“Between the Scenes.”
The last time that I went back to Godolphin was on the occasion of a School debate, at which I had been asked to propose a motion. In the morning I received rather a different kind of invitation: it was to have a dip in the open-air swimming bath. Debating and swimming have not, perhaps, much in common, but they both brought to my mind a side of school life apart from the sphere of its ordinary activities. Debating-that is to say, a debating society-had been revived soon after Miss Ash came as head; swimming was revived and the school swimming bath provided, after my time, alas!
The Debating Society is only one of many Godolphin societies, of which so many have been formed that present Godolphins are not allowed to be full members of more than two. Meetings of musical, scientific and other clubs generally take place two or three times a term after supper, but they are not the only gatherings that collect the School together in the evenings.
Every Saturday, after supper, in the two winter terms, the whole School meets to dance. It is so regular a performance that, I suppose, to pre-War and post-War Godolphins it seems a matter of course. It is those who were at School both during the War and after it who received the most conscious delight from Saturday-night dances; for in War-time on these nights instead of dancing we did War work, and the revival of dancing began on Armistice night.
For every one, once a term, the pleasures of the dance are attended by the cares of the hostess, for each House in turn is responsible for the entertainment. For days beforehand, in every available minute of free time, can be heard all over the House the sound of practising; not the usual more serious strains of fugue and sonata, though equally serious to the performer. The painters in the House have been busy too, making programmes to put up at both ends of the hall. Then, on the day, the hall has to be made ready, and “sitting-out” places made in the passages, on the stairs and in the gallery. Every one brings cushions and rugs from her own House, and borrows chairs from School House sitting-room. In the afternoon all have picked beech leaves, or spindle berries, in the woods by Peter’s Finger, or round the downs, with which to transform the platform. There only remains the final injunction for each girl to play the perfect hostess, and then comes the reward of toil, all too short, alas!
One of the advantages of being a boarder is the enjoyment it gives one of outside events. Any event in the town to which the School went, was a great excitement, especially if it happened in the evening. Sometimes it was a concert, sometimes, better still, a play. Then, over Fisherton Bridge, there was a hall in which lectures were sometimes given, to which the School went. There were University Extension lectures-joys all the more precious because they were reserved for the Sixth Forms-lectures on the League of Nations and various others. An organ recital had a special charm of its own, that of seeing the Cathedral lighted up, inside artificially and outside afterwards by the moon, a sight not to be forgotten. If the moon were behind the building, with light clouds passing over it, it gave a most weird effect to the spire, as though it were somehow swaying mysteriously.
That curious twist of the human mind, as yet unexplained by the psychologists, that makes the past seem so much better than the present no doubt accounts for the popular fallacy that one’s school days are the happiest time of one’s life. Most schoolgirls complain that they never have any free time, and yet, looking back, it is not school-work or other school activities, but the pleasant period of idleness in between these that are the rosiest memories of school life. I suppose that in reality one did not then lie on one’s back in the sun (such a much hotter sun than one ever sees now) or sit on f he steps down to “Number Three,” eating apples, or-blest privilege of the Upper Sixth-sit on the doorstep near the library reading, any more than one does such things now; and yet they seem in retrospect to fill up a very large part of one’s schooldays.
In the summer, Form and House expeditions-most excellent of institutions added delightfully to the number and length of such periods. If it was the Thursday for Form picnics one always hoped that one’s Form would go farther and come back later than any Form to which others in one’s House belonged. How many fine Thursdays there were in those days, or how that fond deceiver, memory, has obliterated all traces of rain from the mind! There arc so many possible picnic places round Salisbury, each perfect in its own way. There was “the Clump,” with the surrounding downs, reached on foot, excellent for hide-and-seek, tree-climbing, and cricket or rounders. Another near but ideal spot was the race-course above Harnham. The way lies through the water-meadows, where Constable must have seen the cathedral of his picture, but at the top of the hill lies completely different land. The grass is short and smooth, and there is the tempting green road that runs right away over the downs almost into Dorset; overhead there are larks singing gaily, and the idle find listening to their song occupation enough.
Then there is Bemerton, with George Herbert’s house and its beautiful garden, sloping down peacefully to the river, and the tiny church on the other side of the road; and the Devil’s Punch Bowl, near Wilton, covered with purple and blue milk-wort; and Old Sarum, with its steep fortifications of which the uses to the moderns are many and various and its wishing-hole, which should certainly be visited before outside examinations. Farthest away, and best of all, is Stonehenge, where one is carried right away from the present, far back in time. There, there is room, and certainly air, to breathe freely. The occupations, if any, are dramatic: slaughter and sacrifice. But perhaps it is best of all to wander hatless over the windy plain, taking in breaths of air deep enough to last till the next Thursday. Then you can eat your supper on the huge tumulus, perhaps over the bones or ashes of ancient kings.
If all the year were playing holidays,
To sport would be as tedious as to work,
But when they seldom come, the wished-for come.
The best holiday of all at Godolphin comes only once a year, long wished-for, long talked about afterwards. I never remember a wet Ascension Day. If there were any such I have forgotten about them. Leisure and retirement, because they are not easily come by, are two of the blessing,; most appreciated at school. A picnic with the whole School does not sound a good opportunity for either, and yet it is, in reality, perhaps the best of the year. Groveley woods are expansive hosts, and, after a communal luncheon, it is easy enough to lose oneself down the many dark glades and deep thickets till it is time to meet again for departure. Tradition (perhaps founded on historic fact) has it that, lilies-of-the-valley are to be found, but in my four, or five, expeditions there, I have never met with more than one and that was a poor, shriveled-up thing hardly worth picking. But there are plenty of other treasures, equally beautiful, if less rare; bluebells and bracken and banks of fern-moss-fairies’ or epicures’ beds-and every variety of arboreal architecture from oak and beech to larch and poplar. If you want something more unusual you must persuade your House Mistress or Form Mistress to take you one ordinary Thursday to Pepperbox Hill to pick, bee and fly orchids, or, with luck, the frog.
It may be the aforementioned tendency to gild the past that associates the thought of the School library with this, idea of leisure. Perhaps one of its great charms was that it was very new, the next best thing to being very old, for it gives one a feeling of superiority to be in at the birth. The room itself was very small, but for that reason very select. The particular associations of the library as I knew it cannot entirely be renewed by a visit to Godolphin. The books have now been transferred from their somewhat confined abode to a larger place of residence-the old schoolhouse sitting-room.
[This library has been beautifully furnished with oak bookcases, given by Miss Noalees, and by oak tables and chairs, bought with the legacy left to the school by Dorothy Micklem (School House).- ED.]
The word “Godolphin” is easy to conjure with. It calls up many a spirit and many an image, but once they have appeared it is not so light a matter to control their performance. A few nights ago I dreamt that I was back at school, digging up an old rose-tree in my garden. After a time my spade hit on something hard which, at first, I took for a stone, but which, when I unearthed it, proved to be a beautiful, many-coloured china bowl, which fell to pieces at my touch. For what seemed a great time I tried to fit the pieces together, but in vain : they were all there, but I could not reset them in their proper shape ; and it was with some relief that I awoke to find that the fragments, even, had no existence but in my mind. It is something the same with one’s recollections of school. The separate parts seem vivid enough, but the perfect whole one will never see again.