|The following morning|
Miss Marple, whose prescience was legendary, had come prepared to stay overnight and stayed in a guest room, at Miss Annersley’s pressing invitation.
Untroubled by any concerns about Lucy, Miss Marple slept well, knowing that there was a busy day ahead.
Inspector Haddock phoned early in the morning to say that they had indeed picked up most of the members of the gang, and when he had dealt with the first wave of paperwork, he would be along to the school, perhaps around mid-morning.
The first disruption to the morning was the arrival of a distraught Nita at Miss Annersley’s door before breakfast.
‘Lucy’s run away again!’ she sobbed. ‘I thought we were getting through to her!’
Miss Annersley put an arm round her and drew her inside the room. ‘Nita, don’t distress yourself. You did your very best for Lucy. It’s not your fault.’
‘I feel so betrayed,’ Nita wept. ‘She seemed to like us.’
‘Lucy does like you,’ Miss Annersley soothed. ‘I’m sure you’ll find that there’s a good reason for her disappearance. What makes you think she’s run away? Perhaps she’s gone outside for a walk.’
Nita looked out of the window where the rain was pouring down steadily. ‘Why would she go outside in this weather? In any case, she’s been missing for ages. I woke early and had to go to the – er, go to get a drink of water. When I passed her cubicle it was very quiet and I peeped in. Her bed was empty. I’ve searched the whole school since then.’ She broke down in tears again.
‘Hush, child,’ Miss Annersley said comfortingly. ‘I am certain that Lucy has not run away. Now dry your tears and go along to breakfast. I can deal with Lucy’s disappearance.’
‘You won’t expel her, will you? Or tell her aunt?’ Nita asked. ‘Lucy’s a lovely girl when she’s not being naughty. And her father is terribly strict. She said he’d make her stay here for the holidays if he found out how bad she’d been.’
Miss Annersley smiled. ‘I think Lucy has been exaggerating a little. Reverend Thomas is a very nice man and absolutely devoted to Lucy. Now off you go to breakfast. All shall be well, I promise.’
Nita went as instructed and Miss Annersley found Miss Marple and told her the latest.
‘Ah. Yes. Poor Nita. Now shall we go into breakfast, Miss Annersley?’
‘Aren’t you worried about Lucy?’
Miss Marple looked benignly at the headmistress. ‘She can’t have gone far, can she dear? Inspector Haddock had men all around the grounds last evening. If Lucy had left the grounds, she would have been seen. She’s still on the premises.’
Miss Annersley tried to seem convinced, in the face of such certainty from Miss Marple. She reminded herself that this apparently scatty old lady with the fluffy knitting was constantly in the news for solving crime. Usually when the police were completely baffled. So there wasn’t any reason for her to be wrong now – was there?
The news of Lucy’s disappearance had now spread, but at Prayers Miss Annersley spoke reassuringly to the girls.
‘Lucy has come to no harm. Her aunt is here and all shall be well. You can help most by not speculating and continuing as normal.’
Miss Annersley left the dais, conscious that she had not told any actual lies. She hoped that her assertion that all would be well would come true.
Before Inspector Haddock’s arrival, Miss Silver had brought another visitor and they were shown into the study. Thus when the inspector made his entrance, he had a rather larger audience than he had anticipated.
Miss Marple looked at him anxiously. ‘Did you round up all of them?’
Inspector Haddock smiled. ‘We got all of those actively involved last night. And further arrests have been made this morning and the persons concerned are being questioned. Though I know you insist that we have not yet apprehended the person in charge of the whole operation.’
‘I assume it is safe to recover Lucy?’
‘With so many of us to act as bodyguards, I imagine it should be quite safe,’ the inspector said.
Miss Marple addressed the headmistress. ‘Miss Annersley, may I ask you to phone the San. and ask Matey if she could bring Lucy here please?’
‘From the San? Lucy’s been there all the time?’ Miss Annersley shook her head in amazement. ‘Matey is part of the gang?’
Miss Marple didn’t think that “gang” was a very suitable word for a Chalet School headmistress but kept her thoughts to herself.
‘Yes and no,’ the inspector put in, answering only the last question. ‘She was working with them at first, but she was persuaded to change sides.’
‘By whom?’ Miss Annersley was becoming more baffled by the minute.
Miss Marple was pleased to discover that, whilst lapsing into slang, Miss Annersley was not so lost to all sense of decency as to desert her grip on grammar. ‘Well by Miss Denny of course. They kidnapped Lucy last night to keep her safe. They were helped by one of the girls in the dormitory who put something into the hot drinks of the other girls in the dorm and let them in. Though of course she didn’t know that the kidnapping was protective. Perhaps you could ask Matron if Miss Denny could come along too?’
Miss Silver, who had been kept up to date by Miss Marple, was following the conversation reasonably well, but the other visitor was clearly having some difficulty in understanding what was going on.
Miss Annersley made the call to Matron as requested and in a couple of minutes, Matey, Miss Denny and Lucy arrived.
‘DADDY!’ Lucy exclaimed, launching herself at her father, who caught her tightly in his arms.
‘That’s my lovely, brave girl,’ he said, his emotion plain to see.
When everything grew calmer and Miss Annersley had moved them all into her sitting room, which was larger and more comfortable, she suggested that Miss Marple tell the whole story.
‘Oh yes. Well. I’ll try to. But of course the inspector and Lucy have some of the tale to tell too.’ She smiled at Lucy, who was sitting on the couch, with her father’s arm round her shoulders and at the inspector, who was relaxed and enjoying the tea which Miss Annersley had ordered for all of them.
‘It all starts with the escape from Guernsey,’ she explained. ‘And indeed from Austria. The school suffered heavy financial losses and there was a long period after leaving Austria when it wasn’t operating at all. Even when it did reopen, it was with a much smaller number of girls and it wasn’t as sound financially as hitherto.’
She paused and looked round at the circle of expectant faces. ‘The idea for making good those losses by rather dubious means came from a request from some overseas “gentlemen” for want of a better word, who wished their daughters to attend the school.’
‘Who were they?’ Lucy asked.
‘Let us simply say that they were people who would not be entitled to be here legally,’ the inspector said. ‘And their daughters’ identities would have given away theirs. So false papers were provided and school fees paid in cash.’
Miss Marple took up the story again. ‘It was very tempting to take in school fees – at a suitably higher than normal level because of the risk – and not pay tax on them. Of course additional girls with dodgy documents meant that there could be problems with ration cards. If the documents had been scrutinised by the authorities, the fact that they were fakes might have been discovered, so forged ration cards were needed. This put the school authorities at the mercy of some rather unscrupulous people.’
Lucy had been struck dumb by Miss Marple using a forbidden word. She was sure Miss Annersley would not approve of the word “dodgy”. However Reverend Thomas asked the question his daughter was longing to ask. ‘When you refer to “school authorities”, just whom do you mean?’
Miss Marple looked at Miss Annersley. ‘Not Miss Annersley here. She began to realise there was something amiss and has been very troubled by it. The school is owned by Dr & Mrs Russell. It was started by Mrs Russell when she was Madge Bettany. Dr Russell was very wealthy but of course the war and the frequent moves have taken their toll on his financial position.’
She continued. ‘What started as some mild tax evasion led to the school outbuildings being used for storing black market goods, which is what Lucy saw when she went into the outhouse. The school benefitted from some of the goods and there was a payment for using the buildings. Everything was apparently going fine, though in fact the police had started to suspect the school was being used, when first one, then another of the staff at the butcher’s realised that the ration cards were not genuine and found out about the whole black market enterprise.’
‘So that’s why they were done away with?’ Miss Denny spoke for the first time.
Lucy wondered how much further the adults’ language could sink. Though Miss Marple had obviously understood what was meant.
‘Yes. Cyanide in the meat pies, I’m afraid. I should have realised that when they both suddenly collapsed and died in the street.’
People dying when Miss Marple was around was so commonplace that no-one would have found it strange, but those in the room did not like to make that observation.
Lucy found her voice again. ‘Where does the missing girl fit in? And the false exam results?’
‘I believe the exam scam came from the same source but is unrelated to the other activities,’ Miss Marple said. ‘Have you worked out who it is, Lucy?’
‘Yes, but how did you know?’ Lucy asked.
‘It was a process of elimination,’ Miss Marple said. ‘The mistresses for the juniors would have gained no advantage, so it had to be those who taught the seniors. You had overheard two of them talking. Miss Annersley and Miss Denny were clearly out of the running, as were the French teachers because of their accents. With some help from Miss Denny who checked out some exam dates and comings and goings I realised it had to be Miss Wilson and Miss Cochrane!’
‘You’re amazing!’ Lucy said, delighted. ‘So they don’t have anything to do with the rest of it?’
‘I don’t believe so,’ Miss Marple said. ‘I think it was misplaced loyalty to the school which has motivated the exam scam. Better results means more girls and more income for the school.’
Miss Annersley was looking faint at this news but Lucy didn’t notice.
‘And how did you recruit Miss Denny?’
Miss Marple looked across at Miss Denny and smiled. ‘Sarah is one of my many god-daughters. It’s very useful being godmother to so many girls, though I’m constantly shopping for birthday cards. It means when I need someone undercover, I can usually find one to send. In this case she was already established here.’
‘But, about Marie…’ Miss Annersley prompted, unable to contain her curiosity any longer.
‘Ah. Yes. Poor Marie boarded the 4.50 from Haddington, telling her aunt she was going back to school. However she had no such intention. I don’t know how she had discovered what was going on at the school, but she must have done so. On the train, which incidentally also had my friend Elspeth McGillicuddy and the Reverend Thomas as passengers, Marie met one of the malefactors – the chief one - with a view to blackmail.’
Lucy looked at her father. ‘Did you know Marie, Daddy?’
‘Yes, her aunt is one of my parishioners,’ he explained. ‘I remember seeing Marie on the train that day. That’s where I first heard of the existence of the Chalet School. I’m beginning to wonder if it would be better if I had never heard of it!’ He hugged his daughter to his side.
‘I had hoped Mrs McGillicuddy would have been able to accompany Reverend Thomas today but unfortunately she is in jail,’ Miss Marple announced.
‘In jail?’ Several voices spoke at once.
‘Yes. I’m afraid so. Dear Elspeth used to be a Suffragette you know. And during the war she was in the Resistance and was parachuted into France. I’m afraid she finds life very dull now that she has to settle down to being a grandmother. Her latest campaign is to persuade Fettes College in Edinburgh to start a girls’ school and she was arrested on a demonstration.’
‘Peaceful protest isn’t illegal,’ Inspector Haddock said.
‘Unfortunately Elspeth doesn’t go in for peaceful protests,’ Miss Marple said. ‘She had roped herself to the flagpole and was hurling slates from the roof at the headmaster every time he ventured out of the door.’
‘Why did you want Mrs McGillicuddy here, Aunt Jane?’ Miss Denny asked.
‘I think she would have recognised the person whom Marie met on the train.’
Inspector Haddock was curious. ‘How do you know I haven’t already got that person in custody?’
‘I imagine you have arrested Dr & Mrs Russell, Mrs Maynard and Peggy Bettany.’
‘Peggy!’ Miss Annersley was aghast. ‘I can’t believe it!’
‘I don’t think you’ll find any evidence against Mrs Russell,’ Miss Marple answered the inspector, disregarding Miss Annersley’s astonishment. ‘Dr Russell is far too clever for that. But of course Mrs Maynard was in charge of obtaining the forged ration cards. However you don’t have the person who met Marie on the train, Inspector. The mastermind behind it all.’
‘If you say so, Miss Marple,’ the inspector said good-humouredly. ‘So what did this person do with Marie?’
‘Well of course it is impossible to know the details,’ Miss Marple said. ‘Since Marie cannot tell us herself. I think that she was enticed to a meeting-place, perhaps a cottage and persuaded to stay.’
‘And the baby?’
‘This is only supposition of course,’ Miss Marple said. ‘Unless one of the conspirators talks. I think she fancied herself in love with Dr Russell and that he was the baby’s father. She died of natural causes, however. None of them was directly responsible for her death.’
Miss Annersley looked even more grey at such depravity. Miss Marple poured her another cup of tea. ‘I’m afraid this will be giving you a very poor impression of our school, Reverend Thomas,’ Miss Annersley said.
‘Oh good and evil are very much part of my world, Miss Annersley,’ Lucy’s father said. ‘For all the wickedness which has been going on, there is goodness and kindness too.’
‘Then I may stay at school, Daddy?’ Lucy asked.
They were interrupted by Rosalie entering with a message that Matey was needed urgently. Matey excused herself and left.
Reverend Thomas looked puzzled. ‘I’ve seen you before,’ he said to Rosalie. ‘You’re the person Marie spoke to on the train!’
Inspector Haddock got up immediately and grabbed Rosalie before she could escape. ‘Are you sure, Reverend?’ he asked.
‘Absolutely certain. I saw Marie go along the corridor with her as we reached London. Who is she?’
Miss Marple answered as Inspector Haddock dragged a furiously-protesting Rosalie out of the room.
‘She is Dr Russell’s former secretary and lover. More tea, Vicar?’
Author's Chapter Notes:
And all shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well.
Chapter End Notes:
Thanks so much to all of you who have read the story and who have reviewed it. I've absolutely loved writing it and I've loved it that you've commented on it so much and made the characters seem so real. Lizzie