|A moment later|
Lucy got up from her chair. She was chalk-white. ‘It’s not Aunt Jane, is it?’
‘Heavens no,’ the inspector said. ‘Your aunt is indestructible. But she was on the scene.’
‘That figures,’ murmured Lucy, then remembered she wasn’t allowed to use slang and blushed.
‘I’ll overlook the use of slang this once, Lucy, but don’t make a habit of it,’ Miss Annersley told her.
‘No Miss Annersley, sorry.’
Miss Annersley turned to the inspector. ‘What happened, Inspector Haddock?’
‘Miss Marple was walking along the street in Armiford, past the butcher’s when someone came out of the shop, keeled over and died.’
‘But what makes you think it has anything to do with Marie’s death?’
‘There doesn’t appear to be anything to link the deaths on the face of it,’ Inspector Haddock said. ‘But Miss Marple thought it was curious because the same thing happened to her a couple of weeks ago.’
‘I’d have thought that was more than curious,’ Miss Annersley said. ‘I’d call that downright spooky!’
‘Miss Marple said that she didn’t take much notice of the first one, as people do tend to die when she’s around, but two in one spot on the High Street did seem a bit unlikely.’
‘Do you know who it was?’ Lucy asked, forgetting where she was and with whom for a moment.
‘I’ve discovered that both the deceased were from Howells Village, not from Armiford,’ the Inspector said. ‘I don’t understand the connection with Marie Varick, but Miss Marple insists there is one.’
Lucy was desperate to ask what Aunt Jane thought the connection was or why she was so insistent, but recalled in time that she was in her headmistress’s study and shouldn’t be putting herself forward. Miss Annersley could see the questions hovering on Lucy’s lips and took pity on her.
‘Does Miss Marple give any reason for being so sure there is a connection?’
‘She said something about Letitia Williams who went missing from St Mary Mead and then she trailed off, as if deep in thought.’
Miss Annersley and Lucy exchanged glances. They knew that this meant Miss Marple was on to a solution.
‘I hope as well as unravelling the deaths she sorts out whatever is going on here,’ Miss Annersley said.
‘I think she plans to,’ Inspector Haddock assured her. ‘She muttered something about “butcher’s” and “ration cards”. Don’t ask me what it has to do with the school. No doubt Miss Marple will reveal the truth when she has put all the pieces of the jigsaw together.’
The inspector left and Miss Annersley returned to her desk to get on with paperwork whilst Lucy read her book. Her school work was to hand in case anyone came in and she could quickly cover her novel with a text book.
Rosalie knocked and entered the room and asked if she could speak to Miss Annersley in private. They went into Rosalie’s office, leaving Lucy ostensibly conjugating Latin verbs.
‘That child has had no fresh air today,’ Rosalie pointed out. ‘Why don’t you let me take her for a walk for half an hour?’
With difficulty, Miss Annersley stopped herself saying “no” too quickly. It wouldn’t do if the idea got around that she was being protective of Lucy. She dared not endanger Lucy by allowing even Rosalie to work out that Lucy knew something.
‘You’re quite right, Rosalie. But you should be going off duty now. I’ll take Lucy for a walk. I want to speak to her anyway and see if I can bring her to realise the error of her ways.’
Rosalie’s expression clearly signified that she thought Miss Annersley was making too much of a child having run away.
‘Perhaps she’s a very unhappy child,’ Rosalie ventured. ‘She’s looked thoroughly miserable today and even quite scared. It might be as well to let someone else talk to her.’
That child is likely to be next on the list of murders when I get my hands on her, Miss Annersley thought. Her acting of the penitent child being oppressed by a wicked headmistress was all too realistic.
‘Don’t worry, Rosalie. I will talk to her gently,’ Miss Annersley promised. She returned to the study and told Lucy they were going out for a walk.
‘And no playing the oppressed child!’ Miss Annersley told her, smiling. ‘You can appear as penitent as you want but I’m getting tired of the reproachful looks from all my staff when you wear that terrified expression!’
Lucy grinned. ‘I promise to behave.’
They collected coats and went into the grounds. It had been a beautiful autumn day and the remnants of it lingered but the air was becoming chilly so they moved fairly swiftly.
As they walked along the side of the building, Lucy noticed a number of people in a room which she figured out was the San.
‘Miss Annersley, is there anyone in the San. at the moment?’
‘No, unless they’ve just gone in. Why do you ask?’
‘Don’t look up at the moment but there seems to be a number of people in the San. If no-one is ill, then it suggests something’s happening.’
‘Hmmm,’ Miss Annersley mused. ‘Lucy you aren’t looking well.’
Lucy caught on at once. ‘I’m still feeling very headachy.’
‘I think we had better get you inside. I’ll take you to Matron to get something.’
‘You won’t leave me in the San. will you?’ Lucy asked, clutching her headmistress’s hand.
It was the first sign that Lucy was worried and Miss Annersley was immediately concerned. ‘No, I promise not to do that. Don’t be afraid, Lucy. I won’t let you come to any harm and your Aunt Jane has enrolled you as a helper which means that you’re automatically destined to come through this unscathed.’
Lucy nodded but was still holding Miss Annersley’s hand.
‘Maybe there’s another way to do this, Lucy. I’ll take you back to my study and ask Matron to come down and see you. She would normally try and sweep you off to the San. If she seems reluctant to do so, we can be sure there’s something going on there. And if she decides to move you there, I'll go too.’
‘That would be better,’ Lucy agreed, letting go of Miss Annersley’s hand.
They went back to the school and Miss Annersley phoned Matron who appeared quickly.
‘What is it Lucy? The headaches again?’
Lucy nodded. ‘Yes, Matron.’
‘I wonder if she should be lying down, Matron?’ Miss Annersley asked.
‘No, I don’t think there’s any need for that. I’ll send some of my medicine down and that should do the trick.’
‘You’re sure she shouldn’t be in the San?’ Miss Annersley persisted. ‘She seems very unwell.’
‘I’m sure my medicine will work wonders,’ Matey said and left quickly. A few minutes later one of the girls arrived with the bottle of medicine and instructions that Lucy was to have a teaspoonful.
Miss Annersley poured out the medicine, much to Lucy’s horror, then deposited it in a spare cup. ‘I wouldn’t put it past her having it all measured,’ Miss Annersley explained. ‘Well I think you were right about the San. There’s obviously something going on there. When has Matron ever passed up the chance to incarcerate a child there for as long as possible?’
Author's Chapter Notes:
Miss Annersley and Lucy puzzle over the deaths. And call Matey's bluff.