Elisabeth A. Wallace
Dear Miss Wallace,
Don’t be alarmed by my signature at the bottom of the page. You are not crazy or otherwise bonkers. I know you thought I was long gone. But, I’m not. When I died, I knew I couldn’t move on—I had to stay. For Lorna Miller. And for Clairmont.
And thank goodness I did. Because I’m the only one who can prove Lorna is not lying. Yes, you’ve caught her leaving trick messages in the frost on your window, stealing a professor’s letter, even breaking into the Headmistress’s Office. You don’t have the tiniest reason to trust her. Or, Jeannette Li Jones, for that matter. But every word of Lorna’s note is true. It is not a prank. And she and Jeannette are in grave danger because of it.
Being in a ghostly state has its advantages. Invisible and made out of vapor, I’ve been able to observe Lorna from the moment she stepped into Clairmont. I know you, Miss Wallace. The only way you will believe everything that happened is to hear the entire story. How Lorna uncovered the evil conspiracy to destroy the school. And how she discovered a secret that could save it—your secret, Miss Wallace, and Lady Halfrey’s. But to believe, you must read every page that follows.
You, at the very least, owe me that.
Most sincerely yours,
Miss L.C. Eastwood
First Headmistress of Clairmont School
And now, of course, Ghost
We must go back in time to Lorna Miller’s first day at Clairmont and to . . .
The Start of It All
Lorna had never had a single sleepless night or nagging intuition about Clairmont. For as long as she could remember, she couldn’t wait to turn thirteen, so she could go there. She’d hop on a plane in New York City. Step off in Switzerland. And head to the old Abbey her great-grandmother turned into a school, high up on a cliff above Lake Geneva. Her parents would fly over with her, lug her boxes up to Matterhorn House—her mom’s house when she had been at Clairmont—and build the rotating loft bed her mom had designed in the hospital the day Lorna was born. When they said goodbye, they’d all break down and sob, and then console themselves with heaps of Swiss chocolate.
That’s how she had always imagined it would be. Until a year ago. When her whole world was blown apart.
Arriving at Clairmont on her first day, Lorna wore her uniform like a suit of armor. Starched white shirt. Perfectly pleated plaid skirt. Tie tucked flawlessly into her navy sweater. She shoved aside a stray strand of light brown hair, pushed open Matterhorn’s arched front door, and immediately examined its ceiling to see how sturdy it was. It was a habit she’d picked up over the last year. And Matterhorn’s ceiling was like no other she’d ever seen. Unbelievably high—probably two stories—and round and wooden like a giant barrel. She examined it closely, making sure the wooden planks didn’t have any cracks or gaps, making sure it would be hard to bring down—even with a wrecking ball—and then dropped her gaze to the massive stone hall, as wide as a street—and to chaos.
Suitcases, boxes, and bags covered every plump sofa and feather-stuffed chair that lined the hall. Girls of all shapes and sizes dodged around them, darting in and out of rooms, laughing and hugging. A tall girl with a short afro leapt over a chair to a giant fishbowl loaded with Toblerones and lobbed chocolate bars down the hall to any girl facing her.
Lorna examined the girls one by one, and came up with a theory for who was scholarship and who was pay-her-own-way. The girls wearing their uniforms like they had just stepped out of a picture on the website had to be scholarship. The sloppier ones, wearing wrinkled sweaters, like they took it all for granted, had to be pay-their-own-ways.
When a white-haired man in red work pants heaved a large, flat box through the door next to Lorna, a girl shouted, “Hey Mr. Brun! What’s that? Lady Halfrey’s painting?” And then a huge black fluffy dog, with a white chest and nose—who someone had dressed up in a large pink bow—pushed through the door and turned chaos into pure pandemonium. He barked and leapt at anything that moved—a Toblerone foil tossed on the floor, a tinkling wind chime on a door handle. He was so excited he chased after a girl and nearly caught her skirt as she fled into the women’s room.
Lorna rubbed the back of her neck. A Dog? In Matterhorn? She liked dogs as much as the next girl, but she knew for a fact not everybody did. The girl who had just sprinted through the restroom door, for one.
Lorna took a step toward the women’s room, then spotted Jacques Charity Van der Mere, the girl who was supposed to be her ‘mentor.’ She had the same yellow hair and blue eyes as in the picture the school secretary had sent —pretty, Lorna guessed. But, as Lorna watched Charity talk to a group of older girls wearing wrinkled sweaters, a crease started to form across her forehead. Charity kept fixing her hair so a single curl hung over her left shoulder and then checking to see if others were looking.
Lorna narrowed her eyes. She probably deserved a mentor like that. She deserved everything she got. But she’d counted on things being different once she got to Clairmont. Change your life, change your luck. Okay, she hadn’t exactly counted on it. But, she’d crossed her fingers on the airplane and allowed a thin sliver of hope to cross her mind.
Before Lorna could look away, Charity turned and caught her watching. She inspected Lorna from head to toe, pausing on the faded backpack over her shoulder and grimacing at her old shoes. When one of Charity’s friends giggled, that was enough for Lorna. She pulled a book from her backpack and headed to the restroom.
The huge dog was still there, trying to nose his way through the door. “See these two words?” Lorna asked. “They say Women’s Room. Not Dog’s Room.”
The dog let out a whimper.
“Yeah? You really think no one cares? Tell that to the girl you chased in here.” Lorna slid inside, looked under the cubicles, and tapped open the first door. It bumped straight up against something—someone—against a girl hiding there. A girl with a cloud of thick, nearly black hair, a sweater that had crease lines as if it had just been pulled from its wrapping, and the face of an angel.
“Let me guess,” said Lorna. “Jeannette Li Jones. Formerly of Hong Kong. Now, from London. Master of the Blowtorch.”
Both of Jeannette’s eyebrows went straight up and a sort of glow radiated from her. Jeannette was also Master of the Amazing Face. Lorna had been impressed by it ever since their first video chat. Jeannette had the type of face that would win a Nobel Prize for convincing the earth’s population that it must have World Peace. Or at least, she would win an Academy Award.
Jeannette glowed a little bit more and said, “You forgot: Roommate to the famous Lorna Miller.”
“Not famous,” Lorna corrected.
“Famous to the Li family. Your picture’s been sent by granny Pau-pau to every aunty and cousin and not-even-cousin in Hong Kong.”
“Just like the World’s Most Wanted.”
Jeannette’s face opened into a wide grin. “I brought the blowtorch, you know.”
“Would’ve of loved to see airport security deal with that. But since you’re here to tell about it, you must have come over the Channel with an unsuspecting driver.”
“With some not-even-cousins.” Jeannette nodded. “I got to bring a mass of other things too.” Things, Lorna knew, meant tools. Jeannette had spent the summer watching nonstop episodes of Restoration Home, DIY SOS and that show where a squad of gardeners turns some ugly piece of scrub into an amazing garden in a single weekend. Before she’d become a Master of the Blowtorch, Jeannette had conquered the crowbar, needle nose pliers, staple gun, and duct tape. “The not-evens said they were sorry they couldn’t wait to meet you—they had to get up to the real Matterhorn Mountain by tonight. They said you looked nice.”
Lorna imagined the picture she’d sent Jeannette flying over the Internet to the greater Lis everywhere. She really didn’t like people looking at her. Or her picture. She couldn’t shake the idea that people could see things she didn’t really want them to see. She’d told Jeannette everything about her, and she hadn’t minded. But that was angel-faced, generous, look-on-the sunny-side Jeannette. Others wouldn’t be so kind. Lorna looked away from Jeannette—then drew her gray eyes back.
Jeannette studied Lorna, her eyebrows smushing together, then asked, “Met anyone yet?”
Lorna flicked the binding of her book, thinking about Jacques Charity Van der Mere. “Nobody.”
“You mean, nobody, yet.” Jeannette was still grinning. “I can introduce you to all the other Matterhorn Year Sevens, I’ve met them all—and you’ve probably seen them and just don’t know it. The shy girl with the braid down to her waist is Isha Khan.”
“Ten dollars says she’s from India.”
Jeannette wrinkled her eyebrows, “I don’t think so. She said, Bihar—wherever that is.”
Lorna pursed her lips. “India. North India.”
“Oh.” Jeannette flushed a rosy pink. “And did you see the girl with the brown spiky, sort of messy short hair? She had running shoes on with her uniform.”
“I guess, now that you mention it. That’s Scylla Rodriguez—from Brazil. Then there’s Osythe Gibbons—with the ghosty white hair and glasses—her sister’s Captain of Matterhorn. And the last of us is—”
“Belvie Kyenge,” Lorna said. “I saw her name on Isha’s door. She’s from Mali—and the only one to ace the scholarship test. According to Miss Hopps.”
“Aced it? I didn’t even know that was possible. That test’s a monster.” Jeannette’s brown eyes jumped to Lorna’s book, noticing it for the first time. “Did you come to hide out here too?” Jeannette reached down and examined the hem of her skirt. “That dog nearly got me. Something unbelievable is going to happen to you for keeping him out. Endless chocolate, maybe. The Universe owes you.”
“Instant karma,” Lorna scrunched her nose. “I think you might have mentioned it once or twice.” Or ninety-six times. And Jeannette’s life honestly seemed to work that way. Lorna’s didn’t. Unless negative karma existed.
The huge dog barked at the door—and Jeannette jumped to the back of the cubicle, then turned pink again. “I know he’s big.” Lorna nodded. “Bernese Mountain Dog. But I think he’s okay—really.”
“It’s just—just . . . ,” Jeannette didn’t finish, instead waving her hand, as if she were waving away a bad memory.
Lorna knew what that memory was. Jeannette had told her. The one and only exception to Jeannette’s Super Karma life. It had happened when she was three, but she still had nightmares about it. Hong Kong. A pack of stray dogs lunging at her. Hot breath on her legs. The rip of her skirt. Agony in her calf as the leader clamped down with his razor-sharp teeth.
The door to the bathroom banged open—and Lorna stepped in front of Jeannette, sure it was the dog. She relaxed when a couple of sets of footsteps clattered in, along with a voice Lorna recognized as Charity’s.
“ . . . and I simply can not believe that they gave me one of the new girls to mentor. I hope they don’t expect me to be friends with her.”
“The same goes for the new girl they gave me,” said a second voice. (Hughes Grace Carnegie. Charity’s cousin and roommate.)
Lorna looked at Jeannette and raised her eyebrows, as if to say: Is that you? The other new girl? Jeannette grimaced and nodded. Lorna quietly pulled the door of the cubicle shut and slid the lock into place. She then took a giant, silent step toward the back of the cubicle where Jeannette was, so her legs couldn’t be seen under the cubicle wall.
Lorna shifted her head so that she could see through the slit next to the door. In the reflection of the mirror over the sinks, she saw Charity go into the cubicle at the far end, next to the window. Charity shut the door so hard, the line of cubicles rattled.
Grace went into the cubicle next to Charity and slammed her door. A screw bounced to the floor in front of Lorna, and the cubicles tottered as if another slam would send them crashing to the floor.
“It’s just that Miss Wallace knows that I’m only sixteen names away from the next spot at La Violette,” Charity said. “She knows I can’t wait to get out of this dump. So what’s the use—”
“Did I tell you?” Grace cut in. “I’m up to twenty-one on the waiting list. We could be there before you know it!”
“With girls like us. And boys.”
“And nonstop phone rights. Monsieur LaFleur already took mine away. Can you believe it?”
“If we could only dream up some emergency—some reason why we couldn’t stay here, La Violette would take us right now. It says so in my letter.”
“Hmm,” Grace mused. “That’s worth thinking about.”
Charity came out of the cubicle and sighed at herself in the mirror. “Did you see my new girl?”
“Scholarship? At the end of the hall? Rigid as an old crone?”
Lorna stiffened, then glanced at Jeannette and shrugged.
“That’s her.” Charity patted her yellow curls. “Miss Hopps told me to look out for her. My mum too.”
“Ooh, that’s a bit of bad luck.” Grace came to stand behind Charity and curled her cousin’s hair into a messy sort of bun high on her head. “Okay, we don’t have a choice, we have to invite the new girls to Opening Tea. And they’ll love it. Newbie Sevens sitting down with two Year Eights. Then”—Grace let Charity’s hair fall in a tangle to her neck—“we’re done. That’s fair. We don’t want them becoming too reliant on us.”
Charity combed through her hair with her fingers. “Since we’re getting out of here, you mean?”
Charity nodded and headed for the door. “I don’t mean to be brutal, but it’s not my fault her parents died in a car crash and she had to ask the State of New York or whoever it was to get her out of her foster home and send her here.”
“No—no it’s not.”
Charity yanked open the door and went out. Grace followed.
As the door banged, Lorna stared at the fallen screw on the floor. It had been a year ago. A year and three days, to be exact. A Monday morning like any other Monday morning. Well, almost.
When Lorna and her dad had headed down the stoop of their brownstone, ready to drive into Manhattan for work and school, Lorna had found her mom, waiting next to their Fiat, staring at the screen of her phone. Her hand was trembling. She glanced up at Lorna, blinked, and then fumbled to close the screen of an email.
When she dropped the phone in the street, Lorna picked it up—and read what the note said. Remember when we found Lady Halfrey’s letter on Miss Eastwood’s desk? Well, I’ve been trying to fix it, but it’s like a curse. Bad after Bad. And now, it’s finally happening. I’m sorry. Lorna asked what it meant. Her mom took the phone, closed down the screen, and said that it was a long story—she would tell her that night at dinner. Well, that night at dinner never came.
In the middle of the Brooklyn Bridge, Lorna had finished her book and begged her parents to stop at the Barnes & Noble near her school. When they’d said no, she pestered and begged until they stopped to let her out. One hundred yards from where her parents usually dropped her off, a truck driver forgot to put on his brakes and barreled through the backseat of the Millers’ car, coming to a halt only when the tangled Fiat stopped it. Lorna had heard the scream and crack of exploding metal as she stepped onto the Barnes & Noble escalator. When she pushed through the crowd in the street and saw the Fiat, Lorna flung herself at the car and would have jumped straight into the flames to get her parents, if a policeman hadn’t dragged her back.
After that, it was just like the email. Bad after bad. A double funeral. Five different foster homes. Mrs. Cranch of the Office of Children and Family Services. Their brownstone in Brooklyn was sold because her parents had used it to get a loan from Temple Bank. And Mrs. Cranch, with her frizzy hair and red, bony face, only told Lorna after the bank had sent a wrecking ball to smash it to pieces.
Lorna stuffed her book into her backpack. Bad after bad. But she’d deserved it. There was no getting around one small, blinding fact. If she hadn’t been so bratty and obnoxious, if she hadn’t made her parents pull out of traffic to let her out, they would have never been in front of the truck in the first place. So, yeah, she deserved whatever she got. And she’d bet hard cash that didn’t include endless chocolate. That is, if she had any hard cash.
Lorna picked up the fallen screw off the bathroom floor and shoved it back into place. She then half-smiled at Jeannette. “I’m not sure you noticed, but we’ve hit the lottery with Grace and Charity. Winning numbers, both of them.”
Jeannette pushed the screw in further with her thumb. “And there I was trying to figure out where my staple gun was. It can nail bed sheets together, you know.” Jeannette gave Lorna a devilish smile. “And I was really hoping to see what it could do with leg holes of underwear.”
~ 2 ~
The Opening Tea
Lorna was lining up the finishing touch on her desk—the only picture she had of her mom from her Clairmont days—and Jeanette was stashing her last tools in the cupboard above her closet, when the tall girl Lorna had seen throwing Toblerones stuck her head into their room. “Hi, I’m Abana Ramphele.” She nodded toward the hall in a sergeant-major way. “Come out here.”
Osythe, Scylla, Belvie, and Isha were already lined up against the wall, looking like they thought they were in trouble. Lorna took the empty spot next to Isha.
“I guess you know Opening Tea’s at five o’clock. What you don’t know is that you can’t go down until I say so. All of you Sevens—the ones in Jungfrau and Monte Rosa too—are led in together. So, stay put.” Abana thrust her fists on her hips and glared at them. “And that’s coming from me as Matterhorn’s Vice-Captain. You let me down—you embarrass Matterhorn—and I have the power to make your lives miserable.”
Abana yanked a blue bandanna out of her skirt pocket. “But first, I’ve got to find Monk. There is absolutely no way I’m letting our guard dog wear Monte Rosa pink to Opening Tea.” Abana gave the girls a last glare and ducked out Matterhorn’s back door.
“She could have saved the scowl,” Lorna murmured to Jeannette. It’s not like I’m rushing down so I don’t miss a single precious moment with Grace and Charity.”
“Ditto,” said Jeannette. “But we’ve finished unpacking and I’d love to see more of Clairmont.” She turned to the other girls. “The Dining Hall’s not a bad place to start. The famed Opening Tea.” She raised her eyebrows meaningfully. “My granny Pau-pau pulled something like 213 photos of it off the Internet.”
Yeah, Lorna thought. She’d risk getting caught by the sergeant major to see more of Clairmont. Breaking out of the trees, after winding up the mountain road, Lorna’s first glimpse of the school had been the Abbey’s red tiled roofs and ancient stone walls towering in front of the van. It was massive. Thick, like a castle. Her mom had said the Abbey had been there for 700 years—survived an avalanche and two World Wars. Nothing could take that place down—not even Temple Bank.
Once inside the iron gates, Lorna hadn’t seen much from the van’s window other than Clairmont’s one big surprise, the nearly black Chalet. Lorna couldn’t take her eyes off it—it was strangely beautiful with its steep roofs and dark wood—and then the van jolted to a halt at the cloisters’ door and she’d been ushered straight up to Matterhorn.
Lorna would definitely risk getting caught to see more. And so, when Jeannette peeked out the main door and motioned that it was clear, Lorna followed her and the other M-7s down Matterhorn’s circular marble staircase to the Dining Hall’s back entrance. Two massive wooden doors stood open, so even peering from the stairwell, Lorna could see the ceiling. Eighteen pillars reached up to it and fanned out at the top like great stone palm trees. Red and white banners fluttered from brass poles. And the House tables Lorna had seen on the website—the ones that usually ran from giant fireplace to giant fireplace—had been broken into squares, decorated with miniatures of the Abbey, and piled high with mounds of cakes, finger sandwiches, and scones. Hundreds of returning girls already filled most of the chairs and were laughing and calling out to their friends at other tables.
“Pinch me,” said Jeannette.
“Impressive,” nodded Lorna. But just as she said it, she noticed that a thick layer of dust covered the top of the pillars and two of the banners were crooked, their brass poles bent. The past year when Lorna had been shuffled from foster home to foster home, she had spent every second she could get reading and rereading the Clairmont website. She’d memorized every word and picture. And the dust and bent poles hadn’t been part of them—not the rickety bathroom cubicles either. Clairmont wasn’t exactly the bright and shiny place she’d seen on the website.
The white-haired man who had been up in Matterhorn—Monsieur Brun—flung open the north door of the Hall and the faculty, all dressed in crimson and white scholar’s robes, filed to their places at the head table. Monk, the floppy pink bow switched out for a blue bandana, padded after them and sat commandingly at the end of the table. Miss Hopps, who had scurried over from the Gate House office a little too late, squeezed through the door just as Monsieur Brun was shutting it.
Osythe peeked over Lorna’s shoulder and pushed her pale blonde hair back from her black glasses. “Olwyn—my sister—she’s the Captain of Matterhorn, you know—she told me all about the Tea. See the things on the table in front of them, they show who they are—what they teach.” She pointed to a short stocky woman with wild silver hair at the end. In front of her, a fluorescent-green liquid bubbled in a glass globe above a crucible and flame. “That’s Madame Melchior.”
“Let me guess,” said Lorna, “Official Title: Mad Scientist.”
“Or, witch,” Scylla snorted. “I heard she’s obsessed with the old monks and all their potions.”
“And next to her,” continued Osythe, “is Miss Kapoor with the giant smiling mask because she’s Drama. The woman with the florescent green bow in her hair, that’s Miss Dunn and she’s got a frowning mask because . . . because I don’t know why. She teaches Geography.”
“I guess it’s no mystery who the tiny old woman is,” said Belvie, straightening a pencil she’d stuck in the braids of her ponytail. “The Eiffel Tower’s a sure give away.”
“Wait,” Scylla laughed. “Is that a bird cage?”
A giant birdcage in the shape of the Eiffel Tower sat in front of a woman with soft blue-grey hair. Inside the cage, an orange canary flitted and chirped happily. “The woman’s Madame Moreau—Madame Mo—the French teacher,” Lorna said. She’d been her mom’s favorite. “She was the Head before Miss Wallace.”
“And the bird is Debussy,” Osythe added. “Olwyn says he could probably be in the Guinness Book of World Records, Madame Mo’s had him for so long. She’s crazy over him—keeps him with her in class.”
“He is sweet,” said Isha. “Fluffing his feathers like that.”
“And, what about the chic, miserable guy?” asked Scylla.
Sitting next to Madame Mo was a man, whose blonde hair was perfectly styled back from his forehead. A tailored shirt and tie peeked from beneath his robe. He was scowling at the tall gray-haired woman on his other side, whose giant German dictionary was poking into his chest.
“That’s Monsieur LaFleur,” Jeannette said. “The Deputy Headmaster.”
“And art teacher,” Isha added timidly.
“And the Headmistress—where’s she?” asked a stern voice behind them. “She seems to be missing.”
Osythe jumped, accidentally knocking her glasses to the floor. Lorna quickly took in the empty chair at the center of the table—behind a shield bearing Clairmont’s even-armed cross—and was sure Miss Wallace herself was standing behind her. She spun around—but it was Abana, wearing a Matterhorn-blue scholar’s robe, scowling, hands on her hips.
“Was there something unclear about the words: Five O’clock?” But then Olwyn—also wearing a blue robe—joined her, and Abana’s face broke into a wide, toothy smile. “Don’t look so serious. I couldn’t wait either my first time. And anyway, the other Sevens are here now too.”
Lorna barely got a glimpse of a couple of Year Twelves in orange and pink robes leading the Jungfrau and Monte Rosa Sevens before Abana caught her by the elbow and started leading her straight into the Dining Hall. As everyone craned their necks to get a better view, Lorna found the table with Charity and Grace, and trained her eyes on the model of the Abbey. She really did hate people looking at her. One-on-one was no problem. The other person was too busy hiding her own secrets. But if it was one-on-two hundred—like it was then—Lorna kept her eyes straight ahead.
As Lorna and the rest of the Sevens marched in, all the girls in the Hall jumped to their feet, applauding. The professors rose too and clapped just as loudly as the students. From the corner of her eye, Lorna saw four girls at one table stamping out a rhythm and two girls at another balancing on the rungs of their chairs, whistling through their fingers.
Monsieur LaFleur stood, clinking his spoon against his teacup to get everyone’s attention. Lorna slid into the chair next to Jeannette, and the room immediately quieted. Monsieur LaFleur threw his arms wide, still holding the cup and spoon. “Welcome! Welcome back. And to our new girls, welcome to your new home. Tomorrow and the beginning of classes will come soon enough. Today is for catching up with your old golden friends, meeting the new silver ones, and indulging in Chef Louis’ glorious little sandwiches and cakes. And so, with no further ado”—he clinked on his cup as if it were a drumroll—“Let the Tea begin!”
As the room erupted in cheers, Charity played hostess, placing a scone on Lorna’s and Jeannette’s plates. She smoothed her skirt, daintily stirred her tea, and sweetly smiled at Lorna. Lorna could tell Charity wanted her to start the conversation, but all of Charity’s oh-so-polite manners following in the wake of her not oh-so-polite bathroom self had elbowed the will to talk right out of Lorna.
Charity let out a little huff and finally said, “So . . . I guess you’ve heard that Lady Halfrey was Clairmont’s patroness.”
“Clairmont’s crazy patroness,” Grace added.
Lorna rubbed her chin with the back of her hand. Her great-grandmother had been special. Even her mom had said so. “Well—what do you expect? She was a free thinker. A pioneer. She practically invented girl power before anyone even knew what it was.”
Grace stared. “How do you know so much about her?”
“Because . . .” Lorna glanced at Jeannette. She was the only one Lorna had told about her great-grandmother. Nobody else would guess, because Lady Halfrey had been so certain that a good school was the only thing that counted for girls, she’d given all of her money to Clairmont. She didn’t save any of it for her own daughter. Or her granddaughter. Or Lorna. She had received a scholarship, just like a hundred other girls.
Lorna looked back at Grace. “It’s all there on the website, isn’t it? How’s it go? ‘When everyone else thought girls should learn to boil rice and sweep a room, Lady Agatha Halfrey had a better idea.’” Lorna shrugged. “And anyway, my mom went here. She told me about her.”
“Well, my mother was a Clairmont girl too and just loves this place,” said Charity. “She’s the whole reason I had to come—but my father dug around and told me the real story. You know Lady Halfrey wasn’t nobility, not by birth. She was a gold heiress from South Africa who married Lord Halfrey. She kept bars and bars of gold in the vegetable cellar underneath Halfrey Manor.”
“Filthy rich—new money, in other words,” Grace said, eyeing Lorna. “Still sound like the amazing Lady Halfrey you know?”
By Grace’s tone, Lorna was pretty sure if she said yes, she’d be agreeing that her great-grandmother was a she-devil or ogress, so she chose not to say anything.
Charity lifted her teacup and sipped prettily. “She was exceedingly comfortable and with only one daughter and some distant great-nephew as Lord Halfrey’s heir. I guess she was a liberal or something because when she heard a brainy Oxford grad wanted to start a girls’ school—”
“She’s talking about Miss Eastwood,” Grace said, cutting in.
Charity smiled tightly at her cousin. “Yes, Grace, that’s right—when she heard Miss Eastwood wanted to start a school, she gave her this old Abbey. And then, she remembered she’d bought a chalet at the 1900 World’s Fair in Paris. She shipped it here for Miss Eastwood to put back together piece by piece.”
“See what I mean,” Grace said, dumping a load of double cream on her scone. “That proves it. Crazy, with a capital C. Who goes to Paris and buys a Swiss chalet?”
Lorna glanced at the ceiling above her. A thick crack ran from one palm-tree column to another. Maybe the ceiling would come crashing down on Grace and she wouldn’t have to listen to her insult her great-grandmother any more. But then, the school would probably close down as a safety hazard. And then, Lorna would be homeless—but that wouldn’t matter since she and Jeannette probably would have been crushed too.
Maybe she should just punch Grace instead.
Lorna felt Jeannette watching her and put a little pastel green cake on Jeannette’s plate so she wouldn’t worry.
Jeannette took a bite and restarted the conversation. “The chalet, that’s the one they’re having the big party for, right? Seventy-five years at Clairmont. It’s beautiful.”
“Mysterious,” added Lorna. “Like something out of a legend with all that black wood and the dragon on top.”
“Well, you’re American, aren’t you,” said Grace. “Y’all love cowboys and barns and that wooden stuff.”
Charity chortled, gurgling into her tea. She quickly checked if anyone at the next table had seen, then dabbed the sides of her mouth with her napkin. “Anyway, Lady Halfrey also gave the school a painting. It’s even more of a joke than the Chalet.”
A painting? Lorna thought she knew every story about Clairmont. But her mom had never mentioned that.
“The story goes—” Grace said, dropping a large dollop of strawberry jam onto her scone, “the story goes that Lady Halfrey had bought a painting by some French artist at the same time the Chalet was being packed up. Since she and Lord Halfrey were leaving Paris to trek around the world for three years”—Grace took an enormous bite of her scone—“Shea shtuffed za p—” A wet piece of scone went flying out of her mouth and—plunk—landed in the bowl of cream. It disappeared from the surface, leaving a red pool floating on top.
“Don’t worry,” Jeannette quickly said, “we weren’t planning on having cream, anyway. Were we, Lorna?”
Lorna dragged back her plate so it no longer touched the cream bowl. “Not now anyway.”
Charity snatched up the cream and stuffed it under Grace’s chair, then smoothed her skirt again and smiled stiffly at her cousin. “What Grace meant to say is: Lady Halfrey put the painting in one of the boxes with the Chalet. But, seeing the pyramids and the Kremlin and the Taj Mahal pushed the painting right out of her head.”
“Shea shonly—” Grace took a gulp of tea, swallowed, and began again. “She only remembered it when she was on her death bed and her nurse read her a story from the newspaper. Some American—”
“A cowboy?” Lorna asked. Grace glared at her. “Just wondering.”
“Some American had paid millions for a painting at an auction—a painting by the artist who had done her painting. She called in her lawyer, changed her will to give the painting to Clairmont, and wrote a letter to Miss Eastwood explaining where to find it.”
“She sealed it,” said Charity, “with her personal mark. Purple wax—so kitsch. And only wanted it sent after she died. A last gift so the school would be taken care of forever—or some stupidity. I mean, didn’t she get that the most important thing in the whole world is who you know.” Her eyes swept over the girls at the other tables, landing on Isha and Belvie. Her lip curled. “At La Violette—”
Jeannette quickly cut in, “What about the letter?”
“The letter?” Grace bent over the table. “It never came.”
Lorna thought about the email her mom had received the day she died. It said someone had seen a letter from Lady Halfrey on Miss Eastwood’s desk. So some kind of letter had come—and the only way anyone would know it was sealed with wax is if someone had seen it. Lorna scowled at Charity. “If the letter never came, how do you know it was sealed with wax? Purple wax?”
“My mom told me. She was here then.”
“Wow,” said Grace, grabbing another scone and a handful of sandwiches. “Aunt Sisilia was here at the time of the letter? You never told me that!”
“Well, she was—same as Lorna’s mom.”
Lorna’s frown deepened. “But it still doesn’t make sense. If the letter didn’t come, how would your mom know about the wax?”
“Are you saying that my mother,” Charity narrowed her eyes, “that my mother is a li—”
Jeannette rushed in again, “Maybe it’s part of the legend. You know, part of what is told from one girl to another. Legends always have part of the truth in them, don’t they?”
“Exactly,” Charity said, shooting a withering glance at Lorna. “And anyway, Lady Halfrey only imagined the painting.”
“She made the whole thing up,” said Grace. “Miss Eastwood had the entire school search for the painting after the lawyer told her it was hidden in the Chalet—made them search a hundred times. And they never found anything. Not a hint of the painting. She was C-R-A-Z-Y, I told you.”
“Grace.” There was a sharp edge to Lorna’s voice. “Stop calling my great-gran—” Lorna cut herself off and pressed her lips together.
“Great-gran,” Grace repeated. “Lorna. As in Lorna Miller.” She twisted to face Charity. “Did you know?”
Grace gawked at Lorna. “The poor last heir of Lady Halfrey. Read all about it in The Telegraph.”
After the accident, there’d been articles in the New York Times and Wall Street Journal, too. Lorna hadn’t read them. But Mrs. Cranch with her little beady eyes had. Don’t expect any special treatment just because you’re the great-granddaughter of some high and mighty English lady. Lorna hadn’t expected any special treatment. Hadn’t even known Clairmont and Lady Halfrey were so famous that her mom’s death would be in the newspaper.
Charity eyed Grace and then took Lorna’s hand in hers and patted it. “You know, Lorna,”—her voice was syrupy sweet—“Grace and I were just joking about Lady Halfrey. But you know that, don’t you? Being one of us.”
Lorna jerked her hand out from between Charity’s. “I heard what you said in the bathroom. And you meant every word about my great-grandmother, so don’t say you didn’t.” She stood and pitched her napkin onto the table. “And I’m not one of you. Whatever that is.”
As Jeannette joined her and they strode past the next table, Abana called, “They’re idiots—just ignore them. Don’t even ask me how they got into Matterhorn.”
“No kidding,” said Jeannette, as they continued toward the door. “The staple gun’s too nice for those two. Duct tape is what they need.” She mimicked plastering tape over her mouth and ripping off the end with a swift twist of her wrist. “What do you think?”
“I think your Universe wouldn’t like that very much,” said Lorna. “And anyway, I’d rather just forget them.” She’d met her ‘mentor.’ She was done.
“You’re right,” nodded Jeannette. “Forgotten. For now. But I’m telling you, if those two don’t behave, I might even have to pull out the blow—”
“Jeannette.” Lorna gave her a sharp look.
“Right—like I was saying—forgotten.”
As they crossed the double doors, Lorna glanced over her shoulder. At the head table, Monsieur LaFleur was gesturing theatrically, telling a joke to a black-haired woman at the center of the table. The Headmistress of Clairmont had finally taken her seat behind the Clairmont shield. But she wasn’t laughing at Monsieur LaFleur’s joke. Her mouth was flattened into a grim line, and her brooding black eyes were staring across the room—straight at Lorna.
Well, Miss Wallace, never stare like that again—practicing smiling in front of a mirror might help—because that night Lorna had a terrible dream. She had just pitched her napkin on Charity and Grace’s table at the Opening Tea, when she spun around—and found the Headmistress of Clairmont waiting for her with an enormous magnifying glass. The Headmistress scowled as she inspected her. “Right there behind the eyes—tainted by bad.” The Headmistress bent closer. “I’ve seen it before. Like a curse. I won’t have her at Clairmont—no—not for another day.” She lowered the magnifying glass, and Mrs. Cranch, her red face stretching into a tight grin, stood in her place.
Lorna bolted—and stumbled to her feet in her and Jeannette’s room.
“All right?” Jeannette whispered.
Lorna backed away from her bed. “Yeah.” The word scraped, it was so tight in her throat. “Yeah, I’m all right.”
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