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.
Author's Chapter Notes:
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