* * *
It was a few weeks later, the last Friday of term, and Nellie was changing in her dormitory for the last hockey practice of the school year.
“Nellie? Is Nellie Russell in here?” called a small voice from the door.
“I’m just here,” replied Nellie, emerging from her cubicle with as much dignity as one sock and half a shirt could offer.
The Junior, Hetty Mahy, stared up at her in obvious fright.
“Well? What do you want?”
“Miss Timber says you’re to go to her as soon as you’ve changed,” Hetty quavered.
“Thank you, Hetty,” Nellie smiled. Hetty, reassured, beamed back. “I’ll be there right away.”
Having suitably dressed herself, Nellie arrived at the study of the said personage, looking back over the past few weeks with a resigned gratitude. Then she knocked and entered, and was bid to sit down.
“Nellie,” said the headmistress, her tone fresh and invigorating. She looked as if she welcomed this break from her endless correspondence and straightening out of unfortunate affairs, “I have something to tell you which I am afraid you must keep to yourself till the end of this term. I’m sorry to have to impose such a promise on you, but I think you’ll thank me.”
“I will, Miss Timber,” said Nellie, wondering.
“You are to be Head Girl next term, Nellie.”
Nellie started in incredulity. “Me? Why on earth? And what about Stacie?”
“Stacie and Lacey are to be nineteen next term, and their parents thought they ought to leave before that momentous event. So you will not be disturbing arrangements in that way.”
“But why me? I’m honoured, of course, but I really don’t think I’d make a good Head Girl. I’m useless with authority.”
“Only, as Cina Lee told me, because you have never had much of it. I have watched you over the past few weeks, Nellie, and you have developed greatly in this new atmosphere. You have a positive influence over the Juniors, unlike any of the other Sixth Formers. Children remember old deeds, and I would not be doing the school any favours by putting any old criminals in charge.”
“They didn’t like me for a while.”
“That was a consequence of following examples rather than true dislike, and you have regained their regard over the past few weeks quite easily. And besides, Stacie herself asked me specifically if you might take over from her. Won’t you do it, if only to satisfy her last wish? I know it has always been your doctrine to love your enemies, Nellie.”
“Stacie is no enemy of mine, and never has been,” Nellie declared. “I may have been hers, but she was never mine.”
“Very noble of you, and I’m afraid I worded that wrongly. But will you do it for her?”