"Polly, darling! You made it! And - Daisy, I wasn't expecting you."
"I was going to ring and let you know," Polly explained as she and Daisy swept their hats off, "But Madame's phone was out and I didn't have time to dash home and try from there. Daisy was supposed to be going to Jo's today, but she's sniffling and Madame doesn't want-"
"To spread it around the nursery," Joyce finished. "Good thing you thought to bring Daisy here, then." She flashed Daisy a dazzling smile. "Luckily for us Gill's gone out, so there'll be plenty of cake to go around." Daisy, who had been looking rather worried, cheered up enormously at this, and Joyce was glad she'd suppressed her immediate disappointment at not having Polly all to herself for the afternoon.
Joyce was extra-ordinarily pretty, and as a result had been extra-ordinarily spoilt as a child. Even now, after some years at the Chalet School where she'd learned - the hard way - that the world did not revolve around her, she was inclined to be selfish. But she'd remembered, while Polly was talking, that it was not that long since Daisy's mother had died; and having lost her own so recently she couldn't help but want to reach out to the young girl, in her own way.
Now, she said, "Shall I give you the guided tour? Gillian's a better hostess than me, I'm afraid, but I can show you all our little treasures and hidey-holes before we settle in for a natter." Polly acquiesced, and Daisy, though less interested, willingly followed the others as they walked through the small house, discussing the removal of belongings from England to Guernsey.
"Where is Gillian, exactly?" Polly asked when they'd seen all there was to see.
"Oh! You hadn't heard? I thought perhaps that was why you were at the Russell's earlier. There's talk - I don't know how serious it is, mind you - of the school starting back up. The Abbess invited her around for a chat."
"I knew about the school, of course - I'll be going back once it re-opens, and won't it feel funny! - but what's that to do with Gill?"
Joyce laughed. "She's going to teach, if you believe it! Only Juniors, so her not quite finishing her course before" - she glanced at Daisy - "everything happened won't matter. I'm having a hard time getting my head around it. Of course, she always was the sensible one!"
"Weren't you planning to teach, too?" Polly asked with interest.
"Yes, but with things they way they are we don't want to risk being on opposite sides of the country if - well, you know!" Polly nodded, also not specifying what 'things' were. Daisy had not yet realised that, if the less optimistic journalists were to be believed, war may yet touch England's soils; and no one wanted her to know, not when she was still grieving for her mother.
"So what about these eats we were promised?" Polly asked, changing the subject. "I believe you used the word 'scrumptious' when the invitation was issued."
"Did I? I hope I didn't promise! I've been trying my hand at Apfelntorte, but it's nowhere as good as Marie's. There are plenty of jammy biscuits, too, so we should have plenty if it proves inedible. Now then - we have a table and chairs in our little back garden, so if you would be so kind as to seat yourselves, I'll be through in a moment with the tray!"
Polly and Daisy obligingly showed themselves out the back door, and found a very small but pretty garden - Gillian's work, Polly assumed - and furniture that was well weathered, but more than comfortable all the same. Daisy was less interested in gazing about her than Polly was, and by the time a heavily laden Joyce returned, Polly was retelling the story of how she'd run away, and found herself at school.
"Most girls run away from school," Joyce teased. "No one ever said the Chalet School girls weren't original! But it was a very good thing for me that you turned up, my dear - it was so nice to find someone to be my own special friend."
"And now I'll be going back to school without you! You'll have to visit often, Joyce, or I won't know what to do with myself."
"Polly?" Daisy asked suddenly. "What's that noise?"
"What noise-" Joyce began, and then fell silent as she, too, heard the strange humming that was filling the air, growing louder by the moment.
"It sounds like wasps," Polly said. "But-"
"Inside the house!" Joyce cried. "Quickly - no, don't worry about your saucer, Daisy, just go!"
Startled by Joyce's peremptory tones, Daisy ran for it, her long legs carrying her swiftly indoors. Polly wasn't far behind her, and Joyce brought up the rear, banging the back door shut as she did so. "Not wasps," she said when she'd caught her breath. "Bees. It's that ghastly Simon Erroll - he keeps the wretched things! I've a good mind to march straight down the road and tell him-"
"Don't," Polly said quickly. Joyce had quite a temper when she was roused, and there was no knowing just exactly what she was going to say to the poor Mr Erroll if she stormed off now! "We're all alright, and they'll be gone soon. Besides - I'm sure swarming is a perfectly normal thing for bees to do."
"It's when the queen gets too old," Daisy pipes up. "A new one takes over and the old one flies away with all the bees who are still loyal to her."
"Really?" Joyce asked, interested. She had very little knowledge of the animal kingdom, and even less of the insect, and was impressed at Daisy's morsal of information - but then, Daisy was a hard worker and bright for her age, and Joyce had never been either!
She listened with one ear as Daisy merrily continued to talk about the habits of bees - did they really dance? - and, when the swarm seemed to have passed, made the other two stay inside while she investigated that there weren't any stray stingers left behind. Really, she thought, as she tested the pot to see if the tea was still drinkable, it was too bad to have their afternoon interrupted like this. She would go and see Mr Erroll, whatever Polly said - just see if she didn't!