I remember Cynthia’s school stories because they were so foreign to my experience. As a child living in suburban Canada, I walked to school, returned for lunch, went back for the afternoon, and came home for tea. (Okay, perhaps that wasn’t so Canadian. But it was just tea and a cookie, not a meal.) The concept of going somewhere away from home and staying at school all the time seemed so exotic- and also was linked to the old school stories from my mother’s childhood that she had handed on to me- The School at the Chalet, where girls wore gym tunics and adults had hats pulled down over their heads. Teenage Cynthia had worn a gym tunic and she and her friends had done what many of the school stories mentioned (except the early Chalet books- there, the emphasis was on the deliciousness of Austrian cooking) – and had a midnight feast.
Cynthia’s letters show that there were only seven boarders at her school, including her friend Jessie Muir, in 2 dorms, with 4 beds each she said, and since one letter was written in bed in pencil after Lights Out by the light of the summer sky, there wasn’t punitive supervision. So Cynthia and her fellow boarders started planning a Midnight Feast towards the end of the summer term and she calmly told her parents about it as she asked them to send her more goodies (and warned them not to tell.) I gather these Midnights happened more than once, the menu varying with the season perhaps, since once they had raspberries and cream. As a child, I’d never heard about their hoarding of their tuck- Cynthia’s oral story started with the girls surreptitiously buying treats while in town on their Saturday shopping.
That night, the girls went to bed very correctly, and then got themselves up around midnight. They collected together their newly bought treats and tuck, proceeded to their common room, poked up the fire (? in summer?) and enjoyed themselves very much. In spite of having planned this for a long time, it appears that there wasn’t enough food to give them the impression that they had feasted so they went exploring through the dim house, down the backstairs to the kitchen. In the pantry they found a tin of little cakes they thought might have been forgotten, so they appropriated these as the successful end to a wicked party. They returned to bed and slept the sleep of the full-tummied.
On Sunday, Cynthia was picked up by pre-arrangement, and went off to spend the day with the family friend May. Back at school, retribution fell. The little cakes had been destined for Sunday staff tea, and their disappearance led to enquiry. The six boarders left broke down and confessed, were scolded, sanctioned, and left to feel very sorry for themselves. When Cynthia returned that night, she found she had missed the fuss, missed the punishment, and never heard anything more about it. A happy ending to her first term at boarding school!