The young seventeen-year-old girl named Olive Whackitt woke up. Her room was dark with the curtains drawn, but Olive could see a very thin line of sunlight through the crack. She sat up and looked around her. Olive was in the same bedroom that she had arrived home to six years ago, when the War ended. The room was as tiny and grey as ever, aside from a few new features that Olive had added in: a shelf with a safe where she liked to keep all of her private things, which her mother could not interfere with when she came in to do her daily cleaning. There were several carefully-illustrated diagrams, drawn by Mary Maggott, stuck to the walls, which showed the various mischief plots that the girls had undertaken over the past few months, as well as what they planned to do in the future. And beside these, some very detailed drawings, by the same Mary Maggott, of the faces of some of the more attractive young boys in the neighbourhood; created on Olive’s request. However, the walls were still peeling with ugly grey paint, and the only large accessories in the room were still the wardrobe, desk and small iron bed frame that made her room look like it belonged to a hospital patient.
Olive slowly sat up from the hard mattress, where she’d grown used to the feel of things poking her in the night, and carefully listened. Even though her window was completely closed due to Olive’s mother’s obsessive fear of harmful fumes drifting in during the night, Olive could hear the occasional passing automobile, people calling to one another, and the general sound of urban activity. Olive could not hear anything else from inside the flat, so she imagined her mother was still asleep.
She went over to the window, pulled back the curtains, and, gazing out at her usual view of a brick wall, smiled to herself. It was a fresh, crisp morning in early February. Opening the window and sticking out her head, Olive could see that the sky was a clear shade of pale blue, and the beams of the sun were shining on the tops of the grey buildings.
Right on cue, the window in the middle of the opposite brick wall opened, and the sharp face of Mary Maggott appeared. “Hello, Olive!” she cried. She looked equally as cheerful as her friend. “What are we doing today? Putting notes through people’s letterboxes? Stalking Johnny Ricks? Putting buckets of water on the doorframes of Mr. Asinine’s shop? I could get Edith and Alice round; they’d come with us!”
Olive thought. Each suggestion, one of which they did at least once a week with the generally unwilling assistance of their two closest friends, sounded very tempting on a beautiful day like this, but when Olive observed the freshness of the morning, she couldn’t help thinking that she would like to do something different. Something new…so she looked around for inspiration.
Gazing with difficulty around the side of the vast brick wall, she caught her usual glimpse of the city street beyond the snicket. A few people walked down the pavement, and Olive saw more buildings. That wasn’t very interesting; she had already thrown eggs at the windows of the people who usually inhabited those buildings. That was when she caught sight of the end of a shining car, parked against the side of the road. Olive stared at it, and a wide grin spread over her face.
“You know, Mary,” Olive said slowly. “I don’t feel like doing any of those things today. I want to do something really fresh and new.”
“Oh! What?” Mary said. “Are we going to spit on people’s heads as they walk past?”
“No,” said Olive tiredly. Honestly, who did Mary think she was? “Look at that, over there, on the street.”
Mary squinted around the corner. “What?”
Olive sighed a little too loudly. “The car, stupid,” she said. “I feel like going for a nice, relaxing drive in the February sun!”
Mary stared at Olive, barely knowing where to begin asking questions. “But….Olive, that’s not our car,” she said finally.
“Yes, I know,” said Olive.
“And we don’t have the keys.”
“Yes, I know.”
“And we don’t have anyone to drive us.”
“Yes, I know.”
“No, I said yes, I know.”
“Oh. So…how are we going to go for a relaxing drive? I thought your mum was scared of cars?”
“She is. She’s not going to drive us. I am!”
“What? But….I just said that you don’t know how to drive! You’ve never driven in your life, Olive! How are you going to drive? How…”
“Mary, shut up!” Olive snapped irritably. “I’ve seen it done loads of time; it’s easy enough, believe me.”
“How can you have seen it done loads of times? When was the last time you went in a car?”
“Oh, for Heavens’ sake, Mary! We always see people driving by when we go out. I see through the windows. How hard can it be? All you do is switch the thing on and then steer it, don’t you?”
“Well, I think so, but….”
“Oh, try and be exciting for once, Mary!” Olive said. She was tired of all this: every time she had a good idea, Mary had to spoil it by being all cautious.
“Sorry, Olive,” Mary whispered. She glanced back at the car. “Why do you want to go for a drive, anyway?”
“Oh, it just came to me suddenly,” Olive said excitedly, gazing in the same direction. “Inspiration, you know. It just felt like a good idea on a nice day like this. Anyway, we’re going to drive sooner or later, aren’t we? I know I am, anyway. Why not now?”
“Are you sure we’re allowed to drive?” Mary asked uncertainly.
“Oh, of course,” said Olive carelessly. She thought so, anyway. “Think about it, Mary, it’ll be easy!”
“Oh, all right,” Mary said, as though that had settled the whole thing. “So…we walk across the road and steal the car when no one’s looking?”
“I don’t think so,” Olive said slowly. “Remember those key things that drivers are always using? They don’t stay in the car when it’s parked. I expect we’ll need one of those.”
There was a short silence. Mary watched Olive closely. Olive seemed to think and think very hard – something she always did when she was plotting a crackpot scheme – until suddenly a sunny smile spread across her face like the sun coming out from behind a cloud, and she snapped her fingers excitedly.
“I’ve got it!” Olive shouted.
Mary suddenly grinned. “Really? You’ve got the key?” she cried.
Olive didn’t even bother to reply to this ridiculous exclamation. “Mary, do you remember when we were evacuated?” she asked.
“Oh….yes,” Mary said. She’d been trying to forget about it. A few painful phrases, like ‘bull’, ‘Baxter’, ‘stew’ and ‘Christmas play’, came to mind. She paused. “What about it?”
“When we were evacuated, we lived with the Rowlings children. Remember that, Mary?”
Mary thought hard. “Ah! Yes! Of course, Albert and Priscilla Rowlings.”
Olive smiled again. “Nice, weren’t they?”
Mary wasn’t sure that ‘nice’ was the right word, but she wasn’t going to contradict Olive and risk starting an argument when she just wanted to know what this new scheme was. What did Olive want with the Rowlings, anyway? Mary had thought that the Whinging brothers had been slightly nicer than them, and Olive never mentioned Frederick or Augustus or Adolphus anymore, even when she received long letters with each of their names written messily at the bottom, perhaps with a few blades of grass or an oddly-shaped leaf in the envelope, and once even a blurry photograph of the three boys and two dull-looking people whom the girls imagined were their parents standing in neat formation on either side of a wall with particularly thick mortar (accordingly, each member of the family looked completely thrilled). Because of this, Mary had far more memories, most of them fairly pleasant, of the Whinging brothers. When she thought of Albert and Priscilla Rowlings, she only had a fuzzy image of a tall blonde boy and a tall blonde girl, both rather pale and thin, peering down at Mary with scorn. She couldn’t remember them smiling apart from when they had been excitedly discussing, just after the War ended, what they would do when they got back to Rowlings Manor. Conclusively, Mary didn’t have a clue why Olive would connect the idea of going for a relaxing drive with the memory of the two miserable children with whom they had been evacuated.
As Mary gave no immediate answer, Olive continued, explaining: “Don’t you remember Priscilla talking about Rowlings Manor, Mary?”
“Vaguely,” Mary said uncertainly.
“Right. Do you happen to remember anything about cars?”
Mary blinked, suddenly remembering. ‘We’ll go everywhere in one of the cars’; Priscilla had said, the day that the children had discovered that the War was over. How could she have forgotten? Priscilla was always going on about Rowlings Manor. And always, buried somewhere in the conversation, was that same reference to the family’s whole fleet of motor-cars.
Rowlings Manor was a tall, wide, stone building, yellow in colour with pillars running along the front. Large windows, lined with white lace curtains, were seen all over the structure, and the number of them suggested that the mansion had at least six floors. The house itself was set almost half a kilometre in from the main road, and beyond a black-and-gold gateway, where there sat a richly-dressed guard, Olive and Mary could see ordered patches of bright-green grass, surrounding a drive of brilliant yellow gravel. The house was so vast that the girls couldn’t see much beyond it, but they caught a glimpse of a group of neatly pruned bushes and flowerbeds which made up the start of the famous Rowlings gardens. There were several tall trees which still didn’t have many leaves, but promised to be just as imposing.
The sentry narrowed his eyes suspiciously at Olive and Mary as they plodded exhaustedly up the exterior drive to the huge gate. Watson, as was his name, imagined that these people had the wrong house. Why would such scruffy-looking girls be looking to see any member of the Rowlings family?
“Excuse me, ladies,” the sentry called patronisingly. Ladies, indeed! “This is the residence of the Rowlings family.”
“Oh, yes! We know!” Olive panted, jogging up to the gate. “We’re here to see Albert or Priscilla Rowlings.”
Watson narrowed his eyes again. “I’m afraid that Lord Rowlings is working at present,” he said. “If you wish to see him, you should make an appointment with him at the main offices of Snooty’s aristocratic laundry service.”
What was he doing? Goodness, when Lord Rowlings heard about this, he’d be in big trouble. How could he lead these two towards Snooty’s aristocratic laundry service? There must have been some mistake.
Olive drew herself up to her full height. “That shan’t be necessary,” she announced. “Is Priscilla at home? We can talk to her. It’s about something we’d like to borrow, you see.”
“I see,” said Watson, confused. “Is Miss Rowlings expecting you?”
“No, she isn’t,” said Olive. “It’s a surprise. You see, when Priscilla was evacuated to the countryside in the War, we were living in the same house as her. We were the best of friends, but she hasn’t seen us in years, and she’ll be absolutely thrilled, believe me, when she sees us on the doorstep.”
“I see,” said Watson. At least, if these girls were lying, Peeks the footman would deal with them. “I suppose that you can go in…”
“Thank you,” said Olive grandly.
As the tall gates slowly swung open, Olive grabbed Mary by the sleeve, and they both trotted into the drive and very quickly across the lawn in the middle instead of round it.
“I say, ladies, would you mind not walking on the grass, please?” Watson called over sternly.
Mary glanced back at him, looking nervous, and made a move towards the golden gravel of the drive, but Olive, completely ignoring Watson, pulled her back, and they carried on walking across the lawn and around the large, ornate fountain in the middle. Mary couldn’t help wondering why Olive didn’t just march straight through that as well.
Just when they were nearly at the massive front door, which stood about ten feet tall between two marble pillars, it swung open straight away to reveal a smartly-dressed footman standing in a bright, wide hallway with richly-carpeted floors, side furniture of the fanciest style imaginable and two enormous staircases of shining mahogany in the background.
“Can I help you?” the butler asked, a little suspiciously. He glanced down disapprovingly at the girls, studying their clothes, their body language and the looks on the faces even more closely than Watson had done. “Was Watson at the gate? He let you in?”
“Yes, of course,” Olive said grandly. “My name is Olive Whackitt, and this is Mary Maggott. We’re here to see Miss Priscilla Rowlings. Visit, you know. It’s a surprise; that’s why she doesn’t know we’re coming. She’ll be so amazed to see us. I don’t suppose you could fetch her for us? We’re in a bit of a hurry, you see. It took us all day to get here, and we don’t want the day to end too quickly!”
Olive’s face broke into a wide grin. The footman stared back at her, looking a bit unconvinced. “Wait there,” he ordered, before walking a short way back into the house and into another room.
Olive looked at Mary. Mary shrugged. “What a rude footman!” she hissed. “Olive, are you sure we’re doing the right thing? I mean, it’ll be dark soon…”
“Oh, of course,” Olive said airily. “We’ll be in that car before you know it, you’ll see. Where’s that stupid footman, butler, whatever he is?”
Mary tiredly pointed to the door that the footman had disappeared into. Olive grinned, and slowly, and with meaning, she lifted her right foot over the threshold of the house and stepped into the hall.
“Olive!” Mary hissed, panicked. She looked over her shoulder to make sure that Watson wasn’t looking. She saw a cross-looking guard peering through what looked like a pair of binoculars. She turned back to her friend. “Olive, no! Look, your shoes!”
Olive’s aged, dirty shoes were filthy from the long tramp down the exterior drive to the gateway after they had left the taxicab, and as she stepped into the house, her footwear made painfully-obvious dark smears on the expensive carpet.
“Oh, shut up, Mary!” Olive hissed as loudly as she dared. “They’ll never notice.”
Mary peered in through the door at the rest of the spotless hall. She was pretty sure that the mark from Olive’s shoes would be picked up pretty quickly. They must have had about a thousand maids all working day and night to keep up that level of cleanliness…even the flat that Olive’s mother owned wasn’t as clean as this…
Mary didn’t dare to follow Olive over the threshold, but Olive excitedly crept up to the door behind which the footman had disappeared into, and pressed her ear against the gap in the door, hoping that none of the other staff would see her.
“….don’t know what Lord Rowlings would say; you know how he feels about people like that,” was the first thing that Olive heard. Shrugging to herself, she wondered who the footman was talking about.
“What do they want with Miss Priscilla, anyway? Not money, again?” This voice was deeper than that of the footman.
“Maybe. But these two must be doubly stupid. Couldn’t even make their arguments convincing! I mean, Olive Whackitt and Mary Maggott! Have you ever heard such ridiculous made-up names? They might have used ‘Jones’ or ‘Smith’ at least! What was Watson thinking, letting them in?”
“He must have had a good reason. Don’t you think we should give them a chance? We can explain it all to Miss Priscilla.”
“But she asked us specifically not to disturb her. She said she’s tired out from afternoon tea; she’s lying on her sofa again.”
“Just tell her that there’s someone to see her. You never know, she might just know them.”
“What, Miss Priscilla Rowlings, knowing people like that?”
“Well, think about it; she might have been doing some charity work or something. Perhaps she asked the particularly poor ones to come over for some reason.”
There was a short silence. Even to Olive, behind the door, it was clear that the footman and whoever else was in there must have been perfectly aware that Miss Priscilla Rowlings didn’t think nearly enough of commoners to even consider for a moment giving any of them any money.
So for an answer, the footman apparently got up, and Olive heard his footsteps approaching the door behind which she was crouching. Olive gasped, straightened up and ran as fast as she could back to the front door. She jumped over the threshold, and landed back neatly beside a baffled-looking Mary just as the footman opened the door, following by a much taller, larger man whom Mary at least presumed was some form of butler.
“Miss Rowlings will be here to see you in just a few moments, ladies,” said the large butler, eyeing the two girls with suspicion.
The two men turned and began to walk down the hall, and Olive began to hurriedly relay the conversation she had just heard to Mary, who listened with disgust, especially at the part where the footman had presumed that ‘Maggott’ was a made-up name.
It was actually rather a long wait; at least fifteen minutes. Olive stood on the porch, tapping her foot impatiently with her arms folded, wondering why Priscilla was taking so long simply getting up from a sofa somewhere and walking to the door. Then it struck her that this was a very large house. Maybe for Priscilla, walking to the front door from wherever her sofa stood was like going on a long hike. In fact, when Olive imagined living in a house like this, she could almost understand why Priscilla would spend such a long time lolling about on sofas.
Eventually a group of people appeared. Olive and Mary’s gaze was instantly focused on one person only in the scene: a very tall, very thin, very sallow-looking young woman with lank, dead-straight blonde hair hanging down her back tip-toeing down the hall, closely followed by the footman and the butler, as well as approximately six other women; her friends and companions. Olive and Mary stared up at her as she approached them, a look of extreme confusion and almost horror on her face. Olive was smirking, raising her hand in a sort of salute, whilst Mary just stared, wondering whether this was the right thing to do, once again.
Priscilla, on the other hand, was having thoughts of her own. Who were these dirty, stupid-looking young girls just standing there, and what were they doing on the doorstep of Rowlings Manor, her family’s ancestral home? Priscilla thought that she had made it clear to Peeks that she didn’t want beggars coming here. When she got rid of them she’d have to give him a piece of her mind, and that stupid Watson for letting them in the gate. In fact, perhaps she’d tell Bertie to hire some new staff. If people weren’t going to be respectful to her wishes, what would become of her? And with her nerves, as well! Priscilla envisioned thousands of common city Londoners shoving their way through the gate; banging on the door with their rough, dirt-encrusted hands; weighing her down with their demands for money or whatever it was that they’d come to ask of her…
But Priscilla was just shaping her mouth up, ready to bark out the whiney, intimidating ‘go away!’ that she usually used to the servants when she wanted them out of the room, when she got a closer look at the girls’ appearances. They certainly had the appearance of typical poor Londoners: they hadn’t styled their hair properly, or bothered to put on any make-up, and their outfits were simply awful to behold, but Priscilla felt sure that she recognised their faces from somewhere. Suddenly she could hear the voice of that funny girl with the short, thick blonde hair and confident expression, and she had definitely seen the other; the nicer looking one with wide eyes and long, messy dark locks, chewing her fingernails and looking anxiously into her face on a previous occasion. Priscilla didn’t think that it was too recently.
“Olive Whackitt and Mary Maggott,” Priscilla stammered, and then, at the sound of their names, everything came back to her. Priscilla looked momentarily surprised, but did her best to turn her mouth into a sneer.
Mary Maggott’s face suddenly turned into that same delighted grin that Priscilla could remember from when she was fifteen, just about to return from the countryside.
“Olive, Olive, she remembers us!” Mary cried happily, grabbing her friend’s arm. “Priscilla remembers us!”
“Yes, I can hear her, Mary,” said Olive carelessly. She smiled awkwardly at Priscilla. “Hello, Priscilla. This is a nice surprise! Fancy seeing you after all these years!”
Priscilla blinked, grimacing. “Well….you did come through my gates, and arrive at my house… I didn’t think you’d be too surprised at seeing me.”
“Well, yes, I suppose,” Olive said cheerfully. “Priscilla, haven’t you noticed that it’s a really nice day? A beautiful day, in fact? So beautiful that it makes you want to throw your arms out and dance?”
Mary and Priscilla both blinked. Mary, for one, was struggling to imagine Priscilla dancing with her arms thrown out, especially this new twenty-one-year-old Priscilla. She’d probably complain that her clothes were getting dirty from dust motes in the air, or say that she was tired after a second. Priscilla, on the other hand, was thinking that of course, she had no time for such vulgar activities. It was still winter, anyway. These girls evidently wanted her to catch her death of cold.
Anyway, Priscilla, looking around as though only just realising that the outside world existed, didn’t tend to notice the weather very much.
“I suppose it is a nice day,” Priscilla muttered coldly. “Might I ask what it is to you, Olive? Only, I’m not really accustomed to having people I haven’t seen in over six years coming round to tell me that it’s a nice day. Especially not commoners! Oh, just think; if Bertie were here…”
“Of course it’s a nice day!” Olive interrupted cheerfully. “But listen, Priscilla, we’ve actually got a favour to ask you.”
“Oh yes? What is it?” Priscilla demanded, raising an eyebrow. “Let me guess: money?”
“No, don’t be silly!” Olive laughed. “Actually, Priscilla, Mary and I have quite enough money as it is. I’m doing really well in…in…”
“Professional stamp-collecting,” Mary offered.
Olive glared at her. “Professional stamp-collecting,” she said through her teeth. “And Mary is, well, doing brilliantly in….”
“Machine gun look-aftering,” Mary said proudly.
“Yes, that,” Olive said, rolling her eyes. “But the thing is, Priscilla, Mary and I haven’t got round to buying our own car yet, and seeing as it’s such a beautiful, gorgeous February day, and owing to the fact that you’re such a generous, giving person, Mary and I thought we’d just ask whether we could borrow one of your cars for the afternoon. Only I know you have a whole fleet of them…”
“Afternoon?” said Priscilla, frowning. She squinted at the glaring winter sun, which was now quite low in the sky. “But it’s almost evening. You’re rather late, don’t you think, for that sort of thing?”
“Well, we could go for a relaxing evening drive!” Olive said. “Come on, Priscilla, we came all the way over here specially!”
Priscilla smirked. “And what do you two know about driving. How old are you, anyway?”
“Eighteen, both of us,” Olive said quickly.
Priscilla narrowed her eyes. “Really?” she said. “I always remembered you being younger than twelve or whatever when we left the countryside.”
“See, she does know us!” Mary said triumphantly to the footman.
“Oh, you’re probably imagining things!” said Olive, ignoring Mary. “It really was a very long time ago now, wasn’t it? All our memories are probably a bit on the fuzzy side.”
Priscilla narrowed her eyes again. “I see,” she said. “So, Olive and Mary, are you supposing that I’m immediately going to loan you one of my cars? How do I know that you won’t just drive off and never come back? What makes me know that I can trust you with it?”
Olive thought about this for a minute. She knew that Priscilla would never really come close to trusting her and Mary, particularly after all those nasty tricks they’d played on her whilst they were all living in the countryside…but Olive knew how persuasive she could be at times.
“We are your dear friends, Priscilla,” said Olive sweetly. “We grew up together, during the War, and everyone knows that back then friendships were everything, and the best was brought out in all of us. We slept in the same room, went to the same school…well, until that Christmas play, anyway. We ate at the same table, lived under the same rules – if you could call any of them rules. I would trust you with my life, Priscilla. I see you as my guardian angel. And think what happiness you would bring me to just lend me a car for an evening. Think about the joy that you’d be giving me.”
Priscilla just stared. She remembered this charming tactic of Olive’s from their time in the countryside…it was all coming back to her. Mostly this had led her into trouble, and Priscilla had a sudden urge to slam the door in Olive’s face. Or rather, she had a sudden urge to order Peeks to slam the door in Olive’s face, to save her from possibly breaking a nail. However, Priscilla was not quite as harsh as her brother when it came to this sort of thing, and more importantly, she was already beginning to feel the exhaustion from standing in this stupid doorway for so long, not to mention the chill that was coming from the door. And the dust…Priscilla had forgotten about the dust. She was rather like Olive’s mother in this respect. Priscilla peered past Olive and Mary into the spotless front gardens of the Rowlings’ estate, and she imagined dust motes and germs, everywhere, threatening to poison her body, to wind their way into her expensive clothes and contaminate them forever, to work their way into her lungs and heart…
“Fine!” Priscilla hissed eventually, taking a small step back from the open door and looking around fearfully. This was just too stressful. She’d have to give in. “Take the car and go, Olive. Just go. But have it back here in an hour; I’m warning you.”
Olive blinked. That was easy, she thought. Olive had imagined that Priscilla would take a lot more bribing than that. She hadn’t even needed to beg.
“Thanks, Prissy!” Olive squealed excitedly. She very nearly jumped forward and hugged Priscilla, but thought better of it. “We’ll be back in an hour, I promise!”
With that, Olive bounded back towards the drive towards the promising-looking shed almost hidden in a little group of trees, the setting sun still glaring ferociously down as she and Mary prepared their expedition.
Twenty minutes later, Olive and Mary were speeding along a quiet country lane in a bright red, spotless, shiny car that one of the Rowlings’ servants had reluctantly handed them the keys to. He had looked more than a little apprehensive when he heard the reluctant, worrying noises made by the car as Olive tried to start it up as smoothly as possible, but before he could say anything about it or even ask Olive whether she could actually drive, Olive had pressed her foot down on some strange pedal thing in her footwell and the car had shot off down the drive at what seemed like hundreds of miles an hour, and before anything more could be said they were gone.
“Isn’t this fun?” Olive yelled at Mary over the screaming wind. “This must be what it would be like to sit on top of a train!”
Mary nodded silently. Sitting on top of a moving train had been one of Olive’s all-time fantasies ever since they had first been on a train. Mary was personally feeling a little nauseous due to Olive’s reckless driving. Olive actually appeared to favour neither side of the road, swerving from left to right quite often, and sometimes narrowly missing passing squirrels or pheasants. Also, a few miles back, they had almost run over a couple of farm workers, who had stared down at the Rowlings’ number plate and then up at the girls’ faces in astonishment before the car had whirled around the next corner. Mary stared up at the blurry darkness of the trees above their heads and willed herself not to be sick.
“Olive, could you slow down a little?” Mary shouted over the wind. “I don’t feel very well! Also I think part of the car fell off when you hit that gate! Do you know where we are, anyway?”
“Of course I know where we are, stupid!” Olive yelled, shaking her head.
Olive did know where they were, of course. They were in a lane not far from Rowlings Manor. True, they’d been driving at a very high speed for the last few minutes and had taken a number of strange turnings, but Olive was confident that she’d be able to make her way back perfectly any time she felt like it. Mary needed to learn to be a little more adventurous.
So they drove on. And on. Olive was having a great time experimenting with the car’s various gears. Mary, however, cast several anxious looks out at the horizon, where the frowning, wintry sun was gradually descending below the hills. It was beginning to get noticeably darker, and Mary was worrying about the time they’d get back.
About fifteen minutes later, Olive finally made a sensible suggestion. “Mary,” she said, squinting forward at the ever-darkening road. “Where’s that map I told you to get out of your mum’s cupboard?”
“Right here!” said Mary proudly, showing the thick, folded piece of paper to Olive. “It’s a pretty big one, too. It must show where we are.”
“Get it out, then,” Olive said, swerving to avoid another rabbit. She frowned. “I must say, I’m not that sure where I’m going now…”
Mary sighed and shook her head, but said nothing more. She concentrated her efforts on trying to comprehend the map. Squinting at the tiny green and blue lines, she tried to find some sort of clue as to where Rowlings Manor might be.
“Where are we, Mary?” Olive demanded after about three seconds.
“I don’t know yet,” Mary said. She eyed the rest of the map, which consisted of fold upon fold of paper, which she began to unfold. “Gosh, this map really is huge. Look, Olive, it’s bigger than me!”
“Yes, that’s lovely!” Olive shouted over the wind, not taking her eyes off the road. “What does it say about where we are?”
“Oh, well, I’m not quite sure,” Mary mumbled. She frowned, gazing at the vast pasture of tiny, squiggly, multi-coloured lines and meaningless words. “It doesn’t seem to have a reference or anything…”
“Well, hurry up and find one!” Olive snapped. “I can hardly see the road anymore; it’s getting really dark.”
“Sorry, sorry,” muttered Mary, who was also having trouble concentrating in the dimming light. She continued to unfold the map, which now covered her in several layers like an enormous crackly blanket, and there still appeared to be more than half of it to unfold. “Gosh, Olive, this really is a huge map…”
“I don’t care about the size of the stupid map!” Olive shouted. She began to speed up again in her agitation. “Just tell where we are!”
“All right, all right, I’m trying!” Mary shouted, sifting hurriedly through the folds and folds of paper littering her lap, and the whole of the front seat, whilst still hanging onto the folds to stop them blowing in the wind. “Olive, slow down, you’re making my hair blow in my face. It’s so windy…”
“Yes, yes!” Olive yelled, almost shouting in impatience. The car sped up even more. “Where are we? Look at the whole thing through again! I want to get back. Today’s the day that Mum cleans my shelf. I don’t want her finding that dead rat.”
At that point, Mary let go of one end of the map. The whole piece of paper, which Olive thought must be at least one hundred feet long, went everywhere. Mary yelped as a large section of it slapped her in her face in the rushing wind. Olive stared at Mary, wondering whether she were trying to use it as a kite or something. But Olive had to admit that even Mary, in this sort of situation, wasn’t that stupid. So it was a few seconds later that Olive realised that Mary was actually trying to read it. And Olive, who couldn’t bear to slow the car down for even one second, shrieked at Mary to put it away.
“You said you needed it!” Mary yelled over the sound of the roaring wind. “I thought you said you didn’t know where you were going!”
“I can’t see the road!” Olive screamed. “Put it away! I’ll look in a minute!”
Mary attempted to grab the other end of the map, which was now flying behind the car and skimming over the tall hedges, but the movement caused her to accidentally let go of another massive section of the map, so even more billowing layers of crackling paper flew around in all directions. Mary stared frantically at the map, which now was covering the whole car as well as dragging along behind it for several yards. Many layers of paper printed with little blue and green lines surrounded by words covered the windscreen. Olive could not believe that this was happening.
“Mary!” she screeched. “Put it away!”
“I’m trying!” Mary yelled. “It’s too big!”
The folds of paper were now completely covering Olive’s view. Staring frantically at the paper in front of her, she actually started to read. Then she gasped.
“Mary!” she shrieked. “This is a map of France!”
“What?” Mary yelped. She grabbed a section of the map and stared at it. “Where….”
“There!” Olive screamed, stabbing at the area of the paper which said ‘Complete map of France’ in huge bold letters. “You brought the wrong map! I told you to get the map of London from inside my mum’s cupboard!”
“But how could I bring the wrong map?” Mary shouted. “It was the only one in there!”
Mary stared at Olive. Olive took her eyes away from the tiny crack in the map’s papers showing the road to stare at Mary. Olive thought that she could remember her mother sending her out to buy that map of London. But how had she ended up with a map of France? Surely all the maps at that stall had been the same…but now the two of them were in the middle of nowhere in the dark, not knowing where to go, Olive going at dozens of miles per hour whilst barely knowing how to drive. The map, as well as being completely unhelpful, was now entirely covering the car, and the last little space which Olive could peep through to see the rushing countryside and blurry road in front of her disappeared.
It took at least three hours for the girls to get back to Rowlings Manor. After the car had crashed into the chestnut tree, the front had become all crumpled and Olive found that she was unable to reverse back onto the road. Thick black smoke poured out from the bonnet, and when Olive got Mary to look at the complicated machinery inside, Mary hadn’t been able to make any sense of it whatsoever. In fact, due to the disconcerting noises the car had begun to make, she’d probably made things even worse. The girls decided that they simply had to admit defeat after trying for about half an hour. They had sat miserably side by side on a stile whilst the sky darkened even more and Olive accused Mary of trying to distract her on purpose and causing the car to crash, until another car came past. About an hour and a half later, the helpful owners of the second car had summoned a small truck to come and tow the squashed wreck of a car back to Rowlings Manor whilst Olive and Mary sat in the front and Olive flirted with the driver.
“I can’t BELIEVE this!” roared Albert Rowlings when he saw the remains of his fifth-favourite motor car. He turned, shaking, to Priscilla. “Why did you let them borrow my fifth-favourite motor car?”
“Bertie….Bertie….please don’t shout at me like that,” Priscilla squeaked, cowering and putting one white, long-fingered hand delicately to her forehead as though she was about to faint. Several of her maids rushed forward with smelling salts and wet cloths. “You know that I cannot stand shouting. Oh, you’ve no idea what it does to my nerves…”
Bertie still stood, trembling with anger, for a few seconds before realising that risking the destruction of his sister’s fragile nerves probably was not necessary. Instead he turned to the trio of nervous-looking servants dithering by the front door to the manor.
“Watson! Fraser! Perkins! What on earth do you think you were playing at?” he bellowed at them, shaking both fists in the air. “WHY would you let people like that (he pointed one pale, ring-covered finger at Olive and Mary) borrow one of our motor cars? Can’t you see that they’re not our sort of people? You complete and utter idiots; after all these years do you still not understand that Miss Priscilla clearly has a tendency to follow her heart rather than her head?”
There was a sudden splutter from the assembly of servants gathered around the ruined car. Albert looked around furiously, but in the dim light he could not find the source of the noise “If I ever find out who that was, the person in question shall be dismissed immediately,” he growled. There was silence, except for the sound of the quaking laundry maid showering pins all over the ground.
“As for you two!” Albert hissed, turning to Olive and Mary. “If either of you ever, for the rest of your puny, common little lives, come near Rowlings Manor ever again, the police shall be fetched immediately. Is that quite understood?”
“Oh, Bertie,” Olive said exasperatedly, folding her arms and smiling up at Albert like he was a disobedient child. “Don’t be like that! You remember Mary and me, don’t you? We’re old friends. I know you’re pleased to see us, and you don’t need to put on an act for your servants. I’m sure they have plenty of respect for you already.”
There were a couple more splutters from the group of assembled servants. Albert turned to glare at them fiercely before turning back to Olive and opening his mouth to tell her exactly how he felt about seeing her and Mary again, but before he could say anything Olive started to speak again.
“We had such a wonderful time in the country, didn’t we?” Olive continued sweetly. “All of us together with Mr. and Mrs. Baxter. And….ooh, we’ll never forget that charming Christmas play, will we? Do you remember, Albert? The one where you played the third shepherd?”
Albert stiffened. His face grew even redder, and he leant in close to Olive for a moment. “Don’t even think about mentioning that rotten old play!” he hissed angrily. “That was your doing, Olive! And don’t even think about mentioning that ridiculous badly-planned cast! I should never have been the shepherd, and you know it!”
“Fine, fine,” said Olive casually, examining one of her nails. “Just lift our lifetime ban from Rowlings Manor and we’ll be off.”
“What?” Albert said. “Why? What do you want with Rowlings Manor?”
“Well, let’s just say that there can be numerous advantages of having rich, intelligent, charming friends such as yourself, Bertie.”
Albert’s face began to fade back to its original pasty hue, and a hint of a cold smile appeared on his lips. “Yes, well, I suppose….very good….I’ll lift the ban….just please don’t ask to borrow one of our motor cars ever again, all right?”
“Of course. The shepherd business will be forgotten,” Olive lied. “Mary and I will go.”
Albert nodded uncertainly. The girls were meanwhile walking rather quickly towards the gate of Rowlings Manor, where there was no Watson patrolling to prevent them from leaving. But suddenly Albert’s gaze drifted back to the destroyed car on the drive, and then back to the two retreating girls. “Wait! What’s happening with the payments for the repair of the car?”
“Run, Mary!” Olive yelled.
The girls broke into a swift sprint. They tore across the grass, once again showing little care for upholding the pristine condition of the Rowlings’ lawn. Within seconds they were through the gate and out of sight, but their panicked screams could still be heard.
There was a short silence. “Shall I run after them, Sir?” Watson asked immediately, poising to run as he looked towards Albert for instruction.
“Don’t bother,” Albert muttered darkly. “I doubt they have any real money anyway. I’ll just take some money from Snooty’s.”
The servants all eyed one another exasperatedly, but turned back towards the house, whilst three or four of the maids ran over to help Priscilla, who was complaining of feeling a slight chill, back into the house.
“That was a complete waste of time!” Olive growled, accidentally upsetting a wooden stool as she stomped back into her own home very late that night.
Olive’s mother squealed and darted over to pick up the stool and give the area of floor where it had fallen a quick wipe. She could see that Olive was angry about something, so she chose not to ask where she’d been for the past thirteen hours.
Olive crossly turned off the radio, where a newsman was spouting some rubbish about the king having died, and stomped into her room. As she slammed the door, the entire building seemed to shake, and Olive could hear her mother shrieking and diving to pick up some things in the next room. Olive ignored everything else that was going on; she pulled back her curtains so that she wouldn’t have to talk to that stupid Mary, whose stupid idea she was sure this had been in the first place, and threw herself face-down on her bed.
Why did she have such a worthless, silly little life? Why couldn’t she live in a massive mansion like Albert and Priscilla Rowlings, and own an entire fleet of motor cars? She was just as deserving. In fact, she was a thousand times more deserving. But here she was, stuck in this stupid, ugly little room with only a dim-witted wimp of a best friend for company. What was she supposed to do with her life now?
Olive miserably turned over and gazed at the drawings all over her bedroom wall. The more attractive-looking boys in the neighbourhood stared back at her. Olive shook her head. Those boys wouldn’t find her interesting, of course. Well, not unless they knew what she was really like. People often misunderstood Olive; all her teachers at school, most other girls, most boys…but when you got to know Olive properly, she was a lovely person. Mary knew that more than anyone.
Olive suddenly sat up straight and stared at the walls, on which Mary’s sketches were drawn. Those boys knew her destructive side too well to ever like her. If only there were boys in the world who were a little bit like Mary. Trusting. Loyal. Too stupid to ever question Olive’s authority.
Then Olive remembered something. Ironically, it was something else from her days as an evacuee. The Whinging brothers. Of course.
Olive had never been too keen on Frederick, Augustus and Adolphus. They were very stupid, of course, with interests dull enough to bore Johnny Ricks from down the road, but at least they had had a little respect for her. At least they would do absolutely anything that she said, especially Olive’s old ally Frederick.
Perhaps things weren’t going to turn out too badly after all.
One rainy day about a week later, Frederick Ernest William Whinging received an unexpected and surprising letter:
Olive and I were just sitting in my room
thinking about guns collecting stamps the other day when Olive suddenly realised that you, Augustus and Adolphus are the best stamp-collectors in the history of the universe. When you remember what good friends we were when we were imprisoned evacuated together, it’s hardly surprising really. I also remember with admiration what other interests you had, like measuring blades of grass and the width of mortar between bricks. I must say that that kind of totally boring fascinating thing is Olive’s absolute element. She especially would be delighted if you’d agree to meet up with us sometime soon. Olive and I would be so happy.
A huge, bright smile spread across seventeen-year-old Frederick’s face, and he hurriedly went into the next room, where his brothers, also aged seventeen and almost identical to him (though not quite as overweight), were examining their numerous stamp albums. Frederick was delighted by this letter, and he looked forward to telling Olive and Mary about some of his and his brothers’ more recent interests, some of which were even more interesting than the ones that Olive had mentioned in her letter. After the recent accession of Queen Elizabeth II, the boys had busied themselves with analysing the type of ermine worn by every British monarch at their coronations, and trying to predict what sort the Queen would wear at hers.
Frederick waved the letter in front of each of his brothers’ faces in turn. “Look, Augustus, Adolphus!” he squealed excitedly. “Olive and Mary!”
“Who?” said Augustus, frowning.
“Olive and Mary!” Frederick repeated incredulously. “You know, the two girls we lived with when we were evacuated! Those awfully nice ones! Mary was that funny little one with the interest in guns, and Olive was the tremendously funny one who was always pretending to insult everyone!”
“Oh, yes!” the two other boys chorused in unison, identical grins spreading across their faces so that all three brothers were smiling in remembrance.
“And now they want to see us again so they can join in with our stamp-collecting and everything!” said Frederick. “I knew they’d see how interesting our kind of thing is one day! I knew we’d change the world some day!”
“Change the world?” said Adolphus confusedly.
“Well, sort of,” said Frederick, shrugging. “I mean, if we’ve converted someone like Olive Whackitt, what’s stopping us? Seems from the letter like she’s the one who’s most interested.”
“Hmmm,” said Augustus. “Anyway, what did the letter say?”
“Olive and Mary have realised that we’re the best at stamp-collecting in the history of the universe (the brothers all swelled with pride), and they want to see us some time to talk about it. Seems nice, doesn’t it?”
“It does,” Adolphus admitted. “Nice, if a little suspicious….”
“So, when do you think we should arrange to meet up with them?” Frederick interrupted, pulling a miniature diary out of his pocket. “They’ll have to come here. That way we can show them all of the stamp albums and stuff; there are too many to be carted around.”
“True,” said Augustus.
“I’ll write back!” said Frederick excitedly, running over to a sideboard against the wall and grabbing some paper from a drawer. “I’ll tell them both to come over in a couple of weeks!”
A short time later, Olive Juliet Whackitt and Mary Louisa Maggott received a much-expected and unsurprising letter. “It worked, Mary!” cried Olive, holding up Frederick’s letter:
Dear Olive and Mary,
Augustus, Adolphus and I would be delighted to see you both again. It might interest you to know that we’ve now got many more interesting hobbies, such as counting the leaves on different trees and figuring out the type of ermine worn by monarchs at their coronations.
We’d be really pleased if you would meet us at our house (I think we gave you the address when we went home after being evacuated) at 9 o’clock on Wednesday morning. It’s the only way we can show you all of our stamp albums.
Love, Frederick Whinging
“Love!” Olive squealed, jumping up and down in excitement. “He said, ‘love’, Mary! Do you know what that means?”
“No,” said Mary tiredly, though she knew what Olive was thinking it meant. Mary had been hoping that since Olive had forced her to write the first letter, this one would be addressed specifically to her.
“It means that he remembers me, and that he likes me!” Olive cooed, her eyes looking as though they were focused elsewhere.
“But it was addressed to me as well!” Mary cried incredulously. “Anyway, he probably wasn’t thinking about anything when he wrote that ‘love’…”
“Shut up, Mary!” Olive snapped, but her eyes still looked dreamy. “Oh, just think what he’ll think of me when he sees me, now that I’m all grown up…”
Mary sighed, and rolled her eyes to herself. Suddenly, the door to Olive’s bedroom opened and Olive’s mother came bustling in with a feather duster. Olive instantly passed back into reality and whipped the letter out of sight, as though it was something hugely incriminating. But, judging from the little whimper that Olive’s mother let out, both due to the ferocious look of suspicion on Olive’s face and the fact that as she had fluttered the letter, several dust motes had been wafted up into the air, she wasn’t about to go about demanding what Olive had to hide. Olive’s mother slunk back as though the dust motes might attack her, and then, after giving the shelf by the door a quick swat with the duster (luckily not noticing the large dead rat), she backed nervously out of the room.
Olive took the ferocious look off her face and took the letter out from behind her back so that she could swoon over it again.
“We are definitely going, Mary!” Olive whispered, holding the letter to her heart. “Make sure you’re not doing anything on Wednesday morning! And if you are, it doesn’t matter; I’ll go alone!”
“Don’t worry,” Mary growled with gritted teeth. “I’m coming.”