“…And I appreciate the fan mail, I really do, but quite honestly, Hilda, sometimes it just seems such a nuisance! Letter after letter all gushing the same thing… One runs out of ideas for how to reply,” Joey wound down with a dramatic sigh.
“Let’s swap,” Hilda suggested brightly. “I’ll answer your letters and you can answer mine.”
Laughingly, in the name of research, Joey agreed. To keep things simple, the two women arranged to swap studies for the week as well.
Over at Freudesheim, Hilda whizzed through Joey’s modest pile of fan mail, writing pleasant and original reply after reply with her neat, precise penmanship. At eleven, just as she was finishing the last response, Anna appeared with coffee and lemon biscuits.
“Bitte, mein Fraulein, Rösli will take the children for their walk now.”
Hilda glanced thoughtfully at the clock. She wasn’t due to teach over at the school until fifteen.
“That’s alright, Anna. I’ll take them myself. You and Rösli may have an hour free.”
Anna blinked heavily, all but staring.
“Danke schön,” she said faintly, and Hilda smiled.
After a very pleasant walk with her brevet nieces and nephews, Hilda returned to the school for Mittagessen feeling very relaxed.
Joey did not turn up for the meal.
‘Maybe I should summon her,’ Hilda thought, then decided against it. Her regular correspondence was enough to take away anyone’s appetite.
Out of respect for Joey, Hilda passed the time before her lesson in her private sitting room, marking sixth-form essays.
Tuesday passed in much the same way. After teaching Upper Fourth A first period, Hilda strolled over to Freudesheim, where she answered six fan letters at great length, enjoyed spectacular elevenses, and took the children for a walk. This time she did not return to the school for Mittagessen: Rosalie knew where to find her if there was a problem. With no lessons to recall her that afternoon, she spent the time with the children, who were delighted to have their brevet-aunt’s undivided attention.
“Writing a novel must be very time-consuming!” she murmured as she crossed back to the school for Abendessen, completely refreshed and invigorated.
On Wednesday she had three classes to teach, but still found time to answer the daily bundle of fan mail (three letters and a postcard from the Tirol) and to teach Phil and Geoff their alphabet.
When she returned to the school that night, it was to find that once again no disaster had befallen them, and her staff had managed quite well without her continuous presence.
“I really must leave Rosalie in charge more often,” Hilda told Nell Wilson over the phone and the secretary, passing the Head’s private sitting room in time to overhear, smiled secretively.
“It seems awfully quiet around here,” Jack Maynard observed over Mittagessen on Thursday.
“Joey’s over at the school answering my correspondence,” Hilda informed him.
“That would explain it,” Jack said, turning back to his paper.
A moment later, he put it down with a frown.
“How long has she been there?”
“Since Monday,” Hilda said absently. Then she too frowned. “You mean you haven’t seen her since then?”
“Not a sight of her,” Jack confirmed.
Hilda’s frown deepened. “Perhaps we’d better investigate.”
In Hilda’s study they found the still, grey body of Joey Maynard buried underneath a perilous mountain of envelopes. Doctors were unable to determine whether the cause of death was suffocation, exhaustion or shock.
Hilda stared at the three-foot-high heap of letters in dismay.
“Thank goodness I’ve just had a holiday,” she said.
Jack looked from the letters to Hilda and back again with comically wide eyes.
“Is this your normal amount of correspondence?”
Hilda made a quick estimate of how many letters there were, twice attempted a mental division sum, and finally shook her head.
“Oh no,” she said. “This is a light week.”