First Term at Malory Towers – Chapters 17 and 18

Previously: Sally is desperately and mysteriously ill following an altercation with Darrell.  Darrell feels terrible about this — AS SHE SHOULD — and, after a day of moping, has written a letter to Sally’s mother confessing all.

Now, suffering from insomnia, she goes for a walk outside, discovering a Mysterious Visitor to the school.  The door to the Sanitarium is unlocked.  She enters… Chapter 17: A Wonderful Surprise

Being an honourable sort of English schoolgirl, Darrell slips behind a curtain to hide in a window seat and eavesdrop.  She falls asleep, but is woken by movement, and an unexpectedly familiar voice…

And then Darrell’s heart almost stopped beating! Some one was going by the window-seat where she sat, someone who spoke in a voice she knew and loved! “She’ll be all right,” said the voice. “Just got her nicely in time! Now…” Darrell sat as if she was turned to stone, listening to that well-known voice! It couldn’t be! It couldn’t be! It couldn’t be her own father’s voice!

Rationing was still in effect when this was written, but what Blyton may have lacked in eggs and sugar, she made up for in exclamation marks.

Darrell’s father, you may recall, is a surgeon.  He was based on Blyton’s second husband, for whom Darrell is also named.  Blyton’s father characters are mostly bad-tempered buffoons, if they’re around at all, but Mr Rivers is the major exception.

“DADDY!” squealed Darrell, forgetting absolutely everything except the fact that there was her father, whom she thought was miles away, walking along the passage just near her. “Daddy! Oh, Daddy! Stop, here’s Darrell!”

This is a nice moment, unless you’re one of the sick kids trying to get some sleep.  But give Darrell a break, she’s spent a whole chapter angsting.

Miss Grayling is less than delighted to find Darrell out and about in the small hours, let alone flinging herself crying into her father’s arms.  Mr Rivers has to carry Darrell down to Miss Grayling’s office, which is an impressive feat when you consider that she’s twelve.  (I had reached my full adult height at 12! Though puberty is probably later for these girls.)

Darrell has a little cry, then remembers to ask why her father is, you know, here.  Well, Sally had appendicitis, and their usual surgeon was sick, but luckily the Rivers were still in the area, and Sally will be–

Wait, appendicitis?  So … not caused by adolescent shoving?

No, says Mr Rivers, she’s probably been unwell for a while.

And before anyone goes and makes fun of the doctors of 1946 for failing to catch something as obvious as appendicitis, I have to admit that I had appendix problems for eight years before it finally went acute and a doctor believed me.

But now Ms Grayling and Mr Rivers have some questions of their own, so it’s time for Darrell to ‘fess up to the shoving.  And along the way she tells them how weird Sally is.

Grayling, who is Team Darrell like Dumbledore is Team Harry, is more concerned about Sally’s psychological issues than Darrell’s propensity for violence.  So is Mr Rivers:

“Something strange there that must be sorted out,” said Mr Rivers to Miss Grayling. “Might prevent her from getting better as quickly as she ought to.”

PSYCHOLOGY.

As for Darrell’s part in the affair, well, she’s very sorry, and she confessed, and learned an important lesson, so that’s that.

I am torn.  Honesty and taking responsibility are good things, but they don’t entirely mitigate Darrell’s actions.  I don’t think she deserved expulsion, but I feel like some kind of punishment is in order.  Possibly a short essay about why physical violence is not an appropriate way to deal with conflict, followed by some kind of manual labour.  (Picking up litter was the popular choice when I was at school.)

All is well in Darrell’s universe.  Meanwhile, Matron tucks Sally in and spends a couple of paragraphs musing on Mr Rivers’ mad skillz:

What a deft, quick surgeon Darrell’s father was—only thirteen minutes to do the operation!

This is such a random, specific fact that I picture Blyton getting up from her typewriter and asking her husband how long he takes to remove an appendix.  Appendectomies these days are done by laparoscopy, and average about fifteen minutes.  The old fashioned kind could take a lot longer.  If Kenneth Darrell Waters was doing them in thirteen minutes, he must have been quite talented.  Or maybe that’s how fast he wished he could do them.

The next day, Mr and Mrs Hope arrive. (“Mr. Hope was a big burly man, looking anxious. Mrs. Hope was a delicate-looking woman with a sweet face.”)  Mrs Hope has already received Darrell’s letter.  Which was mailed off on a Sunday, mind.  You can’t get that kind of service from Australia Post these days.

Needless to say, they are concerned by Darrell’s account of Sally’s behaviour, which Ms Grayling appears to be hearing about for the first time, despite discussing it last night.  Editors are important!

To the surprise of absolutely no one (except Darrell), Sally is suffering from a serious case of sibling rivalry, exacerbated by the baby’s poor health taking up even more parental attention.

“She just changed, that’s all. She wasn’t merry and happy any more, she didn’t come to us and love us as she used to do…”

It’s also possible that Sally resented being talked about the way I talk about my cat.  “Come here and give me loves, nomcat.  No, not the bookshelf, me!  No, not with your teeth!”

“…and she seemed to hate the baby. I thought it would blow over. And then, when it didn’t, I and my husband thought it would be best if Sally came to boarding school, because I wasn’t very well at the time, and it was all I could do to look after the baby, without having to cope with Sally too. We did it for the best.”

It really isn’t clear how Sally had trouble seeing that. Miss Grayling lays down some common sense:

“Mrs Hope, this jealousy of a much younger child is very common and very natural, and you mustn’t blame Sally for it. Neither must you let it grow. If only you can make Sally feel you love her as much as ever you did it will be quite all right.”

It has to be said, leaving the baby behind to rush to Sally’s sickbed probably helps.

Darrell is summoned, and promises to help Sally see that having a little sister is great.  (I speak from experience: it is!)

I thought I had a dim memory that there’s an unauthorised sequel where Sally’s sister comes to Malory Towers, but I just searched around and can’t find it.

I did, however, discover that the authorised sequels by Pamela Cox feature one where Gwendoline runs a finishing school (!) that is somehow linked to Malory Towers (!!) so I guess I have no choice but to read those.

(There is also an unauthorised series of sequels in German, in which Darrell — or Dolly, in her translated form — returns to Malory Towers as the North Tower matron and eventually becomes headmistress.  As far as I know, these have never been translated into English.)

German edition.
I really dig the ’60s-via-the-’80s aesthetic on this one.

Chapter 18: Darrell and Sally For reasons that have everything to do with dramatic effect, Darrell gets to see Sally first, to tell her that her parents have arrived sans baby.

Sally is delighted, although she seems like a different, happier girl from the moment Darrell walks in.  (Waking up without an appendix will do that for a person.)  Sally has conveniently forgotten about Darrell shoving her, so all is forgiven and Darrell skips back to class.

An exchange straight out of year seven:

“Where have you been? You’ve been ages! You’ve missed half of maths, lucky pig.” “I’ve been to see Sally,” said Darrell, importantly. “Fibber! No one is allowed to see her yet,” said Irene. “Well, I have. And she says my father has cured her pain and made her much better,” said Darrell, proud to have such a father. “He came in the night. I saw him.” “Darrell Rivers, you’re making it all up,” said Alicia. “No, honestly, I’m not. It’s all true,” said Darrell. “I saw Mr. and Mrs. Hope too, and they’re seeing Sally now. They are staying the night with Miss Grayling and going back tomorrow.”

Of course, someone has to go and ruin it all.

“And has dear Sally found out yet whether she has a baby sister or not?” drawled Gwendoline.

1. Gwen, your Draco is showing.

2. How does Gwen even know about this, when the only person who knows is Darrell, who has just promised Sally she won’t tell the others.  Do we really think that Darrell has been gossiping with Gwen? (Editors! They’re still important!)

Sally is making a quick recovery:

Darrell was allowed to go and see Sally twice a day, long before anyone else was. Sally welcomed her eagerly. Sally was so different now—no longer a prim, closed-up little person, but a friendly, eager girl, ready to talk about her home and her dogs and her garden, asking Darrell about the lessons and the games, if Mam’zelle was cross, and what Miss Potts said, and whether Gwendoline and Mary-Lou were still friends.

Sadly, this has the side effect of making her a much less interesting character, but probably I should prioritise the mental health of fictional adolescents over my own entertainment. (AAAAAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA.)

The important thing is that Darrell finally has a special friend, and Sally is nice and clever and not a terrible person, ALICIA.

You’d think all this drama followed by a happy ending means that the book is almost finished.  But no, Blyton scorns such petty things as narrative structure!  These books are strictly episodic! (I think, actually, they become more structured as the series goes on.  Stay tuned, I guess.) Luckily, there is still the matter of Mary-Lou and Gwen.

Sally, being a nice person, ALICIA, suggests to Darrell that they should befriend Mary-Lou before Gwen eats her soul.  Accordingly, Mary-Lou comes to visit, and we get a Darrell-free scene as Mary-Lou laments to Sally that Gwendoline is always slamming Darrell to her, and accusing Darrell or Alicia of destroying Mary-Lou’s stuff.

Sherlock Sally is on the case, and later suggests to Darrell that Gwen herself is the one with a vendetta against Mary-Lou’s possessions. Darrell, the most straightforward girl in the universe (aside from the forthright and Scottish Jean, of course), is shocked by the suggestion.

“No one could be so awful as to pretend to be friends with someone and then to play rotten tricks on them all the time!” said Darrell. “It would be a disgusting thing to do.”

Sally, by contrast, is probably the most insightful person in the class.  She has Gwen summed up (“I think Gwendoline is disgusting!’ said Sally, “I never could bear her. A real double-faced person who doesn’t care tuppence for anyone in the world but herself.”) and helpfully points out to Darrell that she can’t shame Mary-Lou into having courage:

“How can we cure Mary-Lou? I’ve tried to buck her up and make her ashamed of herself, but it doesn’t seem to do any good.” “Can’t you see that she is ashamed of herself already?” said Sally unexpectedly. “But being ashamed doesn’t give her any courage. Nobody can give her pluck except her own self.”

THANK YOU, SALLY.  YOU MAY BE THE ONLY STUDENT IN THIS SCHOOL WITH ANY COMMON SENSE apart from Jean, of course, because Jean is wonderful.  And Scottish.

Unfortunately, Sally is still twelve, so she promises to come up with a scheme that will inspire Mary-Lou to become a proper, plucky schoolgirl.  Because what this situation needs is more manipulation, right? STAY TUNED.

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3 thoughts on “First Term at Malory Towers – Chapters 17 and 18

  1. You mean I DIDN’T make that up? Excellent. *heads to Kobo and/or library*

    ETA: The 3-in-1 editions of the sequels are only $5.something on Kobo, so really, I had to buy them.

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