Chapter 1: Prologue (ii)
If I had ever been here before I would probably know just what to do.
If I had ever been here before on another time around the wheel
I would probably know just how to deal with all of you
And I feel like I've been here before
Feel like I've been here before
- Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, Deja Vu
They had talked about going to the Tiernsee for the Easter break, but in the end Joey had decided it would mean too much travelling for the boys – it wasn’t fair on them, going so far when it was going to be a shorter holiday anyway. It turned out to be fortuitous that they were staying on the Platz – for her, anyway. Simone wrote to say that she and André were travelling to Berne to meet the children and have a little vacation there, and she hoped to be up by herself for a day or two – to see Thérèse, of course, but also to catch up with Joey. For Joey, who seldom saw her old friend, this quite made up for not getting to the Tirol.
Simone’s face was troubled when she arrived at Freudesheim on Wednesday morning. Joey saw it straight away, although she waited until the two of them were alone in the Salon before she gently asked what was wrong. “You’re going to think I’m silly,” Simone said. “It’s Cousin Thérèse – there’s nothing wrong, is there, my Jo? Something seems different about her.”
Joey folded her hands into her lap, looking thoughtful. “Not silly,” she said. “You’re right – oh, not that there’s anything wrong with her, not as far as I know. But it’s almost like she’s just – waiting for something.”
“Not for – not for –”
“No! Not that, Simone. She hasn’t given up on life – I don’t think she could. She’s busy planning a Guide camp for her troop as soon as the last of the snow melts. Perhaps waiting wasn’t the right word. She’s – she’s looking forward to something. Whatever it is, she won’t talk about it.”
Simone relaxed. “She always did seem to see further than anyone else,” she said, after a moment.
“At any rate, I don’t think it’s anything we need to be concerned over! Now – you did say you had something to show me, my lamb! It’s not nice of you to keep me in suspense any longer.”
“I do – mon Dieu! What was that noise?”
Joey rose, and went to the window. “A storm! Not a nice one, by the looks of things, either.”
“As if there were such thing as a nice one! I suppose you think us being stuck on top of a mountain in a shack is ‘nice’-”
“Libel! I was as uncomfortable as you were, and I still have nightmares about that milk. Those clouds do look a little ominous, though.” There was a touch of worry in Joey’s voice, and Simone joined her looking out at the sky.
“Hilary won’t send the boys home if it hasn’t passed by lunchtime, Joey.”
“No, of course not. Gracious!” As lightning forked across the sky, leaving a trail of the strangest purple-green hue. “We are in for a doozie.”
Simone suddenly laughed. “A – doozie? Joey, how do you pick up such expressions?”
Joey took no notice of her, distracted by the appearance of Bruno, who padded into the room whining in a most distressing manner. “You worried by the storm too, boy?” She sighed. “And it looked like such a nice morning, too! Simone, I’d better whip around and make sure the windows are closed – ” she paused. “Bother! The girls said I wasn’t to go upstairs under pain of being robbed of my pudding for a week. You wouldn’t mind checking to see that they know to batten down their hatches, will you?” Simone agreed, and Jo banged the Salon window shut – it often stuck – and flicked on the electric light; it was already growing darker.
“Anna! Was there washing outside? Should I fetch it?”
Joey’s maid stuck her head out of the kitchen door, and suggested – firmly – that Joey ought to watch the potatoes to make sure they didn’t boil over while she fetched the washing. Joey meekly obeyed. Anna tended to think that she was incapable of much beyond cooking vegetables and turning heels, and as the years went on Joey wasn’t sure but that she might be right. At any rate, she’d certainly never managed to press Jack’s shirts with the finesse that Anna did.
A sudden insistent rapping on the front door interrupted her thoughts. Was anyone else about yet? No – she’d better answer it. Remembering for once to turn the hob down, she glanced out the kitchen window - the threatened rain still was holding off, but that strange, purple-green lightning still flashed across the black clouds. Joey shivered.
The knocking came again, and she hurried down the hallway. Who would it be – someone seeking shelter from the storm, perhaps? The school would be closed until Friday, so there’d be no one there to welcome lost souls. Freudesheim would be the nearest place if anyone had been out for a walk. Wondering, she opened the door and was greeted by a familiar face, her former school-friend and matron of the Chalet School, Ruhanna MacDonald.
"Hanna!" Joey cried. "I thought you were off on a trip? I - oh, Maryah, I didn't see you there. Not that it isn't a pleasure to see both of you, but - Con?" as she noticed her second daughter standing with the two Old Girls. "I thought you were upstairs with the others." Then, catching sight of her face, she caught her breath. "What’s wrong?"
A deep growl of thunder greeted her last word, and Maryah glanced nervously up at the sky. "There's no time to explain," Hanna said peremptorily, and brushed passed her into the house, Maryah followed, throwing an agonising look at Joey as she went; but Joey managed to catch Con's arm before she followed the other two. "Con, what on Earth-"
"I'm sorry, Mamma," Con said, and then yanked her arm free. "I'll explain later, honest!" She took off after the others, and Joey stood for a moment, stunned by the quietest triplet's behaviour. Then she turned on her heel and was after them, anxious to know what had brought both Hanna and Maryah back from their holiday, and what had taken Con out of the house without a by-your-leave - and to come back, looking so scared.
Con was at the top of the stairs as Joey reached the hallway. She followed her daughter up, taking the steps two at a time - which she would definitely not be telling Jack later or he'd have things to say - and arrived at the top to see her daughter, still running, enter her own room. Someone screamed – it sounded like Con – and a babble of voices, harsh and high-pitched reached her ears. Joey quickened her pace, her heart beating rapidly from both the exertion and the frightening thoughts that were filling her head. She reached Con’s bedroom door just in time to see – “But that’s impossible,” she gasped, “there can’t be – ”
The storm was right on top of them, and the thunder boomed at exactly the same time as the lightning struck, and –
Chapter 2: (iv)
Grizel Cochrane's face was solemn as she walked the familiar path around the Tiernsee. That morning had been spent setting up desks and chairs in the main chalet, where the Chalet School housed its Middles and Seniors, but for now her time was her own. After Mittagessen Miss Maynard had told the girls - Jo Bettany, sister of the school's founder, the Robin, Madame’s small ward, Simone Lecoutier, the Head’s cousin, and Grizel herself - that they had worked so hard they should have some time off. The Robin had been whisked off for an afternoon nap, as she was a delicate girl whose health was always attended closely. Jo had declared her intention to work on her current story, while Simone had some embroidery she wished to finish. Grizel, left by herself, had asked permission to go for a walk – just to stretch her legs, she said – and Miss Maynard had given her a keen look before acquiescing. Grizel had been unusually quiet ever since her ill-fated trip to see the Falls of Rhine, and even knowing that the trip had not cost her the position of Head Girl had not quite returned her to her usual contented self.
“Perhaps a walk will buck her up,” thought the mistress. “If she’s still looking gloomy when the rest of the school arrives the other prefects are sure to notice, and they’ll ask questions among themselves. But a walk ought to do Grizel good.”
At first, Grizel had been able to think of little else besides her own problem; but as her gaze swept out across the beautiful lake her thoughts turned to one of her favourite subjects – Games. The beginning of the term would see plenty of winter sporting, as even now snow covered much of the ground in a thick blanket, and on the far side of the lake she could see a few lone tourists gleefully skating. But she knew from past experience that as spring approached, and the melting snow turned all the ground to mud, there’d be no Games at all, and the Middles would get restless.
“And restless Middles mean more work for the prefects!” she thought. “Dancing is all very well, but they ought to be outside, as long as the weather’s fine. Couldn’t we find something for them to do?” She was not struck by any brilliant ideas, however, and she resolved to bring it up at her first prefect’s meeting instead. Perhaps one of the others would be able to come up with a decent suggestion.
Now thoroughly distracted by school matters, she ceased to worry about her own recent conduct at all, and she put her mind to thinking about the rest of the girls who made up the prefects. Some of the girls were relative newcomers to the Chalet School, while others, like Grizel, had been there almost right from the beginning. Grizel herself was the school’s very first pupil – apart from Jo, of course – but she wasn’t too concerned with keeping things going the same way they’d always been. “After all,” she thought, “we’re getting bigger all the time – there’ll have to be some changes. Girls like Deira O’Hagan” – an Irish firebrand who had only joined the school two terms previously, but who had proved to be a capable leader all the same – “are bound to have some ideas that we’ve never thought about before. I should ask them, when I get the chance.”
Her walk had, by this point, taken her some way around the lake, and she suddenly noticed with alarm that the sky was starting to grow darker – the winter sun and mountains meant days were still quite short at the beginning of the Easter term. She should enough time to get back before it was dark, but she would have to pick up her pace. She turned, retracing her footsteps, but she had not gone far when she heard a shriek and a girl came sliding around the path and straight into her. She was a large girl, a full head and a half taller than Grizel and hefty to boot and as the two collided Grizel thought, for a moment, that they would both be knocked off the path. But she kept her own head, and managed to land almost where she stood – with the girl on top of her.
The stranger was upright in an instant. “Oh Gosh,” she cried. “I’m so sorry. I was running – and I didn’t realize my shoes were all wrong – but everything’s so strange – are you OK?”
Grizel was ‘OK’, apart from a bruise or two where the girl had landed on her. She got herself up and dusted the excess snow off before it had a chance to melt. From her accent, the girl was English – a holidayer, obviously. But exactly what she was doing out here by herself was another matter. “I’m fine, thank you,” Grizel said. “You didn’t hurt yourself, did you?” Then, as the stranger shook her head, “If you don’t mind me asking – do you need help finding your way?”
“Yes – no – oh, I don’t know. This is the Tiernsee, isn’t it? But it looks so different – and I don’t know how I got here.”
She had an odd manner of speaking, in starts and stops, as if she had a lot to say and wasn’t sure if she ought to say it. It was clear to Grizel what had happened, however – the girl, had taken a walk by herself and had strayed off the path. It was not the first time she had heard of a tourist doing such a thing, although she wondered at a schoolgirl – because for all her height, the stranger was still quite young – walking by herself in unfamiliar territory.
“Why don’t you come with me?” Grizel offered. “My school isn’t far from here – we can ring up your people from there. Are you staying at the Kron Prinz Karl?”
“School?” the girl repeated. “Here? How?”
Perhaps she’d hurt herself after all – she seemed to be in shock. But Grizel was in no mind to wait around and explain things to her – while Mademoiselle would probably understand if she returned late, she was not going to take any more chances. She started back along the path, and after a moment, the girl’s long legs had caught her up.
“What’s your name, then?” the girl demanded.
“I’m Grizel Cochrane,” Grizel replied, adding, with a little burst of pride, “Head Girl at the Chalet School, where we’re going.”
“I’m sorry, did you say – Grizel?” The girl’s eyes were wide.
“Yes – short for Griselda. What of it?”
“Oh, I – nothing. It’s – um, it’s unusual.” She fell silent, apparently forgetting that it would be considered to give her own name in return. Grizel gently asked her.
“I’m – oh, I’m – Ma- MacDonald. Ruhanna MacDonald.” Scottish then – or part Scottish. She didn’t sound particularly Scots, but she did have glorious red hair – an eye-catching red-gold bob, obvious even under the winter cap that she wore. “So – there’ll be a phone at the school, will there? Only I expect my parents will be quite glad to hear from me.” Ruhanna glanced around her apprehensively. “And I’ll be quite glad to hear from them,” she murmured, almost to herself.
By the time they had reached the school, it was almost dark. Grizel, worried about how her lateness might seem, was instead given a few words of praise for bringing the stray girl back with her, and ushered in to the Dining Hall to join the others for the evening meal. Jo, who had seen her and Ruhanna arrive, demanded to know who she was. “Is it a new girl?” she asked excitedly.
“I don’t think so, Jo. Just a lost holiday-maker.” And in between mouthfuls of bread-twists Grizel told the girls – briefly – about what had happened.
“A bit of an idiot, then,” Jo said, when she had finished. “Honestly, going off by herself and getting lost like that.” Then she realized what she had said and looked horrified.
“Idiotic alright,” Grizel agreed, and Jo relaxed again. Simone, who had luckily not noticed this by-play, commented that Ruhanna was “jolly pretty – but very pretty.”
“She was good-looking,” Jo agreed. “But there was something about her …” she trailed off.
“Don’t tell me you didn’t like her,” Grizel scoffed. “You didn’t even meet her, Joey.”
“Oh! No, that’s not what I meant. I meant there’s something about her face – I feel like I’ve seen her before, but I can’t work out where. I don’t think I can have, though, because I’m sure I’d remember hair like that. Perhaps she just looked a little like someone I know – only I can’t remember who. It’ll come to me, I suppose.”
Grizel laughed. “Her hair’s rather red, isn’t it? And so straight! As much as yours is, Jo.”
Jo pulled a face. Her hair was the bane of her existence, untidy and ‘all-over everywhere’ no matter how many times a day she attended to it. “If only I had curls!”
“It is not curls that you need,” Simone said. Her own hair was straight and dark, like Jo’s, yet it was always neat and tidy. “Perhaps if you grew it-”
“Or you could curl it, with tongs,” Grizel teased. “Then you might have hair like the Robin’s.”
The Robin, who had been quietly attending to her milk, looked aghast at this. “But no,” she said in her pretty French. “If Joey had curls, she would not be Joey!”
The little party fell silent as the Dining Hall doors swung open, and Mademoiselle Lepâttre entered, Ruhanna in her wake. Mademoiselle had taken over the school when Joey’s sister, Madge, had married; most of the girls loved the Frenchwoman, but had not expected her to be able to take Madge’s place. Indeed, she hadn’t, but had forged her own place. She was a small woman, and typically French, with dark eyes and hair; as a Headmistress, she was compassionate and strong-willed, as capable as her predecessor. Now she smiled at her small collection of pupils.
“Guten Abend, mes filles,” she said. “It will come to a surprise to you, I know, but Ruhanna was in fact intended to become a pupil here. Her parents have said that since she has arrived – by happenstance, you might say – she might stay. Her things will be delivered tomorrow, and she will join you until classes begin.” She turned and smiled at Ruhanna. “The girls will make you feel very welcome, I am sure.”
“Thank you, Mademoiselle,” Ruhanna replied soberly. Before she had seemed confused, bewildered – now she just seemed glum. Her parents hadn’t told her, Grizel realized. Term started in two days, and Ruhanna’s parents hadn’t got around to telling her yet that she was going to be joining them – she hadn’t even known there was a school in the area. Grizel was not an imaginative girl, but she knew what it was like to have parents making decisions that weren’t going to effect them, but were going to effect you – for a long time to come. The friendly smile she gave Ruhanna was full of fellow feeling.
“Hello!” Jo was the first to speak. “I’m Jo Bettany – this is Simone Lecoutier, and this is the Robin. You already know Grizel, of course.”
“It’s very nice to meet you,” Ruhanna said faintly. Her eyes darted nervously to Jo for a moment, then back to Mademoiselle, who nodded at her encouragingly.
“If you take a seat, one of the others will fetch you a plate from the kitchen – ah, thank you ma petite,” as the Robin jumped up from her seat. She came back shortly, importantly bearing a basket of bread, and followed by a maid bearing a tray with soup, meat vegetables. Lisa, the Austrian cook, adored the school’s ‘baby’, but she was not about to entrust her with anything that might spill! Mademoiselle thanked her, and with one last reassuring look at Ruhannah she left to join the other staff members who were eating – at their own table. As Miss Nalder said, they were going to have had more than enough of the girls by the end of the term – they might as well enjoy their last night of freedom!
There was silence at the girls’ table for a little while. Grizel was unsure what to say to the new girl, while Simone and Jo were still finishing their meals. Ruhanna, for her part, kept glancing at Jo – who was yet to notice – and absently stirring her soup. It was the Robin who broke the silence.
“Are you not hungry?” she asked in her pretty French. Ruhanna, apparently noticing her for the first time, gave a start, and then smiled.
“Not that hungry, no. Although the soup does smell miraculous.”
“The soup smells – what?”
Ruhanna reddened. “I – oh. At school – that is, at my last school – we were always being told off for slang. My s- some of the girls spent one afternoon with a thesaurus looking up synonyms for us to use, and ‘miraculous’ rather stuck.”
“You’re better of than most new girls, then,” Grizel informed her. “Madame – our former Headmistress, you know, who started the school – is awfully down on slang. In all three languages, by the way! Do you speak German as well as French?”
“Fluently,” Ruhanna told her. “I was at the Ch- at school in Switzerland.”
“You won’t have any problems with German, then,” Grizel said thoughtfully. “Although I think Swiss-German is a little different than what we speak here. Was it an English school?”
“The Head was English, but we spoke High German,” Ruhanna told her. “And French – I expect I’ll get on alright.”
“You are lucky,” Simone told her in her usual sombre tones. “When I started school here I had not been before, and everything was strange to me – but so strange!”
“For me too,” Grizel said. “I’d been to the High near my father’s house, before I came here, but I’d never boarded. It was a little difficult at first.” She didn’t say that the difficulties had mostly been on her end – that was not the thing for a Head Girl to tell a new student!
“Tell us about your school, Ruhanna,” Joey suggested. “Did you play English games?”
Ruhanna seemed to relax a little as she talked about Games at her school, which sounded decent – and much bigger than the Chalet School, which this term boasted just over 60 students! – and proved to be keen on cricket and lacrosse in equal measures.
“We don’t have lax here,” Grizel informed her. “Cricket and tennis though, in the summer. We’ll have winter sports as long as the snow holds out, too, and hockey and netball when we have the chance.”
“Couldn’t we have lacrosse?” Joey asked unexpectedly. “They were just starting up a team at the High when we left – do you remember, Grizel? That American girl was putting them together. Rosalie and Mary are bound to have played a little.”
“It’s a good idea,” Grizel said, “but I don’t know, Jo. It couldn’t be this term, anyway – and we’d need someone to teach us. I don’t know if Miss Nalder knows it. I’ll mention it to Mademoiselle, though,” she added, seeing the look on Jo’s face.
“Smashing!” Simone said – not, Grizel was sure, that she had any interest in the sport for her own sake, but she was likely to follow Jo into whatever she wanted to do. Hopefully Mademoiselle would say yes, or she’d never hear the end of it. Luckily, the Robin turned the conversation by asking whether she was old enough to play netball or not yet, and the question of lacrosse was left alone for the moment. Ruhanna fell silent again, but this time she actually attended to her meal.
When Ruhanna was finished Grizel ordered the girls collect their dishes and tumblers up and return them to the kitchen, and then did the same for the mistresses. Then Miss Maynard collected the Robin to take her over to Le Petit Chalet, and Simone shyly asked her cousin if she would look over her embroidery; and Matron beckoned Ruhanna to go and see about a cubey for her. Grizel and Jo were left alone.
“The others start arriving tomorrow,” Jo said as they left the Hall. “And then school will start again! D’you suppose this term will be as quiet as the last one?”
“With you around?” Grizel teased. “I wouldn’t mind a quiet term - but then, you can’t expect Middles to be quiet, can you? And they say that lightning never strikes in the same place twice, but there’s always the chance of a flood-”
“Or an earthquake,” Jo said unexpectedly. “Well, there’s nothing we can do about that, and you’re more than match for the Middles.” They had reached the library by this stage, and she paused. “I’d better go,” she said. “I promised the Robin I’d give her a song before she went to bed, and I’m not sure what I did with my overcoat. Don’t worry, Grizel,” she added. “I mean, about – you know. No one knows except us, and we won’t tell. And I know I’m not a prefect or anything, but I’ll jolly well back you up as much as I can.” The ferocity with which this last part was said was almost comical, but Grizel was touched, and she remained perfectly serious as she thanked the younger girl.
“It means a lot to me, Jo,” she told her, and then, since that was about as much as she could manage, she told her to shoo to see the Robin. But she found that she felt more settled than she had after dinner. Even without Jo’s reassurances, her trip to see the Falls of Rhine no longer weighed quite as heavily on her thoughts as it had that morning.
The rest of the school arrived the next day, and then school begun in earnest. The first week was never as full-on as it would be later, but for the Sixth, some of whom planned to go on to university, work was never to be treated lightly. Ruhanna, although a good two years younger than Vanna diRicci, who was almost 19, joined their class, and quickly proved herself to be what Rosalie Dene termed “an infant prodigy.” Ruhanna had heard this, and flushed.
“I’m not,” she said, “honestly. I used to muck around in class more than I worked – I’ve got a lot to catch up on still.” She did seem nervy in class, that was for sure – and she also seemed very uncomfortable when people asked her anything about her home. She was happy to talk about her school, but she never wanted to say anything about her family – once more making Grizel wonder whether her home life had been unhappy. She quickly squashed any indiscreet murmurings the others had, hoping that they would follow her example and that, in time, Ruhanna would feel more comfortable. She certainly seemed more at ease during winter gaming – she refused to toboggan, but was easily expert at skiing. “Do you skate as well?” Mary Burnett asked her, when the two of them had raced and Mary had won – just barely.
“No! I always wanted to try, but we – I – never had a chance.”
“Then there is at least something left for the rest of us to excel us,” Lisa had put in laughingly. This time Ruhanna did not look embarrassed at all, but simply took the compliments as her due. She was an odd girl, that much was for certain.
Events shortly conspired to make Grizel forget about Ruhanna’s strangeness altogether. She had her first prefects’ meeting. In all her worries about becoming Head Girl, she’d thought of numerous ways that she could fail. When she’d first become Games Pree she’d lorded it over the others rather, and they had reacted badly, understandably. What if she did the same thing now? What if she handled the Middles wrong and put their backs up? What if they just ignored her completely? What if she went off half-cocked again and the little idiots followed her example? But she’d never thought for a second that she’d have a problem with any of the other prefects, not from the very first meeting.
She wondered if Deira had always disliked her. They’d seemed to get along alright, and Grizel wasn’t given to introspection when it came to her friendships – she was friendly with people or she wasn’t, and it hadn’t bothered her particularly either way. But she saw now that Deira’s feelings ran deeper than that and that – at some time, surely – she must have done something to hurt the other girl. So in return she’d take exception to Grizel’s decisions and now – well.
Mademoiselle saw that something was wrong almost straight away. She’d interviewed both girls, separately, and pointed out to both of them that their disagreement had the potential to disrupt the whole school. The rest of the Seniors, at any rate, could already tell that something was wrong; Deira was being left to herself almost entirely by the other prefects, and Grizel was far quieter and more serious than she usually was. But while Grizel did everything she could to make amends, Deira did not seem to care at all. “I don’t know what to do at all,” Grizel told her headmistress anxiously during her interview. “I’ve tried to apologise, and I’ve tried to just treat her normally – what else can I do?”
Mademoiselle shook her head. “I think you would say, the ball is in Deira’s court now. If she will not accept your apology, nor apologise herself, then there is nothing more you can do; she is enjoying herself too much.”
Grizel sat up. “Enjoying herself? But she can’t be having any fun, Mademoiselle.”
“No, she is not happy,” the headmistress agreed. “But you wronged her, Grizelle, and she wants to feel wronged. Next time, I hope you will not allow this to happen; but you have done everything within your power to make it up to Deira.” To Grizel’s surprise, she smiled at her. “You have learned some hard lessons, Grizelle! You have made a mistake, but you have owned it. I know that your blame in this matter is very small.” And Grizel went away much cheered by Mademoiselle comments, even if she could not shake the knowledge that the situation was partially her own fault.
The interview with Deira went less well. Mademoiselle tried both reason and emotion, but Deira remained obstinate. At last, Mademoiselle sighed, and looked sadly at her student. “Deira, I have no doubt that if this continues, you will find yourself in trouble – much deeper trouble than any punishment I could mete out. I hope, for your sake, that you will triumph over your silly pride before this happens.” Deira looked troubled, at this pronouncement; but she still said nothing. Mademoiselle dismissed her, not looking untroubled herself.
This state of affairs continued until Mrs Russell – Madame, as the girls still called her – came to the school for a visit. Her former pupils were always happy to see her, and those who were new since her time were eager to see if she lived up to the others’ admiration. Mrs Russell laughingly agreed to teach her old classes, and the atmosphere in the school lightened significantly. Only Deira remained unchanged.
When she heard what had transpired, Mrs Russell was thoughtful. “If even you haven’t managed to get through to her, Thérèse, I don’t see what else can be done.”
“You could always demote her,” Miss Maynard suggested. “A shock is bound to cure her of her temper.”
“Or only serve to put her back up further,” Mademoiselle pointed out. “I think, unless things deteriorate further, Deira needs to be left to herself.” The other mistresses conceded, and Mrs Russell suggested that, after that previous night’s snowfall, they might have a snow fight. “It might clear the air a little,” she added. “And – well, I did mentioned it to Jo this morning. I’m afraid it will be halfway around the school by now.”
Miss Maynard laughed, and Mademoiselle smiled. “I do hope the children are not too excited,” she said. “But – yes, chérie, I suppose we must have the snowfight.”
The sides were picked, and the forts built, and the girls were enjoying themselves fully when Grizel suddenly gave a little cry and fell back into the snow. At first, it seemed as though she was playing a joke; but after a moment her stillness and whiteness brought the fight to a standstill, and Mademoiselle and Mrs Russell both to her side. Grizel was hastily borne off to the san, where Matron advised that a doctor be sent for at once; Mrs Russell stayed with her, while Mademoiselle had the mistresses and her other pupils back inside for cups of hot, milky coffee. As the Sixth Formers streamed past her to their tables, Mademoiselle caught Ruhanna by the arm. “I need your help,” she said in low tones. “Step outside with me for a moment, and listen.”
Ruhanna did so. Her expression, drawn tight by worry over the accident, changed to one of wonder. “And you think I could do that?” she asked.
“I know you can. You are, after all, your mother’s daughter! Go to her, my dear; she needs someone, and I think it had best be you.” Ruhanna opened her mouth to argue, and then reluctantly nodded her head, and shortly found Deira, not in the Hall with the others, but sitting on a settee outside the Head’s office, looking almost as pale as Grizel herself.
For a moment Ruhanna hesitated, steeling herself; then she perched herself on the settee’s armrest, in cool defiance of the usual rules, and gave Deira a hard look. “What did you do?” she asked brusquely. Deira started.
“Did you – did you see?” Deira made a little choking sound. “If Grizel dies – I’ll be a murderess!”
“Nonsense,” Ruhanna replied. “Mademoiselle told me Grizel’s going to be fine. It’s just a concussion, that’s all.”
Deira reached out and grasped the other girl’s hands. “Truly? But – she was bleeding-”
“Looked worst than it was,” Ruhanna replied promptly. “Now won’t you tell me what you mean by this murder business?” Haltingly, Deira recounted Grizel’s snowball hitting her, and her own hasty reaction. Ruhanna’s expression softened, and she slid down to sit next to the older girl. Deira wondered if it was pity driving her actions, but when Ruhanna opened her mouth what came out was the last thing Deira had expected.
“I nearly killed someone last term. One of my friends. I lost my temper and threw a bookend at her.” Her tone was blunt; Deira stared at her. Ruhanna clearly meant every word she was saying. “It wasn’t even like you and Grizel. We weren’t arguing or anything. I was just in a bad mood and she said the wrong thing and – I thought I had killed her.”
“Is that- is that why you left your last school? Were you – expelled?” To Deira’s mind, at that moment, there was a no more fitting consequence for what she herself had done.
“I wasn’t expelled. But – maybe that’s why I left. I don’t know.” Ruhanna gave a short laugh, but there was no humour in it. “It seems like a punishment, sometimes. Most of the time. But that wasn’t even the worst of what I did. Last year I was so eaten up with jealousy that I tried to blackmail another girl out of being friends with my sister.” She stared ahead, eyes unseeing. “Sometimes I wonder if I can ever forgive myself for that. My sister forgave me, and Ted and Betty, but…” she trailed off, and Deira found herself giving the younger girl a tentative smile.
“’Tis tempers we both have, then, and selfishness. I thought it was my pride that I was protecting, but I know that Grizel has been unhappy – and the others, too – and I just didn’t care,” she shook her head. “But now – I thought it was too late to say I was sorry. I am sorry, Hanna! I truly am. And- if- if Grizel doesn’t die-”
“She won’t,” Ruhanna said firmly.
“Then I’ll tell her so myself. And I- do you think Mademoiselle will see me now?”
Mademoiselle did, and Deira emerged from her office some time later, tearful but a good deal happier. She found that Ruhanna was still waiting for her outside, and sat down next to her. “You mentioned your sister,” Deira said. “You’ve never talked about her before.” Ruhanna glanced away, a pained look on her face.
“She’s… not around anymore. There’s just me, now.”
“That’s not true,” Deira told her. “Maybe you’ve got no one at home, but – as long as we’re both at school, you’ve got me.” She gave her a tentative smile. “It seems like we’ve got one or two things in common.”
Ruhanna looked at her, surprise written on her face; then she gave her own, slow smile. “We do, don’t we?” she asked, wonderingly. “I’d like to be friends, Deira.” The temperamental Deira clasped her hand, and said, “Mademoiselle said that I can be first in to see Grizel, as soon as she is allowed visitors. And – I was nearly forgetting. Mademoiselle asked to see you. Shall I wait for you?”
Ruhanna shook her head. “No – you better go down and ask Lisa for some coffee, since you missed yours. I’ll see you in class later.”
Mademoiselle was waiting for her patiently inside. “You did a tremendous thing today, Margot.”
Ruhanna – Margot Maynard – flushed. “I didn’t really. Deira just needed someone to talk to. It’s funny,” she added, “But no one’s really how I imagined they were as kids. Not even Mamma. All the aunts always talked about how helpful she was, but she just seems – I don’t know, ordinary. Kind of dreamy, like Con. And Aunt Grizel always seems a little bit frightening, but Grizel is a smashing Head Girl.”
“But everyone is exactly as I remember them – almost. I try to make things stay the same, but I don’t really know everything that went on here – not even when I was a teacher myself! I didn’t know until I saw her today today that Deira threw a rock at Grizel; I had always thought it was an accident, that Grizel had been hit by a chunk of ice.”
Margot shrugged. “ Then isn’t it pointless, trying to keep everything the same? I mean when you were at school, I wasn’t here…” Then abruptly, “Tante Simone, what about Len and Con? Do you think I’ll ever see them again?”
“I don’t think so,” Simone said, “I am sure of it. You and I were both sent back in time; I am sure the others were too.”
There was conviction in her voice. Margot clenched her fists. Tante Simone was so sure – and she needed it to be true. She needed to know that her sisters would appear, one day, any day, soon, tomorrow… That they would come to the school, the same way that Tante Simone and she had.
“I have to stay here,” she said. Her voice cracked slightly as she spoke. “I have to… when they come, I have to be here to see them.”
“Of course,” Tante Simone said. Her grip on Margot’s arm tightened.
Chapter 3: (v)
Beth was wearing her almost-nicest clothes and waiting for her Aunt Janie to arrive. Aunt Janie was going to take her to get her new school uniform – actually, Aunt Janie was going to be taking her to get her first real school uniform, for her brand new school.
"How come I don't get one?" her younger sister Nancy had demanded. That was the worst thing about being the eldest girl - the others always wanted to have everything that she got.
"Because," Mummy had told her firmly, "Beth is going to be a Middle, and you and the others " - that was Beth's cousins - "won't be. When you're older, we'll see that you get one too." And that had been that. Nancy had grumbled that it was going to be years before she got her own uniform, so Beth had tried not to rub it in too much. But she couldn't help being a little excited.
And it was more than just that, anyway. Aunt Janie was taking her around to Auntie Jo, and Beth was going to get to meet Daisy Venables. Beth had heard all about Daisy Venables from Auntie Jo, but she hadn't got to meet her yet. Her mother had died very recently, and Daisy hadn't been up to meeting new people, but Auntie Jo had promised that when she was, Beth and her would certainly be friends. "I can't promise you'll be bosom buddies," she'd warned Beth, "But Daisy's a friendly girl, and at the very least she'll make sure you feel welcome at the Chalet School." That would almost be enough for Beth, all by itself. She’d certainly never been made to feel welcome at her old school. But, she thought wistfully, it would be nice to have a friend, too.
Aunt Janie pulled into the drive, tooting her horn. Beth was sure she did that just to irritate Mummy, but Mummy only ever just rolled her eyes and said, “Janie would.” Daddy usually laughed, though. Now Beth kissed her goodbye and excitedly skipped outside and waved at the car. Two figures waved back. One was Aunt Janie, of course, in the driver’s seat – the other was Maryah, who was Aunt Janie’s Mother’s Help.
Beth thought that Maryah was more or less the most wonderful person in the world - although she wouldn't admit it to anyone. The last thing she wanted was for her male cousins to find out and start teasing her! But she was so kind, and pretty, too, with her long chestnut hair tied back in a thick plait, that it was perhaps not suprising that Beth admired her; and besides, Maryah talked to her like she was almost an adult herself, and not just a kid like everyone else was.
Beth slid into the back seat of the car. “Are you coming to Auntie Jo’s too, Maryah?”
“No, I’m not. I was interested in this school of yours and Mrs Lucy offered to take me to see it – and Nan, but she couldn’t make it.”
“She’s starting a cold,” Aunt Janie explained. “I would not be popular if I let her spread that around staff before school had even started!”
“I imagine not,” Maryah said soberly. “I can imagine Matey – the Matron from my school, I mean – being awful if anything like that happened. I suppose the Matron at the Chalet School would be just the same.”
“I’ve heard she’s a tartar,” Aunt Janie said. “You’d better stay on the right side of her, Bethy!” She sounded like she was laughing, but Beth nodded. The Matrons in her school-stories were always very strict; probably they were like that in real life, too.
“I’m sure you’ll love it,” Maryah said warmly. “I wish I was going to school with you!” There was real yearning in her voice. After Aunt Janie had dropped her on the ground, promising to pick her up again before lunch, Beth climbed into the front seat and said so to Aunt Janie.
“She probably would still be at school if not for the war,” her aunt replied. “She’s sixteen – or does that sound frightfully grown-up?”
Beth thought about it. “I don’t know. We stay at school until we’re 18, don’t we? But some girls are already working before that. So – sixteen is quite grown-up. But that’s not that much older than I am now, Aunty.”
“Well, Maryah was at a school in Switzerland, but her family was living in France, not far from the German border. They were killed in air raid over France; she doesn’t have any more family in England. She remembered that her mother had had some family on Guernsey, and came here; but she couldn’t find them. Luckily your Aunt Elizabeth found her, and when she heard what had happened she thought she might like to help me out.”
Beth’s eyes were wide. She knew all about the war, of course, and Mummy let her listen to the bulletins on the radio sometimes. But this was the first time she’d really heard of anyone directly affected by it, and suddenly it felt a lot more real. “She’s happy with us, though, isn’t she? She always looks happy.”
“She’s very brave, Bethy. Even though she’s missing her family dreadfully, and even though she has to work rather than go to school like she wants to, she knows that she has to stay strong. She knows that best way to bear her troubles is to stand firm, and keep going, because she can’t live her life always thinking about the people who have left her.”
“It’s not fair. Aunt Janie – why do I get to go to school and be happy, and Maryah doesn’t? Why do – why do Nancy and I get to be healthy when Babs isn’t?”
Aunt Janie sighed. “I don’t know the answer to that. But – it seems to me – that when we have difficult times in our lives that we’re being tested, to make sure that we’re growing into the people that we ought to be.”
Beth was silent, thinking this over. “More people are going to die, aren’t they?”
“Yes, I’m afraid they are. But Britain and her allies are going to make sure that the war is over as quickly as possible. Then we’ll see peace again, darling.”
“And we should be strong too,” Beth found herself saying. “Even if we have problems, we should stand up to them, shouldn’t we?”
Aunt Janie was pulling in to Aunt Joey’s house. “That’s right, Bethy. And that’s a very grown-up thing to say.” She smiled. “But right now you don’t need to be grown-up – you get to meet a new friend, and get your school uniform. I don’t mean that you should forget what I’ve said, but you’ve had your hard times, Bethy. Now you get to have your happy times, starting over at a new school.”
Beth was a little shy, meeting Daisy when she’d heard so much about her, but Daisy didn’t know the meaning of the word, and she instantly seized upon her to demand what form she was likely to be in. “Although maybe we’ll see a lot of each other even if we aren’t in the same form,” she added. “The school’s going to be awfully small compared to what it was like in Austria, Auntie Madge says. Although Auntie Thérèse says it will grow again in no time!”
“Were you in Austria, too?” Beth asked eagerly. “What was it like?”
Daisy happily recounted her time in the Tyrol, although Beth noticed she didn’t say anything about her mother. Probably it would be too hard to talk about, and she knew better than to ask. And then she asked Beth if she’d lived anywhere except Guernsey, and by the time Auntie Jo and Auntie Janie stopped talking and remember that their nieces were there to be fitted, they had discovered that they had the same birthday and had both been studying James I in their last history classes – “So we’re bound to be in the same form,” Daisy said happily.
“You seem rather more chipper,” Auntie Janie told Beth as they left to pick up Maryah.
“Daisy says she’s going to invite me to Mrs Russell’s house next Wednesday before school starts,” the girl explained. “She’s so nice, Auntie! And she says she’ll be my sheepdog at school, if I want. I think – maybe she wants to be friends.”
“That’s wonderful, poppet,” Auntie Janie said quickly. “Mummy will be happy, too.”
They headed back to the school – my school, as Beth was now calling it – but Maryah wasn’t waiting for them yet. Auntie Janie consulted her watch. “We are a little early,” she admitted, “But I don’t want to wait around here any longer than I have to. Could you go and see if you can find her, Bethy? If you can’t find her quickly than just come back here.”
Beth obediently got out of the car and trotted up the driveway towards the house. One of the mistresses – Beth thought her name was Miss Linton – had shown her and Mummy around last week, but she wasn’t sure she’d remember her way just yet. Luckily – or perhaps unluckily – as soon as she opened the big front door she found herself confronted by a grown-up lady in a Matron’s uniform. “I- I’m looking for Maryah,” she explained before the lady had a chance to demand what she was doing there. “She came for a look around the school.”
“And you’ve come to collect her?” The lady favoured Beth with a smile. “Let’s look for her together, shall we? I’m Matron MacDonald.”
“Beth Chester,” Beth replied. Matron gave her a funny look, then, but she didn’t say anything. Maybe she looked like that at all new pupils.
“Where do you think your Maryah will be?” Matron asked. “Is there anything she’s particularly keen on?”
Beth wrinkled her brow in thought. “She likes languages,” she said eventually.
“Well, let’s try the language classrooms…” Matron’s voice trailed off as footsteps sounded on the wooden floor. Maryah appeared, her face dreamy, and she didn’t seem to notice Beth and Matron right away. But Matron saw her alright, and she gasped.
“Len?” Matron looked – well,. Beth’s cousin Bill would call it gobsmacked. Maryah looked confused, and then, staring at Matron, whispered, “Margot? I thought – I thought I was alone.”
Matron gave a shaky laugh. “Oh, Len! So did I – apart from Tante Simone. I started to think I’d never see you again – is Con here? Is-” she glanced at Beth and suddenly fell silent.
“Beth,” Maryah said, coming up to her. “I’m sorry, darling – you must be more confused than I am. This is my s-”
“Cousin, Ruhanna,” Matron interrupted her. “L- Maryah, I thought that you were – lost, in the war.” There was something odd in the way she spoke, as if she was trying to give Maryah a message without using any words. Maryah nodded, a little tearfully.
“If you’re here – you’re really here –oh, my lamb! I’ve needed you so much…”
In the end, it seemed that Matron was the family that Maryah had come to Guernsey to find. It was funny, then, that neither of them had known about the other, but none of the adults seemed to think so – just Beth. That weekend she heard Auntie Janie bemoaning the loss of her Mother’s Help, and on Monday she found that Maryah had started school, in the Upper Fifth. Beth saw her sometimes, and she was still as nice as ever – but she wasn’t as happy as Beth had thought she might be, now that she’d found her family and was going to school again.
For a while, Beth remember how they’d both seemed so confused, that day they’d met. It wasn’t one of those joyful long-lost reunions like she’d read about in books. And they’d called each other by the wrong names, or it had seemed like it.
In time, she forgot about that strange first meeting altogether.
Chapter 4: (iii.)
For a long time, Simone wasn’t conscious of anything but a ringing sound in her ears. When she opened her eyes all she could see was white. Then, slowly, it came back to her – the trip to the Platz to see Joey, going upstairs to make sure the triplets hadn’t left any windows open in the on-coming storm, the triplets telling her about their secret holiday project – her lips twitched. Joey would certainly appreciate her next birthday present! Then her thoughts had taken her back to the school’s early days, and her cousin, and the storm had suddenly been right over head and then-
She slowly became aware of someone talking. A man, with a pleasant tenor voice and Parisian accent. “…about now? No, that hasn’t worked. Maybe if you had something to eat? No, you wouldn’t even know you were eating something, and if you couldn’t event taste it there wouldn’t be much point. Oh, hello!” The white had started to fade away, and Simone found herself looking at a man who wasn’t much beyond a boy. He looked like he had dressed in a storm himself – his jacket sleeves were too short, and he wore a bow-tie, instead of an ordinary cravat. His hair looked as thought it might have been cut in the dark. And yet – there was something reassuring about him.
“Vision’s back, then,” he said happily. “Feeling?” He reached out a finger and jabbed her with it.
“What did you do that for?”
“And speech, that’s good. Hearing?”
Simone looked at him doubtfully. “There was ringing…”
“Yes, that’s normal. Well, not normal, because most human don’t experience temporal displacement syndrome, but when they do their senses tend to shut down on them. You’re lucky you only have five senses.”
Most of what he said didn’t make very much sense, but Simone did catch the word “syndrome” and latched onto it like a liferaft. “Are you a doctor? Am I ill?”
“No, and no. Or not in the way you’d think of as being ill, anyway. Tell me – what was your name?”
“Simone de Bersac.”
“Tell me, Simone de Bersac, what’s the last thing you remember?” She told him, and his look changed from one of helpful concern to deep-furrowed worry. “Then we’ve got to move fast. If it’s who I think it is-”
“If what’s who you think what is?” Simone asked, feeling more confused than ever. The man gave her a hand so she could stand, and she noticed that she was in an alleyway. And then they were running and he was talking, and –
He called them Vermin, because he said she wasn’t going to be able to pronounce their real name. They fed off not food, but on potential. A young boy who had the potential to become a great concert pianist – they would kill him, and feed off all the lives that were never changed because audiences had never heard him play. But they didn’t just travel the land, doing that. They travelled in time, finding a victim and then burrowing back through the years like rats, finding a critical moment in their life and killing them before they had the chance to live it. Simone must have fallen in to one of their burrows, coming out the other side in another time.
“None of that explains why we are in London,” she told him, when they had stopped running. He cocked his head.
“Weren’t you in London before?”
“But no! I was in the Oberland, visiting a friend. I – oh, is she the one they’re trying to kill?” Panic took her, and she reached out and gripped his arm. “Not Joey! Please, it can’t be Joey it – it can’t.”
“Was Joey in London in 1924, Simone de Bersac?” Simone’s lips moved frantically as she did the arithmetic, and then she shook her head. She and Joey had only been 7 in 1924. She’d been in France, still; Joey in Devon. Joey hadn’t been to visit London until she was 8.
“Then it must have been someone else in the house. Who was in London in 1924?”
Simone thought furiously. “There was Jack,” she said. “But no – he wasn’t in the house at the time.”
“Hmmm.” The man looked thoughtful. “If it wasn’t anyone who was there… What were you thinking, Simone de Bersac? What were you thinking of when the storm struck?”
“My cousin,” Simone replied. “I was thinking that, even though she was so kind to me and my sister – she helped to put us through school – there was so much about her I never knew. She was even our headmistress, at my boarding school, but she…” Her hand flew to her mouth. “Cousin Elise! She lived in London in the 1920s, before she was offered a place in Devon. Is she-”
He was running again. “Do you have any idea where she’d be?”
“She was working at a girls’ school! Oh, but I don’t know which one! It was a day school, and she had a little apartment nearby-”
She’d been to the apartment before, though. Cousin Elise had been an invalid by then, in London, waiting until her relocation to Guernsey had been approved. Simone had been waiting too – desperately hoping for word of her family before she took up her new post as Maths Mistress at the Chalet School. Cousin Elise had demanded she take her out, one day when she was nearly beside herself with worry. She’d pointed out the building she had once lived in. “It was a terrible place,” she’d said. “I was so glad when I was offered the post of governess. And then Marguerite came to me with her wonderful idea, and I was glad to leave the post of governess, too.”
Simone’s feet slipped on the street as she turned a corner, instinct as much as memory driving her towards her cousin. Her eyes registered posters and fashions that had not been seen for thirty years – perhaps later she’d have time to marvel at that. For now, she was running – because something in her believed everything this odd man had told her, and she had to hurry, had to get there before the Vermin did.
“Is this it?”
It didn’t look the same as when she had last seen it; the paint was fresher now than it had been then, but it was the right building. She rattled the front door impatiently. “It’s locked!”
“Here-” There was a buzz, and the door was open. Simone clambered up the stairs, ignoring the ache in her legs. She wasn’t as fit as she’d been as a girl; she’d really have to convince André that they should both take up tennis again, as soon as she got back. The door at the top was open, slightly ajar; Simone slammed it wider and – stopped.
The man was only a few paces behind her. He looked distraught. Simone wasn’t. She couldn’t feel anything. No syndrome, no pain. Nothing.
“Simone de Bersac – I’m sorry, I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry…”
Simone nodded, but in truth she barely heard him. Her cousin looked so much younger than she remembered her; the pain she’d lived in during her last few years had etched deep lines across her face, but here she looked untouched – almost. There was touch of sadness to her mouth, though. Unhappy with her school placement? Or unhappy for other reasons? Cousin Elise had never mentioned there being anyone in her life, but she’d not been a born teacher the way some were. There was so much she’d never known about her…
“This is real, isn’t it?” Simone asked after a while. “I’m really in London in 1924. That’s – that was really my cousin.”
“As real as anything is. Simone- ”
“But she can’t be dead,” Simone said. “I know. She helped raise me. She – how can she be dead?”
The man cleared his throat. His face was still drawn tight. “Time parallax. Um – the past that you remember, this time’s future… It never happened. You told me she was a headmistress. There’s all those girls she would’ve helped, those teacher she employed… that can’t happen now. That’s what the Vermin are eating.”
Simone had spent years at school being teased over her crying. She’d learned not to cry; she’d learned logic in the face of emotion. She wasn’t going to give in to tears now. “There’s more than that,” she said, her voice sounding stony even to her own ears. “Cousin Elise founded the school. It wasn’t her idea, but without her – I don’t think it would ever have happened. It isn’t going to happen. I- I have to do something about this. It’s not just the girls who were there when she taught; it was all of us. Joey – Marie and Frieda, our daughters – Madame. Gay Lambert. Robin-” André. Would she even have met him, if Cousin Elise had not encouraged her to aim for the Sorbonne? “I have to save her,” she said again.
“Simone,” his voice was kind, his eyes soft. “It’s too l…” His voice trailed off. “It’s not too late,” he said. “In fact, we’re probably too early. There is a way to fix this. But –” he looked at her doubtfully. “It’s going to make a long wait, for you. A very long wait. What year did you say you came from?”
His plan seemed ridiculous at first. Impossible. For many years afterwards, Simone wondered if it was only shock that had let her agree to it. But then, what else could she have done? If he was to be believed – and she couldn’t help but believe him – there was no way she could return to her own life. Her own life no longer existed. So she took over her cousin’s life instead.
She moved to Devon, where she joined the WI and found herself making friends with the young Madge Bettany. It was strange to see the woman who had been her Headmistress and employer now so much younger than herself; it was stranger still to meet Joey, a scrawny pale child with infinitely more passion than energy. Would she still grow into the strong woman, the wife and mother that Simone adored? She would, Simone hoped. She had to.
Her first visit to see her parents – Elise’s cousins – was hard. Her parents, although tired, were so young and happy. She wanted to throw herself into her mother’s arms and weep, but instead she held back, choosing instead to just be glad they did not seem to notice that she was not the same they had met so many times before. Her father mentioned that England was clearly good for her; she was looking younger and prettier than she had when he’d seen her after the war. Simone laughed, and hoped that her near-hysteria was not apparent.
Her first triumph came when Madge sent her a note asking her around for “tea and a chat”. That was the first hint that the Chalet School really was going to happen. Madge sounded her out carefully; and Simone could answer truthfully that she spoke both English and German fluently, and had taught in an English girls’ school. And yes, she had been to Austria before. In fact, she’d visited the Tiernsee several times. Was she interested in going into a partnership with the Englishwoman? Perhaps. Yes.
But once the school had started up it became far more difficult to keep things running as she was sure they should. While there were some events etched in her memory – cutting her hair, Jo and Grizel’s fateful trip up the Tiernjoch, her paper dolls almost causing the Robin to drown – there were other events she had long since forgotten about. What had she done to cause Juliet to confess her parents misdeeds to Madge before her parents had abandoned her? She’d had to intervene then, suggest that they keep Juliet on rather than force the Carricks to take her back. Madge had agreed reluctantly at the time; later, she told Simone she was glad that she had, that she thought the Frenchwoman’s kindness had been Juliet’s salvation. Simone thought differently; but she accepted the praise all the same. What else was she to do?
It was Margot’s arrival that threw the first large spanner in the works. Up until then, she had been doing her best to follow the choices her cousin had made. She’d been told that it was important that the potential that Elise had was not lost. But Margot, even after Simone had consoled her, and explained to her everything that had happened, would not see it.
“But you aren’t Mademoiselle Lepâttre,” she argued. “How can you do everything the same way she did? As long as you’re Headmistress, aren’t you fulfilling her role anyway? How much is it going to matter to matter if things go a little – wonky?”
It wasn’t until Grizel and Deira’s fight that Simone finally accepted that change was inevitable. Her own memories of the event were hazy, but she was sure that Madge had attempted to talk to both of the girls. This time around she didn’t, believing that Simone had dealt with them as well as was possible on her own. Simone had been proud – and a little distraught. Had Madge not trusted her own cousin to deal with disciplinary matters? She’d never thought about it before, but now she was starting to wonder if Elise had ever really been fit for the post. Still – she started trying to make things better, using her own memories and her own skills to guide her, rather than making the decisions that she thought Elise had made. She seemed to have more successes than failures. She thought Elise would be proud of her.
The coming of the war frightened Simone. Not only was she scared at the thought of having to live through all that death, despair and destruction a second time, she knew that the Anschluss had signalled the beginning of the end for Elise. Was her own time drawing to an end? She tried not to think about it, tried to stay focussed on the school and on Simone’s – the younger her, the real her – news that she was soon to be engaged. Not to André, though – and Simone wasn’t sure whether to be happy or triste at that. André was still hers, and hers alone. But – where was he, in this new reality? Was he with someone else? Alive or dead? If she died, now, would she see him again? Or was he lost to her forever?
The war came, but Simone stayed as strong as ever. More than that – she found she was thriving on the work involved in relocating an entire school to a different country, and continuing to keep everyone in good health and cheer as rationing set in. Her parents arrived, refugees from France; she was happy to have them near her again. The investments she’d made with her small amounts of earnings before the war meant she could keep them in good comfort until they were well again, with enough left over to continue to help girls that needed it. The Thérèse Lepâttre scholarship had helped many poor girls; the least Simone could do was carry on Elise’s wishes.
When the school announced its removal to Switzerland, Simone announced her own retirement. Madge had been unhappy at the decision – she’d even sent Jo over to plead with her, much to Simone’s amusement.
“I’m old,” she told Jo over a cup of tea. “No, chérie, don’t argue. I’m not long off 70 – and it’s more than time for someone else to take over the running of the school. Someone who won’t make too many changes, perhaps, but who has the energy to tackle the problems I don’t.”
“Diana Skelton?” Jo queried. “The school did everything they could, Therese-”
Simone shook her head. “But it wasn’t enough. Once upon a time I would have been able to help her properly – you remember Thekla?”
Jo nodded. “Of course! We’re still in touch. In fact she’s invited us to stay during our trip to the Oberland, in fact – but that’s neither here or there. Surely Diana was worse than Thekla! Thekla never destroyed the Head Girl’s office in a fit of – of petty revenge.”
Simone’s mouth twitched. “But did she not have a child’s tantrum when she couldn’t have the book she wanted? They were both products of their upbringing, in their own ways. But I couldn’t see a way to help Diana. No; it is time for me to go.”
Jo obviously saw that her mind was made up, and instead asked whether she had thought about a replacement.
“Of course,” Simone replied demurely.
“You’re not going to make me guess?” Jo laughed. “Well – to my mind there’s only two real options. I know Pam Slater is ambitious enough, and she’s been Head of the Maths department since the school left Wales.”
“And the other?”
“Hilda Annersley. She did an excellent job when you had that ‘flu. That’s who you were thinking of, isn’t it? Hilda’s marvellous, Therese – but she’s not you.”
“No more should she be,” Simone replied firmly. “Hilda will do wonderfully – I wouldn’t be surprised if she surpassed me, in fact. No, my Joey, I have made up my mind. I will go and stay with my cousin for some time, and then – perhaps you will find me some small residence on the Gornetz Platz. I love our school too much to leave her completely.”
That was the truth, even if it wasn’t the whole truth.
She’d meant to have a real retirement, but she found that on her own, with nothing to keep her busy, her thoughts strayed too often down paths she did not want to walk. She took to helping out with the girls at Hobbies Club who needed extra guidance with their needlework, tutoring some of the children at the San who were well enough to learn but not well enough to attend the school, and looking after a company of Guides. Many of her former pupils stayed in touch with her, particularly those she had mothered – Corney Flower, Biddy O’Ryan, Betty Wynne-Davis – but it was Margot and Len who came to see her almost daily. It was funny – and a little sad. Even though they had both lived fulfilling lives, here, neither of them was truly happy. Was it just missing their sister and their family? Simone wondered. Or had they each lost more than they were prepared to say?
She was out for a walk one afternoon, planning an expedition for her company, when she finally received the sign she’d been waiting for, for all this time.
“Hello, Simone de Bersac!”
It had been more than thirty years since she’d last heard that voice, and yet Simone recognised it instantly. Besides – there was no one around who knew to call her by that name, except the triplets.
“Hello,” she said calmly. “It’s been a long time.” She glanced him over. “Or perhaps it hasn’t, for you.” He didn’t just look well-preserved; he looked entirely unchanged. He was wearing the same jacket and shirt, the same trousers, even the same terrible tie.
“Only a couple of days,” he told her cheerfully. “Would’ve come straight here but I had to drop a honey-mooning couple off at the Suivain Delta. Did you know,” he continued, “that you’ve managed to starve the Vermin to death? I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything like it in my life, and I have lived for quite a long time.”
“I – killed them?” Simone asked. She hadn’t really considered the possibility that in trying to save history she was committing murder.
“Yes! Well, sort of. Death isn’t really a finality for the Vermin, it’s more of a slightly uncomfortable set-back.”
“Oh,” said Simone faintly.
“The thing is, even though you’ve managed to stop them on this end, they’re still going to arrive very shortly, and do the whole thing again. That’s the problem with circular life-lines, they just sort of go on forever unless you can pip them at the source. A big temporal disturbance ought to throw them off, but I don’t know – yet – how to make one. Usually I’d just whip something up with the TARDIS, but she’s been acting a little off since the last time I had to rebuild reality. What?”
“I just – thought I should tell you,” Simone said. “I’m not the only one who got caught up in – in this. The triplets – my friend’s daughters, who I was visiting – they did, too.”
“Triplets?” he asked, interested, “Really? Are they identical- ooh! That’s it!” He suddenly seized Simone and hugged her tightly. “Perfect! If all of you managed to meet at the same time – the four of you, and the four of your from this timeline – and if you were all together when the Vermin struck – that storm you talked about – it would probably send them away from Earth altogether. All eight of you in the same place? The universe hates it when that happens.”
It took a moment, but Simone thought she understood what he was saying. It would take some careful manoeuvring but – yes, she thought she could do it. The triplets would do it – they would be overjoyed to finally be back with their family, in their own time. And she – well, she’d be young again. And she’d be back with André, and the children.
“How will we know if it’s worked?” she asked.
“Because,” he told her, “If it works, none of this –” he waved a hand around wildly “- will have happened. You won’t remember a thing.”
Chapter 5: (i and vi)
“So how are we going to do this?” Len asked. “Con – we can’t ask you to do all the writing.”
“You can,” Con replied with a sly smile, “but – ow!”
“Auntie Hilda isn’t here,” Margot grumbled, removing the pillow she’d used to hit her sister. “No grammar quips, please! Len’s right though – it wouldn’t be fair for you to write everything. We two might not be as good as you, but we I think it would be nice for Mother if we all do some of the writing.”
“So how do we decide who writes what?” Con demanded. “Just sort of – divvy them out?”
“Why don’t we just bags a story each, and then when we’re done start on another? We could make a note as we go, so we don’t do the same one twice.”
Con and Margot agreed that was the best way – “As long as I get to write about Mother’s impromptu bath in the Tiernsee,” Margot said. “I feel particularly fond of it after – you know, Lucerne. Although perhaps fond isn’t quite the right word…”
Con and Len giggled, and then Len handed each of her sisters a stack of the paper she’d remembered to bring with her. Margot glanced down at it, then gave a yelp as she realised that she’d forgotten her pen. She flew out of the room, and Con shook her head at Len. “I can see you thinking it, older sister of mine.”
Len flushed. “I wasn’t going to say anything! What – which of Mamma’s stories are you going to take?”
Con produced her own pen and sucked the end thoughtfully. “Margot’s got the right idea – we should start in Tyrol. Chrono-whatsit.”
“Chronologically. I’ll start with the train crash when Auntie Madge met Uncle Jem, then.” The colour was still high in Len’s cheeks, but Con decided to take her own advice and didn’t comment on it.
“Rufus for me, then!”
The girls got stuck into their task, and each worked diligently, in their own way – Len, writing slowly with great care to her handwriting, while Margot wrote in fit and starts, hammering out a paragraph before stopping to suck thoughtfully on her pencil; Con wrote quickly, but with much crossing-out as she searched for the perfect words to use. It was a good thing, she reflected, that they had decided to write drafts first.
The morning flew by, and it wasn’t until they heard a knock on the bedroom door that Con glanced up and realised how dark it was getting. “If it’s Mamma tell her to go away!” Margot called as Con opened the door a crack to see who it was. It was Tante Simone, come upstairs to warn them of the incoming storm. “I know it’s a little cheeky of me to ask when your mother doesn’t know,” she added with a smile, “But what exactly are you doing up here?”
A crash of thunder interrupted Len as she tried to explain; but after that false start she managed to say, “It’s for Mamma’s birthday – a collection of all the stories she’s always told us. Mostly about the school, of course, but some of the imaginary stories, too. Would you like to see?”
The thunder boomed again, obscuring Tante Simone’s answer; but Margot offered her the pile of papers anyway, and she took it. She screwed up her eyes once or twice at first, probably at Margot’s writing, but soon she was chuckling softly at remembered exploits. Con went to the window. She hated watching people read her work, even if she was only really transcribing Mamma’s stories. The sky was black outside. The storm was almost right on top of them, Con realised suddenly. The next roll of thunder was almost deafening, and she thought she saw a flash from the sky that was impossibly close to the house. That couldn’t be right, surely – she turned from the window to speak to the others, but never even had the chance to open her mouth. The next thing she knew she felt like she was being thrown through the air – blasted by the lightning, she thought hazily – and when she opened her eyes, she was lying in a patch of snow.
“I must have been flung quite far up the mountain,” she said out loud. Perhaps she needn’t have, but her ears were ringing and her head was spinning, and hearing her own voice made her feel more – level. “Most of the snow on the Platz has been gone for a month, at least.” She was wearing her inside clothes, and it was chilly. Best to make her way home as quickly as possible, then, and reassure everyone else – and herself – that she was alright.
She hadn’t gone far when she realised she wasn’t that far up the mountainside at all. There were no houses near here, but she knew the area very well – they often came this way on school rambles. She couldn’t be more than a twenty minute walk from Freudesheim. She picked up her pace.
It was funny, she thought as she walked, about that snow. She’d been here just yesterday, out for a stroll with Dad, and she hadn’t noticed any then. Perhaps it had fallen with that storm. True, it didn’t exactly seem to be fresh-fallen, but – well, it had been a bit of an odd storm.
As she approached the school, she thought she could hear to familiar voices in the distance. As she drew closer, she could make out the words.
“…ly a month. We have to face facts, Margot. She’s not coming.”
“I’ll do no such thing,” came the stubborn reply. Con frowned. It sounded like Margot, but – her voice was deeper than usual. It was Margot’s intonation, though. She’d know that anywhere. “I waited for you, Len. Not as long, perhaps – but I waited. I’m not going to stop waiting for Con, either.”
“But Margot – what if she came, and we missed her? Last winter, when the snows were so bad – or on the island, dumped out at sea… She’d be dead, and we’d never even know.”
“I’m not dead!” Con called. “I’m OK – I must have got thrown out of the window by that…”
The two women arguing were not Margot and Len at all. Con’s face flushed, embarrassed.
“Oh, Con,” said the taller of the two, a white-haired woman with steely blue eyes. “You always were lagging behind in a dream.” The words were tart, but there was a sob in her voice.
Con stared at her in horror, then took in the short, chestnut curls of the other woman. Visions of Rip Van Winkle danced before her eyes. “Mary and Jesus,” she breathed, more in fear than sin. “How long have I been gone for?
Chapter 6: (vii.)
Simone's visit was a delight, as Joey had expected. She had plenty of friends living nearby, of course, but none of them meant quite as much to her as the other members of 'the Quartet' of her school days. With most of the small fry off visiting Winnie Embury, and the boys seconded to the Graves' where they were assembling furniture for a little extra holiday cash, Freudesheim was unusually quiet, apart from the occasional burst of laughter from Con’s room, where the triplets were busy with some secret project. Joey had been told that under no circumstances would she be allowed to enter.
“You can send up Tante Simone, if you like,” Len had told her sternly. “Or Dad, if he’s home. But you’re not allowed in, on pain of-” She paused.
“Death,” Margot suggested with a grin.
“No pudding for a week.” That was from Con. “We’ll talk Anna round, Mamma.”
Joey was sure they would, too, so she had given up at that point and agreed not to disturb the girls, although she inwardly admitted she was wild with curiosity to know what they were up to. Simone’s arrival had quickly taken her mind off their plots and ploys, though, and the two old friends had passed the morning out in Joey’s rose garden, talking children and husbands and indulging in a little light gossip. In fact, the time had passed so easily that it wasn’t until she heard the hall clock striking thirteen o’clock that she realised that it was time for dinner.
“Anna will not be pleased if the girls are late,” she said to Simone apologetically. “Do you mind…?”
Simone didn’t mind, and Jo headed to the nearest bathroom to brush herself up before the meal. As she headed towards the dining room, she paused. Bruno was staring intently at the front door, as if expecting someone to be there. Frowning - she hadn't heard a knock - Joey pulled the door open, half expecting to see the boys home early and demanding food – although why they wouldn’t just come storming in was beyond her. But there was no one there at all.
She knelt down besides Bruno and gently stroked his head. “You OK, old fella?” He whined again, but more softly this time, and then sat back on his haunches, tongue lolling out as he relaxed. “Just this storm unsettling you, is it?” his mistress asked, sympathetically, and Bruno darted his head forward to lick her face.
There was a clatter of feet as the triplets and Simone descended the stairs. “Mamma, Margot’s going to be a doctor,” Con called.
“Right now?” Joey asked facetiously. “Or is she going to finish school first?” Then, seeing Margot’s face, she quickly said. “Sorry, my lamb. I didn’t mean to be glib. I thought you were thinking of going in to teaching – when did you change your mind?”
“Oh, I don’t know,” Margot said vaguely. “I’ve just been thinking that it might be nice to look after sick people.”
“Rather you than me,” Len told her. “I’m sticking with teaching, just so long as I don’t have to look after KG kids-”
Simone burst out laughing. “And what if you have your own children, Len? Then you will have to look after them no matter what their age.” She glanced at Joey. “And they will run you so ragged you will feel like you’re 70 when you have only just passed 40…”
“Speak for yourself!” Joey retorted. “I don’t feel a day over twenty. And this lot has done their honest best to run me ragged-”
The triplets gave a cry at that, and Joey, grinning, fled to the kitchen to see if Anna needed a hand bring out the plates. The triplets and Simone were left to seat themselves at the table in their own time.
Elise sighed as she trudged back up the road towards her little apartment. She detested it, really – it was cramped, and ugly. But it was all that she could afford, and she knew that the money she saved by living here was always gratefully received by her cousin’s family. And now that Frederick was definitely out of the picture… She sighed. He had not been a rich man, either; that had not mattered, of course, but marriage would not have brought any change in circumstances, either.
She would continue to work hard, of course. That much was a given. It would be easier if the girls she taught wanted to learn! The English never did want to learn new languages, except to ‘swank’. Perhaps she should look for a private posting again. There was more money in it, and by the sounds of things the little Renée was really very gifted. She’d be wanting to go to the Conservertoire one day-
The voice was unfamiliar. Elise turned to see a stranger; a young man – not much more than a boy, really – in a suit that could only be described as eccentric. But then, the English so often were.
“Can I help you?” she asked politely.
“Yes! Well, no. I just wanted to… to give you this. It was down the road, the postman must have dropped it…” He must have been English, because why else would he be here? And yet he spoke Elise’s own language without a trace of an accent.
“Thank you.” She took the envelope from his hand and glanced at the address at the front. It was for her, alright. But the return address was Devon. Who did she know there? She didn’t recognise the name. And then she remembered – a girl who she had taught, not so many years ago. She’d married not long after coming out, and moved out of the city with her husband. Had there been children? She could not remember.
She turned the envelope over to open it, and then Elise paused, aware that the young man was looking at her very intently. Did he want something more from her? She turned to look at him with a teacher’s glare, but found that he was smiling, a smile so happy that she found herself returning it almost automatically.
“I better get going,” he told her apologetically. “I’ve got to get back to my… friends.” He turned away, his smile not faltering for a moment; then he turned back. “Don’t worry, Elise. Better things are heading your way.”
Then her was gone, leaving Elise staring after him like a fool. What an odd boy! And yet… she turned the envelope over in her hands, thoughtfully. When he’d smiled at her – when she smiled back – she had felt like she was standing on the edge of something, something joyeux.
She continued her walk back to the house, but this time there was a lightness in her step that had not been there a moment before.
The story, as it began, was completely different than how it finished. I started off planning an alternate universe where the Chalet School taught magic, and the triplets were sent back in time to avoid Word War III, but the world-building was far more fun than the actual story. Then I hit upon the idea that each triplet should be sent to a different era; and then it turned out that the story wasn't really about the triplets at all, but about Grizel and Deira, Beth, and Simone.
The Doctor made an appearance very late in the show. I was trying to work out exactly how the storm had sent the girls back in time, and exactly how they were going to work out how to get back, which, I know one would generally figure out fairly early in the piece, but I consider such things too much like homework and leave it until the very last moment possible.
It was always going to be a storm that sent them off. The octarine light is an explanation, if you like, but I tend to think of it more as an homage. Night Watch, in which Commander Vimes is sent back in time and ends up taking the place of his own mentor - OK, so I borrowed more than just the lightning - is very much my favourite Discworld novel. But while Vimes' mentor's life was tragically cut short, Elise was saved. You can blame that on the Doctor. He insisted on saving everyone.
Ultimately, if I’d had more time (and procrastinated less) I’d have liked to have told more of the stories I’ve only just touched on – Margot dealing with her mother and becoming a Matron instead of a nun, Simone stepping in to help Betty and Thekla before it was too late. Len dealing with her feelings for Reg, in another time and place. The mysterious disappearance of André. Maybe some day I will.
Maybe, in another reality, I already have…