‘I want to be a hairdresser,’ said Kitty.

‘But that’s… I mean, there’s a good bit of difference, isn’t there?’

‘Well, you don’t have to pass Higher or even Matric, that I know of, for hairdressing,’ responded Kitty. ‘But then, I’m still all right, you see, because I haven’t passed either.’

‘Oh? Then…?’

‘General Schools, my love, by the skin of my teeth, with the result that, goaded thereto by my family, I have written to every training college in the country, without result until now. These places are choosy. I shouldn’t wonder if it isn’t easier to get to Oxford or Cambridge than into one of these professional deathtraps.’

Deborah sat and digested a new point of view, but not for long.

‘Miss Boorman?’ said the student, emerging once more, list in hand, and smiling kindly upon the hitherto silent member of the community.

‘I say,’ observed Kitty confidentially to the student, jerking her head in the direction of the door, a bourne from which, it seemed to her, no traveller returned. ‘What have they done with the corpses?’

‘The corpses?’ said the student, who appeared to have a literal mind.

‘Yes. The girl friends. They come, they go into that room, and that appears to be the writing on the wall, so far as they’re concerned.’

The student smiled, as though at the naive question of a small boy, and when Kitty had gone in, turned to Deborah.

‘My name is Cloud,’ said Deborah. ‘I suppose you are the senior student. Do you mind telling the Warden?’

The senior student’s pose of good-natured efficiency vanished with ludicrous effect.

‘Oh, I say! Oh, I am sorry, Miss Cloud! I ought to have known! Mary might have said! Lulu’s usually on the door, so I suppose Mary didn’t ask your name.’

‘Oh, no, it’s all right,’ said Deborah. ‘I’ll go in when they’ve done with Miss Boorman.‘

‘A bit under the weather, that specimen,’ had said Kitty, who had a very kind heart. The senior student begged Deborah to accompany her. Deborah regarded the Warden’s door with mixed feelings. The senior student tapped, listened, opened the door and announced:

‘Miss Cloud, the Sub-Warden, Warden.’

Deborah entered, to be confronted, to her immense surprise and confusion, by Mrs Bradley, who was seated in a swivel chair behind a handsome, imposing desk, blandly established in office.

‘So we do meet at Philippi,’ she observed, getting up and giving Deborah her hand. ‘Those poor children,’ she continued, withdrawing her skinny claw from Deborah’s grasp, and waving it towards the three students, who, looking scared and uncomfortable, were occupying chairs about the room, ‘have come up today instead of tomorrow, to see whether the College has room for them. What they’re to do with themselves for twenty-four hours I can’t think, and neither can they. At least…’

With what seemed devilish omniscience she intercepted a wink which passed between Miss Trevelyan and Miss Menzies… ‘At least, that was our first impression. Have you met them?’

‘Yes,’said Deborah, smiling shyly at the students. ’Yes, we — we met under false pretences. I hope they won’t hold it against me.‘

‘We thought Miss Cloud was a student, Warden,’ observed Miss Menzies. ‘Instead of the Second Grave-Digger,’ she added, sotto voce.

‘Of course you did, child,’ agreed Mrs Bradley, grinning at the subject of this remark. ‘And now, what about tea?’

Deborah, who had had nothing but the couple of biscuits dispensed under the hospitality of the College secretary, assented with pleasure to this suggestion. She could not have told how she knew it, but the realization came to her, with the inevitability of prophecy, that Mrs Bradley’s idea of tea would be something substantial on north-country lines. She was right, for the little party sat down to toast, ham, boiled eggs, sardines, new bread, butter, honey and jam with zest, goodwill and (apart from a spasm of hiccups on the part of the unfortunate Miss Boorman for whom Deborah, herself a prey to nervousness, felt overwhelming sympathy) unalloyed pleasure.

The meal over, Mrs Bradley took Deborah off for what she called (leering hideously at Kitty, who had developed a fit of giggling) a review of the situation, and the three students went over to College, under the escort of the senior student, who had had tea with the rest of the party, and who continued to show herself, to Deborah’s relief, to be a sensible homely girl, likely to prove helpful and non-critical. Deborah already felt that the more help and the less criticism her initial efforts evoked, the better everything would be.

At the entrance to College the senior student left the others pleading that she had a list of their study- bedrooms and bath-times to make out.

‘But you don’t know whether any of us will want a study-bedroom or a bath-time until we’ve seen the Principal,’ objected Laura Menzies. ‘I say, what price the Old Trout?’ she added to her comrades.

Chapter 2


« ^ »

In Athelstan the Old Trout aforesaid closed the sitting-room door.

‘And now,’ she said, giving Deborah a cigarette, ‘you and I, dear child, must come to an understanding. You expected to come here as assistant to Miss Murchan. You find me. Have you been notified of the change?’

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