DISCLAIMER: All characters and story arcs of the Malory Towers series are property of Enid Blyton, her subsequent Estate, and the associated publishing house. In other words, not me.
AUTHOR NOTE: Please rest assured that this story is about girls in romantic situations – and, golly, some of them might even be in love! :) If you think that might be too much for you, then to quote Darrell Rivers, "Buzz off!"
I would like to mention my complete and utter admiration for Kanna-Ophelia's Malory Towers stories (some of which are archived on this site). These have been a source of inspiration to me while writing this fic, and I encourage anyone who hasn't to go read them now.
Some might notice that this chapter bears some similarity to one which takes place halfway through Upper Fourth at Malory Towers. In truth, the scene in question sparked many ideas for this chapter, but not quite as it was or where it was. To create a suitable starting point for the story, this chapter was adapted from the original scene.
All feedback will be most gratefully received. On with the story.
The whole affair had blown up over one of the usual jibes about Gwen. Term was drawing to a close and it was an unusually warm evening. The light sky following dinner was a sure sign of summer approaching. The girls were sitting in the courtyard, each gradually finishing her prep and setting books aside to stretch on the still warm pavers.
"That's that done," Darrell remarked, dropping her pen and flexing her aching palm. "I should think Mam'zelle will soon run out of French poetry if she sets so much at once."
Sally nodded, having finished just a moment before Darrell. "I expect she'll start on literature then," she said.
"Don't tempt fate," Belinda muttered darkly from across the courtyard.
Silence fell once again on the group. Alicia, who had long since finished, was lying flat on her back, arms crossed behind her head and eyes shut. She disliked these occasions when the others were still working and she had to keep quiet. They were altogether too frequent, and Darrell was not one to allow her to slip off and do as she liked.
As a fourth former, Alicia resented the restriction, but she also knew that constant defiance of the rule would only strain her friendship with the quick-tempered head girl. It had happened before, and looking back, Alicia wasn't particularly proud of the way she had behaved on those occasions. So she stifled a sigh and tried not to feel bored when she felt two hands over her shut eyes.
"No prizes for guessing."
Alicia grinned at the sound of the familiar voice, and caught the hands, pulling them back. She stared up into Betty's wicked laughing dark eyes.
"What are you doing out here?" Alicia asked, pleased. Betty settled herself on the ground beside her.
"I finished prep, and saw you through the window. Told Pat I needed to see Williams, so she let me out. Easy."
Betty sat back against the low wall which lined the courtyard, prompting Alicia to pull herself up and do the same. What a piece of luck that Betty should have thought to slip out early! Leaning against the other girl, Alicia caught sight of Sally and Darrell chatting across the courtyard and a thought struck her.
"We'd better keep it quiet all the same. I do recall Darrell got a terrible glint in her eye last time you sat out with us."
Betty chuckled quietly at the memory. "Yes, that's right!" She observed the girl in question, sitting relaxed in the warmth of the evening. "Still, it looks like she's finished her prep this time."
Alicia surveyed the group scattered around the small paved area. Darrell and Sally were talking quietly, their books now stacked neatly together. Further round sat Clarissa and Bill, heads together as both worked silently on finishing the set passages. The pair surely wanted to fit in one last ride before dark. The twins sat together, of course. Ruth was helping Connie, the dreadful tension between them now gone.
A little to the left sat Irene, frowning heavily over her textbook, and beside her, Belinda. The girl's quick motions across the page, coupled with a mischievous smile, suggested her mind was on something other than French poetry. Curious, Alicia followed Belinda's eye line to see Gwendoline, sitting not far from herself. The golden-haired girl had a look of petulant concentration on her face as she tackled her prep, oblivious to Belinda's quick eye and even quicker pencil.
Alicia nudged Betty and both girls grinned at the scene.
"Of course, some aren't even halfway through yet," Alicia remarked in a sly voice.
Gwendoline, who had been pondering a way to copy Mary-Lou's prep, heard the jibe and looked up sharply. She scowled at the sight of Alicia, already finished with her work and casually reclining with Betty.
"Shut up! Some of us are trying to work."
Gwen hated it when Alicia's sharp tongue targeted her, as it so often did, because she lacked the other girl's quick wit to respond to the jibes. So she scowled even harder, unaware of the look of pure delight on Belinda's face as her pencil flew across the page.
"You're in fine form tonight, Gwen!" The artist called across to the oblivious girl. "Three scowls in the past ten minutes!"
Gwen caught sight of the hated sketchbook and tossed her head in anger. 'Beast!' she thought. 'She only does it to show off.' It never occurred to Gwen that Belinda had a genuine talent to be admired. Unless a thing cast her in a good light, the girl simply had no interest in it.
Having heard Belinda call out, Irene looked up from her work. On the surface she was a complete scatterbrain, useless with the most simple of tasks, yet the depths of her mind were pure genius. The French passages should have been easy for her, but that particular afternoon she had a new composition in her head that was begging to be written down. Irene simply couldn't concentrate on anything else and so had been struggling with her prep for the past hour.
She grinned as she glanced across at her friend, glad of the distraction. "I think that might be your best sketch of Gwen yet".
"Oh, let's see, Belinda!" Betty said as she stood, crossing to where Belinda and Irene sat. A wicked grin appeared on her face as she held the sketchbook in her hands, marvelling at Belinda's talent. Sure enough, there was Gwendoline Mary captured in clever detail as she sulked through her prep and scowled at Alicia. Betty laughed again, crossing back across the courtyard with the book, and Gwendoline shot her a furious look.
"You're not even supposed to be here, Betty! Shut up and let us work!"
"You're about the only one still working, Gwen dear," Alicia said smoothly as she admired the sketches over Betty's shoulder. Both girls were once again seated by the wall.
Hearing the beginnings of a heated argument, Darrell looked up. She immediately spotted the scowl on Gwendoline's face, then glanced across at Belinda when she heard one of Irene's explosive snorting laughs. The source of the joke was Betty, leaning back against the far wall with Alicia, the sketchbook between them.
Darrell frowned slightly at this; she liked the daring West Tower girl, but it was prep now all the same and several of the others hadn't finished yet. What sort of head girl would she be if she allowed them to sit about chatting instead of finishing the set work?
She caught sight of Clarissa and Bill quietly talking, their books closed, and a quick glance about told her that most of the group was finished. Only poor, lazy Gwendoline Mary was still in the middle of the passages, but at that particular moment her attention was elsewhere.
"You're such a beast, Alicia!" Gwen cried shrilly. "You don't know what it's like to find something difficult!"
Connie glanced up and silently agreed, but she didn't like Gwendoline's sulky manner and certainly wasn't going to stick up for her. She turned back to Ruth and pressed on with the poetry, glad to be finally finishing the wretched passages.
Connie was sure she had done badly in the exams three weeks earlier, but consoled herself with the thought that Ruth would be left down as well. Neither twin knew yet that Ruth had in fact managed to scrape by, and would pass into the fifth form with the others. While the separation might be hard at first, it would allow Ruth to stand on her own feet more and Connie to work at her own pace.
"What's going on over there?" Darrell's sharp tone made both the pouting Gwendoline and the grinning Alicia look up in surprise. The golden-haired girl took her chance to get Darrell onside first; after all, hadn't Darrell objected the last time Betty intruded on prep?
"Darrell, why does Betty have to sit out here gassing with Alicia?" she asked rather peevishly. "I'm trying to finish my prep!"
Darrell wasn't fooled by Gwendoline's innocent expression, but cast a stern look at Alicia all the same. She hadn't forgotten the previous occasion with Betty either. Darrell had nearly lost her temper very badly that day, and there had been a great deal of unpleasantness when Betty finally did leave.
"If you had worked harder, Gwen, you'd be finished like everyone else. But if you can't be quiet out here, Betty, you'll have to leave until after prep," Darrell concluded firmly.
She was rewarded for her control when Gwendoline turned back to her books, still glowering, and Betty nodded good-naturedly before leaning close to talk with Alicia. Darrell sighed, satisfied, and one look at Sally's warm smile told her that she had done well.
"When will prep be over, anyway? Clarissa and I were hoping to get a ride in this evening," Bill called out from where she and the other girl were sitting.
"Yes, it is odd that Miss Williams hasn't been out yet, Darrell," Sally commented, consulting her wristwatch.
Normally their form mistress would have already appeared to signal the end of prep, and for those finished, free time would commence until the bell rang for supper.
"Perhaps she's given us extra time since there was so much to do tonight," Mavis ventured.
The girl had just that minute finished her work, and she stretched her arms in relief. Beside her, quiet Mary-Lou checked Daphne's answers. The kind-hearted girl excelled in the language, and so tried to help anyone who needed it. Daphne, however, was Mary-Lou's friend, and so the assistance came naturally. Gwen looked on enviously as Miss Williams appeared.
"I know it's a little after time, girls. I trust you've all used the extra ten minutes wisely," she said, almost rolling her eyes as she saw Alicia and Betty in an intense, and hushed, conversation.
Her gaze fell on Gwendoline, eyes hardening as she saw the girl still in the middle of her work. Goodness, would Gwen never grow out of her laziness? Miss Williams shook her head slightly, then addressed them all.
"There is a notice to stay away from the oak tree at the far end of the first lacrosse field. A swarm of wild bees have nested there, and several second and third formers have already been stung."
Alicia looked annoyed. "Oh, blow," she said quietly to Betty. "What are we going to do now?"
Miss Williams was still speaking. "Now, if you've finished prep, you're free until the bell. Otherwise, do the set work until you have finished it." The teacher scanned the faces of the girls once more, then turned back inside.
Bill and Clarissa were up straight away.
"Come on Clarissa. We've still got a bit of time before it's too dark," Bill said as they hurried off to get changed.
Betty stood up too, holding a hand out to Alicia to haul her up.
"We'll have a walk along there and see what else we can find," she grinned, and Alicia let her annoyance fade away. The pair took up their books, and headed back towards the common room; however, not before Alicia remarked to Gwendoline -
"If you attack that prep with as much gusto as you attacked dinner, Gwen, you'll be finished in no time!"
Betty shook her head and added in a overly sympathetic tone, "Now, now. Perhaps the poor thing is tired from all that scowling."
They walked off, laughing, and Gwendoline threw a hateful glare after them. She despised and feared Betty as much as she did Alicia for her sharp tongue and quick wit.
"Beast," she said again, her face sulky and pinched. "Why does Betty have to be in our pockets all the time anyway?"
The girl narrowed her eyes as she watched the retreating couple and huffed, half-muttering her words as she barely dared say them at all, even without Alicia's presence.
"There's certainly something odd about those two."
Those who had heard the mumbled remark stopped, looking across at the sullen girl. Gwendoline, thinking she had a sympathetic audience, sat up a bit, emboldened.
She pressed on, warming to her topic. "They're always together, though Betty isn't even in our Tower."
"Betty's a scream," Irene said in an annoyed tone. "And she's Alicia's friend. Why shouldn't she group up with us?"
Irene too had not quite finished her prep, and though much further advanced than Gwendoline, she did not want to be interrupted with the girl's silly, spiteful gossiping.
"She's much more fun than you are sometimes, Gwendoline Mary," drawled Belinda. Her voice was relaxed, but there was a hard undertone to her words.
Quite a few of the girls were watching the exchange now. Daphne felt Mary-Lou tremble slightly beside her, and a wave of irritation swept over the girl.
'Blow them for arguing now!' she thought. 'Just when we all want to properly relax.' She made up her mind to say something.
"Oh, who cares anyway?" Daphne interrupted, in a mildly exasperated tone. "It's so nice out this evening, don't spoil it with such a silly quarrel."
"That's right," said Darrell in a decidedly firm voice. The group looked across to where she sat with Sally. "Alicia and Betty are our friends – and they're jolly amusing too! I don't believe there's anything more to say about it."
Sally nodded her support for her friend's words, and the other girls sat back, letting the unpleasantness drift away. But Gwendoline was not willing to let the matter drop. She glared at Irene and Belinda, both of whom she felt had done her an injustice.
"Well, I'm not surprised Miss Potts won't allow Betty to move to our Tower," she began again poisonously. "They should both be dismissed. That kind of friendship is quite unnatural, Mother says so!"
Gwen did not know precisely what her mother had meant by this particular pearl of wisdom, but she felt pleased with herself for saying it all the same. It sounded so dreadful, just the sort of thing for getting her own back against Alicia!
"Shut up, Gwen, and finish your prep," Darrell said shortly, hardly able to stop herself from going over and shaking the foolish, petulant girl.
Sally could see her friend struggling to remain calm, and touched her arm gently. Gwendoline Mary was so infuriating, it would make anyone want to shake her, but Darrell had already badly lost her temper once that year and Sally couldn't let her again.
When Miss Potts had assigned Sally to be head girl in Darrell's place after the June Incident, it had almost broken the girl's heart. She had promised to share everything with Darrell, and was true to her word, but the look of sheer despair on her friend's face when Miss Potts announced the decision was something she could never quite forgive June.
"Come on, let's leave her to it. We spent enough hours rowing when we were swotting for the School Cert," Sally said quietly to Darrell, and she felt the tension leave the other girl's body. Darrell took a deep breath and turned to Sally, smiling gratefully.
"Yes, let's take a wander down to the pool. With any luck, the games mistress might let us take a quick dip since it's still so heavenly out."
Irene sat up, an indignant look on her face. "I do hope you're not planning to go swimming when I've not yet finished, Darrell Rivers!" she said in her sternest voice, glaring at the two of them.
"I was barely able to finish prep myself," Darrell chuckled. "With you going 'tum-ti-tum' under your breath, Irene. It was jolly distracting."
Just then a textbook was hurled in the direction of the two standing girls. Sally and Darrell dodged, laughing as Irene chased them around the courtyard, the girl scattering pens and books haphazardly. The others looked on in merry astonishment before abandoning books to join the game.
"I can't believe we're going to be fifth formers soon," gasped Mary-Lou. "I don't feel a bit grown-up."
Daphne grinned back at her. "That's why we've got to make the most of fourth form, Mary-Lou."
Only Gwendoline Mary remained seated, the conversation about Alicia and Betty still running through her mind. Why, if she knew one of their secrets, she need never fear their remarks again! The girl turned her attention back to the French poems before her, storing the idea away for use at a later time.
END CHAPTER ONE
I don't think there are any notes I need to make for this chapter, but if I have missed something please let me know ^v^ Please do leave a review. I have tried to capture Blyton's tone and vocabulary in this story, but I'm not sure I achieved it here. Any comments on this, or on any of it, will be most appreciated ^v^ I will try to have the next chapter up within the next two weeks or so, but I'm still reworking it as it stands.
(Cleaned up and re-uploaded March, 2010. No real changes – just formatting, typos and the occasional stray comma.)