|‘I didn’t know you smoked, Aunt Jane,’ Lucy said.|
‘I don’t dear, but I bribed one of the stewards to sell me a packet as I thought you girls would be running out of them. I find that thinking is much better when one feels relaxed.’ Miss Marple produced her knitting and started to ply her needles industriously.
‘Well we know that Matron Webb was last seen at Abendessen,’ Robin said. ‘But what we don’t know is if she spent the night in her compartment or if she had been in the guard’s van all night.’
‘The body temperature, without the benefit of a proper thermometer, seemed to suggest that she had not been lying there all night,’ Poirot announced. ‘Though it is not possible to be absolutely sure. But I would like to know what Miss Annersley was doing finding Mademoiselle Webb in the guard’s van. That is very suspicious.’
‘There’s a more important question, Monsieur Poirot,’ Miss Marple said firmly. ‘But I’m sure you know what that is.’
Lucy thought the point-scoring had gone far enough. ‘But we don’t, Aunt Jane. So please tell us.’
Miss Marple put down her knitting for a moment and looked at them over her spectacles. ‘Why was Miss Webb there? Was she looking for something or meeting someone?’
The girls pondered this. ‘An assignation doesn’t seem terribly likely,’ Robin said at last. ‘Matron Webb was not the type to inspire romance. And if she had business to discuss about the school take-over, she could have gone to see Madge openly.’
‘So that means she went to the guard’s van to find something,’ Lucy said. ‘But what?’
‘I would venture to suggest, Mademoiselle Lucy, that it was not something belonging to the Miss Webb herself,’ Poirot said. ‘If that were the case, she could have kept it with her.’
Miss Marple looked at Poirot approvingly. ‘Ah, I see where you are heading with this, Monsieur Poirot. You think that it must have been something belonging to her erstwhile business partner?’
Poirot was clearly annoyed at having his moment of glory cut short, but he answered civilly. ‘Indeed, Miss Marple.’ He turned to the girls. ‘And that may have solved another mystery, n’est-ce pas?’
Lucy got there first. ‘You mean that it was Matron Webb who kept unlocking the door yesterday afternoon?’
Poirot inclined his head in acknowledgement of her cleverness. ‘It would seem so, Mademoiselle Lucy. Who else would have wanted to unlock the door when it risked letting out the students?’
Everyone thought this was a fair point. ‘The mistresses hate having to look after the girls out of hours,’ Nita said. ‘It’s nearly always left to us. So they wouldn’t have let them out.’
‘Though Miss A was pretty cross with you lot,’ Robin pointed out.
Lucy shuddered at the grammar and slang but refrained from commenting on it. ‘That was only because she was worried the little beasts might have frozen to death,’ she said. ‘She wouldn’t actually have wanted to look after them.’
‘But how come we didn’t see her? Daphne asked.
Miss Marple gave Lucy a sympathetic glance before responding. ‘There’s a small compartment opposite the entrance to the guard’s van which can’t be seen by someone coming along the corridor. Miss Webb probably slipped in there every time she heard footsteps.’
‘So why did they end up locked in there?’ Nina asked.
Robin answered. ‘I should think Matron Webb kept unlocking the door hoping that the girls would come out. She wouldn’t have been able to look for something with them in there as well. So I imagine she just gave up in the end. She hates children so she wouldn’t want to let them out either if it didn’t suit her purpose.’
Nina had a thought. ‘Whatever it was Matron Webb was looking for must still be in there.’
Poirot agreed. ‘One would think so, Mademoiselle.’
‘So what are we waiting for?’ Daphne said.
Cups of tea were hastily finished and cigarettes stubbed out. ‘We’d better go before we have to bring the little horrors in,’ Lucy said.
A procession headed along the corridor and into the guard’s van. It was cold, not very clean and full of boxes. Just as the battering on the doors by the Middles and Seniors was becoming deafening, Poirot was heard to exclaim.
‘Ah! This is what Miss Webb was seeking, I have no doubt.’