3 September 1938
At Deepdean, the dorms get smaller the older you get. As shrimps we were all together, of course, and then as third- and fourth-formers there were four of us assigned to a dorm. In fifth form we got to choose our foursomes, and then sixth-formers get to share with just one other friend, except for the prefects being all together, and the Head Girl who gets a room to herself. Last year, in Lower Sixth, Daisy and I roomed together, which made Detective Society meetings much easier. But this year, when I arrived back at Deepdean, the other side of my room was empty.
I had been expecting this. Neither Daisy nor I had been sure, when we parted at the end of the summer term last year, if we'd be coming back together. Daisy kept insisting that a university education was not necessary for a detective, though I knew Bertie had been leaning on her heavily to stay for her prep year – well, as heavily as anyone, much less Bertie, could ever lean on someone like Daisy. She was determined to start 'doing her part for England' as soon as possible, and I didn't think Bertie could convince her otherwise. And I had known, as I set off on the long journey home, that it would take all my persuasive skills to convince my father England was still safe. Only his nostalgia for Cambridge carried the day, as he hadn't wanted me to miss my prep year and thus my chance to follow further in his footsteps. Still, I hadn't been entirely certain that he was actually going to let me go until I was on my way, with no way to turn back.
The last time Daisy and I had seen each other had been at the aeroport, Daisy insistent that she and Hetty would see me into the care of the chaperone who was to accompany me on the whirlwind trip home. We lingered on the tarmac as long as we could; it was a typical English summer day, damp and windy, but though my hair was tangled and salt-stiff Daisy's cheeks were pink and her eyes suspiciously bright. 'Well, Hazel,' she said at last, when the drizzle was threatening to dampen even her perfectly-waved hair. 'We won't say goodbye, will we, just... until next time, all right?'
This was one of those English things I had finally accepted I would never understand and could only go along with, so though I wanted to clutch her tightly and tell her how much I would miss her, I smiled at her and held out my hand. 'Till next time,' I said obediently, pressing her fingers in the beginning of the old Detective Society handshake (we had abandoned it as too obvious a year or so ago, but my muscles still recalled every movement) and letting go instead of lingering.
I had just turned to board when there was a rustling behind me and I was enveloped in a swathe of damp wool. 'Oh, Hazel,' Daisy said into the top of my head, holding me close. 'Be safe!' And then she let me go and stalked off to where Hetty was waiting at the car, and I boarded the aeroplane, already wobbly, and pressed my face to the window, watching until the beacon of Daisy's blonde hair was lost in the fog.
I'd written, of course, when I knew I'd be coming back, but I hadn't heard from Daisy either in response or with news of her own. I hadn't heard from her at all, in fact, save for one letter early in the summer replying to my announcement that I'd arrived in Hong Kong. Short and brusque, it had been postmarked London though I'd written care of Fallingford, and even after reading it I hadn't any idea where Daisy would be spending her summer, nor why she hadn't written. Whatever it was, though, it appeared it would keep her away from Deepdean, and from me.
I unpacked as slowly as I could, lining all our casebooks up on the shelf next to my school texts before thinking better of it and hiding them all in the wardrobe; without Daisy, I might be assigned a different dorm-mate, and though the Detective Society was an open secret after all our successes, still I didn't want just anyone to have access to these books. I've become used to recording my thoughts even when we're not on a case, and so some of what's in here is rather private. In fact, I was writing at my desk, trying to work out what Deepdean might be like without Daisy – an impossible thought, the two were so entwined in my mind – when there was a thud in the hallway. I shoved this book under some papers and jumped up, my heart hammering wildly. I hardly dared hope – but then the door opened and Daisy was there after all.
I must have said something, or she must, but I don't recall; I only remember going hot all over, delighted that we'd be together for our final year after all, before I entirely forgot all my hard-won reserve and hugged her, and she hugged me back.
I pulled away almost immediately, embarrassed, but Daisy only squeezed my hands and smiled at me. 'I wasn't sure...' I said, stuttering a little, as though my brain hadn't had the entire journey to remember what it was like to think in English first. 'I didn't get a letter...'
'I did write!' Daisy said at once, frowning. 'It must've got lost, the post is so much less reliable now.'
'Or it will show up any day, now that there's no point,' I said. I couldn't be cross, not now, since, after all, Daisy was here. 'Daisy, you – you are staying?' I had to ask, just to be certain. She was so late, and usually our trunks are waiting in our rooms when we arrive, but Daisy's bed wasn't even made up.
'I am.' She nodded decisively. 'It's just... well, it turns out Lavinia isn't.'
I must have gasped at that, for Lavinia had been appointed Head Girl at the end of summer term, Daisy having confided privately that she'd turned the position down first. 'So then you...?' I asked.
'Yes, I'm Head Girl, now.' That explained the empty bed; Daisy would be in her own room down the corridor. 'I suppose it's good I came back after all,' Daisy said slowly, as though she were trying to convince me, or perhaps herself.
'Why did you?' I gulped as Daisy bit her lip, looking suddenly wilted, in a way totally at odds with her usual determined air. 'I – I mean, did Bertie...'
'Not Bertie,' Daisy said. 'My uncle, you know. Thinks I shouldn't give up the chance at a university place just – just yet, when things might sort themselves out, after all. Thinks I could even learn a few more things. Shows what he knows,' she added in a more characteristic display of spirit, tossing her hair.
Of course Daisy's uncle was still involved in the war effort; that made perfect sense, and possibly explained why Daisy had been in London over the summer. But she still looked sad and worried, and although I wanted very badly to know what she'd been doing and how she'd been convinced to stay, I decided not to press.
'I'm glad,' I said instead. 'Deepdean wouldn't seem the same, without you.'
Daisy smiled at that, a real smile, not the bright jolly sort she put on in public. 'Well, I couldn't leave you behind, either,' she said, taking my hand. 'Detective Society for ever, after all.'
'For ever,' I echoed, grasping her hand tightly and feeling, for the first time all summer, as though not everything was changing.
4 October 1939
I should have known, when I was assigned King Henry's old rooms in St Lucy's. Surely, I realised later, Daisy would have wanted them, and had Daisy wanted them she would have had them. Perhaps I was too focussed on being at Cambridge, really at Cambridge, after so many years of hopes and visits; perhaps, if I'm being honest, I simply didn't want to admit even to myself what I half-feared to be true. So instead, I puttered about, unpacking, tucking my Deepdean mementoes up in the sitting room much as King Henry had displayed hers when Daisy and I stayed here. That Christmas seemed so far away now; so much had changed in the past few years.
Cambridge, and St Lucy's, had changed very little, of course. Aunt E – Miss Mountfichet, I would have to remember to call her – was still in charge, and the college was still shabby at best, though it stood out less against what I had seen of the rest of them, which were now full of exiled Londoners and men doing the first parts of their war degrees. Everyone in Cambridge seemed to have an air of being stretched too thin, unravelling at the edges. I had to keep a tight hold on my own emotions, which threatened at times to burst out in unseemly shows of delight.
I couldn't forget the war, but at least I had won my place here, just as so many English and almost-English girls like me had dreamed. And Daisy would be here soon, too, the two of us with the whole town at our fingers. (Not literally, I hoped, remembering the climbing societies – but then, I had followed Daisy onto many roofs before and since.)
I was looking doubtfully out the window, measuring the distance to the drainpipe and trying to guess whether I could stretch to it – I had grown in the past four years, but not by much, and that sideways as well as upwards – when there was a sharp rap at the door. I hurried to open it, but the handle turned before I reached it, and Daisy stepped in.
She looked so solemn, not excited at all, and still I didn't realise. At first I thought, with a horrid jolt, that perhaps something had happened to Bertie, who I knew had been called up for duty a month or so ago. Then I saw that she was wearing her mac and boots, not an academic robe or even indoor things like I was, and I understood all at once.
'Daisy,' I said sadly, stopping in the middle of the sitting room and standing there awkwardly. 'Oh, no.'
She gave a funny little shrug and laughed a little. 'I should've known you'd guess,' she said, standing just inside the door and for once looking as awkward as I felt. 'I'm sorry I didn't say before, but I – I couldn't just send a letter, Hazel, I needed to say it in person.'
'I understand.' I did, a little, after all I'd learned of English honour, but I still felt it would have been better to know, to prepare. 'You've refused your place entirely, then?'
'No.' Daisy shook her head, not looking at me; instead, I saw, she was gazing at my shelf of Deepdean cups and colours, but not like she was really seeing them. 'No, I've just – they've let me defer for a year. So you shall have to learn all Cambridge's secrets yourself, so you can teach me when I come. I wouldn't trust just anyone else, you see.'
'You're certain?' I'd never known Daisy not to be certain, once she'd made a decision, but then I had never known her to change her mind except when I pointed out an error.
Daisy's head came up, blonde curls swinging, and she looked at me fiercely. 'I have to, Hazel. With Bertie gone, I can't let him – he can't do it alone. So I spoke with Uncle Felix, and I made him understand. I told him if he didn't help me I'd – I'd go off on my own. He's the one who arranged the deferral, he and Aunt E.'
'Oh.' I looked away from the weight of Daisy's gaze. This had been underway for some time, then, and I felt queasy as I thought of Daisy arguing with her Uncle Felix and not – well – not thinking of me at all. Not that I'd expect her to, not for a family matter, but I did think she might've told me, in person or not. 'Well. Will you be in London, then?'
'I don't know.' Daisy answered too quickly, and I wondered – didn't know, or couldn't say?
The hurt must have shown in my face despite my best efforts, for she finally let go of the door handle and came up to me. 'Hazel... your father would never let you leave Cambridge,' she said, going directly to the point. 'You told me yourself how hard it was to convince him to let you come at all.'
'I know,' I said, resenting her reasonable tone. 'But, Daisy...' 'Detective Society forever!' was on the tip of my tongue, and I bit it back, annoyed by the childish impulse.
'You're a wonderful detective, but you're not a very good spy,' Daisy said, almost apologetically, at least for her. 'People will remember you, Felix sa- '
She cut herself off, but I whipped my head up and pounced. 'Felix said? You asked him about me?'
Daisy sighed. 'Of course I did. I'd always rather have you with me, Hazel, don't you know that?' I didn't know what to say to that, and Daisy seemed a little unsure as well, so she hurried on. 'But Felix is right, especially now; people do look for anything out of the ordinary, and you, well.'
'I'm not English,' I said dully. It was true. No matter how long I spent here, being shaped by this damp tiny island and its people, on the outside I was still as stubbornly foreign as ever. And that, apparently, meant I couldn't be part of its defence, even if I wanted to.
'There is...' Daisy bit her lip. 'Felix said I shouldn't say, but Lucy told me I ought to, that it ought to be your choice,' she said hurriedly. 'And I do hope – you know I'd never make you – '
'Daisy!' I was all caught up in her excitement. 'What is it?'
'Because of your languages, Hazel. There might be... you know... code work, for people who can read things. If you – if you wanted to help, I mean. Sometimes. You wouldn't have to leave Cambridge, and... it could be very important. But only if you want to. Felix told me I had to say that,' she added, running out of steam.
'Of course,' I said at once. 'Of course!' I beamed at her, and she smiled back, slowly at first and then with all the same happiness I was feeling. Here was a way for my almost-Englishness to come in useful, and – 'So,' I asked, 'will you be my – my contact?'
Daisy hugged me then, so tightly I could feel my bones creak. 'As though I'd let anyone else,' she said determinedly.
I hugged her back just as hard, until she let out a little 'oof' of surprise. In all my dreams of Cambridge, I'd never thought about what it might be like if Daisy were not there. Now, even if it wouldn't be quite right, at least I could have her part of the time. And perhaps by next summer she'd be able to join me, and then I'd be the expert. It was a dizzying thought, and I decided not to dwell on it. Instead I clung to Daisy and tried to be excited by the two of us against the world once more.
12 October 1940
As it turned out, Daisy was not entirely correct about the work I was able to do. Very little of it could be brought to Cambridge, due to timing or secrecy. Though Daisy dropped in once or twice, she was wrong too about how regularly she could visit, and about when she would return to Cambridge. By the start of my second year, I had nearly given up hope of seeing her. I more often ended up travelling to London myself to do what I could there.
This was not always very nice. Petrol rationing meant I usually went by train, and the trains were very different from the calm journeys I remembered from my first years at Deepdean. Even when they were not full of soldiers in uniform, on leave or shipping out, the atmosphere was tense and worried. No one was ever rude to me directly, but the usual double-take English people did when they saw me changed as well, becoming harder and more deliberate. When we went through the stations, you could see flashes of pale brick where signs giving names or directions had been torn down, and people turned away from the windows as though they had caught their neighbours naked.
I understood, the first time I came into London. Seeing the city during wartime was like seeing a dear friend in hospital, in one of those silly gowns without a proper back and with her hair all coming down. After that I kept my head down, watching for broken paving stones rather than looking at the holes where buildings used to be.
I reported to Daisy's Uncle Felix's house rather than to anywhere more official, which was, he said, to avoid complicated explanations. It also, Lucy explained, kept me safe: the fewer people who saw me, the fewer who might try to find me later. I admit that line of reasoning gave me quite a turn. Still, it was pleasant, coming to Felix's lovely house and being able to pretend, if only for a few minutes between jobs, that we were enjoying a social visit. Often we worked in the same room, he and I and even Lucy, deciphering or encoding information, and it was a joy to watch the two of them together. They made each other better, and they enjoyed it so. It made me a little wistful, watching how they functioned as a team.
I was even more grateful late one afternoon when the air-raid sirens went off just as I was meant to leave to catch my train. Felix and Lucy's house has a deep wine cellar where you can barely hear the sirens at all, so it was entirely safe, but by the time the all-clear began to sound it was well into evening.
'We can't send her back to Cambridge at this hour,' Lucy said, and Felix nodded.
'Not at all. You'll just have to be our guest for the night,' Felix said, smiling that smile that so reminded me of Daisy.
And so I ended up tucked into bed in a spare room, the linen slightly musty and smelling of old lavender, wearing a nightgown of Lucy's that was tight at the middle and tangled around my feet. I lay there listening to the house settle. The noises were very different from those I'd grown accustomed to at St Lucy's, and though the street outside was quiet, I could hear city sounds just on the edge of my awareness. All my senses were on alert, after work and after the shivery nervous spell in the cellar, and I could not make myself relax into sleep.
So I was still awake when I heard a noise in the corridor. Although the room was dark and unfamiliar, I wasn't afraid, not even when they paused outside my door. I lay still, trying to understand why I was not reacting, when I heard the latch click and the hinges creak, and still I was calm and quiet, staring up at the ceiling, until the wavering light of a candle slipped through the crack in the door and started moving closer.
I strained my eyes towards the foot of the bed, trying not to move any other muscles, but all I saw was the candle itself, and a glimmer of blonde hair behind it. And at that moment I knew why the steps had not frightened me – how could they, when I'd heard them every night for nearly half my life?
'Daisy!' I said, sitting bolt upright, and Daisy, curse her, didn't so much as wobble, just threw herself forward and bounced onto the bed with me. I had to dodge the candle as she swept me into an enthusiastic hug.
'Hazel,' she said delightedly, setting the candle on the bedside table and wiggling and squirming until she was under the covers with me. 'Uncle Felix said you'd be in today, but when the siren went I thought I'd missed you for sure. I'm so glad to see you.' She curled close, her elbows as sharp as they'd ever been when we shared a bed at Deepdean even though this mattress was easily twice the size. She smelled like smoke and petrol and under all that still like Daisy, and I leaned into her, seeking reassurance I hadn't even known I needed.
'But – what are you doing here?' I asked, and when Daisy laughed at me I did not even mind, it was so nice to hear laughter, and particularly Daisy's.
'Uncle Felix has me running messages,' she admitted. 'He doesn't trust me outside London very much yet, but I can slip across town like nobody's business. No one looks twice at me, you know they don't. I've to deliver that message you deciphered tomorrow – so you see, we're still working together, aren't we, Hazel?'
I felt a warm glow at that, and remembered the easy intimacy with which Felix and Lucy married work and life. I had been missing that, with Daisy gone and my focus split between Cambridge and London. But now I could see the two parts of my life knitting themselves back together again, and I hoped with all my heart that Daisy would be joining me at St Lucy's soon.
'It's how we work best, isn't it,' I said, but Daisy was half-asleep already, her head against my shoulder. I snuffed the candle awkwardly and eased us down onto the pillows.
Daisy sighed quietly and rolled to face me, flinging an arm carelessly over my middle. 'For ever,' she said, voice muffled in my nightgown, and I stroked her hair, greatly daring.
'For ever,' I repeated, under the cover of her sleepy breaths.