AUTHORS NOTE: From now on chapters will post once a week. At the moment they’re set to post thursday morning Australia time. Please let me know if you have a preference or a suggestion of when they should be posted. It’s all automatic, they get submitted several weeks in advance so I can set the system to post them at any time.
I stood outside the door and the impulse to turn around and run and not stop until I had reached Father’s ship flashed through my body. I pushed it back to a corner of my mind; that would not make my parents happy after all the hard work to get me here. Six months, that’s all I needed to stick it out for, six months. I could do that, right? It might even be, as Mariah had put it, “character building.”
I took a deep breath. Courage, Bobbie, where’s that highland spirit? I said to myself. Once I was ready, I reached out my hand and opened the door and took a step into the room.
Inside there was a figure sitting on the bed sorting through a pile of clothing. She leapt to her feet when I entered and I was faced with a happy faced girl with watery blue eyes and blond hair. We stood there looking at each other for a moment.
“Hallo.” She finally broke the silence. “Are you my new room mate?”
“Um, yes. Mariah said we might… uh… get along, she brought me up…”
“Oh, well that explains the long face then. Are you nice? I so hope you are.”
“Um, well, I like to think so!” I said a little more cheerfully.
“Oh, I am glad! I thought you must be for Mariah to put you in with me, but I thought I better ask just in case! I’m Josephine Cox, but please call me Jo. I know your name; it’s Roberta Hilton. I saw it on your luggage labels, here, see? Tomas brought your trunk up earlier.”
“Yes it is, but you may call me Bobbie.” I answered.
Jo squealed with delight.
“Well I never! Jo and Bobbie, I say we could have such larks together! Are you the sort of girl to have larks?”
“I don’t quite know… I never have had any before. I’ve never been to school before you see and… well, I have read a lot of school stories and they always seem such fun!”
“Never been to school… well I better help you unpack and show you where everything goes. These draws over here are yours and you have half the closet. Well, you can have a bit more than half if you need it because I don’t quite fill my portion up…”
“That will be your bed. We only have the one desk, but we are meant to do our studies in the study hall, this is for personal use. Trust me, you don’t want to be caught writing a letter in study hall! Especially if it happens to be to your brother and it contains some rather amusing descriptions of Miss Jane’s recent assaults on poor unsuspecting students… Some of the girls draw up a roster, would you rather do that or do you think we might become good friends enough to share and take turns without one?” Jo finally paused for breath and I was in marvel at the pace she had rattled along at.
“I—well, I don’t know. I’ve never had to share anything before.”
“Never had to share? Don’t you have brothers or sisters?”
“Well I never… Who on earth did you play with as a little girl then?”
“There was Elen, she’s my nursery maid, but I never had other children to play with. Our home is quite remote so there aren’t neighbours…”
“Not even the usual pack of village children or anything? You poor mite!”
“Well, I’ve never minded! I had dolls and books… I do love reading an make-believe, don’t you?”
“Well… I suppose you’ve never known any different! I’m not much for reading but I don’t mind a good yarn! You don’t know what you’ve missed out on, that’s what it is! Some of my best memories have been of times with my brothers and sisters! Why one time—but enough of that! Lets just try sharing to start with and if that doesn’t work we can look at drawing up— oh, but I’m sure it shall. Girls are more sensible than boys about these things. I should know, I have five brothers—”
“Yes, five! Try sharing anything with them, I dare you! Now, lets have a look at your case.”
Jo showed me where everything went and how Miss Jane liked the draws to be kept; apparently she was very particular and checked once a week. Miss Jane, I learned, was the second in command and as well as being a teacher was in charge of discipline. New words and information was fired to me at such a pace I wondered how I’d ever remember it all.
“Here are the rules.” Jo pointed to the paper pined on the back of the door. “But there are a hundred unwritten ones besides… or it feels like it anyway. Last term—“ Jo was interrupted by a knock on the door. “Come in!” She called. The door opened and a girl walked in.
“Henri!” Jo greeted her. “Bobbie, you must meet Henri, Henriette you know, but I’m sure she won’t mind you calling her Henri, Henri, this is Bobbie, she’s going to be a great friend of ours!”
“Pleased to meet you Bobbie!” Henri said. Her voice was soft and pleasant, not the booming jolly voice of Jo but the twinkle in her eye and the turn of her nose on her freckled face made me feel that she was full of fun and mischief.
“Pleased to meet you too! I said “Is your room nearby?”
“Just next door.” She said.
“The three bedrooms in this corridor are for our class only.” Jo explained to me. “There are six of us all up. Us younger girls all get the second floor and they try to group each year level to a particular corridor or area. The older girls get the third floor, lucky things! Miss Jane sleeps downstairs so they don’t have to be as quiet or as careful as we do!”
“I dare say they’ve earned it though!” Henri said
“True, I suppose. And we’re in a better spot this year, last year we were right on top of the dragon’s lair! Remember Henri?”
“How could I forget that! Your birthday and everything! That’s the reason we’re not allowed to share any more Josephine Cox!” The two laughed at the memory
“The dragon’s lair?” I asked, feeling a little left out.
“Miss Jane’s room.” Jo answered. “Because she’s such a dragon! Her roar burns!”
“Jo, you better not get caught saying things like that! Why it would be just your luck if—”
Henri was cut off by a sharp knock at the door. The door opened and in walked an old woman—no, not so old, but her face was pinched and her eyes narrow.
“Children! What are you doing standing about!? This time is meant for creating order. Miss Joans, what are you doing in here? Are these your quarters?”
“Um… no Miss Jane. I… I was just visiting, I mean welcoming our new student!” Henri stammered out.
“Don’t talk back to your elders and betters young lady! Back to your own work.”
Henri scampered away and Miss Jane lectured us for a little longer before leaving herself.
“I’m sorry Miss Jane” Jo was saying, “But I just thought—”
“Oh, you just thought, did you? News to me! You know the rules Miss Cox”
“Yes Miss Jane.”
“Now back to work and don’t let me see you breaking the rules again!”
“I see why you call her the dragon!” I said when we were alone again.
“Oh, that’s just a taste. Come on, we best get back to work or there’ll be real trouble for us!”
Jo and I set about finishing up our room, there seemed to be so much to do! We cleaned everything from top to bottom and gave all the furniture a milk wash tinted lime. But the decoration did not end here! Oh no, not for school girls! Our wall paper was dreadful but there was nothing much we could do about that. We did re-stain the wood to match that of the mismatched panel in the corner and paint the plaster moldings.
Jo showed me how to make my bed the “Miss Jane way”, she was quite particular in the matter of tucking, folding and corners, and I adorned it with the new duvet I had brought from home.
There was a furniture hire scheme and with some of my pocket money I acquired a darling little chair and Jo sweet talked “what a dear you are Tomas!” into hanging up a few shelves for us. Jo told me some of the girls went so far as to paint the floors or put down new carpet. It seemed we could do most things—within reason.
Lunch was taken in our rooms and was a very simple “something brought up on a tray” as Gladys explained it as she brought it in. Finally we had everything neatly away and were almost finishing the final decorations as darkness started to creep into the view out of our window.
“Jo, do say, have I got this painting straight?” I asked her
“A little to the left… no, the other left… I say!” “Say what?” I replied.
“What IS that? In the painting I mean, I mean, what is it meant to be?”
“Oh, I really couldn’t say! It was a gift from my parent’s friends Mr and Mrs Cooper to celebrate the birthday of their little girl Francesca. I’ve had it since I was a very little girl, Papa gave it to me. He said one day I would understand what it was but until then his lips were sealed!” “Oh, well I do love a mystery but that’s a funny one to have! Now, lets finish up here then we need to dress for dinner! Bobbie…?”
“Sorry, I was just reminded about my parents all of a sudden.” I was almost overcome by a wave of homesickness and… and… do you call it parent sickness? Fortunately Jo was prepared for that.
“Yes well, best not think about them otherwise you will be homesick something awful!” She said to me. “Now come get ready!”
She got up. Wandered out of the room, down the stairs and outside.
Went down the garden path to the bottom of the garden.
Only to pass out in the garden.
All her needs were green! so she wasn’t sleepy!