Authors: Kit Pearson
It was hard to believe Ashdown was in the middle of a large city. Its spacious grounds, almost entirely bordered by a stone wall blanketed in ivy, made it a hidden retreat from the busy streets outside.
“Look at all the trees!” Eliza ran across the lawn away from the Old Residence. They had made a circular tour of
the low school building, the white gym with its four pillars and the sleek New Residence. The latter they had tiptoed by, their ears wide open to the buzz of the seniors drifting through its open windows.
Eliza scrambled easily up the broad red branches of an arbutus, wondering if Carrie would think she was too old to climb trees. But the other girl just watched her calmly. “Let's go down to the field,” she said at last. They slithered along a muddy path through the woods to a level expanse of grass which was too soggy to walk on.
“This must be where they play games,” said Carrie. “It said in the brochure there's a lot of emphasis on sports. I'm not very athleticâare you?”
Eliza shook her head as she stared at the field. She was too tall and awkward to be good at games; she always tripped over her own feet. It was hard to imagine this broad, quiet space milling with students. There already seemed to be an enormous number of boarders, but tomorrow they would encounter all the day-girls as well. She glanced at Carrie. At least
of the many faces was becoming familiar. And a good thing about her cheerful companion was that she talked so much; all Eliza had to do was reply.
“What do you think of Helen?” Carrie asked her.
“Uhhh â¦ I don't know yet.” Helen was one of the many people Eliza was saving up to contemplate in bed.
think she's weird. I hate the way she stares. And last night she strung up my hippo from the light with her shoe-lace. Pam's stuck-up, and Jean's really shy. She goes
into the bathroom to get undressed. I'm so glad you're here, Eliza,” said Carrie for the second time that day. “I just know we're going to be good friends.”
This was embarrassing. Eliza had always heard, however, that Americans were very friendly, and she glowed inside at Carrie's words. Still, she didn't know what to say in answer. She tapped the other girl on the shoulder. “Race you back!” she called.
Y EIGHT O
on Sunday evening Eliza felt that she'd always been at Ashdown, and that nothing in her former world existed. She sat with Carrie and Jean on Carrie's bed, as they stitched the school crest onto their berets and blazers. Helen and Pam were watching TV downstairs. Eliza studied the crest as she sewedâa single bluebell against a pale blue background, with the school motto curling around it.
She felt more confident with just the other two new girls in the dorm, even though she had barely spoken a word to Jean. Pam had enlisted the quiet girl all afternoon to help sort out her many clothes because Miss Bixley was letting her keep only a small number of them upstairs.
“Do you like that book?” Eliza asked, pointing to the one on Jean's bed.
Jean's narrow face grew animated. “Oh, yesâI love animal stories.”
“I like the bull terrier in it the best,” said Eliza.
“Have youâI meanâis that a picture of
dog on your dresser?”
“She belongs to my whole family.” Eliza told Jean how Jessie had travelled from Edmonton to Toronto in a crate. Then she was silent while she wondered if Jessie had recovered from the experience. Carrie told them about her family's four cats.
“I'm not allowed to have an animal,” said Jean in a small voice. “My mother thinks they're dirty.”
“Well, none of us can have pets
,” said Carrie kindly. “So we're all the same as you.”
They heard Helen and Pam stomping down the hall, and glanced at one another reassuringly. Then it was Lights Out. “And not a sound,” said Miss Bixley. “Sleep tight, girls.”
Eliza squirmed in her bed, trying to find a place to fit between the lumps. It was a relief to lie in the dark with her own thoughts again. Exhaustion seeped from her body into the mattress.
Then something dug into her back from below, and she was lifted high into the air and slowly lowered. She yelped with alarm until she realized it was Helen underneath her, pushing up with her feet.
“Scared you, didn't I?” chuckled Helen.
“N-not really,” said Eliza, trying to sound calm. “Just surprised me.”
“Shhh! We'll get into trouble if we talk,” whispered Pam.
“Not with Bix on duty,” said Helen. “She doesn't come upstairs until late. The one to watch is the Pouncerâthat's Mrs. Renfrew, and she's a terror. She has
us on Bix's nights off. And sometimes Charlie comes around, but not too often.”
Charlie? That must be Miss Tavistock. Eliza knew her first name was Charlotte, but Charlie seemed an odd nickname for such a dignified person.
Helen finished describing the matrons. “I had Waltzing Matilda last year in the Nursery. She was always checking on us. They treat you like babies up there. But this year we should be able to get something startedâespecially since this dorm is so out of the way.”
“Like what?” asked Eliza, her curiosity overcoming the unsettling feeling Helen gave her.
“Wait and see, Eliza Doolittleâit's not time yet.”
“Be quiet,” hissed Pam. “Carrie and Jean are already asleep.”
LIZA WAS AWAKENED
by something in the middle of the night. It was the sound of muffled sobs, and it came from Jean's bed. Should she say something? She knew that if she were the one crying, she'd rather do it privately.
Finally Jean was quiet, but now Eliza felt close to tears. She groped for John, but he had fallen on the floor and she didn't want to disturb anyone by getting down to pick him up.
Pulling open the curtain beside her bed, she gazed out at the thin new moon shining down on the tennis courts. She knew it was new, not old, because her father had once told her the old moon was in the shape of a “C,” which meant “contracting.” She wondered if her
parents could see the moon in Toronto. Then she almost did cry.
The moon looked lonely. You wanted to come here, Eliza reminded herself again, and at last she drifted again into an uneasy sleep.
Sunday, September 13
Dear Mum and Dad,
It was wonderful to talk to you last night, but too short! Now I'll tell you all about Ashdown.
I'm in the Yellow Dorm and I have four dormmates.
I like Carrie the best. She's from Seattle and she has five older brothers and sisters. Jean's from Chilliwack, and she goes home every Saturday. Pam's from Vancouver, and she's our dorm head. She's very bossy. Helen's from Prince George. She's always getting into trouble.
Our matron is Miss Bixley. We're lucky because she's the nicest one.
We get up every day at 7. There is a very loud bell. We have breakfast at 8, and school starts at 9 and ends at 3. Then we have games or go for a walk with the matron. We have to walk two by two in a long line! At 4:30 we change for dinner, and then we have prep for an hour (that's what the time when we do our homework is called). After dinner there's prayers, then more prep, then we go to bed at 9 o'clock.
On Saturdays, we have prep in the morning, and then we can go out until 8 and don't have to go to bed until 9:30. Carrie came out with me this Saturday and Uncle Adrian took us to Stanley Park.
The food isn't bad, except for Tuesdays. It is going to be the same every week.
TuesdayâLiver and Onions (yuck!) WednesdayâChicken
Sundayâa roast at noon (but it's called Sunday
dinner) and eggs at night
My homeroom teacher is Miss Clark, and she also teaches us English. She's very pretty. I am in 7A and so is Pam. Carrie, Helen and Jean are in 7B. It's not too hard, except for French. They start it earlier here.
My piano teacher, Mrs. Fraser, is really goodâshe makes me work harder than the one in Edmonton, though. I get to miss part of prep to practise, and I also practise before breakfast every day.
Miss Tavistock is strict, but I like her. She calls me Elizabeth. So do all the teachers, but the matrons call me Eliza.
Next Saturday all the boarders are going on a picnic to Saltspring Island.
Please make sure Jessie gets brushed every day. I'm so glad she's not trying to run away. Give the Demons a kiss for me. Please send me some of those cookies with the nuts and raisins in them. Would a cake crumble in the mail? We're allowed to keep our own food downstairs.
I miss you very much, but I'm happy here. It's just like I thought it would be.
With heaps of love
P.S. Please send me a flashlight.
There! Eliza shook out her aching hand and stretched full length on her bed. It felt good to write everything down in a letter. And her parents had sounded so worried on the phone, she had to assure them she was all right.
She was, although she felt more bewildered by everything than she would have admitted to them. So much had been crowded into this long first weekâso many new faces and new voices and new subjects and new rulesâthat it was difficult to sort it out. But she liked the way the days ran so smoothly, with a slot for each activity. There were fascinating people to watch, and most of them were friendly. Already she knew the names of all the junior and intermediate boarders in the Old Residence. She
like it hereâalmost as much as she'd written.
She wrote another letter to one of her friends in Edmonton, telling her the same things. Maggie, however, would probably not be interested; she had just sent a long epistle filled with dull details about a boy she liked. Already Eliza felt so immersed in her new life that her friend seemed like a stranger.
She glanced around the Yellow Dorm. It was Sunday rest time, and no one dared say a word: the Pouncer was on duty. Carrie and Jean were reading. Pam was winding white tape around her grass hockey stick. Eliza had played hockey twice herself this week. All she'd done was to chug up and down the field, purposely avoiding coming near the ball. A lot of the other players appeared to be doing the same, but no one noticed.
She wondered what Helen, unusually still, was up to underneath her. The only really uncomfortable part of school so far was Helen. The volatile girl both alarmed and intrigued her. She was prickly and funny at the same time, and the liveliest person in the Old Residence.
All of the Yellow Dorm liked food, but Helen ate more than any of them. She won the toast-eating contests at her table every morning. “I don't mean to be personal,” Pam told her, “but you should go on a diet.”
“And you should mind your own business,” retorted Helen.
The two of them were always scrapping. “When I found out I had to board, I was hoping Helen would be in the other grade seven dorm,” Pam confided to Eliza
and Carrie. “Last year she came to a barbeque I had for the whole class, and she started everyone making water bombs in the swimming pool out of paper cups. My mother says she's a disruptive influence.” Pam tried to tell them more about all the trouble Helen had caused in grade six, but Eliza and Carrie didn't like her righteous tone and changed the subject.
Helen never missed an opportunity of needling Pam, but she was fairly pleasant to the rest of them. As well as calling Pam and Eliza “P.J.” and “Eliza Doolittle,” she had nicknames for the others. Jean was “Scotty,” and Carrie was “Turps,” after a ball-bouncing rhyme the juniors were always chanting:
Queen, Queen Caroline
Washed her hair in turpentine
Turpentine made it shine
Queen, Queen Caroline.
Already Helen had had to “go and speak to Miss Tavistock,” a threat the matrons were always holding over them. On Tuesday evening Jean had locked herself in the bathroom when the wobbly old doorknobs had fallen off. The rest of them heard her timid knocks and cries, growing louder as she became more frightened. They crowded around the door.
“I'll go and get a matron,” said Pam quickly.
“Noâwait!” Helen looked overjoyed that something was happening. “They'll just make a fuss. Keep calm,
Scotty,” she called. “We're going to rescue you! Come on, everyoneâpush!”
She thrust her weight against the door and pounded it rhythmically. The flimsy panel showed a crack of light at each shove.
The others watched her doubtfully. “Wouldn't it be better to try to get the doorknobs back on?” suggested Eliza.
it, Helenâyou're going to break it!” cried Pam.
“That's â¦ the â¦ idea!” puffed Helen, red in the face. The door crashed inwards with a screech of ripping wood. Helen fell in with it. Jean screamed, then laughed nervously as she realized she was free.
In an instant both Miss Bixley and Miss Monaghan were there, gazing in disbelief at the shards of wood hanging from the side of the door.
When Helen returned from seeing Miss Tavistock, she wouldn't tell them what the headmistress had said. But her ecstatic mood had disappeared. “Everyone blames me for everything around here,” she growled. “I was only trying to help.” Underneath the grumbling, however, she seemed secretly triumphant.
Eliza wasn't sure where she stood with Helen. When the other girl used her nickname she felt they were on friendly terms; at other times the two of them were uneasy with each other.
Her feelings were especially mixed on Thursday. In the morning Eliza and Helen were alone in the dorm; they were the last to change their sheets. Eliza found it tricky to do
this on an upper bunk, especially when the bed was so close to the wall. Helen hadn't even started. Her clean sheets were folded on her chair and she sprawled across her stripped mattress, reading a Batman comic. Every so often she peered at Eliza moving around her. She looked superior, as if she, Helen, did not have to bother with such a dreary task.