The Fifth-Form Fête

By a general indulgence issued from headquarters, the dismissal bell rang at 3:45 the next Friday afternoon, instead of, as usual, at four o’clock. The mistresses entered up the marks, put away their books, said “Good afternoon, girls!” and made their exit, leaving the building for once in the sole possession of the pupils. Miss Strong, indeed, who disapproved of the whole business, took the precaution of locking her desk before her departure, a proceeding which provoked indignant sniffs from the witnesses; but, sublimely indifferent to public opinion, she put the key in her pocket, and stalked from the room. The girls gave her a few moments’ grace to get out of earshot, then broke into a babble of conversation.

“Which are we having first, the election or the tea?”

“Oh, the tea!”

“No, no! Business first and pleasure afterwards.”

“I can’t vote till I’ve had some tea.”

“It’s too early!”

“No, it isn’t! We’re most of us ready for it.”

“Look here!” suggested Ingred. “Let’s settle it this way. Have tea first, then the election, and then some fun afterwards. Don’t you think that would sandwich things best?”

“True, O Queen! I don’t mind what happens afterwards, so long as I get a bun quick!”

“Let’s fetch the prog,” agreed Linda Slater, leading the way towards the cloakroom where the baskets had been stored.

The giggling procession met emissaries from other forms, bent on a like errand, and exchanged a brisk banter as they passed on the stairs.

“We’ve got jam tartlets!”

“Not as nice as our cheese cakes!”

“Nellie’s brought a whole pound of macaroons!”

“Oh! will you swap with us for rock buns?”

“I should just think not!”

“Dolly Arden has five oranges!”

“Well, we’ve got bananas!”

After successfully fetching the provisions, having routed a marauding band of juniors who were poking inquisitive fingers into the baskets, the members of Va returned to the form-room, closed the door, and gave themselves up to festivity. The four girls from the hostel need have had no fear of scarcity, for the others had brought ample to compensate for their deficiency. By general consent all the cakes were pooled, set out on hard-backed exercise books in lieu of plates, and handed round the company. Bess, whose basket contained two thermos flasks, a dozen cheese cakes, and some meringues, was felt to have brought a valuable contribution. It seemed a new experience to be sitting at their desks, drinking tea and eating cakes, instead of doing translation or writing exercises.

“Pity the Snark didn’t stop! She doesn’t know what she’s missing!” remarked Joanna Powers, as she took a meringue.

“Oh, Kafoozalum! We shouldn’t have had much fun if the Snark had stayed! Don’t bring her back, for goodness’ sake, Jo!”

“I wasn’t going to! Besides which, she’s probably halfway down town at present, having tea in a café. She generally does on Fridays.”

“She won’t get a better tea than we’re having!”

“I’ll undertake she won’t! This meringue is absolutely topping! I wonder if there’s another left.”

“No, they’re gone, every one of them!”

“Hard luck!”

Though the hour might be early, the girls’ appetites were quite equal to the task of finishing the various delicacies in the way of sweet stuff which they had brought with them. Cakes disappeared like snow in summer, and chocolate boxes, passed round impartially, soon returned empty to their owners. When everything seemed almost finished, Bess produced another hamper, which she had carried up from the cloakroom, and stowed away under her desk. She handed it rather shyly to Beatrice, who happened to be her nearest neighbor.

“Mother sent these, and wants you all to share them,” she remarked.

Beatrice, Francie, and Linda opened the hamper all three together, then with a delighted “O-Oh!” of satisfaction drew out six beautiful bunches of purple grapes. Ingred, finishing her cup of tea, choked and coughed. She knew those grapes well. They grew in the vinery at Rotherwood, and had been the pride of her father and of the head-gardener. She had not tasted one of them for five years, for during the war they had always been given to the patients in the Red Cross Hospital, but she could not forget their delicious flavor. Why had her father let the vinery with the house? The grapes ought to be hers to give away⁠—not this girl’s. Nobody else in the room cared in the least where the fruit came from, so long as it was there. Appreciative eyes looked on in glad anticipation while Beatrice and Francie divided the bunches with as much mathematical accuracy as they could muster at the moment. A portion was laid upon each desk, and the girls fell to.


“Never tasted better in my life!”

“Absolutely topping!”

“Makes one want to go and live in a vineyard!”

“They’re exactly ripe!”

“Ingred, you’re not eating yours!”

“I don’t want them, thanks,” said Ingred hurriedly. “I don’t indeed. I’ve had enough. Pass them on to somebody else, please!”

“Well, if you really don’t want them, they won’t go a-begging, I dare say!”

Ingred felt as if the grapes would choke her. She could not touch one of them. She hated Bess for having brought them to school, quite irrespective of the fact that she would have done exactly the same in her place, had she been fortunate enough to have the opportunity. Bess, looking shy, and anxious to evade the thanks that poured in upon her, bundled the hamper away under the desk again, and made a palpable effort to change the subject.

“What about this election?” she asked. “Time’s getting on. It’s after half-past four.”

“Good night! Have we been all that time feeding? Here, girls, if you’ve quite finished, let’s get to business,” said Avis, rapping on her desk as a signal for silence, and constituting herself spokeswoman for the occasion. “You know what we’ve met here for⁠—to choose a warden to represent us on the School Council. Well, I feel we couldn’t do better than send up Ingred Saxon. She’d look after our interests all right, if anybody would. I beg to propose Ingred Saxon.”

“And I beg to second that!” called Nora.

“Hands up, those in favor!”

Such a forest of arms immediately waved in the air that (though in strict order) it seemed hardly necessary for Avis to call out:

“Those against!”

No opposition hands appeared, so without further discussion the election was carried.

“Congrats, Ingred!” said Nora, patting the heroine on the back.

“I told you it would be a walk over, old sport!” whispered Verity.

“We’d talked it over beforehand, you see, and everybody had agreed to choose you, so it was really only a matter of form,” explained Francie.

“The Sixth are having a ballot,” put in Jess.

“And Vb are going to fight like Kilkenny cats over Magsie and Barbara.”

“There’ll be some hullabaloo in several of the forms, I expect.”

“Thanks awfully for electing me,” replied Ingred. “I suppose I ought to make a speech, but I really don’t know what to say!”

“You’ve got to say it all the same!” laughed Verity. “Members of Parliament always make speeches to their constituents. Here, take the Snark’s desk as your thingumgig⁠—rostrum, or whatever it’s called, and begin your jaw-wag!”

“Friends, Romans, Countrymen, lend me your ears!” squeaked Kitty Saunders.

Pushed forward by a dozen hands, Ingred found herself occupying the mistress’s place, and, facing her audience, made a valiant attempt at oratory. With cheeks aglow, and dark eyes shining like stars, she looked an attractive little figure, and a bright and suitable leader for the form.

“I can’t really think why you should have chosen me,” she began (“don’t be too modest!” yelled a voice from the back), “but as you have made me your warden, I’ll take care that all our grievances are very well aired at the School Council.” (“You’ll have your work cut out!” interrupted Francie.) “Of course I know it won’t all be plain sailing, and that the Sixth need a great deal of sticking up to over many matters.” (“That’s so!” came from the front desk.) “But perhaps they’ll be prepared to talk things over now, and make some concessions.” (“Time they did!”) “At any rate, I shall be able to tell them what you all think” (“Flattering for them!”), “and to make things as smooth as possible for Va Now, as I’m warden, may I propose that we have some fun before we go? Shall we have music, or games? Hands up for an Emergency Concert!”

“A very neat way of getting out of further speechifying!” said Verity, as by general consent the concert carried the day; “but you shall open it yourself, Madam Warden, so I warn you! You’re not going to be let off, don’t you think it! Silence! Ladies and gentlemen, the first item on the program will be a piano solo by Miss Ingred Saxon, the celebrated musical star, brought over at enormous expense, on purpose for this occasion.”

“You blighter!” murmured Ingred, as the prospective audience shouted “Hear! Hear!”

“Not a bit of it!” purred Verity. “I guess we’ll take sparks out of the Sixth and everybody else.”

Va that afternoon was certainly in a position to boast itself. It was the only form in possession of a piano: for by the sheerest accident it had one. The instrument was only a temporary visitor, placed there for convenience while some repairs were being done to a leaking gas-pipe in one of the music rooms. It’s an ill wind, however, that blows nobody good, and it gave Va an opportunity that was denied even to the Sixth. Ingred was at once escorted to the piano, and officious hands piled exercise books on a chair to make her seat high enough.

“I can’t remember anything! I can’t indeed!” she protested vigorously.

“Now don’t twitter nonsense!” said Nora. “I’ve heard you play dozens⁠—yes, dozens!⁠—of things without music at the hostel, so you’ve just got to try!”

“I shall break down, I know I shall!”

“Then you can begin again at the beginning. Fire away, and don’t be affected!” commanded Nora.

It is one thing to play a piece from memory when you have the room to yourself, and quite another to play it with half a dozen girls hanging over the piano, and the rest of the audience sitting on their desks. Ingred wisely did not venture on anything too classical, but tried a bright “Spanish Ballade,” and managed to get successfully to the end of it without any breakdown. In the midst of the clapping that followed came a loud rap-tap-tap at the door, which immediately opened to admit⁠—much to the astonishment of the Fifth⁠—two of the prefects, and a consignment of Sixth form girls.

“Whatever have we been and gone and done now?” murmured Verity.

“Is music taboo?” asked Ingred guiltily, slipping away from the piano.

The errand of the prefects, however, was evidently one of conciliation, and not of reproof. They were smiling, and looking amiability itself.

“We thought, as you’ve got a piano in your room,” began Lilias Ashby, “that we might as well come and join you, if you don’t mind. Janie’s got a book of songs with her.”

“Oh, by all means, of course!” replied Va politely and unanimously. “We’re just having a sort of concert, you know.”

“Sure you don’t mind?”

“Not a bit of it!”

“Right-o! Run and tell Janie then, Susie, and ask her to bring the others.”

An invasion from the Sixth was indeed an unwonted honor, which probably nothing short of a piano would have accomplished. The hostesses, somewhat overwhelmed, seated the distinguished guests to the best of their ability in the rather limited accommodation, and hospitably passed round their few remaining pieces of chocolate.

“We’ll leave the door open, please,” said Lispeth, “because I promised Miss Burd not to let those intermediates get too outrageous, and I have to listen out for them.”

Janie Potter, with her book of songs, was pushed forward, and began to entertain the company with popular selections of the day, to which they chanted the choruses. She had a good clear voice, and the audience joined with enthusiasm in the various ditties.

The clapping which followed was continued down the landing, and, through the open door, peered the interested faces of most of the members of Vb who had come to share the fun.

“May we butt in?” they asked hopefully.

“Not a square inch of room for you,” answered Lispeth, “but you may squat in the corridor outside if you like. Anybody who performs can join the show, but that’s all. I’ll tell you when it’s your turn. It’s Va next. Now then,” (turning to the hostesses), “who else can do anything? Francie Hall, come along at once!”

“I can’t! I can’t!” objected Francie. “So it’s no use asking me; it isn’t indeed! I’ll tell you what⁠—Bess Haselford plays the violin, and, what’s more, she’s got it with her, for I saw her put it away in the dressing-room.”

“O-O-Oh! It was my lesson with Signor Chianti this afternoon, that’s why I had to bring it!” said Bess, turning red.

“Go and fetch it, Francie!” ordered Lispeth. “You know where it is.”

Francie returned in a short time, and handed the neat leather case to its owner. Bess, looking flustered and nervous, drew out the violin, and began to tune it.

“I’ve brought your music too!” said Francie, triumphantly opening a folio, “so you’ve no excuse for saying you can’t remember anything. Who’ll play your accompaniment? Here, Ingred!”

“Oh! somebody else would do it far better,” protested Ingred. “Janie⁠—”

“I’m no reader.”


“Couldn’t to save my life!”

“Go ahead, Ingred, and don’t waste time!” said Lispeth firmly.

Ingred sat down to the piano without a smile. Her schoolmates took her unwillingness for modesty, but in her heart of hearts her main thought was: “Why should I help this new girl to show off?” She would have played accompaniments gladly for anybody else, but she considered that Bess had already received quite enough attention in one afternoon. For her own credit, however, she must do her best, so she concentrated her energies on the prelude. When the first strains of the violin joined in, her musical ear recognized immediately that Bess’s playing was of a very high quality. The tone was pure, the notes were perfectly in tune, and there was a ringing sweetness, a crisp power of expression, and a haunting pathos in the rendering of the melody that showed the performer to be capable of interpreting the composer’s meaning. In spite of her disinclination, Ingred warmed to the accompaniment. When the violin seemed to be bringing out laughter and tears, the piano must do its part, and not merely supply a succession of unimpassioned chords. Ingred was a good reader for a girl of fifteen, but she surpassed herself on this occasion, and seemed to accomplish the difficult passages almost by instinct. She played the final notes very softly as the last fairy strains of the melody thrilled slowly away.

There was a second of silence, then the girls, inside and outside the room, clapped their loudest.

“It was capital!” declared Lispeth encouragingly. “Bess, we shall want you again for school concerts. You and Ingred ought to practise together. Let me look at your violin. I wish I could play like that!”

“Thanks ever so much!” murmured Bess to Ingred, as the latter got up from the piano.

“Oh! it’s all right!” replied Ingred airily, moving away in a hurry to the other side of the room. She did not want Bess to take up Lispeth’s no doubt well meant but rather embarrassing suggestion that they should practise together, and was quite ready with an excuse if it should be proposed.

“It’s the turn of the Sixth now,” she jodelled.

Vb haven’t done anything yet; I’ll call one of them in,” said Lispeth, stepping out to the landing.

Once through the door, however, her ears were assailed by such an absolute din proceeding from the farther end of the corridor, that she dropped her character of impresario for the duties of head-girl, and calling two of her fellow prefects, went to investigate the cause of the disturbance. She returned in a short time, looking flushed and flurried.

“It’s those wretched kids in IVb,” she proclaimed. “They were behaving disgracefully, pelting each other with the remains of their buns, and fencing with rulers. And they actually had the cheek to tell me they weren’t making any more noise than we were with our singing and playing! I sent them home at once, and I think we’d all better go too. Those intermediates always overstep the line if they’ve an atom of a chance. I told them what I thought about them. It’s been quite a ripping concert, and I’m sorry to break it up, but you understand, don’t you?”

“Rather!” replied the others, as they began their exodus into the corridor.