Nell Wilson knocked on the door of the new office at Plas Howell and put her head round it. “Are you busy, Hilda?” she asked, noting the frown lines that only appeared on her friend’s forehead when she was concentrating hard - though these days, she realized, they hardly ever seemed to fade entirely.
“I’m looking over some projections for this term,” Hilda replied, gesturing for Nell to come in. “Do you want to see them?”
Nell nodded and walked over. “How do they look?” she asked, moving to lean on the back of her friend’s chair; however, a frown from Hilda, who found this habit most annoying at times, made her pull up a chair instead.
“See for yourself,” Hilda said, handing over the papers she had been studying. “Moving a school twice at short notice is an expensive business, but from these figures it doesn’t seem as if we’ll sink.”
Nell took the projections, but didn’t read them immediately. Instead, she looked at Hilda with her most innocent expression, the one Hilda had long ago learned to mistrust. “May I ask who did the maths?”
Hilda narrowed her eyes, suspecting where this was going. “Rosalie, why? You’re welcome to double-check them if you think there’s anything wrong.”
“Oh, I’m sure there’s no need if Rosalie did them,” Nell said, eyes dancing, and chuckled at the expression on Hilda’s face. “There’s no need to glare at me like that, either! You have many fine qualities, my dear, but you know it’s hardly an exaggeration when I say I’ve seen you add two and two and make five.”
With that sally, she bent her head to study the figures, ignoring Hilda’s outraged look. For her part, Hilda debated with herself for a second about whether or not to contest Nell’s claim - ‘it wasn’t such a simple thing, I was mentally adding a long list of items,’ she grumbled inwardly - but decided it would be more dignified to ignore it. She’d be alert for any grammar mistakes Nell might make instead, and take her revenge then.
“You’re right,” Nell said, looking up. “We have enough new pupils that we shouldn’t sink - and all the maths seems to be in order.”
“I’m glad to hear it,” Hilda said tartly, knowing all too well that Nell in this teasing mood wouldn’t stop until Hilda gave in and replied to her barbs. “May I ask if you had a reason to come in here and disturb me? Or were you just intending to criticise my arithmetic all along?”
With a grin, Nell replied, “No, that was just an unexpected bonus. The post’s finally arrived, and I offered to bring your letters to you as Rosalie seemed rather swamped with work.” Pulling a handful of envelopes from her blazer pocket, she handed them over. “I think you may need to revise your projections. I recognized a few senders’ names from parent interviews, and I shall be very surprised indeed if they’re not confirming their daughters will be coming here. Shall I leave you in peace to read them?”
“No, you may as well stay and see what the parents say,” Hilda said, rapidly sorting through the envelopes. Then she looked up, lips twitching. “Since you think so poorly of my arithmetic and Rosalie is so busy, I think you’d better be the one to update those figures!”
Nell looked rueful for a moment, then chuckled. “I thoroughly deserve that, I think. Go on then! Read your letters.”
As Nell had anticipated, several of Hilda’s letters were indeed confirmations of new pupils for the Chalet School. Nell jotted down notes as Hilda read aloud, both pleased to see that these girls would be swelling their ranks.
“Right!” she said, when they were done. “I’ll update these figures and bring them back to you, shall I?”
“Please do,” Hilda said with a smile.
Nell rose to leave, then paused in the doorway. “You know, Hilda, the most important thing about these new girls isn’t that they bring up the numbers.”
Hilda nodded in understanding. “A school needs numbers to survive, of course, but that’s not what makes it thrive. Each girl’s character has an effect on the School’s; and from what we know of them at least, these girls should have the character we want.”
“True… though even if they don’t, this school can’t go far wrong with you as its Head,” Nell said seriously; then, with a sudden grin, added, “even if you can’t add two and two!”
“Nell Wilson, you wretch!” Hilda exclaimed as she leapt up, trying - and failing - to hide her laughter. “One more word from you…”
But Nell didn’t wait to hear the end of the threat, and ran off laughing.
Shaking her head, Hilda sat down and picked up the rest of her letters. As she did, a thought struck her - how long had it been since she’d last heard Nell laugh like that? Far too long, she realized. It was more than worth while putting up with some teasing just to hear that laugh.
Nell herself, meanwhile, returned to her desk with a feeling of satisfaction. Hilda, she was sure, was working herself far too hard getting the School started again at Plas Howell. Unfortunately, Nell was equally sure that no amount of insistence on her part would stop her friend working too hard; but at least she had been able to distract her for a while, and even make her laugh. That was more than worth some paperwork.
Set around the beginning of "The Chalet School Goes To It/At War". Written for the 'numbers' challenge at fan_flashworks.