Len enjoyed her half term weekend with the Christys. The Chalet School had spent a number of happy years at the Big House on St Briavel’s, and Len revisited old haunts and took long tramps across the island with Dickie, the sea air blowing fresh colour into her face.
On Sunday afternoon, Len sat quietly with Mrs Christy and Dickie and, prompted to talk about her experiences at the school, told them something of her problems with Jemima.
“If it was just rudeness, it wouldn’t be so bad” said Len “but I don’t believe any girl is so rude without there being something behind it. Its not only me, she is constantly in trouble with every mistress in the school! All the staff have complained to me about her – I’m her form mistress too – and I believe that she has endless run-ins with the prees.”
"Can’t the Head do anything?” asked Carey Christy.
“She hasn’t had a Head’s Report although goodness knows she is going all out to get one” said Len “but Miss Alton was going to speak to her over her half term report next week. But – well – Miss Alton is a dear, and she can be terribly scathing when she likes - ”
“I bet she’s got nothing on Bill” chuckled Dickie “she – Bill, I mean - was never very sarky with me but some of the things she said just made you want to shrivel into a corner and hope she didn’t notice you!”
“I honestly don’t think that’s what Jemima needs” said Len, thoughtfully. “She seems sad to me – and angry too. Apparently last term she was a perfectly nice, normal girl – I have any number of demons in the fourth, and at staff meeting no-one even mentioned her as a girl to watch! Anna Schmit says she has changed completely over the summer, but when I asked Miss Alton she said that the parents had not told her anything had gone wrong at home.”
“I remember Miss Alton teaching Gaynor at Glendower House” said Mrs Christy, thoughtfully “and what she doesn’t have is Hilda Annersley’s gift for getting under people’s skin – your mother’s gift Len.”
“Mary-Lou does it too,” said Len.
“None of them are here though, Len” said Mrs Christy, gently, “and you are your mother’s own girl for butting in where its needed”.
Len returned to Glendower House on Tuesday of half term week refreshed by her short break. Few girls travelled the great distances to school that the pupils of the Swiss school did, and so most went home for half term. Of those left in school, ten were juniors and junior middles and fifteen were middles. Of the seniors only four were left, and they were those very important people, the prefects.
Len had little to do with the prefects in school. Anna Schmit taught the sixth form in both French and German and beyond Prayers and meal times, Len had really seen little of them. Of the four prefects left at school for half term, two were headed for St Mildred’s for a finishing year and the Head Girl and Second Prefect both hoped to take degrees at Oxford. Knowing this, Miss Alton had arranged a trip to Oxford for the four girls and Len found herself assigned as escort mistress.
“You will know better than I do what they will enjoy in Oxford” said Miss Penn, the school secretary when she gave Len her assignment. “I have arranged your hotel and for you to have dinner there but otherwise there are so few of you, you suit yourself. The coach will be ready at half past seven on Wednesday morning and collect you from the hotel at three o’clock on Thursday afternoon so you will be back in nice time for supper.”
On Wednesday morning Len entered the dining room to find the four prefects eating a good breakfast. They welcomed the mistress eagerly and Len found herself enjoying their company. These girls were very near to her own age and all were enthusiastic about the trip to a city Len had learned to love in her own university days.
The small coach arrived promptly and the journey passed without event. Arrived in Oxford the girls exclaimed over the beauty of the grey spires in the bright autumn sunshine. They left their bags at the small, central hotel the secretary had arranged and, having quickly washed and ensured they were as trim and trig as became prefects, walked down broad St Giles into the very centre of the city.
Len was keen to introduce the girls to the city’s history and to some of her favourite sights. She took the girls past the Bodleian Library where they all wanted to stop and take pictures of the Radcliffe Camera and exclaimed as she explained that the university’s libraries extended in endless corridors under the city’s pavements. The prefects peered into shops in the Turl then came out onto the High, walking passed All Saints and Queen’s Colleges, before coming to Magdalene College.
Laughing and joking, the prefects gathered on Magdalene Bridge and persuaded Len to take a photograph of the four of them. A passing shopper, pausing to look sympathetically at the happy group, offered to take a photograph of them all and Len found herself in the middle of the happy crowd calling “sausages” for the camera.
As the girls thanked the woman Len found her attention caught by a group across the road. A mother and father walked along, each holding the hand of a happy, chattering toddler – clearly twins. Len smiled at the jolly sight, the children reminding her of her own youngest brother and sister, Geoff and Phil, before she saw Jemima following a little distance behind. The woman turned and spoke to Jemima, who caught up with the little group but made no effort to join in their conversation.
“Isn’t that that pest Jemima Smallthorne?” Erica asked Ann in an undertone, having noticed the mistress’s interest. She coloured, catching Len’s eye. “Sorry Miss Maynard!”
Len turned the conversation, feeling quite sure that Jemima would not welcome a meeting with her form mistress and putting the little incident to the back of her mind to consider when she had time.
The sixth formers walked back along the High in a merry group, reaching Christ Church where they were entranced to hear about the great college’s connection with Alice in Wonderland and be shown by a college ‘scout’ the small door in Hall through which the White Rabbit had first disappeared.
After the tour of Christ Church College and wandering in its beautiful grounds Len, wise in her generation, took the girls back to their hotel, insisting that they rest before the evening’s entertainment for Miss Penn had booked theatre tickets for them.
Although they protested, all realised that they were tired by the early start and long day and Len relented sufficiently to allow them to enjoy a peep into the great debating chamber of the Oxford Union and to see Oxford’s newest college, St Peter’s, which they learned occupied a site where students had been educated for six hundred years.
Jemima did not reappear, and Len put her troublesome pupil from her mind as she accompanied the prefects to a performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
The following morning, the Glendower House girls awoke to a grey, dismal sky and pouring rain.
“What will we do today, Miss Maynard?” asked Ann eagerly. The prefects were thrilled with their experience of the great university city and, discussing the matter, had been unanimous in their approval of the young mistress.
“I want to take you to the Ashmolean Museum, which I think you will love” explained Len “and then we will find somewhere to eat. After lunch, perhaps you would like to do some shopping and we leave at three o’clock, remember”.
“It’s been a fabulous trip, Miss Maynard,” offered Laura, the head girl, “the rest will be wild with envy when we tell them about it.”
“Good!” smiled Len. “Go and tidy yourselves you people, and meet me in the lobby in ten minutes.”
Laughing and chattering, the girls went upstairs. Len followed them and was quickly ready and went back down to the lobby to wait for her charges. As she entered the room, she saw Jemima and her parents sat, apparently waiting for the rain to stop.
The girl looked panic stricken for a moment, but, to Len’s surprise, rose politely as the mistress approached.
“Hello, Jemima, what a surprise to see you!” she exclaimed “I thought that I had seen you and your parents on the High yesterday, although not near enough to speak to. How do you do, Mrs Smallthorne?” she added, seeing that Jemima appeared speechless. “I am Len Maynard, Jemima’s form mistress.”
The lady smiled and offered a friendly hand to Len. “How do you do?” she asked. “I’m delighted to meet you Miss Maynard. May I introduce my husband, Dr Smallthorne, and these are our twins, Donny and Daisy.”
Len shook hands with the doctor and the twins came forward readily to greet the mistress. “I am here with a group of sixth formers for a half term trip” explained Len.
“We thought that Jemima would enjoy a visit here too” explained Mrs Smallthorne. “Will you join us – we were going to order coffee whilst the rain continues.” The doctor had bent down to his small twins who were eagerly showing him a caterpillar they had found on the floor. Len smiled at the children’s eagerness as they tumbled over their words but noticed that Jemima paid them no attention.
“Thank you, that’s very kind of you but we have a busy day planned and the girls will be – ah, here they are” exclaimed Len, as the prefects entered the lobby and stood waiting quietly for the mistress. “Please excuse me – and I hope that you enjoy the rest of your visit, Mrs Smallthorne, and you too Jemima.”
Len purposely included the girl in the conversation. She had remained standing whilst the mistress stood but had scarcely reacted to anything said. Now she managed a wan smile and said “thank you Miss Maynard. I – I hope you have a good time.”
“Thank you – I shall look forward to comparing our experiences back at school” smiled the mistress.
The rest of the trip passed pleasantly and the girls clambered onto the coach feeling that the rest would be green with envy at the tale of their visit. They plied Len with questions about Oxford until she protested, laughingly, that she was not the encyclopaedia. “Look up a history of Oxford if you want to know more!” she said. “Change the subject someone – its my holiday too!”
“I will” said Sue, the Second prefect, a quiet girl who was nevertheless a great force of common sense in amongst the prefects. “Miss Maynard, do you know who is writing the Christmas play this year?”
“Madame, I believe” said Len.
“Really? I didn’t think she wrote them anymore. I remember her writing one or two when we were juniors but not for ages now” asked Sue.
“Yes, she is back in England now and will be visiting the school some time this term” confirmed Len.
After some discussion about the form the Christmas play might take – the school as a whole was proud that it rarely repeated its plays – Ann changed the subject again. “Miss Maynard, can you tell us something about the Millies – St Mildred’s I mean. You know I am going there for my last year?”
“I was never a Millie” said Len, “but we knew them well, of course. St Mildred’s itself is on a lower shelf than the school but we used to see the girls on Saturday afternoons and at Church and for things like the sale and the pantomime. You know that they stick to the old ways of the school and are trilingual, don’t you?” she added teasingly.
“I know” groaned Ann “it’s the only thing that makes me wish mummy and dad did not want to send me there. I like languages well enough but cannot imagine doing lessons in French and German – I mean lessons in other subjects” she added, confusedly.
“It comes with practice” Len reassured her “anyway, I think Frau Schmit means to start a conversation club to help you people who are going to St Mildred’s”
“Really, when?” asked Erica eagerly “that would be a huge help”.
“Next term I think” explained Len. “We’ll be busy with the Christmas play after half term.”
It was evening by now and in the interests of the conversation they had all stopped watching the roads some time earlier. They were all surprised when the bus pulled into the school grounds and came to a halt before the front door. The prefects piled out, thanking the driver and entered through the front door as was their right as prefects. Len, delayed slightly by checking that no belongings had been left in the coach, followed them. It was fortunate that the prefects had left the entrance hall before the mistress entered and before they could see her lack of dignity as she saw a slender, dark haired woman coming out of the Head’s study. “Auntie Madge!” she shrieked, throwing her arms around her aunt.