Since Glendower House had moved to its new position, about half an hour from Cardiff, the Upper Fifth had congratulated themselves on having the best common room. Based in the attic it had lots of small corners and niches in which small groups could be quite private and left in peace during what could be a stressful year with O' levels held at the end of it. However at this moment the petite girl with black curls was moaning to herself how hard it was to spot anyone in there- even when, as now, it was mostly empty as befitted the first day of term. As she reached the end of the room she spotted the two blonde heads she was looking for.
'Hi! Have you two seen Daphne yet?'
'Hello Cecily!' The twins looked up from the letter they were writing to their Grandmother, 'You look worried, what's wrong?'
'I'm looking for Daphne. She's generally one of the first to get here and I can't find her anywhere.' Cecily sighed.
'So, she's running a bit late that's all. Here have some chocolate.' Bits pushed the box towards their friend whilst Kits folded up the letter they were collaborating over. Cecily helped herself to a crème filled one and sat down still with a furrow running down her forehead.
'There's a bit more to this than just worry she's late, isn't there?'
Cecily nodded. 'Aunt Mollie's been ill most of the holidays and I want to know how she is. My family are a bit over protective and seem to think I'll fall apart if stressed but not knowing is driving me crazy!'
The twins, who had met Cecily when she was at her worst felt her family might have a point but Bits, at least, appreciated that Cecily need to know before she could imagine all sorts of nightmares. She felt it would be safer to move this conversation elsewhere, 'Exam term!' she said with a voice of doom.
Kits took the bait, 'Yeah and once we're through this lot all we have are two years till the next lot!'
'Well if you want to be a doctor you'll have to get used to it.' Cecily spoke from experience having had one sister already qualified and a brother just started his training both who had moaned through various holidays about what was expected of them.
'Nurses have exams too.' Kits cast a glance at her sister but Cecily noticed that Bits folded her lips at this statement and shrugged. Cecily watching them was aware of some friction. Ever since she had known them Kits had always delared her intention of being a doctor and that Bits was going to be her nurse. In responses Bits had always nodded as if accepting her fate but now Bits was shaking her head slightly and quickly changed the subject again.
'The holidays were a bit short. Get up to anything. I suppose it was all prep for Con's wedding. Is she having a big one?'
Cecily giggled, 'No! Con has a thing against weddings and says it's bad enough having been persuaded to do it at all without all the folderol. Personally I believe she has a fantasy fairy tale-ish wedding in her head and knows that reality will never match up to it so she's going very simple.'
'She's having bridesmaids though, surely?'
'Just me. The wedding is the first week-end after we break up so there's no time for fitting Phil and Claire. Felicity will be away with the company then so it leaves just me. Phillipa is a bit miffed but as Con wants me to wear pink it's probably a good thing Pip isn't a maid. So I spent the last two weeks in Oxford. Mum flew over for a while but she spent most her time in Devon.'
Cecily sighed as her thoughts went back to her Aunt Mollie and the missing Daphne. 'What about you?'
'Two weeks in Yorkshire trying to persuade..' Kits kicked Bits under the table but Bits continued 'She's got to know and the sooner the better. Sorry Cecily but Gran wants to send us somewhere else to do our A levels.'
'But...but...why?' All thoughts of Daphne left Cecily's head in the horror of the idea of being at school without her friends.
'Because she's managed to get hold of the schools results and thinks they're not good enough.' Kits sounded apologetic, 'She reckons that there are too many outside activities and prefect duties to concentrate on work.'
'And she suggests that for what appears to be a bunch of robust looking females, who lead all the local sports leagues, way too much emphasis is placed on health and we could all do with a bit more academic, specialist staff.'
'We spent hours pleading with her but to no avail. For some unknown reason,' and here Bits cast a sly look at Cecily, 'John was strongly on our side and did manage to get her to delay making her decision formal for a few weeks.'
Cecily looked at them stunned not about their brother, she had met John when both of them were going through stressful times and a quiet camaraderie existed between them, but at the criticism.
A sound from behind them drew their attention though before anyone could make a further comment. 'Kathleen and Beatrice didn't you hear me. You're wanted down in Miss Nisbet's office.' When Elizabeth, the head girl, spoke to you like that you didn't delay in doing what was wanted so Kits and Bits scurried off. Cecily, left alone, decided to resume her search for her cousin. Although she was friendish, as she called it, with the rest of her class, she tended to be somewhat reserved, sticking to her little coterie of five. She was always concerned how easy it was for people to turn from nice to nasty. She had experienced that very thing and had learnt how one person could manipulate others to make life miserable for the victim. She left the common room, smiling at one or two new arrivals and made her way out to continue her original hunt.
Five minutes later she was sitting on the seat outside the school office, chin resting on the palm of one hand whilst the other twizzled a curl that had come lose from the clip at the back of her neck. A voice suddenly broke into her doom laden reverie.
'Jeanette! What the Dickens are you doing here?' Jeanette Tomkins, the final member of their quintet, was a day girl and wouldn't normally appear until the following day.
'Don't know. Got a letter asking me to be here in uniform at four thirty. Thought I'd turn up early enough to have a bit of a chat.'
Cecily's eyebrows rose. 'Something big is happening then. Is your sister here too?'
'Nope! Just me.'
Just then the office door open and the twins came out looking pale.
'Got pneumonia.' At times of stress the twins often reverted to their childhood habit of splitting sentences.
'That was John on the phone'
'He thought we should know'
'Dr Entwistle is treating her'
'At the hospital'
Simultaneously the two burst into tears, however much they had argued with her over the break the twins were very fond of their grandmother, and John had convinced their mother that the twins should know. Mrs Jameson was well into her eighties and it was a serious illness. Cecily and Jeanette comforted the girls as well as they could.
A little later Miss Nesbit came out of the office. 'Girls there's a meeting for you to go to. If you make your way to your form rooms someone will come and take the register. I'm just going to get the prefects to round up the others. She cast a sympathetic look at the twins and walked off. Hopefully the news soon to be announced would give them something else to think about.
The little group split up; Kits and Jeanette heading for Upper five A and the other two to the B division. Cecily having taken french and german a year earlier, had been moved down much to her relief. She wasn't a natural student and generally had no interest in lessons but her languages had been too advanced to put her in the lower group. A hard worker, she was now in a position towards the top of her class instead of being nearer the bottom. She was much happier now she had dropped latin, languages and most of the sciences. Instead she was able to concentrate in the home economics and sewing that she loved.
Elizabeth was in the class room checking off names and in a surprisingly short time they were lining up quietly, ready to march to the hall. Cecily engineered it that she was at the end of the line which would place her at the end of the row when they sat down. If she was honest with herself she was feeling distressed and thus felt the need to be able to escape. Bets, with her distraction about her grandmother, wasn't in a position to note Cecily's taught muscles and shaking hand. The rest of the class were too excited by this change in the first day routine.
Only the lower sixth and upper fifth were in the hall which was filled with a quiet chatter. As the staff entry opened the room went silent, followed by a burst of laughter as Daphne pranced through, executed a neat but cheeky curtsey and then rushed to the first empty seat she saw. Cecily wasn't aware of it but her shoulders relaxed a bit; not only was Daphne there but was her usual insouciant self so Auntie Mollie must be better.
The door opened again, this time revealing /miss Edwards and, to everyone's surprise, Madame. Miss Edwards gestured that they should all sist down and stood behind the lectern. 'Welcome back. We have some exciting news for the school and as it will affect you most. Madame has come today to make this announcement and your parents should all receive letters with full explanations within the next couple of days. Madame.'
Madge Russell took her place behind the lectern to warm applause. The British branch had always counted itself lucky as they saw their lady founder every term. Madge held up her hand for silence and then began to speak in the gentle, firm but friendly voice that was such an asset.
'Good afternoon, girls. First I'd like to explain about a problem we have and then I'll tell you our solution. Whilst the Chalet School has a brilliant record of passes at Ordinary Level exams, over the last few years our Advanced Level grades have been falling, and falling quite rapidly. So, girl's, we have decided to try something innovative.' Lady Russell paused, months of planning, many consultations with staff, governors and old girls had gone into this moment when they'd find out what the general response was. 'You must have noticed the building work at Trehavod House. That is where we are opening a Sixth Form Unit next term where all sixth formers will be housed and taught.' The girls were all too well trained to make comments but there was a rustle as the students shuffled slightly in their seats to look at each other. Trehavod House was aboout a mile away and many and varied had been the speculations about what the school had planned for it. Madge smiled at the suppressed excitement then turned and grinned at Miss Edwards who came forward to join her.
'I'm sure many of you have questions,' she glanced at her watch, 'but we haven't got much time so only sensible ones please. We've no time to discuss personal or small details. Who's first? Annabel?'
Annabel, one of the school's sub-prefects, asked somewhat predictably 'What about prefects?'
'Prefect duties will be passed down to the fifths. There will be lots more of them and duties will be lessened- for instance they will not be taking prep. However, as seniors, you will all be expected to assist whenever you are in the main school. Frances?'
'Will we wear uniform.?'
'Good question. Yes and no is the answer. Generally you will wear your own clothes according to an accepted code. People who expect to be in any of the sports team will need the uniform sports kit, and we are asking you all to have at least one set of uniform clothes for official occasions. Most of your classes will be over at Trehavod House but, as yet there are no specialist classrooms over there so you will be coming to the main school for those. Also, you will have your main meal over here, therefore jeans and slacks will not be tolerated during teaching hours.'
'Will we still be in dormitories?'
'No. The house has been designed as a series of five bedroomed apartments. Each has its own bathrooms and small communal area with small kitchenette. Once your exams are over we hope to be able to take you over for a good look around. Catherine?'
'Who will the head be?'
At this point the dark haired mistress, who had slipped in at the back without being noticed spoke clearly, 'I will!'
En mass all turned round before breaking into a loud round of applause. Miss Carr was one of the most popular teachers at the school, even with those who were not naturally 'sporty'.
Miss Edwards drew their attention back to the front, 'Yes. Miss Carr has agreed to be your Head of House; Madame Lecoutier will be her second in command. I'm sorry girls but we must end now. Please leave the Hall tidy ready for tomorrow. Cecily and Daphne come here please.'
As they walked to the front Daphne murmured 'Sorry I was late but Auntie Madge brought me and they,' she nodded towards the adults, 'Didn't want to give me the opportunity of telling you all what they were planning.'
'It's OK. I was just worried it might be Auntie Mollie.'
'Oh no! She's lots better, though she'lal never be strong again.'
Once they'd said good-bye to their aunt the two girls ran up the stairs, forgetting past worries in the thrill of discussing the latest developments and panicking about how on earth they were going to pass exams with all these changes coming.