The Glendower House staff were gathered for their well-earned break and most were chatting in twos and threes, enjoying tea and home-made biscuits and watching the rain beat against the windows. Miss Edwards, affectionately known as Teddy to the school at large (although strictly not to her face), sank into a comfortable armchair in the staffroom and thankfully took her tea.
“You look as if you were ready for your tea?” queried Frau Schmit.
“The weather seems to have washed any memory of anything so dull as times tables out of the brains of the Second Form” said Teddy. “I’ve just condemned the lot to writing out their nine times table at half past four! They should be ashamed of themselves!”
“What have they been doing?” asked the head of languages.
“Miss Alton had to go up to London to interview prospective parents this morning” explained Miss Edwards “so I said that I would take the Firsts and Seconds together. You know how at that stage they can always use a little extra mental arithmetic so I started off with that. The Firsts were sharp as tacks – every last one of them was answering straight away and you know that at their stage they can be shaky on their tables. But the Seconds! They missed more questions than they answered and muffed even easy questions! I suppose you wouldn’t be grinning like that if you had been dealing with them, Anna!”
“Indeed, Dollie, I am not laughing at your troubles” smiled the languages mistress, “but I can explain your First formers abilities and the memory made me smile.”
“Do solve the riddle Anna” exclaimed Miss Gray, the resident music mistress.
“It is Len Maynard” answered Anna Schmit demurely.
“Len?” exclaimed Teddy. “What has Len Maynard to do with their maths?”
“I was looking for Len last week – you will remember the day when we had very warm weather?” The others nodded assent. “As I walked towards the First Form I could hear the lesson for the door was open. I heard what sounded as if the whole form were counting together in French.”
”Well, that doesn’t explain them knowing their tables” interrupted Dollie Edwards.
“No, but as I got closer I heard more clearly that there was an odd sound to the counting. I could hear un – deux – fizz – quatre - buzz – six – sept –huit – neuf – buzz!”
“What!” it came as an exclamation from the whole staff.
“But yes” nodded Anna Schmit. “It is a game Len has taught them to improve their French – one counts but replaces multiples of any given number with the words fizz and buzz. So three became fizz and five and ten buzz. I understand,” she added seriously, “that when one gets to fifteen one says fizzbuzz!” The staffroom rocked with laughter.
“So Len has told the First that if all – but all – score 18 or more in their vocabulary test the class can play this game for the last five minutes of the lesson. Otherwise, they must continue to work to the end. Len has told me that the average since she made this rule has been 19, and on no occasion has any girl scored below 18.”
“Len is full of ideas, isn’t she? She seems to be getting on very well” commented Miss Gray.
“If you had the privileged of knowing Joey Maynard, it would not surprise you that her daughter is full of ideas” said Teddy. “But Len is turning into the sort of mistress we want. Where is she anyway?”
Len, meanwhile, was feeling anything but the confidence her colleagues had just been expressing. The school had responded well to the new mistress who was firm but fair in her dealings with every girl, and prepared to be friendly and jolly out of school and do her best to ensure that all her students made progress. However, she knew that she had not won the liking – or more importantly the respect – of Jemima Smallthorne and that morning the tussle she had been expecting had finally come.
Len had walked into her form room and, as usual, started the lesson with a short vocabulary test. Remembering what new girls who spoke little other than their own language had been taught at the Chalet School in Switzerland, she had impressed on her classes that if they learned five new words each day they would soon find their vocabularies expanding. Most had seized the hint, and eagerly accepted her offer to provide lists of words and spend a few minutes at the beginning of each class testing them, but Len had noticed that Jemima rarely knew the words.
“I don’t think that a promise of fizzbuzz is going to persuade her to learn” thought Len, “but I need to find a way encouraging her to do this. People learn better if they want to, than if I just add the vocab to their prep”.
With this in mind, she had called on the girl to answer early in the lesson and had noted the girl’s sullen air and surly tone. “its not impudence, although it sounds a lot like it” thought Len, worriedly, “she sounds unhappy.”
It seemed that Jemima had set out to be as difficult as she could that morning. Her answers were scarcely courteous and Len noticed that she never volunteered an answer to any question, nor ask did she ask any of her own. Len continued with the lesson she had prepared on the use of the subjunctive tense and then cleared the board and sat down at the mistresses’ table to dictate the preparation.
Having set the classes’ preparation, Len smiled round the room. “Has anyone any questions?” she asked. She looked at Jemima as she slouched in her seat, leaning against the wall, arms folded and that surly look on her face. “What about you Jemima? If you sit like that I am not sure you are paying sufficient attention to my lesson”.
“Actually, I did have a question, miss” said Jemima. “what’s the French for sing?”
“Chantez” said Len, puzzled.
Jemima shifted in her chair, then, to the mistress’s astonishment began to sing “land of hope and glor-ee, land of the free”
A gasp and a giggle from the room were hastily stifled as the Fourth realised that their form mistress was not amused by this poor attempt at a joke.
“Silence!” exclaimed the young mistress “what on earth do you think you are doing?”
“Only what you told me to,” muttered the girl.
“Come up here” snapped Len, conscious that whilst most of the Fourth were horrified at the rudeness some of the wilder spirits were enjoying the drama. She thought that the girl was going to refuse, but a look which would have frozen any naughty Middle in the days when Len had been a much-beloved Head Girl brought Jemima to the front of the room, rapidly deflating although determined not to let her rapidly diminishing nerve disappear altogether.
“Now, first you may apologise to me for your impertinence, and then you may apologise to the form for disrupting their lesson” ordered Len.
“If you want an apology from me you can whistle for it” replied the girl “what is the French for whistle, anyway?”
Two more gasps came from the room. Len felt the colour coming into her face and gave the girl a hard look. “Leave the room” she said. Jemima went, subdued slightly by the look in her form mistress’s grey eyes.
Len dismissed her form shortly then sat at her desk, searching for the right way to tackle the girl. She knew she had to be brought to the apology demanded, but Len could not forget the unhappiness she had seen in the girl’s eyes.