— CHAPTER 1 —
MRS SMUTTS’S EYE
‘ELIZA MAY BLAYLOCK! Stand up!’
Apart from my teacher, Mrs Smutts, nobody ever called me Eliza. It was always Lizzie. Lizzie Blaylock. It’s a plain enough name and for thirteen years it had served me fine.
An ordinary name for an ordinary girl, you might imagine. I’d certainly only ever thought of myself as ordinary. And up until that day in the spring of 1885, I was ordinary. Really I was. I took myself to church on Sundays, said my prayers every night, and attended school regularly. But all that was about to change.
‘Eliza! Did you hear me? I told you to stand up!’
Dorrie Canning, the girl sitting next to me, lowered her head and began to snigger. I scowled at her as I struggled to my feet. When I finally looked up, I began to get an inkling of what was on the damned scrap of paper that she’d just forced into my hand. Something awful had happened to my teacher’s face. A vein had burst in her right eye; it now resembled a spongy, peeled tomato.
‘Eliza Blaylock, were you passing notes?’
‘No, miss,’ I said, so sickened by the sight that I nearly dropped the crumpled paper then and there.
‘You know I take a particularly grim view of girls who pass notes in my class?’
‘Yes, miss.’ I bowed my head and stared at the floor. It probably made me appear even more guilty, but I couldn’t bear having to look at that eye for another second.
‘You were in trouble last week for not handing in your homework, Eliza. And the week before that there was your appalling outburst during morning prayers.’
‘Yes, miss.’ The truth was that Dorrie Canning had stolen my homework and ripped it to shreds in the playground; the week before, she’d put a damned spider down the back of my neck, just as we reached the part of the Lord’s prayer that goes “Give us this day our daily bread”.
Mrs Smutts sighed. ‘Well, if you weren’t passing notes, please explain to me what you were doing.’