A Threat to the Chalet School
Thekla stood staring gloomily over the grey streets of London, her pen in her hand, but her hand refusing to write. Every time she would write that letter, somehow it would never sound right. She glared at all the crumpled sheets of paper in the cold grate, and then glanced over what was written so far, finally signing it with a flourish. The letter was to one Mr. Kensington, of Crane Street, London.
My dear Sir,
Knowing that you, Sir, are head of the English Schools in Europe establishment, I write to inform you of the certain lack of rules and propriety in the Chalet School, based on the shores of the lake Tiernsee, near enough to the village of Buchau.
For a start, the language that the teachers of the said school encourage to use is quite appalling, for they use slang of all kinds and quite vulgar words at that. You know as well as I do, dear Sir, how this language will be transferred to the foreigners, who do not deserve to be inflicted so. The dress code is quite ungainly, for there are shawls in winter that they are obliged to cross over themselves that I imagine brings quite a disgrace to the English Schools Board.
Another of the many flaws at the Chalet School is the general mixture of classes. I, myself, know for a fact that the Princess (now Crown Princess) of Belsornia used to go for two terms to that school, until she left after being hassled by the mere daughters of shopkeepers for financing help for their families.
I hope, Sir, that you will find it necessary to investigate duly to find exactly how much this school could affect your company’s name and disgrace you alongside that.
My great thanks,
Thekla von Stift.
Although more than half of this was barely based on the truth, at least one of the facts was quite true, where Thekla had stated that the crown Princess Elisaveta of Belsornia had spent two terms at the Chalet School.
She had indeed, and two very happy terms they had been, until she had been called home to the duties of the realm.
Thekla had not even met this Princess, but was certain that her feelings would have been exactly the same as Thekla’s own. Totally against he school herself, she had no doubt that no one else would like it either. In this thought she was far from the truth, had she but known it.
In the stunning mountains and scenery of the North Tyrol, a growing girl stood gazing out of her dark eyes at the Tiernsee, a magnificent lake of Austria. She was whistling cheerfully, not an unknown feat for Joey Bettany, with one leg entwined around the fence-post that remained her usual seat.
“Joey, do stop that awful racket and come help me with this letter from Juliet. She seems so confused I can barely make head or tail of this – or her scrawl!”
Grizel Cochrane, a close family friend of the Bettanys (and Russells, now that Madge Bettany had married Dr. Jem Russell of the Sanatorium) rolled her eyes for the fifteenth time at Joey’s never-ending screech of a whistle.
“What does Juliet say?” queried Jo. Juliet Carrick was a ward of the Russells, currently in Oxford University with very little time to write.
“I wish I knew! Here, you have a go. After all, you’re the one with her heart set on being a writer and all that nonsense.” She shoved the sheaf of papers into Joey’s hand and continued, “this is the first time she has the decency to write more than a paragraph, but it is quite incomprehensible…” she ran down, seeing that Jo had finished listening hours ago and was contentedly reading the familiar cursive writing.
Finally, Joey looked up.
“I say,” she began indignantly, “it seems that someone has written to the head of the NESB,” then, at Grizel’s blank face, “the National English Schools Board, to say that our school was being run along the wrong rules or whatever unbearable nonsense this must who was the person who wrote that how dare they!” she stamped her foot on the ground.
“Joey!” Madge Russell, née Bettany, stood behind her, a quizzical expression on her face. “My dear girl, you are positively frothing at the mouth! Whatever has Juliet to say that makes you so angry! And I never heard such a collection of unfinished and incomprehensible language – who would have thought that Hilda Annersley ever taught you English. And you’re Head Girl!”
Jo looked at her, appalled. “But Madge! Look at what she says!” she handed over the letter and sat back, waiting for Madge’s reaction. It didn’t come.
“Well?” Joey demanded, half-shouting in her impatience.
“Calm, my dear, keep calm.” Madge said it calmly enough herself.
“Oh, Madge! Stop being a bully and get on with it!”
“Very well. Now, what Juliet says here does not come as a surprise to me because I have already had a letter from the NESB to say that before the start of next term there will be an inspector coming to survey the school. It seems that someone has written to them, complaining about our…what was it…lack of standards and serious neglecting of the use of proper language.”
“But – who could have done that?” Joey wondered aloud. “It could not have been any of the Old Girls, for we know they love the school dearly!”
Grizel added, “What about Elaine Gilling? She was nasty enough about us – remember that letter she planned to write to the King of Belsornia!”
“Grizel,” Madge chided gently, “I suggest you should consider the result of that. We all now know that Elaine has become more reasonable since then.”
“Yes, Madame.” Grizel looked at her feet, lowering her curly dark head.
Joey rushed to the rescue, “What about Vera Smithers?”
“Yes, I believe she would be quite capable of that, but surely she has learnt her lesson…after the last incident. However, discovering who wrote that letter will not solve anything, and I believe our inspector is coming within two days, so we are quite safe.” Madge looked slightly worried still.
Grizel nodded. “Besides, what is there to worry about? Our school is the best in the world – and the world should know it!”
Carl Goodwin sat in the jolting train carriage, his hat jumping in his hand and his unseeing eyes glaring out of the window. What school would chose to be out here in the middle of nowhere that is impossible to get to? Mr. Goodwin was determined not to like the Chalet School. After all, the only thing he hated more than his job was children. Annoying brats. But in his case, he had never really been a child himself. He had been forced to leave school at the age of fourteen to help in his father’s not-so-flourishing firm. That was all forgotten now, though.
His face was blackened by the soot of the train, his previously clean white shirt was streaked with grey, and the back of his jacket was rumpled from sitting. He would not make a good impression to the Madame Russell, the owner of the school. But then again, what did he care? It was her who was making the deciding impression.
He clicked his tongue impatiently; checking his watch to find it was exactly the same as when he last looked. Was it broken? No. He had looked only thirty seconds earlier, he realised, as the long hand ticked again. He was late.
This meant that he could not wash and change at the hotel before going. However, Carl Goodwin did not care about impressions, as we know.
Joey Bettany struggled into her second best frock, her hair a general haystack on the top of her head. Madge, entering the doorway at full speed, stopped and stared at Joey, horror filling her lovely eyes.
“Josephine Mary Bettany, just look at your hair! Who would have thought that you had pins holding that up in two coils twenty minutes ago!”
“Margaret Daphne Bet – er – Russell, calm down, my dear, it will be all very well in just a moment…” her voice trailed off as she went hairbrush hunting.
“Now, remember, Joey. You are allowed to call me Madge, but only speak when you are spoken to – and please refrain from being rude.”
Jo returned, her hair looking considerably better and her eyes wide and innocent. “Would I ever, Madge?”
The owner of the Chalet School sighed slightly. “Oh, Joey-Baba, I’m just so scared that he will report us for – oh, I don’t know. Something bad.”
Joey shrugged. “But Madge,” she said bluntly, “there is nothing bad.”
Carl Goodwin was still sitting in the train carriage, grumbling under his breath, when it pulled into the station. From now, it was a ride in a taxi up to the Roslein Alpe, where the Russell family lived.
Finally, he was standing at the door, late and scruffy-looking, with his cases in one hand and the letter from Mr. Kensington for Mrs. Russell in the other. He knocked sharply, three times.
Almost immediately (and promptly reminding him of his lateness) the door swung inwards, and a slight woman with light brown hair was smiling warily at him.
“Good day, Sir. How can I help you?” It was obvious, of course, that Rosalie Dene, currently secretary of Dr. Russell, (but soon to be at the school) knew exactly who he was and why he came, so he growled, “I believe you are expecting me. I am an inspector of the National English Schools Board.”
“Ah, yes. Of course. Come through to the parlour, please.”
They entered the parlor, and Rosalie, after introducing him, bobbed a curtsey - a habit which had not been easily extinguished after all the years at school - and withdrew. Mr. Goodwin stared in surprise. “You make your secretary curtsey?" he exclaimed to the room at large.