It was the rule at St. Clare's that once a girl had been in the fifth form for two terms, she might have a study to share with a friend. The girls felt very grown up having studies of their own, where they could do their prep in peace, and have their supper if they didn't feel like joining the rest of their form in the big dining-hall. They could even have the first and second-formers in to do any little jobs they wanted doing, such as lighting fires, making tea and cleaning boots.
By the time the girls were this far through the school, most of them had made a particular friend, and thus had no difficulty in deciding how to share the studies. Margery Fenworthy and her great friend, Lucy Oriell, had met in the first form. The current smiling Margery, so different to the sulky, rude girl who'd come to St. Clare's determined to be just as difficult as everyone expected her to be, owed her miraculous transformation to Lucy and to the O'Sullivan twins, two of their closest friends who were now in the third form.
And as for Lucy, if not for Margery she might not even be at St. Clare's still, after her father's accident. Luckily Margery, not wanting to lose her first friend at the school, had had a brainwave. Even Miss Theobald, the stately Head Mistress of St. Clare's, had thought it an idea worth trying and she and the other mistresses had coached Lucy especially for a scholarship exam. Lucy's quick brains had earned her the scholarship and her place at St. Clare's - but in a higher form.
Fortunately for Lucy's newfound friendship, the reformed Margery chose to use her brains properly so that she, too, could be put up into the second form.
And now they were starting their final term together, for neither would be staying on for sixth form. Lucy had won a scholarship to the Birmingham Institute of Art and Design, and Margery was to attend Anstey College to train as a games mistress.
"I'm so glad you decided to stay on!" said Lucy, sinking down on to one of the chairs in their study. "It's been simply marvellous coming up through the school together!"
Margery had originally intended to leave at eighteen, but since Lucy was a year and a half younger, she hadn't liked the idea of saying goodbye to her friend so soon. "And here we are at last, very nearly at the top of the school," she said, handing Lucy a cup of tea. "I say, this is a fine study, isn't it?"
"One of the largest, I think, and with such a lovely view of the gardens." Lucy looked longingly towards the cupboard where she kept her sketchbook and other art supplies, but it would soon be dark, and there would not be enough time to draw the view from the window properly before they had to close the curtains. Still, there would be other chances. It was only the second day of term, after all.
"I know what you're thinking about," said Margery, grinning. "I can almost see you willing the pencils to leap out of the cupboard and fly to your hands."
Lucy grinned back. The two friends knew each other well. "Yes, and one of those sketchbooks you gave me for my birthday to go with it! I brought them all with me, you know. My old one was very nearly full."
Max Oriell, Lucy's artist father, had injured his right hand badly in a motor accident during her first term, leaving him unable to paint and the family with next to no money, for they'd never thought to save. He'd managed to start over using his left hand, but business was much slower than before and Lucy still had little money to spend on herself. Margery knew her friend wouldn't accept charity, so she cleverly chose the art supplies Lucy needed most as birthday and Christmas gifts.
"Perhaps you should stop filling all the pages with sketches of me, then?" suggested Margery, rather red in the face. "There must be heaps more interesting things to draw now we're back at school!"
"Rubbish!" said Lucy. "I wanted more practice drawing actions, and you're the most active person I know! Now we're back I can draw you playing lacrosse, and it's still warm enough for tennis and swimming too."
Margery was a tall, strong girl who excelled at sports; Lucy was good too, making them a formidable team on both the lacrosse field and the tennis court, but Margery was far and away the best in the form at games - possibly even the best in the school, for even the games captain couldn't defeat her in a match. She took pride in the strength of her body, yet somehow the idea of Lucy drawing her in her bathing costume, cutting through the water with strong, fast strokes, seemed a little embarrassing.
"You'll soon find yourself another subject," she said, helping herself to one of the biscuits Lucy's mother had made for her tuck box. "Anyway, you won't have much time for drawing for a while! Don't forget about the exam half-way through the term. We'll really have to work for it. I'm sure after a few weeks I'll be better at history, geography and maths than at games!"
Lucy shook her head of black curls and laughed merrily. "There's little enough chance of that!"
Both girls had good brains and soon settled down to the heavy demands made on them by the mistresses, who all promised to ease up on them after the exam - except Mam'zelle, of course! They pored over hours of prep in their study, drawing maps and learning lists of facts that they were sure they'd never need again. Both practised hard at games too, for they played lacrosse for the school, and Margery's prediction never came true.
"I can't wait until the exam's over," said Lucy, looking up from the map she'd been groaning over for the last ten minutes. "Do you think Miss Cornwallis would mind awfully if I painted in the detail on this map of South America? It feels like weeks since I last held a paintbrush!"
She hoped to raise a smile from Margery, who had been looking down in the mouth all afternoon, but Margery only flinched.
"Must you be in such a hurry for the term to be over?" she snapped.
Lucy set down her pencil and covered Margery's big strong hand with her little one. "Come on, old thing, tell me what's eating you. You haven't been yourself all afternoon. Got a headache?"
Margery didn't pull away, but she never did, not from Lucy. She didn't like to tell Lucy what was troubling her. It seemed like such a small, petty thing, and Margery always thought of herself as brave and strong like her father, ready to handle anything.
Anything but the end of term.
"Oh, it's nothing really," she said lightly, trying to sound cheerful. "But it's our final term at St. Clare's, and we're already a fortnight in. I want the exam to be over as much as anyone, of course, but I do so want to savour every last moment here!"
Margery was too straightforward and honest to tell a lie. She genuinely would miss all the lovely things about the school - but it would be Lucy she'd miss most of all. Even though they were to attend college in the same city, it wouldn't be the same. In school they saw each other every day. During the holidays, Margery often stayed with Lucy and helped out around the house. No one could replace her own splendid father, of course, but she felt rather as if the Oriell family were her family too. Lucy's kindly, loving mother was so much nicer to her than her horrid step-mother, who always found fault with her.
No, Margery didn't like the idea of being separated from her best friend, but there was no sense in being all soppy over it. "Daddy would tell me to buck up," she thought. "It will happen to all of us eventually - except the twins, I suppose, because they are sisters - and I'm jolly well not going to make Lucy feel bad simply because I'm being silly!"
Poor Margery! She didn't stop to think that Lucy might be harbouring similar feelings.
"Last half-term hols, last debate with the girls, last cream tea after a match," sighed Lucy. "I shall savour them too. What about shooting a dozen goals against Oakdene next week? That'll give us a memory to hold onto all right!"
"Only a dozen?" teased Margery. "Why stop there?" She felt slightly better now. It was hard to stay miserable when she had Lucy's undivided attention, Lucy's warm, friendly eyes meeting her own across the table and their hands still linked in the middle of their geography prep. Daringly, she moved her thumb out and over Lucy's, and then she heard the crumple of paper.
"Oh, blow." Lucy frowned at the creased map when she heard the noise. "Straight through the middle of Peru! I'll have to do it again."
But she didn't let go, not until Maria knocked on the door to return Margery's book.
They didn't score a dozen goals against Oakdene, of course - but they did shoot five between them! The Oakdene captain said she'd never seen a more coordinated pair of players. Whenever Margery or Lucy had the ball, the other was always there, waiting to catch it in her net and run swiftly down the field, only to fling it back to her partner when tackled.
"Unstoppable," said the Oakdene captain, and no one could disagree with her.
St. Clare's won the match easily and the fifth form treated Margery and Lucy to special chocolate cakes for their performance. It was a far cry from Margery's first ever match for the school, where no one had cheered for her even when she shot most of the goals herself. It felt so much nicer to have everyone's support.
After the opposing team returned home and the post-match tea was cleared away, Margery and Lucy returned to their dormitory to freshen up. It was a Saturday and they had the rest of the day to themselves.
"Don't let's spend the rest of our Saturday indoors," begged Lucy. "I know we've got those history chapters to read, and the first two acts of that French play too, but it's such a glorious afternoon. Let's take our books and read outside for a while. There's still plenty of time before the sun goes down."
"I couldn't bear to sit indoors after running around outside so much either," agreed Margery. "It feels stifling, somehow."
"Let me just brush my hair and we'll go." Lucy quickly ran her hairbrush through her dark curls, but winced when it caught on a snag.
"The wind's made a proper mess of it," said Margery, taking a look. "You've got tangles all down the back."
Lucy held out the brush. "Fix it for me, will you? I'll never get the angle right."
Margery took it, uncertain how best to tackle another girl's hair. She had plenty of practice in grooming horses, but people were another matter altogether. In the end, she told Lucy to sit down so that she could stand behind her, and Lucy perched on the corner of her bed.
She had beautiful hair, Margery thought. Thick and dark and as full of life as Lucy herself. She drew the brush carefully through the curls, not wanting to hurt her friend by being rough. Once or twice she came upon a knot so tangled that she had to use her fingers to unravel it, and there Margery's dexterity served her well. She smoothed out the knots, letting her hands linger rather longer than necessary in Lucy's hair, but it felt so soft against her skin.
Lucy sighed contentedly and leaned back, so that Margery had to stop her with a hand on her shoulder. "Careful, or you'll fall off the edge!" she warned.
"Sorry," said Lucy, "but I felt so relaxed I rather thought I'd have a nap! You've done a splendid job, Margery." She touched a hand to her hair to check. "There, that's much better. I must've looked a proper fright before!"
"I didn't really do much," said Margery, both pleased and embarrassed by the compliment. "Let's go collect our books, shall we?"
Nothing would have given her more pleasure than to remain in their dormitory, perhaps to ask Lucy to return the favour and enjoy the time alone with her friend while she still could. But Margery was a practical girl, and she knew they would not expect to remain undisturbed for long. One of their form was bound to come in for some little thing.
That was the trouble with being at a boarding school, in her opinion. The lack of privacy. At least now they had a study to share, instead of being crammed into a big common room with the rest of the form. Not that Margery didn't like the rest of the girls, of course, but she enjoyed being able to talk to Lucy in private, the way they could during the holidays.
But there were some things she couldn't say, even when they were alone.
The girls took their schoolbooks outside to sit beneath the trees. Although they tried their hardest to concentrate on the texts, somehow neither felt terribly inclined to study.
"I must've read this page five times already," said Lucy. "I'm sure Napoleon only died once!"
"He did in my history book," said Margery, totally straight-faced. "Perhaps yours has mistakes in it?"
Lucy punched her friend lightly on the arm. "I think this one is yours, actually! Mine doesn't have the corner bent like this."
"We must have mixed them up in the study yesterday." Margery held up her book, intending to trade, but a slip of paper fell out from between the pages. She picked it up, thinking Lucy must have been using it as a bookmark.
Lucy often drew pictures to mark her place in textbooks; Margery was expecting to see a sketch of Miss Lewis, the history mistress. Instead she found a sketch of herself, all done up in a tunic and cloak. It was an excellent likeness, for Lucy had inherited her father's talent, and Margery had no difficulty in recognising her own image.
"Boudica," explained Lucy. "I know it's the wrong time period but it seemed to fit you."
"Don't you ever get fed up with drawing me?" asked Margery. "I don't change!"
"Oh but you do, my girl, you do!" Lucy took the bookmark back, turned it over, and drew a quick sketch on the blank side. "This is what you looked like when you first came to St. Clare's, so sullen and stand-offish you might as well have had a thundercloud over your head!"
"I suppose I have changed a great deal since then," admitted Margery. "I wouldn't have liked me back then, either."
"You didn't give anyone a chance to like you." Lucy smiled warmly. "I'm so glad saving Erica gave the 'real' Margery a chance to show her stuff. I'm not at all sure I could stand to share a study with you, otherwise."
Privately, Margery thought she wouldn't even have lasted this long at St. Clare's, had it not been for the fire that had turned her into the school's heroine. She would have been expelled long ago.
"I'm glad it happened too. I'd never have thought of you going in for the scholarship, otherwise, and we neither of us would be here now." Margery remembered it clearly, rushing straight to Miss Theobald to share her brilliant idea. She, Margery Fenworthy, had managed to persuade the mistresses to consider the plan that had kept Lucy on at St. Clare's.
"Shame there's nothing I can do this time," she thought. "I told Miss Theobald that we all loved Lucy - and it's true - but no amount of love can stop the clock from ticking. I'll just have to make the most of the time we've got left together."
"I wouldn't even have thought of trying for it myself!" said Lucy. "Not against girls two forms higher. But you didn't doubt for a moment that I could do it, did you?"
"I honestly don't think there's anything you can't do," said Margery earnestly. It wasn't flattery, either - even in her weaker areas, such as maths, Lucy's hard work and clever brain helped her pull through.
Lucy leaned around her side of the tree to rest her head against Margery's shoulder. "You are a dear, but I shall become quite swollen-headed with you saying things like that. Can you feel that swelling? That's your fault," she teased.
Margery patted her friend's head, pretending to check for signs of swelling. "Gracious!" she exclaimed. "You'll never fit back through the door with a head this size."
"Then we'll just have to stay out here forever, won't we?"
Sit out in the sunshine, just the two of them, together forever? Impossible, of course, but Margery liked the idea - and so did Lucy, it seemed, for she fell asleep like that, with her head on Margery's shoulder and her history book in her lap. Pat and Isabel found them an hour later, when Margery was almost asleep herself.
"I've never seen you looking so peaceful," Pat told her later. "Life in the fifth form must be much easier than I thought!"
Life in the fifth form was anything but easy, as Pat was to find out for herself eventually, but the exam didn't worry Margery. She and Lucy didn't need to pass, though they were determined to do well, and once the long week of writing papers was over, the whole form was able to breathe a sigh of relief. Even Mam'zelle, despite her threats, gave the girls less prep to do, and the overall mood was far lighter than it had been for weeks - for everyone except Margery.
"Anyone would think you'd been told you could never climb a rope again!" said Lucy, faced with Margery's pensive expression for the third evening in a row. "Won't you smile for me? This will be a pretty miserable picture, otherwise."
"You're drawing me again?"
Lucy twirled her pencil with a flourish. "I thought I'd draw one for your father, since he's being nice enough to take us out for half-term next weekend. It's a pity my parents can't come too, but..." She shrugged. "It's an expensive trip to make for just a few days."
"You'll see them at the end of term," said Margery comfortingly. As much as she hated the idea of their final term coming to an close, she didn't want to bring Lucy down too. "I'm sure Daddy would love to have another one of your drawings. He did so like that one you drew of the two of us last Christmas."
"You look a lot like him," said Lucy. "I like drawing the two of you together. You're both so strong and determined, you look as though you could accomplish absolutely anything."
Margery loved hearing that she was like her father, who she looked up to more than anyone else in the world. The other girls had fathers who took them to museums and art galleries; her father took her mountaineering! Her stepmother never went with them on those trips and it was just Margery and her father battling against the elements, testing their strength and skills on the mountains. All kinds of physical activity made her feel alive, and now that the exam was over she would have much more free time to be able to go out for games.
But being with Lucy made her feel alive too. She was so bright and lively that no one could help feeling good around her, especially when she smiled. Margery envied Lucy's future fellow art students, who would get to spend every day with her.
Before the picture was quite finished, Lucy had to go speak to Miss Cornwallis. She left the sketchbook on the table. It was one of the set Margery had bought her for her birthday, and Margery was surprised to see how close it was to being all used up. She flipped idly through the pages, expecting to see the usual mix of characters from around the school, for Lucy enjoyed capturing her friends' likenesses on paper and had drawn everyone she knew at one time or another.
Margery was in for a surprise! Her own image stared back at her from every single used page. Here she was, dressed for tennis with a racquet held in her hand. There she was, laughing at something off the page with her mouth open wide and stars dancing in her eyes. There was even one of her asleep, using her arms for a pillow on the grass.
"You looked so comfortable, I couldn't help myself," said Lucy, making Margery drop the sketchbook. She hadn't heard the other girl return. "You don't mind, do you?"
"N-no, but..." Margery felt torn. She felt flattered that Lucy considered her such a good subject, but on the other hand, it seemed rather strange to have an entire book dedicated to her alone. Not creepy, exactly, because it was Lucy, but not normal, either.
"Here." Lucy picked up the sketchbook from where Margery had dropped it. "You can have it if you like. I have more."
"More?" Margery looked towards the cupboard where Lucy kept her art supplies. "You don't mean to say your other books are filled with pictures of me too?"
"Only one more," said Lucy. "I do draw other things too, you know! Miss Walker would have a fit if I handed in nothing but pictures of you all term."
"But why?" Margery didn't understand. "What's so interesting about me? There are much prettier girls in the form, and some real stately beauties in the sixth form."
"I don't want to have a book full of pretty girls, no matter how nice they are to look at," said Lucy, her cheeks flushing pink. "I want a book full of happy memories with my best friend - who is much better looking than she thinks she is, by the way - so that when I'm missing her, I can turn the pages and remember every precious moment we spent together."
Margery was terribly pleased to hear that Lucy felt as strongly about their friendship as she did. "Oh, Lucy, I am going to miss you awfully when we leave St. Clare's!" she said. "It won't be the same, not seeing you every day. I wish I had a book of pictures of you, too."
She didn't go in much for any kind of soppiness, the way some of the girls in the school mooned over older girls or mistresses, but it didn't seem like that with Lucy. She didn't have to work for Lucy's attention or strive to earn a compliment from her - Lucy gave both these things freely, and Margery returned them with a happy heart. They were both well-liked in the school by the girls and the staff alike, but there was no one there who meant as much to Margery as Lucy Oriell, and Margery didn't want to imagine life without her.
"I could draw you some?" offered Lucy. "Here's one of the two of us together." She grinned. "I had to examine myself in the mirror to draw my bit. I think Maria thought I'd come over all vain, or something."
Lucy was about as vain as Margery was weak - not at all! But something in Margery was weak for Lucy, in ways she couldn't quite understand yet when she saw the picture Lucy had drawn of the two of them together. It was small in relation to the rest of the sketches, only their heads and shoulders on display, but they were looking at each other with such tenderness that Margery felt almost embarrassed.
"I didn't show these to anyone else," said Lucy, quietly. "I thought the others might think it strange. But you don't, do you?"
Margery shook her head. "If I had your talent, I'd have a book of your pictures too," she confessed. "I don't like to think about what will happen after the hols, when we leave St. Clare's for good. You know I'm no coward, Lucy, but-"
"Me neither!" cried Lucy. "But everything will be different then. We'll be on our own, in a strange city, learning all sorts of new things. It will be an adventure - one I wish I could share with you!"
Lucy's outburst convinced Margery to share the idea she'd been nursing since before the exam. It seemed to be an impossible dream, then, but since Lucy clearly felt as strongly as she herself did, perhaps they could make it work after all.
"Listen," she said. "I've an idea, of sorts. I didn't want to say anything, because, well, I thought you might not be interested. You know I've never had a real friend before and I thought maybe once we'd left school, that would be it."
Lucy looped her arm through Margery's. "Not if I have anything to say about it," she said firmly. "You made it possible for me to stay here, and now I'm afraid you're stuck with me!"
"Well, what about us looking for a flat together in Birmingham?" said Margery, hesitantly. "I've looked up our colleges and the travelling wouldn't be too bad if we found somewhere between them. It would save you money too, if we split the costs."
Lucy's arm slipped from Margery's to clutch her in a full-fledged hug, nearly unseating them both. "Margery! What a marvellous idea! Then we shall see each other every day. Oh, I am lucky to have a friend like you!"
Margery flushed with pleasure. How wonderful it would be to share a home with Lucy, somewhere they could make a space for themselves away from the eyes of the world. College could be as beastly as it liked, if only she knew she could go home at the end of the day and see Lucy.
"And then you won't need to draw me anymore," she said. "I'll always be there!"
Lucy's eyes gleamed with mischief. "Oh no," she said. "It just means I can draw you in different ways!"