Authors: Rebecca Dean
The thought of the ballroom made Wallis’s head spin.
, Uncle Sol,” she said ecstatically, running toward him to give him a kiss on his cheek. It was a gesture she knew always pleased him and, as she now had genuine affection for him, one that came easily to her.
ldfields?” Pamela stared at her, not sharing in her excitement. “Good for you Wally, but I won’t be traipsing after you there as I traipsed after you to Arundell.”
They were walking back to school from the Gymnasium on Charles Street, hanging back from the rest of their classmates in order to have a little privacy.
“But why not?” Wallis was genuinely baffled. “Your father always lets you have your own way over everything. If you said that you wanted to go to Oldfields, he’d let you go there like a shot.”
“That’s true—but only because he doesn’t care where I am, or where I go.” She gave a bitter smile. “He only brought me with him when he left England because he thought he was giving my mother grief. He’s never truly got over the fact that instead of giving her grief he played right into her hands, as she no more wanted me around than he did.”
Wallis had known almost from the beginning of their friendship that even though Pamela lived a life surrounded by riches, she was far poorer than herself in that she didn’t have even one parent who loved her and was interested in her. Now was not the moment to express sympathy, though. Not when something more important was at stake.
“Oldfields,” she said again. “Why don’t you want to go there? It’s very exclusive. Everyone there will come from a really wealthy privileged background.”
they will, Wally.” Pamela rolled her eyes in exasperation. “But they won’t be from
kind of wealthy privileged background. When it comes to a finishing school, I won’t be going to an
finishing school. I shall go to a Swiss finishing school, just like every other girl who will be in my debutante year—and when you hightail it to Oldfields, I’ll hightail it to Switzerland.”
Pamela had always said that when it came to her coming-out year, she would come out in London, not Baltimore, but it had never occurred to Wallis that Pamela would be leaving Baltimore two years beforehand. She was sensible enough to know that she would make new friends at Oldfields, but she also knew that when she did, none of the friendships would be as close and as necessary to her as her friendship with Pamela.
She stopped walking, saying with deep passion, “Even though you will be in Switzerland and then London, we will still be friends, won’t we?”
Pamela’s eyes held hers. “Always, Wally.”
Both of them were wearing straw school hats, and Pamela’s was held in place by a long hatpin. Not taking her eyes away from Wallis’s, she removed the hatpin.
“To show us both how much we mean what we say, we should seal our promises in blood. Are you game?”
Wally nodded, and, as she held her breath, Pamela scored a deep line with the hatpin across her own wrist, drawing blood, and then, as Wally gritted her teeth, she took Wallis’s hand and scored a deep line across Wallis’s wrist.
“Now we mix our blood,” Pamela said fiercely.
Wallis watched, transfixed, as Pamela pressed their bleeding wrists together.
“There.” As their blood mixed there was high satisfaction in Pamela’s voice. “Now we’re blood
—and nothing can part blood friends, Wally. Blood friends are friends forever.”
n Wallis’s first day at Oldfields, Edith Miller rushed up to her in delight. “Bessie Wallis! You do remember me, don’t you? We were in the same class at Miss O’Donnell’s on Elliott Street.”
“Of course I remember you, Edith.”
For the first time it occurred to Wallis to wonder if other of her classmates from her early school days were at Oldfields.
“I’m not called Bessie Wallis any longer,” she said firmly. “I’m just called Wallis.” She allowed Edith to link her arm with hers. “Is there anyone else from Elliott Street at Oldfields, Edith? Mabel Morgan, for instance? Or Violet Dix?”
To her vast relief Edith shook her head. “No. Mabel’s mother told my mother Mabel was going to go to a finishing school in Virginia. I don’t know whether Violet will be going there as well, but she probably will be. Mabel and Violet nearly always went everywhere together. Shall I show you round, Wallis? I’ve been here two months now, so I feel quite at home.”
Wallis nodded, happy to have someone who could introduce her and speed up the process of making new friends. At Elliott Street Edith had never been a particular friend of hers, but that had only been because Edith had been quiet and mousy and she had found her dull company, not because she was unlikable, as Mabel and Violet were unlikable.
“What did you think of Miss Nan when you came for your interview, Wallis?” Edith asked as they began on a tour of Oldfield’s lavishly furnished drawing rooms and study rooms. “Did you like her?”
“By Miss Nan, do you mean Miss McCulloch?”
Edith nodded. “Yes. She’s the sister of the Reverend Duncan McCulloch, who founded Oldfields. She’s very strict, but also very nice.”
“She reminds me of Miss Carroll, my headmistress at Arundell.” Wallis paused to look at a large notice very prominently displayed. It read,
Gentleness and Courtesy Are Expected of Girls at All Times
She quirked an eyebrow, and Edith said without a glimmer of humor, “Miss Nan thinks it very important all Oldfields girls have a well-developed sense of gentility and grace. The same notice is posted on the doors of the dormitories, and the school’s two basketball teams are called Gentleness and Courtesy. I’m on Courtesy. Let’s go up to the dormitories and I’ll introduce you to Ellen Yuille. She’s from North Carolina and very lively. I know you’ll get on with her. Her father is something very big in Duke Tobacco.”
Wallis met Ellen and immediately liked her. She also met Beatrice Astor, Alice Maud Van Rensselaer, and Phoebe Schermerhorn. All, like Ellen, came from exceptionally wealthy families. Wallis was soon firm friends with them.
A few weeks later she wrote to Pamela,
… some things at Oldfields are a bore, but not many—and the girls here are swell. Of the boring things, we are only allowed two at-home weekends in addition to regular vacations—it’s not much, is it? How many are you allowed at Mont-Fleuri? Other things are fun. I love the dancing lessons in the ballroom and the deportment and etiquette and flower arranging lessons. The first person I ran into when I arrived was Edith Miller, from our Elliott Street days. She’s not quite the mouse she used to be, but she still plays by all the rules and never risks getting into trouble. Other girls are more lively—especially Phoebe Schermerhorn, who regularly sneaks out of Oldfields after lights-out to meet up with a beau!
A letter from Pamela speedily winged its way across the Atlantic in response.
Edith Miller was so quiet in class I barely remember her! Phoebe sounds much more fun. Compared to Oldfields, Mont-Fleuri is relaxed and we get to go down into Geneva nearly every Saturday. Lots of the girls here have a secret beau and we are all—every last one of us—in love with Hans, our ski instructor. (Hans, of course, is only in love with me!) I’d like to stay in Switzerland for Christmas (otherwise how will I get a present from Hans?) only, after years of maternal neglect, my mother is now suffering a season of guilt and insists I join her and Tarquin in Norfolk. (I don’t think the guilt will last for long. By the time vacation is over I doubt we’ll be on speaking terms.) What would make it all worthwhile would be an invite to Sandringham which would give me the chance to flirt with Prince Edward again (if, of course, he is there at Christmas). There’s no chance of Sandringham, though, as King George and Queen Mary are going to be in India nearly all the winter celebrating their Coronation Durbar
Wallis didn’t know whether to be pleased or disappointed that Pamela stood no chance of being a guest at Sandringham during the Christmas holidays. In not hobnobbing with royalty, Pamela wouldn’t be able to score over her socially—and she was pleased about that. On the other hand, if Pamela became a friend of Prince Edward’s, then as she was Pamela’s best friend there was a chance that one day Pamela would be able to introduce her to him—and that was something that not even Beatrice Astor, Alice Maud Van Rensselaer, or Phoebe Schermerhorn could hope for.
In the first month of 1913 Pamela’s royal name-dropping continued.
You’ll never guess who my new roommate is—the daughter of the shah of Persia! She’s sensationally beautiful in a dark-haired, dark-eyed kind of way (not as beautiful as me, naturally). I just love being able to say I have a friend who is a princess of the House of Persia. It sounds so exotic. You’ll hate me for this Wally, but I’m sooooo glad I’m at Mont-Fleuri and not Oldfields. Mont-Fleuri is very sophisticated. Nearly every royal house in Europe sends a princess or two here, and most of them will eventually become crowned queens
Wallis was both impressed and exasperated. She was also—though pride prevented her from admitting it to Pamela—beginning to get bored with many of Oldfields’s rules and restrictions. Oldfields girls were, for instance, forbidden to meet with boys under any circumstances. They were even forbidden to write to them or accept letters from them. It was a rule Wallis could see no sense in and consequently didn’t feel honor-bound to keep.
Defiantly, and with no sense of guilt, she began writing to John Jasper.
His response was swift. At the beginning of April he asked if she would be able to meet up with him if he drove down from Baltimore.
… Pa bought me a Packard for my seventeenth birthday
he wrote in a large sprawling hand.
It goes like the wind! I’m not allowed to keep it on campus at Loyola, but since Loyola is so near to home it isn’t any great inconvenience. Just let me know if you’re able and give me a time and place
He’d signed it
and added three kisses.
Wallis hid the letter in her underwear drawer.
“What I want to know,” she said a half hour later to Phoebe, “is how you get out of Oldfields to meet your beaux—and how you get back in again.”
Phoebe shot her a broad grin. “As long as you do it at night, it’s easy peasy. There’s a small isolation dormitory next to the infirmary. It’s only ever used if someone comes down with something infectious. It’s on ground level, I’ve never found it locked yet, and the window is a cinch to open.”
Wallis gave a sigh of satisfaction.
Phoebe quirked an eyebrow. “If you are caught, you risk being expelled.”
“I won’t be caught.”
“Well, if you are, just don’t say who gave you the idea. Who is the beau? Does he have a car?”
“His name is John Jasper and I’ve known him ever since kindergarten. And he has a car. A Packard.”
Phoebe was slightly impressed, but more by the risks Wallis was willing to take in order to meet up with John Jasper than by John Jasper himself. A beau known from kindergarten days didn’t sound exciting, and although Packards were swish and had rarity value, her own current beau drove a heart-stoppingly racy scarlet Lagonda.
On the night she had arranged to meet with John Jasper, Wallis didn’t tell anyone other than Phoebe what she was going to do. She didn’t want there to be a hum of speculation and a lot of nervous chatter going on in her dormitory, in case it aroused the attention of a member of the staff. If that happened, she wouldn’t be able to meet up with John Jasper at all.
At ten o’clock, after lights out and when the three girls she shared a room with were asleep, she slipped out of bed and dressed speedily and quietly in the dark. Then she eased the dormitory door open and stepped out into the corridor.
There was no sign of any member of the staff. With her heart pounding fast and light and feeling as if it were somewhere up in her throat, she padded softly along the corridor and down the stairs. Once in the grand central hallway she could hear the low murmur of voices coming from the drawing room. Scarcely daring to breathe, wondering how, if she ran into a member of the staff, she could possibly come up with an explanation as to why she was dressed in outdoor clothes at such an hour, she made her way along the corridors toward the school infirmary.
For the first time it occurred to her to wonder if there was perhaps a patient in the infirmary and if the school matron would be seated by a sick bed with a nightlight on. She crossed her fingers tightly, praying there wouldn’t be.
Her prayer was granted. When she reached the infirmary, it was in darkness. In mounting excitement she entered the isolation room. Her hands were slippery with sweat as she pushed the sash window upward and then, seconds later, she was standing in the chill April night air and all that was left was for her to make a quick run across the grounds to the dirt road skirting them.