Leaving her work on the desk in thankful anticipation of afternoon tea, Rosalie paused at the window to admire the earliest beginnings of autumn sunset, a fierce orange glow pushing at the blue of the sky and casting warm light across the School grounds and beyond. As she watched, stretching limbs tired from too many hours hunched over her typewriter, to her surprise she saw Peggy and Evvy coming back through the gate from the orchard, and her brows knit together thoughtfully.
That Evvy was walking this way, at this time, was unremarkable: outside of set teaching times, Evvy's movements could be difficult to predict and though she was not generally to be found in the School over the weekend, Rosalie was certain this was not the first such occasion. But Peggy? Biddy had definitely told her across the dinner table that Peggy had gone to Carnbach with Ruth and Rosalind - and yet here she was, returning from quite the opposite direction, and neither Ruth nor Rosalind in sight.
"Rosalie! You're not working?"
Rosalie jumped and turned around. Deep in thought, she had not heard the office door open. "Oh! I didn't know you were up. Are you feeling better?"
"Much better, thank you dear," the Head smiled, before looking stern again. "And I must say I shall be doing all I can to avoid spending the day in bed again, if this is what I find when I get up! Nothing is so important it can't wait until Monday, surely?"
Rosalie blushed and stayed still in the window, hoping the two mistresses were hidden from view behind her. Having not yet thought the matter through, there was nonetheless something indefinable about their easy gait and the closeness of their body language which instinctively seemed best shielded from public view. "I know, I know - but it's just so much easier to get on with things quietly now. I shall relax better tomorrow, knowing I've less hanging over me."
Miss Annersley, as ever, did not miss a beat. "When you say "tomorrow" the inference is that you don't yet consider yourself finished for today," she admonished in her gentle way. "I forbid it! Come and have tea and don't even think of returning to the office again before Monday, Rosalie."
Gentle or not, Rosalie knew better than to argue with this direct instruction, and - still not moving from the window - nodded. "I'd better tidy my desk quickly first, in that case. I'll follow you down, if that's all right?"
Hilda nodded with a smile. "Certainly you may - but make sure tidying is all you do. If you seem to be taking longer than that, I'll send Gwynneth up to enforce rest for the good of your health!"
They both laughed at this, but as soon as the door had closed behind the Head Rosalie's face grew serious and she turned to look through the window once more. The late afternoon sky was now fully aflame, and Peggy and Evvy had disappeared from view. Moving to put her incomplete work away safely, Rosalie frowned again to pinpoint the source of her discomfort. First and foremost was the discrepancy between where Peggy had been for most of that day, and where she had told Biddy she was going. Second had been Mary's questioning during that drive to the airport, unexpected and uncharacteristically inquisitive, which lent a certain background to the first point, hinted at secrecy where Rosalie might otherwise have assumed simple misunderstanding. And third, most ambiguously, was whatever it was she herself had glimpsed in her brief sighting of the two women walking together through the grounds, a kind of electric attentiveness that stood out and which she had automatically thought to hide from view.
Rosalie was a naturally cautious person, and had no wish to jump to conclusions on such a flimsy collection of irregularities. She was also a great believer in minding her own business and letting other people get on with minding theirs. At the same time, she felt a strong sense of duty, particularly to Peggy whom she had known from babyhood, and to Mary who had been not only a cousin but also a very close friend over a great number of years. She had been glad that Mary had immediately agreed that for her to keep notes and report back on Peggy's behaviour would have been both unacceptable and undesirable, and in any case she had an inkling that Mary was dealing with problems of her own at the moment and did not need further stresses added; but, seeing Mary's concern, she had quietly resolved to keep an eye out for her younger cousin's welfare herself. She had reminded Mary that Peggy wasn't given to being silly, and she absolutely believed it - but nonetheless there was a certain vivacious impulsiveness to Peggy's nature, a carefree belief that whatever happened she would land on her feet, and Rosalie found this worldview simply too alien to properly assess its practical merits and disadvantages.
She was distracted over tea, earning herself further remarks on the importance of taking a proper break from work over the weekend and accepting them humbly. When they looked in briefly at the staff-room afterwards, she was relieved to see Peggy in a huddle with Ruth and Rosalind, laughing and playing cards and looking to all intents and purposes as though she had spent the day with them just as she had said. Evvy was nowhere to be seen and Rosalie presumed she must have gone home. Had they only chosen to return from wherever they had been five minutes earlier or later, she could surely have had no idea that anything was amiss. Burdened with a confusion she didn't dare seek to clarify, she rather wished they had done so.
Passing Peggy in the corridor on the way to bed that evening and bidding her a cheerful goodnight, Rosalie wondered if she had missed an important opportunity. And yet, she reasoned as she turned out the light and got into bed, what might she have said, armed with only the flimsiest of 'evidence'? Had she been wrong, she could easily have caused awful offence - and even if she were right, what more might she have achieved apart from equally awful anxiety? Rosalie's own tentative suspicion was that such anxiety might be misplaced: what she had pieced together from occasional indirect mutterings - and one unusually indiscreet comment made by Margot Venables on a distant but memorable journey on the sleeper train as the two of them had evacuated the children of the Russell household from Austria to Guernsey, her face immediately clouding with guilty regret as soon as she had spoken and Rosalie, being Rosalie, tactfully changing the subject altogether - strongly suggested a precedent for quietly turning a blind eye. But then again, that had been a different time, a different place, a much smaller School operating much more privately; furthermore, she realised it was far easier for her to think such an anxiety misplaced than it might be for those actually concerned.
Turning over and closing her eyes, Rosalie decided firmly on the only course of action she could take: to watch, and wait, and trust in her own reassurances that Peggy was more than capable of looking after herself; and until such time as it became impossible to do so, to put the matter firmly from her mind.
Author's Chapter Notes:
Thanks again for the comments! Really lovely to know that people are enjoying the story.