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Chapter 1 - Putting Things Off


It was when life got back to normal, after the mocks, that Rebecca Mason made the startling discovery. It was as she was sorting out her bedside locker, intending to write to her French pen friend at long last. She noticed that someone had been going through her things, her private letters included. Some of them had been put back in the wrong envelopes!

It was such a shock. It was despicable. Bedside lockers were sacrosanct; the place where all the Fifths on the top floor of Court House kept their special things. Rebecca was no exception.

There was her diary, her photos and bits of jewellery and, of course, all her letters. From her parents in Saudi Arabia; from her boy friend, Robbie Anderson; and from Emmanuelle. Those were particularly special, for a good reason. Over the months, Rebecca had confided secret thoughts to her French pen friend that were difficult to speak out loud, even to her five friends at Trebizon. Emmanuelle would respond with advice and with secrets of her own. For example, they each longed not to be an only child but to have a sister. And there were other things, too. They wrote great letters to each other.

Writing at a safe distance to somebody you’d never met (and in French!) was like having your own private agony aunt. Emmanuelle, always writing back in English, confessed to exactly the same feeling. Of course, the relationship was going to change soon. They were going to meet, at last. A school exchange to Paris was fixed up for the end of the Easter holidays. Rebecca would meet her kindred spirit across the sea, face to face.

Meanwhile, she really hated the idea of someone unknown reading Emmanuelle’s letters. She was to recall the business of the history Time Chart, too. Had she got a secret enemy’? But, if so, who and why?

It was going to be a tough mystery for Rebecca’s crowd at Trebizon to solve.

‘Looks like Action Committee’s weirdest one yet,’ Tish Anderson would say.

All this was a little way off. In the meantime, sorting out her locker and writing to Emmanuelle was no more than a worry at the back of Rebecca’s mind. It would have to wait. She had plunged for ten days into mock GCSE exams and nothing else mattered. She was anxious to get good passes but she knew she hadn’t done enough work. It wasn’t laziness. Right from the start of the course, which began in the Fourth Year, she’d been driving herself in a different direction. She’d been much too involved with tennis (and at quite a high level) to work as hard as the others.

Now — she’d just come through a crisis. Over this spring half-term, she’d had to make the biggest decision of her life. That decision was now behind her. But if she wanted to stay on at Trebizon with her friends, she had to get accepted for Trebizon’s Sixth Form next year. That meant she had to pass well in her GCSE exams this summer, especially as the Advanced Level course she wanted to do was said to be very difficult.

The first mock exam, a maths paper on Friday, had not gone well.

The next, on Monday morning, was the second maths paper. That was even worse.

‘Cheer up, Rebecca!’ said Tish Anderson, at lunch time, a great grin on her face.

The six, as Rebecca and her friends were known, had wandered along to the dining hall after the second maths, discussing the paper as they went. Now they sat round the end of their usual table, eating lunch. Chill March winds rattled against the big windows. There was fish today, fresh local whiting caught in Trebizon Bay, dipped in breadcrumbs, served with lemon and parsley and crisp brown chips. They were all eating hungrily except for Rebecca who was playing around with her food and looking despondent.

‘It may never happen, Becky,’ said Sue Murdoch.

‘It already has!’ moaned Rebecca.

‘Really bad then?’ said Margot Lawrence, sympathetically.

‘Did you do any of the last question?’ asked Sally Elphinstone, hopefully. ‘The one with 10 marks?’

‘No, Elf, I did not,’ sighed Rebecca.

‘It was a horrid paper,’ announced Mara Leonodis. The Greek girl looked at Rebecca with warm, dark brown eyes and fellow feeling. They were both in Division 2 for maths. The other four were in Division 1, Tish brilliant enough to be doing a special paper as well. ‘It was a disgusting, horrible, disgraceful and diabolical paper!’

‘Hear, hear!’ said Rebecca. She gave a weak smile at last.

‘For goodness sake eat your chips, Rebeck!’ said Tish, with another groan. ‘Then you’ll feel human again!’ Tish enjoyed exams; she revelled in them. Her short dark curly hair was gleaming and bouncy. While the others had been poring over maths revision before breakfast, she’d been singing in the shower and washing her hair. But now she looked at Rebecca and Mara affectionately and said: ‘They make the mocks hard. They do it on purpose. It’s all a pretence. They make them harder than the actual exams, just to give you a fright!’

‘Then I’m frightened!’ replied Rebecca, laughing for the first time.

‘No, I’m serious. D’you know something, when Helen was here, she failed the mock — and then when she did the real exam she got an A.’

‘Horrible Anderson family,’ commented Mara. ‘They are disgusting.’

‘Did she really?’ asked Rebecca eagerly. Tish’s elder sister had been at Trebizon some years earlier. ‘Is that the honest truth?’

‘Of course it’s true!’ said Sue. ‘Moyra Milton told me just the same thing. She did much better in all the proper exams last summer, much better than she did in the mocks.’

Mara smiled at Rebecca.

‘You hear that? Then there is hope for us yet.’ Rebecca nodded. She bent her head and attended to her chips, suddenly feeling more interested in them.

Mara looked at her protectively. She would never tell the others but she knew how worried Rebecca had been about the maths exams. Because of last Thursday night, the night before the first maths paper. Mara had opened her eyes in the middle of the night and noticed a crack of light shining brightly along the top of her partition wall. It looked as though Rebecca, in the cubie next door, had forgotten to turn her bedside light off! She’d slipped out of bed and walked round to Rebecca’s cubicle, intending to nip in, switch off the light for her. But then, as she approached, she was sure she heard movements, the sound of book pages being riffled. Rebecca was still awake! Rebecca was still swotting in there!

‘Rebecca!’ she’d whispered through the curtain. ‘Mrs Barry will kill you if she finds out!’

Silence now. Except for the sound of deep, regular breathing.

Parting the curtains, Mara had peeped in. Rebecca appeared to be fast asleep.

With a shake of her head, Mara had tiptoed in and switched off Rebecca’s bedside light. Then departed. Poor Rebecca! Pretending to be asleep! So anguished about tomorrow’s maths exam; revising her book in the middle of the night; not wanting any of her friends to know! Well, let her pretend to be asleep if that’s what she wanted. Mara hadn’t been fooled.

Now she said:

‘Aren’t we lucky, Rebecca! We haven’t got an exam this afternoon. We can revise for English literature. You must help me! You are much better than me!’

‘And me!’ said Elf, digging into some more chips. ‘You lucky things,’ said Margot. The rest of them had a physics exam after lunch. ‘Do some revision for me!’

‘We’ll try!’ said Rebecca, brightening up. ‘Let’s work in the library, shall we, Mara? It’s good there.’

‘Let us do that, yes!’ replied Mara, with pleasure.

‘Are you going back to Court first, Rebecca?’ asked Sue, suddenly. ‘Robbie’s been nagging Justy to get me to bring some photo.’ Justin Thomas was a friend of Robbie’s at Garth College. He and Sue were devoted and apparently would be meeting in town after Sue’s physics exam. ‘Robbie says you forgot to post it. Can you put it on my locker or somewhere, for me to take’? It’ll save you a stamp, anyway.’

Rebecca gave a guilty start. Robbie’s photo! She hadn’t seen Robbie lately but when he’d phoned her last week he’d asked for a photo back. Just a spare, passport-sized one that she’d liked and cadged off him once. He’d now told her he needed it back to get some I.D. card or other. The trouble was —

‘It’s — er — gone,’ said Rebecca, looking embarrassed.

To France, in fact. Last term. She’d quite forgotten, when he rang. She’d sent it to Emmanuelle. But she couldn’t tell the others that even before she’d explained to Robbie. She’d been putting off phoning him, hoping she might have another photo the right size though that was unlikely.

‘Oh dear,’ said Sue.

‘What does it matter?’ asked Tish, noticing Rebecca’s unease and promptly taking her side. She laughed. ‘Tell Justy my brother’s a pain. What’s wrong with the photo machine in Woollies, anyway?’

‘Broken down,’ replied Sue.

‘Has it?’ said Rebecca. ‘Oh, what a nuisance.’ She made a face. ‘Look, Sue. Tell Justy to tell Robbie that I’m trying to look something out and I’ll ring him soon. I promise. Okay?’

As she set off for the boarding house with Mara, to pick up their English set books, the Greek girl said —

‘Don’t look so worried! Robbie will forgive you!’

Rebecca laughed. She’d been thinking about something else.

‘I should hope he would,’ she commented. ‘Seeing he gave it to me, in the first place.’

But her mind was elsewhere, not on the photo at all. It had simply reminded her of something else she’d been putting off. . .

She owed Emmanuelle a letter. It was going to be embarrassing but it had to be done. She had to let Emmanuelle know the truth!

However this, at least, could be put off for a bit longer. She simply hadn’t got the time just now. Not to compose a letter in French!

She’d write to Emmanuelle after the mocks.

To order your copy of Secret Letters at Trebizon see our online shop, visit our Edinburgh bookshop or one of our Stockists.