The Sacred Secret
Chapter 3 - A rose by any other name...
The next morning was a flurry of activity: Granny Black barking commands,
Henry fumbling with breakfast and school books, Louis bustling about with his
own gear; all of them avoiding Rachael, who was dithering, trying to drink black
coffee and juggle a script whilst talking twenty to the dozen to her agent on
the phone. Mathew, busy packing suitcases for his flight over to Tasmania to do
research and a location survey, Priscilla and Monique scurrying around,
showering (and keeping watchful eyes out for Harry, who didn't show) dressing,
racing about cramming toilet things, books and clothes into carrybags and
satchels and cramming breakfast in as fast as all the other lunatics of the
house, until... Until it was time... Time for the girls and Louis to board a
waiting school bus that would take them, and other pupils around the area such
as Tsuang Tsu, down to Hopewell Hall.
Rachael briefly pecked their cheeks on the way to her waiting cab, lurking at
the street curb. (She also kissed Amelia Black-probably without thinking- and
Granny appeared somewhat stunned, as if she had just been whacked in the face
with a luke-warm salmon.)
Matthew backed his car down the driveway, flinging promises to ring that
night from Devonport, waving and blowing kisses at the two girls who had been
given a mobile phone each in a last frantic goodbye-you-figure-it-out gesture.
As the sound of his vehicle faded, Louis and the two girls, surrounded by
their baggage, turned upslope toward Granny Black, who was standing on the front
veranda. For an instant, both Priscilla and Monique were confounded. Even
without the house name, they could imagine an old sepia photograph with both the
Roselli's there on that same porch, smiling; a little black dog beside them,
grinning into the camera. Then Harry appeared, wandering out behind Amelia, to
sit quietly at her heel. For a moment he gazed earnestly down at the girls,
before breaking into a vigorous scratch.
'Little bugger!' muttered Priscilla, close to Monique's ear. 'He's an alien
living in our house, pretending for all he's worth to be a flea-bitten mutt!'
'He is an alien living in the house that he believes is still his house,'
Priscilla's eyes rolled.
At that moment Henry, laden with school stuff, flew past on his bicycle from
the direction of the garage, skidded to a halt, jumped off and ran back to ruff
Harry up, muttered something about Gizzard to Amelia, gave her a quick hug,
shouted, 'Later!' mounted his bike again and took off, his stubby legs pumping
toward Bourke Road for his very last year at primary; this time as a big kid,
who at the end of the year would be moving on to Hopewell Hall if, of course,
the Black family was still located in Melbourne by then.
Priscilla heaved a huge sigh. 'Better just get on with it then,' she said as
she shouldered some of her load. 'That's kind of my philo...phil...oso...'
'Philosophy?' said Louis, hefting his own bags and what were left of the
girls. 'C'mon! Let's get going! The next tram's due in ten minutes!'
Hopewell Hall, on this first, late-summer Monday morning, was bubbling with
newcomers, older students, several new teachers and seasoned old staff. The
quadrangle fairly brimmed with the assembled and the Head Mistress, flanked by
her entire teaching staff, who were all standing on a raised concrete platform
beneath a roofed area, began briskly. 'Welcome students. To those of you who
have spent one or more years at Hopewell, I and my fellow teachers are pleased
to see again your familiar faces. You know what is expected of you, and you also
know what to expect of us and of this school. Please take note of your new
Prefecture. These were the probationarys of last year and they take up the
duties of the old guard who have passed through Hopewell and on to bright
futures elsewhere. As well as them and the staff of the school, I want you all
to become familiar with the probationary Prefects chosen from fourth year
candidates who now enter their fifth with the knowledge that they will assume
the mantle of Prefects twelve months from now.'
There came a light patter of applause from the teachers.
'Now,' went on Miss Poe, 'I wish to make a comment on the policy of this
school on certain matters that concern all here...'
There came the odd mutter and cough amongst the ranks. Priscilla over-heard
someone in the second-years behind her say, 'Heard it all before.' Then another
faint voice that whispered, 'Boring,' followed by the distinct sound of a grunt
as if someone had been elbowed sharply.
'You, our newest arrivals to the school, may notice the empty flagpoles that
surround this quad and wonder why there are so many and why they are vacant.
Here it is needful to enunciate exactly their purpose and what they represent
for newcomers and for those others, however bored, by this reinstatement of
Hopewell's aims and standards. This school is unlike any other here in
Melbourne, possibly in all of Australia. We have our own well established
ethical criteria and our duty of care to the students and for the school and its
reputation. And this school has a high-level reputation for tolerance, respect,
patience and courtesy to all; no matter who they are, no matter where they come
from. Let me make it quite clear, that I, with the support of my staff and the Prefecture, intend
that these conditions prevail.'
She paused for a moment to allow her words to sink in, then continued, 'Flag
monitors will be selected at random from all of the first years attending. Each
morning the flags given them shall be run up around this quad and taken down at
four o'clock: rain, hail or shine. Today is the only day of the coming school
year that begins without the ensigns of the countries represented by all
attending students flying above our heads. It will be the duty of those chosen
on a weekly rotation to see to this. Each monitor will have a flag that will
probably not be of their country, but they will keep it in their care as if it
were their own personal property: tolerance, respect, patience and courtesy to
all. This is the first lesson of Hopewell Hall.'
There was a general murmuring amongst the first years, before Sonia Poe went
on, 'At the end of this assembly you will march off to your class rooms. A
national anthem will be played. It will be that of another country, followed by
our own Australian anthem. This will occur at the beginning of each school week.
On all other days, unless otherwise informed, students will gather at their
classes promptly at nine each morning.'
Faint strains of music began to issue from loud-speakers mounted on the
buildings surrounding the quad, but was faded out to a crackle when Miss Poe
held up her hand to silence it. 'One last word regarding school uniform. It is
the policy of Hopewell that the uniform be worn at all times during school
hours, other than at sports and physical education periods. This extends to
students coming from and going to their homes, as well as those resident here, full
time or part time. Those students from countries where it is required, for
religious or traditional purposes, to wear head coverings may do so. However,
where possible, the school hat or scarf shall be worn over such coverings, other
than in class, or if not possible, a school hat-band incorporating Hopewell's
badge and the Australian insignia, will take its place. In this way, our school
board has taken into consideration the requirements of those from overseas and
balanced them with the principles of Hopewell. Likewise, it is the policy of the
school to honour the important religious occasions of all nations attending,
including the Christian calendar. To this effect, those students who wish, may
be exempted from class attendance during such periods, but will be required to
catch up by working with their classmates out of school hours...'
There came the odd groan from some of the first years and Priscilla whispered
to Monique, 'Louis never told me about that! Probably thought it would be fun to
let us find out for ourselves!'
Sonia Poe raised her voice an octave over the general mutterings. 'Your Form
Master or Mistress will oversee the rostering of these duties and they will be
undertaken in a spirit of cooperation. Again I say, tolerance, respect, patience
and courtesy. I remind you all of the school motto, Qualitas, Fraternitas, Æqualitas. Quality, Fraternity, Equality. Thankyou.'
To the sound of the Star Spangled Banner, followed by Advance Australia Fair,
the students were led by their Masters to classrooms on various floors of the
Form One B. gathered outside class room Two on the ground floor. Before
entering, Juliet Van Weenan, their Form Mistress said, 'People, in case you're
wondering, it works like this; all First-formers are located in rooms on the
ground floor, Second-formers on the next level, and so on. As you progress
through the years at Hopewell, you will ascend each level until you reach the
top, the sixth floor of this building. I, as your Form Mistress, hope and trust
that I can see you all as far as the next level. One year, this year, will take
you there, if you can hack it. Please go in and I will seat you in alphabetical
order on roll-call.' She indicated the way with a wave of her clip board.
'If we can "hack it?" Whoa! Miss Van Weenan's got her act together,
getting with the programme, how cool is she?' came a voice amongst the gathered.
'That would have to be...Mister Sinclair, I think,' said Juliet, running her
eyes down the roll. 'Well just because you'll be at the back of the class,
Mister Sinclair, don't think you can get away with anything over the top. And by
the way, flattery wont get you anywhere either.' She seemed to bounce on her
toes above the heads of the last entering.
'Wouldn't think of it Teach,' called Jeff Sinclair, pushing Ray Sharp ahead
of him through the throng, toward the rear of the room.
'And you can drop the 'Teach' stuff too. It's Miss Van Weenan to all of you.
Just because I'm new here, don't get the idea that I can't handle a bunch of
twelve and thirteen year-olds...'
'Aw yeah!' came another mocking voice from amongst the milling students and
the clatter of seats and books landing on desks. It was a voice that, to Monique
and Priscilla, would become all too familiar as the year went by.
Juliet, who was busy reading a sheet of paper handed to her by someone in the
crowd, flicked her gaze toward the source of that voice, but before she could
respond Sonia Poe entered the room, followed by a boy who stood, frowning at the
entire class with a look of reluctance and barely masked hostility on his tanned
'Excuse me, Miss Van Weenan, I have a late addition to Form One B. Due to,
em, circumstances, he was not able to attend Orientation Day last week. This is
John Wynd, he will take his place on the roll in your class. Please allocate him
a seat and, Miss Van Weenan...I should like a word with you outside...If you
Juliet nodded and beckoned the boy forward, 'Up at the back there John,
unless we have anybody with a last name that begins in x, y or z. Otherwise I
think you'll be at the end of the line. Take a seat, and class, I'll be back in
a couple of minutes. No losing it, just get to know each other and sort
yourselves as best you can. In the meantime I shall put...um...yes...Miss Sole
in charge until we elect a form captain.'
The door closed behind the Head Mistress and Miss Van Weenan, leaving the
class alone to attempt seating arrangements before their teacher returned.
Amongst the scuffling and confusion, Roseanne Sole stood up and pushed her way
to the front of the class.
'O.K. O.K!' she boomed over all the background noise. 'Annie's been put in
charge now, and you all do as Annie tells ya, and I don't want no hassels. Sit
where ya gotta sit. You ain't that stupid that ya can't work it out for
yourselves. Just alphabet order, right!'
'Since when do you give us orders?' said a boy named Douglas Downe, who was
at the back of the room with Sinclair and Sharp.
'Dumbo, you'll get yours,' muttered Roseanne, just loud enough for Priscilla
and Monique, who were standing near the front desks, to hear. Then, filling her
lungs, she bellowed, 'You heard Van Weenan! I'm in charge!' She seemed to puff
up in her uniform so that it looked in danger of bursting here and there.
The room fell silent but for the odd scrape of a chair. 'That's better,' said
Roseanne, screwing up her pudgy face in a broad grin. 'Van Weenan can't be that
stupid after all, picking me to sort youse out. Yeah!' she seemed to be thinking
outloud, 'that's the way I like it. In charge, yeah!' She shook herself, and it
seemed to jellyroll around her uniform. 'Now let's give nice Miss Van Weenan a
nice big surprise. Make her real happy right from the start. Class! Sit down!'
Most of the students, reluctant to do as they were told, but thinking that
their Form Mistress would not be pleased otherwise, seated themselves at desks
around the room. The few who remained standing, including Priscilla and Monique,
'Don't wanna do as I tell ya, ay Blackie!' said Roseanne, moving menacingly
toward them. 'Alright, you'll be sorry. Annie promises you, especially when she
gets made Form Captain!' She shouldered her way roughly between Monique and
Priscilla and thumped up the classroom to a vacant seat.
'What's that supposed to mean?' said Priscilla, but before Monique could
answer, the door opened behind them and Juliet Van Weenan bounced in carrying
something that looked like a small, flat plastic cushion.
'Oh dear, Miss Bateleur and Miss Black, it seems that you two are having
trouble finding your correct seats when everybody else has managed it. That's
hard to understand, considering that you're numbers three and four on the roll.'
The two girls gazed about the room to realise that they were the only ones
left standing and hastened to sit down, both noting the smug smirk on Roseanne
Soles' face, as Miss Van Weenan stepped onto the dais and took up a position
behind her desk.
'I have here the flag for this week,' she said, pulling a folded cloth out of
the protective clear plastic bag and beginning to unwrap it. 'There!' she said
with a flourish, lifting it up in front of her face. 'Now who knows what this
For a moment there was silence, then a girl's voice said, 'That's not a real
flag! It's the Abbo one!'
Juliet Van Weenan lowered the red, yellow and black flag and stared directly
at the owner of the voice. 'Your name, I believe, is Sylvia Knight, correct?'
'I beg your pardon?'
'Aw hell, yes...Miss Van Weenan.' This answer came with a huge, you really
are boring me, sigh.
'Would you care to become our first flag monitor, Miss Knight?'
'Don't trouble yourself. I can tell that you find this flag offensive. Why is
'Coz it's not a real one,' offered Karen Presley, 'It's an aboriginal flag.
It's not our actual Australia flag.'
Juliet Van Weenan seemed to consider this comment for a moment. 'So, are you
telling me that this flag, which is a symbol of the first people to live in this
country, tens of thousands of years before the coming of all others, is not fit
to be represented in our school?'
Silence, in seconds, ticked away as most of the class chewed on her statement
and the remaining few stared into space in utter disdain.
'We should honour it,' said Priscilla quietly, but firmly.
'I think so too,' added Monique, louder.
'I'll go along with that,' called Jeff Sinclair from the back.
'Why, Mister Sinclair, for the class clown you surprise me,' said Juliet,
'Can't get a laugh every time Miss Van Weenan,' he answered, 'although I do
have a few good black jokes...' he halted, looking at the back of Monique's head
as if suddenly seeing her for the first time, 'Aw, sorry, didn't mean...'
'That is fine, Mister Sinclair,' Monique replied, turning in her seat to face
him, 'I can take it. I have a few good white jokes too. And as you are proud of
being white, I am proud of being black.'
'You an Abbo then?' challenged Roseanne Sole, her pudgy face twisting into a
vindictive, accusatory grimace.
'I am not a native of this country. I was born in Africa,' Monique answered
with some dignity. 'But I would be happy to take the flag...'
'No! I want to do that!' This voice also came from the back of the room, and
it came from their newest arrival, John Wynd. 'I'm the last in this class, and
because of my name I'm at the end here. I want to do something first up. I'll do
it...please.' His voice, though guarded, had a resolution about it that made
everyone, including Juliet Van Weenan, take notice.
'Very well, Mister Wynd,' said Juliet, 'you seem determined enough. You may
be our first flag monitor. Collect it from me at the end of this period. Guard
it well and make sure that we see it flying, first thing tomorrow morning. Miss
Bateleur, your eagerness is noted. Perhaps another time. And now,' she sat back
in her chair, her hands resting on the crumpled flag, eyes sweeping across the
room, 'I want to move on to the subject of Form Captain. Does anyone wish to put
forward a candidate?'
After a pause, a very timid voice said, 'Yes...I should like to propose
Rose...I mean, Annie Sole.'
Blinking in disbelief, both Monique and Priscilla turned about once again to
see the frail figure of Saif al Saiph standing, her hand across the scarf at her
mouth, her eyes wide beneath her head covering.
'I...second,' said Narenda Upaday from a row behind, and together Priscilla
and Monique felt a terrible sinking in their stomachs. As they stared in shock
at Narenda she avoided them, lowering her eyes, and they could see that she
appeared distressed by some invisible oppression forcing her into such an
action. Although that invisible oppression was probably sitting only a row
'Yeah! I'll vote for Annie,' said Sylvia Knight, tucking her chewing gum into
the corner of her mouth and hoping Miss Van Weenan wouldn't notice. 'Better than
boys, anyway,' she added in a low tone.
'I vote for Ray Sharp,' called Douglas Downe, and was immediately seconded by
Jeff Sinclair and Leroy Amberson.
'Please, Miss Van Weenan, I would like to suggest Priscilla Black,' said
Monique, holding up her hand at the front.
'Alright, alright,' answered Juliet, 'we have three nominations. That's
enough. We shall do this by open vote. All in favour of Priscilla Black?'
Priscilla guessed that she wouldn't win, although she was pleased at being
nominated by Monique, but the real vote struggle was between the other two, and
unfortunately Monique had helped drag away a couple of those precious votes.
'Sole's gotten to some of them, did you see the look on Narenda's face and Jesus
Mendoza's too,' whispered Priscilla as the voting continued.
'Yes, and I noticed a bruise on Saif's wrist when she stood up,' said
Monique. 'I bet I know how she got it.'
In the end, apart from the votes cast for Priscilla, the count was seven for
Roseanne Sole, eight for Ray Sharp, with John Wynd yet to decide.
'Come on then Mister Wynd, you have the honour of being our first flag
monitor. Please cast your vote,' said Miss Van Weenan, now upstanding and
bouncing on the balls of her feet.
John Wynd, his eyes staring at the crumpled flag on Miss Van Weenan's desk,
said, 'I don't know anybody here. I probably shouldn't pick anyone. I guess...'
'I guess you'll go for the boys, too chicken to pick a girl!' hissed
Roseanne, in a last desperate attempt to goad him into voting for her.
He didn't appear to hear the taunt, as if he was preoccupied with other
thoughts. 'I suppose...um...Roseanne Sole.'
Juliet Van Weenan winced as some of the class began to 'Whoo-hoo, yah-hoo!'
'Come on everybody, settle down!' she shouted, raising her arms, 'It's eight
all, Miss Sole and Mister Sharp. We have a tie. But...' she lowered her hands,
'I have the casting vote as Form Mistress. And I vote for R...'
Roseanne, fuming, muttered, 'Yeah! We know who yer gonna vote for, yer bi...'
'Roseanne Sole!' said Juliet Van Weenan, her arm extended toward the
dumbfounded figure of the big girl, who's mouth was still hanging open, the word
'bitch' uncompleted on her lips. Then, as realization dawned, Roseanne gleefully
began to cry out, 'Annie's gonna be the boss, Annie's gonna be the boss,
yah-yah! Like Form Captain, yeah!' She punched a fist several times into the
air, grinning and nudging Marge Turnbull in the seat beside her. 'She ain't such
a bad Form Mistress after all,' she hooted, breaking into a big, triumphant
'You've got to be kidding!' shouted Priscilla, jumping to her feet and
staring hard at Juliet Van Weenan. 'You can't be serious! Why would you let that
cow get her own way? She's bullied some of the others into voting for her. Look
at them, Narenda, Saif, Jesus and the rest, they don't really want her, they're
just scared. O.K. I don't know Ray at all, but I'll give my vote to him...'
'I will too!' said Monique, rising angrily beside Priscilla. 'Surely Miss Van
'Silence!' shouted Juliet, over their combined protestations. 'Miss Black,
Miss Bateleur! Take your seats at once and be quiet! This is not up to either of
you, and you do not have a vote now. Yours, Miss Bateleur, has already been cast
for Miss Black, and she as a candidate, is excluded from voting...'
'But you can't put her in charge,' argued Priscilla, 'she's going to make
everyone's life a misery...'
Juliet advanced to the front of the dais. 'Not another word from either of
you, or you will leave the room!'
Distraught, Priscilla and Monigue both resumed their seats, their hearts
beating furiously, hands trembling with outrage.
'Couple of trouble makers,' snickered Sylvia Knight, sticking her gum under
the corner of Jesus Mendoza's desk.
'That will be enough, Miss knight,' said Juliet Van Weenan, returning to her
own chair. 'Alright Miss Sole, you've got what you wanted. You've won. Now I'll
just write out a note for Miss Poe so that your name can be listed with all the
other Form Captains, and of course all names will be posted on the bulletin
board and read out next Monday at assembly,' she poised her pen over her clip
board, 'so it will be Roseanne Sole...'
'Annie's gonna be top dog!' jeered Roseanne, 'Annie's gonna be top...wait a
minute!' She suddenly stopped, thinking it appeared. 'My name's Annie, use that,
Annie Sole! Annie Sole!'
Juliet Van Weenan looked up brightly at all the class, many of whom were
downcast and slumped in their seats, 'That isn't possible Miss Sole. I can't
alter your name. I don't have the authority to do that. Annie is just your
choice of nick-name, but you appear on our Hopewell roll as Roseanne Sole. I
could however just put you down... (And here Juliet left a faint emphasis on
'put you down.') Yes, if you object so much, we can use your initial, that is
within the guidelines...So it will be R...Oh dear...Oh my goodness gracious me!'
she said as if realization had only just occurred to her. 'Now I see why you
would want to be called Annie. Your parents couldn't have been thinking when
they named you. Yes...A. Sole, is much more preferable to R. So...Well...you
wouldn't want to be credited all over the school through Hopewell Hall's
loud-speakers with that...The whole school would end up laughing...'
As if on cue, a muffled guffaw suddenly burst from Sinclair as the pennies
dropped, and quickly most of the class followed, until the whole room was filled
with mocking hoots of merriment. Even those few on Roseanne's side, with the
exception of John Wynd, saw the joke and attempted, with little success, not to
Only Priscilla and Monique enjoyed the humiliation mirthlessly, set
expressions of justice well served on their faces.
Roseanne Sole reacted as most bullies do when they are shown up to be weak
and vulnerable. 'Don't-want-to-have-my-name-That-Name-all-over-school!' she
howled, standing and turning about to survey all the laughing faces.
'You-can-stick-it!-Don't-wanna-be-form-captain!' She made as if to leave her
'Sit down Miss Sole!' said Juliet, dropping her pen, rising and coming round
her desk, bouncing on the balls of her feet almost like a boxer. 'You are not
given permission to leave this room. You will be seated and control yourself! Do
Roseanne, momentarily too humiliated to fight back, threw up her arms and
slammed her ample behind into her chair, almost bowling Marge Turnbull over in
the doing. Several of the other students, including Narenda Upaday, appeared
'Now,' said Juliet, her voice calming at once, 'it would seem that the matter
of Form Captain is closed. As Miss Sole has withdrawn, Mister Sharp, it falls to
you. I should like to have a brief chat about your duties at the end of this
period. Before that however, we must take a look at all your teachers and
subjects, and which rooms you will be attending...'
Amongst the following class discussion, Roseanne Sole took no part, sitting
silently, her lips compressed tightly together, her face crimson and her hands
balled into fists. Behind her squinting eyes it could well be imagined that she
was plotting revenge in one form or another.
At the end of the period, Juliet said, 'Miss Black and Miss Bateleur, you are
both to remain behind. I want a word with the pair of you in regard to your
conduct this morning. Apart from Mister Sharp, the rest of you may go to
recess.' She turned away to a white board and started wiping it clear as the
students began to leave, laughing and chattering while they wandered out.
Narenda passed the two girls, her gaze downcast, without a word. John Wynd
arrived at Juliet's desk and thoughtfully folded the Aboriginal flag, carefully
placing it inside its plastic slip before leaving. It was as if he remained
unattached and distant to all of the proceeding events.
'Yeah, youze are gonna get yer butts kicked at least!' hissed Roseanne, as
she shuffled by Priscilla and Monique, her big red face momentarily leering into
'Do you know that old saying? Something about, "What is in a name? A
rose by any other name would smell as sweet?" ' said Monique, in a quiet
aside to Priscilla.
'Umm, and a Roseanne by any other name would just smell!' giggled Priscilla,
until Juliet Van Weenan left her desk, walked over to the class-room door and
slowly closed it, before turning to face them.
'O'boy, now I think we're gonna get it!' said Priscilla, sinking lower into
Chapter 4 [Next]