Chapter 13: Half-Term at Last!
For some reason, every time I think of HALF-TEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEERM, I’m reminded of this comic. I’m sorry, I can’t help it.
The girls became very excited at the beginning of half-term week. Many of them would see their parents on the Saturday—and Miss Remmington, the games-mistress, had suddenly decided to have a small edition of the Swimming Sports for the benefit of the parents.
I presume the other teachers were all like, “Thanks, Remmington, couldn’t you have thought of that, like, at the beginning of the term? Are we not busy enough? If there’s one thing that teenagers are good at, it’s last-minute organisation!”
Darrell’s pretty excited by HALF-TEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEERRRRRRRRRM, but first she’s in for a shock. This is one of those schools where students’ class rankings are routinely read out for all to hear, as if that’s not deeply humiliating and potentially demotivating … and Darrell’s doing kind of badly. Like, Mary-Lou-and-Gwen-type-badly.
Darrell goes off to see Miss Potts, to
let her know that her parents are paying good money for this education, and they expect the school to produce the goods ask what happened.
‘Let me see—what were you? Quite a long way down,’ said Miss Potts, pulling the list to her and looking at it. ‘Yes, that’s right. I was surprised and disappointed, Darrell. You did so well in the first two weeks.’
‘But Miss Potts,’ said Darrell, and then stopped. She didn’t know quite how to say what she wanted to say. She wanted to say that she had much better brains than at least half the form, so why was she so low? But somehow that sounded conceited.
Here’s the first edition’s illustration of this scene:
How fierce is Miss Potts, eh?
However Miss Potts, who was very quick-minded, saw her difficulty. ‘You have come to ask me how it is you are nearer the bottom than the top when you could so easily be among the top ones?’ she said. ‘Well, I’ll tell you, Darrell. There are people like Alicia, who can play the fool in class and waste their time and everyone else’s, and yet still come out well in their work. And there are people like you, who can also play the fool and waste their time—but unfortunately it affects their work and they slide down to the bottom. Do you understand?’
DEAR MISS POTTS, WE HAVE A MESSAGE FOR YOU FROM POTTERMORE:
This whole scene is pretty key to the series and Darrell’s character, so I’m just going to type it all out:
Darrell flushed very red and looked as if she could sink through the floor. She nodded.
‘Yes, thank you,’ she said in a small voice. She looked at Miss Potts out of her clear brown eyes. ‘I wouldn’t have been so silly if I’d known it was going to affect my place in the form,’ she said. ‘I—I just thought as I had good brains and a good memory I’d be all right, anyhow. Daddy and Mother will be disappointed.’
‘They probably will,’ said Miss Potts, taking up her pencil again. ‘I shouldn’t copy Alicia and Betty too much if I were you, Darrell. You will be a finer character if you go along on your own, than if you copy other people. You see, what you do, you do whole-heartedly—so if you play the fool, naturally other things will suffer. Alicia is able to do two or three things quite well at one and the same time. That certainly has its points—but the best people in this world are the whole-hearted ones, if they can only make for the right things.’
‘I see,’ said Darrell. ‘Like my father. He’s whole-hearted. He’s a surgeon and he just goes in for giving back people their health and happiness with all this heart—so he’s marvellous.’
‘Exactly,’ said Miss Potts. ‘But if he split himself up, so to speak, and dabbled in half a dozen things, he would probably not be nearly such a remarkable surgeon. And when you choose something worth while like doctoring—or teaching— or writing or painting, it is best to be whole-hearted about it. It doesn’t so much matter for a second rate or third-rate person. But if you happen to have the makings of a first-rate person and you mean to choose a first-rate job when you grow up, then you must learn to be whole-hearted when you are young.’
Darrell didn’t like to ask Miss Potts if she thought she had the makings of a first-rate person in her, but she couldn’t help hoping that she had. She went away rather subdued. What a pity she hadn’t been whole-hearted over her work and got up to the top, instead of being whole-hearted over playing the fool with Alicia and Betty, and sliding down towards the bottom.
Note that Miss Potts isn’t wholly thrilled with Alicia as a person either. SO THERE. #TEAMPOTTY
I’m also a little charmed that Blyton — because surely she’s speaking through Miss Potts here — regards teaching and the creative professions as deserving the same respect as medicine.
Gwen, meanwhile, is looking forward to HAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAALF-TEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEERRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMM because it’s a chance to, um, rub her governess’s face in it?
How small she would make Miss Winter feel, when she talked of her lessons and how wonderful she was at everything!
Wow, Gwen. Wow.
Sadly, Mary-Lou’s mother can’t make it, so she’s stuck with Gwen, and Gwen’s ego for the day. BUT WAIT, A WILD DARRELL APPEARS!
Darrell’s all, “Hey, Mary-Lou, you should totes spend the day with me and my family.” And Mary-Lou’s like, “I’d love to! But how will I tell Gwen?”
‘I think you’re a bit hard on her,’ she remarked, in her forthright Scots voice.
“Forthright” is such an odd adjective in this context. Yes, Jean is outspoken and honest, but is her voice outspoken and honest?
‘Well, it’s all for her good,’ said Darrell. ‘If I can make her have a little courage, she’ll thank me for it. I said those things purposely, to shame her into going to Gwendoline and asking her.’
‘You’ve shamed her all right, but not in the way that will make her pluck up her courage.’ said Jean. ‘You’ve given her the kind of shame that puts people into despair!’
You know, I really haven’t given Jean enough appreciation in these posts. Let’s change that. JEAN, YOU GUYS. SHE’S PRETTY EXCELLENT. She turns up, says sensible and often funny things, and then leaves. Like Irene, only her hat is being Scottish, not a genius.
Meanwhile, Mary-Lou’s developing a full-blown anxiety disorder, not at all helped by Gwen:
‘Fancy Darrell having the cheek to ask you, after I’d asked you!’ she said. ‘I’m glad you had the decency to refuse, Mary-Lou. You’d surely not want to go off with a girl like that, who thinks you’re such a poor worm?’
‘No.’ said Mary-Lou, and couldn’t say any more. If only she could have said yes, boldly, right out! But she couldn’t.
I SYMPATHISE, MARY-LOU. My therapist sent me away last week with instructions to be mindful of situations where my first instinct is to do my best impression of a welcome mat. It’s surprisingly hard! And that’s just being aware of the instinct, not actually doing anything to assert myself!
HAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAALF-TEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEERM arrives at last, and Darrell is in high spirits. She’s even singing! She’s in such a good mood that she impulsively invites Sally to join her for the day.
‘I’d rather not, thank you,’ said Sally, in a stiff little voice, and went on up the cliff without another word.
All this rejection is getting a bit awkward for Darrell because her mother is particularly keen to meet her friends, and it’s starting to look like Darrell doesn’t actually have any. Finally, she invites Emily — you remember Emilly? She’s really into sewing — and Emily happily accepts. This is lucky, because after that, there was only Violet, and that would first involve remembering her existence. Which, obviously, Blyton doesn’t.
Chapter 14: A Really Lovely Day
HAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAALLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFF-TEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEERRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRMMMMMMMMMMM! Are you sick of this joke yet? Well, tough, I’m not.
Things the narrative notes about Darrell’s parents:
- their car is “plain and black”
- Darrell’s father drives it himself
- Darrell’s mother is “pretty, amusing and sensible”
That last comes from Emily, who is almost forgotten in Darrell’s excitement at seeing her parents. Mrs Rivers doesn’t quite know what to make of Emily, who’s a lot quieter than she expected of one of Darrell’s close friends.
She did not know that as yet Darrell had no definite friend.
RUB IT IN, WHY DON’T YOU?
I also like Emily’s take on Mr Rivers:
…and as for [Darrell’s] father, well, any one would trust him at sight, thought Emily, gazing at his determined, good-looking face with its big dark eyes and intensly black eyebrows, just like Darrell’s but bigger and shaggier.
Mr Rivers was based on Blyton’s second husband, remember, so this is an especially sweet tribute to the man.
BY WAY OF CONTRAST, of course, we have Gwen’s mother and governess. (Gwen’s father has chosen to absent himself from proceedings, because it’s not like Gwen could do with a stronger and stricter presence in her life, right?)
She saw Gwendoline with two women—one obviously her mother, with bright golden hair like Gwendoline’s and a rather babyish, empty face. The other must be Miss Winter, the governess, thought Darrell. What an awful person!
Poor Miss Winter was not really awful. She was plain and poor and always eager to agree with everyone. She adored Gwendoline because she was pretty and graceful, and did not seem to see the selfishness and spoilt ways of the silly little girl.
I feel like everything about Miss Winter’s life can be summed up in that one sentence — she has few resources of her own, but as long as she’s agreeable to the Laceys, she has security and an income. It’s not a good position at all.
Speaking of bad positions, Mary-Lou is stuck listening to Gwen’s OUTRAGEOUS WEB OF LIES:
‘I’m almost the best at tennis in our form,’ she heard Gwendoline say. ‘I shouldn’t be surprised if I’m put into a match-team, Mother!’
‘Oh, darling—how clever you are!’ said Mrs. Lacey, fondly. Mary-Lou stared at Gwendoline in surprise. Why, everyone knew Gwendoline was a real muff at all games!
‘And Mam’zelle is very pleased with my French,’ went on Gwendoline. ‘I believe I might be top in that. She says I have a splendid accent.’
Miss Winter glowed. ‘Oh, Gwen darling! Isn’t that lovely now? I did my best with you, of course, but I was always afraid it was rather a poor best, because I’ve never been to France.’
Mary-Lou longed to say that Gwendoline was always bottom in the French class, but she did not dare to. How could Gwendoline stuff her people up with such a lot of lies? And how could they believe them?
‘Are you going to go in for the swimming-match this afternoon?’ asked Mrs. Lacey, looking fondly at Gwendoline, who today had her shining golden hair loose down her back, and looked, so her mother thought, like a real angel.
‘No, I thought I wouldn’t, Mother,’ said Gwendoline. ‘It’s best to give the others a chance. After all, I’ve done well at so many things.’
SO GREAT. SO GREAT. I guess the class rankings aren’t put on display for the parents.
But it’s okay, because Gwen has a Darrell-shaped comeuppance!
Then Darrell spoilt it all! She passed by with her mother and father, and Mrs. Lacey was struck by her good looks and happy smile.
‘There’s a nice girl, dear!’ she said to Gwendoline. ‘Is she one of your friends? Let us speak to her.’
‘Oh no, she’s not a friend of mine,’ began Gwendoline, but Mary-Lou, delighted at this praise of Darrell, was calling to her. ‘Darrell! Darrell! Mrs. Lacey wants to speak to you.’
Darrell went over to Mrs. Lacey and was introduced by a glowering Gwendoline. ‘And are you going to go in for the swimming-sports?’ asked Mrs. Lacey, graciously. ‘I hear dear Gwendoline is not, bless her.’
‘Gwendoline! Oh, she can’t swim a stroke!’ said Darrell. ‘We always yell at her because she takes five minutes putting one toe into the water. Don’t we, Gwendoline?’
This was all said in good humour and fun—but Gwendoline could willingly have pushed Darrell over the cliff at that moment! She went very red.
Mrs. Lacey really thought that Darrell was joking. She laughed the tinkling laugh which she thought was so pretty. ‘I suppose if Gwendoline entered she’d beat you all!’ she said. ‘As she does at tennis—and lessons, I suppose.’
Darrell looked in astonishment at Gwendoline, who was glaring at her, crimson in the face. ‘Gwendoline’s been stuffing you up, I expect!’ she said with a laugh, and went off to join her own party.
‘What a very outspoken, blunt sort of girl,’ said Miss Winter, puzzled and worried.
FORTHRIGHT, MISS WINTER. LOOK IT UP. (I had to.)
It turns out that not even Mary-Lou can be bullied into saying that Gwen is great at sport. I like to picture her looking around wildly, going, “LOOK OVER THERE!” and jumping in the pool to escape. Though actually she just remembers an urgent appointment with Mam’zelle.
BACK TO THE MYSTERY OF SALLY. Mrs Rivers spots her and wants a word, as she has a message for her from Mrs Hope. But Sally pretends not to hear Darrell call, and hides in the bushes. Only not really:
She plunged down into a path that led through some bushes in the drive and disappeared.
Darrell’s invitation to Emily backfires, as she and Mrs Rivers bond over embroidery, which Darrell can’t stand. Ooops. But we move on to one of Blyton’s characteristic food descriptions:
Cold chicken and pickles—pickles! There was never a pickle to be seen at school. Little cardboard containers full of fresh salad and mayonnaise sauce. Delicious! Jam-tarts and slabs of chocolate ice-cream. What a lunch!
And, naturally, ginger beer to wash it down. I must be hungry, because that sounds to me like the perfect meal. PICKLES.
Then they go back to the school for the swimming, and more hilarious Gwen shenanigans:
The swimming-sports were exciting. Mrs. Rivers was delighted with Darrell’s strong swimming, graceful diving, and fearlessness. She was one of the best of the small girls. Some of the big girls were extremely clever in their diving, especially Marilyn, the sixth-form games-captain. Everyone cheered her as she did a graceful swallow-dive from the topmost board.
‘And can you do all these things, darling?’ Darrell heard
Mrs. Lacey ask Gwendoline. Gwendoline, who was near Darrell and a few others, looked round warily, wishing her mother wouldn’t ask such awkward questions in public.
‘Well—not quite all,’ she said, and Miss Winter patted her fondly on the shoulder.
But all this is secondary to the important matter of Sally: What The Hell Is Up With Her?
‘Mother! There’s Sally Hope again!’ said Darrell suddenly, catching sight of Sally’s head in the distance. ‘I’ll get her in a minute. By the way, you never told me how that mistake about Sally’s baby sister happened—the one you said she had got, and hasn’t.’
‘But Darrell dear—she has got a baby sister!’ said her mother in surprise. ‘I’ve seen her!’
‘Well—whatever does Sally mean!’ said Darrell. ‘I really must get her and find out!’
END CHAPTER ON A DRAMATIC NOTE