The next day a flurry of activity started. There had been things to buy: books, pen nibs, satchels. I had a million questions to about my new school and schools in general because everything I knew came from books. Mother took the time to answer a few of my questions.
A few weeks into the preparations a delivery of bolts of white, black and navy fabric arrived. These were the colours of my new school and not long after that a letter arrived containing the school patterns so Nanny got to work. I’d be at school for the spring and summer terms and I always tried not to shiver as the lightweight dresses were fitted. That’s an old Highlander tradition, that if you’re not shivering then you’re not really cold, and once you start then your body knows it’s cold so it won’t stop. Mother used it on her wedding day and Papa swears lives at sea had been saved by not shivering so I had no doubt it was true. I still believe it to this day.
One day I was standing— not shivering— as I had my hem marked. I looked into the mirror as Nanny knelt down. Would it be as good as what the other girls would be wearing? Would their fabric be finer or their stitches neater? The door to the sewing room was open a crack and I heard voices in the corridor.
“No, I haven’t received a reply, and I sent the letter off weeks ago. Yes, we’re still going! We need to get to the bottom of it all”
I brightened, it was Mother’s voice.
“Mother, come in and see my dress!” I called out to her. Sure enough, Mother came in with one of her society friends.
“Oh Bobbie, just perfect! Give us a twirl!” Mother said.
“Let me lift you down Miss Roberta.” Nanny said. “I don’t want you stuck by a pin.”
I let Nanny lift me down then I did a twirl while mother and her friend— a Mrs Morgan— made all the appropriate sounds.
“I can’t believe my little baby is so grown up!” Mother said. I smiled. At last the dress had her seal of approval!
Closer to the date of leaving there were the guests to be received and gifts to be accepted. Most of the gifts were small and practical such as a new needle case or pincushion but a good many were purely decorative and for me to “do up my room” at school in a manner to my own fancy. For Christmas Mother gave me a beautiful bedspread to take away with me and Father, who was in the middle of the Tangarian ocean, send me a box of paints and a beautiful carved pen handle.
Winter passed and it was spring before I knew it. I had been ticking of the months, then the weeks and finally the days before our departure. Mother had a farewell party for me where I said my final goodbyes to the ladies of society. It was a funny feeling, walking down the stairs to the ballroom, knowing that it would be another six months before I would do this again.
Finally I crossed off the last box and it was the night before we left.
I crept into bed and lay beneath the covers in the darkness, my mind spinning. Over the months there had been new dresses and books and a million questions and all of a sudden I felt nervous for the first time.
Suddenly I heard the door squeak and a light step in my room. I cautiously looked over my shoulder and who should it be but Elen?
“I thought I might come tuck you in.” she said.
I grinned, Elen used to tuck me in every night when I was little, but I was too old for such things now. I would miss Elen so much, she wouldn’t be able to come see me off at my new school because it would be unfitting for a girl like her to make her own way back. Elen was the younger of my two nursery maids and had been hired when she was but twelve years old when I was a baby. The two of us were firm friends.
“I wonder what the other girls will think of me there.” I said as she sat on the side of my bed. “What if they think I’m just some girl from the colonies and not worth their notice?”
“Nonsense!” Elen said soothingly. “They will think you are just wonderful, just like we all do. Who on God’s earth couldn’t love our little Bobbie?”
“Thank you Elen!” I gave her a big hug.
“Oh, sweet-pea!” Elen bent down and kissed me.
“Now you better get to sleep, you have an early start and a big day ahead of you tomorrow!”