Ahem: “Hur, hur, that looks like an innuendo.”
Sorry, had to be done.
The chapter begins with a sensual description of swimming in a cold pool on a hot day. I hear you Enid. Even though it’s freezing right now and the thought of immersing myself in icy water is … unpleasant.
Darrell loved to have a game of tennis and then sprint down to the pool to bathe. Oh, the delicious coolness of the water then! She couldn’t understand how Gwendoline or Mary-Lou could possibly shrink from getting in. But they insisted that the hotter the day, the colder the water felt, and they didn’t like it.
Darrell sings the praises of the icy cold plunge, and finishes by calling Mary-Lou and Gwen cowards.
Neither Mary-Lou nor Gwendoline liked being called cowards.
WELL, THERE’S A SHOCK.
Mary-Lou resents, rightly, being lumped in a category with Gwen merely because they share a common distaste. Also, her wooing is becoming more like stalking:
She tried her hardest to make Darrell pleased with her by running after her more than ever, even to tidying her locker in the common room, which exasperated Darrell because Mary-Lou always altered her arrangement of things.
‘ What’s happened to my sweets? I know I put them in the front here. And where’s my writing-pad? Blow, and I’m in such a hurry, too!’
And out would come every single thing in the locker, higgledy-piggledy on the floor! Mary-Lou would look on mournfully.
‘Oh—I tidied them all so nicely for you,’ she would say.
‘Well, don’t!’ Darrell would order. ‘Why don’t you go and bother with somebody else’s things? You always seem to make a bee-line for mine. You seem to have got a craze for tidying things and putting them away. You go and do Alicia’s—they’re much untidier than mine! Just leave mine alone!’
“I only do it to help you,’ Mary-Lou would murmur.
Yeah, Mary-Lou, no. Step away from the personal possessions!
Alicia doesn’t appreciate Mary-Lou’s unsolicited tidying any more than Darrell does, and is even less tactful about it, if that’s possible.
‘Can’t you see when you’re a nuisance?’ she said. ‘Can’t you see we don’t want a little ninny like you always flapping round us? Look at that photograph! Smashed to bits just because you started messing around.’
Yep. It’s possible.
Unfortunately, Darrell and Alicia are driving Mary-Lou right into the arms of Gwendoline.
‘Hallo! Crying again! Whatever’s up now?’ asked Gwendoline, who was always interested in other people’s rows, though never sympathetic.
I just love that, “Hallo! Crying again!” It reminds me of that bit in Harry Potter, when Harry wakes up from a nightmare and Sean’s all, “Somebody attacking you again, Harry?”
Gwen is just fascinated to learn that Mary-Lou is having problems with Alicia and Darrell, and is deeply sympathetic, and even manages to get in a few digs at Betty!
As she spoke, a perfectly wonderful idea came into Gwendoline’s head. She stopped and thought a moment, her eyes shining. In one moment she saw how she could get even with Alicia and Darrell, yes, and give that stupid little Mary-Lou a few bad moments too.
It’s a little known fact that the word “frenemy” was created especially to describe Gwendoline Mary Lacey.
To Mary-Lou’s intense surprise she suddenly slipped her arm through the younger girl’s.
‘You be friends with me,’ she said, in a honeyed voice. ‘I shan’t treat you like Darrell does, and Alicia. I haven’t a wicked tongue like Alicia, or scornful eyes like Darrell. Why don’t you make friends with me? I shouldn’t jeer at you for any little kindnesses, I can tell you.’
Gwen is about as plausible as a snake, but Mary-Lou has low self-esteem and is desperate for a friend. Still, her self-preservation instinct is not entirely atrophied:
She took her arm away from Gwendoline’s. ‘No,’ she said, ‘I can’t be friends with you, Gwendoline. You were very cruel to me that day in the pool. I’ve had dreams about it ever since.’
Imagine if Gwen was a guy being called out for cruel and bullying behaviour towards a girl he was now trying to ask out. What would he say next? I’m guessing the “It was just a joke” defence would come out.
WELL, WHAT HAVE WE GOT HERE?
‘It was just a joke.’
DING DING DING DING DING!
Mary-Lou is trapped. She doesn’t want to be friends with Gwen, but she doesn’t know how to assert herself. So she gives in:
‘Well,’ she said, hesitatingly, ‘well—if you really didn’t mean to hurt me, that time in the pool, Gwendoline, I’ll be friends. But I’m not going to talk against Darrell or Alicia.’
Gwendoline gave her arm a squeeze, bestowed another honeyed smile on the perplexed Mary-Lou and walked off to think out her suddenly conceived plan in peace.
Gwen’s plan is to play tricks on Mary-Lou, figuring that Alicia and Darrell will be blamed for them, as they’ve made no secret of their annoyance with Mary-Lou. And Gwen genuinely believes that Darrell and Alicia would be that overtly cruel, even though their meanness is generally verbal and to one’s face rather than elaborate pranks designed to scare people.
She couldn’t even see that she was doing a mean thing. She called it ‘giving them all a lesson!’
I like this. It’s plausible. Most people don’t set out thinking, “Hah, I’m going to do the wrong thing!” Rationalisations are go!
In fact, a similar plotline appears in the second season of Dance Academy — I really must do a post sometime about how Dance Academy combines boarding school and stage school tropes in one glorious Australian setting — when a girl destroys her pointe shoes and those of her “friend”, leaving the girl with undamaged shoes to take the blame. But Grace doesn’t bother with rationalisations beyond the fact that her father ignores her and she’s jealous of the other students. She’s quite upfront about being manipulative, which is refreshing compared with Gwen, but had her bordering on cartoon villainy by the end of the season.
Anyway, Gwen’s plans for Mary-Lou are about as sophisticated as breaking pointe shoes, only presumably less expensive:
She would pop a black-beetle into Mary-Lou’s desk—or a few worms—or even a mouse if she could get hold of it. But no—Gwendoline quickly ruled out mice because she was so scared of them herself. She didn’t much like black-beetles or worms either, but she could manage to scoop those up into a match-box or something.
She could do that. And she could remove Mary-Lou’s favourite pencils and hide them in Alicia’s locker. That would be a cunning thing to do! She might put one or two of Mary- Lou’s books in Darrell’s locker too. And how sympathetic she would be with Mary-Lou when she found out these tricks!
Gwen takes herself off to the garden in search of a worm, where Scottish Jean is dry and Scottish at her. Giving up on worms, Gwen finds a spider, and even more impressively, manages to catch it. (*shudder*)
She led the conversation round to spiders that evening. ‘I got my head caught in a web in the shed today,’ she said. ‘Oooh, it did feel horrid. I don’t like spiders.’
‘My brother Sam once had a tame spider,’ began Alicia, who could always be relied on to produce a bit of family history of any moment. ‘It lived under a fern in our green¬house, and it came out every evening for a drink of water, when Mother watered the ferns.’
There really ought to be some kind of Alicia’s Brothers Drinking Game.
Mary-Lou, to no one’s surprise, is afraid of spiders. Alicia plays right into Gwen’s hands:
Terrified of this, scared of that—what a life you lead, Mary-Lou. I’ve a good mind to catch a large spider and put it down your neck!’
I don’t like to ask how, but Gwen manages to keep her spider alive until Monday.
Gwendoline’s chance came, and she took it. She was told to go and fetch something from her common room, ten minutes before afternoon school. She tore there to get it, then raced to the first-form classroom with the cardboard box. She opened it and let the great, long-legged spider run into the desk. It ran to a dark corner and crouched there, quite still.
Gwendoline hurried away, certain that no one had seen her. Two minutes later Darrell and Alicia strolled in to fill the flower-vases with water. Ah, luck was with Gwendoline just then!
WHAT A CLIFFHANGER!