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.
“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?”
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.