As is obvious from the title, a debt is owed to ankaret's Lois Sanger Disposes.
This is Part (1). It doesn't contain major spoilers (an important non-murderous plot event is referred to, but unfolds differently than in canon), but Part (2) will do so.
Miss Vane Disposes
Like many a woman graduate of her generation, Harriet Vane had spent the first two years after her graduation with Honours (First Class) from the University of Oxford in returning to school, this time to earn her living. In Harriet’s case, this had been not as a teacher, but as a secretary, a trade that she had right assessed as being equally remunerative, but leaving considerably greater resources to its practitioner of both time and brain-power. She was therefore unfamiliar with the Fourth Forms, Upper and Lower, except as a member and upon invigilating the Pathology exam at Leys Physical Training College and observing Miss Rouse with a handkerchief clutched in her hand, Miss Vane’s mind did not fly to the misdeeds of twelve year-olds, but produced a sympathetic smile that received a blush and rueful grimace in return.
Unversed in ways of the Fourths though Miss Vane might be, she was not unworldly enough not to recognise the significance of the little red book lying in the wet grass beside the covered way to the gymnasium. Somebody had cheated in the examination. She examined the little book closely, the neat lettering done with a mapping pen, the minute diagrams. An exquisite thing in its way, if only it had been intended for wholesome purposes. Horrid to think that one of those fresh-faced students must be responsible, but the writing of detective fiction had taught Harriet that outward innocence was no assurance of the inward state. She wondered who’s it might be and hoped it wasn’t Rouse, who found written work difficult .With a sinking sensation at the thought of the imminent destruction of the illusions, not of the guilty party, but of those carefree Seniors, she went in search of the Principal.
‘And so,’ Harriet finished lamely, feeling oddly as if she were once again fifteen and explaining her misdemeanours, ‘I thought that I should bring it to you.’
‘Thank you, Miss Vane. You were quite right to do so.’ Miss Hodge sighed. ‘It is very disappointing, but if Leys’ reputation is to mean anything one cannot let these things go.’
She picked up the book from where Harriet had laid it on the blotter - and exclaimed with no trace of her former heaviness,
‘But this is Miss Dakers’ writing!’
‘Miss Dakers?’ Of all the students, one would not have thought it of the cheerfully slapdash Dakers. Still, Miss Hodge knew her students. She rang the bell for the secretary.
‘Please ask Miss Lux to come here at once.’
Miss Lux came promptly. Miss Hodge apologised for taking her away from her marking, and without further preamble showed her the book.
‘This book has recently come into my possession. Whose writing would you say that it is?’
Lux frowned, flicked swiftly through the little book, and said, ‘Miss Dakers.’
‘Thank you, Catherine. Miss Vane, please would you explain the circumstances in which you found the book to Miss Lux.’
Harriet did so. Miss Lux’s handsome face darkened as she listened.
‘I should not have thought it of her,’ she said. ‘Miss Vane, did you actually see Miss Dakers refer to the book during the examination?’
‘No,’ admitted Harriet, ‘and I looked at her a good bit. Not because I thought she was doing anything untoward, but because she was rather entertaining, huffing and puffing in that way that she does, you know.’
‘But it is her handwriting,’ said Miss Hodge, ‘and there is more than Pathology in it. I think we had better hear what she has to say for herself.’
The secretary was despatched to summon Miss Dakers, and Harriet, dismissed from the prospective interview, wandered down to the buttercup field. It was a pity it should be Miss Dakers, who for all her featherheadedness was a generous-hearted young woman who would probably be a very good teacher. But that was the way of things. If Miss Dakers had cheated, good-heartedness should not save her. Nor could one evade unpleasantness through inaction. If Harriet had done nothing and Miss Dakers been offered a post under false pretences, the whole credit of Leys would suffer if she failed in it. Henrietta Hodge had understood this, that the scandal of discovery was better than the scandal of concealment. It was fortunate that things were that way. If she had taken no action, or if another person had found the book... One might begin a detective story that way, or no, begin it with the very respectable person being blackmailed. A person sympathetic in every way except for this one that most of the readers would probably sympathise with in any case. That was no good. But there ought to be something in it. A college would make for an entertaining setting for a mystery. It would have to be a men’s college, if Robert Templeton were to investigate. Harriet did not know a great deal about men’s colleges, but one could find out. Or a women’s college with one of the students or mistresses becoming suspicious and calling upon the great detective for advice. One might even introduce a woman detective, only readers would be forever claiming to read oneself in her, and that would never do.
Harriet had expected lunch to be a subdued affair, but though Miss Dakers was absent, Miss Hodge and Miss Lux appeared to be in surprisingly good temper. As Harriet was at the other end of the table no explanations were possible, but Miss Lux caught her as she left the dining hall. Miss Dakers, Harriet learnt, had confessed readily to ownership of the book, indeed had thanked the Principal for returning it to her, before Authority in its wrath had come crashing down upon her.
‘I have never seen such an innocent protestation of guilt, said Miss Lux drily. ‘She claims to have had no intention of cheating and had never considered what construction might be placed upon students who take a little book of notes into an examination. She was absolutely horrified, positively mortified to have been such an idiot.’
It was a surprisingly good imitation of the girl.
‘Then what was the book for?’
‘An injection of courage, apparently. She claims not to have referred to it, but to have used it as some sort of talisman, like those mantras written out on strips of reed or what-have-you, shoved in the back of her shoe to remind her by her discomfort that the paper in front of her is not nonsense about which she knows nothing, but Pathology, Hygiene, Kinesiology or any other subject her tutors have spent the past two years drilling into her head and about which she ought know a good deal.’
‘The red leather would mark her shoe,’ said Harriet.
‘So says the writer of detective fiction. It would and it has; the Principal may not know a great deal about popular fiction, but she knows the value of a good pair of shoes. Women with large feet always do. In fairness to Miss Dakers, I must say that none of the other staff who have invigilated examinations can remember seeing anything to suggest she was referring to a book, and a number of spelling errors that suggest she wasn’t.’
‘What will Miss Hodge do? I noticed Dakers wasn’t at lunch.’
‘No. She is in the lecture room with a plate of sandwiches, to be followed immediately by her Physiology examination. We always prepare a second paper, you see, in case a student is taken ill or unable to sit the exam at the proper time for some other reason. Miss Dakers will take these papers, under close supervision and without any further opportunity for revision. Should she pass, she will be awarded a pass mark for her written work, and a pass diploma. It is rather a pity, as with her physical work she ought to have managed a good second, but there it is. Perhaps it is weak-minded of me, but I am glad we need not fail her altogether.’
‘You think, then, that she didn’t mean to cheat?’
‘I do. Miss Dakers is a young idiot, but she has never struck me as dishonest. You may remark that many dishonest people do not strike one as such, but I am willing to give Miss Dakers the benefit of the doubt, if her papers come up to scratch.’
‘I’m glad,’ said Harriet. ‘She is a young idiot, but a nice one. Will a pass diploma make it more difficult for her to get a job?’
‘It would for a more academic student,’ said Miss Lux, ‘but Miss Dakers’ strengths lie in other directions. I understand the Principal wishes to recommend her for a dancing job at Ling Abbey, with special responsibility for the little ones. I daresay she will do very well there.’
So that was that. Dakers was a fool, but an honest fool. By dinner, Miss Lux had confirmed that the Physiology paper was up to the standard of the girl’s previous attempt. There need be no blot of shame to mar the final week and the Demonstration Day.
And still no one had mentioned Arlinghurst.
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