‘Hullo,’ said Miss Topas. ‘Welcome to the morgue.’ Following her recent encounter with Mrs Bradley, this choice of metaphor gave Deborah a shock.

‘I suppose,’ she said, after she had drunk two cups of tea and had accepted a couple of biscuits, ‘I ought to see Miss du Mugne?’

‘Don’t dream of it,’ said Miss Topas, earnestly. ‘It isn’t necessary. Tessa can ring through and announce the glad news of your arrival, can’t you, Tess? Miss du Mugne will only hate the sight of you if you go and disturb her now, and, after all, that can come later. You cut over to Athelstan and make yourself known to the Warden.’

‘There’s really no need to beard Miss du Mugne this afternoon unless you like,’ said the secretary, with unexpected gentleness. ‘I shall have to go in to her as soon as the College list is checked, and I’ll let her know then that you’re here. If she wants to see you, I’ll ring Athelstan. You can’t miss it, by the way. The Halls are all in a line here.’

‘You’ll soon be wishing you could miss it,’ said Miss Topas cheerfully.

Upon these encouraging notes, Deborah, picking up her suitcase and the flowers, found herself again in the passage. Following the directions she had received, she turned left upon leaving the main College building, discovered an off-shoot of the drive, passed a pleasant grassy bank at the top of playing fields, crossed more lawns and an asphalt tennis court, and mounted a flight of wooden steps to another impressive sweep of gravel.

A maid answered the door.

‘Beowulf Hall, miss?’ she said.

‘Oh, no ! I’m supposed to go to Athelstan,’ said Deborah blushing.

‘Next Hall but one on the right, miss. You can’t mistake it Next door to the bakehouse.’

‘Oh, thank you. I’m sorry. I…’

‘No trouble at all, miss. It’s always a bit strange at first.’

Deborah walked past two large rockeries and a building similar to Beowulf, and at last found herself on the threshold of Athelstan. Except for the fact that it was indeed flanked by the bakehouse, she could discern no difference in its outward appearance from that of the two Halls she had already passed. There were five Halls, the two she had not passed being on the further, or east, side of Beowulf. As she stood at the front door of Athelstan she looked back along the gravel walk to get a glimpse of them. There was, in any case, no time for more. A maid answered the door, and, on this occasion, there was no mistake.

‘Miss Cloud, miss? Come in, miss, please. The Warden will see you in a minute, miss, if you’ll kindly take a seat’

Deborah was aware of highly polished linoleum on which it would be disastrously easy to slip, and a row of chairs, three of which were occupied. The whole atmosphere seemed to her to breathe the tension of a dentist’s waiting-room. She took the end chair, and placed her suitcase in front of her and her flowers and handbag on top of it. Then she picked up the handbag and rested it on her knee.

‘Hullo,’ said her neighbour. ‘You weren’t on the bus, were you?’

‘No,’ replied Deborah, glancing round to make certain that she was the person addressed. ‘No, it had gone, so I walked.’

‘Heroine!’ said her neighbour devoutly. ‘I say, Kitty, she walked.’

‘Golly!’ said the second occupant of the row. ‘“Wanted exercise, I should think. I say, isn’t this going to be an ice-house in the winter? Has it struck you?’

‘Bound to be a lazar-house, anyway,’ returned her friend. Before the conversation could develop, another student came from an adjacent doorway. She was carrying a typewritten list.

‘Your turn next,’ she said, ‘if you’re Miss Menzies. Are you?’

‘Pray for me,’ observed Deborah’s neighbour, sotto voce, getting up. ‘What’s the Head’s name again, Kitty?’

‘Murchan,’ hissed Kitty. ‘And call her the Warden.’


She was gone. Deborah felt as though she had lost a friend. Kitty, however, moved up one place, and took the vacant chair.

‘I say,’ she observed confidentially, ‘you’re not, by any chance, Welsh, are you?’

Before Deborah could reply to this question, the student with the list appeared again and said : ‘Are you Miss Davis?’

‘No,’ said Deborah, and was about to announce who and what she was when the student made a microscopic mark on the paper, and then smiled and looked inquiringly at Kitty.

‘Who are you?’ she asked.

‘Trevelyan. I’ve come on the off-chance, really. Not sure whether there’s room. They told me to turn up in case. Same like old Dog.’

‘Trevelyan,’ said the student, writing it at the bottom of die list ‘It isn’t down, but I know one or two aren’t coming, so I expect it will be all right. Anyway, I’ll ask.’

‘Thanks,’ said Kitty, adding, as soon as they were alone again: ‘I don’t think.’

‘Didn’t you want to come here, then?’ asked Deborah, who, for her own part, would as soon have confessed, on her first day at her own College, that she didn’t want to go to heaven; not that she had any strong or positive inclination either towards College or heaven, but she now realized that she had always seen them as parts of the same dim future.

Вы читаете Laurels Are Poison
Добавить отзыв


Вы можете отметить интересные вам фрагменты текста, которые будут доступны по уникальной ссылке в адресной строке браузера.

Отметить Добавить цитату