* * *
Nellie did not stay gleeful for long that night, as she proceeded to catch half her house ‘midnighting’ in one of the bathrooms, and a bunch of cheeky Juniors who ought to know better were insistent on being as impudent as they could.
“You’re no prefect,” they mocked. “You can’t keep order.”
And it was true. Though in name and badge Nellie Russell was a prefect, very few of the girls recognised her as such, and many of the mistresses acted as if they did not trust her. No one respected her or obeyed her commands. None of her fellow prefects liked her enough to even make the attempt to uphold her authority, and the very headmistress herself had given her a warning.
She did no good by being a prefect. The Pet Room was the greatest of her achievements, and also her greatest source of ridicule. The Mahy sisters’ canaries were proof of that. They were mocking her. They were all mocking her.
After breakfast that day she visited the headmistress’ office under formal conditions. Miss Timber protested, of course, and Nellie was not permitted to resign, but after such an exertion, she desired to do so more than ever.
Cina Lee had been watching the Sixth Form closely for a while. Now, she happened to be strolling through the school foyer, when she caught sight of a sullen-faced Nellie Russell exiting the headmistress’ office.
Cina noted the quick smile that sprang up to banish away the desolate expression as Nellie caught sight of the younger girl. But the chief thing she noted was the two empty pinholes blazing from the collar of Nellie’s blazer. She could not know that Nellie had put the tiny green and silver badge in her pocket for the duration of the interview.
“Here Nellie!” Cina called a little too loudly. Nellie, though the smile did not evaporate, ignored her.
“Come along to the music department,” she invited.
“I’ve got to got to the Pet Annexe,” Nellie said dazedly.
“They’re in the same place, silly,” Cina said, catching her friend’s hand and towing her along the corridor towards the Pet Room. Along the corridor were multiple music practice rooms, and Cina tugged Nellie into the first that was empty.
“We can talk in here,” she said, shutting and locking the door firmly.
Cina Lee was a relatively young Fifth Former, her birthday being in July, and expecting to stay on in the Sixth Form for an additional term after the next year, where most of her classmates were preparing to leave after just three terms.
Nevertheless, Nellie was also a youngster in the Sixth Form, and so she and Cina were closer in age than many, and this bond of youth-among-elders allowed them to share a special friendship. Neither had a special friend or a special hobby, and both were for the most part faded into the background of their busy forms.
“What’s the matter?” Cina began.
The younger girl slipped an arm round her shoulders and shook her gently.
“Of course there is. Won’t you tell me? I promise it’ll be better if you do.”
Nellie did not need to take a deep breath. The bracing kindness of this younger girl was all that was need to let loose the entire story: the Story of the Most Unreliable Sixth Form Limey Park Had Ever Had.