We were brought back to earth with a bump the next day, because breakfast was a very meagre cup of black tea, as our milk had turned to cheese despite the frigid temperature in the eyrie. Miss Potts was fretting because I hadn’t yet reached forty words per minute in the shorthand speed tests and said I must keep on with the extra classes after college. I couldn’t think of anything worse, particularly as extra shorthand lessons would interfere with our plans to take out rides for Captain Williams after college. I agreed that I’d study on my own when everyone else was doing flower arranging, so when Ann and Rosalie headed to the flower room, I trudged upstairs with my shorthand books. Writing out the shorthand versions of words over and over again reminded me of doing lines at school, only at least there I’d had my friends with me, and here I was stuck on my own in the eyrie, where the chill was striking deep into my soul.
At long last, it was time for break, and I galloped down the stairs, desperate for buns. Fortunately the flower girls were late out, so I managed to snaffle two buns before the rest appeared.
“Oh, you jammy thing,” said Ann, who in the general scramble to get to the buns had only managed one.
I nobly gave her half of one of mine, because after all, she was just as hungry as me. Rosalie flung herself down next to us.
“Here,” she said. “Share my bun. I’m not even remotely hungry.” She upended her plate and tipped the bun onto Ann’s plate.
“What’s up?” asked Ann.
“Oh, it’s Mummy,” replied Rosalie, “and Susan. Mummy’s finished that picture of Susan sitting in the middle of the ruins of the zebra. She’s called it The Downfall of Beauty.”
“What’s wrong with that?” Ann asked.
“Oh, nothing, I suppose. Except that Susan was jolly pleased to be called a Beauty, and she was telling her father about it on the phone, and Mummy went past and said no, it wasn’t her who was the Beauty, she was merely interesting, it was the zebra. Well, you can imagine. Susan was absolutely livid, because some fashion house has asked her to do some modelling for them, and so she said that, and of course it was the first her father had heard of it, and he was absolutely livid because he says modelling is not something a deb does, and then he insisted on talking to Mummy and he’s saying it’s all her fault and there was a huge row. Susan locked herself in her room, and Mummy’s still refusing to come out of the studio.
“I wish Ro was back home. I must say, having Susan to stay has been much more difficult than I thought it would be. She never used to be like this when she was little. We always got on terribly well. Mind you, it’s lovely having the phone now. Susan’s father’s had one put in so Susan can ring him without having to trudge the streets of South Kensington.”
“Surely he must be coming home soon?” said Ann.
“Susan’s father? Whatever are you talking about Ann? He goes home every night on the train.”
“No,” said Ann. “I meant Robin.”
“Oh,” said Rosalie. “I see. No, he won’t be home for a while. He’s found a stable up in Harrogate whose owner wants to retire, and he’s working as an instructor to see if the owner will sign the stables over to him. I’m so glad he’s found somewhere, but I wish he was closer.”
Ann pushed her plate away and started kicking the chair opposite.
“Don’t you want the buns after all?” I asked. Ann glared at me and pushed the plate in my direction.
Sometimes I don’t know what gets into Ann.
“So where is Susan?” I asked.
“Gone off modelling,” Rosalie said. “Somewhere called Lachasse in Mayfair.”
“Oh,” I said. “So is she coming back to college?”
“I don’t know. I suppose it depends on whether she can get round her father. He was furious when she got thrown out of finishing school.”
“She got thrown out?” I said. “She said she and her mother had decided it didn’t suit her.”
“Well, I don’t suppose it did. She got into terrible trouble for emptying a vase of flowers over one of the other girls, but what really did the trick was when she refused to write thank you letters. They’re very hot on thank you letters, Swiss finishing schools,” said Rosalie.
“Gosh,” I said. “Who’d have thought? I didn’t think Susan had it in her.”
We sat there for a bit, thinking. It just goes to show – you never really do know someone, do you?
The bell went for the next lesson, which was typing. When we reached the hall, I checked my pigeonhole, which had been sadly empty for days, but today I had two letters: one from Diana, and one with my address typed on one of those thick cream envelopes which cost about as much as two pads of Basildon Bond.
“Ooh, who’s that from?” asked Rosalie.
“No idea,” I said. I decided I’d open Diana’s first, as that might have some news of Rapide.
I galloped through it as quickly as I could, in case the letter was whipped away from me again. “Oh goodness,” I said. “Ann, Mrs Darcy’s retiring.”
“She’s what?” said Ann, suddenly perking up.
“What are you looking so cheerful about? It’s awful news,” I said. “Where will we go for lessons?”
“Oh, I’m sure we’ll find somewhere,” Ann said. “And she could hand the stables on to someone else, couldn’t she? They might be marvellous.”
“They might well not be,” I said. “Have you forgotten that dreadful riding school Captain Drafter started up? Lots of flashy ponies, and a load of kids who rode with their legs out by the ponies’ ears and their hands under their chins? It’s an awful shame if the riding school goes. Mrs Darcy was part of life in Chatton. Diana says apparently Mrs Darcy’s father has died, and she’s inherited the estate, which is the other side of Ryechester, so she’s going to manage it because she doesn’t feel she can sell it because it’s been in the family since the year dot. One good thing is that she’s going to be District Commissioner of the Chatton branch of the Pony Club, which should be good because it was always pretty poor in our day.”
“Don’t you think it’s a good thing that Mrs Darcy’s going to be DC, Ann?”
“What?” said Ann. “I wasn’t listening.”
“Oh honestly, Ann, you are hopeless. Mrs Darcy’s going to be DC of the Chatton branch.”
“Oh good. It was always pretty poor in our day, wasn’t it?”
“Yes Ann,” I said. And then we went into typing, and that was that.