This is part of a historical serial which I am writing with EveRay and is better if read in the right order. If you have missed the earlier episodes they are here:
How did the British unerringly design such ugly buildings?
As the limousine Mamman had hired approached the main entrance of St Faith’s School for girls, I saw nothing to admire in it’s ugly red brick and unevenly balanced wings punctuated with curtainless windows. The light drizzle which blurred out my view of the surrounding grounds did not help, being both miserable and cold. I dragged at the grey tweed skirt of a two-piece suit which apparently all the girls wore on Sundays and parents’ days. I was used to more luxurious items, to wearing clothes which made me stand out rather than blend.
I climbed out of the car. It seemed I stood out already, all the girls I could see had at least one parent with them, if not two. I stood haughtily while the chauffeur unloaded my trunk and two suitcases from the boot of the car. I cast about for a porter to offer assistance, while girls in grey uniform swarmed around me.
“Need a hand?” About the same age as me, she was tall with a long auburn plait.
“Oui, Yes – thank you,” remembering I should answer in English.
We both bent to grasp the leather handles at either end of my trunk then straightened and moved off in an ungainly way, my shins bumping frequently against its hard edge. It was much noisier inside the building, girls’ voices echoed around the staircase and corridors. Setting my trunk down in a room which was clearly used as a cloakroom, I was perplexed.
“You unpack here, and take your clothes up to the dorm.” She smiled, revealing small even teeth. I noticed her snub nose was dusted with freckles. “Let’s find out which dorm you’re in, do you know your house?”
I knew English, but the words she was saying didn’t make sense. Still I followed her, my motto being ‘act like you know’, I found things often became clear if I played along.
“I’m Arianrod,” she trilled over her shoulder, heading towards a noticeboard. “Which house are you in?” She looked at me quizzically. I was still at a loss how to answer.
“What colour tie and cloak do you have?”
“Red,” I replied.
“Wellington House,” she nodded, “I’m in Gladston”. Then she looked pointedly at a list fixed to the baize with pins. “Name?”
“Delphine de Lotbiniere,” I replied, with a tilt to my chin as always, aware of the weight of responsibility which came with territory. Arianrod didn’t show a flicker of recognition.
“You’re in Barrington, same as me.” She smiled while linking her slender arm through mine, although we’d only just met and I didn’t know her surname.
We headed to the front entrance. “Let’s get your cases, then you can settle in.”
My chauffeur was still waiting, sitting inside his gleaming car, but he stood when I approached.
“That will be all.” I nodded curtly. Despite never having met him before today, sending the driver away felt like cutting the last tie to my old life. When the tyres crunched on the gravel, I picked up the smaller piece of my monogrammed luggage, straightened my shoulders and let Arianrod heft the other case off the ground.
“The dorm’s this way,” she indicated, passing the main staircase and taking us down a log corridor. We passed walls hung with pictures of hockey teams and cabinets of trophies. The decor was institutional and depressing but Arianrod seemed to buzz with excitement. She mounted the stairs with ease, and I followed, the corners of my suitcase chafing against my wool stockings.
We came to a door on a half landing, bearing the name Barrington picked out in gold lettering on a wooden plaque. As she turned the handle and threw the door open I was assaulted with a cacophony of female voices, in English accents which sounded braying to me.
“Ladies of the Sixth form, may I introduce Delphine.”
“Delphine de Lotbiniere,” I corrected her, and looked at their faces, displaying a mixture of open curiosity and guarded hostility.
“So you’re French?” a girl with glasses responded.
“Do you have any brothers?” from a brunette with two plaits, “French men are sooo fascinating!” she pretended to swoon.
Meanwhile Arianrod put my suitcase at the end of a bed then showed me the small cabinet, drawers and wardrobe which had been allocated to me. I couldn’t believe how tiny they were, how would all my clothes fit?
“I’m over here,” she gestured. I saw that she’d already unpacked and placed a family photograph in a silver frame beside her bed and rabbit soft toy on the counterpane.
“Whereabouts in France do you come from?” A girl with glasses asked.
“We have a chateau in Bordeaux,” it seemed vital to earn their respect early on, and my name hadn’t struck a chord the way it usually did.
“Do your family make wine?” a girl with bobbed hair stood close to Arianrod and played with her plait.
“Yes, our vineyard is famous. I don’t have a brother,” I answered the earlier question, “French guys are OK, but English men are better lovers.”
That stopped them, you could’ve heard a pin drop. I kept my poise, and popped the catch on my suitcase, nonchalantly removing the underthings folded by my maid back home.
Suddenly the hubbub of chatter re-started The girls crowded round my bed, gossipping about their brothers, their cousins, who’d been kissed (three of them) who’d seen a man naked (one of them, but it was her uncle so that didn’t count) and who was in love with Marlon Brando (most of them). They admired the deep lace on my lingerie and my soft cashmere sweaters in ice cream colours. When I unpacked my jodphurs and riding boots the girl with the bob made the connection.
“Are you Delphine the show jumper? I’ve seen her at Badminton.” She sounded excited, when I nodded she sighed with admiration. At last, somebody showing me the proper respect.
At that moment the door to our dormitory swung open and a petite woman probably in her forties entered. Immediately the girls bowed their heads and curtsied. I studied her closely, her clothes were timeless but smart, her shoes low-heeled and sensible. Fixing on me, she approached.
“You must be Delphine,” she remarked with a cool look. “Hurry and unpack. Vespers is at six followed by a light supper. Who is orienting Mademoiselle de Lotbiniere?”
“I am, Miss Ranson,” Arianrod beamed at the woman who I now realised was our Headmistress.
“Miss Paxis-Axworthy, please ensure our newcomer unpacks as swiftly as possible.”
With that Miss Ranson turned on her heel and was gone.
[To be Continued – Chapter 3 can be found on EveRay’s Blog]