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CHAPTER 11

‘Oh,’ Lucy said, wishing for once that she didn’t have such a Puritanical attitude towards slang. ‘Miss Webb would definitely not have wanted anyone to find this one. But why didn’t the person who murr-derred her take it away?’

‘Yes, that is a puzzle, dear. Though I do have a theory…..’ Miss Marple stopped suddenly. ‘I can hear them taking Joey back to sick bay. I’d know that foghorn voice of Matey’s anywhere. You’d better scram. Mr P will be back imminently.’

Lucy took a moment to give Aunt Jane a disapproving look, then slipped out of the compartment and into the one next door. Not a moment too soon, as she heard Poirot enter his compartment and speak to Miss Marple.

Eh bien, Mademoiselle, you must admit that this only confirms the guilt of the Mademoiselle Annersley.’

‘I wouldn’t be getting the guillotine out any time soon, Monsieur Poirot,’ Lucy heard her aunt say, in a waspish tone she didn’t normally employ.

‘So how do you explain Miss Webb’s death and Miss Annersley being the only person in the right place at the right time?’ Lucy could almost see the flourish of the moustache.

‘I don’t understand, Monsieur Poirot,’ Miss Marple answered. ‘What makes you think Miss Annersley was there at the appropriate time?’

Lucy could hear Poirot pacing up and down the small compartment and dearly would have loved to slap him.

‘Because, Mademoiselle, the so-naughty Middlings told me of the midnight feast. They left the dining carriage before their head teacher so enfin she was the last person around.’

Lucy didn’t wait to hear any more. Heedless of being seen passing the compartment, she stamped off down the train and burst into the dining carriage, where the girls were being looked after by the other prefects.

‘I want the Middles out here now,’ Lucy roared, striding through the carriage and out towards the guard’s van on the other side.

Shocked faces turned towards her. Lucy had never been heard to speak like that in all her years at the Chalet School.

‘Better go, girls,’ Nina told them. ‘She means business.’

Lucy pointed to the guard’s van and the girls went sullenly. She shut the door and leaned against it.

‘What on earth were you thinking about, telling Monsieur Poirot about the midnight feast and Miss Annersley. How could you be such traitorous little beasts? Don’t you realise he’s trying to pin the murder on Miss Annersley. How is it going to look when you’re at a school whose headmistress has been executed for murder?’

Heads drooped and Lucy pressed on.

‘Miss Annersley let you off any punishment and this is the way you repay her? I’m ashamed of you. And you needn’t think you’re going to get away with the midnight feast. I’m Head Girl here and I’m overturning your agreement with Miss Annersley.’

By the time Lucy had finished, eight very shaken young girls, most in tears, filed out of the guard’s van and back to the dining carriage.

Nina, Daphne and Nita looked at the snivelling children in astonishment. ‘Whatever happened?’ Daphne asked, passing her handkerchief to Prudence Black, who was crying uncontrollably.

‘Lucy has set the punishment for the midnight feast,’ Patience explained. ‘Letters home to our parents won’t affect us, as Daddy is dead and Mummy is in a secure mental hospital. But we’ve all got two double order marks so we’ll miss the cinema trip at school and the end-of-term party and we have to look after Joey’s bloody triplets the whole time we’re in Austria!’

‘Get Matey,’ Daphne said crisply to Nina. ‘Lucy’s taken leave of her senses. She needs a dose of something.’

‘But Lucy hates Matey,’ Nina objected.

‘Can’t be helped,’ Daphne said. ‘We’ve got to get her calmed down before she does any more damage. Now hurry, I’ve got my hands full here with these kids. And tell Matey to break out her secret stash of chocolate biscuits for the Middles!’

A few moments later, Matey raced through the dining car and into the guard’s van. Raised voices could be heard but no-one emerged. Suddenly silence fell.

‘Do you think Lucy has killed Matey?’ Patience asked.

‘She will if she get half a chance,’ Nina muttered, only audible to Daphne. In a louder voice she added. ‘Let’s get these chocolate biscuits and some cocoa distributed.’

Matey staggered out of the guard’s van, just as Robin came in the other end of the carriage. ‘I can’t do anything with her,’ Matey said, sounding injured. ‘She’s the only girl who’s never responded to my brisk-kindness-which-covers-a-heart-of-gold and real understanding of young people.’

Robin raised an eyebrow. Daphne explained what had been going on.

‘I’ll drag her out here for a coffee and a fag,’ Robin said, heading to the other end of the carriage. She emerged a couple of minutes later with Lucy in tow.

The Middles hastily finished their cocoa, grabbed their coats and threw themselves out of the door and into the snow.



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