First Term at Malory Towers – Chapter 9: Alicia in Trouble

Where were we?  Ah yes, Darrell has been forced to apologise for smacking Gwen; Mary-Lou has become the founder and pope of the Church of Darrell; Gwen has gone off in a huff; and Alicia has water in her ears.

The affair at the Pool had a good many results. First, it made Mary-Lou follow Darrell about like a dog that has found its master and doesn’t mean to leave it! She was always there to fetch and carry for Darrell. She tidied her desk for her. She even tidied the drawers in her dressing-table, and offered to make her bed each day.

Unfortunate dog metaphor is a bit unfortunate, given we’re dealing with a school for girls, but hey, 1946, remember?

Darrell, like a good Blyton heroine, is uncomfortable at this attention and tries to tell Mary-Lou to bug off and have a bit of self-respect.  Not in so many words, but that’s the subtext.  But Blyton is quite sympathetic to Mary-Lou:

But it didn’t in the least matter what Darrell said, Mary- Lou persisted in adoring her, and being on the watch for anything she could do. Darrell found chocolates put inside her desk. She found a little vase of flowers always on her dressing-table. But it irritated her and made her cross. She could not see Mary-Lou’s mind reaching-out for a friendship that might help her. Mary-Lou was so weak. She needed someone strong, and to her Darrell was the finest girl she had ever met.

The funny thing is, Mary-Lou is about as weak as Neville Longbottom.  It’s just that she has no self-confidence and is a bit young for her age.

Well, somewhat.  Flowers and chocolates, bless:  she’s pitching woo at Darrell Rivers.

So that’s Darrell and Mary-Lou.  What’s Gwen up to?

Another result of the Pool affair was that Gwendoline really did feel bitter towards Darrell now. She had never in her life been slapped by anyone, and she couldn’t forget it. Not even her mother had slapped her! It would have been very much better for spoilt, selfish Gwendoline if a few smacks had come her way when she was small. But they hadn’t and now the four or five slaps she had received from Darrell seemed to her, not a sudden flash of temper, soon to be forgotten, but a great insult somehow to be avenged.

‘And one day I’ll pay her back, see if I don’t!’ thought Gwendoline to herself. ‘I don’t care how long I wait.’

Scheming like a Disney villain, apparently!

I’d be curious to see if any of the current editions have removed the lines about Gwen needing to be smacked as a child.  They didn’t stand out to me as a kid, because I was occasionally smacked myself (and suffered no ill effects — but then, my mother also smoked through her pregnancy, and I came out fine, so I’m pretty sure my family just exists to undermine sensible parenting advice) but they seem like the sort of thing that would attract outraged headlines these days.

The third result of the Pool affair was that Alicia really did go deaf through swimming under water so long.

Le sigh.

On the upside, French is being taken by Mme Rougier, who’s less gullible than Mme Dupont and has no sense of humour whatsoever.

I mean, that’s the upside for me, not Alicia.

A quick sketch of Mam’zelle Rougier:

She was rarely in a good humour, as her thin lips, always tightly pressed together, showed. It was funny, Alicia thought, how bad-tempered people nearly always had thin lips.

Embarrassing fact: for years I thought that was a flat truth, not a rather harsh generalisation.  I mean, not that I stopped to give it any serious thought, but … yeah, well, then there was the time I had an epic girlcrush on Captain Janeway, and Kate Mulgrew has very thin lips, and suddenly I had to reconsider a few things!

Mam’zelle Rougier had a soft voice, which, however could become extremely loud when she was angry. Then it became raucous, like a rook’s, and the girls hated it.

I like the comparison to a rook.  Poor birds are always being overshadowed by crows and ravens.

Mme Rougier assumes, not unreasonably, that Alicia’s deafness is another attempt at a joke.

‘Alicia,’ she said, patting the little bun at the back of her head, ‘you are a funny girl and you do funny things, nest ce pas? But I also, I am funny and I do funny things. I would like you to write out for me in French, fifty times in your best handwriting, “I must not be deaf in Mam’zelle Rougier’s class.'”

Fifty lines becomes a hundred, and then Betty gets a hundred for trying to help Alicia out, and finally a note is passed:

‘You’ve got to write out a hundred lines for M. For goodness’ sake don’t say you can’t hear anything else, or you’ll get a thousand! She’s in a real paddy!’

“In a paddy” is slang I’ve never encountered elsewhere, but I rather like it.  And I appreciate how Betty takes the time to punctuate “for goodness’ sake” correctly.  Lots of twelve year olds wouldn’t bother!

Alicia makes it through French, but Mme Rougier lets Miss Potts know what’s happened.

‘You thought—or pretended you were deaf the other day,’ said Miss Potts, unfeelingly. ‘How in the world am I supposed to know when you are and when you aren’t, Alicia?’

Miss Potts: the very soul of common sense.  She has Alicia move to a desk in the front row.  Personally I don’t understand why that hadn’t happened already, because can you imagine teaching a class with Betty and Alicia sitting together?

Anyway, all the movement makes Alicia’s ears pop, and her hearing returns.  Miss Potts finds this all rather convenient.  Darrell finds it hilarious:

‘Oh, Alicia, I know it’s unkind of me to laugh,’ said Darrell, ‘but honestly it’s funny! First you pretend to be deaf, and pull Mam’zelle’s leg well. Then you really do get deaf, and nobody believes it! It’s just like that fable of the shepherd boy who called “wolf wolf!” when there wasn’t a wolf, and then when there really was, and he called for help, nobody came because nobody believed him!’

‘I thought you were my friend,’ said Alicia, stiffly. ‘I don’t like being preached at.’

Oh, grow up, Alicia.

(Odd side effect of reading these books at a young age: as an adult, it’s a real shock to look at these characters and realise that they’re adolescent children.  It’s like that moment when you look back and go, “Hang on, most of the Babysitter’s Club were thirteen.  What kind of parent lets thirteen year olds babysit their kids?  How could Stacey and Claudia afford all those amazing clothes?”)

Darrell sucks up by offering to write half of Alicia’s lines for her.

Mam’zelle Rougier was presented with one hundred lines that evening, half of them rather badly written and the other half quite nicely written. ‘Strange that a child should write so badly on one side of the paper and so well on the other!’ said Mam’zelle wonderingly. But fortunately for Alicia Mam’zelle got no further than wondering about it!

The next chapter is called “A Queer Friendship”.  Sadly it doesn’t involve Mary-Lou stepping up her courtship of Darrell with a romantic candlelight dinner.

Author: Liz Barr

Words written. Opinions expressed.

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