It was lucky, everyone said later, that the rest of the Maynards were returning from their hike when the others had gone out looking for Carey. By herself, Ceridwen would probably have been able to handle Sylvia Shawcross, but it was no sure thing; Stephen Maynard, on the other hand, was a dead cert for being able to deal with her.
“She tried to kill me,” said Carey, her voice still wavering, as she sat once again in the salon, a rug round her shoulders and a mug in her hand.
“Drink your cocoa, it’ll make you feel better,” advised Joey.
“I’ll tell you what would make us all feel better,” said Felicity, returning from the kitchen with a bottle in her hand, “and that’s a shot of brandy. Present mugs, please!” She did the rounds with the brandy, and took a hefty swallow of her own laced cocoa.
“She was quite mad,” marvelled Ceridwen. “I mean, you read about that sort of thing, but I’ve never actually, y’know, *seen* it before.”
“I think she may have kept my mother a prisoner,” said Carey in a small voice. “From what she said. I mean, it’s a bit hard to tell. But that’s what it sounded like. I think that’s why you could never find out where she’d been for those four months.”
There was silence, as the Maynards digested what had happened to their youngest member.
“I wish I could have strangled that… that…” exclaimed Phil savagely, unable to find a fitting epithet.
“I think she tried to make a deal with her,” Carey continued, almost oblivious to the others’ reactions. “She would give her money or whatever, as long as Marie left my father alone.”
“But she wouldn’t,” said Con.
“No. I think she was in love with him, and wanted him to know that they were having a baby. And Sylvia was terrified that he would leave her for Marie, like he did before, basically. And so she locked her away somewhere, and when I was born, she arranged for me to be… given away.”
“I don’t think Marie would have agreed to that,” said Phil. “Not to *her*. Not if she knew what she was like. She just wouldn’t.”
“And I was thinking,” went on Carey, “we don’t know, do we. We can’t know what really happened, not unless Sylvia tells, and I think she might be past that.”
She fell silent after that, and no-one else could quite bring themselves to speak. The room gradually grew darker. Ceridwen wondered whether she should call the school and let them know she would be very, very late, but couldn’t bring herself to move, to speak. Because it was quite clear, really, what everyone was thinking. And also quite clear that they knew they might never find the answer.
Had Marie really killed herself?
“I hope you didn’t get into too much trouble,” said Carey, as she and Ceridwen sat at the lake’s edge, dangling their feet into the water. Ceridwen shrugged.
“Not too much, all things considered. Mrs Maynard – Meg’s mother, I mean – phoned Trev in the afternoon anyway – apparently they’re practically cousins, so she knew where I was. And when she heard bits of what happened, she wasn’t too bad.”
“I’m glad. I’m sorry you got caught up in all this.”
“I’m not. I mean, I’m sorry the whole Sylvia thing happened, and what she said…” Ceridwen trailed off. How do you tell someone, I’m sorry a madwoman might have murdered your mother? Even the Chalet School didn’t teach you stuff like that. Carey sighed.
“Stephen got them to let him into the interrogations – well, as much as they could interrogate her. They had to have a crowd of psychiatrists and all that. She’s gone completely off the rails, they said. They think that she did kidnap M- Mother, and kept her until she gave birth. They’ve sent to England to have Mrs Howard questioned, because it sounds like she knew all about it – and I suppose, when you think about, she – Sylvia, I mean – must have had some help.” Carey shuddered, and Ceridwen slipped an arm around her, wondering what it must feel like to find out that your mother, to all intents and purposes, had connived at your real mother’s kidnapping. Carey leaned into the arm, gratefully.
“They can’t tell, after that. There’s stuff that sounds like it might be real, and stuff that she’s made up. They’ll probably find out more after they talk to Mrs Howard.”
“Do you think…” began Ceridwen, then stopped. Carey glanced at her.
“What? Do I think she killed Mother?” She shrugged. “I don’t know. I think she might have done. At any rate, if she didn’t, I think she’s probably why she killed herself.”
“It’s so horrible. Carey, what about your father?”
“I don’t know if I want to contact him. I suppose he’ll find out about Sylvia soon enough. I don’t think I can ignore it. He might not be interested, though, after all this time.”
“You never know. It’s something to think about. And what about Peter? Did he…?”
“Know anything about it? I don’t think so. I think he told us what he thought was the truth. I don’t think he realised what his mother could be like.”
“She probably wasn’t that bad usually,” said Ceridwen. “I mean, everything was how she wanted it, really. It was only about Marie and you that she went nuts.”
“I suppose. Still, it can’t be very nice for him.” Ceridwen shrugged in her turn.
“Guess not.” Carey looked at her curiously.
“You never liked him, did you? Why not? All in all, he’s not that bad a bloke.”
Ceridwen blushed. “Oh, I just didn’t.” She pulled her arm away, and Carey looked at her, confused.
“But why?” Ceridwen bit her lip, and then took a chance. She picked up Carey’s hand where it was lying in her lap, and stroked the palm with her thumb. Looking up, through her lashes, she smiled.
“Don’t you know?” Carey’s eyes widened, and her mouth went round.
“Oh. Ohhh.” Ceridwen grinned, gave Carey’s hand a squeeze, and then released it.
“Just thought I’d say,” she said, casually. “It’s OK, you don’t have to say anything.”
Carey nodded. “OK.”
They sat there, ignoring the gritty mixture of concrete and pebble under them, the noises of the tourists all around them, the sudden wind off the lake, and smiling as Carey reached over and held Ceridwen’s hand.