|"I'm really excited about seeing the Boat Race!" Ted, despite her twenty years and the fact that she was now a second year university student, bounced excitedly in her seat on the coach that was wending its way through the countryside en route from Oxford to London. "I say, do you remember when Jocelyn Marvell and those other little asses got that ridiculous bee in their bonnets about getting motorboats?"|
Len, seated beside her, grinned. "Do I ever? Could you imagine? We used to have rowing boats when the school was on St Briavel's, though. I wonder what happened to them. Maybe the Carnbach branch still uses them. And there used to be school boat races during Tyrol days. That was how Tant Marie – you know, Mamma's friend, the Countess von und zu Wertheim – met Onkel Eugen, her husband. She was the captain of the winning team and he was presenting the cup, and it was love at first sight."
"How romantic," Ted sighed. "Ooh, speaking of romance, have you heard the rumour that Princess Margaret and Antony Armstrong-Jones are going to be there? They must be having a day off from wedding plans!"
Len was suitably impressed. "Really? Wouldn't it be a thrill if we saw them? Oh Ted, lean back a minute and let me see out of the window properly … look at those little lambs in that field! Aren't they sweet?"
"Very sweet," Ted agreed, taking the opportunity of having a good look at a field full of sheep and lambs as the coach slowed down to go through a pretty village. "It's a lovely time of year, this, isn't it? It's like that poem – O to be in England, now that April's there. Who wrote that – was it Shakespeare?"
"It was Robert Browning, you idiot! You're only two and a half centuries out," Len laughed. "Home Thoughts from Abroad. And, yes, it's a lovely time of year. My favourite spring poem's the Wordsworth one, though, I wandered lonely as a cloud … … about seeing a host of golden daffodils. I do like spring flowers. Look at all those daffodils growing on that bank over there."
"Gorgeous," Ted said appreciatively. "Those other flowers are very pretty too, aren't they – over there, near the post box. Any idea what they're called?"
Len shook her head. "Not an earthly, sorry. Botany was never particularly my thing. We'll have to try to remember what they look like and see if we can find them in a book when we get back to Oxford."
"She'd know, wouldn't she?" Ted said abruptly. "She always knew the names of flowers. Well, I suppose she was bound to, with having a father who was a gardener, and wanting to go into gardening herself. She'd be able to tell us what they were called."
Len shifted uncomfortably in her seat. "Don't. It doesn't help, Ted. Getting ourselves all upset, wondering what happened … it doesn't help. Auntie Hilda said we weren't to keep asking. So did Mamma."
"So are you saying we should just forget about her?" Ted demanded. "Are you saying you never think about her?"
"Of course I think about her." Len sighed, a shadow crossing her face. "I think about her all the time. I know you do as well. She was our friend. And she just … disappeared."
She thought back to that strange, difficult time when gossip and speculation had flowed up and down the school. What had happened to Rosamund Lilley? Theories about her sudden disappearance had whirled around the Middle and Senior forms, and also spread to the Juniors, who'd originally just accepted that she'd left. Everyone had assumed that Len and Ted, her closest friends, must know the answer, but the truth had been that they hadn't known any more than any of the other girls had. They still didn't. But, as Head Girl and Second Prefect, it had fallen to them to take the lead in trying to quash the rumours. Over and over again, they'd sternly told the younger girls that Ros had left school and that was all there was to it; but they hadn't had the heart to try to stop the rest of their own friends from wondering aloud what had happened, or from wondering aloud with them.
People do leave suddenly sometimes, Margot had reminded them. Look at Emmy. Her dad didn't want her to tell anyone she was leaving. And Ruey didn't know she was leaving her old school until the middle of the holidays, did you, Rue? And Josette left before anyone had expected her to, as well. It had all sounded reasonable enough, but, when you thought about, it didn't really make sense in Ros's case. Emerence and Josette had both been joining their parents on long-distance trips, and Ruey had left because she'd been coming to live with the Maynards. It was hardly likely that the Lilleys were going to be visiting the United States or Australia, or that Ros was going to live with someone else. Even if anything like that had happened, why the secrecy? No: there had to have been some other explanation.
Family problems were the usual cause of someone leaving school suddenly, Betty Landon had put forward. Yseult Pertwee had left when her mother had become ill, and it had looked at one time as if Jo Scott might have to do the same. It was certainly a more likely explanation than the Lilleys taking off to Australia, but why wouldn't they have been told about it? They'd all known about poor Mrs Pertwee's illness and subsequent death. Anyway, Ros had two sisters, and two brothers for that matter, who could surely all have helped out in time of crisis. Len and Ted were both sure, from what they knew of Mr and Mrs Lilley, that they would never have pulled Ros out of school unless it were absolutely essential. And, again, why would it have been kept a secret? But, if not that, then what?
Con, a deeper thinker than either Margot or Betty, had come up with the suggestion that maybe the Gays had suffered some sort of financial reverse and been unable to continue providing the scholarship. Ros might well have felt awkward about explaining that to her friends, especially given that those of them who'd been at the school since their Junior days remembered Tom Gay well, and it would explain why it had been considered inappropriate to tell the rest of them what had happened. It had seemed the most likely explanation for a while, but, on further consideration, the triplets had agreed, and the others had accepted their conclusion, that their aunt Lady Russell would not have seen a pupil forced to miss her final two terms of school under such circumstances. Something would have been sorted out. Surely?
But, if it wasn't money, then what was it? Maybe they've emigrated, Alicia, searching desperately for ideas, had said. Hasn't she got a sister living in Canada? Or is it a brother? Maybe they've gone to join them? Ted had slightly scathingly pointed out that she was the one with the brother in Canada, and Joan Baker the one with the sister in Canada. But could the Lilleys have decided to move to another part of the world anyway? Some of those who'd been at the school before its move to Switzerland vaguely remembered a girl called Phil Craven, who'd left without notice when her family had emigrated to South Africa. But it was hard to believe that the Lilleys would even want to leave Meadowfield, let alone England. Rosamund's two married sisters both lived nearby, one of them the mother of the little girl who was the pride and joy of the entire family, and her father and two brothers were both settled in jobs in the town. And, even if they had moved, why wouldn't she have written to tell her friends so? No. That idea seemed even less likely than Betty's.
Odette's tearful suggestion that maybe it was Ros, rather than another member of her family, who'd fallen ill or had an accident, had been rapidly dismissed by Ruey – because she'd seen how worried some of the others looked, Len suspected; but it had been hard to disagree with what she'd said. If anything like that had happened, however … however bad, the Heads would have told us. They're always saying that they want us to become strong, helpful women, not spineless jellyfish. They might not have wanted the kids to know, but they'd have told us. It was true. They weren't babies. Still, the suggestion had been an upsetting one, and Heather had hastened to propose that a far more likely explanation was that Ros had obtained either a job or a college place. But that seemed unlikely too. Ros hadn't even applied for a place at college yet, and it seemed unlikely that she'd be offered a job out of the blue. And, again, the same question. Why hadn't she been in touch? And why hadn't the school authorities told them anything?
Maybe Ros had just thought it'd be too difficult to say goodbye, Ricki, clutching at straws like the rest of them, had suggested, clearly not convincing even herself. Francie's suggestion that maybe she'd written to either Len or Ros but that the letter'd got lost in the post had been even less convincing.
Some of the talk lower down the school had been considerably more far-fetched. Several girls had suggested that maybe Ros had got married – an idea which had gained support after the news came that Josette Russell had become engaged at the age of only eighteen, but hardly seemed likely unless it had been one of the quickest courtships on record. Len had been so shocked when she'd heard two girls discussing the idea that Ros hadn't got married "when, you know, she needed to" that she'd hardly known what to say, but she'd managed to compose herself sufficiently to say that anyone heard making such scurrilous suggestions in future would be forced to explain herself to Miss Annersley. Then there'd been the rumour that Ros had been expelled for committing some sort of unforgivable sin – cheating? stealing? – at school, but no, surely not Ros(. Anyway, as Len had said to Ted in private, other girls had been forgiven all sorts of things. The idea made no sense anyway. Ros had never once been in trouble in all her time at the school.
None of the ideas made any sense. Eventually, they'd ceased to talk of Ros, and life had gone on. But she'd never stopped wondering about her, and she knew that Ted hadn't either, even though it was rarely that they discussed it. She heaved a deep sigh, not knowing what to say.
Ted didn't know what to say either. She'd suggested more than once that they go to Meadowfield and try to find the answer there, where they surely would; but Len always insisted that, if Rosamund wanted them to know what had happened, she'd have answered their letters. There had to be a reason why she hadn't. Going to find her, if she didn't want to be found, might only make things worse. Was she right? Was she just afraid of what she might find out? Or was she, even now, unwilling to go against what the school authorities had said?
Maybe this separation would have happened anyway, Ted thought, as the coach reached London and the two of them joined the huge crowds making their way to see Oxford and Cambridge do battle along the Thames. Maybe, once she and Len joined the world of elite Boat Races and Ros began her work amongst hosts of golden daffodils and brushwood sheafs in tiny leaf, they'd have grown apart anyway. But it shouldn't have happened like this. People didn't just disappear, with no explanation.
In two weeks' time, it would be Easter, the time of year traditionally associated with mystery plays. Pace Egging, as they'd become. She vaguely remembered being told that "mystery" in that sense meant "miracle", rather than "riddle" or "secret" or any of the other words that applied to Rosamund's disappearance. Well, it was supposed to be the time of year for miracles, and maybe, just maybe, one would take place, and the mystery of Rosamund's disappearance would be solved and the friendship between her and Len and Ted resurrected.