|Miss Bubb smiled. ‘Good afternoon, Miss Annersley. I gather that Madame hasn’t taken you into her confidence about her discussions?’|
‘Discussions?’ For the first time, Miss Annersley noticed that Miss Bubb was not alone in the compartment. ‘Oh I do apologise,’ she said. ‘How are you? It’s so many years since we last met. Such a coincidence that we are all on the same train. Are you going all the way to Innsbruck too?’
‘My business partner and I,’ Miss Bubb said, with emphasis on the first three words, ‘are not here by coincidence. We are in discussions with Madame about a merger of the schools.’
Miss Annersley sat down abruptly and found she could not speak.
‘I’m sorry to be the bearer of what will no doubt be bad news,’ Miss Bubb said, with clear insincerity. ‘Of course it means your post will no longer be needed but perhaps we might be able to offer you a senior mistress post if you’re prepared to put more emphasis on academic results.’
Fortunately Miss Annersley’s response, containing several expletives and uncomplimentary remarks about Miss Bubb and her “business partner”, was drowned out by the noise of the train leaving the station.
When she could make herself heard, Miss Bubb continued. ‘Our school is highly successful and has never had a trace of scandal attached to it. We could not have contemplated a merger with the Chalet School, had the last two years not been free of crime. Of course the examination results are lamentable, but that can soon be mended.’
Miss Annersley had regained control of her emotions and continued to say nothing.
‘We only take girls from the best families and train them to take their place in the highest echelons,’ Miss Bubb went on. ‘We would never lower ourselves to take the daughter of a publican, for example.’ Disdain dripped from her words and expression.
Rising to her feet, Miss Annersley favoured Miss Bubb with the look she saved for the most hardened malefactors of Lower IV and left the compartment without speaking.
Lucy came along the corridor and saw Miss Annersley lurching towards her, scrabbling in her handbag. To Lucy’s astonishment, a miniature of G&T appeared and was downed quickly. Reckless behaviour like this was a first and Lucy feared that her headmistress was under a severe amount of pressure. She found an empty compartment and ushered her headmistress in, sliding the door closed behind them.
‘Miss Annersley! Whatever is the matter? Any of the girls might have seen you!’
‘Well it won’t matter when I haven’t got a job, will it?’ Miss Annersley said belligerently. ‘That cow in that compartment down there is going to take over the school.’
‘Grammar, Miss Annersley!’ Lucy said with severity. ‘We must never forget that we belong to the Chalet School.’
‘Not for much longer,’ Miss Annersley muttered, reaching for her handbag. ‘Good thing you’re leaving Lucy. I shouldn’t think even the daughter of a clergyman will be suitable for her exclusive establishment.’
Lucy removed the handbag from Miss Annersley’s reach. ‘I don’t think more G&T will help. Tell me all about it and we can decide what to do.’
Miss Annersley related her conversation with Miss Bubb. ‘I need to speak to Madge,’ she finished.
‘Not at the moment,’ Lucy said. ‘It’s too soon. I suggest you wait until you’re calmer.’ And less under the influence of gin and tonic, she added silently.
‘I’m sure you’re right, Lucy.’ Miss Annersley settling back in her seat for a snooze.
Lucy got up and went to check on the girls. The prefects were keeping order – they were used to it as the staff never bothered with the girls outside lessons. Satisfied that things were much as normal, Lucy made her way to where Madge, Joey and Robin were ensconced in a compartment on their own. It was difficult to eavesdrop, due to the noise of the train, but she managed to catch some of the conversation whilst standing back so as not to be seen.
She could hear Robin telling the others about life in the convent. Pure invention obviously but Madge and Joey were evidently believing every word.
‘But tell me about the school,’ Robin said eventually, to Lucy’s relief. ‘How are things?’
‘It’s been pretty dreadful,’ Madge said. ‘There was so much scandal we nearly had to close. It was difficult convincing the parents to keep their daughters at the school. Not the ones who are abroad of course – they don’t care what happens as long as we keep the girls out of their hair. But then we had to do a whole load of charitable works – giving afternoon teas for snotty-nosed orphans, raising funds for a bed in the hospital for poor people who should be left to die at home and doing gardens for ungrateful pensioners.’
Robin’s response was lost to Lucy but when she could hear again, Madge had moved on to talk about the future.
‘Miss Bubb has started a school. She says it’s highly successful but I think she’s lying. She needs the numbers of girls we can provide.’
‘She’s really keen on good exam results though,’ Joey said. ‘Not our sort of teacher at all.’
‘Still, if it helps to keep the Chalet School going ……..’ Robin started.
‘Oh, it won’t be the Chalet School,’ Madge said. ‘Miss Bubb is insistent about that. Not that I could give two hoots as long as we get free education for our daughters and I can move nearer to Jem.’
Madge’s husband, Jem Russell, was still in prison for his part in the kidnap and death of Marie Varick. Marie had died whilst giving birth to a stillborn child, Jem being the father. Visiting Jem in prison was difficult for Madge, with a business to run and her own – and during Joey’s incarceration for ration card fraud, her sister’s - children to look after.
Lucy heard another compartment door slide open and moved away hastily. She was thinking hard. Something had to be done to prevent the merger. Perhaps a scandal would help………
Author's Chapter Notes:
Thank you for all the reviews welcoming Lucy and Miss Marple back!
Miss Bubb's reason for being on the train is revealed!
Miss Bubb's reason for being on the train is revealed!