Second Form at Malory Towers – Chapters 11 and 12

Previously at Malory Towers:

  • Daphne has come to secretly like Mary-Lou
  • Mary-Lou quite openly adores Daphne
  • The two Mam’zelles are feuding
  • Belinda has been entertaining her peers with satirical illustrations of the Mam’zelles’ French civil war
  • Alicia suggested that Belinda “accidentally” leave her sketches where Jolly Mam’zelle Dupont can find them — but knows it will in fact be Bad Tempered Mam’zelle Rougier who’ll see the unflattering pictures

Chapter 11: A shock for the second form

We quickly learn that Alicia’s little scheme isn’t in fact an elaborate plot against her friends (and Gwen), but “would pay back Mam’zelle Rougier for many a sharp word she had given Alica!”

(Exclamation marks in narrative, sigh.)

And how dare Mam’zelle Rougier attempt to teach and discipline Alicia? Why, she isn’t even English!

Terrible writing alert:

Somebody came in at the door and went to the desk — but it wasn’t the Mam’zelle they had been expecting. It was, of course, the other one.

Imagine what Blyton could have achieved if she had taken the time to polish her work.

Mam’zelle tells the class, “Asseyez-vous, s’il vous plaît!”

That’s, “Sit down, if you please” for us Anglophones. But some of the girls are frozen in horror, knowing what she’s going to find.

Belinda stared beseechingly round. She caught Alicia’s satisfied grin and felt angry. So Alicia had known that Mam’zelle Rougier was coming instead of Mam’zelle Dupont — and had used her as a cat’s paw to play a very dangerous trick.

TRY AND GET OUT OF THIS ONE, ALICIA.

Of course, first Belinda also has to get out of it.

CUE DARRELL, SAVIOUR OF THE WORLD: seeing how scared Belinda is, Darrell gets up and reaches for the book, telling Mam’zelle she left it there accidentally.

She almost got away with it. But not quite. The girls stared breathlessly.

“Wait a moment,” said Mam’zelle Rougier. “Books left on the desk must not be removed without permission. What is this book?”

That seems like a terrible rule. Although I suppose it’s handy if a kid’s pulling their exercise book out from a pile of homework that hasn’t been marked yet.

Anyway, Darrell tells Mam’zelle that it’s a sketchbook. Rookie mistake, Darrell, people are all too keen to flip through someone’s sketchbook. Mam’zelle opens it up.

Her glance fell on the picture of herself stalking Mam’zelle Dupont with a dagger. She stared at it incredulously. There she was in the picture, tall, thin, bony — positively evil-looking — and with a dagger too!

She turned over a page. What! Here she was again — with a gun. Ah, no, this was too much! She turned another page and another. Always she saw herself there, unkindly caricatured, pursuing poor Mam’zelle Dupont, who had been given a most amiable look, and was obviously the heroine, whilst she, Mam’zelle Rougier, was the villain!

I hope Belinda drew at least one sketch featuring Mam’zelle Dupont as a fat little mouse and Mam’zelle Rougier as a cat.

These days, a kid could get expelled for drawing one teacher hunting the other with a gun. Without wishing to endorse artistic depictions of violence against French teachers, I’m not entirely convinced that’s progress.

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Mam’zelle is so fascinated and appalled by Belinda’s sketches that she almost forgets the girls are there. Belinda is having a quiet little panic:

Oh, why had she been such an idiot as to let Alicia lead her into this silly trap — just to make Alicia and Betty enjoy seeing her well ticked-off.

Enid. We need to talk about your sentence structure.

Anyway, it’s a sign of how Alicia’s credit with her classmates has fallen, that this is Belinda’s first interpretation. Last year, the consensus around the form was that Alicia could be mean, but not maliciously manipulative.

Mam’zelle looks over the class, “raking them with cold, angry eyes.”

“Who has done this? Who has committed the insult of placing this book beneath my eyes?”

I dunno, Mam’zelle, I’m not entirely sure that’s where the serious insult lies.

This time, it’s Sally who’s the hero:

Sally spoke up at once. “We’re all on it, Mam’zelle. But we didn’t mean you to see the book. We meant it for Mam’zelle Dupont. We didn’t know you had changed over lessons today.”

SALLY, THAT IS THE WORST THING YOU COULD POSSIBLY HAVE SAID!

This was unfortunately the worst possible thing that Sally could have said.

SEE?

Mam’zelle Rougier is unsurprisingly upset to learn that her students were planning to hang out with her colleague and have a good laugh at her expense. It’s one thing to know you’re disliked and feared — some teachers are into that — but this level of disrespect must have come as a shock.

But also, she thinks this is something that Mam’zelle Dupont routinely engages in:

“You meant her to laugh at me with you? Is that what she does behind my back? Ah, how glad I am to know how she behaves, this shameful Frenchwoman! She shall know of this!”

The two Mam’zelles are a whole Ask a Manager letter on their own.

Mam’zelle leaves to report the matter to Miss Grayling, leaving her horrified students behind. It genuinely hadn’t occurred to them that, by showing Belinda’s sketches to Mam’zelle Dupont, they would be insulting Mam’zelle Rougier — which is exactly the sort of misjudgement you make when you’re thirteen and think you’re hilarious.

Even Alicia is having second thoughts now, so she’s not a complete monster. But this doesn’t mean the girls are going to let her get away with things. Belinda calls her out, and Alicia “rather feebly” says she didn’t expect this reaction from Mam’zelle.

“Alicia, you’re a beast!” says Darrell, which is just about the worst thing an Enid Blyton character can call you. She’s about to lose her temper, but once again, Sally steps in, promising to deal with Alicia herself.

“Oh, will you?” said Alicia, spitefully. “Well, you won’t. If you think you’re going to tick me off, you’re not, Miss Head-of-the-Form, Good-girl-of-the-School, Sally Hope.”

Alicia sounds about eight years old here, but I think that’s nicely observed on Blyton’s part, that adolescents can veer wildly from maturity to childish name-calling.

Sally’s like, “Why do you insist on making my life difficult?” But then she dismisses Alicia, and announces that she and Belinda are going to see Miss Grayling themselves, to try and set matters right.

“You’ll put the whole blame on to me, of course!” said Alicia, scornfully. “I know you! Get Belinda out of trouble and me into it!”

She sounds an awful lot like Gwen here. (We don’t see Gwen in this scene, but let’s assume she’s eating it up with a spoon.)

“I shan’t say anything about you,” said Sally. “I’m not a sneak. But I’d think a lot better of you if you came along with us, and explained your part in the affair!”

“Not a sneak” is such an integral part of the ideal student personality that it’s one of the challenges in the Sorting Hat quiz on Pottermore.

(Hufflepuff. If you were wondering.)

“I don’t care what you think of me,” said Alicia … “I’m not going to tag along at your heals and say ‘Please, I did it!’ You’re not going to make me do anything I don’t want to do!”

“I’m not going to try,” said Sally.

SALLY HOPE: THE BADASSEST

Meanwhile, Miss Grayling has summoned the art teacher to identify the source of the caricatures. Her enthusiasm is delightful:

“Belinda Morris, of course!” she said, after a glance. “There’s no girl in the school as clever as she is at sketching. She’ll be a first-class artist one of these days. My word — these are clever!”

Needless to say, Mam’zelle disagrees:

“Clever! They are wicked, they are disrespectful, they are bad, bad, bad!”

Then Sally and Belinda make their very nervous entrance, and while Belinda admits she did the sketches, Sally takes responsibility on behalf of the class.

Miss Grayling is puzzled:

“But why should you picture Mam’zelle Rougier pursuing her friend in such a murderous manner?” asked the Head, looking through the book. “I don’t see why that should interest or amuse Mam’zelle Dupont.”

(I, personally, would be DEEPLY ENTERTAINED to feature in such art, but then, I am not a teacher. Or a Frenchwoman with a bad temper.)

Mam’zelle Rougier has to confess:

“We are not friends, Mam’zelle Dupont and I.”

AWKS.

Turns out Miss Grayling was unaware of the French Civil War taking place under her nose, and she asks some rather pointed questions about how this is affecting lessons. Mam’zelle Rougier begins to regret bringing the matter to Miss Grayling … “but why did they make her the villain and Mam’zelle Dupont the heroine? Ah, that was not nice!”

I just want to give Mam’zelle Rougier a hug.

Miss Grayling is also curious to know whether anyone knew who’d really be teaching the class that day. Why? I suppose we’re meant to think she has some sort of sixth sense, but we just found out that she had no idea about the feud between the Mam’zelles, which has been playing out in front of students and other teachers for weeks.

Sally doesn’t know how to answer, but Belinda manages to walk the fine line between Answering Honestly and Being A Sneak, admitting that someone knew, but not naming any names.

Then she uses the “it was just a joke” defence, albeit with a test of “I wouldn’t have hurt Mam’zelle Rougier’s feelings for anything.”

Miss Grayling agrees that it was “just a joke”, and then blames the two Mam’zelles for allowing the situation to develop. But there are still going to be consequences for the students. She sends the girls (and the art teacher) away so that she and Mam’zelle can decide on a punishment.

Outside, Belinda declares, “I’ll never draw anyone again!”

“Oh, yes you will!” says the art teacher, “but you’ll probably draw kinder pictures in future.”


Chapter 12: Mam’zelle Dupont puts things right

While all this drama is taking place in Miss Grayling’s office, Mam’zelle Dupont has happened to wander past the second form classroom and found it teacherless. (So … if she has nothing to do right now, why did the Mam’zelles even swap lessons? NOTHING ABOUT THIS MAKES SENSE, ENID!)

Faced with a room full of miserable adolescent girls, Mam’zelle D asks what has happened. Mary-Lou, naturally, bursts into tears.

Remember how Mam’zelle Dupont doesn’t have favourites? Just ask her?

Well:

Mary-Lou was one of her pets, for Mary-Lou could chatter French perfectly.

What an awful phrase, “chatter French”! And it’s so strange that I feel like I’d remember it if I’d come across it in one of my childhood readings — could it be a new addition via the modernisation process? Or have I spent my entire life repressing it?

Mary-Lou tells Mam’zelle everything, and naturally, Mam’zelle Dupont comes down heavily in support of Team Mam’zelle Rougier Can’t Take A Joke.

“I, myself, will go to see Miss Grayling. I will tell her one, two, three things about Mam’zelle Rougier! Ah-h-h!”

And off went Mam’zelle Dupont, scuttling along on her high heels like a harassed rabbit.

Like, unless she’s off to tell Miss Grayling that Mam’zelle Rougier is in fact a serial killer who cooks and eats English schoolgirls, I’m … not completely sure how Mam’zelle Dupont thinks she’s going to help.

[Steph interjects: so, the classroom is once again teacherless? I might have some questions about the quality of responsibility demonstrated by these teachers.]

[Liz: look, the pool doesn’t even have lifeguards or supervising teachers, it presumably predates personal injury lawsuits.]

Mam’zelle D arrives at Miss Grayling’s office just as Sally and Belinda return to the classroom.

“So you did split on me after all,” said Alicia, in disgust.

You can tell that Blyton doesn’t think much of Alicia here, because suddenly she’s using slang.

“We didn’t even mention your name,” said Belinda. “So you didn’t be afraid, Alicia.”

“I’m not afraid!” said Alicia. But she was. She hadn’t been in Miss Grayling’s good books lately and she knew it. She didn’t want to be hauled over the coals for this now. But she didn’t like the girls’ scornful glances.

We don’t find out why Alicia has been in the bad books lately — although, at a guess, I’d say that Miss Parker has noticed how Alicia is undermining Sally, which is the sort of thing the Grayling frowns upon.

Mam’zelle Dupont “swept into the Head’s sitting-room,” to the surprise of Miss Grayling, who had been getting the rundown on the French Civil War. Mam’zelle D goes straight for the sketchbook, and naturally offers a professional and appropriate reaction:

“Ah, lá, lá! This Belinda is a genius! Hah hah! — look at me here, Miss Grayling — did you ever see such a plump rabbit as I look? And oh, Mam’zelle Rougier, what are you doing with that dagger? It is marvellous, wonderful! But see here! I am to be poisoned!”

Dupont is genuinely surprised that the others aren’t laughing with her:

“As if my good friend Mam’zelle Rougier would do such a thing to me! Ah, we quarrel sometimes, she and I, but it matters nothing! We are two Frenchwomen together, n’est-ce pas, Mam’zelle Rougier, and we have much to put up with from these bad English girls!”

Things I suddenly need: boarding school fiction from the POV of the put-upon French mistress surrounded by oafish English women and girls.

Apparently it’s impossible to stay mad at Mam’zelle Dupont when she’s laughing at her own fictional murder, because Rougier is starting to thaw. Even Miss Grayling is amused, conceding that they are “really very funny” — although she still thinks some kind of punishment is in order.

But even Rougier is softening, conceding that she and Dupont “are a little to blame for all this — our stupid quarrel, you know — naturally it intrigues the girls–”

And Mam’zelle Dupont doesn’t want the girls to be punished at all: “Miss Grayling — we demand no punishment for the bad, bad girls! We will forgive them!”

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Mam’zelle Rougier’s a bit, “Whaddya mean, ‘we’?” But there’s no stopping Mam’zelle Dupont when she’s on a roll, and now she’s singlehandedly ending their argument as well:

“But now, we are friends, are we not, Mam’zelle Rougier?”

Mam’zelle Rougier could not say no to that. Swept away in spite of herself, she nodded. Mam’zelle Dupont gave her two sudden and exuberant kisses, one on each cheek. Miss Grayling was much amused.

FRENCH PEOPLE! SO IRRATIONAL AND EMOTIONAL, AMIRIGHT?

Mam’zelle Dupont suggests that, one day, when Belinda is a famous artist, she and Rougier will be proud to look at the sketches and remember this moment. Mam’zelle Rougier, on the other hand…

Mam’zelle Rougier said nothing to this. She was feeling that she had been made to do all kinds of things she hadn’t meant to do. But she couldn’t go back on what she had said now.

Just take it to the Ask A Manager open thread next Friday, Mam’zelle R. It’s what everyone else does.

The Mam’zelles return to the classroom arm in arm, to the amazement of the students they pass along the way.

Discipline, Dupont style:

“You have been bad girls. Very bad girls. Belinda, you let your pencil run away with you. I am shocked!”

She didn’t look shocked. Her beady black eyes twinkled.

I suspect that if we ever check Mam’zelle Rougier’s desk drawers, we’ll find whatever kind of liquor French people keep in hidden in their desks. (Brandy?)

The punishment, such as it is, is for the girls to pay better attention in French lessons. The girls promise they will do so, “and for the time being, at any rate, even Gwendoline and Daphne meant it!”

Finally, the matter of the two French plays. Mam’zelle D concedes that Mam’zelle R’s preferred casting can stand — that is, the two lead roles go to Darrell and Sally, instead of both being held by Daphne.

Daphne is torn between disappointment and relief, that now she won’t have to learn “all that French talk in the play she really didn’t know”. She decides to mingle hurt feelings with generosity:

So, looking rather stricken, she spoke to Mam’zelle. “It’s just as you like, Mam’zelle. I had been looking forward to swotting up my parts for you — but I hope I’m generous enough to give them up without a fuss!”

In a different universe, Daphne would have made a wonderful politician. As it is, her reward here is an invitation to read a French novel with Mam’zelle. And not Harry Potter à L’école des Sorciers, although I’ve heard that’s quite good for the intermediate French student.

Three things happen as a result of all these shenanigans:

  1. Alicia, knowing she didn’t come out of this looking very good, and also knowing that Darrell and Sally aren’t very impressed with her, is rather sulky. (This is an interesting twist on the first book, where it was Darrell seeking Alicia’s approval — but, of course, Alicia isn’t one to even admit that’s what she wants.)
  2. The two Mam’zelles are once again BFFs.
  3. Daphne’s role in the French plays is very minor, and she doesn’t even get to be fabulously beautiful.

Regarding this last, Gwen is — shall we say — not hugely sympathetic. But that’s just a segue into another subplot, as Forthright Jean turns up collecting money for the games subscription.

(What is a games subscription? I have no idea.)

Anyway, Gwen pays her share right away, but Daphne, for all her wealth, is short of cash. In fact (as Jean bluntly points out), she is already in debt to Gwen, and borrowed fifty pence from Jean herself for the church collection.

Needless to say, Blyton adheres to certain stereotypes regarding the Scots and money.

“Why don’t you keep a little book showing your debts?” asks Jean, The Very Soul Of Tact.

Daphne is annoyed that Little People are asking her for Little Amounts of Money. Why, she’ll be getting “pounds and pounds” on her birthday soon, and her uncle is sending her ten pounds. So Gwen covers her games sub, and Jean moves on to jingle the box of money under Cranky Ellen’s nose.

This is a mistake. Ellen is anxious and jumpy, as usual, and she tells Jean she’ll give her the money later.

“You said that last time,” said Jean, who was a most persistent person when it came to collecting money.

This kind of stereotyping is frankly offensive to Scots and Scot-descended people. Why, I’m of Scottish heritage myself, and am terrible with money! I am Appalled And Shocked.

[Stephanie, who is of course terribly Southeast Asian: I have never heard this stereotype. I learn things here every day!]

Daphne quietly wonders to Gwen whether Ellen actually has the money at all. “She won a scholarship here, but I don’t believe her people can really afford to keep her at a school like this!”

Um, Daphne, that is exactly the point of scholarships.

(But there is an issue with students getting scholarships to elite schools, then find themselves saddled with exorbitant costs for uniforms and excursions and compulsory MacBooks. I had a reduced fee scholarship to a Catholic girls school with a really excellent science program, but only attended for a year because my parents couldn’t pay for all the extraneous stuff. And it’s worse these days, because of the requirement that all students have a new laptop and particular software suites and whatnot.)

Anyway, Ellen doesn’t hear exactly what Daphne says, but she can tell it’s cruel. She ends the chapter by storming out, telling Daphne to “take that smile off your silly face!”

Next time: Ellen troubles.

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