‘So what’s going on, Lucy?’ Robin asked, offering a cigarette. ‘I know you’re devoted to Miss Annersley but weren’t you a bit hard on the brats?’
Lucy took a puff of her cigarette and smiled gratefully at Nina, who had put some fragrant, nectar-like tea in front of her.
‘I was so cross with them for falling into Monsieur Poirot’s trap like that,’ she explained. ‘He’s been determined from the start that Miss Annersley is the culprit.’
‘It doesn’t follow that the Austrian police will agree with him,’ Robin said.
‘Don’t you read the newspapers in Nouvion?’ Lucy asked. ‘Everyone thinks Poirot is infallible. If he tells the Austrian police it was Miss Annersley, then they’ll clap her in irons before you can say ‘Joey Maynard’. He’s been right a couple of times when the police got it wrong and now they’re all scared of looking stupid if they don’t listen to him.’
‘So what’s the answer?’ Robin laid her cigarette on the ashtray and looked at Lucy earnestly. ‘Do you think you can convince him?’
Lucy shook her head. ‘He won’t listen. I’ll have to provide positive proof of how it was done. I need to speak to the Middles again.’
Nina intervened. ‘Not a chance. They’re out in the snow getting hypothermia because they won’t be in the same room as you, even with all of us here.’
‘What about if I act as an intermediary?’ Robin suggested.
‘It might work,’ Nina conceded. ‘They thought you were a nun till they saw you smoking. They’re pretty impressed.’
‘What do you need me to ask them?’ Robin asked Lucy.
Lucy explained and Robin nodded.
‘You’d better make yourself scarce now,’ Robin said. ‘They won’t come back in while you’re here and if Matey locks them all in sick bay we’ll never find anything out.’
Lucy put out her cigarette and made her way back to the prefects’ compartment. She felt like a pariah but she was honest enough to admit it was her own doing. There was a message for her to see Miss Annersley.
As soon as she entered her headmistress’s compartment, she knew she was in trouble.
‘I want to hear what has been going on,’ Miss Annersley said, pointing Lucy to a seat opposite her. She kept a grave composure whilst Lucy told the tale and her soft grey eyes, which now frequently required spectacles, never left Lucy’s face.
‘Lucy, I appreciate your loyalty but this must not cause you to act in a manner unbefitting a Chalet School Head Girl. I am very disappointed in you. Taking out your anger on younger children is quite wrong. I cannot imagine what your dear father would say.’
‘Shall you tell him?’
Miss Annersley looked at Lucy sternly. ‘Provided that this remains an isolated incident, I shall refrain from informing him. But you must be on your best behaviour from now on.’
The other prefects were in the compartment when Lucy returned. ‘What did the Abbess say?’ Nita asked. Lucy told them.
‘Well at least she isn’t telling your father,’ Daphne said. ‘And so I should think after all you’ve done for the school, and particularly for her.’
‘Who’s got the brats?’ Lucy asked.
‘Miss Denny has got the Seniors helping her with the little ones,’ Nina explained. ‘And the Middles are still with Rob.’
‘Good,’ Lucy said. ‘I found some more papers in the guard’s van and I need to study them properly. I could do without having to deal with the girls.’
‘She sounds just like one of the mistresses,’ Nita said to Daphne as they left the compartment to give Lucy some peace. ‘If she doesn’t marry a doctor she’ll probably come back and teach.’
Dinner passed quietly, after which the Juniors and Middles were sent to bed. The Seniors were also despatched, protesting, though they were told they could read for half-an-hour. Lucy had spent the whole meal talking to Robin and the other prefects were consumed with curiosity.
Monsieur Poirot waited until everyone else was gathered in the Salon, so that he could make an “entrance”. He was surprised to see that Lucy was on her feet, addressing the company, who were already settled with cups of tea. He bustled in, expecting to take over the floor but he was shushed and hastily waved to a seat.
‘It all begins,’ Lucy was saying, her Scottish accent a little more pronounced that usual, ‘when Miss Bubb and Miss Webb encountered difficulties in maintaining the numbers in their school.’
‘Not surprising,’ Matron interjected, bridling. ‘So much emphasis on teaching and exam results instead of letting the girls have a healthy outdoor life. Provided that they wear coats, hats, boots, gloves, scarfs and thick stockings of course.’
Lucy ignored her. ‘They hit upon the idea of merging with another school. Most of them were not interested but due to the –er, chequered – recent history of the Chalet School, Mrs Russell was willing to consider it.’
Madge broke in, defensively. ‘We were having difficult times too. It was the only way to secure the school’s future.’
‘Quite,’ said Lucy. ‘And the perilous financial state of the Chalet School made it imperative that the deal took place.’
Everyone was staring at Lucy in astonishment, except Madge who was looking at her with horror.
‘How do you know, Lucy?’ Miss Denny asked.
‘Amongst Miss Bubb’s papers were some Chalet School accounts. The school is not as profitable as it should be, based on the number of girls attending.’
‘You can read accounts?’ Madge asked, incredulous.
‘Of course,’ Lucy answered. ‘I do all Daddy’s parish accounts. Churches are big business.’
‘We’ve never had a girl who could understand accounts before,’ Madge said faintly. ‘Normally girls like that would go to a commercial college.’
Lucy bit back a retort and continued. ‘Mrs Russell had avoided telling Miss Annersley and the other staff about the merger, as she couldn’t afford for anyone to jeopardize it.’
‘Why would someone want to jeopardize the merger if it saved the school?’ Nina asked.
Lucy looked straight at Madge as she answered. ‘Because Miss Annersley, and possibly some of the other senior staff would lose their jobs.’
A gasp went round the room. The only ones unaffected were Miss Marple, who continued knitting placidly and Poirot, who was still cross about being upstaged.
‘From the beginning, Monsieur Poirot was determined that the culprit was Miss Annersley, as she had the most compelling motive,’ Lucy went on. ‘However, motive is not everything.’
‘There is also opportunity, Mademoiselle Lucy,’ Poirot said, bouncing to his feet.
Lucy quelled him with a look learned from her headmistress. ‘Indeed so, Monsieur Poirot,’ she responded. ‘And Miss Annersley played right into your hands by having the opportunity, both for Miss Bubb’s murder and Miss Webb’s death. Though you wouldn’t have known that if those wee sleekit, cow’ring, treach’rous beasties hadn’t told you.’
‘Lucy, my dear,’ Miss Annersley said. ‘Please do not misquote your national Bard in such a fashion. Remember that you are the moral standard for language in this school.’
‘Sorry, Miss Annersley,’ Lucy said. ‘To resume the story, Miss Bubb evidently decided not to go ahead with the merger, as she had not signed the contract, though Mrs Russell had.’
‘How do you know that?’ Robin asked.
‘I’m coming to that part of the story,’ Lucy said.
‘And traditionally Chalet Girls call my sister 'Madame',’ Joey said.
‘I never have,’ Lucy said flatly. She continued. ‘The merger not going ahead would have been a disaster for Miss Webb and I believe she murdered Miss Bubb and tried to frame Miss Annersley.’
‘And what evidence have you?’ Poirot asked, his voice dripping sarcasm.
Lucy wasn’t perturbed. ‘Firstly, there is the fact that Miss Bubb hadn’t signed the contract, though Mrs Russell had.’
‘Miss Bubb did suggest she might still back out,’ Madge admitted.
Lucy threw a triumphant look at Poirot. ‘Then there is the fact that she was in Miss Annersley’s apartment. They hated each other, so she would never have gone there willingly. And finally, although there was a great deal of blood in the compartment, there would have been more if she had been killed there.’
‘Very true, dear,’ Miss Marple said. ‘Monsieur Poirot must have known that, but conveniently overlooked it in his determination to pin the crime on Miss Annersley.’
‘And where was the killing then?’ Poirot asked, rallying.
‘I don’t know,’ Lucy said. ‘But if she had any sense she’d have got Miss Bubb outside on some pretext and then covered the scene of the crime with snow.’
Poirot didn’t seem entirely convinced, but Lucy pressed on.
‘Miss Webb knew that she had to find the contract. It wasn’t in Miss Bubb’s apartment and Miss Webb went looking for it amongst Miss Bubb’s possessions in the guard’s van.’
‘And why was it so important for Miss Webb to find the contract?’ Poirot cut in. ‘It was because….’ He stopped and yelped in pain as Miss Marple had stuck a knitting needle into him, unseen by anyone except Lucy.
‘Interrupt her once more and you’re toast,’ Miss Marple hissed as he collapsed on to the chair beside her.
‘Is something wrong, Monsieur Poirot?’ Lucy asked. ‘Would you like some help from Matron?’
Poirot shuddered. ‘No thank you, Mademoiselle. I am well.’
‘Miss Webb needed to find the contract to try to forge the signature, so that the deal would still go through, despite Miss Bubb’s demise.’
‘Wouldn’t all Miss Bubb’s assets have been frozen?’ Joey asked.
‘They would, but Miss Webb was the beneficiary in Miss Bubb’s will. So, although it would have taken time to sort out the estate, the school would have been allowed to continue operating and, with the merger deal secured, Miss Webb could have borrowed to keep it going.’
‘So how do you know it wasn’t Miss Annersley whodunit?’ Joey asked.
‘When Robin questioned the Middles, they admitted that they had seen Miss Webb go into the guard’s van before Miss Annersley caught them. They had heard all the Chalet School legends, as they were all regular attenders at Joey’s talks.’
Joey preened, but everyone else in the room, including Poirot, knew exactly why the Middles were always at the talks.
‘They knew that Miss Webb wasn’t a nice person, so they locked her in as a prank. Unfortunately, Miss Annersley left with them and locked the dining car so they couldn’t go back and resume their feast.’
Lucy saw Poirot’s mouth open and spoke before he could. ‘And before you point out that it gives Miss Annersley the opportunity, Monsieur Poirot, I should tell you that she took the key straight to the night steward.’
‘How do you know she did not slip back and bash the head of the Miss Webb with the bottle she was carrying?’ Poirot asked, edging away from Miss Marple's chair.
Lucy said, with exaggerated patience. ‘Because she was still carrying the bottle when she saw the night steward and she’d never have wasted a bottle of gin by bashing Miss Webb with it.’
The only gasp this time came from Miss Annersley, but this was ignored.
‘How did Miss Webb die then?’ Robin asked.
‘I think she slipped while she was looking for the attaché case,’ Lucy said. ‘When we were searching the guard’s van, I noticed that there were lots of boxes with sharp corners. I’m pretty sure we will find blood on one of them. And the temperature in the guard’s van won’t have helped.’
‘Mon Dieu,’ Poirot exclaimed. ‘So it was the naughty Middlings, in a group.’
‘What shall we do?’ Miss Annersley asked.
‘Nothing,’ Miss Marple said. ‘They are only children and must never know. We shall tell the Austrian police that Miss Bubb was murdered by Miss Webb, who then had an accident whilst searching for Miss Bubb’s papers. That is the truth after all.’ She looked around the assembled adults. ‘More tea?’