* * *
“Girls! We have wonderful news that I’m sure you’ll enjoy. We are to introduce a new room and full-blown prefect into Limeys Park. There is a large annexe to the North of Dormitory House. That room is, from here on, to be known as the Pet Room.” An outburst of ferocious applause stormed out. Miss Timber was pleased to see the happiness in the faces below her.
“Cease! I have not finished speaking. We may not necessarily keep this room. If you cannot be good, prepared and sensible in using it; if the school’s number increases once again; if I feel it better to close it; if we might need the room for other purposes; or if we have had it long enough, I shall close the business down.”
There was no harshness; only common sense, but the younger girls resolved fervently to make the enterprise a success good and well—and some of the wicked Sixth Formers resolved with equal fervour to make it a failure. Silly, aggravating, reserved Nellie Russell was in charge of the Pet Room. If it was closed down she would have failed in her task and disappointed in her honour. It was a great opportunity!
“What pets may we keep?” a Senior queried.
“Anything but dogs, unless it’s too outrageous!” Miss Timber said hurriedly; a disappointed howl arose from all the dog-owners and all the sensation-creators.
“Sorry for you disappointed crowd,” Miss Timber crowed fondly, “but we just can’t let dogs in school. They’re too much work in this busy life.”
“I understand fully,” Stacie rose to her feet, speaking the words with such hypocritical pleasance that Miss Timber could only issue a glare and hope the lower schoolers were imperceptive to its ice.
A Junior raised her hand, distracting attention effectively. “Who is to be the prefect?”
Miss Timber smiled broadly. “I’m very glad to promote one of our sub-prefects and to give her the honour of becoming Pet Prefect. That girl is Nellie Russell.”
A respectful storm of applause greeted Nellie’s name. She was a favourite for her goodness in the Lower School. Compared to the other Sixth Formers, who now sat scowling and clapping with irritated deliberation, Nellie Russell was a queen.
“Well done, Nellie!” Miss Timber retrieved a small packet from the table and presented Nellie with a green badge depicting the word ‘Prefect’ in shiny silver letters.
Much as Nellie was delighted with this presentation of the badge she’d always wanted to wear, she merely sighed regretfully. She didn’t smile. She didn’t wince. She didn’t even blush at the cheering. Her dull expression kept, and she sighed—such a weak, heartbreaking sigh.
Miss Timber glanced at her. No—stared at her. She stared at Nellie up and down in wonder. She could do no more. No girl in her experience had ever sighed at premature promotion.