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Antonia Primm I

I'm moving the story into a sort of rural, sort of urban steampunk setting, but I haven't been able to think of any good technology yet. I have been thinking about some high-tech steampunk farm equipment though. 

The ringing of the school bell signaling the start of class could be heard throughout the entirety of the little town. 

Antonia Primm, the new schoolmistress, stood nervously at the front of the room as the children dashed in, their disorder, laughter and general irreverence increasing her uneasiness. The former schoolmistress had, unfortunately, eloped, after over half a semester of wandering under the apple trees with a farmer, scrawling poetry in the composition books from which Miss Primm now must teach, and allowing her students to do whatever they pleased.

The students had brought with them a wisp of spring pollen that brought Miss Primm dangerously close to a sneeze. 

"Ahem." Miss Primm's brows raised, and with it her voice as she commanded the students to be seated. 

At the rear of the room a girl polished an apple with the hem of her white pinafore. Her hair was long and springy, coal-black in color, and her brows were closely-knit, giving her a brooding look. When she glanced up Miss Primm noticed her eyes were startlingly black. She had troubled herself to learn the names of the children in the town during the week she settled, but she could not recall seeing this girl before. 

Around the girl was a perceptible clearance. No one sat in front of or on either side of her. 

Miss Primm opened her record book and began to call roll.

'My heart quickens as the hands of the clock turn. I count the moments till I am in his arms,' were recorded in breathless scrawl above the list of names, and Miss Primm made a note to herself to copy the information she needed into a new notebook, and put this one in the stove.

The coal-haired girl gave no vocalization at any of the names mentioned, and finally Miss Primm snapped the book closed and motioned toward her, bidding her to stand.

"Are you a new student?" she asked.

No one bothered to look up.

"No. I attended last semester."

Miss Primm opened and examined the roll book once more, and realized a name was pencilled in the faintest scrawl, as though it had been rubbed out. She glanced back at the girl. "Is your name Shirley Nightingale?"

Shirley assented, and looked askance at the students around her, but none returned her gaze. Miss Primm felt some uneasiness, but congratulated herself on the relative silence in the room and moved forward with her lesson. 

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