"Write to us, Liz!"
Elizabeth Braithwaite smiled cheerfully at the few of her classmates who had come to the front door (strictly against the rules) to see her off, and climbed into the car. The school driver took her to the train station, handed her an envelope from Madame containing her ticket, and saw her onto the platform. She thanked him politely and stood demurely until he had left the station, the picture of a perfect schoolgirl.
As soon as the train pulled in, Elizabeth found herself an empty compartment and settled down. She removed her school hat, throwing it into the luggage rack with a complete disregard for it's well being, replaced her heavy school shoes with light ones that she had in her bag, and untangled her long blonde hair from it's pigtails, combing it out. It fell in a heavy sheet to her waist, and she considered it thoughtfully. She looked, she eventually concluded, exactly like one of the porcelain dolls which sat in her bedroom, gifts collected over the years from people who hadn't known what else to buy a young girl. She was small for her age, and eventually concluded that she also looked about 12, which she did not consider was a desirable state in a 16 year old who was trying to convince her father to take her, and her future career plans, more seriously. Hunting further through her bag, she found a pair of sharp scissors and, using the window as a mirror, calmly cut round at the level of her chin. The long strands fell to the floor and she collected them up and wrapped them in a bag, tucking them away with the scissors. At the very least, such a drastic change in her appearance might distract her father for a while, and Elizabeth very firmly believed that if people weren't sure what to shout at her about first, then they would be calmer by the time they decided.
This transformation accomplished, Elizabeth changed out of her school uniform into a casual skirt and jumper, found a book, and settled down to enjoy the long journey. Before long, however, she abandoned her book and fell to considering her situation.
Despite her relaxed attitude, Elizabeth found that she was very worried about the reaction of her father when she finally got home. She admitted herself that the last thing she deserved to get was anything she wanted, however she reasoned that what she had done had been the best plan she could come up with at the time.
Her mother had died when she was born, leaving Elizabeth to her father's care. Mr Braithwaite, recently out of the army, had refused to go back to his job and brought his daughter up to the best of his ability until she was eight years old. At that point, the family finances being tight, he had had to look for another option.
This option turned out the be the selling of their house and accepting a job as the senior housemaster and History master in a large Boys' boarding school, some fifty miles from the town they lived in. A small flat would be provided in the top of the senior boarding house, and a salary big enough to pay for Elizabeth to attend a large boarding school on the south coast. Her holidays were spent with her father at the school or on trips around the country, and until Elizabeth turned fifteen things were almost perfect.
Elizabeth had always known she was clever. She had fairly effortlessly topped every form she was in, and when she received the letter giving her school certificate results, she approached her father with some trepidation to discuss the possibility of training as a doctor at some point in the future.
"But I'd have to leave St Anne's, daddy." she explained earnestly, during the summer holidays. "I'd need to do all sorts of science, and Latin, and maths, and things like that. St Anne's won't let me do more than two classes in those things, and they want me to do Literature and French and Needlework." This last causing her to twist her face into a disgusted expression.
Her father had refused her request immediately. He would not take her from the school he knew to enrol her in another at such short notice, and he didn't particularly want her studying to become a doctor either, considering that the workload to be far too heavy for her. Elizabeth had tried discussion, sulks, and tantrums until the entire resident staff was sick of her, and delighted to see the back of her when her father returned her, still sulking, to St Anne's at the start of the new term.
Elizabeth determined then that her best course of action would be to get sent away from St Anne's at the first possible opportunity - thus forcing her father into sending her to a new school. Having been given the Form Captain's position in Lower Sixth, she proceeded to neglect her new duties, and her prep. She slipped quickly down the form lists, broke every rule she could think of and steadfastly ignored every attempt that her form mistress, head, and everyone else made to talk to her. The removal of her recently awarded Captainship she greeted with a shrug. The rows, talkings to, and detentions she either ignored, or treated with disdain. Eventually, shortly before Easter, she broke into the Stationary Cupobard and helped herself to a set of textbooks for the subjects she wanted to learn, climbed out of her bedrooom window in the early hours of the morning, walked into the town, and caught the first train back home - slipping in the back door and arriving at the flat in the top of the boarding house just as fully-fledged panic broke out at St. Anne's when it was reported that Elizabeth Braithwaite hadn't shown up for her first or second class, and no one knew where she was.
A monumental row was the result of that escapade, and the Headmistress of St. Anne's flatly refused to accept Elizabeth back, suggesting to Mr Brathwaite that his daughter would be happier if she was allowed to do what she wanted to do. Mr Braithwaite, deciding that this was the last thing his daughter deserved, enrolled her in a strict Parisian finishing school. Disgusted, Elizabeth repeated her previous tactics, adding to them a complete refusal to speak in anything except her own language, ignoring all instructions given to her in French, and behaved in the worst manner she could think of, and within the space of a term found herself expelled and in the train home.
Her father collected her silently from the station, and drove back to the school where they made their home. He ushered her into the flat, sat her down in the small sitting room and looked straight at her.
"Explain please, Elizabeth." he said. Elizabeth shivered at the anger in his voice. She twisted her hands in her lap nervously.
"I want to learn to be a doctor." she said quietly. "I have two years left at school. I want to study the subjects I need and then go and study to become a doctor. I don't want to go to finishing schools, or study needlework, or anythign else. I can do this, daddy, I know I can. Please." Her father sighed.
"I dont know what I can do about this, I really don't." he said, in a much gentler tone. "I don't want you to pin all your hopes on this, only to end up not being able to do it. Or for you to change your mind half way through. However, since you're determined, and any effort I've made to get you to consider anything different has failed, I suppose I'll have to let you give it a shot. Wait here." He left her there and made his way downstairs and across to the gloomy entrance hall, where he entered the Headmaster's office. They had worked together for many years, and the head smiled as his friend came in.
"Tom." he greeted him. "What can I do for you?"
"I need to talk to you about Elizabeth." her father said with a sigh. "You know, of course, that she's been sent home from Paris. The girl is as stubborn as a mule, and any effort I make to get her to change her mind from her chosen track is going to be wasted. Unfortunately, I also can't get her into a school where she will be able to do what she wants. The few with spaces are refusing to take a girl who has twice been expelled in the space of four months, and I am not at all keen to send her to the local High School." The head studied his friend over steepled fingers.
"I did warn you about this last summer - I said Elizabeth would get her own way. What are you proposing?" he asked eventually.
"Elizabeth has been studying her Higher certificate courses herself." her father continued. "She helped herself to the textbooks before she left St Anne's. Will you let her sit in some classes with the sixth forms, and take her exams from here? She won't be with the boys at any other time, only in a few classes." The head considered this.
"I'm not sure." he said eventually. "Elizabeth is obviously a disruptive influence in herself, never mind the disruption she'd cause anyway as a girl in a boys' school."
"She was never disruptive before this year." her father defended her, "I sure she wouldn't disturb things here - I'd make sure she knew this was her last chance. And we have had girls before, occasionally - remember they used to come in to do science before it was so widely taught in girls' schools."
"That was a long time ago, but I accept the point." the head said. "It's only a few weeks until the summer holidays. Elizabeth is, I think, a year ahead for her age, is she not?" her father nodded. "I'll agree at the moment." he said eventually. "She can join the boys for classes after the summer holidays - Lower Sixth would be best, I think, and she can repeat this year since she seems to have spent it doing as little as possible. However, if there is any trouble - any trouble at all - she'll have to go, as will any of the boys who are concerned in it. Also, I'll expect her to be near the top of the class - and next years Lower Sixth contains boys like Miller, and Maynard Minor. All their group are getting junior prefectships, and with any luck they'll turn their considerable brainpower to work, rather than havoc, at long last."
"I doubt that very much. No prefectships or anything else will calm those four down and make them obey they rules for more than about 10 minutes. But thanks, Ed." Tom Braithwaite said, relieved. "I'll make sure Elizabeth knows the conditions. There won't be any trouble, I guarantee."
"And of course, I will expect her to be in uniform for all classes." the head added. "I suppose she will be wearing a skirt instead of trousers, but otherwise I expect shirt, tie, and blazer, the same as the boys. I feel I might regret this, but I've known Elizabeth a long time - and as I said, if there's a problem..."
"There won't be." her father assured him. The two men sat for a while longer, working out the details and then Elizabeth's father made his way back to the flat, to find Elizabeth curled up on the sofa with a book. She jumped to her feet as he entered.
"Right." he said firmly. "This is your last chance. You will listen to me, and you will accept this, because the alternative is that I send you to stay with your Aunt Monica and attend the local high school there, do you understand?" Elizabeth nodded, thankful that she wasn't to be sent to her elderly aunt immediately.
"After the summer holidays, you will be enrolled as a pupil here." her father told her. "You will take your classes with the sixth forms, who will hopefully be mature enough to cope with the fact that you are that most unusual of creatures, a girl. Your meals, and accomodation will be in this flat. Your recreation time will be here too, and when your form are doing games, you will go for a walk." Elizabeth's face fell.
"I can't get you in to another girls school." her father said. "Your references from your previous Heads are appalling, and this is the only option left. I've only managed this because I've guaranteed Dr. Hammersley your best behaviour, and your hardest work. It's this, or Aunt Monica. Your choice."
"I'll stay." Elizabeth decided. "And I'll work hard and behave perfectly, I promise." her father nodded.
"Very well. I'll let Dr. Hammersley know. Oh, and Elizabeth?" he added, "If I hear one rumour of improper conduct - so much as a glance - between you and your new classmates, Aunt Monica will look like paradise, do you understand? I might add that the Head agrees with me on this - you will be leaving at once, as will any of the young men who are silly enough to risk anything." Elizabeth blushed scarlet, but agreed. "And now, finally, who on Earth gave you permission to cut off your hair?" he finished off. "I'll make arrangements with Mrs MacKenzie to take you into town to the hairdressers this week to get it trimmed properly, and for this afternoon, you can take yourself to your room and stay there as punishment for it. Leave your book here." he added, as she reached for it. Elizabeth sighed, and made her way into the tiny bedroom that she occupied when she was here. She curled up on the window ledge and looked out over the school grounds, watching some of the boys at Games below her. This was not how her plan had been supposed to turn out. Two years having lessons in a boys' school? She groaned.
"Focus on the end, Liz." she muttered to herself. "It'll be worth it in the end."
After tea, which she had with her father in the flat, Elizabeth settled back down with her book again. She'd been reading for an hour or so when the door opened and one of the maids came in.
"Oh, I'm sorry! I didn't realise you were here or I would have knocked." she apologised. Elizabeth shook her head.
"It's ok, don't worry about it." she smiled. "No harm done." The girl set to work, dusting the flat quickly and replacing the towels in the small bathroom.
"I hope you don't mind me asking," she said hesitantly, when she was done, "But are you staying here all the time now? I'm presuming you're Mr Braithwaite's daughter? I thought Mrs Mac said you were only here in the holidays."
"I'm here forever - or at least, that's what it feels like." Elizabeth replied. "Two years I think, at least. I'm getting to do lessons with the boys." she finished glumly.
"Poor you." the other girl said fervently. "I left school last month, as soon as I possibly could. At least now I'm working I'm earning some money. I say... if you're going to be here for so long, I don't suppose you play hockey, do you?"
"I was on the team when I was at school." Elizabeth replied, feeling that it was uneccessary to add that she'd been thrown off that same team for bad behaviour less than a month after joining it.
"It's just... there's a group of us who left school over the past couple of years, but we really enjoyed playing and we've got a team that plays together on a Saturday morning. We're always looking for more people if you'd like to join us. Sometimes we play among ourselves but we get challenges from the schools, so we do get a fair number of matches. Oh, I've just realised I haven't introduced myself - I'm Kitty."
"Elizabeth." she replied. "And yes, that sounds great! I'm not allowed to do any sports with the boys, of course - though I'm hoping they might relax that for tennis - but other than that I'm limited to walks, and there's only so much walking you can do. I'll have to ask Daddy, of course, but I'm sure he won't mind."
"We play at Ashford Farm, out of the village on the other side - do you know it? Nora Ashford began it, and her father gave us enough ground to play on." As she finished this explanation, the click of heels was heard on the stairs and Kitty jumped to her feet in horror. "Mrs Mac!" she hissed, just as that lady herself appeared in the doorway.
"Exactly right." she replied. "I presume you're finished here, Kitty? In which case," as that young lady nodded mutely, "take yourself down to the laundry and help with the folding until it's time for you to go." Kitty rushed off, and Mrs Mac turned to Elizabeth,
"Elizabeth, you have an appointment the hairdresser tomorrow morning. Meet me at the front door at 10 - if you're late we'll miss the train."
"Yes, Mrs MacKenzie." Elizabeth replied, very properly. "And please, Kitty won't get into trouble, will she? I kept her with talking, I'm sorry - I won't do it again." The housekeeper's rather severe expression softened.
"She's not in trouble." she assured her. "I know what Kitty's like - she talks too much, but she works hard. Now, on the subject of working hard, I need to get on. I'll see you tomorrow."
"Sir, you can't be serious!"
"Sir's lost his marbles!"
The four exclamations came simultantously, and Dr Hammersley suppressed a smile.
"I assure you, Maynard, that I am perfectly serious, and no, Montgomery, I am in full possession of my... ahem... marbles. Yes, you four will be the junior prefects next year." The Head sat back and regarded the four shocked faces in front of him.
"Sir, we're... we can't... I mean to say... You can't..."
"For an articulate boy, Miller, you are making a terrible mess of a simple sentence."
"What Miller means, Sir, is that we're the last four in the school to be made prefects. I mean - well, speaking bluntly, Sir, our conduct record is as long as this room, you can't be going on form places because Monty - I mean, Montgomery - and I are here, you can't be going on age because Maynard's here - really, Sir, none of us expected this at all."
"What you expected, Jones, is neither here nor there. Now, boys, I have to meet the govenors soon and show them around. I sugggest you return to whatever you were doing before I called you in, and get used to the idea that the rest of your school lives will be spent as prefects." He nodded to them and watched them file out, still looking shocked by the very idea of prefectships. He recalled the heated debate in the staff room over them - for every staff member who said that they were enough trouble without authority, another pointed out the complete lack of leaders of any sort in the current Upper Fifth. Eventually, those speaking out in favour of them had won by a narrow margin, and the decision had been passed. Dr. Hammersley hoped that the boys who had just left his study would give him no reason to take change his mind.
The four boys wandered back out into the entrance hall and, in defiance of the school rules, sat down on the main staircase.
"Well." Miller said, after a while.
"Prefects." Jones added, sounding depressed.
"Shiny badges and shouting at kids for doing things we did." Monty sighed.
"Setting a Good Example." Charles Maynard finished, the capital letters evident by his tone. They sat in silence for another few minutes.
"What were we doing before the head called us in?" Miller asked.
"Nothing." Monty replied. "Come on, chaps, it's not for another three months almost. We've got the rest of this term and the whole of the hols to go. Lets cheer up a bit and do something more fun."
"Like what?" Charles asked. Monty looked around for inspiration.
"Don't know." he admitted eventually.
"Well, I'm going to the nets." Jones said, getting to his feet. "We won't get much more practice in this term."
"I'll come with you." Miller agreed. Charles shook his head.
"I've got a Chem coaching in half an hour." he explained.
"I'll stay here too then." Monty decided. "It's too hot for cricket."
"Lazy object." Jones grinned over his shoulder as they went out. Charles looked around him.
"You know," he began conversationally, "I bet I could climb those curtain things there and get into the staff corridor without going up the main stairs."
"Not a chance!" he friend exclaimed. "You're small, yes, but you're not that small. You'd be on the floor in a heap with the curtain on top of you."
"I don't think so." Charles replied, studying the curtain thoughfully. "If I bunch it up and then go like this..." he tailed off as he began to swarm up the heavy curtain as if it was a rope in the gym hall. Monty watched him.
"Minor, come down! You'll kill yourself falling from there!" he called. Charles looked up at the railing just above his head, and reached as high as he could. Just as his fingers brushed the edge of the wood, the door opened and Dr. Hammersley entered with the school Govenors.
"Who... Maynard Minor! Get down from there at once!" he thundered. Charles jumped and loosened his grip. He began to slide down the curtain, scrabbling for purchase with his feet as he went. Eventually, he managed to get his toes onto the top of a large painting and rested there for a second, still gripping the curtain. "Don't stand on that!" the head exclaimed, rushing forward. Even as he spoke, there was a loud snap, and the portrait plunged to the floor, where Charles landed on top of it with a bump that shook all the breath out his body, and banged his head hard off the floor. Almost immediately, Matron, using that special sixth sense for trouble that all matrons have, bustled down the stairs, looking angry.
"What on earth has he been doing now?" she demanded, looking around. "Climbing curtains? I never did see the like, not in all my time here. That boy will kill himself before he leaves this school, I'd stake my salary on it. It's ok Doctor, I'll take him now, you get on with the guests. Montgomery, leave that picture alone! Get out of here, go on, before you hurt yourself too. Don't worry about Maynard, he's only knocked himself out, and I'm not surprised. He'll be ok in a few minutes. Maynard, Jeffries, what are you doing?"
"Nothing Matron." Stephen replied promptly, drawing back from where he'd been hanging over the bannister outside the prefects' room.
"Good. Then you can come down here and help carry this brother of yours to the San. Come along! Quicker we can get him there the quicker I can make sure he's not done himself any damage."
Charles remained motionless until Stephen and his friend had put him down on a bed in the San, and then his eyes flickered open.
"OK, Chas?" Stephen demanded, attempting to sound unconcerned. Charles stared blankly at him for a second, then turned his head away and was violently sick.
"He'll be fine, I'm sure." Matron replied, hurrying past. "There's the tea-bell - go on down, you can come back afterwards if you want and see how he his. Almost certainly just bruised and a slight concussion."
"More than slight, the way his head bounced off the floor." Stephen's friend remarked from the doorway. "Come on Maynie. We'll get some food and then come back, if you want. Minor's made of rubber, anyway, he'll be fine. Look at the knocks he's taken before. Anyway, you can't expect him to go a whole term without a night in the San, can you?"
When they returned after their meal, they found Charles sitting up in bed, talking to Monty, Miller, and Jones, who Matron seemed to have let in to see him against her better judgement.
"Hello you two." he said cheerfully, when Stephen and Jeffries appeared. "Sorry for the fright." he added with a grin at his brother. Stephen sighed.
"It's not the first, and I doubt it'll be the last." he said. "And young Felix is taking after you, did you hear? Armstrong was taking the kids today for sports day practice, and Felix got himself stuck up one of the pine trees at the side of the rugger field."
"Armstrong said he only turned his back for thirty seconds." Jeffries added. "Then half the kids were yelling and he had to get your brother out the tree, and he - your brother, I mean - had got himself stuck as well. It's a good thing there's only one more of you to come. Probably by the time he gets to Upper Fifth he'll have burnt the school down."
"We never managed that." Miller said regretfully.
"Never even a decent explosion." Charles agreed. "And now we never will."
"Stupid prefect badges." Jones sighed, helping himself to the chocolate on the bedside table.
"What?" Stephen and Jeffries demanded in unison.
"Prefect badges, big brother." Charles said with a grin. "You know, that thing there pinned to your blazer. You're talking to next years junior prefects." The two older boys exchanged glances.
"What did we do to deserve this?" Jeffries asked. Stephen shrugged.
"We must have been very bad in a previous life." he speculated. "Me particularly. Not only do I have to live with him, I have to work with him at school as well?" A chorus of protests rose from the younger four at these words, and Matron came hurrying up the room to chase them all out.
"And you, try and go to sleep!" she added over her shoulder to Charles, closing the door behind her.
Just an advance note that I have made a slight mess of the boys ages (I have aged both Stephen and Charles by two years accidentally somewhere). I'm sure if no one thinks too hard about it it will all work out.