“It’s only what I expected,” said Hilda. She handed the letter back to Rosalie and drained the glass of water that stood on her desk before leaning back in her chair.
“It’s the third one we’ve had this week,” said Rosalie quietly.
“Are you surprised?”
Rosalie hesitated, and sat down in the chair on the other side of the desk, resting her papers in her lap.
“I – I suppose not. But I’d hoped the parents might – well, understand, I suppose.”
“My dear Rosalie, what do you think there is for them to understand?”
“That it wasn’t our fault.”
Rosalie looked at her, her eyes wide, and Hilda took a moment to wonder whether she honestly hadn’t thought about the consequences to the school, or whether she was simply too afraid to think about them.
“We’ve done the best we can,” she said.
“But the best wasn’t good enough,” said Hilda gently. “It’s happened four times now, Rosalie. We can’t expect parents to feel that their girls are safe here any more. I’m rather beginning to wonder myself.”
Rosalie stared at the carpet. After a moment she looked up again, but just as she was about to speak, there was a tap at the door.
“Enter!” called Hilda, and Rosalie rose to stand by the connecting door to her own office. “Jack? What can I do for you, dear?”
“I was just wondering, Miss Annersley – some of us are rather keen to visit Wanda today, and I know neither of the cars is available, but if we go in a biggish group couldn’t we walk to the San?”
Hilda shook her head.
“I’m sorry, Jack, but the answer’s no.” Seeing Jack’s face fall, she looked sympathetic. “I know you want to see your friend, but I can’t take the risk of allowing you girls outside without proper supervision, and I can’t spare the staff to take you.”
“But it’s only happened when people were alone, so far,” said Jack. “I – I don’t mean to be rude, Miss Annersley, but it feels as though you’re overreacting.”
Hilda couldn’t help a small smile.
“I wish I could agree with you,” she said. “No, Jack, it would be stupid of me to allow you to take unnecessary risks. I’m afraid you’ll have to wait until one of the cars is available. I’ll ask Miss Ferrars whether she would be willing to drive some of you to the San tomorrow afternoon.”
She could see the disappointment written across Jack’s face, and watched as it was quickly concealed. Jack nodded.
“All right, Miss Annersley. Thanks for asking Miss Ferrars.” She smiled at the Head. “I’ve got an awful lot of things I want to ask Wanda. This Head Girl lark isn’t as straightforward as you might think.”
She left the room, leaving Hilda and Rosalie to look soberly at one another.
“It doesn’t seem right that we have to keep the girls cooped up inside all the time,” said Rosalie.
“It’s better than the results of letting them roam about the Platz might be.”
“Oh, I know, but – poor Jack. She’s finding taking on the Head Girlship enough of a challenge without all of this as well.”
This time Hilda smiled properly.
“But just look at the way she’s coping,” she said. “She’s matured by about three years since –”
“Since what happened to Wanda.” Hilda nodded. “Well,” said Rosalie hopefully, “It just shows how something good can come out of practically anything.
Hilda, who had just risen to fetch a bottle from a cupboard, slammed it down on the desk.
“For heaven’s sake, Rosalie! Stop being such a bloody Pollyanna. Don’t you understand that this is the beginning of the end?”
“Oh, come on, Hilda.” Rosalie got up to face her, dumping her papers on the desk. “It can’t be as bad as all that. Yes, we’ve had a couple of unfortunate incidents, but that doesn’t mean the school’s about to close or anything.”
“Third in one week.” Hilda tapped the letter lying on the top of Rosalie’s pile. “It won’t be long now.”
A few hours later Hilda was opening the gate in the hedge between the school and Freudesheim. As she closed it again, something rustled in the hedge and her heart seemed to leap up into her throat. Swallowing it down again, she backed away from the gate, trying to move silently. There was another rustle, like something moving.
You’re being stupid, she told herself. All the same, her heart hammering, she turned and ran towards the house. The French windows were nearest and she banged on them until they were flung open to reveal Joey, clad in a rather daring knee length dress of scarlet. For a moment she recoiled, but the horror behind was worse than the horror before, and she pushed past Joey and slammed the French windows shut.