Peggy hadn't realized that Nancy would be placed in a different section. If she'd known, maybe she would have decided not to go on her own.
No, that wasn't true. Of course she would have gone along, but she could've worried about it more beforehand and got that part over with. Instead, she sat in a dorm which was full of strangers who were running and chattering and acting excited to be here, and she tried not to be hurt that none of them were upset to be unexpectedly separated from their older sisters, assuming they had any. One girl, Frances, tried to talk to her a bit, but Frances's sister was very much older and not here for this programme. "She's an official driver already," Frances said, and Peggy nodded and did her best to look quietly impressed instead of asking what that meant. Nancy would have asked questions, she was sure, but Peggy felt rather squashed flat.
"Peggy!" said a familiar voice.
Peggy looked up. "Susan!" she cried, and leapt up to embrace her friend.
Susan hugged her back. "You're looking dire," she said. "Is something wrong?"
"No, no," Peggy said, suddenly embarrassed. "It's just Nancy."
Susan set down her bag and looked around. "Is she not here? She's not sick again, is she?"
"The older girls are going to be having advanced classes," Peggy explained. "But I'm not old enough."
"Well, neither am I, I reckon," Susan said. "I'm sure we'll have plenty to do too."
"Good old Susan," Peggy said, and even though she couldn't quite punch Susan on the arm the way Nancy might've, she felt much better. "I'm glad you're here," she said instead.
"Shiver my timbers, so am I," Susan said matter-of-factly. Peggy giggled, but Susan kept a perfectly innocent face for several seconds before dissolving into laughter as well.
I am having a wonderful time at the F.A.N.Y. programme. We are learning all sorts of interesting things about medicine and nursing. (Some of the things we are doing are very gross! I have written a letter to Roger telling about some of them, so ask him if you are sure you want to know.) They have also been teaching us other things, like motorcar driving and telephone operation. Really, I don't know why this is a programme only for girls, since it would be perfect for Roger! Donkeys, donkeys everywhere, and not a drop of water to sail upon.
Nancy says that some of the older girls are learning from women who were in the W.R.N.S. in the Great War, but they are not involved with ships or boats or seafaring of any kind despite that. She hasn't had any time to be disappointed, though, because they found out she knows Morse Code and sent her up to the highest classes and she's been learning ever so much! She says it's not as much maths as it could be but it's more maths than anything else, so if you are thinking of doing anything in this line yourself I hope you are not neglecting your holiday studies.
Peggy and I have been put in the same section, which is nice for both of us. A lot of the girls here already know each other because they go to public school together. (I am very glad that one no longer needs to have one's own horse to enlist with F.A.N.Y., but you can still very easily tell the difference between the girls from those families and the girls like us. Not that I want a horse! A lot of these girls have never even been sailing, so I think our way of things is just as good.)
You will enjoy this story: just yesterday Peggy decided to make up a Peter Duck tale right in the middle of Miss Lloyd instructing us about first aid. I thought she would get in so much trouble....
"Didn't we do exactly this yesterday?" Peggy whispered to Susan.
Susan, who was fastidiously positioning the splint along Peggy's outstretched arm, whispered back, "Yes, so we need to show what we learned."
"It's not that hard, is it? I mean, now that we know about checking the alignment of the bones," Peggy whispered, thinking about the time that Nancy had fallen and been sure that her arm was broken. She'd made Peggy bind it up tightly against a stick before she'd go inside and let Mother call for the doctor. In hindsight it was probably good that Nancy had only sprained her wrist that time, but now Peggy felt confident that she could handle a truly broken limb with the bravery and skill required. "So how did I break this arm, do you suppose?" she said. "It must have been a daring rescue, right? Maybe there was a boating accident and Nancy took the Amazon in to save who she could. But there were sharks!"
"Sharks broke your arm?" Susan murmured, holding Peggy's wrist firmly as she attempted to gesture.
"No, the sharks were after a, a raft of little kids. They were clinging to the wreckage in the storm-tossed sea! But there wasn't room in the Amazon for all of them and both of us, so I volunteered to give them my place," Peggy decided, flush with the storyteller's power to imagine bravery. "Nancy would have stayed, but there was thunder and lightning and I might not have been able to sail them all to safety by myself." This seemed reasonable to her; clinging to a spar in shark-filled waters would have been highly preferable to taking responsibility for a dozen children during a thunderstorm even for brave imaginary Peggy.
"So you were waving frantically for rescuers in Swallow to pick you up from the rough seas," Susan whispered. She set Peggy's arm down and began folding a sling.
"Yes, that's right," Peggy said. "Only a shark saw me first and leapt out of the water to grab me by the boot! I wrapped one arm around the stump of the mast and kicked it in the face, but it broke my arm pulling so hard." She tried not to flinch as Susan gently eased her shattered arm into the sling and lifted it.
"Fortunately we always carry shark-hunting harpoons on board Swallow," Susan said. "We had to cut you free from the wreckage and now John and Titty are holding us as steady as possible while I bind your wounds." She finished the knot of the sling and leaned back. Peggy tested it and found it cradled her poor arm securely. "Hmm," Susan said, "if the shark had you by the boot, I should check your foot, too." They both looked down at the light shoe on the foot Peggy stuck out, contemplating how best to cut free an injured foot from a nonexistent boot.
"Excellent thought, Miss Walker!" said Miss Lloyd, dropping her hand onto Susan's shoulder. Susan jumped. Peggy might have squeaked, but no one could prove it. "Never assume that the first injury you see is the only one your patient has." She winked at Peggy and Peggy stared back, agog. "However, I think shark bites are not on the lesson plan until at least next week. For now, I see that Nurse Walker's sling is well-constructed and will hold Private Blackett until she reaches the hospital. Why don't you switch off and let Miss Blackett be the nurse now?"
"Yes, Miss Lloyd!" Peggy and Susan chorused. Susan started untying the sling again while Peggy covered her mouth with her other hand to keep from giggling.
"Hsst," said one of the girls next to them, tugging on her own practice sling. "Do you fight sharks a lot?"
Peggy eyed her. She seemed to be asking in a friendly way, so Peggy took a chance and whispered back, "Well press-gang me for a privateer, don't we ever! Tell me, did you ever hear of Mr Peter Duck and the famous schooner Wild Cat?"
Three more girls leaned in. "I haven't!" one said. "Tell us!"
...So now Peter Duck's fame is spreading far and wide. I hope you don't mind, Titty! You did say that you and Dorothea were writing a book together that would be 'even more exciting than our Peter Duck stories,' so old Mr Duck ought to tell his stories while he still can, I suppose.
I hope Dorothea and Dick are doing well. This is the first time I've had to sit down and write you a good long letter, or at least what counts as a long letter from me, I suppose. You know I'm not the writer everyone else is, but everyone wants to hear about this programme now even though I'll be able to tell it in person sooner or later, and sooner for you. It's hard to believe I'll be heading back to school again in a few weeks, but I shall and I'm sure you'll have plenty more questions for me than would fit in a letter.
Your loving sister,
"Wait," said Susan, and took the directions from Peggy. She flipped the paper over and rapidly sketched something, pencil flying.
Lucy, peering over her shoulder, whistled in appreciation as the map took shape. "That's nice draughtsmanship," she said.
"Thank you," Susan said, and tapped her pencil on a square at the bottom. "Here's where we're starting."
Peggy nodded, recognizing the map that they'd been shown briefly. "And here's the end point, right?" she said, tapping an X at the top.
Susan nodded. "Here's the road we're supposed to take. And here's the river that runs beside it."
"Susan, you're brilliant," Peggy said. "Yes! We can sail right down the river."
"No boats," Susan pointed out, "but we could make a passable raft. The current runs this way and since we were told not to cross it, it's probably fast."
"What about the checkpoints?" Lucy asked.
Susan tapped the smaller Xs. "I think we'll be able to leave the river at this stretch," she began.
"No, no," said Peggy. "We head straight for this one." She pointed at the final X.
"We're supposed to stop at each checkpoint," Susan said.
"But it doesn't matter in what order, does it?" Peggy said. "They'll expect us in this direction. They did say there might be traps. This way we'll be approaching from behind, like spies!"
"But," Lucy said uncertainly. "Are you sure it doesn't matter?" She took the paper and flipped it back over, mouth moving as she read through the directions again. Lucy was the youngest girl in the programme; she was only with them at all because her aunt had been an officer, but she was brilliant and plenty tough. She'd attached herself to Peggy and Susan as their "not-on-a-ship not-a-boy" after the third or fourth Peter Duck story and refused to leave again.
"I think Cap'n Peggy's right," Susan said, and Lucy blushed and muttered a 'sorry, sir' very quietly. "Your orders then, Captain?"
Peggy grinned. "Did you arrange provisions, Mister Mate?" she asked.
"Lucy, are you wearing your bathing things?" Susan asked.
"Ah-hah, that's why!" Lucy said. "I mean, yes, sir."
"Ready when you give the word, Captain," Susan reported, patting her bulging knapsack.
"Hoist a Jolly Roger, me hearties, and let the high seas fear us!" Peggy said with unadulterated sincerity.
I am not a duffer and we were never in danger of drowning. I am very sorry if this letter reaches you after the official one, which may not make that clear. I am writing in a hurry to send this tonight so I shall not explain any further except to say that Peggy has a small cut on her leg which, as we are in a nursing programme, we are all well equipped to treat, and she counts it as a small cost against being the third fastest team overall, and the only one in the top five with no mounts.
Your loving and perfectly healthy daughter,
Mrs Ellis put her hands on her hips and sighed, as adults so often did. Peggy squared her shoulders and held her chin up. Out of the corner of her eye she saw Susan biting her lip and thought 'Silence! Silence!' at her as hard as she could. She didn't know if it worked, but Susan did not blurt out any preemptive apologies and neither did Lucy, Lois, or Molly, behind them.
Mrs Ellis sighed again. "You lot are infernal troublemakers, aren't you."
"Yes, ma'am," Peggy said. Susan kicked her ankle, which Peggy felt was unfair. She didn't see a point in denying it when they were all caught out with torches in hand, and anyway, poor Lois looked miserable enough already and Peggy hoped some bravado might buck her up. It probably had been Lois's sloppy signalling which got them caught, but they didn't know it for sure and anyway, the important thing was a united front now.
"You do realize that discipline is just as important as bandages and petrol for a nurse on the front," Mrs Ellis said.
"Yes, ma'am," Peggy agreed. She really should have been keeping a closer watch on Lois since she knew that Susan had her hands full keeping track of Molly and Lucy, both of whom had blossomed into terrifying pirates once the concept of raiding the kitchens had truly sunk in. Lois reminded Peggy of Dick, giving her great sympathy for Dorothea's perpetual need to check whether her brother had wandered off a cliff in distraction.
"You are not just here for fun and games," Mrs Ellis continued.
"No, ma'am," Peggy agreed again, and decided that this was a decent opening. "But we are here for some fun and games, aren't we? How else are we supposed to learn?"
Dryly, Mrs Ellis said, "The general idea is that you learn from the lessons, which keep you busy. Since that does not seem to be working for you five, we have no choice but to move you up. You'll begin your new courses of study tomorrow morning, and as you'll be behind the other girls I suggest you devote your energies and aggressively competitive spirits in a slightly more scholarly direction for the time you have remaining with us."
"Up?" Peggy said. "Do you mean with the older girls?"
"Yes, that's exactly what I mean. I understand you, Miss Blackett, and also Miss Lewis," she nodded to Molly, "have older siblings in those classes. Perhaps they will be able to assist you."
"Yes, ma'am," Peggy said, somewhat dazed.
"Very good," Mrs Ellis said. "All right. Dismissed, Miss Blackett. Do see that your little band of pirates gets some sleep tonight."
She turned and swept out of the room. As soon as she was gone, Peggy threw her arms around Susan. "Did you hear?" she said. With a bit of a squeak Lucy piled onto them, and Molly and Lois immediately joined in.
"Sure did, Cap'n!" cried Molly. "Ooh, Vivi's going to flip right inside out when she sees me in with her tomorrow!"
"Did she really mean me too?" Lucy asked.
"I'm sure she did," Peggy said. "I can hardly believe it."
"Well," said Susan, "Nancy's lessons did sound very exciting. I suppose this is as much a reward as a punishment."
Peggy beamed at her grudging approval. "I couldn't've done it without you, Mate Susan," she said.
Susan blushed. "Well," she said again. "Lucy needs to get to bed now. Honestly, we all do."
Lucy pulled a chocolate bar out of the back of her shirt. "Spoils to the victors first?" she suggested.
"You got it after all!" Peggy exclaimed. "Well done, Lucy. Mister Mate, a round of chocolate for everyone and an extra ration for Lucy, if you please. Then we'll retire for the night."
"Aye aye, Captain," Susan said, and saluted.