* * *
“Don’t think me cheeky, Miss Timber, but I have two things I’d like to ask you,” Cina began with surprising audacity. The tale had been completed and an exhausted Nellie had retired to bed.
“Go on, then,” the headmistress said with a gracious nod.
Cina shot her a sidelong glance. “Please don’t think this cheeky but why did you make Stacie Whitt Head Girl in the first place?”
“Rephrase that, please,” Miss Timber ordered.
“Why is Nellie Russell not Head Girl?” The query was equally unfit for a conversation between headmistress and young pupil, but Miss Timber decided to let it go.
“Nellie is the youngest in her form, and she only moved up last term,” Miss Timber said slowly. “Many of the prefects would have resented her promotion, and that would have done no good at all where I had hoped that the current set would at least keep some form of peace until the end of the year. The Head Girl must have some authority over her prefects, at least, or she will have no success in the school itself.
"Besides that, Nellie Russell has always kept very much in the background. She has never been well suited to leadership positions, and she finds it difficult to exert authority. That is partly why she feels so hopeless; what authority that she has made the effort to exercise has been ridiculed.
"Stacie, to the contrary, has always been ready to take responsibility and command, and people have always been ready to obey her—she did not use it in the right way, perhaps, but if I had made Nellie Head Girl I do not know how matters would have turned out. Stacie was the obvious choice.”
“She only ever kept in the background because she’s the youngest and she’s never had the opportunity for authority,” said Cina. “Nellie doesn’t have a very great self esteem; otherwise she’d have come to you long ago.”
“Indeed,” Ivy Timber said thoughtfully. “And I suppose you, being rather young for your form, are the same?”
Cina had the grace to blush. “I’m sorry if you think I’m horribly cheeky, Miss Timber.”
Her headmistress laughed, but attempted neither to agree nor to deny. “What is your second question?”
Cina recovered herself. “What’s wrong with the Sixth? Some of my form have nicknamed this term ‘The Term of the Worst Sixth Form Ever’, and I don’t think that’s right at all. They were fine before Christmas.”
“No; it isn’t right. I would be grateful if you could put down such an attitude. Unreliable and jealous though the majority of the current prefect team is, they are my representatives for upholding order in the school, and should be respected. They never realised how they were hurting the school till it was too late, and having discovered that, they thought it was a good opportunity for amusement.”
“Amusement? That’s horrible!” cried Cina. “How could they do such a thing? Why would they?”
“Be off with you!” Miss Timber’s kindly smile mellowed her tone, but Cina’s brow creased worriedly.
“I hope you don’t mind all too much, Miss Timber?”
“Not just this once, I might say. Now, if you please, won’t you leave me to this hideous mess with which you have mercilessly presented me? We mistresses do need a little space to ourselves once in a while, strange to you though the fact might seem.”