At first Lydia couldn’t say what had woken her. It could have been anything at all: a crash of thunder, a nightmare, a girl knocking lightly on her door after being startled by one of those herself. She was a light sleeper, and she knew that was part of the reason the girls came to her when they were unwell -- for any reason -- in the middle of the night.
There were other reasons, of course, but none she wanted to think of in the middle of the night. None she wanted to think of at all.
Lydia sat up, blinking away the last remnants of sleep. Why was she awake now? It couldn’t be a thunderstorm; a glance out her window showed a clear, starry night. It wasn’t a nightmare, either, for she remembered all the ones she had, even here. Someone must need her, then, and with a muffled groan, she swung her legs out of bed. As a teacher, she was allowed a fire in her room, but it had gone out. It usually did, and even with a dressing gown wrapped around her, she shivered all the way to the door.
No one was out in the hall. Lydia shivered again, but not from cold.
No… there was someone there. Further down the hall, her white nightdress catching what little light there was and shining so that Lydia could hardly imagine she hadn’t seen her before. The girl was walking away, but Lydia didn’t have to see her face to know who she was, not when she saw that tumble of red curls down her back.
“Ruby,” she whispered, trying to keep her voice low so as not to wake anyone else. “Ruby, I’m here!”
Ruby made no sign she heard. She merely kept walking, drifting along the hall. Grumbling under her breath, Lydia hurried after her.
She caught up to the girl quickly and grabbed her hand. “Ruby,” she said again, but then broke off. It took all her strength not to let go of the girl.
Ruby’s eyes were open, but she stared straight ahead like a blind woman. She moved as though in a dream, and Lydia pulled her dressing gown closer about her. She’d heard about sleepwalkers, of course, but had never seen one before. She hadn’t known how eerie their expressions could be, or that their skin could grow that cold.
“Ruby,” Lydia said, trying to keep her voice even, “Come along, dear. You ought to be back in bed.”
Ruby didn’t say a word. She didn’t even blink. She merely drifted on, pulling Lydia along with her. It wasn’t until Lydia tugged on her hand that she stirred, but even then, she didn’t wake. She only followed where she was led, down the dark hall to her room.
At sixteen, Ruby was one of the older girls in school, and her room was farther from the teachers’. Mrs. Pendleton had, years ago, decided the younger students would be better suited sleeping close to their teachers. It would comfort them, she had said, being away from home for the first time but knowing there was still someone maternal they could run to. They were the most common reason Lydia was woken in the middle of the night, and she never minded walking one of the little ones back. She would still be ready for sleep when she returned to her own bed.
By the time she reached Ruby’s room, Lydia was wide awake. She tapped on the door lightly, and after a moment, Euphemia Sanders, Ruby’s roommate, opened the door, blinking and yawning.
“Mlle. Bellerose? What --” Her gaze fell on Ruby. “Oh. She was sleepwalking again?”
Euphemia nodded. “It’s been happening a lot lately. Twice a week, at least.” She took Ruby’s other hand and pulled her into the room.
Twice a week. Lydia stared after the two girls for a moment before she found the words she needed. “Does she often knock on her teachers’ doors?”
Euphemia shook her head as she lowered Ruby onto her bed. Ruby’s eyes fluttered, and after a moment they closed, leaving her looking deeply, peacefully asleep. If anyone were to look at her now, they would assume she had been thus since evening.
“Then how does she return?” And why did she come to me?
“Most of the time she just wanders back. Sometimes another girl spots her and helps her. We’re a wandering lot, we Pendleton girls.” Euphemia smiled, but her façade of unfeeling good cheer faded all too quickly. “Mlle. Bellerose? You think she’ll be all right, don’t you? You don’t think we ought to send for a doctor?”
“I don’t know,” Lydia admitted. She didn’t know enough about medicine to judge. She supposed she could have studied -- look at Elizabeth Blackwell, who had studied in America -- but had instead decided it would be easier to teach French to young ladies. It was as easy as breathing, but right now it didn’t seem to do any good. She wrapped her arms about her middle, unable to take her eyes from Ruby. “Has she been sleepwalking long?”
“All her life, she says, but never this often.”
“She knows, then?”
Poor thing, to carry such a secret! Lydia’s heart went out to the girl, but she dared not show anything on her face. She was wary of becoming one of those teachers who had favorites among students. She had never been anyone’s favorite as a child, and it had broken her heart every time she was reminded.
“Do you think we ought to send for a doctor?” Euphemia asked.
“Not yet,” Lydia said. “Should her health grow worse, we certainly must, but… not yet. We’ll wait a while. After all, it may be nothing.”
Euphemia didn’t look entirely convinced, but she nodded and returned to the door. “I think we ought to both get some rest, Mlle. Bellerose. You look about as tired as I feel.”
Lydia’s cheeks grew hot. It wasn’t Euphemia’s boldness at telling her what to do that offended her; it was her own realization that she should have been the one to send Euphemia to bed. She might be only twenty-two and the youngest of the teachers at Pendleton, but she still ought to have some authority over the girls. Mrs. Pendleton would surely have harsh words if she saw her conversing with them like an equal.
She drew herself up as tall as she could. “See that you rest, Miss Sanders, and that Miss Cambridge rests as well. No one will be glad to see tired faces in the morning.”
Was that a smile that crossed Euphemia’s face just then? Lydia didn’t linger to find out. She turned sharply on her heel and walked off, hoping she could have a few hours of sleep before morning came.
All the way back to her rooms, she thought she heard footsteps following behind her, but she knew it must be only in her imagination. A lack of sleep could do unsettling things to a mind.
Perhaps someone ought to summon a doctor for Ruby. Lydia wouldn’t want to see her favorite student descend into madness. She wouldn’t wish that on anyone, but particularly not on a girl who already seemed so close to the edge of melancholy.