CM . . .
. Volume VIII Number 16 . . . . April 12, 2002
"Tis the hiding school that has me fretting," began Fiona.
Before her best friend could explain any further, Meggy began talking."Oh Fiona, you are such a worry wart. We've found the perfect place for our secret school."
"Tis not the location that has me worried, Meggy," continued Fiona earnestly. "There are problems we need to figure out before we can even think of startin' up our school in the cave."
"What problems? I don't see any problems," said Meggy, who wanted to get the little ones back to their lessons as soon as possible.
"I need ye to be takin' me seriously. Please sit down here beside me and listen. This is not a game we are playin'. You know, just by settin' up our school we're riskin' the little ones and ourselves. I'll not be takin' part in anythin' further until you and I figure out solutions to the problems I see," said Fiona gently but firmly.
Feeling the seriousness settle over her as uncomfortably as a potato-sack dress, Meggy sat down. "I'm listenin' Fiona."
The wisdom of Fiona's words were a contrast to her sweet, innocent face. "How are all of us to be gettin' to the cave at the same time every day, without attractin' attention?"Meggy is back, but she is no longer the dancing scallywag of Dancing for Danger. Since the master of their illegal hedge school was wounded, shot by the British soldiers, and has gone into hiding, Meggy has lapsed into a depression serious enough to have her parents quite worried. It takes another disaster---the dancing master's being found dead in a ditch with a bash to his head---to pull Meggy out of her doldrums and back to being determined that the village children will not lose all chance of schooling. First, she begins by having the children come to her own home for stories and reading lessons, but when that begins to attract attention, she, with her small brother Dan and her friend Fiona, sets out to find some other venue. What they find is an extensive sink hole in the woods, one complete with a tunnel entrance, an overhead hole that lets in light (and through which Dan initially fell!), lots of stalactites and stalagmites, and a number of sparkly chunks of crystal embedded in the walls. There is also a flat rock for dancing, a sandy place to use for arithmetic lessons, and a throne for a storyteller. In other words, it is a perfect hideaway. Unfortunately the bar maid at the village pub is miffed that Meggy should be more popular with a certain young man than she, and so she attempts to betray their school to the English soldiers. Naturally she fails and is made so ridiculous in the process that the soldiers will never again take heed of anything she says, and the school should be safe from her spite.
There is something about this story which doesn't quite click. Deirdre, the bar maid, is much too consistently nasty. Dan's behavior ranges from that of a four-year old to something closer to eleven as he first tags after his sister, and then goes off on his own to earn money by playing tunes outside the pub on his penny whistle. Meggy gets caught separately both by Roddy and Deirdre as she is lurking behind a bush adjusting her dress so that she will appear younger than she is, when she could have retreated to the privy at home much more easily, and never been noticed at all. The grown-ups appear totally unaware of all this activity despite the fact that their young children are suddenly out of their hair for several hours every morning and they don't know where they are.
I would have been happier with this story had there been a bit more of the history of the hedge schools, if there had been more parental support for the initiative that Meggy and Fiona were taking, if Deirdre had not been quite so black-hearted, if, if, if, ... It is, however, a powerful argument for how lucky we are to have state-supported schools.
Recommended with reservations.
Thomas works in the libraries of two state-supported schools in Winnipeg,
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.