Angela and Mirabel sharing the same study was never going to be a happy arrangement, even with Gladys around. And Valentine's Day is simply a lot of silliness.
The most infuriating thing, among many exasperations caused by the new study arrangements, was that Mirabel could no longer mutter to herself with impunity. Gladys could be relied on to do no more than send a tolerant glance when Mirabel whipped herself into an almost inaudible frenzy over play-lists or Latin, only showing sympathetic interest when and if Mirabel decided to discuss matters. Angela had the irritating habit of openly displaying curiosity.
Sometimes Mirabel suspected she was provoking on purpose. After all, there was nothing in her life to remotely interest someone like the Hon. Angela Favorleigh.
At this moment, Mirabel wished devoutly that she had managed to swallow her remarks. Angela dropped a perfumed, expensively softened hand on the pile of crepe and cardboard her study-mate had been about to sweep into the bin.
"What's disgraceful nonsense?" Angela's porcelain-doll features were curved into one of her smugly sweet smiles. "Oh... Valentines. How charming."
Gladys, curled by the fire, sat up a little. The luxuriously upholstered armchair - say what you like about Angela, she was generous and did things beautifully - had unofficially become Glady's chair. Mirabel was, as Angela said when given half a chance, pitiably dependent on her precious Mouse, and it was only human to allow her to visit from time to time. Perhaps it also had something to do with the fact that Angela was sometimes glad of a softening presence, spending so much time trapped in a room with someone who despised her and didn't bother to conceal the fact.
Neither of the other girls noticed the movement. Gladys was easy not to notice, unless you had a particular reason to pay attention.
"Silliness." Mirabel glared at the envelopes. Some had been carefully cut into lacework, and through her uneasiness and disgust part of her marveled that anyone who admired her enough for this... nonsense... could fail to predict how she'd feel about fussy little hearts and lace. "And worse. Honestly, I don't know what's happening to St Clare's these days. We used to be above this kind of thing. I don't know why Isabel and Pat put up with it."
"Mirabel, darling, don't be so stuffy. I adore getting Valentines!"
"You /would/." Mirabel obvious didn't consider there was anything else to say.
"I must admit that I'm surprised you're nearly as popular as I am, though. A great hefty tomboy like you, all heartiness and thick ankles."
"Oh, but of course they admire her!" Gladys burst out. "She's sports captain, and I suppose you don't understand what that means, Angela, but for girls who care about games she's some kind of a legend. And she's so... so..." Blood rushed up into her face and she subsided back into her chair. Mirabel gave her a funny look. "Well, you know... forceful."
"Domineering, you mean." Angela's silken pageboy floated lightly in the air for a moment before settling back on her beautifully plump shoulders. "And I'd like to remind you that I'm on the tennis team, Gladys. Just because I don't see the point in making oneself ridiculous over games..."
"I hate to agree with Angela, but I think she's right in how the lower school regards me," Mirabel said, ignoring the side discussion. "I don't see why they should call me a ruthless dictator and bully one year and send me chocolates and... and... badly written poems the next."
"That's over now. They respect you for admitting you were wrong, Mirabel. Not just respect, either. They admire you... and you deserve it, you know," she added softly. She smiled, her rather plain face illuminating. "Besides, you're rather by way of being a school heroine."
"I suppose she does run about rescuing girls from burning windows and nonsense like that," Angela said dismissively.
"Only the girls that count," snapped Mirabel, who had in truth never saved a life in her own memeory, but was secretly confident of her ability to do so if the need arose. Gladys' skin flushed even darker, but her eyes shone. "If you were in trouble, Angela, I'd let you burn, with pleasure."
"I'd rather burn than let a clumsy ape like you touch me!"
"Oh, do go away, Angela. Go find your precious Alison and curl each other's hair, or something."
Angela gave her a poisonous look, her smoothly pretty face twisting unpleasantly for a moment as she apparently weighed up the consequences of pointing out it was her study and then being forced to spend the evening with Mirabel on mere principle. Finally she shrugged and flounced out, apparently in search of her friend and some consolation on the subject of that dreadful uncouth tomboy and her horrid manners. Mirabel watched her go with some satisfaction, then finished disposing of the cards.
"Oh, Mirabel. Aren't you even going to look at them?" Gladys sighed, rising from her chair. She put an arm around Mirabel's shoulders and leaned her cheek against Mirabel's head. "It does seem uncaring."
Mirabel absently patted her hand. "I'm not encouraging this kind of sentimental claptrap." She hesitated for a moment, then added in a kind of gruff rush, "You know what happened to little Violet last year, Mouse. I don't approve of letting the babes get themselves all... worked up. Only leads to trouble."
"If it isn't just the lower school that admires you?" There was a queer catch in Gladys' voice, but then she spoke so softly, as always, that Mirabel could hardly be blamed for not noticing her tone.
"Don't be silly, Mouse. They'll grow out of these idiotic passions soon enough. Even Alison seems to have settled down lately. She hasn't had a new infatuation for simply ages. And if a little airhead like her can be sensible, so can anyone." Mirabel pulled the play-lists for the upcoming interschool matches towards her, and buried herself in them, closing off conversation.
Gladys remained leaning against her for a moment, then sighed and moved back to her chair. If Mirabel had been less preoccupied with the question of who to put into the Third Eleven, she might have noticed that Gladys' lips pressed the top of Mirabel's head for just a moment; but then, Mirabel had never been particularly sensitive.
"I suppose it is something one grows out of." Gladys picked up Angela's magazine, and turned the pages idly over, her eyes on the pathetic little Valentines holding their unread messages in the wastepaper basket.