Not a day over 30, she summed up quickly, unmarried, bloody nervous about something, nice clothes but not particularly expensive – not much money then, cuz she’s dressed up for it. Brother must have much more – it’s not like this place is cheap. Wonder why she got sent out to do the legwork – maybe she’s just on holiday here and it seemed like a plan.
“How old is your niece?” she asked, curiously. Miss Howard blushed, and looked uncomfortable.
“T-twelve,” she replied after a pause. “She’s just had her birthday,” she added. Her expression seemed to be one of perpetual unhappiness, and Ceridwen felt sorry for her. She smiled.
“I’m seventeen,” she said, in a friendly way. “I’ve got another year to do my IB, then hopefully it’s off to university for me. I’ll probably go back to England for it – there are some good places on the continent, of course, but it’d be nice to be England.”
“Oh to be in England, now that spring is here,” quoted Miss Howard unexpectedly, and Ceridwen looked at her, surprised.
“Something like that, I suppose. Here are the Splasheries, Miss Howard – the cloakrooms, by any other name. Everyone gets a peg and a locker, for the outdoors stuff. Skiing togs and what have you are kept in lockers in the Gym.”
“Do you do a lot of winter sports?” asked Miss Howard, and Ceridwen nodded vigorously.
“Loads! Skiing and skating and tobogganing, all sorts of things! They build a rink out where the tennis and netball courts are, because we can’t use them anyway when the weather’s bad. Back when the school was first here, I think they used to skate on the lake, but of course we’re not allowed any more. But the rink is huge, and we do figure skating – Herr Braun comes to coach us – and ice hockey, and sometimes speed skating. We’ve even had a couple of people in the winter Olympics,” she added proudly. They moved on.
“This corridor leads to another building, but it’s where the kids are, so your niece wouldn’t have much to do with them. The form rooms are this way – Upper IIIa is here,” she gestured at a door, and waited as Miss Howard glanced in, seeing, no doubt, the well-behaved lines of the Upper III, who were… making an unlikely amount of noise. Ceridwen sighed, and touched Miss Howard’s arm, so that she drew back from the door. She rolled her eyes at the visitor, and smiled. “Excuse me a moment,” she said, then opened the door, and poked her head round. Confident that she wasn’t breaking into a rather more lively lesson than usual, and there in fact wasn’t a mistress present, she walked to the large desk at the front of the room and waited, arms crossed, for the girls to notice her. It didn’t take long, and before two minutes had passed they were silent, sitting exactly as they should be. Ceridwen raised an eyebrow, and demanded simply, “Explain, please.” There were a good deal of exchanged glances, and one of the girls reluctantly stood up. Her badge proclaimed her to be the form prefect, and Ceridwen recognised her as being the younger sister of Lucy Taylor, one of the fifth formers.
“Mrs Morris went to get some thing from the library,” she said nervously. “She’ll be back in a minute.”
“So you thought you’d take this opportunity to make as much noise as possible? Well, I suppose we can’t expect much more from infants like you,” and the girls bridled, entirely predictably, thought Ceridwen, who had seen that particular ploy work like a charm on many an occasion, “but we would appreciate it if you would at least *try* to be a little better behaved – we can’t watch you all the time, you know. Now, I’m showing a visitor round the school and hopefully you haven’t put her off altogether. Can I trust you to behave yourselves until Mrs Morris comes back?” There was much nodding, and the younger Miss Taylor nodded with them. “Yes, Ceridwen, we promise.” Ceridwen nodded back, smiled, and withdrew.
“Sorry about that,” she said to Miss Howard.