‘There they are!’ Miss Marple said as they caught sight of numerous girls of different ages and heights in brown-and-flame uniforms. They made their way over and found the escort mistress.
Miss Stephens greeted Lucy warmly. ‘Welcome, Lucy!’ She ticked Lucy’s name off on her list. ‘I’ll find someone in your form for you to travel with in just a second. Would you like to say goodbye to your er –‘
‘Great-aunt,’ Lucy supplied without a blink. She turned to Miss Marple. ‘Goodbye, Aunt Jane. Take care of yourself.’
‘I shall, dear. And you enjoy school. I shall visit you soon.’
Miss Stephens shepherded Lucy away and handed her over to Nita Eltringham. ‘Nita, this is Lucy Thomas. She’ll be in your form. Could you look after her for me please?’
Nita smiled. ‘Of course, Miss Stephens. Hello, Lucy. Welcome to the Chalet School.’
The journey was a blur to Lucy as she could hardly keep awake. Nita saw that her new companion was tired and let her be. Lucy was glad to get to school, have some supper and fall into bed.
‘I wonder how I’ll find out what’s going on,’ was her last coherent thought.
The first two weeks weren’t too difficult for Lucy, even though there was a lot to take in, her timetable to get, find her way round the building and learn all the rules and regulations. She had read the prospectus very thoroughly after Miss Marple had come to tea at the vicarage and explained why she had recommended the school to Daddy. And a friend of Miss Marple’s had been to the school and had a huge pile of back copies of the Chaletian, so Lucy had done her research.
Despite what the other girls said, Lucy ran a tepid bath each morning and didn’t tell anyone. Not conforming to the school culture took energy and ingenuity, but Lucy had these in abundance and managed to go her own way without anyone really noticing.
Her classmates had been amazed that she was just fourteen and had been put into their form.
‘Usually when we get girls from other schools, their standards are much lower than the Chalet School,’ Peggy Bettany told her. Lucy said nothing. These girls were so wrapped up in their own superiority, they had no idea that the Scottish educational system was widely envied around the world.
‘How is it that you’re so good at French?’ Nita wanted to know.
‘My late mother was French,’ Lucy said. That proved an effective conversation stopper.
Lucy told Miss Marple all about it in her weekly letter. ‘The girls here are incredibly nosy, under the pretence of being friendly,’ she wrote. ‘I’ve managed to find a way to get my letter to the post when we’re out walking in case of it being intercepted. I only give in the one to Daddy, which doesn’t say anything, and I smuggle yours out. I’m so glad you gave me those stamps on the train.
‘There’s definitely something strange going on,’ Lucy continued. ‘Apart from the cold baths and a Matron who’s a battle-axe, it’s not like a normal boarding school at all. The prefects spend more time minding the younger ones than doing their own work – Heaven knows how they pass their exams and get into university. Well actually I do know. There’s an exam scam going on and I should have some evidence by next week. They have to get into good universities if they don’t marry a doctor straight away, then they come back and teach and then marry a doctor from the San.’
Lucy was interrupted by the bell for Kaffee und Kuchen and hastily tidied her letter away where it couldn’t be found by anyone. She completed it later in the dormitory by torchlight, telling Miss Marple about the question on her ability at French.
‘My mother isn’t actually dead,’ Lucy wrote. ‘Daddy thinks I don’t know she ran off with a circus performer. And of course I couldn’t tell anyone here because they’d think I was terribly low-class and likely to want to wear make-up and chase boys. It’s a good thing I have a Scots accent as they can’t raise eyebrows because I don’t talk all posh like them.
‘I’m trying hard to catch something so I can have a couple of days in the San. as it seems to be the centre of operations. It’s a pity I’m so disgustingly healthy. Must go now, Aunt Jane. Take care and I’ll write again soon. Love Lucy.’
Miss Marple, reading this two days later, sighed. ‘I do wish I could get into the school in some way so that I could keep an eye on Lucy,’ she said to herself. ‘She’s a very intelligent and brave girl but I worry that she will endanger herself.’
Putting aside her worries, Miss Marple sauntered out into Armiford to do some shopping. She planned to get permission to invite Lucy for tea and she needed some supplies. As she walked down the main street, she noticed someone collapse and seemingly die in front of one of the shops but she kept going. It was all a matter of priorities.
Author's Chapter Notes:
Lucy and Miss Marple settle into their new environment and Lucy makes an interesting discovery.