‘A school exchange? In Switzerland?’ Felicity Rivers stared at her older sister over her tea cup, eyes wide with surprise. ‘And they want you?’
‘Less of your cheek!’ Darrell retorted automatically, but secretly she shared her sister’s astonishment. She looked again at the letter her mother had handed her. Yes, there it was in black and white; ‘Specially selected…. small party of girls… a month with a school in the Swiss Alps… opportunity to develop language skills…a new way of life…’ And at the end, the firm, swooping signature of her headmistress, Miss Grayling. There was definitely no mistake. They really did want her!
‘Miss Grayling discussed it with us at the end of last term,’ Mrs Rivers explained, seeing her daughter’s bewilderment. ‘She had been in touch with the Chalet School to begin planning the trip, and she had a shortlist of girls she thought might be suitable. I was very proud to hear that your name was right at the top.’
‘But what about my exams?’ Darrell asked, still rather bewildered. ‘And who will cover Games while I’m away? And I’d need new clothes – isn’t it really cold and snowy in Switzerland. And…’
‘All taken care of,’ Mrs Rivers told her, laughing. ‘Your work won’t suffer, and in any case, you should be well prepared by now. I’m sure your deputy is more than capable of managing hockey until you return, and I’ve already bought your winter clothes.
‘It’s a wonderful opportunity,’ Mr Rivers added, folding his paper and setting it next to his plate. ‘I should have liked to take you all to the Alps one day, but the hospital keep me so busy that it’s as much as I can do to snatch an odd weekend away with you all. I’m glad you’ll be going, Darrell, and I am sure you’ll make us and Malory Towers very proud.’
They had four weeks at school before travelling to Switzerland, and Darrell was eager to know who else was coming on the trip. She had already heard from Sally, and knew that her best friend would not be accompanying her. Sally’s little sister Daphne had been very unwell over Christmas, and the family were planning a three month trip to the south of France where they hoped the warmer climate would help Daphne’s recovery.
Darrell was not the only one wondering. On arrival at school it seemed to be the main topic of conversation for the entire Fifth year.
‘Oh, I was never in the running,’ Irene declared, dumping the contents of her night-case onto her bed in preparation for her usual hunt for her health certificate. ‘Can you imagine anyone letting me loose in Europe? I’d get on the wrong train and like as not end up in Vienna. Blow, where is that wretched cert?’
‘Pinned to the inside of your coat, you donkey,’ Belinda intervened as Irene swung round. She unpinned the paper from the lining of Irene’s mackintosh and handed it to her friend. ‘Go on, take it to Matron before you put it down somewhere daft.’
She gave Irene a little push towards the door, and turned back to her own case. ‘I’m going,’ she announced, apparently as an afterthought. ‘Miss Linnie thought it would do my sketching a world of good, and said that they have an amazing art teacher at the Chalet School.’
Alicia Johns, quick as ever, had already unpacked and was stretched comfortably on her bed watching her classmates arrive. ‘Oh, I’m in as well,’ she said. ‘You don’t see me missing out on the fun, and we’re bound to have some larks while we’re there.’
‘What about Betty?’ Darrell asked. Alicia and her best friend were almost inseparable, but Darrell could not imagine any teacher agreeing to them both going. In their early years they had been two of the naughtiest girls in the school, and even now neither girl was adverse to playing tricks.
Alicia looked mournful. ‘No, apparently it’s just girls from North and South Towers on this visit. East and West are visiting a school up in Scotland in the Summer Term. Rotten for them, but apparently it’s quite a good place in its way. Co-ed, and the scenery is just magical.’
More girls came in; pretty Daphne, shy Mary-Lou, Bill and Clarissa with straw from the stables still clinging to their breeches, stern Moira, a slightly chastened looking Catherine, and finally Gwendolyn Lacey.
Darrell noted with some disgust that Gwen appeared even more disagreeable than she had last term. Her long gold hair was tossing wildly – always a danger sign – and she was scowling so fiercely that Belinda was already groping for a pencil. Gwen brushed past them all, dropped her bags on the floor and swung round to glare at them.
‘Have you heard about this trip?’ she demanded, as usual getting straight to the point about what was currently annoying her. ‘A whole month in Switzerland, and apparently I wasn’t even considered for it, even though I always wanted to go there. And I’ve passed my School Cert at last. I had a rotten tutor all holidays and had no fun until it was done, and all for nothing, because Daddy and Miss James said it would be bad for me to miss too much school work.’
‘Dear me, I can’t imagine what gave them that impression,’ Alicia drawled. ‘What a shame for us, a month without your company. How will we manage?’
‘Alicia,’ Darrell said warningly. Gwen’s cheeks were beginning to flush pink, a sure sign she was about to turn on the waterworks, and Darrell felt that she could really not endure a full blown row on the first day of term. ‘What about the rest of you?’ she asked, hoping to change the subject. ‘Alicia, Belinda and I will be going, who else?’
‘I am,’ said Mary-Lou rather timidly. 5 years at the school had done a lot to improve her shyness, but she still tended to be nervous about speaking up in a large group.
Darrell smiled. That was one person she could be jolly glad about. She slipped an arm around the smaller girl and squeezed her waist. ‘Sally isn’t coming on this trip, so I shall rely on you to keep me straight,’ she said kindly, and was rewarded by a broad beam from Mary-Lou
‘Rachel Farley, Lorna Pentravers and Fiona McPhee are going from South Tower,’ Moira said. ‘I asked Jimmy who was going directly I heard. Of course, I wasn’t eligible as I still had work to make up from last year, but that’s not so bad. I shall like having a free hand here.’
Darrell could well believe this. Moira had made herself thoroughly disagreeable the previous term, her domineering attitude almost ruining the school play. She had learnt her lesson, but Darrell guessed she was still pleased at the idea of running the class with some of the more strong-minded members missing.
‘Louella is the other girl from South,’ Daphne said. ‘She lives near me and I met her in the holidays and she told me.’
‘I’m surprised you aren’t going yourself,’ Gwen groused sourly. ‘A chance to hobnob with high society seems right up your street.’
Daphne flushed at this reference to previous sins, but put her chin up. ‘Mother and Father couldn’t afford it, and I hope I’m decent enough not to pester them about it when they’ve said no.’
‘An attitude you would do well to adopt yourself, Gwen,’ Moira said sharply.
Alicia swung herself off her bed and stood up, brushing down her tunic. ‘Well, I’m off to hunt up the South Tower girls and see what they know. Darrell, Belinda, Mary-Lou, coming?’