I don’t know how long a train journey to Cornwall would take these days, but in 1946 it apparently took up the better part of a day. On arriving at the station, the girls board coaches — which, as a child, I eventually realised referred to buses — and we have a moment that will be revisited later in the series:
‘Can we see Malory Towers from here?’ asked Darrell, looking all round.
‘No. I’ll tell you when we can. There’s a corner where we suddenly get a glimpse of it,’ said Alicia.
‘Yes. It’s lovely to get that sudden view of it,’ said Pamela, the quiet head-girl of North Tower, who had got into the coach just behind Alicia and Darrell. Her eyes shone as she spoke. ‘I think Malory Towers shows at its best when we come to that corner, especially if the sun is behind it.’
Darrell could feel the warmth in Pamela’s voice as she spoke of the school she loved. She looked at her and liked her.
Pamela saw her look and laughed. ‘You’re lucky, Darrell,’ she said. ‘You’re just beginning at Malory Towers! You’ve got terms and terms before you. I’m just ending. Another term or two, and I shan’t be coming to Malory Towers any more—except as an old girl. You make the most of it while you can.’
And our first glimpse of the school lives up to expectations:
They rounded a corner. Alicia nudged her arm. ‘There you are, look! Over there, on that hill! The sea is behind, far down the cliff, but you can’t see that, of course.’
Darrell looked. She saw a big, square-looking building of soft grey stone standing high up on a hill. The hill was really a cliff, that fell steeply down to the sea. At each end of the gracious building stood rounded towers. Darrell could glimpse two other towers behind as well, making four in all. North Tower, South, East and West.
The windows shone. The green creeper that covered parts of the wall climbed almost to the roof in places. It looked like an old-time castle.
‘My school!’ thought Darrell, and a little warm feeling came into her heart. ‘It’s fine. How lucky I am to be having Malory Towers as my school-home for so many years. I shall love it.’
No one would ever mistake Blyton for a great stylist, but I do love her description of the school. I don’t think St Clare’s is such a vivid physical presence in the series.
Needless to say, for Gwendoline, the setting feeds her imagination:
‘It’s just like a castle entrance!’ said Darrell.
‘Yes,’ said Gwendoline, unexpectedly, from behind them. ‘I shall feel like a fairy princess, going up those steps!’ She tossed her loose golden hair back over her shoulders.
Alicia’s typically scornful, and promises that Miss Potts will knock such fancies out of Gwen. Which makes me feel rather bad for her, because at twelve I still nursed secret princess fantasies, and frankly don’t think they ever hurt anyone.
On the other hand, Blyton doesn’t seem to regard this as an expression of imagination from Gwen, more like vanity and self-indulgence. But it’s not as if Alicia’s attitude is going to help Gwen develop as a person.
…also, I suppose, by the time I was twelve, they were secret princess fantasies (and secret starship captain fantasies, and secret superheroine fantasies) for a reason.
Via Alicia, we get a quick tour of the school, which apparently has one science lab but multiple needlework rooms. (Actually, I shouldn’t mock – a sewing room is a hell of a lot easier and cheaper to set up than a lab, especially in a very old building. I did grade 8 at a girls’ school which had been fundraising for years to set up a manual arts block.)
At last, we meet the matron of North Tower. Saving variations required for plot reasons, if you’ve met one of Blyton’s matron’s, you’ve met all of them:
Each of the Tower houses had its own matron, responsible for the girls’ health and well-being. The matron of North Tower was a plump, bustling woman, dressed in starched apron and print frock, very neat and spotless.
Alicia took the new girls to her. ‘Three more for you to dose and scold and ran after!” said Alicia, with a grin.
Darrell looked at Matron, frowning over the long lists in her hand. Her hair was neatly tucked under a pretty cap, tied in a bow under her chin. She looked so spotless that Darrell began to feel very dirty and untidy. She felt a little scared of Matron, and hoped she wouldn’t make her take nasty medicine too often.
Then Matron looked up and smiled, and at once Darrell’s fears fell away. She couldn’t be afraid of a person who smiled like that, with her eyes and her mouth and even her nose too!
By now Alicia basically has it in for Gwen. Earlier she gets a very mild telling off (with twinkly eyes) from Miss Potts for referring to her as “darling Gwendoline”. Now:
‘I’m Gwendoline Mary Lacey,’ said Gwendoline.
‘And don’t forget the Mary,’ said Alicia, pertly. ‘Dear Gwendoline Mary.’
‘That’s enough, Alicia,’ said Matron, ticking away down her list. ‘You’re as bad as your mother used to be. No, worse, I think.’
Legacy student privilege. The old (brown and orange) school tie. I liked Alicia a lot as a kid, but these days I think Gwen isn’t the only one who needs a few lessons in social graces.
The chapter ends with Darrell and her schoolmates going downstairs for supper:
Darrell looked round at the tables. She was sure she would never know all the girls in her house! And she was sure she would never dare to join in their laugh and chatter either.
But she would, of course—and very soon too!
And if you’re thinking this seemed like a very short chapter, you’d be right — I estimate chapter 1 clocked in at about 2200 words; chapter 2 looks like it’s 1800-1900, roughly.
(How to estimate a book’s word count: take a full page of text. Count the words in a full line, multiply that by the number of full lines, and multiply that by the number of pages in the book or chapter. Adjust as needed for half-pages etc. I’ve checked this a few times against DRM-free ebooks — thank you, Baen — and it’s reasonably accurate.)
Now, I’m off to rearrange my room and hopefully create a more congenial space for writing. Provided that I can find my tape measure.