Nell Wilson managed to ignore the first sigh, but the second intruded rather more noisily into her enjoyment of the thriller she was trying to read, and the third, coming to an abrupt end in a cross little grunt, was of such a quality that it demanded her immediate attention.
Dropping her book on the floor, she levered herself up from the sofa on which she was lying. "What's up?" she asked, crossing the pretty study to where her colleague was sitting at the desk. "Another cup of tea?" Con Stewart grunted crossly again, and as Nell reached for the empty mug on the desk, with her free hand she instinctively rubbed the other woman's shoulders in a comforting manner. "Those middles playing up again?"
Con leaned back into the familiar touch. "If only," she sighed. "No, not the middles - it's the prefects."
"Or one of them at least. Look at this!" Con gestured, frustratedly, towards the book on the table.
Nell picked it up, read the scathing comments Con had just written in bold red pen, and winced. "Who...?" she began, flipping the book over as she spoke to see the name on the front and answer her own question. "Ah. I see."
"She's just content to be nice, affable and easy-going when with a little effort she could be so much more."
"There's nothing wrong with being nice, affable and easy-going, you know," Nell countered.
"You'd hate it if I were nice, affable and easy-going," Con grinned back.
"Yes, but we're not talking about you, are we?" Con scowled a little, but Nell ignored her. "I take your point, though. She's got no - drive. No - passion. she's just, well...
"...lazy," Con finished for her. "I've heard her admit it herself. I wouldn't mind, so much, if she had no brains, but she clearly does. But she's just happy to lounge about. Nell, it's so frustrating! Sometimes I just want to give her a good shake."
"Well, my love, it's a good job you're not allowed, isn't it? You know, it strikes me that she's lacking in confidence."
Con looked skeptical, shaking her head. "Really? She's certainly not shy. No, I wouldn't say that - "
Nell cut her off. "I would. Partly her weight, I think; partly not wanting to draw attention to herself; partly that she's...well, I don't think she's completely sure of...well, her place in the world."
Con shrugged. "OK," she said - Nell grinned at the forbidden slang - "but what are we going to do about it? We can't just let her go on like this - it'd be such a waste."
"I don't know, my dear. I really don't know."
"Bil-ah, Miss Wi-ah, Frau Wilson, konnen sie mir helfen, bitte?"
Nell Wilson grinned at the tall, blonde prefect in front of her. The St Scholastika's girls were still struggling with their German, but at least they were gamely putting in the effort. She listened to the girl's request - to translate "If you don't stop doing that I am actually going to hit you," into German and, with a raised eyebrow, provided the translation. She repeated it twice, nodded as the girl repeated it back to her, and then watched her race off to where two sulky-looking middles were standing.
"Now, repeat after me," the prefect said, repeating accurately the translation Bill had given her.
Haltingly, Elizabeth Arnett made a fairly poor show of uttering the words and then looked up to the prefect with an appeal in her eyes. The prefect shook her head, and patiently said the words once more.
Curious, Nell watched this from afar. As she instructed her junior a transformation had seemed to come over the older girl. She was somehow different - there was something in her eyes, something in the way that she stood, something even in the way that she spoke - almost as if she was starting to slot into place in the world.
Nell grinned to herself, and then jumped as, suddenly, Con was by her side.
"Nell? Nell! You're miles away woman, will you pay attention!"
"Hello dear, I didn't see you there. I think I've just worked out how to solve that problem."