Len Maynard's first weeks teaching at Glendower House - with apologies to EBD for shameless hacking of New Mistress.
St Agnes' House Characters:
03 Oct 2011 Updated:
29 Apr 2012
1. Chapter 1 by Fliss
2. Chapter 2 by Fliss
3. Chapter 3 by Fliss
4. Chapter 4 by Fliss
5. Chapter 5 by Fliss
6. Chapter 6 by Fliss
7. Chapter 7 by Fliss
8. Chapter 8 by Fliss
9. Chapter 9 - Christmas at the Quadrant by Fliss
10. Chapter 10 by Fliss
11. Chapter 11 by Fliss
12. Chapter 12 by Fliss
A Chalet School Exchange
“Ready, Len?” asked Miss Alton.
The tall young woman hesitated, then nodded. “Yes. Yes, thank you, Miss Alton”.
“Good! Then come and meet your form”.
Len Maynard took a deep breath, gathering both gown and self confidence around her as she followed her headmistress. Miss Alton, head of the English branch of the Chalet School, turned and smiled at her newest and youngest mistress as she strode down the corridor towards the Fourth form’s room.
“I know that Hilda Annersley will have talked to you and Jo about this, but I would like to do so myself now” she said. “There is a real need now for the girls to do well in GCE and it means that here in England we can no longer give the precedence to languages we have done historically. We have given up the use of three languages in the way you were used to them to concentrate on good Oxford results. But, I don’t want us to loose our reputation for excellence in languages and so I am keen to push the Fourth in particular before they sit GCE next year. In addition, we have had some problems with staff over the last year and the language teaching has suffered and so, I am afraid, have the girls’ language skills. We have decided that they need to improve again!”
“Yes, I see” said Miss Maynard, “I knew of course that Glendower House had given up speaking English, French and German day-about, and Mamma and auntie Madge thought it was impossible to deal properly with the exam. syllabus if it continued here - especially for the girls who are poor at languages. But I did wonder why you were appointing a new languages mistress in these circumstances,” she added, anxiously.
“The girls still need excellent language teaching and I am afraid that the school’s language skills have slipped further than they should have done over the last few years” smiled Miss Alton “it has been difficult to find a balance between the general exam syllabus and maintaining our students’ languages.”
“Oh, I see that of course” said Len. “I know even in Switzerland, where its very much easier being surrounded by French or German all the time, some people who would be good at maths or science were hampered by trying to work in another language all the time.”
“Exactly” agreed the Head. “So, as you know, you are form mistress of the Fourth form and will take French with all forms except the Sixth, and German with the Third who are the youngest students to take German now.”
Miss Alton saw Len’s need for reassurance and added. “I’ve seen your lesson plans, and observed some really excellent work in your teaching practice. You’ll be fine, Len!”
“Thanks, Miss Alton”, said Len. “I am looking forward to starting – its funny how I would face any form as a prefect, but …”
“Remember to the Fourth you are grown up” interrupted the Head. “Now come and meet your form!”
Len followed Miss Alton into the large room, full of September sunshine. The Form rose at the mistresses’ entrance and stood until Miss Alton nodded to them with a smiling “thank you girls!”. The Fourth sat with only limited chair scraping and shuffling and most looked curiously at the newest staff member. Len noticed that they were mostly bright and cheerful looking but wondered at one girl who had risen more slowly than the rest and now slouched in her front row seat.
“This is Miss Maynard, Miss Maynard, these are the Fourth formers” introduced the Head. “Girls, please help Miss Maynard with anything she needs to know”.
“The bell goes for Prayers in ten minutes so once you’ve registered them it will be more or less time” added Miss Alton in an undertone.
The girls rose again as the Head left the room then sat, most of them looking at Len with interest. Len looked over her form, holding her chestnut head straight and returned their look with the clear eyes her mother always declared reminded her of wood-violets.
“We’ll start with registration, and I will try and learn your names quickly” she said.
Len quickly called over the names, trying to impress them on her memory. As she finished the bell rang and the form immediately rose to line at the door.
During Prayers, Len looked with interest at the assembled school. Most of Len’s school days had been spent at the school’s Swiss branch but she had spent a number of years at the school in England.
None of the girls were known to her now, although she knew that one or two were younger sisters and cousins of her contemporaries. Amongst the staff, again, were one or two old friends – besides Miss Alton, Miss Edwards had taught her in her earliest school days. She noted, too, the brown and flame uniform that had been left for the English branch when the Chalet School in Switzerland adopted new colours. Like the Swiss branch, the school in England had given up tunics a number of years earlier but instead of the dresses adopted in Switzerland the members of the English branch wore skirts and blazers, Miss Alton declaring that they were better suited to the English climate.
After Prayers, Len returned quickly to her form room. It had been explained to her that because, unlike the Swiss branch, the school had many day pupils, the term started immediately with the full timetable and books were handed out by subject mistresses.
Len’s first lesson was with the Fourth for a double French period and she quickly superintended the distribution of exercise and vocab books, New Simpler French Course and Le Petit Prince.
“Now, girls” she said, calling the class’s attention, and speaking of course in French. “You know that I am Miss Maynard. And what is your name?” Len nodded at a sullen looking girl on the front row.
“Jemima” muttered the girl.
Len raised an eyebrow, but felt it too early to comment on the girl’s attitude. Instead, she smiled encouragingly at the girl. “How do you do, Jemima, ” she said smilingly, “and now please introduce yourself in French and tell me something about yourself”.
The girl answered unwillingly and Len passed on to the next girl with a question about the holidays. After around 10 minutes of conversation – with much help and prompting from the mistress – Len paused, much to the relief of those who had not been called on.
“Copy this down, please” she said crisply, beginning a vocabulary list on the blackboard.
Once the last girl had finished transcribing the list Len, reverting to French, told the form to learn the list for preparation and prepare 10 sentences describing the holiday then called on the form prefect to translate.
Robyn Black, a slim, pretty girl translated accurately enough but with hesitation which astonished Len, remembering her own fluency at 14. “I must remember that languages haven’t been taught here as we were at the Chalet” she thought to herself, “and we three had the time at the convent which improved our French no end. The level was bound to be different here. Auntie Madge told me ages ago before I even thought of coming to Glendower House that the languages were slipping in the interest of other subjects too.”
As the first week progressed, Len found that it was the same throughout the school, whilst the girls’ work, on the whole, was excellent, the school’s languages were poor. From her mother and aunt, Len knew that the previous language mistress had not been a success. Joining the school at a time when a decision had been taken that languages could not be prioritised in the way they had been, Miss Chesney had simply not kept the standard high enough. Coming in a year when the German mistress had been in the San. for almost a whole year, the foreign language teaching had slipped far below the standard expected by the school. Miss Alton had acted swiftly once she realised the problem and leapt at the opportunity to employ Len Maynard as assistant languages mistress to Frau Schmit, but there was much hard work to be done to restore Glendower House’s status as far as languages were concerned.
The bright Indian summer weather continued and Len – busy with teaching and, she felt, learning too as she put into practice the skills she had learned on her course – awoke with a shock one morning to realise that September had slipped into October. She washed and dressed quickly before slipping down to the staffroom to finish some marking.
Frau Schmit, the head of the languages department, smiled at her young assistant mistress as she came into the room. “Are your students making progress?” she asked.
“Some of them are so poor” said Len. “Even those who try would benefit from more than two double periods each week – they need to be surrounded by the language in the way we were.”
“Yes, but how to manage it?” asked the older woman. “Miss Alton is quite correct that the girls cannot speak French and German four days each week and expect to do as well in their examinations as one would hope. We must think of other ideas to give them chance to speak and hear more”.
“Well” said Len, hesitatingly, “I did have one idea but”
“But please explain, Len” encouraged her head of department
“I wondered whether some of the girls could spend some time at the Swiss branch and – well – perhaps some of the continental girls could spend some time here which would help their English”
“An exchange?” asked Frau Schmit “I wonder if we could do that?”
Thanks for the encouraging comments - this is my first attempt at a CS story so your kind words are appreciated! I'm trying to work out who would be in the fourth in Switzerland by the time Len graduated, but in the meantime wanted to try a classroom scene.
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.
thanks for the kind feedback - this seems to be taking on something of a life of its own.
With a swift, inward prayer for help, Len walked to the classroom door. As she opened it quietly, she received another shock. Jemima had disappeared. Len had expected to find the Fourth former waiting to face the mistress and this calm disappearance almost took her breath away. Turning to the end of the corridor, she caught a junior and sent her to find Jemima and send her to the mistress.
In the middles' common room, the Fourth were vehement in their disapproval. "I don't know how you had the cheek to act up like that in Maynie's class" said Amy, a conscientious girl who generally enjoyed school and had absorbed thoroughly the respect which attached to any mistress at the Chalet School. "It was just kiddish" added Robyn, who as form prefect felt responsibility for Jemima's behaviour. "Maynie is really decent and puts up with more from you than Frau Schmit ever would."
"I don't really see that its anyone's business" said Jemima. "Keen on her, you two? Grammar is dull as anything - it was all I could do not to yawn. Some people were grateful that I livened it up a bit!"
The door was pushed timidly open and Caroline Parkinson, a timid junior came into the room. "Please, Jemima, Miss Maynard said you were to go to her in the Fourth, please."
"If she wants me why can't she come here?" asked Jemima.
"Please, she just told me that" said the small girl, growing more timid by the second - Jemima was a "big girl" in Caroline's eyes.
"Here, stop bullying the kid" interposed Robyn. "We don't do that in this school. If Maynie's sent for you I'd go now, she's going to have enough to say to you anyway. All right Caroline, she's going, you run along now."
Jemima stalked from the room. Arrived in the Fourth, she stood silently in front of the mistress.
"Is something wrong with you Jemima?" asked Len. "Have you a headache or a toothache?"
"No - I'm fine" said the culprit, startled by the question.
"In that case, please explain why you chose to behave badly in my lesson?" asked the mistress. Jemima was silent.
There was a further silence. Len gave the girl a full minute to respond.
"Very well." she said. "You have been rude to me and disrupted the rest of your form. After break, you may apologise to me and to them. Then you can take yourself to the punishment table for the rest of the morning and we will see if a little solitude helps you remember that bad manners are not acceptable here."
The punishment table was generally used for juniors who behaved badly and this punishment told. Jemima's head dropped and kind-hearted Len waited. If the girl had apologised fully then she would have remitted the rest of the punishment, but no apology was forthcoming. Len waited another minute, but the girl stood in silence.
"You have a few minutes before the end of break. You had better go and have your elevenses".
When the bell rang for the end of break the girls returned to their formroom to find Miss Maynard awaiting them. Len had murmured a blushing account to Miss Edwards who had readily agreed to let her have the form for a few minutes at the beginning of the lesson and to begin German Diktat with the Third on Len's behalf.
"Girls!" said Len, with more dignity than she felt. "Jemima has something to say".
The girl rose, red faced and said to the mistress as if repeating a lesson "Sorry I was rude to you Miss Maynard. Sorry I disrupted the lesson."
"I accept your apology" said Len. "You may go now".
Seizing her books, Jemima left the room. "Please wait quietly for Miss Edwards" said Len, and followed her most troublesome pupil from the room.
After supper, the staff gathered for Staff Meeting. Len, who had continued to worry about Jemima's attitude, was tired and shy about putting forward the proposal she and Anna Schmit had worked out. The meeting began with the usual review of the early part of the term and allocation of half term duties. Len found, to her delight, that she was free for a long weekend. She had an invitation to visite her parents' friends, Commander and Mrs Christie and their daughter, Dickie, great friend of Len's cousin Peggy, would also be there for the weekend. After a difficult day, and tired with a month crowded with new experiences, Len looked forward to a real rest.
The meeting moved to discussion of the pupils and Len, prompted by Teddy, gave an account of the morning's contremps. "I think you dealt with it correctly, Len" said Miss Alton. "This is only Jemima's second term, but everyone who teaches her has noticed her poor attitude this term. Her parents have not let me know that anything is wrong at home. When we have the half term reports, I am going to send for her and tell her that there must be an improvement in her work and her general behaviour or I shall involve her parents. We cannot have this sort of thing in a girl who will be a senior next year."
"Now, to move onto a more pleasant matter. I know that Len and Anna have a suggestion for us to discuss."
Anna Schmit smiled. "It is Len's idea, and I wonder that we have not done it before," she explained.
"Well, what is it!" asked Teddy. "Don't keep us hanging in suspense."
"I know that languages are not first priority now" explained Len, "but the girls need more exposure to French and German than we can give them in lesson time and to hear a language all around them if they are to develop confidence and fluency. That is what we had in Switzerland so I thought that, perhaps, we could arrange for the Fourth to spend some time there, and perhaps for some of the Fourth - those who don't have fluent English - to spend some time at the Gornetz Platz. Its a German speaking Canton, of course, so I thought that perhaps we could spend some days in Paris on the way there and that would help the French. Even two or three weeks at the Swiss branch would help them if they worked at it."
"So how would we manage with exam syllabuses?" asked Miss Gray, practically.
"Well, the Swiss branch still sit GCE so they should be doing more or less the same work and be quite level for most things" said Len. "If they went in the Fourth, they are still a year away from public exams. And of course, the parents may not agree if they were worried but when Anna and I discussed it we thought if we worked out with the Swiss branch what is usually covered that term, perhaps the subject mistresses might not mind working around each other."
"I think that it is a good idea" said Miss Edwards. "Its a pity that we don't have more to do with the Swiss branch, especially when the Millies take girls from both. Bill might let our Fourth go and see the Millies, so they had more of an idea of it when the time came for chosing?"
After that, ideas came thick and fast and Len and Anna were sure that the idea was popular with the staff. The staff at the Chalet were proud of their school and its reputation, and it had worried many of them that their excellence in languages seemed to be wanning.
"Very well" said Miss Alton, noticing that it was getting late. "I like the idea too, and I am sure it will be popular with the girls. I will write to Hilda Annersley and ask her views - and to Madame, too."
"Madame!" it came as a collective gasp.
"Yes, she is finally back in England with Sir James and has written to me to say that she was coming to visit us shortly. It has been a long time" agreed the Head.
thanks so much for your comments - hopefully sorted out the spacing issue now.
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.
Thank you for reading and commenting.
The rest of half term passed joyously for the school. The staff and older girls were delighted to welcome Madge Russell back from her long sojourn in Australia and the juniors, to whom “Madame” had been an almost legendary figure, warmed to this attractive woman with the low, soft voice who showed such understanding of girls and interest in them. There was great excitement when it became known that Lady Russell was to stay for the rest of the half term week whilst Sir Jem took their youngest twins, Kevin and Kester, to their new school.
Fortunately, Friday was fine and the school in its various divisions went off for long walks. It was too cold to picnic but they took biscuits and stayed out for as long as possible before returning home in the fading afternoon light to an unexpected treat of hot, buttery crumpets with their afternoon tea.
Saturday passed in a scramble to arrange an impromptu show, with each form being called on to provide one item for the programme. The final event was a very mixed bunch and wound up with a hilarious sing-song involving all the school’s favourite songs.
The girls were left to sleep late on Sunday morning and everyone attended the later morning Church services. Another wet afternoon saw the different divisions of the school separate to common rooms with books, needlework and other quiet occupations and to welcome back a steady stream of friends returning with tales of happy holidays.
Anna Schmit, with quiet understanding, had offered to relieve Len of her duty with the Middles and Len had accepted gratefully as she longed for a talk with her aunt.
Len and Madge set off on a long tramp and interchange of family news – Lady Russell was able to give her niece the latest news of her cousins, Sybil and Josette, now married and settled in Australia and in return Len told her aunt of her sisters. “Margot seems to be very happy at Great Ormond Street” said Len, of her triplet who was now “walking the wards” at the great children’s hospital and sharing rooms with their third, Con, who was writing book reviews for the Times Literary Supplement which, although published anonymously as all TLS reviews are, were attracting positive comment in the Letters page.
“I am so glad that they are happy and doing well in their life work” said Lady Russell. “And what about you, Len? Are you happy in your work? It is wonderful for me to have my niece teaching at the Chalet School, but things have been hard for you whilst I have been away.”
Len looked directly at her aunt, and Madge watched her thoughtfully. Unlike her mother in colouring, Len resembled Joey Maynard in manner and character more than any of Joey’s other children. Madge loved Joey dearly, having been both mother and sister to her since they had been orphaned when Joey herself was little more than a baby, and she had been desperately sorry when tragedy had come to Len.
Len paused, wanting to answer her aunt honestly, before her answer came in a rush. “I’m glad to be back at the Chalet. I’m glad its here though. After Reg died, being at home was hard. Mamma and Papa were so sad – they loved him too, of course, and it was so sudden. Well, of course – a climbing accident is sudden. One doesn’t expect it, or prepare for it. And afterwards – it was a relief to be back in Oxford. Everyone didn’t know, and look so sorry for me. It’s the same here – Teddy knows, and Miss Alton, and I have told Anna but that’s all. Back at the Platz, I felt that everyone was pitying me. The school staff, and the girls, and the people at the San, and Mamma – “
“I understand that you would feel that, Len” said her aunt “but I am sure that no-one meant anything but kindness -”
“But, auntie Madge” said Len, relief at being able to talk making her voluble, “I know that where Reg is he won’t feel pain, or sadness and I believe that I will see him one day – but it is nearly three years ago – it will be three years next Easter – and I feel guilty, too, because he is not always the first person I think about when I wake up anymore.”
“But that is natural, Len” said Madge, praying for the right words to help the girl. “If you believe that death is – is just falling asleep with God, to wake in His presence, then with all your sadness you will feel glad for Reg, too, just as you say. And, my dear girl, you cannot mourn the rest of your days for Reg.”
“When they thought Papa was dead” Madge looked at the girl in mute astonishment, as she had not know that Len remembered those dark days which were never spoken of in the Maynard household “I don’t think Mamma would ever have stopped mourning him.”
“Oh Len, I am so sorry, it has been terribly hard for you” said Lady Russell. “You must not be hard on yourself like this. Remember your mother had the three of you, and she had been through so much with your father at the beginning of the war – and you are different people, and it was a different relationship. You silly girl! I believe that you have made yourself feel worse by feeling guilty at not mourning enough! You are still young, Len, and to feed your sorrow is not being fair to yourself, or to Reg either.”
Len, whose eyes had filled, blinked back the tears bravely. “I am sure you are right” she said. “Thank you, auntie Madge, and sorry for dumping all that on you!”
“Nonsense!” said Lady Russell, realising the girl’s need for briskness. “Now my dear girl, I want to know more about this wonderful idea of yours for an exchange. I do think it is a splendid idea – I have wished that the Chalet School as a whole had more of a sense of unity and this is just the thing to bring the two schools together and give them a feeling of belonging to each other.”
The two chattered about school affairs solidly until they returned to school when Len mentioned again their conversation. “Thank you for letting me talk to you auntie Madge” she said. “It has been a great help.”
Madge smiled and squeezed the girl’s arm, and then they were back in the warm, bright staff room and surrounded by staff pressing tea on them and eager to hear more of Lady Russell’s news.
On Monday morning Len leapt out of bed with the rising bell, rested by the half term break and feeling curiously happier following her conversation with her aunt. She bathed, dressed and ran lightly down the stairs to her form room, expecting to find the room empty and intending to finish marking the Third’s French compositions.
Len moved almost soundlessly and had a hand on the half open form room door when she heard a curious sound – half sob – and a voice say “oh damn it all”
“I beg your pardon?” she said, sweeping into the room. “Jemima! I am ashamed of you! Why are you using such language? And why are you in the form room at this hour?”
Jemima rose to her feet, hanging her head.
“Well?” asked the mistress when the silence threatened to become oppressive.
“I, I” stammered the girl. “I didn’t know you were there Miss Maynard.”
“I understand that” said the mistress, dryly. “But I wish to know now why you were swearing, and why you are here before breakfast.”
“I had lines to do for Laura” explained Jemima, seeing no way out.
“Why?” asked the mistress baldly. Receiving no answer, she held out her hand for the paper torn from the head girl’s notebook and read with an inward smile the line set “Where ignorance predominates, vulgarity invariably asserts itself.”
Len looked at the girl steadily. “I will not have any member of my form swearing. It is ignorant and vulgar and I think that you need to remember the truth of this!” she tapped the paper she had replaced on her pupil’s desk. “Very well! In addition to Laura’s imposition, you may translate that into good French and German, and write it for me ten times in each language.”
Jemima looked as if she were about to protest, but the look she received from her form mistress held her and, as the mistress left the room, she sat mutely and began her punishment.
At break, Len remembered that she had not finished the marking she had intended to complete before breakfast. She had the Third immediately after break and, swallowing her coffee, decided to go to her form room and complete the work.
Arrived in her form room, Len found Jemima alone again and working at the hated lines. She told the girl to sit and continue and set to work on the Third’s essays when she was distracted by a noisy sob.
Looking up in astonishment, Len saw Jemima struggling to bring under control the tears which were now falling rapidly down her face.
“Jemima, why are you crying like this?” she asked, and her voice was very kind. “You behaved badly and you must pay for it, that’s only fair.”
“Its not that” sobbed Jemima “everything’s so beastly”. Len passed over the forbidden word, realising that with Jemima’s defences down she might persuade the girl to explain the root of her rudeness and defiance.
“Tell me why you are crying, Jemima?” asked Len, again.
Jemima made an effort to bring her sobs under control and Len came and sat at the next desk, turning to face the girl and searching inwardly for the question which would allow her difficult pupil to unburden herself.
“I was glad to meet your parents last week” she said, conversationally, at last, “and your twins are very sweet.”
"They- they’re not” sobbed the girl.
“Not sweet?” queried Len, thoroughly bewildered.
“Not my parents” sobbed the girl.
The bell rang for the end of break and Len made a hasty decision. “You certainly aren’t in any fit state for class” she said. “Come with me, Jemima.” She led the girl to the San where they were met by Matron.
“Matron, Jemima is upset and we are talking it over” explained the young mistress, “but I have a class now, the Third – “
Matron smiled at the mistress “I imagine that the Third will not be sorry for a little extra time to work at their preparation, and I have some letters to write” she said, kindly.
“Oh, thank you Matron” said Len, thankfully.
Left alone in the San, Len wrapped Jemima in a blanket and brought her a glass of milk. “Drink this Jemima” she said firmly.
Once the girl had swallowed the milk and brought her sobs under control Len sat down beside her once again. “Tell me, Jemima” she said. The memory of unburdening herself to Madge Russell the day before gave certainty to her voice. “It will help you to talk it through, whatever is troubling you.”
Jemima looked at Len again and her reserves gave way in the face of this grave kindness. “It was the day before I came back to school at the end of the summer holiday. Mo-mother asked me to get my medical certificate for Matron from her desk. I was not sure which drawer she had said and I looked in the wrong drawer and – and I am adopted. And I didn’t say anything just that I had rather a headache – and that’s why my parents – why they had sent me off to school. And they were so glad when the twins came and they don’t want me now. And I’ve been all wrong with myself ever since I knew and I’ll have to go back at Christmas and they won’t want me they’ll just want the twins there – and I don’t even know if my own parents are – are dead.”
What a pitiful story the mixed up girl had sobbed out. Len put a comforting arm around her pupil. “Oh Jemima, what a muddle!” she said warmly. “I cannot answer all these things for you but I can tell you right now that your parents love you – I could see that immediately I saw you all together.”
Len thought hard for a few moments. “You haven’t spoken of this before?” she asked.
“No – I don’t want anyone to know – please Miss Maynard” said the girl, anxiously.
“I think that you will have to tell your – your parents” said Len. “Otherwise you cannot understand what has happened, because only they can tell you. I would like to tell Miss Alton, and ask her to ‘phone your parents and ask them to come and see you.”
Jemima, relieved at sobbing out the thoughts which had troubled her since the beginning of term, paused and then nodded at the suggestion. Suddenly, she felt that even confirmation of her worst fears would be better than the doubts and confusion the unfortunate piece of paper had plunged her into.
“Now you are very tired and I am going to leave you to have a nap” said Len. She wrapped the girl in a blanket and brought her some more milk. “Drink that and then have a sleep, and I will come and see you again.”
Leaving San, Miss Maynard walked back to the Third where she was greeted cheerfully by Matron who readily agreed to remain with the class and waved aside the mistress’s thanks. Len left the form room and walked to the study, where she found her aunt and headmistress deep in conversation.
“I am sorry to disturb you, Miss Alton” said Len, “perhaps I may speak to you later?”
“Speak to me now, Len, if Madame will forgive us” said the Head pleasantly.
Len told Jemima’s sad story briefly, and Miss Alton readily agreed to telephone Dr and Mrs Smallthorne. “It really is something we cannot help the poor child with, not without more information. I do wish she had come to us sooner. Excuse me please, Madge, I will go and telephone now and hope that Mrs Smallthorne can come here this afternoon or tomorrow – they do not live very far away.”
Thank you for your lovely comments.
Dr and Mrs Smallthorne arrived at the school sooner than anyone could have hoped and were shown into Miss Alton’s study. “How is Jemima?” asked Mrs Smallthorne, anxiously, scarcely pausing to greet the Head.
“She is in the San with her form mistress, Miss Maynard, as she gave herself rather a headache with crying earlier. She has been very unhappy,” said Miss Alton gravely “but I hope that you will be able to help put things straight for her. I will show you to the San immediately, I know that you will be anxious to see her.”
The worried parents followed the Head to the San where they found Jemima staring dejectedly out of the window whilst Len sat nearby.
“Oh my darling, I am so very sorry!” exclaimed Mrs Smallthorne, rushing forward to embrace the girl. Len saw Jemima freeze at the touch and with a murmured “excuse me please” followed Miss Alton from the room.
“Thank you Len” said Miss Alton as they paused in the corridor outside. “I hope that the Smallthornes will put this right with Jemima and this will be the turning point for her. She is not a girl who shares confidences easily, she must feel that she can trust you to have told you so much.”
Len coloured at the praise. “I hope that she will soon be happier” she said simply.
Meanwhile Dr and Mrs Smallthorne told Jemima the story of her adoption. Dr Smallthorne had been called to attend her birth and found her mother a young girl who was frighteningly alone in the world. The neighbour who was with her could tell the doctor that she had neither parents nor relatives, and nothing was known of her husband who had died a month before.
The young mother had only survived long enough to hold and name her baby. The doctor had been left to make arrangements for the baby and, believing that he and his wife could not have children of their own, took her home with him. The adoption had taken place shortly afterwards.
“You were always my own daughter” said Mrs Smallthorne, sadly, “and I didn’t want to overshadow your childhood with tragedy, or for you to feel different to your friends. So we did not tell you and then as you started to grow up – I suppose that we almost forgot. You could not be any more loved, Jemima, and you have always been our own girl.”
Dr Smallthorne, bright eyed, nodded, “we did it for the best, sweetheart, and I am so very sorry you have had to suffer for our mistake.”
Jemima, reassured despite herself by the warmth and love surrounding her, took her courage in both hands and asked the question which had haunted her all term, “but – Donny and Daisy – you won’t – now you have them.”
Mrs Smallthorne took her hands. “Donny and Daisy love their big sister. They need you to set them a good example! And we love you, darling, and they don’t change that.”
A lot more talk followed until Jemima’s head began to drop with tiredness and the emotion of the day. Mrs Smallthorne, seeing Jemima relax with her father’s arm around her and her head on his shoulder, squeezed her arm and went to find the Head.
Matron, emerging from her small office, showed Mrs Smallthorne to the study where she found Miss Alton with Len Maynard.
“Oh, please don’t go, Miss Maynard” exclaimed Mrs Smallthorne as the young mistress prepared to leave. “I want to thank you for helping Jemima – she says that you made her tell you what was troubling her - and I want to tell you both the story now.”
Mrs Smallthorne told the story she had told Jemima. “I want to take her home for a few days, if I may” she explained. “She had such a miserable half term and has cried so much today I think she will be better for a few quiet days at home. I have a few things I can show her, too. There is not very much, but I have a photograph of her parents and her mother’s rings for her.”
The Head agreed readily that Jemima would benefit from a break from school and offered the Smallthornes the guest room in school for the night. This was refused, with more thanks, as Mrs Smallthorne wanted to return home to the twins and explained that the doctor never minded driving at night.
Len absented herself to tumble the few things Jemima needed into her overnight bag and proceeded to the San with it. The doctor had gone into Matron’s room with his wife for a few words with the Head.
Len smiled at her pupil “Okay?” she asked, casually.
“Yes, thank you Miss Maynard” said Jemima. “Thank you for getting my things and for – everything. And – I’m sorry, about this morning.”
Len nodded. “I am going to remit my punishment, and I rather think that if I ask her Laura will do the same” she said “and when you come back we will start afresh, shall we?”
Jemima nodded. “Yes, thank you.”
Jemima spent more than a fortnight at home for, arrived there, she had something close to a breakdown. Quiet days, plenty of milk and sleep, and answers to the questions which had troubled her gradually steadied her nerves and as she began to come to terms with her story the tumbling, eager twins and their ready affection started to overcome her resentment. When she returned to school she seemed to have grown older, but the burning anger had gone, and she was well on the way to becoming the sort of girl that the school could be proud of.
Jemima returned to a school thrilling with excitement over the Christmas play. As promised, Madame had written the play and everyone was delighted with it and rehearsals were soon in full swing. Jemima, who had expected that her absence would lead her without any part, found herself with a few lines to speak as a lady shopping at the Christmas market and threw herself into rehearsals and to making up the work she had missed and as a result was far too busy to brood, which was just what her form mistress had intended.
The play gave the story of one of the school’s favourite carols, Stille Nacht, Heilige Nacht. The play told how in the tiny hamlet of Obernhorf the local priest, Josef Mohr, found that the church organ was broken and could not be repaired in time for the Christmas Eve Mass. Anxious to ensure that there was music to celebrate the coming of Christ, he wrote the words to the hymn and his friend, Franz Gruber, wrote the well-known tune for guitar and viola to Josef Mohr’s words and the beautiful hymn was born.
Interwoven with the story of the carol were scenes showing the people of Obernhorf preparing for Christmas. The play was to open with crowds shopping at a picturesque market and discussing their purchases before ‘Josef Mohr’ rushed through the crowds to find his friend and tell him of his terrible discover.
The choir would then sing its first hymn, Once in Royal David’s City whilst the scene changed.
The next scene showed ‘Franz Gruber’ working hard at his composition whilst in the next house a family decorated the tree and children laid out their shoes for the Christ child to fill.
As the scene changed, the choir, before the curtain, were to sing Whilst Shepherds Watched.
The third scene showed a family gathered for the traditional Austrain Christmas Eve meal of carp before a tinkling bell led the excited children into another ‘room’ where presents were laid in their shoes and under the beautifully lit Christmas tree.
Finally, the lights in the Hall were turned out and the crowd, carrying lanterns, were to walk slowly towards the stage. The set would be changed to represent the interior of the little church and singing Oh Come All Ye Faithful.
The crowd then gathered in the church and ‘Josef Mohr’ spoke words of welcome before the choir and crowd sang, very simply, the beautiful words of Mohr’s carol.
Finally, there was to be the Nativity scene which ended all Chalet School Christmas plays, and the school and audience would sing together the lovely Adeste Fideles.
Len, busy with classes and pressed into service to assist with the preparations for the play kept a watchful eye on her troublesome pupil. The girl was no longer impudent to staff and prefects, but Len saw a curiously adult air to the girl. "She is happier, but I don't believe that she is happy" thought the young mistress.
Edited to correct the chronology - I had intended this to give the story of the play but not be the actual play - and hope this makes sense now.
Thank you for reading and for your kind comments - and for not pointing out that I had wrapped poor old Jemima in a blanket twice - the poor child must have been smothered as well as miserable!
“The post, Hilda” said Rosalie Dene, entering the Head’s study in her usual quiet way. It was the middle of the afternoon, but dark came early by the end of October and the secretary switched on the electric light, startling the lady who had scarcely noticed her entrance.
Miss Annersley, Head of the Chalet School in Switzerland, looked up over a desk heaped with correspondence. “What’s that Rosalie? The mail? I am beginning to wish for a long, hard, winter which prevents post reaching the Platz for at least three weeks!”
The secretary laughed sympathetically. “Miss Wilson telephoned to say that she was inviting herself to kaffee with you, and wondered whether you would invite Jeanne de Lachennais and Matey – oh, and me too.”
Miss Annersley laughed back at her secretary. “What a select group! I wonder that she didn’t dictate the refreshments I was to offer too.”
“Oh, she murmured sweet nothings about Karen’s honey and nut cakes,” acknowledged the secretary. “Shall I speak to Jeanne and Matey?”
“Yes, please dear, and let Karen know too, would you? I have a lecture with the Sixth when the bell goes and I must finish this before my class.”
Miss Dene smiled and left the room, running lightly down to intercede with Karen and plead for the cakes for which she alone knew the secret. Rosalie meet Matron as she left the kitchen regions and delivered the Head’s message. The domestic tyrant accepted the invitation and the secretary went on to the staff room where she knew, from a glance at the school timetable in her office, Mlle was to be found at that hour. The doyenne of the Chalet School staff agreed with quiet alacrity to come for kaffee with the Heads and the secretary returned to her office and gave herself up to her work until the ringing of a bell and low hum of noise as the school finished work for the day brought her to the realisation that she was ready for her coffee.
Miss Dene crossed the corridor into the Head’s pleasant drawing room and switched on the lights. She was joined a few moments later by the Head and Mlle and the three gossiped lightly about various school affairs until Matey and Miss Wilson arrived together.
Karen followed shortly on their heels, bringing with her coffee and little cakes. “Thank you Karen” said Rosalie, springing forward to help with the tray. Karen saw that the ladies had all they needed and left the drawing room and the Head served the delicious coffee and saw all her guest supplied with cakes.
“So why have we been favoured with your company, Nell?” asked the Head.
Her friend grimaced at her. “What a kind, hospitable sentiment! I’ve a good mind to enjoy this nectar Karen calls coffee and then go back home to my own little house and not tell you.”
“Don’t be aggravating, Nell” returned Miss Annersley. “I rather suppose that I know the answer, although I am puzzled as to quite how the news has reached you so quickly.”
“Indeed, I have no idea why this meeting has been called” said little Mlle de Lachennais. “Pray, Hilda, explain.”
“I don’t know why Nell wanted to see us, but I have had a letter from Miss Alton with a proposal for us – is that it Nell?”
“My goddaughter has written to me, but tell me what you have heard from Miss Alton first.”
“Well, what is it?” asked Matron with practical common sense.
Hilda Annersley smiled, “Len has proposed a scheme – she calls it an exchange – whereby the Glendower House Fourth form spend two or three weeks here next term and some of our Upper IV and Inter V spend two or three weeks at the school in England. Miss Alton writes that the scheme was originally proposed by Len primarily to help her students with their French and German, which Miss Alton says are weaker than they should be at that stage. Madge Russell has approved the plan, and Miss Alton writes that Madge sees it as an excellent way to strengthen links between the two branches of the school. I have had a letter from Madge, as well, to say that she is very supportive of the plan and suggests that in the early part of the term the girls should be asked to write to one another – that is, our continental girls should write in English, and the girls at Glendower House write in German, so that they ‘sheepdog’ each other but have corresponded first.”
Mlle de Lachannais was quick to express approval “I think it is a very good idea, Hilda,” she said. “Madge is right that it would be of great assistance in creating unity between the two schools, and it would be very good for their languages as well.”
”I rather think that myself” said Bill, thoughtfully. “Len points out – I rather think she wanted me to back her up, although why she should think she needs it I am not sure – “
”Nell! Your English!” exclaimed Miss Annersley, laughing.
“You leave my English alone and keep to the subject” said Miss Wilson with mock severity. “Len suggests that it would help my girls at St Mildred’s if the people from here and the Glendower House girls had some sense of being one school, and she is right, I think.”
“I rather wonder Len did not write to Hilda” said Matron, thoughtfully.
The Head nodded “I wondered too, but you notice she did not write to Joey either. Madge says in her letter that whilst she was at Glendower House she and Len had some long talks out of school, but in school Len was clearly conscious of establishing herself as herself, not as Joey’s daughter or Madame’s niece. If she were simply a junior mistress at Glendower House it would not be quite the thing for her to write to me. I think she is wise” added the Head. “The Glendower House staff are very good but there are very few of them who have the long relationship with the school that many of us have. It would be very easy for Len to create resentment amongst her colleagues if she were seen to be taking advantage of her relationship with Madame – or with us.”
Bill agreed. “That is more or less what she says to me.” She shuffled through the letter she was holding. “I’ll read you what she says ‘auntie Nell, I haven’t written to Mamma about this and asked auntie Madge not to because I would not want auntie Hilda to think that I was counting on Mamma’s support to sway her if she doesn’t think it’s a good scheme for the school. I suppose it’s a cheek writing to you, but you are my godmother, and you are not in school in the same way as auntie Hilda, although I know of course she will consult you. Anyway, it would be frightfully rude to Miss Alton and to Anna Schmit to write to auntie Hilda as Head over their heads – no pun intended.”
“Sensible girl” said Matron, approvingly. Jeanne de Lachennais nodded her agreement with this.
The four continued to discuss the scheme Len had advocated and, as the clock on the wall chimed the hour, Miss Annersley summarised their feelings. “I will write to Miss Alton tomorrow and tell her that we are delighted with her proposal, and that we look forward to welcoming Glendower House girls to Switzerland next term!”
Chapter 9 - Christmas at the Quadrant by Fliss
Real life intervened for a while - but this has been chugging along in the back of my brain - hope to add to it soon
thanks to all of you who have read and commented
“Madge! Oh Madge, my lamb, how natural you look!” Joey Maynard dropped her bags and threw her arms around her sister. Madge Russell embraced Joey with equal warmth and the two women hugged, damp-eyed until Jack Maynard intervened.
“Now, you two, its too cold for the kids to stand out here while you get the tears over” said Jack, taking his turn to greet Madge and shake hands warmly with Sir James. The men seized the bags and took them inside, talking hard all the while. “Shop!” said Joey, grimacing. Madge laughed softly, “Jem has been longing to talk to Jack about his beloved San.” “Jack too,” agreed Jo. “Jack has been as excited as the brats about this trip – I’ve told him he needn’t expect a Christmas gift from me, having Jem back is quite enough thrill for him!”
The younger Maynards had followed their father and uncle into the Quadrant, the lovely old home where Madge Russell’s twin, Dick, lived with his wife and their younger children and now the sound of footsteps came towards the sisters and Dick Bettany appeared to take his part in the reunion. “I was in the den, Jo, and – woah! Leave me a little breath!” Jo threw her arms around her brother before loosening an arm to pull Madge into the embrace. “Oh Dick! Its so lovely to see you both together!”
When Lady Russell had written some months earlier to tell her sister that she and her husband were finally returning to England from their long sojourn in Australia, Jo had insisted that she and her husband and her long family travel to England for a real family Christmas. “We simply must, Jack” she had argued. “The triplets have left home now and Steve is more or less gone too. There might not be many more Christmases when I can gather them all under the same roof! The younger ones hardly know some of their cousins and its such an age since I saw Madge and Jem – and longer since we saw them with Mollie and Dick.” Jack Maynard had laughed and taken little more persuasion.
Dick, once the greetings were finally over, explained that his wife, Mollie, had taken the younger members of the family to do their Christmas shopping and that the older members of the Maynard- Bettany-Russell families had gone for a good walk in the crisp December air. “Apart from the triplets, who are arriving from London tomorrow, of course. We’re going to be quite a houseful!” said Dick, joyfully.
When the siblings had finally finished exclaiming and explaining, Jo was shown to her room and washed and settled her hair, changing her travelling clothes for a pretty woollen afternoon dress which she adjusted quickly with long, sensitive fingers. Glancing in the mirror to ensure all was as tidy as possible, she ran downstairs to the big drawing room where a log fire was burning and an enormous, bare pine tree stood in long windows. “Dick! What a tree!” exclaimed Jo.
“Rix and David and Steve were responsible for that monster” said Madge, laughing. “I rather think there was a point where they regretted their choice but it is magnificent. I think Mollie wants us to dress it this evening once the youngsters are in bed or all of us tackling it might be rather too much of a good thing.”
It was a joyful afternoon at the Quadrant. Mollie Bettany returned with her youngest daughter, Daphne, who was thrilling with the importance of certain mysterious parcels they brought with them. Shortly on their heels were the grown-up and nearly grown-up members of the younger generation, with much laughing and shedding of scarves, stamping of cold feet and calls for tea.
Finally, as even Steven Maynard shook his head at the last slice of fruit cake and Madge refused a fourth cup of tea, the door of the drawing room was flung open and three slim, pretty young women burst into the room.
“Len!” exclaimed Jo “and Margot – Con! I thought you weren’t arriving until tomorrow!”
“We couldn’t wait any longer” explained Con, releasing her father from the bear hug she had enveloped him in. “When Margot and I met Len at Paddington we just thought – instead of spending the night in London we would come straight here.”
“It was a rush for the train” explained Len, beaming, “but we just did it! I am so glad to see you Mamma, and Papa, and you three!” She kissed her youngest siblings, Geoffrey and Phillipa, and little Marie-Claire, the last adoptee of the long Maynard family.
Once the youngest members of the family were in bed and Dick, Jack and Jem retired to Dick’s den with the older boys, Madge, Jo and Mollie and the triplets began to dress the tree. The work was punctuated with “do you remembers?” as decorations from the Bettanys’ childhood and from their happy years in the Tyrol were unpacked.
The triplets, seeing that their mother and aunts were happily absorbed, retired to their shared room. The Quadrant was a rambling old house with a great many rooms but not an inch of space could be wasted if the whole family were to be squeezed in. Margot sat on her bed and laughed at her sisters. “Shades of Matey! She never did persuade us not to sit on beds! What is the Matron like at Glendower House, Len?”
“Not at all like Matey” said Len. “Motherly with the girls, although she has them well in hand. We get on very well - Valerie Herring. The girls call her ‘Kipper,’ although strictly not in a staff’s hearing!” Margot and Con joined in her laughter.
Len settled down to a comfortable gossip with her sisters, sharing her experiences of teaching and hearing about their lives in London.
“I’m looking forward to next term and dreading it in about equal measures” confessed Len. “I’m starting to feel I’m getting the hang of teaching – Miss Alton seems quite pleased, and Anna Schmit is excited about the possibilities of our exchange – but I can’t quite imagine being back at the Platz and sitting at the staff table and taking some of Mlle’s classes. And its quite one thing teaching girls who scarcely realise my relationship to auntie Madge, but imagine teaching Felicity or Erica!”
The next day was Christmas Eve, and all thoughts of work or school were banished from everyone’s minds. The excitement of the younger children at the forthcoming festival and the pleasure of their elders made for a happy day, crisp and bright. After a brisk walk in the morning the family settled down to progressive games including an hilarious round of Book Reviews.
After a simple supper, prepared with an eye to the feast to come the next day, the younger children were whisked to bed and the older members of the family settled down to reminisce until they gathered caps and scarves and gloves and set off under starlight to the midnight services, separating when they reached the little town and the Maynards going to the little Catholic Chapel whilst the Russells and Bettanys went to the Protestant Church.
The family met again to walk home and as they crossed the silent town snow began to fall. Joey and Madge, walking together, paused to gaze up at the sky. “Shades of Innsbruck!” exclaimed Jo.
“I always think of it at Christmas,” said Madge, softly, “That first year, with the Menschs, and the skiing and sledge ride, and the little beggar girl, Jo – “
“So much was lost so soon afterwards” said Jo, her huge dark eyes filling as she saw her first happy Christmas in the Tyrol through the dancing snowflakes, and thought of the hard war years that had followed. Then she blinked, and focused on the family who surrounded her. “But, oh Madge, we’ve so very much to be thankful for too!”
Joey Maynard, like many mothers of small fry, was used to sleeping with one ear open and it was scarcely 6 o’clock on Christmas morning when her eyes opened and she sat bolt upright. There it was again! A creak in the corridor outside, then another. Jo sighed resignedly and sat on the side of the bed, hunting for her bedroom slippers. As she slipped her feet into her moccasins, she heard a giggle and a hissed “hush!” and then, more or less in tune,
We wish you a Merry Christmas
We wish you a Merry Christmas
We wish you a Merry Christmas
And a Happy New Year!
Beside Jo, Jack stirred and sat up, rubbing sleep from his eyes “eh? whassat?” Jo grinned at her husband, “It’s the kids. And its Christmas!”
An hour later, all the household were downstairs, the youngest children declaring that they were far too excited for breakfast and casting longing glances towards the drawing room door. Mollie Bettany laughed at her sisters-in-law’s insistence on breakfast, declaring that lunch would more than make up for any deficiency in their breakfast. Eventually, the meal was declared over, and the family tumbled over each other in their eagerness to reach the tree.
What a tree it was! Quite nine feet tall, and topped with a star which had adorned the trees of Madge and Dick’s childhood, the tree was beautifully decorated with red baubles, white candles and painted wooden toys. Presents were stacked under it and little Marie-Claire clapped her hands with pleasure.
“Marie-Claire, come here poppet” said Dick, taking the small girl’s hand. “Now, will you be our Christmas fairy and help me with these presents?” Marie-Claire nodded, and soon the room was filled with people exclaiming over gifts and thanking the donors. Children and grown-ups alike sat rejoicing over books, games and sweets, jigsaw puzzles cut by Jo and other thrilling packages.
Daphne, the youngest Bettany, took for herself the distribution of certain of her gifts which, when opened, turned out to be luridly coloured ties for her father and uncles. “Isn’t it pretty, daddy?” she asked her father. Dick choked manfully and agreed that it was, kissing the small girl as the others admired the gift and smothered their laughter.
The time passed pleasantly until Mollie, glancing at the carriage clock, shrieked that they would have to hurry for church.
There was a flurry of activity which ensured the whole family attended church on time. After church, the menfolk and children settled down to a lengthy and keenly fought game of Monopoly whilst Mollie, Madge, Jo and the triplets attended to the cooking.
“I’m not sure we should involve you in this, Jo” teased Mollie. “Sure, didn’t all your cooking lessons end in chaos of some kind?!”
“It certainly seemed that way!” agreed Madge, laughing.
“Cheek!” exclaimed Jo. “Am I not part-authoress of a cookbook? Who should know how to cook if not me? Anyway, other folk have done worse than me!”
“Corney’s cloves” said Madge reminiscently. “And Joyce Linton’s sulphur cakes”
“Oh those cakes!” gurgled Jo.
“Do you remember those doughnuts Carola fried in cod liver oil” added Len, giggling. “But, Mamma, auntie Mollie is right, remember those sandwiches you made for our house-warming party at Freudesheim?” Margot and Con joined in her laughter.
Jo collapsed. “Do I not! And I remember what your father had to say on the subject. I promise not to experiment today, everyone! As for you, Len, what a thing to bring up!”
The meal, when it came, lived up to everyone’s expectations. The enormous, beautifully cooked goose was everything fancy had painted, and the crisp roast potatoes satisfied the appetites of even Steve Maynard and David Russell, both celebrated in the family as ‘better to keep for a week than a fortnight’. Then Dick turned out the electric light, and Mollie bore in the pudding with an air of triumph, setting it alight and thrilling the youngest children.
No-one was inclined to grumble at Jem’s dictat that there must be a rest after the meal but by the late afternoon the snow, which had fallen steadily since the midnight service, had stopped, and the sun came out. “It will be light for long enough for a snow fight, Mums” said Mike Maynard. Jo, glancing out of the window, saw the gleaming snow and looked a question at her husband.
“No reason why they shouldn’t, if they will wrap up well and the youngsters will promise to keep moving about and come straight when they are told to,” said Jack.
“No reason why they shouldn’t!” exclaimed Jo. “I’m in on this! Its an age since I had a good snow fight!”
The triplets looked at each other and laughed. Despite her long family, Jo could still look like an eager schoolgirl and join in with her children with equal enthusiasm. “Well, if Mother is going to join in ..” murmured Margot.
A very few minutes later, Jack and Dick were picking up sides. Madge and Mollie cried off, laughing at Jo’s enthusiasm. “Five minutes for making ammunition!” cried Dick. “Then to battle!”
The sides scattered across the large garden and began making snowballs rapidly. Jack and Jem chose to set up camp behind a large clump of bushes whilst Dick and Jo began to stockpile their snowballs behind the summer house.
A loud cry from Dick, and battle was joined; snowballs being flung rapidly in all directions. At first, Dick and Jo seemed to be advancing ground but Jem had laid his plans carefully and Jack and Margot, rosy with the cold air, crept away from the main body of their team and came around behind Jo, Dick and the younger members of their side, capturing Geoff and Marie-Claire before anyone had realised what was happening.
The battle was quickly over. Turning away from some of their foes to deal with Jack and Margot, Jo’s team were quickly captured by Jem and his satellites. As they were captured, the children were sent indoors where, they made short work of the crumpets which, a few hours earlier, they had declared they would never eat.
Exhausted by the day, the children were sent to bed early and their elders followed soon on their heels. The triplets gathered in their room for a few words before bed.
“Its been a wonderful day, together as a family” said Con, thoughtfully. Len and Margot agreed.
Thank you once again for reading and your very kind comments. Having started this again, its going flying in all sorts of directions I hadn't necessarily intended!
The first day of term was always a strenuous one for the staff at Glendower House, and it was with sighs of relief that the mistresses made their way to the pretty staff sitting room to refresh themselves with coffee, chocolate biscuits, and a little light gossip.
Len Maynard threw herself into her favoured chair and took her coffee with murmured thanks to Frau Schmit, who generally presided. Miss Alton came quietly into the room.
“May I join you all?” she asked.
“With all the pleasure in life!” agreed Dollie Edwards, smiling at the Head. “There’s a cup there, and Anna provided some biscuits which are doing the rounds.”
Miss Alton acknowledged her coffee and looked round at her staff. “I am sorry to cut into your free time, especially after a tiring day like today has been but I am going to make the announcements about the exchange after Prayers tomorrow and there are one or two details I want to give you people first.”
Anna Schmit laughed. “They will be excited, I expect.”
Miss Alton nodded. “As Anna and Len know – and Maria too,” she added, smiling at her secretary, “the biggest headache has been working out who the escort mistresses are to be. If Anna and Len take the Fourth, then the rest of the school will be left without language mistresses for quite three weeks.”
Maria Penn agreed with the Head, “Juggling the timetable with two mistresses absent has been a real problem.”
“Have we solved it?” asked Dollie.
Anna and Len looked knowing and Miss Alton smiled at them before turning to the questioner. “In the best possible way. Madge Russell is going to go with Len.”
“Madge?” “Madame!” came in a chorus.
Miss Alton explained a little further. “As you know, she spent some time here last term and she feels that she should visit the Platz and see Hilda Annersley and Nell Wilson in connection with various business concerning the school. When she heard of our dilemma she offered to travel with the girls and Len, and she will stay with Jo Maynard whilst the girls are on the Platz, and then come back with them. Sir Jem is very busy with the San at present, having been away so long, so it fits in nicely for Madge to travel to Switzerland without him this term.”
“How simply smashing!” exclaimed Dollie, using language which would have brought down wrath on the head of any girl. “We had all realised that three weeks where we were two staff short was going to be more than a little tricky but this solves it beautifully – and it’s a wonderful opportunity for some of our present girls to get to know Madge too.”
The staff settled down to discussion of a plan which they were sure would delight the Fourth. “And the lower school, too, as they will have it to look forward to,” said Miss Grey thoughtfully. “The older girls may be inclined to grumble they didn’t have this opportunity.”
“There is something in that, Vi,” agreed the Head. “All the same, part of what we want the older girls to learn is to take disappointment gracefully – and they can always have a year at St Mildred’s!”
Len grinned at the Head. “Maybe we should swear the Fourth to secrecy that they are visiting Paris and Geneva!”
The next morning Miss Alton made the announcement when the school came together after Prayers. As the staff had foreseen the Fourth were wild with excitement and when Len came to her form it was far from a proper or prepared gathering which met her.
Len entered a form room to find girls gabbling wildly, without a book in sight. Drawing herself to her full height, she stalked to the mistresses’ desk and dropped her books on it, startling most of the form into silence and a rapid dash to their seats.
Only once the silence threatened to become horribly oppressive did Len speak. “You may sit, girls.”
A chastened-looking set of girls looked apprehensively at their form mistress. Len was universally considered “a poppet” but the Fourth were well aware that she considered it their business to be ready and waiting when she arrived. Len looked calmly over her form.
“Now,” she said, “understand this, please, girls. I am very pleased that you are excited about the prospect of your trip – it will be a wonderful experience for you! But you need to be absolutely clear that if we consider that your school work is suffering as a result you will not go. You will be letting me and yourselves down if that happens.”
Blushing wildly, Robyn, as form prefect rose to her feet and apologised. Len accepted the apology smilingly and allowed her form to collect the books they needed for the first half of the morning. Her warning held, and the Fourth merited the word of praise they had from the mistress as she left to go to the Third.
Left to themselves, the Fourth once again began chattering like starlings. “Maynie meant what she said, you know” said Robyn to her great friend Amy.
Jemima sat next to Amy, and caught what Robyn said, “I suppose it is up to all of us not to let her down” said Jemima.
Robyn’s eyebrows went up, but Amy was less restrained, “I think you might not want to lump us all together like that. We have some sense!” she said sharply.
Jemima’s eyes filled and she blinked impatiently. She had developed a fondness for the young mistress who had shown her such kindness and understanding the previous term and was horrified to find that Amy held her bad behaviour against her. “Perhaps the others do too,” thought the girl. Outwardly, she said “I only meant …”
“Of course” said Robyn hurriedly. Fortunately, the arrival of Miss Edwards put paid to further conversation but Jemima continued to worry about the little incident throughout the lesson which followed.
Laura Brown, Head Girl of Glendower House, made her way cheerfully along the corridor to the Fourth Form room as the bell rang for prep. “I should get my essay finished, thank goodness, and make a decent start on my history too. The Fourth will be unfledged angels for once after what Maynie said to them earlier.” Laura’s younger sister, Alexandra, was an ornament of the Fourth and had told her sister in horrified tones of the young mistress’ warning about the results of bad behaviour on their part.
With these optimistic thoughts, Laura swung into the Fourth form room and found a form settling itself to its work. She greeted the form cheerfully and settled herself at the mistress’ desk on the little dais then glanced around the quiet form room. The form was working with an air which spoke well for their conviction that Len would keep her word about the consequences of poor work or conduct for their visit to Switzerland and Laura settled down to her essay with relief.
An hour later, Laura concluded her discussion on themes of justice and forgiveness in The Tempest with a sigh of relief and looked up at the Fourth. Although the room was still quiet, one or two girls were moving slightly restlessly, looking around or out of the window or changing books. So much was to be expected, and Laura put away her essay and turned to her history with an inward grimace. She was a keen student but the subject she had to prepare for discussion – the growth of Parliamentary privilege in the reign of James I – failed to capture her imagination. She looked up again, and saw that Jemima was still staring out of the window.
“Jemima, have you finished all your work?” asked the prefect, quietly. The girl jumped, and flushed.
“No, not quite, Laura.”
“Then suppose you get on with it, rather than staring out of the window? You haven’t too much time left.”
Jemima applied herself to her books, but the flush remained on her face and it was clear to the Head Girl that she was brooding over the mild rebuke.
When the bell rang for the end of prep Laura left the Fourth to clear their books away, judging that girls of their age should not need overseeing to tidy away their books and go quietly to the splasheries.
Amy was basically a nice girl, but she had developed a somewhat sentimental liking for her form mistress and was inclined to regard her possessively. She scarcely realised this, nor that it had lain behind her remarks to Jemima that morning. Now, she paused in stacking her books neatly on her desk and said “I thought we weren’t letting Maynie down? Hardly expected you to be the first to let the form down Jemima!”
Jemima had brooded all day on Amy’s earlier comment but even now, she might have kept her temper had someone else not sniggered at the back of the room. That unkind laugh caused something to snap in Jemima and, still speechlessly, she turned and with one gesture, swung her arm across the pile of books on Amy’s desk. The books flew across the room, and loose sheets of paper caught in the breeze from the open window, scattering across the dais.
A chorus of exclamations of horror came from the form, most of whom had stopped their own work to watch the argument. “Oh Jemima!” exclaimed Robyn.
“What did you do that for?” demanded Amy. “You can just pick them up, Jemima!”
“I don’t think I will, actually,” returned the rebel, turning to leave the room.
“Pick up those books, Jemima,” said Robyn, grappling with her wish to avoid still more of a scene and her duty as form prefect. Jemima, who was quietly fond of Robyn and inwardly horrified at what she had done, paused, but then caught a look of triumph in Amy’s eye, and continued her progress towards the door. Amy, now thoroughly enraged, grabbed Jemima’s arm and tried to drag her back into the room; Jemima, scarcely realising what she was doing, pushed Amy backwards, causing the girl to stagger and fall against Alexandra. Alexandra had not expected this and fell backwards against one of the light folding desks they used. The desk fell too, scattering books across the floor.
As was to be expected, the rest of the Fourth abandoned any pretence at engaging in their own lawful activities and gathered around the two most concerned, half a dozen promising quarrels breaking out as the rights and wrongs of the argument were disputed.
“Girls! What is happening here?” exclaimed a horrified voice. Laura, having returned to the form in search for a missing fountain pen, descended on a scene of chaos. Laura’s discipline was good and an instant silence descended on the form. More than one girl looked on the brink of tears. Laura looked steadily around the form.
Jemima was no coward. “It was my fault, really, Laura,” she said, nervously. Amy was a truthful girl and had a well-developed sense of honour. “It was me started it, Laura” she contradicted.
Laura regarded the two. “I see.” She thought for a moment. “The bell will ring for supper any moment, and I don’t suppose you all want order marks for being late. Robyn, was anyone else involved?”
Robyn, flustered, attempted an answer, “We were all, well, arguing, and ..”
Alexandra, wishing anyone else, including the Head herself, had come into the room, faced her sister, “I knocked some of the books, Laura” she offered, nervously.
”That was an accident” said Amy, “I, well, fell into you Alex.”
“I pushed Amy” confessed Jemima, hurriedly, “It was mainly, well, it was just me and Amy arguing, the rest weren’t doing anything, Laura.”
“I see,” said Laura again. “Are you hurt, Alex? No? Good! Very well, the rest of you folk may go and you may come back here after supper and put this room tidy. Please do not discuss this disgraceful scene! If you are late, explain that I am seeing to it, Robyn, please, and I will explain to the Head myself. Hurry, you people! Amy and Jemima, stay here please.”
The rest of the Fourth rushed to the splashery and, thanks to the bell being a few minutes late, scuttled into the dining room just ahead of the staff.
Left alone, the culprits faced the Head Girl. “I do not want to hear anything further from you now,” she said, sternly. “I should give you both Head’s Reports, but I imagine that would end your chances of going to Switzerland. As it is, I will see you both in the Prefects’ Room after supper, and decide what to do with you. Until then, you can be in silence. Now go and wash and go straight to supper please.”
Leaving the room, the chastened pair went to the splashery and on to the dining room in a heavy silence. They met Laura at the door, and she directed them to go straight to their table, making her way to the staff table to apologise to the Head. Miss Alton smiling accepted the Head Girl’s apology on her own and the Fourth Former’s behalf.
The atmosphere at the Fourth form’s table was heavy. Jemima and Amy kept silent and this affected the rest of the form. At the staff table, Len watched her form worriedly. Miss Edwards, following her colleague’s gaze, murmured comfortingly to the younger mistress, “Laura will deal faithfully with them, Len.”
“I’m sure she will!” said Len, forcing a smile. “I’m just worried –“
“Let the prefects deal with it. After all, you don’t want Miss Alton administering heavy justice at this stage, do you?” Teddy grinned at Len, who smiled back at the Senior Mistress and forced herself to join in the merry chatter.
The meal seemed endless to the two waiting to see the prefects but eventually Miss Alton rose for Grace and dismissed the school. Erica, after a rapid consultation with Laura, made her way to the Fourth where she oversaw a chastened form putting their room to rights before dismissing them to their common room to make the most of their evening.
In the meantime, the culprits stood in the corridor outside the Prefects’ Room, waiting to be summonsed before that august body.
Inside the room, Laura took her traditional seat at the head of the table and briefly outlined what she knew of the events of the evening. “Amy is more or less possessed of a good character,” she concluded. “But Jemima was a nuisance for much of last term and I thought that she had reformed.”
“What worked the reformation?” asked the Second Prefect, Sue, curiously.
“I’ve never been quite sure” answered the Head Girl. “Maynie had something to do with it, although I don’t know quite what. Do you remember that Jemima had a couple of weeks at home not long after half term?” The others nodded assent. “Well, I had given Jemima lines for some of the most sublime cheek but Maynie came to me and asked me to remit them.”
“That doesn’t sound like Maynie” commented Erica, who had returned from overseeing the Fourth to hear this. “She never interferes with us.”
“She said that, and that it was my decision, but she was remitting a punishment of her own and wanted to help Jemima start afresh when she came back to school. Of course I couldn’t argue the thing when a staff asked me, and anyway, it seemed like a decent idea – if she was at home ill for a fortnight I would probably have done it off my own bat when she came back!”
“What slang!” commented Sue, laughingly. “I didn’t know Jemima had been ill?”
”I don’t know that myself,” acknowledged Laura, “but why else would her parents take her out of school in the middle of term? Anyway, we had better hear from these two.”
The Fourth formers entered the room and stood before the prefects who, sat up straight around their table, looked very judicial.
“I should like to know the meaning of the disgraceful scene I found before supper,” said Laura, sternly. “You start, Jemima.”
Jemima coloured. “It was really me started it, Laura, I knocked Amy’s books over and she told me to pick them up, and, and I wouldn’t, then Robyn told me to but I thought – well, I wasn’t going to but ..”
“I pulled her to try and make her” interrupted Amy, “and…”
“But then I pushed Amy, and she fell into Alex, and some more books got knocked over and, I’m sorry Laura.”
“I’m sorry too” said Amy, in a rush.
In the distance, a bell rang for the First and Second Forms’ bedtime, giving Laura an inspiration.
“I am not going to ask what this quarrel was about,” she said, judicially. “I shall simply say that it sounds as if both of you have behaved in a thoroughly babyish manner. That being so, you may go to bed now, with the school babies, and remain in silence until tomorrow morning. If Matron wants to know why you are coming to bed early, you may just explain yourselves to her. Now, have you apologised to each other?”
The culprits, thoroughly squashed, muttered something that might have passed for apologies. Laura was wise enough to accept that. “Very well. Anyone else got anything to say?”
The assembled prefects shook their heads. Satisfied, Laura dismissed two saddened Fourth formers to bed and the prefects turned to their own activities. Unfortunately, those half-hearted apologies and the punishment meted out to the two had done little to mend relations between them although it would be a long time before they so forgot themselves again.
Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters and settings are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. No money is being made from this work. No copyright infringement is intended.