Most naval historians will be aware that Captain Nancy and her mate, Peggy, had their earliest adventures between the two World Wars, while this story is set after the both of them. But Nancy says that if you absolutely have to go to school it'd best be a school on an island anyway. Even if it's a school that doesn't let you keep monkeys and parrots as pets.
"Look, I know you two are dead set against this school from the start, because Aunt Maria chose it-"
"It wasn't very fair of her," Peggy said, not for the first time, "waiting for us to go on holiday with the Swallows and then telling Mother that she had enrolled us in a new school."
"-but it does have a good reputation." Captain Flint continued as though he'd never been interrupted. "You'll get a good education here, and they have Guides - you never got a chance to do Guides at St Margaret's - and if it's on an island you're bound to see plenty of boats."
"Not proper boats," Nancy interjected. "Horribly motor things. Roger might be perfectly happy with that, the galoot, but we're not. And if it's a school chosen by the G.A. it's bound to be perfectly horrid. She sent us here to be ladies."
"They have a good reputation for sports-"
"Huh! Cricket and tennis!"
"-and a Hobbies club, too. Any school is going to insist you behave yourselves, but that doesn't mean there won't be any fun to be had at all."
"They'd probably prefer it if we took up embroidery as our hobby," Nancy murmured darkly. Captain Flint scowled at her.
"I didn't want to have to resort to bribery," he said. "But if you two aren't going to cheer up before you leave I'll do it." Nancy looked immediately interested, and Peggy lost her worried expression. "I was thinking those two Callums will never be able to learn to sail as long as they have to keep borrowing the Swallow or the Amazon."
"Barbecued Billygoats! You mean you're going to get them a boat of their own?" Nancy asked, leaping quickly to the favourable conclusion.
"I do," Captain Flint told her, "but only if you two promise to stay clear of any squalls." He looked particularly hard at Nancy. "If you manage to stay out of trouble this term, and bring home a good report to your mother, I will write to Professor Callum and suggest we buy those two a dinghy."
"We'll need to call her something naturalist-y," Nancy said thoughtfully, "to suit Dick."
"But Dot would want to call her - you know, 'the Outlaw' or something like that," Peggy said.
"All right, then, something naturalist-y and romantic. What about-"
"I said promise, mind," Captain Flint reminded them, knowing full well that Nancy was just trying to distract him.
"Jibbooms and bobstays! I promise - and so does Peggy. On my honour as a pirate." Peggy nodded her agreement, but Captain Flint eyed Nancy with some suspicion. Nancy knew as well as he did that pirates were not particularly honourable creatures, but she wouldn't want to ruin the Callums' fun by bringing home a bad report. He'd just have to trust that she would not go out of her way to get into trouble to spite Aunt Maria.
Any comments he may have made in that direction were lost, however, as the train that his nieces were to catch pulled into the station with a roar. Then it was a great rush to make sure they had everything they were supposed to, and then they had said goodbye (and Peggy had only sniffed a very little) and he was standing on the platform waving while Nancy and Peggy pulled faces at him through the window, and the train took off. He watched it until it went around a bend and was lost to sight.
Then, suddenly, he grinned. Molly wouldn't be sure that her girls were doing fine until she heard from them herself, but he was sure that once they had found their feet the girls would be on fine form - and then this Chalet School was going to be in for a few shocks itself, or he didn't know his Amazons.Nancy looked at Peggy, and Peggy looked at Nancy, and neither of them said anything. It was hard to know what to say. Just over a week ago they had been with the Eels, sacrificing the Swallow's Ship's Baby and making a decent war. Then the telegram had arrived to say they were to go home, not to London as they had planned, and they had got back to Beckfoot to find Great Aunt Maria was there, and had taken charge of things in a most unwelcome manner.
Mother had been dreadfully upset about it, but Nancy and Peggy knew it was not her fault; and no amount of appealing to the G.A. had made her change her mind. She had told them that as their mother let them run wild during the holidays, it was clear to her that they needed more discipline during term-time. The school she was sending them to was the same school that her rector's daughter went to, and as it had improved her very much she could only hope that it would do the same for her nieces. There was no point arguing, as she had already made her mind up and had already sent their trunks on.
"Bother the rector's daughter," Nancy said. Peggy nodded glumly.
"There really isn't any way to get out of this, is there?" she asked.
"No," said Nancy. "I thought that maybe we could miss our connection, and then we'd have to go home. But Mother would just send us back again, and it wouldn't be very fair on her when she's already got a cold. Besides, Captain Fl-Uncle Jim would say that the D's couldn't have their boat, then."
They both fell silent. After a while, Peggy pulled out the new book Mother had given her for the journey and started to read it. Nancy kept her eyes on the landscape flying past, still turning over ideas of escape. So it was her who noticed the group waiting for their train as it pulled into another station.
"Hullo," she said in surprise. "I think they're going to the same school as us. I thought Mother said we wouldn't see anyone else until we got to York?"Three girls wearing the same brown-and-flame uniform that Nancy and Peggy wore entered their compartment. They were clearly sisters, although the biggest and smallest girls were dark, and the middle one was very fair. All three girls smiled at the Amazons, and for a moment Nancy wondered if this is what Captain Flint and Timothy had felt like when they had been fed to the sharks. But then the middle one said, "New girls! What fun!" and the older one said, "Gisel, put your things away quickly, before the train starts up," and they were just ordinary schoolgirls after all.
All three of them tucked away their umbrellas and small cases before taking their seats. Gisel grinned at Peggy and said, "Lucky you two for getting the corner seat! I thought we'd be the only Chalet girls on this line." She didn't seem noticeably subdued even after her older sister's quiet rebuke.
"So did we," returned Peggy shyly.
Nancy, who had never been shy in her life, added, "Mother said we wouldn't meet anyone else until we got to York - that's what the school secretary wrote to her, anyway."
The biggest girl nodded. "We don't usually travel this way, but the three of us were staying with our aunt and we couldn't go home last week like we had meant to - one of our brothers started up with mumphs, and we couldn't very well go home then." She spoke seriously, but her face lit up with a smile as she added, "I am Natalie, by the way. My sisters are Gisel and Gretchen."
"It's a good thing you're travelling with us," Gisel said. "We were awfully worried we'd miss our connection in York, but between the five of us that's never going to happen. Just imagine the fuss there'd be if we didn't show up!"
Peggy glanced at Nancy. "Yes, that would be dreadful," Nancy agreed quickly.
"Of course, if any school was going to understand a mix-up like that it would be the Chalet School," Gisel continued. "We'd get in trouble of course, but the teachers are awfully understanding- oh, but you haven't told us your names yet! And do you know which forms you'll be in?"
Gisel was clearly someone who liked talking, Nancy decided, but she was so friendly it didn't seem to matter. "I'm Nancy," she said, "and I think I'm for Lower Va - and they said they'd try Peggy in Upper IVb and see how she got on."
"Oh, smashing!" Gisel exclaimed, then, "Sorry, Natalie! But you have to say that it's - jolly good that we've got someone else in Upper IV! We're rather empty at the moment."
Nancy didn't think Gisel had said that needed apologising for, but since Natalie was still looking a little vexed, she asked hastily "What did you mean, the Chalet School would understand it if we mixed up our trains? I've never heard of a school where the nati- the grown-ups, I mean, wouldn't get upset about it."
"I did't say they wouldn't get upset, but they're always so fair about people making mistakes - besides, someone at school is always getting in to some kind of adventure. It's always been like that, right from the start- Natalie, tell them about Mutti's first term. You're much better at it than I am."
"Oh yes, do!" Gretchen spoke for the first time. "Our mother was one of the first girls at the school," she explained proudly to Nancy and Peggy. So Natalie told them about the school's beginnings in Austria, and how on the very first school trip their mother had been stuck in a shepherd's hut on a mountain during a storm. Then, with her sisters' encouragement, she told them about two girls who had run away up a different mountain, and about the next term, when the school had been flooded out completely. By the time they arrived in York, Nancy was starting to think that perhaps her new school wouldn't be such a bad place after all - at least, it wouldn't be if they managed to fit in a decent stranding up a mountain or two. And Gisel looked like being friendly with Peggy, so that was alright. Hopefully she'd find her own classmates just as nice.As the train pulled into the station, Natalie glanced at her watch and gave a startled cry. "We're running late!" she said. "Quickly - we can still make it if we hurry! Oh, but I don't even know which platform is the one that we want!"
"But we do," Peggy said reassuringly. "We've been here before. We'll have to run though."
"Right," Nancy agreed, taking charge. "All hands on deck. Peggy, is that your blazer- oh, yours, Gisel? I suppose you better not leave it behind. Gretchen, we're going to be moving fast, so cry out if you can't keep up so we don't leave you behind. All present and accounted for?"
"Aye aye, sir," Peggy replied automatically, much to the other girls' astonishment - but by the time the doors opened they were all ready to go, and Nancy led them out onto a station that was crowded with other children, none of which were wearing the right uniform. Nancy pushed her way through a group of boys discussing their rugger team, and - after making sure she was still being followed by the others - headed due North. Everyone else seemed to be going in the opposite direction to them, which only made things more difficult, and twice they had to stop to rescue Gretchen from being left behind. By the time they reached their platform the train's whistle was sounding to say it was about to leave, and the five girls made a mad dash to the nearest carriage.
Luckily, they'd been spotted, and as Nancy gave Gretchen a helpful boost up to the door someone grabbed the younger girl from the other side and pulled her in. Gisel and Peggy were next, and then Natalie. Nancy waited until last before she threw her case and umbrella in, and several hands tugged her in, too, just as the train shuddered in to motion. Nancy found herself surrounded by girls wearing brown and flame, most of whom were either looking curiously at Nancy herself or exclaiming excitedly at her narrow escape.
Natalie, who was quite out of breath, huffed to Nancy that she had better go find the prefect in charge and let her know that they had arrived. "But I'll be back to make see you as soon as I can," she added. Gisel was busy finding Peggy a seat and for a moment, Nancy felt quite out of place. Then the tall, boyish girl who had helped pull them on to the train moved over to make room for Nancy, and gave her a wary smile. "You must be Ruth," she said. "Mrs Turner asked me to keep an eye out for you."Nancy stared. It was safe to assume that this was the rector's daughter - but she didn't look much like a rector's daughter. Rectors' daughters, in Nancy's opinion, ought to have fussy dresses and curly golden hair - how else were you meant to know who they were? She opened her mouth to correct the girl about her name, but the girl was still talking. "I'm Tom - Tom Gay. You know, for a moment there I didn't think you were going to make it."
"Yes, we were jolly lucky you spotted us," Nancy said easily. "I say, Tom, couldn't you call-"
"Tom!" Nancy was interrupted by a small, delicate-looking girl who gave her a cursory smile and continued, "Did you hear the twins aren't coming back? They've gone off to Canada to be with their sister."
Tom gave a low whistle. "Not really? But I thought they were staying until they'd finished school - and that there wasn't anyone to take them?"
"You really haven't heard? Madame and Sir James have gone to Canada, taking all their lot with them, and Mrs Maynard's triplets."
"I don't think that's quite right, Lilias." A third girl joined the conversation, her voice soft. She looked rather more like a rector's daughter should have, with golden curls and big blue eyes. "Julie Lucy wrote to me that Madame had left for Canada, but she said Sybil was still going to be at school - and it's only Margot who has gone with them. It must be hard for Mrs Maynard, having to let her daughter go like that."
"We won't have Mrs Maynard with us this term anyway," Lilias said, apparently unperturbed by her correction. "She'll still be at Plas Gwyn - we probably won't get to see her at all."
The conversation had attracted a number of listeners by this point, and the round of murmurs that followed this information told Nancy that whoever this Mrs Maynard was she was clearly well thought of. Perhaps she'd been a teacher at the school before she got married. One girl, however, was clearly not interested. She gave a loud sniff and said, "I don't see why you're all making such a fuss about it. Any one would think Mrs Maynard worked miracles for all you lot go on about her."
An instant hubbub arose even before she had finished speaking, as most of the listeners tried to either argue with her or tell her exactly what they thought of her. Tom's sharp "Annis!" cut through the rest, and Annis flushed suddenly and didn't say anything more. Lilias, however, was clearly not content to let things lie even as the other girls in the compartment quietened.
"You're not going to start playing up again, are you, Annis? I know you said last term you were going to hate any school your aunt sent you to, but really, you're jolly lucky to have been sent here-"
Annis flushed again, although this time it was clearly out of anger as she jumped up and said, "Aunt Margaret can send me to any school she likes, but she jolly well can't make me stay there. My name isn't Annis Jane Lovell if I don't make Bill and the Abbess thankful to get rid of me at any price before this term ends!"
This was followed by a stunned silence, and Nancy wondered if the other girls were going to keelhaul Annis right there and then before she realised the silence was due to the older-looking girl standing in the compartment doorway. Nancy was impressed. No one at St Margaret's could have shut up a group of chattering girls quite so efficiently, except perhaps the Headmistress herself. She didn't even tell Annis off, just warned them all to keep their voices down. Tom sheepishly said, "Sorry, Kathie - we didn't mean to disturb you," and the big girl disappeared again.
There was a moment's silence before Tom said, her voice still sheepish, "I say, Ruth, you must be having the world's worst first impression of us."
"Great congas! It's quite alright," Nancy said. "Only, can you call me Nancy? Great Aunt Maria calls me Ruth." That seemed to be enough of an explanation for Tom, who immediately introduced her to the pretty blonde girl - Rosalie - as such. Tom and Rosalie proceeded to spend most of the journey to Carnbach telling Nancy what they thought she ought to know about the Chalet School, and for the most part she listened with interest. She did, however, steal the occasional glance at Annis, who was now sitting at a window seat, staring moodily out and not talking to anyone. For all of Annis' bad temper, Nancy couldn't help feeling sympathy for the other girl. After all, weren't Peggy and her being sent to school against their will, too?Peggy woke up wondering where she was. Her bed was far too soft for her to be in her tent, but the mattress was too firm for her bed at home. Had she fallen asleep in Uncle Jim's houseboat again? Then, as she opened her eyes and glanced around her, she remembered. She was at school - a new school, sharing a dormitory with several other girls, none of whose names she could currently remember.
She had enjoyed most of the trip across yesterday - especially the trip on the ferry, when Gisel had been caught up in a group of her friends and Peggy had managed to slip off by herself and watch the passing scenery - mostly small islands, with nothing on them but plants and birds. There was one she noticed particularly, which had four or five houses almost obscured by the trees surrounding them. She supposed that they were there as a windbreak, but it made it look more savage than a simple group of houses ought to look.
"Guard tower," Nancy had said, appearing suddenly next to her and nodding towards the same island that Peggy had been looking at. "Watching in case any of the prisoners - that's us - try and make a break for it. We'd be shot on sight, I expect." Then she had caught sight of Peggy's face and said, "Oh, you tame galoot! Things aren't going to be that bad. From everything that Natalie said - and Tom - we're going to be in for a super time. So cheer up, you idiot."
Peggy had cheered up - then. But as soon as they had reached the island she and Nancy had been separated almost at once, and then Gisel had explained to her that Fifth Formers were Seniors, Fourth Formers were Middles, and they were unlikely to see much of each other most of the time. Gisel hadn't seemed to think this was anything to be upset about, so Peggy hadn't said anything - but this morning, lying in bed and waiting for the rest of her dormitory to wake up, she felt utterly miserable at the thought of having to settle in to this new school without Nancy.
Luckily, she wasn't left with these thoughts for long. A loud bell began to ring, immediately followed by the sounds of grumbling from the cubicle next to hers. A curiously sweet voice said, "That's the rising bell, everyone. There's no excuse for staying in bed, even if this is the first morning," and then the grumbling stopped and a collection of thumps sounded instead. Peggy also tumbled out of bed, not sure what to do with herself.
Someone drew her curtain aside, and a dainty-looking girl smiled in at her. "Hello," she said, in the same silvery-sweet voice that Peggy had already heard, "You must be Peggy. I'm a Peggy too, coincidentally - Peggy Bettany, the dormy pree - I thought I'd better help you through things this morning." She suited actions to her words, starting to strip the bed and shooing Peggy off to use the bathroom - only they called them the Splasheries, here. Gisel had warned her about this, and Peggy hurried quickly through her cold bath, trying not to make too much of a mess. On her return she found her bed un-making finished, and the other Peggy said to her approvingly, "That was quick! It's a good thing, too, for those of us who come after you."
"You're lucky you're not after Gill," a red-headed girl said as Peggy Bettany disappeared back to her own part of the dormitory. "Sometimes she takes so long in the Splasheries we have to send in a team of rescuers to make sure she's not drowned."
"Clem, you beast!" cried a wrathful voice - the owner of whom was yet to appear. Whoever it was, she was the same girl who had been grumbling when the rising bell went.
Peggy found, thanks to the other Peggy's help, that she was the first from her dorm ready, although no one, not even Gill, was very far behind her. The red-headed Clem gave her a matey grin before they marched to the large dining hall, and Peggy shyly smiled back. When they reached the hall she spotted Nancy, already seated, and tried desperately to catch her eye, but Nancy was chatting to the same tall, boyish girl that she had befriended yesterday, and didn't notice.
She found herself sitting between Gisel, who seemed happy to see her again, and Clem, who between mouthfuls said, "We're jolly lucky to have Peggy Bettany as our dormy pree. She's so - what's that word? You know, she thinks about other people all the time."
"Conscientious?" Gisel suggested.
"Yes, I think that's it. She's a bit sticky if you try to play her up, though."
"What's our form teacher like?" Peggy asked, suddenly remembering that Clem had been one of the girls in her classroom yesterday.
"Miss Moore? She's awfully jolly - out of lessons."
"Oh," Peggy said, not sure by what Clem meant by that. Was she very terrifying when she was teaching? She had seemed rather nice yesterday, but perhaps that hadn't counted as a lesson. Doubt set in again. Just how strict were the teachers here? Very strict, surely, if the G. A. had sent them here - but then why did all the other girls look so happy to be here?
Breakfast over, the girls headed back to their dormitories where they were to remake their beds now that they had finished airing. Peggy carefully copied the way that Clem and Gill did theirs, concentrating so hard that it was not until she had picked her pillow up to plump it that she realised there was a piece of paper pinned to its slip. She glanced around, but no one else seemed to have one - at least, they were all still busy tugging blankets straight.
Peggy reached for the piece of paper, confused. If a teacher or a matron wanted her, surely they wouldn't leave her a note on her pillow - but none of the girls could possibly have had time to write her a note at the rate they had all been rushing around that morning. She unpinned it, and unfolded it, and broke into a smile - then remembered herself and quickly balled the paper so nobody could see it.
The piece of paper didn't hold a note at all, but a carefully drawn Jolly Roger.
"Well! How on earth did we get landed with those two Blackett girls, Nell? Were they sent to us just to try our collective patience, or are they punishment for our sins?" And with that Rose Anderson threw herself into an armchair in a most un-mistress-like manner. Miss Moore, Peggy's for mistress, frowned at her.
"What's young Peggy been doing?"
"Not her - her sister! How that form managed to be blessed with both Ruth Blackett and Annis Lovell is something I would very much like to know." This made Miss Wilson, who had been looking on with amusement, suddenly look grim.
"What has Nancy done, Anders? Nothing as bad as Annis, I hope." Rose shook her head.
"Oh, nothing like that - though she's cheeky enough, in her own way! But between the two of them my patience was nearly used up in their lesson today. Annis was being her usual disagreeable self - she glowered at me through the entire lesson, and although I didn't take any notice of her it isn't exactly nice to be stared at as if I'd just suggested she sacrifice her first born! Then Ruth-" and, as if she'd suddenly seen the funny side of it, she started to giggle.
"I was working them hard on their theory today, so I read to them 'The Highwayman' at the end of the lesson. We did narrative poetry last term, you know, so I thought they ought to remember something about it. Well, I started to ask the girls questions and got some fairly good answers out of them - especially young Rosalie Way. You know, I really think that we may have another authoress on our hands before long, if she decides to keep working at it."
"Never mind Rosalie, Rose! Finish telling us about Ruth," Miss Wilson, who was listening to the conversation with interest, butted in. Miss Anderson had a habit of allowing herself to go off into tangents which both irritated and amused her fellow mistresses.
"Oh! Well, I had gone around the room asking questions when it came to Ruth. I asked her whether she thought the characters had been portrayed sympathetically or not. She shook her head vehemently and said, 'Barbequed billygoats, I should think not! Bess should have reported the highwayman as soon as he came calling, and strung Tim up by his ankles as a warning to everyone else! I'd like to see those soldiers try and take her on then!'"
This was met with chuckles from her listeners, and Mary Burnett demanded to know what she had done. "Oh, I simply told her she had missed the point and suggested she commit the first three stanzas to memory to see if that helped. She didn't seem at all put out though - if anything, she only looked more cheerful! Where on Earth did we pick the Blacketts up, Nell? I've never met a girl less easily cowed in my life - and as for her language! It's not slang, exactly, it's..."
"It's almost piratical," this came from Gillian Linton, her eyes dancing. "At least, judging by the shivering of timbers that was going on in their form room yesterday when I went to look for Bride Bettany. Where do they come from, Nell?
"They came from a small girls' school in London - oh, I forget its name. An aunt of theirs heard about us through the Gays and wrote to us on their mother's behalf. A good thing they've come to us, too, by all accounts. Their former school doesn't seem to have done much in the way of science, and Peggy, at least, is taking to it like a duck to water. Ruth especially has a record of naughtiness - but, well, a nice naughtiness. I'm glad she hasn't fallen in with Annis."
At this point, Miss Annersley and Miss Phipps, the head of the Kindergarten, entered the staffroom to ask if anyone wished to view the newly finished St Agnes' house, and Ruth was, for the meantime, forgotten. Elsewhere in the school, however, she was still being discussed."That new child is up to something." Jacynth Hardy looked up from the composition she was working at as Gay Lambert entered the the Prefects' Room and flashed her a winning smile. "I thought you might be here a little early," she added. "I brought you Gillian's letter to read since you didn't have a chance earlier."
"Oh, thanks - if you remind me later I'll give you the note Ruth sent me. She did say she was going to write you a longer letter next week, but you might as well as catch up on all the news from home now as later." Jacynth tucked the letter from Gill Culver into her blazer pocket, and glanced back at Gay. "Now, what's this about one of the new girls? Don't tell me it's Dickie Christie, for I shan't believe you."
Gay laughed. "No, my love, it certainly isn't Dickie - I expect Ruthie would tell me that I could learn a lesson or two in good sense from her! - it's that Fifth Former, Ruth Blackett."
"Don't you mean 'Nancy'?" Jacynth asked, her normally serious face suddenly alight. Two nights before she had found the Senior Common Room in the middle of an argument that might have graced the Junior Common Room. At the time, she had merely dressed down those involved and told them they should be ashamed of their behaviour, but she had later heard from the stately Anthea Barnett that the argument had started when Esme Beranger, a pretty but rather empty-headed girl in VIb, had taken it upon herself to inform a group of Fifth Formers that as Seniors, they should be conducting themselves with more dignity, and suggested they start by accepting that their friend's name was Ruth, not Nancy. How this rather thoughtless comment had led to the scene of chaos Jacynth had stumbled upon she still wasn't sure; but since that incident the rest of the Senior School had gone out of its way to call Nancy by her preferred name.
"Well then, Nancy if she prefers," Gay said easily, "although goodness knows why she thinks 'Ruth' is so terrible! Today was the second morning in a row I've caught her returning to her dormy just before brekker. She said she'd forgotten her hanky, both times, but she doesn't seem like the forgetful type as a rule. No, don't give me that look! I'm sure that whatever business she had in the dormitories it wasn't strictly legal - no one could look that innocent and not be up to something!"
"But she's fifteen - she's too old to be pulling pranks," Jacynth objected.
"Not at all!" Gay dimpled. "Don't you remember that story Jo told us about her and her friends flouring someone's hair - when she was a sub-pre, no less. Nancy struck me as being lively enough to break out in just that direction - although I'm surprised that none of her friends have squashed her yet, if she is. Tom and co. are a sensible lot, as a rule."
Jacynth considered. Gay's feelings certainly weren't enough to go on by themselves, but she was rather good at spotting trouble-makers in general - due in part to her own days as a 'lively' Middle. "I'll keep my eye on her," she said at last. "I can't exactly drag her into my office just because she has forgotten her hanky once or twice."
"Which was exactly what I hoped you'd say," Gay returned.
At this point, Kathie Robertson arrived to breathlessly inform them that Annis Lovell was up before the Abbess for having cheeked one of the other mistresses, and then the rest of the prefects arrived for their meeting and Nancy was temporarily forgotten. But the next morning, Jacynth found herself watching as Nancy, having arrived in the dining room with the rest of her dormitory, quietly slipped back out again without anyone noticing. What in the world was she up to?Nancy crept stealthily among the catacombs. It wasn't easy, trying to sneak off by herself - the staff here noticed everything, and the prees were even worse - but she had discovered on her very first morning that there was a tiny gap before breakfast when she could make a break for it - when the coast was clear. She'd already narrowly avoided being caught by a witch-doctor that morning. What exactly happened if the witch-doctor caught you breaking rules was something that hadn't been fully explained to her yet, but Nancy gathered from what Bride and Tom had said that it was something dire. Ritual sacrifice, probably. Luckily, the starched robes the witch-doctor wore - some kind of tribal thing, obviously - meant that if you listened hard enough you could always hear her coming.
As she reached the dorm, Nancy slipped out of the shadows and opened the door, which quickly proved to have been a mistake. The tribe's bravest warrior stood there, ready to challenge her. That was the problem with being a smuggler all by yourself - there was no one to act as lookout in case of trouble.
"Ruth," said Jacynth Hardy, "This is the third time this week you have come back to the dormitories, and you do know that you're not supposed to be here. No-" as Nancy opened her mouth to speak, "I don't want to hear your excuse now. You can come to my office during afternoon tea and I will hear what you have to say then." Again, Nancy opened her mouth to reply, but something in Jacynth's steady gaze made her simply say, "Oh - yes, Jacynth, of course."
Under Jacynth's stern eye Nancy could do nothing but go back to the large dining room where other girls were still lining up to be seated. She slipped quietly into her place in line as though everything was normal - but, once they were seated and their air was filled with the clatter of plates and the hum of young voices, her neighbour said to her in an undertone, "What have you been up to, Nancy? I saw Jacynth follow you in to the room. Don't tell me you've been getting into trouble, too."
Nancy gave Tom a calculating look. The two were well on the way to becoming firm friends, as were she and Rosalie, who rather reminded Nancy of young Dot. Still, Tom's conscience was worryingly large, and Nancy knew her well enough already to know what her opinion of Nancy's behaviour would be - and that, given Annis' exploits the previous day, her entire form was unlikely to be sympathetic to a new girl breaking rules. So all she said was, "She caught me going back to dormy for a hanky and wants to see me at afternoon tea. Still, it was either risk going back for it or risk getting caught without one, so I expect I'll just get a lecture about forgetfulness. Pass me another bread roll, will you?"
Tom wasn't happy with this explanation, but she could hardly accuse Nancy of lying; and since Nancy did not seem unduly upset perhaps that was all that had happened after all. Bride broke in then with a question about their maths prep from the night before and Tom put it out of her head completely.
Nancy, on the other hand, was having great difficulty putting Jacynth's summons out of her head. As the morning progressed she struggled at length to come up with a reason for being discovered where she was that morning, but finally, reluctantly, realised that there was only one explanation she could give. When Jacynth asked her why she had been wandering around the dormies when she ought to have been finding her line for marching in to breakfast, and why, if she please, had it not been her own dormy she had been about to enter, Nancy burst out, "It was Peggy's!"
Jacynth's brow snapped together. "Your sister's dormitory? That did not give you the right to be there, Ruth."
Nancy wriggled impatiently at the sound of her much-hated name, but she continued, "It's dreadful, you know, Jacynth. We never see each other any more - hardly at all, anyway. We're not in the same comm, or at the same meal table, or even sleeping on the same floor."
Jacynth was still frowning, but it appeared to be a thoughtful frown rather than an angry one. "I see. So you were endeavouring to meet your sister, even though you knew it was against the rules and that, if caught, both of you would be in trouble."
"Oh, no, nothing like that," Nancy said, her own voice cheerful now that the first confession was out of the way. "I was just going to leave her something, to show that I'd been there." And remembering what was still stuffed into her pocket, she pulled out tiny dinghy she had made at Hobby Club three days previously.
Jacynth didn't reply immediately, but fixed Nancy with a meditative look that made even that young lady distinctly uncomfortable. In truth, she was wondering what to do. It was clear to her that the Blackett sisters were extremely close, and that this creeping around and leaving presents was Nancy's way of keeping her sister from moping. Jacynth had no sisters herself, and she had always been a law-abiding girl; but Nancy's attitude struck her as one that her own great friend, Gay Lambert, might have had at her age. In her own casual way, Nancy was dedicated to her sister, and this situation would require careful handling if Jacynth didn't want to put Nancy's back up - and she had no mind to give the fifth form another Annis to deal with.
"Nancy," she said, finally, "at the Chalet School, we've always encouraged girls to stand on their own feet. If you're always relying on someone else, how can you grow up to become the strong woman you are meant to be?"
It was Nancy's turn to frown. Part of her was saying that any good captain needed to be able to rely on their crew, because how else were they going to get any sailing done? At the same time, she didn't think that was what Jacynth was talking about, so she listened as the Head Girl continued, "I know you want to make sure that Peggy is happy here, but how can she be happy when you're still running around after her, making sure that there's nothing wrong? Peggy needs to learn how to manage for herself."
Nancy's face cleared. "I see. Even though she's an excellent First Mate, I'll never know whether she's a good Captain or not unless I let her give it a go."
"Exactly," Jacynth said, bemused as she was by Nancy's nautical analogy. "Now, I'm willing to let you off without even a fine, as long as you promise me that you'll let Peggy have a chance to find her own feet - to sink or swim, if you like. I wouldn't be surprised to find that Peggy is perfectly capable of looking after herself."
"Oh, she is," Nancy said easily. "Only, I never looked at it like that before. I promise, of course! And - thank you, Jacynth."
Jacynth dismissed her after that. Alone in her tiny office, she mused, "She does have an odd way of looking at things. But she's a nice girl despite that, and I wouldn't be surprised if Nancy turned out to be a credit to the Chalet School before too long!"