In Chapter 2, Poppy arrives at Blight’s Academy:
The scarlet letters of Blight’s Academy were framed in fancy curlicues along the top of the gate. A great square lock in the center, where the two wings of the gate joined in the middle, was bound with a chain.
Poppy peered through the bars at a long, long drive.
She moaned with weariness. Though she’d arrived at Blight’s, her destination still seemed so far away.
She shook the gate. Of course no one was here to let her in. It was after 9 o’clock.
Poppy took out her phone and opened it. The light was out. Dead. Her phone was dead. But how could it be? Temper flaring, she almost threw it on the ground.
The cold was beginning to penetrate. She wrapped her arms around herself and jumped up and down to get her circulation going. What was she to do?
There was a caretaker’s cottage under a clump of trees just inside the gate. A large bell hung from the gatepost with a long rope attached. Poppy gave up feeling guilty about the lateness of the hour, and pulled the rope.
Clang… clang…. clang echoed loudly in the darkness.
Out of the cottage, into the chill and damp, came an old man carrying a lantern. He held the light up and squinted into Poppy’s face.
“Well?” he said.
“My train was late. I missed the shuttle. I’m a new student here.”
“I suppose you expect me to believe that. I suppose you expect me to let you in.”
“Please do, sir. It’s very miserable out here. I’ve come such a long way.”
Poppy held her satchel with its badge of Blight’s Academy under the old ma’s light.
The old man squinted and set his lantern down. He made a great show of producing a key ring, looking through his keys, and fiddling with them before he undid the chain and pulled it through the bars. Then, with a long, black key, he stabbed the great lock, turned it with a squeal of iron, and pulled the gate open.
“I suppose you’re all right,” he muttered, moving aside to let Poppy in.
“Thank you, sir.”
“We’ll see how much you’ll be thanking me a week from now.”
“What do you mean?”
The gatekeeper ignored Poppy, looping his arm through the key ring and picking up his lamp.
This stonewalling made Poppy more nervous than she already was. “What do you mean, sir?”
“You run along now. Don’t pay me no mind. Just scurry along.”
Poppy felt depressed. The long drive went between rows of trees and intervals of lawn, lit only by misty globes of light. The school building must be very far away because she couldn’t see it. The girl’s voice played in her head. Don’t go! Don’t go to Blight’s Academy! Turn back!
Thunder rolled like a great wind in the sky. Lightning flashed.
What if the girl on the platform was right? What if Poppy were making a terrible mistake to continue toward Blight’s?
Still, she’d come so far. She had no choice but to move on. She grabbed the handle of her suitcase and her satchel and started up the drive.
“Pretty red hair you’ve got there,” the gatekeeper called out. “Take my advice and mind your Ps and Qs.”
Poppy felt a wave of apprehension. Minding her Ps and Qs was not her strong suit.
As she watched the old man limp back to his house, a rustling sound drew her attention to the clump of trees behind it.
The old man waved his lantern toward the sound. “Get off you two. I won’t have you playing your tricks around here.”
Poppy stared woodenly at the dark hollows of the trees, wondering who was there. The thud of the cottage door closing, told her to get moving. It was late.
Hefting the now leaden satchel onto her shoulder, Poppy trudged warily toward the school. Her feet dragged uncertainly. Glancing at a mist-filled holly tree standing alone on the lawn, she couldn’t help thinking how ghostly it looked in the moonlight.
Goosebumps traveled up her arms. Maybe she should go home.
There was movement, the whisper of feet over grass. Peering into the gloom, she saw the shadows of two small boys running to hide behind the holly tree. She stopped and waited to see if they would come out and speak to her. When they didn’t, she left her bags and went to look behind the tree.
There was no one there, only a length of red worsted yarn woven like a cat’s cradle over the holly leaves.
What strange little boys. Was this one of their tricks?
Unsettled, Poppy backed away and returned to her bags on the drive.
There was a slight dip in the drive, then a rise and finally, there, up ahead, was the vast, Neo-Gothic facade of Blight’s Academy. It’s gables, turrets and chimney pots, battlements, tall, dark windows and grand entrance gave Blight’s the dual air of a stately home and a prison for the insane.