Naughtiest Girl 8: Well Done, The Naughtiest Girl, Page 2Enid Blyton
As she began to recite her French verbs, they began to croon, as though to keep her company.
‘Je suis . . .
‘Tu es . . .’
‘Il est . . .
‘Nous sommes . . .’
Elizabeth’s little ‘tree house’ had been a wonderful find. She was delighted with it.
‘I’m quite near the school buildings,’ she thought with a smile, ‘yet nobody knows I’m here. Nobody can see me or hear me up here. It’s my own secret place. Nobody can make fun of me now!’
The way that Arabella had gloated over her plunge down the form order had been almost too much to bear. The two girls disliked each other intensely. Elizabeth hated Arabella’s pretty little face and perfect manners, her high opinion of herself and the airs and graces she put on. Arabella despised Elizabeth for her untidiness, her noisy, boisterous ways and the fact that she seemed to get away with things just because people seemed to like her! It puzzled her why they should.
Nor had Elizabeth taken kindly to the teasing from her classmates, even from Julian. The truth was that, unlike Elizabeth, none of them took Miss Ranger’s words seriously, about her being kept down in the first form. And Elizabeth had taken such care to hide her true feelings, they had no idea how scared she was feeling.
‘What would you like for your next birthday, Naughtiest Girl?’ Julian had joked. ‘Remind me to buy you a rattle.’
Elizabeth had pretended to laugh. But it was soon after that that she noticed the oak tree and decided to explore it.
From the school grounds, only the upper part of the tree was visible, for it stood on the other side of the school wall, somewhere in the outside world. But its heavy boughs brushed the top of the wall in places and some of the branches overhung the grounds.
Elizabeth had peered up into the dense green foliage. How mysterious and cool and inviting it looked up in that oak tree. Its boughs seemed to reach down like great arms, inviting her to come up into the tree’s embrace. With a feeling of excitement she realized that, if she climbed to the top of the school wall, it would be extremely easy to crawl along the nearest bough and into the heart of the tree.
As soon as she did so, she knew that she had found the perfect hideaway. Where the boughs met thetrunk in the midst of the tree, it was possible to sit, or even lie down, in comfort. Enclosed in a lattice-work of foliage, it was like being in a secret little house – her own tree house. Wonderful!
On her first proper visit, she took her maths book and learnt her eleven times table off by heart.
The next day she took her spelling book and carefully copied out several difficult words until she was sure that she knew how to spell them correctly.
Today, Julian had asked her to help him look for pieces of wood, as he wanted to start on his bear carvings. But Elizabeth had made an excuse and headed straight for her hideout again, this time bringing her French verb book with her.
‘Vous êtes . . .’
She cheated and peeked into the book.
She put the book back in her pocket. Then, straddling a bough, her back pressed comfortably into the curve of the tree trunk, she closed her eyes and recited the verb ‘to be’ all the way through, slowly and carefully. Then again, but faster. By the third time, she was able to rattle through it without stopping.
‘There! I know it now!’ she thought, with deep satisfaction.
It was so grand to be able to recite things out loud, as many times as she wanted to, with nobody to overhear. It was so peaceful here, with only the natural world for company.
‘Hello, robin,’ she said, as she opened her eyes. The bird had hopped along the bough to within a metre. It was full grown but had not yet got its red breast, so Elizabeth knew it must be very young. ‘Aren’t you the lucky one, then? You don’t have to learn your verbs yet, do you?’
The young robin cocked its head on one side and gave her an enquiring look, followed by a friendly chirp.
‘I love it here,’ thought Elizabeth. ‘There’s a whole busy life going on in this oak tree and, it’s funny, I’m beginning to feel part of it. I’m even beginning to like the big brown moths that live here. And I think the creatures are starting to get used to me.’
She stared up into some higher branches, where a family of squirrels had their drey. On her first visit
they had chattered shrilly in great alarm and refused to come out. On the second day they had made their
way up and down the tree very secretively, by a back route, hoping not to be seen. But today they had twice scampered down the tree quite close to her, taking no notice of her at all.
She settled further back and rested for a while, gazing up at the chinks of blue sky through the tree’s top canopy. From the road below, to her left, came the drone of an occasional car. The mighty oak stood on a grass verge beside a narrow road that led to the village.
And across the school grounds to her right, from the school buildings, came the sound of a piano being played in one of the practice rooms.
‘Oh, that’s a nice piece!’ thought Elizabeth. ‘All ripply and sweet like a journey through the English countryside. That must be Richard playing.’
Piano practice! She had forgotten to do it today!
Elizabeth roused herself and began to edge backwards along the bough, towards the top of the school wall.
As she did so, looking down, she spotted a knobbly little chunk of oak that the tree had shed. It was lying in the grass, close to its roots, not far from the road.
‘That’s just the sort of wood Julian likes when he’s carving things,’ she thought. ‘It’s got an interesting shape. I wonder if I dare get it for him?’
She could see that it was an easy climb down to the ground. The trunk had several low, stubby branches sticking out. They would make perfect footholds and handholds. But, of course, it was strictly against school rules for children to venture outside the grounds on their own.
‘Only, I’m not really going anywhere, am I?’ Elizabeth told herself. ‘Just straight down the tree to pick up the wood for Julian, then straight back up again.’
It took Elizabeth less than a minute to climb down the tree and land on the grass verge on the other side of the school wall. She scooped up the piece of wood, triumphantly. She examined it carefully. Yes, it was a really good piece. Julian should be pleased.
As she turned back towards the tree, she stared in surprise at its trunk.
‘How stupid!’ she thought.
On its handsome pale brown and mossy green bark, someone had painted an ugly white cross.
At that moment, from beyond the bend in the road, she heard the distant sound of a car approaching. Supposing it were one of her teachers? Help!
Elizabeth shinned back up the oak tree at speed, dived into its leafy branches, bumped along the bough atop the school wall, then down into the grounds of Whyteleafe. Phew! That was risky.
She must not do that again.
But as she wandered back towards the school buildings, past the end of the cricket pitch, her thoughts returned to the strange marking on the oak tree’s trunk. She wondered why it made her feel uncomfortable. Then she remembered that they had once been told in a history lesson about the time of the Great Plague. How homes were similarly marked with a cross if the disease had struck.
‘Could the oak tree have some sort of disease?’ she wondered, in dismay. ‘Oh, surely not. It looks hale and hearty to me.’
She wondered if she could ask one of the teachers about it. In a roundabout way, perhaps. It would be difficult, though, without giving away where she had seen it . . . Oh, surely, somebody had just been fooling about . . . ?
‘Elizabeth! Whoops! Look where you’re going!’
She had almost crashed into someone! He was a tall boy, carrying a cricket bat.
‘Richard! Oh, I’m sorry. I was in such a dream.’ She looked at the bat under his arm. ‘Going off to play cricket?’
‘No! Just coming back!’ said the senior boy, smiling at her. ‘I’ve had an hour’s practice in the nets and that’s long enough for me. I must get back to my piano.’
‘Oh, I thought I heard you playing a few minutes ago,’ said Elizabeth, in surprise. ‘A lovely, ripply piece. Perhaps it was Mr Lewis, then?’
‘Not him. He’s gone to town to buy the piece I shall be playing at the Leavers’ Concert. And it doesn’t ripple, Elizabeth, I can assure you.’
Elizabeth continued on her way, frowning slightly. Who had been playing that piece so well, then, if it had not been Richard, or Mr Lewis himself?
With something new to puzzle about, she forgot all about the white cross on the oak tree.
Elizabeth hears the music again
‘WHAT AN excellent piece of wood, Elizabeth!’ exclaimed Julian, with pleasure. ‘Why, it’s the very thing.’ He rolled it between his palms. ‘A solid little lump of oak. I shall cut it in half and make two. Those knobbly bits at each end already look rather like bears’ heads, don’t they?’
‘That’s just what I thought, Julian,’ said Elizabeth eagerly. ‘And one end’s fatter than the other – that can be Father Bear.’
‘And the other end can be Mother Bear. Excellent! I’m going to enjoy my wood carving! Oak’s good to work with, you know.’
After a good wash and tidy-up, Elizabeth had rushed through some piano practice and then come looking for Julian. She had found him in the common room. He was not bothering to revise for exams. He was reading a book about famous medical discoveries.
She had presented him with the piece of wood.
‘Wherever did you find it?’ he asked now.
‘Oh, just lying on the ground,’ replied Elizabeth, truthfully.
‘You’ve been gone for ages!’ said Julian. ‘I wondered where you were.’
‘Well, for one thing, I’ve been doing my piano practice,’ smiled Elizabeth.
‘Ah, yes.’ Julian gave a quick nod.
Some of the other boys and girls were coming into the first form common room.
Julian quickly stuffed the piece of wood into his trouser pocket. He wanted to be quite sure that his bear carvings were successful before letting anyone know about them!
Belinda came and threw herself into a chair.
‘If I have to revise another single French verb, I shall die!’ she exclaimed.
‘Only two weeks to go till the exams now,’ said Julian cheerfully.
Jenny came and joined them. She was holding a tin.
‘Have some of my birthday cake!’ she said.
She cut them each a fat slice. It was a gooey chocolate cream sponge with thick chocolate icing on the top.
‘It’s delicious, Jenny!’ exclaimed Elizabeth, as the cake melted in her mouth.
‘I was trying to find you after tea, Elizabeth. Where do you keep disappearing off to?’
‘I can’t bear to be indoors at this time of year,’ replied Elizabeth, truthfully. ‘I’ve been getting lots of fresh air.’
‘I expect she’s been helping John over in the vegetable garden,’ put in Kathleen. ‘That’s where she usually disappears to!’
Elizabeth had no need to reply for Belinda at once jumped in with a teasing remark.
‘I’m sure I’d be revising for exams if I’d come third from bottom! But there again, I’m not Elizabeth. I’m not the Naughtiest Girl!’
‘Blow the silly old exams,’ said Elizabeth, keeping up her brave front.
But it was very satisfying in the maths lesson next day. Miss Ranger gave them some mental arithmetic problems. Twice Elizabeth was the first to call out the correct answer.
‘Eleven boys have to share out eighty eight sweets equally. What does each of them get—?’
‘Eight, Miss Ranger!’ cried Elizabeth.
‘Tummy ache!’ cried Julian.
‘That will do, Julian. Well done, Elizabeth. And if twelve rabbits have to share out one hundred and thirty two lettuce leaves equally, what do they get—?’
‘Into a fight!’ exclaimed Patrick Holland, determined not to be outdone by his smart cousin, Julian.
The laughter was more subdued this time, as Miss Ranger was beginning to look cross.
‘Please, Miss Ranger, eleven lettuce leaves,’ said Elizabeth, putting her hand up.
Belinda sighed to herself. Elizabeth was so lucky. Without appearing to do any work, she was getting back into top form again. It was all right for some!
However it was Arabella, not Elizabeth, who got the next question right.
‘Twelve men walk twelve miles each, how many miles do they walk altogether?’
‘One hundred and forty four!’ exclaimed Arabella eagerly.
‘Very good Arabella,’ said Miss Ranger. ‘My, that was quick.’
Then Patrick, as usual, had to overdo things and show off, spoiling what had been a fun session.
‘Perhaps they didn’t walk all together but in single file, Miss Ranger. In that case the answer should be none!’
After that they were all made to do sums in their books and had to remain silent for the rest of the lesson.
However, as she pored over her sums, Elizabeth felt well pleased. The hard swotting sessions in her secret hideout were already bearing fruit. Of course, it was annoying to find out that Arabella was ahead of her. Arabella had revised her twelve times table! Elizabeth resolved to make that her very next task.
But not today. It was the day of the weekly Meeting and no pupil at Whyteleafe was allowed to miss them. Not that Elizabeth minded. On the whole she very much enjoyed Meetings.
After tea, the whole school trooped into the big hall, which doubled as a gymnasium. There were the twelve school monitors, up on the platform, with the head boy and girl seated at their own special table.
Elizabeth thought how grown up and dignified William and Rita looked, as she took her own place on the first form benches. They had a large book in front of them, known simply as the Book, in which anything important that happened at Meetings was always written down. Elizabeth had read the Book once. It contained many fascinating case histories of pupils who had misbehaved and showed the reasons for it and how their bad behaviour had been cured. She featured in the Book herself, from the days when she had been the Naughtiest Girl in the School!
For the remarkable thing about Whyteleafe School was that the children governed themselves in many respects. The Meeting was like a school parliament, where problems were discussed and solutions found. But it was also a kind of court, with William and Rita the Judges and the monitors their Jury. Pupils who behaved badly were forced to face up to their wrongdoing in front of the whole school and the Meeting would work out how best the problem could be dealt with and cured. And cured it invariably was, for no child was ever considered worthless, or beyond reform. No one was ever abandoned by Whyteleafe School.
The joint heads, Miss Belle and Miss Best, whom the children nicknamed the Beauty and the Beast, attended the Meetings. So did Mr Johns, the senior master. They were there simply as observers and never took part unless, in very difficult cases, their advice was sought.
Today’s Meeting was not an eventful one.
All children who had received money during the week had to give it in. A monitor always brought round the school box. This week it was Joan’s turn. As Elizabeth placed some money that her grandmother had sent her into the box, she exchanged smiles with her best friend. She was so proud that Joan, who had not been in th
e second form very long, was already a monitor.
Elizabeth had herself had a stint as a first form monitor. She had enjoyed being a leader. She looked forward to the day when she might be elected as a monitor again, as William and Rita had once hinted might happen. For the moment, though, she was thinking only of her more modest ambition – to be allowed to go up into the second form!
She would die with shame if she were made to stay down. She would never be able to look Joan in the eye again!
Once the money had been collected up, each pupil in the school was issued with two pounds for the week’s spending money. ‘Share and share alike’ was the school motto.
Then, one by one, special requests for extra money were considered and judged on their merits.
‘No, Chloe, we cannot give you extra money for your mother’s birthday present. You should have saved up for it, out of your weekly allowance, as all the other children do,’ said Rita.
The junior class pupil looked disappointed and sat down cross-legged on the floor again, with the rest of her class.
John, the head of the school garden, was granted some extra money for a trowel, as one had broken. Harriet was given extra stamp money because her large family was in Australia for a year. It was expensive sending all her little brothers and sisters birthday cards and airmail letters.
Colin asked for money for a new tennis racket, as had been granted to Eileen on a previous occasion.
‘That’s a difficult one,’ said William. ‘Rita and I will have to confer with the monitors.’
It took them a while to come to a decision.
William banged a gavel on the table for silence.
‘We hope you don’t think it unfair, Colin, because we know you have played tennis for the school a few times. But Eileen is a regular member of the team and truly wore her racket out because she practises so hard every day. She has some years to go here and I’m sure will be playing for us much more. You will be leaving Whyteleafe in less than three weeks, as will we. When we go to our upper schools, there will be a different system. For the first time, you’ll be allowed to keep any money your parents send you, Colin. If you need a new racket badly by then, we’re sure they will help you out!’