Chapter Eight: How not to slap a young lady
After classes finished, when the rest of the school was heading off to enjoy their free time before prep started, Jo, Henri and I headed toward the art room.
“I truly don’t mind.” Henri was saying. “I can afford a little bit of time to help you two, and at least I didn’t get any black marks!”
“And you still get to go on the nature walk.” Jo said.
“It won’t be as fun without you two.”
“Oh, but you must enjoy it for us!” Jo said.
“And bring us back lots of specimens!” I said. “I’ve got years of collecting to catch up on.”
“I wish you’d brought your botany book with you.” Jo said. “I’d loved to have seen some of your specimens from back home.”
“I had two trunks as it was!” I said laughing.”
We entered the art room and took a moment to look around.
“It’s huge.” I said.
“We just need a system.” Jo looked around.
“I wouldn’t know where to begin. Do we use cloths and soap or something?” I asked
“Haven’t you ever cleaned anything before?” Jo sounded astonished.
“Well… does my face count?”
“Oh Bobbie!” Henri started laughing and Jo soon joined in.
“Well, have either of you ever cleaned anything before!” I didn’t see what they were laughing at.
“I cleaned my mirror once.” Henri offered. “There was an incident with mustard. Don’t ask.”
“Oh that’s pathetic!” Jo said.
“Well what have you cleaned?” Henri challenged her.
“Heaps of stuff! I have five brothers. Not one or two or three but FIVE!”
“What about four?” I teased her.
“No, not four, FIVE. Seriously, you grow up with five brothers and you’re going to end up cleaning something to stay out of trouble. Believe me, after five brothers mustard meets mirror is nothing! They’ve left us a basket of cleaning stuff over here.”
We turned to look at the basket when we heard the door open behind us. We swung around in unison and…
“Marjorie?” we all said.
“Have you got a message for us?” Jo asked with a frown.
“Um… no I—”
“Then what is it?”
“Are you alone? Is Mariah coming back to finish her work on my painting?”
“Oh give her a chance to speak Jo!” Henri said.
“Thanks.” Marjorie smiled at Henri. “I— well, I just came to, um, to see if you wanted any help.”
“With what?” Jo still had the frown on her face.
Marjorie swept her hand around the art room. “This.”
“Because I told you.” Henri hissed. “She’s actually pretty nice once you get to know her—”
“You want to help us with our punishment?” Jo ignored Henri.
“Look, only if you swear not to tell anyone else, all right? I just feel bad over what happened. And, technically, Roberta was the only one that slapped anybody.”
“Oh, thanks.” I said. “And, um, thanks for the offer…” I looked at Jo.
“Yes, thank you.” Jo said without the frown, if not quite with her usual warmth.
“And you promise not to tell?”
We all agreed.
We all gathered around the basket and Jo explained to us what all the different things were for. There were scrubbing brushes and sponges and jars of powder and cakes of hard, yellow soap.
Jo soon got us to work cleaning. I can’t say it was difficult, but it was time consuming.
We worked mostly in silence and soon were almost finished.
“Jo, do say.” Marjorie said tentatively as we worked. “What did you think I was here for?”
“Well, to be honest… well, I thought Mariah might have sent you to check we didn’t hurt her painting while we were in here.”
“Oh Jo… I’m sure that hasn’t even crossed Mariah’s mind!”
“Why, because what she did was a compete accident and she can’t see wrong in anybody?”
“No, I just mean that if she had thought you’d do that then she’d jolly well let you to get you into even more trouble. Goodness! Don’t tell her I said that! I just meant she wouldn’t want a confrontation, that’s all.”
“Sure that’s all.” Jo said sarcastically.
“You weren’t thinking of doing anything to her painting, were you?”
“Of course not!” Jo sounded shocked. “For a start that would be a horrible thing to do, and none of us are horrible I’ll have you know.”
“Except when our tempers get the better of us!” I joke.
“I must say, I’ve never seen anybody get slapped before.” Marjorie let out a small giggle. “I mean, if was very wrong and everything.”
“Would you really box her ears like Jo said?” Henri asked.
“You ask me now and I’ll say no.” I said. “But who knows what a temper could do.” I giggle.
“At least you wouldn’t spoil a perfectly good painting.” Jo said. We all looked at her painting. “I totally could have fixed that bowl.”
“I disagree.” Marjorie said.
“I know.” Jo said.
“She could have!” Henri offered.
“With about ten layers of paint. Sorry to say that in the time we have left tent layers of paint would just make a muddy mess. The better tactic would be to distract the eye from it all together.”
“What do you mean?” Henri asked.
“Doesn’t matter now.” Jo said. “It’s ruined.”
“I’m not so sure.” Marjorie took a few steps back and squinted her eyes and I took a glance around at the other paintings. Mariah’s, of course, was the best, with Henri’s coming in at a rather distant second. Marjorie’s painting was good, but while she had a better perspective and overall balance to her work than most of the others, she lacked in technique, her brush strokes were short and lacked confidence, and I noticed she already had the case of muddied colours here and there.
“I think it’s beyond saving.” I say.
“I agree.” Henri said.
“There’s a plant in Freedonia. Red fronds—”
“Tababen?” Jo asked, picking up. “Have you actually seen it? I’ve only seen drawings in books. The one with the white flower.”
“That’s the one. I’d hoped you’d know it. Can I try something? I mean, if it doesn’t work then the painting is ruined anyway, right?”
“Only, if anyone asks, you saw the plant in your botany book and it sparked an idea. Please? I had nothing to do with this.”
“If you can get me out of having to start over then my lips are sealed.”
Marjorie began confidently mixing up colours then before I knew it the red streak on Jo’s painting began to transform. Behind Jo’s small, off center, bowl a vase with red fronds spilling out began to emerge. Because she was painting most of it on the background the paint was dry and she could quickly build up strong colours. That wasn’t the only thing I noticed. Her brush strokes were longer and almost clumsily placed. I soon realised that if I didn’t know I couldn’t tell her work apart from Jo’s.
Henri and I soon got to work finishing the cleaning.
Jo stayed to watch her painting transform.
Henri and I finished cleaning just as Marjorie was putting down the paintbrush. There’d only been so much she could do with the initial red streak. It had become a frond spilling out in front of everything else. It was so close to the viewer it was slightly blurred around the edges which excused the distortion it had made when Mariah had pushed her brush through the layers of wet paint Jo had applied during the lesson.
“There.” Marjorie said. “Don’t touch it again until our next class and it should be fine for the next layer.”
“I— I— I don’t believe it.” Jo beamed at Marjorie then threw her arms around her and planted a kiss on her cheek. “Thank you so much! Oh, do say you’ll be friends with us! You are nice and lovely and everything that Henri said, you don’t need to be friends with Mariah and Valerie. Oh, say we’re friends!”
“Mariah and Valerie are my friends.” Marjorie said. “And please don’t fling your arms so, you’ll choke me!”
“But you’re nicer than they are.” Jo coaxed. “And you already share a room with Henri.”
“And we’ll outnumber them.” I said “How much trouble can two cause against four?”
“Henri, tell her she doesn’t need those two?”
“We’ve been friends for years.” Marjorie said. “I can’t let silly school girl spats get in the way of our friendship. I’m sure you all understand.”
“I don’t.” I said. “Mariah’s nasty. Why would you want to be friends with her?”
“She’s not that— my godness, is that the time? We shall have to simply fly to get to prep!”
Hurriedly we began packing up and were soon making our way out the door. Before we parted I had to ask Marjorie a question.
“If you can paint so well, then…” I tried to find a nice way to put it.
“I’ll never be top of class, I’m not that bright. Coming first in just art doesn’t mean much and… well…”
“Yes. She wouldn’t be happy.”
“No, I don’t mind. Being first is important to her. It’s not to me. What right do I have to upset her?” With this we turned our separate ways so no one would ever know Marjorie had spent her recess being a nice, pleasant normal schoolgirl. But it wasn’t her I was thinking of now, it was Mariah. And already a plan was forming in my mind. We don’t slap people here Marjorie had said. But there was more than one way to slap an errant schoolgirl. Maybe those years of reading school stories would come in use after all.