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Visitors for the Chalet School

 

Helen McClelland

 

 

First published in Great Britain by Bettany Press 1995

First published by Collins 2000

This impression 2000

 

Collins is an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers Ltd,

77-85 Fulham Palace Road, Hammersmith, London W6 8JB

 

The HarperCollins website is www.fireandwater.com

 

Copyright © Helen McClelland 1995

 

ISBN 0 00 694595-3

 

Typeset by Palimpsest Book Production Limited

Polmont, Stirlingshire

Printed and bound in Great Britain by

Caledonian International Book Manufacturing Ltd, Glasgow, G64

 

 

Visitors For The Chalet School

is affectionately dedicated to my daughters,

C.M.K. and A.M.K.

(because originally it was their book

as much as mine)

and to the memory of Hilary Maurice Bray

in deep gratitude for all his help

with all my Chalet School writings

 

 

Visitors for the Chalet School covers events that take place in the term following The Princess of the Chalet School, and hence may be regarded as number 3A in the series.

FOREWARD

 

The Story Behind the Story

 

The countless fans of the Chalet School will all have their different favorites among the stories, but many seem to share my special fondness for the Tyrolean period – those happy years beside the Tiernsee when Joey and Grizel, the Robin, Simone, Frieda, Margia and other members of the original cast was still among the pupils, and Madge had not yet been so completely swallowed by domesticity.

As a child, I often wished there had been more stories about that early time. Then, many years later, when my children began to read the books – with general enthusiasm but a similar bias towards the Tyrolean stories – it struck me that another story could perhaps be written to fill one of the early gaps; a project that was viewed with warm approval by my family’s younger members (and with dignified resignation by my husband).

However, the idea of simply concocting an imitation Chalet School book did not appeal to me.  What I wanted was to write my own story, borrowing Elinor’s characters and settings.  At first I plan to use one of the unchronicled terms that follow Jo of the Chalet School.  But so little is known about that year that it was difficult to find a starting point, and this project never really took off.

By this stage (mid-1970s) I was already deep in researches for Behind the Chalet School (my biography of Elinor M. Brent-Dyer), and it was the chance discovery of some sketchy notes among Elinor’s papers that finally pointed the way.  For that scribbled page indicated that, at some time, Elinor may herself have considered writing a retrospective book about another missing term, that between Princess and Head Girl.  Elinor never seems to have dated her notes, but the most likely period would have been the late 1940s when, as well as producing the Chalet School stories in continuous chronological order (viz. Mystery, Tom Tackles, Rosalie), Elinor was also returning to the Tiernsee days for some of the stories in the three Chalet Books for Girls.

Obviously this particular book did not materialize.  Perhaps because Elinor, unlike Elsie Oxenham, does not appear to have liked writing retrospectively (nor, judging by certain efforts in the annuals, was she ever at her best when doing so!).  But her random jottings had set my memories whizzing round.  In particular, references to: “English schoolgirls visit Briesau.  Netball match.  Hockey?”  For these sent me scurrying to Head Girl, where, in Rosalie Dene’s report to the prefects, I found a full, if basic, account of Chalet School events during that missing Christmas term.

Elinor’s skeletal notes also identified the visiting school as “Grange House in Kensington” – a schoolname so typical of its period that I decided to keep it, despite the rather disconcerting likeness to television’s Grange Hill!  There were, too, some lists of names – “Patricia Davidson, Pamela Trent, Priscilla Doughty-Smith, Veronica Cunningham” – presumably intended for the London schoolgirls; and a scattering of cryptic phrases: “medical studies – Rattenberg expedition – Juliet in London”, the significance of the second and third being fairly clear, but that is the first obscure.

Not much to go on!  But it did provided an outline.  Even if the task threatened to resemble those paper games, beloved of Elinor herself, where lists of unrelated people and events must somehow be built into a coherent story.

The first step was to try and create an identity for Grange House School, with its pupils and mistresses, and to formulate a rationale for their visit to the Tiernsee.  The next, which was fascinating though hard work, demanded an intensive study of the first three Chalet School books and, to some extent, the fourth.  Every detail about any Chalet School pupil or member of staff ever mentioned at any point in these books had to be listed.  Their names and ages (fortunately not too many discrepancies at this early stage); their appearances, forms, dormitories, tastes, personalities, mannerisms, friendships, etc. etc. — all had to be documented.  Exact information about the school itself was is also essential: its traditions, routine, timetable, customs, buildings, grounds, and so on (Elinor’s right to make mistakes did not extend to me!).  Furthermore, the later books had to be combed for possible references to this particular Christmas term.  Although, a mass of material had to be gathered and, before long, my dossier had filled two large school-exercise books – in using them for the purpose I was exactly following Elinor.

Describing the actual setting and the Tiernsee scenery was easy enough, since in addition to all Elinor’s own splendid local color, our family holidays in Austria had by this time made Pertisau and the Achensee familiar territory.  And, although some allowance had to be made for differences between the real-life Pertisau and Elinor’s Briesau, that wasn’t really a problem

In any case, I had throughout this period the willing assistance of two young “home-grown” Chalet School experts.  And it must be emphasized that originally Visitors for the Chalet School was very much a family affair, intended mainly for family entertainment, the books principle objectives being to convey some picture of what it was actually like to attend the Chalet School, and to provide (if we adopt the old tag about BBC Radio 4’s The Archers), and everyday story of Chalet School folk.

High adventure was ruled out on two counts.  First, no mention of anything spectacular appeared in either Elinor’s notes or Rosalie Dene’s report to the prefects (“No floods.  No kidnapped princesses”).  Second, my children by this point were tended to greet the somewhat repetitive mountain-rescue scenes — especially in the later books — with groans of “Oh, no!  Not someone else falling off the precipice!”.  And although they remained fascinated by any small details about Chalet School life, they often expressed a wish that expeditions could just occasionally be undertaken where no basket of provisions was forgotten, and no truly horrendous disasters occurred.  So, with this in mind, we agreed that there would be no happening in “our” story that might not readily have taken place in real life.

Unquestionably, the writing of a Chalet School book on these realistic lines presented a challenge.  An obvious danger being that the results could become just a collection of episodes — or, even worse, boring.  Hence I determined to build the story around the theme of a “double journey”: on one level the actual journey through Europe traveled by the London schoolgirls; on another, the different “journey” one of their number was helped to make, in order, as the modern phrase has it, to find herself.

Another matter that had to be considered was that of period background and language.  This could have presented problems since, unlike Elinor, I was not writing about a time and remembered personally.  But here I was lucky, family circumstances having endowed me with numerous long-lived elderly relatives who were all mines of lucid information about social customs and niceties of the relevant between-wars period (two of them even continued into the 1990s to use schoolgirl slang of the Angela Brazil type!).

At no point did I try consciously to imitate Elinor’s writing style; and was later astonished to find how many “Elinor-isms” had crept in.  And this quite apart from the use of Chalet School language and terminology, which was of course deliberate, as was my decision to write the book in a way that fitted the early part of the series in character, length and for the most part, leisurely pace.  Also, of course, in making frequent references to other Chalet School books, à la Brent-Dyer.

In the end, though, my hope is that readers will enjoy the story for itself not simply as a piece of reconstruction; and that they will find it essentially true to the spirit of the original books.  If that gives half as much pleasure in the reading as it has in the writing, I shall feel more than rewarded.

Helen McClelland, April 1995.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER I

 

Introducing Patricia

 

Devonshire Close was a pleasantly secluded London square, tucked well away from the hustle and bustle of Kensington High Street.  Tall, smartly painted Victorian houses rose, cliffs of respectability, around the trim gardens in the center.  At the south-east corner stood number 28.  The drawing-room was on the first floor and its huge balconied windows, with their elegant green brocade curtains, kept watch over the street and gardens below.

One sunny September afternoon, at about a quarter-past four, a girl was sitting at one of these windows, her long legs doubled up awkwardly on the narrow window-seat.  Patricia Davidson was seventeen, very tall and very thin.  She had dark grey eyes and brown straight hair, tied tightly back from her face, which tended in repose to have the look of strain, even severity.  But she had an exceptionally charming smile and, from time to time, it would light up and transform her expression.

At this moment she was not smiling.  Her brows were knitted anxiously as she waited for her new friend, Juliet Carrick, to arrive.  “Oh, dear! I do hope Juliet won’t be late,” she thought; “that would be a black mark against her from the start.”

Through her thoughts came her mother’s voice, gently insistent: “I presume, Patricia, that your – friend – can at least speak English?” (There had been a subtle hesitation before the word “friend”.)

“What on earth do you mean, Mother?  Of course she can speak English.  She is English, you know, so whatever makes you think she wouldn’t?”

“But you said, dear, that she comes from this place in Germany … whatever it’s called … the one you are going to visit with school.  I’m quite sure that is what you told me.”

“Juliet doesn’t come from Briesau, Mother, she just went to school there, that’s all.”  Patricia spoke quietly, but there was an edge to her voice.  “Anyway Briesau isn’t in Germany, it’s in Austria.”

“Isn’t it all much the same thing?”  Lady Davidson’s languid tones managed to suggest that the difference, if any, would be if no interest to a well-bred English person.  She returned to the shiny pages of The Queen.

Patricia hunched herself up still further into the corner of the window-seat and watched the street below with worried eyes.  On the pavement opposite a cat was stalking its non-existent quarry through the scattering of fallen leaves.  Patricia’s thoughts, like an aching tooth, continued to nag.  “I do hope Mother will be decent to Juliet.  And I hope Juliet won’t say too much about going to university.  If Mother got the idea I was being encouraged in that direction, things could be jolly sticky.”

Meanwhile Juliet Carrick was slowly making her way through the tree-lined Kensington streets.  She had left the hotel where she was staying in plenty of time and was in no hurry.  So, at the gates of Grange House School she paused for a moment to look through the railings.  Juliet was interested to see this school, for she had been hearing a great deal about it recently and Patricia Davidson, with whom she was now going to tea, was a pupil there.

This afternoon the school was deserted: buildings and grounds slumbered in holiday peace. As Juliet moved away from the high wrought-iron gates, she was thinking that Grange House sounded rather an unusual school. And (in more ways than Juliet realized) it was unusual.

Having begun in only two rooms, the school had grown to fill a site in Grange Avenue that originally contained six large houses and gardens. It had, moreover, become extremely fashionable. The headmistress, herself a titled lady, could claim many cousins among the aristocracy, and her school always had a large contingent of girls from London’s most exclusive families.

Not that this in itself was unusual, for there were plenty of other fashionable schools in and around London. But few of these offered much opportunity for serious study. They were convenient places where society girls could pass the time until they were old enough for the London season – that ceaseless whirl of parties and dances, culminating (as Miss Denny had explained to Juliet) in the grand occasion when each girl, splendidly arrayed, would be presented at Court and make her curtsey to the King and Queen.

The Grange House headmistress knew well that this was the only path awaiting many of her girls. Nevertheless she was determined that her school should, in the meantime, offer its girls as excellent an education as was taken for granted in the top boys’ schools. She had ensured that a wide range of subjects was always available at Grange House; and her highly qualified staff were instructed to demand serious hard work from their pupils. Woe betide any girl, however well bred, who failed to hand in her essay on time, or to learn her daily quota of French irregular verbs. A hundred relatives in Burke’s Peerage could not avail to save her.

“It must be an enormous school,” Juliet mused, as she crossed the road and turned into Devonshire Close. “Heaps bigger than ours. Lucky things, going off traveling for a whole term! I wonder how they’ll like the Tiernsee?” She looked round for number 28. It was perplexing the way that house-numbers in London seemed to be arranged differently in every street. Now, after a few minutes’ fruitless search, she realized she was on the wrong side of the square.

There were a great many things about London that Juliet found confusing, for this was her first visit to England. She had spent her entire early life in India until, at fifteen, she had been sent to the Chalet School in the Austrian Tyrol. Shortly after this, the death of both parents in a motor accident left her an orphan and the Chalet School had become her home. She was deeply devoted to the school and its former headmistress, Mrs Russell, who was her legal guardian.

Juliet was eighteen now, and about to begin an exciting new chapter in her life, studying for a BSc degree at London University. Already her schooldays seemed a long way off, but in fact it was barely ten days since she and Miss Denny, whose eccentric brother taught singing at the Chalet School, had arrived in London where they would be staying until the university term began. A friend of Madge Russell’s had recommended the Leighton Hotel in Kensington, and it was here that Juliet first met Patricia Davidson.

The hotel was quite small and, among the few residents, one stood out – a handsome, rather formidable-looking woman, somewhere in her early forties, who appeared punctually each day at breakfast and again at dinner-time.

Miss Denny and Juliet were sitting in the residents’ lounge on the second evening after their arrival when, to their surprise, they was this lady come bearing down on them. “You must be Sarah Denny … just had a letter from my cousin … said you’d be staying here and asked me to introduce myself … How d’you do? … My name’s Bruce, Stella Bruce.” She shook hands firmly with Miss Denny and looked towards Juliet. “Yes, of course … going to the Royal Holloway College, aren’t you,” she stated rather than asked, when Miss Denny murmured Juliet’s name. “How d’you do? … Which course are you taking? … BSc? … very good degree at London they tell me … Now, you were at the Chalet School, weren’t you? … Oh, yes, I’ve heard of it … my sister was governess for a while to that Belsornian child … Elisaveta what’s-her-name? … And I’m going to be visiting the school myself quite soon.”

Miss Denny and Juliet looked at her enquiringly. “Party of Sixth formers from Grange House … that’s my school … going to stay in Briesau next month … hotel called the Stephanie … expect you know it … Ah, there’s the dinner gong … better be going … delighted if you would like to sit with me.”

At dinner they learnt that Miss Bruce was deputy headmistress and also head of the English department at Grange House School. She told them that she had been spending her holidays doing research in Anglo-Saxon literature at the British Museum Library; and since Grange House was closed during the summer and her home lay some distance from London, she had taken a room at the Leighton Hotel.

“Hope they’re looking after you here,” she boomed over the roast mutton. “Not a bad place … suits me very well … quiet and fairly comfortable … no frills.”

Juliet decided she liked Miss Bruce, although it was difficult to get used to her way of delivering pronouncements in a series of jerks. It was rather like a whale having hiccups, Juliet thought suddenly, biting her lips to suppress a smile.

It was clear that Miss Bruce in her turn liked Miss Denny and Juliet. She made herself most agreeable throughout the evening and sealed her approval with an invitation to lunch the following day. She was expecting a visit from one of her pupils, Patricia Davidson, and would like the two girls to meet.

“Your Juliet will be very good for Patricia,” Miss Bruce announced to Miss Denny, after Juliet had departed to bed. “Patricia is a very gifted girl … not particularly in my subject, you know … Science is her line … but she’s got one of those stupid society mothers … thinks of nothing but her looks and her clothes.” (Miss Bruce clearly never gave a thought to either.) “I don’t suppose the poor child will ever be allowed to do any serious study once she leaves us.”

Patricia and Juliet took to one another on sight. Juliet had been finding things at the Leighton Hotel just a little dull after her busy life at the Chalet School, surrounded by friends of her own age. And Patricia, though well used to being on her own, was delighted to have a companion with whom she shared many interests. She escorted Juliet round some of London’s museums and historical buildings; took her shopping and out to Richmond Park; and finally she plucked up courage to ask her mother if Juliet might come to tea at Devonshire Close.

Even now, Patricia winced at the memory of her mother’s icy reply; she shifted uneasily on her perch at the drawing-room window as she recalled it. “Now, Patricia, surely you must realize that it would be quite out of the question,” Lady Davidson had begun. “We know nothing at all about this girl and you cannot invite just anyone to the house, even if it is only to tea.”

Patricia had stifled a retort. She knew that her mother always emerged victorious from such exchanges. Instead of arguing, she secretly decided to enlist Miss Bruce’s help. And when a letter came, in which Miss Bruce introduced and warmly commended Juliet, Lady Davidson did reluctantly agree to the invitation being given.

Not that friction between Patricia and her mother was anything new. During the past year they had been increasingly in conflict, particularly over the matter of Patricia’s future. Lady Davidson was immovably decided that her daughter would leave school at Christmas and make her debut in society during the next summer’s London season. Patricia cherished ambition to study at university and become a doctor – a project which would have had Grange House’s full approval – she airily dismissed as “ridiculous nonsense”.

It filled Patricia with despair that her mother totally refused to discuss the situation, or even to acknowledge that there was a question to be discussed. “If only she’d let me, just for once, try and explain my side of things,” Patricia thought as she watched, without really seeing, two nannies, pushing gleaming perambulators, pass below her in stately procession. But discussion was not Lady Davidson’s way; she preferred to annihilate opposition by simply disregarding its existence.

Still no sign of Juliet. Patricia gave a surreptitious glance at her watch; twenty-seven minutes past four – no! nearly twenty-eight past – Oh, hurry up, Juliet, hurry up, do!

Out of sight round the corner, an agitated Juliet had at last succeeded in finding the right door. It did seem unfair that the entrance to No. 28 was not in Devonshire Close at all, but at the side of the house in Coverley Gardens. Beginning to feel thoroughly nervous, Juliet hurried up the steps and pulled the bell.

As its distant clang reached the drawing-room above, Patricia’s tightly clenched hands relaxed. There was still half a minute to go before half-past four.

CHAPTER II

An Uncomfortable Tea-party

The sound of the bell had scarcely died away before the door opened by a maid, unsmilingly efficient in her neat black dress, white frilled cap and apron. She ushered Juliet inside, took her hat and coat and led her upstairs to the first-floor landing. Here, having asked with a totally disinterested expression “What name shall I say, Miss?”, she threw open the drawing-room door and intoned: “Miss – Juliet – Carrick.”

Juliet, a little dazed by all these rituals, tried hard to maintain the poise befitting a former head girl of the Chalet School. But she was already apprehensive at the prospect of meeting Patricia’s mother (whom Miss Bruce had described as “A decidedly chilly lady … Not a comfortable person.”). And, as she entered the broad L-shaped room and began moving across what seemed like acres of Persian carpet, Juliet had a horrid feeling of having somehow acquired eleven legs, all imperfectly synchronized. It was a relief to see Patricia jumping down from the window-seat to greet her, although even she appeared somewhat ill at ease and her first words sounded unusually formal. “How do you do, Juliet? It’s lovely to see you. I’m so glad you could come.”

The two girls smiled shyly at each other. Then Patricia turned to the good-looking woman, with elaborately waved platinum blond hair, who was sitting in a wing chair beside the fireplace: “Mother, this is Juliet Carrick, who knows Miss Bruce.” She motioned Juliet forward with a gauche little gesture.

“How do you do, Lady Davidson?” Juliet had grown so accustomed to the continental way of greeting that, without thinking, she offered her hand, confidently expecting the usual handshake.

While nothing in the older woman’s expression betrayed her disapproval, this minor breach of etiquette was one Lady Davidson did not choose to overlook. Her small china-white hands remained in her lap. After a short pause she said: “Good afternoon, Miss Carrick,” with just the semblance of a smile; it moved her carefully painted lips a fraction but left her eyes completely expressionless.

Juliet became uncomfortably aware that she was still holding out her hand. She withdrew it awkwardly.

Perhaps it was as well that Patricia did not see this little incident. She had been occupied in bringing forward an armchair and Juliet was thankful to sink down into it.

At all their previous meetings Patricia and Juliet had talked easily, always finding plenty of interest to discuss. Today, in the artificial drawing-room atmosphere, both girls felt a certain constraint.

Lady Davidson, with practiced skill, kept the conversation moving on trivialities. At the same time she was covertly sizing up Juliet, trying, as she would have phrased it, to “place her on the social scale”. This was a favourite ploy of hers, a game at which she excelled. However, Juliet puzzled her by not falling into any of the usual categories. (The voice and accent were pleasant; the girl was certainly English, after all; though it was unusual to have such very dark eyes with fair hair; skirt and blouse were plain and neat … not hand-tailored of course, not well-off then but apparently a “lady”.) “Have you known Miss Bruce for long?” she asked.

Juliet explained that she had first met Miss Bruce only about ten days ago, when she and Miss Denny arrived at the Leighton Hotel. Then, since rather more seemed to be expected of her, she continued: “You see, Miss Denny lives in Austria, quite near my old school; she’s come to London to be my chaperone until I start at the university, which won’t be …”

“Isn’t it most awfully odd, Mother,” Patricia broke in hurriedly, “that our Grange House party’s going to stay in the very same place where Juliet went to school?”

“Yes, indeed, very strange,” assented her mother, though in tones that lacked any inflexion. “I suppose that must be a German school, Miss Carrick?”

Patricia drew in her breath sharply, and Juliet, noticing something out of gear, hastened to reply: “I suppose it is rather surprising, but in fact it’s an English school. It was started by my guardian, Mrs Russell, when she went out to Briesau from England about two-and-a-half years ago.”

Here Juliet became the object of a long speculative look: Lady Davidson was wondering, “Now, which Russells would those be?”

“Patricia, dear, would you ring for tea?” she said while her light-blue eyes continued to scrutinize Juliet.

“Of course there are girls at the Chalet School from lots of different countries,” Juliet ploughed on, uncomfortably away of the gaze fixed on her. “There are a good many Austrians, naturally, and some Germans; then there are quite a few English girls, including Jo Bettany, Mrs Russell’s young sister; and French girls and Italians … and one American … oh, yes, and some Hungarians too.” She drew to a halt, conscious that she was rambling and that Lady Davidson did not appear much interested.

Fortunately, at this moment the maid appeared, carrying an enormous silver tray; on it were a heavily ornate silver tea-service and fragile pale-green cups that seemed to float on the tray like water-lilies. The maid, her expression unvaryingly detached, put the tray down beside Lady Davidson. She then brought a silver cake-stand, with plates of paper-thin bread-and-butter, sandwiches and a magnificent Madeira cake. After placing a table by each chair, she departed.

“How soon will you be going to the Tiernsee?” Juliet asked, as Patricia handed her a cup of the fragrant China tea. “No, thank you, I don’t take sugar. And will you really be away till Christmas? It’s a bit unusual to be allowed all that time away from school during the term, isn’t it?”

Before replying, Patricia passed the plate of cucumber sandwiches. “Oh, do take two or three, Juliet, they’re so tiny.” She helped herself to a couple. “You see, it’s a bit different at Grange House. These trips actually count as being at school, they’re all part of the Sixth Form course. You know how lots of girls leave school at seventeen, sometimes even sixteen, and go abroad to be finished?”

Juliet nodded vaguely.

“Well, instead of doing that, the Grange House idea is that we stay on at school, but go off in a party and travel round the Continent for the whole of the Christmas term. I gather we get pushed off to loads of art galleries and museums and churches and all the rest of it; go to operas and things, you know; and we can practice our foreign languages – well, people who know them can, anyway! Our school’s mad keen on all that sort of thing.”

“Yes, I see. But what made them think of the Tiernsee, then? I mean, Briesau’s a simply topping place, but it’s very small and there aren’t any galleries or theatres nearer than Innsbruck.”

“Well, we’re only in Briesau for one month of the time and that’s to give us what ‘They’ call ‘The Opportunity for some Healthy Outdoor Activities’.” Patricia smiled and it was clear to Juliet that she was quoting. “Last year’s Sixth went to winter sports in Switzerland, and this year it’s to be mountain-walking in the Tyrol for us. I must say, I’m looking forward to it awfully. And especially,” just for a moment she forgot her self-imposed ban on the subject, “as I shouldn’t be doing anything that matters in schoolwork this term anyway, since I’m not in the university group.”

“They certainly couldn’t have chosen a lovelier place for you than the Tiernsee.” Juliet’s tones were warm; she felt it best to skate quickly past Patricia’s last remark. “The scenery’s absolutely marvelous and the mountains are glorious, you’ll have a simply wonderful time. I’m sure you’re all going to love it.” She carefully replaced the delicate cup and saucer on the table at her side. “When will you be in Briesau? I must write at once to the Chalet School people and tell them about your visit. I’m sure they’ll want to meet you.”

Juliet accepted a second cup of tea and listened with interest while Patricia related some of the plans for Grange House’s journey. On the way to the Tyrol they were to spend ten days in Paris and three in Cologne; then, after the month in Briesau, they would visit Salzburg, Vienna and Buda-Pest.

For some time Lady Davidson had been silent. She had worked her way through what was, for so fragile-looking a person, a surprising amount of Madeira cake. Now she began to re-enter the conversation, making an occasional acid-flavoured comment, though always with apparent sweetness. Juliet found herself thinking that Miss Bruce was quite right in saying Patricia’s mother was not a comfortable person. Of course she was as pretty as a porcelain shepherdess, but it was disconcerting that her expression never seemed to change.

When the prim-faced maid arrived to clear away the tea things, Lady Davidson, still curious about Juliet, returned to her gentle probing. “Have you always lived at this place in Austria, Miss Carrick?”

“Well, no. I’ve lived there for just over two years, I suppose, since soon after the Chalet School was started.”

“And before that?”

“Before that,” Juliet hesitated and the expectant silence lengthened. “Before that, I lived in India. I was born there.” A shadow crossed her face. Much of her early life, including the time when she was first at the Chalet School, had been unhappy; she had no wish to talk of it.

Now Patricia may have lacked some of the social graces but she was exceedingly sensitive to other people’s expressions of face and voice. Jumping to her feet and muttering something about going upstairs to look at school photographs, she whisked Juliet abruptly out of the drawing-room.

Without a word she led her up three flights of stairs, each narrower and steeper than the last, to her own sitting-room on the top floor of the house. Her bedroom was next door and, in the far-gone days when Patricia had had a nanny, these two rooms had been the day and night nurseries.

Patricia indicated to Juliet the corner of a shabby old sofa, where there was a comfortable-looking cushion. She herself dropped into an equally shabby armchair. “I’m awfully sorry, Juliet,” she apologized with obvious embarrassment; “I’m sure my mother doesn’t mean to be …” Her voice trailed off, and Juliet hurried to change the subject.

“Look, I’ve brought those photographs of the Chalet School and the Tiernsee that you wanted to see.” She opened her handbag. “And you were going to show me the ones of your play last summer.”

At last the two girls were able to relax and exchange light-hearted gossip about their schools and other topics without fear of adverse comment. After about half an hour Juliet stood up reluctantly. “I’ll have to be getting along now, I’m afraid, or Miss Denny will wonder what’s become of me. You know, Patricia, in no time now you’ll be starting on your travels. Paris first, isn’t it? I’m going to miss you a lot; it’ll be nearly a week after that before I start at college.”

Patricia had been idly tracing with her forefinger the outline of a rose on the faded chair-cover. She gave a deep sigh. Suddenly she burst out: “You are so lucky, Juliet … so very, very lucky. I’d give anything to be in your shoes. Oh, I know we’re going to have a simply marvelous trip, and anyway it’ll be marvelous to get away from here, but the time I’m just dreading is when we get back. You can’t think how much I’d love to be coming to university too.”

Would you? But I didn’t know,” Juliet said, a little taken aback. “You’ve never …”

“Oh, I hardly ever talk about it. It’s pretty futile saying anything when Mother simply won’t think of letting me. But I’ve always – always – wanted to study medicine.”

“Medicine?” Juliet sounded still more surprised. “You mean you’d like to be a doctor? But isn’t that rather unusual? For a girl, I mean.”

“No so very unusual,” Patricia assured her. “I’m told there are quite a few lady doctors around nowadays. There was a simply marvelous one when I had my appendix out three years ago. She used to come and talk to me almost every day at the nursing home. I suppose it was meeting her that first gave me the idea. Or, as Mother would say,” (this in cutting tones), “Put this ridiculously silly notion into your head.'”

After a short pause, in which Juliet could sense the conflict underlying her friend’s outburst, Patricia continued more calmly, “I’ve passed Matric in all the right subjects too. If I really tried, I think I’d have a good chance of getting into medical school. But it’s all absolutely hopeless. There doesn’t seem the faintest chance that my mother will ever agree to letting me.”

(Juliet wondered for a moment why Patricia’s father apparently had no say in the matter; it was odd that she had never heard him mentioned.)

“It isn’t even a question of money, either,” Patricia went on with increasing bitterness. “Mother will be only too delighted to dish out far more on my doing a London season and going to boring dances and all that sort of rot. But she thinks I should get to know the ‘wrong sort of people’ at the university; and of course that would be a disaster. She even has all sorts of batty ideas about how standing around in hospitals would ruin the shape of my ankles, or some such drivel.”

There was a wealth of scorn in the words. Juliet felt her sympathy go out to Patricia and wished she could do something to help. For the moment she couldn’t even think of anything helpful say; but she resolved to write to her guardian about Patricia’s forthcoming visit to Briesau. Juliet had boundless faith in Madge Russell’s ability to help.

Walking back to the hotel, Juliet was very thoughtful, and Miss Denny noticed she was quiet at dinnertime. Later in the evening Juliet confided something of the situation at Devonshire Close to Miss Denny, who was not at all surprised; Juliet was only confirming what Miss Bruce had already indicated.

“Probably it will be the best thing in the world for Patricia to get right away for a time,” Miss Denny said kindly. “We must just hope that this trip abroad is going to be helpful for her.”

CHAPTER III

Term Begins

The September days slipped quickly past. A bevy of relations and envious school-friends waved good-bye as the Grange House party left Victoria Station for Paris. Juliet began to settle down in her new life. And the day arrived for the girls of the Chalet School to return from the many different countries where they had been scattered during the summer holidays.

The school was situated at Briesau on the shores of the Tiernsee, a beautiful Tyrolean lake set high among the mountains above the Inn Valley. Briesau is usually a very peaceful place, but there was little peace anywhere near the Chalet School buildings and grounds on this first day of the Christmas term.

By three o’clock in the afternoon most of the girls had arrived and everywhere there was bustle and chatter. Snatches of conversation echoed up and down the stairs. Excited groups of friends were exchanging holiday news in the big main classroom. The dormitories were thronged with girls busy unpacking under the eagle eye of the new matron, a small neat woman who, despite her air of instant authority, was making no attempt to quell the high spirits surrounding her.

It was obvious that school rules must be in abeyance, as indeed they always were on the first day of term. The tremendous noise of talking and laughter would otherwise have earned severe reproof; as would the polygot variety of languages being spoken with such vivacity; for it had been a rule, from the earliest days of the Chalet School, that only English might be spoken on weekdays.

Of course, certain girls did prefer to speak English anyway, it being their mother tongue, and they had always found this particular rule very convenient. There was an unpleasant surprise in store for these people. Life was going to be far less easy for them in the future.

It was a group of Middles who first discovered the news. They had finally completed their unpacking and tidying to Matron’s satisfaction and they came screaming noisily down to the front hall, where they gathered round the school notice board. And there they read the following announcement:

English will continue to be the principal language of the Chalet School, but from the beginning of this Christmas term two days each week will be set aside for the speaking of French and German. Accordingly, only French will be spoken on Tuesdays, and only German on Thursdays.

On Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays, only English will be spoken. On Sundays everyone may, as formerly, speak in any language she chooses.

All lessons will be given in the language of the day. This rule will be strictly enforced, although during the first four weeks of this term allowances will be made, especially for girls new to the school.

“Well, I guess that’s going to be pretty grim!” announced Evadne Lannis, a lively fair-haired girl of about thirteen, whose accent proclaimed her to be an American.

“It’ll certainly make things hard for you on Tuesdays and Thursdays, Evvy,” laughed Margia Stevens, one of her friends, who had an outstanding talent for music and was a leader among the Middles.

“Perhaps you would do best to take a vow of silence on those days,” suggested Suzanne Mercier, a French girl, another of their group.

“It’s all very find for you folks who are good at French and German,” grumbled Evadne. “Now take Joey Bettany, it won’t make a mite of difference to her, she just enjoys chattering away in any silly old language.”

“Come on, Evadne, you’ll just have to pull up your socks and make a bit more effort with your French and German.” Grizel Cochrane, games prefect and one of the older girls, was passing on her way to the dormitories, and had caught the gist of Evadne’s complaint. “Anyhow, it’s high time you were better at both; after all, you’ve been here for two years now, haven’t you?” Grizel swept on, leaving Evadne and her friends highly indignant. Evadne’s lack of accomplishment in foreign languages was renowned, but they all felt it was unnecessary for Grizel Cochrane to make so free with her comments.

Fortunately, at this moment there was a diversion as Joey Bettany, sister of the Chalet School’s founder, came dashing downstairs followed by two of her close friends, Frieda Mensch and Simone Lecoutier.

“Hello there, everybody! Have decent hols? I say, it’s absolutely topping to see you again.” Joey beamed at them all. “Oh, yes, thanks, Evvy, we’d the most utterly gorgeous time. Innsbruck first, then Belsornia, got back two days ago. Look here, we’re just going out to inspect the new hall. Anybody want to come?” And, brandishing a large key, Joey made for the door.

The new hall had been built on to the school during the summer holidays, and no one except Joey had seen it yet. So they all followed her eagerly.

In six weeks’ time Jo Bettany would be fifteen. She was slight and thin, with enormous dark eyes and straight black hair, cut with a fringe, framing her pointed face; while in no conventional sense pretty, it was a face full of life and character.

“It’s thrilling to have our very own hall for the school,” Joey was saying excitedly, as she led them down the path and into the new building. “It’ll be wonderful when we do our Christmas play, because it’s got a real stage; and we’re to use it for dancing and Guide meetings too and all sorts of things. Now – how d’you like that?”

The hall was a plain wooden one-storey building in traditional Tyrolean style, similar to the two chalets which housed the school. Inside it was quite large, with a platform at one end and a staircase leading to a small room, which would serve as green-room. Everything was extremely simple but the girls were delighted.

“Gosh – splendacious!”

Fabelhaft!

Mais c’est magnifique!

“Gee, it’s absolutely great!”

There was a salvo of comments as Jo pointed out some of the features of the hall and indicated the proscenium arch, which would make it possible to have retractable curtains and some proper stage lighting.

“Remember when we did our first Christmas play?”

“But yes, my Jo,” answered Simone. “You were the Youngest Shepherd and you sang …”

But here Jo interrupted hastily; Simone tended to idolize her in a rather sentimental fashion, which Jo found embarrassing. “I was only thinking of how those hefty screens had to heaved back and forth because there weren’t any curtains. Now this time everything can be really professional.”

“Who will write the play this year, Joey?” asked Frieda Mensch in her pretty, gentle voice.

“Oh, my sister will arrange it all as usual,” Joey assured her. “But I believe she’s got something a bit different up her sleeve for this year; partly to make use of all this,” she swept her hand round in a gesture indicating the stage and hall, “and partly because she won’t have much time for writing now she’s got a home to look after.” A frown crossed Jo’s face; she said abruptly: “Come on, then; better buck up and get back to the common-room or we’ll be late for Kaffee.”

The girls were all looking very serious as they left the hall. Joey had reminded them that this term, for the first time since the school had started, they would be without “Madame”, as they always called their popular young headmistress.

Jo’s thoughts were running along similar lines, her lips pressed tightly together, as she locked the hall door with the key entrusted to her by Mademoiselle Lepâttre, now the Chalet School’s joint headmistress. Jo adored her elder sister who had brought her up, their parents having died when Jo was a small baby. Until the previous July, when Madge had married Dr. James Russell, the two sisters had never been separated.

It was now two and a half years since Madge Bettany had begun the Chalet School with only nine pupils: her sister Jo; Simone Lecoutier, who was Mademoiselle Lepâttre’s cousin; Grizel Cochrane; and six Tyrolean girls. From the start, the school had flourished; by the second term there were already thirty-three pupils, and numbers had continued to mount steadily ever since.

Mrs Russell intended to continue to act, with Mademoiselle Lepâttre, as joint headmistress; but she would be able to visit the school only once or twice a week now, for her new home was a considerable distance away, high above on the opposite shore of the Tiernsee. It was there, on the Sonnalpe, that her husband known to the school as Dr Jem, was head of a rapidly expanding sanatorium established to give patients the benefits of the wonderful mountain air.

Jo did genuinely want her sister to be happy and she was very fond of her brother-in-law. But, as the girls were making their way back to the house and her eyes lighted for a moment on the window of her sister’s former room, she thought rather miserably: “I do wish things never had to come to an end.” Then, with a characteristically abrupt change of mood, she touched Margia Stevens on the arm, and exclaiming, “Race you to the splasheries!” she darted off with none of the dignity that might have been expected of a Fifth-former. The others followed more sedately.

After Kaffee und Kuchen (the name given at the Chalet School to the informal meal of bread twists, cakes and milky coffee, which they had at the end of the afternoon), the entire school gathered to hear the headmistress’s address of welcome. By tradition this was given on the first evening of each term. It was always attended by every member of the school, both staff and girls, including all the Juniors. The latter usually spent most of their time in their own special domain, known as Le Petit Chalet; this stood a short distance from the original school, near the high fence surrounding all the school’s premises and grounds.

The girls seated themselves in three groups, consisting of Juniors, Middles and Seniors. Facing them were placed the chairs for the staff. There were also eight chairs at the side destined for the prefects, when these were named in a few moments’ time.

There was a feeling of anticipation in the air and a murmur of subdued talk, hushed immediately when the door opened and Mademoiselle Lepâttre entered the room followed by all the staff.

This was Mademoiselle’s first appearance as co-principal of the school. Beneath her calm and dignified manner she was feeling a touch of nervousness. But no one listened as she addressed the assembly, her kindly plain face beaming with welcome, would ever have guessed it. Speaking in excellent and only very slightly accented English, she welcomed them all most warmly at the beginning of this new school year; and spoke of the deep regret they all felt at the departure of their former headmistress. She assured them that she would always do everything in her power to continue steadfastly on the lines that “Madame” had laid down. In this endeavour she knew that she could count on the loyal support of every single one of them.

At this the girls broke into applause, which brought a faint tinge of pink to Mademoiselle’s face as she paused for a moment before continuing: “I am sure that you will be very happy, as I am, to learn that our dear Madame does not intend to withdraw altogether from the Chalet School. She will continue to act with me as joint headmistress and will visit us each week to give lessons in English literature.”

Here delighted glances were exchanged among the Senior girls, for Madge Russell’s literature classes had been greatly appreciated by all those lucky enough to attend them.

I should like now on behalf of all to extend an especially warm welcome to those who are joining our staff for the first time, Miss Annersley and Matron Lloyd, and also to all new girls. We hope they will be very happy among us. And now” – Mademoiselle consulted a list in her hand – “I have pleasure in naming for you those girls who have been chosen to act as prefects in the school. First, our new head girl will be Bette Rincini – she had been with us since the earliest days of the Chalet School and has always shown herself a most loyal member of it.”

There were enthusiastic cheers as pretty Bette went forward to receive her badge of office. Better was justly popular and had already proved herself an excellent prefect, liked and respected throughout the school. Her appointment was no surprise, nor were the other names that Mademoiselle now announced: Grizel Cochrane, Rosalie Dene and Gertrud Steinbrücke had already been prefects the previous term and Luigia di Ferrara a sub-prefect; now Mary Burnett, Deira O’Hagan and Vanna di Ricci would join them, bringing the total up to the usual number of eight.

“And now, my dear girls, I must draw your attention to a matter of the greatest importance. So important, indeed, that we have thought it well to forewarn you all. This is why we have taken the unusual step of placing a notice in the entrance hall; and this notice I am sure you have all read. As you will realize,” she noted that in some quarters meaning, even rueful, glances were being exchanged, “I refer to our new rule, by which we shall dedicate two days each week, one to the French language, the other to German. Since our Chalet School embraces many nationalities, Madame and I have thought it wise that you should all strive for proficiency in speaking languages other than your own. And, in time, we may possibly extend the practice and have two days each of French and German. But do not look so apprehensive, mes enfants! If you will try with good will I am persuaded that you all, in time, can become trilingual. Let us all endeavour to do our best.”

The headmistress then went on to read out the form lists, and to remind the girls that all regular activities, such as games, folk-dancing, Hobbies Club and Guide meetings, would resume immediately. Arrangements for the new Christmas play would be discussed towards the end of October.

Then, taking up an envelope, Mademoiselle said: “Finally, mes enfants, I have here a letter from Juliet Carrick, our last head girl, who wishes us to know that a party of girls from Grange House School in London will be visiting the Tiernsee next month. They will be staying at the Stephanie Hotel, which is of course quite near us. Juliet had made the acquaintance  of several of the girls and tells me that Miss Bruce, the mistress who will be in charge of the group, has been very kind to her. Now I feel sure that you would all wish me to extend the hospitality of the Chalet School to these visitors from England, and so I have decided to invite them to an informal party here on the first Saturday after their arrival. This little party will be from 6.30 pm until 9 o’clock, and you will all,” here she smiled in the direction of the Juniors and younger Middles, “be permitted to remain until the end.”

This was a delightful surprise; it was only on a very few occasions that the Chalet girls were allowed to depart from their normal routine of early bedtimes.

Mademoiselle proceeded to dismiss the girls, telling them that they were now free until Abendessen, which would give them “ample opportunity to talk over all the news.”

There was a positive explosion of talking as soon as the staff had departed. And, through the tumult, Evadne’s penetrating tones could be clearly heard: “Gee, you folks! I just figured it out: in only fourteen hours we’ll be sitting down to breakfast in FRENCH! I guess I’ll just have to begin, right now, and talk until I lose my voice entirely.”

CHAPTER IV

Joey’s Hike

“All set for this afternoon, Margia?” Joey Bettany was rushing towards the common-room after Saturday morning’s Guide meeting. “Did you check that list I gave you? And d’you know where Elisaveta’s got to? I’ve looked in the dorm and the classroom, and she’s not in either.”

But there was no answer. Margia, who had dumped a large pile of music from her locker on to the floor, was kneeling beside it, searching frantically. Sheets of music lay round her like fallen leaves.

“Look here, you’ve simply got to make sure everything’s ready before Mittagessen. A nice sort of idiot I’ll look if something gets forgotten … let alone failing the test.”

Joey’s left foot beat an indignant tattoo on the wooden floorboards. It meant a lot to her that the afternoon’s expedition should be a success. Provided that she passed this one test (that of escorting two younger Guides on an unsupervised half-day’s hike) she would have fulfilled all the requirements for the First-class badge. And Jo had been working hard for more than a year to gain this badge.

“MARGIA! Have you gone deaf all of a sudden … or just dotty? I do wish you’d wake up. Did you check that list?” Joey was almost shouting in her exasperation.

“Sorry, Jo.” Margia looked up, a distracted expression in her grey eyes. “I’m just trying to find that awful Moscheles piece Herr Anserl told me to begin learning. I can’t think where it’s gone to. Anyway, you needn’t yell so hard – I did hear. Everything’s all right; I’ve got all the things you asked for ready, and Elisaveta’s collecting the food from the kitchen after Mittagessen. What time do you want us to start?”

“Before one o’clock,” said Joey. “We must get off quickly, or we shan’t have time to finish everything before it gets dark; the sun goes down behind the mountains quite early now. Mademoiselle says we can have Mittagessen at noon and that’s in half an hour. Do get a move on.”

“Oh, Help and Blow and Bother!” groaned Margia, getting reluctantly to her feet and beginning to collect the scattered music. “I know Herr Anserl will simply devour me on Monday.”

Herr Anserl came at least once a week to the Chalet School from Spärtz, the little town at the foot of the mountains where the Tiernsee lies, to give piano lessons to the more advanced pupils; of these Margia, though the youngest, was by far the most gifted. He was a wonderful musician but not renowned for his patience.

“Well, you can’t practice now,” Jo pointed out reasonably; “there isn’t time. So do put that music away, Margia, and stop mooing like a lost cow.” She ignored Margia’s indignant protest. “When we get back this evening I’ll help you look for the Mosh – whatever it’s called, if you like. Let’s find Elisaveta now and make sure that everything’s prepared.”

Margia resigned herself with an exaggerated sigh, pushed the music back into her locker, in a state of disorder she would regret later, and followed Joey into the common-room.

The term was now almost two weeks old and holidays all but forgotten, for it had been a very busy fortnight, particularly in the way of outdoor activities.

At the Chalet School extra time for games was always allowed during the first part of the Christmas term, in order to take advantage of good weather while it lasted. Once the water arrived there were often days when snowstorms made going out impossible. And of course the snow brought hockey and netball to an end until the spring.

Accordingly, the third day of this term had seen the start of a series of inter-form netball and hockey matches. This had been Grizel Cochrane’s idea. Grizel took her responsibilities as games captain very seriously and was an excellent organizer.

“It’ll be miles the best way of seeing who plays decently,” she declared at the Prefects’ meeting. “If every single form has got to get two teams together from their own ranks, even the slackers will have to pull their weight a bit.”

“But, Grizel, will it not be impossible for the smaller forms to find eleven players?” queried Gertrud Steinbrücke, an Austrian girl, who was Grizel’s assistant games prefect. “And perhaps some of the new girls will never have played hockey before.”

“Oh, rubbish! Well, anyhow, it’ll do them good to try,” Grizel returned. “And, of course,” she added, relenting a little, “we can always make the hockey ‘seven-a-side’ if any form really can’t raise an eleven.”

Gertrud had to be content with the small concession; she knew that Grizel was seldom inclined to make allowances for other people’s frailties.

Mittagessen, on this second Saturday of the Christmas term, took place in an atmosphere tingling with anticipation. In addition to Joey, eleven members of the Guide company were taking tests that afternoon; some were nervous, all were excited and few showed anything like their usual interest in the excellent meal provided.

Jo, Margia and Elisaveta made as much haste as they were allowed and then dashed upstairs to get ready. Soon, their knapsacks over their shoulders, they were making their way rapidly towards Seespitz. It was a beautifully sunny afternoon and the Tiernsee, with the surrounding mountains reflected in its unruffled surface, appeared a deep and luminous jade green. As they hurried along the lake-path, Jo glanced at her two companions: both, she was pleased to see, were looking smart and alert in their navy-blue Guide uniform.

Margia had been at the Chalet School since a few weeks after its opening, and she and Joey had always been good friends, although there was more than a year’s difference between their ages. Elisaveta had arrived only the previous term. To all outward appearances a perfectly ordinary schoolgirl, she was in fact the only child of the Crown Prince of Belsornia. The school had at first been unaware of this; they had always accepted Elisaveta completely as one of themselves, while the Princess reveled in everyday school life. Like most of the Chalet girls she was an enthusiastic Guide, and she felt honoured at being chosen to go on this expedition with Joey, whom she admired greatly.

“I say, is my hat on straight?” Joey slowed down abruptly, almost tripping up Elisaveta who was following immediately behind her. “Awfully sorry, Veta! Hope I didn’t hurt you. I’d just remembered I never looked in the mirror to check.”

Margia surveyed her appraisingly. “Looks all right to me. Anyway, the badge is bang in the middle, above your nose, it that’s what you mean.”

The three paused to recover their breath and to look back for a moment, past the school, at the glorious view of the Tiern valley stretching away into the far distance, the mountains gathered protectingly around it like guardian giants.

“What a lovely place it is!” murmured Elisaveta. “I’m sure there is no other school anywhere so beautiful.”

Joey had been gazing at the mountains with a faraway expression in her dark eyes; now she came suddenly down to earth, saying in judicial tones: “Well, there must be some wonderful places in Switzerland, and they have simply heaps of schools there, you know.” Then, seeing Elisaveta look rather surprised, she added: “But, of course, there is something very special about the Tiernsee, we all feel that.”

“I thought you said we were in a hurry, Jo,” put in Margia. “Can you tell us as we go what the plans are for this afternoon?”

They turned and resumed their brisk walk. Briesau was soon left behind; on one side of the path lay the gleaming lake, on the other the steep, darkly wooded slope of the Bärenkopf.

“Miss Maynard says we’re to look for the beginning of the trail two hundred paces from the gate of that little chalet at Hubertus,” explained Joey. (Miss Maynard had joined the Chalet School staff early in the first term; she had now succeeded the former Miss Bettany as captain of the Guide company.) “It won’t be a very long trail, not this first part, I mean.”

“But knowing Maynie,” Margia broke in, “it won’t be easy to follow!”

“Too right, it won’t! Anyway, at the end we’ve got to search around and find our instructions for the rest of the hike. There’ll be a map with them. Now here’s the chalet, so let’s start counting.”

There was some argument about where exactly two hundred paces finished. All three started looking in different places for the first clue. Jo had longer legs than the others, and she decided that Miss Maynard’s paces would probably be at least as long as her own. So she began to search further along the path. A moment or two later she exclaimed triumphantly, “Yes, here it is, this is the first sign!”

Some grass at the side of the road had been tied in a way that indicated they should continue along the lake-side.

“There is not really much choice anyway, is there?” Elisaveta said. “I mean, we either have to go along this path, or else turn back to Briesau again.”

“Don’t be too sure!” Jo, knowing the district better, was more cautious. “Actually, there are dozens of small paths leading from this one up into the woods; there’s even one that takes you right over to the other side of the Bärenbad alm; so jolly well keep your eyes open, both of you!”

However, the signs, appearing at fairly regular intervals, made it clear that they should continue to follow the main path. Soon they had passed the landing stage at Seespitz and the terminus of the quaint little cog-wheel railway which travels to this point from Spärtz, three thousand feet below in the valley.

“Is the train still running?” asked Margia.

“Yes, I think there’s still one train a day for at least another week,” Joey informed her. “Mam’selle was saying something about it being lucky for those English girls who arrive next week, because they wouldn’t have to walk up the mountain path.”

“What do you think the girls will be like?” Elisaveta wondered.

“Well, for one things, they’ll be heaps older than any of us,” said Margia. “They’ll be mostly about eighteen, I should think.” To Margia, just thirteen, this seemed a very great age.

Joey had gone a few yards ahead, to a point where the road forked, and was looking there for the next vital sign. “Juliet says that some of them are awfully decent. I’m looking forward to meeting them.”

“Anybody know when they get here?” Margia enquired.

“Next Tuesday or Wednesday … Tuesday, I think it is. Now, would you say this arrow means to go along this way? Or more to the left?”

Two hours later found the three Guides hard at work making a camp fire, in a broad flowery meadow to the west of the little hamlet of Eben. They had eventually found the packet, with their map and instructions, cunningly concealed among the roots of a pine tree beside the path to Spärtz. It had been necessary to use compasses to follow Miss Maynard’s route, which had taken them in a deliberately roundabout fashion through the pine woods and eventually to Eben; here the instructions told them to visit the pilgrimage church of St Nothburga.

It is something of a surprise to find this beautiful little church, dedicated to the patron saint of servant girls, in such a tiny place. It is quite elaborately decorated with pink- and coffee-coloured stucco and there are painted panels on the ceiling. But the main impression is one of simplicity and the church appealed to all the girls, even Joey, who did not as a rule care greatly for the Baroque period.

When they had admired the church and paid their respects to St Nothburga’s shrine, which dates from the fifteenth century, they made their way to the meadow carrying the large bundles of firewood gathered earlier in accordance with their instructions.

Jo insisted that the fire must not be laid on the grass itself, for fear of causing damage. So they had used the big practical Guide knives, which they all carried on their belts, to cut a broad H-shape through the flower-sprinkled grass; then, carefully rolling back the turf, they built the fire on the bare earth.

Water to fill their billy-can had come from a nearby stream and now the fire was blazing merrily and the water beginning to bubble. It was a great treat for the girls to make a camp fire at all, because this was always forbidden during the summer for fear of causing a fire in the woods.

Joey was now instructing the other two in the art of making kebabs. While she herself cut pieces of meat and bacon into medium-sized cubes, Margia was peeling mushrooms and Elisaveta slicing an onion, her pretty face screwed into a protesting grimace as the onion vapour stung her eyes.

“What do we do next, Joey?” she asked, giving a decidedly un-princess-like sniff.

Jo took a newly-peeled stick from the pile they had prepared.

“Look, you thread bits of the meat and the other things, turn about, like this, on to the skewer, then put a dab of butter on them. Be jolly careful the skewer is right through the middle of the pieces, or they’ll drop off into the fire. And it’s best to leave a fair bit of stick empty, each end, ‘cos then it balances over the fire more easily.”

“Won’t the fire burn the sticks?” objected Margia.

“Shouldn’t do. They’re all new green wood. And so long as the pieces are pushed close together the fire won’t get at the sticks anyway. Veta, make the tea, will you, that water’s boiling its head off.”

Tea was comparatively rare at the Chalet School, where milky coffee was the usual drink; but Jo had maintained that tea would help to give their hike a more English feeling.

They were so absorbed in arranging their skewers across the stones at either side of the fire that they did not at first notice the approach of their Guide captain. All three jumped up and saluted smartly as Miss Maynard came up, smiling. She noted with approval the neatly built camp fire; the tidy pile of equipment and groundsheets, spread out a few yards to the windward side of the fire; and the cups and plates ready for the meal.

“Will you sit here, please, Miss Maynard?” Joey asked politely, indicating one of the groundsheets, placed where a rise in the ground made a natural back for the sitter to lean against.

“Thank you, Joey.” Miss Maynard sat down. “Now, I must only stay a few moments, girls, as I have to visit Marie and her party on my way back to school. Have you enjoyed the afternoon?”

They all assured her that they had, and Joey added: “It was lovely seeing the little church. I wonder why we’ve never been inside before. But of course, it’s rather out of the way when you’re walking down to Spärtz, and the train doesn’t stop long enough at Eben for a visit.”

“Yes, I thought you would appreciate St Nothburga’s,” said Miss Maynard. “By the way, there are lots of stories about her, Jo, that I’m sure you’d like to investigate sometime.”

Jo’s black eyes gleamed; she was fascinated by anything that concerned the history and legends of the Tiernsee district. “I did wonder about some of those pictures – you know, the ones on the ceiling of the church, you have to crane your neck like anything to look at them.”

“And we couldn’t find anything about the pictures anywhere,” Margia put in.

“And one is very odd,” said Elisaveta, with a puzzled expression. “There is something in the air that looks like – how do you call it? – a thing that is used to cut the harvest. No, not a scythe, smaller than that.”

“I think you mean a sickle,” Miss Maynard said.

“Oh, yes, a sickle. And it looks almost as though St Nothburga had thrown the sickle at someone. But I think a saint would not do that.”

“No, no, she didn’t!” Miss Maynard suppressed a smile at the unlikely picture this presented. “I haven’t time to tell you the details now, but the story goes that St Nothburga was working in the fields near Eben for a very grasping employer. He was in a great hurry to get one particular field harvested because a storm had been predicted. So he ordered his workers to continue reaping all through Saturday, and he wanted them to keep going on the Sunday as well. But St Nothburga reproached him, saying that Sunday was a day of rest for all. She then let go of her sickle, which immediately flew into the air and remained suspended there. This, she told him, was a sign that God willed that all people, and even inanimate things, should rest from their labours on holy days. That’s the legend, anyway. And that’s what the picture’s about.”

“What about the other painting?” Joey asked. “The one where it looks as though they’re driving a pair of oxen right through a river?”

“The water’s all tucked up at the sides,” said Margia.

And Elisaveta, who had been well grounded in biblical history by the royal governesses, added, “Like the Israelites and the Red Sea.”

“You’ll have to find out about that for yourselves,” Miss Maynard said briskly. “I’m told, Joey, there’s a wonderful book with all these Tyrolean legends, by some Victorian lady – I’ve forgotten her name for the moment. But we ought to try to get a copy for the library. In the mean time, why don’t you all ask Frieda Mensch or Marie von Eschenau – I’m sure they would know all the old stories.”

“And Frieda’s father is a real mine of information,” Joey said. “Thanks, Miss Maynard, I’ll certainly see what I can find out.”

“Now, girls, I must be off again.” Miss Maynard began to get up from her lowly position but Elisaveta said pleadingly: “Oh, Miss Maynard, do please have a cup of tea! I have made it myself, and it is absolutely the first time I have ever made tea.”

Miss Maynard laughed, but she allowed herself to be persuaded to drink the tea, which she pronounced excellent.

Then, in spite of enticing smells from the kebabs, now sizzling over the fire, she refused to remain any longer and departed, reminding the girls to put out the fire most carefully and to clear up all traces of their visit before they left.

“I should think you’ve passed the test easily, Jo,” Margia said later as they sat enjoying their delicious meal.

“It’s funny.” Joey stopped to take a vast bite out of an apple. “I’d quite forgotten about it being a test, it’s been such a gorgeous afternoon. Thanks awfully much for your help, you two. Now I think we’d better get on with the tidying; we’ve got a fair walk back to the school and it’ll be getting dark in an hour or so.”

It was just as they reached the corner by St Nothburga’s church that they saw three girls: obviously English, from both speech and appearance, they were standing there, evidently discussing some problem.

The tallest of the three, a very serious-looking girl, glanced round as the Chalet girls approached and, for a moment, her surprise at seeing a British Girl Guide uniform showed clearly on her face. Then she smiled, the first expression of severity immediately banished, and said, “But of course! You must be from the Chalet School. I wonder if you can help us, please; we seem to have got lost.”

Joey, always ready to make friends, went up smiling: “Yes, we do come from the Chalet School; I’m Jo Bettany and these are Margia Stevens and Elisaveta Arnsonira. Of course we’d like to help you if we can. Who are you and what’s the trouble?”

“We’re from Grange House School in London,” put in another of the English group, a much shorter girl, with dark curly hair, an upturned nose and deep-set blue eyes. “I’m Pamela Trent; this,” indicating the girl who had spoken first, “is Patricia Davidson, and this is Joan Hatherley. The rest of our party went straight to Briesau, but we three got permission to walk up the mountain from that little town down there; we should be joining Miss Bruce and the others at the Stephanie, and we were just wondering which path would be the quickest.”

It had been Joey’s turn to look astonished when the girl mentioned Grange House. Now she burst out: “But we thought you weren’t arriving till next week; we were told you’d be coming on the seventh of October. Today’s only the fourth. Do they know at the hotel? – because I’m pretty certain they weren’t expecting you today!”

CHAPTER V

Grange House Arrives

The three Grange House girls looked at each other in consternation.

“Help! Does that mean we’ve nowhere to stay?”

“What can have happened?”

“I say, what a lark! Orphans of the storm!”

The light was beginning to fade and a chilly breeze began to make itself felt.

“Well, it’s no good hanging round here. We’ll have to buzz off and find the others,” Patricia Davidson decided. “They’ll have arrived by now; they must have got something sorted out.”

“Better cut along with us then – we’re on our way back to Briesau; we can show you where the Stephanie is.” And Joey led the way at a brisk pace.

“What though the schoolgirl knew someone – quite obviously … had blundered!” Joan Hatherley misquoted darkly to herself, as she fell in behind Pamela Trent.

They made haste up to Seespitz, past the landing stage and along the lake-path; but even so, it was almost dark when they reached Briesau. Before running back to the school, Joey and her companions escorted the Londoners to the hotel. Here the two mistresses, Miss Bruce and Miss Mortlock, and the other nine girls, were awaiting them disconsolately.

It appeared there had indeed been a misunderstanding over the date of their arrival. The explanation was quite simple: when Grange House’s headmistress had written to confirm their reservations, she had said they would be arriving on the fourth of October; this she had written as “4 October” without mentioning any day of the week. The figure four in her handwriting had been misread as an English seven, and all arrangements made accordingly for the party’s arrival on the seventh of October.

“I am so sorry, so very sorry, Madame,” Herr Dobler, the Stephanie’s proprietor, apologized to the worried Miss Bruce, who fortunately spoke excellent German. “See, here is the letter. Be so good as to look at it.”

Miss Bruce scrutinized the words in question and shook her head. “Not clear … really not clear at all – it is most unfortunate … but certainly not your fault … The question is … what to do now?”

Matters were further complicated because Herr Dobler, thinking the hotel would be empty, had allowed all his kitchen and domestic staff to go home for the weekend. Hotel workers got very little free time during the tourist season, so naturally they had been delighted to take this short holiday.

By now it was almost seven o’clock and the whole party was looking very forlorn. Miss Bruce had remained calm outwardly, but even she was beginning to wonder about their chances of finding other accommodation at this hour on a Saturday evening, in such a very small place.

However, she had not been allowing for Austrian traditions of hospitality. Herr Dobler had disappeared to consult his wife; and he now returned beaming to tell them there was no need to worry any more. The bedrooms were always kept in readiness; and, he assured them with many apologies, he and his wife would do all they could to make the gracious ladies comfortable. Frau Dopler would be happy to give them breakfast on the Sunday and Monday mornings. She even began bustling round to see if she could make something now in the way of a simple evening meal.

However, at this moment a “good-angel” arrived: Mademoiselle Lepâttre had heard of the visitors’ plight from Joey and had immediately come round to offer help. Mademoiselle insisted on taking them all back to Abendessen at the Chalet School. She would not consider a refusal. Moreover, she arranged with them to have all their meals, with the exception of breakfast, at the school until Monday. By then the staff would have returned to the hotel and things would be back to normal. Miss Bruce accepted this generous offer with gratitude and relief.

“How awfully kind they are at the Chalet School,” observed Pamela Trent, as she was getting dressed the following morning in the bedroom she and Patricia Davidson were sharing. “And that was a topping supper they gave us last night. Do you suppose they always have meals like that, the lucky things?”

“I think it couldn’t have been anything out of the usual,” replied her friend. “After all, they didn’t get enough warning to put on a special show for us. It certainly was a bit different from the usual school diet.”

Patricia, who always did things quickly, was already dressed; her deceptively simple-looking tweed dress paid tribute to her mother’s excellent and expensive taste in clothes. Wandering over to the window, she stood brushing her thick brown hair and gazing out at the view over the southern part of the lake. The weather was rather disappointing after yesterday’s golden sunshine. But, although the mountain tops were swathed in soft grey mist, the lake looked not grey, but intensely dark green; the whole impression was one of peace, with a touch of mystery.

After an excellent breakfast – all the girls agreed that they had never tasted such delicious rolls – the whole group set out for the Chalet School, where they had been invited to attend the informal service held in the school each Sunday, for those girls and staff who were Protestants.

“Golly! This is certainly quite a place!” remarked Joan Hatherley, as she and Pamela Trent followed the others along the lake-side. “I shan’t make any objections to being here for a month, I can tell you.”

“And nor shall I; it’s absolutely terrific,” Pamela agreed. “Will you just look at those mountains!”

They turned up the path towards the school, which was set back a little distance from the lake. “I suppose that other chalet must belong to the school too,” Joan said. “I didn’t notice it last night, did you?”

“No, but then it was dark. And I didn’t realize they’d got so much land, miles and miles of it.”

“I think perhaps you exaggerate, dear girl! But quite a few square yards, certainly. I suppose that ‘stockade’s to keep the wild beasts from straying.” Joan pointed at the high wooden fence encircling the school grounds.

At that moment a line of Chaletians came marching through the gate in this fence and on down the path towards them. Joan hastily dropped her hand.

“Now where would they be going?” whispered Pamela. Joan shook her head silently.

In fact these were the Chalet School Catholics making their way to the tiny whitewashed church, with its quaint frescos on the walls, situated behind the Kron Prinz Karl Hotel.

The Chalet girls were accompanied by Mademoiselle Lepâttre and Miss Wilson, who taught science. They were walking formally, two and two (“crocodiling”, Joey had once called it), so although smiling greetings were exchanged, there was no chance for conversation.

However, there was no lack of talk later on, at Mittagessen in the Chalet School’s big dining-room, nor afterwards, when the girls were getting ready for the afternoon outing proposed by Mademoiselle Lepâttre.

Just before lunch Mademoiselle had summoned the Chalet School’s head girl to her and suggested that the visitors would enjoy a walk up the Tiern valley, which stretches from Briesau far up through the mountains, eventually leading to Germany by way of the great Tiern Pass. Mademoiselle explained to Bette that she wished the prefects to take entire charge of the expedition. “You will have only the older and more sensible girls with you,” she continued. “The younger Middles will not be going. Nor, of course, will the little ones. And as some of our staff are away this weekend, our mistresses will all be needed here. Enfin, c’est très bien … it will be a chance for you and our visitors to get to know one another.”

“Will the two Grange House mistresses be coming with us, Mam’selle?” asked Bette.

Mais non, ma petite; they are tired after their journey and would prefer to rest here this afternoon.”

There was naturally a lot of disappointment among the younger children at missing the treat, especially as this was to include Kaffee und Kuchen at the Gasthaus in Lauterbach, a tiny hamlet though which they would pass both going and returning. But since the expedition would take over four hours it was considered too long and tiring for some of the Middles, and out of the question for the little ones.

A few of these, who were playing in the garden after Mittagessen, gathered near the gate to watch the party leave. On, who voiced clear dissatisfaction with the plans, was Margia Stevens’s little sister, Amy.

“I think it’s jolly mouldy leaving us behind! Really mouldy!” she said to Margia, who retorted unsympathetically, very much the elder sister:

“I shouldn’t let any of the staff or prefects hear you using that expression, Amy, or you’ll be in trouble, even if it is Sunday.”

(There was a very strict rule at the Chalet School against the use of slang.)

Even eight-year-old Robin Humphries, an exceptionally sunny-natured child, added her small protest. As she walked down the path from Le Petit Chalet, hand in hand with Joey Bettany, she was heard to say reproachfully: “I have walked much – but so much further than that, Joey; and I would not get tired, no, really, I would not!” Her dark curls were dancing in her fervour, and her eyes were fixed pleadingly on Jo. “And now I shall not see you, my Jo, not all of today, because when you return I shall have gone to bed.”

They were speaking in French, which had been the Robin’s first language and was the one she still tended to prefer.

“Never mind, Robin darling,” Joey said comfortingly. “Be a good girl, sweetheart, and go off now with Amy and the others; then tonight when we get back I’ll ask Mam’selle if I may come over to Le Petit Chalet to say goodnight and perhaps to tell you a story. That’s a promise.”

The Robin’s face lifted a little. She thought Joey the most wonderful person in the world; moreover, she was a sensible little girl, training all her short life to accept arrangements without fretting. With just a small sigh, she got ready to wave goodbye to the party when they set out.

Pamela Trent, one of the three Londoners who had encountered the Chaletians at Eben, was watching the Juniors with great interest as she waited for the expedition to begin. Her attention was caught by the Robin in earnest conversation with Joey, Pamela was fond of young children and hoped to train as a kindergarten teacher when she left school at the end of the year. Seeing Gertrud Steinbrücke come out of the Chalet, she asked: “Do tell me, who is the lovely little girl talking to Jo Bettany? She looks one of the most adorable children I’ve ever seen.”

Gertrud readily told her the Robin’s name and explained that Robin, whose Polish mother had died nearly three years ago, was Mrs Russell’s ward and Joey’s adopted sister. “When she came here two years ago, she was only six years old, such a very small little schoolgirl!” Gertrud continued, with a smile. “And she is still our ‘School Baby’. But she never has become spoiled.” Gertrud glanced round towards the front door. “Ah, good! Here now are the others.”

Bette Rincini, accompanied by the other prefects and the rest of the Grange House girls, had just emerged from the house and the word was at last given to start.

As the wave of girls surged through the gate, Simone Lecoutier ran up. “Joey! What has become of Joey? Où donc est-elle allée?

Simone tended to be possessive, and at one time she would have done her utmost to monopolize Jo’s company on the walk. But today there was to be no chance of this; and in any case Simone had grown up quite a lot during her two years at the Chalet School. So when Frieda Mensch called out, “Will you not come and walk with us, Simone?” she was able to accept the invitation with a fairly good grace.

Meanwhile, Joey had already been swept off by a group consisting of Patricia Davidson, Pamela Trent and Joan Hatherley. They were brimming over with questions and Jo was kept busy answering as the party left the school behind and took the path towards the valley.

 

 

 

CHAPTER VI

Patricia Makes A Friend

In her excitement, Joey was soon pouring forth such a spate of information about the names and histories of various places and mountain peaks that she left her hearers breathless.

Eventually Joan Hatherley protested, laughing: “I think I’ll need a map to help sort this out. I’m never going to remember it all with my enfeebled brain.” Joan’s round face and rather childlike expression, accentuated by her round tortoiseshell-rimmed glasses, often caused her to be mistaken for less than her seventeen and a half years. Her air of innocence was deceptive: she was keenly observant and possessed a dry sense of humour.

“Is it possible to get maps of this district, Jo?” asked Pamela Trent, pushing back a dark curl which kept annoyingly straying into her eyes.

Their group had gone a little ahead of the rest; they were just coming to the bridge across the stream dividing Briesau from the beginning of the Tiern valley. Jo paused for a moment.

“I don’t think you can get any large-scale maps. Lots of ordinary maps of Austria and the Tyrol, of course. But the Tiernsee and Briesau do look awfully tiny on those. I say, though – I’ve an idea! Why shouldn’t we Chaletians get together and make you a map ourselves? I’m sure Miss Wilson would help. She’ll probably think it’s jolly good practice for our geography, not to mention Guides. We’ll ask her as soon as we get back.”

It can be related in passing that Miss Wilson, who was responsible for geography as well as science throughout the Chalet School, was delighted to approve this scheme. The Fifth, Joey’s form, were entrusted with the map-making. With Miss Wilson’s assistance, they were able to produce a clear and workmanlike map of the Tiernsee and surrounding districts, and the visitors found it of great practical help.

The valley road lay partly through woods and partly through open meadows. Everywhere it was intensely still, the silence broken only by the laughing chatter of the girls and occasionally, as they went higher up the valley, by the distant tinkle of cow-bells.

“Whatever is that over there?” asked Patricia Davidson suddenly, pointed to her right when they were about three miles along the valley. “Surely it can’t be a road? I pity anyone walking along that!” Frieda Mensch looked round and smiled when she saw where Patricia was pointing. She explained that Patricia was actually looking at the stony bed of a large stream: this always dried up completely during the summer, although in just a few weeks’ time the stones would be covered again by the noisy stream rushing down to the Tiernsee.

“You’ll have to come up here and see, later on this month. It’s quite worth the journey, I can tell you,” declared Joey.

“Well, I’m sure you’re right – must be, of course – but at the moment it’s quite hard to believe it’s really a river bed,” said Joan Hatherley.

And Pamela Trent, whose black hair and deep blue eyes were inherited from her Irish mother, observed: “Indeed, yes! Now I could show you quite a few roads in the west of Ireland that look just like that! We go every summer to stay with my grandmother, and my father always complains that he can’t tell the road from the bog!”

At the mention of Ireland, Pamela became caught up in an animated conversation with Deira O’Hagan, one of the Chalet School prefects, a good-looking Irish girl whose family came from County Cork.  Deira and Pamela had to answer a lot of questions about Ireland.  In particular, Bette Rincini and Gertrud Steinbrücke, both Tyroleans, were interested to hear more about a country of which they knew very little.

The road was getting gradually steeper and rougher as the party went further up the valley.  They were now nearing he foot of the giant Tiernjoch, the highest mountain in the district; its steep summit was still wreathed in clouds, although the afternoon sun had long since chased away the morning’s mist from all the lower peaks and the sky was a soft blue.

Bette Rincini, as head-girl, was mainly responsible for the expedition; consulting her watch, she called up that there would now be a twenty-minute interval, after which they must start the return journey.  During the pause they could either rest in enjoy the view, or push on a little further to see whether there might be an even better view round the next corner.

Bette rejoined the group that she had been with, who had all chosen to sit and rest; and conversation was resumed.

Joan Hatherley, sauntering up with Joey, broke off the discussion they were having about Bleak House to remark: “How simply marvelously your head girl speaks English!  I’m rotten at languages myself.  Of course some of our girls are very decent at French but even they don’t speak it as well as lots of your foreign girls speak English.  Oh, dear!”  Joan stopped, one eyebrow raised and a comical expression of distress on her round face.  “I’d quite forgotten; we’re the foreigners here, of course, how very stupid of me!  Anyway, I’m simply green with envy of Bette; and Gertrud speaks terribly well too, and so does that one over there; sorry, I’ve forgotten her name.”  Here Joan indicated Grizel Cochrane who, back towards them, was sitting a few yards away, discussing with a group of the visitors whether tennis or cricket was the better summertime game for girls’ schools.

Not on muscle in Joey’s face flickered; with a churchwarden-like gravity she assented, “Yes, Grizel does talk fairly good English.”

Then she called out, “Hallo, Griselda! Joan here has been admiring your English.  I was just going to tell her that of course you’ve been at school here for two and a half years and it’s helped you need to make quite amazing progress.”

“Really, Joey, you are too silly!”  Grizel almost snorted with indignation.  “I am English, of course,” she said abruptly to the somewhat abashed Joan.  “That’s just Joey’s idea of a joke.  And pretty feeble too.”

Grizel always tended to become excessively ruffled when she was teased, though she was, gradually and painfully, learning to be less touchy.  She did now manage to join, a little reluctantly, in the laughter which greeted Joan’s mistake.

After twenty minutes exactly, Bette gave the signal for the return journey to begin and, still chatting away gaily, the girls started back towards Lauterbach, walking mostly in little groups of three or four.

Patricia Davidson, however, lingered behind the rest and wandered along dreamily by herself, utterly absorbed in the beauty of the scenery around her.  A gentle breeze head arisen and this, together with the afternoon’s exercise, had brought a becoming rosy pink into her usually pale face.  Her expression had lost some of the tenseness it had shown in London; and, in many ways, she looked a different girl from the Patricia who had entertained Juliet Carrick to tea a few weeks earlier.

Being any quick walker, Patricia knew she could easily catch up with the others; she stopped and turned round for one moment’s last look up the valley.  There was a feeling almost of homecoming in the silence and peace that settled round her.

As a small child, Patricia had been devoted to her Scottish nanny, a person of enormous kindness who had done her utmost to give the lonely little girl some of the warmth and affection her parents so conspicuously failed to provide.  It had been one of nanny’s customs to read aloud to her charge at bedtime, and on Sunday evenings the reading had always been chosen from the Bible, generally from the Psalms.  Probably it was some distant memory of that gentle Scottish voice that now came back to Patricia.  Without realizing that she was speaking her thoughts audibly she murmured: “‘I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills …’,” and was startled when a quiet voice behind her finished the line, “‘From whence cometh my help’.”

Joey Bettany, noticing that the Grange House girl was lagging behind, had unobtrusively slipped back to see if anything was the matter.

Jo had no use for anything in the way of “slushy sentiment” (as she herself would have described it), but she was intensely responsive to beauty: the tone of her voice now made it obvious she both understood and shared the feelings that prompted Patricia’s quotation.

For a while neither girl spoke; both felt suddenly little shy.  At last they turned reluctantly.  And, still in a companionable silence, they began to follow the others, now quite some distance away on the road back to Lauterbach.

And, as they walked, Patricia found, to her own surprise, that she was telling Jo how she had set her heart on the medical career and how everything seemed hopeless because of her mother’s determination to turn her into a social butterfly.

There was some indefinable quality about Jo Bettany that would, all her life, draw others to confide their troubles in her.  In spite of the difference in their ages Patricia felt a bond of sympathy with the younger girl as she tried to explain her strong call towards becoming a doctor.

“But it’s a wonderful thing to give your life to healing sick people,” protested Joey, who had learned, from observing her brother-in-law and his colleagues at the sanatorium, something of the dedication a good doctor brings to his work.  “Why on earth should your mother be so awfully against it?

Patricia did not make the sharp retort that would have leapt from her and London.  Instead she said, after a moment’s pause: “I suppose it’s really very difficult for her, Joey.  She and my father separated.  He’s been living out in America for ages now, running some huge company.  That’s how he got his title, by the way, ‘services to commerce’, I think they call it, but of course my mother loves it!  And I’m sure it’s partly being left on her own like this that makes Mother such a stickler for all the social nonsense.  I think she feels people are criticizing her all the time.  And you see, Jo,” Patricia stopped for a moment and looked earnestly at her young companion, “in a way I really am all she has left.  She just can’t – and won’t – understand that I’m not interested in her sort of things … being presented at Court, endless parties and so on.  And she can’t see how any girl who isn’t obliged to work for a living can want to have a career.  I suppose it’s something completely outside her world.”

“Well, anyway, you mustn’t dream of giving up hope now,” Joey said stoutly as they moved on again, rather more rapidly.  “If you’ve got enough grit to keep going, I’m sure you can get there in the end.”

They had almost reached the little Gasthaus.  There were cheerful sounds issuing forth, which proclaimed that the other girls were inside.

Jo paused for a moment at the door.  “You must meet my sister and her husband,” she said with a purposeful air.  “He’s a doctor, you know, and he’s head of the sanatorium on the Sonnalpe that you can just see from Briesau.  I’ll tell you about that later, you’ll probably be interested; but we must go in and get our Kaffee or we shan’t get any.”

So saying, she pushed open the door and went inside, followed by Patricia.

CHAPTER VII

A Visit From Madame

Joey Bettany was never one to leave the daisies flowering over her feet.  Three days after the expedition up the Tiern valley, Madge Bettany arrived at the Chalet School in time for Mittagessen; and she gathered from Joey’s gesticulations across the dining-room that her sister had something important to communicate.

After lunch, Madge called Joey to her and remarked that there was really no need for such extraordinary antics.  However she did promise to set aside half an hour after Kaffee und Kuchen for private talk, so Joey was well contented.

The Fifth form’s lesson that afternoon was science.  Had it been a subject that came easily to her, Jo might have been able to let her thoughts wonder to the coming interview with her sister.  But, after answering a question about magnetic currents with somewhat unscientific vagueness, she caught Miss Wilson’s eye fixed on her with such a chilly gleam that she hastily pulled herself together.

Punctually at a quarter to five Joey arrived at Madame’s study, as it was still called.  Characteristically, she plunged straight into an account of her conversation with Patricia.

Madge listened with obvious interest.  When Jo finished her tale, and had inveighed vehemently against any mother who would deliberately stand in the way of her daughter’s splendid ambition, Madge looked at her younger sister thoughtfully.

“I’d very much like to meet Patricia,” she said quietly.  I’ve already heard something about her from Juliet, and I’d dearly love to help in any way I could.  But you must realize, Joey, that it isn’t an easy situation.  I couldn’t possibly suggest the Patricia should defy her mother; that would be very wrong and, in any case, could only lead to more unhappiness for Patricia herself.  Do you know, does her father concern himself at all about what she does?”

“Not very much, I gather,” replied Jo gloomily.  “Apparently he’s living in America and hardly ever comes to London nowadays, so I don’t think there could be much help from him.  Madge!”  Joey looked earnestly at her sister.  “Don’t you think you could invite Patricia to spend a weekend with you when Jem at Die Rosen?”  This was the name of the Russells’ pretty home on the Sonnalpe.  Jem could talk to her about medicine – oh, I know he wouldn’t be able to encourage her plans,” Jo had noticed her sister’s quick frown, “but she’s bound to be interested in hearing about the hospital and all that, and even just seeing something of a doctor’s life.”

“Yes, I’ll certainly think about it,” Madge agreed.  “And in the meantime, Joey, you must promise me to be tactful; and not to interfere, or say anything that would encourage Patricia to look on herself as a slighted heroine.”

“Of course I won’t interfere, Madge,” protested Jo, shaking her mop of black hair into a fine confusion in her indignation.  “And of course I’ll be tactful.  I’ll be as tactful as Solomon and all the ambassadors in Europe rolled into one.  Really I will.”

Madge could not help smiling at the unlikely picture presented to her imagination of Joey, her hair standing on end, as a member of the Corps Diplomatique.

Changing the subject, she said: “There’s something else I’d like to discuss quickly.  Have you any idea’s about your birthday this year?”

Something in Madge’s tone caught Joey’s instant attention.  “No, not really; why, Madge?  Have you got some plan?”

Madge nodded.  “We thought you might like to go and see the Salzburg Marionette Theater.  They are giving some performances in Innsbruck at the end of October, and Jem suggested we take you as a birthday treat.  If you like the idea, you may choose three friends to go with us and come back and spend the weekend up to the Sonnalpe.”

“Oh, Madge!”  Joey gave her sister quick hug.  “You really are an absolute angel; I’ve always wanted to see the marionettes.  Perhaps I could invite Patricia to come with us; and I’d like to have Frieda, and the Robin, of course.”

But Madge shook her head.  “Not the Robin, Jo, I’m afraid; it would be far too tiring for her.  She’s only little girl and not at all strong.  But it would be a good idea to include Frieda, because her father has very kindly offered to come up here and drive you all down to Innsbruck, which will save a great deal of time.  Let me know soon what you decide, Joey.  Now I simply must be off.”  Madge got up rather reluctantly from the comfortable chair where she had been sitting, with Joey on the rug at her feet.  “I’ve promised teach the Middles that French game we used to play.  Do you remember Je suis allée au marché?”

“Rather!” answered Jo.  “What a rip — I mean, jolly idea.  And it ought to help the ones who find the French-speaking days so hard.  Can I come, Madge?  I’d enjoy the game too.”

“Yes, I’d like to have a few people who speak French easily,” replied her sister.  Then she added severely: “But first, please go and make yourself respectable.  You look a disgraceful sight at the moment.”

Jo grimaced but she departed obediently to brush her hair and then to join the Middles who were gathered in the common-room.”

The two days each week of compulsory French and German had been proving very difficult for many of the girls.  The mistresses had all discussed ways of helping, and Madge had remembered an old game from her childhood.  In this the players all sit round in a circle, and each in turn must tell, in French, what she bought that morning and the market.  Her list must include any items mentioned by previous players, and she then adds a new purchase of her own.  For the first player it is very easy she begins, using the formula that everyone must repeat at the beginning of her turn, “Aujourd’hui, je suis allée au marché et j’ai acheté …”, and then she adds in French whatever she bought, perhaps “du pain” or “des oeufs“.  As the other players join in, the list grows longer and longer, and naturally becomes more and more difficult to remember.  Anyone who makes a mistake or forgets an item forfeits a “life”; and those who have lost three lives must drop out of the game temporarily.

The great beauty of the game is that, in striving to remember what others have bought and in repeating the words, the players unconsciously extend their French vocabulary and learn to speak the words correctly and with confidence.

The Chalet School Middles took up the game with enthusiasm.  In fact it was to become for some weeks a favorites spare-time amusement; which was just what their wily headmistress had intended.

On this first occasion, things eventually came to an end in laughing confusion.  Evadne Lannis, in her very transatlantic French, had managed to work right through a long list of household items; finally she announced with pride that she had bought “un elephant“.

This precipitated an immediate argument with Simone, who had a very literal mind and protested that “un elephant ne se trouve jamais dans un marché.”

Evadne retorted that she was thinking of a market in the East and, “there would sure elephants there; I know, but Poppa’s told me he’s seen them.”

The Middles were now on their own (Mrs. Russell having departed for the Sonnalpe as soon as the game got going) and the argument might become heated.  Fortunately Frieda Mensch could often in her quiet way contrive to restore peace; she suggested that perhaps, since it was a French game, they should restrict their imaginary shopping to items that could be bought in France.  Joey promptly backed her up, adding that they might adapt the game and play it also in German, buying things obtainable in Innsbruck.  In discussing this the original argument was forgotten.

Earlier that same Wednesday afternoon, while Joey and her fellow Fifth-formers we’re struggling to give their attention to the problems of science, the Grange House party had set off to walk up to the Bärenbad alm.

By now they were becoming quite familiar with Briesau and it’s immediate surroundings.  They had been exploring all through the pine-woods the cluster over the lower slopes of the mountains.  And they had walked right around the Seespitz end of the lake, past Buchau on the opposite shore and up as far as Seehof.  The Gasthaus  there had provided them with coffee and some of the cakes for which it was renowned.

The Bärenbad, at about four thousand, five hundred feet, is one of the smaller mountains in the Tiernsee district.  The Londoners found it an agreeable climb and not difficult.  They were enjoying the way up through the pleasantly scented pine-woods when Pamela Trent suddenly gave the little shriek:

“Goodness gracious heavens!  Did you ever and all your life see anything so enormous?”  She pointed, shuddering, at the ground.

Joan Hatherley, just behind her, stopped dead and looked apprehensively downwards.  The others crowded up; Patricia peered over Joan’s shoulder.  And then Joan hooted with laughter.  “Pamela Trent!  I’d like to strangle you, I really would.  How could you give me a shock like that?  I thought at the very least that you’d seen a hooded cobra.”

“Terribly sorry, Joan.  I didn’t mean to scare you, but – ”

“Well, you must agree that they are jolly enormous,” Patricia said, bending down to get a closer look at some unusually large snails, which were enjoying an afternoon promenade among the tree roots and pine needles.  “I’ve certainly never seen snails as big as that in England.”

They reached the alm with no further alarms.  The air had a deliciously invigorating tang, and everyone was now beginning to feel hungry.  Fortunately they had been warned that that little hut, which sold refreshments during that tourist season, would be closed.  They had brought flasks of coffee with them cakes purchased the previous day at Seehof.

“Shall we have our picnic here Miss Mortlock?” Joan asked.

But before the young games mistress had a chance to reply, Miss Bruce cutting in “No indeed … you must use your common sense, girls … most unwise t sit in this exposed place … don’t want you all catching chill’s … find somewhere  sheltered.”

After a little searching they found a sunny corner, tucked away behind some rocks.  It was a wise precaution for they were all feeling warm after the climb; and the wind, hardly noticeable down at Briesau, could be felt strongly up here.

All around stretched the magnificent panorama of mountains.  Looking southwards, the Zillerthal Alps, bluish-purple in the distance, could be clearly seen; far too clearly for there to be any likelihood of the good weather continuing, though the visitors did not realize this.

“You tend to come back to the same adjectives all the time in this place, don’t you?”  Joan Hatherley leant back lazily against a convenient boulder.  “I’m sure you must all be sick of hearing me say, ‘what a wonderful view’.  I’m quite tired of hearing myself, it just keeps being dragged out of me.

“You mean you’re like a minute gun,” rejoined Patricia, laughing, “set to go off every minute with the delighted exclamation.”  Relaxed and happy, Patricia was lying on her back on the springy grass gazing up into the sky.

“I’ve got a cousin who really is rather like that.”  Pamela Trent was listening, amused.  Every few seconds she breathes, ‘Too, too divine!’  It gets dreadfully monotonous.”

“Talking of adjectives, have you noticed that the Chalet girls hardly ever use slang?”  This was Patricia again.

“I should jolly well think we’ve all noticed that,” answered Joan.  “It seems they have a very strict rule about it.  They don’t want the foreign girls to catch any of our more horrible English slang expressions.  Their games captain, Grizel Cochrane, was telling me about it; she said it made life hard at times. Well, I can imagine being absolutely sunk myself if we’d got the same rule!”  A faint sardonic smile crossed Miss Bruce’s face. She was sitting a few yards away beside Miss Mortlock.  Miss Bruce often had occasion to deplore some of the expressions in use among her pupils, and would have been happy to see a rule against slang at Grange House.

Miss Mortlock looked upon hearing Grizel Cochrane’s name.  “By the way, Veronica,” she said to the Grange House games captain, “have you talked to Grizel yet about the idea of a netball match?”

“Yes, Miss Mortlock, I did say something to her yesterday,” Veronica answered, “and she seemed most awfully bucked about it.  I’m going to write out the challenge when we get back to the hotel this evening, and then I can take it round to the Chalet School.  Is that all right?”

Veronica Cunningham well deserved her position as games captain.  She played tennis, cricket, netball and hockey, all exceptionally well, and was excellent at arranging and organizing the school teams.  However, as sometimes happens, Veronica, instead of taking a legitimate pride in her athletic achievements, had a secret hankering to be considered one of the school’s intellectuals.  She had a habit of making dogmatic pronouncements on subject of which, as her hearers were often aware, she knew very little.  Girls found this side of Veronica intensely irritating at times.  But they all recognized that, with a tennis racket or a hockey stick, Veronica was superb.

The challenge to the Chalet School’s netball Seven, to meet Grange House’s team, was duly delivery that evening, and accepted the next morning.  It was arranged for the match to take place the following Saturday afternoon.

CHAPTER VII

Rain Stops Play

 Unfortunately, the next day it started to rain, at first only moderately but gradually more and more heavily. During most of the day it continued with only short intervals between the showers. And on Friday morning the girls woke up to find the mountains wrapped in blankets of thick mist and the lake barely visible through the haze. The rain was still falling although it had now turned to a steady monotonous drizzle.

In the Yellow dormitory at the Chalet School the girls were consulting Frieda Mensch about the weather prospects. They did not find her forecast very encouraging. Frieda was considered the expert in weather conditions at the Tiernsee, having lived all her life in the neighbourhood. In her opinion, once mist and rain settled down like this, it usually took three or four days before there was any real improvement in the weather.

“This jolly well puts paid to the netball match tomorrow,” Grizel Cochrane commented morosely. She was surveying the misty prospect from a window of the Green dormitory, which was on the top floor of the house, immediately above the “Yellows”. “And it’s the very first chance we’ve ever had to play against another school. What an absolutely beastly, foul shame!”

Bette Rincini, to whom the remarks were addressed, drew her brows sharply together at this use of forbidden slang by a prefect. But, since others were listening, the head girl did not think it diplomatic to draw attention to Grizel’s lapse. Her disapproval was nevertheless plain, and Grizel, seeing it, bit her lip in vexation. Although still thoughtless, Grizel was beginning at last to recognize her responsibilities as both one of the oldest in the school and one who had been longest there. Secretly grateful for Bette’s tactful forbearance, she resolved to be more careful.

“I do not think you need to be so upset, Grizel,” Bette said quietly. “Mam’selle will certainly give permission for the match to be played next week, whenever the rain stops.” Bette then went off to strip her bed in the thorough way demanded by Matron, after which she departed downstairs for Frühstück.

At the Stephanie, the Grange House girls were also discussing the weather rather despondently, over their breakfast in the hotel’s big dining-room. Normally there was a splendid view from here across the lake and mountains but today the prospect looked for all the world like damp cotton-wool, floating against a vaguely green background.

Miss Bruce was beginning to feel rather apprehensive at the prospect of her charges being cooped up in the hotel for a second successive day. While many of the girls were content to spend their time reading, or writing, or just talking, some were apt to become restive when they had no active occupation.

Accordingly, after breakfast, Miss Bruce put on her mackintosh, a sensible felt hat and sensible shoes, and set out to walk the short distance to the Chalet School, where she requested an interview with Mademoiselle Lepâttre.

The two ladies put their heads together, and Miss Bruce told Miss Mortlock the resulting plans when she got back to the Stephanie about forty minutes later.

“Mam’selle Lepâttre agrees with me absolutely … it would be foolish to take the girls out in this weather … most unsafe you know, wandering about unknown places in the mist – nasty accidents sometimes. Mademoiselle does think things may improve slightly by tomorrow.” Here Miss Bruce made an extra long pause and looked out of the window. “Better already, in fact … don’t you think, Doreen?”

The mist had indeed lifted considerably since breakfast time; even the far side of the lake was gradually becoming visible.

“Mam’selle advises us to stay in the house today … must think up some ploy for the girls … prepare something for the party tomorrow … that should keep them occupied.”

Saturday night’s party, to which the Chaletians had invited Grange House, was eagerly awaited by most of the girls. Perhaps some would-be “sophisticates” were a little inclined to be superior about attending a “children’s party”, as they termed it; but these were a small minority and even they were, secretly, more interested than they allowed themselves to appear.

Originally, it had been intended that all the entertainment at the party would be provided by the Chalet girls, the afternoon being taken up with the netball match. However, since the match must obviously be postponed, Mademoiselle and Miss Bruce had agreed to alter the plans and the Grange House girls were now invited to contribute something themselves to the evening’s entertainment.

“Better get the girls together, Doreen … discuss the possibilities … more your line than mine, I think. Any ideas what they might do?”

“Not really, Miss Bruce; but I think it’s a top-hole scheme. I’m sure they’ll think up something.” Miss Mortlock had been longing herself for something definite to do. She went off happily to gather the girls in the hotel sitting-room.

Doreen Mortlock was a pleasant, sensible but rather limited young woman, who held Miss Bruce in considerable awe. She felt herself much nearer to the girls, as indeed she was, being only twenty-two years old. She had qualified the year before at a famous physical training college and the post at Grange House, where the headmistress was never afraid to give young talent a chance, was her first.

She found the girls delighted to have a new interest to take their minds off the dismal weather. And it was surprising how quickly the rest of the morning passed as they hammered away at their plans.

At first there was no lack of ideas, although there seemed to be a snag to all of them.

“What about charades?”

“For goodness sake! Do let’s try and be a little original.”

“A scene from Shakespeare?”

“Wouldn’t that just be a crashing bore?”

“Well, perhaps there’s a short play we could do. There must be something in the Chalet School library.”

“Don’t be dotty! Even if there is, we’ve simply no time to learn it.”

“It’s for tomorrow evening, you ninny, not the middle of next week.”

“Could we have a fair and a gipsy to tell fortunes? That went down well last spring, when the Upper Fifth did it.”

“But that was quite different; we don’t know this lot; fortune-telling’s no fun unless you know people jolly well.”

The suggestions came more slowly. The pauses between them grew longer.

Evelyn Barclay, generally considered Grange House’s best musician, was unwise enough to propose they should sing a group of madrigals. This roused a storm of opposition.

“What an unspeakably ghastly thought!” Patricia said emphatically. “In any case, the Chalet people are pretty expert in that line themselves. Juliet Carrick told me that their singing master, Mr. Denny, is a real genius at getting results, even if he is a bit peculiar himself.”

“They do a lot of folk-dancing too,” said Pamela Trent. “I don’t think it would be wise to try and compete in that line either.”

“Wait a minute, though!” Joan Hatherley broke in excitedly. “An idea’s just beginning to stir in the murky depths of my mind. It mayn’t be any good but just let me think a moment.” Joan gazed round with a calculating air. She turned to two Scottish girls, who were among Grange House’s small contingent of boarders: “You two must know lots of Scottish dances, don’t you? Can you dance the foursome reel?” They nodded; and everyone waited expectantly. “Believe it or not, I can dance a foursome reel myself,” Joan continued. “It was dinned into me painfully last Christmas, when we were staying with friends in Edinburgh. Now it would need only one more person. Does anyone else know the foursome?”

They eyed each other hopefully. No one volunteered. Then, to everyone’s surprise, Miss Mortlock said: “If it would be any help to you, Joan, I can dance a foursome reel; we did a good deal of national dancing at college.”

Joan accepted this offer with alacrity; but the girls were still puzzled.

“I just don’t see what you’re getting at,” complained Veronica Cunningham. “What help is all this foursome reel business going to be? I thought we agreed before that folk-dancing was no go?”

Joan gave her glasses an upward shove; they always tended to slip down her nose when she was concentrating. She wriggled herself into a more comfortable position.

“We know that the Chalet School do a lot of folk-dancing,” she said slowly. “But they do specialize mostly in English dances; I’m pretty sure they haven’t done any Scottish dancing. And, in any case, if I can work out my little scheme, the dancing will only be one small part of the whole thing. Now, Patricia, you’ve got a kilt with you, haven’t you? Yes, I saw you wearing it the other day. You’re about the right height too … Mmm …” Her voice trailed off. She gave herself up to silent but obviously furious thinking. Eventually the others protested that they couldn’t bear to wait any longer, and Joan, with a laughing apology, began to outline her plan. Her friends listened with growing approval. Joan’s idea was certainly more original than any suggested so far, and had the added merit of being practical: it would include them all, but no one person would have to memorize much in the short time before tomorrow evening.

“If I can just get a couple of hours’ peace this afternoon I’ll get something strung together,” Joan promised. “It won’t be anything marvelous, in fact it’ll probably be dire; but it’ll give us something to start on. You can easily alter the details.”

Joan always tended to underestimate her own capabilities. She would have been astonished to know that Miss Bruce regarded her as the most promising pupil in the Sixth form’s advanced English group.

They were still deep in discussion when Frau Dobler appeared at the door to tell them lunch would be ready in five minutes; and, at Miss Mortlock’s suggestion, they all hurried off to make themselves tidy.

CHAPTER IX

Gertrud Has An Idea

 

Meanwhile the Chalet School was also humming with plans for the party.  On the Friday morning Mademoiselle had announced that there would be no afternoon lessons that day.  Instead, during the afternoon they would have the two hours’ preparation that usually followed Kaffee und Kuchen.  This would allow everyone to have the whole evening free to help with the party arrangements.

After the coffee cups and the baskets in which the sweet bread-twists and cakes were served had been cleared away, the Middles and Seniors settled themselves down to listen to Bette Rincini.

“As I expect you all realize,” the head-girl began, in the almost perfect English that Joan Hatherley had admired so much, “the netball match planned for tomorrow must be postponed.  So Mam’selle has decided that in the afternoon we shall give a short concert for our visitors.  The girls who are to perform at this concert have already been told.” Vvarious people exchanged speaking glances.  “Our choir will also take part in the program, and Mr. Denny will be coming here tomorrow morning, immediately after Guides, to rehearse the songs with us.”

“I say, Bette, isn’t there going to be any sort of real party entertainment?” This was, of course, the irrepressible Evadne.

Margia dug her elbow disapprovingly into Evadne’s ribs and Joey hissed: “For goodness’ sake, pipe down, Evvy; she’s just going to tell us about it.”

Evadne subsided and the head girl went on: “We prefects are going to organize a competition, and we hope, please, that you will help us.  It is Gertrud’s idea.  She’s going to explain it in a moment, but first there are several things we need.  How many of you have pocket torches?”

A great many hands shot up, but when Bette added, with a smile, “They must be in good working order,” several people looked at each other ruefully and dropped their hands.

“Now, let me see … Frieda, Marie and Elisaveta, if we may borrow your torches, please will you go now and fetch them.  We already have two and that should be enough.” She turned to Rosalie Dene, one of the prefects. “Rosalie, will you take Joey and Simone with you and fetch those boxes we prepared before Kaffee?”

Rosalie nodded and went off upstairs to the prefects’ room, followed by the two Fifth-formers.  Both went very willingly , Joey because she enjoyed helping to get things going, and Simone because she always wanted to do everything Joey did.

The three who had gone to the dormitories to find their torches were soon back, breathless after running both ways.  Running in the passages or on the stairs was sternly discouraged at the Chalet School, but luckily they had not been noticed.

A few moments later, Rosalie, Jo and Simone reappeared, each carrying a cardboard box.  These they put down on one of the large tables in the room.  The girls immediately came crowding round, eager to see if the contents would afford a clue to what was coming.

However, the mystery only deepened when Simone took a large role of white paper out of her box, and Joey an equally large role of black paper from hers.  Rosalie’s box proved to contain a strange assortment of objects, including a great many pencils, several pairs of scissors, a pot of glue and the two torches Bette had mentioned.

A tremendous noise arose as they tried vainly to guess at Gertrud’s idea.  The Middles were, as always, particularly vociferous.  Bette quickly called them to order; but not before Grizel Cochrane had been heard saying sarcastically that, of course, if they really want one of the mistresses to come and stop the meeting all together, they had only to go on shouting and preferably just a little louder.

When a decent silence was restored, Gertrud, a distinct twinkle in her eye, said solemnly, “We are going to have an exhibition of silhouette portraits.” She laughed at the many completely mystified expressions.  “You will understand when we show you.  First, we must have the shutters closed and the lights on.  Then if you will clear this corner of the room and all go and stand over there, Bette is going to be our first model.”

Two of the prefects had been cutting a large rectangular piece from the role of white paper.  They now attached this to the wall withdrawing pins.  Bette seated herself on a chair, placed sideways on to the wall and close to the white paper.  Grizel picked up one of the torches and, when Gertrud had signaled that she was ready, another prefect put out the lights.  The result was dramatic and was greeted with an appreciative gasp.

Grizel was directing the beam of the torch in such a way that Bette’s shadow was thrown, black and sharp, onto the white paper on the wall.  There was a faint murmur from the watching girls as one or two began to understand something of the plan.

Gertrud took a pencil and traced rapidly round the outline of Bette’s profile.  The lights were switched on again.  Black paper was pasted on the back of the pencil sketch and then Gertrud cut very carefully with scissors around the pencil outline.  The cut-out, when reversed, was seen to be a black silhouette of Bette’s head and shoulders; it looked very effective when finally mounted on a fresh piece of white paper.

Admiring comments poured from all sides.  Everyone agreed the portrait was most successful and a good likeness of the sitter.

Bette, however, did not allow them to waste time in talking.  There was a lot to do, as it was intended that everyone’s likeness should be taken.  They would now be formed into groups, so as to get this done as quickly as possible.

“What would you like me to do, Gertrud?” asked Joey. “I’m not too marvelous a drawing, you know.” This caused considerable mirth, for Jo’s drawing was bad enough to be notorious.

“It does not really need much drawing skill, Joey,” Gertrud answered, quite seriously, “but perhaps it will be better if you help with pasting, as we need many people for that.  Now, we will divide into four teams and one must go next door in the small classroom.  Bette, would you take your team there, or shall I?  ”

“Oh, I will go, Gertrud; it is better that you stay and help all those in here.” Bette quickly chose her helpers and departed.

For the next hour and three-quarters the girls worked away with a will and, ten minutes before Abendessen, all the portraits were finished.  Each bore the sitter’s name on the back, to avoid any future confusion.  Gertrud had meanwhile been busy compiling a mysterious list of names and numbers, which did not appear to be in any particular order.

They had all forgotten, for the moment, that Bette had originally announced a competition.  It was not until they had almost finished tidying the classroom that Joey remembered this.  The prefects were immediately besieged with questions: what would the competition entail?  How would it be run?  But they declined firmly to give any more information.

“It’s a shame not to include the mistresses,” Joey said suddenly.  “Couldn’t you persuade them to join in, Bette?”

“We have thought of that, and Miss Durrant has very kindly offered to do portraits of all the staff; also of the juniors,” Bette informed her.

“How absolutely splendid! ” pronounced Joey. “Now we’ll have to the whole Chalet School in our portrait gallery.  I say, I am looking forward to tomorrow; what you think the Grange House lot are going to produce for us?”

CHAPTER X

The Chalet School Concert

“Can you move along the row, please?” Veronica Cunningham was, to her intense embarrassment, late in arriving for Saturday afternoon’s concert. Veronica always made a point of being ready in good time, but she had been unlucky enough to trip just as the Grange House party was setting out from the Stephanie. The result had been a large hole with a rapidly spreading ladder in her best silk stockings. She had been obliged to rush back upstairs to her bedroom in order to find and change into another pair.

When, eventually, she arrived at the hall, the concert had already begun. The audience was enjoying a lovely three-part setting of “O Swallow, Flying South!”, sung by the Chalet School Seniors and Middles, with a beauty of tone and phrasing that did great credit to their singing master, the eccentric Mr Denny. This was followed by “Oh, How Should I Your True Love Know?” and, as a complete contrast, the lively “Newcastle Dance”. Then the choir left the platform in an orderly line and went to swell the audience, while Mr Denny went to join the rest of the staff who, with Miss Bruce and Miss Mortlock, were sitting in the front two rows.

“That was terrific!” Joan Hatherley had been clapping away appreciatively.

“Well, I told you they would be pretty good,” replied Patricia. “Oh, sorry, Veronica! Yes of course, do sit here, push along one seat, everyone.”

They all hastily moved up and Veronica slid into the vacant place, just as Margia Stevens came on to the platform and sat down at the grand piano.

Veronica had not, of course, heard the announcements at the beginning of the programme, when the audience were told the name of the three choral items, and that these would be followed by Chopin’s “Fantasie-Impromptu”. Unfortunately, from her own point of view, she was always rashly confident of her musical knowledge. As Margia played the first swirling bars, those nearest Veronica were startled to hear her murmer, “Ah, Mozart!” with an air of authority and wisdom.

Joan and Patricia, each unluckily catching the other’s eye, were seized with an almost overwhelming desire to giggle. Joan bit her lips fiercely, the thought going through her mind, “Even I would know this wasn’t Mozart”, while Patricia, holding her breath, with eyes tight shut, was thinking that poor old Veronica invariably managed to give herself away.

The compulsion to giggle faded away as they listened to the music. Margia played extraordinarily well for a thirteen-year-old. Herr Anserl had the reputation for being a hard task-master and remorselessly critical, but for the right pupil he was an inspiring teacher, and the Chopin piece suited Margia excellently. Although her hands were still small, her well-trained fingers easily tackled the brilliant opening and closing sections; and she played the central episode with not only romantic warmth but also a refreshing simplicity often lacking in performances of this well-known piece.

The applause afterwards was enthusiastic and prolonged. Margia had to come back twice and execute the sketchy little bow that was all she could ever manage in this line, despite all Mademoiselle’s coaching.

The Grange House girls would have like to hear more about Margia, but the Junior Choir was already making its way on to the platform and the questions had to be left until later.

Looking by turns touchingly solemn and unselfconsciously joyful, the Juniors were a huge success with their two contrasting folk-songs, one English and one German. The audience adored them.

Joan Hatherley did think with some amusement that no human children, surely, could be quite so good as these small Chaletians appeared to be. But, of course, singing did seem to produce this effect: it could even make choirboys look angelic … and everyone knew what absolute horrors they often were. No such cynical though troubled Pamela, who was enchanted with the little group and hoped she might soon get the opportunity to know some of them better.

The remaining items in the programme were enjoyable but not in any way remarkable, with the exception of a delightful French song about the shepherd Colin and his pretty Colinette, sung by Joey Bettany. Jo’s voice was beautifully clear and true and gave promise of a golden roundness, somehow unexpected in slightly-built Joey, who looked even less than her fifteen years.

The concert came to a rousing finish with one of Moszkowski’s Spanish Dances for piano duet, and the girls left the hall in a deafening burst of conversation.

“I say, that pianist girl’s an absolute genius,” enthused Evelyn Barclay to Bette and Gertrud as they made their way back to the school for Kaffee und Kuchen.  “And only thirteen, too!” Evelyn herself was quite a promising pianist and the star performer at Grange House, but she was generously ready to acknowledge Margia’s unusual gifts.

Veronica, unwilling to be left out of a musical discussion, chimed in: “Why, she must be good enough for Advanced. Has she taken it yet?”

This remark completely baffled Bette and Gertrud, who had never met the expression before and were quite unaware of the importance attached at Grange House to passing music examinations. “Please,” Gertrud asked politely, “what is Advanced?” And this, in its turn, disconcerted Veronica, for she, like certain others among the girls, tended to regard examination grades as the only standard by which to measure any performer’s ability.

Luckily Grizel Cochrane had just caught up with the group and was able to solve the mystery. “Advanced is the name of a music exam,” she explained. “It’s the highest grade, as far as I remember. I’d have had a shot at it if I’d stayed on at Taverton, but we don’t do music exams here. I shouldn’t think Herr Anserl’s ever heard of them. (And she couldn’t help wondering to herself whether “Väter Bär” might not have dismissed the whole idea as “Rubbish” – one of his few English words, which he always pronounced “Rob-beesh” with a machine-gun roll of preliminary “r”s.)

“I say, let’s get a move on,” Grizel briskly changed the subject. “Everyone’s getting miles ahead of us.”

“What’s happened to Patricia?” Joan Hatherley looked round as they reached the door of the chalet. “She seems to have disappeared.”

“That the tall thin one, sitting between you and Veronica?” Grizel enquired. “I think she stayed behind in the hall, talking to Miss Denny for some reason. Does she know her?”

“Oh, yes,” Joan assured her. “They met in London, you know. Patricia probably wanted to ask about that friend of hers – the one who came from here. Sorry, I’m so hopeless at remembering names. Something like Catterick?”

“You must mean Juliet Carrick,” Grizel said. “Yes, of course. And I believe Miss Denny had a letter from Juliet quite recently. She’ll be able to give Patricia all the latest news. Right, then – it’s this way. Please follow me.”

Today Kaffee und Kuchen was being served in the Chalet School’s big Speiseaal to allow room for the extra numbers. At the door the visitors stopped dead for a moment, struck by the display of black-and-white pictures that had been pinned up round the room. The silhouette portraits, each of which now bore a large number in the bottom left-hand corner, had been placed at about eye level and covered a large area of the wall.

“You see,” Joey explained to a group of the visitors, as she helped to hand round cups of milky coffee and baskets of delicious creamy cakes, “after Kaffee we’ll be allowed a certain time to go round and identify as many of the portraits as we can.”

“Well, that’s all very well for you Chaletians,” Joan Hatherley said good-humouredly. “But what about us? For one thing, we don’t know many of your names, and for another we don’t even know some of you by sight yet.”

Joey grinned. “That would seem just a little unfair, wouldn’t it? But we’ll all be competing in pairs. Each of you will have one of us as a partner, to help you. In any case that’s only the first round of the competition. You’ll get your special chance in the second round; we shan’t be eligible for that. By the way, we’re all dying to know what you people are doing at the party this evening?” Joey, head on one side, looked round enquiringly; but the visitors only laughed an refused to give away any secrets.

CHAPTER XI

Shadow Portraits

 

When the coffee was finished and no one could be persuaded to eat even one more crumb of cake, the prefects arranged the competitors into pairs and handed out pencils and paper.

While the girls walked slowly round the exhibition gazing earnestly at the shadow pictures and industriously filling up their lists, a comparative quiet reigned. It was broken only by the whispered consultations between partners and occasionally smothered giggles, when someone suggested a particularly unlikely identification.

Jo had asked if she might be Patricia’s partner and when the had completed the rounds they retired to the big classroom next door, to rewrite their list. This was at Patricia’s suggestion. Joey’s knowledge of the school was obviously a tremendous asset but her list, written in a series of contorted squiggles, was almost illegible. Patricia felt that a fair copy would improve their chances.

“What on earth is this name at number 22, Jo?” she asked, as she sat at Joey’s desk, transcribing the list in her neat script. “Oh, I’ve got it, I think it must be ‘Marie von Eschenau’, is that right? Now, she’s the simply gorgeous-looking girl in you form, who sat next to us at tea-time – Kaffee, I mean – isn’t she?”

Jo nodded and Patricia wrote in Marie’s name carefully. “At least this gives me a chance of getting to know some of your names,” she said. “But, oh, glory be! Now I really am stuck. Surely there can’t possibly be anyone called ‘Pa Laven Rot’?”

Joey, with a disbelieving snort, leant over to scan her untidy original. “Oh, that’s Paula von Rothenfels,” she said, unabashed. “I only put the ‘Rot’ part of Rothenfels; perhaps it does look a bit weird. I say, you’ve got jolly good writing, Patricia. My sister always says that doctors have illegible fists; perhaps you’re going to prove her wrong.”

“I wish I thought I’d get the chance to prove anything at all in that direction,” Patricia said grimly; and Jo, remembering the promise she had given her sister, hastened to turn the conversation.

“By the way, Patricia, is it all right for the weekend of the 25th? I’m supposed to let my sister know by tomorrow who’ll be coming.”

Patricia’s face lit up. “Oh, yes, Joey; Miss Bruce has given me permission and I’d simply love to come. Sorry I forgot to say anything before; and please will you thank your sister for the invitation, it’s most awfully kind of her.”

Patricia finished writing the list; and when she and Jo rejoined the others in the Speisesaal they found the prefects had now prepared the second round of the competition. This was a test in quick observation. It had been designed specially for the Grange House girls and did not require knowledge of any names. The visitors were given chairs while they waited, wondering what was coming. The Chaletians gathered round, eager to see the fun.

“Gee, am I glad I don’t have to do this part!” Evadne whispered to Margia. “I guess it’s going to be just about impossible, don’t you?” But Margia, busy watching to proceedings, was not listening.

Eighteen of the shadows had been taken down from the walls, and the eighteen girls represented thereon given certain instructions. First, three prefects, standing at one end of the room, each held up one of the selected portraits; these were, of course, carefully numbered. The Grange House girls were given one minute to look at the pictures; during this time the appropriate three Chaletians were silently taking up positions at the far end of the room. At a given signal the competitors turned round and could gaze for the next minute at these three girls, standing in profile, each identified by a letter A, B or C pinned to her shoulder. Then the three slipped quickly out of the room, and one more precious minute was allowed for a last look at the pictures. Finally, the competitors had to write down the letters and numbers they thought should go together.

“Dearie me – if only we could be seeing the people and the pictures at the same time, even for a second, it wouldn’t be so hard,” Pamela Trent groaned.

“Oh, hush, for goodness’ sake, I’m trying to concentrate.” This was Joan Hatherley, her eyebrows performing gymnastics and her face twisted in  mock agony.

Beside her, Evelyn Barclay was heard muttering: “Help! Whatever was that number on the left?”

“You can just be thankful we didn’t keep to our original plan,” Rosalie Dene assured them blandly. “We were going to show you six pictures at a time but Miss Durrant – she teaches us art – said that would make things too difficult.”

At this there were hoots of derision from the suffering competitors. And the competition continued to the accompaniment of their moans and the ripples of mirth from the onlookers.

Eventually, all six rounds were completed and the papers collected for scrutiny. Mademoiselle Lepâttre, with the staff and the visiting mistresses, had been watching the proceedings with not a little amusement. She stood up now to tell them that the winners’ names would be announced after Abendessen. “After that we shall go the hall, where our visitors are most kindly going to give us a short entertainment; and that will be followed by dancing for everyone.”

The shadow portraits were still decorating the walls of the Speisesaal when the two schools, now in party array and laughing and talking with holiday freedom, filed in and sat down to the splendid banquet the Chalet School kitchen staff had prepared. Bowls of delicious spicy soup were followed by cold veal and mixed salads, so beautifully arranged that it seemed almost a pity to disturb them … not that anyone allowed this to deter her. Then there was Blaubeeren Torte with whipped cream, and finally plates of Viennese honey-and-nut biscuits. To drink there were jugs of homemade orange and lemonade.

“Do you remember gathering blueberries – you and me and the Robin – last summer?” Elisaveta asked Joey across the table.

“Rather!” Joey answered, as she tucked into her plateful with relish. “And I shouldn’t wonder if we’re eating some of them now; I know Marie bottled lots and lots.”

“Well, it may not be considered good manners to talk about food,” Pamela Trent murmured to Grizel, “but, oh golly! What a scrumptious spread!”

“There’s only one thing worrying me.” Joan Hatherley sat back for a moment and beamed at them all. “And that’s the thought of plunging straight into our little dramatic effort, whatever you might like to call it. At the beginning of it we are ‘discovered’, as they say, at dinner. And I don’t know if I can bear to look at even a pretence meal after all this!”

Several people glanced up instantly, questions hovering on their lips; but at this moment a signal was given for silence and Mademoiselle Lepâttre invited Bette Rincini to tell them the results of the competition.

Looking extremely pretty in the brown velveteen dress that was the Chalet School’s official evening wear, Bette began her announcement saying that three prizes would be awarded in each of the two sections.

The first prize for identifying the silhouette portraits went to Patricia Davidson and Jo Bettany. Patricia, with a smug expression, whispered to Joey that this must be “entirely due to the excellent handwriting”. The second prize was awarded to Evelyn Barclay and Frieda Mensch; and the third prize, which had been specially reserved for the Juniors, to Amy Stevens and Berta Hamel.

In the second part of the competition the successful Grange House girls were Pamela Trent, Dilys Gainsborough and Priscilla Doughty-Smythe, the two latter being clever but quiet girls, who had not as yet made much impression on the Chaletians.

Gertrud Steinbrücke was surprised and delighted to receive a special prize for her hard work in planning and running the competition. Another surprise came when Evadne Lannis was called out with mock solemnity to receive a prize as “the person whose picture had been most often wrongly identified”. It may have been that Evadne, never renowned for sitting still, had moved while her likeness was being taken. Certainly it held the record in that no one had guessed it correctly as hers; the varying persons ranged from Inga Erikson, a small Junior, to Matron Lloyd. Evadne was at first inclined to be indignant about the whole thing and said that they were all “real mean”; but she was mollified when she received the charming little leather purse that was her consolation prize.

Once the announcements were finished, no time was lost in transferring everyone to the hall for the rest of the evening’s entertainment. The Grange House girls, in an atmosphere of mounting nervous tension went off to the little green room beside the stage, there to change into a variety of borrowed costumes. The Chaletians sat waiting expectantly in the hall.

CHAPTER XII

Grange House Entertains

 

Inside the green room confusion reigned.  “Whatever has become of my shawl?  It was here a moment ago.”  Pamela Trent looked round accusingly.  “Fiona MacAndrew, you outrageous girl, I believe that’s mine you’ve got on.  Oh, well, never mind, I’ll bag this one.”

“Do get a move on, everyone,”  Joan admonished them.  “They’re waiting.”

“Oh, dear, I feel like death,”  moaned Veronica in somewhat affected tones.  “I know what I’m going to forget my lines.”

“For heaven’s sake, Veronica!”  exploded Joan.  “You really are an ass!  If you can’t remember the words it doesn’t matter.  Just make them up; it’s not Shakespeare, after all.  Now listen to me, all of you.  Nobody expects anything miraculous from us; they know it’s only a very simple affair, got up on the spur of the moment, so let’s just try and enjoy ourselves; then perhaps they’ll enjoy the two.  Dancers, do you remember your cue from moving forward to begin the foursome?  Because that really is important.”  Here Joan looked witheringly at Veronica.

Her brisk words had the right effect.  The tension relaxed almost visibly.  Pamela Trent, following Joan’s lead, said conversationally to Patricia, “I say, you’ve do look rather gorgeous in that get-up.  Shall I help you with the cloak?  And what about your hair?”

The minute they were ready, Joan whisked them onto the stage and checked that each was in her proper place.  Meanwhile, Evelyn Barcley had gone to the piano; she now began to play a Jacobite tune, “Wha Wad’na Fecht for Charlie?”, and the curtains parted to show a group of people wearing what was clearly intended for Highland dress.  The Grange House girls had begged, borrowed and make use of everything tartan they could lay their hands on, including two tartan rugs from Miss Bruce and Miss Maynard, and a tablecloth, in what a leading Paris store called “Ecossaise”, belonging to Mademoiselle Lepattre.

Joan’s little play was extremely simple and had been arranged to fulfill two purposes: first, it was to provide a setting where a performance of the foursome real would arise naturally from the story; then, at the end, it was two lead into an evening of dancing for all those present in the hall.

She had found her slender plot in a tale about the romantic figure of the Young Pretender, Bonnie Prince Charlie.

On stage, as the music faded, the group of Highland ladies and gentlemen, who were sitting at the table, eating, drinking and conversing gaily, could be heard talking of the day’s hunting.  The hostess was regretting that all the guests must depart on the morrow.

Suddenly there came a loud knocked the door, and two servants rushed to open it.  A lady in grand clothes, who turned out to be the Lady Morag Seton (Joan had been careful to check that all the names she gave her characters were those of families who had supported Prince Charles) entered the room; she was followed by a tall figure, completely enveloped in a long dark cloak, whom she referred to as her serving made, Betty.  Lady Morag took a chair on the far side of the table from the audience; the serving-maid went and stood self-effacingly behind the chair, head bowed.

Lady Morag, an old friend of the hostess, explained how they had been stranded through an accident to one of their horses; she was immediately invited to stay for the night. More “wine” was brought to the table and the glasses refilled.

The conversation now turned to the subject of Prince Charles, who for many months past had been in hiding, pursued by the English. A pretty young girl, Alison Cameron (played by Pamela Trent), told how there was a reward of thirty thousand pounds offered to anyone assisting in the Prince’s capture. This was the signal for the character Veronica was playing to make the second of her two short remarks. Anxious that it should tell, she enunciated very slowly in her clearest First Eleven tones: “Thirty thousand pounds! Why, that sum would be a great … I mean, a fortune,” she paused, “for a poor MAN!”

The upper-crust English voice rang round the hall. Veronica sat back, beaming, obviously relieved that the great moment was past.

The next speaker was visibly shaken. Katherine Blake was renowned for her propensity to giggle uncontrollably; but Joan glared at her with such malevolence that she managed to keep going, though with a distinct wobble in her voice. Managing somehow to suppress their mirth, the others chimed in, agreeing that, although the Highlanders were desperately poor, they would never betray their Prince.

Suddenly Lady Morag turned round to the dark figure, still standing deferentially behind her, and said fervently: “Your Highness, there is no further need of this disguise. We are all true friends here.”

Sometimes the simplest effects are the most telling. There was a warm round of applause from the audience when the serving-maid threw off the huge dark cloak with a splendid gesture, and stood revealed in Highland dress, as Prince Charles Edward himself.

Patricia was the proud possessor of a real kilt, as Joan had remembered when making her plans. It had been a seventeenth birthday gift from her godfather in Scotland, who had had it made to measure for her by a leading Edinburgh firm. Her black velvet doublet was adapted from an evening jacket of Miss Bruce’s, and her splendid white lace ruffles came from the Chalet School theatrical costume box. Her hair had been curled and tied back with a velvet ribbon and, although Patricia had no great acting ability, she looked extremely handsome and regal as she stood to receive the loyal respects of her subjects.

When a toast had been drunk, Lady Morag asked that some of the guests should dance to entertain the Prince. This was the signal for the two couples who were to dance the foursome reel to take their places at the front of the stage and for Evelyn Barclay to begin playing a Strathspey tune.

On stage, Bonnie Prince Charlie and his followers watched the dancers with gracious interest, occasionally turning to make a remark to each other. The real audience in the hall sat silent, completely enthralled by the colourful spectacle and the lilting rhythm of the music. In the foursome reel, the graceful interweaving figures that characterize the Strathspey sections have been likened to a ship in full sail. These sections alternate with the wild vitality of the reel proper, and the dance is a delight to watch as well as exciting to perform. There was no doubt of its great success with the audience that night. They applauded vigorously, and, when the dancers had acknowledged the more restrained plaudits of the stage audience, they had to turn and bow to those in the hall many times. When eventually the clapping died down, Prince Charles stood up and, with the particularly charming smile that belonged to Patricia but fitted the princely role so well, thanked the dancers graciously for their merry entertainment.

Then, coming to stand in the middle of the stage, the Prince, with a gesture that included the audience as well as the players, said in ringing tones: “And now, my dear friends, let us all join in the dancing!”

The Prince offered “his” arm to Lady Morag and, over the strains fo the well-known air, “Come o’er the Stream, Charlie”, the couple led the rest of the players, in graceful procession, down the steps from the stage and into the audience. The miniature play was at an end, and dancing now began for the whole company.

Evelyn Barclay at the piano quickened the tempo of “Come o’er the Stream, Charlie”, which despite its Scottish origin makes an excellent Viennese waltz; and, as soon as the chairs had been stacked in a corner of the hall, every girl was ready to accept Bonnie Prince Charlie’s invitation and throw herself joyfully into dancing.

There were a great many extremely tired people by bedtime that night; but it was generally agreed to have been one of the best parties ever held at either school.

CHAPTER XIII

Conflict

On the following Monday good weather at last returned to Briesau. It had still been dull on the Sunday, although not actually wet. Now the sun shone gloriously and, for the first time, the visitors saw the Tiernsee looking just as blue as it did in the brightly coloured paintings that were prominently displayed in the hotel dining-room.

But for Patricia, this was not a happy day. She had awakened that morning with a slight headache – something she would normally have managed to forget as the day’s interests absorbed her. But a letter from her mother was waiting on the breakfast table and it plunged her into deep gloom. The well-meaning attempts of her friends to offer comfort were unavailing. Patricia did not so much reject as seem unaware of them.

When eleven o’clock came and the Grange House girls were about ot set off for the Chalet School, where the postponed netball match was to be played at 11.30, Patricia sought out Miss Bruce. The dull ache in her head seemed now to have become a fiery storm and she asked for permission to remain behind.

“If I could just take a quiet walk in the fresh air and then lie down for a bit, I’m sure I’d feel all right,” she said in matter-of-fact tones, belied by her unhappy expression.

One look at the white face convinced Miss Bruce that Patricia had a real need of solitude. She did not altogether like leaving the girl alone, but realized she was unlikely to come to any harm. So she gave the necessary permission, stipulating only that Patricia should not walk beyond the fence enclosing Briesau and that she must promise, if her headache were not improved by the afternoon, to consult the Chalet School matron about it.

It seemed unnaturally quiet in the hotel after the girls had departed and Patricia was glad to get outside into the sunshine. As Miss Bruce had not restricted her to any particular part of Briesau, she turned first of all away from the lake, taking a path she did not know that led in the direction of the valley. She passed a big chalet, its walls painted with colourful frescos; beside the house a few cows were grazing contentedly, their bells dingdonging in the stillness. The autumn had been so mild that most of the herds were still on the alms high above the valley, where they always go during the summer. Patricia did not know this and she did wonder fleetingly why there were so few cows to be seen, but it was only the most passing thought, for her mind was bitterly occupied with her own affairs.

During the weeks abroad there had been so many new interests, so many people to meet and places to see, that she had given little thought to her everyday life. Now she was learning the hard lesson that while people and circumstances may be left behind, sometimes even forgotten, your problems will inevitably catch up with you.

It was not that her mother’s letter contained anything that was in itself shattering. But underneath the recital of trivialities there lurked the assumption that Patricia would soon return to begin the life of a society debutante. This was so confidently taken for granted that it gave her a feeling of helplessness. It was like being trapped and suffocated in a sea of candy-floss.

The letter began with a catalogue of complaints about a manicurist who had been inconsiderate enough to go off and get married, leaving her clients abandoned. Lady Davidson had continued:

I saw your cousin Philippa at the Baxter-Baddeleys’ fork luncheon last Tuesday. I find poor Philippa really very plain but her dress was quite charming. Her mother tells me they have an excellent new French dressmaker. I think she sounds just the person to make your presentation dress. So I have made arrangements for her to see you the minute you get back. Of course she charges the absolute earth, but for something so important it will be worthwhile. We shall have to get something done about your hair. I suppose a Marcel wave will be the only answer as it is so straight. It is really too tiresome that you won’t be home till Christmas. I have so many other arrangements to make for you, and now I can do nothing until January.

“It isn’t quite so bad while I’m still at school,” Patricia thought as she continued drearily along the path, “but once I’ve left, what, oh, what shall I do?”

Heedless of where she was going, she let her feet take her where they would and, after some minutes’ blind wandering, found she had come round in a half-circle and was now behind the Kron Prinz Karl, standing beside the little whitewashed church. On impulse she tried the door; when it opened, she went inside.

The church was utterly simple and had no pretensions to beauty, although the frescos on the wall had a certain naïve charm. But within it there was, unmistakably, a feeling of peace. Patricia would not have though of herself as a religious person; nevertheless she sat very still for quite five minutes, absorbing from the tranquil atmosphere something she could sense although she could not have described it. Her troubles did not seem any less, but suddenly it felt more possible to cope with them.

Back at the hotel she met the proprietor’s wife in the hall. Miss Bruce had told Frau Dobler of Patricia’s indisposition, and the kindly Austrian woman was most anxious to know how the young lady was feeling and whether she would now be going to join “die andere Fräulein” at the school. When Patricia replied that she would prefer to go and lie down for a while, Frau Dobler immediately offered to bring up some soup and rolls in an hour’s time, and Patricia accepted gratefully.

All this time her friends in the two schools had been engaged in a tremendous combat on the netball court. There was a good-sized crowd to watch the game, including the Grange House girls not playing in their team and most of the Chalet School Seniors, Middles and staff. The London girls, captained by Veronica Cunningham, had produced a most efficient team; they had been lucky in that all but one of their First Seven were in the group visiting Austria. The Chalet School Seven, who also played extremely well, were having to work their hardest not to be outclassed.

The visitors had the advantage in height and reach; four of their team were tall, topping their opposite numbers in the Chalet team by as much as two or three inches. However, the Chaletians were very quick on their feet, their passing was good, and both Grizel Cochrane and Marie von Eschenau were excellent at shooting.

The score at half-time had been ten goals to eight in favour of the visitors. Then a hard-fought round at the beginning of the second half brought the Chaletians’ score up to nine and they were now, in an atmosphere of tense excitement, doing their utmost to get the vital goal that would make the score level and bring them a chance to draw ahead.

At this dramatic moment Margia Stevens, released at last from the piano, arrived breathlessly to remind Vanna di Ricci that Herr Anserl was expecting her in five minutes for a lesson. Margia had been rather resentful that, because of her lesson, she had been obliged to miss more than half of the long-awaited match. Indeed she had even asked Mademoiselle Lepâttre if she might be allowed to have the lesson some other time. Mademoiselle sympathized with her disappointment, but said firmly that while she, as headmistress, was quite at liberty to rearrange the girls’ schoolwork, it was out of the question to ask their distinguished visiting piano professor to waste his time without a pupil. Mademoiselle also pointed out that for Margia music was the most important subject in the curriculum; and that, moreover, courtesy demanded she attend the lesson, for which Herr Anserl, by no means a young man, had made a long steep journey on foot all the way up from Spärtz.

“You’d better get a move on, Vanna,” Margia urged the pretty Italian girl, in a loud stage whisper. “Vater Bär is in a jolly fierce mood this morning. He made me go pounding away at exercises and studies for simply hours and only let me have about five minutes at the end for my new piece. And even then he kept bawling at me to go back and play the first line over and over again. I don’t want to hear the words ‘noch einmal’ again for at least a hundred years.”

Vanna departed with a rueful expression, caused not so much by having to miss the netball match as by a lively dread of the temperamental fireworks she anticipated during her lesson.

“What’s the score, somebody?” Margia demanded, settling herself down among the Middles. All eyes were on the court, where Jo Bettany, playing at centre for the Chalet School, had just managed to intercept a ball intended for her opposite number, Pamela Trent. Jo passed swiftly to Evadne, the Chalet’s attacking centre; then, neatly dodging Pamela, she ran unexpectedly up the court in the direction of their own goal. This was part of a strategy they had practiced under Grizel’s tuition, and the others rapidly fell into their positions. Joey caught the ball returned by Evadne and sent it with a long high throw right down to Marie von Eschenau, playing at goal attack. Marie, anticipating this, had eluded the vigilance of the Grange House Defence for a moment; the ball passed swiftly, from Marie to Grizel, to Deira O’Hagen and back to Marie, who now prepared to shoot. The watching Chaletians crossed their fingers, for Marie was only just inside the circle. No one had time to be interested in appearances at this tense moment but Marie, the acknowledged beauty of the Chalet School, did look very lovely as she stood, rosy from exertion and concentration, measuring with her eye the distance to the goal. She took careful aim. For one long moment the Chaletians were literally holding their breaths. Then a loud cheer broke out, in which the Grange House party also joined, as the ball dropped, clean and true, right through the net.

“Oh, well played, Marie!” Grizel fervently congratulated her attack. “Jolly well played!” As they resumed their positions she gazed round the team, eyes flashing, trying to will them into surpassing themselves. “Ten all! I know we can do it,” she muttered under her breath. “I know we can! Buckle to, everyone, and we’ll just show them!”

But the victory was not, after all, to be theirs. Both teams were now on their mettle, and the spectators were treated to some very lively and skilful play as the Chaletians fought desperately to get into the lead. In spite of all their efforts, the more experienced team gradually drew ahead. Veronica Cunningham, Grange House’s goal shooter, seemed to be under a spell that made her unable to miss; no sooner was the ball in her hands than another goal was scored. And Kirsty Robertson, the Grange House attack, was nearly as skilful. The two made a formidable pair, and just after Veronica had yet again shot successfully for her team, the whistle blew. Time was up; and the final result was a victory for Grange House of seventeen goals to twelve.

Grizel immediately called for three hearty cheers for Grange House, and the Chaletians, including her own breathless and exhausted team, responded with great good will. Veronica’s team gave three cheers for the losers and then Veronica turned to Grizel saying enthusiastically: “Thanks terribly for the marvelous game; I thought your team played simply rippingly.”

The Chalet School games captain determinedly swallowed her disappointment. “Congratulations, Veronica, it was an absolutely topping match and we enjoyed it like anything.”

Then Bette Rincini came forward with some of the other prefects, ready to escort the visitors back to the school where they would be staying for lunch. There was a positive babel of talk as the various groups of girls left the playing field, all chatting away at the tops of their voices.

Joey, looking round the excited throng, became aware for the first time that Patricia was not among them. During the match Joey had not had a single moment to notice anything outside the game; in any case, she had not expected to see Patricia until afterwards, knowing her not to be a member of the netball team.

Now she seized the chance to ask Pamela Trent what had become of her friend. “Poor old Patricia!” she said with feeling, when Pamela briefly explained the situation. “But you don’t think she’s really ill, do you? Was there bad news in the letter? Or do you think something else is worrying her? Where is she now? Can’t we do something to help?”

Pamela could not help laughing at this barrage of questions, but she answered seriously enough: “I don’t think there’s anything we can do at the moment, Joey. Patricia does occasionally get a spell of the ‘miseries’; and usually she prefers to be left alone until she’s shaken herself out of it.”

Pamela looked appraisingly at Joey; she was not sure how far Patricia had confided in the younger girl. Before she could say anything else the rest of the girls had caught up with them; they were swept once more into the general conversation which, naturally was still about the match.

“You know, you’ve no need to worry,” Joan Hatherley was assuring the Chaletians as the noisy procession crossed the garden. “It’ll be your turn when it comes to the hockey match. I should think you’ll simply wipe the field with us them. Probably not one of us will survive to tell the tale!”

CHAPTER XIV

“An Absolutely Topping Day!”

“Well, well, I’d simply never have believed it possible.” Joan Hatherley stared in apparent astonishment out of the dining-room window; it was breakfast-time on the Thursday following the netball match.

“What wouldn’t you?” asked Pamela inelegantly.

“This gorgeous weather, day after day of it.”

“Gosh, yes! Spiffing, isn’t it?”

“Now that, dear girl, is a deplorable expression! Not that I disagree. We jolly well deserve something after last week’s horrors.” But, despite Joan’s forebodings, the spell of fine weather did continue and was to last until almost the end of October. The Londoners were quick to take advantage of it, throwing themselves enthusiastically into a strenuous programme of mountain climbs. First they tackled several of the lesser peaks in the district, and then a proposal was made for an expedition up the Schneebergspitze; a mountain of more than six thousand feet, which stands sentinel a the northern end of Briesau.

When Mademoiselle Lepattre heard of the project, she visited Miss Bruce and advised her most strongly that someone with local knowledge should accompany the group. Although, unlike the great Tiernjoch, the Schneebergspitze was not considered a dangerous climb, the path was not always clearly marked and, in places, was difficult to follow. Mademoiselle suggested they should take as guide Fritzel Pfeifen, whose sister Marie was well known to all the Chalet School, where she had been in charge of domestic affairs until the previous summer.

“Fritzel has lived in this district for all of his life and knows every corner of it,” Mademoiselle assured Miss Bruce. “If he goes with the girls you can feel completely at ease about their safety.”

On the evening before the expedition, Pamela and Joan decided to take a short stroll along the lakeside. They peered up at the Schneebergspitze towering over them in the gathering darkness.

“Golly! It’s quite a monster and no mistake. Do you thing we’re ever going to get all the way up there?” Pamela, a doubtful expression on her face, pointed towards the summit.

“Oh, I suppose so, in the end, if we go on putting one foot in front of the other for long enough.” Joan blinked lazily upwards.

“Sounds like that hymn.”

“What hymn?”

“I can’t remember,” Pamela said vaguely. “It just reminds me of a hymn.”

The following morning the girls set off from the Stephanie in the early morning half-light.

“This is an un-Christian hour to take folks up mountains,” Joan Hatherley complained as the party, in varying states of alertness and otherwise, made its way up the lake-side. “I don’t feel remotely awake.” Certainly Joan’s eyes, behind their round glasses, did look sleepy; but this was their habitual and very misleading expression.

They found Fritzel waiting for them at the first of the silent, deserted landing-stages. From here a few lights were to be seen in the downstairs windows of the Kron Prinz Karl Hotel, but it was still far too early for the few remaining visitors to be up and about.

Fritzel led them, by way of the little plank bridge, across the stream behind the hotel and towards the path they were to take. This was a winding, rugged and narrow track that rose sharply through the pine woods ahead of them. While they were crossing the stream the sunrise was beginning to paint sky, lake and mountains in gold and pink. The girls would gladly have lingered to gaze at the sight, but Fritzel was already starting inexorably up the path, moving at the steady slow-seeming pace of the experienced mountaineer. So they were obliged to plunge into the shadows of the wood and follow him.

“I see our guide has a mind above the beauties of nature,” Joan Hatherley remarked, one eyebrow raised in a characteristically quizzical expression.

“Well, we might all live to be grateful for that.” Patricia glanced upwards, a sparkle of anticipation in her grey eyes. She was looking forward to the difficult climb, both as a challenge to be met and because it was likely to fill her thoughts and exclude personal worries.

Inside the wood it was eerily dark. Then, as the sun rose higher, its rays began to slant through the pines, throwing the tree-trunks into sharply angled relief, and casting a canopy of sunbeams across the path.

At first, there was plenty of talk and laughter, but soon the climbers began to get to grips with the gradient and a comparative silence prevailed.

“Gosh, this is going to be quite a climb,” Joan muttered to Pamela. She received only a nod and a grunt in reply.

Their route was probably not one that an experienced climber would have called difficult. But is was rough and twisting and steep enough to give the expedition the status of a real mountain climb, quite different from any they had tackled so far.

Today Miss Mortlock was in sole charge of the party – with Fritzel’s assistance, of course – for Miss Bruce, declaring herself too old for a climb like the Schneebergspitze, had decided to remain at the hotel in Briesau for the day. Of course it might have been that a particularly tricky passage in the Anglo-Saxon translation, on which she was working, had claimed her attention; for Miss Bruce could well have managed the climb had she wished it. Miss Mortlock had simply accepted the senior mistress’s decision with her usual amiable readiness.

She was anxious to discharge her duties efficiently and was insistent that the party take rests at regular intervals. To begin with, the girls were inclined to grumble at the frequent halts, but after a while the situation was reversed and there were protests when the signal to move off again was given.

This brought the scornful comment from Veronica Cunningham: “Really, you are a feeble lot!” And she added, bitterly: “It’s no wonder we lost the hockey match to the Chalet School when you’re all in such poor condition.”

No one bothered to answer this jibe; they were wisely saving their breath for the climb. Joan, Pamela and Patricia did, however, exchange meaningful glances; they felt it particularly exasperating that Veronica herself did not show the slightest sign of fatigue or breathlessness.

The hockey match had taken place the previous week, and Joan Hatherley’s prediction of a win for the Chalet School had been fulfilled. Grange House’s team had managed to give the Chaletians a good game and to keep them working hard for their victory. But the Londoners had been at some disadvantage because, with only twelve girls in the entire party, all but one were obliged to join the team whether they played hockey well or not. And, as Veronica had pointed out in confidence to Kirsty Robertston, who was vice-captain of games at Grange House: “If there’d been any choice, no one could have dreamed of putting Marion Fielding, or that lazybones Daphne Lewis, into a hockey team. Why they’d never even be picked as reserves for our Third Eleven!” Veronica, like many people who excel at games, attached great importance to winning; she had not relished Grange House’s defeat by a smaller, less established school, even with all the extenuating circumstances.

The Chalet girls had been delighted at the result, although, as Joey remarked, “a little surprised”.

Up and up toiled the party, higher and still higher, moving gradually more slowly and with still more frequent pauses for rest. At one point the going became so steep that they were forced to move in single file, using the trunks and branches of the trees to heave themselves upwards. The girls all laughed when Fritzel demonstrated in dumb show the possible dangers from rotten branches or tree-roots; but they did take seriously Miss Mortlock’s urgent warning to test each foothold and handhold before trusting their weight to it. So, for a while, progress slowed to a crawl.

At long, unbelievably long, last, more than three hours after they had entered the dark woods at the foot of the mountain, the party emerged from the trees into the sunshine, and found to their joy that the top part of the mountain was covered in snow. It was only a shallow carpeting, but it helped to add a final touch of adventure to their expedition. Many of the girls stamped their feet just for the pleasure of seeing the feathery whiteness scatter. There was a chorus of delight and surprise, with only one dissentient voice: “But you must have known there would be snow up here,” Veronica, the matter-of-fact, protested. “I mean, you can see from Briesau that there’s snow on all the mountain tops now.”

Once again no one bothered to dispute the point. The beauty of the snow-covered mountain landscape and the delicious wine-sweet tang of the air combined to produce a magical atmosphere in which argument with Veronica was simply not worthwhile. There would have been no comment; but Veronica suddenly realized that in not joining in the hymn of praise she might appear to lack artistic appreciation. Hastily she changed her tune and declared in tones of false enthusiasm: “But of course it does look very pretty; and the snow shows up all the other colours so nicely, doesn’t it?”

Now these two particular words, “pretty” and “nice”, with their undertones of cosy suburban teaparties, were unbearably irritating in the present context to Joan Hatherley. She gave way to a temptation to trap Veronica; and with an expression of utter innocence on her round face, she said: “Oh, yes, indeed, the coulours are really very “pretty”, aren’t they? And doesn’t it all remind you of those pictures by Prandello that we saw in Paris?”

Veronica failed to notice the dry tones and the curious glint in Joan’s blue eyes. She did not recall a painter named Pirandello, which is hardly surprising, but nothing would have induced her to acknowledge this. And so she swallowed Joan’s bait, saying with tremendous heartiness, “Oh, yes, it does remind me, too; it’s really awfully like; just the same colours.”

When Veronica had moved ahead again and was out of earshot, there was a moment’s silence. Then Pamela said, with a certain gentle reproof, “That was a bit naughty, you know, Joan. I haven’t an idea myself who Piran-what’s-it is – though I bet he’s not a painter – but it’s just too easy to catch that one out.”

Joan had the grace to look a little ashamed. “Well, I know you’re absolutely right, but she really does get my goat sometimes with all that pseudo-arty nonsense. Still, she’s not a bad old stick in some ways; I suppose it’s not fair to tease her.”

“Don’t worry,” Patricia said over her shoulder, as she started to lengthen her stride in order to keep up with the line. “Nobody else heard her making herself look silly, so there’s no great harm done.”

The path had become much less sheer and they could now see the top of the mountain, which was encouraging; even though, in the curious way mountains have, it seemed to retreat further away each time they got to the top of a ridge. In a happy, almost dreamlike state they continued scrambling on upwards. Nearly an hour and a half later, breathless but triumphant, they reached the summit.

Now they could enjoy the spectacular views presented to their gaze, ranging in every direction for mile after mile over the mountains and valleys. Far below lay the Tiernsee, blue and sparkling, while the houses of Briesau looked like a child’s sampler worked in the tiniest of petit-point stitches.

“It really does seem like looking through binoculars the wrong way,” Joan pronounced as she screwed up her eyes in an attempt to distinguish the various houses in Briesau. “I’ve always thought that was a rather stupid comparison before. Now there’s the Kron Prinz Karl, you can’t mistake it, so that one’s the Stephanie and that’s the Chalet School. Wheat’s that one?” She pointed to a larger building to the south of the Stephanie.

“It can only be the Post Hotel, surely,” said Patricia, when she had made out where Joan was pointing. “Come on, do, Joan! I’m beginning to feel famished.”

It would have been too cold, even in the sunshine, to sit outside and eat; so, after a short pause for everyone to exclaim about the scenery, the party hastened for the shelter of the nearby mountain hut. Fritzel pushed open the door, and they all crowded inside. Everyone suddenly realized just how hungry she was feeling, and no time was wasted in opening up the packets that contained their lunch.

“Goodness, I don’t know when, if ever, I’ve ever felt so ravenous,” declared Pamela, tucking into yet another roll filled with a delicious egg-and-cheese mixture. Frau Dobler had provided a noble picnic meal, and no one was failing to do it justice.

“Now I’m not starving anymore, I’m beginning to dread going down that ghastly path.” Patricia was cradling a cup of steaming hot coffee in her long slim hands and taking an occasional appreciative sip.

“Oh, why can’t some kind person just come and build a lift to take us down?” sighed Pamela.

“Pair of wings would do nicely for me,” said Joan. “Mountains are most deceiving creatures, you know. On the way up it seems that nothing could possibly be worse than staggering to the top. But then, lo and behold, coming down is revealed to be harder beyond compare – a far, far, ‘worser’ thing, you might say!”

“Shut up and don’t be so jolly morbid!”

“It couldn’t be worse than that bit where Evelyn nearly slipped.”

“Oh, couldn’t it just?” Joan seemed determined to persist in her Cassandra-like role. “I must point out to you, dear girls … Oh, sorry, Miss Mortlock! Did you want our talented interpreter?”

In the absence of Miss Bruce, Pamela was the only one of the party with enough German to hold any sort of conversation, and she was in great demand today.

“Yes, could you come over and talk to Fritzel for a moment, please, Pamela?”

A short discussion took place, and no one was sorry to learn that Fritzel proposed that they should make their return by a much easier path. This descended over the shoulder of the mountain by slow stages and joined the Tiern valley road three or four miles above Briesau.

It proved a delightful journey. As the path wove gently downwards the landscape was constantly changing: at one moment they were looking down on the distant Tiernsee and, at the next, right up the valley to where the Tiernjoch stood, majestic in its snow crown. For below in the valley a few deciduous trees, glorious in russet and gold, blazed out against the darkness of the prevailing pines. It took only a little over two hours to reach the Tiern valley road, and here they were met by an unexpected and fascinating sight. A long, seemingly endless, procession of cows was making its way along the valley road towards Briesau. There were several herdsmen in traditional Tyrolean dress; and a few dogs were also helping to guide the herds and to bring any would be stragglers back to the proper path.

The cows, great gentle-looking beasts, mostly creamy-brown in colour, moved slowly and inevitably down the road; some were gaily decorated, either with a few late flowers or with elaborately twisted straw ornaments. The air was filled with an unceasing symphony from the bells hung round their necks, the sounds varying greatly in pitch and tone, for the bells were of very different sizes: some were as small as eggcups, while others were huge, and one particular monster looked almost as though it had come from a church tower.

The girls could not help laughing at the sight of these enormous bells, although they felt sorry for the cows that were patiently carrying them.

“Will you look at that poor thing!” Pamela pointed to one cow with a specially heavy bell. “That object round its neck looks just like our school bell.”

Joan Hatherley nodded agreement. “Yes, and it sounds like it as well. Poor creature!”

“And it’s quite the wrong sound out here.” Patricia was listening, fascinated, to the vast bell. Its sound was clearly distinguishable even in all the surrounding clangour. “Why do you suppose there are so many cows today, all here at the same time?” she asked after a moment. “It’s like some kind of fair. Anyone know what it’s all about?”

Nobody did know; but Pamela was persuaded to make use of her German again and ask one of the herdsmen. She had a little difficulty in understanding his replies, for his accent was unfamiliar to her and his German sounded very different from that of Fraulein Hasse who taught at Grange House. However, Pamela did manage to tell the others something about the custom that obtains in some mountain regions of taking cattle to spend the summer up on the high pasture-lands. Each year, she explained, the herds would leave the valley in early June, and return during October. This year they were unusually late in leaving the high alms. It was good fortune indeed, the herdsmen assured them, when “der liebe Gott” sent a mild autumn such as this one had been; it helped to shorten the long waiting through the winter months, always a difficult time, with food scarce and work impossible to find.

“I think they have the same sort of arrangement in parts of Ireland,” Pamela commented, when she had translated the herdsman’s information to the best of her ability. “I can remember being told about it. And they have little stone houses built up on the mountainsides, where the cowherds live during the summer; they’re called ‘Booley’ houses in Irish; the word’s spelt rather oddly but that’s how it’s pronounced.”

“Can you speak Irish, then, Pam?” Joan asked curiously; but Pamela shook her head.

“Only a few words; I’ve always lived in London, you know, except for holidays. My grandparents do speak Irish, but for some strange reason they didn’t want my mother to learn it; and in any case she went to boarding school in England when she was only about eight or nine years old.”

“Poor little thing! I think boarding schools are miserable institutions,” was Joan’s comment. But there was no time for any argument to develop about the merits, or otherwise, of a boarding school education, for at that moment Miss Mortlock called a brisk order to the girls to get going again, as quickly as possible; Fritzel Pfeifen had just given warning that they would need all the time they had and more if they were to reach Briesau before dark.

Fritzel was quite right; in fact darkness had already fallen when they were still half a mile from the hotel. A few stars were beginning to show in the clear dark-blue sky, and it was very cold. The girls were all weary and footsore, but they were filled with pride at their day’s achievements. They would look back on climbing the Schneebergspitze as one of the highlights of their visit.

When Veronica, with what Joan had once called her “genius for stating the obvious”, paused on the hotel doorstep to declare, “This had been an absolutely topping day,” no one, this time, would even have wanted to contradict her.

CHAPTER XV

 

Many A Slip …

 

“Oh, dear, doesn’t the time just simply fly past? We seem to have been here no time at all and now there’s only one week left before we shoot off to Salzburg. I’ve got fond of this place, too.” Pamela Trent gave a small sigh as she closed the catches of her overnight case and looked round to see if Patricia was ready.

Patricia nodded absently; she was busy packing her own case, her hands moving quickly and deftly. “Pam, could you pass me my spongebag and toothbrush, please? They’re on my washstand – no, the other side – thanks terribly; and my hairbrush is in the dressing-table drawer. There, that should be everything, I think.” She checked the pile of belongings on her bed and, returning to her rapid packing, slipped a neatly folded pair of pyjamas into the case.

It was unlike Patricia not to be ready first, but she had gone round to the Chalet School that morning to hear from Joey Bettany details about the forthcoming weekend party, and this had delayed her.

Today was Monday, and this morning the Londoners were off for their last expedition in the Tyrol. It was to be a three-day affair; they were to visit first the medieval town of Rattenberg-am-Inn and then go on to Innsbruck, where they would remain until Thursday afternoon. There was so much of interest to be seen in and around Innsbruck that a one-day expedition would obviously not have been enough. It would also have been very tiring because the little mountain railway was now closed for the winter, and after a day’s sightseeing they would have been faced with the long climb up the Tiernsee. Accordingly, arrangements had been made for the party to stay two nights at the Maria-Theresia Hotel in Innsbruck’s most famous street. This would give them nearly three days to enjoy Innsbruck at leisure.

By half-past nine everyone was ready and the party set off briskly along the lake-path to Seespitz and down through the pine woods towards Spartz.

“One thing about having done that climb up the Schneebergspitze, it does make an ordinary mountain path seem like Kensington High Street,” remarked Patricia, as they went downwards at a very fair speed.

“Can’t say I see much resemblance,” laughed Joan, glancing at the pine trees and the stream rushing merrily down the mountain beside the path. “What’s happened to Derry & Tom’s? Oh, well, all right, Patricia; I do know what you mean, of course. Intelligent and quick on the uptake – that’s me!”

“Now, really, Joan! You must mean ‘that is I’, don’t you?” Patricia said with exaggerated primness. “Whatever would Miss Bruce say to her dear Joanie?”

“Well, I always think it sounds odd to say ‘It is I’,” Pamela commented, “even if it is correct. Oh, I say! Do watch out, Patricia; you nearly tripped over that tree root.”

“And a tree root is something I’ve never noticed growing out of the pavement in Kensington High Street,” Joan added sweetly.

Patricia smiled, and gave more attention to the path.

Pamela stole a quick glance in Patricia’s direction. She was very fond of her friend and was pleased to see how well and happy Patricia was looking now. “Thank goodness!” she thought. “Her awful cloud of misery seems to have cleared away completely.”

Pamela’s glance had been discreet, but it had not gone unnoticed by the observant Patricia. Many times in the past weeks she had felt grateful for Pamela’s tact and completely unobtrusive sympathy. It had taken Patricia some time to overcome the depression that overwhelmed her on the day of the netball match. But eventually she had remembered her old Scottish nanny’s often-quoted saying. “What can’t be cured must be endured.” Patricia had no intention of giving up the battle, but she did decide to put the whole matter out of her mind, at least until her coming visit to the Russells at the Sonnalpe, and to enjoy her Tyrolean holiday to the full. And, because she had been gifted with unusual powers of concentration, she was able to put her decision into practice.

The three girls paused for a moment to look at the view that had just opened up on their right; through a gap in the trees, green fields could be seen and, still far away below them, the church and houses of Spartz.

“It would have been fun if the Chalet School folk could have come with us to Rattenberg,” Pamela remarked. “I thought they were going to.”

“Well, you can understand why their Head wasn’t very keen on the idea,” said Joan. “They’ve been allowed to miss no end of lessons this term already; I’m sure most schools wouldn’t be allowed all that extra time for games and expeditions.”

“Of course there’s a good reason for their getting extra time,” Patricia pointed out. “Apparently, when it starts to snow here it really does snow like anything; they all say they’re sometimes shut up in the house for days on end.”

Patricia’s glance lingered for a moment on the strong jagged outlines of the pine branches silhouetted against the sky. “It must look wonderful at the Tiernsee when there’s snow,” she said dreamily.

“Absolutely ripping,” agreed Pamela. “And it’s just our rotten luck that there hasn’t been any snow yet this year. Deira O’Hagan was telling me that last year the snow had begun at least a week before this. And the year before she thinks it was even earlier, but of course she wasn’t at the Chalet School then.”

“I wonder what it’s like going to school here,” mused Joan. “It must be – ” Here she broke off, for loud shouts could be heard coming from further down the mountain; a moment later Veronica Cunningham, crimson fro indignation and running up hill, appeared at the next bend of the path, and began exhorting them crossly to stop dawdling.

“You really are the pink limit! Miss Bruce and Miss Mortlock are simply livid; all of the others are miles ahead. What in the name of everything have you been doing?” And Veronica vanished down the path with an angry flounce.

The three looked guiltily at one another before breaking into a run. It dawned on them that they must have been standing still for a considerable time, absorbed in their discussion. Conversation had to be shelved while they made all possible haste to follow Veronica.

They did eventually return to the subject of the Chalet School, when they were sitting, hot and breathless, in the train for Rattenberg. The party had only just managed to catch the train, rushing wildly into the station with less than a minute to spare even although they had ran the last quarter of a mile through Spartz in a thoroughly undignified fashion. Fortunately the train had been standing at the platform nearest the entrance, so at least they were spared a dive through the subway to the far side of the station. Even so there had been no time to buy tickets. The station attendant assured the exasperated Miss Bruce that they could get tickets on the train. But he neglected to inform her that there is an extra charge on an Austrian train for going this. It did not amount to a great deal, but nevertheless Miss Bruce was annoyed and spoke somewhat frostily to the three whose necessary delay had caused the party’s late arrival.

Feeling rather subdued, they took their places on the hard benches of a third-class compartment, and for a while gazed out of the windows without speaking a word.

Pamela was first to break the silence. “Do you think you would like to be at the Chalet School, Joan?”

“Shouldn’t like to be at any boarding school!” was the prompt reply. “But if I ever did have to go to one, I must say it seems a decent enough school in lost of ways. I’d be pretty useless at all the foreign languages, of course, but there’d by plenty of chance to learn those. On the other hand, I do wonder the what the standard of general work can be like in such a small school.

“Oh, I think the standard’s quite high,” Patricia rejoined. “Everything I’ve seen and heard points that way. Take science – they’ve not got much in the way of labs, of course,  but I’d say Miss Wilson is a top-notch teacher. And don’t forget that Juliet Carrick – their last head girl, you know – won some kind of maths scholarship to London University, and those aren’t easy to get.”

“That’s true,” acknowledged Joan. “It looks as though the teaching must be all right. I must say their Sixth form are all very bright – heaps better informed about most things than I am, for one. It’s not that I want to criticize, you know, Patricia. It’s just rather difficult to compare their school with ours.”

“I’d be happy to go to any school in such a beautiful place,” said Pamela. “I hate London.”

“Oh, do you?” Patricia’s astonishment was plain. “I’m very fond of London, myself. But I shouldn’t mind a scrap going to boarding school. In fact I’d love to be at the Chalet School in lots of ways.” And her lips tightened for a moment.

The train, which had been chuffing unhurriedly along the broad valley that lies beside the River Inn, was now coming near the outskirts of a small town. Suddenly it plunged into a tunnel. When it emerged a moment later the girls exclaimed in delight, for it was as though the curtain had risen on some medieval drama. There was Rattenberg, spread out before them, with its castle set high on a hill, its many churches and spires, and the mountainside behind like a gigantic backcloth.

The train drew up at the platform of the tiny station, and Joan jumped immediately to her feet: “Come on, you two, let’s nip out quickly. We jolly well don’t want to keep anyone waiting this time.”

CHAPTER XVI

 

Rattenberg – A Fairytale Town

They were to spend only a few hours in Rattenberg, so, once they were all safely out of the train, Miss Bruce looked round to see if arrangements could be made to dispose of their cases. Each girl had only one small case in addition to her handbag, but obviously sightseeing would be more enjoyable if these could be left at the station.

At first sight there was nobody on the platform. Eventually an old man, in a uniform many times too large for him, looked out of a door and asked to see their tickets. While these were being examined, Joan, Pamela and Patricia kept carefully out of Miss Bruce’s sight, not wishing to remind her of matters best forgotten. They contrived to take an unlikely amount of interest in a tattered poster at the far end of the platform, which urged them to “Besuchen Innsbruck“. “It’s all right; we’re going to, anyway,” Joan assured the poster conspiratorially.

The old man, who apparently combined the offices of ticket collector, porter, station-master and cloakroom attendant, was amiably prepared to let them leave their luggage in his tiny room. As Joan said, there wasn’t much space left for him, but he didn’t seem to mind.

Breakfast that morning had been early, and it now began to seem a very long time ago. So, on leaving the station, they first of all looked round for a place to have coffee and something to eat.

The girls were enchanted with the old narrow streets and the houses with their projecting alcoves and windows. The more imaginative began to feel as though they had strayed into some fairytale … a familiar sensation for visitors to Rattenberg.

“Oh, please, Miss Bruce, do let’s go in there for our coffee!” Pamela forgot in her excitement that they were trying to avoid Miss Bruce’s attention; she was pointing to a particularly attractive-looking old house, which had been converted into a café.  It had a beautiful wrought-iron sign outside, with the name of the proprietor “Hans Kindler”, and a representation of some kind of animal, probably a chamois. There were also two ordinary printed notices, one saying “Café, Konditorei. Eis Spezialitat” and the other “Zimmer frei“. After nearly a month in Austria nobody needed to have any of these translated.

Miss Bruce readily agreed to their going inside; they found their way along a rambling corridor to a pleasant whitewashed room, furnished with traditional Tyrolese wooden furniture. It was quite a large room with a vaulted ceiling, and the walls, judging from the depth of the window embrasures and the entrance from the passage, must have been nearly five feet thick.

A wooden statue of the Madonna and Child, beautifully carved and painted, stood in a niche in one corner, and the tables had brightly coloured Tyrolean tablecloths and mats. The whole impression was simple and delightful.

Even Miss Bruce was charmed. “This is the real thing, Doreen,” she assured Miss Mortlock. “Often they ruin these places … far too many ornaments … and tourist knick-knacks … usually in appalling taste … but this is most agreeable.” She and her young colleague seated themselves at a table beside the huge tiled stove.

The girls were especially impressed by a large painted cupboard and a carved chest; they were so interested in examining these that they were almost reluctant to sit down and drink their coffee.

Meanwhile a waitress, dressed in Tyrolean costume, placed two large steaming jugs containing coffee and milk on the table in the centre of the room; each girl poured out for herself and then went to sit at one of the smaller tables. This arrangement pleased Patricia particularly, since she had a great liking for black coffee and did not often get the change to drink it.

“I don’t know how you can drink that stuff,” Joan said, her left eyebrow topping her right by nearly half an inch. “I think coffee without milk is poisonous.”

“And to think she doesn’t even take sugar in it!” Pamela remarked with a shudder, as she dropped four cubes of sugar into her own very milky drink.

“When you two have quite finished discussing my peculiarities, perhaps one of you would pass me a bread-twist,” Patricia said, sounding just for one moment an unconscious echo of her mother’s lemon-and-ice-cream tones.

“Sorry, do have one.” Pamela passed the basked to Patricia and then to Joan. “I love these things, don’t you?”

The pretty waitress returned at this moment to see if anything further were needed, then disappeared to the kitchen. “Why do you think it is,” Joan wondered, “that a girl like that looks so gorgeous in Tyrolean dress and those tourists we saw the first week all looked such utterly ghastly sights?”

Pamela and Patricia both giggled at the memory; on one of the early expeditions of their visit they had me a large group of tourists, mostly Germans, who had ill-advisedly got themselves up in Tyrolean garb; on them it had looked neither suitable nor, in the case of the men crammed into Lederhosen, comfortable.

When they had finished their Kaffee and the bill had been paid, Miss Bruce gave permission for the girls to form into small groups and go off to explore the town. They were to return to the same face at half-past one for lunch. After that there would be time to look at some of the shops; Rattenberg is famous for its glass, and there were numerous shops near the café where this could be obtained.

Patricia, Joan, and Pamela set out down the winding cobbled street, deciding that they would first visit the parish church and then walk up the hill to look at the castle. The church was impressive, although Patricia regretted that the original Gothic building had so many Baroque additions both inside and out. Joan pronounced it all more interesting than beautiful; and Pamela declared that the painting behind the High Altar, depicting one enormous wide-open eye, positively gave her the creeps.

“Perhaps it’s meant to symbolize God the Father,” Joan suggested. “‘Slumbers not, nor sleeps’ – you know.”

“And how do you like these?” Patricia drew the others’ attention to a display of reliquaries with somewhat gruesome contents.

They left the church and toiled slowly up the steep path to the castle. Here they were at first a little disappointed, for they found that there were only some ruined walls and a tower remaining of the ancient castle. However, the view from the ramparts, over the town with its many spires and towers, and across the River Inn to the mountains beyond, was magnificent and quite made up for all the exertions of the climb.

Joan got out her Kodak and took a photograph of Patricia and Pamela, standing side by side on what had once been the battlements, and looking out at this panorama. Then Pamela offered to take Joan and Patricia in the same position. “It makes a splendid setting for a picture,” she remarked, holding the camera rather gingerly. “Hang on a mo, Joan. Which one do I press to take the snap?”

“No, not that one, Pam, that’s for time exposures; the one on the right of the view-finder.”

“Oh, I see now. Well, can you both look pleasant again? Right you are … and I hope it comes out.”

“Oh, I’m sure it’ll be a masterpiece.” Joan took the camera and put it carefully back into its case. “Of course, photos aren’t like the real thing, you do miss the colour,” she remarked as the three started slowly down the road back to the town. “But they’ll give me some sort of reminder of the trip. I’ve taken quite a lot since we came to Briesau.”

“Perhaps one day someone will invent something and we’ll all be able to  take snaps in colour,” Pamela said.

“Oh, but they already have – it can be done now, you know,” Patricia, the scientific member of the trip, was quick to point out.

“Well, I know you get them in magazines,” Joan said, pausing for a moment to remove a pebble from her shoe. “Oh, gosh! That’s better. But I’ve never seen ordinary snaps in colour.”

“It’s probably a jolly complicated process,” Patricia suggested. “And terribly expensive. But anyway, Joan, I’d still like to see your photos when they’re ready.”

“And so should I,” Pamela chimed in. “In fact, you’ll probably have to set up a photographic service. Everyone’s sure to want copies.”

“Well, girls, I expect something just might be arranged … if the money’s good enough to tempt me, that is. Although it is most unlikely – unlikely, you might say, in the extreme – that you poor lowly beings … Oh, all right, Pam!” Joan broke off with a splutter, for Pamela had rolled her handkerchief into a neat ball and lobbed it accurately at her friend’s mouth. Joan returned the hanky good-naturedly and went on unperturbed, “Have you two seen any of Priscilla’s sketches? Now they’re going to be a wonderful record of our trip. You know it would be rather an idea for Prissy to have a show of her pictures at the Stephanie when we get back. Then we could all see them”

Priscilla Doughty-Smythe, a prizewinner in the shadow pictures competition, possessed considerable artistic talent and a flair for making watercolour sketches. During the recent good weather she had completed a large collection of views of Briesau and the Tiernsee sketched from different vantage points. She had also painted several from the windows of the hotel, and these included some in Impressionist style done during the days of rain and mist; altogether the pictures covered a wide range.

Patricia and Pamela agreed enthusiastically with Joan’s suggestion for a showing of the pictures, and they decided to put it to Priscilla at lunchtime.

“And you’ve given me another marvelous idea,” Patricia said. She did not go on to explain; and the other two knew better than to ask questions. Patricia, as Joan had once said, could give a first-rate imitation of an oyster when she wished.

After lunch, a most enjoyable meal at the Café Kindler, the afternoon passed only too quickly in visiting the glass shops. Here the girls would instantly have launched into an orgy of buying, for not only was the glass beautiful but the prices, by English standards, were extremely reasonable.

Miss Bruce soon stemmed the flood of enthusiasm. She crisply pointed out that, since they would not be returning to London for nearly seven weeks, a large number of extremely fragile parcels was unlikely to prove an asset on their journey. Reluctantly the girls accepted her dictat that each might buy a maximum of six small or two larger objects.

When all the choices were finally made – and no one who has ever been shopping with even a few girls will doubt how long this took – the Londoners made their way back to the station and collected their cases from the gnome-like station attendant. He informed them that there was no train direct to Innsbruck, and that they must take a local train, leaving in about ten minutes as far as Spartz; there they must change and take the 16.57 to Innsbruck. It all seemed simple enough; nevertheless they were about to fall into another of the minor traps lying in wait for the unwary traveler in Austria.

At Spartz they were the only people waiting on the platform. Spartz is a busy little station at all times; apart from local traffic, many of the mainline trains to and from Innsbruck pass through it. Even in the short time the Londoners stood waiting a considerable number of trains came and went in either direction. The party had been told to wait at Bahnsteig 2, and at about a quarter to five they saw a train appearing from the direction of Kufstein; it roared into the station, slowed down and stopped at their platform.

“But are you sure this is the right train, Miss Mortlock?” Patricia asked doubtfully, as the girls streamed forward and began mounting the steps.

“Well, it says Innsbruck.” Miss Mortlock, surprised at the query, pointed to the board beside the door of the coach, which stated clearly “Munchen – Kufstein – Innsbruck.”

Miss Bruce had already negotiated the steep climb up into the carriage but, telling them to wait for a moment, she asked a passenger standing in the corridor, “Bitte, diese Zug fahrt wohl nach Innsbruck?” On being assured that it did, she signaled to them all to get in quickly, and a moment later the train was on its way.

It did not stop at any of the little stations beyond Spartz, and in ten minutes they were almost halfway to their destination.

“But surely this can’t be our train,” Patricia persisted, looking at her watch with a puzzled expression. “It was only due to leave Spartz about now, and it was going to take nearly an hour to get to Innsbruck.”

“Quite right, Patricia,” Miss Bruce agreed. “Another train altogether … and much quicker … get us to Innsbruck far sooner … not a bad thing either … give us more time this evening … and everyone’s tired now.”

Joan Hatherley wondered, not for the first time, how it came about that anyone who wrote as beautifully as Miss Bruce did, and was as demanding with her pupils over the niceties of English style and rhythm, should always speak so very inelegantly.

The mystery of the trains was solved a moment later when a ticket collector entered their carriage; after seeing their tickets, he informed them politely but firmly that they were in the wrong train. For one horrible moment they thought they might actually be traveling in the wrong direction, but he reassured them; the train was certainly going to Innsbruck. However, this was an express train (an “Elizug”), and their tickets entitled them to travel only in one of the slower stopping trains. Another time the gracious ladies must look for the sign “Personen Zug“.

Once again supplementary fares had to be paid. Miss Bruce, catching Joan Hatherley’s deliberately expressionless eye, was human enough to laugh. And Joan felt an unspoken agreement now existed that there would be no further reference to the morning’s episode.

“All the same,” she confided to her two special friends later on that evening, when they were installed in an enormous, extremely grand room at the Maria-Theresia Hotel, “I’m remarkably glad that particular little trouble was not any fault of ours.”

 

CHAPTER XVII

Maynie And The Middles

At the Chalet School this same Monday had begun quietly enough – on the surface, at any rate.

During the time after Fruhstuck that was always devoted to bed-making and tidying in the dormitories, a good many girls must have found their thoughts straying enviously to the Grange House party: those lucky creatures would be on the way to Rattenberg now! And it can well be imagined that every Chaletian would rather have been accompanying the Londoners than settling into the normal Monday morning school routine.

Mrs Russell and Mademoiselle Lepattre, joint headmistresses of the Chalet School, had given much thought to the question of their girls joining Grange House’s expedition. There would have been much to recommend the plan; but in the end, mainly because there were now only two weeks left before the school’s half-term holiday, they had decided against allowing it.

“I’m really very sorry, Elise,” Madge Russell said when they were discussing the matter. “The girls must certainly visit Rattenberg some time – and I’d like to see it myself, wouldn’t you? Joey will be furious with me; you know how keen she is on anything historical. But it would mean upsetting all the timetables yet again; and besides, it would be a very tiring day’s outing for them. I think we mustn’t allow their schoolwork to suffer.”

Mademoiselle had given her wholehearted approval; and added, with a gently humorous smile: “After all, Marguerite cherie, it is a school that we are running here, and not a colonie de vacances!”

The girls had naturally been disappointed when their Heads’ decision was announced, but most of them had accepted it philosophically. However, certain undercurrents of restlessness did begin to stir among the Middles; and when, on Monday morning after prayers, Mademoiselle stood up to make the day’s announcements, she was not unaware of these.

She began by telling the assembled girls that during the coming week they would be reverting to the normal school timetables with only one or two minor adjustments. Today, accordingly, everything would be as usual until Abendessen; then everyone would do mending for three-quarters of an hour: “There has been very little time for mending on any of the recent weekends, and I feel sure that many of you” (did she look in the direction of the Middle School?) “will have more than enough to occupy the time.”

Not even the most outrageous Middle would have dared, here in the presence of headmistress, staff and prefects, to groan aloud; but the announcement caused some exceedingly glum faces; no one relished the prospect of giving up forty-five minutes of free time to do her mending, however necessary. Mademoiselle did not fail to notice those black looks; and when she continued, it was in tones still gentle but with a hint of severity:

Mes cheres enfants, during these past weeks you have often been excused from lessons and preparation and have been allowed much extra free time. We have been happy to make these arrangements so that you might profit from the continuing good weather and also enjoy the company of our visitors from London. Now it is your turn to make up a little for the time which has been thus lost. And we in the Chalet School do not seize all the pleasant things and then complain when we have to give back something in return.”

Most of those who had been looking mutinous now began to feel slightly conscience-stricken. Indeed, Mademoiselle’s words had an excellent effect, and behaviour throughout the school was exemplary during the first half of the morning.

It was while they were having their mid-morning break that an imp of mischief began to whisper in the ear of Evadne Lannis. She and her fellow members of the Fourth form were strolling round the playing field, talking non-stop and with very little eye for the beauties of the autumn scenery around them.

“Suffering cats, it’s beastly maths next lesson.” Evadne gave a heartful grown. “And I’ll give a dollar to a dime that Maynie will be putting the screws on today; she was threatening the most grisly horrors last week.”

“Really, Evvy, your language!” Margia said lightly. “I’d be a bit more careful; you know those prefects have a nasty way of appearing from nowhere.”

Evadne looked around with an air of elaborate unconcern. At that moment there was no prefect to be seen nearer than the opposite side of the field, but she did contrive to lower her normally ringing tones just a little when she continued her plaint: “Gee, don’t I wish I could be sick for a short time, just long enough to miss that old maths lesson.”

“But to be ‘seek’, Evadne?” queried Suzanne Mercier, raising her eyebrows in true Gallic astonishment. “But that is so very disagreeable. Surely you do not wish to be sick, even to miss Maynie’s lesson?”

“Oh, Evadne doesn’t mean sick like that, Suzanne,” Margia explained kindly. “It’s just her funny little American way of saying ‘ill’.”

“Here, less of the ‘funny little American’,” growled Evadne, with a toss of her fair curly head. “And I can’t see anything one mite funny about saying ‘sick’, anyway.”

“Nor can I!” Jo Bettany’s voice assured her. Joey with Marie von Eschenau and Simone Lecoutier, had just caught up with the Fourth form group. “I must say you kids do have the most charming topics of conversation,” Jo went on in lofty tones. “What’s it all about, anyway?”

“It’s just that Evadne would wish to be sick – ah no! ill – during our mathematics lesson,” Suzanne answered her.

“Now that’s something I really do understand,” Jo said. “Even to think of maths can sometimes make me feel ill. But Evvy, the snag about really truly feeling ill is that it lasts too long. And,” she added, with feeling born of experience, “it can bring some jolly unpleasant consequences in the shape of Matron.”

A speculative light was beginning to dawn in Evadne’s eye. “What will you bet me, Joey, I could be allowed to miss Maynie’s lesson and no one suspect a thing?”

“Get on and talk sense, do!”

“Bet you anything!”

“It’d be quite impossible,” Jo said with conviction. “Maynie’s all there, you know.”

And Simone added, “Anyway it is not ladylike to bet, Evadne.”

“Oh, pooh-pooh to that!” Evadne retorted. “Are you on, Joey? ‘Cos if you are I must go and prepare.” And without waiting for a reply she dashed off at top speed across the field and disappeared in the direction of the school, leaving the others to speculate on what she could possibly be planning.

Soon afterwards the bell warned them that Break was at an end, and everyone hastened to the house to get ready for the next lesson.

When they reached their classroom the members of the Fourth form looked with great interest at Evadne; but she was sitting at her desk, wearing an air of other-worldly innocence. Indeed, as the lesson continued along its ordinary course, everyone began to presume that Evadne must have abandoned any schemes she might have had.

Miss Maynard finished explaining the method of working quadratic equations and told them to open their textbooks at the correct page and work through the first six exercises. They all obeyed her instructions, Evadne with a virtuous expression that would not have been out of place in a stained-glass window. Miss Maynard began to do some corrections in the Fifth form’s exercise books. There was silence; everyone worked away industriously.

Suddenly Evadne blew her nose noisily, and a moment later drew in her breath in a sort of gasp. They all looked up to see her dabbing frantically at her nose with a handkerchief which – so it appeared – was gradually being covered with scarlet drops.

Now Miss Maynard had been trying, with mounting exasperation, to unravel some of the mysteries of Jo Bettany’s arithmetic. Jo was gifted in English subjects and had a great facility for learning languages, but she had something of a blank where maths was concerned and a wholehearted dislike of the subject. Her form had been working on problems, and in struggling with one of these Jo had produced an untidy forest of calculations, stretching over nearly a page; after much cross-cancelling she had written, “Answer – 2½ “. But, as the question had asked the number of men required to plant a certain field of potatoes, this seemed, to say the least, unlikely. Miss Maynard had at last traced the actual arithmetical error leading to this brilliant conclusion; she was now, with grim satisfaction, writing a bitingly acid commentary at the foot of the page.

Her mind was fully occupied and there was no reason for her to suspect that Evadne’s nosebleed was not genuine. It seemed unnecessary to send the girl to Matron who, in any case, had gone over to Le Petit Chalet immediately after Break to attend to one of the Juniors. So Miss Maynard merely told Evadne in matter-of-fact tones to go and bathe her nose with cold water. “If that doesn’t help, you had better go and lie down till it stops,” she added.

Nothing loth, Evadne went to the door, resisting with difficulty the temptation to say “I told you so” to her friends as she left the classroom.

She made her way to the splashery, still in a positive fizz of excitement and suppressed giggles. There, it being prudent to keep up the charade, she began dutifully to bathe her nose with cold water.

It was very quiet everywhere in the school. Everybody was busy about their lawful occasions. A fly buzzed somewhere out of sight. The only other sound came from the distant music room, where Grizel Cochrane was practicing some extremely difficult octave-studies, very slowly and with endless repetitions.

Evadne very soon began to feel bored. It was odd how quickly the feeling of exhilaration faded when she no longer had an audience. She glanced at her watch and saw that there were still twenty-five minutes left of the maths lesson. There seemed nothing to be gained from continuing to splash ice-cold water over her perfectly healthy nose. So, holding the prepared handkerchief conspicuously in front of her in case she should meet anyone, she made her way upstairs to her dormitory.

Rows of empty cubicles met her gaze, the beds neatly made and the curtains thrown back over the rails. It was not an inspiring sight. With a sigh Evadne went and sat disconsolately on her bed, which would have outraged Matron had she known of it. The time passed slowly. Evadne found herself wishing she were back in the classroom. Never for one moment would she have acknowledged it, but even maths with Maynie was better than being stuck up here all alone and with nothing to do. When at last the bell sounded for the end of the lesson she was deeply thankful to run down and rejoin her form.

Miss Maynard, who was busy collecting an armful of exercise books, looked round briefly to enquire if she had recovered. And there seemed no reason against replying, “I’m quite all right now, thank you, Miss Maynard.” That, after all, was the exact truth. Or was it? For a niggling suspicion that her behaviour could hardly be called honest was beginning to trouble Evadne. At the Chalet School honesty was a most highly esteemed virtue, and although she was often thoughtless, Evadne was not given to deceit. A confession hovered on her lips.

But already Miss Maynard was more than halfway through the classroom door, which Suzanne Mercier was politely holding open. And Evadne, feeling oddly deflated, sank down at her desk, uncertain whether or not to feel relieved.

Her spirits revived a little as the others came crowding round, eager to know how she had managed her trick. She was easily persuaded to demonstrate how she had daubed one half of her handkerchief with red poster paint, keeping this side out of sight in her hand when she blew her nose, then gradually letting the red-stained side appear. But she was brought unpleasantly down to earth when Margia said: “By the way, Evvy, Miss Maynard said would I tell you that we have to do numbers 7 to 12 for prep, and will you also finish the first six numbers which we worked in class.”

Evadne grimaced hideously at the prospect of twelve algebra sums; but she was realistic enough to acknowledge it was her own fault. For the moment she was considerably sobered … but only for the moment, as it turned out.

CHAPTER XVIII

More Mischief

Things in the school went on undisturbed until after Mittagessen; and what occurred that afternoon on the hockey field was a pure accident.

The Chalet School victory in the hockey match against Grange House had fired their games captain, Grizel Cochrane, to even more than her habitual enthusiasm. Grizel had decided to devote some extra time to coaching the Second Eleven, being wise enough to see that a good second team must lead to a general raising in the standard of play throughout the school.

On this particular Monday afternoon, Grizel had arranged a practice game between First and Second Elevens and, from the side lines, she was alternately encouraging and castigating the players. At one point, Simone Lecoutier managed to stop a particularly swift ball and immediately dropped her hockey stick, with a little scream. The only surprising thing was that Simone should have stopped the ball in the first place; she was not good at hockey. But this side of the question did not strike Grizel.

“Really, Simone, what a complete and utter baby you are!” she cried in scornful tones. “Just because it stung your hand a little bit. Grip your stick more firmly and don’t be such a muff.” She turned and addressed them all militantly: “It’s useless softies and molly-coddles trying to play this game. You simply must be prepared to get the very dickens of a whack from time to time when you’re playing hockey.”

“Oh, lawks, how unbearably hearty Grizel can be,” muttered Joey to Rosalie Dene. Indeed, it was not an unfair comment.

Simone, very pink in the face, looked ready to weep; but she had learnt a lot since her early days in the Chalet School, when she had been prone to crying with alarming frequency for the most trifling reason. Tears were very near, but she caught Joey’s eye fixed fiercely on her and this, combined with her own growing self-control, helped her to keep them at bay.

The game continued in a wary silence. Grizel, realizing that she had been too sweeping, moderated the tone of her criticisms, with the result that gradually everyone began to enjoy the game and to play much better.

And then, when there remained only about three minutes of game time, it happened. Grizel, wishing to illustrate some point of style, stepped forward behind Marie von Eschenau. At exactly the same moment, Marie, having no idea that Grizel was there, turned and gave the ball a firm wallop, and Grizel was in just the right place to receive the full power of Marie’s stick across her shin. She gave an exclamation and, in the midst of the general consternation, stood rubbing her leg, fighting for control.

It was lucky that she did not hear Joey’s sepulchral whisper: “Dear, dear! The very dickens of a whack!” Jo was not really unsympathetic, but she simply could not resist quoting the unfortunate phrase that had boomeranged against its perpetrator.

Marie, deeply distressed, kept apologizing to Grizel and trying to comfort her. The others all stood awkwardly waiting.

Now Grizel had many faults, but she did not lack courage and she did increasingly try to be fair. As soon as she could trust her voice, she said curtly: “All right, Marie. Do stop fussing, I’ll survive. It wasn’t your fault. Another time just don’t hit quite so hard.” The words sounded brusque but were obviously well meant, and Grizel rose several notches in the estimation of all present, including Joey and the unfortunate Simone.

After this, the ordered peace of afternoon lessons was positively welcome; but there are days when some Middles seem compelled to keep breaking out of line, and after Kaffee there were once again plots of mischief in the air.

The Middles had about forty minutes of free time between Kaffee and the beginning of prep. They felt suddenly tired of all their usual occupations, and Evadne had the bright idea that they should liven things up by playing a game of Forfeits. It must be said that their exploits were on the whole harmless. Had they confined themselves to the common-room, probably no one would have noticed anything amiss. However, when it came to Margia Stevens’ turn to decree the forfeit, she had the colourful idea of demanding that Evadne and Elisaveta should race each other down the corridor and back, on all fours and barking like dogs.

All the Middles lined up at the common-room door, eager, not unnaturally, to watch this undignified spectacle. They took care not to speak a word, as talking was forbidden in the hall and corridors. But the amount of noise that can be made be a group of schoolgirls, all struggling to suppress their laughter and to be “terribly quiet”, is really formidable, and they were luck not to attract the immediate attentions of the staff.

Evadne, emitting a final frenetic “bow-wow”, reached the common-room door first; close behind was Elisaveta, hair in a glorious tangle, brown eyes sparkling with amusement; the sounds she was making would have come more suitable from a strangulated Hound of the Baskervilles than from a princess of Belsornia.

Absorbed in their idiotic performance, the two did not notice that a sudden genuine silence had fallen on the spectators. Evadne, struggling to be first on her feet to claim the victory, was frozen with horror at finding herself face to face with Mary Burnett, the prefect on duty that afternoon. Mary was looking exceptionally stern, which was partly, had they but known it, because she was secretly dying to laugh. She managed to conceal this and scolded them all severely for their childish behaviour:

“And just look at your stockings, Evadne, and you, Elisaveta!” she admonished them. “Those must be mended tonight. If that means you aren’t able to finish your other mending, well, you must give up half an hour of your free time every evening until it is all finished. Now, go at once and change your stockings; and the rest of you go to your classroom in silence and begin your prep.

Mary confessed, when she was describing the incident later to Bette Rincini, that she had nearly been floored at this point, because Elisaveta, looking at her with a melting expression, had said courteously: “But please, Mary, were we breaking any rule?”

“Now, Bette, I really couldn’t imagine a school rule that expressly forbade crawling along the corridors and barking; and I could hear Evvy muttering, ‘Guess were weren’t talking, you know, Mary, we were just barking’, and I simply didn’t know where to look.”

“What did you say?” the head girl enquired with interest.

“Oh, I just told them not to make matters worse by being cheeky; and that they all understood perfectly that the rule against talking in the corridors would also apply to making any noises; and that it was high time they all tried to behave like Fourth formers and not like babies in a kindergarten.”

Bette laughed outright and added approvingly: “I think you did very well, Mary. Of course they were being very silly, but it was not bad naughtiness and you were wise to treat it as you did.”

Now it might be thought that the Middles, having so far avoided serious trouble, would have been wise enough to chance their luck no further. But wisdom is not a quality usually to be found in Middles, and the happenings of this particular Monday were still far from over.

It was Rosalie Dene’s turn to supervise the Middles during prep that evening. On looking up from her French essay she was astonished to see that three pictures on the classroom wall were all hanging at extremely odd angles. She was about to get up to straighten them when a smothered snort aroused her suspicions. Rosalie was naturally of a placid temperament, but she was not stupid. Without giving the smallest sign of having noticed anything amiss, she continued with her own work. When she glanced up a moment later, sure enough the pictures had returned to their normal positions; after another short interval she looked up once more, and there they were, hanging wildly askew.

Rosalie looked thoughtfully at the class; they all immediately became ostentatiously absorbed in their work. With great deliberation she took off her watch, laying it on the desk in front of her; then she addressed them conversationally: “When I give you the signal, will whoever is responsible for moving the pictures about please get up and remove their apparatus. Provided everything is finished in three minutes I shall not look up to see who is involved. And just so long as there is no further nonsense this evening, we will say no more about the matter. Otherwise …”, here she let her voice trail off menacingly.

Rosalie was as good as her word, burying her head in her book; so she never knew exactly who had rigged up the ingenious system of threads and strings for moving the pictures about. And throughout the rest of prep, the Middles behaved like angels.

As soon as Abendessen was finished, all the Seniors and Middles went off to the big classroom where Matron was waiting to hand each girl a small pile – in some cases not so small – of stockings and other garments in need of repair.

“When the bell rings at eight o’clock, put your finished mending on the table beside that door; leave anything you have not finished tidily folded on your chair.” So saying, Matron departed; and Gertrud Steinbrucke, who was to help pass the time by reading aloud, opened her copy of Sohrah and Rustum and began:

And the first grey of morning filled the east, And the fog rose out of the Oxus stream.

Miss Annersley had suggested Gertrud read this piece, since she felt it would extend their knowledge of English literature.

Evadne, Margia Stevens and Suzanne Mercier had chosen seats together near the back of the room. Suzanne was an excellent needlewoman and Margia sewed reasonably well, but Evadne, even after two years at the Chalet School where needlework was compulsory, remained hopelessly inefficient with a needle. Moreover, she utterly detested any form of sewing.

Her charming little face looked a picture of discontent as she sat struggling with the hated mending. At first she did try her best and worked with a fair amount of goodwill. But restless spirits were still bubbling away inside Evadne that evening. Matthew Arnold’s poem did not appeal to her very much, and she soon began searching for a distraction of some kind. She looked across at Suzanne sitting on the far side of Margia; her neat French fingers manoeuvring the need in and out of an incredibly beautiful darn in her petticoat. Then she looked down at her own distorted efforts and her square-fingered hands where the needle somehow never looked at home. An evil inspiration came to her that a very good duel might be fought with needles. After all, that was what silly old Sohrab and Rustum were doing, having a fight and everyone seemed to think it was mighty noble.

They were well out of Gertrud’s sight, tucked away at the back of the room. No other prefects were present, as it was considered that they were sufficiently sensible to deal with mending on their own. So, bending over and hiding behind the row of girls in front, Evadne proceeded to whisper her plan to the other two. To her astonishment Margia declined to take an active part, and Evadne was unable to persuade her. Margia was usually ready for any nonsense, but she had, young as she was, the musician’s built-in resistance to anything that might hurt her hands. However, Suzanne was also beginning to feel bored; she had now finished her mending, and she was quite willing to cross swords, or rather needles, with Evadne. Margia was happy to encourage their imbecile scheme and offered to act as referee. They hastily agreed some rules and battle commenced.

About ten minutes later, Matron unfortunately had the idea of returning to see how the mending progressed. And it so happed that she entered very quietly by a door at the back of the room. Thus she was well placed to observe the antics of the naughty Middles.

Blissfully unconscious of her presence, they continued with their game. The rules – so far as any existed – were simple: each player tried, using a mixture of speed and cunning, to touch the back of her opponent’s right hand, while evading the enemy’s needle. Margia, in her position of bugger-state, was acting as score-keeper; she was also timing the bouts and urging the players on.

All three knew only too well that they were behaving badly. That the duel also involved a certain amount of risk did not strike them; there was no malice in their contest and neither duelist intended to hurt the other. But, inevitably, as excitement grew, the jabs sometimes became rather wild.

It was really only the danger of being discovered that made the game amusing. To be obliged to sit almost motionless swallowing their laughter – not to mention the odd involuntary squawk – and trying to appear as prim and solemn as a Victorian tract, somehow made the whole thing seem unbearably funny.

By the time that Matron arrived to stand, waiting like some grim avenging Fury, the tension had mounted to a point where the contestants were weak and helpless with suppressed laughter; tears of mirth were pouring down Margia’s face; and – so mortally infectious is the schoolgirl malady of “giggles” – the girls in the rows nearest to the wicked trio were also beginning to shake.

Matron simply waited for the bell to ring and for Gertrud to finish her reading. Then, in a voice of doom, she informed the three that she wished to “speak to them” after all the others had left the toom.

The icy shock of seeing Matron materialize from nowhere brought the three Middles rapidly back to their senses, and they waited in apprehensive silence to hear what their fate was to be. Matron, under her brisk uncompromising exterior, concealed one of the kindest hearts imaginable; many of her patients would have agreed about this. But she often gave as much outward evidence of kindness as a sergeant-major on parade.

On this occasion, Evadne, Margia and Suzanne had to endure not only many extremely unflattering comments about their childish behaviour but also the prospect of giving up the whole of next Saturday afternoon to sewing under Matron’s personal supervision.

“And if any of you has not sufficient mending of her own to occupy the time – although I’m bound to say that seems most unlikely, with you two, any way”, she glared ferociously at Margia and Evadne, “I shall be delighted to supply her with more.”

Finally she dismissed them with strict orders to apologize to Gertrud and then go straight to bed. This meant they were deprived of the folk-dancing session the others would be enjoying until bedtime.

Five minutes later, three subdued girls might have been seen taking their way slowly upstairs to their dormitories. Even Evadne’s effervescent spirits were quelled. And Matron’s firm action had the effect of discouraging the Middles from further transgressions for a considerable time to come.

Thus ended the day that inevitably became known as “Mischief Monday”.

Chapter XIX

Patricia Shows Her Mettle

Thursday afternoon saw the Grange House party arriving back from Innsbruck, very cheerful and delighted with the success of their expedition.

“Only three more days till we leave Briesau,” Joan Hatherley said sadly, as they waited in the Stephanie lounge for Abendessen to be announced. Her round, normally cheerful countenance looked a picture of melancholy.

“Isn’t it four days?” objected Veronica.

“Well, my dear Miss Cunningham,” – Joan, gazing primly over her glasses, assumed a professorial manner – “it could indeed be argued that since this evening, it is still Thursday and our departure does not in fact take place until Monday, your point of view could well be considered literally correct. On the other hand, I would point out that our departure has been arranged for such an unholy hour on Monday morning that we shall not be able to profit from… Ouch! That’s my toe!”

“You surprise me,” Patricia withdrew her foot. “And no, I don’t apologize. At least it’s shut you up for the moment.”

“But you have to agree there really is something special about this place,” Joan continued, quite unabashed. “Oh, I know we’re going to heaps of splendid places – Vienna and Buda-Pest and all that. And I’m simply useless at describing things, but don’t you think the Tiernsee is somewhere one’s always going to want to come back to?”

The chorus that greeted this left no room for doubt that all the girls felt the same.

So naturally there were great rejoicings at supper-time, when Miss Bruce announced an addition to their original plans. Instead of traveling straight back to London from Munich, they were going to return to Briesau for the last weekend of the term; Mrs Russell and Mademoiselle Lepâttre had invited them all to stay at the Chalet School and to see a special performance of the school’s Christmas pageant.

“The journey back here from Munich appears to be simple…and short,” Miss Bruce continued, when the first buzz of interest had died down. “And we can travel to London just as easily from here…only a small alterations in the arrangements… Most kind of Mrs Russell and Mademoiselle to give us this invitation…I felt sure you would all wish to accept and to attend the Christmas play…a fitting way to round off our tour.”

And,” Pamela rejoiced, “we’ll be able to see this place in the snow after all, which we shouldn’t have done otherwise.”

“Not unless it snows before we leave on Monday,” said the ever-practical Veronica.

“And that’s not likely, with only three days to come and not a sign of snow yet – or so I’m informed by those who should know best,” Joan retorted.

Everyone now viewed the inevitable arrival of next Monday far more cheerfully, and they were able to enjoy making plans for a long farewell walk on the Saturday morning. After a lot of discussion, they decided they would go round the Tiernsee and right up to Scholastika at the far end, where arrangements could be made for the hotel to provide lunch.

Patricia excused herself from this conference, saying that she must get started with her packing. Joey Bettany’s birthday celebrations were to take place at the weekend and, as one of Jo’s guests, Patricia would be off to Innsbruck soon after breakfast on Saturday, going on with Joey and the others to spend the weekend at the Sonnalpe. All her packing had therefore to be finished by Friday night; she would take only a small case with her since, on the Monday morning, she would have to walk down to Spärtz to rejoin her party.

Patricia had become particularly attached to the Tiernsee district during the weeks they had spent there. But, in her case, the sadness of leaving had been tempered by the prospect of this coming weekend. She had looked forward to it enormously and seeing the hospital on the Sonnalpe. And yet, as the day came near, she found to her surprise and dismay that her feelings were now mixed. It was dreadfully puzzling.

On the Saturday morning Patricia woke very early in the room she shared with Pamela. Sleep refused to return. She did not like to put on the bedside light and read, for fear of waking her room-mate. At last, wearing a thick jersey and her dressing-gown over her pyjamas, she slipped out onto the balcony, closing the door quietly behind her.

She leant on the balcony rail, watching the cold grey dawn, as she tried to straighten things out in her mind. Why did she now feel this curious reluctance to meet the doctor and visit the hospital? It had been quite possible for her recently to shelve the whole question of her future and simply enjoy the present. That would not be possible any longer. Perhaps, she thought wryly, a swimmer might feel like this, standing down there beside the lake and trying to find the courage to plunge into the icy-cold, grey water.

And some icy-cold, grey thoughts refused to leave her: perhaps she was not the right person to make a good doctor; perhaps, even if she got the chance, she would fail; then all the battles she would surely have to face would have been fought for nothing. Patricia gave a shiver, caused only partly by the chilly, early morning temperature. Re-opening the French window, she went back into the bedroom where Pamela, not by nature an early riser, was still sleeping peacefully.

Over at the Chalet School Joey Bettany also had wakened extremely early. It was still dark in the Yellow dormitory and very quiet; the only sound, that of gentle, regular breathing coming from the other seven cubicles, told her that everyone else was still asleep. Jo switched on her torch briefly to see the time. Then, it being far too early even to think of sitting up, she lay back on her pillow, picturing the coming day’s events, enjoying them in anticipation.

She had finally decided to invite Frieda and Elisaveta, as well as Patricia, to join the birthday outing. As she had said to her elder sister, “If I invite either Marie or Simone it means one will feel left out; and Simone would be upset even though Marie probably wouldn’t be, she’s too sensible. But it’ll be far better all round to choose Elisaveta ‘cos she’s in a different form. Anyway, I’d like to have Veta.”

Madge had been interested by Joey’s reasoning. She was afraid that SImone was going to be upset anyway; but she felt strongly that the young French girl should be encouraged to become less dependent on Joey. One thing amused Madge: the thought obviously never entered Jo’s head that anyone would imagine Elisaveta was chosen because she was a princess. This, Madge felt, well-pleased, was a tribute both to Elisaveta herself and to the sensible way she had always been treated in the Chalet School.

Joey and her friends were to leave the school immediately after Fruhstuck and walk to Seespitz, where Frieda’s father, Herr Mensch, would pick them up by car and drive them down to Innsbruck. Madge and Jem Russell would have already arrived in Innsbruck and would meet them at the Mensches’ flat in the Mariahilfer Strasse. Then, in the afternoon, off to the theatre, where they would see the marionettes in a varied programme, including a one-act operetta by Offenbach. After that – but, for the moment, Joey had drifted back to sleep.

By five minutes to nine, she and Frieda and Elisaveta, all looking extremely tidy – for once Joey’s black mop of hair was neat – were gathered in the front hall waiting for Patricia to arrive from the Stephanie. It would have been too cold to stand around out of doors; but when the hall clock showed ten past nine, and Patricia had still not appeared, Jo ran down to the school gate and looked out impatiently in the direction of the Stephanie.

“Not a sign of her,” she reported to the others, when she had rushed back into the house, accidentally letting the front door slam behind her. “Sorry about that row! Whatever d’you think can have happened to her? It’s too bad; I’m simply dying to get going.”

“Perhaps she has mistaken the time for meeting here,” suggested Elisaveta.

“Not a chance of that. I saw her yesterday evening, and the last thing she said was ‘See you at nine in the morning’. It’s not like her to be late, either. Oh, botheration take it all!”

Joey thought furiously for a moment. “If she isn’t here in five minutes, you and Veta had better start for Seespitz,” she said eventually. “I’ll run round to the Stephanie and ocllect Patricia. She and I are fast walkers; we’ll easily be able to catch up with you.”

Ten minutes later and agitated Jo dashed up to the door of the Stephanie and disappeared inside. Everywhere it was empty and silent. The Grange House party had all left nearly an hour before their long walk round the lake, and neither Herr Dobler nor his wife was anywhere to be seen. Joey tore up the stairs to Patricia’s room and found it empty. Thoroughly puzzled now, she ran downstairs again to take a look into the big dining room.

It was quite deserted. The breakfast things had been cleared away, and someone had begun setting out the cutlery for the next meal. Joey was reminded for a moment of the mysterious tale of the ship Marie Celeste, which she had read recently.

Then suddenly she heard a muffled sound of voices and of someone apparently sobbing; it came from the far side of the room where there was a door leading presumably into the kitchen. Jo was across the room in a second and flung open the door.

A scene of woe met her eyes. Frau Dobler was sitting on a bench in the middle of the kitchen, her arm round a sobbing girl whom Jo vaguely recognized as Liesel, the hotel kitchen-maid. Patricia, white-faced but calm, was bandaging the girl’s hand; while, in the background, two frightened girls stood, huddled together beside the great cooking stove and staring wide-eyed.

The dress of the girl with the injured hand was bloodstained, and part of the table, as Joey saw in her quick glance round the room, was spattered with unpleasantly scarlet patches. For just one moment, Jo felt a wave of nausea sweep over her; then it was gone, forgotten in her urgent desire to help.

“Thank heavens you’ve come, Joey,” Patricia was saying fervently. “I’ve been trying to tell them that they must get a doctor for Liesel but I can’t speak German. Herr Dobler did go off somewhere, so perhaps he understood – I just don’t know.” She turned and spoke for a moment to the injured girl: “There now, Liesel, it’s all nearly finished; everything will be all right soon. ” The words meant nothing to Liesel, but the tone of the voice was steady and reassuring.

Meanwhile Joey, in her fluent German, was asking Frau Dobler whether anything had in fact been done about finding a doctor. She was quickly able to put Patricia’s mind at rest; Herr Dobler had certainly understood her, and he had gone to the Kron Prinz Karl to fetch a doctor who, by great good fortune, happened to be staying there. They should be arriving back at any moment now.

“Oh, thank heavens!” Patricia said again in obvious relief. Her grey eyes were still dark with anxiety but the tenseness of her expression relaxed a little. “I’ve put on a tourniquet, but I’m sure the wound ought to be stitched as soon as possible. And, if the doctor isn’t here soon, I must loosen the tourniquet for a moment.” She looked at her watch.

Joe, mindful of her Girl Guide training, had thought of something else. Offering to take Frau Dobler’s place beside the much calmer Liesel, she said: “Bitte, Frau Dobler, Liesel darf so gleich etwas warm trinken – und mit viel Zucker. Wollen Sie baldigst Kaffee machen?”

Patricia had caught the words “trinken” and “Kaffee“, and she nodded in approval. “Good for you, Jo; I think some coffee would do us all good.” She smiled at Liesel and patter her shoulder. “She’s only a kid, you know. And she obviously got a dreadful fright. Please, Joey, could you tell Liesel I’m very sorry this has to be so tight, but otherwise the bleeding might start again.”

Joey translated the first part of this sentence but wisely omitted the second, for fear that even the mention of bleeding might upset Lisel’s still precarious control. She then went and found a cloth and a bowl of water and began to try and remove some of the stains from the table. “What exactly happened, Patricia?” she asked.

“Well, I don’t know for sure. I heard a dreadful commotion going on here, and came down to see what it was about. Jo, don’t you think Liesel would be more comfortable in that chair?” Together they helped the girl to move onto a chair near the stove; then they wrapped her in a blanket brought by one of the maids, in response to a shouted command from Frau Dobler.

The latter had been hurrying round preparing the coffee with rapid efficiency. Suddenly she rounded on the other young girls sternly shooed them out of the room to get on with their work. Then she began to pour out the coffee with a great clattering of cups and spoons.

Patricia was surprised at the good lady’s outburst. She had never before seen Frau Dobler out of temper and was too young to realize how often people do react after stress by being exceedingly, sometimes uncharacteristically cross.

The time, as the girls waited for the doctor’s arrival, seemed to pass with leaden-footed slowness. They sipped the scalding hot coffee gratefully, and Patricia, in an undertone, continued her narrative to Joey.

She had been in her room, almost ready to leave for the Chalet School, when she heard the piercing screams. She and the Doblers, and the two young maids, had all rushed to the kitchen where (as Joey could guess, though Patricia naturally did not say so) the only person who knew how to cope with the injury was Patricia herself.

Apparently Liesel had been preparing meat and vegetables, using a large and extremely sharp knife. Something must have startled her, and the knife. Something must have startled her, and the knife had jerked sideways, making a deep cut right across her left hand. In terror at seeing the profuse bleeding, rather than at actual pain, the girl had screamed loudly. This at least had had the good result of bringing everyone to the kitchen.

Patricia had not hesitated for a moment. She had literally pushed Liesel and Frau Dobler on to the bench, indicating that Frau Dobler must support the girl and hold up the injured hand. Snatching a towel, she tore off a corner, folded it into a pad, and pressed it grimly on to the wound; finally she bound the pad tightly with the remainder of the towel. It had not been an easy operation, for Liesel had tended to struggle at first, and Patricia had felt despairingly hampered by her lack of German. Mercifully Frau Dobler had remained impressively calm, managing both to reassure the other two girls and get Liesel to pull herself together. “Schweigen, scweigen, Liesel!” she had said firmly but not unkindly. “So big a girl of nearly fourteen should not be crying thus over a little blood. And you,” she addressed her husband, who was hovering near the door, his eyes averted, “Ach, du! Geh nun – schnell! Fetch the bandages. And ask the Fraulein if she needs etwas anders. Weisst gut dass ich nur Bissel Englisch spreche.”

Patricia, of course, had only been able to guess at what was being said. “But whatever it was, Jo, it seemed to work. And thank heavens someone thought of those bandages.” She shook her head slowly. “I don’t like to think what would have happened if I couldn’t have made the tourniquet – the blood was oozing through the first dressing again in no time at all.”

Joey hastily changed the subject. And, although, to her and Patricia, it seemed like a hundred years, it was not really long before Herr Dobler bustled in bringing the doctor, an elderly German who was taking a late autumn holiday at the Tiernsee. He was visibly astonished at the youth of the “Englisches Fraulein” who had saved the situation. Indeed Patricia, for all her height, did look remarkably young.

Even, while attending swiftly and efficiently to Liesel, the doctor continued, in heavily accented English, to pour out a stream of compliments about the “young lady’s prompt and so-sensible action”. Patricia became crimson with embarrassment, and Joey, who had contrived to remain modestly in the background, had to leave the room altogether on hearing her friend described as, “so noble a bloom of young English womanhood, that shall her motherland for ever make proud”.

Patricia was thankful when she could at last make her escape and collect the spluttering Joey from a corner of the dining-room. Together they shot out of the hotel and started running at full tilt towards Seespitz.

But when they were nearing the end of the path up to the Chalet School, Patricia suddenly stopped.   “Hang on, Joey! Where exactly in Seespitz was Frieda’s father going to wait?”

Jo pulled up with obvious unwillingness. “Outside the Gasthaus. Why?”

“Jo, do please wait a second. There’s probably a telephone in the Gasthaus, isn’t there? So why don’t you dash into the school and ask one of the staff to phone a message to Herr Mensch? It wouldn’t take you a sec, and then the others will get some idea of when we’ll arrive at Seespitz. Don’t you think…?”

But Joey, with an admiring “Patricia, you really are a brain,” was already flying up the path at top speed. She disappeared into the school and was back in an incredibly short time. The two resumed their progress though now at a more leisurely tempo.

“I saw Mam’selle,” Jo informed Patricia, “and she’s going to get a message through at once. She thought it was a jolly sensible idea, I may say. I told her it was yours, of course – well, she’d have guessed it wasn’t mine,” and Joey gave a rather rueful laugh. “I never seem to think of sensible things like that,” she added humbly.

It was true that Joey was inclined by temperament to rush ahead at breakneck speed with anything she undertook, often neglecting to inform anyone of what she was doing or even where she was. This trait in her character had frequently landed her in trouble.

When they reached the end of the fence surrounding Briesau, Patricia glanced at her watch. “Can you believe it’s still only ten past ten?” she exclaimed.

“Golly, it feels more like the middle of next week.”

“I say, Joey, I’m so sorry to have thrown out all your arrangements for today. Will Frieda’s father be terribly annoyed at having to wait like this?”

“Oh, he’s sure to understand,” Joey said easily. “Anyway, it’s not your fault we’re late.” And she added, with a warmth that brought an even deeper blush to Patricia’s face than had all the German doctor’s fulsome praise: “You were absolutely wonderful, Patricia. And how in the world do you know about tourniquets and things? You haven’t ever been a Guide, have you?”

“No, we’ve never had Guides at Grange House,” Patricia replied somewhat breathlessly; Joey had unconsciously quickened her pace and it was hard work to keep up with her. “But we did have a course of first aid lectures last winter – they were in school hours so my mother couldn’t object – and I was able to attend them. And there are lots of books in the school library on first aid and nursing. I’ve read all those. But I’d have been lost without your help, Jo. You can’t ever know how desperate I was feeling before you arrived.”

They strode along in silence for a few minutes. Then Patricia spoke, an odd tone in her voice that made Joey slow down and look curiously at her.

“There’s one thing I’d like to tell you – something I’m very pleased about.” She hesitated for a moment. “You see, Jo, I’ve often wondered – I was thinking about it only this morning – whether, if it really came to the test, I’d have it in me to become a doctor. Sometime, you know, I used to feel horribly squeamish during parts of the first aid lectures. And there’s something Miss Bruce once said to me.” Patricia stopped still for a moment as she quoted: ” ‘No good trying to be a doctor for the wrong reasons…just to show your mother she’s wrong…far too important a matter…must be certain – unshakeable certain – you’re the right person’.”

Joey burst out laughing at this quite recognizable imitation of Miss Bruce’s spasmodic way of speaking. She was about to stride off once more when, yet again, something in Patricia’s manner caught her attention. “Something hit you?” she asked curiously.

“More like somebody. I wonder if I could ever…”

But Joey was beginning to worry about the time, and without following up her query she asked hurriedly, “Could you manage to run a bit, Patricia? Jog-trot, anyway. We could get to Seespitz in about five minutes if you could. We could get to Seespitz in about five minutes if you could.” Then, on the point of darting off, Jo turned right round and looked her friend squarely in the face.

“Now, listen to me Patricia Davidson. I don’t know what’s in your mind, but nobody could have watched you coping with Liesel this morning without realizing that you’re absolutely born to be a doctor…not unless they were stone-blind and stark, staring mad, and deaf into the bargain.”

Having delivered this statement in tones of ringing conviction Joey set off at a run, while Patricia, feeling all of a sudden as though her feet had wings, followed close behind.

CHAPTER XX

Sunday At The Sonnalpe

 

“Bye for now, Jem; bye, Patricia! See you at Kaffee.

Joey, leaning on the garden gate of Die Rosen, her sister’s pretty chalet home, waved as her brother-in-law escorted Patricia down the road towards the sanatorium.

Jo watched them for a moment. Then, whistling a cheerful tune, she turned and went swiftly up the long path back to the house. She noticed, feeling rather guilty, that she had left the front door standing open, and made haste to go inside and close it. Madge would have disapproved of the door being open, for the afternoon, although sunny, was bitterly cold. The snow can’t be far away, Joey thought.

The house was wrapped in Sunday afternoon tranquility. As she hurried through the hall, Joey noticed the ticking of a small carved wall-clock; it sounded enormous in the silence. She made for the salon and erupted into the room, effectively dispelling the peace her sister had been enjoying for a few moments.

“Really, Joey! Do you have to go round like an earthquake?” Madge abandoned her reading with a slight frown.

Joey threw herself on to the rug at her sister’s feet. “Awfully sorry, old thing! I suppose I was just in a hurry to get back. It’s so gorgeous to have some time together and I didn’t want to lose any of it. What shall we do this afternoon, Madge? Stay here and chat? Or go and take Rufus for a run? You say – I’m happy doing anything.”

Madge looked down at the girl she still tended to think of as her “little sister”. There was more than twelve years’ difference in their ages, and Madge had taken the place of a mother to Joey. All the same, she thought, Jo is growing fast; she must be as tall as I am now. Fifteen next week, too; she’s not a child any more.

“Well, shall we stay in here until the Robin’s had her rest? Then we could all walk along the alm and collect the others from the san on the way back,” she suggested.

“Splendiferous!” pronounced Joey. “Oh, Madge, it is being an absolutely marvellous birthday treat: staying here; and having the Robin and Rufus and the marionettes – oh, and you, of course! – all in one weekend; what more could any girl ask?” And Joey, rather like a large puppy, dropped her head for a moment on to Madge’s lap.

Madge shook with laughter. “Joey-Baba, you can be so funny sometimes! Anyway, I’m glad at least you put the Robin before Rufus, even if I do come at the end!” She ruffled Joey’s unruly black hair affectionately and suppressed the headmistress-like comment that was on the tip of her tongue. Joey would have to go and make herself presentable before they went out, but it was pointless to criticize now.

“When will Frieda and Elisaveta get back?” asked Jo.

“I don’t know exactly; but I’m sure Gottfried will bring them back in time for Kaffee und Kuchen,” her sister answered.

Frieda’s brother, Gottfried Mensch, a recently qualified doctor and now one of the team at the sanatorium, had taken his sister and Elisaveta off that afternoon to see the chalet where he was hoping to make his home.

“Wasn’t it decent of Frieda to suggest Elisaveta going with them?” Jo remarked. “I mean, it’s not that I wanted to get rid of them or anything, but it is jolly to be on our own, just for a little while.”

Madge nodded agreement. It had been a characteristically thoughtful action on Frieda’s part, she reflected.

“Madge, how in the world did you manage to get the Robin smuggled up here without a single soul knowing about it?” Joey asked suddenly. “At least, not really without a soul knowing, I s’pose, but you see what I mean. And I’m certain the Robin herself hadn’t the remotest idea when I saw her on Friday afternoon.”

“It was all fixed up with Mam’selle by telephone about a week ago,” Madge answered. “Joey, could you move over a little? – my foot’s going to sleep. Yes, thanks, that’s better. But the Robin wasn’t told anything until after breakfast yesterday. We really shouldn’t have expected the poor lamb to keep it a secret from you for long, bless her!”

“But who actually brought her up here? Jem couldn’t possibly have done.”

“Oh, no, we’d left for Innsbruck by half-past seven. Gottfried fetched her; he was off duty in the morning; and the idea was he’d get to the school about eleven o’clock, because we all thought you people would be safely out of the way by then. Of course, as things turned out…”

“Golly, Madge!” Jo broke in. “We must have been only a whisker away from bumping into Gottfried at Seespitz! Oh, I am so glad we didn’t; it would have ruined that absolutely splendacious surprise!”

Joey smiled, remembering for a moment their arrival at Die Rosen the previous evening.

It was late when they reached the Sonnalpe but, even before coming into the house, Joey had rushed her three friends round to the shed to greet Rufus, her beloved St Bernard. The huge dog was a favourite with both Frieda and Elisaveta, and Patricia had, of course, to make his acquaintance. After a considerable time devoted to “Rufus-worshipping”, the girls burst noisily into the house, and it was then that Joey saw the large piece of white paper pinned up at the foot of the stairs. Madge, knowing her sister’s tendency to exuberance, had written in enormous black letters:

WARNING! JOEY! TAKE GREAT CARE TO BE QUIET! SURPRISE AWAITS YOU IN YOUR ROOM. ON TIPTOE, PLEASE! HUSH!!!

Full of curiosity, Joey ran lightly up the stairs, to pause for a moment at her bedroom door, where another notice repeated, in even larger letters, the one word “HUSH!”

She eased the door open and saw by the night-light’s glimmer the tiny sleeping figure in the second bed. The Robin, her curly hair dark against the pillow’s whiteness and her little face rosy-flushed, lay sleeping with that intensity peculiar to small children. Jo felt her heart very full. She stood absolutely still for several moments; then, after giving the sleeping child a light kiss, she crept from the room, her black eyes glowing with happiness.

She had flown downstairs to thank her sister with a kiss and a bear-like hug. Jo had a horror of sentimentality, but she dearly loved the motherless Robin, and Madge could not possibly have arranged anything that would have pleased her more.

The chiming of the hall clock broke in on Joey’s thoughts at this point. Quarter-past two now; in half an hour they could set out for their walk. Jo stretched her long legs and leant back against Madge’s knees. Suddenly she asked, out of nowhere apparent: “How d’you think they’re getting on?”

Madge was used to Jo’s habit of wildly changing a conversation’s direction. “Do you mean Jem and Patricia?” she queried, guessing correctly where Jo’s thoughts had flown.

There was a moment’s silence. Jo wriggled round on the rug, and when Madge looked down it was to find her sister’s huge dark eyes fixed intently on her. She began slowly: “Jem and I had a long talk with Patricia this morning and …”

But Joey interrupted: “Madge, I don’t a bit expect you to tell me, you know. If it’s private, of course I’ll understand.”

Madge shook her head. “Oh, no, Patricia was quite happy that I should tell you,” she assured the younger girl. “Not that there really is much to tell.”

She paused again; the morning’s conversation came back to her vividly.

She, Jem and Patricia had spent the morning at Die Rosen, while Jo accompanied Frieda, Elisaveta and The Robin to the hospital, where a visiting priest was saying Mass. (Jo was not a Catholic, but Madge was always perfectly happy for her to attend Catholic services when she wished.) The tree sat comfortably in the salon, Madge writing a letter, while her husband enjoyed the unusual luxury of a few minutes; reading.

Patricia too had a book on her lap, but she had not been reading. At last she screwed up the courage to speak: “Please may I come and see the hospital this afternoon, Dr Jem?” She felt so nervous that the words came out jerkily, sounding rather as though she expected a refusal.

Jem Russell looked up from his book. “Of course, Patricia; delighted to take you round. I’d been expecting this, you know; made all the arrangements last week, in fact.”

The doctor had formed a good opinion of Patricia; obviously intelligent and sensible, she had also had a kind of seriousness which impressed him. She was interested in people and, although a little shy, appeared to get on well with all age groups.

And, of course, Joey had not failed to tell her sister and brother-in-law how splendidly Patricia had coped with the emergency at the Stephanie. All in all, Dr Jem felt that the girl had the qualities necessary to make a doctor and needed encouragement. However, he knew little of her background: here, he understood from his wife, there were difficulties and he must tread carefully.

“When do you leave school, Patricia?” he asked.

“End of term,” was the curt reply.

There was an awkward pause; and then, suddenly, it all came out: how the London season began in early summer and her mother insisted that, since she would be eighteen in January, she must finish school at Christmas and prepare for her coming out, with all the attendant rituals and paraphernalia.

“In fact, Mother really wanted me to leave last July, but the Head persuaded her to let me stay on for one more term and joint his trip to the Continent. Perhaps Mother imagined that foreign travel would take my mind off ideas about studying medicine.” And Patricia gave a rueful laugh.

There was silence again. Dr Russell and his wife were both searching for some way in which they could help the daughter, without obviously taking sides against her absent mother.

“Have you ever considered the idea of nursing, as a first step towards becoming a doctor?” Madge asked tentatively.

“Oh, goodness, I think Mother would find nursing even more horrifying than medicine – she’d never dream of allowing it, I’m certain of that.”

“But, in just over three years’ time you will be of age,” Dr Russell pointed out. “And then you would be in a position to decide to train as a nurse, if you wished. Medical studies cost a great deal of money, so you wouldn’t be able to embark on medicine without financial help. But as a nurse you would get your keep and some pay – even though it is very little – while you were training. You could be independent.”

Patricia said nothing. But it was obvious that she was listening with painful intensity.

“Nursing is uncommonly hard work,” the doctor continued, “but it is also enormously worthwhile. And it would give you a start in the world of medicine.”

“It would still mean three years of waiting, Patricia, ” Madge said gently. “Can you stand up to that?”

Patricia nodded slowly. “Oh, yes: I could wait,” she said in matter-of-fact tones. Somehow her hearers had no difficulty in believing that she was right about this.

“And, who knows, you might get the chance later on to study medicine – if you still wanted to, that is,” Jem added encouragingly. But here Patricia disagreed:

“Oh, no, I’d be much too old by that time.”

“Nonsense, my dear!” Madge was firm. “A family friend of ours was thirty-five before she was able – for family reasons – to take up medicine; and she’s become an absolutely splendid doctor.”

Patricia gave one of her rare and beautiful smiles. “I’m not sure I could wait as long as that! But anyway, thank you both for being so helpful and kind. I’ll certainly think about nursing. And there is…” She hesitated for a moment, apparently uncertain how to proceed. “You see, I did think…Oh, I don’t know, perhaps I shouldn’t even be…” Her voice trailed off altogether. And although Madge and Jem waited patiently, the silence continued to grow. Clearly some new conflict was filling Patricia’s mind. Suddenly she looked deeply unhappy.

At this point Madge paused in her account to Joey. “I think, Jo, it suddenly came home to her that, even though there could be possible ways of getting to her goal, her mother’s attitude wasn’t going to change. The lack of understanding between them would still be there. And although I’m sure Patricia has enough determination to carry things through, I don’t see her as the kind of girl who could be ruthless about it.”

“And her mother’s probably just the sort who’ll never speak to her again if she does take up the nursing idea.” Joey’s eyes flashed angrily. “I think she sounds utterly poisonous.”

“Jo, you simply must not speak like that,” Madge said sternly. “And there’s no need to be so dramatic about it all. Patricia’s mother doesn’t need to be so dramatic about it all. Patricia’s mother doesn’t understand her very well, but, in her own way, she’s probably fond of her. Oh, I know you don’t agree,” for JO was shaking her head protestingly. “And I’m certain, too, that, underneath everything, Patricia is fond of her mother. It shows in lots of ways.”

“But, Madge, that only makes everything more difficult.” A shadow had crossed Joey’s expressive face. “Poor Patricia! It’s rather like one of those puzzles where there isn’t any answer – you know, there’s a sort of maze, and whatever way you go you can’t get out. Oh, dear, I’m getting all muddled up…I mean: Patricia can give in and please her mother and be jolly miserable herself, or she can grit her teeth and go for what she wants – as soon as she’s old enough – and then her mother will be all upset. So it can never really come right, can it?”

“Well, don’t worry about it any more, Joey-Baba.” Madge stopped and gave her sister a kiss. “Lots of things in life do sort themselves out in the end. And this isn’t your concern. I want you to forget all about it for now, and help to make this a happy day for everyone Oh goodness gracious!” She was looking incredulously at her watch. “Surely that can’t possibly be the time! I promised to wake the Robin at half-past two, and it’s nearly a quarter to three. Go and get her ready, Joey, there’s a lamb. I’m just going to phone and tell Jem we’ll be round in about forty minutes’ time. And Joey! I don’t want to nag, but do remember to brush your own hair!”

Joey, looking and feeling much happier, bounded off upstairs. And Madge first gave a moment to straightening the pretty chair-covers and then went to put through her call to the sanatorium.

CHAPTER XXI

 

A Puzzling Parcel

 

Having once decided to cast care to the winds, Joey set out to enjoy the rest of the weekend holiday with almost too much enthusiasm. The quiet walk that Madge had planned came near to becoming a riot, for Jo was so full of energy that merely walking was far too dull for her. First of all, she run races with the Robin, giving her, of course, a giant start each time, and then catching her up in a great flurry of arms and legs. Rufus added to the confusion by bounding round them in enormous circles, traveling at least ten yards to every one of theirs. Eventually, when the Robin panted that she had not “not one tiny little breath lift”, Joey offered her a “pick-a-back” ride, but at this Madge intervened: “Joey-Baba, do try to think occasionally” You know quite well that Jem disapproves of your carrying the Robin; she’s getting too heavy for you now.”

So Jo was forced to curb her high spirits; and, to Madge’s relief, she walked sedately hand-in-hand with the little girl, telling her as they as they went a fascinating story about a water-nymph.

“Joey, did you really say she lived under a stream?” queried the Robin, wide-eyed.

“Yes, right underneath – water-nymphs do, you know. And this particular water-nymph was specially lucky; her home was under that gorgeous little waterfall in the Zillerthal, the one we saw last summer, remember?”

They collected Patricia from the sanatorium, but Dr Russell, having discovered various matters that needed his attention, announced that he must remain at the hospital and would rejoin them later.

Back at Die Rosen, Frieda and Elisaveta were impatiently awaiting them. We’ll have Kaffee right away, girls,” Mrs Russell decided. “So will you all go and wash and tidy now? After Kaffee I expect the Robin would like a game of Hide-and-Seek, wouldn’t you, mein Vogelein?”

The Robin beamed and the idea met with general approval.

“I’m going to enjoy it, too,” Joey remarked as she took the stairs to the bathroom two at a time. “Will you play, Patricia?”

“Yes, indeed; unless you think I’m too old, of course,” Patricia retorted.

In the Speisesal they found a sumptuous feast prepared for them. Marie Pfeifen had made an extra-special chocolate Torte covered with whipped cream to celebrate Fraulein Joey’s birthday; and there were also some delicious little cakes that Madge had bought the previous day in Innsbruck.

Joey proceeded to entertain them with a spirited account of the pranks played by the Middles on “Mischief Monday”. She soon had the whole party laughing helplessly at her description of Matron descending, “like a wolf on the fold”, upon the hapless Evadne and her friends. Even Madge, torn between feeling scandalized and amused, could not help joining in the laughter. But eventually, noticing the Robin’s big brown eyes fixed on Joey in utter fascination, as the tales of wickedness unfolded, she pulled herself together and said severely: “Well, I think they were extremely lucky that Matron was not harder on them; they were really very childish and naughty. And I hope, Jo, that you did not join in any of this silliness.”

“Oh, Madge, of course not! As if I’d want to play a stupid game with needles.” No one could possibly have guessed, from Joey’s air of outraged virtue, how often she had been a ringleader in the most outrageous scrapes.

She kept up the pretence for a full half-minute; then she burst out laughing and confessed with a sheepish grin: “As a matter of fact I wasn’t even at mending that night. Matron thought I might be starting a cold ‘cos I was a little hoarse – sort of croaky, you know – and she shot me off to bed before Abendessen.”

Madge gave a quick apprehensive look at her sister. Jo had been very delicate as a small child, and even now, when two-and-a-half years in the Tiernsee air had done wonders for her, a careful watch still had to be kept over her health.

“Oh, I’m absolutely fine now, Madge,” Joey, seeing the look, reassured her. “It was only a sort of ‘safety first’, making me go to bed; no end of a bore though.”

At this point the Robin created a diversion. She had been looking puzzled during Joey’s recent remarks and now asked: “Joey, why did Matron send you to bed? You were not naughty, were you?”

“No, sweetheart; well, not this time, anyway. Matron just thought I might be getting a cold.”

“But Joey, it did sound so strange before when you said – how was it? – you said you were a little ‘horse’. Qu’est-ce que cela veut dire, alors? Un petit cheval, non? Mais ce n’est pas possible.

No one would have dreamed of laughing at her. During the first six of her eight years the Robin had spoken mostly French; and although she now coped very well with English (and was making rapid progress with German), she still had trouble occasionally when she met a unfamiliar English expression.

While Joey explained the difference between “hoarse” and “horse”, Madge poured out more coffee. “And I think Patricia might like another cake,” she said. “Please pass the plate, Robin, dear.”

Elisaveta had been deep in discussion with Frieda. She now turned accusingly to Jo: “Do you mean to say, Joey, that you did not even see this duel between Evadne and Suzanne?” Her eyes were wide with astonishment.

And Frieda added, in tones of awe: “If I did not know you had gone to bed that night, Joey, I could not believe it. How then is it that you are able to tell the story like this, just as if really you would have been there, and would have seen it all?”

“Oh, that’s just my literary genius,” Jo assured her complacently. “Miss Annersley was telling us in English that it’s part of the writer’s craft to project themselves into other people’s situations – sort of like a periscope,” she added vaguely.

Madge pounced on her. “Joey Bettany! I don’t know anything about your ‘literary genius’, but that must be the fourth time recently you’ve said ‘sort of’, and it isn’t even good English. You really must try not to use the same expressions over and over again; at one time I remember it was ‘awfully’ in every sentence, and now it seems to be ‘sort of’.”

“And it gets ‘sort of awfully’ boring,” Joey agreed, not at all abashed. “Oh, sorry, Madge! I really will try to remember.”

“Would anyone like more cake?” Madge looked round the table. “Or another cup of coffee?”

Everyone declined politely, and she suggested they should go and sit quietly in the salonfor five minutes before starting their game of Hide-and-Seek. They all set to work to clear the things from the table and take them through to the kitchen to Marie Pfeifen. Patricia and Frieda collected the pretty cups, saucers and plates that had been made in the Tiernkirch pottery. Jo fetched a large tray from the kitchen, and she and Elisaveta stacked the things on to it. Even the Robin helped: she insisted on carrying the large coffee jug, firmly rejecting Joey’s suggestion that the cake plates would be easier to manage.

“Anyway, the tray’s certainly a lot lighter without the jug,” Jo remarked as she carried the tray from the room. “Sort of – I mean, like the camel’s back without the last straw.”

In the salon they threw themselves in to comfortable chairs, and the Robin climbed on to Madge’s knee. For a moment no one spoke. Then Elisavea gave a sudden gurgle of laughter and hastily apologized: “I beg pardon, Madame – I was just remembering something that happened with Evadne in our German lesson last week. It was so very funny.”

“I’m not sure I want to listen to any more of Evadne’s misdeeds,” Madge said repressively.

“Oh, but Madame, this was not anything naughty,” Elisaveta assured her. “It was just a mis¾” she hesitated.

“Mistake?” was Joey’s suggestion.

“Well, yes, it was a mistake; but I think I meant misunderstanding. You see, at our lesson we had each in turn to make up and say a short sentence in German, describing what someone was doing. And Margia said: ‘Evadne isst ein Ei’; and Evvy was cross and said that Margia was ‘real mean’ to call her an egg.”

Everyone laughed, except for the Robin, contentedly sitting on her Tante Marguérite’s lap and listening only from time to time, and Patricia, who had not got the point.

“But then, I still don’t see – I mean, how could she be an egg?”

Joey choked back her giggles at the picture this presented.

“You see, ‘isst‘ with a double ‘s’ comes from the verb ‘essen‘, which is ‘to eat’; it’s nothing to do with ‘is’; it means ‘eats’ or ‘is eating’. So of course Margia didn’t mean that Evvy was an egg; just that¾”

“¾she was eating an egg.” Patricia completed the sentence. “Yes, I see. It’s funny the words being so alike.” And she grinned appreciatively.

“Who’s going to be the first to ‘seek’?” Jo brought their thoughts back to the game. But Madge had recalled something.

“Gracious, Joey” I nearly forgot altogether – there’s a parcel for you. It arrived here yesterday.”

Joey looked at her in surprise.

“It’s probably a birthday present,” Madge went on, “and I think you’d better open it today in case it’s something you don’t want to take back to school; then you could leave it here.”

Madge went to get the parcel from the next room and Patricia asked: “What day is your birthday, Joey? It isn’t today, is it?”

“Oh, no, it’s not for several days,” Jo answered. “Goodness, Madge, what a monster of a parcel… Whatever can it be?”

Her sister had returned carrying a large brown paper packet tied with mch string, and the knots sealed with red sealing wax. Madge handed the parcel to Jo, who all but dropped it in astonishment.

“But Madge, it’s so light. I thought it was going to weigh a ton. What on earth is inside it?” She peered at the name and address which were written in a large sloping hand, and remarked: “I don’t know the writing, do you? Jolly peculiar, I’d say; wouldn’t you?”

Madge also had thought the writing odd; indeed, had it not seemed so unlikely, she would have thought it a disguised hand.

“I do wish you’d hurry up and open it, and not stand looking at it any longer,” complained Elisaveta. “Shall I help you undo the knots?”

And the Robin offered her assistance: “Me, I will help too, Joey. Miss Durrant has told us at Brownies that we should always keep the string from parcels, so I think you will not want to cut it.”

Joey had been considering doing just that: but she hastily changed her ideas and accepted their help.

Frieda collected the string as it came off the parcel and made it into a neat roll. Patricia sat on the sofa watching them all; there was a curious expression on her face, but the others were too occupied to notice.

At last the three got all the knots undone and Joey impatiently pulled off the paper. “Oh, bother it all, there’s more paper inside, and simply yards more string.”

“It must be something very precious.” Elisaveta began to tackle the inner layer. Two frenzied minutes later yet another layer was revealed.

“I bet anything it’s one of those ghastly trick parcels where you go on and on undoing the wrapping and in the end there’s nothing inside,” said Jo morosely. She stood for a moment sucking the top of her finger, which she had pinched in a particularly obstinate knot.

“Surely no one would do such an unkind thing,” said Frieda. “See, Joey, if you will take this” – she handed Jo the rapidly growing ball of string – “I will help the others with the untying.”

“Thanks, Frieda; and Robin darling, you and I could fold up the paper.” Jo had seen that eight-year-old was becoming a little daunted at the prospect of still more knots.

“Goodness me, Jo, you’re not still undoing that parcel?” An astonished Madge was standing in the doorway. After giving Joey the packet she had retired next door to her husband’s study in order to finish off the letter interrupted by the morning’s discussion with Patricia. “I thought you would have finished long ago; who can possibly have sent it?” Madge watched fascinated as yet another piece of brown wrapping was removed, revealing this time, to everyone’s relief, a large cardboard box.

“At least, Joey, there is something in the parcel, after all.” Elisaveta stood back to let Jo open the box for herself.

The others crowded round to watch. Even Patricia got up from her corner of the sofa and stood peering over Frida’s shoulder.

Joey whipped off the lid and gave a heartfelt, groan. The box appeared to be entirely filled with pieces of crumpled newspaper and tissue-paper.

“I’m not sure there is anything here, Veta.” Jo plunged her hands in among the paper. “¾Ah, now, wait a moment…” There was an agonizing interval. Then Joey, with a little smile, said: “Here, Robin, you come and search. I think perhaps you just might be able to find something.”

The Robin, her face full of expectation, went forward and rummaged in the box. Her little arms were immersed to the shoulders. Another long moment passed; then the Robin gave an exclamation and withdrew a small narrow rectangular package.

“Well, I don’t care a fig what anybody says, I’m jolly well going to cut the knots on this one.” And Joey, disregarding a half-hearted protest from Frieda, snatched a pair of scissors from her sister’s desk and began snipping through the string.

“Wait a minute, Jo!” Madge called. “What does that writing say?”

Jo stopped in the act of tearing off the last wrapping. There was something written in the same curious hand as the address had been.

“It just says, “Happy Birthday, Joey!” Not a word about who sent it,” and Jo continued ripping off the paper.

“Oh, Joey…but it is so lovely!” Frieda, standing nearest to JO, was the first to see the picture emerge. It was a watercolour painting, in a plain wooden frame: to the right of the foreground was the Chalet School, behind it the pine woods and the slopes of the Bärenkopf mountain; while to the left, the waters of the Tiernsee stretched into the far distance.

Tiens! Mais c’est notre école. Regardez-moi ca!” exclaimed the Robin, wide-eyed. “Que c’est joli, n’est-ce pas?

“What a charming picture!” Madge said, coming forward and taking it in her hand. “I wonder who can have painted it? I don’t think it was done by anyone at the school.” She looked at the back of the picture: “The frame comes from Ettersöhn in Innsbruck, I see, but there’s nothing about the name of the painter.”

“I think, Madame, there are some initials in the corner of the painting,” put in Frieda.

Jo took it and squinted horribly in an effort to decipher the signature. “I think there’s a P and a G…no, more likely an S,” she said at last. “And there’s another letter between them that I can’t make out.”

Elisaveta put out her hand. “That’s a D, surely, isn’t it?”

“P…D…S,” Joey said slowly. “Funny, I’m sure that ought to mean something, but I can’t for the life of me…Oh, yes! Of course!” Joey swung round to look accusingly at Patricia, who had returned to her seat on the sofa and was doing her best to appear unconcerned. “Priscilla Doughty-Smythe! Of course! – that’s who it is. Oh, Patricia, you really shouldn’t have…but it’s utterly gorgeous and I love it…Priscilla is clever…how on earth did you manage to post it here? And how could you be so jolly mean? That ghastly parcel…Oh, but it was worth all the trouble opening it.”

Jo stopped for want of breath. The others were beginning to look and feel more and more at sea every moment; Joey’s outpourings did nothing to help them, and Patricia, her usually pale face rather pink, continued to say nothing at all.

Then a small voice was heard: “Me, I think it is a lovely present, Joey, and you are very lucky. But Joey – you did promise that we would play Cache-Cache. Please, may we play now our game before it will be my bedtime?”

Jo looked conscience-stricken. “Oh, Robin darling, I’m so sorry. Of course, we were just going to begin playing, and we’ve been simply centuries opening that parcel. Hurry up, you lot, go and hide…Veta, can you take the Robin? I’ll seek first; I’m going to start counting this very minute – and only to a hundred, mind! So make it snappy.”

Then, as Patricia, thankful to have been spared public explanations, was slipping out of the room to find a hiding place, Jo called softly after her:

“It’s a most awfully decent present, Patricia. Thanks very much.”

The rest of the evening passed all too quickly. Madge insisted that all the girls, including Patricia, must go to bed in good time, since they would have to be up to make a very early start the next morning.

On her way to bed Joey heard her sister call from the salon. When she went in, Madge held out two books.

“I promised to lend these to Patricia. Please will you take them to her, Joey-Baba, as I might forget in the morning. Tell her not to bother posting them back to me. She can bring them when she comes at Christmas-time and leave them at the school.”

As she climbed the stairs, Joey glanced at the titles. One was a Life of Florence Nightingale; the other was called simply, Bernadette.

CHAPTER XXII

Two Letters

 

Joey, ma petite, veux-tu bien venir un instant?” Today was Tuesday – the first Tuesday of December, for more than a month had gone by since Joey’s weekend party at the Sonnalpe – and French was the official language of the day. Morning lessons had just ended and Joey, on her way to the splasheries to wash for Mittagessen, had been intercepted by Mademoiselle Lepâttre.

Mais oui, Mam’selle.” Joey answered meekly, as she felt her heart sink; and, suffering the uneasiness associated with any summons to the headmistress’s study, she followed Mademoiselle down the corridor.

But on this occasion she had no need to worry, or to search her conscience. Mademoiselle merely pointed to a number of letters that were lying on her desk, sorted into six piles. “Voilà le courier qui vient d’arriver,” she said to the immensely relieved Joey. “Please will you take round the letters for the Senior and Middle forms.”

“Would you not like me to take the staff their letters too, Mam’selle?” Joey asked politely.

“But yes, if you please, Jo. And would you also ask Grizel Cochrane to come and see me immediately after Mittagessen and bring her timetable with her. Madame wishes particularly to speak with Grizel when she comes here on Friday; and it will be necessary therefore for Grizel to change the time of her piano lesson with Herr Anserl.”

Très bien, Mam’selle.” And, giving the regulation curtsey, Jo left the room carrying the letters.

First she went to the Sixth form-room; she dashed in and dropped their letters on to Gertrud Steinbrücke’s desk, which was nearest the door. Grizel, occupied in fitting a new nib in her penholder, only nodded absently when Joey gave her Mademoiselle’s message. With a wicked grin Jo turned just as she was leaving the room; raising her arm in a menacing gesture, she croaked out: “Beware the gipsy’s message, oh, Griselda! Beware the dark headmistress, who comes a-visiting from the High Mountain Lands!”

Grizel looked up sharply, about to make some withering comment, but Jo had already vanished. Returning to her struggle with the pen-nib, Grizel did wonder for a moment why Madame should wish to see her; perhaps it had something to do with her Christmas holiday arrangements.

There were only four letters for Joey’s own form. She kept these to the last, and by the time she reached the Fifth form-room the warning bell for Mittagessen had already sounded. The two letters at the top of the pile came from Paris and Vienna and were for Simone and Marie from their families. The other two had Hungarian stamps. Joey was now in a violent hurry and, since the top envelope was addressed to Paula von Rothenfels, the only Hungarian girl in the Fifth, she dumped both letters unexamined on Paula’s desk, before hastening to the splasheries to do her interrupted tidying.

After Mittagessen the girls were encouraged to get ready with all possible speed for the afternoon walk. They had already spent half an hour out of doors that morning, enjoying a vigorous game of “French and English” on the snow-covered hockey field. But, now that winter had come in earnest, Mademoiselle was anxious that they should get as much fresh air and exercise as possible, whenever it was fine.

Today the Fifth form decided to leave the Chalet by the gate in the fence at the top of the playing field and walk up the path toward the Tiern valley. Just to make sure, as Joey suggested inanely, that “the Tiernjoch mountains was still there”. They would then make their way down to the lake-side and so back to the school’s front entrance.

Everywhere outside it was intensely still, and the voices and laughter of the girls rang out sharply in the clear air. The pine woods against the snow looked as though they had been drawn by a charcoal pencil on impossibly white cartridge paper.

Joey, with the ever-faithful Simone beside her, walked along at the head of the group, chatting animatedly to Miss Maynard about their plans for the Christmas holidays. Miss Maynard was going back to England, and she had invited Joey and the Robin to go with her and spend Christmas at Pretty Maids, the Maynards’ family home near Lyndhurst in the New Forest.

At first Jo had been disappointed at the prospect of not being with her sister at Christmas time. But it turned out that Dr Russell would have to leave home the day after Christmas to attend a medical conference in Vienna, and his wife naturally wanted to go with him. So Madge had been delighted that the children should accept Miss Maynard’s invitation, and Joey, once accustomed to the plan, found she was looking forward to it quite happily.

“Grizel will come with us as far as London,” Miss Maynard said as they left the Chalet School fence behind. “She is going down to Devon to spend Christmas at home; then in January she’ll come and stay for a week at Lyndhurst; so we shall all be able to travel back here together. We’re going to make it a real English Christmas, Joey; plum pudding and mince-pies and all the usual things. And we have huge log fires in all the downstairs rooms; and fires in the bedrooms too, if it’s cold.”

“How jolly!” Joey said appreciatively. “I must say the stoves we have out here do keep the rooms gorgeously warm, but it’ll be fun to see open fires again, just for a change. Will you have a Christmas tree, Miss Maynard?”

“Oh yes, of course, and a really big one, I hope. We usually have it standing in the bay window in the drawing-room; it’s not in a draught there, which is safer for the candles; and then before the curtains are drawn at night, you can see the lights all across the garden. And Joey, I don’t suppose the Robin knows about hanging up a stocking for Father Christmas to fill; you’ll have to tell her all about that.”

“Rather!” Jo agreed. “That’ll certainly be something quite new for the Robin; she’s always put out her shoes on Christmas Eve. I say, Miss Maynard,” Jo was looking up at the sky above the mountains to the north of them. “Don’t you think those clouds look a bit nasty?”

All three stopped for a moment. The wind was coming from the north, and it had suddenly grown stronger. Simone gave a little shiver and murmured, “Tiens, il commence à faire rudement froid maintenant.”

“I think perhaps we had better turn now and go straight back, girls,” Miss Maynard said as the rest of the form came up and looked enquiringly at her. “It may begin to snow again quite soon, and we don’t want to be caught as we were two years ago!” And she turned to Frieda Mensch, whose opinion about the weather was always valued since she knew conditions at the Tiernsee so well.

“I do not think there will be snow for at least two, perhaps three hours,” Frieda said cautiously, “but it would not be safe to rely on that, Miss Maynard.”

Alors, nous allons rentrer tout de suite,” the mistress said with decision. “Dêpechez-vous, mes enfants. And keep strictly to the path.”

Miss Maynard set off rapidly down the track and the group obediently fell in behind her. As they hurried along Frieda asked Joey, “As-tu bien trouvé ta lettre?

“What letter?”

“The one you gave to Paula.”

Joey looked nonplussed.

“What I mean is,” Frieda explained, “one of those letters you gave to Paula was really for you.”

“How odd! But they came from Hungary. Oh, well, I suppose I didn’t look properly. Wherever’s Paula got to? She might at least have brought the letter for me, the mean thing.” And Jo looked round indignantly.

Frieda reminded her that Paula had not been allowed to come on the walk that afternoon, because she was recovering form a heavy cold.

“Oh, bother it all! I can’t wait to see who’s written to me.”

“But you will have to wait,” Simone remarked tactlessly. Joey glared ferociously at her; but she was obliged to restrain her impatience and curiosity until they got back to school.

The moment she had hung up her coat and beret and put away her scarf and boots, Joey rushed to their classroom; but as ill-luck would have it, Paula did no appear until just as the bell began to sound for the first afternoon lesson. She did immediately take the letter from her desk and hand it to Jo; but by then Miss Wilson was sitting down at the mistress’s desk, and the geography lesson was about to begin. So Joey could only glance at the envelope, which, she now saw, was addressed to her in Patricia Davidson’s neat handwriting.

For Jo the afternoon passed with weary slowness. When at last the final lesson ended, Miss Annersley was scarcely through the door before Joey flung open her desk, bundled away her copy of Macbethand snatched up the letter. Her desk lid fell back with a resounding clatter.

“I do think you might have given me the letter before,” she growled at Paula.

“But, Joey, I am so sorry, I have not seen you,” Paula protested.

“Well, no, I s’pose you didn’t. My own fault for not looking at it properly. Sorry, Paula!” Joey ripped open the envelope and began to read.

Patricia was not a person to whom letter-writing came easily. She had managed to cover several sheets, telling Joey about their time in Salzburg and Vienna; but somehow her account did not come to life and tended to read a little like the minutes of a meeting.

Madge Russell had noticed the same thing when she received the rather stiff formal note of thanks Patricia had written after her weekend at Die Rosen. Madge felt then, as Joey did now, that it was odd how little of Patricia’s personality came across in a letter. Madge had also thought with some amusement of the contrast this made with her sister; of course Joey did sometimes experience difficulties in writing, but generally words would flow from her with the speed that knitting does from the needles of a skilled knitter.

Jo worked her way through Patricia’s letter and then re-read the final part:

I am writing this in the train going to Buda-Pest. It isn’t a very beautiful journey but at least it’s not very long.

Please give my best wishes to Mrs Russell and tell her the books she lent me are most interesting. I’ve finished the one about Florence Nightingale and am halfway through the one about Lourdes.

Hope everyone is well at the Chalet School. Pamela and Joan send their love. We are all looking forward to seeing you again quite soon. Do write if you have time.

 

Yours, Patricia.

“So the book was about that Bernadette,” Joey thought to herself as she finished reading. “Now why on earth should Madge have given her that, I wonder? I can see the point of Florence Nightingale, but why ever Lourdes and St Bernadette? Surely to goodness Madge doesn’t picture Patricia being a nun, or anything of that kind?”

The bell for Kaffee brought her reverie to an end; and she folded up the letter and put it away.

The rest of that day passed unremarkably, the snow beginning to fall at about half-past four, very much as Frieda had forecast. It did not then go on for long, but the following morning it started again and continued steadily. So there was no going out of doors for the school that Wednesday.

A rehearsal of the Christmas play was to take place after Mittagessen. As soon as grace had been said, the girls began making their way to the cloakroom to don outdoor close. “Everyone shall wear boots and, of course, coats, scarves, gloves and woolen caps,” Gertrud Steinbrücke announced as the line filed out of the Speisesaal. “Just as for all walks.”

“Seems a real waste of time, this,” Evadne grumbled, as she struggled into her overcoat and searched for her scarf, which had chosen this moment to vanish from sight. “Can’t be more than a few…”

“Quite far enough in this temperature, my child,” Joey assured her in lofty tones. “You’d be frozen to death halfway. Not to mention soaked through. It’s snowing cats and dogs out there.”

“Well, you don’t seem in any hurry yourself,” Evadne retorted. “Oh, there it is.” She rescued her errant scarf from the corner where it had been lurking. “You’ve not even started putting your things on.”

“Ah, but then I don’t have to,” Joey said, with an irritatingly smug expression. “No, honestly,” as several people interrupted their dressing to look at her. “I’m not coming to the rehearsal till later.”

“But Joey, are you sure?” Frieda asked anxiously. “Mam’selle has been saying at Frühstück that all must attend the rehearsal.”

“All except me, she meant. And the Juniors – they’ll be staying in Le Petit Chalet today. Really, truly, Frieda! I’m not in any of the scenes being rehearsed. So I’m off to write an important letter. And of course I’ve got permission. I asked at breakfast-time.”

Joey attempted to stage a dignified exit, but was brought up short by the arrival of Miss Annersley, who announced from the doorway in her pleasant and carrying tones: “Time we were all on our way, girls. Is everyone properly clad? And have you all got your slippers with you? Then, Marie, please will you lead the way.”

While the throng of girls streamed along the passage and then, with sharply indrawn breath, out into the scurrying snow, Joey took herself off to her form-room. There she settled down at her desk to answer Patricia’s letter. For a while she gazed out of the window, almost hypnotized by the soft, yet relentless, fall of snow. At last, black brows knitted in concentration, she began to scribble rapidly:

Dear Patricia,

It has been snowing like mad all day, so we have had no chance to go out. That is partly why I have such oodles of time to write letters.

Thanks awfully for your letter; it arrived yesterday. It was jolly decent of you to write.

Lucky you, going to have such a gorgeous chance to look round Buda-Pest. I am longing to go to Hungary one day. Be a dear and send us a picture postcard.

You know how freezing cold it was that Sunday at the Sonnalpe? Well, in the end the snow actually did not arrive till the middle of November, but then it came with such a vengeance that we were caged up indoors for nearly a week. At least, it felt like a week! When at last the sun came out we had a simply golluptious snow-fight. I had my face well scrubbed with snow. And some unspeakable little horror even tried to put snow into my boots!

By the way, I hope you will notice in this letter how careful I am being to write correctly. Miss Annersley says that contractions shouldn’t – SORRY – should not be used in writing, so I am trying extra hard to remember. It feels a bit like writing with your arms tied behind you. So I guess, as Evadne would say, that a few will creep in.

At the moment, everyone here has her nose simply glued to the grindstone, working for a Hobbies Club competition that will be held at the end of term. The form that does the most interesting work – in the judges’ opinion, anyway” – will win a cup presented by the staff, and our lot are going to make jolly sure we win it! I’m working on making a marionette theatre, and, as you will guess, I got the idea from the performance we saw that day in Innsbruck. Mine is much more simple, of course – well, it would need to be! But, between ourselves, I think it’s coming off beautifully!

Frieda Mensch’s effort is a simply gorgeous set of dolls of all nations. Her father sent her lots of little wooden dolls to dress in national costumes, and she wrote and asked if he would send half a dozen more for my puppets. I’ve had to work out the most complicated arrangement of threads you ever saw to make their arms and legs work! Simone is helping to make their clothes, because you know – or perhaps you don’t – how absolutely useless I am at sewing. She’d already finished her own contribution, which is some really top-hole embroidery, and I suppose sewing a few dolls’ clothes is no trouble to her. But, anyway, she has been a real brick about helping. I have made the theatre our of wood, and Simone is now concocting some red velvet curtains for the front. We got the material from Matron in a moment of unexpected benevolence!

The latest Chaletian magazine has just arrived so all the world is busy exclaiming over how marvelous it is. Best we’ve ever had, they say, and I rather agree – even though I shouldn’t say so, as I’m the editor. I’ll send you a copy if Maynie will let me have one.

Nothing specially exciting to report. Oh, yes – there was a little excitement one afternoon last week. That idiotic bunch of Fourth formers were on their own after lessons for about two-and-a-half minutes, and, would you believe it, they had a competition to see who could build the highest tower on top of her desk. With the expected result! From next door it sounded like some young volcano erupting all over the place! Marie and I rushed to see the fun, but our one and only Grizel had just reached the scene, so we made ourselves scarce, not being very anxious to see them all skinned alive.

Oh goodness gracious! I nearly forgot to mention the Christmas play. However could I forget when it’s taking up pretty well every moment of the day – apart from the Hobbies competition, of course, not to mention a few little items like lessons. Rehearsals are in full swing now, and it’s really topping having a proper stage for the first time. I should explain that it is not really a play this year, more like a pageant. I mean there are no speaking parts but the story is told in tableaux and mime, with readings going on at the same time – if you see what I mean. Needless to say there are also heaps and heaps of Mr Denny’s favourite carols. Well, in fact they are mostly my favourites too. Specially “I Sing of a Maiden”. I have to sing that one on my own in the darkness.

Some of the time we have to be terribly quick with the costume changes, to try and give the impression there are crowds and crowds of us – you know the sort of thing. Luckily Miss Durrant had an absolutely splendacious idea, and she and Miss Carthew and a lot of the folk who are good at sewing, like Simone and Suzanne Mercier, have made sort of cloaks that can be folded and worn in all sorts of different ways. They fit anyone, so we can change round, and there are oodles of different colours. I asked Miss Durrant how in the world she’d thought of the idea, and she said they’d used it when she was at college. “About fifty years ago,” she said, but I’m not sure I believe that! Now, if she’d said twenty-five!

The stage management people seem to have no end of other clever wheezes but I won’t – oh dear! – will not reveal any more as it would spoil it. You will just have to wait and see.

Really must conclude this epistle. By for now.

Joey

PS Look forward to seeing you soon.

PPS Exams next week! So there are heartfelt groans all round, as you can imagine.

 

Characteristically, Joey did not even bother to read through her letter, but simply folded the sheets and crammed them straight into an envelope. This she addressed to the hotel in Munich where Patricia told her the Grange House party would be staying next. A quick glance out of the window showed that the snow was no longer falling and the sun was shining brightly. With luck Mademoiselle might allow her to take her letter straight along to the Post Hotel. Joey hurried off to ask permission.

On the way, she barely managed to stop herself whistling joyfully at the prospect of a brisk run in the sunshine. It was so jolly to get out of doors! But, at the thought of Mademoiselle’s disapproval, she hastily composed herself, and she had just raised her hand to knock on the study door when, without warning, it burst open and she was all but thrown into the arms of Miss Maynard.

“I’m so sorry, Miss Maynard. Did I…?”

“No, no, Joey, it wasn’t your fault.” Miss Maynard was also gasping slightly. “But the odd thing is, I was just on my way to fetch you. Please come in.” She turned, and Jo, greatly wondering, began to follow her into the study. Whatever could she have done now? And her astonishment redoubled when she saw not only Mademoiselle but also Miss Wilson and Matron sitting behind the headmistress’s desk. All were looking preoccupied. Joey felt her knees begin to wobble…

CHAPTER XXIII

A royal Summons

“Please sit down, Jo,” Mademoiselle said gravely. “We have had some serious news.”

“Oh, Mam’selle! Not Madge…” Joey, ashen faced, sank on to the nearest chair.

“No, no, my dear child,” Mademoiselle hastened to reassure her. “Your dear sister is quite all right. And Dr Jem, also. Forgive me – it was most thoughtless of me to have alarmed you. No, this news concerned Elisaveta.”

Elisaveta?” Joey looked astonished. “Well, I knew she’d been having a go of bronchitis, but I thought she was up and about again.”

“Elisaveta herself is making excellent progress, I am glad to say.” Mademoiselle turned to Matron, who nodded in confirmation. “No, this news concerns His Majesty, her grandfather.”

“The King, you mean? Oh Mam’selle, is he¾?”

“No, Joey. But I am sorry to say that he is indeed very seriously ill. The doctors have expressed grave anxiety; and the Crown Prince has wired to request that we shall arrange for Elisaveta to return immediately to Belsornia.”

“And you can see, Jo,” Miss Wilson took up the tale, “this involves enormous problems. Somehow Elisaveta has to be conveyed to Spärtz. The Crown Prince will arrange for his equerry, Captain Trevillion, and Elisaveta’s personal maid to meet her there and escort her by train to Belsornia. But there is no easy way of getting Elisaveta down the mountain.”

“What with the snow,” Miss Maynard put in, “and the poor child still being in the sick-room.”

“Which is where she ought to stay by rights,” interjected Matron. “At least for another day or two.”

“But why can’t Veta’s father send someone to fetch her from here?” Jo asked in puzzled tones. “Couldn’t Captain Trevillion bring his aeroplane, like he did last summer when…”

“Unfortunately, that would be impossible at this time of the year,” Mademoiselle answered.

And Miss Wilson added with a touch of asperity “Use your head, Jo! Not even a genius could land an aeroplane at Eben with all this snow. Or anywhere else round here for that matter.”

“And for Elisaveta to walk down that path to Spärtz is entirely out of the question.” Matron’s tightly pursed lips indicated clearly that nothing would shift her from this standpoint.

“indeed, Matron, we all of us agree about that,” Mademoiselle said in her most soothing tones. “And Dr Russell would certainly not hear of it.”

“What about a motor-car, then?” Joey suggested. (For the moment she was so caught up in the situation that she had no time to wonder why four members of staff should be consulting her about all this.) “Couldn’t somebody bring one up from Spärtz to collect her?”

But Miss Maynard shook her head. “We thought of that. But it appears the snow is completely blocking the road.”

“Then couldn’t Veta be carried down the path?” And Joey added eagerly: “Why, Mam’selle, two of us could easily take her on a ‘queen’s chair’. Madge and I often carry the Robin like that.”

Mon enfant – you must appreciate that a tiny eight-year-old is a matter quite different from a girl of nearly thirteen.” Mademoiselle’s tones were gentle but firm. “However, we could in the ordinary way have asked Fritzel Pfeifen or one of the others to carry Elisaveta. It may yet come to this. But Matron feels strongly that Elisaveta is not yet fully recovered from her bronchial attack, and that she must, if possible, be spared a journey of this kind through the snow.”

“Let alone the chance that more snow could start falling at any time,” Miss Maynard said, looking gloomily out of the window. “Although Frieda did seem to think it wouldn’t…”

“Mam’selle!” Joey broke in excitedly. “Excuse me, Miss Maynard, I didn’t mean to interrupt, but I’ve had a brainwave! I’m sure it’s the answer. What about a sledge? No, not a toboggan.” (Miss Wilson tried to picture the Crown Prince’s reactions if his daughter was sent careering down the mountainside on a sledge.) “I really meant a sleigh.”

“A sleigh, Joey? Mais je ne comprends pas.”

“Oh, Mam’selle, I’m sure it’s the only solution. And they have one, I’m sure they do. You know – those cousins of the Pfeifens. It’s not a grand affair like the ones in Innsbruck. But Elisaveta could be really warmly wrapped up, and she wouldn’t be tired either. Fritzel could easily arrange it.”

“Joey, ma chérie! Please take breath for a moment. Begin once more, and explain to us what you mean.”

“I’m sorry, Mam’selle.” Joey, who had half risen, sank back and continued at a les breakneck speed. “I just remembered, there’s a family at that farm in Torteswald – you know the one – the big chalet with the gorgeous frescos on the side. And I’m almost certain they’ve got a horse-drawn sleigh at the moment. Marie Pfeifen said something about it the last time I was up at Die Rosen. They’ve borrowed it from some other cousins, right down in the valley, I think. Unless, of course they’ve already sent it back,” Joey concluded on a more sober note.

The mistresses exchanged glances. “I will most certainly enquire about this tout de suite,” said Mademoiselle. “If it can be arranged, it would provide a wonderful solution to our problem.”

“Providential, I’d say.” Miss Wilson signified her approval; and Miss Maynard and Matron nodded vigorously.

“And now, Joey,” Mademoiselle went on, “we must explain why it is that we have wished to see you.”

“Oh, goodness!” Jo looked thoroughly taken aback, for at last it had dawned on her that there had to be another reason for her summons, quite apart from Elisaveta’s traveling arrangements.

“You see, Jo,” Miss Maynard began, “we all feel that you would be the best person to tell Elisaveta the news about her grandfather and explain things to her.”

“Elisaveta is very fond of you, my child,” Mademoiselle said. “And you have stayed with her in Belsornia, so you know both her father and the King.”

“Is Elisaveta much attached to her grandfather, do you know, Joey?” asked Miss Maynard.

“In the old days I don’t really think she was,” said Joey bluntly. “The King was awfully – well, remote, as far as I can gather. Not really interested in her, because she wasn’t a boy.” (Miss Wilson barely suppressed a disapproving snort.). “But things have been quite different since last summer, when Veta was kidnapped. And when we were staying in Belsornia they seemed to be getting quite close, but¾” Joey broke off, a look of concern crossing her expressive face. “What will, I mean, if anything – well, happens to the King – will they let Elisaveta stay here at school?”

“That I cannot tell you at the moment, Joey,” Mademoiselle said quietly. “And now we have many urgent arrangements that must be discussed. Miss Wilson, perhaps you will be good enough to go round to the hall and assist Miss Annersley and Miss Carthew with the rehearsal. They have got the prefects and Miss Denny with them, but I think they would be glad of your assistance. And perhaps you will explain that Jo is unable to attend the rehearsal.”

“Yes, of course,” Miss Wilson got briskly to her feet.

“And if you wish, Mam’selle,” Miss Maynard also stood up, “I could go round straightaway to the Pfeifens and find out about the sleigh. Then one of them would certainly go over to Torteswald and make the necessary arrangements.”

“Provided they really do have a sleigh,” Miss Wilson said darkly, as she departed.

“Let us all hope and pray,” was Mademoiselle’s response. “It is our best, perhaps our only chance of getting the child safely to Spärtz. And now, Matron, if you will take Joey to Elisaveta, I will endeavour to get in touch with Belsornia on the telephone. It can often take some hours to get through to them. And you, ma chérie,” she gave Jo a specially affectionate smile, “we are entrusting you with the task of breaking the news to Elisaveta. We all feel you are the right person to help her. But remember afterwards, Jo, that you must not for the moment say a word about this matter to any of the others.”

“I understand. And luckily no one’s likely to notice anything, seeing that I wasn’t due at the rehearsal till later. Oh, golly!” Joey looked round wildly. “What happened to my letter?”

“I think this must be it.” Miss Maynard stooped down to rescue Jo’s letter from the floor, where it had fallen when she was precipitated into the room.

“Don’t worry, Jo – I can easily take it into the Post on my way to the Pfeifens.”

“Thanks most awfully, Miss Maynard. And Mam’selle,” Jo hesitated, looking for a moment quite unlike her usually confident self, “I’ll do my very best with Veta, I promise, but…”

“No one can do more,” Matron said in her most businesslike tones. “Come, Jo – I’ll take you upstairs now.” Then, to Joey’s intense surprise, Matron extended a reassuring hand, which she was grateful to clasp.

By six o’clock that evening everything was organized. Fritzel Pfeifen, on being informed by Miss Maynard of the emergency, had immediately hurried off to Torteswald to arrange to borrow the sleigh from his cousins the following morning, together with the splendid Haflinger horse that pulled it. “And it is by the mercy of heaven, Fräulein, that you have come today,” he told Miss Maynard. “Had it been next week the family would already have returned the horse and sleigh to our other cousins in the valley. Der liebe Gott has willed it thus, nicht wahr? The young lady will ride safely in the sleigh. ‘Zist gut.”

It was agreed that Fritzel would arrive at the Chalet School by ten o’clock the next morning, in order both to allow Elisaveta an unhurried start to the day and to ensure there was ample time for a leisurely journey down to Spärtz. Once there, the party could rest at the old inn opposite the station, known as the Alte Toleranz; and they would be able to have Mittagessen there, while awaiting the arrival of Captain Trevillion and Elisaveta’s maid, Alette, from Belsornia.

Unfortunately – as Captain Trevillion had informed Mademoiselle on the telephone, when at long last the operator had managed to connect her with they royal palace in Firato – it was impossible for him to state precisely the time he and Alette would get to Spärtz. They were set out immediately that evening, and would travel through the night; but much would depend on the timings of the different connections they would have to make. “For the return journey we shall of course reserve a private compartment for the Princess,” he explained to Mademoiselle. “At least as far as Verona. That leaves only a shortish train journey to Padua, where I shall collect my motor again. And if her Highness needs rest, we can always arrange to stay the night at an hotel in either Verona or Padua.”

“That may be well,” Mademoiselle had said, a note of anxiety in her voice. “Elisaveta is much better today, I am thankful to say; but she is still a little frail.”

“You need have no fears, Mam’selle,” the Captain assured her. “Dr Tracy is most insistent that the Princess’s journey shall be made in as easy stages as possible. And he himself will be waiting at the palace to attend to her.”

“All this appears excellent, then,” Mademoiselle replied. “And at Spärtz we will have a room reserved for the Princess at the Alte Toleranz. It is only a modest little inn, but very clean and respectable. And in this way it will not matter greatly if you should be delayed in arriving.”

Having concluded her telephone conversation, Mademoiselle took her way upstairs to the sickroom, where Joey had been allowed to stay on and keep Elisaveta company.

The Princess had received the news of her grandfather’s illness with the strangely adult dignity she always seemed able to command where royal matters were concerned. But she was still feeling some after-effects from her bronchial attack; and when, at about four o’clock, Joey had suggested it was time she went back to the school, Elisaveta had seemed almost pathetically reluctant to let her depart.

“Please Joey, don’t go yet!” she had pleaded. “Everyone’s very kind, I know; and I’ve got a lovely book by Elsie Oxenham that Madame kindly left for me. But it’s so lonely up here on my own. And I’m not infectious, you know. You can’t catch bronchitis from people. At least, I don’t think so,” she added, a little doubtfully.

“Not a chance of its being catching,” Joey pronounced decisively. “You surely don’t think they’d ever have let me come within a mile of you if it was! Well, all right, Veta. I’d love to stay, if they’ll let me. I’ll go and ask Matron – I think she’s in her room.”

Matron, when consulted, was quite agreeable to Joey’s spending the rest of the day with the Princess. “Help to keep her spirits up a little,” she said, pausing in her task of checking laundry lists. “She’s still not really herself. And all this trouble is not going to help. In fact, Jo, much the best plan would be for you to stay up here with her until she leaves in the morning. There’s another bed made up in the room. All right, Joey – I’ll arrange things with Mam’selle. You trot downstairs and fetch your washing things and your pyjamas and dressing-gown. Oh, and your bedroom slippers too! And I think you’d better also go and collect some work from your form-room. We don’t want to give you any excuse for not finishing your prep, do we?”

Once outside Matron’s room, Joey pulled a hideous grimace at this last dictat. But she was happy enough to fall in with things. She was very attached to Elisaveta, and the two of them had always go on well together.

Mademoiselle, too, was glad to approve of Matron’s plan, and even to extend it. So, when she arrived in the sick-room to tell the Princess about her traveling arrangements, she added, to the great joy of both girls, “I think, my dear Elisveta, it would be well if Joey should also accompany you on the journey down to Spärtz tomorrow. Miss Maynard is to be your official escort, but I gather there is room in the sleigh for a third passenger. Would you like that, mes chères enfants?

“Oh, Mam’selle!” both exclaimed together, their joyous expressions making their enthusiasm umistakeable.

“How absolutely – well,” Joey caught Mademoiselle’s eye and hastily reselected her words, “How – well, splendid!”

“Yes, it truly is splendid, Mam’selle. Thank you so very much.” For a moment Elisaveta looked and sounded more like her normal self.

And the prospect of the sleigh-ride together was entrancing enough to keep both girls cheerful through the rest of the evening.

Matron insisted that they must go early to bed. And by eight o’clock they were already undressed and sitting up in bed, enjoying the hot drinks Matron had brought them, and chatting quietly.

“Rotten luck your missing all the end of term jamborees,” Joey said idly. “It’s going to…” She broke off hurriedly, aware too late of her friend’s stricken expression. “Oh, Elisaveta, I’m sorry – I didn’t mean to rub it in. Oh, dear! Why, oh, why am I such a thoughtless donkey?” Jo leapt out of bed to give Elisaveta an impulsive hug – all but upsetting the steaming mugs on the bedside cabinet. She looked so abashed that Elisaveta found herself smiling.

“But, anyway, Veta,” Joey said as she scrambled back into bed, “this term’s almost over. It’s not that long till January. You’ll be back then, large as life.”

“Shall I?” Elisaveta spoke so quietly that the words were hardly audible. “I wonder…” Her voice trailed off. “You see, Joey, if anything should…well, happen…to Grandfather, I meant that would change everything. Because Daddy would be King then. And that would make me…”

“Oh, gosh and golly – of course!” Joey looked as startled as she sounded. “That would make you the heir, wouldn’t it?”

“Heir apparent, anyway,” Elisaveta nodded. “That’s what it’s always…”

“But look here,” Joey interrupted. “Didn’t your father say last summer that you’d be allowed to stay at the Chalet School for two year?”

“Yes. But that was different. Please, don’t let’s talk about it, Jo.”

For a moment there was silence. Then Elisaveta gave a deep sigh.

“The thing I mind missing the very most of all is the Christmas pageant,” she said sadly. “Especially having a chance to play the old innkeeper. People mostly think that if you have long curly hair like mine you will want only to play pretty parts. It’s such fun being allowed to be fierce for once. I was so very pleased when Madame said I could have the part!”

In fact Madge Russell had been more than a little surprised when Elisaveta had begged to be cast as the surly innkeeper, in whose stable Mary and Joseph eventually found refuge. But, as things turned out, the Princess had shown unexpected dramatic ability, as well as an immense enjoyment of the role.

“I wonder, um, well,” just in time Joey had realized that it would hardly be tactful to speculate about who would now take over as innkeeper. “Well, I wonder, do you think he really was fierce? The innkeeper, I mean. After all he did find a shelter for Mary and Joseph. That was more than any of the others did.”

“What others?” Elisaveta asked with interest, snuggling into her plumeau.

“Well, there must have been others. There can’t have been only one inn in Bethlehem. And Mary and Joseph wouldn’t have agreed to being in the stable if his had been the first one they visited. They’d have gone and tried somewhere else, wouldn’t they? I think they must have tramped al round Bethlehem for ages before. You know – it’s funny,” she broke off, and looked earnestly across at all she could see of Elisaveta, “well, odd, anyway. But doing something like the Christmas pageant jolly well makes the whole story much more real, don’t you find?”

“Well, I think,” Elisaveta began. But what the Princess may or may not have thought was to remain unspoken. For at that moment Matron appeared at the door, to warn the girls that she would be back in five minutes to turn off the light.

Before departing, Matron paused to give a keen glance in the direction of the chairs which stood on the far side of each bed. On Elisaveta’s chair the clothes lay neatly folded. But the untidy pile on Joey’s looked rather as though some passing goblin had stirred them with a large spoon.

Not a word was spoken. Matron simply gazed with such meaningful intensity, first at the chair and then at Joey, that the latter felt obliged to tumble out of bed and tidy up her garments before the good lady returned.

CHAPTER XXIV

A Narrow Escape

 

At Frühstück the next day Mademoiselle made a brief announcement to the school. “As you know, girls,” she explained, speaking very slowly and clearly, for German was the official language that day, “Elisaveta is recovering from an attack of bronchitis. And I am happy to tell you she is recovering extremely well. But, since this term is so nearly over, it has been thought best for her to go home to finish her convalescence. Accordingly, Elisaveta will be leaving for Belsornia later this morning. Miss Maynard and Joey Bettany will be going with her as far as Spärtz, in order to see her off at the station. And I know you will all be sorry not to be able to bid Elisaveta farewell in person. But she has asked me to give you her love, and to say goodbye to you all on her behalf.”

Mademoiselle then went on to announce that, since today they had “so schönes Wetter“, there would be no lessons until the afternoon. Instead everyone would go on a long walk up the Tiern valley; and they must now hasten with their bedmaking and tidying in order to be ready to leave at half-past nine.

She deliberately made no mention of the King’s illness, for the staff had agreed that everything should be kept as casual as possible. “We don’t want any fuss, for Elisaveta’s sake,” Miss Maynard had said when the matter was being discussed before breakfast. “She might enjoy the excitement of a big farewell scene at the time. But she’ll have a long day ahead of her. And I gather it’s a tiring journey to Belsornia at the best of times. It does seem a bit of a shame, though, that the girls have to miss all the fun of the sleigh’s arrival.”

“I shouldn’t worry about that,” Miss Wilson said cheerfully. “You just give thanks that it doesn’t look like snow today!”

Punctually at nine-thirty the girls departed. And by the time Joey and Elisaveta arrived downstairs, to wait with Miss Maynard in the front classroom, the chalet was unwontedly silent.

“I can’t think when I’ve ever – ever – had to wear so many clothes,” Joey complained, as she watched impatiently at the window for the sleigh’s arrival. “I feel like all the plumeaus in Austria rolled into one giant sausage.”

“And then tied round with shawls. Me too!” Elisaveta agreed. She looked noticeably pale this morning, but appeared to be in good spirits.

“At least,” Joey went on, “nobody can possibly make us put on one single thing more. We would simply¾”

But at that moment the door opened and Matron marched in, a large silk scarf in her hand. “Now Elisaveta – you are to wear this over your nose and mouth throughout the journey,” she announced to the startled Princess. “No argument, please. We have strict orders from Dr Russell. No – you need not put it on yet. But – if you, Miss Maynard, would be good enough – I will show you how it is to be fastened. I can’t stay to do it myself, too much to get through this morning!”

“But, Matron,” Elisaveta protested feebly. “With that thing tied round my mouth, I shall not be able to speak at all. It will be like a gag!”

“And that, my dear young lady, is part of the idea.” Matron looked grimly amused, as she demonstrated how the scarf was to be held in place. “All that cold air could set your bronchitis off again. And talking would increase the amount of air going into your throat and chest. So please be a sensible girl and remain as silent as possible on the journey.”

“Never mind, Elisaveta, I’m sure Joey can manage to make up for your silence,” Miss Maynard said with a twinkle.

But Joey affected not to hear. “Tell you what, Veta, we can still talk to you, and you can always nod or shake your head. Oh, I do wish they’d hurry up. I’m dying to see the sleigh.”

They did not have long to wait. A few minutes later the tinkling of bells drew everyone to the window, to watch the sleigh as it skimmed across the snow towards the front door, with Fritzel proudly ensconced on the driver’s seat.

“What a lovely pony!” Joey exclaimed.

“Gorgeous, isn’t he?” Elisaveta agreed. “But actually, Jo, he is not a pony. That is a Haflinger, and I think they are really horses. He’ll make nothing of pulling the four of us.”

“Well, whatever he is, he’s got the most glorious chestnut coat. And do all Haffle – Haflingers, did you say? – have those pale blond manes and tails? Oh, sorry, Miss Maynard. Yes, I’m ready.”

“There you are then, Elisaveta.” Miss Maynard had been rapidly pinning the silk scarf in place. “Now, if you will wait here for Fritzel, Joey and I will go and get ourselves installed.”

Meanwhile, Rosa (now in charge of the Chalet School kitchen, since Marie Pfeifen’s departure to the Sonnalpe) and her assistant, Luise, were busy carrying out a large supply of hot bricks, to be placed in the bottom of the sleigh to keep the passengers’ feet warm. Next, they brought a vast pile of rugs and blankets, and a flask of the milky coffee the girls all loved.

Mademoiselle emerged briefly from her study and stationed herself at the window, ready to wave goodbye. In no time at all, Miss Maynard and Joey had seated themselves opposite one another in the back of the sleigh; while Fritzel, having first carried Elisaveta carefully down the snow-covered path, helped her to squeeze into the space between them.

“No one’s going to let us die of cold, that’s plain,” Joey gasped as the rugs were piled on top of them.

“I think we shall be glad of it,” Miss Maynard said. “There’s quite a strong wind today. Now, have you enough room, Elisaveta? Goodbye then, Rosa. Wiedersehn, Luise.”

To a renewed obligato from the bells that hung round the horse’s collar, they were off!

“Oh, isn’t this too absolutely marvellous!” Joey gazed entranced at the fairytale landscape: the pine woods darkly mysterious, the mountains regal in their snowy raiment, and the lake a glistening diamond in the morning sunshine. “I wouldn’t have missed this for anything in the world!” She sat back, reveling in the swift, almost noiseless glide of the sleigh along the frozen lake path. For a while the only sounds to be heard, apart from the gaily chiming bells, were the hiss of the sleigh’s iron-clad runners, the curiously muted thud of the hooves as the horse trotted gallantly along and, occasionally, a tiny clang as an icicle fell from one of the trees.

“You’d think there’d be more noise from the horse’s hooves, wouldn’t you?” Joey said, after there had been a long contented silence. “I’d always thought they’d ring out on the slow. I’m sure they did when we were sleigh-riding in Innsbruck. What is it, Veta?” for the Princess was shaking her head.

“I rather think,” Miss Maynard said, “that Elisaveta means this horse probably isn’t shod.” She exchanged glances with the Princess, who nodded. “Round here, I believe they often leave horses unshod at this time of year. They probably manage better in the snow without shoes.”

Once again Elisaveta was nodding.

“How ever do you know so much about horses, Miss Maynard?” Joey asked admiringly. Elisaveta’s knowledge she took for granted, having seen the extent of the Belsornian royal stables.

“Oh, I used to take quite an interest in horses in my youth,” Miss Maynard informed her. “And people who live in the New Forest see quite a lot of ponies of all kinds, as I’m sure you’ll remember from your visits to Pretty Maids. Goodness me, here we are at Seespitz already!”

“But which way are we going?” Joey looked round, puzzled. “This isn’t the path to Spärtz, is it?”

They were now well past the Seespitz Gasthof and were swinging round to the right, roughly in the direction of Eben. “The sleigh won’t go by the footpath, Joey. It would be too narrow, and there are corkscrew bends in places,” Miss Maynard pointed out. “We must be going by the road the motor-cars use.”

“On the few occasions there are any,” Joey said, laughing. “But I suppose the farm carts use it too.” She looked up at the sky, which was showing in a pale blue patchwork through the trees above them, for the sleigh had now entered the woods that lie between Torteswald and Eben. “I say, the wind’s getting up a bit, isn’t it?” – Jo drew her hands from under the enveloping rugs and, whipping off one glove, held up a finger. “Yes – it’s coming from the north like anything.”

“Joey!” Miss Maynard said sharply. “Put your glove on again this minute. You really must try to remember you are fifteen now, not five. Do you want to get your fingers frozen?”

The mistress looked round anxiously, for the wind did indeed seem to have risen considerably. Fritzel had appeared so sure there would be no more snow that morning, but it was a worrying possibility.

For a few moments no one spoke; even Joey being subdued by Miss Maynard’s unusually cutting rebuke. The progress of horse and sleigh was still almost noiseless. But a moment later the intense silence of the woods was disturbed by a new sound – a low and somehow sinister moaning of the wind, gusting through the pine trees.

For some reason she could not have explained, Joey felt suddenly frightened. Elisaveta clearly was affected too, for her hand clutched Joey’s under the rugs, and she gazed round, her eyes wide with apprehension. And then, without the smallest warning, the sleigh shuddered to a halt. Fritzel was all but thrown off the driver’s seat. And, had the three passengers not been so tightly wedged together, they would have suffered the same fate.

Fritzel quickly leapt down to inspect the road in front of them. But, after searching carefully for some yards ahead, he returned, thoroughly puzzled, to say he could find nothing untoward. He hurriedly resumed his seat, and signalled to the horse to move on. To everyone’s astonishment, and Fritzel’s extreme annoyance, the animal refused to budge. Its ears were laid back, its nostrils flaring, and it began obstinately digging in its hooves. Nothing, it seemed, could induce the Haflinger to take one single step forward. Fritzel tried talking gently to it. He produced a carrot from his pocket and tried to cajole the animal into moving. He shouted at it – and shook the reins violently. He attempted with all his considerable strength to drag it forward. At last, completely exasperated and swearing under his breath in, fortunately, incomprehensible patois, he rushed to one of the nearest trees, ripped a branch from it, and advanced on the horse, plainly about to belabour it around the hindquarters. At this, Elisaveta wrenched herself to her feet; and, tearing the scarf from her mouth, she all but yelled, “No, Fritzel, no! You must not! Please, please, Miss Maynard, do not let him beat the horse. It is like Balaam’s ass in the Bible – I am sure it knows.”

At an urgent word from Miss Maynard, Fritzel desisted, and stood looking a picture of bewilderment and frustration; while Elisaveta sank down on the bench. Her brown eyes still flashed with the intensity of her feelings, but the colour that had flooded her cheeks was already fading.

“Elisaveta, my dear child, what can you mean?” Miss Maynard looked nearly as bewildered as Fritzel. “He is only trying to get…”

But Joey cut in swiftly: “Miss Maynard – doesn’t Veta mean the horse could know something we¾” In mid-sentence, Joey was stopped by an ominous creaking sound, which grew rapidly in volume. And before their eyes a giant pine tree began, with what seemed incredibly slowness, to fall straight across the road, barely twenty yards in front of them. A dull thud echoed through the wood as the tree finally subsided on the ground, its branches shuddering into stillness through a haze of snowflakes.

For fully half a minute no one spoke. Fritzel stood, now gently patting the horse, which was still shivering violently. The tree passengers in the sleigh sat motionless.

Joey, characteristically, was the first to recover. “I vote we all buy that horse the biggest bag of sugar-cubes he’s ever seen,” she said, a little shakily.

“We’d have been in a nasty mess now without him. That pine must have been rotten all through.” Joey gazed with a shudder at the monster tree lying in their path. “It couldn’t have been just the wind.”

“Don’t let’s bother with the reasons, Jo.” Miss Maynard, making an effort to sound calmer than she felt, got to her feet. “Now, I must have a word with Fritzel. No, you stay here. And, Joey, please will you tie Elisaveta’s scarf on again.” She quickly got down from the sleigh, and began in her fluent German to discuss their predicament with Fritzel. Things, he told her, could have been worse; they were not far from Eben and could be back there in a few minutes. Then the young ladies could rest at the little Wirtshaus opposite St Nothburga’s church, while he went off and found a couple of sturdy friends to help him pull the tree off the road.

“But surely,” Joey said, as the sleigh skimmed rapidly back to Eben, with the horse now trotting happily once more, “the Wirtshaus won’t be open at this time of year?”

“No, I don’t suppose it will, Jo,” Miss Maynard agreed. “But Fritzel is sure they’ll let us come inside and wait there for the road to be cleared. They may be able to give us some coffee. But even if they can’t, don’t forget that we have a flask with us.”

“Of course – three cheers for Matron! And, Elisaveta,” Joey gave the Princess a mammoth nudge, “you’ll be able to get that scarf off for a bit. How jolly!”

In the end the clearing of the road was accomplished with remarkable speed – Fritzel luckily having had to go no further than the Wirtshaus to find two strong volunteers to assist him with moving the tree. And, to Miss Maynard’s vast relief, the party was able to set off again in less than an hour. By this time Elisaveta was beginning to look thoroughly weary. And during most of the remaining journey to Spärtz she dozed quietly in the sleigh.

It was also a great relief to find, when at last they reached the Alte Toleranz, the Captain Trevillion and Alette had not yet arrived, although they had sent a message to say they expected to be in Spärtz by about one o’clock. Miss Maynard promptly arranged for a bedroom to be prepared; and she then insisted that both Elisaveta and Joey should lie down and rest until the Princess’s escorts arrived. “We can all have Mittagessen together then,” she said, as she took the girls up the quaint old staircase to their room. “And there will be ample time afterwards for Joey and me to get back to Briesau before dark.”

“To my mind, the last part was just a bit of an anti-climax,” Joey confided to her friends that evening, when, safely back at school, she was regaling them with a colourful account of the day’s adventures.

“Was Elisaveta all right?” Frieda asked anxiously. “She must have been dreadfully frightened when the tree fell down.”

“Believe you me, we all were,” Joey shook her head reminiscently. “I don’t mind telling you I was shaking all over, and I could feel that Veta was, too. It was such a horribly near thing.”

“I am sure that St Nothburga must have been looking after you all,” Marie von Eschenau said in a low voice. “She is known to protect travelers round Eben.”

Jo looked at her curiously, a strange expression in her dark eyes. “Do you know, Marie, that’s exactly what Elisaveta said afterwards. I was saying how the horse had saved us all – and of course he did. But Veta said we must also say a special thank-you to St Nothburga, for holding the horse and sleigh back – like keeping her sickle in the air. And she made us all – Elisaveta, I mean – go over to the little church and light a candle at St Nothburga’s shrine. Well, I wonder…”

“I think she was right,” Marie said softly, her eyes shining.

“I, too,” Frieda said.

“After a pause Evadne brought them all back to immediate matters, asking bluntly, “D’you think Veta’s grandfather’s going to die?”

“Poor Elisaveta – was she very fond of him?” Margia Stevens enquired, rather more gently.

Joey had been given permission on her return to tell her friends the reason for the Princess’s departure. Now, for a moment, a picture cam back to her of Elisaveta, waving forlornly from the carriage as the train pulled away from the station platform at Spärtz. But she made an effort to respond with conviction. “Oh, Veta will be all right. She’s a plucky kid, you know. Got plenty of grit.” She suppressed an enormous yawn. “Oh, golly, it’s been quite a day. Just for once I shan’t be sorry when it’s bedtime. And, to my mind, the last day of this term jolly well can’t come soon enough!”

CHAPTER XXV

Grange House Returns

 

The end of the Christmas term was always a busy and exciting time at the Chalet School. Just around the corner waited not only the holidays but Christmas, with all its well-loved festivities and gaieties. Exams were over, and during the last three or four days of term there were seldom any formal lessons.

Not that this offered any opportunity for idleness. Before the final day arrived, there was packing to be done; desks and cupboards to be cleared of all the inessentials mysteriously gathered there during the term; and the classrooms, although they appeared always to be kept in a state of perfect neatness, nevertheless had to undergo mammoth tidying operations, supervised by Matron and the prefects.

These activities took place at the end of every term; but at Christmas-time there were, in addition, daily rehearsals for the Christmas play to be fitted in.

“And, if the jolly old play didn’t cause enough upheaval on its own, now tomorrow afternoon is all going to be taken up with this Hobbies Club exhibition,” Miss Maynard remarked to Miss Wilson in the privacy of the staffroom, as they snatched a brief the privacy of the staffroom, as they snatched a brief respite between rehearsals on the Friday afternoon.

“Not to mention the Grange House lot descending on us. I only hope our revered singing master won’t keep the choir slaving away too late this evening.”

“Oh, too much hard work never hurts the little darlings,” was Miss Wilson’s callous comment.

“How do you feel about today’s rehearsals, so far?” asked Miss Maynard, putting her coffee cup down and selecting a biscuit.

“Could have been worse, I suppose. Oh, bother it all, now you’ve reminded me – I’ve got to search out Grizel Cochrane and discover why on earth she let that group of angels come waltzing on in the middle of the reading, instead of waiting for the carol. The babes can’t be expected to remember everything for themselves. After all, that’s why we have helpers with them. Grizel must have been miles away, and it’s not like her to stand around dreaming,” Miss Wilson got up and started towards the door, adding, “although she does seem rather unlike herself at the moment, now I come to think about it.”

Mollie Maynard looked at her colleague with an odd expression. Well, keep it to yourself for the moment, Nell, but I rather think I know what’s weighing on Grizel’s mind just now. Madame has decided to make her head girl next term after Bette leaves; and for some reason Grizel doesn’t seem too pleased at the prospect.”

Miss Maynard, as Senior Mistress, had been the first member of the staff to be informed of this decision, which Mrs Russell would be announcing to the school on the last day of term.

“How very strange! I should have thought our Grizel would enjoy the idea of being head girl,” commented Miss Wilson, hovering with her hand on the doorhandle. “She can be bossy enough at times, if you’ll pardon the slang. Now, Mollie, come along! Into action again, there’s a good girl!”

“Grizel is the obvious choice from most points of view, I suppose,” Miss Maynard said consideringly. “I only hope – oh, all right, Nell, I’m coming,” and she got to her feet with obvious reluctance.

“Well, it’s no use sitting  there dreaming of a peaceful old age,” Miss Wilson threw over her shoulder as she left the room and swept off in search of Grizel.

In addition to the play and the Hobbies Club exhibition, arrangements also had to be made for the visit of the Grange House contingent. They were due to arrive sometime on Saturday afternoon and stay until Monday morning. The Chalet School would be breaking up for the holidays on the Tuesday.

On Saturday afternoon after Frühstück, Mademoiselle announced the names of nine Middles: these girls were to go upstairs, collect their belongings from their dormitories and take them across to Le Petit Chalet, where they would be sleeping for the rest of term. This would make beds available for nine of the twelve Grange House girls; the other three were to have a small room on the second floor that was empty at the moment. Miss Bruce would occupy the little room reserved for visitors; and Miss Wilson agreed to give up her room to Miss Mortlock and move into the sick-room for two nights. “Though don’t ask me what happens if someone actually has the nerve to be ill,” she said in dry tones, as she carried her things along the corridor to her temporary abode. “I suppose one or other of us would be banished to the boxroom.”

Meanwhile, in the Munich hotel where they had been staying during the last ten days, the Grange House girls were feverishly occupied. All their trunks had to be packed – for the very last time on this trip – ready to be taken to the station and dispatched straight back to London.

“And please do not forget, girls,” Miss Bruce warned them, “you may all have to open up your suitcases and trunks in London…customs examination at Victoria…sometimes it is a very searching examination…Most important to pack things neatly.”

“Miss Bruce managed to make a customs examination sound a bit like some rather exacting school exam,’ Joan Hatherley remarked to Pamela, as she and her two friends struggled to complete their packing. “You can almost imagine she expects the customs officer to produce a report on our packing; perhaps something like, ‘Folding of garments – Good: A-minus; Allocation of space – Fair: B-plus; General remarks – Could do better; Must try to get her shoes to show a more co-operative spirit’!” And Joan, who disliked packing, rounded off her little fantasy by hurling three pairs of shoes from the far side of the room into the gaping trunk.

Pamela greeted this little performance with amused giggles, but Patricia only smiled vaguely. She seemed very much preoccupied with a letter that had arrived that morning. At it wasn’t from her mother, as Pamela had noted when she handed round the mail at breakfast, wondering for an idle moment who could be writing to Patricia from Edinburgh. Not that she was ever likely to be told. Patricia tended to keep things pretty much to herself.

The journey from Munich to Spärtz was uneventful and late on the Saturday afternoon the Grange House party arrived at the Chalet School. The climb up the snow-covered mountain path from Spärtz had taken most of the afternoon, but when they finally reached the Tiernsee they were rewarded for their exertions: the dark red winter sun was beginning to sink and as, the sunset colour reflected on the snow, the mountain and lake were glowing with the soft radiance of a stained-glass window.

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen a more beautiful sunset,” Patricia said to Joey that night at Abendessen.

“Glorious, wasn’t it?” Jo agreed. “We were able to watch it from the classroom windows, but it must have looked heaps more wonderful from outside.” And she added, laughing, “but of course, we arranged it all specially, you know, just to welcome you back to the Tiernsee.”

“Joey, was that model theatre your work?” Pamela called across the table. “Jolly good for you! I thought it was absolutely spiffing.”

The Chalet girls had spent the whole of that afternoon arranging their Hobbies Club exhibition. At the new school hall was being used continuously for rehearsals, they had set out the various exhibits on tables in the big classroom. One table was allotted to each form, and each table identified by a placard bearing an assumed name, chosen from Greek mythology. When the Grange House party arrived, they were given barely enough time for Kaffee und Kuchen before being whisked off to see the show. Miss Bruce and Miss Mortlock were persuaded to act as judges in the competition, and they had quickly reached their decision: the first place and the staff’s cup went to “Pegasus”, the pseudonym chosen by the Fifth Form; especially commended had been Frieda Mensch’s collection of dolls in national costumes, including a particularly charming Tyrolean couple, and Joey Bettany’s marionette theatre.

“Didn’t’ it take you simply ages to make it, Jo?” Joan Hatherley was asking.

“Not really,” Joey assured her. “But of course I did have a lot of help,” she added modestly.

Patricia had been looking round at all the tables. “I don’t see Elisaveta anywhere,” she said now. “What’s happened to her, Joey? Not ill, I hope?”

Joey’s face sobered. “Poor Veta! No, she’s all right herself – at least, I hope she is – she’d been having a go of bronchitis, but it wasn’t that. You see, her grandfather took ill very suddenly. Elisaveta was summoned back to Belsornia in a terrible rush. It’s quite a story. I don’t mind telling you – at least, it’s too long a story for now, so I can’t actually tell you at the moment! No, we haven’t heard any more news yet.” This last was in answer to an enquiring look from Pamela.

“I’m very sorry.” Patricia’s sympathy was obvious from her voice and expression. “I do hope he’ll be better soon.”

Joey said no more. For some reason she could not have explained, she had a presentiment that the King, Elisaveta’s grandfather, was not going to recover from his illness, and she knew that the Princess had shared her foreboding. However, Madge had particularly requested her not to talk of the matter, so she made haste now to change the subject.

As soon as Abendessen was over, Bette and Gertrud set off for Le Petit Chalet, where they were to supervise the Juniors for an hour. Meanwhile Miss Durrant and her team of backstage helpers departed to the hall for a final discussion of certain important arrangements involved behind the scenes in the pageant. One sequence in particular demanded great speed and clear thinking from the helpers. For, as Miss Durrant had stressed to them at their very first meeting, now many weeks ago: “Somehow we have to create an impression that multitudes of people are travelling to Bethlehem. And, since a number of girls are in the special choir, we don’t have an enormous cast to draw on. So we’ve simply got to find some way of changing costumes and so on like lightning. You’ll have to put your thinking caps on,” she exhorted them, “and use your imaginations!”

Not surprisingly, perhaps, it was Miss Durrant herself who came up with the first idea (that of the adaptable cloaks, which Joey had described in her letter to Patricia). But, to everyone’s astonishment, it was the quiet, almost self-effacing, Luigia di Ferrara who produced the second great brainwave. “Could we not use masks to show the different characters?” she had suggested. “As they do in carnival time in Venice. It is surely quicker to change masks than to change clothes, is it not?” Luigia had sounded rather diffident, but the enthusiasm that greeted her idea left no room for doubt about its success.

Yet another ingenious proposal followed, this one from Rosalie Dene. “What about using those old screens as backgrounds for the tableaux? No, I didn’t mean we’d move them around, they’re horribly heavy. But couldn’t the art classes make suitable pictures to cover them, Miss Durrant? On large pieces of paper, and very simple. They could just be attached with drawing pins, turnabout for the various scenes.”

“What an absolutely splendid idea, Rosalie!” Miss Durrant’s response was instantaneous. “And there’d be no need to pin them up in turns, they could all be attached beforehand, one on top of the other in the proper order. Then all that’s needed for a scene change is for someone to remove the top picture. I’ll see about it tomorrow.”

And as the weeks went by, Miss Durrant’s team became more and more expert in helping the cast with their lightning changes. At first there were minor accidents, as when Lisa Bernaldi was given a modern soldier’s mask when she was actually meant to be a stately medieval lady. Or the time Ilonka Barkocz, who was looking after one of the screens, removed two sheets at once, with the result that the galley slaves in the tableau were shown against a pleasant rural background of yellow cornfields. But these episodes were soon forgotten. And this final evening before “curtain-up”, there were only a few small points that Miss Durrant wanted to go over. “And I do want to thank you all, girls,” she said warmly, when they were making their way back to the common-room to rejoin the others. “You’ve all worked splendidly and I’m sure everything will be a great success.”

For those not involved in backstage activities, the evening passed quietly, and everyone was sent early to bed. There were no protests about this, for the Chaletians were tired after their long day – it had included three strenuous rehearsals as well as the exhibition – and the Grange House girls were beginning to feel the effects of their climb up the mountainside in the frosty air.

Next morning, Frühstück was at 8.30 instead of the usual Sunday time of nine o’clock, for a very full programme lay ahead. Today there would be no Mass at the little Catholic Church, but after breakfast informal services were held in the school for both Catholics and Protestants. Then the Chaletians went off to the hall for a quick run-through of one or two points in the play with Mrs Russell, who had arrived the previous evening and would now be staying at the school until the end of term.

Mittagessen was at twelve o’clock, and afterwards the Chaletians were sent to rest for an hour, while the Grange House girls sat in the common-room and read or chatted quietly. For the time being there was peace in the school. But by half-past one a buzz of anticipation could be heard. There were sounds of doors being opened and shut, footsteps on the stairs and excited voices, quickly subdued, in he hall and corridors.

The big classroom was being used as a preliminary dressing-room, since the green room beside the stage was reserved for the many quick changes during the performance. There was also an area screened of at the back of the hall, where those waiting to make entrances through the audience could sit unobserved. This group was under the supervision of Matron, crackilng with starched efficiency. Any attempt at whispering or giggling was ruthlessly quelled; Joey, who had muttered something about “fearing the ancient Mariner” and his “skinny hand”, was treated to a sharp rebuke that reduced her to instant and continued silence.

Soon after two o’clock Miss Maynard came to escort the Grange House party to the hall, which as now beginning to fill with visitors. A number of people had come from the villages round about, for this was the third year that the Chalet School had given a nativity play and their performances had gained a high reputation locally. There were also some of the school parents who either livednear Briesau, or were sufficiently energetic to cope with the climb up to the Tiernsee from the valley.

The hall was bright with decorations of coloured paper and sweet-smelling fir and pine ranches. A tall Christmas tree stood near the door; it was glittering with tinsel and small glass ornaments, but there were no candles on it. There were, however, four lighted candles on a big wreath woven from fir branches, which stood on a table at the other side of the door.

“That’s a jolly sort of decoration,” Joan commented as they went into the hall. “I haven’t seen one quite like it before.”

“Oh, that’s an Advent crown,” Pamela explained. “Fräulein Hässe told us about them. She got terribly enthusiastic one day in a German lesson and started telling us at great length all about Christmas in Germany. Funny, because she’s usually such a dull old stick. Anyway, there’s one candle on the crown for each Sunday in Advent; last week three candles would have been lighted, but today’s the fourth Sunday so they’re all lit.”

Mrs Russell and Mademoiselle Lepâttre were standing at the front of the hall to welcome the guests as they arrived; Miss Maynard then showed them to their seats, giving them a programme which included the words of the three carols the audience would be asked to sing with the choirs.

“Sit next to me, do please!” hissed Joan out of the corner of her mouth to Patricia. “I just can’t bear to be beside Veronica if she’s going to make her usual fatuous remarks.”

“Perhaps it would be a kindness to Veronica as well; save her from the remarks you’d probably make,” Patricia murmured austerely, although her eyes were twinkling.

The Grange House group seated themselves in the two rows Miss Maynard had indicated and found that just behind them were Herr and Frau Dobler from the Stephanie, with whom they all exchanged friendly greetings. The younger members of the hotel staff were also there, and a beaming Liesel came up to show Patricia her left hand with its beautifully healed scar.

At last everyone had arrived. Miss Denny, who was staying at the school to help with the music, sat down at the piano. The violinist and cellist took their places and Mr Denny waited in readiness either to conduct the choir or to take the flute part in the instrumental accompaniments.

At a signal from Miss Wilson that all was now ready backstage, Mrs Russell stood up and explained to the audience as she did each year, that there would be no applause either during or after the performance; she also drew their attention to the words of the carols printed in the programme.

The lights everywhere were turned off. The audience waited expectantly.

CHAPTER XXVI

 

The Christmas Play

From somewhere far off in the silent darkness came the ringing of many bells – faint at first, gradually louder, then dying away. And now voices, distant but clear, could be heard singing:

Ding dong merrily on high,

In heaven the bells are ringing.

Ding dong, verily the sky

Is riven with angels singing:

Glo – o – o – oria in excelsis deo!

 

The sound grew nearer. Then, as the leaping triumphant refrain was repeated, the doors at the back of the hall were thrown open; lights and music streamed in; and the singers, dressed in white and each carrying a lighted candle, came slowly down the aisle between the seats and moved in procession to stand below the stage, facing the audience.

In the second and third verses the instruments joined the voices; and here Mr Denny had written an accompaniment that managed to create the impression of carillons ringing from a multitude of bell-towers.

It was a joyful opening, and no one hearing it now could have guessed how much trouble it had caused during rehearsals. To keep those florid “Glorias” of the chorus in tune, while walking slowly forward, had proved exceedingly difficult for the young singers. At one rehearsal Mr Denny, in his desperation at the way the choir’s pitch kept getting flatter, had come near to tearing out his considerable amount of hair. (It had not gone unremarked by the Grange House girls that Mr Denny’s hair actually reached over his collar. Patricia had thought with grim amusement how horrified her mother would be to see any man – “even a musician” – with hair of this length.)

When the carol ended, the instrumentalists continued playing while the choir moved into the green room. Here they quickly blew out their candles and put the candlesticks down on a table in the corner. Mademoiselle was so nervous at the idea of the girls carrying lighted candles that she had only been persuaded to allow it when Miss Wilson volunteered to stand by and make sure personally that every candle was properly extinguished.

Joey’s nose wrinkled as the smell of snuffed candles began to pervade the room. But there was no time for her, or anyone else, to complain. Already the flute could be heard, quietly playing the melody of the next carol, “This Is the Truth Sent From Above”; and the singers had immediately to move towards the positions they were to take up on stage, or in the hall.

The curtains were drawn back and, as the choir started to sing, some of the girls moved across the stage and down into the extreme right-hand corner, outside the proscenium arch; here they arranged themselves in a picturesque group, the tallest girls on the outside. During the next verse a similar group took their places in the left-hand corner.

Meanwhile two other groups had been moving slowly into the hall, taking up positions to right and left, in front of the stage. By the end of the final verse the girls, in their long white draperies, were forming a living frame for the pictures about to be presented on the stage.

A few of the choir remained in the wings; they were to move occasionally into the green room, to give the impression that the singing was coming from afar. This last group included Joey who, having an exceptionally beautiful voice, was to be the principal soloist.

The audience had learned from the programme that there were four main sections in the play: the Fall, the Waiting, the Coming, the Adoration.

In previous years, the nativity plays performed had always been extremely simple, but this year Madge Russell had sought for something rather different. For the first time they had a hall with a proper stage, and this made it possible to aim at a more spectacular presentation. But she had also been anxious to preserve the essential simplicity of a Mystery play. Joey had described the result to the Grange House girls as “something between a Christmas pageant and a carol service”. She added, “but I s’pose we use more carols than you’d have in a service. Only we don’t sing all the verses, of course.”

Madge’s plan was to present the Christmas story, beginning with the fall of Adam and Eve and the promise of a saviour, in a series of mime and tableaux. During and between the scenes there would be a variety of Christmas music, and the scenes were also linked by very short spoken commentaries – some taken from the Bible, others written by the girls themselves.

The latter idea also represented a new departure; for up until now Madge had always written all the material herself. “But I feel it would be good this year to involve the girls more directly,” she had confided to Mademoiselle during one of her visits to the school in early October. “I shall try the idea first with my English literature group. But it might also be fascinating to see what the little ones could produce. I’ve always found their ideas most revealing when we have our quiet talks on Sundays.”

And, in the event, both Madge and Mademoiselle – not to mention Miss Annersley, who was now taking over much of the work with the Senior English classes – were delighted with the results. The only problem had been that of choice, since time allowed for only a few of the girls’ commentaries to be used. In the end, it was Bette Rincini’s brief paragraph on the story of Adam and Eve that was chosen to accompany the opening tableau. This, when the curtains parted during the singing of “Adam Lay Ybounden”, showed the barred gates of Paradise, sternly guarded by the angel with the fiery sword – a dramatic role much relished by Deira O’Hagan, and for which her dark hair and striking good looks fitted her admirably.

Following this scene, the verses in which Isaiah foretells that “there shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse” were spoken with quiet sincerity by Rosalie Dene, and the choir continued the theme with the beautiful sixteenth-century “Es ist ein’ Ros’ entsprungen“.

To symbolize the long waiting down the ages for the Messaiah’s coming, there were tableaux of captives languishing in prison; workers in the fields praying for rain; men leaving their weeping wives to go to war; and galley slaves groaning at their oars, while their overseer (Gertrud Steinbrücke doing her best to appear cruelly unrelenting) brandished a whip. Here, again, the story was complemented by the singing – first, the plainsong “Rorate Coeli desuper” then part of the old English “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel”.

In the third section the audience were charmed by the account of the Angel Gabriel’s coming to Mary. This had been written, entirely without assistance, by the Juniors, and was delightfully narrated by ten-year-old Amy Stevens and little Robin Humphries. The children had used some quaint turns of phrase and the audience almost laughed to hear that “Our Lady jumped when she first saw this great big angel. He was like a tall, beautiful mountain. She said: ‘Oh, you did give me a fright. Go away, please!'” But there was no doubt that, for the listeners as well as for the children, the familiar story came to life in a new way. The carol which followed, “Es steht im Himmel ein Lindenbaum“, is an old German Christmas song, telling of the Annunciation, and it was new to all the English listeners. Afterwards came the “Cherry Tree Carol”, and here Mary and Joseph were shown making their way to Bethlehem. Then the innkeeper – a part Evadne Lannis had been allowed to take over, much to her delight – was seen turning the weary pair away from the crowded inn and, in the next tableau, leading them out to the stable.

Now the choir, accompanied by muted strings, began to sing softly:

O Little One sweet,

O Little One mild,

Thy Father’s purpose

Thou hast fulfilled.

 

Hearing the old Christmas lullaby most of the audience expected the next scene to be a tableau of the nativity. But this Madge Russell was reserving for the end of the pageant. Instead the stage was now in darkness, except for one corner where a soft light shone, coming, it seemed, from the mouth of a cave.

The third verse of “O Little One Sweet” faded away, and there was a long silence. The curtains remained open. Then from the darkness and stillness a solo voice, clear and beautiful, was heard:

I sing of a Maiden

                             That is makèless;

                             King of all kinges

                             To her Son she ches.

                             He came all so still

                             Where His Mother was,

                             As des in April

                             That falleth on the grass.

 

Joey sang alone until the end of second verse; then during the final sections the choir and the strings, stil muted, joined to weave a gentle background for her singing.

In the hush that followed, the curtains were very slowly closed. With dramatic suddenness, the full choir burst into a resounding “Gloria in excelsis Deo” specially composed by Mr Denny; and the curtains parted to reveal a brightly-lit tableau of the angels appearing to the shepherds.

This led into the fourth section, beginning with the adoration of the shepherds and the coming of the three wise men from the East – their roles filled with all the majest they could command by Grizel Cochrane, Vanna di Ricci and Paula von Rothenthals.

During the tableau of the Magi offering their gifts, Joey’s voice was heard once more. This was in Peter Cornelius’s song, “Three Kings from Persian Lands Afar”, where the soloist’s voice makes beautiful embroideries round a chorale, “Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern“, sustained in harmony by the choir.

It was at this point in the pageant that Miss Durrant and her team of backstage helpers were stretched to the full. For, after the three great kings came other kings and lords and ladies. Beggars too, and cripples. Peoples in the national dress of different lands – here Maria Marani looked particularly striking in the Tyrolean costume that had been a gift from her older sister, Gisela (soon to be Frau Gottfired Mensch, though in the not so distant past the much loved first head girl of the Chalet School). Soldiers, sailors and dancers followed. People from medieval times, and from the present day. To the audience it seemed as though the newborn babe – from down the ages of history and across the nations of the world – were now arriving to kneel in reverence at the entrance to the cave, before disappearing into the darkness. But still the audience had not been shown the scene within the stable.

The last group to appear represented children of the modern world, and consisted of four Juniors – Thyra and Ingeborg Eriksen, wearing everyday Chalet School garb, the Robin and Amy Stevens in Brownie uniform. They tiptoed over to peer into the cave entrance, their faces intent and solemn.

The curtains closed again, and the instrumentalists began to play. At first the music was quiet, but it grew ever more joyful until, at last, as the curtains parted for the final scene, it swept the audience to their feet and into the singing of “Adeste Fideles“:

Oh, come, all ye faithful,

                   Joyful and triumphant

                   …Oh, come let us adore Him!

 

The carol rang out and filled the hall with glorious sound.

On the stage were angels, shepherds and kings, medieval and modern men, women and children, people from all nations – all gathered around the manger. The Madonna – Marie von Eschenau had surely never looked more beautiful – gazed with loving eyes into the crib, while Mary Burnett as Joseph stood protectingly at her side.’

During the fourth verse of the “Adeste“, the curtains came slowly together, and it seemed for a moment that this must be the finish. But since Mrs Russell and Mademoiselle now sat down again, naturally everyone else did the same. And they became aware that the violin, cello and piano were still playing very softly. The music flowed on, becoming even softer; the rhythm gradually assumed a gently rocking character; very quietly the flute began to play the melody of “Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht!“.

And now from the green room came the choir in their white robes, their candles re-lighted a few moments earlier by Miss Wilson. Singing with almost heartbreaking sweetness, they went slowly up the middle aisle to the hall door. Still singing, they went out through the door and gradually further and further away.

In the hall everyone sat motionless. It seemed almost as though they had stopped breathing. As the singers continued moving into the far distance, the singing died slowly, slowly away, until at last it could be heard no more.

For a long time nobody in the audience moved. At last some, grateful for the covering darkness, began to search for their handkerchiefs. No one there was ever to forget this moment. Through the years to come the melody of “Stille Nacht” would always carry them back to that Chalet School Christmas play. And, very many years later, Patricia was to be reminded of it, in a particularly poignant way…

During the Second World War, Patricia would go one Christmas Day to visit the children’s ward of a big London hospital. The bombing of London was at its height, and several of the children in the ward were air-raid casualties. The hospital staff had done their best to make Christmas happy. And in the afternoon a party of doctors and nurses, gaily dressed and carrying lanterns, came round the wards to sing carols. They invited the children to name their favourite carols and asked if any child would like to sing one as a solo.

A ten-year-old girl, a little Cockney who had lost her leg when a land-mine fell near her East End terraced home, called out:

“Sister – Sister! I can’t sing for toffee myself, but Trudy, she can sing ‘Silent Night’. Sing it in German too! And she does it lovely, Sister, really she does. Oh, Sister, please can she? We’d all like it, wouldn’t we?”

There was a chorus of agreement. And so Trudy (who, although only her paternal grandfather was Jewish, had been forced to flee from Nazi Germany to England, there to fall a victim in one of the German raids) was lifted up on her pillows and sang in a small clear voice:

          Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht!

                             Alles schläft, einsam wacht

                             Nur das traute hoch-heilige Paar…

 

Patricia listened with bitter-sweet memories. It was due to the German bombing that many of these children must spend Christmas in hospital. Yet, in the midst of adult bitterness and anti-German feeling, what they asked for was a German carol, sung in the German language. Patricia felt tears come into her eyes. The memory of that long-ago Christmas at the Chalet School came back to her with stabbing vividness. She seemed to hear again, as if they were being spoken there beside her, Madge Russell’s words on that far-off day…

“We are happy to have had you with us today…” Madge’s pleasant low voice seemed to grow out of the silence that followed the play, rather than to break it. “Thank you for coming to see our play and for making this Christmas journey to Bethlehem with us. We all, in the Chalet School, would like to wish you a very happy Christmas. We hope that the message of Christmas – goodwill and friendship and peace – will always remain with us.”

CHAPTER XXVII

 

Goodbye To The Chalet School

 

That night after supper a few of the girls, Patricia and Joey among them, were sitting in the common room. Most of the Chaletians had gone to dance in the hall, taking the Grange House visitors with them. But Patricia had not felt inclined to join the dancing, and Joey had also preferred to remain quietly talking.

Suddenly Patricia jumped up. “Oh, Joey! I’ve just remembered those books Mrs Russell lent me. How awful of me not to have returned them! And now I shan’t be seeing her again.”

Madge Russell had gone to spend the evening at Le Petit Chalet and had said her farewells to the Grange House party at supper-time.

“Have you got them here?” Jo asked.

Patricia nodded. “Yes, upstairs in my room.”

“Oh, well, in that case you’ve nothing to worry about. I thought you might have left them in Munich – or sent them in your trunk to London or something. Tell you what: let’s go up and get them now, then I can give them to my sister tomorrow.”

“Yes, let’s. And anyway, I’ve got something to tell you.” Patricia’s voice trailed off, and Joey, much intrigued, followed her out of the room.

They crossed the hall and ran side by side up the stairs. Patricia, with Pamela and Joan, had been put in the little three-bedded room near the Yellow dormitory. She opened the door and, after a moment’s search, found the switch to put on the light. Joey, with uncharacteristic patience, waited outside.

“Do come in, Jo; it won’t take me a moment to find them, but you might as well sit down.”

Joey hesitated. “You see, we’re not supposed to go into other people’s dorms or cubicles,” she said. “Still, I don’t really think your room would count. It’s more like being asked in by one of the staff.”

“Have a heart, Joey! I’m not even three years older than you.”

“Well, I only meant that as you’re not a Chalet School girl the rules can’t really apply to you.” Joey shut the door carefully, then went and perched herself on the end of one of the beds.

Patricia made no reference to the mysterious “something”. She had been kneeling on the floor, searching through her overnight case. Now she scrambled up and handed two books to Joey.

“There you are. Have you read either of them?”

“Florence Nightingale, quite a long time ago, but not Bernadette. I’m longing to read that one, and Madge said I could borrow it after you; so I s’pose I can just keep it now. Actually, I’ve been wondering why on earth Madge should have¾” Joey stopped short, looking rather pink.

“You’re wondering why your sister gave me that particular book to read,” Patricia said gently.

“Patricia, I’m terribly sorry, I didn’t mean to pry.”

“It’s all right; you’re not prying, I know that; and it might help to talk to you about it.” Patricia dropped down on to another of the beds, facing Joey, and let her long legs swing to and fro. She frowned for a moment in concentration. “At first I couldn’t imagine myself what Mrs Russell’s idea had been.”

“Well, it’s easy enough to see why she thought of Florence Nightingale, but St Bernadette’s story didn’t seem to have much to do with you.”

St Bernadette? Oh, but the book’s not about that Bernadette…Well, not exactly.”

“I thought you said in your letter it was about Lourdes?”

“Well, so it is.” Patricia stopped for a moment. “Look, Jo, you’ll have to read the book for yourself. But the Bernadette of the title is a young French woman, present day more or less, christened after the saint. She’s a cripple, has been from birth, and her family – they’re frightfully poor – have the most awful time trying to save up money to send Bernadette to Lourdes. They’re very devout and they’re quite convinced she’ll be cured at the miraculous shrine.”

“And is she?” Jo asked eagerly.

Patricia did not answer the question directly. “The book’s written by a friend of Bernadette’s, a much better educated woman. She works for a local paper, and she offers to go with Bernadette to Lourdes; she’s curious to see what happens, and someone has to look after Bernadette on the journey.” Patricia paused. “I don’t think it’ll spoil the book if I tell you more; it’s not like a novel. No, there isn’t a miracle: Bernadette isn’t cured – at least, her damaged hip-joint isn’t cured. But that’s rather the point of the book. The writer friend is so impressed by the difference in Bernadette herself – as a person, I mean – that she decides to give up her job on the paper and she goes back to Lourdes to find out more about everything; especially about other people who’ve been there hoping for miraculous cures.”

“Does she believe in the miracles?”

“Oh, no! She doesn’t even believe in God to begin with. But she sees and talks to the pilgrims and the people who work among the sick – she travels all over the place, not only in France – and she questions all sorts of people who’ve been to Lourdes. And she keeps coming back to the same thing: the way so many of them seemed to have gained something. A kind of new strength, I suppose you might call it. Oh, dear, I hope I’m not ruining the book for you – I’m telling it terribly badly.”

“You mean that even though they weren’t cured, people didn’t mind about it so much?” Jo asked, her dark eyes very thoughtful.

“A bit like that, yes. Somehow they seemed better able to live with their difficulties. Oh, I can’t explain it properly. You’ll have to find out for yourself. Why, what’s the matter?” for Joey was now getting to her feet, though with every appearance of unwillingness.

“Patricia, I’ve just seen the time. It’s Sunday evening, so there’ll be prayers soon, and then¾”

“Please wait a sec, Joey. It’s nowhere near eight o’clock yet. And there’s something special I¾”

“Great Ceasar’s ghost! You were going to tell me something, weren’t you? How could I forget?” Jo hurriedly sat down on the bed again. “Fire ahead. But you’ll have to be quick.” She gazed intently at her friend, who seemed suddenly tongue-tied; then burst out, “Patricia, whatever have you been plotting? You look all – well, sparkly, somehow! Do tell!”

“Look – it’s absolutely nothing definite,” Patricia began slowly. “But, remember that day when Liesel cut her hand?”

“Jolly well, I do. And you were such a brick…”

“That doesn’t matter,” Patricia cut in firmly. “But it was after that morning that something struck me. I suddenly saw there actually was one person who might be able to talk Mother round. My godfather in Scotland.”

“You mean the one who gave you the kilt you wore at the dance?”

“That’s right. Fancy your remembering! Anyway, Uncle Hugo, that’s my godfather, is a rather unusual person. It’s far too long a story. He’s now a professor at Edinburgh University. And while we were in Salzburg, I wrote him a long letter. Telling him everything about¾”

“About your wanting to be a doctor, you mean?” Joey interrupted breathlessly.

“Yes. And about Mother being so dead set against it. It was quite a letter, I can tell you – a real effort at the time!”

Joey, remembering that her friend was no letter-writer, could appreciate that. But now, to her astonishment, she saw that Patricia was looking rather amused. “You know, Joey,” she went on, “it’s really funny. Because Uncle Hugo could be the most distinguished professor in all the universities of Europe. Mother still wouldn’t listen to a word he said. But it just happens that he’s also the son of a Marquis, and his sister’s married to some Rumanian royalty. That sort of thing really counts with my mother, you know. I think it’s a lot more remarkable that he’s had such a distinguished career, when there wasn’t any need for him ever to work at all. But Mother really is the most awful snob.” For a moment there was a glimpse of the old Patricia behind the words.

“So your godfather’s going to sail in and get everything arranged for you?” Joey was almost bouncing on the bed in her excitement.

“Steady on!” Patricia said warningly. “You simply must remember that nothing – nothing at all, is definite yet. But I did get a letter from Uncle Hugo the day we were leaving Munich. He’s going to be in London in January, and he’s promised to come and talk very seriously to Mother. The medical school in Edinburgh is world famous, and he says I could come and live with their family. I don’t think even Mother could say that was what she calls ‘unsuitable’, do you?”

“So how soon will you be starting? Right away, or…?”

“Jo, for any sake, you’ll be on the floor in a minute! And, look here, things are notgoing to change quickly. If they ever do. Uncle Hugo’s quite clear I’ve got to fall in with Mother’s plans and go through with this London season business. But he thinks that, once my mother gets her way over that, then – next summer, perhaps – there’ll be a chance he can talk her round. And, you know, if I’ve got even a shred of hope, I shan’t mind so much going to all the stupid parties and dances.”

“You never know, you might even enjoy some of them,” Joey said with an air of worldly wisdom. “One thing, though, whey on earth did you never think of roping in your godfather before?”

“Well – I did think of it sometimes. Quite often, in fact. But, you know, until quite recently – till coming here, and that day with Liesel, and visiting the san – oh, and just being here and meeting you all – I never really felt sure, not absolutely certain sure, that I could do it. And, please, Joey! You mustn’t say a thing about this to anyone. Not anyone at all! It’s all far too uncertain. Promise!”

“Of course I promise. But oh, Patricia, isn’t it all too simply marvelous? No, I won’t breathe a word. Guide’s honour! And now,” Joey slid unwillingly to the floor, “this time I really must go.”

As she passed the window, Jo lifted a corner of the curtain. “Oh, golly, Patricia, just have a look!”

Patricia moved over and peered through the casement. The Christmas moon, now almost at the full, was sailing serenely above the snow-covered mountains. The ice-bound Tiernsee shimmered in the moonlight. IN the deep blue of the sky below the moon, one star was shining.

“It’s beautiful,” Patricia said in hushed tones.

And Joey quoted softly,” ‘…as a star of smallest magnitude, close by the moon’ “.

“What does that come from?”

“Well, believe it or not, it’s Milton.” Jo let the curtain drop again. “It’s about the one bit I’ve ever liked much.”

“I’ll come downstairs with you, Joey.” And Patricia followed Jo out of the room. “You know, you ought to talk to Joan Hatherley about Milton; she’s mad about him. Perhaps she’d convert you. Or rather, you ought to have talked to her; you probably won’t see her now.”

“No, I don’t suppose I shall,” Joey said, with deliberately brisk cheerfulness.

While they were slowly descending the wooden staircase, a sudden thought struck Joey. “Patricia, you’ll be seeing Juliet when you get back to London, won’t you? Now she’d be on your side; you know she would. Ten thousand per cent. Oh, but perhaps you won’t tell her either?”

“I probably won’t in the meantime. I’m scared of counting my chickens too soon.”

“Well, anyway, don’t forget to give her tons and tons of love from all of us. We still miss her heaps.”

“At the foot of the stair Patricia stopped.

“There won’t be much time to say goodbye in the morning. We’re leaving so early, there’s bound to be an awful scrum. I hate goodbyes, anyway.”

“Mm. So do I.”

Then Patricia, with the touch of old-world formality she sometimes showed, held out her hand. Jo shook it warmly.

“Goodnight, Joey. Thank you very much.”

“Goodbye, Patricia. And good luck – with everything.”

EPILOGUE

 

A New Beginning

 

Very early the next morning, the Grange House party left Briesau. At Spärtz, they boarded the Vienna-Paris express; after a short night’s rest in Paris, they caught the boat-train for Calais.

It was a grey cheerless afternoon for their crossing of the Channel. Nevertheless, Patricia, Pamela and Joan decided to travel on deck; there was a cold wind outside, but the saloon was unpleasantly stuffy, and Pamela had a tendency to feel queasy.

They stood in the bows, leaning over the rail and scanning the grey horizon. Joan glanced at her companions: Patricia had pulled her hat down as far as it would go over her ears; Pamela had almost disappeared into her thick green scarf. “You two look a bit like tha tdreary picture, ‘The Last of England’,” she remarked.

“And what would that be?” Pamela asked, in a voice muffled by tickly green wool.

“Well, it’s a very Victorian effort, a painting of some people all wrapped up to the eyes, standing at the stern of a ship and looking very souldufl. But of course they’re watching England disappear into the distance, which is the wrong way round; unless our ship’s pilot has gone barmy!”

“Perhaps we’ll be finishing up in Ireland,” said Pamela hopefully.

“Or perhaps we’ll suddenly find ourselves back in Austria, sailing across the Tiernsee,” Joan suggested. “After all, it can look jolly rough and grey there sometimes.”

“Mm…almost like this.”

“Hasn’t’ it all been a simply splendid time?”

“Gosh, yes” Hasn’t it?”

Patricia said nothing. Then her long-sighted eyes caught the first indication of land, and she pointed it out to the others. They stood and watched as the cliffs of Dover cam slowly nearer. In the pale winter afternoon light they looked coldly beautiful.

It was dark when the train reached the outskirts of London. Bromley station flashed past, Dulwich… Herne Hill… Only a few minutes to Victoria.

Beside the railway line, the rows and rows of little houses that swarm all over the approaches to London were wrapped in merciful obscurity. Brave lights twinkled from the windows.

(She was no Florence Nightingale. But she knew now what she wanted. And with her godfather’s help she’d reach her goal in the end. No matter how long it took, she wouldn’t give up trying. Never!)

The train puffed self-importantly into the station. Home once more! Everywhere was bustle and clang and hum. People pushing on to trains. People waiting patiently to meet their friends. Lights, smoke, noise. As carriage doors were flung open, the Grange House girls began pouring out of the train.

(Would she ever see Joey again? Or Madge Russell, or any of the others? Perhaps one day, in London? And she’d never forget them. She’d learnt so much from that visit to the Chalet School).

With head held high, Patricia went down the station platform. Ready to meet the future, whatever it might bring.

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