.

  BOYD: Talking of Punch—I see the voting list is up for next term's
papers. Don't you think we might have something a little—a little more
frivolous than the things we have now?

  HINCH: As what, for instance?

  BOYD: Oh, I don't know. The Tatler, or the Bystander, or something.
Something not so terribly educational as the Illustrated World and the
Photographic Year.

  CARTER: What on earth would we get the Tatler for? We don't want to
see photographs of dressed-up ninnies making fools of themselves at

  BOYD: You needn't look at it that week. But it would give us an idea
how the world wagged and what skirts were looking like at the moment,
and so forth.

  HINCH: You can see that in Wickins' window for nothing.

  BOYD: The skirts, perhaps, but not the world.

  CARTER: We don't want to buy papers for the staff unless they are of
some use to us.

  BOYD: Oh? But no one ever opens the ones we get.

  HINCH: Speak for yourself, Boyd.

  BOYD: Oh, I open them. I read 'em all. I know all about the habits of
the great auk, and the new railroad in Timbuctoo, and the various kinds
of cactus, and all the rest. I like being educated. But don't you think
we might get something for the staff-room that didn't educate us?
Hyacinths to feed our soul, you know.

  CARTER: Hyacinths! We get enough flowers from the children to——

  HINCH: Don't be silly, Carter. Boyd is speaking figuratively, of
course. You can put it on the list, Boyd, you know, and it will go to
the vote in the usual way.

  BOYD: Here's the postman.

   [She springs to her feet and goes out hastily. The others exchange

  HINCH: Carter, I must say I didn't think you would have been so stupid
as to let her imagine you didn't understand her allusion.

  CARTER: But I didn't. Never heard of it. Hyacinths, indeed! A silly
sort of expression—and quite beside the point, as far as I can see. It
would suit her better to be attending to her work than making silly
remarks about hyacinths. She's far too flighty for her job.

  HINCH: Oh, she's flighty. I grant you that. But she does keep the kids
in order, and that's more than Pennington ever did. Not that I would
flatter her by telling her so. I think she fancies herself as a
disciplinarian. But, still!

  CARTER: What's the good of keeping the children in order when she wears
a hat like the one she is wearing now?

  HINCH: It isn't the hat, my dear, it's the way she wears it. You
know—so that people look again. And her landlady—don't repeat
this—her landlady told my landlady that she never wears anything but
crêpe-de-chine underneath.

  CARTER: Oh, Grimmett's told me that.

  HINCH: How did she know? Are Grimmett and Boyd getting friendly?

  CARTER: Oh, I don't think so. Her landlady probably told her. They're
awful gossips, landladies. How do you think she can have crêpe-de-chine
underwear on her salary? It takes me all my time to buy Jaeger, and I
get nearly twice what she does.

  HINCH: Well, the Head did hint to Fry that her people were rather

  CARTER: What's she working for if her people have money?

  HINCH: Oh, something to do, I suppose.

  CARTER: Don't you believe it. Who would work if they hadn't to!

  HINCH: Carter! What a strange thing to say. Lots of people work because
they like it, of course. (She leaves it to be inferred that she herself
is included in the 'lots') And as for you, you positively invent it, so
you must like it.

  CARTER: I don't, but someone in this institution has to have a

  HINCH: Poor Atlas!

  CARTER: Poor what?

  HINCH: Oh, nothing. Then you don't think Boyd's people are well-off.

  CARTER: Not well enough off to keep her in crêpe-de-chine.

  HINCH: Then how do you think she gets it?

  CARTER: I really couldn't say. (Her tone means that she not only does
not know but would rather not speculate) You did promise to take Fry's
form last period this morning, didn't you?

  HINCH: I didn't promise. I was press-ganged into taking it. I wonder if
a term will ever pass without Fry having something go wonky in her

  CARTER: Well, do you mind if I speak to the form for a moment before
you begin? I want to tell them about the Classical Society's——

  HINCH: Oh, you can speak to them for the whole of the lesson if you

   [Enter BOYD, carrying an opened letter and an envelope with a
      halfpenny stamp.]

  BOYD: Nothing for you, Carter, and only a bill for Hinch. (She gives
the envelope to HINCH)

  HINCH: I fail to see how you came to the conclusion that it was a bill.

  BOYD: Well, since it's nearly the end of term it can't be a receipt,
and I don't suppose your best man puts a ha'penny stamp on his letters.

   [In a silence which can be felt but of which she seems unconscious
      she retires to the couch and continues to read her own letter.]

  CARTER: (at the notice-board) Boyd, will it be all right if I send
half of Fry's form into Fifth Form gym next period?

  BOYD: (reading) Imphm.

   [HINCH and CARTER exchange looks.]

  CARTER: You don't mind?

  BOYD: (reading) Oh, not a bit. The more the merrier.

   [CARTER pauses at this unscholastic outlook, but recovers herself.]

  CARTER: Well, that's Fry's lot settled for today, anyhow.

   [Enter SIGGINS. She is the geography mistress; small and plump and
      excitable. The kind who asks three porters and the guard, but is
      never sure until she arrives at her destination that she is in the
      right train. At the moment she is full of the importance of the
      bearer of dreadful news.]

  SIGGINS: Girls! Do you know who's here?

  CARTER: No. Who?

  BOYD: Not the Prince of Wales, evidently.

  SIGGINS: Woodington Smith!

  HINCH: No! Siggins, no! Oh, no!

  SIGGINS: Woodington Smith.

  CARTER: But the Head didn't tell me. Why didn't the Head tell me he was

  HINCH: She said quite distinctly last week that he wasn't coming till
the beginning of next term.

  CARTER: How do you know he's here?

  SIGGINS: How do I know? That's a good one. My dear, I've had him for
more than an hour. He listened to me while I took a whole lesson, and
stood there saying absolutely nothing. Absolutely nothing, my dear. I
nearly died. Honestly, I did. You know the way he sits there saying
absolutely nothing so that you wonder all the time what he's thinking.
Simply nerve-breaking. And then when the bell rang and I thought it was
all over he made me yank out the sand board and made the kids do a map
on it there and then. Awful, my dear! Simply awful!

  CARTER: Is he staying?

  SIGGINS: Yes, I think so. I heard the Head say 'You'll have lunch with
us', so he's staying to the end of the morning, anyhow.

  HINCH: (wailing) Oh, and it's my morning with Five B! It would be my
morning with Five B. What shall I do?

  SIGGINS: The Third were simply awful, my dear. Joan Marriner said that
the Euphrates was in Somerset. Can you imagine it! The Euphrates! In
Somerset! I nearly killed her. And even then, he didn't say a word. Just
sat there and said nothing. It was simply awful. Simply awful. And then
Daphne Simpson upset the sand board and they had to start the map of
Ireland all over again. I never hated Ireland so much before—not even
in the rebellion. And there weren't enough blue beads for the towns to
go round.

  HINCH: Oh, what can I do with Five B?

  CARTER: I really think the Head might have told me the minute he came,
even if he walked in unexpectedly.

  HINCH: It is unsporting of him not to give us warning. He's worse
than Grimmett. He would take a Swiss bun from a baby.

  SIGGINS: And Doris Palmer had hiccups in the middle and pretended she
hadn't, instead of going out like any sane creature. In the end I had to
say, 'Doris, I think you'd better go and have a drink of water, hadn't
you?' I don't know what Mr Woodington Smith must have thought.

  BOYD: Who is Mr Woodington Smith?

  HINCH: Who is he? The H.M.I., of course!

  BOYD: What's that?

  CARTER: What's an——! Oh, of course, you did hospital work before. But
I should have thought that in nearly a term of school you couldn't have
escaped hearing about an H.M.I. An H.M.I., my dear innocent, is His
Majesty's Inspector of Schools.

  SIGGINS: If only he'd say something! It's his not saying anything
that's so awful.

  BOYD: What does this Smith man inspect?

  CARTER: Well, his own subject is French, but of course he inspects

  BOYD: Why 'of course'?

  HINCH: Because that's his job. To come and pick holes in us.

  BOYD: (comfortably) Well, I don't suppose he knows anything about
gym, thank goodness.

  HINCH: Oh, that won't make any difference.

  BOYD: Oh, won't it! It will if he starts to criticise.

  CARTER: My dear Boyd, don't make an enemy of Woodington Smith whatever
you do. He could make things very unpleasant if he wanted to.

  BOYD: Does he insist on the Woodington?

  CARTER: Well, it's his name, isn't it?

  SIGGINS: You would think that a child who had hiccups would have
enough common sense to know that she was a distraction to the others
without having to be told, wouldn't you?

  CARTER: Did the Head stay all the time?

  SIGGINS: No, only for the first few minutes. That was one comfort. She
smirked at him with that silly smirk of hers and tip-toed out. If she
hadn't tip-toed no one would have looked at her, of course. As it was
they were all watching till she shut the door. It was like an elephant
being coy.

  CARTER: Well, I do think she might have come and told me he was here,
instead of letting me find it out for myself. Especially since she
wasn't with him all the time. Where is he now?

  SIGGINS: I think he's in the office with her.

  CARTER: Oh! Perhaps I had better go and see. Perhaps she hasn't made
arrangements with Mrs Fox about lunch. It would be better, perhaps, if

                                                        [Exit CARTER.]

  HINCH: Hurt in her tenderest place! Isn't she priceless! I shouldn't
wonder if the Head did it willingly. She must be as big a trial to the
Head as she is to us.

  SIGGINS: Well, it's my day for taking School dinner, thank goodness, so
I won't have to think up things to say to him at lunch. I think I
deserve that bit of luck after the time I had this morning.

  HINCH: Oh, that's not so bad. I don't mind that so much. Anyhow, the
Head is usually so all over him that you don't have to say anything. But
what am I to do with Five B? You know what they're like. What am I to do
with them?

  SIGGINS: They'll behave when he's there, and that's more than they'll
do any other time. You have that for consolation.

  HINCH: Yes, but you know what utter dolts they are. Mary Robbins said
in an essay last week that the three great poets of the Renaissance were
Burns, Shelley, and Yeats.

                                                        [BOYD laughs.]

  BOYD: Cheer up! That's nothing. She said in my physiology paper that we
breathed through paws—p-a-w-s—in the palms of our hands.

  HINCH: That's your bad articulation, my dear.

  BOYD: Yes. I suppose I should have called them 'poorrrs', like Mac.

  HINCH: If I give them poetry they'll all be self-conscious and won't
say a word. And I can't very well read a play with them. He mightn't
consider that a lesson. And a grammar competition is rather childish for
Five B.

  SIGGINS: Some beast has stolen my blotting-paper. (Looking up from the
attaché-case in which she has been searching, and challenging HINCH)
Did you go away with my blotting-paper?

  HINCH: I never saw your blotting-paper.

  SIGGINS: Boyd, did you take my blotting-paper?

  BOYD: Not guilty.

  SIGGINS: Well, someone has. I had a perfectly new sheet of
blotting-paper in my mark book, and now it's gone. I do think it's hard
that one can't leave one's possessions on the table without having them
rifled. Some people haven't any conscience about other people's
belongings. They think because a thing isn't worth five pounds, or
something, that——(She pauses for a moment, looking intently at
something on the table. She leans forward quickly and snatches the
blotting-paper from under the book which HINCH has been correcting)
There's my blotting-paper!

  HINCH: Your blotting-paper! What nonsense.

  SIGGINS: Oh, yes, it is. I know it by that red-ink blot. You took it
out of my attaché-case, you beast.

  HINCH: My dear Siggins! Don't be ridiculous.

  SIGGINS: Well, if you didn't, where did you get it?

  HINCH: I took it out of the waste-paper basket, because there was none
on the table.

  SIGGINS: And what beast put it into the waste-paper basket?

                                                       [Enter CARTER.]

  CARTER: The door is shut, but I can hear them talking inside. I thought
I had better not disturb them. But Mrs Fox has been told about lunch.
She's not pleased, either. That makes two extra. Some child is staying
without notice, as well, it seems. She isn't a bit pleased.

  SIGGINS: That means only one helping of pudding, I suppose.

  CARTER: It doesn't matter. It's tombstone. I saw it on the table in the
kitchen. (She giggles her high giggle)

  HINCH: What! Is Woodington Smith going to be offered that?

  BOYD: You should be glad that Mr Woodington Smith is going to suffer as
you seem to be going to suffer with Five B!

  HINCH: I do think she might concoct something when Woodington Smith is
here. Trifle, or something.

  CARTER: Heaven preserve me from any concoctions of Mrs Fox's. Oh, that
nearly rhymed! I didn't mean to be clever.

  HINCH: We absolve you. Oh, what shall I do with Five B?

  SIGGINS: He mayn't come to you at all. He's got to spend at least one
period with Grimmett, poor devil. Last time he said their French accent
was more like Russian. Grimmett cried to Kelly about it afterwards.
Don't say I told you.

  HINCH: My dear, everyone knew that.

  SIGGINS: (aggressively) How did everyone know it?

  HINCH: The same way as you did, I suppose. Kelly told them.

  SIGGINS: Well, I don't think it's very nice of Kelly to go round
telling people——

   [The door opens, and the HEAD comes in. She is a buxom woman of
      forty-five, and looks rather like a successful farmer's wife. She
      is dressed in a very 'good', very ugly dress of slate-blue cloth
      with red-brown collar and cuffs. Her smile is saved only by its
      breadth from being a simper.]

  THE HEAD: I know you won't mind; I've brought Mr Woodington Smith to
see the new staff-room. As you know, it was largely due to him that we
had it redecorated.

   [She ushers in MR WOODINGTON SMITH. He is a smallish, fair man,
      with pince-nez; about thirty-five, rather shy, and so
      harmless-looking as to be almost a nonentity. He belongs to the
      type who continually say 'Absolutely!' when they have made a
      statement, because they feel that they have been insufficiently
      impressive. He has an Oxford voice and a dithering manner.

   [At the entrance of the HEAD, CARTER, SIGGINS, and HINCH have
      leaped to their feet as men do at the advent of the orderly
      officer. BOYD removes her feet from the couch and sits up.]

  THE HEAD: You know everyone here, I think, Mr Woodington Smith. Oh, no.
Let me present Miss Boyd. Miss Boyd is our new games mistress. I don't
think you have met her before.

                                  [BOYD gets unhurriedly to her feet.]

  BOYD: (gently) Hullo, Biffie.

  SMITH: Why, Nell—Miss Boyd! Good gracious! Who would have thought of
meeting you here. Well, well. (Holding her hand, and going on shaking
it) This is a surprise. I'm frightfully glad to see you again. I
didn't know you did (he waves his hand vaguely) this sort of thing.

  BOYD: Yes, this sort of thing is my job, you know.

  SMITH: Oh, of course. I'd forgotten you people were so versatile.
Dancing and massage and everything, all mixed up, isn't it? And so
you've taken up educational work?

  BOYD: Yes.

  SMITH: That must be a change for you.

  BOYD: Yes.

  SMITH: They must miss you at the hospital. Is this your first term?

  BOYD: Yes.

  SMITH: I say, I should love to see you take a gym class. Would you mind
if I came in for a little?

  BOYD: No, not a bit. There's senior gym in the afternoon, if you'd like
to see that. They're the best lot. My show-off people, you know.

  SMITH: Oh, thank you. I'd like to see that. Well, I mustn't be holding
up the traffic, I suppose. How is your brother? Did he go abroad?

  BOYD: No, he has a job with a silk firm now. He's married and awfully
settled down at Ealing.

  SMITH: Oh? Well, I shall see you this afternoon if not before. You
really don't mind my coming in?

  BOYD: No, not a bit. But would you mind staying at the back, where they
can't see you all the time? It doesn't really matter, but it's less
distracting for them.

  SMITH: Oh, certainly—rather! The shrinking violet won't be in it
compared with me. I'm awfully glad to have met you like this.

   [He bows to the others and turns to go. Then he remembers that it is
      the room that he has come to inspect. He turns back.]

  SMITH: Oh, yes. A very nice room indeed. Charming!

  THE HEAD: (a little strained) The kindergarten was done at the same
time, if you would care to see it. It is just at the end of the corridor

  SMITH: Oh, thank you.

   [They go out, the HEAD shutting the door. There is a meaning

  CARTER: (coldly) I think you might have said that you knew Mr
Woodington Smith.

  BOYD: But I didn't know I did. He didn't have a Woodington when I knew
him. He was a patient at the Ministry hospital where I worked. I think I
knew his name was Smith, but no one ever called him anything but Biffie.

  HINCH: And why Biffie, may one ask?

  BOYD: Well, it was B. F. really, only it got shortened to Biffie.

  CARTER: B. F.?

  BOYD: Yes.... Short for silly ass, you know.

  SIGGINS: Did you—was he one of your patients?

  BOYD: Yes. (She goes to her shelf of books and extracts a small
notebook, which she consults) Siggins, do you mind if I have Mary
Hopper from geography instead of from Maths? King says she mustn't miss
any more maths before the exam.

  SIGGINS: Oh, must she have remedials just now!

  BOYD: Yes, she must. Her back's a lot crookeder than her chances in the

  SIGGINS: Oh, well, I suppose you must have her if you want her.

  HINCH: Did you—was Mr Woodington Smith your patient for long?

  BOYD: About six months. Thanks, Siggins. I won't keep her a minute
longer than I can help. (She goes on consulting her notebook)

  HINCH: You knew him quite well, then?

  BOYD: Oh, well enough. But I did twenty men a day, you see, so we can't
be said to have been intimate.

   [A bell rings violently in the distance. MISS HINCH gasps, and
      begins to collect her books as one going to the scaffold.]

  SIGGINS: Well, I have a 'free', thank goodness. And I shan't do any
correcting, either. I think I'll go down-town. Anyone want anything?

  CARTER: Oh, yes, get me half a pound of butter, if you would be so
kind. (She is rushing round the room, collecting books which she packs
into her attaché-case)

  SIGGINS: Fresh?

  CARTER: What? Oh, yes.

  SIGGINS: International?

  CARTER: No, Maypole.

  SIGGINS: All right. (To HINCH as they go to the door together)
Cheer up, Hinch. Good luck.

  HINCH: Don't talk to me!

   [This is meant to convey that one kind word may upset MISS HINCH
      irretrievably. They go out leaving the door open.]

  CARTER: It will be all right about your taking those extra people of
Fry's this period, won't it?

  BOYD: Oh, yes. That's all settled.

   [CARTER bustles out, leaving the door open. BOYD replaces in her
      tights' pocket the mirror she has been using in the process of
      combing her hair, pulls up her stockings, and tightens her
      suspenders. She is taking a last critical survey of the seams of
      her stockings, when MR SMITH passes on his way back from viewing
      the kindergarten. He is alone, having left the HEAD among the
      infants. He sees BOYD and pauses.]

  SMITH: Hullo. D'you know, I can't tell you how surprising it was to
find you here like this. (Comes in)

  BOYD: And it is very—amusing to find you here.

  SMITH: I say, you never would come out with me in the old days, so I'm
almost afraid to ask you, but will you come out and have lunch with me
in the town?

  BOYD: My dear man! And run away from staff dinner?

  SMITH: I shouldn't call it running away. It's a strategical retreat.

  BOYD: But they're expecting you to stay to lunch, aren't they? I heard
them talking about it.

  SMITH: Yes, I usually stay. For policy's sake, you know. But I'll make
that all right with the Head. She's an awfully nice woman, isn't she? A
bit gabby, but awfully nice really. So—will you?

  BOYD: You'll miss the tombstones if you don't stay.

  SMITH: Tombstones? What are they?

  BOYD: Slabs of cold pastry. They taste like water-biscuit, and look
like something dug up in an excavation.

  SMITH: I say, you know, I never imagined you in this sort of—milieu.
Do you like it?

  BOYD: Oh, yes, rather!

  SMITH: (doubtfully) What do you like so much about it?

  BOYD: I like the kids.

  SMITH: Oh, yes, I see. But——(He finds himself unable to express what
he means and gives it up)

  BOYD: Why do you put the wind up everyone here the way you do?

  SMITH: Me! Put the wind up them! What nonsense.

  BOYD: But you do. You frighten them into fits. It's nothing short of
bullying. They blanch at the very mention of your name.

  SMITH: Nell! You're not serious, are you? Why, it should be the other
way round. They're a dreadfully intimidating lot, really. That Carter
woman, for instance. She makes me feel like a small boy who's been
caught stealing jam. Absolute fact! I'm always afraid she'll ask my
opinion about a timetable or something. She's a whale for timetables,
and timetables never were my strong point.

  BOYD: No, you were always late.

  SMITH: And you were always angry.

  BOYD: I was never angry!

  SMITH: No, you let it be understood that you were not greatly pleased.

  BOYD: I had no idea that you were such an august person, of course.

  SMITH: I wasn't then. I was just schoolmastering. But one of my uncles
knows an old bird in the Board of Education, and he wangled this for me.

  BOYD: And do you like it?

  SMITH: Oh, rather! Frightfully interesting job. And of course, it's all
rot about their being frightened of me. I'm as mild as milk. I never say
anything. I have to shove in a little report now and then, but I never
say anything damning, you know. Just enough to earn my keep.

  BOYD: Well, perhaps when one becomes an H.M.I. one frightens
automatically, as it were.

  SMITH: Oh, nonsense! What would they be frightened of? I say, you will
come and have lunch with me, won't you?

  BOYD: I've just remembered that I've only a burberry to wear. It's a
staff habit. We put a burberry on as a matter of course to save us
having to think about our clothes. But if I go out to lunch in it on a
nice bright morning like this it will be a deterrent for the rest of my
life. Do you mind suffering for my ultimate good?

  SMITH: You're coming, then? By George, it is frightfully nice to see
you again.

  BOYD: You'll have to take me to a 'Burberry' place, you know. Somewhere
where they say 'Mash or chips?' I don't know that it will be very
dignified for an H.M.I.

  SMITH: I say, don't rot. I'll go anywhere you like. Shall I wait for
you at the front door when the last bell goes?

  BOYD: Yes, I think that would be best.

                              [Enter CARTER, through the open door.]

  CARTER: Oh, I beg your pardon. I had no idea.—So sorry.

                                   [She makes a movement to withdraw.]

  SMITH: Oh, please don't go, Miss Carter. Miss Boyd and I were talking
over old times.

  CARTER: I didn't mean to intrude. I just came back for a book I forgot.
It's on the table, I think.

  SMITH: I'm just going. (To BOYD) Au revoir.

                                                          [Exit SMITH.

                         [CARTER searches frantically round the room.]

  CARTER: You're rather late for your lesson, aren't you?

  BOYD: Yes, a little. I thought perhaps one waited to be dismissed when
one was addressed by an H.M.I.

  CARTER: Where is that book? I'm sure I left it here. Have you seen my

  BOYD: No. Where is the dinner book?

  CARTER: Under the notice-board. Oh, dear, and now I can't catch Mr
Woodington Smith, and I wanted to consult him about the new timetable. I
know he'll find fault with it if it isn't given to him for approval
first. What are you doing with the dinner book?

  BOYD: I'm scoring out my name.

  CARTER: Aren't you staying to dinner, then?

  BOYD: No. I'm going out to lunch with Mr B. F. Woodington Smith.

                    [Exit BOYD, leaving CARTER staring after her.]


[The end of The Staff Room by Gordon Daviot]


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