Tea and Militancy Part I by Finn
Summary:

Miss Durrant's replacement, Susie Smith, arrives at the Chalet School fresh from jazzy London, and tries to settle into the quiet life of the Austrian Tyrol. She expects peace, quiet, and even boredom, but she gets rather more than she bargained for, with blizzards, ice carnivals, problem pupils, eccentric neighbours, and a dangerous flirtation to keep her well and truly occupied.

Originally published on the CBB, but subsequently tidied up and a couple of major mistakes edited out!


Categories: Ste Therese's House Characters: Minor character(s), Nell Wilson, OC
School Period: Tyrol
School Name: Le Petit Chalet
Genre: Friendship, Humour, Romance, School Story
Challenges:
Series: Tea and Militancy
Chapters: 50 Completed: Yes Word count: 93095 Read: 109806 Published: 01 Jun 2011 Updated: 28 Nov 2011

1. How it began by Finn

2. A train journey by Finn

3. The night before term by Finn

4. On the Sonnalpe by Finn

5. Term begins by Finn

6. A Letter Home by Finn

7. A Little Coffee by Finn

8. Pranks by Finn

9. Boxes and Letters by Finn

10. The Problem of Rafaela by Finn

11. Stranded by Finn

12. Stranded Part II by Finn

13. Paint by Finn

14. Plans by Finn

15. Intermezzo by Finn

16. Family and Friends Part I by Finn

17. Family and Friends Part II by Finn

18. A Most Peculiar Monday by Finn

19. Tinnitus Tuesday by Finn

20. "Statues" by Finn

21. Rebellion and Retribution by Finn

22. Holidays by Finn

23. A Holiday Intermezzo by Finn

24. Decorating and Debating by Finn

25. Some Reflections by Finn

26. A Visitor by Finn

27. A Very Merry Christmas by Finn

28. Christmas Day by Finn

29. Meeting is a pleasure but parting's a grief by Finn

30. "And drink, sir, is a great provoker of three things..." by Finn

31. Plato by Finn

32. Homecomings by Finn

33. A Problem, and a Solution? by Finn

34. A New Mistress by Finn

35. A Little Less Conversation by Finn

36. After Dinner by Finn

37. All Good Things... by Finn

38. Evelyn by Finn

39. Corridor Conversations by Finn

40. A Case of Baskets by Finn

41. Tensions by Finn

42. An Unearthly Child by Finn

43. Two's company, three's a crowd, and five is... by Finn

44. Curiosity killed the cat? Part 1 by Finn

45. Curiosity killed the cat? Part 2 by Finn

46. A Little Promenade by Finn

47. A Rag by Finn

48. A Carnival On Ice Part 1 by Finn

49. A Carnival On Ice Part 2 by Finn

50. A Carnival On Ice Part 3 by Finn

How it began by Finn

If you had gone into a certain little Jewish restaurant on the very edge of Soho, one fine afternoon in July 1926, if you'd ordered bagels and coffee and sat by the window, near that little dark corner with the tiny etching of Jacob’s vision of the angels, where two young women, one big and dark-haired, the other slight and fair, were talking animatedly, and if you'd shut out the Yiddish chatter from the table on their other side and listened hard, you just might have heard the following conversation:

“Let me make perfectly sure that I understand you, Marjey. You want me to leave London, go out into the godforsaken wilds of Austria, become part of the staff of a tiny, elitist little boarding school for girls and teach the kids how to draw?”

“And teach the little ones. You’d be head of the junior school as well.”

“Head of the junior school? Teach little kids – what, reading, writing and sums? Can you honestly imagine me with that kind of responsibility! As for teaching, have you forgotten that I left school when I was 16 myself? How on earth can you countenance me becoming a teacher, for goodness sake!”

“But Susie, even you must know enough to teach a bunch of 8 year olds, surely? And they’re lovely little kids, really well behaved. And as for drawing, well, are you or are you not you an artist? Where’s the problem?”

“I’m not an artist,” countered the blonde-haired woman. “I’m a cartoonist, as you well know.”

“But you know how to draw. I’ve seen your ‘real life’ paintings. They’re excellent! You’re perfectly qualified to teach drawing, and the little ones aren’t so much work. You’ll be fine. And besides, weren’t you just saying that you really ought to be leaving London for a while? What better opportunity? I’m offering you a job, a home, and safety from...well, whatever it is you’re leaving behind here - I’m not going to ask!”

“A job in Austria! OK, so I need to get out of here for a bit, but I was really thinking about going to Paris with Matty. But Austria! I can’t speak a word of German! And they’ll all be rich capitalists...their politics...I mean, I’m a socialist, Marjey!”

But her friend cut into her protest.

“Why not just think of it as taking the fight to the enemy! Go on, Susie, it’ll be a proper challenge - you'll have a real fight, no more preaching to the converted! And it’s an English school, so you won’t need German too often, and even if you do...well, look around you!” She gestured at the restaurant in which they were sitting. “If you need to learn German, you’re in the perfect place! Besides, don’t you already speak some Yiddish?”

“Well, some, but...”

“Yiddish and German are surely not that different. Why, I can follow the conversation those two young men there are having well enough myself, and I don’t speak a word of Yiddish! At least think about it, won’t you? It would be so wonderful if I could take a plan to Miss Bettany – I feel such a beast for leaving her in the lurch like this.”

Susie grimaced.

“I suppose it is a job, and goodness knows I need money right now. But really, I’m no teacher. Oh alright! Keep your wig on, Marjorie Durrant, I’ll think about it. I’ll make a decision tomorrow...Thursday at the latest. Now stop pestering me and let’s talk about something else!”


Later, after the tall dark woman left the restaurant, Susie remained behind, toying with her teacup. The Jewish owner meandered over to clear the table and seeing her frowning, raised his eyebrows.

“She wants me to go to Austria, Mauritz,” said Susie, gloomily.

The manager nodded approvingly.

“Austria is a good country,” he observed, flicking out his cloth and beginning to wipe the table.

“It’s a long way away.”

“This is very true, my child.”

“I don’t know whether to go.”

“It is a hard choice.”

“Do you think I should go?”

The manager shrugged expressively, spreading his hands wide.

“I cannot make these decisions for you, young Susie. Anyway, you do not pay me to do your thinking for you, only to get you more tea.” This last was said with a question in his eyes, but she shook her head ruefully.

“No, no more. I need to get going myself. Thank you, Mauritz. Here – keep the change.”

The manager nodded approvingly, and she made for the exit. But as she reached it she turned back and called,

“Mauritz?”

He turned to her. “Yes, my child?”

“Will you teach me some German before I go?”

Mauritz smiled broadly at her. “Yes, my child!”

A train journey by Finn

So that was how Miss Susannah Smith, late of Gateshead, Bolton, Birmingham and most recently London, came to be boarding the Paris-Wien express one cool September morning of 1926. Her possessions were minimal, one suitcase, one soft bag and a drawing case, and they sat in the corridor of the train while she lingered on the platform, taking leave of Matty.

“Make sure you get some proper sleep, young man,” she instructed him, tugging at the lapels of his coat.

“Of course I will,” he replied patiently, in his light tenor voice.

“And don’t get yourself into any scrapes.”

“I’ll do my best.”

“Well, as long as you’re doing your best not to get into scrapes, I’m happy.”

“Yes, Mother.”

“Stop it, you twit! I’m serious! And you’re not to write any really scurrilous articles threatening important people. No insulting any bigwigs.”

“But Suze, it’s my job to write threatening articles!”

Only if you have the proof to substantiate your claims and you’re absolutely sure they can’t do anything to you. You know what can happen! Just...try to act responsibly and...and don’t upset everybody!”

“Says the girl who’s unable to publish in just about every major paper in London!”

“That was different, as you very well know,” she countered, primly. “That was nothing to do with politics. Anyway, I haven’t upset anyone who can have me...suffer an unfortunate accident. Seriously, Matty, promise me you’ll try and stay out of harm’s way. You're...you're all I've got.”

Wary of sentimentality, she turned the worried expression on her face into a mock-severe frown, but he saw through her and relented. “Alright,” he promised. “Nothing but good clean journalism from me, at least until I’m settled properly here.”

She scowled at him. “I suppose I’ll have to be satisfied with that.”

“Don’t you worry about me,” he told her. “You should be more concerned with what you’re going to do. You thought about what you’re going to teach the young’uns once you’re out there?”

She groaned. “Worrying about you was my way of trying to forget about that. Oh Matty, I’m making such a mistake. I never was a teacher and I never suited the countryside, and here I am landed with both! I’m going potty. Crazy. Off my rocker. Why on earth did I agree to it?”

“It’ll do you good,” he replied. “And you have the chance to instil some good socialist ideas into your kids!”

She laughed at that. “You idiot! I can’t go teaching eight year olds political and economic theories!"

“Why not?” he protested. “Best to catch them when they’re young. How about this for an idea: teach them about fair taxation by taking a proportional cut of their pocket money and using it to the benefit of the whole class!”

“Please tell me you are joking! I will face a full-scale revolt before the end of the second week if I take that line with them!”

“Oh, I’m perfectly serious,” he assured her, straight-faced. “They only need a bit of training and then you can have a full Communist uprising and take over the rest of the school by force. Or you could form a trade union! Get all the teachers on your side, then overthrow the headmistress and form a cooperative!”

“Stop being so stupid!” she cried, batting at him with her fists. He dodged her swipe, laughing at her.

“Alright, alright,” he protested. “It was just an idea.” He sighed, and then said, “Well, at least I have one less thing to worry about.”

“Oh yes?”

“Well, I suppose you’re right, in a way – I doubt there’s much trouble you can get up to in the Austrian mountains!”

“Oh you little...oh look, the train’s leaving! Kiss me, Matty, quickly!”

He did so, and she hugged him with all her might, and then as the train began to puff and blow he flung her up into the carriage and slammed the door.

She leaned out of the window and waved goodbye. He stood there, tall and slim, his fair hair glinting in the pale sunshine, his hat flapping wildly over his head as he bade her farewell; and she felt a pang of homesickness, for she had no home now but Matty, and he, dear old thing, was rapidly receding from view. Heavy of heart, she turned away from the window and dragged her luggage into the nearest compartment. However, she brightened when she saw that she was not alone, but that a woman not much older than herself, and also unmistakeably English, sat in the forward-facing window seat. Susie was always delighted to meet fresh people, so she gave the woman a friendly smile as she entered the compartment and was pleased to see it returned.

“Good morning,” she greeted her new companion cheerfully as she lugged her possessions in after her.

“Good morning indeed,” replied her companion politely. Susie would have said more, but her suitcase chose that moment to jam in the doorway and she became preoccupied with trying to free it. The young woman watched her struggling with some amusement, and then after a few moments, she took pity on her.

“Let me help you.”

Together they eventually had the suitcase stowed safely, and Susie turned to give her assistant a grateful grin.

“Thanks everso,” she said, sitting down and wiping her hands on her skirt.

“Don’t mention it,” her companion responded, drily. Her voice was low and warm, and Susie found herself purring inside as she heard it. She realised she was taking a liking to this woman, who was elegant and slender, with curling hair of rich chestnut brown. The dryness of her tone told Susie that she was someone who would be a challenge to conquer, but that only made her all the more appealing. She did so relish a challenge, after all.

Oh honestly, stop it! she told herself firmly. It’s not as if you’re going to see her again after this journey!

But she found her homesickness receding fast in the face of this new entertainment, and she cast around for something amusing, charming, witty to say to her companion, who was still regarding her with that drily quizzical air. Something clever, she thought to herself. Say something intelligent and bright, something witty, striking, funny, different!

What she ended up saying was,

“Are you going far?”

Her companion gave a half-smile, like a lazy cat. She replied, in those low tones,

“Innsbruck.”

“Oh,” cried Susie, “The same as me, then!”

Her companion raised an eyebrow. You can’t leave it there, she thought to herself, desperately. Say something more amusing!

She coughed and added, “I’m afraid I shall be boring you with my company for the whole of your journey, in that case!”

The eyebrow rose higher. “Not if I move into another compartment,” her companion remarked, and then they looked at each other, and they both burst out laughing.

“Oh, how cruel!” exclaimed Susie, as she recovered herself. “And you’ve not known me five minutes yet!”

“Well, who knows,” replied the other, “it may be you that is fleeing to escape me long before we’re in Austria.”

“Oh, I doubt that,” said Susie, warmly. “I doubt that very much.”

Her new friend hesitated, and then nodded to the window, in the direction of Paris.

“Was the young man your brother?” she enquired.

“Yes,” Susie replied, her homesickness returning with a sickening pang as she thought of Matty and Paris. “Yes, my younger brother, Matty. He lives in Paris now.”

The other nodded. “I thought you looked too alike to be anything other than...family,” she said. A shade seemed to pass over her face, but it disappeared almost immediately. She smiled again at Susie. “So why are you heading to Innsbruck?” she asked. “Just a visit?”

“Oh no,” answered Susie, animatedly. “No, I’m going to join a school, believe it or not, up in the mountains above Innsbruck – the Chalet School, it’s called. Yes,” as her new friend’s eyebrows shot up once more, “you wouldn’t think it, but I am to become a teacher, insane, miserable creature that I am!”

“Well I never,” said the other, simply.

“Oh, I know,” breezed Susie, airily. “Don’t tell me, I’m too young, too odd-looking, too irresponsible, too...too downright crazy. I know! Believe me, I know. I’ve been having doubts about it since I accepted the post! And it’s in the middle of nowhere – right up in the mountains! I just don’t know what I’m to do with myself. I’m sure I’m not the right person to be looking after kids, especially not the rich children of...” she bit off her remark before saying capitalists, and continued, “I’m just worried I’ll end up despising them all, children and mistresses alike.”

“Oh, it wasn’t that that surprised me,” said her friend, amusement now warming her voice. “It’s nothing to do with your...fitness for teaching. It’s just that I rather think we’re going to the same place. You see, I’m to become a mistress at the Chalet School myself.”

The night before term by Finn

You wouldn’t have believed it, Matty! I don’t think my face has ever been so red. I thought about trying to brush it off with some careless insouciance, you know – “Oh, darling, I’d no idea! Of course, you don’t look anything like a teacher” and so on, only she’s far too sharp to fall for that and besides...

Besides I don’t want her to think me an idiot, she thought. Not that there’s much chance of fooling her now – I think she’s realised pretty well what I am!

She blushed at the memory of that moment on the train, but found herself smiling. Nell Wilson had been sweet about it, in her way – once she had stopped laughing uproariously at Susie’s embarrassed face, that is.

“And you know the best thing?” she had said once she’d recovered, raising an eyebrow at Susie.

“Oh Lord, what?” Susie had replied, face half-hidden in her hands.

“Well, you do know that part of my duties is to help out with the juniors? Making you my immediate superior, as head of the junior house. And you have just handed me an excellent piece of ammunition.” Nell Wilson smiled wickedly. “I think I’m going to enjoy this term!”

She’s a terrible, wicked woman, a bully and a blackmailer. I thought you said I wouldn’t run into any trouble in the Austrian mountains?

A tap on the door interrupted her, and Nell Wilson entered. Susie greeted her in the customary fashion.

“Oh no, not you! Look, I’ve given you all my dinner money, what more do you want from me?”

Nell grinned. “Just a chat, on our last night of freedom,” she said amiably. “And maybe a cup of tea.”

Susie gave an exaggerated sigh.

“You’re a one-woman extortion racket,” she exclaimed. “Forget the Tiernsee, you should head for Chicago, you’d fit right in.” Her severe expression wavered momentarily, then broke entirely and she laughed. “Kettle’s full – stick it on and I’ll sort the pot.”

She opened a desk drawer and brought out a small packet. When they had changed trains at Innsbruck, she had stuffed a hand into the pocket of her tweed coat and had found a little parcel and a note from Matty. He must have slipped it in as she was hugging him goodbye. When they were safely ensconced in the train up to Spärtz, she had unwrapped the parcel and found it was a packet of tea. The note from her brother read:

I hear they drink only coffee in the wilds of Austria, and I know how much you hate it, so I’m sending you off with the last of my tea. Don’t drink it all at once! And don’t tear it open and spill half of it across the floor like you did that time in Pimlico, or you’ll look like an idiot. Again.

What a supportive brother. He was right, of course – she had looked an idiot when she had sent that tea all over the place in their friend’s kitchen. She was grateful enough for the leaves, though, as she’d been rather horrified on arrival at the Chalet School to be offered coffee, and coffee alone. Apparently it was expected that one would take coffee, unless one were invited to a special tea in Madame’s study (and that sounded rather alarming!). On that first night she had settled for hot milk, but that had made her feel about seven years old. She would have to learn to like coffee – soon!

She carefully opened the bag and doled a teaspoon of leaves into the pot, and brought it over to the boiling kettle to be filled. They were just settling back with mugs clasped in hands when another tap came at the door.

“Smelled the pot," Susie said. "You’ve been telling people, haven’t you?” she accused Nell, scowling severely. “I’ve told you about this before - whatever our personal arrangements, leave my tea out of them!”

She rose to answer the door, but before she reached it, it was opened and Miss Bettany poked her head in.

“Good evening, ladies,” she smiled at them. “I just thought I would come and see how you both are, since term is starting tomorrow!”

“Quick, hide the teapot,” muttered Nell as Susie resumed her seat and Miss Bettany came into the room, but it was too late – Madame had seen it.

“Oh, tea, how lovely,” she remarked as she sat down with them and curled her feet under her.

“Would you like some?” Susie offered, but she and Nell were both faintly relieved when Miss Bettany shook her head.

“No, thank you. I’ve just had some coffee and I’m going to bed shortly. I just wanted to make sure you were both alright. I know it can be a bit daunting, starting in a new place and not really knowing anyone!”

Susie smiled at her. “Oh, I’m absolutely fine,” she said breezily.

Miss Bettany smiled back. “You are sure?” she asked.

“Oh, yes!” she replied. “Of course. Absolutely fine.” She paused. “’Fine’ does mean the same as ‘terrified’, doesn’t it?” she added, her eyes innocently wide.

Nell laughed at her, though Miss Bettany looked concerned. “Oh dear,” she said, “I hope not all the staff are feeling that way!”

“Don’t you worry, Madame,” remarked Nell, drily. “Of course we're not. Miss Smith is a terrible joker. By which I mean that she tells terrible jokes, of course,” she added, winking at Susie.

Susie gasped at her, feigning shock. “Ah! Such slander!” she cried, waving a finger in Nell’s direction. “You see, Madame, how she taunts me! Tell me, what am I to do?”

Miss Bettany grinned at them both, joining in the fun.

“I think I had better leave that to your own good judgment, Miss Smith,” she replied, rising from her seat. “Now, if you have any problems, anything at all, please don’t hesitate to call on me. And for now, I think I had better leave you. I promised Joey I would have a talk with her before her bedtime, and it is nearly that now. If you will excuse me...”

After she had left, Susie went to the window. She stood at the curtains and watched as Miss Bettany crossed back to the main school building.

“It’s alright, Nell, she’s gone,” she said. “You can get out the gin and the racy pictures now.”

Nell Wilson shook her head, laughing in mock-despair.

“Oh, Susie Smith,” she exclaimed. “Whatever are we going to do with you?”

On the Sonnalpe by Finn

It was the morning of the first day of term, and up on the Sonnalpe it had dawned bright and cheerful. Sarah Denny bent down to twitch her stocking neatly into place, then turned her attention to her hair. Down the corridor of their little chalet, she could hear her brother humming to himself as he shaved; not a very wise idea, for he had been known to...

“Ow!”

“Well, don’t sing to yourself, then!” she called out to him, amusement in her voice.

“I was not singing,” objected Tristan, the bathroom echoes making his voice sound distant. She heard him sigh. “Curse these conventions that require men to be clean-shaven!”

“Why don’t you just grow a beard?” she suggested, adding sotto voce, “It’s not as if it could make you look much stranger.”

Evidently not sotto voce enough, for moments later her brother appeared in the doorway, his indignant expression only slightly marred by the remaining shaving soap all over his chin, and the blood that trickled from the small cut below his ear.

“I heard that,” he protested, as he dabbed at his injury. She smothered a giggle, and tried to look contrite. She failed. He gave her a hurt look.

“Sometimes you can be most cruel,” he said in mock-offence, and with as much dignity as he could muster, he disappeared back to the bathroom. The humming resumed moments later.

She smiled to herself as she brushed her hair out. Complain though she may to her friends about her brother and his peculiarities, still she did like living with him, and it was these little intimacies that she loved most. They may both have friends galore, but she was the only one to see him half-shaven and covered in soap, and only he saw her hair in its night-time plait rather than neatly up. And no-one else came into her room in the evening in pyjamas and sat on the bed to talk to her before bedtime. It was pleasant to share these little things with someone. They had been children when they last lived together; they were both adults now, with their own habits; they had grown used to each other’s moods, adapting to living together. And she was happy. She hoped Tristan was, too. She sincerely doubted that there would ever be a Mrs. Denny, and she was likewise almost certain that she would never take any other name than the one that she had now, so they would probably be together for the rest of their lives.

There had been a time, of course, when she had thought...but that was in the past. For better or for worse, she had her brother, and he was...well, he was what he was. And he was...enough.

*
In the early evening, Sarah went for a short walk along the alpe. She was alone; she had invited Tristan to join her but he was lost in some new composition and had barely even noted her presence, let alone acknowledged her invitation. So alone she walked, lost in daydreams, and when she reached the edge of the alpe she paused to gaze down at the lovely blue lake in the valley below her. How small it all looked, from up here! It was the start of the school term and it was the first term since they had joined that she and Tristan would not be living in the valley, but up here on the Sonnalpe. How they would manage the long walk down to the valley and back up again, she did not know. She had rearranged her Italian classes so they occurred just twice a week, neatly coinciding with Tristan’s singing lessons; ideal, really, as they could walk there and back together, and, most importantly, not too often!

It was a shame, though, for she enjoyed teaching, and was sorry to have such limited contact with her students. Even more, she was sorry to leave her friends behind in the valley. The Sonnalpe was rather a lonely place, but even the month that they had spent there had made such great improvements in her brother’s health that she felt it a sacrifice worth making. Still, she suspected that the bi-weekly walk up and down would be rather an effort, especially once the snow arrived. She had discussed it with Tristan and he had remarked that if it became too difficult for them to manage, they would just have to engage rooms at the Adalbert again during term time and spend their holidays in their chalet up at the Sonnalpe. Though initially reluctant, she had eventually agreed, for she knew that his work came before everything and that forcing him to choose between teaching or his health was a battle she was unlikely to win.

Still, she hoped it would not come to that. Tristan was so much better, after all, up here in the clear air. But then again, it was so very dull up here sometimes! She was not inclined to like Dr Russell much; he could be charming company, but she found him a little overbearing. Her feelings made her feel rather guilty at times, since the doctor was doing so much for her brother, but she couldn’t help it! He had a tendency to treat her as if she were helpless, sometimes, which irritated her immensely, for she of all people was anything but helpless! And aside from Dr Russell, the company was limited. The new doctor, Dr Maynard, the brother of her own dear friend Mollie, was entertaining enough, but she barely knew him, and besides, neither doctor seemed much inclined to seek out the Dennys, preferring to keep their own company.

She missed the school. Looking down into the valley, she felt envious of the other Chalet School mistresses. How exciting, to be beginning a new term and to be fully involved in it all! She had never had that experience. She wondered what they were all up to, down there at the school, while she stood gazing down on them from so far above, trying not to feel jealous.The lucky devils, she thought. They don't know what they've got.

 

Term begins by Finn

“And lastly, we are pleased to welcome among us two new members of staff: Miss Wilson, who will take you for geography and science, and Miss Smith, who will replace Miss Durrant as junior mistress and will also give drawing lessons to the rest of you.”

Susie jerked awake at hearing her name, and smiled swiftly at the assembled school. Top table was ever-so alarming. She felt as if she were a prefect in school – only it was much worse than that. Tomorrow she would be teaching! Dear Lord! She shivered anxiously. What she needed right now was a stiff gin, but all she had before her was coffee; and she felt certain that Matron Wilson was not the sort of person to take kindly to a request for a medicinal brandy - not without a night in the sickroom at least. Although, she thought, as her stomach roiled with sick anxiety, perhaps that would be a price worth paying for a nice medicinal 'dose'.

She dragged her attention back to the Headmistress, who was concluding her short speech.

“And those are all the announcements that need to be made for now. After Abendessen, the juniors will go over to Le Petit Chalet for bed, while seniors and middles will have dancing for a time before the middles go up. And now, grace!”

As she left the Speisesaal and came into the corridor, Susie heard Joey Bettany plaintively asking,

“But what about folk dancing? Miss Durrant told us last term that we were to start some dances this year that were simply peach! What are we to do without her?”

“Don’t worry, Joey,” said Susie, and was amused as the small group swung around to stare at her, wide-eyed. “After all,” she continued, eyeing them carefully, “Miss Durrant and I knew each other through the English Folk Dance Society! I can assure you, I know quite as many dances as she does, so don’t worry, your folk dancing will continue!”

“Oh, how topping!” cried young Joey, exuberantly, but she was promptly crushed as Miss Smith gave her an imperious scowl and said,

“And that, I believe, is a forbidden word, my girl.”

Joey opened her eyes wide.

“Oh please, Miss Smith – it is the first day of term...”

She trailed off hopefully. Miss Smith stood and frowned as if deep in thought, and then said,

“No, I believe I must begin as I mean to go on, otherwise I will have you all labouring under the delusion that I am easily manipulated. No, no allowances! Pay your fine, please, Joey, and be on your way, all of you. Dancing starts in fifteen minutes!”

And with that she strolled off triumphantly to fetch her juniors and escort them to Le Petit Chalet, leaving five crestfallen girls behind her.

“I say!” whistled Margia Stevens. “She’s going to be a martinet, isn’t she!”

“Reckon she’s a bearcat alright!” exclaimed Evadne Lannis. “Ab-so-lute-ly!”

Margia rounded on her friend.

“A what?! Honestly, Evadne, your English! You be careful, or she’ll be down on you next!”

“Oh, can that!” said Evadne, carelessly.

“Evadne, you should be more cautious,” reproved Frieda Mensch quietly. “The prefects may be no more kind than Miss Smith, though it is but the first day!”

“Me, I think she is quite good,” added Simone Lecoutier, meaning Miss Smith, not Evadne. “And you have heard what she said about the dancing? We shall continue as before. This is very nice, I think!”

“Oh, that’s alright,” replied Joey, staring out in the direction of Le Petit Chalet. “But she’s definitely all there, that one! We’ll have to be careful with her, that’s for sure.”

Susie meanwhile walked sedately along the corridor to collect her new charges and escort them over to their living quarters. She had met various of them during the day, and was slowly learning names and faces. There was, of course, one little face that she already knew well, for she had been there for several days now and had become quite acquainted with The Robin. That small person gave her a beaming smile now, standing tall and straight in her uniform, and she caught her little hand as she came to the front of the line.

“All ready?” she asked, her bright voice hiding the tremor of her nerves. She nodded to Nell, who stood at the end of the line, and Nell smiled twinklingly back. Susie grinned, reassured, and announced, “Well, let’s be going, then!”

*

Twelve bathtimes, twelve little heads brushed, twelve sets of prayers said, twelve little girls tucked up into bed, and Susie and Nell collapsed exhaustedly into chairs on either side of the stove in Susie’s study. Susie wished she could lay hands on a bottle of something, for the round of duty had left her heart aching sorely. There had been a few tears for mothers before bed, and several hands had had to be held and plenteous hugs bestowed before all of their small charges were settled; and even then, tears still lingered on some little cheeks and Susie was planning to do the rounds of the two dormitories in an hour’s time, to ensure no-one was lying miserably awake on their first night of term.

She looked across at Nell, who puffed out her cheeks and blew the air out noisily.

“Well!” she sighed.

“Well!” replied Susie, stifling a yawn.

Despite such a promising start, this particular conversation got no further, for the door creaked slowly open and they both turned to see a little shadow standing in the doorway, nightgown trailing round her and a teddy bear clutched firmly in one hand. The pale face seemed to be little other than a huge pair of dark eyes, scared and sad. Susie got up at once.

“Annette!”, she said. “Whatever are you doing up?”

Annette Cardew, who at just seven was the second youngest member of the junior school, looked up at her. She had been one of the first to be put to bed, since she was one of the youngest, and should have been asleep an hour ago. Susie hurried over to the door and saw Annette's mouth tremble as she began to sniffle. The little girl shuffled forward and pressed against Susie's leg, her head nuzzling against her hip. Susie took her hand and led her over to the stove.

“What’s the matter, darling?” she asked, drawing the little girl onto her knee. “Are you feeling unwell?”

Annette shook her head.

“Then are you lonely?” questioned Susie, looking down at the little face. Annette’s thumb went up to her mouth, and suddenly she nodded vigorously and buried her face in Susie’s shoulder.

Nell gave Susie a look but Susie studiously ignored it. The time for sternness would come later, but just now she felt that the little ones needed her badly, and she had too much heart to ignore them. Nell, seeing that Susie was not heeding her warning, sighed, and giving her a fond, exasperated look she rose to fill the kettle, allowing Susie to soothe Annette in private.

A little cuddling stopped the tears, and when Susie offered to sing to her, Annette nodded enthusiastically and, thumb firmly in mouth and Teddy in a stranglehold under one arm, she curled up on Susie and listened, eyelids drooping, as the mistress sang songs from her own babyhood. Susie had a rich contralto voice, and its warmth, and her comforting presence soon lulled the little girl to sleep.

This, of course, then presented a fresh dilemma, for though Annette was only just seven, and small for her age, she was still quite a size to be carried through the chalet to her dormitory. Nell came back in as Susie was wrestling with the problem, and, giving her an I-told-you-so look, laughed at her.

“Thank you for that constructive input, Nell,” Susie scowled, as she hoisted the child onto her hip and stood up carefully. "Lend me your sarcasm, will you - I'm sure it'll come in handy wedging open some doors along my way.”

Nell grinned. “The sarcasm comes as part of me, I’m afraid,” she replied.

“Well, bring the rest of you as well, then,” returned Susie, heading for the door. “In fact, I’ve a better idea. We’ll use you to wedge open the doors, and give your sarcasm the night off.”

Grumbling good-naturedly, Nell followed her, and with a little effort they managed to deposit the child back in her bed without waking her. Returning to the study, Susie threw herself back into her chair.

“I hope to goodness that’s the last disturbance tonight,” she said. “I don’t much fancy any more surprises. Oh dear!" she yawned. "Blimey! It’s only just after nine, but I’m ready for bed myself!”

“I know how you feel,” sighed Nell, stretching her body out in her chair, an action which did not fail to attract Susie’s attention. “If only we knew what to expect, eh? Wouldn’t life be simple!”

“Mm,” Susie responded, tiredly.

“Put the kettle on,” said Nell.


“D’you know,” remarked Susie, after a few minutes of sitting curled up with their tea, “Marjey Durrant told me that when she started, she was practically left to herself with the little ones. Oh, Mademoiselle helped, of course, but she was responsible for the big girls, really. Poor old Marjey had the babies all to herself.”

She glanced across at Nell Wilson.

“I’m really glad I have you,” she said.

Nell gave her one of her sharp looks, but Susie was in earnest.

“I’m serious! I honestly don’t think I could do it without you.”

She smiled across at her colleague, a little shy of such openness, but she felt a real rush of warmth flood through her when she saw Nell smiling back.

A Letter Home by Finn

Miss Bettany’s ever such a kid, you know! I’d no idea she was only twenty-six til a few days ago. I suppose that’s part of why she’s such a hit with the girls – she can remember what it’s like, being their age! She’s terribly good with them – she’s authoritative, but only when they need it. The rest of the time she’s sweet as anything, and they love her. It’s a skill to learn, Matty! One must keep one’s distance, and yet still be pally with the girls. I hope I can manage it with my lot.

There was a knock at the door. Susie tucked her letter under a sheet of blotting paper before calling, “Yes?”

Matron Wilson put her head around the door. She was one of those thin, shrew-like women who seem dried up and old before their time, but there was nothing old or shrewish about her character and she was wickedly funny, giving even Nell a run for her money in sarcasm and general cynicism. Despite the striking similarity in character, Susie knew Nell Wilson well enough by now not to ask whether the two of them were related, but the three of them were very friendly with one another, and she had a lot of time for Matron Wilson. She smiled now as Matron gave her report from the doorway with characteristic lack of preamble.

“Nothing wrong with them,” she said cheerfully, “well, nothing serious, at least. I’ve given them both a drop of medicine and tucked them up in bed, but they should be right as rain. In my experience,” she added, “these little chills often turn up in the first week a school’s back, especially for those that haven't been away before. You’ll soon see!” she grinned. “Keep an eye on them and let me know if they get any worse. Oh, and let me know straight away if the Robin starts looking peaky, won’t you? We can’t take any chances with her.”

“Oh, I know,” Susie replied with a smile. “Thanks, Matron!”

“Right-oh,” said Matron, and vanished as abruptly as she had arrived.

Susie pulled her letter out again and resumed.

Then there is Mollie Maynard. She’s senior mistress, which sounds ever-so mighty, especially when you realise that she’s less than a year older than me! She is, officially, everything I hate: landed gentry (family has a small pile in the south somewhere), well (ie. expensively!) educated, jolly, frank, hockey-playing…and yet…and yet – well, she’s a teacher, for a start. Alright, so she teaches in a rather elitist little place in the Austrian mountains, for fee-paying students, but she’s still working, not sponging off her family or a husband. And also…well, she’s just nice. Very straight, like Nell, and sharp too (though not as sharp, nor as sarcastic – God, one of Nell is enough!) but she’s tough, and then again, she’s a laugh, too. She hasn’t Miss B’s touch with the girls, but they respect her, and like her. She's got a brother, and he's a doctor up on the Sonnalpe - we've not seen him yet (well, Madame probably has, but not the rest of us), but if he's anything like Mollie he ought to be a handsome devil. Here's hoping, anyway!

There was another knock at the door. Sighing, she slid the letter into a drawer of her desk and turned to the door to greet the newcomer, someone of whom she was very fond: Juliet, the head girl, a tall, slight and graceful girl with laughing brown eyes. Susie smiled a welcome to the girl, who came in and said, very properly,

“If you please, Miss Smith, Madame has sent me to ask you to join her for Kaffee in her study today.”

Susie raised an eyebrow, a trick which had taken several years to perfect and one which she was now exceedingly glad she had bothered to learn. “I see,” she replied in her most quizzical voice, and Juliet laughed and said, “Oh, it’s nothing much. Miss Wilson is going too. I think she just wants to discuss something with you. I’ll be looking after the babies while you’re there.”

“Well, you know her better than I, Juliet,” grinned Susie. “Please tell her that I’ll be there once the juniors are back from singing and settled with you.

As she reached into her drawer for her letter, she dislodged some papers and uncovered a sketch, which she took out along with her letter. She giggled, remembering the encounter that had led to the sketch, and began scribbling her letter again.

I'm enclosing a sketch I’ve made of our resident eccentric, Mr Denny, the singing-master. He’s mad, but sweet with it. You’d love him, Matty – another one for your collection! He had me listening to music all afternoon on Tuesday while the littlies were out for their walk – he worked out quite quickly that I’m no great shakes at music (well, not his sort) so he explained it all to me as we were listening, and it was quite interesting, actually, but he’s pretty intense about it all and I’m half-expecting a spot-test next time I see him!

She had gone into the little room used by the staff on the Tuesday of that week and had found herself confronted by a young man in his shirt sleeves, with long brown hair that fell to well below his collar. He was bending over Mademoiselle’s gramophone, apparently fixing a record, but looked round when she entered, and gave her a beaming smile before his eyes widened with the realisation that he did not recognise her.

“Good afternoon,” she said, hesitating in the doorway, but he gestured to welcome her into the room.

“I apologise,” he excused himself. “I am borrowing your space for my own selfish purposes. My gramophone is broken,” he explained, “and is being repaired, and in the meantime, I am forced to resort to kindly friends. Oh, Mademoiselle has given permission,” he added, noticing that she looked at him slightly askance. “She is most kind!”

“Isn’t she?” Susie felt a decided attraction to this strange-looking creature - it wasn't just her brother that loved an eccentric - and she smiled at him, holding out a hand. “Susie Smith,” she introduced herself.

He looked at her in some confusion for a moment, before recalling his manners and shaking her hand.

“Tristan Denny,” he responded, and she remarked, “Yes – I rather suspected you might be.”

He looked at her questioningly, and she elaborated,

“I’ve been told about the other staff, of course, and of the people I haven’t met yet, I’m pretty sure you’re not Miss Denny!” He laughed at that, and she added, ”so you’re either Herr Anserl, who I’m told is a great bear of a man,” and she looked pointedly at his gaunt frame and he laughed again, blushing slightly, “or you’re Mr Denny, the singing master who lives on the Sonnalpe.”

She said the last part as if repeating a lesson learned by rote, and he beamed at her. “Admirable!” he replied, his eyes twinkling. “Now, let us see if I can perform a similar trick.” He frowned in thought, and began, “Miss Maynard teaches mathematics, of course, and Miss Wilson is teaching geography and sciences, I believe?” He looked at her questioningly and she nodded. “Which means that you must be Miss Durrant’s successor, and teach the junior school?”

She nodded again, smiling and he smiled widely back at her, pleased with his success. “I am art mistress too,” she added, unsure of why she said it, but he seized upon this with enthusiasm.

“Ah, an artist! I thought there was something…in your face that spoke of art. Would you permit – may I see?” he enquired, gesturing in a hopeful manner at the sketchbook she had clutched under her arm. She could think of no good reason to refuse, but she handed it over with some trepidation. There were quite a few of what she thought of as her ‘arty’ works tucked in among the sketches, and not many people really appreciated them; and she disliked having to explain or excuse them. She watched Mr Denny as he looked over her work. He glanced at her sketches with approval, calling them ‘charming’, but when he reached her ‘art’ works, he paused and stared hard at them, turning the pages to each one several times before turning to her and saying,

“Remarkable! Truly remarkable…and quite wonderful! I cannot pretend that I…understand them, exactly, but they have such intensity, such…such music!” He turned the pages back again. “Remarkable,” he repeated as he returned the book to her with some reluctance. She took it, amused and impressed by his response, and grateful that he had not asked any questions; nonetheless, she swiftly changed the subject.

“Just one thing strikes me,” she said, “and that is, why, if you live on the Sonnalpe, are you down here borrowing Mademoiselle’s gramophone on a day that you’re not teaching?”

“Ah!” he responded. “Well, my sister and I have decided that the climb to and from the Sonnalpe is too much four times in one week, so we have arranged to stay down here for three days each week. It is more suitable this way.” He beamed at her again.

“Why do you not stay here all the time?” she asked, intrigued.

“It is better for my health,” he replied briefly, and turned back to the gramophone, slipping a record from its sleeve. She saw he was intending to sit and listen for a while, and felt reluctant to disturb him.

“You are sure you don’t mind if I work while you listen? I’ve relinquished my study to Nell Wilson for the afternoon and I really must get on with some planning!”

“Not at all,” he protested, with that friendly smile. “I am simply here as I have nothing to do this afternoon, and desired some music without effort.” His eyes twinkled again. “Please, come, sit and listen along with me!”

She hesitated. “I won’t be disturbing you?” but he shook his head emphatically.

“Not in the least, my dear maiden,” he cried, and she wasn’t sure if she had heard him correctly (had he really called her 'maiden'?), but he had returned to his music, delicately placing the needle on the record.

“What is it?” she asked, more from a sense of politeness than interest, but he turned to her with eyes blazing with enthusiasm, and replied, eagerly,

“It is Also Sprach Zarathustra. Do you know it?”

“Um,” she answered, and he added, helpfully,

“It is by Strauss.”

“Um,” she continued, and then something sparked a memory. “Oh! Isn’t he the one with all the waltzes? I quite enjoyed some of them when my friend…” she tailed off at the sight of his face, which had gone from hopeful to bemused, before a light dawned and he smiled at her.

“Ah! That was Johann Strauss. I was referring to Richard Strauss.”

“Were they brothers?” she asked, and his face fell in consternation, and she had to confess.

“I’m sorry – I really know nothing about…” She looked at his keen face and could not admit her total ignorance of music to him, so she temporised with “…Strauss.”

He frowned briefly, as if unable to credit that someone knew nothing of Strauss, then beamed his friendly smile at her. She could not help but respond to its warmth, and he said merrily,

“Then you will enjoy this! Come, sit, listen – listen well, and enjoy!”

She retired to the table in the corner and took out her sketchbook, but her eyes were drawn back to the eccentric young man who despite the many chairs available had seated himself on the floor with a musical score propped up on his knees. His long hair, his pale, angular face and expressive eyes…she looked down at her sketchbook, back up at the singing master, who was following his score with a vivid intensity. She had intended to prepare a subject for her lesson with the seniors…but perhaps that could wait. She slipped her favourite drawing pencil from her case and started to sketch, quietly and briskly...

Anyway, he amused me greatly, and while we were listening I had the chance to do this doodle of him – he’s a fascinating subject! Maybe I’ll try and get him to sit for me properly soon. Hopefully I’ll get Nell to sit for me soon, too, though she gets quite sarcastic whenever I suggest it and I think she’s on her guard now, so I doubt she’ll let me make any sneaky sketches. Ah well, you’ll just have to come out here yourself to see what she looks like!


Susie glanced up from her letter and saw that it was almost time for Kaffee. She hurriedly penned a few last lines to her letter.

Crumbs! Time’s up! I’ve had an Official Summons to Kaffee und Kuchen, which of course means drinking that ghastly coffee and smiling politely while Madame talks. Wish me luck, darling! More about the school in my next letter – in the meantime, stay safe, stay well and stay alive! Oh, and send me more tea. I’m running out!

She sealed her letter swiftly, tucked it into her pocket and, glancing at the clock, forgot her dignity and took to her heels and fled for Kaffee with Madame.

A Little Coffee by Finn

Sarah Denny took her cup of coffee, leaned back in her chair and sighed happily.

"Goodness, but it's nice to have a rest," she observed, and Mollie Maynard nodded fervent agreement.

"You should try being here all the time!" she said with an exaggerated sigh, but her words just made Sarah feel wistful.

"Would that I could be!" she responded with a sigh.

"Really?" enquired Mollie, looking sceptical. "You like the idea of keeping a watchful eye on a bunch of ill-behaved middles, do you? Have you heard their latest?" And she went off into a description of the middles' most recent trying episode, a tale which made Sarah wince in sympathy, but only slightly. Mollie noticed the regretful look on her face, and raised her eyebrows.

"Honestly, Sally, if you still want to live here after I've described all that, you really must be crazy!"

"You forget who I live with!" Sarah joked. "I mean, given a choice between a dozen or so naughty middles and my brother..." She paused, and then laughed. "No, you're right, I think he is marginally easier to deal with. But it's a close run thing!" she added, wagging a finger, and Mollie giggled.

"To be fair," she admitted, "I think I'd prefer to be here than living with Jack on the Sonnalpe. It's really quite lonely up there, isn't it? Delightful though my brother is, I'd really miss the company down here."

Sarah grimaced to herself, thinking back to the lonely summer she and Tristan had spent on that mountain - especially with what had happened the previous term hanging over them. All in all, she was glad to be down here for a few days each week. Glancing up, she noticed Mollie giving her a sympathetic look and she scowled at her young friend.

"None of that, missy," she growled. "No sympathy, thank you very much! I'm just glad that I have the chance to spend some time with all my dear friends." She laid a heavy emphasis on the word, and Mollie stuck her tongue out at her. Sarah laughed.

"How dare you do such a thing to a mistress of this school," she said, pulling her face into an expression of comic mock-solemnity. "Take an order mark, and don't let me catch you doing it again!"

"I won't...let you catch me, that is," responded Mollie, and they both laughed again. Mollie held out the plate of cakes to Sarah, and that lady took one cheerfully.

"Well, I won't say no!" she grinned. "I've long given up trying to watch my figure." She laughed again at the momentary look of surprise which flitted across Mollie's face. "Oh yes," she smiled, "There was a time...in Italy, when I was surrounded day in, day out by all those skinny, long-legged, doe-eyed beauties...oh, you've no idea what a fat frump I felt next to them! I've never felt so...so inadequate."

"Really?" asked Mollie, surprised at this admission. "I can't imagine you ever feeling...well, inferior to anyone!"

Sarah laughed merrily at this.

"Oh, I did, my dear, for a while! But between you and me," she added confidentially, "they may have been pretty, but on the whole, there generally wasn't a lot going on up here!" She tapped the side of her head, and broke off into peals of laughter. Mollie joined in. "So I reasoned that it's better to have brains than beauty, and it is, even if it does mean being left on the shelf."

She noticed that Mollie was looking rather uncomfortable, so she changed the subject and prodded her friend with her foot.

"Anyway, you've been back for quite some time now and I've still not heard your latest. Did you have a nice summer? Lots of parties, dancing with handsome young men, that sort of thing? Oh, come on, Mollie," she added, as her friend blushed a little and did not answer. "I have to live vicariously through someone, and you, of all people, deserve some handsome young men!"

Mollie smiled, still pink-tinged. "Alright, alright! Well, yes, there were some parties, and a certain amount of dancing happened, and there were one or two young men..." She broke off, looking a little bashful, and Sarah waited for her to resume her tale. It did not take long.

"Actually, I...well, I got an offer this summer," she admitted, looking embarrassed.

Sarah leaned forward eagerly.

"Well, now, this is a development!" she exclaimed. "Am I to assume from the lack of a ring that you've refused the poor soul?"

Mollie nodded. "Not really a poor soul, though," she added. "I don't think he was really serious about me. I think..." she hesitated, her face flushing, "I think he was just trying to...to make me...you know..." She broke off, blushing crimson.

Sarah sat back, suddenly serious.

"Ah," she said. "Then you were right to refuse him. Men like that are...are..." she tried to think of a harsh enough word, and settled for, "scum."

She paused, looking severe. Mollie gave her a curious glance.

"Is that the voice of bitter experience?" she said teasingly. Sarah, caught unawares, blinked, and not for the first time thanked goodness for her rosy complexion, which neatly hid a guilty blush. She wagged a reproving finger.

"We are not discussing my experiences here," she scowled, "but since you are prying," she made a face at Mollie, who promptly made one back, "yes, that was the voice of bitter experience. In Italy," she explained, "there were...well, there were a few men like that. You could tell which ones they were, though," she added, "because they tended to shout their proposals from the windows of passing omnibuses!" She laughed, and Mollie joined in.

"Well, it wasn't quite that plain for me," she said. "Eric - that's the young man - was quite sweet about it, actually. He took me off to the rose garden one evening and made a pretty little speech. I think...well, I think it was the way he took my refusal so well that made me realise that he only wanted..." She broke off and blushed again. Sarah leaned over, and patted her knee.

"You did the right thing, my dear," she affirmed, "You'll know a genuine offer when it comes your way."

"How can one tell?" asked Mollie, sounding intrigued.

"We-ell," said Sarah, thinking back, "I only have experience of being proposed to - properly proposed to," she added, seeing Mollie's expression, "by an Italian, but he was quite persistent!" She laughed at the memory, and Mollie gave her a quizzical look. "He did ask me quite a few times before he finally gave up," she elaborated, and they both chuckled.

"He sounds like quite a devoted admirer," said Mollie. "Why did you refuse?"

"Because I'm not mad!" cried Sarah. "I loved my work far more than him - more than any of them." She grimaced a little at this lie, but continued, "And I was right to refuse! Men...are nothing but trouble."

Mollie smiled wickedly.

"And how does your brother fit into all this?" she enquired, eyes twinkling.

"Ah, well," said Sarah, her eyes dancing, "there's a secret to how I survive living with him. I love him! And," she added, her ears sharp, “speaking of that particular devil, it sounds as if it’s time for me to go. 'Til next time, then, Mollie, dear,” she added as she replaced her coffee cup on the tray and stood up, reaching for her coat.

The sounds of singing that had been drifting up from the main schoolroom had ceased, and then there came the clatter of feet and chatter of voices that signalled the general release and the commencement of Kaffee und Kuchen. Sarah bade Mollie a swift goodbye and hurried downstairs, to find her brother in the hallway talking animatedly to Madame and a young mistress she had not met before. Tristan, recognising her footsteps, turned around as she approached and beamed his happy smile at her.

"Ah, here you are," he smiled, and Madame took the opportunity to make her excuses and escape unobserved. "Have you met Miss Smith yet? Miss Smith, my sister Sarah."

‘I don’t believe I’ve had the pleasure,’ responded Sarah, coming over to shake hands.

‘No, you haven’t,’ replied the girl, her eyes sparkling, ‘although I met Mr. Denny here the other day. He taught me the difference between Johann and Richard Strauss, although I’m not sure I learned the lesson very well," she added, with a rueful glance at Tristan.

Sarah groaned. "I know, I heard all about it," she said. "May I apologise, here and now, for that and for any future eccentric behaviour on my brother’s part?"

"Nonsense," cried Miss Smith. "He was very charming. I like him."

"Excuse me," broke in Tristan at that moment, and they both turned to him. "It is just that you seem to have forgotten that I am here, in your presence," he remarked, mildly.

"Not for much longer," said Miss Smith, twinkling her eyes. "I'm off to take my little ones back to Le Petit Chalet. Nice to have met you, Miss Denny," she grinned, reaching out to shake hands again. "I hope we meet again soon - properly. Cheerio, Mr. Denny!"

They watched her go, all sunshine and sparkle, and then Tristan turned to his sister.

"Did I not tell you?" he said triumphantly. "Is she not delightful?"

"You're only saying that because she said you were charming," teased his sister, tucking her arm through his.

"Not at all!" he protested. "But I should very much like the opportunity to talk with her about music again," he observed, looking back over his shoulder as they left the Chalet. "She was most interested in Strauss. I wonder what else she might enjoy?"

"Oh, you!" exclaimed Sarah, stopping and turning to look at her brother.

"What?" he asked, confused.

"Honestly...what am I going to do with you? You meet a beautiful and friendly young woman who likes you, and all you want to do is talk to her about music!" She waved her hands in despair, and set off down the road again, muttering, "Absolutely hopeless!" to herself.

He gazed after her, bemused, then hurried to catch up with her as she stalked along the lake path, frowning as he did so. Sometimes Sarah could say the strangest things.

Pranks by Finn

Nine o’clock at night, and all was quiet in the dormitories of Le Petit Chalet; all quiet, that was, until a door creaked open, in the way that only a door being opened very very slowly can creak. A small fair head was poked through the gap, and looked carefully up and down the corridor. It was joined by another head, dark this time, which performed the same forensic analysis, and then both heads withdrew and joined into the whispered conference that was going on just behind the dormitory door.

“It’s empty,” announced Amy Stevens. “Are you sure this is a good idea, Rafaela?”

Rafaela Bolívar, the dark haired girl, tossed her head haughtily.

“Well if you are afraid,” she said airily, but Amy shook her head vigorously.

“Not I! It’s just…is it really a good trick, do you think?”

“A good trick?!” Rafaela sounded incredulous. “It is an excellent trick! Did I not tell you how it worked for my brother at his school before?”

“Ye-es,” said Amy, hesitantly, then gave it up. “Oh well, come on then!”

“But what if Miss Smith comes?” enquired an anxious Thyra Eriksen. “What shall we do then?”

“She’ll be asleep!” responded Amy, scornfully.

“She might not be,” put in Ingrid Juritz. “Many grown-ups do not sleep at this hour. My brother does not, and he is not even as grown-up as Miss Smith!”

"She's right, y'know," agreed Charlie Klein. "We're gonna have to be real careful to be quiet. I don't reckon some of you kids can manage that!" She gave Thyra a scornful look and Thyra stuck her tongue out at her.

Amy grimaced, and glanced at her companion in crime. Rafaela was a raven-tressed gypsy beauty, with olive skin and startling eyes of that peculiar hazel which is called amber. Miss Smith had thought to herself on meeting the Portuguese girl that she looked alarmingly like a cat, and had gone on to guess, correctly as it turned out, that she was probably about as trustworthy. Now the dark girl gave an arch smile, tossing back her black hair over her shoulder and snatching up the small box that was sitting on the floor, and at which the other five girls kept throwing anxious glances.

“Well, if you are all too scaredy,” she said in scathing tones, “then I shall have to go myself, alone. But I have no fear!” Her eyes flashed, and the other girls, even Amy, were impressed. She looked around them all, and demanded, “Will you come, or will you stay?”

“But Miss Smith…” began Thyra, and Rafaela turned on her.

“If Miss Smith come along,” she snapped dramatically, “we make the big eyes and tell her the truth! This always works with the grown-up – they do not expect it!” She opened her eyes wide in a picture of innocence, and the other girls looked in amazement at the amber eyes, which now swam with tears as Rafaela said, in the most penitential tones,

“Oh, Miss Smith, we are so sorry! We only thought to play the little joke. Please, won’t you forgive us?”

This delightful little dramatic performance may well have worked, had its intended target not been standing outside the door for the last five minutes, holding her breath in a desperate effort not to giggle and give away her presence. Now at last she gave the door a sharp push and flicked on the electric light, and had to bite on her tongue quite hard to avoid exploding into laughter at the six startled little faces that turned, horrified, to gaze at her.

“Well now,” she said, feeling quite proud at how stern her voice sounded, “and what have we here? A coven of naughty schoolgirls, all out of bed on a school night? Would anyone care to explain to me what you are all doing up at this hour?”

Rafaela opened her mouth, but Susie beat her to it and gestured peremptorily at the one girl that had not yet spoken and who was lurking at the back of the group, trying to avoid detection.

“Claire!” she commanded. “Come on, my girl, make your excuses!”

With an uncomfortable glance at her co-villains, Claire McGann gulped and began,

“Um…if you please, Miss Smith, we were…were…” She faltered, and Amy leapt in with an inspired cry of,

“Playing a game!”

Susie turned a frosty gaze on the interrupter, who promptly shut her mouth, but Claire had grasped the idea and was springing back to life.

“Yes, a game! We were playing…Wink Murder – which is why we needed the light, you see, and…”

“Wink Murder?” Susie interrupted.

Claire faltered again.

“Um, yes?”

“With six of you?”

“It makes for quick game,” interposed Rafaela, smiling beatifically. “Thyra never see it before, so we just want to show her.”

“Thank you, Rafaela,” said Miss Smith, scowling, though her stomach was aching with suppressed laughter. “When I wish you to speak, I shall ask you to do so. Well,” she continued, looking round the small group, “since you all seem inclined to use your sleeping time for playing, you won’t object to using your playtime for sleeping, will you now? So tomorrow, for each of your break-times, and after prep is finished, you will all come straight up here and go to bed. We wouldn’t want you getting tired out from these late nights now, would we?”

Her lips twitched at the sight of the crestfallen faces before her – Amy in particular looked as though she had just been asked to swallow a large, muddy earthworm - but she managed not to laugh, instead clapping her hands and saying,

“Right, back into bed, the lot of you. And if there are any more disturbances like this, then either I or Miss Wilson will come up here every night and sit with you until you are all asleep, just as if you were the babes from the other dormitory – yes, I do mean that, Rafaela,” she added as that girl turned incredulous eyes on her.

Sorry, Nell!, she thought, as she clapped her hands again to hurry them along.

“Come on, into bed, chop chop.”

She waited until the last girl was in bed, then stood at the head of the dormitory and announced,

“In fifteen minutes time I shall be coming back along here to make sure you’re all still where you should be. Understand?” She took the silence as a ‘yes’, and switched out the light.

“Goodnight, girls.”

The response was ragged and unenthusiastic, but she did not press the issue; besides, she was dying to laugh, so she closed the door quietly and hurried back down to her study.

Nell looked up as she entered, still giggling.

“What was it?” she asked.

“A dorm-raid, if I’m any judge,” Susie flopped back into the easy chair opposite Nell’s. “I’m going up in ten minutes to see everything’s still quiet.”

“I don’t trust that Rafaela,” observed Nell.

“Nor do I,” replied Susie. “I think we’ll be giving the middles a run for their money, in terms of wickedness. Never let her and Evadne meet!”

Nell laughed. “Oh dear. I did think they might take a little longer to settle down, rather than going straight into monkey tricks!”

“I said that if they get up in the night any more times, one of us would sit in the dormitory every night to make sure they got off to sleep,” Susie informed her.

Nell sat up, outraged. “Susie Smith!” she cried. “If you think that I’m giving up my evenings…”

Susie laughed at her.

“Don’t be daft!” she chuckled. “I doubt they’ll do anything that really jeopardises their freedom. That Rafaela kid has her head screwed on right, even if she uses it for the wrong thing sometimes. I don’t imagine we’ll have to enact that particular threat.”


But the next day, when Lisbeth Simmonds opened her desk and found three large and hairy house spiders scuttling around inside it, and when during the ensuing commotion (in which Lisbeth screamed so loudly that she brought Matron down from dormitories under the impression that someone was being murdered) Rafaela, who just happened to possess the desk next to Lisbeth, merely sat quietly with an amused smile on her face, which changed to a look of angelic innocence every time she caught Miss Smith's eye, Susie began to wonder whether her assurances to Nell the previous night were really going to stand up to the test, or whether she would be forced to eat her words…

Boxes and Letters by Finn

“Tristan, are you busy?”

“Hmm?”

“I said, are you busy?”

He glanced up from his work and noticed that Sarah was standing in the doorway.

“Sarah, my dear.” He smiled at her. “What is the matter?”

She rolled her eyes and sighed.

“For the third time,” she said severely. “I was just wondering what you’re doing.”

He glanced down at the music on his desk.

“Copying,” he answered, though in truth his mind was elsewhere, distracted by a new melody which, he now observed, he had been jotting down on the copy instead of the Bach he should have been transcribing.

“Oh.”

The melody was insistent; he hurriedly scribbled down the next phrase, then looked up again to find that his sister was still standing in the doorway. He laid down his pen.

“Is something troubling you?” he asked.

She shook her head. “But if the copying isn't especially urgent, you could come and help me move the boxes.”

He frowned slightly. “Boxes?”

“Yes, boxes!” she exclaimed, sounding somewhat exasperated. “You remember – the ones we are filling with our things so that we can move back down into the valley?”

He nodded impatiently. “Yes, of course I remember,” he waved a dismissive hand. “But why must they be moved?”

“Because I want them stacked neatly so we know what's in which when we leave – and besides, I want to sweep the salon and they’re in the middle of the floor.”

He looked down at his manuscript, and the music he was dreaming did another dance around his head. But Sarah was waiting for him to come to her aid and so, grumbling, he left his work and followed her to the salon. Moving house again! But at least this time there had been no arguments; it had been a unanimous decision. Sarah had managed the climb to and from the Sonnalpe for a month before declaring that it was becoming ridiculous. He had made the suggestion – tentatively, since the last time he had made it she had argued most vociferously against it – that they should move back down to the valley in the term time; and rather to his surprise she had readily agreed, and furthermore had insisted that, now that she had her own home again, she was not prepared to go back to staying in a hotel. So they were returning the keys to this house and would be moving to a small chalet in Briesau. He liked this arrangement, for a chalet was more peaceful than a hotel and he was able to practice or work at whatever time suited him – within reason, of course; Sarah had put her foot down about late-night practice and furthermore, she had a tendency to give him pointed looks of an evening until he gave in and went to bed. Nonetheless, there was more freedom to be had in the valley - and less climbing, which was rather a relief. He grimaced to think of his damaged lungs, which prevented him doing what had once come so easily - climbing mountains, running, singing recitals...

Yes, it would be nice to be back in the valley. He moved a couple of boxes with a joyful heart, and as he did so the tune that had been so distracting him earlier modulated to A major, one of his happiest keys. He dashed back to the study to capture it, and when he had it all on paper, he sat back in his chair, pleased. This was surely a good omen!

He glanced towards the door, and was startled to see his sister standing there.

"If you've quite finished," she said sternly, fixing him with her best schoolmistress scowl, "then perhaps you would be so good as to come back and help me finish moving these boxes?"

*

Susie was reading when Nell came in after a long day over at the 'big school' and flopped down in her customary armchair, and did not look up from her book as the elder woman heaved a sigh and rubbed her neck, groaning.

"Ugh, what a day," she yawned, her face screwed up into a scowl. This having elicited no response from Susie, she tutted and picked up her own book; but, worn out from the day, she was unable to concentrate and, eventually, laid the book aside and glanced irritably over at her friend, who was lost in her own volume.

"What's that you're so engrossed in?" she demanded, craning to see the spine.

Susie looked up then, and grinned.

"It's Plato's Republic," she said, and then as Nell groaned she cried, "What? Mr Denny recommended it!"

"He's recommended that to everyone!" exclaimed Nell. "Just because someone recommends something doesn't mean you have to read it, you know."

"Of course it doesn't!" Susie replied indignantly. "But I still like to try things for myself, rather than rejecting them out of hand. And I went to the library and it wasn't there, so Mr Denny has loaned me his copy, and if he's gone to that trouble I think it's got to be worth reading. Not to mention," she added, "that it's really rather nice of him."

Especially as he obviously loves this book, she thought, regarding its well-worn but cared-for exterior with amusement.

"And it's a jolly interesting book, too. Did you know he advocated real equality between men and women - at a time when women seldom even went out of doors?" She grinned delightedly. "Quite the visionary, old Plato."

Nell scowled at her. Sensing that her friend was in a rather prickly mood, Susie laid the book aside and turned her attention to the other woman.

"What is it, my dear?" she asked, but Nell was not in the mood for chatter either and stood up, sighing heavily.

"Long day," she replied curtly. "I'm off to bed."

She exited the room abruptly, and Susie was left with the feeling that she had not been very helpful. Poor Nell, she had looked frazzled. She wondered if she should go after her, but decided against it - in her present state of mind Nell was sure to resent it - and so she sat back and wondered what to do. Despite her honest enjoyment of the philosophical work she had been devouring, now that her reading was interrupted she felt strangely disinclined to resume it, and so, getting up to fill the kettle, she cast her mind about for something else to do. Then she remembered a half-finished letter to her brother that was lurking in her desk drawer and, while she waited for the kettle to boil she took the letter out and read as far as she had written, then took up her pen and continued.


But of course, I couldn't prove it was Rafaela, so I couldn't punish her. But I simply know it was, Matty! That child's a nightmare. Three pranks in a month - I'm not sure I can last if they carry on like this!

Anyway, aside from that, it's been fairly uneventful. I've finally met all the staff (apart from the harp teacher, whom I imagine I will not come across too regularly), and I've also met Mollie's brother Jack. He's...well, he's not as pretty as her (shame!) but he has a certain sparkle to him. He's a little bit solemn and on his guard at the moment, but I imagine that's mostly to do with being newly qualified and in a new job with a rather imposing boss (did I mention the Good Doctor Jem is a world-renowned expert on TB?) and I did manage to get one tease out of him and I reckon he'll loosen up soon.


She paused, and sat back to remember their introduction.

'Oh, Susie!'

Susie had spun around on her heel and smiled brightly at Mollie Maynard, who was standing just inside the staffroom. Alongside her was a tall, fair man who looked about her age.

"May I introduce my brother Jack? Jack, this is Miss Smith, who teaches our juniors."

"Why does everyone forget the art bit?" grumbled Susie cheerfully as she shook hands. Inwardly she was a little disappointed; having been told that Mollie Maynard and her brother were twins, she had been rather fancifully imagining a more masculine version of Mollie, who was delicately pretty, and she was rather put out to have her fantasies disrupted, for he was anything but pretty - he wasn't even especially handsome. Still, he had a friendly face, and there was something in his eyes that told of a rather teasing nature under the medical solemnity. A kindred spirit, perhaps? He was giving her a quizzical look.

"'Art bit'?" he questioned, and she grinned.

"I teach art as well," she explained, "but what with being junior mistress, this lot see me so rarely they seem to forget all manner of things about me."

"Interesting," he replied. "You don't strike me as the forgettable type."

His eyes glittered slightly. Observing that Mollie had been briefly distracted by Mademoiselle, she raised an eyebrow at him.

"Dr Maynard," she reproved him, teasingly, "that sounded dangerously close to flirting."

"I am very sorry," he replied, with a smile that was half-apologetic, half-playful. She grinned at him, and he laughed.

"So, how are you finding the Sonnalpe?" she asked, and he nodded, though without great enthusiasm.

"The work is very interesting, very interesting indeed, though of course," he shrugged, "there aren't very many patients yet."

"And the place itself?"

"Well..." He hesitated. "It's...quiet," he conceded, eventually, with a slight grimace. She nodded.

"I bet it is," she said sympathetically. "It's not exactly London, is it?"

He grinned at that. "No indeed, it is not," he agreed. "Is that where you used to live?"

"For a few years, yes," she replied, smiling in fond recollection. "I loved it there."

"Me too," he said with a similarly wistful expression. "One never lacked for entertainment."

"That's very true," she agreed. "It does present quite a contrast, doesn't it?" They grinned at each other, and she said, "Well, any time you need entertainment, you know where to find us!" His eyes crinkled at the edges as he smiled at her, and she held out her hand again.

"Lovely to have met you, but I'm afraid I simply must get on. I may only have twelve young lassies in my care, but it feels like at least twice that number when you're on your own with them - which, unfortunately for her, Nell Wilson is. Oh," she called back over her shoulder as she left the staffroom, "and feel free to drop in any time if you're down here and bored. I have tea!"

She flashed him one last smile, and departed.


If only this were the sort of place one had parties - then I could get him drunk and see the real Jack Maynard, the one that's not watching his step all the time.

Did I mention that I'm going to chapel now? It's quite odd - lots of hymn singing, bits read out of the bible, all that malarky. Rather interesting, in fact, if totally different to what we're used to. It's funny, though - you should have seen Madame's face when I told her I've never been to church before!



Madame's eyes and mouth fell open and she rocked back slightly on her heels.

'Never been to church?' she repeated, astonished.

"Well, no," Susie had replied. "I mean, I went to school prayers, but that was only because my school wasn't too keen on letting us off."

"No," Madge said, faintly, clearly trying to recover her composure. Susie bit down a smile and then, feeling a trace of guilt for being rather cruel, added,

"Well, they weren't too sympathetic about the Friends. But of course, we all went to the meeting house every Sunday, and I used to read the Bible with my dad sometimes."

There was a pause, and then Madge's face flooded with sudden comprehension.

"Oh!" she exclaimed, in rather relieved tones. "You're a Quaker!"

Susie smiled inwardly. Technically.

"Yup," she replied briskly. "But...well, I don't mind coming to the Sunday service. I mean, it would be better, wouldn't it, than me missing it?"

"Oh, yes," agreed Madame, swiftly, "yes, certainly better. It would not really be appropriate for you to be seen not going to either service."

She still looked rather uncertain. Susie struggled with the grin that was trying to force its way to her lips and said, cheekily,

"What's wrong, Madame? Am I your first?"

Madame's eyes opened wide.

"I beg your pardon?" she asked, startled.

"Your first Dissenter," twinkled Susie cheekily, trying to look innocent.

Madame looked relieved. "Oh! Oh, I see! No, no, when we were in Taverton I knew one or two Methodists, and...oh, you mean at the school? Yes, I think so. Certainly I don't know of anyone else. But if you're happy to come to the protestant service, then we'll be glad to have you..."

She smiled at Susie in a friendly way, and then, looking a little flustered, hurried off to give a literature lesson.


Well, church was alright, though it turns out that everyone knows the hymns already, so I'm trying to keep up - though it feels as if I'm making it up as I go along so I'm singing very very quietly. Hopefully I'll catch on soon!

So, as I said, it's all fairly quiet here. I've invited Sarah Denny over for tea next week, so I'm looking forward to that. I'm trying to get to know her brother better, as well - he's such a breath of fresh air. Life here is dull without all our London eccentrics. Thank goodness the juniors are keeping me busy or else I'd be getting really homesick. As it is I'm feeling pretty low sometimes, especially now that Nell is getting busier with her work - she's not spending quite so much time here with me, and I miss her company. On the other hand, though, I suppose she's not drinking all my tea!



The whistling of the kettle brought Susie's attention back to the room, and she leapt up to lift it from the stove. As the tea was brewing she penned a final few lines to Matty's letter, then she sealed it up and settled herself back in her armchair by the stove and picked up Plato's Republic again.

Despite her occasional homesickness, she reflected, curling her feet up under her and cradling her mug against her side, life could be an awful lot worse. After all, in London there had been times when she had been worried about where the next meal was coming from. Here, her biggest concern was trying to avoid spilling tea on this book.

The Problem of Rafaela by Finn

Susie sat at her desk in the form room, marking maths prep and occasionally casting an eye over her small charges, who were surprisingly peaceful, for once. Robin Humphries, Ingeborg Eriksen, Irma Rothenfels and Annette Cardew were huddled over the Robin’s toy farm, playing quite a complicated game, by the sound of it. It seemed that Annette had just married a horse to one of the cows, and the rest were now disputing about what the offspring of this union should be called. Susie briefly pondered whether she should intervene – after all, it was not quite the ladylike behaviour that the school seemed to encourage – but decided against it, on the basis that she did not care too much whether they were ladylike or not, and that what they were doing showed an impressive amount of creativity and free spirit, which, in her opinion, ought to be encouraged, not repressed.

Nearby, Claire McGann, Renee Lecoutier and Elizabeth Simmonds were curled up with books, while Thyra Eriksen and Ingrid Juritz were trying and failing to build a house of cards. The remaining three, in whom the majority of the wickedness of the juniors lay, were grouped around an exercise book but, for once, Susie was not concerned by this phenomenon. It was well-known that Rafaela and her cohorts were writing a novel – indeed, Susie had been privileged to read some of it and had even been impressed by parts of it; the descriptive passages, she felt, owed a lot to Amy’s gifts, and Rafaela’s undeniable creative streak drove the plot onwards impressively, if somewhat chaotically – and lately they could often be found together, arguing over the story and the progress they were making. This new endeavour had coincided with a marked decrease in the number of pranks being played and Susie was very grateful for this diversion of their attention, and had been actively encouraging this fresh pursuit.

Glancing around to ensure that peace was being maintained, she turned her attention back to her marking, and frowned in puzzlement, and then irritation. Somehow, somewhere along the line, what she had said to the class had gone in one of Carlotta Klein’s ears and straight back out the other. Nothing else could explain the awful mess that lay before her. It was a shame, because when she listened Charlie Klein proved herself to be a good scholar. What could have been going on behind her back? She thought back to that lesson…Charlie had been sitting next to Rafaela, since Lilbeth Simmonds had declared that she could not have that desk again after the spiders incident. Susie recalled, now, a certain amount of giggling coming from that side of the room, though she had not been quick enough to catch the pair misbehaving. That might explain it, she reflected. Charlie was a quick student, on the whole – as was Rafaela. She glanced at the Portuguese girl’s exercise book, which sported a neat row of red ticks beside her perfectly worked-out sums.

Well, it’s all very well for her, if she can muck about and still come top, she thought. But I’m not having her mess Charlie around too.

She looked up and saw the American girl closely flanking Rafaela, Amy Stevens on the Portuguese girl’s other side. What an unholy threesome they made. She had begun mentally terming them the Triad - though she was keeping that nickname quiet. Somehow, she felt sure that Madame would not approve.

“Charlie!” she called out, and the girl turned round on hearing her name. “Will you come up here, please?”

“Wonder what 'Jessie' wants?” muttered Amy to Rafaela as Charlie rose and walked slowly up to their mistress.

“Maths prep.,” answered Rafaela promptly, not looking up from the exercise book. Amy turned astonished eyes on her.

“How do you know?”

Rafaela shrugged. “It is the books she has open on her desk, after all,” she explained. Amy glanced up - she had not noticed what Miss Smith was working on, and she marvelled once more at Rafaela's powers of observation. The raven-haired girl looked up at her friend, and, smilingly wickedly at her bewilderment, added, “I think Charlie have problems. Are we to finish this plan or not? Attention attention, Amy! You must help me!”

Charlie, meanwhile, stood before the desk, dark-brown eyes wary.

“Yes, Miss Smith,” she said nervously.

Susie fixed her with a grim stare. “I want to know what you mean by turning in such a disgraceful piece of prep,” she stated sternly but quietly, holding out the red-covered exercise book to her recalcitrant pupil.

Charlie glanced at it and her face crimsoned. She said nothing, but chewed on her lip and twisted one brown curl around her finger.

“Kindly leave your hair alone, my child, and answer me,” commanded Susie, firmly.

Charlie let go of her hair and clasped her hands together in front of her.

“I’m sorry,” she murmured, but Susie waved the apology aside.

“That is not an answer, Charlie,” she reproached the girl, but added, more kindly, “What went wrong, my girl? Usually you are so good at mathematics! Did you not understand the question?”

Charlie bit her lip again, then, still crimson, shook her head. Susie sighed.

“Well, child,” she protested, “why did you not come to me and ask?”

“I…I don’t know,” grimaced Charlie, before adding, “I thought you might…be annoyed.”

Susie shook her head.

“Not half as annoyed as I get when I’m handed a piece of work like this by someone who really should know better!” she exclaimed, brandishing the offending copy once more. “Come, now – pull up that chair and I’ll explain it to you again now. Then we can go through your exercise and see if you can’t do it correctly this time.”

Charlie fetched the chair with goodwill and sat with Susie as she went through the process again, and then they tackled the exercise with much greater success. The child’s eyes lit up with comprehension in no time at all, confirming Susie in her opinion that it was Rafaela’s presence distracting Charlie that had led to the confusion in the first place.

Oh, that child! she thought to herself. What am I going to do with her?

As Charlie returned to her peers, Susie propped her chin on one hand and fell to thinking. There had been several pranks and silly tricks played in the last five weeks or so - indeed, they had been going on since the second week of term - and most bore the hallmark of Rafaela's seemingly limitless ingenuity. Sometimes they were just silly things, like the spiders trick, or the afternoon she had come in to the classroom and found her desk drawer full of flower heads - mercifully they were wild flowers, picked on the junior walk that morning, rather than the beautiful flowers that Eigen tended so carefully in the garden. But other tricks had had a more unpleasant nature - one day, several girls had found earthworms in the stew served for their dinner, and had been very upset. No-one had confessed, and Susie had punished them quite severely, hoping that peer pressure would bring the culprit to light, but to no avail. It didn't help that Rafaela had been one of the girls to find an earthworm in her stew - in fact, she had brought the fact to everyone's attention, albeit just a shade too artfully, or so Susie felt. And now she was worrying about a lot of monkeying around in class, which was affecting the younger girls who, until the introduction of this rare specimen of sin into their midst, had been a peaceful and law-abiding bunch, or so she had been told.

She sighed, glumly. She had done what she thought best. She had tried to make the lessons as entertaining as possible, though she was finding that hard, for the format employed here did not allow much flexibility. And as for the pranks - well, she had investigated, she had punished the culprits when they had come to light, and there still seemed to be no end to the mischief. And Rafaela was at the bottom of it, of that she was sure, and that made her angry because she liked the girl, who was bright, witty and an asset to lessons - when she chose to make the effort, at least. It felt like a betrayal, and in a way, it was. A betrayal of trust.

Oh, what am I going to do? It all seems to be getting out of hand, and I'm powerless to stop it...

*

"It strikes me that the child isn't stretched enough," remarked Sarah Denny, who was sitting opposite Susie in Nell's customary place. It was afternoon and the Juniors were over in the main school for Hobbies, so Susie was taking advantage of the peace to improve her acquaintance with the only non-resident mistress and, inevitably, the topic of conversation had turned to school matters. Now Susie grimaced, and spread her hands helplessly.

"What can I do?" she demanded, and was annoyed at the desperate note that crept into her voice. She modulated her tones and continued. "I mean, I teach them altogether, and I have to cater for the Robin, who's only just seven, and people like Irma, whose English isn't great - and at the other end there's girls like Amy and Charlie, who could do so much more if given the chance, and Rafaela, who you tell me is misbehaving precisely because she doesn't have enough to exercise her!" She finished on a note of despair, and pinched the bridge of her nose wearily.

Sarah held up a calming hand.

"I didn't say that was definitely the reason!" she protested. "It just seems to me to be the most likely one. It's quite common among boys, you know, for the troublemakers to be the brightest students. I taught boys in Italy for a while," she explained, responding to the curiosity in Susie's eyes. "But as for what to do about it..." She frowned briefly. "Have you tried setting her extra exercises to keep her busy while the rest of the class catch up?"

"I haven't done anything!" Susie sank her head into her hands, and despair crept into her voice again. "I'm no good at this job! I haven't the faintest idea what I'm doing, I can't make the lessons interesting, I can't even control a class of eight year olds..."

"Now don't be silly," Sarah's words were sharp, but kindly. She bent down to the hearth and poured out two cups of tea from the steaming pot, and handed one to Susie, who accepted it and clutched it to her, sniffing surreptitiously and trying to blink back a few unshed tears. Sarah took her own cup and pushed a stray strand of hair out of her face, before smiling at Susie.

"Now then," she said briskly, "You are not 'no good', you're just inexperienced." She smiled again at Susie to show no offence was meant, and Susie nodded, giving a half-smile back. "So there is no point in getting upset over it. Let's see if we can't think of some way for you to cater to the needs of the whole class, rather than this silly compromise you have at the moment that seems to suit no-one. Is there some way that you can divide up what you teach them, so that the weaker pupils are learning the basics while the others are trying something more advanced? I think you might find that if your troublemakers are challenged by their work and are having to work harder to keep up with their peers and with what you set them, their behaviour will improve no end."

Susie pondered this idea. "I suppose...with mathematics, I could set the brighter kids more questions that the others, to be completed in the same amount of time," she ventured. "I could even set them trickier problems, perhaps."

Sarah gave her a triumphant grin. "That's a good idea," she encouraged her. "And if you set it as...yes, as a challenge to them, rather than as a punishment or an extra task, I think they'll respond to it very well."

"I could do the same with essays and written work," Susie continued, with growing enthusiasm. "And you're right - if it's clear that it's a challenge, or a competition, then they won't resent it as much and protest that 'it's not fair!'." She grinned, elated, and thumped her fist against her thigh delightedly. "Oh, this is wonderful! How can I thank you?"

Sarah raised a cautionary finger.

"Don't get too excited," she advised. "It's just a suggestion - and it might not work!"

"Well, anyway, I can only try it and see!" Susie grinned to herself. "Surely it can only help to improve matters."

The weight of gloom slid off her shoulders as though it had never been there, and Susie did a little dance for joy in her chair. Of course she could do this job! How had she ever thought she might not be able to?

"Anyway," she grinned happily, brushing aside the old topic, "enough of school. What about you? Have you settled into the new chalet yet?"

Sarah gave a tired laugh.

"Oh, in a manner of speaking," she replied with a weary tone in her voice. "We're finally unpacked, which has stopped my brother from getting frustrated when he can't find things. And it's a bit smaller than the house we had this summer, on the Sonnalpe. Other than that...yes." She smiled. "It's nice to be back among friends again."

"Oh?" Susie was surprised. "Don't you get on with the good Doctors Jem, Jack and Gottfried?"

Sarah wrinkled her nose. "We don't really know them," she confessed. "They don't exactly drop in."

"Oh. That's a shame!" exclaimed Susie, but Sarah shrugged.

"People tend to avoid my brother," she stated. "He's a bit too, well, odd for the people here."

"What?" Susie was indignant. "No he isn't - he's just himself! Where's the harm in that?"

Sarah gave her a sad smile. "I know that," she replied. "But, well, it's what people think, isn't it, and so they don't want to see him much, and I come with him attached, these days, so..." She shrugged again. "They're polite enough, but...I don't get much company."

"Well, I think that's disgraceful," declared Susie crossly. "And now that you're down here, I shall come and call on you - on you both - as often as I can!" She gave Sarah a brilliant smile, and the elder woman's eyes twinkled as she smiled back.

"I'd like that," she said. "And I know Tristan would too. Oh, I don't mean to gripe, but...well, it has been lonely. And you're most certainly welcome, any time you want to come round!"

They grinned at each other, and then the conversation drifted onto other matters. Sarah observed, amused, at how Susie's mood had changed so dramatically in the course of the conversation. When she had arrived, the poor girl had been slumped in the depths of despond, but when Sarah came to leave, she could hear Susie singing merrily to herself in the study as she passed down the corridor to the door.

She shook her head, a small smile on her lips. Oh, the artistic temperament, she thought. What a devil it is to live with!

And speaking of devils to live with...

Smiling, she rebuked herself for that uncharitable thought, and, planting her hat firmly on her head, set off for home.

Stranded by Finn

Susie could tell, as she scrambled up the mountainside from Spartz with a heavy parcel clutched in both arms, that something was wrong. The valley was filled with an eerie hush, the evening sunlight that straggled through the piled-up clouds was a peculiar orange shade, and the towers of grey above looked distinctly threatening. The lake had been freezing over for more than a week, now, but so far the snow had not fallen. However, despite her inexperience, Susie felt fairly certain that, judging by the sky, it was not far off now.

I hope I get back in time! she thought to herself, and hugging her coat closer about her, set off down the road to Briesau and the chalet.

However, her wish was not to be answered, for she had barely entered the village of Briesau when the flakes of snow began to dance lightly around her, and then more heavily, until they were whirling about her with such vehemence that she could barely see which way she was going. She clutched at a tree and tried to get her bearings, but all she could see were some lights from a nearby chalet.

But wait...hang on. Isn't that the Dennys chalet?

She hesitated, unsure. She felt certain they lived around here somewhere, but precisely where was beyond her at that moment. Still, she had little choice - she certainly couldn't stay here.

Even if it isn't them, I can't imagine they'd turn me away into a blizzard! she thought, and gathering her coat around her, she dashed out into the whirling flakes and ran madly towards the lights. She fetched up in the relative shelter of the porch, but stumbled as she arrived and fell, rather than knocked, against the door. Sheepishly she straightened herself, looking around to see if anyone noticed and then berating herself for foolishness - as if anyone would be out in weather like this! She raised a hand to knock more properly, but then she heard footsteps and the door was flung open, to her relief, by Mr. Denny, who cried,

“Thank heavens! I was beginning…”

He broke off, and his eyes widened with surprise.

“Miss Smith!” he exclaimed.

“Me,” she replied, with a merry smile. He frowned in consternation.

“But you are not Sarah!”

She felt unable to argue this point. “No, I’m not,” she agreed, quite calmly, “but I am outside and it is freezing. And a blizzard. And you’re standing in a draught. Do you mind if I come in?”

He stared at her for a moment longer, then recalled his manners and fumbled the door open, saying,

“Of course, by all means…please…”

He took her parcel from her, and she stamped the snow off her boots as best she could before stepping over the threshold and into the warm house. Mr. Denny was jacketless and his collar was in disarray, with no tie in place. He was looking harried, and as she bent to unlace her boots she remembered his remark at the door and asked,

“Is Sarah out, then?”

Mr. Denny ran a hand through his hair and his face creased in anxiety.

“She went into Innsbruck this very morning,” he replied, “but she avowed she would return this evening, and yet she has not come. I have been composing,” he added, a little embarrassed, “just a short song, but it has taken my concentration and I had not realised the hour, and then but a moment ago I looked up and saw the blizzard coming down thus,” he gestured towards the window and grimaced worriedly, “and I feared lest she were caught in it. And now I do not know where she is! You have not seen her?” he asked hopefully, but Susie shook her head.

“I can tell you one thing, though,” she added, “she wasn’t on the train to Spartz. I’d have seen her at the station if so – I’ve just come from Innsbruck myself. Art supplies,” she explained, waving at the parcel, and he nodded. “But I’ve not seen hide nor hair of her – and I’d surely have noticed her at the station!”

He nodded again, and began to look less tense.

“That is well,” he said, “for it means that she must have remained in Innsbruck. And she will not try to return now, surely, but will stay overnight and return on the morrow. I wonder what detained her?” he mused, frowning slightly, but then that expression disappeared and he became jovial. “Well, Miss Smith, you must come in! I fear this snow may last a while yet.”

He came forward to help her out of her coat and hat, but a thought had struck Susie and she paused.

“I wonder…do you suppose I can get word to the school that I'm here?” she asked. “There's no way I can get all the way back there with this snow, but they really should know where I am.”

Mr Denny frowned.

"The nearest telephone is at the Kron Prinz Karl," he said, "which is not very far away - you can see the lights yonder. But in this snow..."

Susie was squinting through the window.

"It's not so very far," she said doubtfully. "I'm sure I could manage it. I don't want them sending out search parties for me. Eigen's too young to get buried alive in a blizzard."

Mr Denny was looking at her in a puzzled fashion.

"But he will not be buried alive," he protested. "The snow is barely beginning to settle. It is more likely that he would get lost, but..."

"No..." Susie interrupted, then smiled at him. "Never mind. Right, I'm going to brave it. I'll be back in five minutes - ten at the most. Keep a look out!"

"Oh no," said Mr Denny, suddenly firm. "The snow is most disconcerting, even for those who are accustomed to it. I will not allow you to go unescorted. Be patient for a moment and I will join you."

He was as good as his word and reappeared moments later clad in boots, coat and scarf, with his hat in his hand, and together they set out into the snow. Despite her earlier avowal that she could manage the short distance to the hotel, Susie was glad of Mr Denny's strong arm supporting her as she struggled to keep her bearings. It was barely a minute to the hotel but it seemed like five to her, but finally they were across the threshold and Frau Braun was clucking with dismay to see them tumble in out of the snow. She led Susie to the telephone without complaint and Mr Denny waited in the hall for her to make the call.

To her surprise, Nell answered.

“Madame’s taking prep,” she explained, “and Mademoiselle was over at Le Petit Chalet to take their prep in your absence. And I came over here to sort out the geography room and heard the phone go, so I answered. It’s rather wild out there. Some of the new middles are highly thrilled by it all.” Her tone was very dry. “I’m afraid they’re rather trying my patience.”

Susie giggled.

“Didn’t it say that on your job advertisement?” she teased, “’Science mistress wanted. Must not suffer fools gladly.’”

Nell stifled a laugh.

“What do you want, anyway?” she demanded.

“’Must be able to answer telephone calls politely’,” continued Susie. There was a growl from Nell, and she cried, “No! Don’t hang up! I’m ringing because I’m stuck.”

Nell sighed.

“Oh heavens,” she said. “Honestly, Susie, how many times have I told you? It’s just not wise to go climbing trees at your time of life!”

Susie giggled again. “No, idiot, listen to me! I was coming back up from Spartz and got caught in the blizzard. I can't possibly get back until the snow lets up. I’m stuck in Briesau, but it's alright - I'm with the Dennys.”

“Oh,” replied Nell, somewhat drily. “Well, good luck.”

“Nell!” she hissed. “Don’t be mean! I like them! Although,” she added, coming to her other problem, “that’s rather it. I’m not actually with the Dennys – I’m with Mr Denny.”

“You mean…”

“Sarah isn’t here – she’s in Innsbruck. It’s just me and him.”

“You poor thing.”

“Nell! It’s not that! It’s just…well, I wouldn’t be worried ordinarily, it’s not something I think is a problem, but out here, well, it might be.”

“Spit it out, for heaven’s sake!”

“Well, it's only that I don’t know the propriety round here. I mean, we’re alone, me and him, no chaperone." She stifled a giggle, struggling not to laugh at the idea of being chaperoned. "Anyway," she continued, controlling herself, "is it going to be alright, d’you think, or will it look bad in some way? I wouldn't want to cause Madame any problems.”

Nell sucked air through her teeth thoughtfully.

“I don’t rightly know,” she answered. “I suppose…but you can’t come back in this weather – it’s far too wild. Better to wait til it’s died down and then come on home. Don’t worry about it, my dear. I’ll square it with Madame. I mean,” she added, chuckling, “we can hardly expect you to struggle here from Briesau in this, can we?”

“Nell, you’re a charm and an angel,” declared Susie. “You talk to Madame, and I'll make sure our good singing master doesn't compromise my virtue." There was a snort from the other end of the line, and Susie battled with her giggles as she said, "I’ll head off back to you just as soon as I can. Thanks, my lovely!”

And she rang off.

Another struggle through the snow saw them both back at Mr Denny's house, and then Susie stripped out of her wet outer things and went to wash away the dust of travelling, for she had only just arrived back from Innsbruck, after all. As she emerged from the cloakroom she heard sounds coming from what turned out to be the kitchen, so she poked her head round the door and found Mr Denny had put the kettle on to boil. He turned and beamed at her.

“Would you prefer coffee or tea?” he asked, and then looked thoroughly startled as Susie clutched her heart and staggered against the doorframe.

“Are you quite alright?” he enquired anxiously, taking a step forward, but she straightened herself up and waved reassuringly.

“Quite alright!” she answered. “Just shocked out of my wits to hear you say,” she paused, and enunciated quite clearly, “the Magic Word.”

Enlightened, he grinned back at her.

“You mean, ‘tea’?” he questioned, and laughed as Susie repeated her pantomime.

“Tea it is, then,” he agreed, adding the leaves to the teapot and then, as the kettle set up a shrill whistle, pouring the water out. He placed the pot onto a tray, and fetched out a milk jug.

Susie danced forward.

“Is there anything I can do to help?” she asked.

Mr Denny looked around vaguely to see what was missing.

“Ah…yes – if you would perhaps find some cups, that would be most helpful.”

“And rather essential!” she twinkled as she began to root through cupboards for cups and saucers.

“I beg your pardon?” said Mr Denny, re-emerging from the pantry with milk.

“Cups,” she repeated. “Essential. For tea.”

“Yes,” he agreed carefully, looking a little confused. Susie shook her head.

“Never mind,” she said. “Here, give me that,” and she put the milk jug down on the tray before seizing it and turning brightly to him to say,

“Where to, then, guvnor?”

His face more bemused than ever, Mr Denny indicated the direction of the salon and set off to show her the way. Following him, Susie gave an inward sigh. It looked like being a long evening.

Stranded Part II by Finn

Sarah Denny, meanwhile, was facing her evening of being stranded in Innsbruck with considerably less pessimism. In fact, it was no accident that she was stranded at all, and she would quite happily admit that missing the train was a convenient excuse rather than a reason for remaining in the city. An evening in Innsbruck with the best of companions was just was she needed, and she simply couldn’t feel guilty, even if it did mean leaving Tristan to fend for himself for one night.

And on that subject…

“I’m sorry,” she said to her companion, “but I really ought to freshen up before dinner. It's been rather a long day!”

Her friend grinned at her.

“Of course, Sarah,” he replied in the Italian they were both speaking. “You go and do that, and I'll reserve for us a table for dinner.”

*

Susie perched herself in Sarah’s usual chair beside the stove and accepted her teacup from Mr Denny, who settled himself into the other armchair.

“I finished Republic,” she said.

“How did you like it?” he asked, smiling eagerly.

She pursed her lips.

“Some of it I liked very much. His ideas on equality are right on the button. But some of the rest…the idea of benevolent tyrants, those philosopher kings – makes me shiver, to be honest!”

He frowned.

“But why? Is it not a good idea, for a good government to look after its people?”

“Who says they’ll get it right?” she argued. “Oh, I know Plato reckoned we’d reach a point where men and women would achieve that level of wisdom, but from what I’ve seen we’re not there now and it’s, what, two thousand years, give or take, since he wrote that. You get the wrong person in power and the people are going to suffer, one way or another. I mean, what did Plato think would happen if the wrong man ended up in charge? I’ll tell you what would happen – he and his cronies would line their pockets and the poor will starve. As usual.” She scowled. “Personally I’m for democracy – true democracy, though, not what we have at the moment. Universal suffrage, that’s my idea of fair.”

She realised that Mr Denny was staring at her in fascinated amazement, and she shrugged, smiling apologetically.

“Sorry,” she said. “I feel quite strongly about it.”

“So I see,” he replied, rather hesitantly.

She grinned at his surprised face, and then thumped the arm of her chair.

“But I’m right with you on the education bit!” she exclaimed. “Music and dance, and art too, they should definitely be a much bigger part of school life!”

He agreed must vociferously with that.

“But do you really agree that children should only learn simple, wholesome music when they’re young?” she asked, interestedly. “Don’t you think they should have access to the full range?”

He frowned thoughtfully.

“That depends,” he replied. “If you ask whether Beethoven’s darker works should be ignored in favour of lighter music – Mozart, perhaps – then I would say no, for to truly understand music one must indeed study the works of all of the great masters. But there is some music that can only be truly appreciated with…well, experience. One cannot expect one of our juniors to fully understand the import of Erbarme Dich, for instance, though our older lasses are wise enough to appreciate its meaning. And of course, there are a number of songs that are not…” he hesitated, before saying, rather awkwardly, “…not suitable.”

She struggled to suppress her grin. “Such as?” she asked sweetly.

He rubbed his neck, looking embarrassed. “Well…some madrigals are perhaps a little…um…”

He broke off, and she summoned her best innocent expression as she said,

“A little…what?”

He waved a hand, his face pink.

“Inappropriate,” he said, hurriedly, and she giggled. He looked at her and realisation dawned in his eyes, and he gave a slightly exasperated sigh and laughed embarrassedly, shaking his head at her.

“You are teasing me,” he stated, and she grinned and nodded.

“I am sorry,” she apologised cheerfully. “Force of habit, I’m afraid. I grew up with several brothers. Well, sisters too, but the brothers needed sitting on more often.”

“Ah.” Mr Denny nodded understandingly. He looked about to say more, but seemed to think better of it and nodded again, abruptly. Susie puzzled at his response but, realising she would get no answers from speculating, gave a mental shrug and smiled at him.

“So what shall we do to pass the time? How about you play me that song you’ve been writing?”

But he shook his head, frowning.

“Oh no, no, it is…it is not ready for performance yet. But,” and his face lit up enthusiastically, “we could play something else. What would you prefer?” He waved his arm towards the piano, and she rose to examine the large quantity of music both on the stand and piled nearby. He followed her, and when she hesitated, he lifted a volume from a pile and waved it at her.

“Do you like Monteverdi?” he asked.

Susie made a face. “To be honest, I don’t really know.”

His eyebrows rose in surprise. “Truly? You do not know his work? That is a shame!” he exclaimed. “I would be happy to introduce you to his madrigals – but perhaps there is something else that you prefer?”

“Actually,” she said, with an apologetic shrug, “I can’t say that there is. You see…” she looked up into his keen face and felt embarrassed to confess, “I don’t really know anything about music at all.”

His dark eyes, which had been so eager a moment before, now widened in astonishment, his whole face taking on a look of shock.

“Truly?” he gasped, horrified. “Truly nothing?”

“Well,” she replied, thinking hard, “I know about Mozart and Beethoven, and Elgar, and I was taken to the opera once to see…what’s his name…Wag…Warg…”

“Wagner,” he supplied, still in those dismayed tones.

“Yes! Wagner,” she continued, “The Flying Dutchman, it was, but I didn’t enjoy it much and I fell asleep. I remember now – I woke up at the end to see a rather large woman flinging herself off the stage. I thought it was rather strange.” She frowned, trying to recall more, but she caught sight of Mr Denny’s appalled face and began to giggle uncontrollably.

“Oh dear!” she laughed. “I don’t think I could have scandalised you more if I’d come in here and stripped off my dress, could I?”

At this suggestion, Mr Denny began to back away anxiously, his face changing colour from white to a flush of rich crimson across both cheeks, which made her laugh even more. She danced merrily over to him and tucked a hand into his arm reassuringly.

“Don’t worry, I’m not going to,” she clarified, and the beseeching look he gave her was so endearing that she added, “I am teasing you, Mr Denny!”

“Oh!” he exclaimed in relief, and she laughed again.

“But surely you knew that!” she protested. “Or is it something that happens to you regularly, women coming into your rooms and removing their clothes?”

“No!” he cried in alarm, waving his hands as if to distance himself from this image, but as she went off into further peals of laughter his face cleared and then took on an expression of indignant amusement, which served only to increase her merriment.

“Oh…you!” he cried, and scowled at her as she collapsed into her armchair, giggling at him. He sat back down in his own chair and frowned at her.

“I see that I shall have to be careful with you!” he sighed. “Although,” he added, “I cannot fault you over Wagner. It took me many years to appreciate his work, and I was named for one of his operas.”

“Really?” She was all interest now. “Which?”

This time it was his eyes that took on a teasing light.

Tristan!” he smiled, spreading his hands emphatically. She mimed hitting herself in the forehead and he laughed at her. “Well, it is, of course, called Tristan und Isolde in full, but it is often shortened to just Tristan," he explained to her. "My father truly adored that opera. Although,” he added, “it could have been worse – he also loved Parsifal.”

Susie assembled her face into a look of mock-gravity. “That would have been truly terrible,” she intoned solemnly.

“Indeed it would,” agreed Mr Denny, in the same tones. They caught each other’s eye, and burst out laughing.

“But truly, nothing of music?” he asked when they had calmed down. “Not even at church?”

“Well, I’m a Quaker! I always went to meetings, not church – I’d never even heard a hymn ‘til I came here.”

“Good grief.” He seemed genuinely flummoxed. “But you dance, do you not?”

“Well, yes, but…”

“But what?”

“That’s folk music, not…not proper music.”

He fixed her with a stern look. “All music is ‘proper’ music,” he declared.

“Even jazz?” she asked sweetly, and laughed as he frowned deeply at her, before realising the joke and rolling his eyes.

“You are teasing me again,” he observed, and she clapped her hands together.

“Sorry. Honestly!” she cried as he raised an eyebrow and shook his head, eyes amused. “Alright, I promise I’ll try and stop. Now, look here. We have all evening. Can’t you teach me a bit about real music – I mean…you know, your music?”

He opened his eyes thoughtfully.

“I do not see why not,” he mused. “Of course, I would be glad – nay, delighted, to help guide you, if that is truly what you wish to do…” he trailed off, leaving it as a question, but she nodded enthusiastically. “Well, then let us begin!”

*

Sarah, having finished her phone call, returned to the dining room of the Europe and to her waiting friend.

“Apparently the snow is blowing a blizzard up in the valley!” she told him as she sat down. He laughed.

“A good excuse for you to stay here, then,” he observed, and she grinned.

“As if I needed one!” she smiled. “Surely a chance meeting with an old friend I’ve not seen for – what, three years? – is reason enough for anyone!”

“Has it been so long?” He whistled. “You are right! What sadness! And yet your Italian is still as superb as ever!”

She groaned. “Oh, don’t flatter me, Dino! I’ve been trying to keep it up but it’s hard work. There’s only a few Italian girls at the school, but I don’t get to speak to them very often – and the only Italian Tristan can manage is all musical terminology!” She laughed, and Dino joined in.

“How is your brother?” he enquired, and she shrugged.

“Better than he was three years ago!” she replied, and he nodded, gravely, remembering the tearful phone call he had received from Sarah when she had first realised just how ill her brother was. “He was quite ill last Easter, but he’s better now, of course, and things are, on the whole, looking up,” she finished, relief in her voice. Her face grew serious. “Dino – I never thanked you properly for your help back then – when you offered to come to England and look after us both. I don’t think I’ve ever been so grateful to someone in my life! But I completely failed to thank you then, and then I lost your address when we moved and…” She shrugged helplessly. “I’m sorry. But thank you – thank you so much.”

He waved a hand. “It was nothing. I only did what I could. I wish I could have done more! You are my very dear friend, Sarah, don’t forget that! It might have been three years since last we saw one another, but it feels like three days – it is the truth!”

She shook her head, then grinned and wagged a finger at him.

“That’s quite enough of that!” she chuckled. “No more sentimentality, please, or I might find myself on the last train back to Spärtz after all, blizzard or no blizzard!”

Dino laughed. “I always forget,” he teased, “that you, my dear Sarah, are perfectly English and the most unsentimental of creatures!”

She shuddered. “Too right!” she exclaimed. “Stuff and nonsense!”

“Ah, you English,” he sighed, rolling his eyes heavenwards. “So unromantic a people!”

She brandished a finger at him. “I beg your pardon!” she objected. “I think you will find we can be as romantic as all the rest – we’re just less fussy about it!”

He laughed at her indignation, but wisely went on with his meal. However, when it was over, the pudding finished and and the coffee drunk, he insisted on taking her address before he bade her farewell in the old manner, with a kiss on either cheek; and when he had it, he folded it carefully and tucked it away safely inside his wallet. Whatever might happen from now on, wherever they might go, he was sure of one thing. He did not intend to lose touch with Sarah Denny again.

*

They were deeply involved in some Purcell when it occurred to Susie to take a peek through the window, and so it was that she found the snow had stopped and she no longer had an excuse to stay here.

Mr Denny looked quite crestfallen when she told him that the blizzard had ceased and that she ought to return to the school.

“Oh,” he replied. “Oh, that is a shame! I had been enjoying your company!”

“And I yours,” she responded warmly, “but alas, I really must go!”

He stood up. “I will, of course, escort you,” he offered, and for once Susie did not want to object.

They were almost at the school when she gave a cry of dismay.

“My parcel!”

It was, of course, sitting in the Dennys’ hallway. Mr Denny’s face became worried.

“I shall have to remember to bring it to you on Monday,” he said, looking concerned. She batted his arm.

“You’d better,” she replied, “or I’ll have to hunt you down. Possibly with Rufus,” she added. He looked at her rather confusedly again, and she pressed her lips together so as not to giggle.

They arrived at the gate to the school, and she turned to him.

“Thank you for…a most diverting evening!” she smiled at him, and he grinned back.

“It has been my pleasure,” he responded, warmly, and swept her a bow. Trying not to giggle, she acknowledged it with a cheeky curtsey and then stepping forward, she swiftly hugged him. He froze, rather alarmed, but she let him go and hurried up the path to Le Petit Chalet, turning at the door to wave a final farewell as she watched him set off down the path to home.


Nell was waiting inside as she came through the door.

“And what time do you call this?” she demanded, her eyes twinkling.

“Sorry Mother,” replied Susie, hurrying through into the warmth of her study. “Coo! Isn’t the snow cold?”

“It is designed that way,” observed Nell drily. “And did you have a good evening?”

“Charming!” Susie smiled happily. “I learned masses about music and I wasn’t even trying! Our ‘Plato’ is a good teacher. I really had tremendous fun!”

Nell's brows drew together slightly. “Hmm,” was her response.

Susie looked up at her friend.

“Is something the matter?” she asked, concerned - Nell was not usually annoyed with her like this - but the science mistress shrugged dismissively.

“No,” she said brusquely. “And now you’re safe home, I’m off to bed. Night.”

What’s bitten her? wondered Susie, bemused. She could find no satisfactory answer, however, and so she gave up on the problem and sought her bed, to dream of Bach, and Beethoven, and Purcell, and the possibilities of glorious, wonderful music.

Paint by Finn

"Miss Smith?"

Susie looked up from Margia's rather woeful attempt at a landscape and nodded at Frieda, whose hand was politely raised.

"Please, I am a little confused?"

Obligingly the mistress went across to where Frieda sat and glanced down at her work.

"It is wrong," announced Frieda, "but I am not sure why. I have been looking, but I cannot see."

Susie ran a professional eye over it.

"Proportions," she said simply. "Have another look, Frieda, and see if you can work out what is too big - or too small."

Frieda examined her work again, and then gave vent to an exclamation.

"It is here!" she cried, pointing, and Susie smiled and nodded.

"Well done!" she responded. "See whether you can fix it without my help, and I'll come round in five minutes to check."

Frieda gave a small sigh.

"I fear I shall never be an artist," she complained, settling to her task of alteration. Susie gave an unladylike snort.

"Pah! Practice is all it takes.” She patted Frieda on the shoulder. “You already have a good eye. Work hard, my dear, and you’re bound to succeed."

Straightening up she caught sight of the comic look on Joey Bettany's face, which was screwed up in concentration with her tongue poking out between her teeth, and nearly burst out laughing. Stifling her giggles, she bent to see what the girl was doing, and almost gave a cry of horror at the mess on the sheet in front of her.

"Joey," she hissed, "what DO you think you are drawing?"

Startled out of her concentration, Joey jumped violently and sent her paints flying - all up her tunic, and all down the dress of the unfortunate mistress standing beside her. Susie let out a yelp and Joey flung her hands up in horror, and caught her neighbour Simone with her elbow, knocking her so she fell upon her easel, which collapsed and took Joey's with it.

There was a moment of terrible silence in the room as fourteen girls sat, paintbrushes in raised hands, staring wide-eyed at the scene that had just unfolded. Then all of the eyes swivelled to poor Susie, who for once forgot her dignity as a schoolmistress and the authority of her position, and collapsed into peals of laughter.

"Oh Joey, you idiot!" she gasped, struggling to regain control of herself. Joey, crimson-faced, sat horrified amidst the remains of her and Simone's artistic efforts, while Simone beside her looked about ready to cry and the rest of the class joined Susie in laughing at the unfortunate pair. Susie battled heroically with her laughter and clapped her hands loudly.

"Right, that's enough, girls! Get on with your work, please. Joey, you can pick that mess up immediately, please, and then you'd better go to Matron and get that paint out of your tunic! What about you, Simone? Oh, honestly!" as Simone ruefully held up a blouse sleeve covered in paint, "I do wish you girls would be sensible and set up your easels slightly further apart. There's plenty of space in here - you don't have to sit within touching distance of each other!"

Simone went crimson at this speech and bent to pick up the easels, while Joey tried to gather her paints together and retrieved her brush, which she had flung across the room in her surprise. Then, leaving the responsible Frieda in charge, Susie marched the pair of them to Matron Wilson, who surveyed the mess with a distinct frown on her thin face.

"And how did you get yourselves into this mess?" she demanded of the girls.

"I...upset my paints," mumbled Joey.

"Clumsy child!" said Matron. "How did you manage to do that, precisely?"

"It was my fault, Matron," interrupted Susie. "I spoke to Joey when she was concentrating and startled her."

"Startled her into throwing her paints around?" questioned Matron, eyebrows sharply raised, adding, as Susie looked surprised, "I can see how far it was hurled, Miss Smith - it's in your hair as well as Joey's!"

Susie reached involuntarily for her hair, and saw Matron give her a swift wink before she took each girl by a shoulder and pushed them off towards their dormitory.

"Right, off with those clothes and on with fresh, and we'll put these in to soak," she announced. "Joey, you can wash your face, as well. You'll have to come back to me later on to be shampooed - I think that will replace dancing this evening, for you. Oh yes, missy," she said as Joey turned aggrieved eyes upon her, "and perhaps that will teach you not to be so silly when someone surprises you in future."

When the girls had gone, she turned back to the mistress.

"You'd better go and change too, Susie," she said, more mildly. "You can bring that frock over to me for washing, if you like."

Susie gave her a grateful smile. "Thanks, Anne," she responded. "But I've most of an art class still working downstairs. I just wanted you to know that it wasn't really Joey's fault - I should have realised she was concentrating to the exclusion of all else!"

Anne Wilson snorted. "That silly girl spends far too much time with her head in the clouds," she snapped, though not unkindly. "The more she's brought back to earth the better." And with this remark she departed, presumably to oversee the washing of paint-spattered tunics and blouses, while Susie followed her example and hurried back down to her class.

Meanwhile, in the dormitory, Joey and Simone struggled out of tunics and blouses and into clean clothes.

“I say,” said Joey, suddenly, “it was jolly decent of ‘Jessie’ to try and take the blame like that. I mean, it was mostly my fault, really – I shouldn’t have flung my paints about. But you’ve got a share of the blame yourself,” she added, turning to her friend. “Yes, I mean it!” she continued as Simone turned surprised, rather mournful eyes on her. “It was idiotic of you to set up your easel so close to mine, Simone. You’ll have to sit further away in future.”

Simone did not reply, but turned away abruptly, seizing her brush and tidying herself before departing from the room without speaking to her friend. Joey, who had to wash her face as well, took longer, and it was a tidy pair that appeared in the art room where Miss Smith, still paint-splattered, was coaching Evadne in brush techniques. She looked up as they entered.

“Ah, here you both are,” she observed. “Not much time left, so you may as well get out your sketchbooks and make a sketch of something – anything in the room!” she added, as Joey opened her mouth to ask. “Now get on with it, girls, chop chop.”

Simone immediately marched to the furthest corner of the room and sat down, back turned, to sketch one of the still-life objects. Joey cast a quick glance in her direction and then turned away and chose her own subject, eventually producing an almost unrecognisable rendering of a sheep skull, which drew a deep, despairing sigh from Susie when she came to view it. The final ten minutes of the lesson proceeded quietly, though Susie found her gaze drifting between Joey and Simone as she tutored the other girls. Something had happened, she felt sure of it, but what, she could not tell. But she was determined to get to the bottom of it, one way or another.

*
As she left the art room after the class had been dismissed, she did not hear the approaching footsteps and would have crashed head-first into Tristan Denny had he not nimbly stepped back and caught her by the elbow before they collided. He laughed at her surprise and apologised profusely, before explaining his presence.

“I was on my way to find you,” he told her, “to bring you this.” He held out a parcel, the one she had left behind on Saturday evening. She seized it with delight.

“Oh, thank you!” she exclaimed, adding, slightly surprised, “You remembered!”

“I did!” He looked slightly proud of himself. She slipped back into the art room and placed the package on her desk, and then re-emerged, closing the door behind her. They stood for a moment in slightly awkward silence, and then she gestured vaguely in the direction of the front door.

“I should be heading back,” she said, and he nodded and stepped hurriedly aside for her to pass. She went a few paces down the corridor, then stopped dead and smacked a palm against her forehead.

“Your book!” she cried, turning back to him. “It’s in my study. Do you want to come and get it?”

"Well, if there is sufficient time..."

He tried to look at his watch, only to discover he did not have it with him. Susie glanced at her own wristwatch.

“It’s twenty-to,” she told him. “You’re early today! Plenty of time. Come on!”

They set off towards Le Petit Chalet together, and as they walked along she observed him looking at her strangely.

“What?” she demanded.

“What has happened to you?” he asked, gesturing vaguely at her face. She raised her hand to touch her cheek, and realised she had forgotten that she was rather liberally spattered with paint.

“Art happened to me!” she laughed, spreading her hands. "Never mind." She shrugged. "I'm used to it!"

She felt suddenly elated, and danced an exuberant little jig as they passed down the corridor. Mr Denny gave her a slightly incredulous smile as she forgot her dignity for a second time and bounded down the corridor to the hall, and when she flung open the door for him and bowed low, he laughed outright.

“Are you quite alright?” he asked, not entirely seriously, as she waved him through. She laughed as well, leading the way over to the smaller chalet and into the shared study, and he shook his head and followed her.

Nell was lying on the sofa reading when they came in and did not look up from her book immediately, so it came as rather a shock to her to hear Mr Denny’s voice.

“Thank you,” he said as he received his book, and Susie smothered a laugh as Nell started almost completely upright at the sound of his voice.

“No, thank you,” she replied, biting down her laughter. “It really was interesting. I think I should loan you some of my philosophical works in return, mind...here," she turned to her desk drawer and rummaged briefly through it, "have a read of that, and tell me what you think.”

“You are most kind,” he said, gravely, and paused hesitantly for a moment, before saying, “I…that is, my sister and I would very much like it if you should join us for dinner one night. Any night you choose – we are not often engaged.”

She smiled at him warmly, ignoring Nell’s speculative eyes.

“That’s so kind,” she replied. “I’d love to come, but it can’t be this week – my ‘free’ has been stolen already. I’m going with Mollie Maynard to have dinner with her brother at the Kron Prinz Karl. But I will be free again one evening next week – do you know which it is, Nell?” she asked her friend, but Nell shook her head.

“Not without checking,” she replied, and Susie smiled regretfully at Mr Denny.

“I’ll have to find out and catch one of you two at some point this week. Is that alright?"

"Perfect." He beamed at her. She smiled back, and then said,

"Anyway, thank you for bringing my parcel round! But hadn’t you better go?” She pointed at the clock. “You’ll be late!”

“Oh!” His eyes grew wide. "Yes! I must depart."

And he bade them both a swift farewell and dashed out of the room.

Nell gave Susie a Look.

“Quite the socialite, aren’t you, my dear!”

“Oh Nell, don’t be sour.” Susie sat down next to her on the sofa and tucked a hand into Nell’s arm. “It’s just nice to know people. I’ve been so fearfully dull here these last two months. If it weren't for you I think I'd have gone potty!”

Nell’s stern look softened, and she smiled at Susie.

“I know,” she replied. “Oh, ignore me – I’m just jealous! I haven’t had one dinner invitation yet.”

“Well, you know I’m only going with Mollie because I happened to be there when Dr Maynard came and asked her. And I wouldn’t have thought that dinner with the Dennys would have been your idea of fun,” she added, slyly.

“Oh, Sally Denny’s nice enough,” Nell protested. “Him, though, I think I’d find a bit too much.”

Susie cast an amused glance at her friend. “Mm, yes, I think you would,” she grinned. “As for me, I must say I’ve grown terribly fond of him. We had ever such a lot of fun on Saturday!”

“Beats me how you do it,” remarked Nell drily. She squinted at Susie. “What's happened to you?" she asked suddenly, her tone changing completely.

Susie raised her hands to her face for a third time that afternoon, and groaned.

"Joey!" she sighed, standing up. "Flinging paint around. Not her fault, mind. I'd better go and wash."

"Yes," replied Nell. "Go on, buzz off out of my way. I was quite comfortable before you started bringing men back here with you. A bit of warning next time wouldn't go amiss.”

"Oh, you and your...insinuations!" Susie scowled at her friend, who had sprawled herself out on the sofa once again, and, receiving no response, huffed to herself and disappeared to wash.

Plans by Finn

“And then Joey stood up to sing her solo with paint all in her hair!” chuckled Frieda, who was recounting the story for the benefit of those who had not been present at the fateful art class. “How silly you looked, Joey!”

Joey shrugged. “’Plato’ didn’t bat an eyelid,” she answered.

“No,” agreed Margia. “That was the funniest part of all! I couldn’t tell if he hadn’t noticed, or if he had and was just ignoring it! But I say,” she continued, “I think that’s the biggest excitement we’ve had all term. We must be getting old if we can’t manage anything more sensational.”

“What do you mean, sensational?” asked Joey, interestedly, passing round the basket of twisted buttery bread. It was Kaffee und Kuchen, which the whole school was having together. Bette Rincini was managing the big coffee urn, while Grizel Cochrane had distributed the baskets of bread twists and cakes and had retired to join her own crowd. The middles had claimed their share and had foregathered at the far end of the room from the prefects, the better to discuss matters they did not wish their seniors to hear.

“Well, it has been jolly quiet compared with last year,” complained Margia as she took her bread from the basket and passed it to Evadne. “I mean, we’ve not had any proper excitements, like the flood or the ice carnival or the Mondscheinspitz expedition, or anything, and we’ve not had any really decent pranks either. You can’t count Evadne’s affair with the chalk, that wasn’t really fresh. Don’t you think we should do something to liven things up a little?” she finished, her voice rising to drown out Evadne’s indignant squawk of protest.

“What like?” asked Joey, tilting her chair back in a manner that would have brought down the wrath of the prefects upon her had they not been engrossed in their own affairs.

In answer, Margia wrinkled her nose and frowned. “I don’t know,” she lamented. “I’ve been racking my brains for something all week!”

“Well, I’d stop racking them,” observed Joey, “or else you’ll stick like that, and a pretty sight you’d make then, my child!”

Margia stopped frowning and stuck her tongue out at Joey, who chuckled.

“Not much of an improvement!” she commented good-naturedly. “But back to these rags. I don’t see why we shouldn’t pull a good stunt or two between now and Christmas, but just what, I don’t know. Anyone got any ideas?”

The middles all fell into thought, and such a variety of faces they pulled that Matron Wilson would have had the lot of them off to the sickroom in an instant, had she been there to see them. But it was Amy Stevens, accompanied as usual by Rafaela and Charlie, who caught sight of their expressions and gave vent to an exclamation.

“Golly!” she cried, with incautious loudness. “You all look like you’re sickening for something. What’s the matter?”

As one the middles hurriedly ‘shh’ed her, glancing warily to see if the prefects had taken notice, and the three juniors were unceremoniously hauled down into chairs beside their seniors.

“We’re just trying to think of some good rags to pull,” Margia explained to her sister. “But we haven’t thought of any yet.”

“Oh, well,” declared Amy, grandly, “if you want good rags you should ask Rafaela.” She grinned at her friend, whose eyes were already gleaming. “She’s thought up simply dozens for us.”

“Huh,” said Joey contemptuously. “Baby tricks.”

Charlie and Amy both bristled, while Rafaela turned her unnerving eyes quite coolly on Joey, making that young lady feel rather uncomfortable.

“Oh, you think so?” Amy retorted, angrily. “Well, you hear them and then tell me they’re ‘baby’ tricks!” And she and Charlie proceeded to recount Rafaela’s many doings, while the middles changed from dismissive to amazed, and then secretly delighted.

“I say!” Evadne whistled when the two juniors had run dry. “Those are some tricks, Rafaela!”

Joey nodded enthusiastically, looking at the junior with new respect in her eyes. “I say,” she asked her, “do you think there’s something we could all do together – both houses, I mean? Something that would really make everyone sit up?”

Rafaela gave her a long stare with those disconcerting eyes, and then nodded briefly.

“I will think,” she announced, calmly, and turned her attention to her coffee and bread.

The middles looked at each other, secretly hugging themselves with glee. It seemed they had a new genius in their midst!

Intermezzo by Finn

Tristan Denny gasped in a deep breath and battled against the cough that was rising within his chest. Now was not a convenient time for this! He had lessons to prepare, three new songs to transcribe, all the carols to arrange, and Miss Smith was coming for dinner with them tonight and he could not miss that, he could not. He had enjoyed her company during the snowstorm two weeks ago. The conversation had been…absorbing. He had almost forgotten what it was to have friends, to have lively, diverting discussion. He thought he had left that all behind in London; he had not happened across any such like-minded souls until Miss Smith. Her inquisitiveness, her animation, her growing interest in music - she had become quite enthusiastic when he had sung her the Purcell, and when he had explained modes to her - he treasured this friendship, and he was so eagerly looking forward to this evening.

He struggled to suppress another cough, clearing his throat instead, and rested his arms on the desk, staring down at the music scattered across it. This was infuriating! He was tired of being ill, tired of having to be careful, tired of being tired. He wished he could recover, and swiftly. He did not want to stay here in this valley for the rest of his life; he was grateful to have work here, and the little maids did their best for him, but he did miss the satisfaction and the enjoyment of working with a full choir and the entire repertoire of choral music, not restricted to pieces scored for high voices. He had hoped that his condition would have improved by now, that he would soon be able to return to England...but he knew he had lost weight again, and now the cough had returned - not that it was ever far away.

He stared unseeing at the manuscript before him.

He did not want to die here.

The cough bubbled up again and trying to suppress it made him splutter and cough even harder. When the fit eventually subsided he sank his head into his hands tiredly. It was no good – the feeling was wretchedly familiar. He slammed his fist into the desk and cursed, but it gave him no relief, and so he rose, resigned and dispirited, and went to seek his sister.

Family and Friends Part I by Finn

It was the end of a long and tiresome Wednesday with the juniors and she had finally handed them over to Nell for Abendessen and bed, and Susie celebrated with a decadently hot bath (though she made sure to open the window to disperse the steam before anyone should catch her). Sitting at her dressing table combing out her long hair, she pulled towards her the letter she had begun after Mittagessen that day and stared down at it, struggling to get her thoughts together. On the whole, it had been a deeply dissatisfying week and once again she was feeling rather at a loss about how to face it.

It had begun with Simone, who had been monumentally unforthcoming on the subject of her distress in the art lesson. Despite Nell’s assurances that Simone was always like that, and that she was best left to ‘come to her senses’, Susie had felt obliged to investigate further, so she had collared the French girl after dancing and had brought her back to have tea, but Simone had simply closed up tighter than a clam and had offered nothing to help Susie establish whether this was just a run-of-the-mill schoolgirl crush or something deeper.

I wish she’d understand that I want to help her, that I’m not out to judge her or condemn her. But I can’t say anything unless I’m sure…but what a silly situation! I just don’t know what to do, but I don’t like the way the others just shrug it off. They all seem concerned that she’s a bother to Joey, and they don’t care a jot for what Simone is feeling.


She paused, then continued,

I wish I had you here to advise me. I know what you’d say, though. “Susie, you’re worrying more than is good for you about something you can’t really help”. But I feel sure I could help, you see. I remember how I was over Amanda…I could have done with some advice then, from someone that understood. But I can’t do anything about it unless she’s honest, and that, I fear, she shall never be. At least, not about this.

That was the first dissatisfaction. She had tried and failed with Simone and, it would appear, with the juniors again. Since she had taken Sally Denny’s advice and had begun setting the brighter children more work there had been a blessed decrease in pranks and nonsense among her girls, and the ones that had taken place had made her smile rather than frown, such as the day when the babies, as the four youngest juniors were informally known, had ‘forgotten’ how to spell the most basic words. Rafaela was behind it, of course, and if she had stopped to think about it she would have found the girl’s obvious influence over her peers another source of worry, but as it was she had been too busy trying not to giggle at the Robin’s cherubic baby face asking, quite seriously, how to spell ‘Christmas’.

But in the last week there had been a worrying increase in giggling and inattention, particularly at the back of the class, and she had had to pull them up sharply on a few occasions. She was at a loss as to how to stop it, though, and it was clear that the mischievous girls had noticed this and were beginning to play on it. That was another source of worry. Not that she could blame them entirely for growing dull in her lessons. She had to admit that it was perfectly justified.

I mean, how can one expect kids to pay attention when their teacher is bored as well? I’ll be honest, I’m an absolutely hopeless teacher. The only subject I enjoy teaching is art and, d’you know, there’s a real improvement in quality across the board in my art lessons! Even Joey is producing recognisable drawings. But I just cannot teach the juniors.

She sighed deeply.

How awful, to feel that one ought to resign after only one term! But I don’t think I’m cut out for it, and the girls are suffering for it. They need someone who can do the job. I’ll just have to head back to London, or to Paris, and try my luck in the art market once again. I’m worse that useless here.

She bit her lip, feeling herself close to tears. Enough of that self-pitying nonsense, she told herself. Nothing to be done.

And then there had been dinner with the Maynards, which had been a rather strained affair, mainly because Mollie had been oddly quiet for most of the evening, leaving Susie and Jack to stumble through a rather halting conversation. Susie couldn’t fathom it. She was fairly certain that her presence at the meal was not the cause of Mollie’s silence, for it had been that self-same lady who had pressed her to join them, but similarly it seemed unlikely to be bad news from home since Jack Maynard had been supremely unaffected – quite to the contrary, he had been even more charming that usual. In fact, despite this rather awkward setback they had had quite a lot of fun. Between them, she and Dr Jack had chatted about London life and their favourite places, and she had teased him about night time pursuits.

“So, Dr Jack, where were your old haunts? ‘The Bag O’ Nails’? ‘Coconut Grove’, perhaps?”

He laughed, slightly embarrassed. “Er, no,” he replied. “I was a little…well, nightclubs weren’t really my scene. Wards in the daytime, library at night, maybe a drink at the pub on the way home...”

Susie rolled her eyes. “Oh, you good Catholics!” she teased. “Working hard, keeping out of trouble, while I spend half my time drawing and the rest having fun!”

Well, labour movement meetings count as fun, she thought to herself, not voicing the thoughts. She was still unsure how the people here would take her socialist views and was thus trying to refrain from mentioning them. And the getting arrested part, she added mentally. Probably best not to mention that.

“I’m sorry?” she said, having missed Dr Jack’s question.

“I said, did the ‘Bag O’ Nails’ feature as part of your ‘having fun’?”

She laughed. “Don’t be silly!” Of course not – why on earth would I want to go and watch burlesque shows surrounded by women wearing tiny dresses? “A bit too upmarket for me. But I did use to go to nightclubs a fair bit. A few cocktails, a bit of dancing with the boy of the month.” Or girl, she added internally, and saw Jack’s raised eyebrows. “What? I was invited out by a few boys, and I never said no.” Her eyes sparkled wickedly. “I loved dancing too much.”

Jack laughed and she breathed a sigh of relief. Not subtle, Susannah!

“Ah, those clubs,” she said wistfully. “How I miss the foxtrot and the old Charleston.”

Jack wrinkled his nose in distaste.

“I can’t say that I really like jazz,” he commented.

Inwardly Susie sighed. No-one here does!

“Not a man for dancing?”

“Not especially,” he admitted with a rueful grin.

“So you’ve never Charlestoned, then?”

“Not to my knowledge.”

“Bit difficult to do it without your knowledge, really,” she grinned, and then sighed exaggeratedly. “Oh, and here I was hoping I might be able to find me a dancing partner! I see I’m stuck with cavorting round the room on my own again.” She gave another comic sigh and Jack laughed at her, and the conversation drifted desultorily on to other things.

It had been a struggle to make it through, but it had not been an entirely wasted evening, and she had enjoyed getting to know the doctor better. But she had been left feeling a little confused by the whole affair. She couldn’t help feeling she had handled it badly – and that went for the week in general as well as the dinner.

What do you think, my dear? Should I have done something differently? What else could I have done? It’s all getting so ridiculously complicated. I wish I had you here to talk to.

I miss you.


She sighed, and then frowned down at the letter. This was getting absurd. She was never going to send these letters, and even if she did, Sam wouldn’t read them. She crumpled the sheet up in her fist, and hurled it across the room, missing the wastepaper basket by inches.

Thank goodness for dinner with the Dennys tonight, she thought as she began to comb her hair out. That would be a breath of fresh air. Conversation with those two uncomplicated eccentrics was precisely what she needed to cheer her up and restore her sense of normality.

Family and Friends Part II by Finn

Susie glanced at her watch as she hurried up the path to the Dennys’ chalet. Slightly behind time, she realised as she knocked at the door, but to her surprise she found herself waiting for quite some minutes before the door was opened by a rather flustered looking Sarah Denny.

“Oh, is it that time already?” she greeted Susie in harassed tones, before her face took on a beaming smile as she waved her in. Despite the smile of welcome, however, she was looking hassled and worried, and her hair was in disarray. Susie stepped over the threshold feeling a little confused.

“Is something wrong?” she asked.

Sarah sighed, disordering her hair further with anxious fingers.

“Oh,” she sighed, “we’re all at sixes and sevens here. Tristan’s not well, you see. Oh, nothing serious,” she added, as Susie’s face grew concerned, “at least, I don’t think so, but you can't take risks with him. He gets bronchitis so easily...so he's in bed, under strict instructions to rest, and he's very irritable about it all. He was so looking forward to dinner with you.”

“Oh!” Susie felt disappointed. “Oh, that’s a shame! But,” she hesitated, “well, if your brother is ill, do you really want me here? I can come another time.”

But Sarah shook her head. Her face showed that her brother was not the only irritable one, but she managed a smile for Susie.

“Not at all!” she said, and propelled her guest into the salon. “It’ll do me good to have some company – I’ve been worrying about Tristan all afternoon and I need the distraction. As long as you don’t mind my popping out to check on him now and then, I see no reason why we shouldn’t have a pleasant evening, even if it is just the two of us.”

“Oh, that’s alright,” replied Susie, allowing herself to be pushed into a chair. “But it is a shame about your brother. I was looking forward to seeing him – to seeing you both – this evening!”

Sarah gave her a funny look.

“You really do mean that, don’t you?” she said, and her tone was almost regretful.

“Of course,” replied Susie, slightly bemused. Sarah gave a laugh.

“Oh, it’s fine,” she said. “I’m glad you mean it. It’s just that Tristan is a bit…a bit much for most people, especially here, so it’s a bit surprising to meet someone who genuinely wants to know him!”

Susie dismissed this with a wave of the arm. “People here are boring,” she declared. “And I think your brother is charming and I enjoy his company. I enjoy both your company,” she added with a grin, and Sarah smiled back.

“You odd kid,” she laughed, self-deprecatingly, and stood up. “Right, if you’ll excuse me, I’m just going to check on Tristan and tidy myself up a bit, and then, all being well, we can have some dinner! Pour yourself a drink,” she called over her shoulder as she bustled out.

Susie got up and poured herself a large gin, then turned to look around the little salon. She was always entertained by how delightfully unconventional the place was. The table that stood before the sofa currently held a heap of sewing, several hairpins, an Italian grammar with a playing card for a bookmark, a whisky bottle, half a newspaper and, rather incongruously, a fork with the tines bent at an angle. There was a large set of bookshelves, stacked haphazardly with books, music, gramophone records and all manner of other objects – she glimpsed several tuning forks, Mr Denny’s flute, a stray knitting needle and a number of framed photographs in among the jumble. In one corner stood the gramophone, a stack of records beside it; idly she wandered over and picked up the record on top of the pile, which appeared to be music by someone called Enrico Carruso. She had never heard of him and, ashamed by her ignorance, she replaced the record and crossed instead to the piano, sipping at her gin as she did so. There was music set out upon it which she did not bother to attempt to read; instead, she placed her glass beneath the little lamp that illuminated the instrument and struck up the one piece she knew, which was an arrangement of Greensleeves. She sang along with it, and received a round of appreciative applause from Sarah, who had come in as she was playing.

“I didn’t know you played piano,” she remarked, pouring herself a drink and collapsing into one of the armchairs. Susie span around on the piano stool and faced her.

“I don’t,” she replied. “I can only play that one piece.” She shrugged. “A friend taught it me. I promise, I really am a musical ignoramus.”

“Well, it was very nice,” grinned Sarah. Her hair was tidier and her face a lot less worried than previously, the twinkle back in her eye as she added, “Although, if you don’t want to be bludgeoned into singing lessons, I’d keep that voice of yours from my brother. He’s been ranting on about getting hold of a good contralto for about three years, so he’ll pounce on you if he hears you singing – probably literally!”

She laughed at this image, and Susie gave a slightly reluctant grin. Unprepared to admit that she did not really understand this sentence, she laughed dismissively.

“Don’t be daft!” she answered, rising from the piano and joining Sarah by the stove. “But tell me, how is he?”

“Sleeping,” Sarah replied swiftly. She smiled, looking relieved. “Good thing, too. He should be alright again soon – I reckon it’s probably just a cold, and not a bad one, at that. With any luck I won’t even have to call Dr Russell out to him this time, as long as he's careful and rests.”

“Or Dr Maynard,” grinned Susie, raising her eyebrows suggestively. “Though I’ll grant, Dr Russell is the more handsome of the two.”

Sarah’s sniff told Susie her thoughts on that subject, but then she grinned suddenly.

“Dr Maynard’s far too young for me,” she laughed, her eyes twinkling as she looked at Susie. “Though not too young for all present company!”

Susie laughed. “Careful, you,” she protested, waving a finger at her hostess. “Anyway, what would I want with a doctor? Of all the roles to play, I really don’t think that of ‘doctor’s wife’ suits me.”

Sarah gave her an appraising look. “No, I can’t really see you playing that part,” she agreed with a lopsided smile. “Far too serious for a bright young artist like you. Someone a whole lot madder would be more your style.”

Susie smiled, a teasing light in her eyes. “And what about you, for that matter?” she demanded. “I can’t see you settling for boringly normal, any more than I could.”

Sarah gave a snort of laughter. “Ha! I don’t think I have much choice in that matter,” she chortled, “seeing as how I’m going to be keeping house for that one,” she jabbed her finger in the direction of the ceiling, “for the rest of my life.”

“You don’t know that,” persisted Susie. “You might meet someone. He might meet someone,” she added with a cheeky grin.

Sarah chuckled even more. “The latter I doubt very much,” she said, “and the former…well, quite apart from it being very unlikely, I don’t see how I could abandon my brother. He needs me.” She frowned. “Anyway, I’m too old to think about marriage, whereas you are just the right age for teasing.” A twinkle appeared in her eye, and Susie joined in her laughter. “So, do you want some dinner?”

“Ooh, yes please,” replied Susie.

“Then I’d better go and cook it,” declared Sarah, draining her glass and standing up. “Tell you what, you can help if you like!” Her eyes twinkled again, and Susie grinned and scrambled up to join her.

Cooking with Sarah was a delightfully chaotic affair. Susie had done plenty of cooking in her time, but while in London she had briefly lived with a young trainee nurse, Fiona by name; a woman of most exacting standards, who had insisted on precise measurements, amounts and times when cooking and who had frequently been driven to distraction by Susie’s rather relaxed approach to, well, everything, but to cooking in particular. Here in the kitchen with Sarah, with instructions to “chop up a handful of that” and “throw a few of those in” and with measurements of “a bit more” and “oh, that’ll do”, Susie felt herself restored to her former confidence, and she had a delightful time.

“I’m just going to run up and see if Tristan is awake yet,” Sarah announced as the sauce began to bubble merrily on the hob. “I doubt he’ll want anything to eat but it’s worth a try. Keep stirring that and don’t let it rest, or it’ll burn onto the pan and you, my girl, will be scrubbing it clean!”

With which truly dire threat she departed, returning a few minutes later to announce that her brother was still asleep and that she would put some aside for him in case he woke hungry later on.

“Very good,” she added, looking over at the pan of sauce her guest was solemnly stirring. “I think we’re almost ready. You go on through, I’ll bring the food in a moment. Just let me find some plates…”

Susie left her rummaging and departed to the dining room, the one room in the chalet which seemed to remain both tidy and true to its original purpose – though she noted that music had managed to gain access even here, for there on the windowsill was a manuscript book with Mr Denny’s neat musical print covering both open pages. She picked it up and flicked through the leaves, while Sarah came in behind her and placed a laden tray on the dining table.

“Oh, there it is!” she exclaimed, seeing what Susie was holding. “He was looking all over for that earlier today. How on earth did it get in here? Well,” she temporised, “obviously he must have brought it in here – but why?” She shrugged, indicating by the simple gesture her complete inability to fathom the majority of her brother’s actions, and then waved a hand to the table.

“Come, sit! Eat!” she ordered, pouring out two glasses of red wine, and Susie put down the book and joined her with pleasure.

Over the meal, which was delightfully Italian, the only style, Sarah had confessed, that she was able to cook well, they talked school affairs, Renaissance art, crime novels (Sarah admitted to being very fond of the Sherlock Holmes books and they had a delightful time quizzing each other on their knowledge of the stories) and Marxism. This last rather surprised Susie, who had expected to be the only real enthusiast for the man’s work in the area, but Sarah explained that while in Italy she had been friendly with quite a few members of the Partito Socialista Italiano, and had become very interested in their ideas.

“I was fascinated by the writings of Gramsci – I used to read Avanti! and L’Ordine Nuovo whenever I could. Ah, I remember it fondly,” she said in reminiscent tones, “The infighting, the squabbling, the weekly fist fights between the socialists and the fascists. Charming times,” she grinned, and Susie laughed.

“Sounds familiar,” she remarked, slightly regretfully.

“The Fascists won, of course,” Sarah continued, sadly. “I must say, I don’t like the look of Italy these days. Not that it’s something I have to worry about, of course,” she added, more brightly. “I had to leave to come and take care of Tristan. Besides…”

But here she trailed off, and Susie had to prompt her.

“Besides…what?”

Sarah made a face.

“There were people I was glad to leave behind,” she explained, and as her cheeks seemed pinker than usual Susie decided not to press the issue. Instead she offered her praise for the meal.

“Of course, it’s all in the chopping of the vegetables,” she grinned cheekily, “but I must say, it’s really jolly good.”

“It’s the recipe,” Sarah demurred, cheerfully. “Not mine, alas.”

“Well,” Susie declared, sitting back with a satisfied look on her face, “you have learned from an excellent cook!”

Sarah beamed widely. “The best!” she declared. “The mother of a friend of mine; in fact, the mother of the friend I met in Innsbruck, when I was stuck there and you were stuck here.”

“Oh yes!” Susie leaned forward, interestedly. “You never told me about that! Did you have fun?”

“Excellent fun!” Sarah replied cheerfully. “It was lovely to see him again.”

Susie pounced upon this. “Ah, him,” she gasped in mock-suspicious tones, raising her eyebrows. “Sarah, I’m shocked at you – having dinner with a man! What is the world coming to?”

Sarah rolled her eyes. “Susie Smith, you are daft!” she exclaimed, shaking her head and laughing.

“Well? Who was he?” Susie persisted, grinning cheekily. “An old beau? Or,” she grinned as Sarah shot her an exasperated look, “should I say an old amore?”

“Oh, very good,” responded Sarah, with a hint of sarcasm. “Go to the top of the class.” She grinned. “And no, he wasn’t! Just a friend – an old friend. Now shut up, or I’ll make you do all the washing up.”

Susie grinned cheerfully. “That’s a pleasure I’ll willingly forgo,” she stated firmly. “Alright, shutting up. Is there any more pasta?”

“Glutton,” teased Sarah as she served up another helping to her guest.

“It’s your fabulous cooking,” replied Susie airily, accepting her plate.

“I told you – not mine,” retorted Sarah, dishing up another portion for herself. Susie shrugged equably.

“How did you end up in Italy, anyway?” she asked after a few moments. Sarah paused, fork raised.

“I…well, it was something of a whim, really,” she answered, thoughtfully. “Tristan was studying at the RCM and was quite happy there – and he wasn’t as ill as he is now,” she added, “and I had nothing in particular to do in London, and I’d always fancied Italy, so…” She shrugged. “I went!”

“Your family didn’t mind?”

“My family was Tristan,” Sarah informed her. “I don’t remember him raising any particular objections! I think he said, ‘Enjoy yourself’.” She smiled faintly. “He was quite wrapped up in his work, back in those days,” she explained. “Well…not that he isn’t now. But more so, then. It was not long after the war, and he was still a bit…distant.”

Susie frowned. “The war?”

Sarah nodded. “Yes,” she sighed. “Well, that's why he’s so ill, isn't it? It all started with the war. He was gassed at Passchendaele,” she said suddenly, abruptly, “and he’s never been right since. Not his health, not…well…” She broke off. “He’s not been right,” she finished, rather lamely, and looked down at the tablecloth.

Susie ate in silence for a moment, struggling to think of something to say. How awful!

“I’d no idea,” she managed, feeling rather lame herself. Sarah shrugged.

“It’s not exactly something either of us talks about,” she said curtly, then smiled to soften her words. “Sorry. It’s just…he had a bad time. We had a bad time,” she added, grimly.

“I’m sorry,” Susie said simply, and Sarah smiled at her, then sat back and laughed slightly.

“It seems to me that I’ve done nothing but talk about myself this evening!” she said. “Come on, Susie, it’s your turn. Tell me, how did a talented artist like you end up teaching in Austria?”

Susie wrinkled her nose. Quite a difficult question to answer!

“Well, I’m not that talented an artist, for one thing,” she said. “And as for how I got here, well, Marjorie Durrant and I knew each other well, back when she lived in London – we used to dance together – and she came to me when she had to give up working to see if I would take the job. And…well, like you, I suppose I had nothing holding me back, so I came. I thought it would be rather an adventure!” She laughed slightly hollowly. “But it's not quite what I expected.”

“It is a bit quiet,” said Sarah, eyeing her guest steadily. “But what about your family? Didn’t I hear you have a brother?”

“Yes…well, yes. Matty. He’s a journalist – he lives in Paris at the moment, but he works for a London paper.”

“No other family?”

She shrugged dismissively. “None to speak of,” she replied. And so there aren’t. No letters, no Christmas cards, not so much as a note. Eliza must be married by now, but did anyone bother to tell me? Do George and Emma have any more children? Who knows? Certainly not me.

She swallowed hard, and forced a grin. “No-one but Matty and me,” she declared, managing to meet Sarah’s eye and not missing the slightly skeptical expression on her friend’s face.

Let her wonder, she thought. It’s none of her business. It’s none of anybody’s business.

“Well,” said Sarah after a moment, “we have that in common as well, then.” She smiled slightly, fingering her glass, then looked back up at Susie.

“So what did you do in London, when you worked there?”

“Oh, all kinds of thing,” answered Susie. “I gave up on being a success as a ‘proper’ artist quite early on, and so I ended up doing satirical cartoons for…well, anyone who would buy them! The newspapers – I used to publish quite regularly in a couple of the dailies – and Punch as well, sometimes.” She grinned reminiscently. “There wasn’t much money in it, but I managed to keep my head above water, just. And it was fun!”

“Why did you stop doing that, then?” asked Sarah, intrigued.

“Oh…” Susie grimaced uncomfortably. “Um. Well, it got…complicated.” She looked up at Sarah, wondering how much to tell. She was unconventional, of course, and probably quite a free thinker, but would she understand? She sighed, and made up her mind. She had too many secrets – they were beginning to weigh on her. Perhaps it was time to unburden herself of one.

“Oh hang it!” she exclaimed. “It was my own fault. I made things complicated for myself. You see, I had an affair.”

Sarah’s eyebrows rose, but in interest, not in censure. Susie breathed a sigh of relief. The right call! Thank heavens. She gave a half-smile, and began to tell the story.

“There was a sub-editor on one of the papers. Well, actually, it was my brother’s paper.” She grimaced again. “He was…well, he was lovely. We had fun. And if I had my time again, I’d do the self-same thing,” she added, defiantly, but there was still no look of reproach in Sarah’s eyes, only concern and…was that sympathy?

“Anyway,” she continued, “it went on for about nine months or so, and then he asked me to marry him. Well, I liked him – and I do want to marry some day,” she added, truthfully, “but…well, I didn’t want to marry him. So I told him so.”

“And he didn’t like it?” enquired Sarah. Susie nodded glumly.

“At first, he just asked me again. And again. Then he started making big, romantic gestures. I don’t know why!” she exclaimed, half-laughing. “But he wouldn’t take no for an answer. And I did care about him, deeply, really I did, but…not enough to marry.”

She sighed, deeply. The old fool, she thought grimly. How I miss him!

“Well, I wanted to stop him asking me, to stop thinking that we could live happy ever after – and that’s the bit I’m really not proud of.” She hesitated, apprehensive, wondering whether she should go on, but the understanding in Sarah’s eyes gave her confidence and she found herself confessing, “Because I did it all wrong. I got involved with…with someone else. At the same time.” She bit her lip and looked at Sarah with self-reproach in her eyes. “I wanted to make it clear to him, that I couldn’t be serious, that I couldn’t settle down…”

“Well, that’s one way of doing it,” remarked her friend, drily. Susie looked down.

“Like I said,” she replied, “I’m not proud.”

Sarah reached over the table and patted her hand gently.

“No, and you shouldn’t be,” she said, but Susie’s heart lifted to hear her add, “But it’s quite understandable, you know. You’re so young, after all – you’re bound to make mistakes.” She paused, and cleared her throat. “We’ve all done stupid things,” she continued, and she seemed to be looking inward as she said it. Susie wondered briefly, but let it pass. She leaned back in her chair instead, and went on,

“It's no surprise, I suppose, that he was furious when he found out. He was very upset - he said he would stop me ever working again.” She frowned. “Obviously that was an exaggeration, but he certainly made it very difficult for me to publish in the British press. And the worst of it was, he had Matty thrown off the paper.” She bit her lip again, reprovingly. “That was my fault. He’s forgiven me – Matty I mean – he’s wonderful like that, and he’s got another job since. But I still feel guilty.”

Sarah nodded quietly, then leaned over to refill Susie’s glass.

“That’s certainly quite a tale, my dear!” she observed when she had done so. “If I were you, I wouldn’t go broadcasting it about here, though.”

Susie snorted in indignation. “Do I look simple?” she retorted, laughing slightly. “I’d no intention of telling even you, except that…” She paused. “Well, I don’t know!” she finished. Why had she spoken?

“I have an honest face?” asked Sarah, and her expression made Susie giggle.

“I must say, you’ve taken it well,” she remarked after a moment, fiddling with her wine glass. “I mean, the revelation that I’m far from the pure, sweet, innocent maids that are idealised around here.”

It was Sarah’s turn to give a half-smile. “Well, shall we just say that I am rather more…experienced than the majority of women here?” she said. She stared down into her wine. “I’ve seen a bit of life,” she added, her voice sounding ever-so slightly tired. She looked up again at Susie, and smiled rather wanly. “But, you know, if ever you need a listening ear…I promise, it’s quite hard to shock me.”

Susie smiled back, a rush of gratitude coursing through her. “Thank you. And…” she paused, smiling still, “the same applies. If ever you need.”

Sarah gave another slightly grim smile and looked away. Then, abruptly, she sat back and her face was bright once more.

“Well, now that we’re both feeling jaded and miserable, what are you doing for Christmas?” she asked. Susie, startled by the suddenness of the change, laughed in bemusement, and Sarah clarified, “It’s only that you said ‘no family’ except for your brother, and I wasn’t sure if you’d be able to visit him, so if you can’t, you are very welcome to come and spend it with us,” she finished with an encouraging smile.

Susie felt another wave of warm affection flood through her veins again and gave an almost regretful smile as she answered,

“Oh…oh, that’s so kind. But I‘m going to Paris, to spend it with Matty.” She gave Sarah a fond look as she said, “It’s so sweet of you to offer – I appreciate it, really I do.”

Sarah shrugged, smiling. “No matter,” she replied cheerfully. “I’m glad you’ll be spending it together. We’re going to be up at the Sonnalpe, with Mollie and Dr Maynard. And Dr Russell.” The scowl she gave was comical and Susie chuckled.

“Not a fan?” she asked sweetly, and Sarah bared her teeth, reducing her guest to helpless giggles.

The conversation drifted onwards, though at various points Sarah excused herself and went to check on her brother. At length, she came back in and announced that he had woken and, astonishingly, had expressed an interest in some food. Susie felt the time had come for her to leave, and when Sarah returned from taking her brother a tray she said as much to her. As they went out into the hallway, she turned to her friend.

“Can I go up and say hello to your brother before I leave?” she requested.

Sarah frowned slightly, and Susie raised a hand in apology.

“No, sorry. Wrong thing to say. That’s probably inappropriate, isn’t it?” She smiled ruefully. “Sorry. I’m used to being rather free and easy among friends, you see.”

“Oh, it isn’t that!” answered Sarah. “Do I look like a paragon of propriety myself? I was just wondering how Tristan would feel about you visiting him while he’s in his pyjamas!” She chuckled, and then smiled softly at Susie. “He thinks the world of you, you know.”

Susie bit her lip. “Really?”

“Oh, not like that!” Sarah laughed, waving a hand. “But in a…” she paused, thinking, then said, “in a friendly way. It’s nice for him to have a friend like you. Well, it’s nice for both of us.” She grinned. “Thank you for coming round tonight.”

“No! Thank you for asking me,” retorted Susie, and then she stepped forward and pulled Sarah into a hug. The elder woman laughed and embraced her back warmly, then stood back and said,

“Well, then! Let me go and see if Tristan feels up to a visitor.”

A Most Peculiar Monday by Finn

Susie, scribbling dates on the blackboard, heard sounds of whispering and giggling behind her and turned round to glare at the class.

“Now then,” she snapped, irritably, “that’s enough of that. Carry on your copying in silence, if you please.”

She turned back and continued to write, reassured by the scratching sounds of pen on paper coming from behind her. Grey morning light slanted in through the window; the stove was hissing and crackling at the far end of the room. The clock in the hallway outside clicked and began to chime eleven, and as she counted the chimes, as was her habit, she realised that the sounds of industriousness behind her had ceased. Suspicion rose in her mind, and swinging round to face her class, she discovered they were all staring at the wall to their right. She glanced at it, but could see nothing remarkable, and when she returned her gaze to the girls they were all bent over their work once more, as if they had never been looking away. She watched them warily for a moment or two, but their demeanour remained that of model schoolgirls and so she went back to writing on the board. Her mind, however, was distracted with anxiety about fresh misbehaviour, and so it was with a thankful heart that she dismissed them to Mittagessen with no further incident to concern her.

*

“So, there are your six problems. You have twenty minutes, and then I will hear your answers. Begin, please.”

Mollie Maynard watched the middles for a time to ensure they were beginning their work, then sat down at her desk and turned her attention to marking the senior papers. Juliet Carrick had turned in some really first-rate solutions to the problems set, with Bette Rincini and Grizel Cochrane good seconds, although both were some way behind Juliet in their aptitude for maths. Mollie was glad Juliet was planning to study mathematics once she had left school; she had already applied to several universities, all of which had expressed interest in having her as a student; and she took such pleasure from mathematics. It was wonderful to watch her solving a problem. She would become absorbed, and the glow of satisfaction when she had found a solution was almost palpable. Mollie knew that she herself would never be more than a schoolmistress, but Juliet, she felt, had it in her power to become something truly outstanding in the field of maths.

She glanced at her watch. Three o’ clock – they had ten minutes more. She looked up at the middles to see how they were getting on, and found them all staring towards the wide windows, which were firmly closed against the icy cold wind that was driving through the valley. Impatiently she clapped her hands.

“Come along, girls,” she commanded. “I’m sure that whatever is happening outside is quite fascinating, but you will not be marked on it; you will, however, on your equations.”

The girls all turned their heads to her in unison, and then bent back to their work. Mollie kept an eye on them for a few more moments, then returned to the senior prep., not observing that the windows were covered with thick ice patterns, so nothing could be seen through them anyway.

*

“Every one of them, but every one, all gazing upwards as if a saint had appeared above us,” exclaimed Mademoiselle as they sat down to Kaffee in the staff room. “It was a sight most peculiar, and Mr Denny had to call them to order. We were both most confused by it.”

“That’s odd,” remarked Nell Wilson. “The middles did something very similar to me in their geography class. On the stroke of the hour, they all looked down at the floor as if they had dropped something. I asked them what was wrong and they all looked back up at me with innocence written all over their faces.”

Mollie, coming over to join them, caught Nell’s words and started.

“But that was what happened in my mathematics class!” she cried in sudden understanding. “They were all looking out of the window when they were supposed to be doing problems.”

Nell grew thoughtful. “It sounds like some silly game they’re playing,” she observed. “Designed to make us uneasy – well, you can’t argue that it’s very odd behaviour.”

“It’s harmless enough, as it goes,” returned Mollie, stirring sugar into her coffee. “But it’s best to keep an eye on them, I suppose. I wonder if they plan to keep it up all day?”

*

At prep., Juliet, who was presiding, was startled to look up from her French literature and see the entire form of middles staring straight at her. Was there something wrong with her hair? Almost involuntarily, she raised a hand to check her plaits were still in place and, as she did so, the girls suddenly returned their attention to their preparation. She followed their example, and though she heard a couple of stifled giggles she chose to ignore them. However, all through the rest of the prep. period she felt troubled that something was amiss with her appearance and as soon as preparation was over, she fled to the Splasheries to check herself in a mirror. Gertrud came in as she bent to the glass, examining her face and hair, and laughed at her close inspection.

“It’s all very well for you,” retorted the head girl, irritably. “You didn’t have the middles all staring at you this evening!”

“What?” Gertrud was all attention, and as Juliet described what had happened her eyes grew round and startled.

“But this…it is cheek, is it not?” she asked, a concerned look in her eyes.

Juliet was thoughtful. “I don’t know,” she replied at length. “Not really – not cheek as one would usually think of it. It IS silly, but it’s only that, at the moment. Let’s leave it for now – but we’ll have to come down hard on it if they keep it up. I’m not having those little horrors trying to unnerve me – or any other prefect, come to that – all the rest of term!”

*

"Did you see Juliet in prep?" demanded Joey, black eyes dancing delightedly, as she sat on her bed to pull off her stockings. "Kept checking her hair every five seconds in case something was wrong! I don't know how I kept from laughing - my sides felt like they were splitting! I won't know a thing of that maths tomorrow."

“As if you ever do!" returned Margia, brushing out her hair, and she made a face as Joey poked her tongue out at her. "But I say, that went jolly well, didn't it?"

"Worked like a charm!" answered Joey joyfully, her momentary indignation forgotten.

“You can say that,” laughed Rosalie, “but I almost forgot which way to look in maths! Still, it was fun, wasn’t it?”

“Three cheers for Rafaela!” cried Joey heartily. “She’s really done us proud!”

“I’ll say,” came Evadne’s drawl from her cubicle. “But it’s Wednesday I’m looking forward to.”

“I also,” agreed Simone. “That will be most drôle!”

“Best not to talk about it too loudly,” advised Joey, sagely, “or they’ll cotton on and stop us before we get that far. Roll on tomorrow, I say!”

And with that, the middles all heartily agreed.

Tinnitus Tuesday by Finn

Nell Wilson, having decided that the middles’ games were silly but essentially harmless, had put the pranks out of her head by the evening and so she never mentioned them to Susie; not that she saw much of her, for Annette Cardew developed a temperature on Monday evening and Susie and Matron Wilson were occupied with trying to make her comfortable and worrying about whether they should be preparing for an infection.

“Might be best to quarantine the juniors, just in case,” remarked Matron as they tucked Annette, asleep once more, into the small sickroom at Le Petit Chalet. “Not that it’s necessarily infectious, but if we can limit it to the little ones that might be best. I just wonder if we ought to separate the Robin from the rest of them. No use if she’s already got it, if it is infectious, but if she hasn’t…”

“What an awful lot of ‘ifs’,” smiled Susie. “But I agree with you, we can’t run risks – although what she’s to do about lessons is beyond me.”

“Give me her books and I’ll sit her down with them in the sickroom over at the Chalet,” instructed Matron. “There’s no need to stop her working, but it’s best to keep her away from potential infections, at this stage. And that’s another thing – you’ll have to stay here. Don’t want you carrying infection across to the main school.”

“If there is an infection,” Susie mimicked, before smiling, albeit rather grimly. “No, you’re right. But what about Nell? I’ve been with them all day, but she’s not long come over from the main building.”

“I think I’ll take her back with me, until we know what we’re facing,” announced Matron. “She’ll just have to camp down with someone for the time being. I’ll come back and see Annette tomorrow, and in the meantime if you’ve any worries you know where to find me.”

So that’s that, thought Susie when she had gone. However will I manage all on my own?

Still, there was no point in thinking like that, and so she took a book and went to keep an eye on little Annette.

*
Nell Wilson, stiff and weary from a night on a mattress on Mollie Maynard’s floor, was less than impressed when, upon asking a question of Margia Stevens, she received no answer, nor indeed any acknowledgment from the girl that she had even heard her.

“Margia!” she snapped, but still the girl was looking down at her atlas, fingers pressed to her temples, and made no sign of having registered her words.

“Margia! Look at me when I am talking to you!”

The rest of the class looked at Margia, then glanced at each other almost nervously, for still Margia did not look up but stayed, head bent, fingers moving to behind her ears. Whispers started up but Nell quelled them with a severe glance, and then rose and, very irritably, stalked over and stood before Margia’s desk, bending to catch the girl’s attention. Margia looked up, eyes round in astonishment, and her mouth opened in surprise to see Miss Wilson standing there.

“Now then,” scowled the geography mistress, “since I finally have your attention, perhaps you could explain why you have been ignoring my question?”

Margia looked rather blankly at her, then made a vague gesture towards her ears.

“I’m sorry, Miss Wilson!” she half-shouted, and Nell took a step backwards in surprise. “I can’t hear you!”

“What?” Nell was dumbfounded. “Don’t be ridiculous, child, of course you can hear me!”

Margia shook her head helplessly and waved at her ears again.

“I’m very sorry,” she repeated, her voice still raised alarmingly loud. “It’s like there’s…a ringing, or a buzzing or something, in my ears. I really can’t hear anything!” She shrugged helplessly, and Nell regarded her concernedly.

“In that case, perhaps you should go to Matron,” she remarked, and behind Margia the class held its breath.

But suddenly Margia shook her head vigorously, like Rufus after a bath, and frowned in a perfect picture of puzzlement.

“Oh!” she exclaimed, but in her normal voice this time. “It’s gone!” She looked up at Miss Wilson. “Isn’t that odd?”

Nell was frowning. “Decidedly odd,” she replied, and Marie and Frieda exchanged anxious glances. “But perhaps you had better see Matron all the same. We don’t want anything to happen to your ears,” she observed.

Margia coloured, and shook her head.

“No, honestly,” she protested. “Really – it’s all fine now. It was just a moment. I can hear perfectly well again.”

Nell looked at her sternly, and then finally she nodded. “Very well. But if it happens again, it’s off to Matron with you,” she said. “And now, perhaps you would be so kind as to tell me the features of a glaciated valley?”

*
“Simone!” Mademoiselle rapped upon her desk with the board rubber. “Pourquoi tu n’écoutes pas? Fais attention!

Simone, however, stared blankly at her cousin, and then shook her head.

Je suis désolée, madame,” she replied, “mais je ne peut pas vous entendre.”

Mais pourquoi non?” demanded Mademoiselle, her eyes widening in surprise.

Simone frowned at her, and spread her hands helplessly.

Je suis désolée,” she repeated, “mais vraiment, je ne peut pas vous entendre. Je crois que…qu’il y a quelque chose dans l'oreille.”

She shrugged helplessly again, and turned anxious eyes on the rest of the class. Joey, whose eye she caught, bent low over her work and managed to turn an unladylike snort of laughter into a sharp cough.

Dans l'oreille?” Mademoiselle looked bemused. “Mais il faut que tu ailles à Matron immédiatement – peut-être qu’il y a quelque chose vraiment mal avec les oreilles!”

But just then Simone shook her head, exactly as Margia had done, and her face suddenly cleared.

Mais…je peut encore entendre!” she exclaimed. “Madame – mes oreilles, ils ont récupéré! Il n’y a plus de problème. Maintenant je peut vous entendre! Qu’est-ce que vous avez demandée?

But Mademoiselle was insistent, and Frieda was commanded to march Simone off to Matron Wilson immediately, while the rest continued with their lesson.

*
“Good for Simone!” exclaimed Joey quietly, as they washed their hands before break. “I never knew she had it in her to be such a clever actress!”

Aber ja,” replied Marie, her eyes dancing with amusement. “She was excellent, but excellent!”

Margia was indignant. “What about me?” she demanded. “I did just as well as Simone. And I had the harder job – Miss Wilson is right there when it comes to tricks and I took her in perfectly!”

“You both did very well,” put in Frieda, with a warm smile for the younger girl. “But I wonder when Simone will be returned to us – Matron wanted to check her most thoroughly, and took her temperature and asked if she were feeling ill in any other way besides her ears.”

Joey grimaced. “I say, we’d better be careful,” she remarked. “We don’t want Matron finding too many of us losing our hearing. I’d not have thought it of Mademoiselle to be so insistent on Simone’s going to Matron. I tell you what, we’d better avoid doing it in my sister’s lesson! She’ll be down on us like…well, like Rufus on a rat!”

One and all, the middles concurred with her, and so they went to break with this warning in mind.

*
“Joey?”

Turning, Joey spied Miss Smith, well-wrapped against the cold, standing on the threshold of the main chalet and beckoning to her to come over. She did so willingly, but stopped when Miss Smith waved a hand at her, warning her not to come closer.

“We’re in quarantine,” she explained briefly. “Run and fetch Matron for me, will you Joey?”

“Of course,” replied Joey and spend off, her mind running rapidly over this new information. She found Matron and delivered Miss Smith’s message, and then returned to her own crowd and, over the course of Mittagessen, explained the reason for Matron’s odd zealousness in checking for other symptoms along with their ‘mysterious’ lost hearing.

“No wonder Simone and Rosalie haven’t been allowed back out,” she declared quietly, helping herself to another roll. “We’re going to have to be jolly careful not to get caught if we can help it.”

The others looked at each other uneasily.

“What is wrong at Le Petit Chalet?” asked Bianca di Ferrara.

Joey shrugged. “Don’t know,” she answered shortly, “but it’s got Matron worried.”

The middles were crestfallen.

“I wonder if we shouldn’t just give this one up?” said Margia, doubtfully. “Is it worth running the risk of ending up in the san. for the rest of the week?”

“No!” Joey protested loudly, and they all ‘shh’ed her, looking to the end of the table where Grizel Cochrane was presiding over them. “No,” she continued, in modified tones, “it’s too charming to give up on now! Let’s give it a couple more bursts and then we can drop it – it’s not like it’s one we can do through prep, really, or dancing. I say,” she added, slightly dismayed. “I was looking forward to hearing how the juniors are getting on. I don’t suppose we’ll see them for the rest of the week!”

The others echoed her complaint, but, as Margia observed, there wasn’t a lot to be done about it.

*
Meanwhile Matron Wilson found Susie Smith still on the doorstep, looking really very anxious indeed.

“Oh, Anne!” she cried on seeing her approach. “I wonder if you could come over and look at my girls, please? I’m rather worried about them. Three of them have lost their hearing today – only briefly, but it’s…well, it’s quite alarming.”

Matron nodded, though the slightest glimmer of suspicion began to sparkle in her eye. “Just let me get my coat, and I’ll come at once,” she stated, and hurried off to wrap herself against the cold.

They crossed over to Le Petit Chalet together and Susie conducted her to the form room, where Charlie, Claire and Thyra were sitting together, obediently curled close to the stove. They were all looking rather worried, but otherwise perfectly healthy, but Matron made sure to give each of them a thorough examination, checking for temperature, rash, and any other symptoms, as well as closely inspecting their ears. Eventually she straightened up and asked each of them to describe what had taken place that morning. Crimson-cheeked, each answered her questions promptly, but the innocent look was gone from their eyes and they had all begun to take on rather guilty aspects. Her suspicions confirmed, Anne Wilson looked them up and down, and then announced,

“Right, off to bed, the lot of you. You can stay there all day, and don’t let Miss Smith hear a peep out of you or I’ll have you there all tomorrow as well.” The three girls looked down, very crestfallen, and she added, “And I’ll be back over in ten minutes with a dose for each of you, just as a precaution.” The horrified eyes that turned to her nearly broke her composure, but she bit her lip and waved a hand at them. “Go on, off you go,” she said, sternly, “unless you need help to get undressed?”

Three heads shook very vigorously at that, and the girls trooped off unwillingly to bed.

As they passed the Speisesaal the three girls glanced in through the open door and saw Rafaela give them a big wink and a grin. Her approval almost mollified them, and they undressed themselves feeling slightly more cheerful.

Their cheerfulness, however, evaporated when Matron reappeared with her bottle of medicine, but they took their doses in silence, only hoping that Rafaela would be truly pleased with their bravery come the morrow.

*
“Don’t you see?” explained Anne when she and Susie were alone together. “It’s a prank! There’s nothing wrong with their hearing, well, nothing that a dose and bed for a day won’t cure.” And despite herself she chuckled, while Susie leaned back in her chair with an exhausted sigh of relief.

“Thank God for that!” she declared. “I’ve been out of my mind with worry – I thought we were in for something, what with Annette’s temperature and this sudden loss of hearing.” Her face creased up into a scowl, and she clenched her fists. “Oh, if only I could lay hands on those monsters…”

“Well you can’t,” stated Matron firmly, “and frankly I’m surprised at you, Susie; such aggression from a Quaker! No, bed for the day is a perfectly adequate punishment for those little monkeys, and I suspect you’ll find them suitably quelled by tomorrow. If you let the others know that you’re on to them and that anyone found feigning deafness will suffer accordingly, I don’t imagine you’ll have any further trouble.”

She looked closely at her friend. Despite her joking, Susie was looking very pale and worried and Anne wondered whether she should be sent to bed herself, for she looked as if she had not had much rest last night. But that would probably just make her more fretful, she decided, so she contented herself with saying,

“Well, I’ve looked at Annette and I don’t think there’s anything to worry about – just one of those unexplained temperatures. It’s gone down now, anyway, so I fancy she’ll be back in lessons tomorrow. So stop worrying, Susie! There’s nothing to be gained by it, and what use will you be to anyone when you’re all frazzled and exhausted like this?”

With which sage remarks she departed for the main Chalet, to spread the word among the girls that anyone else found to be having hearing difficulties would be looking at a minimum of two days in bed.

"Statues" by Finn

“What are they playing at now?” demanded Mollie Maynard, bursting into the staff room and throwing her books down upon the table in an unusual display of irritation.

“You tell me,” replied Nell Wilson laconically, “you’re the only one that’s seen them today.”

“They seem to be playing a game of ‘freeze’, or ‘statues’, or some such,” was the indignant answer. “Every so often during the lesson they would just freeze and stay absolutely motionless for a couple of seconds, and then carry on like they’d never stopped. Honestly, Nell, by the end of the lesson I was prepared to chuck them all out – and yet it wasn’t even really anything you could grasp, if you know what I mean.”

“Hm, yes, I see what you’re driving at,” agreed Nell. “Just let them try it in my geography!”

“These pranks are getting a little wearisome, now, don’t you think?” said Mollie, collapsing beside her. “I mean, it’s all very well having a few, but I’m sure it’s beginning to disrupt their work.”

Cave,” murmured Nell suddenly, as the door opened and Madame walked in. So far the junior mistresses had kept the existence of these pranks from their headmistress, not liking to report what was merely some simple fun, and even with this fresh development they still felt disinclined to draw it to Miss Bettany’s attention. Instead they took their coffee and gathered at the far end of the staff room to discuss what was best to be done.

*
“And a little more care over those vowel sounds, if you please,” finished Tristan Denny, frowning at the front row of juniors, which was showing a tendency to giggle. They instantly adopted serious faces, but after no more than two minutes the giggling was threatening to break out again and it took a scowl from their singing master for the girls to pull themselves together.

The singing master sighed internally. The juniors were proving quite a struggle today. The middles had been bad enough, showing a peculiar lack of attention and, worse, playing some kind of foolish game whereby they froze very still for a brief moment before resuming as if nothing had happened; the first time it had happened he had blinked hard, thinking it was his eyes, but then it had occurred a second time and he had realised it was merely girlish silliness. But at least the middles had retained enough self-possession to keep from giggling or otherwise disrupting the lesson too greatly; the juniors, on the other hand, were persisting in such poor behaviour that he was half-tempted to end the lesson there and then and send them to Miss Smith in disgrace. But he resisted the urge to give up on them and instead was making every effort to engage their attention – though without notable results.

“Very well,” he declared. “We will try it one more time, and then turn our attention to the carols. Will you all please…”

He broke off, for here were the juniors doing exactly the same as the middles had, all motionless, as if frozen in time. Amy Stevens was even in the middle of turning a page! He took a deep breath to calm himself, for they were sorely trying his famed patience, but before he could rebuke them they resumed activity as though they had never been still, turning their copies back to the front and looking up at him attentively. Feeling rather off-balance he repeated his instructions and they began the piece again, and the girls sang with such attention that he felt that nothing further would happen that afternoon.

Alas, he was doomed to disappointment, for as soon as the piece was over the disruption to the lesson began again and when it finally came to a close he was horrified to find that he was actually relieved. He collected the copies from the girls, and then stood before them one last time and fixed them with a baleful glare.

"I am ashamed of you all," he announced, coldly. "You have behaved in a most disgraceful manner this afternoon, and have shown disrespect, not only to Mademoiselle and myself, but to the great composers whose music you have so carelessly disregarded. It is my belief that such poorly behaved little maids have no place singing carols in our concert at the end of the term, and I may well make representation with Madame to that effect." He paused to make sure the import of his words had sunk in, and observed that at least the smallest elves, as he thought of the Robin, Annette and their peers, were looking sorely troubled by this suggestion. "I most certainly have reason to make a report of this mischief to Miss Smith, and she will decide what is best to be done."

He felt this threat should have had greater impact than it seemed to, and indeed he was surprised to see one or two of the older lasses looking at each other with something of relief, or perhaps even triumph, in their eyes. Frowning, he abruptly dismissed the class and, forgetting his usual courteous bow to Mademoiselle, stalked out of the room.

*
Susie had taken advantage of the juniors' singing lesson to give the art room a thorough straightening up. It was therapeutic work, distracting her from her worries and woes, of which she felt she had far too many at the moment. Having stacked up the easels and chairs, neatened up the still life objects and tidied the supply cupboard, she had happened upon a pile of dirty brushes and had gone in search of turpentine with which to clean them.

As she was returning to the art room she ran across Mr Denny, who had a look of profound disapproval on his face, and she stopped to greet him with a warm smile.

“Miss Smith!” The smile he returned her did not entirely erase the frown, she noticed with interest, and she found out why a moment later, when he said,

“Your juniors are most troublesome today, most troublesome! They have attended very poorly through this lesson, and though I have rebuked them they are not one whit abashed. Have you been reading them some of your socialist literature, that they act so against authority?”

His tone may have been teasing, but he still looked quite annoyed, and Susie, exhausted as she was, crimsoned in shame to think of her wayward charges.

Oh, why can’t I get them to behave? she thought, and then, to her very great embarrassment, she felt tears pricking behind her eyes and blink though she might, she could not quite stop one or two from escaping. Mr Denny’s eyes widened in horror, and he held up anxious hands and hastily tried to take back his words.

“Oh, please…I did not mean…of course you are not to blame...”

She waved a hand at him, rubbing furiously at her eyes with the other fist.

“No, no! Not you, me,” she told him. “Being silly. Not crying, really, just cross. Oh, I’m sorry,” and she hurried past him, along the corridor and into the art room and, sitting at her desk, sank her head into her hands.

After a few moments she looked up and found that Mr Denny had rather hesitantly followed her, and was standing awkwardly beside the desk giving her a very worried look.

“Why can’t I control them?” she cried, looking up at him. “They just don’t seem to respond to anything. It’s so awful!”

“Oh, come now,” he replied, crouching down so he was on a level with her. “A little misbehaviour is of no consequence – they are but young lasses, after all.”

“Young lasses who are supposed to be learning better behaviour from me,” she protested, her eyes growing damp again. “And I simply don’t seem to be able to manage it.”

He shook his head. “It is high spirits,” he argued, “It is Christmas soon - naturally they are excited. My most sincere apologies, Miss Smith – I did not mean to distress you by my words. Come, now,” and he very tentatively laid a hand upon her shoulder, “dry your eyes and we shall forget my little protest. And do not fret about your girls,” he added. “I feel certain they shall return after the holiday more sober than they are today.”

She sniffed a little and smiled at him, accepting the handkerchief he offered her to mop at her eyes.

"Sorry," she muttered. "Like I said, I'm just being silly." She gave a hollow laugh. "How can I expect to control the juniors when I can't even control myself?"

He grimaced helplessly, unable to think of something to say, but rather to his relief she ignored him and continued,

“I’m sorry. It’s just been one thing after another this week. Annette being ill, my girls playing pranks all week and…” she broke off, her throat closing up, but managed to say, “and…my brother wrote to me today, and he has to go to London at Christmas time to meet with his editor, so I can’t go to stay with him in Paris! And I can’t afford to go as far as London and I couldn’t afford to stay there even if I got that far, and I just don’t know what I’m going to do!” She stared blankly down at her desk. “I was so looking forward to seeing him! He’s all I have, and I did want him for Christmas.”

"Oh!" He was all sympathy. "Oh, I am sorry to hear that. Sarah told me how you planned to spend the season with your brother. But cannot you go to Paris, not at all?"

She shook her head. "He'd hardly be there, and I'd be all alone - I know no-one in Paris," she explained.

He nodded sympathetically, and gave a sigh.

"If only there were something I could do to help you," he said, and then suddenly exclaimed, "but there is one thing! Sarah has already invited you to us for Christmas?"

Susie nodded confirmation, and he was all smiles.

"Then I re-open the invitation. You must come and share our Christmas, and we will do our best to compensate for the lack of your own family." He shrugged equivocally. "I know it cannot truly make up for your original plans, but..."

But Susie turned on him with surprise and gratitude in her eyes, and in a quiet voice she said,

"Really? You would do that?"

"Of course!" he replied, and was rather startled to find her arms suddenly around his neck as she gave up on words and hugged him instead. Very uncomfortably, he patted her shoulder gently, and she understood and broke away, giving him an affectionate smile.

"But are you really sure?" she demanded. "You don't mind sharing your Christmas with me?"

"Of course we don't," came a voice from the door, and Sarah Denny appeared on the threshold with a smile on her face as she said, "Does this mean you're coming to us after all?"

Susie nodded, blinking hard against the tears that rose again, though they were no longer sad tears, but glad ones.

"Matty can't have me," she said, with a sorrowful grimace. Mr Denny stood up swiftly.

"I shall explain to Sarah," he told her, and she nodded gratefully. To her surprise he reached out and rested his hand on her shoulder again, looking at her closely.

"Do not fret," he advised her. "It is not wise. Remember: nothing is insurmountable."

And with those words they both left her, but left her feeling much happier than she had done since receiving Matty's letter.

It won't quite be the same, she thought, but I'll have to make do with what I have and try to enjoy myself, however much I miss Matty. Like Mr Denny said, 'nothing is insurmountable'. And I'm really very lucky to have such nice friends! I'm jolly well going to make it a good Christmas!

Rebellion and Retribution by Finn

On Wednesday evening, while the middles and juniors were plotting more mischief and Susie was busy fretting over her troublesome girls, Mollie Maynard and Nell Wilson were putting their heads together to try to devise a neat and poetic form of punishment with which to meet any more disruptive behaviour by the middles.

“Something that will let them know that we know what they’re up to, but that isn’t really identifiable as ‘punishment’,” said Mollie as they sat together in her little room, racking their brains for something suitable.

“Yes, quite,” returned Nell thoughtfully, “which means that lines, extra work, fines and so on are out of the question. But what can we do instead? It’ll have to be something really elegant.”

They grinned at each other, and set to plotting with a vengeance.

*
Meanwhile Rafaela was facing a rebellion of her own. The Robin, Annette Cardew, Ingeborg Eriksen and Irma von Rothenfels were all in revolt over the pranks. It seemed that Mr Denny’s words had hit home for them and they were refusing to have anything more to do with the misbehaviour of their peers.

“It is rude, but very rude,” objected the Robin. “We have been bad, vraiment méchantes, and Tante Marguerite will be so disappointed!”

“And I wish to sing in the carols,” added Irma, shyly, “and now Herr Denny will not let us.”

“He will!” returned Charlie Klein, ever Rafaela’s faithful deputy. “He only said he might talk to Madame, and I bet he won’t!”

“But it’s still rude,” put in Annette, surprisingly firmly. “And it’s disrespectful, too, and that’s not fair to anyone, especially not to Miss Smith.”

Rafaela tossed her head and looked down at the English girl.

“You did not object before, when we start the game,” she observed in condescending tones.

But Annette was equal to that. “I didn’t think of it before,” she replied calmly. “But now I have, and I don’t want any more part in it. And besides, Rafaela, it’s not a game, not really. Robin’s right – it’s rudeness plain and simple, and you’re upsetting Miss Smith and that’s mean.”

She set her jaw firmly. Over the term she had formed a firm attachment to her form mistress, who had shown her a great deal of kindness, and she was feeling guilty for her part in the mischief, small though it had been.

“I just think we should stop, now,” she explained. “It’s not fun anymore, and besides, we might get into real trouble if we carry on.”

The older juniors looked at each other. Rafaela knew her crowd, and she could sense that one or two of them were wavering, so she chose her words carefully.

“No,” she addressed Annette, more politely this time. “You are wrong, Annette. It is not rudeness – truly it is fun. We lose our hair ribbons – it is silliness, yes? We forget Shakespeare wrote this poem or that, we say Madrid is in America, that ‘plus’ is ‘minus’ – this is not rudeness, it is a game! There are but two more days left, and then it is the last week of the term and we shall be angels for that, so let us not give up our game now! Or will we have the middles declaring us cowards and babies?”

The last sentence swung the older girls who had been hesitating, but rather to Rafaela’s surprise the four ‘babies’ stood firm.

“I’m sorry,” said Annette, “but if you want to carry on, you’ll have to do it without us.”

The other three girls nodded, a small but solid phalanx in their defiance of their elders. Amy frowned.

“Oh now, look here,” she objected. “You can’t do this! Why, the pranks simply won’t work if you’re not playing along.”

“Well, no,” returned Annette, and an infuriating smile came to her lips. “That’s the point, isn’t it?”

“Oh, don’t be such spoilsports!” cried Charlie, rising to the bait, but then she took a quick step back as Ingeborg Eriksen, usually so quiet, suddenly burst forward and exploded at her.

“No, Charlie, it is you that are spoilsports! We could have a nice rest of the term if you would only stop this stupidness! But Miss Smith is not happy and ‘Plato’ is not either, and we might not sing in the carols and he might tell Madame and then we would be in trouble, much much trouble, and all this because you cannot see that the game is over! You are horrible to make us the bad people because we think we should be good now, and you are horrible to Miss Smith and to Mr Denny and to Madame, and not honourable, not honourable at all!” She stared at Amy with scorn. “And I thought English girls were supposed to be all honour,” she jeered.

“Now look here, Ingeborg,” said Amy, stepping forward in her turn, but Ingeborg shook her head at her and laughed, before turning to Rafaela.

“I will not play any more of your games,” she told her, “and nor will any of us four. And you, Thyra,” she turned to her sister and shook her head again, slipping into Norwegian as she said, “what would Mother think if she saw you obeying the every word of somebody like her!” She jerked her thumb towards Rafaela, who was looking thoroughly put out by the unexpected developments.

Things were at an impasse. Charlie and Rafaela declared that the four ‘babies’ were cowardly and spoilsports, while the four young juniors were firm in their resolve not to involve themselves in any further pranks. The other juniors were ranged between those who gave their support to the two ringleaders and those who felt a certain amount of doubt that they were in fact behaving very badly; Thyra was crimson at being chastised so by her little sister, and found that she couldn’t help thinking that Ingeborg might be right, while Ingrid Juritz had never been a badly-behaved soul at home and was beginning to wonder what had led her astray.

Amy was also feeling quite confused. The juniors had always been a close little group, despite their different nationalities, and that had been due in part to her own efforts in that direction, encouraging friendships and organising games to keep them all entertained in the earliest weeks of term, before Rafaela had begun exerting her rather disconcerting influence over the other girls. Amy would be the first to admit she was no saint, and she had thoroughly enjoyed all the mischief they had cooked up, but her conscience was beginning to pain her with thoughts of how she had not worked especially hard this term, and she was wondering with a doubtful heart what her sister and parents would have to say if they saw a bad report of her.

“It’s a bit worrying,” she said to herself when she was alone in her cubicle that night. “I’d better pull my finger out a bit next term if I’m to do as well as Margia.”

Which meant no more rags, or at least fewer than they had had this term. But, she thought, snuggling down under the plumeau, if she were to behave like an angel next term, surely she could afford to just have these last two days, before putting her sinful ways behind her?

*
The middles’ first class on Thursday was French Literature with Mademoiselle, and when she came into the staff room at break looking very perturbed, the two younger mistresses gave each other significant looks, before pulling the French mistress to the sofa and begging her to tell them all.

“It is these middles!” she exclaimed, waving her hands in despair. “Never, never have we had such a week as this for strange happenings. At ten o’ clock precisely this morning they all lost their hair ribbons – but each one of them! I fear there are some silly tricks being played upon us, mes chères.”

The two younger mistresses glanced triumphantly at each other.

“Yes,” agreed Nell grimly. “But don’t worry, Mademoiselle. Mollie here and I have a plan to stop them. Just you leave it to us.”

*
After break, the middles went into geography with a mixture of eagerness and wariness. The hair ribbons stunt had been fun that morning, but that had been mild Mademoiselle; Miss Wilson, on the other hand, was known to be a rather stern individual when the mood took her, with a tongue guaranteed to hit home very accurately with its sarcasm and keen observations. Nonetheless, the middles steeled themselves for the next ‘stunt’, catching each other’s eyes as the clock ticked round to the hour mark and trying not to giggle with anticipation.

But they were pre-empted, for when the hand of the clock was still quivering at two minutes to twelve, Miss Wilson suddenly issued a rather strange order.

“Stand up!” she instructed them, and then clapped her hands briskly when the girls hesitated. “Are you all going deaf, girls? Stand up, if you please.”

Glancing at each other, they stood up, feeling both annoyance at being baulked and anxiety about what might be coming next.

Miss Wilson did not give them long to wonder.

“Place your hands on top of your heads, please,” she demanded. “We’re going to play a little game. Bianca, keep your hands on your head and shut your mouth. These are the rules. You will each have five questions, and I will ask each of you one question in turn. Answer all five of them correctly and you can sit down, keeping your hands on your head. Answer incorrectly and you will remain standing until you have answered five correctly, however long that takes. Once every girl has answered five questions correctly, you can put your hands down and go on with your map drawing. We will start at the front with Marie. Name the capital of Kenya.”

It took them almost fifteen minutes to complete the test, and by the end only Evadne, Marie and Bianca were left standing. Bianca was the last to sit down, and only after she had been asked seventeen questions. Finally they were able to return to their maps, but it was almost the end of the lesson and, with the disruption caused by Miss Wilson’s ‘game’, not one of them had been able to finish their maps and Evadne and Joey were barely halfway through. After setting them prep, Miss Wilson came round the room to check on their progress.

“Dear me, this is rather pitiful,” she observed. “You will have to finish these off in your own time, for I was planning to use them in our next lesson.” Her eyes twinkled as she added, “It rather goes to show what happens when lessons are disrupted, doesn’t it?”

“How mean of Bill!” scowled Joey, throwing her books into her lockers at Mittagessen. “I was going to write some more of “A Betrayal of Trust” and now I’ll have to spend it doing her wretched map instead!”

“Slang, Joey,” came Gertrud’s voice from across the room, and Joey slouched off to pay her fine, muttering as she did so.

“It’s alright for Joey,” grumbled Margia. “She’s just writing her story. I’ve got three new études to learn for Herr Anserl, and I need to practice for the concert next week, and now I’ll have to try and cram it all into tomorrow morning – it’ll take me all evening to get that map finished.”

Evadne was moved to remark that Miss Wilson couldn’t have chosen a worse punishment if she’d tried, and Margia turned on her friend.

“Well, obviously, that was the point,” she said, as if explaining to an idiot. “She knew what we were up to and so she did it back to us. It’s jolly clever but it’s awfully annoying.”

“You’re right,” gasped Rosalie. “And I saw her and Miss Maynard talking together at Frühstuck today! Oh, I hope we aren’t going to get the same in maths!”

*
By preparation, not only did the middles have the extra map drawing on top of their usual work, but they also had a number of questions on quadratic equations to work out for Miss Maynard by Friday afternoon. She had done precisely the same as Miss Wilson had in geography, only since she had a double period with them on Thursdays her lesson had crossed two hours, and both times they had been forced to stand up for a spot test on mathematics. Needless to say, Joey had come off worst in those and she was fuming by prep.

It did not improve anyone's mood to see Miss Wilson sitting at the head of the room, instead of the customary prefect. She nodded at the girls and told them to take their seats, and advised them to work hard that evening. Grumbling under their breath, the middles nonetheless took her advice and set themselves to it, all thoughts of pranks driven out of their mind. But Miss Wilson had not forgotten, and since prep ran from half past six to half past seven, she stopped them all at seven o’ clock and gave them yet another test, this time with questions from all of their subjects. By the time they had finished, there were only twenty minutes left of prep, and every girl in the room had more to do than could possibly be finished in the time. Impervious to their grumblings, Miss Wilson insisted that they finish at the usual time, and suggested that the remaining work must be done in their own time.

“Now then, would anyone like to do that again tomorrow?” she asked the group, sweetly.

No-one answered her question, and she smiled in a satisfied manner and sent them off to their own quarters, whither they fled gladly. But it was quite a long time before any of the middles got involved in such complicated pranks again.

*
Nell, returning to her own room over at Le Petit Chalet, was passing the door to Susie’s study when she heard what sounded like a sob coming from within. She stopped, leaning into the door and knocking quietly, then went in and found Susie, head buried in her arms, crying quietly and brokenly at her desk.

“Susie!”

Nell knelt down beside her and laid a comforting arm around her shoulders, but Susie sobbed on, though she was making an effort to check her tears. Nell held her for a few moments, stroking her hair, and then Susie lifted her head a little and Nell asked,

“What’s the matter, my dear?”

Susie took a steadying breath and announced,

“I’ve just made a complete mess of everything!”

And just like the day before, it came pouring out, but more, this time: her struggles to deal with the juniors throughout the term and especially this week, how she was having trouble making the lessons entertaining, and that she couldn’t keep their interest enough to stop them playing games with her, and how she was feeling so lonely here, despite all appearances, and how she was tired, just so tired…

“…and they’ve been running me ragged all week and nothing I did could stop them, and now half of them seem to have fallen out with the other half, and they’ve been so troublesome today that I just lost it with them, and I shouted at them, really shouted, and then I sent them all to bed and now they know for sure that I can’t do anything with them and they won’t respect me, and…”

She broke off in tears again, and Nell looked down at her, slightly incredulous.

“What? Susie, do you mean to tell me that you don’t know what’s been going on?”

Susie lifted her head. “What do you mean?” she sniffed, mopping at her eyes.

Nell rocked back on her heels and shook her head. “They’ve all been at it,” she told her. “The middles and the juniors! They’ve been playing pranks on us all week – Mollie and Mademoiselle and I have been at our wit’s end trying to get them to behave! But we came down on them today good and proper,” she grinned, a note of triumph sounding in her voice. “Played them at their own game – we had them doing spot tests every hour. It stopped the prank in its tracks and it’s given them so much work that they won’t be able to think of another wicked thing to do before the end of term.”

Susie stared at her, relief and regret in her expression.

“I didn’t realise the middles were in it as well!” she cried. “Oh, the little devils! But - oh, why couldn’t I have thought of something like that, instead of just losing my temper?”

“Because you were one on your own, my lamb, and you’re completely exhausted, whereas Mollie and I were two and don’t have to deal with little rascals all day every day,” stated Nell, kindly. “No wonder you lost your temper. Now look, don’t worry about it. I expect that a bit of temper will teach them to treat you with more respect in future, not less – though I wouldn’t recommend it for everyday use,” she added cautiously, and Susie gave a shaky laugh.

“Don’t worry,” she replied. “I’m not a complete idiot. Just half of one, right now.”

She scrubbed at her face with her wet handkerchief.

“I don’t like teaching,” she announced suddenly. “It’s just impossible to make it interesting for them all.”

“Well, not everyone likes every subject,” remarked Nell, drily, thinking of Evadne, whose geography was the bane of her existence. “But tell me, Susie, how are you preparing for lessons?”

Susie sniffed again. “Marjey Durrant lent me her old lesson plans,” she informed her, “and I’ve been working from those, mainly.”

“Well,” said Nell thoughtfully, “that could explain it. I mean, you are different people, aren’t you?”

“Last time I looked,” returned Susie with another shaky laugh. Nell laughed with her.

“Well,” she continued, “what worked for her isn’t necessarily going to work for you. You need to play to your strengths, my dear, work with what you’ve got. I suggest throwing those old things away and starting afresh next term. Think about what interests you in a subject and work with that.”

“The only thing that interests me is art,” muttered Susie, but then she paused, considering. “Though…”

The germ of an idea came to her as she thought over Nell’s words, and she began to smile a bit more.

“That’s an idea, actually,” she said, a little more brightly than before. “I’ll have to think about it. Thank you.”

“Don’t mention it,” responded her friend.

Susie took a steadying breath, and gave her tear-stained face another scrub.

“Thank goodness for the holidays!” she exclaimed, and Nell nodded vigorously.

“I think we all need one,” she agreed. “It’s been quite a tiring term.”

“What are you doing for Christmas?” asked Susie.

“Going to the Dolomites with some climbing friends,” replied Nell, promptly. “Christmas Day on a mountain somewhere, with sandwiches and cakes and fruit and coffee – perfect!”

Susie shuddered, smiling. “Not quite my cup of tea!” she chuckled, and Nell smiled as well, nodding and eyeing her friend teasingly.

“You’re still going to Paris?” she enquired, but Susie shook her head.

“Going to the Dennys,” she returned. “Matty can’t have me any more.”

“Oh, my dear.” Nell’s eyes filled with compassion. “That’s not very nice for you.”

Susie shook her head.

“And it’s such a family time,” she observed, sadly. “But at least I still have Matty, even if he can’t be with me for Christmas.” She gave Nell a sympathetic look, and Nell shrugged.

“I have plenty of friends to make it special,” she replied, “even if it’s not quite the same.”

Susie smiled at her. “And I have some lovely friends too,” she remarked. “There’s the Dennys, letting me spend Christmas with them and at such short notice! And you, and Anne, looking after me when I get overwhelmed and start acting all silly like this.”

“Oh, tosh!” But despite her curt tone, Nell was smiling, and Susie flung her arms around her friend and hugged her warmly.

“I promise to come back a reformed character,” she announced, and Nell laughed. “No, really! The juniors aren’t going to know what’s hit them. And…well, I was going to save this for the end of term, but I feel we need a celebration now.” She delved into a drawer of her desk as she spoke, and withdrew a bottle. “Or at least a stiffening drink,” she added, uncapping the gin. “Or two. Or three.”

There was only one tumbler, but Nell fetched a mug and they sat on either side of the stove, gin in hand, and toasted Christmas, the New Year, the king, Madame, teapots, Marie’s cooking, coal scuttles, three-legged races and any number of other things that came into their heads.

“I hope nothing happens tonight,” remarked Nell, pouring herself another measure with a slightly unsteady hand, “because I really don’t feel quite up to dealing with anything just now!”

Susie shook her head. “Stop thinking about it,” she ordered. “It’s your turn to toast. What haven’t we thought of yet?”

“I’ve got something,” said Nell.

“Oh yes?”

“Friendship.”

“Yes! Here’s to friendship!”

Mug and tumbler clinked together.

“Merry Christmas, Nell!”

“Merry Christmas, Susie.”

Holidays by Finn

"Ouf! How much further?"

Jack Maynard, dressed in rugged climbing gear and striding out manfully along the mountain path, looked back and laughed at Susie, who was struggling along behind and panting for breath.

"We're not even halfway there yet," he informed her, and laughed again as Susie gave a groan, her face twisted into a comical look of desperation.

"Oh, don't say that, Dr. Jack!" she gasped. "I don't think I can make it. Someone will have to carry me!"

"Well I'm not going to," declared Mollie, catching her brother's hand as she scrambled over a tricky part of the path. "Come on, Susie! You can manage it. Here, give me your hand."

But it was Jack who caught Susie's outstretched hand and practically swung her up the difficult part. As she landed she stumbled and almost fell, but his strong arms caught and steadied her. She leaned on him for a moment to catch her breath, then straightened up and gave him a grateful smile. He smiled back down at her.

Mollie tutted.

"Come on, you two!" she ordered. "We can't stand here all day. I want my dinner!"

"But it's only just after Fruhstuck!" teased Jack, following her.

"Your watch can't be keeping good time," she returned, impervious to her brother's teasing. "Come on, Susie!" she called over her shoulder.

Susie heaved a sigh, and set off after them. Term had ended two days ago, and finally the Chalet was empty and the mistresses were able to make their way to their homes for the festive season. Madame, Joey, the Robin, Grizel and Juliet were going to Innsbruck for the holidays ("Just like our last 'oliday!" the Robin had gleefully informed her when she had found out about the plan), and Mademoiselle was returning with her cousins to France to have a family Christmas with the Lecoutiers. Mollie and Susie had seen Nell as far as the mountain path down to Spärtz and had waved her off, before returning to the Chalet to await Mollie's brother who intended to escort them up to the Sonnalpe. The Dennys had gone up there three days previously, immediately after the carol concert, to settle into the chalet they were renting for the holiday period, and Susie was looking forward to joining them today; or at least, she had been, before she had begun the long, hard scramble up to the Sonnalpe.

"Mountains," she grumbled as she clambered up the path behind the Maynards. "Why am I in the mountains? And who made them so tall? It's positively indecent. Oh, for London and civilisation!"

She raised her hands to the sky, and the others laughed at her complaints as they strode on, Jack keeping a watchful eye on the sky, which was grey and seemed to be threatening snow. Fortunately it did not fall while they climbed, and eventually they arrived at the top of the mountain path and stood upon the level ground, rubbing aching limbs and, in Susie's case, declaring their inability to walk one inch further. Jack looked down at her, a twinkling grin on his face.

"You weed, Susie Smith!" he teased her, and she forgot any dignity she had acquired as a schoolmistress and stuck her tongue out, making grotesque faces at him until he and Mollie both fell about laughing at her.

"If you've quite finished!" giggled Mollie, and she came and tucked her arm through Susie's as they set off up the path again, until they came to a turn and Jack paused and said,

"There it is - our Sanatorium."

There was no mistaking the pride in his voice. Susie came to stand beside him and found herself gazing at a large wooden building, standing tall on the Alpe, which was brightly frescoed and girdled by wide balconies, and surrounded by several chalets. Light gleamed from several windows, for the evening was beginning to draw in, and she was impressed to see that more than half of the sanatorium was illuminated.

"There's not many of you working here!" she observed, surprised. "However do you manage to do all the work?"

Jack shrugged. "We have quite a few nurses managing the day-to-day care," he answered her. "And Russell plans to recruit more doctors as soon as he can. Anyway, there's Russell and Gottfried and me - we manage."

Susie looked up at him. Despite his casual tone, his eyes spoke volumes. She could see how very much he loved his work, high up here in the mountains, and she felt suddenly sure that, one day, Jack Maynard was going to be at the very top of his profession. A profession that he loved, that occupied most of his waking thoughts, that mattered more than sleep or food or fun and games.

Who does he remind you of?

Firmly pushing all thoughts of her brother out of her head, she trailed after Jack and Mollie, who had set off across the plateau in the direction of the little collection of houses that stood beside the sanatorium. It did not take long to reach them, and at last she was outside a neat little chalet from which warm light came pouring, and Sarah Denny, well wrapped against the cold, was pulling her across the threshold, smiling in cheery welcome.

"In you come!" she cried merrily. "Off with your outside things - cloakroom's through there. Hallo Mollie, Dr. Maynard! Won't you come in and have a hot drink before you go on?"

Mollie looked up hopefully at Jack, but he gave a regretful grimace and shook his head.

"No, thank you, Miss Denny. It's very kind of you, but Russell is expecting us for dinner, and we'd better press on if we're to be home in time. Sorry Moll," he said to his sister.

"Ah well," returned Sarah, shrugging equivocally. "We'll see you tomorrow, though, for dinner?"

"Wouldn't miss it for the world!" grinned Mollie, and gave her friend a warm embrace and a kiss. Then the Maynards waved goodbye and set off for Die Rosen.

Sarah turned back into her hall and found Susie divested of her outer wrappings and leaning exhaustedly against the wall.

"You poor thing!" she exclaimed. "You look done in!"

"I see now why you moved back down to the valley!" replied Susie heartily. "Two things I need - first, a cup of tea, second a bath and...no, wait, three things I need, a cup of tea, then a bath, then bed!"

"What about dinner?" teased her hostess, and Susie sighed comically, swaying as she stood. "Well, see how you feel about it after a bath. Go on through and warm up, and I'll get you some tea."

She bustled Susie through into the salon, where Tristan Denny lay sprawled on the sofa, reading. He laid his book aside and sprang up to welcome her with his usual beaming smile, but was rather startled when his polite greeting was squashed as Susie came over and flung her arms around him enthusiastically. He froze in her grasp, and she released him and stepped back, regarding him with a twinkle in her eye.

"When someone hugs you," she advised, very seriously, "it is customary to hug them back."

He blinked. "I am sorry! It is but that you startled me..."

He caught her expression and the twitching of her lips, and sighed, giving her a scowl.

"You are in my house barely two minutes and already you are teasing me!" he exclaimed, and shook his head at her as she laughed at him.

"Sorry!" she said, and dropped onto the sofa, stretching her weary limbs. "Coo, what a climb it is!" She looked at him quizzically as he drew a chair up to the sofa, and smiled slightly. "You can sit beside me, you know," she pointed out, and he gave her a confused look, his cheeks going touchingly pink.

"Um," he replied, but he was saved from further embarrassment by Sarah, who breezed in with the teatray and plonked herself down without ceremony into the space next to Susie.

"Tea first," she announced briskly, "and then we'll sort you out a bath, Susie. Tristan, you're looking rather red. Have you been sitting too near the fire?"

Susie accepted her cup of tea with a smothered giggle and leaned back against the cushions; but she soon found that, in the comfort and warmth of the salon, she was nodding off to sleep, and when she started awake she almost spilled tea all down herself. She gave a yelp, and Mr Denny reached out to steady her.

"You are falling asleep, Miss Smith!" he observed. "Perhaps you should take some rest now, that you may not be too exhausted on the morrow?"

"Good idea," agreed Sarah. "It is a long climb the first time that you do it. Off to the bath with you, and I'll bring you some supper on a tray and then you can sleep as long as you like. Go on!"

Susie stood up, but before she left, there was something she wanted to say.

"Just one thing," she said, looking down at both of them. "Christmas is a homey, friendly, family time, so I tell you here and now, I won't be standing for any of this "Miss Smith" nonsense. I have a name, and you," she pointed at Mr Denny, "will use it. If it's not "Susie" I won't answer, I tell you!"

"Um." His eyes were wide with surprise and he glanced across at his sister, who shrugged, looking amused. "Very well," he said at length. "I...shall try to remember."

"Right." She nodded firmly. "You're being my family this Christmas," she added, "so we've got to talk to each other like family."

"Does this mean you're calling my brother by his Christian name too, then?" asked Sarah, her eyes full of teasing light.

Susie smiled wickedly. "Of course!" she declared, and grinned down at him. He smiled back, then laughed and shrugged.

"Whatever pleases you, Miss Smith - I mean," he corrected himself. "Whatever pleases you...Susie."

"Better," she remarked, teasingly. "And now," she said, turning to her hostess, "I'd like that bath, please."

"I'll show you to your room," replied Sarah, getting up. "What a good thing you could send most of your things up with us! Come on, Susie."

Susie smiled, and then turned to Sarah's brother.

"Goodnight, Tristan!" she said, her eyes twinkling.

"Goodnight, Miss...I mean, goodnight, Susie," he answered her, awkwardly. She grinned and winked at him, relishing his startled look, and then she let herself be whisked herself off to a bath, and then a lovely, long night's sleep.

A Holiday Intermezzo by Finn

Susie slept soundly until late in the morning. She roused briefly at around seven and heard Tristan singing to himself until Sarah's voice was heard telling him to shut up, but then she drifted back into dreamland again, blissful, cosy, and utterly undisturbed.

Meanwhile, Sarah and Tristan sat together at the breakfast table, warming their hands on hot cups of tea and discussing how best to make their guest happy for the holiday.

“It’s such a shame she can’t see her brother,” mused Sarah. “She’s been putting a brave face on it, but you can see how upset she is about it all.”

Her brother nodded.

“It is indeed a shame,” he agreed. “But there is nothing we can do.”

“I wonder,” replied Sarah, looking thoughtful. “Why couldn’t she see him, do you remember?”

Tristan frowned, trying to recall the details.

“Miss Smith…Susie,” he corrected himself hastily, “said that he had to journey to London to see his editor, I believe. He is a journalist,” he explained, but Sarah waved a hand.

“I know,” she nodded. “But how long was he going for?”

“That, I cannot tell you,” answered her brother, shrugging his thin shoulders.

“Hmm.”

Tristan looked quizzically at his sister, but she said nothing else on the subject, and as soon as breakfast was over she disappeared into the kitchen, where she was soon bustling about preparing some confection or other. Tristan went to look in on her at one point, but she shooed him out with vigour and so he retreated to the relative peace of the box room upstairs, which he had taken over as a study.

He was still there, tinkering with one of his compositions, when Susie, snugly wrapped in dressing gown and slippers, and tousle-headed with sleep, appeared yawning in the doorway.

“Is it still morning?” she greeted him. “I’ve lost track of time. I must have slept the clock round, very nearly!”

Wholeheartedly embarrassed to be confronted by her in her nightclothes and wondering at her behaving in such a familiar manner, Tristan fumbled for his watch and checked the time.

“It is just after ten,” he informed her, and then looked back at her a little shyly. “You are not so very late.”

She grinned back. “Though I think I did sleep the clock round," she replied. "Goodness, it was such a long term! I had no idea it would exhaust me so much. Where’s Sarah? No, don’t worry,” she forestalled him, seeing his puzzled frown as he tried to recall his sister’s whereabouts, “I’m sure I’ll find her.”

He nodded and then, bashfully, he gestured vaguely at her attire.

“You might, perhaps, wish to dress before seeking her,” he suggested diffidently. “My sister has Ideas about roaming in dressing gowns.”

He heard her stifle a giggle and turned away, his ears pink.

“Don’t worry, I will,” she answered him cheerfully. “It’s too damn cold, for one thing. What?” as he turned horrified eyes on her. “It’s the end of term and I won't a schoolmistress for a month. A whole month!” She struck a victorious pose, and she looked so funny that he had to laugh.

“What are you doing?” she asked him, wandering into the study and glancing over his shoulder at his work.

“Er.” He fiddled with the sheets on the desk in front of him to avoid looking at her. “It is a composition - a sonata for flute. I have been working on it this morning but…I am not entirely happy. It is the second movement,” he explained, looking up at her. “It is not quite…right.”

“Play it for me?” she asked eagerly. “Maybe I can help. Although,” she grimaced, “saying that, I am a musical idiot. I’m not even sure what a sonata is! But I’d still like to hear it,” she entreated with a smile. He smiled up at her in his turn.

“I can do so,” he said, “but perhaps later? My flute is downstairs, and…”

She raised her hands in a gesture of submission.

“Alright, alright! Hint taken,” she grinned. “Let me go and dress and have a cup of tea, and then maybe you can play it to me after that. See you shortly!”

And she breezed out of the study, dressing gown cord trailing behind her. Tristan breathed a sigh of relief. She was delightful company but sometimes she could be most disconcerting! And so oddly charming, even in Sarah’s old dressing gown. He shook his head. He wished he could understand her.

Still, there was one thing about her that he was certain of, and so he went downstairs to the kitchen to make her a cup of tea.

Decorating and Debating by Finn

“You’ve made tea already? Oh, thank you, Tristan!”

Susie, dressed in a pretty green frock and a navy-blue woollen cardigan, gratefully accepted the steaming cup that her host offered her and sat down at the kitchen table. Snow had fallen again during the night and the view from the window here was glorious, looking out across the plateau of the Sonnalpe towards where the mountainside began to rise again, and the whole expanse white with snow and the trees black against it. There was not a soul to be seen, and yet instead of finding it terrifyingly bleak, as she might have done only a month ago, Susie felt transported.

“It’s like we’ve gone back in time,” she said aloud. “I half-expect all the old fairytale characters to come wandering out of those trees!”

Tristan followed her gaze with a smile on his lips.

“It is indeed like in days of yore,” he agreed. "I have often thought the same myself."

“It’s so charming! Will it snow again before Christmas, do you think?”

He shrugged, looking searchingly up at the sky.

“Not today,” he announced finally. “Though it is hard to tell – these Austrian mountains are devious.”

She giggled. “I like the idea of devious mountains!” she said, grinning at him, and he shrugged with a smile.

“But they are!” he replied. “Never have I met such an untrustworthy climate!”

They grinned at each other, and Susie sipped her tea.

“So what shall we do today?” she asked after a moment.

“Ah, well,” Tristan replied cheerfully. “Sarah talked of setting up and decorating the tree, if you would like to help? Although,” he added, as Susie nodded enthusiastically, “I do not know where she might be. She was here, earlier, but has disappeared since. Shall we seek her?”

But the need for search ended at that moment, for they both heard a rather plaintive voice calling,

“Tristan? Tristan!”

Susie followed Tristan as he headed in search of the source of the cry, but they both pulled up short at the sight of Sarah, in the doorway, struggling with a tree that was quite a bit taller than she was, and considerably wider. Tristan and Susie both looked at her, then caught each other's eye and burst out laughing.

“Oh, thank you, thank you very much,” was the indignant response. “Here am I, half-buried under greenery and all you can do is laugh. Charming!”

“I am sorry!” returned her brother, still laughing as he leapt forward to rescue her. He took the weight of the tree, and looked down at his sister. “But you do look somewhat ridiculous,” he said in excuse.

She gave him a dirty look. “Huh! No Christmas pudding for you,” she scowled, before breaking into a grin. “Hold that door open, Susie. Can you manage, Tristan?”

Between them, they manhandled the tree into the salon, and Tristan held onto it while Sarah went in search of something for it to stand in.

“Dr Mensch brought it round,” she explained as she and her brother straightened the tree in its pot, “but he was in a hurry so I said I’d be able to get it into the house – stop giggling, you two! He’s off down to Innsbruck in a couple of days to see his family, so it’ll just be Dr Maynard and Dr Russell up here over Christmas. Right, that should do it. If you open that box there, Susie, you should find some decorations inside. We carried them up with us when we came up - they're old family things. Let’s get started, shall we? Tristan, do you want to help?”

They had a fine time decorating the tree with tinsel, and with twinkling glass ornaments that Sarah said they had had for as long as she could remember, and some glittery green and red and gold baubles. When they had finished, it was bright and sparkling and, Susie felt, utterly splendid. She was given the job of placing the angel, so she climbed onto a chair and, with Tristan steadying her, leaned up and planted it on top.

“Oh bother,” she said as it flopped over and toppled off. Sarah, smirking in revenge for Susie’s earlier laughter, passed it back up to her and this time Susie managed to get it to stay. She jumped down and they all stood back and surveyed their efforts.

“A bit lopsided, but it’ll do,” remarked Sarah. “Now I’m going to check on my gingerbread and tidy up the kitchen, and then we’ll have some lunch. You two can decorate the rest of the salon, if you like. Plenty to do before everyone comes to dinner tonight!”

*

“Where shall I put these plates, Sally?”

“Oh, just dump them on the side there, Mollie dear, thanks! Tristan, give me that dish and get back to the salon and entertain our guests. Oh, and for goodness’ sake,” Sarah added, dropping her voice, “keep Susie away from Dr Russell!”

Tristan nodded and made his way to the salon, whither the other guests had already retired, with a rather wry smile on his face. Dinner had been a merry affair; or at least, it had been until someone had made the mistake of introducing politics to the conversation. Dr Russell had begun pontificating at length on the merits of the current Conservative government, the ineffectiveness of Ramsey MacDonald and the Labour party, whose imminent collapse he believed to be inevitable, and the terrible blight of socialism on the nation, citing Soviet communism, the Zinoviev letter and what he perceived to be the terrible situation in “Red Vienna” in support of his arguments.

Tristan, for whom politics was a minor interest at best, had rather lost concentration and, finding himself growing exceedingly bored, he had drifted off into a daydream. Susie, on the other hand, had been extremely attentive and sat listening raptly, head tilted to one side and chin propped on her hand. Indeed, the doctor had rather fancied that he had an impressionable audience in her and had gone into more detail than was strictly necessary, out of deference to her youth and apparent inexperience. She had smiled at his indulgence and nodded encouragingly and then, when the doctor had finally wound down, she had sat back in her chair and said,

“I’m sorry, Dr Jem, but you’re quite wrong.”

The argument that had ensued had been polite, but fierce. Russell had made the mistake of trying to patronise his opponent, but she had soon put him straight on that subject.

“Very interesting,” she had replied frostily to his condescending explanation of a cooperative. “I did read a ‘pamphlet’ or two on the subject – by a fellow called Robert Owen. Have you come across his works, my dear man?”

Tristan observed his sister watching the dispute with keen amusement and great enjoyment, but the Maynards had begun to look uncomfortable and Dr Mensch appeared highly embarrassed by the whole affair, so Sarah had rather reluctantly stepped in and ended the dispute by the simple expedient of changing the subject. Neither party had conceded defeat, but Russell was looking thoroughly rattled and rather pointedly avoided speaking directly to Susie again during the meal.

Hence Sarah's warning to her brother to do his best to keep the peace, but when he went into the salon he found that she needn’t have worried, for the two antagonists had separated themselves. Maynard and Russell were standing near the window discussing medical matters with Gottfried Mensch, while Susie was poking around the bookshelves with interest.

“Would anyone care for a drink?” Tristan asked as he entered, and he smiled as four heads turned in unison. He saw the doctors were supplied with whisky and then, seeing that they turned back to their conversation and seemed quite happy left to themselves, he poured two brandies and took one over to Susie, who had seated herself on the sofa with a book of poetry.

“I seem to remember that you expressed a preference for it,” he smiled as he handed her the glass. She sat up straighter and took it with a smile, and he sat down beside her on the sofa.

“He’s not speaking to me,” she said, nodding in the direction of Dr Russell. She sounded delighted. “I’m sorry,” she told Tristan, not looking very apologetic, “but that was…quite satisfying.”

He smiled at her. “There is no cause for worry,” he answered her. “As it happens, I believe Sarah enjoyed it.”

“And you?” she asked, with a teasing glint in her eye.

He shrugged. “I am afraid I remain ignorant on the subject of politics,” he apologised.

“What, even after I’ve lent you half my Socialist tracts and writings?” she demanded, sounding horrified. “Honestly, Tristan, I can see we need to continue with your education!”

But he was growing used to her now and he could see she was teasing him, so he merely smiled and gave her a slight bow, saying,

“It would be a pleasure, Miss Smith.”

“Ah ah!” She waved a finger at him. “What have I said?”

He feigned innocence. “Ah, but if you are to act as my educator, it is only right and proper that I address you with an appropriate degree of formality,” he observed, and then his composure broke and he laughed. She hit him on the arm with her book.

“Oh, funneee!”

He bowed again, teasingly, and she gave him a horrible scowl.

“What a face!” came Mollie’s voice from behind Tristan. “Don’t do it too much, Susie, or you might stick like that.”

Susie stuck her tongue out at her friend, who did the same in return and meandered over to join her brother. Sarah drifted in shortly afterwards and, seeing that Susie and Tristan were deep in conversation, went over to join the rest of the party.

*
“Well, that was entertaining!” remarked Mollie Maynard as she and Jack made their way home, arm in arm, followed by Dr Jem and Gottfriend Mensch.

“Hmm,” was the cool response from her brother.

“Oh, come on,” she protested, looking up at him. “Don’t tell me it didn’t give you a faint glimmer of satisfaction to see Susie Smith take on Dr Jem?”

“Not really,” he answered. “Politics isn’t really a topic for the dinner table, after all. And I think Denny might not have monopolised Miss Smith so much.”

Mollie gave her brother a quizzical look. “What? Why? Jack, if you want to talk to her you should just go and talk to her!”

“What? That’s not it. It's just...well, I mean,” he blustered, “I just think she might have…have talked to us more. What have they got to talk about, anyway?”

Mollie shook her head tiredly. “They’re friends!” she responded irritably. “She’s staying with him!”

“Well, quite,” grumbled her brother. “He sees her every day, we only see her when we visit!”

“Oh…honestly.” Mollie let go of her brother’s arm as they came to the door of Die Rosen. “You can't complain about the fact that you didn't go over and talk to her when you wanted to! You’re being silly, and I’m tired and I'm going to bed. Drop round and see them if you want to see Susie so much, but you can stop whinging about it to me when you don't!”

Some Reflections by Finn

The 22nd of December dawned snowy and bright, and Susie lay luxuriating in bed, drinking the tea that Sarah had brought her and listening to Tristan singing as he shaved. This morning chorus was regular feature of life with the Dennys, which was otherwise not really regular at all but rather chaotic in nature, relaxed and unconventional. Sarah and Tristan made sure to keep their guest entertained and to spend plenty of time with her, but if Tristan wanted to compose, or Sarah took it into her head to make some sweets or pick up her grammar books they would disappear off to do so without any questions asked. And they were perfectly happy for her to do the same. It suited her down to the ground. After the rather stilted life she had been living at the school it was a relief to allow herself to behave more naturally without censure from her hosts. True, Tristan was frequently bemused by her conversation and behaviour, but he nonetheless accepted it as merely part of her, and he had grown much more at ease with her teasing.

He was still educating her in music, and every morning they could be found at the piano or playing gramophone records. Sarah often joined in these sessions and Susie found herself rather regretfully wishing she had some instrument when she was younger. The only musical accomplishment she had was an ability to sing, but she was too shy to attempt that in front of the school’s singing master! Sarah noticed the longing in her face, though, and offered to teach her to play piano, an offer Susie was delighted to accept. In return, she taught her hosts about politics and socialism and was gratified by their interested response, especially from Tristan - Sarah, of course, already knew a good deal. Tristan and Susie were still keeping up their debate on the relative merits of Plato, though he had unwillingly conceded one or two points to her, and she in her turn was slowly coming round to his opinion on the subject of education, which incidentally she had found was giving her a few ideas on how to improve matters with her juniors in the coming term.

And Sarah was a sweetheart and so kind, sometimes maternal in her manner, sometimes more like her sister than anything else. They cooked together each evening and had such fun doing so, and after dinner they sat together with their sewing or knitting. It amused Susie, for she would not have thought Sarah the kind to be interested in handicrafts, but her friend turned out to be a most accomplished knitter and was more than happy to chatter about patterns and embroidery styles.

Jack Maynard was a regular visitor, when the San could spare him, and he kept Susie entertained with his light humour. Susie found she was growing to like him a great deal, especially once he was free from the supervision of Dr Russell and behaved more normally. He had teased her roundly about her argument with the good Dr Jem, and she had challenged him to a sparring match, an invitation he had yet to take up. He was treating her with a new respect, and she found herself taking rather a guilty pleasure in his attention to her. Despite herself, she couldn't resist a little flirtation. And when Jack wasn't there, Mollie Maynard was round almost every day, for she was alone at Die Rosen when the men were out at the San and Sarah had invited her to be part of their company. Susie was enjoying getting to know both Maynards a little better, though it was the company of the Dennys that she most relished, for they were so accommodating. She felt no need to be on her guard with them - well, no more than she usually was, at least.

Yes, she was happy here, so very happy, even without her brother. She still felt a pang of sadness whenever she thought about him, which was frequently. They had had every Christmas together for as long as she could remember, despite the difficult times they had had. Even the winter that Dad had thrown first her, and then him, out of the house, they had managed to spend the day together. They were closer than many brothers and sisters were, closer to each other than to any of their other siblings; there were barely eighteen months in age between them and that had given them a very close bond compared with their other immediate siblings - superior George, spiteful Elisabeth. Susie would feel Matty's absence keenly on the day itself, and so for now she was making every effort to put it out of her head and to thoroughly enjoy the company of her new friends.

Mind you, she couldn’t help feeling that there was something the Dennys were keeping from her. Twice now she had surprised them in quiet conversation and though Sarah had breezily denied any secrets, her brother was almost completely guileless and she had read in his face that some clandestine affair was taking place. She suspected that there would be a surprise awaiting her on Christmas day, something calculated to help ease her sadness at not seeing her brother, and for that she was deeply grateful to the pair. In the meantime, she was distracting herself from her woes by trying madly to think of what they could be preparing – that is, when she wasn’t winding Tristan up. She had such fun with him, though her covert attempts to plait his hair had been met with an almost violent reaction, followed later by retaliation in the form of a handful of snow down her neck whilst they were out for a walk. That had made her laugh, though, once she had finished flinging snow back in his general direction, for when she had first got to know him he had seemed so ill at ease with her jokes, and it amused her to see him beginning to tease her back. Sarah had started joining in, as well, and she was particularly ruthless when it came to poking fun at her brother. In many ways, Susie felt that though she had only been there for a few days, she had been wholeheartedly accepted as one of the family, and in spite of everything she was truly looking forward to Christmas.

But for now, it was about time she was getting up. Tristan was taking her for a long walk today while Sarah did something mysterious of her own back at the house, and they would be leaving soon. She listened, but as she could no longer hear singing, she surmised that the bathroom was empty and so she downed the last of her tea, swung herself out of bed and hurried off to claim it.

A Visitor by Finn

The following morning, Susie awoke and immediately sensed that something was different. It took her a while to place it, but at length she realised; there was no singing coming from the bathroom. It was a sound she had awoken to every morning of her stay here, and she had grown accustomed to it. How peculiar it seemed without it! She checked her watch, thinking she might have overslept, but it was her usual time. What could have happened to Tristan?

She washed and returned to her room to dress, and then as she opened the door to go in search of her hosts, she almost fell over Sarah, who was passing at that moment with an armful of linen.

“Oh, Susie, excellent! Could you take these for me?” Before she had time to protest, half the pile was deposited in her arms and Sarah bustled on, Susie trailing in her wake.

“Sarah, what’s happened to Tristan?” she questioned, pausing on the threshold of the second guest bedroom, which Sarah appeared to be opening up. "He wasn’t singing in the bathroom this morning, and that’s not like him. He isn’t ill, is he?”

“What? Oh, no!” Sarah laughed and shook out the plumeau over the bed. “No, it’s just he had an early start today – he’s had to go down to Spärtz.”

“What? All the way down to Spärtz? Whatever for?”

Sarah glanced up at her. “Well, a…friend is going to be turning up today and will be coming back up here for Christmas – hence all this,” she added, gesturing at the bed. She gave Susie an apologetic grimace. “I’m sorry,” she said. “There was really nothing else we could do. Do you mind terribly?”

“No…no. The more the merrier!” she replied, the brightness of her tone disguising the disappointment she felt. Christmas with a stranger!

“Um, do you want some help?” she asked, as Sarah unfolded the sheets onto the bed.

“Oh, if you don’t mind…here, take this side.”

“So who is this friend?” Susie enquired presently as they stuffed the plumeau into a cover.

“Oh…someone my brother knows,” returned Sarah, sounding slightly evasive.

“And he’s walking all the way down to Spärtz to meet him?” Susie was impressed, but Sarah burst out laughing.

“Oh, he’s not walking! That would be silly! No, he’s borrowed Dr Russell’s car.”

“He’s driving?! Is that safe?”

“Yes.” Sarah looked indignant. “I’ll have you know he’s a very good driver. And he’s used to driving in mountains, or in the fells, at least – we grew up in Westmorland,”
she added.

“Oh,” replied Susie. She paused for a moment, then chuckled. “It’s silly of me, but I can’t imagine your brother driving!” she grinned. “But still, it’s a long way to go to pick up a friend. He must be someone special.”

Sarah gave her a funny look. “Oh yes, he is,” she said, and then before Susie could ask more questions she added, “If you carry on with that, Susie, I’m going to fetch some blankets. Then I think I might pop over to Die Rosen. Do you want to come?”

But Susie was feeling rather crestfallen and didn't feel enthusiastic at the prospect of spending the morning with Mollie Maynard, however much she liked her, so Sarah departed alone and Susie was left to herself. She sat in the salon with a sinking heart, hoping that she would like the visitor but mostly feeling desperately sorry that the family feeling of the house was going to be altered by his presence.

What a shame that he had to come now! she thought. If it had been earlier, or later, I’d have had time to get used to him, but just now…

Cross with herself for being so pathetic, she took up her paintbox and went determinedly to put the finishing touches on a little extra present she had devised for the Dennys.

A Very Merry Christmas by Finn

A station, snow-blanketed, with a puffing train, the driver leaning over his door and grinning. The clatter of carriage doors, the bustling of the few passengers travelling this late in the season, the guard, hoarsely calling down to the railway porter, wishing him a fröhliche Weinachten. Wisps of steam drifted down, brushing the wide-brimmed hat of the fair young Englishman who had leapt out of a third class carriage and was now standing on the platform, scanning the tiny station. He was enveloped in a brown coat that was rather too large for him; there was a satchel slung over his shoulder, and in one hand he carried a small overnight bag while at his feet stood a typewriter case.

He was peering through the drifts of steam, wondering if he would recognise the man sent to meet him, when he heard a voice behind him, asking,

“Ah, excuse me - Mr Smith?”

He turned and was confronted by a tall, thin stranger, well muffled against the cold in long grey coat and scarf. His hat was slightly askew and his long brown hair was resting loosely on his shoulders. Matty had not met him before, but he possessed a sketch of him, sent to him by Susie, and he knew him at once.

“Mr Denny, I presume,” he answered with a grin, and the tall man smiled at him and shook hands.

“It is a pleasure to meet you at last,” he said. “Come, please. I have the car outside.” He slipped on his glove, took Matty’s typewriter case and led the way out of the station.

“Car?” exclaimed Matty in grateful relief as he followed along behind. “Oh, thank God for that - I thought we’d have to walk!”

Mr Denny turned to him with an amused smile.

“That would take…oh, around five hours! Even with the car, it will take an hour, and maybe even two in these conditions. But there are rugs in the car, and hot coffee, and the snow should hold off for a while yet.”

“Excellent!” Matty swung his bags into the car and slid into the passenger seat as Mr Denny started the engine. “I must say, I’m ever so grateful to you and your sister, Mr Denny. It’s so kind of you both to do this for us.”

Mr Denny turned and smiled at him. “Susie is our friend," he replied simply, "and we wish her to be happy."

"You're making two of us happy," remarked Matty cheerfully, looking around at the mountain scenery as they drove out of Spärtz. "I was feeling pretty cut up about being alone for Christmas as well, you know, especially not seeing Suze."

Mr Denny smiled again. "Then I am glad that you will not be alone," he answered. "Sarah and I are delighted to welcome you into our home."

Matty looked sidelong at his host.

"Well," he continued, "I'm very glad to know that Susie has made such good friends out here, who are willing to do things like this for her. I know she's quite capable but one can't help worrying..."

He paused, and glanced around him.

"I say! This scenery is spectacular, isn't it? I ought to be able to get a decent travel piece out of this trip at the very least. I don't suppose you happen to know any local legends or anything like that, do you?"

Mr Denny laughed. "Oh, several," he informed his guest. "Our former hostess at the Villa Adalbert taught me many. Shall I tell you some as we drive?"

*
The salon was growing gloomy, and Susie was growing glum and feeling more homesick than ever. Sarah was still out with the Maynards, Tristan was collecting this unknown friend from the station in Spärtz, and all she wanted was to be in London with Matty and their friends, drinking cocktails and dancing and laughing and loving and just having fun.

She sighed, and as she did so she heard footsteps crunching in the snow on the footpath, and male voices laughing, and she got to her feet and smoothed her skirt down, ready to greet the returning wanderer and his guest. Keys grated in the lock, and as she made her way to the hall she found herself thinking that she knew the other voice, but by the time she had registered that thought the door was open and Mr Denny was grinning at her with laughing eyes and gesturing for his friend to precede him into the house, and then Susie’s heart gave a great leap inside her and she gave a shriek and raced down the hall and flung herself upon the snow-covered newcomer with a cry of “Matty!”

Her brother laughed with joy and hugged her back, tightly, swinging her round with a cry of, “Surprise!”

She let go of him and held him at arm’s length, her eyes sweeping him up and down.

“Two arms, two legs, the correct number of facial features and all in the right order – oh, Matty!” She hugged him again before releasing him and turning to Tristan, who was stamping the snow from his boots and smiling at them both.

“You pair of plotters!” she accused him, brandishing a finger at him. “You’ve been planning this all along!”

“I?” He waved his hands to show his innocence. “It was all Sarah’s idea!”

She looked at him severely, then startled him by flinging her arms around him in turn.

“I don’t care,” she said from somewhere around his shoulder. “Between you both you’ve brought Matty here and…you’re wonderful!” He gasped slightly as she renewed her grip, almost strangling him, but then he remembered her admonition to him on the first evening of her stay and tentatively put his arms around her waist and hugged her back.

Behind her, Matty laughed.

“Come on, Suze, let the poor chap take off his coat!” he teased her, and she released Tristan and turned to clutch her brother again, grinning so much she thought her face would crack in two.

“Oh, this is marvellous!” she cried, still unable to quite believe it.

Matty laughed again and then gave a shiver.

"Yes, it is, but is there somewhere a bit warmer that we can go while we marvel?" he demanded cheerfully. "It was wretched cold in that car and Denny and I could both do with warming up."

*
In the salon, curled up on the sofa with Matty, with a cup of tea clutched in her hands, while Tristan in the armchair stretched his long legs out to the fire, Susie learned how her brother had ended up in the Austrian Tyrol for Christmas.

"First I knew of it was a phonecall to the office from Denny's sister, asking for me," Matty told her. "She said that she wanted me to come out here for Christmas, and when I said I hadn't the money for a ticket she said that it was all paid for, and all I needed to do was wangle five days away from the office. Well, naturally I said I couldn't take the money, but she said that it was her Christmas present to you and that it would spoil it if I said no!"

Susie laughed. "That sounds like Sarah! Oh! And here she is, by the sounds of it."

There was a rattling at the door and then Sarah bustled into the house, cold and noisy and covered in snow.

“Phew!” she exclaimed, taking off her cap and shaking the snow from it. “Thank goodness for that! I thought I wouldn't get home tonight, it's snowing so hard. It’s going to come down a blizzard this evening. Aha! Is this our surprise visitor? Hello and welcome, my dear. Did you have a good journey?"

"It was quite decent, thank you, Miss Denny," grinned Matty, rising politely to his feet. Susie leapt up too and would have rushed to embrace Sarah, but her friend raised her hands to fend her off.

"Wait till I've got my coat and scarf off, then you can fling yourself on me," she grinned, and disappeared to the cloakroom.

"I say, it’s a good thing you two got back when you did,” she said as she reappeared. "Is that tea? Oh, perfect. Pour me a cup, will you, Susie? How was the drive - were the roads bad?" she asked her brother, who shook his head.

"On the contrary," he replied. "We made very good time, and I have not put Smith off mountains quite yet!"

“Not quite, thanks to your excellent driving!” laughed Matty, "though I confess, there were a couple of points that I felt were rather hairy!"

Tristan dismissed that with a wave of the hand. "We were never in any danger!" he said with a smile.

"Oh, Sarah!" Susie put down the teapot and then claimed the postponed hug, and Sarah laughed and embraced her back with enthusiasm. "It's just perfect, just wonderful! Thank you so much! You're such a darling to have thought of it!"

"And I want to thank you as well, Miss Denny," said Matty, standing up once again. "It's incredibly kind of you, of you both," he said, turning to include Tristan in his thanks.

“Nonsense!” objected Sarah. “It’s our Christmas present to you both. We’re absolutely delighted to have you.”

“And look here,” said Susie, releasing her friend and stepping back, “we’ve been over this already! I’m not having any of this “Miss” and “Mr” thing. Matty, this is Sarah. Sarah, Matty. And…” she looked from Tristan to her brother, “well, I see you two are already on last-name terms,” she shrugged, and then laughed. “I don’t suppose we can improve on that!”

The two men grinned at each other and at her, and then while Susie refreshed the tea, Sarah fetched the remains of her gingerbread from the kitchen, and the four of them settled down to a most festive Christmas tea, during which Matty, Sarah and Tristan got to know each other properly, and began to like each other a great deal.

*

Susie awoke early on Christmas Eve, and gathered her clothes and headed towards the bathroom still half-asleep. As she scuffled along the landing, she became aware of a strange tapping sound; and then she realised that it was the sound of a typewriter’s keys, and she remembered that Matty was here and she smiled, warm and delighted inside to be spending Christmas with her brother. She washed and dressed cheerfully and quickly, singing quietly to herself, and danced along the corridor to Tristan’s study where she found Matty working at the typewriter, frowning in concentration, his hair already in disarray. She tiptoed up behind him and gave him a hug, and he rubbed his cheek against hers gladly and grinned at her.

“Hello, our kid,” he greeted her, and she scowled indignantly.

“I’m sorry,” she returned, “but which of us is the kid here?”

His eyes twinkled as he swivelled round on his chair to face her.

“You have a point,” he replied, looking her up and down with an amused grin. “No longer can I claim seniority, now that you’ve settled down and got yourself a proper job and are looking so trim and tidy and a credit to your family.”

He ducked aside swiftly as she aimed a blow at him, laughing.

“How dare you! A proper job indeed!”

He forestalled the diatribe with two raised hands to fend her off.

“Alright, sorry!” he laughed. “You know I don’t mean it.”

She grinned at him, an impish glint coming into her eyes.

“Good!” she exclaimed, “because the juniors have been teaching me a thing or two about tricks and pranks, and I’ve no compunctions about trying them out on you, brother, one at a time and then all together!”

“Oh goodness, no!” he cried, eyes wide in mock-horror. “Please no! I swear, I’ll be good!” He dropped down to his knees before her and clutched her ankles, unsteadying her so that she staggered and, with a wild gurgle, tumbled down onto the rug, narrowly missing him. He gave an indignant cry and rolled away from her, before sitting up and accusing her of attempted murder.

“Idiot!” she laughed, brushing her hair back out of her eyes and attempting to regard her monkey of a young brother with a baleful air. “Serve you right if I did squash you.”

He extended a hand to her, but knowing that trick of old she refused it and managed to get to her feet with some dignity intact.

"Hey, Matty," she said suddenly, "when did you get so knowledgeable about music?"

He grinned again and resumed his seat at the desk.

"What do you mean?" he asked, and she waved a hand.

"Well, it's just...you, last night, going on about opera like you're a regular."

"I am a regular!"

"What?"

"Yes! I've been going to concerts and opera for years! Well, for quite a while, anyway. More so since moving to Paris, but I used to in London as well. You just never noticed because you were too busy with your jazz clubs and your Labour Party meetings and your art works and your folk dancing," he laughed, a teasing glint in his eye.

She looked at him, incredulous.

"Really?" she cried. "How could I not notice that? Well, no wonder you and Tristan are getting on so well! Oh Matty, you make me feel terribly stupid!"

"Well, it's not my fault you weren't interested before," he teased her. "Anyway, you're getting lessons now, aren't you?"

"Yes, but I'm so slow," she sighed, rather regretfully. "I wish I were a bit more knowledgeable."

"Ah well," he replied. "You're learning, and that's the main thing. And you've got two jolly good teachers here. Now listen, I have to get back to this. I'm sorry, Suze,” he said ruefully as she turned sad eyes on him, “but I’m here on sufferance anyway, and if I don’t get this sent off by New Year I’m…”

He drew a line across his throat, and she nodded and ruffled his hair.

“I’ll leave you to it, then,” she replied, heading for the door. “Only Matty, don’t be all day about it, will you? I do want to see some of you while you’re here.”

He waved a hand at her lazily, and went back to his typing.

Susie ran lightly down to the salon and there found Sarah and Tristan in relaxed attitudes, both reading. They looked up and smiled as she entered and she gave them such a beaming smile back that they both looked rather startled at the intensity of her joy. She danced over to the sofa and slipped a hand through Sarah's arm.

“I just wanted to thank you again,” she said. “You can’t imagine what it means to have Matty here with me – and to keep it as a surprise!” She smiled and her face lit up with happiness. “It’s the best present I’ve had for years!”

Sarah smiled back at her, a little sadly, and patted her hand.

"I know," she replied. "And I think I can imagine what it means to have your brother here with you. I'm just glad we could help."

Susie squeezed her arm.

"Well, you certainly have done," she cried elatedly. "I was already excited about Christmas, but now I'm over the moon! Roll on Christmas - I'm going to be the life and soul of the party!"

And with that remark, she danced off upstairs again to fetch her sketchbook. Sarah watched her as she left the room.

"Isn't she beautiful when she's excited?" she remarked, without jealousy.

"She is," agreed her brother, absently. "Quite the prettiest maid in the Tiernsee."

"I'm so glad to have company for Christmas," said Sarah suddenly. "It would have been...quite hard, to be alone, this year."

They exchanged melancholic looks and, laying his book aside, Tristan came over to the sofa and sat down beside her, putting his arm around her shoulders.

"Well, we shall not be," he reminded her, "and...we still have each other. That shall not change."

"No." Sarah leaned on him for a moment or two, and then shook herself. "Sorry. Being silly."

"Not at all," returned her brother, gently.

She gave him a grateful smile, and then brushed her hands on her skirt.

"Well, at least we got Susie's brother out here," she said more briskly. "And we'll have to do our best to make it a splendid Christmas for everyone."

"I doubt we shall have to try very hard," replied her brother, grinning suddenly and looking past her shoulder. "See, here is Susie to brighten it for us!"

Sarah turned and burst out laughing to see Susie standing in the doorway, covered in tinsel and grinning all over her face.

"Oh Susie Smith," gurgled her hostess, "you utter twit!"

"Yes!" cried Susie, delightedly, "And if you can't be a twit at Christmas, when can you be? Now, who's up for a snowfight? A shilling says I can beat you both!"

Christmas Day by Finn

"Smith, you are late for breakfast! This sort of faulty tempo will not go un-note-iced!"

"Oh, don't be crotchet-y - I've only been gone a minim!"

"Please! Stop! Your musical puns are making me laugh so much that I can't catch my breath - I can only semi-breve!"

"Will you two SHUT UP!" shrieked Sarah Denny, all semblance of patience at an end. Tristan and Matty collapsed into laughter and she waved her fists at them in futile desperation.

Susie, appearing in the doorway, took in the scene and sighed.

"Are they still going?" she asked Sarah, who answered with a groan, sinking her head into her hands.

"Oh, honestly!" cried Susie. "That's quite enough, you two! It stopped being funny at eleven o'clock last night!"

The two men looked at one other, trying to quell their smiles.

"No, it did not," replied Tristan, struggling to suppress a chuckle.

"Anyway, don't attacca me, Susie!" protested her brother. "It was your suggestion to play this game, after all!"

"I didn't expect you to go on for so long!" she countered him. "Now stop it immediately or I'll chuck milk all over you, and that goes for you, too," she added, pointing threateningly at Tristan, who, having opened his mouth to speak, promptly shut it again and attempted to look contrite.

Her brother had no such compunctions.

"Won't Sarah have something to say about milk-hurling?" he questioned, cheekily, looking at their hostess.

"No objection from me," she answered him curtly. "If throwing milk at you is what it takes to make you pair shut up then I'm all for it!"

"Spoilsports," grumbled Matty, looking down at his breakfast with a mutinous expression.

"Silence!" Sarah exulted, after a few moments. "Good grief, I'd forgotten what that sounded like!"

"Well, don't spoil it now!" whispered Susie, giggling. "I calculate that my threat will be effective for at most two more minutes, and probably less, so let's make the most of it!"

"Ugh. You miserable pair!" complained Matty. "I've thought of another one now."

"As have I," Tristan added mournfully. They exchanged sorrowful glances.

Sarah rolled her eyes despairingly at Susie.

"I fear you and I are the last bastion of sanity in this house, my dear," she remarked. "Though I confess, I'm not entirely sure about me!"

"Oh well," Susie observed through a mouthful of bread and jam, "at least it's better than fish puns."

"Fish puns?!"

"Fish puns," Susie confirmed, nodding. "Mind you," she added, "that one was my fault entirely."

"I remember the fish puns," grinned her brother. "You went on all night yourself that time! As I recall, you ended up getting some threats of violin-ce!"

"Right! That's it!" Susie seized the milk jug and advanced upon her brother, who managed to trap his chair leg against the table and was hampered in his attempt to escape.

"Argh! Stop, no! Mercy! Denny, help me!"

"Ah, no. This is not my battle," returned his friend, moving hastily out of the range of the milk jug. "You are on your own, Smith!"

"Denny! Would you give up on a pal? Stop her! No, stop it! Stop it, Susie...no, not in the ear! Not in the ear! Agh!"

"No-More-Musical-Puns!" chanted Susie, above her brother's loud protestations, as she administered the punishment.

"And so peace was restored to the chalet once more, and all in time for Christmas Day," said Sarah in her best story-teller's voice, before she dissolved into fits of laughter.

"Agh! It's all over me!" Matty finally twisted free of his sister's grasp and retreated to a safe distance, wiping milk from his face. Then he looked up, his face a mask of surprise, and the other three turned to see the Maynards standing in the doorway, looking on in startled horror at the scene before them.

"Er...the back door was unlocked," said Mollie.

"We knocked at the front, but no-one answered," added Jack in rather confused tones.

"...Merry Christmas?" finished his sister, weakly

Sarah took a deep breath, then buried her face in the tablecloth and collapsed into silent, heaving laughter. Her brother was gaping in surprise at the unexpected appearance of the visitors, and so Susie took charge.

"Mollie, Jack!" she exclaimed, brightly. "Happy Christmas! May I introduce my brother, Matty?"

She waved airily at her brother who stood staring at the Maynards, milk dripping down the side of his head, and then she looked at Mollie's face and Jack's horrified stare and realised that she was waving with the milk jug, and she caught her brother's eye, and they both burst out laughing.

Meeting is a pleasure but parting's a grief by Finn

Susie gave her brother a final hug and stepped back from the train.

"Write every week!" she called out, hiding the tremor in her voice. "And be good!"

"When am I ever otherwise?" grinned Matty as he swung himself up into the carriage. "You just try to stay out of trouble yourself!"

She smiled up at him. "I will," she replied.

Matty grinned down at her, then looked over her shoulder.

"Look after her for me, Denny," he requested. "I'm relying on you!"

"I shall do my best," replied his friend, with a courtly half-bow, as the train began to puff its way out of the station. Matty waved in reply, then blew a kiss to his sister who followed the train, half-laughing, half-crying, as far as she could, then stood and waved, and finally just watched until the train was completely out of sight.

"Well, that's that," she said to herself quietly, and turned and retraced her steps along the platform to where Tristan was waiting for her. He smiled at her, and she walked straight up to him and wrapped her arms around him. Rather to her surprise, he hugged her tightly back, so she held onto him and was able to hide her few tears against his coat. When she released him, he escorted her to the car, still with an arm around her shoulders, and she leaned on him, comforted by his presence.

It was funny, really, she thought as they walked, but he had grown so much more attentive to her since he had found out that she could sing! Previously she had been a curiosity to him, a friend, of course, even like a sister at times, but mostly a novelty who bemused him more often than not, but who was a source of constant entertainment. Now that he had discovered her voice, during the course of singing carols at Christmas, she had become almost precious to him. She did not for one moment flatter herself that it was her he was so protective of; she knew what part of her interested him! Still, it amused her to have such attention lavished upon her, and so she smiled and leaned against him, feeling safe in his arms.

Their journey back in the car was quiet. Susie's usually ready chatter had deserted her while Tristan grew tongue-tied, unable to think of something to say to cheer her with, whilst also being rather preoccupied with concentrating on the road, which was abysmally icy. He glanced at her once or twice when he was able, but she was gazing out of the window, her face unreadable. When they stopped part-way home to warm up with some coffee, he fancied he saw the glimmer of a tear on her cheek, but she said nothing, so he finished his coffee quickly and started the car again, pretending that he hadn't seen. He wished he knew what to say. Sarah would know. If only she were here!

By the time the San appeared in the distance, however, Susie's mood had improved, and once they had left the car at Die Rosen and had begun the walk home through the snow, she turned to Tristan with an apologetic smile.

"I'm sorry," she said. "It's silly, I know, but I do miss him so much when he's not around."

"That is understandable," Tristan answered, giving her a tentative smile. She smiled gratefully back, and tucked her hand into his arm and drew herself close to him.

"It's just that...Matty is the only person that really...understands me," she continued. "You know how it is. We've been through everything together - he's known everything about me, and I about him, right through everything we've done. Oh, we annoy each other at times, and we've had some spectacular fights, but still - I really, really miss my little brother when he's not around."

Tristan pressed his lips together, not trusting himself to speak. Such a familiar sentiment! His expression grew grim, and he didn't notice the curious look Susie gave him.

It had been so pleasant to have Smith around, he reflected. How long had it been since he had played silly games like the ones Smith had had them playing these last few days? Not since...not since the war. He grimaced. Smith was lucky - twenty years old and still so childlike. How must it feel to be that carefree? He himself could date, almost precisely, the end of his childhood.

His fists clenched involuntarily as he thought back. That damned war had changed so much, had changed him so much. At the age of twenty, Eddie had been very like Smith - lively, light-hearted, free from care. And at the age of twenty, he, Tristan, had been empty, angry, lost. That damned war. Smith's presence, his boyish boisterousness, had been distracting while he was there, but now he was gone it merely served to remind Tristan of how much he had lost.

He stared grimly ahead, his jaw set angrily, and frowned at the memories, until suddenly a gentle pressure on his arm reminded him of Susie's presence. He glanced down at her and saw her eyes bright with concern, and her pretty face warmed the cold frost that had settled on his heart and he smiled at her, suddenly glad again to see her smile back at him.

"I am sorry," he told her. "I was thinking."

"It looked like it!" she exclaimed, with a small laugh. "You want to be careful, you know - you don't want to hurt yourself."

He looked closely at her, and decided that she was trying to tease him again. He scowled at her in mock-severity, then twisted away from her, scooped up a handful of snow, and flicked it at her with devastating accuracy. She gave a shriek to rival a banshee and hurled herself at him and he ran, pausing only to toss more snow in her direction before dashing away again.

"Come back, you coward!" she yelled, misery over her brother's absence forgotten, and raced after him.

"And drink, sir, is a great provoker of three things..." by Finn

Dinner that night was a very merry affair. Sarah and Tristan were aware that Susie was rather upset by parting from her brother and they went out of their way to cheer her up - ably assisted by two bottles of wine. Evidently they were not of the temperate persuasion, thought Susie, feeling rather relieved. The conversation ranged far and wide, but turned eventually to the subject of the New Year, and how they would celebrate it.

"One thing's for sure," Sarah said with a wicked grin at her brother, "it won't be as eventful as that party four years ago, will it, Tristan?"

Her eyes twinkled as she poured herself another glass of wine and watched her brother's face, as first he frowned, trying to recall the occasion to which she had referred, then grew oddly alarmed, his eyes widening.

“Oh no!” he protested in horrified tones. “No, you are not to tell that story! Sarah, I forbid it!”

"What?" Sarah pressed on, relentless. "Forbid me to talk of that party when - what was her name, Joanne..."

"Stop it! Stop it at once!"

"When she cornered you and..."

"Sarah!"

"What happened?" cried Susie, trying earnestly to suppress her giggles. "Oh come on, tell me! You can't leave it like that!"

"Well, there was a big party, and Tristan let himself get cornered by a girl called Joanne..."

"I thought she hated me!" Tristan cried desperately, spreading his hands in a helpless gesture.

Susie doubled up with laughter.

"What?!" she gasped, staring at him incredulously. "Oh, come on, Tristan! You have to tell this story now! Trust me, whatever happened can't be worse than what I'm imagining right now!"

Tristan looked from her to his sister, then groaned and dropped his head into his hands. Sarah took up the tale eagerly.

"Well, as I was saying," she told Susie, "it was New Year and we were at a party with some of Tristan's music friends, and...well, Tristan was over in the corner with this Joanne, whom it seems he thought hated him..." she broke off and eyed her brother with amusement, laughing as he slowly turned a bright shade of red.

"We were talking!" he snapped at her. "And..." He looked up at the two women, and gave up the fight. "And after a time I rose to take my leave of her, and she rose too and..."

"And what?" demanded Susie, her eyes glinting with humour.

"Kissed me," he replied, very quietly.

"Right in the middle of the room," added his sister, with great amusement, "in front of everyone there! Very enthusiastically, too, may I say."

"Oh no!" Susie gasped in mock-horror. "And what did you do?" she asked Tristan, who was red to the tips of his ears.

"He ran away!" answered Sarah, and burst out laughing.

"I did not run away!" he protested loudly.

"You certainly beat a very hasty retreat!" teased his sister, eyes twinkling.

"But..." he floundered, giving them both a beseeching look. "What is one supposed to do in such circumstances?"

"Kiss back, usually!" Susie replied with laugh.

"But...even if you do not desire it?"

His look of confusion was so touchingly endearing that Susie found herself giggling again, but she restrained herself and shrugged cheerfully.

"Can't say that it's ever happened to me - I mean, someone kissing me and me not wanting it," she answered, and giggled at his startled expression.

"Oh," he said, faintly. "Well." He cleared his throat. "Well...it was...awkward," he finished, uncomfortably.

"And you ran away," teased his sister.

"I did not run!" he argued emphatically.

"Looked like running from where I was!" laughed Sarah.

Susie chuckled. "Oh, how priceless!" she said. "I wish I'd been there!"

"It was very funny!" agreed Sarah, and they looked at each other and burst out laughing again.

"Oh...shut up, both of you!" Tristan exclaimed, his face still bright red.

Some small imp prompted Susie to say, "We should try recreating the scene, don't you think, Sarah? Who do you think we could convince to take the main role? Nell? Mollie?"

"No!" Tristan cried, standing up quickly. "Please, Susie! Cease this now!"

"Alright!" laughed Sarah, holding up her hands. "Come on, Susie, let's leave him alone now. Come and help me with these dishes."

Susie helped Sarah gather dishes, feeling uncomfortably as though she had gone too far. Tristan was still very pink about the face and made no attempt to assist the women, and when they returned from the kitchen he was standing at the window with his back to the room. Susie bit her lip.

"I'm sorry," she said to them both. "I'm just being daft. I don't mean to be rude or upset anyone!"

"What?" Sarah looked confused. "What do you mean, upset anyone?"

Susie sank into her chair, holding the table firmly, for the wine was swimming in her head. "It's just...you've been so good to me, both of you. I really don't deserve it." Her lip trembled a little as she spoke, and she swallowed hard.

"What do you mean, you don't deserve it?" demanded Sarah, sitting down next to her. "What nonsense! Who deserves anything? Come on, Susie, stop talking rot!" And she poured out more wine into Susie's glass.

But Susie shook her head and sighed dramatically. "You don't understand," she protested. "Neither of you understand...I don't deserve such kindness...I've done such things..."

The tears began to well up in her eyes. Tristan had turned round, to her relief, and was gazing at her, wide-eyed and wary. Sarah, on the other hand, leapt swiftly to her feet.

"Oh dear!" she cried cheerfully. "I think someone's had enough to drink and more! It's probably time you had a little lie down, Susie. No, Tristan, I can manage," she added, as her brother took a step forward. "Come on, Susie! Let's get you to bed, eh?"

She hoisted Susie, who was growing increasingly tearful, up out of her chair and led her to the door, but Susie protested.

"No..." She twisted round and looked for Tristan. "I'm sorry!" she said, and held out her arms to him. Very much to her relief, he smiled at her, and came over and let her hug him tightly. "I'm sorry!" she repeated, her face buried in his shoulder. "Forgive?"

"There is nothing to forgive!" he replied, his voice warm but rather bemused, and then he disentangled her arms from around his neck and handed her over to his sister, who took her off upstairs and saw her safely into bed.

*
Sarah reappeared about twenty minutes later and found her brother still sitting at the table, fiddling with his wine glass and looking morose.

"All fine!" she announced, as he glanced up at her with anxious eyes. "She's tired out with not sleeping very well last night, and what with the wine and Matty leaving today she's been a little weepy, but she's fine now, and fast asleep."

"Good!" replied Tristan, relief in his eyes. "I would not have her grieved for worlds." He stared down into his wine glass. "Poor Susie. She is so sad without her brother."

"Mm." Sarah's reply was non-commital, but for once Tristan understood her perfectly, and he was dismayed, but not surprised, when she sat down suddenly and dissolved into tears herself. He went to her and she clung to him and sobbed.

"Poor Eddie!" he heard her gasp, and he held her tightly and stroked her hair.

Eventually she sat back and wiped her face with her hands.

"Sorry," she said. "Oh, Christmas! Why is it so exhausting?"

"I do not know," he replied, "but it is almost over."

"And we shall be back to work once more," put in his sister, pushing her hair back from her face and taking a deep, steadying breath. "And no more Susie! She'll be back at the school."

"It will be strange without her," Tristan agreed.

"Well, you'll see her often enough," remarked Sarah, rubbing at her eyes, "for your singing lessons!"

His eyes lit up at that thought, and he smiled.

"Yes. A real contralto! Oh, Sarah, the plans I have for her...such a range! Half of the Baroque repertoire could have been written for her! Though she needs much training," he added, thoughtfully. "She does not even know how to breathe!"

"I don't think she'd have got this far if she didn't know how to breathe," observed his sister with a shaky laugh. He looked at her with a frown, then waved a hand impatiently.

"You know what I mean!" he responded, and she smiled.

"Yes, of course," she laughed. "Well, you'll have plenty of time in which to get her breathing - two lessons a week, did you agree?"

"I should prefer three," he replied, rather mournfully. "There is so much to be done...but we shall manage, I suppose."

"Well, she does have a job," Sarah pointed out, with a wry smile.

"But..."

"Oh, I know! Singing comes first!" She stood and went to close the shutters, pausing as she did so to ruffle her brother's hair. "You daft old thing!" she grinned, and he smiled mildly back.

If only I could think that he wanted those three lessons a week so that he could see her! she thought, amusedly, and swung the shutters closed with a bang.

Plato by Finn

Susie folded two blouses into her small case and stood back, huffing irritably.

"Why do they never go back in like they came out?" she demanded of Sarah, who shrugged.

"If I could answer that..." She let the sentence trail off, turning her attention to stripping the cover from the plumeau, and then frowned. "And were you planning to take this stocking back with you, my dear?" she asked, retrieving the said item from in among the bedclothes.

"Oh no, not another one!" Susie caught the brandished stocking and stuffed it into a corner of the case. "I am going to have to sit on this thing to shut it!" she sighed, exasperatedly.

Sarah chuckled. "That'll teach you to bring such a small suitcase!" she teased her, shaking the pillows from their covers.

"Oh, don't joke - it's the only thing I have." Susie frowned down at the clothes. "Still, that's what comes of being poor," she said, with an over-dramatic sigh.

And what comes of mainly having entirely the Wrong Sort of outfits for a teacher at a nice boarding school, she added mentally, as Sarah smiled at her. Sorting out a whole new wardrobe is expensive!

"Still, it'll be nice to see everyone again," she said out loud, folding a jumper onto the rest of the pile. "And there'll be a new mistress this term!"

"New?"

"Don't you remember? Madame was saying all last term that she'd far too much on her plate as headmistress as well as doing all the English subjects, so she and Mademoiselle were going to be looking for someone to take history, to help her out. So that'll be something fresh for us!"

"Oh yes, of course. I wonder if they've chosen by now? They must have been interviewing - though how they can find someone English, over here, I don't know."

"I'm not entirely sure myself," agreed Susie, who hadn't thought very hard about it. "Perhaps it won't be someone English this time?"

"Hm. I can't imagine that," replied Sarah, gathering the bedlinen into a pile and hoisting it up into her arms. "It's supposed to be an English school, after all."

"Ah well." Susie surveyed her packing once more. "I don't think there's much more I can do with this, really. Oh, and speaking of school, Sarah, do you know where your brother is? I need to have a quick chat with him."

"He should be in his room, packing," answered Sarah from the doorway. "Though if you actually want to find him, I'd try the box room."

Her eyes twinkled, and she disappeared from the room.

Susie grinned amusedly, and made her way along the corridor to the box room. Sure enough, there she found Tristan, scribbling away at a manuscript, though he pushed it aside and turned to her with a smile as she hovered in the doorway.

"May I have a word?" she asked, cheerfully.

"Certainly you may," he answered her, waving an arm to welcome her in. "What can I do for you?"

"Well, it's some advice I'm after, actually," she replied, coming in and seating herself in the other chair.

His eyes grew slightly worried. "What advice can I give you?" he questioned, surprised.

"It's about my juniors," she began. "I've not...well, you know I've not been getting on with them so well, and I thought, what can I do to improve matters, you see, and then Nell said that I should play to my strengths and redesign my lessons so as to make it more interesting for them, but then I thought, well, it isn't really one of my strengths, is it, and so that's why I need your help, you see?"

She broke off and looked at him. He was gazing back at her, looking thoroughly confused.

"I am sorry," he said, carefully. "I am not sure that I quite understand you."

"Music! " she exclaimed, and laughed as his face lit up. "I want to use music, and art, and dance, and handicrafts and so on, all of those things, to bring the lessons to life, you see. I thought I could incorporate them into my 'subject' lessons, make them more lively, but I don't know a lot about music, of course - well, you know that! So that's why I need your help. You will help, won't you?"

This last wasn't really a question; she had known all along that he would be only too happy to help and, with his brow cleared of confusion and his eyes alight with enthusiasm, she saw that she had not been wrong.

"What a wonderful idea! I am certain that I can assist you. What had you in mind, precisely?"

"Mostly songs, I was thinking," Susie told him, her enthusiasm fired by his. "Simple enough things, that they can learn easily but which are still fun. I want to link their lessons together, you see, so that their history connects with their english and geography and their languages. And there must be some way maths can be connected with music?" she asked, looking at him for corroboration. He nodded at once.

"Oh, undoubtedly," he confirmed. "There are many theories that link mathematics and music; the only difficulty will be to make it simple enough for our young lasses. But I can certainly help you in that regard. As for your other subjects," he paused, thoughtful. "I must be able to help you with a number of songs..."

"And if you can't," she put in, "then we can always set some words to existing tunes - I know plenty of old folk tunes," she added with a grin, and he grinned back and nodded. "Or, maybe," she continued, slightly cheekily, "you could write me some songs for my girls?"

She looked at him with a twinkle in her eye, but was surprised when, rather than demurring, he nodded eagerly.

"That would indeed be possible! But tell me," he asked with interest, "how do you plan to use dance to enhance your lessons?"

"Well, history is the obvious one," she answered. "I can just incorporate the old dance styles into the lessons, give everyone a sense of the period we are studying. As for the others...well, I was thinking it might be possible to combine songs with dancing - at least, putting movements to the music, that sort of thing. It's all about making the subjects more...interesting, more dynamic," she explained. "I remember sitting in classes at school and hating the subjects we were learning. History, for one - all kings and queens and battles and dates." She sighed dramatically, and he smiled at her. "But you know, there's a heck of a lot of history in folk songs, and in novels too, and you really learn it from those sort of things. I used to think history would be so much more interesting if it had stories attached and now," she declared, "I intend to try it!"

She grinned at Tristan triumphantly, and he smiled back, his eyes alight.

"I think it is a very clever idea," he informed her, "and shall be only too happy to help you. Indeed, I can help you in another way, for I can introduce some of our songs to our little lasses in their singing lesson. Yes! That is a good idea, that they might have extra practice of the more difficult pieces."

"Oh!" She had not thought of linking up the lessons they had with other teachers in this manner. "What an excellent idea! And you wouldn't mind?"

"Mind?" He gave her a surprised look. "I would be delighted!"

"Excellent!" She grinned at him. "It's a deal! Can you come over when we're back down in the valley and talk it over with me? I haven't really got the time now," she added, her thoughts drifting guiltily to her half-finished packing.

"By all means." He gave her a little bow. "And I must say," he added, a teasing twinkle appearing in his eye, "I am pleased to see that you are taking Plato thus to heart!"

"But," she opened her eyes wide, feigning innocence, "how could I fail to, with such an excellent teacher?"

He gave her a stern look for a moment, and then they both started laughing.

"Anyway, my dearest," Susie grinned, clapping her hands on her knees and standing up, "I have to get back to my packing - whither, incidentally, you really should be going, too. Or," she continued as he groaned, "I fear the Wrath of Sarah may descend upon you, possibly from a great height. Come on!"

She held out both hands to him, and he allowed her to pull him to his feet and to tug him, protesting, from the room and to his lamentably incomplete packing.

Homecomings by Finn

“Ah! La belle maison! Eh bien, chérie, but it is good to be home!”

“I’ll second that!” laughed Madge Bettany as she rummaged in the basket she was carrying for the keys. “Come along, Joey, don’t dawdle! Juliet, are you managing?”

“Oh yes, Madame,” came Juliet’s cheerful response. “The Robin hardly weighs a thing.”

“But Julie, I can walk now!” protested the little girl from her seat upon Juliet’s back. “Please, put me down!”

“You stay where you are,” returned the head girl, shortly. “You can run around all you like once we’re back, but we’re not having you tired out if we can help it. Grizel! Don’t swing that basket like that! You almost knocked my legs out from under me!”

Grizel stopped swinging her arms and adjusted her grip on the basket with good grace. The Robin’s face fell into a comic expression of dissatisfaction, but she ceased her protests and very shortly the small party was turning in at the gates to the Chalet School. Madge put down her basket and unlocked the door, and then they were inside, scrambling out of their boots and shivering in their coats and hats, for the stoves were unlit and the house was cold.

Mademoiselle disappeared in the direction of the kitchen to light the stove in there and make them some coffee, while Madge and her charges went about the house, lighting the big stoves that stood in the form rooms, Speisesaal and in Madge’s own study, until the rooms grew warm enough for them to take off their coats and outer wrappings and sit on the sofa and armchairs in the study, drinking hot milky coffee and listening to each others’ stories of the last week of the holidays.

“The Mensches were absolutely topping!” enthused Joey. “We had a super new year, didn’t we, Grizel?”

“Smashing!” agreed that young lady, adding, just a shade more darkly, “Much better than last year.”

“I’m glad to hear it,” said Madge warmly, smiling at Grizel, who shook herself and smiled back.

“And how was England?” asked Juliet. “We missed you for New Year, Madame.”

“It was not nice without you!” cried the Robin, scrambling down from her seat and snuggling herself up against ‘Tante Marguerite’s’ legs.

Madge reached down and stroked the curly brown hair.

“I know, my pet,” she replied tenderly, “but Mademoiselle and I had to go to England. And to answer your question, Juliet, it was very wet and slushy, wasn’t it, Thérèse?”

Mademoiselle shuddered dramatically.

“I am glad we did not have to spend longer there!” she exclaimed. “Brrr! The slush – the damp – the cold!” She threw up her hands, and the girls laughed.

“But was it a success?” asked Joey eagerly. “Have we got a new mistress yet?”

Madge sighed. “Not yet,” she answered, “and no!” she added, holding up her hands to forestall more questions, “I won’t say any more about it now! If you’ve finished your coffee, you can take your cups through to the kitchen and wash them up, and then run upstairs and unpack your things. Mademoiselle and I will join you once you’ve finished.”

The girls obeyed her command and went off cheerfully enough, though once in the privacy of the dormitory they did grumble a little at having their curiosity thus unsatisfied. Once their unpacking was completed, they trouped downstairs and proceeded to entertain themselves in the form room until Madge came to join them, Mademoiselle having gone to prepare an evening meal. Marie would be returning to her duties tomorrow, for Madge had seen fit to return one day early and had not liked to disrupt her maidservant’s holiday before it officially ended. With Mademoiselle cooking and the girls to help clean and clear up, she felt they could manage quite adequately for one evening. Tomorrow, Mollie Maynard and Matron would both return and Susie Smith and the Dennys would be following shortly, while Miss Wilson was returning at the end of the week. After that, there were only a couple of days until the start of term – her second-to-last, if all went to plan, though she was keeping that from the girls, for now. That was partly why she wanted more staff – to give Thérèse more assistance when she took on the head-ship. It would be very difficult if she were to leave before they had found another member of staff, or preferably two, to take on the English subjects. The school was still finding its feet and was in a rather precarious position; she had to ensure that adequate replacements were found before she and Jem could marry.

Her heart leapt with a little thrill to think of Jem. She would see him tomorrow! She had spoken with him briefly on the ‘phone on Christmas Day itself, and of course they had written, but it wasn’t the same. But tomorrow he would escort Mollie down from the Sonnalpe and they would have a little time together before he had to return. She smiled to think of it and let her thoughts wander a little, until her daydream was interrupted by Joey demanding, rather loudly,

“What’s the matter, Madge? You’re looking positively goopy!”

With which remark Madge pulled herself together and, after scolding her little sister for her use of slang, not to mention the rather rude form of address, she turned her full attention back to the party. But despite her efforts to concentrate on the girls, a little bit of her heart was singing, very quietly,

"Tomorrow - tomorrow!"

A Problem, and a Solution? by Finn

“Oh, Thérèse, I don’t know what we’re to do,” sighed Madge.

It was the following morning, and they were sitting in Madge’s study with a pot of fresh coffee and a plate of biscuits, brought to them by the ever-faithful Marie. Marie had been rather horrified to find her mistress and the girls had spent a night in the school without her capable assistance, and was doing her best to make up for her inadvertent absence by cleaning every corner of the school thoroughly, before applying herself to a magnificent pile of baking, the smells of which were now beginning to drift through the chalet, tempting the girls, and their elders, with their delicious scent.

The heads were discussing their staffing problem. Their visit to England, to interview for the position of history mistress, had been wholly unsatisfactory and they were now trying to decide whether to appoint one of the candidates they had interviewed, or to cast their nets wider and seek other candidates, though that would leave Madge still taking all of the English subjects for this term, at least.

“I also do not know,” Mademoiselle answered her, looking despondent. “The only one to be what we require was this Miss Carthew, but she has not taught before and besides, she tells us she is shortly to be married!” She sighed, and tossed the paper back down onto the rest of the pile. Madge sighed as well.

“I did hope we’d find someone with experience,” she said tiredly. “Even just a year or two of teaching...it really does make a difference. Oh well, it looks like we’ll have to take Miss Carthew. She’s the best of them, and we really can’t wait another term, not if I’m to leave…”

She broke off there, for there came a knock at the door and then it opened and Mollie Maynard appeared, fresh from the Sonnalpe and full of smiles.

“Hello, my dears!” she grinned. “Happy New Year!”

“And to you also!” Mademoiselle laughed, rising to welcome her. "Bonne année et bonne santé!"

Madge rose as well and looked at Mollie, slightly startled.

“Mollie!” she cried. “But…isn’t Jem with you?”

“He’s had to go on to a case over at Geisalm,” Mollie informed her as she submitted to Mademoiselle’s fond kisses of greeting. She watched with amusement as her headmistress’ face fell, and then laughed and added, “Don’t worry, my dear! He said to tell you that he would call in here when he’s finished, before he goes back up to the Sonnalpe.” Her eyes took on a little gleam as she said, “You don’t think he’s forgotten you, do you?”

“What? No! Oh…Mollie!” Madge gave an exasperated laugh and bestowed a hug of greeting on her friend, then threw herself down into her chair. “Well, my dear, you are just in time for coffee! Tell us, how were your holidays?”

“Oh, they were…interesting.” Mollie’s eyes sparkled with amusement as she took a seat on the sofa. “Quite fun, really, except for Jack going all moony-eyed over Susie Smith.”

“Jack?” Madge was surprised, but Mollie nodded.

“Oh yes. She’s quite turned his head,” she told them, giving a comical sigh as she said it. “But I suppose she is rather charming company. She even has our Mr Denny in her thrall!”

“Mr Denny?” Madge snorted with laughter. “Surely not!”

“Well,” Mollie grinned, “let's just say, don’t get him started on the subject of her voice – well, not unless you want to hear a eulogy!”

“She can sing?” asked Mademoiselle, intrigued.

“He’s giving her lessons – with your permission, of course, Madame,” Mollie added, looking over at the headmistress. “But…well, I’d advise you to let him – unless you want him on the doorstep night and day for the next two months!”

“Oh dear!” Madge chuckled. “Well, I suppose I shall have to agree! I can’t have ructions among the staff, can I? And there can't be any harm in it.”

“And what about you?” asked Mollie. “Did you both have nice Christmases?”

“Oh, charming,” answered Madge happily, and Mademoiselle nodded agreement. “It’s just a shame it’s over, in a way!”

Mollie feigned shock. “Did I just hear the headmistress say that?” she demanded, stifling her laughter.

“No, you heard Madge Bettany saying it!” laughed Madge, stretching her arms over her head and leaning back. “I’ve quite liked being Madge Bettany for the last couple of weeks, rather than ‘Madame’ who has to worry about planning lessons and searching for new staff.”

“Oh dear,” said Mollie gravely. “Still not found anyone for the history post?”

“Well,” Madge grimaced. “Possibly. But I can’t say I’m happy.”

“Nor I,” agreed Mademoiselle, with a shrug of the shoulders. “But what else is to be done?”

Mollie gave them both a sympathetic look, then drained her coffee cup and stood up.

“Well, I have to unpack my things, so I’ll leave you both to it,” she said. “Expect our young junior mistress to breeze in some time this afternoon – oh, and keep the milk jug away from her when she does, unless you want an unusual baptism!”

And with that, she went out, her eyes twinkling. Her two colleagues looked at one another, baffled.

“What does she mean with those words?” questioned Mademoiselle.

Madge shrugged her bemusement. “I haven’t the faintest, my dear!” she replied, and turned back to her correspondence. “Would you mind drafting a letter to Miss Carthew, please? Or perhaps we should make it a telegram, this close to the beginning of term? Draft a message, anyway, and we’ll get it sent out one way or another. Oh dear! I really must get through some of these letters!”

“I also have many letters,” agreed Mademoiselle. “There is always much to do, ma chère!”

They worked in silence for a time, until the peace was broken by a knock at the door. Marie entered at Miss Bettany’s command.

“A visitor,” she announced, handing to Madge the visitor's card and a note that was with it. Madge glanced across at Mademoiselle, then down at the card, and finally picked up the letter. It was not long, and as she read it, her expression changed.

“Have you drafted that letter to Miss Carthew yet, Thérèse?” she asked.

“But no, ma chère,” answered her friend. “But I can do it now, if that is your wish?”

“No.” Madge held up a hand. “No, leave it for a moment. I think we may have a solution to the problem right here. Are you happy to conduct another interview, now?”

Mademoiselle nodded, and Madge handed the note and the card over for her to peruse as she said,

“Please ask the visitor to step in, Marie.”

A New Mistress by Finn

“Bye, Tristan! Thanks for a lovely holiday!”

“It was our pleasure! And I shall be sure to call upon you tomorrow, to discuss your lessons.”

Sarah watched with amusement as her brother coloured hotly when Susie blew him a cheeky parting kiss, and then the two women set off through the snow towards the Chalet School. Sarah wanted to sort out some books for her Italian lessons, and so she had offered to walk back with Susie; it would also give her the chance to catch up with the other members of staff who had so far returned, before the pressures of the coming term left them no time for socialising.

They trudged through the snow, Susie chattering merrily away and Sarah putting in a few comments as and when she had breath to do so. How that girl could rattle on! Her conversation was seldom dull, though. Her brother was just the same, excellent company – or, at least, he was when he wasn’t making appalling puns, Sarah reflected, stifling a laugh as she thought back to Christmas. She hoped they would see that young man again soon; she had very much enjoyed his company, and as for Tristan…

“What was that, my dear?” she asked, aware that Susie was waiting for an answer to something. “I’m sorry – I was miles away!”

“I said, do you want to come over next week for a drink?” repeated Susie. “Tristan too, if he’s allowed, that is,” she added with a grimace. “I don’t know what is or isn’t allowed down here. It seems it’s fine for Madame to entertain gentlemen in her study, but as for us mere mortals…”

She trailed off with a look of disgust on her face, and Sarah had to laugh. Susie did find it difficult here, poor girl. Not for the first time, she found herself thinking that Susie really was a little too unconventional for school life. In some ways, she reflected, it was more pleasant to live out, after all – at least she and Tristan weren’t subject to rules and restrictions every hour of the day and night.

As they came into the school, they met Mollie Maynard, who had an air of excitement about her.

“Madame and Mademoiselle are in conference,” she told them cheerfully. “They’re interviewing for the history post.”

“Oh!” Susie looked surprised. “I’d thought they’d be finished with those by now. Do you mean that they haven’t appointed anyone yet?”

“No, but I think they might be going to,” grinned Mollie. “We’ll see anyway. And it’ll be a bit of a surprise for both of you, though, I suspect!”

“Now then, Mollie,” laughed Sarah. “Don’t go teasing us! What’s going on?”

But Mollie refused to say another word, and disappeared into the staffroom, leaving Susie and Sarah to go their separate ways, feeling intrigued and faintly dissatisfied. Susie headed over to Le Petit Chalet, while Sarah sought her own space. She dithered for a while, arranging her books and mentally planning her first class, but at last she was ready to leave. As she came out into the hallway, the door to Madame’s study opened and out came first Mademoiselle, then Madame, and finally…

“Dino!” she cried. “Whatever are you doing here?”

“Sarah!” he called out, waving a hand in her direction. “What a pleasant surprise!”

“Surprise my foot!” she laughed as she came up to the group. “You knew I work here! What on earth…oh!” Realisation suddenly dawned. “No! You? You’re interviewing for the history post?”

Madge laughed at her startled face. “Signor Ruggiero did mention that you knew one another,” she told Sarah, smiling. “In fact," she added, with a light in her eyes, "he has told us that he taught you all you know about teaching!”

Sarah snorted indignantly. “All I know? What rot! Honestly, Madame, don't believe a word he says! He’s not to be trusted!"

“Such a character reference from an old friend!” Dino cried, throwing his hands up in the air and rolling his eyes.

Madge and Mademoiselle both smiled, and the latter said, “But will you not say a good word for your friend, ma chère?”

Sarah tried to scowl at Dino, though her heart was dancing with gladness, then she gave it up and shook her head, laughing.

“Madame,” she replied, “I can honestly say that if you employ Signor Ruggiero here, you will not regret it. In fact,” she added, bestowing a smile upon her old friend, “I don’t think you’ll find a finer teacher anywhere.”

“That’s all I need to hear,” smiled Madge. “Signor Ruggiero, I am happy to offer you the post of history master at the Chalet School. Would you like some time to consider, or…”

But the new history master shook his head. “No,” he replied, his eyes upon Sarah. “No, I need no time. I am happy to accept, Madame. Very happy indeed.”

*
“What are you even doing here?” demanded Sarah as they walked back towards Briesau a little later. “I thought you were in Naples!”

Dino shrugged, spreading his hands wide.

“I wanted a change,” he answered her. “I am tired of Naples, tired of Florence, tired of Italy. It is unrecognizable, Sarah. It makes me sad, so sad – the Fascists are everywhere, they are destroying my lovely country, those squadristi, with their black shirts and their black morals.” He gave a heavy sigh. “No, it was time to move on,” he said, “and when I heard that your school was advertising…” He smiled his charming, warm smile at her, and she couldn’t help but smile back.

“It seemed too good to be true,” he continued. “But I thought, here I am, a history teacher without a position, and here is a position vacant and awaiting someone of my outstanding expertise…” Sarah gave a snort, and he grinned in the old self-effacing manner, “well, I had no choice! And so here I am.” He looked at her more seriously. “Are you happy? You do not…mind?”

“Mind?” she scoffed. “I’m delighted! It’ll be wonderful to work with you again. But, look here, Dino, you mustn’t take my job away from me! I’m supposed to be teaching the Italian here. I won’t have anything to do if you start being all…Italian at us.”

“Nothing to do?” he teased. “What about your French, and your German, and your Spanish and piano and…”

“Alright! Enough extolling my virtues!” she cried, laughing again. “But I was taken on to teach Italian.”

“And so you shall,” he soothed her. “Don’t worry. I shall pretend I don’t speak a word of it!”

She chuckled at the image, and then suddenly she stopped and, rather to his surprise, flung her arms around him.

“Oh, it’s wonderful to see you again!” she enthused, as he laughed and hugged her back. “But,” she exclaimed, letting go and stepping back, “where are you staying?”

“At the Kron Prinz Karl, for now,” he replied. “But,” he added, holding up a hand to forestall her, “before you invite me to share your roof, let me tell you that I would rather not. It is more than likely that my younger brother will be coming out here, to see a bit of Austrian life and, between you and me, to get him away from those dreadful blackshirts. Oh, not that he is, of course – but he is an impressionable age, and we do not want him tempted. And if he comes, my sister will come – you remember Annunziata?”

“Of course!” Sarah smiled with remembrance, as they came up to the outskirts of Briesau. “But even if you have a chalet of your own, you must come over for dinner – often! And,” she added, suddenly, “you should come over for Kaffee now. It’ll give you the chance to meet my brother. I can’t believe you two have never met,” she added.

“It is not through choice, but through circumstance,” Dino pointed out. “And yes, I will come – I will come with all pleasure. Lead on, carina!”

A Little Less Conversation by Finn

Well, Matty, here is the latest report from up in the wilds of Austria. And hereabouts, all the talk is of our new history master! Yes – despite months of interviewing, it transpired there were no suitable women candidates – not a single woman in England qualified to teach our dear lambs. But! Suddenly, into the breach stepped Signor Ruggiero, our white knight and an old friend of Sarah’s. She says he's a whizz at teaching, and so they've offered him the post. I do think Madge was pretty brave to employ a man – well, a full-time man, at least. Of course he’s not living in the chalet – he’s staying at one of the hotels for now. But isn't it all rather incredible!

I’ve just read over that earlier sentence and realised that I seem to be implying that Tristan and Herr Anserl are only men part of the time, which was not really what I meant. I’m pretty sure they’re both men all of the time – though, of course, I’m quite willing to be corrected on that score!

Anyway, back to the mysterious Signor Ruggiero, the friend whom Sarah just ‘happened’ to meet in Innsbruck the night we were trapped by the snowstorm last term. I don’t know him very well as yet, but he strikes me as a good-humoured sort, with a little twinkle about him that I really hope means he has a wicked side. Looks-wise he’s quite striking – short-ish, smaller than me, black curly hair, pale for an Italian and with such eyes! Blue, but not like yours or mine – proper, deep, sapphire blue, just like Mum.

Well, as I write to you, I’m waiting expectantly for Tristan to come over and help me out with some ideas for my lessons, like I said in my last letter, so hopefully he can give me some more particulars on our new master. Isn’t it absurd, how excited we all are about him? It’s not just me – Mollie can hardly talk of anything else, and the girls are all wildly thrilled. I think Madge is getting a little worried about that! I mean, he is quite good-looking – not handsome, but reasonable. It would be rather awkward for her if they all started crushes on him! Though I suspect we'll be fine. After all, Tristan's hardly caused great upset – or, at least, not as far as I know.

I’m looking forward to seeing Tristan. I am actually really missing him already - and Sarah too, of course. I’m over in the main chalet at the moment; since I’m the only resident of LPC who’s back, it seemed silly to open up the whole building just for me. Nell should be back later so we’ll be moving back over there tonight, probably. But I slept in the San last night and I tell you, when I woke up I was so confused – no Tristan singing, no cup of tea by the bed, no baking smells! It totally threw me, until Mollie poked her head in and told me the bathroom was free...and of course, no tea! It's quite horrendous, let me tell you.


There came a tap at the staffroom door and Susie looked up expectantly, but it was Juliet who sidled into the room.

“Hello, Miss Smith,” she said, smiling shyly. “Are you alright here on your own? The others are playing cards in the Speisesaal if you want to join them?”

Susie grinned at her. “Oh, no thanks, Juliet,” she replied. “I’m just…”

For some reason she stopped herself from saying 'waiting', and instead finished, “…writing a letter.”

“Oh!” Juliet began to retreat. “I’m sorry – I’ll leave you.”

“No! It’s alright.” Susie smiled at the girl. “You don’t have to go. You can come and keep me company, if you’re trying to avoid the others.”

Juliet gave a rather guilty smile at being found out. “How did you guess?” she asked, coming back into the room.

Susie’s eyes twinkled. “It’s a familiar feeling – wanting a bit of space, I mean,” she replied. “Big family,” she explained, and Juliet nodded sympathetically, her eyes also glittering. “Come and sit down, if you like. I’m done anyway, until something else happens that I can write about, so we can have a quiet chat if you want – or just sit quietly if you don’t.”

“Oh, I don’t mind,” Juliet answered softly, taking a seat on the sofa near the stove. “I just…ran out of patience with the kids.” She looked rueful. “I was an only child until Madame took me on,” she told Susie, “and I suppose those sort of habits are hard to shake. I know I was a boarder, before here, but I was mostly living at home – and my parents didn’t want me around, so I…” she frowned a little, “I was stuck with my own company.”

Susie gave a sympathetic murmur, unsure what to say. She had been told Juliet’s sad history by Mollie Maynard – only in brief, but she had inferred enough from what she had been told to reconstruct some of what had happened to the head girl before the death of her parents. Not wishing to tread near delicate issues, even those that Juliet had brought up herself, she changed the subject.

“So, my dear, are you looking forward to going to London next year?” she enquired, wincing a little at the slightly false note of brightness in her voice; though Juliet didn’t seem to notice as she considered her reply.

“Yes and no,” she answered, eventually, looking up at the mistress. “I’m keen about the maths., certainly, and I’m quite looking forward to discovering London – I’ve never really lived in England – but…well, it sounds a bit childish, but…I’m not looking forward to…to…”

“Leaving home?” Juliet gave her an embarrassed smile, but Susie’s expression was reassuring. “I know just how you feel,” she told Juliet. “I still miss home, and I left five years ago.”

“Really? Juliet was surprised. “You must have been quite young, Miss Smith.”

“Seventeen,” Susie replied with a grimace. “Yes, it was quite young, but things at home were…complicated. And look here, Juliet,” she added, swiftly changing the subject, “you don’t have to call me ‘Miss Smith’ in the holidays – you’re quite old enough to call me ‘Susie’ out of school.”

“Oh…I don’t know,” said Juliet awkwardly, looking self-conscious. “You’re my teacher…it doesn’t seem right!”

“I’m not really your teacher – only for dancing!” protested Susie. “Come on, Juliet – you’re what, seventeen? And I’m only twenty-two. I bet you call Gisela by her first name!”

“That’s different!” objected Juliet. “I was at school with Gisela!”

“Well…how about ‘Auntie Susie’?” Susie teased her, and Juliet gave a reluctant grin. “Oh, come on, Juliet! I’m sick of being ‘Miss Smith’ all the time – it makes me feel so old!”

Juliet laughed. “It sounds frightfully grown up, to me,” she answered. “Though, come to think of it, I shall be Miss Carrick once my BA is over and done with – and maybe even before then! Yes,” she mused, “I see what you mean about it feeling old!”

Susie chuckled at her expression. “Well, think it over,” she instructed Juliet. “I’ve no objection – it’s such a small familiarity, after all. And I can tell you, Juliet, I’m ever-so jealous of you – going off to London to study for your BA. London’s such a fabulous place. You must be sure to make the most of it. And it must be such an achievement, to be going off to university. We’re all very proud of you, you know,” she told the girl, and Juliet smiled bashfully. “I mean it,” Susie insisted. “You’ve done really very well indeed.”

“I used to be such a little terror,” Juliet observed, reminiscently. “Oh yes,” she added, as Susie opened her eyes wide. “I was simply dreadful to Madame. I hated the school, and I hated Austria, and I didn’t care who knew it! But Madame set me right. I owe her so much – her and Joey, and the rest of the school. Going off to study for my BA, coming back to teach – well, it’s the only way I can make it up to everyone.”

“I hope you’re doing it for yourself as well,” said Susie sternly. “It’s all very well doing things for other people, but you have to look out for yourself in this world, my girl.”

“Oh yes,” agreed Juliet heartily. “Honestly, I do love mathematics. In fact…” she trailed off, but Susie leaned forward and prompted her gently.

“In fact…?”

“Well,” began Juliet, and then the words came out in a tumble, “I think I might like to do research. In mathematics, I mean. Of course, I don’t know – I’ve no idea what it’ll be like and I mightn’t like to do it once I’ve done my BA, but…well, if I had a choice now, I’d quite like to go for an MA, as well, and a doctorate, and I’d like to teach mathematics in university and do my research alongside it all. But I can’t,” she stopped herself, “because I said I’d come back here to teach.”

“Oh, Juliet!” Susie was full of indignation. “You must do what your heart tells you is right. No, really! I’m sure Madame would not be pleased to know you’d come back here out of a sense of duty, when really your heart lies somewhere completely different.”

But Juliet demurred, shaking her head.

“No,” she replied. “I owe it to Madame. I’m sorry – I shouldn’t have mentioned it. It’s just…well, I wanted to tell someone. And I can’t tell Joey or Grizel…I don’t want them to know that I…feel guilty.”

Susie looked at the stubborn expression on her face and sighed inwardly.

“Well,” she said, “you are always – and I mean always – welcome to come to me to talk about things you don’t want to share with your family. And as for mathematics – I think you should wait and see. Don’t make any firm decisions yet!” she commanded with a smile, wagging a finger. “Leave it all open to chance, my dear. After all, who knows?” she added, a teasing light in her eyes. “You never know just who might come into your life in the next four years.”

Juliet’s eyes grew wide, startled, but she nodded, and then smiled, gratefully. Susie had noted the little change of expression that had come over Juliet when she had heard Madame, Joey and Grizel referred to as her ‘family’, and she hoped that what she had said had done some good.

Seeing that Juliet wanted to sit and think for a little while, she let the subject drop and put pen to paper again, though she had very little more to say to Matty. She sighed, checking her watch. Tristan was taking his time. She was beginning to wish they'd arranged a definite time to meet. She took up the notebook in which she was jotting ideas for her lessons and tried to pull her thoughts together, but she was distracted by her anticipation of Tristan’s arrival and her planning ended up being worse than useless.

The door opened suddenly, disturbing the peace of the room, and they both looked up sharply; but it was only Madge and Mollie, who had been arranging one of the upstairs dormitories and were now eagerly anticipating their Kaffee und Kuchen.

“Juliet!” said Madge, “whatever are you doing here?”

“We’re enjoying a haven of peace and tranquillity,” answered Susie for her, grinning at first Juliet and then her colleagues.

“And avoiding games of Snap,” added Juliet, her eyes twinkling. “But I’d better get back to the others now. Miss Smith – thanks,” she said, quietly, as she stood up.

“You know where I am,” returned Susie in equally low tones, and the head girl smiled shyly and went out.

Mollie gave Susie a quizzical look.

“Everything alright?” she enquired.

“Everything peachy,” replied Susie cheerfully, though she had the grace to look abashed as Madge turned rather reproachful eyes on her. “Is it time for Kaffee, then? Hasn’t the afternoon…dragged?” she finished with a twinkle, and Mollie giggled.

“It’s flown, for me,” she answered, “but then, I’ve been doing some work!”

“Hey!” Susie puffed in indignation. “Lessons don’t plan themselves, you know!”

Madge smiled tolerantly at the pair. “Now then, you two,” she reproved them, “we’re all very busy! Ah, here’s Marie with coffee. Danke, Marie,” as the girl put the coffee and cakes down on the little table and retreated with her usual bobbed curtsey. “I suppose we ought to wait for Mademoiselle…”

But she broke off, for the sound of running footsteps came to their ears and a moment later, the door opened and Joey tumbled in.

“Madge, Madge! Mr Denny’s coming up the path!” she called to her sister, eyes wide.

Madge stood up and put a hand to her forehead.

“Oh heavens,” she said, tiredly. “What can he want?”

"He can't want to give me a singing lesson, can he?" demanded Joey plaintively. "I've done no practice all holiday and he'll simply hate it!"

“Oh, don't worry," answered Susie. "He's after me." Three pairs of eyes turned surprised to her and she grinned as she said, “I asked him to come over and help me prepare some lessons for the littlies. That’s alright, isn’t it, Madge?” she asked, and Madge, rather startled, gave a vague nod.

“Yes…yes, quite…but what about Kaffee?” she demanded suddenly.

"I'll manage without it for one day!" replied Susie, inwardly rejoicing. "Hop out of the way, Joey! If you need us, anyone, we’ll be over at Le Petit Chalet.”

And so saying she departed, leaving her colleagues to exchange puzzled glances, and she stepped into the hallway to find Tristan on the threshold, stamping the snow from his boots.

“Hello, you,” she smiled, and he grinned back.

“Good afternoon, Miss Smith,” he replied, with an odd formality. “I trust this is a good time to talk over your music?”

“It’s ideal,” she grinned. “No, don’t take your boots off – we’ll go over to my study. It’s quieter over there,” she added, conveniently ignoring the fact that the main chalet was hardly busy.

Swiftly she donned her coat and cap and they crossed together to Le Petit Chalet. Fortunately Eigen had seen fit to light the stoves around the house, in preparation for Nell and Susie moving back in, so her study was warm and toasty. Susie pulled off her outer garments, flinging them onto a chair, and knelt down beside the kettle.

“We were just about to have Kaffee,” she told Tristan, waving for him to sit down, “but between ourselves, I’d rather have tea. Cup for you?”

“Yes, please,” he answered her, taking a seat on the sofa. Susie put the kettle on, and then took a seat next to him.

“Well,” she said after a moment's pause, “let’s talk music! You have some suggestions, I take it?”

She indicated the bundle he held on his knee, and he started and nodded.

“Oh…yes! Here. I have mainly songs,” he began, “and I have tried to select those that correspond with your subjects. Of course,” he continued, beginning to smile, “some subjects were easier than others. I have a great many pieces that pertain to literature, and to history…”

He began to leaf through his bundle and lay out copies of the songs for her, and she leaned over to look more closely at them. As they discussed how she should include the music in her lessons, he grew more relaxed. He had been oddly awkward to start with, which was unlike him, but eventually all shyness was forgotten and they both grew animated with enthusiasm.

The lesson plans half-finished, Susie suddenly remembered the other subject she wanted to discuss with him, and she caught his arm excitedly, her face alight, when suddenly the door opened and Nell breezed in, cold, weary with travelling, and obviously bursting with news.

“…oh,” she said, the cheery smile freezing on her face as she took in the sight of the two of them on the sofa, Susie clinging to Tristan's arm.

“Nell!” cried Susie, but Nell was already backing out of the room, muttering an apology, and before Susie could stop her she was gone.

Susie bit her lip. “Oh dear,” she said.

Tristan looked uncomfortable, though Susie could see that he was uncertain as to what had prompted Nell's precipitate departure.

“Should I perhaps leave?” he asked her, looking rather confused, but Susie shook her head.

“No,” she replied. “Let’s get this finished. She’ll have gone to unpack, so we may as well,” she added, trying to reassure him, and he gave her a brief smile and turned back to the work at hand.

*
By the time they had finished planning Susie’s lessons, or at least the musical aspect of them, it was almost half past five. Susie gave a small inward sigh as Tristan gathered together his things to leave. She had been quite looking forward to this meeting, but since Nell’s intrusion things had become rather awkward between them, and she could tell that Tristan was grateful to be going home.

“You will come over for a drink next week, won’t you?” she asked him as he put on his scarf and picked up his coat. “I’ve already asked Sarah,” she added as he hesitated. “We’ll play cards or something. Oh, go on, say you will!”

“Ah…” He gave a little shrug. “Well, if Sarah has agreed, then of course we shall come.” He gave her a quick smile and added, rather awkwardly, “I shall enjoy it.”

She smiled back, feeling a bit happier. As he slipped on his coat there came a knock at the door – a very formal knock – and when Susie answered, Nell appeared. Tristan caught up his remaining papers swiftly and gave Nell a courteous bow.

“Miss Wilson,” he said. “Please, do not go – I was about to leave.” He looked from Nell to Susie and back again, and added, “I apologise for trespassing upon your time.”

“Not at all,” replied Nell, rather stiffly, as she came into the room.

“Oh, Tristan!” cried Susie as he made to leave. “I never asked! You have to tell us – what’s our new history master like?”

“What?” blurted Nell, startled out of her frostiness. “What’s all this?”

“Oh yes! Has no-one told you? We couldn’t get hold of a history mistress, so we have a history master instead!” Susie laughed at her friend’s astonished face. “He’s a Signor Ruggiero, and he just happens to be an old friend of Sarah’s.” She grinned at Tristan, who was smiling slightly reluctantly. “So go on – tell us about him?”

But Tristan shrugged. “I’m afraid I cannot tell you anything. I only met him myself yesterday.”

“Really? But he and Sarah have been friends for so long – or that’s what she said, at least.”

“And indeed she speaks truly,” he confirmed, “but they became friendly while she was in Italy, and since I visited her but once, and he never crossed the Channel…” he spread his hands wide, “our paths have never crossed.”

“Oh! How disappointing!”

Nell laughed at Susie’s disgruntled expression.

“Now then, my dear,” she teased, “too much gossiping is bad for you! And I’m sure Mr Denny needs to be on his way, so…”

She trailed off, and Tristan started and nodded.

“Oh yes, indeed! I must return before Sarah begins to wonder whether something terrible has transpired. I bid you farewell, ladies…”

And with a deep bow to both of them, he was gone.

“I’m sorry,” said Nell as the door closed behind him. “We’ve been so free and familiar about this place that I entirely forgot that it’s your study. I didn’t mean to interrupt anything.”

“Oh, nonsense!” scolded Susie, crossing the room to where her friend stood. “You know you’re always welcome in here, no matter what!”

She grinned at Nell, and then pulled her into a hug. “It’s lovely to see you again!”

“You too,” replied Nell, gruffly, her arms wrapping tightly about Susie’s waist. It might have been Susie’s imagination, but Susie felt that they lingered there a moment longer than strictly necessary – and a shiver of warmth ran through her.

“You look tired,” she observed, as Nell went and sat on the sofa where Tristan had been just a few minutes before. “Tea’s gone cold, but I can put some more on, if you want?”

“No point,” returned Nell. “Abendessen will be called soon – we shan’t have time to drink it.”

“Good point,” grinned Susie, bending to gather together the song sheets Tristan had left for her. Then she stopped suddenly.

“Oh…bother! I forgot entirely to talk to Tristan about my new scheme!” she exclaimed in irritation. “Oh…drat and double drat! Oh well, I’ll just have to pop over there sometime later in the week to…talk it through…what?” she demanded, for Nell was giving her a rather funny look.

“Oh…nothing,” she answered, her rosy cheeks belying her words. Susie raised an eyebrow and Nell cleared her throat, looking embarrassed.

“Are you and…and Mr Denny…I mean, is there something…?” she began, not meeting Susie’s eye.

Susie felt her cheeks burn as she realised Nell's meaning.

“What, me and Tristan? No! I mean, he's...well, he's nice, and I like him, a lot, actually, but, well, he wouldn't...at least, I don't think he would...”

“It’s alright, you know,” said Nell, scarlet now. “I wouldn’t mind…”

“No! He was here to talk about school work, if you must know! Look! He's helping me to design some new lesson plans for the juniors. There's nothing...I mean, no...there's nothing. Honestly.”

Nell looked up at her, and then glanced away, sighed, and said,

“Good.”

Susie stared at her friend.

“What?” was all she could manage, but Nell just muttered,

“It’s alright. Nothing. It’s alright.”

And then before either of them could say anything else, the front door clattered open. It was Mollie, letting them know that it was time for Abendessen.

After Dinner by Finn

Abendessen dragged. Susie was confused, uneasy, and she picked over her food until a sharp look from Matron Wilson told her that she was being observed, and that she had better be a little more circumspect. Still, she almost screamed with frustration when the girls all accepted second helpings, and when the Robin dithered over her pudding so much that she earned herself a gentle rebuke from Madame, she felt half-inclined to start throwing dishes around.

Eventually, however, grace was said and they were dismissed, and to Susie’s relief, Nell did not linger behind but came over with her to Le Petit Chalet and followed her into the study.

Susie shut the door, and turned on her friend.

“Now then,” she said, “I want to know what you meant by what you said earlier. What did you mean, good? Are you trying to imply that Tristan isn’t…isn’t suitable in some way?”

Nell sighed. “No,” she answered. “I mean, I’m not saying that.”

She sighed again, then flopped down onto the sofa.

“I’m sorry,” she began, waving a hand for Susie to sit beside her. “What I said…it came out wrong. I didn’t mean to say anything about…about Mr Denny.”

“So,” Susie said, sitting down beside her, her indignation evaporating, “you meant something…entirely different.”

They looked at one another. Susie’s heart began to skip a little faster.

Finally Nell smiled slightly and reached out for Susie’s hand. Susie let her take it without flinching, her heart racing now. Nell smiled again and pressed her hand slightly, looking away from Susie and towards the fire. Susie edged a little closer to her, and Nell looked back and smiled more.

“This Christmas, while I was climbing mountains,” she said, “I had time for…well, for a lot of thinking.”

She took a deep breath, and Susie slid a fraction closer to her while she was looking aside. She turned back and looked at Susie, her face suddenly serious.

“When I left England,” she said, “I was…it was…not a good time for me. My family…my sister…all dying like that.” She broke off and frowned. Susie squeezed her hand gently but Nell shook her head. “No…no, please.” She smiled faintly to mitigate her frown, and Susie gave a sympathetic grimace back. “But…it wasn’t just that. You see, there was someone. A woman.”

Susie felt her heart leap into her mouth. Her eyes widened and she bit her lip to contain her delighted smile. She was! She had wondered. All this time, and she was…

Nell was watching her closely, to see her reaction. When she saw the expression on Susie’s face, she smiled suddenly and then laughed outright.

“I was right!” she grinned. “I thought you were. Well, I tell you, Susannah Smith," she said, shuffling closer to her, "when I was up that mountain on Christmas Day I couldn’t help thinking of you, and...well, I made a decision. About something that I would do, when I came back and saw you again.”

Susie’s mouth was dry, but she managed a shaky, “Which was?”

Nell smiled again, softly.

“This,” she replied, and she leaned in and kissed her.


*
Afterwards, in bed, Nell laid down the law.

“I don’t want anything serious,” she told Susie. “I can’t…it’s...it's been such a long time. After all I went through with Mary…”

She rolled onto her back, and sighed at the ceiling.

“It was quite a while ago now,” she said, answering Susie’s unasked question, “but it was…you know, it was one of those affairs. Big. When she left me, I…I thought I wouldn’t ever want anyone again. But…well…”

“I’m just too irresistible,” teased Susie, propping herself on her elbow so she could look down at her. Nell smiled and chuckled, shaking her head.

“Naturally,” she returned drily, an eyebrow elegantly raised, then twitched away as Susie reached down and ran fingers lightly along her ribs. “Susie! Stop it!”

“Ticklish?” enquired Susie sweetly, attempting to tease her again, but she soon stopped when confronted by Nell’s flapping hands.

“Enough! Stop it!” Nell fell back against the pillows and laughed. “You’re not helping, you know!” she told Susie, sternly.

Susie laughed. “I’m not trying to,” she teased.

Nell looked up at her penetratingly, a glint in her eyes.

“Jealous, darling?” she asked, her tone light.

Susie shrugged, and grimaced. “No. Well, yes. I mean...no. Not really. Well…maybe, a little bit,” she finished, and Nell chuckled.

“Well, don’t be,” she said. “It was over quite a long time ago. But…” she grew awkward again, “well, this is the first time…since Mary. It’s not easy. And I’m sorry, but I can’t…I can’t say what will happen. I’m just not sure how I feel about anything any more.”

She looked at Susie with a rueful expression. Susie sighed a little, then shrugged.

“No, I understand,” she replied. “I know what you mean, really. I mean, when I came here it was all…I mean, I was leaving behind a rather…awkward situation of my own. So I…” she shrugged again, then smiled at Nell. “I understand,” she finished.

Suddenly she giggled.

“Look at us!” she exclaimed. “We’ve barely been in bed together five minutes and already we’re being all serious! Whatever happened to fun?”

“Oh, it’s fun that you want, is it?” Nell demanded, rolling over and seizing Susie by the wrists, pinning her to the bedsheets. “Well, in that case…”

“Nell! Nell, no! Oh, that tickles! Nell! Nell…stop…oh…”


“Do you know, I can’t believe we’ve never met each other before,” observed Susie later on, as they lay side by side in the lamplight.

Nell shifted so she could look at her.

“How do you mean?” she asked.

“In London,” answered Susie, turning to her. “You know, in the clubs. Soho and the like.”

“I know where you mean,” replied Nell with a reminiscent smile. “But you forget, my dear, that I left London before you arrived. I was working in a school in the countryside when Mary and I were…”

“Of course,” Susie cut in. “That would explain it.” She grinned at Nell, a twinkle in her eye. “I didn’t think I could have missed you.”

Nell’s eyes glittered as she smiled back.

“Young flatterer,” she returned. “Don’t think you’re wheedling any more special treatment out of me with your compliments! Oh! Stop it! Susie! Stop it!”

Reluctantly Susie resurfaced and grinned down at Nell, who looked up at her with a slightly wicked smile on her face.

“Actually,” Nell said suddenly, “I have seen you before.”

“What?” Susie sat back, surprised. “When?”

“I can’t remember when,” answered Nell. “In fact, I didn’t realise it was you until this holiday, when I suddenly remembered it. Mary and I came up to town for the weekend, and we went to the Café Royale,” – Susie grinned in fond remembrance of that particular place – “and had a few drinks. And then in you came, on the arm of a very dashing…well,” her eyes twinkled, “it looked like a rather dashing young man, but if it was, he was a very pretty young man.”

“Ah!” Susie’s eyes grew distant. “Sam. Yes.”

Her smile grew fond. Nell tapped her thigh.

“Ahem?” she said, pointedly, and Susie grinned.

“She. Definitely she,” she informed her. “She was…she was my ‘unattainable one’.”

“Your what?”

“Oh, something my brother came up with. You have your quick affairs, your long affairs, and then you have your ‘unattainable’. The one person you really, really want and can’t have, or not entirely. Everyone has one, he reckons, or has had one. Well, Sam was mine.”

She sighed, slightly wistfully, and Nell raised an eyebrow. Susie giggled.

“Oh, don’t be silly!” she laughed. “She…well, she can’t hurt me any more. And if she can’t hurt me, she can’t hurt us.”

She lay down beside Nell and curled up against her, head resting on Nell’s shoulder. She felt Nell’s arm go around her waist and sighed happily.

“Susie,” said Nell, after a moment.

“Mm?”

“When I said…you know what I said earlier?”

“Hm? About what?”

“About…you and me.”

“About us not being serious?”

“Are you…is it…is that alright?”

Susie shifted slightly and trailed a fond finger lightly down Nell’s stomach.

“I’m fine with that,” she replied, her voice warm. “If that’s what you want – if it will make you happy, and if it means we can be…well, whatever we are, we’re together, aren’t we?” Nell nodded, and she continued, “well, that’s good enough for me.” She giggled, and looked up at Nell. “Anyway, I’ve not known you long enough to love you, Nell!”

Nell pretended to be shocked, before lapsing into giggles. She pulled Susie up to her and kissed her again, long and tender. When she released her, she held her cheeks and looked up into her eyes.

“It seems so stupid,” she said, “but I was so jealous when I came in and saw you and…”

“His name is Tristan,” prompted Susie, her eyes glinting wickedly, and Nell chuckled, rolling her own eyes.

“When I saw you together on the sofa, looking so cosy,” she finished, slightly more irascibly. “I thought…I really thought…”

“Well, you thought wrong!” Susie told her firmly. “Although,” she added with a cheeky twinkle in her eyes, “d’you know, I think I might have, if he’d been inclined. He’s terribly sweet, and quite good-looking, if you like that sort of thing.”

Nell gave a dry chuckle.

“I’ll pretend I didn’t hear that,” she said.

“Oh, I didn’t mean…not now, you idiot! Not now I have you.”

Nell grinned and released her so she could curl up against her once more.

“Enough men for one night,” she said. “We don’t need them…”

“Too right,” answered Susie, her breath drawn out in a gasp as Nell’s tongue touched a sensitive part of her neck. Nell laughed softly as she slid back up and murmured in her ear,

“Susie, dear, turn out the light.”

All Good Things... by Finn

All the rest of the week Susie thought she must have been enchanted. There was nothing that did not sparkle for her; the sunshine was delightful, the grey skies even more entrancing. The dark woods were not menacing but exquisite, the lake’s icy surface was stark but wonderful. Each and every morsel of food was divine, and tea was a delicate nectar. It was as though she had been transported to another world, her own Arcadia, and she revelled in it. Oh, how nice it was to have an affair! It had been six months since her last one had ended. She had missed it – the excitement, the fun, the sheer paradisiacal feeling of being wanted by the person she wanted. And all here in lonely Tiernsee! Who would have thought it?

They were having to be careful, of course. No-one must catch the little glances they exchanged, the lovers’ tricks they played on one another to tease, and certainly no-one must catch them slipping into each others’ rooms at night. Susie blessed God that they were the only adults in the house, and with no responsibilities other than arranging their own timetables and other affairs. In Susie’s case, of course, this made her rather busy, but as Nell was needed over in the main chalet for a lot of the day, helping with games timetables, prep rotas and so on, they were both kept occupied; and the nights were their own.

But all good things must come to an end, and soon the weekend loomed and with it, the return of the girls. Susie tried to face it with equanimity, but her nervousness at having to face her pupils again, after their behaviour of the last term, combined with her gloom at the imminent loss of freedom – in more ways than one – turned her mood rather sour and made her generally difficult to deal with. Even Tristan Denny noticed it. He had been very insistent about starting her singing lessons as soon as possible, regularly asking her to agree a time with him, until laughingly she had given in and agreed that he could come on Friday. To be truthful, she was rather nervous – the prospect of making mistakes and showing her utter ignorance in front of Tristan was not something she relished and she knew how he could be a stickler for precision – but rather to her surprise he was very reassuring and swiftly put her at her ease.

“We shall not sing a great deal this lesson,” he informed her. “We shall perform a few exercises, that I may determine your range accurately, and afterwards we shall attempt some breathing. So you may be calm!” he said, eyes twinkling, and she gave him a grateful smile.

Funny way of putting it, she thought, swallowing her nervousness, that they would "attempt some breathing". When they reached that point, however, she realised he had not been joking; they really were going to practice breathing. He was explaining the mechanics of singing to her, and showing her how to control her breath, and she tried to take it all in but was not immediately successful. He did not tease her as he might have done at Christmas, for he had adopted a certain degree of formality on beginning the lesson, which coincided rather curiously with an increased confidence on his part with talking to her.

Instead, he corrected her gently, taking her hand and placing it upon her diaphragm for her.

“From here,” he instructed her, standing close beside her. “Breathe in…” and he held her hand still so she could feel the effect. “Do you see?” he asked. “It is an unusual sensation, is it not? You must breathe deeply, but not rapidly.” He demonstrated himself, taking a slow deep breath, and she attempted to copy him, his hand still holding hers over her diaphragm. “Better,” he smiled, and released her. “Keep your hand there and try again.”

Susie tried again, and found that it made more sense. Tristan seemed pleased with her efforts, for he began to teach her the breath control exercises he had mentioned, and soon her stomach and sides were aching with the effort. She found time, in among the breathing, to be amused that Tristan was so much more comfortable in her presence now that he was teaching her; but neither this nor the vocal exercises they began after she had mastered some of the breathing could distract her entirely from the forthcoming resumption of her duties as a mistress, and slowly the gloom that had briefly dispersed began to re-settle upon her, and she grew increasingly ill-humoured. Tristan observed this and commented upon it.

“You seem to be somewhat disturbed,” he remarked when they were resting for a moment and she sighed one time too many. “Is there something troubling you?”

To her very great shame she snapped at him in reply and he recoiled, looking startled and slightly injured. He broke off the lesson shortly afterwards, saying that he would return on Tuesday

“I understand that breathing is not, perhaps, the most engaging exercise,” he told her gently, “but it is of vital importance to the quality of your singing. But it was a mistake on my part to commence these lessons immediately before the start of the term – naturally you are distracted, and my presence is not helping. I shall return on Tuesday, when perhaps you will be a little more at ease. Will you please practice the exercises we learned today, in preparation for our next lesson – you do still wish to continue?” he enquired, suddenly anxious.

“Yes…yes,” she murmured, nodding, and he looked relieved.

“Then I will cease my intrusion upon your time,” he said, and bowing low, he departed.

Immediately she felt guilty and wanted to run after him and apologise; but on reflection she let him go and told herself she would ask his forgiveness later. In the meantime, she resolved to enjoy her last night of freedom and try not to let the returning students trouble her. She failed abysmally, as Nell told her later that night.

“Stop being so down in the mouth!” she ordered, as Susie curled up and tried not to be morose. “It’s not going to make anything better and it’s making us both miserable! If you’re going to carry on like this I’m going back to my own bed.”

But she relented and wrapped her arms around Susie instead, and, secure in Nell’s embrace, Susie eventually stopped worrying and fell asleep, to waken the next morning with considerably better composure.

Which was just as well, for in the afternoon she was introduced to the latest addition to the junior school and realised almost immediately that, yet again, she had been presented with quite a challenge.

Evelyn by Finn

“What did you say that for?” demanded Nell, coming in with a bang and flinging herself down on the sofa.

Susie looked up from her letters.

“Say what for?” she asked, sweetly.

“What you said about Evelyn!” growled Nell, her dark brows drawn close together.

Susie bit her lip but couldn’t quite stifle her giggle at Nell’s scowl. Evelyn Keane! Never had a girl been more aptly named – she was so desperately shy, so oddly timid, and yet she was so - yes, keen to assure Susie that she had been listening, paying attention, so earnestly trying not to disappoint, that she nodded almost constantly as Susie informed her of the minutiae of life in Le Petit Chalet. Susie rather wondered if her head wouldn't topple off at any moment. And it was not smugness or showing off, but rather a genuine desire for – no, more, a real need for – approbation. Which only made it all the more tragic, of course. So far she had mumbled her thanks to Susie for saying hello to her, for introducing herself, for showing her the form-room, her desk, her peg, her dormitory, her bed, the bathroom, the bath rota, for giving her the texts and workbooks, for giving her the timetable, for introducing her to the other girls and then, as she rather thankfully took her leave of them, she had glanced back to see Evelyn's terrified eyes gazing at her, evidently seeking her approval. She had nodded at her, feeling her smile straining about the edges, and had retreated rather desperately to her study and, once there, had gently sunk her forehead onto her desk and stayed like that for some minutes.

To Nell, later that evening, she had simply said,

“You’re going to get on famously with our new girl.”

Now she giggled as Nell glared at her, and said,

“What’s the matter? She’s a nice girl.”

“Nice! She's practically silent, except when she's saying "thank you"!”

“Oh, now then, Nell. You only met her an hour ago.”

“An hour of blood-curdling irritation that I won’t get back.”

“Nell! I know she’s a bit…well, a bit…annoying…”

“Annoying? Try maddening, aggravating, infuriating, exasperating…”

“Now, Nell, be fair! She’s probably a lovely kid under…under all the shyness. She just needs time to…to get used to us.”

“Well I hope she hurries up about it,” growled Nell. “Whenever she comes near I can hear my blood rushing in my ears!”

“Oh, don’t be silly!” Susie told her, half-laughing in spite of herself. “Give her a chance! After all, it’s not like you have to teach her. Mr Denny and I will be getting that pleasure.”

Nell grunted. “Musical kid, is she?”

“Very, apparently.” Susie sighed. “I wish I were!”

“Why?” asked Nell, glancing at her quickly.

“Lesson tomorrow,” Susie explained briefly. She heaved another sigh. “I hope he’s forgiven me.”

“For what?”

“Oh…something. Never mind, it isn’t important. What is important is how we’re going to spend the evening, now that our girls are in bed.”

She got up from her desk as she spoke and crossed the room to wriggle into the space next to Nell, forcing Nell to shift slightly and slip an arm around her shoulders. They both leaned back and Susie rested her head on Nell’s shoulder, playing idly with the button of her blouse. The shutters were closed, the house asleep. They were safe, for now. She tilted up her head and saw Nell's smile, and she reached up to pull her down and claimed a kiss. And then another. And another.

Eventually she pulled back and looked up again at her lover, who was smiling down at her with a suggestive look, and she could see from Nell's expression that she, too, had a pretty shrewd idea of how they were going to spend the evening...

Corridor Conversations by Finn

“Ah, Signor Denny! I do apologise – I did not see you coming. Please, allow me.”

“No, there is no need – it is but one book. See, I have it.”

“I am most sorry. It was foolish of me, to dive out in that way.”

“Not at all.”

“Ah.”

An awkward silence fell, as between two people who feel they should say something further to one another but cannot think what. Dino Ruggiero cleared his throat, embarrassed.

“Ah. I, er…You are leaving now?”

“Yes.” Tristan paused, then frowned slightly, trying to comprehend. “Do you also leave now? I will wait, if you wish…”

“Oh, no…no,” Dino interrupted. “No, I teach another lesson yet. It is just that…I thought your sister might walk back with you?”

“She has already left,” explained her brother, his eyebrows raised. “Her lesson today was an early one.”

“Oh. I…I did not see her.”

“That is a shame. But perhaps you were occupied, in a lesson?”

“Perhaps.”

“Hm.”

There was another pause, before Dino, somewhat awkwardly, resumed the conversation.

“Ah…my sister arrives next week, and my youngest brother with her.”

“Indeed?” Tristan smiled politely. “That will be most pleasant for you.”

“Yes! Yes. It is no fun to live alone.”

“Indeed not.”

Dino cleared his throat.

“Ahem. Er…when they arrive, I should very much like it if we were all to have dinner…”

“Oh, by all means! I am sure Sarah will insist upon it. In fact, I am certain that, when I inform her, she will extend the invitation this very afternoon.”

“She will…” Dino smiled slightly, before recollecting who he was talking to. “Ah. Yes, of course. But I meant that you should both come and dine with us. After all, you have extended your hospitality to me several times since I arrived here – the very least is that I return the favour.”

Tristan grinned suddenly.

“Ah, but I can tell you what dear Sarah will say to that,” he told Dino. “That you have just moved in to your new chalet, that your sister and brother are wearied by a long journey, that it is ingratitude to expect your sister to cook dinner, and most unwelcoming of us, when we are settled here and not tired by travelling. She will insist that we two play host to you three, and if you know my sister, my dear sir, you will know that it is not only unwise, but positive madness to try to dissuade her from such a course.”

They exchanged a grin of understanding, and Dino laughed.

“You are, of course, right,” he answered. “Very well – when she comes to extend the invitation, I shall not argue.”

“I think this is wisest,” replied Tristan, still in that conspiratorial tone, and the two men smiled at one another again.

The shared moment passed and Tristan, feeling they had managed as much conversation as they could for one afternoon, waved an arm to indicate that he would leave now. Dino stepped hastily aside to let him pass, but at that moment a voice hailed the pair of them from down the corridor, and they both turned to see Susie Smith coming towards them, beaming one of her charming smiles on them. They both smiled back, Tristan with open pleasure at seeing her, Dino with an expression of something approaching relief.

“Hello, hello,” she grinned at them. “And how goes the term so far?”

Tristan laughed. “It has barely started!” he reminded her, and she grinned cheerfully.

“I know,” she replied good-humouredly. “I did say ‘so far’! A general impression will do.”

Tristan shrugged, feigning indifference. “They have forgotten all they ever learned about singing, and so my work begins anew,” he returned, giving a weary sigh, and Susie laughed and patted him on the arm.

“Poor old thing,” she chuckled. “What wearisome toil! But it keeps you out of mischief.”

He scowled at her. “I can only hope my other pupils have not been so negligent,” he said severely, fixing her with a stern gaze, and she bit her lip so as not to smile, trying to look repentant. He narrowed his eyes. “Come now, Su…er, Miss Smith,” he corrected himself, remembering where they were and in whose company. “Have you been practising your breathing?”

“Um.” Susie paused, recalling breathing of a slightly different nature. “In a manner of speaking…”

“Well, be sure at least to attempt the exercises before tomorrow!” he requested in rather weary tones, shaking his head slightly.

“My dear sir,” she replied formally, “I shall do my utmost to oblige.”

Her eyes sparkled, and he managed to maintain his frown for only a few moments longer before his composure broke and they both began to laugh.

Dino was looking at them in slight bemusement and Susie, seeing his face, bit her lip to stifle another giggle.

“And how about you, Signor Ruggiero?” she asked, trying to draw him in. “Is it vastly different for you, our little school? Madame told me that you had taught in a much larger school before you came here.”

“Oh yes, indeed,” he replied cheerfully. “Yes, much larger, and all boys, too. They are very different from girls,” he told them, in confidential tones, leaning closer. “The girls…they listen to me!” He leaned back, his eyes dancing. “Quite a revelation!” he remarked, before letting out a burst of laughter that startled his audience for a moment, before they joined him. Tristan smiled at the history master and nodded confirmation.

“It is quite different, indeed,” he agreed, and Dino raised his eyebrows in surprise, and then remembrance.

“Oh! But I was forgetting!” he exclaimed. “You also taught boys, in England, is that not so?”

“Quite so,” nodded Tristan, and Susie looked at him in surprise.

“I never knew that!” she cried.

“You never asked,” he observed, eyes twinkling, and she rolled hers and gave him a gentle shove. He righted himself and frowned at her, darkly, and Susie observed Dino giving them a rather quizzical look and hurriedly resumed the conversation.

“Well, no wonder you’re such a good teacher,” she said, and Tristan narrowed his eyes at her, trying to divine whether she was teasing him again. “No, you twit, that was honest! I just meant that you’ve done it before – you’ve had practice, previous experience, that sort of thing.”

“Ah, but it was altogether different,” Tristan observed, waving his arms expressively, careless of the books he was carrying. “It was larger, much larger, several hundred boys; I was a tutor in a boarding house; there was a chapel and I directed the choir and trained the choristers, and gave lessons in singing and in music theory…oh, it was altogether different,” he repeated, his voice tinged with regret.

Susie gave him a sympathetic glance.

“Must have been a bit more involved for you than it is here,” she remarked, and he gave a sad grimace and nodded.

“Alas, yes,” he replied. “It is unfortunate that I could not remain there, for I enjoyed the work very much.”

“But am I not right in saying,” Dino interjected, “that it was too much work that made you thus unwell? At least,” he added hesitantly, as Tristan frowned, “that is what Sa…your sister gave me to understand.”

Tristan waved a hand dismissively. “An unfortunate coincidence,” he returned sharply, and then tempered his curtness with an apologetic smile. “Perhaps you are correct,” he countered himself. “It may have…exacerbated matters. But…it became plain that I could no longer remain there, and so here I am.”

He waved his arms again to indicate his helplessness, and sent his songsheets scattering across the floor. Susie laughed aloud and crouched to help him gather them, shaking her head mockingly at his incompetence, but as she passed him the music she found herself wobbling, and it was only his hands catching her wrists that kept her from falling. Now he laughed at her incompetence, and then the door to the staffroom opened and Nell Wilson came out and stopped dead.

Susie accepted Tristan’s assistance in rising from her crouching position and beamed a smile at her lover.

“Hallo,” she said, her eyes alight with affection. “Time for Kaffee?”

“Time for Kaffee,” agreed Nell, a small smile tugging at the corners of her lips. “I was just coming to see where you had got to.” She included Dino in this remark and he smiled graciously at her and, nodding politely at Tristan, who returned the gesture with a small bow, made his way to the staffroom.

“Are you coming then?” Nell demanded, as Susie hesitated.

“In a moment,” Susie told her. “I just need a quick word with Mr Denny.”

Nell’s expression was unreadable for a moment, and then the little smile reappeared.

“See you shortly, then,” she replied, and she followed Dino into the staffroom.

Tristan looked at Susie in some puzzlement when she took his arm as they walked to the door. As they reached it, she stopped and turned to him, hand still at his elbow, gaze turned downwards.

“I just wanted to apologise,” she told him, “for being so rude last week. I was…” she looked upwards now, and then directly at him, a rueful smile on her lips. “I was worried…so very worried about the new term! It was preying on my mind and…” she gave him an apologetic look, “I took it out on you, when you were only trying to help. I’m really sorry.”

He shook his head, and then laughed.

“I am glad!” he answered her, sighing with relief. “Oh, not that you were unhappy…I mean, that is not at all…oh,” he broke off and scowled at her as she began to giggle. “I mean,” he continued, in mock-irritation, and she stifled her giggle, “that I am glad it was not I that was the cause. I was anxious that I had upset you somehow, and I should not like that. It is the last thing I wish,” he said earnestly, and she gave him a warm smile, and then giggled slightly.

“I am glad to hear it!” she teased him, and he rolled his eyes and shook his head in despair.

“Never, never will you be serious!” he exclaimed, and laughed, looking back down at her.

“I should hope not!” she protested. “That’s the last thing I want to be. But,” she added in more sober tones, “we’re alright, then?”

“Of course,” he replied, giving her a slightly puzzled look. “We were never otherwise.”

“Good!” She smiled at him, then flung her arms around him, books and all. He laughed, slightly awkward, unable to reciprocate, and then he took his leave and departed, leaving Susie to trip cheerfully back to the staffroom, where she soon had the rest of the staff embroiled in a discussion on what she should do with her new Problem Pupil.

A Case of Baskets by Finn

“I was talking to Susie earlier,” remarked Sarah, conversationally, perching herself on the arm of sofa. “She was telling me about that Evelyn kid.”

“Oh? And what did she say?” enquired Tristan, looking up in interest.

“Well,” Sarah began, “she sounds an odd kid, quite frankly.” She slid down from the arm of the sofa and settled beside her brother, curling her legs up under her. “Susie was saying how she will put up her hand, and as soon as Susie asks her to speak she goes all shy and starts saying that it’s just a silly idea, but she’s just thought of something, but it’s entirely stupid and doesn’t make any sense, and that she regrets that she’s even mentioned it, but…and then eventually she’ll get to the point, and that it’s always an incisive and intelligent comment, but then the girl goes all shy again and apologises for even mentioning it, and just sort-of…well, folds up,” she finished. “Like she’s trying to make herself invisible behind the desk! Did you ever hear anything stranger? Is that how she is in your lessons?” she asked him, intrigued.

Tristan looked thoughtful.

“In some ways, perhaps,” he replied. “She is quiet – a veritable mouse, in fact – but she is good, oh, certainly she is good. She…yes, she has asked questions, very sensible questions, but always surrounded by a cloud of confused justification, just as you have described.” He frowned. “Yes, now that I think on it, it is peculiar. Meek, I think, is the word to describe her. It is quite a shame, for she has a charming little voice and…I think she could be quite excellent, if she would only…” he broke off and laughed suddenly, “if she would only open her mouth!”

Sarah grinned lopsidedly. “Bit of a handicap,” she agreed, and patted her brother’s knee. “Just don’t forget that not everyone is as…as fearless as you, my dear,” she advised him, and he turned on her a look of incredulity.

“Do you take me for a fool?” he retorted indignantly. “I have taught shier pupils than this little maid, and I am confident,” he nodded emphatically, “of excellent results from her.” He paused. “Eventually.”

“Fair enough,” acknowledged his sister. “You’ll certainly have plenty of time to improve her confidence, if you can. Are you taking every one of her music lessons?”

“She is to have so many,” explained Tristan, spreading his free hand, “and she is so…uncertain of herself, that Madame thought it wisest for her to have just one instructor.”

“What’s she learning?”

He listed them. “Singing, naturally. Violin, piano, harmony and counterpoint, and music ‘appreciation’.” He grimaced at this last. “That, she will learn alongside her other classmates, but I hope shortly to have some influence in those lessons,” he added, his voice determined, “and so they will be considerably more…” He broke off, wary of insulting Mademoiselle and her lessons, and resumed his list instead. “At violin, she is already proficient, but there is still much for her to learn, and though it is some time since I taught violin I fancy I can manage for the time being. As for harmony and general theory, I gather she is entirely a beginner, and so there will be much to do.”

“And you’re teaching her piano?” Sarah asked, giving him a quizzical look.

He smiled amusedly. “Madame did think it best that she should not go to Anserl,” he observed, and Sarah laughed.

“No,” she agreed heartily. “I think that is quite wise. If she is in any way shy…” she broke off, and they grinned at one another.

“…she will infuriate him,” finished her brother, and Sarah laughed. “So, unless you wish to undertake the task yourself…” he trailed off, a smile in his eyes, and Sarah chuckled.

“No, I think I’ll leave that in your perfectly capable hands, thank you,” she grinned, and he shrugged cheerfully.

“Well, I am certain that we shall see an improvement in Evelyn by half term,” he stated firmly. “She is certainly a natural musician, and she takes such pleasure from our heavenly art.”

Sarah rolled her eyes, but there was a trace of affection in her expression as she shook her head.

“Come on, let’s have another look at that cheek,” she requested, and he took the damp cloth from his face and presented it for her examination.

“Hmm. Looks like you might get away without a bruise,” she told him. “I still can’t believe you opened a door into your face.”

“No more can I!” responded Tristan, replacing the cloth. “It was most clumsy of me.”

“It was more than clumsy,” replied his sister. “You hurdled right over clumsy and jumped straight into idiotic with that one.”

It was spoken with true sisterly bluntness, but he couldn’t help but laugh. After a moment Sarah laughed as well, and then the doorbell cut into their conversation. Sarah jumped up.

“That’ll be Dino,” she said cheerfully. Tristan shrugged as well as he could while holding the wet cloth to his face, but his sister had already disappeared and so he settled back onto the sofa and prodded at his sore cheek, wincing each time he did so.

Sarah, meanwhile, had opened the door to find Susie standing there, a basket clutched in one hand and a big smile on her face.

“Hello!” she greeted Sarah merrily. “I’ve got you a…well, I’d say a present, but it’s more like…an offer.”

“Sounds intriguing,” replied Sarah laconically, motioning her to come inside.

“It’s Susie!” she called to her brother, and he appeared from the salon moments later, the wet cloth in his hand.

“Susie!” he cried happily. “Come in, come in!”

“I’m coming, I’m coming!” teased Susie, putting the basket down and untying her shoes, and then she paused to glance up at him. “What’s happened to you?”

“He opened the door into his face,” answered Sarah, suppressing a smile, and Susie burst out laughing.

“Tristan, you idiot!” she exclaimed, and he waved a hand.

“Never mind that,” he retorted, swiftly. “What is it that brings you here?”

“Well, as a matter of fact,” she replied, gesturing at the basket, “this.”

As she spoke, the basket rocked a little, and Sarah cast a rather suspicious glance at it. Before she could ask, however, Susie had caught it up again and had gone to greet her brother, and so Sarah followed them to the salon, eager to know the mystery.

She didn’t have long to wait. The moment they had sat down, Susie put the basket down on the floor and, lifting the lid, beckoned to Sarah.

“Oh!” Sarah’s eyes grew round and soft as she looked down at the tiny bundle of fur in the basket. “Ohh! Oh, he’s so small! But…” she looked up at Susie, “whatever are you doing with a kitten in a basket?”

“It’s rather a long story,” answered Susie, waving a hand. “Actually, I found them at Innsbruck station. Well, the railway porters did, but I overheard them talking about wringing their necks, the beasts, so I offered to take them off their hands. Poor little things!" she exclaimed, reaching into the basket and giving the kitten a tickle. "Anyway, somehow I got them from Innsbruck to here, only,” she paused, “well, when we were home I found out they don't like each other very much, so I thought I’d better separate them. And I was trying to think of someone loving and adoring and caring to entrust my little baby to, and I thought of you! So – how about it?”

Sarah’s eyes were still shining as she lifted the little ginger and white kitten from the basket and cradled it against her. It collapsed around her hand, purring, and her smile grew even wider.

Tristan, looking steadily at her, rolled his eyes and shook his head.

“Can we?” she entreated him. “Do you mind awfully?”

He chuckled, and shook his head again.

“How could I refuse something that will make you so happy?” he answered, and she beamed at him and cuddled the baby to her. Susie grinned at them both.

“Since I’m working up at the school,” she said, “I decided to keep the girl, so this is the boy. Isn’t he gorgeous?”

“Adorable,” agreed Sarah, putting him down and tickling him. “What is he called?”

“Haven’t named him yet,” replied Susie. “It was obvious quite early on that they weren’t going to live together especially well, so I thought I’d leave him to you to name. I’ve called my little girl Leila,” she added with a smile.

“What do you think, Tristan?” Sarah asked, but he shrugged his shoulders.

“Why do you ask me?” he questioned her. “I know nothing of naming cats!”

Sarah’s eyes twinkled wickedly.

“It’s a shame you kept the girl,” she said to Susie, conversationally, but with an eye on her brother. “I’ve always thought that ‘Isolde’ was such a nice name for a cat.”

Tristan sat up sharply at that. “You are not calling it ‘Isolde’!” he decreed, firmly.

Susie threw back her head and laughed. “Of course she isn’t, idiot!” she giggled. “I’ve just told you this is the boy.”

“What about ‘Parsifal’?” teased Sarah.

“What about ‘Fáfnir’?” he returned, drily, returning the cloth to his cheek and feigning disinterest.

“We can’t call him that!” scoffed Sarah.

“Why not?” replied her brother.

“It’s so…inelegant!”

Tristan raised his eyebrows.

“Have you looked at it?” he asked, and the two women turned back to see the tiny creature hanging by its front legs from the rim of the basket, its back paws scrabbling in the thin air, desperately seeking a purchase. As they watched, the kitten lost its grip and slid down the side of the basket, falling the last few inches to land clumsily on the floor. It picked itself up and launched back at the basket again, with much the same results.

“If that is not inelegant,” observed Tristan, “then I do not know what is!”

“I’m not calling him 'Fáfnir'!” replied Sarah, firmly, and gathered up the kitten to herself, where he promptly became tangled in her cardigan. “Come along, baby. Let’s go and make some tea, and we’ll think of a proper name for you!”

And thus she departed, casting a dirty look at her brother as she passed.

Tensions by Finn

“She’s weird.”

“Shh! Amy!”

“But she is, though!”

“Yeah, but you don’t have to shout it out for her to hear!”

The juniors were perturbed. They had returned from their holidays to find that not only were they having to renegotiate their relationships after the unexpected rebellion of the ‘babies’ last term, but that they were now also playing host to a cuckoo, and a very strange cuckoo at that.

The ‘Triad’ were curled up in one corner of the classroom, their gazes all directed towards Evelyn, who was sitting on the other side of the room, oblivious to their stares. The Robin and Annette had inveigled her into helping them with a jigsaw puzzle and, though she joined in gratefully, she did so still in that peculiar backward manner, hesitating each time before pointing out this piece or that and shrinking in on herself, deferring to her companions in everything. Absorbed in the game, she did not realise that she herself was an object of scrutiny and indeed, if she had, she would have withered away before their very eyes, so much did being noticed embarrass her.

Yes, she was a source of great perplexity to her fellow juniors, and the ‘Triad’ were studying her with considerable interest.

Now Amy turned to her captain in crime.

“You’re quiet, Rafaela. What do you think?”

Rafaela shrugged.

“She is clever,” was all she said, but her sharp eyes missed nothing, and she was thinking hard.

She could see that Evelyn was clever. She could tell that from the answers she gave in class, delicate and tentative though they were. The new girl was bright, and if she wasn’t as quick as Rafaela herself, she thought deeply and responded intelligently to the information placed before her. Rafaela was worried. Up until now she had always been top of the form and it was a source of pride to her, however much the lessons might have bored her. Now she could sense her crown slipping, and she was worried. Had Evelyn not been so intelligent, Rafaela would not have been concerned about her; even with her intelligence, there might have been friendship if she had been the sort to be led into pranks, like Amy. But Evelyn was without the redeeming features of either stupidity or wickedness, and so she became, in the eyes of the Portuguese girl, a challenge. And Rafaela was no coward when it came to challenges.

Abruptly she stood up, careless of the chatter of her two friends, who broke off to stare at her in amazement as she announced,

“I must see Miss Smith.”

And to the astonishment of her two comrades, she walked up to the desk, asked permission of Miss Wilson to seek her form-mistress and, on receiving it, swept out.

“Well!” exclaimed Amy after a breathless moment, turning to Charlie.

“What d’you s’pose she’s gone for?” demanded Charlie, but Amy could only shrug with a look of utter bafflement on her pretty face.

 

*

Susie was scribbling at her weekly letter to her brother when the tap at the door disturbed her, although not as much as the fact that, upon her cry of “Come in!”, Rafaela entered and bobbed the regulation curtsey.

“Rafaela!” she exclaimed, surprise in her voice. “What do you want, child?”

She realised with a flash of irritation that she was rather nervous that this was the start of yet another prank, and rebuked herself for being a weed; yet her suspicions were not much allayed when, bold as ever, Rafaela replied,

“If you please, Miss Smith, I wish something to read.”

“What?” Susie was flummoxed. “But…have you not tried the library?”

Rafaela shook her head.

“I did not mean storybooks, Miss Smith,” she explained. “I wanted a book of work – a history, or a literature or some such.”

“But…why on earth…” Susie choked off the rest of her protest, and frowned in puzzlement. “Well, I don’t know if I have much in the way of history I can lend you, and the library is full of literature, you know! Now, if it was art that you wanted…”

To her surprise, Rafaela nodded enthusiastically.

“Miss Smith, if you would lend me, I would be so grateful,” she answered, and Susie was astonished to realise that the girl was genuine, even if her grammar was rather faulty with her enthusiasm. “I wish much to know about art as well. I wish to know about everything!”

“Well…” Susie paused, and then shrugged. She got up, dislodging Leila, who was sprawled sleepily upon her knee, and crossed to her bookshelves, retrieving her lightest art history and handing it to the girl, who had gone over to her desk and was tickling the kitten. “Why don’t you try that? Have a glance through it and see what you think.”

Rafaela hugged the book to her and beamed at the mistress.

“Thank you, Miss Smith!” she said.

“If you have any trouble,” added Susie, as the child turned to go, “do just come and ask me, won’t you, dear?”

“Yes, thank you, Miss Smith!” enthused the child. “I am sure it will be helpful. I shall learn much, and come and tell you of it.”

And with this truly astonishing remark, she curtseyed again and hastened out of the room, still clutching her prize.

Susie shook her head in wonderment and returned to her desk, thoroughly bemused. She still half-wondered if it were a prank, but really, she could not fathom what sort of prank it might be.

“Oh well,” she said to herself, “time will come when we know what it’s all about. If it is a prank, that is.”

She turned back to her desk and, lifting the kitten from the jotter, where she was sitting washing herself, applied herself to her letter again.

Not a lot to tell, to be honest, she wrote. Still not solved the Evelyn problem, which is infuriating, quite frankly. She doesn’t even take the mildest, gentlest suggestion of changes she could make. She just hunches over, nodding, with a face like she’s terrified, saying “Yes, Miss Smith…yes, Miss Smith” until you could shake her – only you couldn’t, because she’s so timid and meek that you can’t bring yourself to do anything but put your arms around her and say “It’ll be alright!” Honestly, Matty, when I was sitting with her the other day, trying to explain about being more assertive, well, it just felt like I was hitting her repeatedly. I swear she was flinching each time I said something! She’s a darling, and extremely bright, but just so infernally timid. I ask you, what am I supposed to do?

Thanks for sending news of Eleanor. I’m glad to hear she’s doing so well. She always was a bright kid, though. If only we could have taken her with us. I wish I could write and send my love, but you know what would happen if Dad got hold of it. Next time you speak to one of them, try and get news of Mum, will you? It’s been over a year and I do worry about her, poor pet. I know she won’t have anything to do with me, but she might with you. Do try writing, won’t you? I’m dying for some news.

Right, that’s my news done. Like I said, nothing has happened. Expect more of the same next week, unless the rather peculiar behaviour of one of my more notorious pupils turns out to be less benign than it appears – in which case, expect fireworks!

Much love from me, and purrs and scratches from Leila,
Susie


She sealed up the letter and reached into her desk drawer, then removed her hand with a muttered, “Damn!” No stamps. Another thing for the list, she thought, and reached out for the little piece of paper which had been lying on her desk. However, search as she might, even dislodging Leila again in her quest, she could not find it.

Honestly, what’s the matter with me? she demanded of herself. Did I even write the thing at all?

She turned, and looked down into the innocent blue eyes of the kitten gazing up at her from her chair.

“Leila, have you seen my shopping list?” she asked the kitten.

But naturally, there came no answer, and so she shrugged and gave it up.

An Unearthly Child by Finn

Tristan Denny realised wearily that he was beginning to lose his patience. Sighing, he tugged frustrated fingers through his long hair and leaned back in his seat, hands folded atop his head and eyes briefly closed. How could one child be so irksome? A child so meek that even in an empty classroom she still glanced around her at the vacant seats before responding to his questions, as if hoping that some invisible companion might answer for her, if only she stared hard enough, and yet still she had him riled; though for once it was not her accursed humility but her lamentable lack of preparation that vexed him.

He opened his eyes again. There she sat, mutely gazing at him, expressions of reverence and terror comingling in her limpid eyes, and he found himself sighing again. How could one teach a child like this? She struck such a contrast with Joey, who was lively, talkative, and eagerly responsive to his guidance, and Margia, whose innate musicality made her a pleasure to instruct, and Miss Smith, who seemed to believe that singing lessons proceeded via debate, rather than tuition, and with whom he found himself in a battle of wills every lesson. But Evelyn! She seemed afraid of herself, of him, of her own ideas and even of her voice. Quite unlike Joey, who announced herself with a breezy “Hello, Mr Denny!”, and Susie, who persisted in her usual startling physicality when she greeted him, Evelyn would creep into the room and stand just inside the door until invited to approach. Why, today he had not even observed her arrival. He had come early and had gone immediately to the music room where, flinging himself into a chair to wait for his pupil, he had fallen into thought and had only become aware of the child’s presence when, suddenly realising that it was almost six minutes after time, he had turned and discovered that the girl was standing in the doorway, books held firmly across her chest, waiting for him to notice her. To say that he had been cross would be to put it mildly, though his famous patience had kept his temper in check; but the lesson had started badly and, alas, was proceeding in much the same fashion, since Evelyn was proving herself unusually but woefully unprepared.

Sighing again, he lowered his hands from his head and leaned forward again, trying gently to point out to the child where precisely she had erred in her exercise. But as ever when faced with correction, Evelyn simply sat, huddled, and nodded rapidly, her large eyes scared. Eventually he had had enough. He sat back, tossing his pen onto the desk, and frowned severely at the girl.

“What ails you, child?” he demanded irascibly. “I give you a simple exercise to complete and this is what you return? And when I try to help you see your errors, you shrink from me as though I threaten you with a beating! It is unacceptable, Evelyn – more, it is ridiculous! Come now, what is wrong with you? I'll take my oath that you knew every note of this exercise in our lesson last week!”

She chewed at her dry lip, her eyes looking ready to cry, and he suddenly felt rather apprehensive. But no tears welled up and despite her pallor, she remained glued to her seat, her hands folding and unfolding around each other as she gazed up at him, mute. Growing increasingly infuriated, he took a deep breath and hissed it out, shaking his head.

“What? What is this?” he snapped. “I ask you a question, young lady, and yet your mouth remains closed and you do not speak. Will you not answer me?”

She bit at the flaky skin of her lip again and opened her mouth several times before, eventually, came the mouse-like murmur.

“I’m sorry.”

“Sorry!” he cried, exasperated. “Sorry is neither here nor there, child! I do not wish to hear that you are sorry – I require no apologies, I desire explanations. Are you ill, or what ails you, girl? Speak! I demand it!”

Thus adjured, Evelyn eventually found her voice, and began to stammer out another apology.

“I’m sorry…I…I…I have…not been well, I…I tried but I forgot…I didn’t take the right notes in the lesson…I’m sorry…my notes were useless, I don’t know how I could be so silly but I took the wrong sort of notes and…and…I had nothing to use and it was too late, because I was…because I was ill, and then it was today and…and…I’m sorry to disappoint you! I’m really sorry…I’m terrible at this, I’m sorry. I should have made better notes and then I wouldn’t have forgotten.”

Her voice rose in desperation and he sat back in his chair, startled by the flood of words that poured from the girl.

“You have not disappointed me!” he exclaimed after a moment. “My good child, you are not required to know every note of music or every detail of theory at this early stage. It is not a disappointment to me that you require guidance and instruction – that is my purpose here, after all! What I do mind is that you did not explain yourself. You have been confused? Why do you not simply say so when you present your work to me? Then we can talk over those aspects you do not comprehend, without shame or embarrassment. Must I repeat myself? I do not mind teaching you! I know much of music theory. You know little. I do not expect you to know much, and if your comprehension is faulty then I am happy to assist you – but Evelyn, if you do not understand you must tell me! How else can I know what troubles you, unless, as today, I waste a good deal of our lesson trying to fathom what you do and do not know?”

He looked at the girl who sat, folded up as small as she could be in her seat, and sighed again, though inwardly this time. What else could he do? He tried one last time.

“Do you understand me, Evelyn? You are to come to me if you need any assistance. Anything at all. Do you comprehend?”

Silently she nodded.

“I wish to hear it from your lips.”

“I understand.”

“What do you understand?”

“That…that I should…should come to you with any questions.”

“Make sure that you do,” he said, firmly but gently. “And now let us turn our attention to the correct placement of barlines. And be sure, this time, to take suitable notes."

*

“Tristan!”

Susie called his name softly but musically, and he turned with a smile to greet her. He had been hurrying to depart, for he wished to discuss Evelyn’s behaviour with Sarah, but when Susie came up with her warm smile and tucked her arm through his to draw him into her study, he decided that the question of his troublesome pupil could wait for a little while longer.

It was a sunny afternoon and the light that streamed through the window glinted upon her golden hair like a halo. She perched next to him on the sofa and curled up, cat-like, her feet underneath her and her blue eyes twinkling at him affectionately.

“How are you?” she enquired, pouring him a cup of tea. “It’s been ages since I saw you!”

“You saw me two days ago.”

“Lessons don’t count.”

He was about to protest, then restrained himself and smiled. “I am well,” he answered her original question. “We are both well.”

“Oh, I know Sarah is well,” she interjected with a grin. “I had tea with her yesterday. And how is Signor Dino?”

She asked the question innocently enough, but he saw the glitter in her eye and chuckled, leaning back and rolling his eyes.

“A near-constant presence,” he replied drily, and she laughed.

“Oh, Tris, you sound almost waspish!” she reproved him. “Don’t you like our history master?”

“It is not that,” he protested. “But so often now we have all the Ruggieros with us, and young Nico’s English is not good, and so back and forth they go between Italian and English and it is most tiresome for me, for I cannot follow them in Italian.” He sighed. “I do not mind their company,” he added, trying to be fair, “but I…I should like some peace, now and then.”

Her expression was one of sympathy.

“It does sound trying,” she agreed. “Well, if ever you need peace and quiet, you’re welcome round here. We’re always quiet!”

He smiled at the note of complaint in her voice. “You are kind,” he told her. “Do not be surprised if I avail myself of your offer!”

“Like I said,” she grinned, “you’re welcome – as long as you bring some decent booze with you!”

He chuckled again. “I shall bring you some of Herr Anserl’s brandy,” he told her, his eyes twinkling as he recalled its potency, and he gave another laugh as she responded with enthusiasm. Clearly she had never experienced that particular brew or she would not be quite so animated; he found himself looking forward amusedly to introducing her to it. It was not often that he had the opportunity to surprise her.

He drank some of his tea and frowned pensively.

“I would not mind his presence so much,” he began again, “but as you know, I do not know him quite as Sarah does, and while he is friendliness itself I cannot be sure that he is…well, that he is as he presents himself.”

“You think he’s putting on an act?” Susie enquired, and he was grateful for her swift understanding.

“To call it ‘an act’ is perhaps a little harsh,” he replied cautiously, “but yes – I do wonder whether I am seeing the ‘true’ Dino Ruggiero. He is simply so…obliging? I do not know.”

“Trying to get on your good side?” she asked, and he nodded.

“That is it! Precisely so.” He looked at her with a smile, head tilted to one side. “You are most sharp, Susie! You seem to understand my meaning instantly, though I can but half-explain it to myself!”

“Ah, but I’ve seen it a lot before,” she told him. “It’s one of the classic signs.”

“Signs?” He was bemused. “Of what?”

“Courtship!” She laughed at his expression and leaned forward to explain. “After all, he’s quite obviously pretty sweet on her, isn’t he?”

“They are but friends,” he retorted indignantly, and then added, as she gave him an amused look, “It is the truth! Sarah has certainly never given any indication to the contrary.”

“Would you notice if she had?” enquired Susie sweetly, and he frowned at her sharply.

“I think I would,” he responded, a little indignant, and she laughed and patted his knee.

“Of course you would,” she said, and he could not tell from her expression whether she was serious or joking.

“Oh, enough!” he cried in protest. “This is like conversation with one of my aunts! Please, let us talk of something else.”

“But what else is there to talk about?” returned Susie, eyes wide with mock-surprise, and then she laughed. “I must say, I never thought I’d be compared with someone’s maiden aunt,” she said, a note of protest in her voice. “Still, you’re right – there’s plenty of other things to talk about. Have you ever thought of starting a choir?”

The suddenness of the question threw him slightly; he frowned at her, trying to divine her precise meaning, and she hastened to explain.

“Here, I mean. Oh, not the school – one for the locals here. A full-voice choir, SATB, just like the one you were lamenting after at Christmas.”

She gave him a questioning look, but he was already turning over the proposition in his mind.

“I had not…but…” and again he fell silent as the possibilities presented themselves to him. A full voice choir – not highly skilled, but – well, he could do something about that. By the time he had finished with them, they would be as good a choir as any in rural Austria! A full choir, singing all of his old favourites. All the sacred music: Bruckner, Palestrina, Victoria, Pergolesi, Mozart of course, even Tallis, perhaps! What a success he could make of them, if he only had the chance. What an idea it was!

Susie was smiling at him.

“I thought you’d like it,” she said.

“It is magnificent,” he answered her, his voice distant. “The possibilities – the music – joint concerts with the school…why have I not thought of this before!” He looked at her, eyes shining. “It is perfect! Susie, you are truly a genius! What made you think of it?”

“Music as education,” she replied with a twinkling eye. “But really, I was thinking of something we could do for the local people up here. They’re so poor, and the school can’t help that much. Charity is all very well, but it doesn’t last. I want to set up some real, long-lasting projects that’ll give the people here something else to fall back on in hard times. I know you, Tristan. You could get decent music out of…of a statue, given long enough! You have the skills, I had the idea, et voilà!” She spread her hands triumphantly. “A project is born!”

“And an excellent one,” he complimented her. “I shall have to give it thought, but…” And he trailed off again, his mind on his new choir.

Susie’s voice broke in on his reverie.

“I want to do something else to improve the lot of people up here, but I’m not sure what one person can do without coming across as an elitist meddler. I want something that will really last, you see, not mere charity like we give them at the moment. It’s not good enough, really. There must be something more sustainable that can be done.”

Tristan frowned. He had never really thought in this way before. Of course, many of the people around them lived in great poverty, but he himself was not rich and he had never seen that he could be of any aid to them. His only action had been to give money where possible, when the school had had a collection, and otherwise he preferred to forget the outside world, devoting his attention to his music. But suddenly he heard inside his head the famous words of Francis Bacon, and he stopped, horrified. His own father had taught him that saying, many years ago, and yet he had forgotten it in his own self-absorption. “All that is needed for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing” - and yet he had done nothing, though surrounded for this past year and more by such straits of poverty. Baulking at the thought he turned back to Susie, who was lost in her musing, and pledged himself devotedly to her cause.

“I will help,” he said. “There must be something that can be done - it is only necessary that we think of it.”

“Oh!” She seemed quite delighted. “You mean you’ll help me? Oh, thank you, Tris! You’ve no idea how good it is to hear you say that!”

She had begun calling him by his old nickname recently, and he was loathe to correct her. In fact, he  was surprised to find that he did not mind her using it, though it had always been Eddie’s name for him...

He reached out for his teacup, and suddenly froze. Susie looked at him, rather disconcerted, and then giggled as he reached up to his shoulder and removed the kitten that had fastened itself to his jacket.

“Oh, Leila!” Susie scolded, or at least pretended to, and she took the kitten from his fist and cradled it in her arms. He shook his head, but fondly, as she babied the creature, and then Leila twisted to get away from Susie and leapt back towards him, her tiny claws digging into his leg as she scrambled up his trousers and seated herself, very proudly, upon his knee. He looked down at her briefly, then picked her up and placed her on the floor.

Susie chuckled.

“Not fond?” she enquired cheerfully.

He sighed.

“Not ‘not fond’,” he replied. “Merely…disinclined to make a fuss of the creatures. It is enough that Fáfnir believes my bed to be the ideal place for his morning respite, but…”

“’Fáfnir’?” enquired Susie, curiously. “What happened to ‘Gaston’?”

He snorted. “Sarah may call him what she likes,” he replied, “but to me he shall always be ‘Fáfnir’.” He brushed Leila’s hairs from his trouser leg and turned to Susie again. “But as for ideas…there will be something, I feel sure of it, though as yet I cannot see what it may be.”
“Thank you!” she said. “I can’t tell you how grateful I am to hear someone say that! With two minds working on it, I’m sure we’ll come up with something. I wanted to talk to Matty, but…oh!” She broke off suddenly and he sat up, surprised, but she waved a hand and a grin broke out upon her face. “Don’t worry, it’s good news! Matty is coming!”

He started, and a grin of delight broke out across his face. Susie leapt up and retrieved a letter from her desk and brought it over to him, and they grinned at each other exultantly.

“Listen,” she commanded. “He’s taking some leave in the middle of February and so he is going to Vienna, to see how everything works there – you know it’s a socialist city?” she asked and he shook his head, embarrassed by his ignorance. “Oh yes – a great experiment!” she declared happily, waving an airy hand. “Affordable housing, the eight-hour day, cheap fuel – it's just wonderful!" Her eyes shone with enthusiasm. "And Matty wants to go and see some real socialism in action, so he’s visiting Vienna, but he says,” and she smoothed out the paper and read aloud. “'and since I’ll be in the area, so’s to speak, I thought I might just drop in and see this famous school you all keep going on about. I’ve written to Denny to ask if I might lodge over at his, so hopefully I’ll be staying with them, and I can come and spend a week or two with my big sister. How’s about it, kid?'.”

“Kid!” She snorted, and then grinned. “But how about that!”

“I have not yet received his letter,” Tristan mused. “But of course – we should be more than delighted to have your brother to stay! I shall inform Sarah.”

“Oh!” Susie clapped her hands, and he smiled to see her eyes so bright and her face so charmed. “It’ll be lovely!”

“So it will,” he agreed. “We can show him around the lake side – for he only saw the Sonnalpe when he came before!”

“Oh! Yes!” Susie’s eyes grew wide with enthusiasm. “When’s the thaw? I hope it’ll still be frozen – I want to take him to see the Dripping Rock! It’s so glorious when it’s all icicles like it is now. Oh, will it still be frozen?”

He laughed at her keen appeal. “I can only speak for last year,” he reminded her, “but I believe it was still frozen until March began.”

“Oh!” She clapped her hands. “Fantastic! Oh, what fun! It’ll be like Christmas again! We’ll have such fun!”

“Yes!” He would have said more, but at that moment Leila reappeared on his lap, clambering up more swiftly this time and planting herself firmly on his knee. He frowned down at the cat who returned his stare equanimously, sedate and complacent – at least until she began to wash herself and toppled herself over. She squeaked and seized onto Tristan to stop herself falling off completely.

“Ouch!” He removed the kitten once again and scowled at Susie’s laughter.

“Poor old thing!” she giggled. “Still, I’ve plenty myself. Look!” And she lifted the hem of her skirt to show him the red scratches on her lower thigh, beneath her stocking. He blushed slightly and edged away, and she dropped the hem again and laughed at him.

“Oh, you!” she teased, and he grew redder, reflecting, as he had on occasion before, that Susie thought she knew quite a lot about people. She certainly seemed to think that she knew all about him.

He grimaced slightly, guiltily, and Susie noticed at once.

“What’s the matter with you?” she demanded.

“Oh…” He thought rapidly. “It is but that…it is growing late! I intended to be home an hour ago. I had best hurry,” he said apologetically, and she smiled forgivingly and waved him away.

“Come back soon!” she demanded. “I miss you and our chats.”

He smiled, and bowed to her.

“I shall endeavour to do so,” he told her, and bowing, he left her.

He walked back swiftly, reflecting that it was a good idea for him to have left now. He wanted to discuss Susie’s new idea with Sarah, and even more he wanted to talk about Evelyn, and the Ruggieros were coming over for dinner so his time alone with his sister was brief.

However, by the time he reached home Dino Ruggiero was already there, ensconced in one of the armchairs and so he could not talk to Sarah anyway.

Two's company, three's a crowd, and five is... by Finn

Tristan wondered when on earth dinner would be over. He was tired, and yet the Ruggieros showed no signs of leaving. Sarah and Dino, their coffee forgotten, had embarked upon an involved discussion of Italian politics; Nico Ruggiero was picking stray coffee grains from the tablecloth with his fingertip and brushing them into his saucer; and he, Tristan, was biting his lip in an effort not to yawn.

He felt eyes upon him and turned his head to see Annunziata, warm, laconic, and darkly humorous, watching him. He felt certain she had noticed his stifled yawn and, to his surprise, he realised that she was just as bored as he was. She gave him her usual peculiar half-smile, flicked away a strand of hair that had fallen before her eyes and, resting her chin on her finger, leaned forward to him.

“Politics,” she murmured quietly. “Politics, always politics. You like it?”

“I confess,” he replied in the same low tone, “it is not a subject with which I am well acquainted.” He turned his head to look at her more fully. “And you?”

She gave an eloquent shrug, and waved her free hand in an expression of boredom.

“It is politics,” she said. “But I am Italian, and we are fighting the Fascists, so I must love politics. And so…” she gestured expressively with her hand again, “I talk politics.” She turned to him with her captivating half-smile. “But I do not enjoy it. Or at least,” she raised her eyebrows, “not as much as la musica.”

He smiled at her warmly. Nunzia was a keen musician, he had learned swiftly, and however dry her conversation, her enthusiasm for his art was genuine and deeply-felt. They had had more than one conversation about it, often growing as animated as Sarah and Dino were now. He watched Nunzia. She was silent for a few moments, head cocked to one side as she listened to the debate that was raging at the other end of the table, then she turned to him with a half-wink and said, quietly,

“It’s enough, hn?”

And then, louder, she remarked in bored, rather flippant tones,

“Politics, politics!”

Dino turned round sharply at this interruption, and then laughed at his sister.

“Politics is important,” he returned. “You should think about it more, Nunzia.”

“Pfah!” She dismissed him with a shrug. “It’s enough – especially after dinner. I’m going next door.”

She rose from the table, but paused and glanced down at Tristan, and then she fluttered her eyelashes at him.

“Perhaps you would come and sing to me, Tristan,” she requested sweetly.

“Yes – yes, of course. With pleasure!” he replied warmly, getting to his feet in turn. Nico, who had abandoned his coffee grains and had begun to collect pistachio shells, sighed and rolled his eyes. Nunzia retorted by flipping her dark hair back haughtily and taking Tristan’s arm and, with a slight twinkle of her startling blue eyes, so like those of her brother, she drew him from the room.

*
“You’re frowning,” remarked Sarah.

He glanced up. It was much later that evening and he was curled up on the sofa in his dressing gown, pondering the day's events. The Ruggieros had finally returned home, considerably later than he had hoped they would, and so he had not had the opportunity to discuss with Sarah anything which had happened that day. Now they were spending a last few minutes alone together before Sarah, at least, retreated to bed; and though he had found himself unable to share his thoughts with her, she was now looking at him over her knitting, her expression faintly quizzical.

“You’ve been frowning for the past twenty minutes,” she added mildly, but he could see that she was curious about his puzzled expression. He gave a slight shrug of the shoulders.

“Evelyn,” he replied, and she raised her eyebrows.

“Again?”

“There is much to consider,” he answered, pensively. “She is a most peculiar girl. She is mortally afraid of making a mistake – and did you know that she does not cry, no matter how much you chastise her? I had cause to speak very sharply to her today, and she shed not one tear – not one.”

“Perhaps you weren’t as scary as you think you were,” suggested his sister with a chuckle, but he shook his head.

“On the contrary,” he told her. “She was beside herself with shame; she apologised time and again, she abased herself with grief at ‘disappointing’ me – “ he looked over at Sarah and saw that she was looking as surprised as he had felt, “ – and yet, where one would ordinarily expect tears, there were none.”

Sarah nodded slowly, interested.

“That does sound a little unusual,” she remarked. “If she felt so bad – you are sure she did?” she enquired but he nodded emphatically and she shrugged her acceptance. “Well, then, it is rather odd. Especially in a nine year old girl,” she added, and he nodded his agreement.

“Just so,” he said. “It is one thing in a man – “

“And even there you’re unusual,” put in his sister, adding a few stitches to her work. “I think most men might manage to shed a tear at their mother’s funeral!”

He grimaced. “That is…there are reasons,” he objected. “You know that! But that is what I mean – it is that which exercises me now when I should be thinking of other things. I do not – cannot – weep for…well, for certain reasons, for reasons…reasons of… “

“Trauma,” Sarah suggested diffidently, laying her knitting down, and reluctantly he nodded.

“If you wish to put it that way…” he replied uncomfortably. “But Evelyn? She is but nine years old, and is from a good background. I am certain she has seen no wars! So what is her reason? Do you not think, Sarah, that it must be very deep and dark? What nine year old girl does not cry?”

“It’s certainly unusual,” agreed Sarah. “What do you think, then?”

But he shrugged. “I do not know!” he exclaimed, and spread his arms. “Hence the worrying. I cannot lie – it alarms me.”

“You don’t know she doesn’t cry,” observed Sarah. “She might cry at night, in the dormitories.”

She did not sound certain, though, and he felt with some relief that his concern was justified.

“Whether or not she does - and I suppose that is a matter to take before Miss Smith - it is nonetheless decidedly odd,” he stated, and Sarah shrugged and then nodded.

“All the same,” she added, practically, “I don’t see that fretting like this is going to do much to help her. You can’t help her, really – unless maybe you spoke to Susie”

But he raised an eyebrow.

“Can I not?” he enquired. She gave him an amused, quizzical look, and he elaborated.

“Music is a great healer! You have seen it, as have I. Perhaps, in time, I may be able to help her – for I feel sure, Sarah, that there is something dark that lurks there. No, I feel sure that, given time…”

“How much time?” asked Sarah, laconically, but she was looking at him with a strange expression, part-surprise, part-fondness.

“The child must be badly damaged,” he replied firmly. “There is something very wrong here - very wrong indeed! - but I will help her. I will do my utmost to help her, even if it takes me all year. I tell you, Sarah - I am willing to work with that child for as long as it takes.”

Curiosity killed the cat? Part 1 by Finn

“Nell, have you seen Leila?”

Nell was searching among the books on the table in the study, and she gave Susie only a cursory glance.

“No, why?”

“She’s missing,” replied Susie, ignoring Nell’s uninterested tone. “I’ve looked all over the house for her, but I can’t find her anywhere.”

“Have you tried in here?” asked Nell, indifferently, replacing the books and glancing about the room on her own particular quest.

“I was in here half an hour ago with Rafaela,” returned Susie, looking around in a similar manner, “and I’m sure she wasn’t here then. She’d have come out and made a fuss - she always does.”

“Maybe she’s got herself shut in one of your drawers?”

“She’d howl. You know what she’s like!”

“She might be asleep.”

“I suppose.”

Susie went to her desk and began to search through all the drawers, but the kitten was not in any of them.

“No sign,” she said eventually, turning back to Nell, who sighed tiredly.

“Maybe the dog’s had her,” she suggested.

“Nell! That’s a horrible…Nell, what are you doing?”

Nell had just got down onto her knees and was peering under the cushions of the sofa.

“There's no need to be sarcastic!” said Susie indignantly. “It's hardly likely she'll be under one of those, is it?”

“I’m not looking for Leila.”

“What are you looking for, then?”

Nell straightened up with a sigh, and looked up at Susie, her expression one of puzzlement and no little annoyance.

“I had a 20 Schillinge note which I'm sure I put on the table here this morning, but I’ve been looking everywhere and I can’t find it. You haven’t seen it, have you?”

“The 20 Schillinge note? Oh, Nell, don't you remember?”

“Remember what?”

“How you gambled it away last night. Ah, what a night that was - the music, the champagne, the dancing girls in their feathers…”

“Susie! Be serious! How could I have gambled it away last night when I put it here this morning!”

“Oh, well, if it’s serious you want, then no, I haven’t seen it. Sorry.”

“Oh blast it! Where can it be?”

“Perhaps one of the dancing girls took it,” suggested Susie, eyes glittering.

There was a growl from Nell, but before she could take her revenge they were interrupted by a tap at the door, and Tristan Denny put his head into the room.

“I beg your pardon,” he began, “but might I borrow some cushions?”

“Cushions?” Susie looked at him, and then at Nell, who returned her baffled stare. “Whatever for?”

“It is for my lesson with Evelyn,” he replied, coming into the room.

“Your music lesson?”

“Yes.” His expression was mild and gave nothing away.

“Right.” Susie gave him a confused look. “I don’t think I’m going to ask,” she said to Nell, eyes twinkling, as she crossed over to the sofa. “How many?”

“Two – ah! Two should suffice!” he yelped as he ducked to avoid the cushions she hurled at him. He stooped to pick them up, laughing and shaking his head at Susie’s bland smile, and then, bowing courteously, he thanked her with teasingly formal politeness and departed.

Susie chuckled, and grinned at Nell who was shaking her head in amusement.

“You are mean to him,” she remarked as Susie straightened the rest of the cushions.

“It’s good for him,” returned the younger mistress cheerfully. Nell snorted.

“I can’t imagine he sees it that way.”

“Oh, he will,” grinned Susie. “Eventually. Now, come on, Nell, have you found that note yet?”

Nell shook her head. “Not a sausage,” she replied. “Oh, this is infuriating! I suppose I might have lost it somewhere in my room, but I’m pretty sure I brought it down here. Where do you suppose it can be?”

“I’ve no idea,” returned Susie, a frown creasing her brow. “And I’ve even less of an idea about where Leila can have got to. It’s not like her to vanish for this long. I think I’ll go over to the main Chalet and search about there. Shall I ask Marie if she’s seen your money while I'm over there? You never know, she might have tidied it away by accident, thinking it was mine.”

“Oh, would you?” Nell looked relieved. “That would be a help. I’ve all the geography prep. to mark yet, and what with looking high and low for that wretched money I’ve not had a moment to do it.”

“Don’t you worry, my dear,” replied Susie, gathering up her things. “I’ll be back fairly soon, when I shall claim my reward for helping.”

“Reward?”

“Oh, yes,” said Susie, a sparkle in her eye. “Don’t think I’m doing this for nothing, my darling! And, come to that, I think I’ll claim a bit of my reward now.”

“What do you mean?” demanded Nell, and then as Susie crossed to her and stood, looking expectant, understanding crossed her face and she gave a wry smile.

“Oh, I see,” she spoke drily and, leaning in, she placed a kiss on Susie’s cheek. As she drew back, Susie’s hands caught her waist and pulled her closer again.

“Don’t think you’re getting away with that,” she murmured, lips close to Nell’s ear. “I want a proper kiss from you, Miss Wilson.”

And, with one eye on the open shutters, Nell Wilson complied.

Curiosity killed the cat? Part 2 by Finn

When Evelyn arrived at the door to the little music room she hesitated, but not, as was usually the case, from wariness, but in some slight confusion. The table at which she and Mr Denny usually sat for their music theory lessons had been pushed to one wall and now held a gramophone, and the chairs were drawn up beneath it. On the floor in the corner lay a pair of cushions, and Mr Denny was standing at the table leafing through a pile of gramophone records. Without looking up, he waved a hand to beckon her in.

“Come in, my little maid,” he instructed her absently. “Come in, and sit down.” He gestured vaguely at the floor behind him.

Evelyn crept forward, books still clutched in her arms, and looked anxiously about her. The only chairs were tucked neatly under the table. Surely he couldn’t mean her to sit on the floor? Or was it a piano lesson – did she have the wrong books? She checked anxiously, but no, the gramophone was there, and it wasn’t usually. But maybe she was wrong – maybe it was for someone else. Maybe she should have brought her piano books!

She trembled as she stood and waited for him to turn around, waited for him to discover her error and for the angry shout, the blow, or – no, it was Mr Denny, so it would be a disappointed sigh that heralded her mistake, and he would pull back his hair in that frustrated way he had. She hated it when he did that; it struck her heart more surely than ever a blow could.

He turned then and she flinched, and then was sick with herself for doing so for he regarded her with such an expression – concern and bemusement and no little mystification – and then he raised his hand and she almost ducked again, but he was merely gesturing behind her, and she turned to see that he indicated the cushions she had observed before.

“We shall sit on the floor,” he informed her. She gazed at him, thoroughly confused, and he smiled slightly.

“You may put your books aside,” he added, kindly. “We shall not need them today.”

Reluctantly, Evelyn drew up a cushion and sat gingerly down upon it, crossing her legs and holding her books carefully upon her knees. Mr Denny crossed the room and closed the door, then turned back to his pupil. How scared she looked, how small, huddled there upon the floor. She looked paler than she had last time he had seen her, tired and worn out. And so frightened! No wonder; in fairness, this lesson was entirely unlike any other he had given. He returned to the gramophone, picked up a record, and then turned back to the little girl.

“Today we shall have a new sort of lesson,” he explained to her, and she nodded rapidly. “It is quite simple. We shall listen to some music, and you shall tell me how it makes you feel.”

She looked at him so round-eyed that he wondered if she had taken it in.

“Do you understand me?” he asked gently, ready to explain again, but she nodded suddenly and he was satisfied.

“Lay your books aside, child,” he chided her as he turned to place the record on the turntable. “Let there be no encumbrances to hamper your enjoyment of the music.”

And so-saying, he placed the needle upon the record, and all at once the strains of Liszt’s Liebestraum No. 3 resounded throughout the room. Evelyn sat very still, listening with all her might. He seated himself upon the remaining cushion and propped himself against the wall, leaning back and closing his eyes, letting the music sink into his bones.

When it was over, he opened his eyes again and looked across at the child. She sat very still, very rigid, but there was something in her face that was different. He had seen it before, when she played and when she sang; something in her taut nature relaxed in those moments, and her sad face softened so that, for a moment, she appeared to have forgotten the hardships of the world.

Reluctant though he was to break in on that forgetfulness, he asked her,

“How does that make you feel?” And, as she looked up at him worriedly, “Give me just a word or two.”

She shook her head a little, and the anxious look descended upon her again. She looked around her, for that invisible advisor she always sought, then bit her lip and said,

“Calm?”

This was another of her traits, to put her answers as questions. It was an infuriating habit, but he disregarded it for now. Instead he rose, and crossing to the gramophone, he returned the needle to the beginning.

“We shall listen again, I think,” he remarked quietly. “Do not worry – you have made no mistake. This time, I shall tell you what I think of it.”

They listened again, and Evelyn’s face relaxed just a little more,

“The music – it has a certain melancholy, do you not agree?”

“Yes,” she murmured, but the answer came more promptly than before.

He was about to speak again when she said,

“Calm and sad, but also happy…no…” she trailed off, looking down.

“It is almost nostalgic, is it not?” he prompted gently, and she looked up and nodded.

“Yes! It is…tender. Like a mother, rocking her baby and thinking about how she will feel when her child grows up and goes away from her.”

He smiled at her, though secretly he was rather surprised. He had not expected such a remark – although as he reminded himself, when dealing with Evelyn one had to expect the unexpected. Now he nodded and, rising gracefully from his cross-legged position, he went to change the record.

“We shall do the same, but with a new piece,” he advised the girl, and Evelyn nodded her understanding.

They went through several short pieces of music in that lesson, and while Evelyn was reticent in her response to some, she surprised Tristan again with her comments about others. To his mind, however, she saved the best until last. He had played mainly gentle pieces of chamber and piano music, but now, and with some trepidation, he put on one of his prized possessions, Rachmaninoff playing his Prelude in C# minor. He sat back and watched carefully as the first dramatic chords rumbled out, uncertain as to how such intense music would affect her, but he was pleasantly surprised to see her eyes widen in appreciation, and her tense look disappeared completely as the music took possession of her. When the final chords had finished resounding and only the hissing of the record turning remained, he rose again and lifted the needle, before turning to her and asking, quietly,

“How do you find this music?”

“It is perfect,” breathed Evelyn, and her voice was not timid in the slightest, but faraway and distant.

“Why is it perfect?” he pressed, intrigued, and she replied, faintly,

“It is all…it is everything. It is the world!”

He took a breath, and smiled. How he understood! She had tensed up again, embarrassed by her last remark, apologising for sounding stupid, but he had an inkling, now, of how to penetrate that shell of hers. Sarah had not believed him, but he had been right. Music was the key. There was no need to hasten; he knew, oh how he knew, that it would take time to unlock this frightened little maid. But he would prevail. Of that he was sure.

*
As they emerged from the music room they found Susie and Matron Wilson standing in the corridor in an urgent conference. Susie caught sight of him and came hurrying over to him, her eyes troubled.

“Oh, Tristan,” she cried, regardless of Evelyn’s presence. “I’ve lost Leila! She isn’t anywhere to be seen, and it’s gone feeding time!”

“I am saddened to hear that,” he replied, feeling rather at a loss; she seemed to expect him to do something, but what? He thought carefully, and asked, “Have you looked in the main building?”

“Of course I have!” she said snappishly. “I’ve been everywhere!”

“Well, logically you can’t have been,” put in Matron, “or you’d have found her. Have you looked in the outbuildings?”

“No…” Susie hesitated. “I suppose she could be in the games shed, or with the dogs...”

“Oh, Miss Smith!” The three adults jumped to hear Evelyn’s voice, lifting up with surprising insistence as she cried, “You haven’t let her near the dogs, have you? Oh, Miss Smith, you must go and check! I had a kitten once, but the vicar had a wolfhound and he bit her head off. The wolfhound, I mean. Bit off the kitten’s head. Oh, do go and see, Miss Smith!”

Susie blanched, her face aghast. Tristan caught her elbow to steady her, but she twisted away from him and ran to the door. He hastened after her, and as they departed they heard Evelyn saying to Matron,

“It was horrid. There was blood everywhere! And she was only little…”

“Oh…” Susie moaned. “Oh, what if Rufus has torn her into pieces? I don’t think I can stand it!”

“It may not have come to that,” he observed, trying to be reassuring, but she doubled her speed and they raced around the outside of the main house to where the dogs were kept. Once they were at the door, however, she stopped, her face white.

“I can’t go in,” she said. “Oh, what if Evelyn’s right!”

He put a hand on her shoulder, then moved past her and opened the door. He stepped through and let his eyes adjust to the gloom before looking around. After a few moments, he smiled, and then gave a little chuckle.

“Come, Susie,” he called softly. “Come and see.”

With great trepidation she slipped through the door, squinting in the darkness, and he beckoned her over to where he stood. She came, and clutched for his hand, before seeing what he had seen. Her face softened and she smiled delightedly.

“There you are, darling!” she said, her voice filled with joy.

Leila did not stir. She was curled up in a ball, fast asleep, and cuddled up around her, his great paws on either side of her tiny body, was the drowsing Rufus. He raised his head briefly at Susie’s voice, thumped his tail, then settled back around the kitten and lowered his head, half-closing his eyes.

Susie turned to Tristan, eyes shining. “Aren’t they adorable?” she asked him, and much to his astonishment she drew close to him and with a great sigh she leaned against his shoulder, her eyes back on the dog and the kitten.

“I’m just so relieved!” she exclaimed.

Very awkwardly, he put his arm around her and she leaned on him, her face tender and lovely. Mentally he shook his head. All this fuss over a kitten. Another thing he was sure of - never, never, would he understand women!

A Little Promenade by Finn

The remainder of January fled past, and before they knew it, February was upon them, and the smell of spring began to waft in on the breezes, promising sunlight and summer warmth for the months to come. But for the time being, winter still held the valley fast, and the ice that gripped the great lake showed no signs of weakening.

Annunziata had been delighted about this, and had declared firmly that she would learn to skate before the season was out. Sarah and Dino had glanced at each other and shaken their heads in amusement, but Annunziata was not one to dally when she had set her mind to something, and by the middle of February she was well on her way to achieving her goal. Dino took her out most days, and she had even managed to coax Tristan out onto the ice a few times, which surprised Sarah, for he had not been skating since their childhood days. She, of course, could not be tempted, and it always made her shiver, to see her loved ones out upon the lake surface, only a few inches of ice between them and the ghastly depths. Tristan, aware of this, tried to reassure her, but she could only breathe easy again once they had returned and were warming themselves before her roaring stove, coffee to hand, laughing and chattering rapidly about their excursion and joyously planning the next.

Nico was a different matter. He had been skating with his siblings once or twice, but he had not come off very well and, as he was at an age where his dignity made any fall a grave embarrassment, he had resisted any further attempts to draw him out onto the ice. Instead he would curl up in Tristan’s armchair with a book, steadfastly ignoring his brother’s teasing and his sister’s cajoling, privately wishing himself back at home with his cousins, his friends, and with Mamma, who would surely throw her hands up in horror at the idea of any of her precious sons disporting themselves in such a dangerous manner upon so fragile a surface as that of the frozen lake.


One Saturday morning, the week before a certain English journalist was due to take up residence with the Dennys, Sarah had proposed an excursion.

“Since you love the ice so much, my dear,” she had said to Annunziata, who was in the kitchen with her helping to prepare the roast veal that was to be their evening meal, “why don’t we have a wander along to see the Dripping Rock? I don’t think we’ve been that way yet, and it’s a jolly sight, and won’t be there much longer, since the thaw is almost upon us. How about it?”

“Why is it called the “dripping” rock?” demanded Annunziata, not pausing in her task.

“Because it…drips,” replied Sarah, slightly bemused by the question. “You’ll see, anyway, if we go that way! Let’s finish this, then we can get our things on, gather up our various brothers and head off.”

Tristan declined to join the party, citing a considerable amount of work that needed to be completed before Matty Smith arrived to stay with them, but the others came willingly and it was a merry group that set off for the Rock, chattering in Italian all the way. Annunziata danced on ahead, chased by Nico, his habitual sulkiness forgotten in the gloriously bright sunlight, which set the frosted trees glittering and glanced off the snow with sparkling brilliance. Her gay laughter, and the taunts she threw over her shoulder at her young brother, drifted back to the more sedate pair that followed, arm in arm, chatting merrily about school, work, politics and the past – the happy days they had shared in Florence, teaching and working together those years ago.

“So, you are to play host to a new house-guest this coming week?” Dino remarked as they strolled along.

“Yes,” replied Sarah, smiling. “Mr Smith – Susie’s brother, you know.”

“I had gathered,” responded Dino, and they both smiled; Susie’s talk that week had been of little else. “You know him from before?”

“He was with us for Christmas,” Sarah told him. “I can’t say that I know him, not exactly. Five days isn’t long enough, is it? But what I know, I like,” she added, cheerfully. “He really is fun; he livened Christmas up for us no end!”

“I am glad to hear it,” said Dino politely. “Your brother seems very pleased that Mr Smith is coming?”

He phrased it as a question, and Sarah nodded her agreement.

“Oh, he and Matty get on like a house on fire,” she grinned. “In fact, I’ve no idea whether I’ll be able to bear a week of them together! It’s…well…I mean…” she stopped, and shook her head. “Sorry. I’m making no sense! But yes, they get on very well.” She stopped again, and laughed. “I do believe Tristan is looking forward to him coming almost as much as Susie!”

Dino chuckled, and let the conversation drop for a few moments. They were coming to a bend in the path and Annunziata and Nico were out of sight. Now could be a good time…he caught Sarah by the elbow and persuaded her to pause with him for a moment.

“Sarah,” he began, but she cut across him, saying,

“Do you think it’s warmer than it has been? I think we’ll have an early thaw this year. Did I tell you about the thaw last year, when it flooded. Oh, it was terrible! We stayed up at the school, Tristan and I, and Madame was ever so kind and tolerant when I had a complete panic about the floodwater. I hope it doesn’t flood again this year!”

“If it does, then you know you can find safety with us, in our chalet,” responded Dino with warmth in his voice. “You know what you mean to me, don’t you, Sarah? I wouldn’t see you frightened for worlds. Sarah, I…”

“Where have Nico and Nunzia got to?” Sarah interrupted suddenly, looking about her. “We’d better go after them!”

“They will be fine for a little while,” Dino answered her, catching at her arm. “Sarah, stay for a moment. I wish to talk with you.”

But just then Nico came back around the corner.

“There you are!” he called to them. “Do hurry up! Nunzia says she doesn’t know where we’re supposed to go from here, and we’re getting cold standing around waiting for you.”

Dino sighed, and shrugged. With an apologetic smile, Sarah slipped free from his grasp and hurried to join Nico, who had a cheekily knowing smile on his face. Dino followed, resisting the temptation to belt his brother about the ear, but instead following him along the path until, suddenly, they came out directly before the Dripping Rock.

“Oh!” breathed Annunziata, awestruck.

The rock, over which in summer poured a steady stream of water down into the lake below, was now frozen in silent majesty. Strings of ice hung down from the rock like strands of molten candle wax, glittering pale and cold in the winter sunlight, and beads of water bled from each glassy tip, dripping down onto the lake ice.

The three Italians stood still, stunned into unaccustomed silence by the spectacular sight, and all that could be heard was the breeze rustling the tree branches and the faint patter of the droplets hitting the ground.

“That is…” Nico paused, his vocabulary unable to meet the splendour before him. “It is…”

“Magnificent,” his sister finished for him.

“It is,” agreed their elder brother softly, but there was a quiet emotion in his voice that told the others how much he was moved.

“It’s glorious!” Annunziata laughed, and danced away underneath the icicles, spinning around and waving her arms above her head, stretching up to the ice that reached down to meet her. Sarah laughed with her, and Annunziata beckoned to her and caught her hands, leading her in a joyful, whirling dance underneath those heavenly tendrils of ice, laughing loudly when the drips of water spattered onto her face.

“Oh, Nunzia!” Sarah laughed again, pulling herself from Annunziata’s grip. She seemed so demure at home, this quiet Italian girl, but out in the open air she became an elemental force, vibrant, startling, refulgent. She grinned now, still dancing, her cheeks stung pink by the cold Alpine air, and the others all smiled with her, mesmerised as ever by her energy and animation.

“Come, Nunzia,” Dino commanded eventually. “It is surely time we were returning. I would not like our dinner to go to waste!”

“Yes, come on,” agreed Nico. “It’s lovely, but we’ve seen it now. Anyway, I’m hungry.”

“Hungry already?” Suddenly Annunziata was all mother again, fussing over her youngest brother like a hen over her chicks. “Dinner won’t be for an hour yet at least, probably two! What do you mean, hungry? Do we not feed you? Are you wasting away? Hungry, indeed!”

She chivvied him away, scolding as they went, and Dino chuckled, pausing to wait for Sarah to join him.

“She grows more like Mamma every day!” he laughed, holding out an arm for her as she stumbled upon a rough patch of ground.

“Oh, I don’t know,” Sarah returned, taking his arm gratefully. “She might be like Mamma in some ways, but in others she’s entirely herself.”

“That’s true enough,” Dino conceded with a slight groan. “It seems that all the females in our family are born thus,” he added, watching his sister as she scrambled down the path ahead of them. “Pia is just the same, and as for Fiametta…” he broke off at this mention of his youngest sister, and shook his head. “Forces of nature, each and every one!” He laughed, and Sarah grinned along with him. “But why it should be only the women that are affected, and not the men, that I shall never know.”

“And I shall not hazard a guess,” added Sarah, smiling broadly.

They walked along together in silence for a few minutes, and then Sarah took a deep breath and paused, looking out over the frozen valley. The path along which they were walking gave them an excellent view over the frozen lake, and they could see the villages of Briesau and Buchau spread out below them on either side of the lake. On the shore at Briesau, they could see men piling wood and timber up into piles, and Dino ventured to ask Sarah if she knew what this was for.

“I am given to understand that there is to be an ice carnival next week,” she told him, “and I imagine they’re gathering up the wood for the bonfires. They light one here, and one at Seespitz and I believe there should be another at Buchau. It’ll be quite noisy, but rather fun – if you like ice and skating, that is!” she laughed, and he chuckled too.

“I take it you will not be going?” he enquired, teasingly.

“Oh, I shall go,” she smiled back, raising her head a little in mock-indignation. “I shall just stick to the shore, that is all. But I know Tristan intends to take Matty along, and since they can both skate I imagine they’ll have a whale of a time. Are you going to go, do you think?”

“Oh, certainly, now that I know about it!” He laughed. “I’ll take Nico, teach him a bit more about skating – and about being sociable!”

“He’ll enjoy it,” agreed Sarah. “Just keep him away from too much schnapps – you know how that can turn a young man’s head – not to mention his stomach.”

“Goodness, yes.” A worried look crept into his eyes. “Perhaps I’d better keep him at home!”

“No, let him come!” protested Sarah. “He needs to learn, after all. And we’ll all be there – me, and Tristan, and Matty, and I think Susie was going to try to persuade Madame to let her out for that evening – to ‘keep me company’ I fancy is the excuse she will use!” She laughed again, and Dino joined in.

“Well, I will not let her secret out,” he grinned. “And I imagine we will be seeing a bit more of her than usual in the next couple of weeks, with her brother coming to stay? That should please your brother.”

“It’ll please both of us,” Sarah agreed, cheerfully. “We don’t see enough of her.”

“Yes.” Dino gave a lopsided smile. “Forgive me, but…your brother, he is sweet on her, is he not?”

“What? On Susie?” Sarah gave a derisive laugh. “Don’t be daft, Dino! Goodness! Is that the gossip? My word!” She bit her lip thoughtfully. “Don’t pass it on, Dino, whatever you do! I’m sure there’s nothing in it!”

“It is not the gossip,” he soothed her. “It was only my own conjecture, from seeing them together. Don’t worry - I will not say anything! If I am wrong, I am wrong. I suppose...I suppose I imagined him to be in love, for, after all, it is always nice for love to have a companion.”

He caught at her hand as he said these last words, and she looked up into his blue eyes as he said,

“Sarah, you must know by now that I…that I…”

But just then a sound came to their ears, and a most unwelcome one. Sarah jumped, and he scarcely had time to release her hand when round the corner came the seniors and middles of the Chalet School, all dressed in their Guides uniforms and singing Men of Harlech with raucous cheer. They waved cheerfully at the two members of staff, and cried a merry “Grüss Gott!”, which Sarah and Dino returned rather half-heartedly. Mollie Maynard, at the end of the procession, seemed rather surprised to see them alone together, and Sarah could see from her expression that she would have some explaining to do come Monday. She sighed internally. Why, oh why, did they have to choose now to come past!

They waited until the ‘croc’ had passed on, and then, with no words spoken, they resumed the path and hurried to catch up with Nunzia and Nico, who were waiting rather impatiently for them further along the path. And once the party had regrouped, there was nothing for it but to return to the Dennys chalet, and to their roast veal dinner.

A Rag by Finn

“I say, Bette, are you game for a rag?”

Bette glanced up from the sewing box which she was tidying and looked at Grizel, who was studying her with a calculating sort of air.

“What sort of a rag?” she questioned her, uncertainly.

“It’s just this,” said Grizel, plumping herself down beside her fellow prefect. “You know it’s to be the ice carnival this Tuesday?”

“Yes, of course. We are going to watch it from the upper windows, like we did last year,” Bette replied, feeling somewhat bemused.

Grizel tucked one of her loose golden curls behind her ear as she continued, “Well…wouldn’t you like to get a closer view of it all?”

Bette drew herself up and looked steadily at the Games prefect. “Grizel! What do you mean?”

“I mean,” persisted Grizel, “that I want to go to it.”

“Grizel!”

“Shh! Bette, don’t shriek so! Listen for a moment, will you, and don’t shout the place down! I mean to go to it. I feel sure that Mr Ruggiero’s younger brother will be there, and…well, wouldn’t it be the perfect place to…to…you know, to get to know him?”

“Grizel! Surely you aren’t serious?”

“Oh, come on, Bette! I saw the way you looked when we were talking about him the other night. You were positively goofy!”

“'Goofy'! Grizel! Don’t say such things!”

“You know what I mean! Don’t you want to…well, to meet him, and talk to him? Better we do that outside of school than in – and we can make sure we look a sight better than we do in our gym tunics! And if he’s not at the carnival, well, I’ll…I’ll eat my hat! Come on! It’ll be a lark, won’t it?”

“But…” Bette was swayed, but that did not stop her from voicing her doubts. “Surely there will be lots of people there! How are we to find him?”

“We’ll find him,” replied Grizel confidently. “Last week, Mr Ruggiero told us that Mr Nico doesn’t much like skating, so I reckon he’ll stay near the bonfires at the Kron Prinz Karl, and if they have a Tzigane band I’ll bet you that he’ll be somewhere around there. We can put on our Sunday frocks and make sure we look nice, and then sneak out after Abendessen, like the middles did last year.”

“But…if we’re caught, there’s sure to be a row.”

“Well,” Grizel sniffed, “it’s up to you. But I’m going to risk it. It’ll be worth it, just to see his face. Come if you like – but I’m sure I don’t need you!”

And with that, she got up and strolled off, leaving Bette to some hard thinking.

*
“Matty! Beloved brother mine!”

“Susannah! Sweet sister mine!”

“Ah, isn’t it touching?” laughed Sarah Denny, watching the reunion.

“You are never that pleased to see me,” observed her brother, standing beside her.

Sarah chuckled again. “If I were ever that enthusiastic,” she responded, looking up at him fondly, “you’d probably have a fit!”

“This is true,” returned her brother, his face opening into a beaming smile as Matty Smith came towards him.

“Denny!” They clasped hands gleefully. “I’m very glad to see you, old man.”

“And I you! I am sorry that I could not meet you at the station.”

“Pfah!” Matty Smith dismissed this with a casual wave of the hand. “Never mind that. I’m here now, and just ready for some of your gingerbread, Sarah,” he smiled at his hostess, and bent to greet her with a kiss. “Or is it shortbread, today?”

“Neither, if you carry on in that tone!” she laughed, trying to be stern. “Go on through, all of you. I’ve the kettle boiled and we’ll have tea in a few short moments.”

“Well, isn’t this just copacetic?” demanded Matty, sitting down on the sofa and looking about him.

“Matty!” Susie spluttered with laughter. “What an appalling word! I love it! For heaven’s sake, don’t use it in front of my juniors.”

“Where are your little darlings, out of interest?” enquired her brother.

“Oh, Nell has them. An afternoon off – and tomorrow evening as well, for the ice carnival! Isn’t that wonderful?”

“Madame must have been in a good mood when she granted you that,” observed Matty.

“Oh, she was,” returned his sister. “I waited until Dr Jem visited, then asked her straight after.”

Matty threw back his head and laughed. “No-one ever called you a schemer, Susannah!” he exclaimed, and she grinned wickedly.

“Only when it’s in everyone’s best interests,” she protested. “I was hardly likely to do my job well when I was all over-excited about you being here.”

“Daft twit,” he said, fondly, and she smiled at him and tousled his hair.

“So how’s life treating you, Denny?” Matty demanded as his host settled himself into his armchair and was immediately pounced upon by the fat little kitten, who tumbled down playfully from the back of the chair onto his knees. “Your young lasses been up to any more tricks recently?’

“Move, Fáfnir!” growled Tristan, seizing the kitten by the scruff and moving him to the arm of the chair, before replying more genially, “No, no tricks; they are most assiduous. Indeed, I believe that I shall be able to divide my sopranos before too long, and so we shall have a three part choir instead of the two parts I have at the moment.”

“That’ll be jolly for you,” grinned Matty. “You can have them belting out some Hildegaard von Bingen for a change.”

Tristan cocked his head to one side, and smiled slightly.

“You are quite right,” he answered, his voice suddenly distant. “That is certainly a possibility.”

“Oh, don’t start a conversation about music,” protested Susie as Sarah came in with the tray. “You know I can’t keep up!”

“Well, what do you propose we talk about?” demanded her brother, his eyes twinkling as he rose gracefully to help Sarah with the tray.

“Hm.” Susie was silenced. “Well, when you put me on the spot…”

“Sponge cake, anyone?” Sarah cut in just then, and there was a general chorus of approval.

Once the party had all been adequately served, the talk drifted away from music and onto more general matters. Matty gave them a report of his last month in Paris, and Susie made them all laugh with an account of a rather touching linguistic error made by Rafaela, who had only that morning talked about a “viscous cycle”, before the talk meandered inevitably back towards music again. Matty and Tristan became embroiled in a discussion about the Viennese musical scene, and Tristan was heard to express great envy at Matty’s forthcoming trip to Vienna.

“It is a shame that Walter is no longer in Vienna,” he observed mournfully. “I should have loved to see the great Mahler conduct, but Walter is surely as close as one can get, these days – how I should have enjoyed that!”

“They’re still turning out top rate music,” returned Matty. “Come with me! We can see the sights together.”

“I should like that!” Tristan exclaimed. “But…the school – my lessons…”

“Oh, go on, Tristan,” Susie tried to persuade him. “Surely the school can do without you for one week?”

“It would not be right,” he objected. “It would not be fair.”

“Well, it doesn’t matter all that much,” put in Matty at that moment. “Even if you can’t come this time, you can always come and stay with me in the future.”

“What?” Susie turned on her brother, eyes wide, and he laughed, nodding, a wicked expression on his face.

“Oh yes,” he grinned cheerfully. “Didn’t I mention? I’m leaving Paris! That’s part of the reason for this trip, in fact – I’m off to meet a chap in Vienna. If all goes well, I’ll be getting myself a good post there, and it’ll be “Goodbye, Paris” and all its culture and art and its charming little coffee houses, and “Hello, Vienna” and radical socialism. Isn’t it grand?”

“Matty!” Susie seized his arm. “But how special! Not that you’ll be much closer,” she added, thoughtfully, “but it’ll feel closer, you in the same country and all that. And Vienna!” She breathed a long sigh. “I’ve always wanted to go to Vienna.”

“Well, now you’ll have every opportunity,” her brother told her, his eyes dancing merrily. “If all goes well, I’ll be getting a little flat there, but there’ll be plenty of room for you. And for guests as well,” he added, waving an arm to include his hosts. “So you’d better all send up some good prayers for me!”

“Well, isn’t this marvellous?” said Sarah. “I think it calls for some more celebratory sponge cake.”

“What an excellent ide,!” exclaimed Matty, holding out his plate with an endearing grin on his face.

“It is indeed good news,” Tristan said, his eyes shining. “I hope that this means we will be seeing more of you, my dear fellow?”

“More than you can stomach!” laughed Matty. “But seriously, Denny, come with me next week? I’m still an idiot about music – you can tell me which concerts to go to! And I’d like the company.”

Tristan hesitated. “Well,” he responded, still hesitant, “if the school does not need me…”

“Oh, do go,” said Sarah suddenly. “I could do with the peace and quiet!”

“Am I such a burden to you?” responded her brother, giving her a mournful look, though his eyes glittered with amusement.

“A trial and a torment,” she told him, in mock-irritation.

“Well, in that case, Smith, I shall assuredly join you on your trip,” Tristan said, directing a brief scowl at his sister, who made a face in return.

“Excellent!” Matty thumped the arm of the sofa, alarming the kitten, who was now curled in his sister’s lap. “We’ll have a splendid time there – just see if we don’t!”

A Carnival On Ice Part 1 by Finn

“Ohh!”

Susie shivered as they stepped out of the door into the frosty night air, which bit at their cheeks and fingers and made them stamp their feet and bury their hands deeper into their pockets. She huddled up inside her warm winter coat and shawl, and then she looked about her and her eyes grew wide with appreciation.

“Oh! Isn’t it wonderful?”

Matty had to agree. The lake was black and the bonfires upon its frosty shores danced like the fires of hell; before them, the trees seemed to sway to and fro in devilish silhouettes, while all around them the snow lay thick and glistening, bathed in the cool light of a full glowing moon. There were crowds of people thronging the shore line, and already a good many skaters were out on the ice, some carrying flaming torches to give light to their fellows. There was some shouting, but it was all good-natured, and over it all soared the strains of one of the Tzigane bands, strident fiddles and wheezing accordions, their eerie harmonies drifting out over the frozen water.

Beside him, Susie jigged up and down excitedly.

“It makes me want to dance!” she exclaimed.

Sarah laughed at her impatient guest.

“Let us get out of the house first!” she requested, as she locked up the door and checked the shutters. Beside Susie, Tristan chuckled his amusement as he watched her try to restrain her tapping feet.

“Do not fear, Susie,” he said to her. “There will be much dancing before the night is through.”

“Of course there will,” grinned Matty. “Come on, Denny – race you down to the shore!”

“You may run,” replied Tristan, sedately, “but some of us do not have the lungs for it.”

“And, of course,” agreed Matty solemnly, “there is the dignity of your great age and position to consider.”

“’Great age’?” Tristan drew himself up in mock-insult at this affront. “I’ll give you ‘great age’.” And with that, he bent and scooped up a handful of snow and flung it, and himself, at his tormentor, who yelled and hurtled away, throwing snow back at his attacker. The two women followed more steadily, giggling at the antics of their menfolk.

“I just wish I didn’t feel like a naughty schoolgirl,” confessed Susie as they made their way down to the waterfront. “Madame would have a fit if she knew we were here! Ouf! Isn’t it cold! Matty, come here!” she called out to her brother. “I need something warm.”

“Honestly!” teased her brother, though he came across and let her cuddle close to his warmth, wrapping an arm around her. They set off down the road towards the water’s edge to where the Tzigane band were, and there they waited, their breath misting in the wood-smoke air, until a small group of well-wrapped figures detached itself from the main crowd and came over to join them.

“Good evening!” Dino’s voice was muffled behind his warm scarf but there was no mistaking who spoke.

“Ruggiero.” Tristan spoke briefly but warmly as he introduced Matty to his friends. “Signorina Ruggiero, Nico – this is Signor Smith, Miss Smith’s brother.”

“How do you do?” said Matty, reaching out to shake hands. When his eyes met Annunziata’s, he raised his eyebrows in appreciation.

“A pleasure to meet you,” he added, taking her hand last. She gave a quiet laugh.

“You English, always so formal!” she protested. “In Italy, we embrace thus.” And she leaned in and kissed him on either cheek, finally holding him out at arm’s length and smiling slightly sardonically at his expression.

Susie, watching, burst out laughing.

“Oh Matty! Shut your mouth and stop acting like a dead fish!” she giggled. “Hello, Annunziata, isn’t it? I don’t believe we’ve met. And Nico…” she trailed off as she held out her hand to the youngest of the Ruggieros. Goodness, but he’s handsome! And so he was; compact but lithe, with sharp cheekbones, a strong jaw, smoke-dark eyes and a set of eyelashes that would have been the envy of any young girl.

Recalling herself, she cleared her throat and stopped staring at him. Honestly! Behave yourself - he’s far too young!

“Well, what shall we do now?” she demanded, looking about their party. “Are we going to listen to some music first, or skate?”

“Skate!” laughed Annunziata, her eyes sparkling.

“Absolutely,” grinned Matty. “Why waste time? I’m dying to get out on the ice again after all these years, but I’d prefer it while it’s still fairly quiet.”

“Yes, I imagine it’ll fill up later on,” agreed Sarah, glancing out at the figures gliding to and fro in the light of the big bonfires on the shore line. “But I think we should make a plan, so that I don’t lose you all while you’re having fun on the lake.” She shivered dramatically, and the rest of the party laughed at her.

“That is a good idea,” agreed Dino. “What would you like to do, Sarah?”

“Oh, I thought I’d stay over here near the bonfires and listen to the music,” replied Sarah cheerfully. “It sounds glorious! I’ll be quite happy here on my own.”

“Of course, I will stay here with you,” Tristan told her, but Dino stepped nimbly in.

“There is no need for you to miss the fun of skating,” he protested. “I, I do not need the excitement, not at my age! Please, Denny, go and enjoy yourself. Sarah and I will listen to the band, and maybe dance a little! Just like old times,” he added in a lower tone, smiling at the woman.

“That’d be nice,” she replied, smiling up at him. “We shall be quite alright, if you wish to skate, Tristan. You’ll find us back here when you’re finished.”

“If you are certain?” Tristan looked searchingly at his sister, and then smiled broadly. “Then so be it. Thank you, Ruggiero. I shall assuredly enjoy skating tonight.”

He and Matty Smith exchanged grins, and they both turned towards the ice when Annunziata spoke up.

“And who will help me, if you are with Sarah, Dino? I am still not certain of myself. Tristan!” she demanded suddenly, peremptorily. “You must assist me.”

Tristan seemed momentarily nonplussed, but recovered his gallantry. “Of course,” he replied. “Forgive me, Miss Nunzia, I had forgotten that you were but a beginner. Come, take my arm! We shall manage quite well, I think.”

“And Nico?” she asked, turning back to her brother, but he shook his head.

“I’m not getting on the ice,” he replied in quick Italian. “I’ll stay near the band, and listen to the music.”

“Mind you don’t get into trouble with any of the local girls!” teased his sister in the same language. “They look fearsomely tough!”

Unable to think of a suitable retort, Nico made a face at her and slouched off in the direction of the biggest bonfire.

“Is he going to be alright?” asked Sarah, cautiously, but Dino nodded.

“We’ll keep an eye on him,” he assured her, “and he won’t come to any harm. Come on! Let’s keep him in our sights!” And the pair headed off after Nico, leaving the skating party standing on the shore.

Annunziata turned to the rest.

“So, now we skate?” she demanded, and without waiting for a reply, she tugged at Tristan’s arm and hauled him off to the lake edge, and Matty and Susie followed after them.

*
“All’s quiet now!”

The exclamation was made in a hushed whisper, and then Bette came scurrying back to join Grizel, who was tucking her scarf inside her coat, and, sitting down beside her, bent to pull her boots on. The wicked pair had hidden in the cloakroom, much as the middles had done the year before, and had waited until the house was quiet and all were upstairs before slipping their outer things on. Now they tiptoed to the door and wrestled it quietly open, before creeping through and shutting it with the barest click. Slowly they slipped along the side of the house and finally they dashed across the frozen playing field, scrambled lightly over the fence, and hurried along the Briesau path until they were out of sight of the school.

“That’s that done!” announced Grizel, triumphantly, stopping to remove her hat and shake her curls free. “Come on! The sooner we get there, the sooner we can find Mr Nico and the sooner we can get back.”

“Just listen!” cried Bette, as the gypsy strains of the Tzigane music floated over to them from the hotel. "Isn't it wonderful?"

"Delicious!" agreed Grizel with a grin, and tucked her arm through Bette's.

They hurried along the path and came out to a glorious sight. A great mass of people crowded about the bonfires, and there were even more upon the ice, gliding smoothly across the frozen surface of the lake. The smell of the wood-smoke drifted up to them, and over it all came the wild and weird music of the Tzigane band.

They stood for a moment, feasting their eyes upon the sight, and then they grinned at each other and set off down the frosty lake path to join the throng, hoping that they might find the young man they so keenly sought.

*
They had not escaped unnoticed, however. Eigen, younger brother of Marie, the school maid, had been cleaning out the stove in the main classroom, and as he emerged with his bucket of ash and cinders, he heard a faint click, just like the noise of a door being carefully closed. His interest piqued, he wandered along the corridor and tried the handle of the nearest outside door. It opened, and putting his head out he caught sight of something that startled him – two girls, in coats, hats and boots, were slipping off together across the school grounds. He hesitated, in two minds about whether to pursue them or to return inside and alert someone to the truancy, when a voice behind him solved his dilemma.

“Eigen?” It was Juliet, standing staring at him as though he were mad. “Whatever are you doing standing at the door like that? You’ll catch your death of cold!”

“Fräulein Juliet!” he called, relieved. “There are two girls running across the field outside!”

“What?” Juliet came hurrying over to him and looked in the direction he pointed. “Who is it? Did you see?”

“No, gnädiges Fräulein,” he replied, “but I am sure they are our girls. I heard them as they left the house.”

“Well for heaven’s sake, don’t shriek about it!” retorted Juliet, peering out of the door again. “Heavens!” she exclaimed suddenly. “I believe that’s Grizel out there! Oh my word! We’d better get them back, Eigen, before there’s an almighty fuss!”

“I am to go to the carnival myself, but not for half an hour yet,” Eigen told her.

“That’s too long to wait, objected Juliet. “I must go now. Will you help me, Eigen? If Madame asks where I am, tell her…well, tell her anything as long as it doesn’t give us away. If I’m not back with them in half an hour, then…well, you’d better tell her the truth, and tell her it was I that told you to lie for us. Do you think you can do that?”

“Of course, mein Fräulein,” agreed Eigen, hastily, and Juliet smiled her thanks. She darted into the cloakroom and wrapped herself up warmly in coat, scarf, gloves and shawl, before tugging her boots on and pulling her hat down firmly over her ears. Then she picked up her skates and hurried out of the door which Eigen held for her, repeating his promise to fend off Madame’s questions for as long as possible. She thanked him again, and dashed off across the field after the two truant girls.

A Carnival On Ice Part 2 by Finn

Glancing at his sister, Matty sensed that something was wrong.

“What’s up, our kid?” he asked her quietly.

“Oh, nothing,” she replied, but he looked at her, disbelieving, one eyebrow raised, and she shrugged.

“Sorry!” she laughed. “I’m being silly. It’s just…it’s nice and cosy when it’s you, me, Sarah and Tristan – like at Christmas. We were like one big family then. It’s silly, but it feels odd with the Ruggieros all here too. Especially…” She nodded towards Annunziata. “She’s a bit…oh, I can’t think of a polite word! Determined? Look how she’s commandeered Tristan, just like that. It’s…it’s a bit frustrating, that’s all.”

Matty was giving her a queer look, and she scowled at him.

“What does that expression mean?” she demanded, severely. “Come on, out with it. Why am I making an idiot of myself?”

“Did I say that?”

“Darling brother mine,” she replied, “I’ve known you for years, and I know that when you have that expression on your face it’s because you think I’m being foolish.”

“We-ell…you can’t have him all to yourself,” said Matty, a curious half-smile on his face. Susie frowned in a puzzled manner.

“What do you mean?”

“You know perfectly well what I mean, my lamb,” he returned briskly. “He isn’t yours to keep. And she’s quite a pretty girl, all told.”

“Annunziata?” Susie looked over to where Tristan was kneeling at Annunziata’s feet, helping her into her skates, and she conceded that her brother was right. The Italian girl’s features were too sharp for beauty, and yet there was something arresting about those high cheekbones, that firm chin, and of course those startling blue eyes. And her hair, held back under a kerchief in the daytime, was now loose over her shoulders, and the sheer black curtain was a striking sight in the firelight.

Susie watched them together for a moment, then heaved a sigh. “Oh dear,” she remarked. “I think you might be right! How perfectly beastly of me.”

“You’re used to Denny dancing attendance upon you, my pet,” Matty replied, sympathetically. “You aren’t used to sharing him!”

“Oh, you are right!” she exclaimed. “What an idiot I am. You’ve the sense in it, as usual. Why should I be jealous? We’re only friends. Very well – henceforth I shall cease to be an idiot! Matty, my dearest, be a darling and check I’ve buckled these properly, will you?” she requested, sitting down and strapping on her skates. “Last time I went out my left one went flying off and I came a right cropper. Oh! Look now! Aren’t they sweet together?”

This last she exclaimed as she saw Tristan gently pull Annunziata to her feet and skate away from the shore, skating backwards and towing her after him. Matty glanced up and chuckled at the sight.

“Very sweet!” he remarked. “Come on, Suze, haven’t you got that boot sorted yet? I’m counting on you for support, by the way – it’s been years since I was last on the ice.”

“Don’t you worry – it’ll come back pretty promptly, you mark my words,” responded his sister, tapping her skate on the ground to reassure herself of its stability. “There we go. Right, brother mine, take my hand and let’s fly!”

So saying, she launched off onto the ice, tugging Matty gently behind her. He wobbled a few times, and clutched rather feverishly at her hand, but then memory took over and he found himself increasingly able to manage. Susie let go of him and drifted gently out in the direction of Tristan and Annunziata, who were skating around, holding tightly onto one another, and laughing all the time. As she came up to them Annunziata slipped, and Susie stretched out to catch her but, instead of righting her, ended up going over along with her.

“Oh dear!” she exclaimed from the prone position. Annunziata, lying next to her, caught her eye and they both went off into fits of giggles.

“Please,” Tristan was saying, “let me help you to arise.” But for once his peculiar English was rather too much for Susie, and she began laughing even harder. Annunziata managed to make it to her knees and, still giggling, she held out her hands to Susie, who gripped them but, paralysed by her laughter, remained unable to rise, and only succeeded in pulling Annunziata over on top of her.

“Oh…bother!” cried Susie, and began laughing all over again.

Matty glided up to Tristan, halted rather unsteadily, and looked down at the two women.

“Have you been on the schnapps already?” he demanded, chuckling. “Come on – up you come!”

Annunziata grinned as he helped her to her feet, and turned to assist Susie.

“Come, Susie!” she cried, holding out her hands, and her eyes sparkled in the firelight. “Skate with me, yes? We show these boys how to do it!”

“Gladly,” returned Susie with a grin, and linked hands with the Italian girl.

“Don’t go too fast!” called Matty as the women skated off onto the lake. “We should keep together!” But they had disappeared into the multitude of skaters, and he sighed and turned to Tristan.

“Shall we go after them, or shall we go our own way?” he asked him

“I think it best that we follow them,” replied Tristan, looking at the crowd around them. “There are many people here, and we do not know that they will all be peaceful – there could be some roughness yet.”

“Well, I’d back my sister against every one of them,” observed Matty drily, but he nodded his acquiescence and Tristan set off in the direction the women had taken. Matty tried to follow, but his skate slid unexpectedly from under him and he yelped as he slipped. Tristan flung out an arm and caught hold of him before he could fall, and Matty clung onto him, laughing as he tried to regain his balance.

“Thanks!” he gasped when he was stable again. “Oh dear, it’s taking me some time to get used to this skating lark again. I haven’t done it since I was a child, you know,” he told Tristan, still holding onto him.

Tristan shook his head in agreement. “No more had I, until Nunzia – I mean, Miss Ruggiero – insisted on my accompanying her,” he replied. “But it returns quickly, believe me. Why, I have only been out…”

But whatever he was about to say was cut off abruptly as a large stranger, well-muffled against the cold, went flying into him, knocking him into Matty and sending them both over onto the ice, dashing the breath from their bodies. There was a grunt from their mystery assailant, and then a cry of surprise.

“But Herr Denny! A thousand apologies! That I should crash into you thus…here, let me help you to your feet. And your friend, also – I beg your pardon, sir.”

“That’s alright,” wheezed Matty, sitting up and gasping frantically to get some air back into his lungs. Tristan beside him was in a similar state, struggling as he was to stop laughing for long enough to regain his breath.

“Herr Anserl,” he gasped as soon as he was able, accepting his friend's hand. “You, here? But of course! It is foolish of me to be surprised to see you! Smith, allow me to present my good friend and colleague, Herr Anserl. Anserl, this is Mr Smith, brother to our junior mistress at the school.”

“A pleasure to meet you, sir!” boomed Herr Anserl, hauling Matty up and wringing his hand until he felt worried that it might come off. “My most humble apologies for knocking you down – the rough and tumble of the ice, heh?” He burst into loud laughter, startling those around him.

“Herr Anserl,” Matty managed to say. “Susie has told me about you.”

“Indeed? Indeed!” Herr Anserl laughed again, and fished inside his coat pocket. He withdrew a hipflask, which he offered to the two men, crying,

“Finest spring water!”

Matty accepted the offer, took a sip, and once again had the breath snatched from his lungs.

“Ouf!”

Tristan laughed at him as he coughed, water springing to his eyes. He reached over and relieved Matty of the hip flask, taking a mouthful himself, though Matty was smugly satisfied to see that even he blinked rapidly as he swallowed, handing the flask back to Herr Anserl.

“It is quite excellent this year, my dear Anserl,” he congratulated the piano master, adding by way of explanation for Matty, “Herr Anserl distills his own brandy in a still at the back of his house. If we’ve time, we should go down to Spärtz and visit him, and you can sample his creations.”

“I think I’ve had enough from just that taste,” observed Matty, weakly, his eyes still streaming water. The fumes! “But it was very good,” he added for the piano master’s benefit, and Anserl chuckled, well pleased with the response he had received. He pressed the flask into Tristan’s hand, grinning merrily.

“No,” he cried in response to Tristan’s protest, “I have plenty more. If you wish for more, my young friends, then I shall be beside that bonfire there, just below the Post hotel. I have many bottles, and few brave enough to drink!” He threw back his head and roared with laughter, and then he was off, waving farewell to the two younger men.

Matty looked at Tristan.

“Is he…?”

“Yes,” Tristan replied, not waiting for him to finish the question. He took another draught from the flask and smiled at Matty, his eyes alive and glittering, passing over the flask to the younger man. “Now come, my friend,” he cried. “Let us seek our young ladies before they are altogether lost to us!”

*
Arm in arm, Sarah and Dino wandered along to the great bonfire beside the Kron Prinz Karl, where the dark gypsy band were making their music, and there they stood for some minutes in the warmth of the fire, listening to the wild music and watching the young couples dancing in front of the musicians. Eventually, Dino turned to Sarah with his charming smile.

“Would you like to dance, my dearest Sarah?” he asked gallantly, and she smiled.

“I would,” she admitted, “but I think I’ll need a little Dutch courage before I attempt it in front of these crowds!”

He laughed.

“A drink then?” he offered. “Stay here, and I will fetch us something.”

“Some hot punsch would be nice!” she called after him, a smile on her lips.

On the far side of the crowd, a pair of brown eyes widened.

“Grizel!” gasped the anxious Bette, gripping her friend’s arm. “There’s ‘Sally’!”

Grizel looked, and started.

“You’re right,” she agreed. “I suppose Plato’s here as well, then. Gosh! We’d better make sure we don’t run into them!”

“But…” Bette turned horrified eyes on her friend. “You don’t mean we’re to stay here, now?”

“We haven’t found Mr Nico yet!” returned Grizel, sharply. “We simply can’t funk out now, not after we’ve come all this way!”

“We’ve only been gone for five minutes or so,” objected Bette. “We could go back now, and no-one will know any different. Oh, please, Grizel!”

But Grizel was deaf to such entreaties.

“Let’s stay here for now,” she answered Bette. “We can keep an eye on Sally from here, and…oh my hat! Mr Ruggiero’s with her! I say! Isn’t that priceless?”

Bette did not think so, but she did not say so.

If only I’d never come! she thought to herself, wretchedly. If only I’d never let her persuade me!

But she was reluctant to leave her friend and return alone, for Grizel could be thoroughly wrong-headed at times and was liable to get into all sorts of scrapes if left to herself. And, deep in her heart of hearts, she knew she would have made the same decision again. There was just something about the young Mr Nico that had captivated her, and any chance to see him was one worth taking – or so she felt. So she stayed with Grizel, but while the other girl wandered through the crowds, scouting for the lithe figure of their young infatuation, Bette kept her eyes firmly trained on Miss Denny and Mr Ruggiero, who, to her relief, seemed far too absorbed in their conversation to notice what was going on around them.

*
Juliet had kept her young truants in sight right up until they reached Briesau, but as she came around a bend in the path, she realised that she had lost them. With an exclamation of annoyance, she hurried along the path and emerged into the village, and saw the crowds around the large bonfire. Guessing that the girls would be there somewhere, she edged around the crowded mass of people, looking right and left for her fellow schoolgirls, but without success. Finally she turned her attention to the ice, which was packed with skaters.

“Nothing for it,” she said to herself, and rapidly pulling on her skates, she set off from the shoreline and made her way out into the throng, in the anticipation that the missing girls would be out there somewhere.

*
Dino had returned with two mugs full of steaming punch, and he and Sarah stood in companionable silence, caught up in the thrill of the Tzigane music. The gypsy musicians finished an exhilarating dance, and now the fiddles played out a tender, wistful, dreamy melody, haunting and romantic in flavour, and the couples who had danced so exuberantly before now drew closer together, waltzing in each other’s arms.

Moved, perhaps, by the tune, or possibly by the brandy he had already consumed, Dino turned to Sarah with an unmistakeable look in his eyes. Sarah, gazing at the waltzing couples, did not notice immediately, but when he caught her hand she glanced up at him, and seeing his expression, she pulled her hand away and stepped back a little.

“Sarah,” he began, but she held up a hand to forestall him.

“I’m sorry, Dino,” she said, “but I’m afraid the answer is still the same.”

“But…” he looked about him, flummoxed. “Why? What is it that's stopping you now?”

She looked down, her cheeks colouring.

“The same as ever,” she told him.

“Angelo?” he cried. “But he…”

“Dino!” she hissed, lifting her head and giving him a hard stare. “Please!”

“I am sorry,” he replied, holding up an apologetic hand. “I did not mean…you know I did not mean to…”

“No,” she sighed. “I know.”

“He was my good friend,” Dino added. “I’m sorry. But still, I do not understand. I thought you liked me.”

“And I do,” replied Sarah, earnestly, laying a hand upon his arm. “But…I can’t marry you. And, after all, there’s my brother to think of now. I’m sorry, Dino.”

He looked down at her, at her sincere expression, and then he sighed and shrugged lightly, a rueful smile on his lips.

“No,” he replied. “I’m sorry, Sarah. I did not mean…I should not have spoken. It is too soon – it is not the right place. Do you forgive me?”

“Of course,” she replied, with a gentle laugh. “I wish I didn’t have to keep saying “No”. You do understand, don’t you?”

“I think so,” he replied, and he turned away and directed his gaze to the dancers and the band. Sarah sighed, and drained her mug. She set it aside, and then tugged his arm gently.

“Let’s dance,” she said, as the Tzigane began another tune, much livelier than the last. He sighed slightly, then smiled at her, and let her lead him out into the crowd of dancers.

*
Tristan and Matty did not have to search for long; scarcely a minute passed before they heard a familiar voice calling to them.

“Tris! Matty!”

They turned as one to see Susie waving at them from over near the large bonfire at the Kron Prinz Karl.

“Come on, you pair!” she commanded them. “We have chestnuts!”

“And schnapps!” called Nunzia, waving a bottle.

“So have we!” returned Matty skating unsteadily towards them. “Well, schnapps at least.”

The two girls were sharing chestnuts from a paper bag, which they were juggling from hand to gloved hand to avoid being scalded. Annunziata reclaimed Tristan’s arm the moment she could, and Susie glided to join her brother, who was still slithering and stumbling upon the ice.

Schnapps gone to your head?” she enquired, gaily. “Come on, brother mine, let’s see if we can’t get your ice-legs working again!”

And she drew him off to an empty patch of ice, tugging him around in circles after her, despite his heartfelt protests.

Annunziata leaned on Tristan’s arm, and dipped into the bag of chestnuts again, deftly nibbling a hole in one and discarding the shell. Then she glanced up at him, her eyes dancing wickedly.

“’Tris’?” she asked him. “But I think your name is Tristan, hm?”

“Ah…well, yes – it is,” he replied, hesitantly.

“But also ‘Tris’?”

“Not exactly…it is…”

“It is your nickname? As ‘Nunzia’ is for me?”

“Yes!” He frowned, not sure if he should elaborate. “Susie…is the only one that uses it.”

“Ah,” Nunzia said triumphantly. “Well. Now I use it too.” She grinned widely at him, then tugged his arm. “Come, Tris, they are getting away from us! You must help me to skate fast!”

Chuckling, and shaking his head at her enthusiasm, he tucked away the bag of chestnuts into his pocket and, taking her hands, guided her towards where Susie and Matty were.

“Look, here’s Denny, and Miss Ruggiero,” they heard Matty saying as they came up. “Why don’t you and Denny go for a bit of a spin, Suze? I expect you’ve had enough of us two holding you up,” he added, grinning apologetically at Annunziata who gave an acquiescent shrug.

“Are you sure?” asked Susie, but he waved a reassuring hand. “Alright then. Game, Tristan?”

“Of course,” he agreed readily, smiling warmly at her.

“Leave me the flask?” Matty requested, and Tristan dipped into his pocket and tossed the hipflask over to his friend, before taking Susie’s hand and heading off onto the ice.

Matty took a hefty swig from the bottle and turned to Annunziata, only to find that she had vanished.

“Miss Ruggiero?” He swung around, but though he looked all around him he could see no sign of her.

“Where has she vanished to?” he said to himself. Turning, he was just setting off towards the shore when, for the second time that night, he collided with someone.

“I do beg your pardon!” he exclaimed in English, before remembering where he was. “Er…I mean, es tut mir leid…”

“Oh, it’s alright,” replied the girl he had bumped into, in English. “I’m fine, really I am.”

He had caught her arm to steady her, but now he released her. She looked up at him, and he grinned in appreciation at the sight of her. She was very pretty, with a finely boned face, healthy and fresh, and her golden hair working itself loose from where she had tucked it up under her beret.

She gave him a weak smile in return, which failed entirely to cover her worried look, and at once he was concerned.

“Is something the matter, Miss…?”

There was something in his manner and about the way he looked at her which made her hesitate before saying,

“Carrick. And yes, there is something the matter. I’ve lost…I’ve lost two of our girls. They aren’t supposed to be here, but they sneaked out and…well, I can’t find them.”

She made a helpless gesture and Matty gave a sympathetic laugh.

“No, I can imagine,” he replied. “Trying to find someone in this crowd…well, it’s the proverbial needle in haystack situation, isn’t it? I take it you’re with the school?”

The girl nodded.

“They’ve broken bounds,” she explained to him, “and they really should know better! I simply must find them before…before Madame finds out.”

“Well,” declared Matty, gallantly, “two pairs of eyes are better than one! You tell me what I’m looking for and I’ll help you.”

“Will you?” She turned shining eyes on him. “Oh, thank you! That would be such a help!”

“Absolutely,” he smiled. “Lead on, Macduff! That’s my sister’s phrase,” he added, when she seemed about to correct him. “I know it’s not accurate, strictly speaking, but what the hell! Oh, I beg your pardon. Please, Miss Carrick – do continue! I’ll be just behind you – once I’ve sorted out right from left, that is,” he observed mournfully, looking down at his feet.

Miss Carrick laughed suddenly.

“Oh dear!” she exclaimed, watching him as he tried to move in a straight line, and he felt moved to defend himself.

“It’s been an awfully long time since last I skated!” he protested against her giggles. “My feet have forgotten what to do!”

“Let me take your arm, then,” grinned the girl. “I was about to head for the shore anyway – I can’t find them on the ice.”

“Right-o!” Matty let her take his arm and tow him gently along with her. He felt a vague pang of conscience and looked around for Annunziata, but she had well and truly vanished, and so he shrugged, and turned his full attention to Miss Carrick and her quest.

 

*

Nico Ruggiero was bored, fed up, and lonely. He hated the ice, and he hated the cold of this winter, and he had wandered round the village twice and found nothing of interest except an almost intact bottle of schnapps, and now he sat on a low fence outside the Villa Adalbert, kicking his heels against its pales and taking swigs from the bottle, and feeling thoroughly at odds with the world. He wondered why Mamma had sent him here, to live with his grown up brother whom he hardly really knew, if it came down to it, for he’d been away for much of Nico’s short life. He cursed Dino, Mamma, the Tyrol, the Tiernsee, and the snow, the ice and the cold, and he drank from the bottle like a man with no hopes left.

As he sat, huddled in gloom, he heard laughter, and glancing up he saw two local girls hiding around the corner, staring at him and giggling together. He growled sullenly. All he needed now was the locals poking fun at him. He tried to ignore them, but they didn’t go away, and then a thought crept into his mind that dispelled the gloom and brought a new brightness to replace it. Perhaps they weren’t laughing at him, after all? Despite his youth, he had plenty of experience of flirting, and he was no fool about his appearance – he knew he was a handsome young man. It was just possible, wasn’t it, that they had noticed him and were not unfavourably impressed. There was only one way to find out.

Affecting a studied nonchalance, he swung his feet again and, looking over at the girls, he tilted his head on one side, raised the bottle in a toast to them, and took another swig. Their response was to whisper to one another, and then with a little gentle pushing and mutual encouragement, they came towards him, bashful smiles on their faces.

Nico smiled at them, warmly, and gestured with the bottle to invite them to join him. They were, he noted appreciatively, both very pretty girls. Perhaps life here wasn’t going to be completely dull, after all.

*
“No sign?”

Miss Carrick shook her head, her eyes troubled.

“I’ve been all round the hotel,” she told Matty,”but I can’t see them.”

“I’ve no better news, I’m afraid,” Matty confessed, and Miss Carrick tugged at her sleeves in frustration.

“Oh, where can they have got to? It’s simply too bad of them to break out like this!”

“Never mind,” Matty soothed her. “We’ll find them. It’s bound to take time with such crowds of people. Have you been into the village itself, yet?”

“Not yet,” admitted Miss Carrick. “I rather expected to find them where the crowds were.”

“Well, let’s have a look around there, then,” suggested Matty. “We can start with that road there.”

“Good idea,” agreed Miss Carrick, when suddenly she plucked at his sleeve.

“Good gracious!” she gasped. “It’s ‘Bill’! Quick!”

“Bill?” Matty’s face showed his consternation, but Miss Carrick had seized his arm and drawn him back from the path into the shadows, where they could not be easily observed. Scarcely had she done so but a tall, slim figure, clad in a warm brown coat and woollen cap, came striding along the path, directly past their hiding place. Matty froze, Miss Carrick still clinging to his arm, until the woman had passed them by. They watched her join the crowd at the water’s edge, and at last Miss Carrick released both his arm, and the breath she had been holding.

“She must have come after them!” she exclaimed in horror. “Oh, Mr Smith, we must find them, and quickly! If ‘Bill’ gets hold of them, there’ll be an almighty row!”

“Alright,” Matty replied, spurred by the urgency in her voice. “Come along, Miss Carrick, let’s go together. We’ll find them in a trice, and no need to get this ‘Bill’ involved. Onwards!”

And so saying, he brandished an arm towards the houses. Miss Carrick laughed in spite of herself, then she caught hold of his arm and together they hurried off in the direction of the village.

*
Susie was making good progress, racing ahead of Tristan, when her foot came up against a fallen branch and she stumbled and flew over onto the ice.

“Damn!” she yelped, pain shooting up from her knees, and she curled up instinctively, wary of the skates whizzing past her on all sides. She was just about to struggle to her feet when a familiar voice called out,

Entschuldigung, Fräulein! Haben Sie sich weh getan?

She looked up from her prone position and found herself gazing into the concerned eyes of Dr Jack Maynard.

“Dr Jack!” she exclaimed, hurriedly righting herself and trying to regain some dignity. “What are you doing here?”

“The same as you, I’d imagine,” he replied laughingly, crouching down upon his knee and smiling at her. “Having a bit of fun on the ice. But look here, Susie, should you be here at all? It’s not the nicest evening on the Tiernsee – I’ve heard it can get pretty rough!”

“Yes, and I lived in Soho,” Susie pointed out, frowning at him. “Don’t spoil my fun, Jack! And don’t tell Madame, for goodness sake!”

“But…well, are you here alone? It really isn’t wise, Susie…”

“Susie!” cried another voice at that moment. “Are you alright?”

Jack looked up.

“Oh,” he said coolly. “Denny.”

“Good evening, Maynard,” replied Tristan Denny, civilly, gliding to a halt beside Susie. He bent to her, concerned. “Are you hurt, Susie? I saw you fall…”

“I was just helping Miss Smith to rise,” said Dr Jack, still in cold tones, and Tristan gave him a rather puzzled look.

“I’m fine by myself, thank you!” objected Susie, irritably. She struggled to her feet, catching Tristan’s hand to steady herself. “Thanks, Jack, but I’m alright, really. Only…please, don’t tell Madame! She thinks I’m sitting inside with Sarah while the rest go out on the ice.”

Jack sighed, but he was cornered.

“Alright,” he said, finally. “I won’t tell.”

“Your word of honour?”

“Of course! I’ve said I won’t.”

“Good.” Susie smiled at him, and patted his arm. “Thanks, Jack. But look – come and join us! There’s Tristan and me, and Annunziata Ruggiero and my brother Matty, you remember, with the milk in the ear? And Signor Ruggiero and his younger brother, and Sarah, of course. We’re having a lovely time!”

“Ah…thank you, but no,” answered Jack, quite formally. “I had rather…that is to say…I have somewhere I need to be. Very shortly. So I’m afraid I must be off. Good evening, Miss Smith, Denny…”

And with that, he skated away.

“Hm.” Susie looked after Jack, then tucked her arm into Tristan’s.

“Come on, old man,” she said with a grin. “Let’s get the others and go over and listen to the music. Doesn’t it sound glorious from here?”

They skated off towards the hotel, where the ice was busy with skaters, and came to a halt a short way from the shore. The frosted snow glittered in the firelight, and the bright moon gleamed down onto the ice, which was criss-crossed with countless furrows from all the skates that had churned it up that night. Beside Susie, Tristan took a deep breath, and she turned with a slight smile to see how enthralled he looked.

“Fun, isn’t it?” she grinned, but if she had planned to say more she never did, for at that moment she was seized from behind, and a pair of gloved hands were clapped across her eyes.

“Hey!”

She wriggled, and slithered out of her attacker’s grip, spinning round to see Nell’s laughing face.

“Surprise!” she cried, her eyes dancing.

“Nell!” Susie laughed in pleasure, catching Nell’s hands. “How did you sneak out? Who’s watching the girls?”

“Mademoiselle is,” returned Nell cheerfully. “One of the old wheezes!” she chuckled, as her two colleagues looked on in bemusement. “I said I had some letters I simply must write, and that I certainly couldn’t do it with the juniors to supervise as well, and – well, you know how good-natured Mademoiselle is,” she said, and Susie and Tristan both nodded with smiles. “Well, she offered to take them for me. Only for half an hour, mind!” she added, forestalling Susie’s celebrations with a raised hand, “but – well, I waited til they were quiet, grabbed my skates, sneaked out the back way – and here I am!”

“Splendiferous!” exclaimed Susie, clapping her hands together and bouncing on her skates. Nell gave her an amused look.

“You’ll have us through into the lake if you carry on that way!” she laughed. “Now, how about a turn about the lake with me?”

“I’d like that,” grinned Susie, taking Nell’s hand. She glanced up at Tristan. “Do you mind, Tristan?”

“Not at all,” he replied graciously. “I rather think I ought to go and find my sister. We have left her and Ruggiero alone for quite some time, after all.”

“I don’t think she’ll have minded, somehow,” returned Susie, her eyes twinkling, and he shook his head at her, a smile on his lips. Somehow, despite the ice, he managed to execute a very graceful bow to the two women and, after exhorting them not to be too long, as the ice was growing rough, he skated off towards the shore.

Susie watched him depart, then turned to her lover with a smile.

“Off we go, then,” she grinned, and with a laugh they set off, hand in gloved hand, to explore the darker regions of the lake.

*
No longer was Nico finding Austria a trial and a torment. The girls who had come to join him were certainly doing their level best to make it a pleasant place for him!

They were not local peasant girls, he had found out, but girls from the nearby school. One of them was Austrian, and the other was English, and since Nico’s German was worse than his English, the conversation proceeded in broken Italian, with occasional smatterings of English. The dark girl was better at Italian than her friend, but it was the golden-haired English girl that Nico most admired. When he had offered them the bottle of schnapps in a friendly, welcoming gesture, the dark one, Bette, had backed away, afraid to taste it, but the bold Grizel had tossed back her golden curls and had taken the bottle from him with some aplomb. To be sure, she lost some of her dignity with coughing after she swallowed with incautious vigour, but the nerve she had shown in taking a drink with him had won her Nico’s approval, and he was even more impressed with the daring they had shown in sneaking out of school like this, just to see the carnival, which their stick of a headmistress, they told him, had forbidden them to attend.

They had been perching together on the low wall that ran along the garden of the Kron Prinz Karl, passing the bottle of schnapps to and fro and making conversation in a broken mixture of Italian and English. Grizel sat beside Nico and Bette was on her other side. Grizel, her confidence boosted with the unfamiliar liquor, was essaying some complicated Italian phrases, and Nico was correcting her with a humorous look in his dark eyes. Bette, her anxieties about the time fading with the schnapps she had taken, was teasing her friend, and it had looked as though they were set for a merry evening.

Now Nico rose and apologised; a call of nature, he said, though neither girl seemed to understand the phrase when he put it to them. Chuckling, he went around the corner and found a suitably shady spot, where he attended to nature’s call; but when he returned around the corner, he froze. The girls were no longer alone, and to his displeasure he saw that Signor Smith was there, and was talking to them with a certain amount of agitation in his manner. With him was a tall, fair girl, who seemed even more upset than Signor Smith. Nico hung back, unwilling to be drawn into the strife. He watched the golden haired girl remonstrating with the young ladies, and finally seize hold of Grizel and shake her. He almost stepped forward at that, but held himself back. This was not a time for gallantry, he decided. He had better wait and see what would transpire.

Suddenly, he felt a tug at his shoulder and, turning, found himself face to face with another boy, about his age, but rather larger than him. The boy looked him up and down, and gave a short bark of laughter. He was flanked by two other boys, both smaller than Nico, but with mean looks on their faces. The big lad scowled at him, and snarled a few words in German, which his thick local accent rendered entirely unintelligible to Nico, who found even the best Hochdeutsch hard to follow.

He shrugged in what he hoped was an appeasing sort of way, but the bigger lad laughed unpleasantly and threw a few more comments his way, which set his fellows laughing as well.

They are insulting me, thought Nico, and he drew himself up fiercely, his pride stung, and threw back a few choice Italian words at his aggressors. They shrugged and answered, still in German, and then he heard the word Schweinhund, and his quick Italian temper was fired. He struck out, pushing the ringleader in the chest.

“Insult me, would you?” he demanded in his own tongue. “Call me names, would you? Call me names, like a woman would? Fight like a woman? Why don’t you fight me like a man?”

The big lad looked at him, then half-turned to his friends and spoke another insult. Nico bristled angrily, his quick temper now well and truly burning. But he was entirely unprepared for the fist that came hurtling toward him …

*
Matty and Miss Carrick had been hunting up and down the village streets with no sign of the girls, until suddenly, Miss Carrick gave an exclamation.

“There they are!”

She released his arm and went hurrying over to where a pair of girls sat huddled on a wall. They looked up in alarm as she approached, and then the blonde-haired girl gave an aggravating little laugh as she saw who it was.

“Come to rescue us, have you?” she demanded as Miss Carrick reached her.

“You shouldn’t be here at all!” returned that lady, crossly. “And yes, we are going back right away! Come on!”

“No!”

“What?” Juliet looked quite taken aback. “What do you mean by that, my lamb?”

“I mean that I’ll come when I choose,” Grizel told her, “and I don’t choose to.”

Juliet stood, quite flummoxed, and Matty felt it timely to intervene.

“Now then, girls,” he said, firmly. “That’s enough of that. Miss Carrick has asked you to come back to the school and I think you should give her the dignity of doing as she asks, please.”

But Grizel was clearly not swayed by this; much the opposite, in fact, for she stared at him, then looked at Juliet’s pink cheeks and finally doubled over with laughter.

Miss Carrick!” she wheezed, eventually. “I suppose he thinks you a mistress! Oh, this is too priceless!” And she creased up in laughter again.

Juliet bent down and took her shoulders, shaking her roughly.

“Grizel!” she exclaimed. “Stop that immediately!”

But Grizel, still gurgling with laughter, simply ignored her. With a cry of disgust, Juliet let her go and turned to Bette.

“And you, Bette!” she cried. “I’d have thought better of you!”

Bette, crimson to the roots of her hair, said nothing to Juliet, but tugged at Grizel’s sleeve.

“Come on, Grizel,” she said. “It's over - we ought to go back now!”

“It’s ‘Miss Cochrane’, to you!” Grizel snorted with laughter at her own joke, and then she let slip their secret – quite literally, for with a glassy clatter, the bottle slid from between her knees, where she had been clasping it out of Juliet’s sight, and rolled across the street, spilling liquor as it went.

Matty bent and picked it up, and sniffed it.

Schnapps,” he announced. “Herr Anserl’s finest, if I’m not mistaken. How much of this have you drunk?” he demanded of the girls, brandishing it in their faces, and Bette shrank back in alarm.

“I have…had only a little,” she told him. “But Grizel…” She gave an anxious glance at her friend, who was swaying back and forth, giggling away to herself.

Matty looked concerned.

“If she’s drunk this much, then she’s in for a bad night, and a pretty awful day tomorrow!” he informed Juliet, who went pale at the thought.

“Oh, but she has not drunk the whole bottle,” cried Bette. “Ni…I mean…there was someone else with us, and he drank much of it.”

“A boy?” Juliet flung up her hands. “Bette! What were you thinking? Sneaking out, drinking, meeting boys…and you, a prefect! Oh, my dear, you had better hope that none of the staff get to hear of this! What on earth were you thinking?!”

“Never mind that now,” put in Matty, hastily. “Let’s get these two home, where they should be.”

“But however are we to get back into the school without anyone seeing?” demanded Juliet, her expression desperate.

Matty frowned, ruffling up his blond hair with an agitated hand. “We need a diversion, he said. “Luckily, I think I know just the thing...”

A Carnival On Ice Part 3 by Finn

Susie was delighted that Nell had come out to the ice carnival. For one reason or another, they had had little time to spend together in recent weeks, and lately she had detected a little coolness in Nell’s manner towards her which she could not pinpoint precisely, but which seemed to bode ill for their connubial bliss. For the first part of the term they had enjoyed a closeness which had endured the nights of separation and the snatched moments of intimacy which were all the school could offer. But just lately Nell had grown a little cool with her – at least, she had done when they were out of bed. Intimately, she was just as feisty as she had ever been; more so, even, which presented a strange contrast to her daytime moods.

Now, however, they were simply having fun together, skating hand in hand, skimming over the ice. Nell’s face was flushed and excited and her eyes gleamed as they had not done since January.

“Told you you’d enjoy it!” crowed Susie as they gliding along together. Needless to say, it had been her nagging and cajoling that had finally convinced Nell to come along, although she had not expected her to, since she had been so negative in her manner.

“I never said I wouldn’t,” protested Nell. She glanced sidelong at Susie, her eyes teasing. “I never got a chance to get a word in edgeways to your jabber!”

“Slander and calumny!” laughed Susie. “I heard you say “No!” several times. What changed your mind?”

“I must have lost my good sense,” returned Nell, drily, “along with those banknotes that we seem to’ve mislaid.”

“Yes, that.” Susie frowned thoughtfully. “It is rather peculiar, isn’t it? What is it – forty Schillinge now? You don’t suppose…”

“I try not to suppose anything when I’m off duty,” Nell interrupted her. “Come on – race you to that torchbearer!”

And so saying she set off, and Susie gave an aggrieved shriek and chased after her, arriving several seconds behind and practically falling into the arms of the startled torchbearer, who almost dropped his torch as she hurtled into him.

“Most sorry!” she gabbled in German, righting herself and turning on Nell, who was snorting with laughter.

“Very funny,” she objected, trying not to giggle as the astonished torchbearer went off on his way with a muttered “Englandären!” directed skywards. “The poor fellow! I almost took him over!”

“I imagine it was the high point of his night,” chortled Nell, “a young blonde beauty tumbling into his arms like that…”

“Oh!” Susie waved the remark away. “You’re incorrigible! There’s no need for flattery, my girl!”

“But I’m not trying to flatter you,” observed Nell, with a flirtatious look in her eyes. Susie’s heart leapt within her – she hadn’t seen Nell look at her that way for almost a month.

“Well,” she smiled gaily, trying to still her racing heart, “what do you say to another turn around the lake?”

Nell looked around and wrinkled her nose.

“Better not,” she said ruefully. “It’s getting a bit rough out here, and I’m due back fairly shortly, remember.”

“Fair enough. So what do you say we find a nice shady corner and…”

“Susie!” Nell was not joking now; her face was serious, and she frowned at the younger girl. “Don’t be a fool.”

Susie, astonished at this lightning change, held her hands out in a gesture of peace.

“It was a joke!”

“A pretty silly joke, then. Why, anyone could see us!”

“Oh!” Susie was growing cross now. “And there was me thinking you enjoyed it.”

“Indoors, maybe! Out here…”

“Fine, fine! Forget I said anything! Look,” Susie added in mollifying tones, “you’re right. It is getting rough out here. Come on, let’s get to shore.”

Nell’s lips twitched, and for a moment Susie thought she would apologise. But instead, she merely nodded, but she did slip an arm through Susie’s as they skated back towards the shore. And with that Susie had to be satisfied.

*

Tristan was a little concerned about leaving the two women unescorted, but he reasoned that if they were to come up against any trouble he would not be of very much use to them, and so he skated away with an easier mind. He went in the direction of the Kron Prinz Karl, expecting to find his sister among the audience of the Tzigane band, but when he arrived and had unstrapped his skates he found her gone.

Not greatly disheartened, for he knew she was not unaccompanied, he wandered along the shoreline, keeping within earshot of the Tzigane band, and suddenly spied Annunziata sitting with his friend Herr Anserl, chattering as she raked out some chestnuts they had been roasting on one of the bonfires. Her black hair gleamed as she tossed her head, laughing at the old man’s jokes, and her eyes sparkled brilliantly in the firelight.

No sooner had he glimpsed her than she turned her head and spotted him, and she promptly waved her slender arm to beckon him to join them.

“Tris!” she called out, her accent elongating the “i” in his name to an “ee” sound. “Come, come! My friend Herr Karl here, he is telling me stories!”

“Stories of my beloved Wien,” agreed Herr Anserl as Tristan joined them with a smile. “But I fear, Herr Denny, that you have heard most of them.” He peered at Tristan searchingly. “And where is that young friend of yours that I upset upon the ice?”

“I’ve no idea.” Tristan looked about him. “Indeed, Miss Nunzia, I thought he was with you.”

“He was,” returned Annunziata, pulling him down next to her and slipping her arm through his. “But I lost him when I went to fetch schnapps, and as I was searching I found Herr Karl here, and so…”

She trailed off and shrugged expressively. Tristan frowned in puzzlement.

“I wonder where he can be,” he mused, but Herr Anserl tutted and laughed.

“Ah, my good sir, I am sure he is safe,” he cried, and handed Tristan a flask of his own brandy. “Come, stop your fears! With fine drink, good company, and a pretty maiden on your arm,” he bowed slightly in the direction of Annunziata, who chuckled in amusement, “why do you stop to worry?”

“He is right,” Annunziata told him, patting his arm. “Do not worry – let us have fun!”

Tristan looked into her limpid blue eyes and smiled suddenly.

“You are right,” he agreed. He unscrewed the flask and took a drink, and then offered it back to Anserl, who declined.

“No, thank you – I have my own,” he returned, holding up his own bottle. “Prost!”

“Ah!” exclaimed Annunziata at that moment. “This music! I want to dance! Tristan,” she commanded, rising from her seat and extending her hands to him. He stared at them for a moment, baffled, and then his eyes opened with sudden understanding and he took them and rose hesitantly, uncertain.

“I…ah…dancing…”

“Come!” Annunziata ordered him, and began to lead the way to the area where the couples were dancing.

As Tristan passed Herr Anserl, the older man gave him a significant look and leaned in confidentially.

“It is a very pretty girl you have there,” he observed, a twinkle in his eye. “A very pretty girl. Ah, if I were twenty, thirty years younger! I hope you do not lead her on, Herr Denny!” And he wagged a finger and sat back, rumbling with laughter at his own joke.

Tristan did not immediately realise his meaning, but when he did he hastened to correct his friend.

“Ah…um…no, you…you misunderstand…”

“Tristan!” Annunziata was waiting for him, tapping her foot, and so, confused, he hastened to join her, leaving Herr Anserl chortling with amusement.

He was still chuckling when Sarah Denny and Dino Ruggeiro came to join him beside the fire.

“Was that Annunziata I just saw, towing my brother off to dance?” enquired Sarah.

“Most certainly it was,” returned Herr Anserl, proffering her a drink. “You have a most fine sister, Herr Ruggiero,” he added for the Italian man’s benefit.

“Indeed I do,” grinned Dino in a friendly manner, accepting the bottle as Sarah passed it to him. “Your health, sir!”

“Like a lamb to the slaughter,” murmured Sarah, a smile on her lips, as she watched Tristan being led away by the slight Italian girl. She paused for a moment, then turned her attention back to the two men, who were discussing the distilling of Herr Anserl’s brandy.

“You must visit me in Spärtz, Herr Ruggiero,” Herr Anserl was saying. “There you can sample brandy of true vintage – such as I gave to your good brother, Fräulein Denny,” he added, drawing Sarah into the conversation, “when he came and visited me in October.”

Sarah laughed. “Don’t remind me!” she chuckled, shaking her head. “He still says he has no idea how he got home that night!”

Herr Anserl gave his grumbling laughter again, and then Dino waved a hand and Sarah turned to see Susie coming towards her, accompanied by Nell Wilson

“Your brother is out there, dancing!” exclaimed Susie to Sarah as they came up.

“I know!” Sarah chuckled at Susie’s expression. “Hello, Nell,” she added as the geography mistress took a seat beside Herr Anserl. “I wasn’t expecting to see you here!”

“Sally,” Nell nodded to her colleague. “No, I’ve sneaked out under cover of darkness – so no-one give me away!” she commanded with a slight smile and a wag of the finger. She looked up expectantly at Susie, who was still staring in the direction of the dancers. “Aren’t you going to sit down?” she demanded.

“I can’t believe Tristan can dance!” replied Susie, evidently still considering the first topic of conversation. “I’ll remember that,” she added in a murmur, before turning back and plumping herself down next to Nell.

“Where’s my brother?” she demanded.

“I don’t know.” Sarah frowned as she looked about her. “Have you seen him, Dino?”

“Not at all, I am afraid,” replied the Italian, shrugging elegantly. “I thought he would be with you – or with Denny, at least.”

“Yes, I rather expected that,” Susie returned with a slight smile. “I wonder where he can be.”

“Not far,” put in Sarah. “And he’ll know where to find us.”

As she spoke, Sarah glimpsed a familiar figure hesitating in a pool of shadow at the lake edge. She raised a hand in welcome, and Jack Maynard stepped forward and into the circle around the bonfire.

“Why, Dr Jack!” exclaimed Susie in surprise. “I thought you had to go somewhere?”

“Er…so I did,” replied the doctor, sounding flustered. “But then I…came back.”

“Well, come on, doctor,” put in Sarah. “Sit ye down! Have some of Herr Anserl’s brandy – it’s excellent.”

“Thank you.” The doctor hesitated again, then smiled broadly. “I would like to. I was skating with Gottfried Mensch,” he told them as he settled himself beside Sarah Denny, “but he met some old friends of his, and – well, I felt decidedly spare,” he grinned, and gratefully accepted the flask Herr Anserl passed to him.

Susie was looking mournfully towards the band and the dancing couples.

“I want to dance too!” she observed in impatient tones. She turned to look down beseechingly at Nell, but before that young lady could arise, Jack had leapt to his feet.

“If you would care to dance, Miss Smith,” he smiled, “It would be my pleasure to invite you.”

“Oh.” Susie, nonplussed, glanced helplessly down at Nell, who could only shrug. There was nothing to do but accept the proffered arm and go along with Jack. Nell called after her as they left,

“Remember, I need to leave in a few minutes!”

“I know!” called Susie over her shoulder, with that same helpless look. Nell shrugged slightly again and watched her go, only turning back to the conversation when the two dancers had disappeared into the throng.

*

Nunzia laughed with pleasure as a particularly vibrant mazurka came to an end.

“Oh, that was excellent!” she exclaimed, releasing Tristan and clapping her hands together. “But I am tired. Come, we go now, have more chestnuts and Herr Karl’s brandy, yes?”

Before Tristan could react, she had slipped away into the crowd, and so he followed, laughingly, trying to catch up with her. But the press of people was such that, small as she was, she disappeared from his view, in amongst the crowd that was milling about on the lake side.

After a brief and fruitless search he shrugged and began making his own way back to the bonfire, when suddenly he felt someone pluck at his sleeve and, turning, beheld a slightly dishevelled Matty Smith before him.

“Smith!” he exclaimed. “Where have you been?”

“Never mind that,” said the younger man hurriedly. “I need your help.”

“Indeed?” Tristan was confused. “With what, precisely.”

“Well…it’s a little complicated. Can I explain as we go?”

*

Nico’s eye smarted, and his lip was still bleeding a little, but that did not matter. The schnapps was taking the edge off the discomfort in his face and the pain in his knuckles, and now he had found good company he was beginning to regain his former high spirits and enjoy himself again.

He and the rest of the lads had had a good fight, and at the end of it the boys had decided he had acquitted himself very well indeed, for a foreigner, and had invited him to join them. And so, in good company, they had strolled on to the Kron Prinz Karl, merrily carousing and singing, and he had sung along though he knew neither words nor tune. That had made them laugh all the more, and clap him on the shoulder; and then Klaus had had a splendid idea of how to liven up the evening even further, and they had all jumped at it.

And so it was that he found himself wobbling precariously on Joachim’s shoulders, while Peter and Jan hauled him up by the wrists. This was going to be excellent fun, he felt sure of it. If he could just keep his balance…

*

At the bonfire, conversation was awkward. Nell Wilson was rather abrupt, and Sarah was having some trouble keeping her included in the conversation; indeed, for the most part Nell was staring rather gloomily in the direction of the dancers, and she did not speak except in curt answers to direct questions.

Sighing, and casting around for another new topic, Sarah was suddenly startled by the large snowball that crashed to the ground in front of her in a great spray of cold snow. She gave a cry of surprise, and then the sound of yells and cries of protest reached their ears, and they looked over to see the dancers had scattered and were looking up and about them in disgust, as more snowballs rained over and down upon them.

Herr Anserl rose to his feet with a rumble of annoyance.

“Young boys, playing tricks,” he remarked indignantly in German. “They shall soon be settled.”

Dio mio!” cried Dino. “They’re on the hotel roof!”

And indeed they were – Sarah looked up and saw seven or eight young men all perched precariously upon the roof of the Kron Prinz Karl. Half of them were gathering up snow to hurl down upon the angry victims below, and the others were sitting and singing loudly and, Sarah noted with a wrinkled nose, badly off key.

Suddenly a thin voice was upraised in an Italian song, and Sarah, Dino and Nunzia all turned their heads in horror to see young Nico standing on the roof’s very edge, looking most perilous, as he laughed and threw snow down at the onlookers.

Dino groaned.

Mamma mia! We forgot about Nico!” he exclaimed in Italian. “I might have known he’d end up in trouble…Nunzia, I’m going to get him down.”

“I’ll come too,” offered his sister, but Dino shook his head.

“I’ll manage,” he said, “but Nunzia, you had better go and get his room ready – and perhaps a bath. I’ve no doubt he’s drunk – oh! How that boy manages to sniff out trouble…Sarah…”

He gave her a helpless shrug, his expression rueful. She stood too, and patted his arm, and he gave her a grateful smile and dashed off to retrieve his wayward sibling. Annunziata gathered herself together and disappeared in turn, once more the clucking mother-hen.

Nell had risen as well, and with a regretful smile.

“Well,” she said, “I think I’d better be on my way. It looks like it’s starting to get a bit rough, and I wouldn’t want to get caught up in anything…unfortunate.”

“I’m sure it won’t come to that,” replied Sarah briskly. “Come on, have a seat and some chestnuts – I’m sure this disturbance can’t last long!”

But Nell was not swayed.

“Thank you, but no. I did tell Mademoiselle I would be about half an hour, and it’s past that now. And she thinks I’m still in the same building!” she added in an exclamation. “No, I’d better get back. If I can only find Susie…”

And with this vague statement she departed, right hand raised in a kind of farewell. Sarah turned to Herr Anserl who shrugged, and sat herself back down again.

“Oh well,” she said, mimicking his shrug. “All the more for us!” She peeled a chestnut as she spoke, and popped it into her mouth. Then she frowned.

“That’s a point,” she remarked, apropos of nothing. “I wonder where my brother’s got to.”

*

“That’s your plan? To have Mr Denny go in and distract Madame while we sneak around the back? You do know he’s a member of staff, don’t you? Have you told him why we have to behave like this?”

“We--ell, not exactly,” Matty havered. “I mean…that is, I told him that…someone needed…to get into the school…”

“You told him, didn’t you?”

“Not about the drinking! He just knows that some girls are out – and he’s promised to keep it a secret, so you needn’t worry about it!”

“I thought you had a better idea than this,” objected Juliet in a furious undertone. “How do you know we can get in? We might have to use a chisel to get through the door!”

“Don’t worry! Denny’s excellent at distracting people – he just has to be himself, after all. And as for the door, I’m sure we’ll find one open. Or a window.”

“A window!”

“Hold onto your hat! I’ll climb through, if necessary.”

“Well, I just hope for your sake it all goes to plan and that there is a door open!” declared Juliet, though there was a slight glint in her eye as she spoke, and a smile pulled at the corners of her lips.

“Here’s hoping,” fretted Matty, not observing Juliet’s expression. “Hallo! Who’s this coming along at such a pace?”

“Eigen!” Juliet called out, but softly, and the boy raised a hand in salute as he hurried towards them.

“I came to find you, Fräulein Juliet,” he told her in his guttural German. “There is much commotion at the school – I know not why, but I fear it may be to do with…ah! You have die Mädchen! This is good. You must come with me – I have a door open at the side of the house.”

“Stout fellow!” exclaimed Matty, who had followed enough to understand the last part of Eigen’s speech. “Denny’s waiting around the corner for me to give him the word. If you – Eigen, is it? – could go round the side and wave to us when he goes in, then we can slip in at the back while no-one’s looking.”

“Oh, but, Mr Smith!” cried Juliet. “Eigen said that there’s a tremendous fuss going on at the school. Suppose they’ve noticed we’re missing?”

Matty looked down at the tall girl whose eyes were almost on a level with his, then smiled and slipped an arm about her shoulders.

“Buck up,” he replied, giving her shoulders a little squeeze. “Even if they are, I’m sure you’ll think of some plausible excuse. But the best thing we can do is get these two off to bed, and as soon as possible,” he added, looking with some concern at Grizel, who was slumped against Bette looking distinctly unwell. “Come on,” he said, briskly, letting go of Juliet. “The sooner we’re in, the safer we’ll be. Give me a hand with these two, Eigen. Ready, Miss Carrick? Then off we go…”

*

Jack had flung an arm about Susie as the snowballs began to descend upon the dancers, but now she extricated herself from the doctor’s embrace and smiled slightly desperately at her partner.

“Wasn’t that rather exciting!” she exclaimed, with false brightness. “But… I’m a little tired now. I’d like to go and sit with…oh!”

This last exclamation was in response to a tap at her shoulder and, turning, she discovered Nell standing beside her.

“I just wanted to say that I’d better get back to the school now,” Nell told her swiftly. “I’ve…probably outstayed Mademoiselle’s patience!”

“Oh!” Susie was disappointed, but unsurprised. “Never mind, Nell. I’ll walk back with you, shall I?”

Nell smiled at her, the sparkle coming back into her eye. “That’ll be nice.”

“I’ll escort you ladies,” said Jack, but was rather taken aback when two voices answered quickly,

“No!”

Susie exchanged glances with Nell, then proceeded to expand.

“It’s alright, Jack, don’t worry about us! We’ll be fine together, and really, it’s only round here that’s getting a bit…rough. Don’t worry – we’ll be alright!”

“I pity the ruffian that dares to leap out on us!” laughed Nell, and Susie grinned wickedly, then chuckled herself.

“I hope you enjoy the rest of the evening!” she called to Jack as they parted. He may have replied but neither mistress noticed; they linked arms, and disappeared along the path to the school.

*

Meanwhile Sarah sat at the fire, waiting for Dino’s return. Eventually he appeared, dragging his brother along by the collar of his coat.

“Here we are,” he observed tiredly, dropping the boy down to the ground beside the fire, where Nico slumped with a groan. Dino shook his head, and turned to Sarah.

“I’m sorry, my dear,” he told her, “but I have to get this wicked child home. As you can see, he has lost the power of walking, and I fear a bad night for him, not to mention a terrible morning!” He shook his head, his eyes unamused. “I thought perhaps I could trust you to behave as an adult!” he growled at the prone form of his brother, who merely groaned and then giggled, rolling to look up at the sky. Dino shook his head and sighed again, before hauling Nico up again. “I bid you a goodnight, Sarah,” he said, and giving her another apologetic smile, he put a hand onto Nico’s back and propelled the boy along, protesting at every step.

Sarah laughed ruefully, and looked at Herr Anserl, who shrugged.

“Oh, the times I have been worse than that,” he remarked, and then rumbled with amusement. “That boy…what a head he will have on the morrow! And now, what do you do, mein Fräulein?”

“I think I’d better track down my brother, since the party seems to be breaking up,” answered Sarah, glancing around at the milling people and at the dancers who had re-congregated the ground before the hotel. “Not that I can see him,” she added, looking this way and that.”

“Ah, I observed him leave with that fair Englishman you have in your party,” put in Herr Anserl at this moment. “They went together along the path to the school,” he added, and Sarah raised her eyebrows.

“Indeed? I wonder why they went that way.” She pondered the thought, then shrugged. “Well, I shall go that way and see if I can catch up with him – he’s not back here yet, and that’s for certain. Good night, Herr Anserl!”

Grüss Gott,” replied Herr Anserl courteously, and returned to his bonfire, his friends and his brandy.

*

Sarah bustled along the lake path at quite a pace, for the night was frosty away from the bonfires and, courageous though she was, she preferred not to remain alone for long, not now that the evening seemed to be growing rougher. And so she hastened onwards, but as she came around a bend in the path she stopped dead.

Before her, Nell and Susie were clearly visible in the moonlight. Locked together in a tight embrace, they were kissing with such a passion as Sarah had never seen. Nell’s hands were tangled in Susie’s hair, dislodging her cap until it seemed about to tumble off altogether, while Susie’s were clutching at Nell’s body under her coat.

Sarah caught her breath, which had been rather startled out of her, and turning, retreated rapidly around the corner again. Hurrying away from the startling sight, she went so swiftly around another twist in the path that she ran head-first into Jack Maynard, who was coming at a fair pace in the direction of the school.

“Dr Maynard!” she coughed.

“Miss Denny,” he exclaimed. “Are you alright?”

“Quite alright…just winded!” she laughed, and took the opportunity to catch onto him as she regained her breath. He stood by solicitously enough while she took a couple of theatrical wheezes; but she could see him glancing past her at the path to the school, and she could tell he was impatient to be on his way. She bit her lip. He couldn’t be allowed to see what she had just seen! To prevent him from passing her, she blocked his path solidly and asked, raising her voice so that it might carry to the two incautious women,

“So, have you tired of the ice carnival, Dr Maynard?”

“I…er…that is, yes,” he fumbled, dragging his attention back to her. “Yes, I thought I might…might call it a day now.”

“Where are you staying?” she asked him, still in those loud tones, hoping madly that the two mistresses had heard them.

“Er…what?” returned Jack, looking down at her. “Oh, I’m sorry. The Kron Prinz Karl, tonight. Then back to the Sonnalpe,” he added, edging past her with a slight laugh.

“Isn’t that in the other direction?” she called after him, helplessly, but by then he had disappeared around the corner, and she could only hope that there was nothing left for him to see.

*

“Madame, I was wondering if perchance there was some time to talk to you about the madrigal society…”

Tristan paced up and down, running over what he could say to distract the headmistress while the fugitives, when suddenly, to his astonishment, a voice cut in on his thoughts.

“Whatever are you up to, Tristan?”

He turned swiftly. Susie Smith, her arm tucked through that of Miss Wilson, stood on the path, her head tilted slightly and a quizzical expression on her face. Suddenly embarrassed, he hastened rather stammeringly to explain himself.

“I…I was…I intended to…”

“Badger Madame about your singing groups again?” enquired Susie, her eyes glittering with amusement, and he could only blush as she came over, towing Miss Wilson along with her, and hooked her arm through his, and wonder how it was that this young lady could so easily make him feel so discomfited.

“Now come along, my dear troubadour,” she teased him, “you can’t go worrying Madame just now. It’s far too late in the evening! So why don’t you just come along back to my study with me and Nell here, and have an evening glass of gin.”

As she spoke, she tugged them both along, away from the main house, and he struggled to free himself, twisting back to the Chalet.

“No,” he insisted, “I must…”

“Must what?” demanded Susie, but Miss Wilson had now rounded on her colleague as well.

“Susie, don’t be absurd,” she snapped indignantly. “You know I can’t have a drink with you – there’s the juniors to think of! You can’t just drag us off wherever you want!”

Susie waved a hand to silence her.

“Oh, never mind that!” she exclaimed. “‘Must’ what, Tristan?”

With both women staring at him, he felt almost unable to resist, but he held back his true reason and stammered,

“It is but that…”

“Don’t tell me!” Susie released his arm, waved her hands wide and conjuring a picture from thin air. “Some girls have sneaked out, got drunk, and you’re trying to get them back in with no-one noticing?”

She smiled at him triumphantly, but then her eyes widened to see the expression of guilt that flickered across his features.

“No…” she breathed in astonishment. The two mistresses exchanged glances, and then Susie’s face creased in amusement.

“And that was my ‘least likely’ situation! You don’t mean that there are…”

“Where are they?” demanded Miss Wilson, her tone stern.

He shrugged wretchedly.

“I know not,” he replied, with some truth.

Miss Wilson glared at him briefly, then marched off towards the playing fields.

Susie dashed after her, catching her by the elbow.

“Nell!” she cried. “What are you doing?”

“Going to catch them, of course!”

“Why?”

“‘Why’? They’ve broken bounds, that’s why! Honestly, Susie, I’m surprised at you! ‘Why’, indeed! They ought to be punished!”

“They’ve punished themselves, if they have got drunk,” returned Susie darkly, a light of humour in her eyes. “But seriously, Nell, why go after them? We can find out who it was and make sure they don’t do it again without an almighty fuss! Come on, don’t spoil our lovely night!”

“Don’t spoil!” Miss Wilson was suddenly in a rage. “That’s all you care about, isn’t it, Susie – your own pleasure! Well, you listen here, my dear, life isn’t always pleasant! Sometimes we have to do things we’d rather not, and if that means apprehending some naughty schoolgirls, then that’s what we have to do!”

Susie’s expression was frozen, her tones frosty.

“You think I don’t know that?” she returned coldly. “Do you really think me such an idiot, Nell? Besides,” she added, suddenly animated again, “you can’t talk! Isn’t ‘sneaking out’ exactly what you did tonight?”

“That…was different!” came Miss Wilson’s response. “You…you encouraged me! Oh!” she waved her hands in disgust. “I’ve had just about enough of this! Go on, do what you like! I’ve some juniors to attend to.”

And with that, she stormed off in the direction of Le Petit Chalet, and Susie stood gazing after her.

Tristan was thoroughly perplexed.

“Ah…” he began, and then broke off as he could see Susie was on the brink of tears, and he felt utterly unequipped to cope.

“Ah,” he repeated, but rather to his surprise, he found that Susie was suddenly in his arms, her face buried against his coat.

“Ah,” he said once again, putting a hand upon her back, but she straightened up, sniffing slightly, and smiled up at him in a slightly wobbly fashion.

“Sorry,” she said. “I hate fights.”

“Mm,” he agreed, uncertain, and she laughed at him.

“Come on, then!” she exclaimed. “Let’s distract Madame!”

“But…Miss Wilson…”

“Oh!” she waved a hand. “I’ll talk to her. Don’t you worry, everything will be fine.”

 

*

“What’s keeping them?”

“Stay cool! We’ll be alright, just you wait and see.”

Juliet bit her lip anxiously, gazing wide-eyed around the corner, and then gave a relieved cry.

“Here’s Eigen now! What an age you’ve been, Eigen!”

“I’m sorry, mein Fräulein, but Herr Denny was talking with Fräulein Smith for so long…”

“Miss Smith?”

“My sister?”

The two exclamations came at once, and then Juliet turned on Matty with a look of startled horror in her eyes.

“Your…sister?” she gasped.

Behind her, Grizel, who seemed to have recovered from her wan-ness of earlier, began giggling again.

“That really takes…the biscuit!” she gurgled.

“Shut up!” hissed Juliet, with no thought for politeness. “This mess is all your fault, I’ll thank you to remember!”

Grizel drew herself up, or clearly she thought she did.

“Now look here…” she began with incautious loudness, and Matty seized her arm and shook it.

“Stop that!” he sighed irritably. “Have they gone in, Eigen?”

“But yes, mein Herr,” Eigen nodded. “As soon as they entered I came straight to you.”

“If my sister is there, I don’t know whether the coast is clear or not,” mused Matty.

But Juliet was firm.

“We haven’t any choice,” she observed pointedly. “We have to get these two inside and to bed before anyone catches us. It’s now or never!”

“You’re right, of course. Come on, Eigen, let’s get this door opened! There we are, my young ladies, up the wooden hill to blanket fair…”

And so saying, Matty ushered the two miscreants into the house, leaving Juliet to follow him, muttering,

“Dear heavens, please don’t let us get caught!”

*
“Madame!”

Madge Bettany stopped and gazed at the two members of staff who had appeared upon to doorstep.

“Miss Smith…Mr Denny?”

The last was a question, and Susie hastened to explain.

“Mr Denny was just accompanying me back to the school, weren’t you?”

“Ah…yes, that is correct.”

“Although I think he wanted to have a word about the madrigal society?”

“Madrigal society?” demanded Madge despairingly, running a hand through her ruffled hair. “Now?”

“No…I…I…it is Miss Smith’s idea of a joke…”

“Good, because now really isn’t the time to talk about madrigals! I’m sorry, Susie, I know I gave you the night off but I need you…”

“What has happened?” Susie asked, suddenly concerned, and Madge rumpled her hair again, sighing deeply.

“Oh,” she replied, “it’s Simone, and Margia. Oh!” she added in a distracted exclamation, “I wish Jem were here!”

Tristan frowned, concernedly.

“They are ill?” he enquired, and Madame gave a helpless shrug.

“They aren’t feeling well,” she clarified, “but I don’t know whether they’re ill or not! Hence…” she shrugged again, her waved hand explaining her remark about her fiancé.

Susie gave an exclamation.

“Oh! But we saw Dr Maynard at the carnival! I can go and find him, if you like. He’ll come out to look at them.”

“Oh, would you?” Relief welled up in Madame’s eyes. “That would be such a help!”

“Allow me, Madame,” offered Tristan. “Let Miss Smith stay here and assist you, and I shall go and seek assistance.”

“Thank you!” Madge exclaimed. “Yes, that is a better idea.”

Tristan smiled at her. “I shall go at once. Miss Smith…”

He bowed to both of them, and departed at speed, while Susie began to take off her hat and scarf.

“Come along then, my dear,” she said, all woes concerning Nell Wilson forgotten. “You’d better give me something to do!”

*
Jack Maynard hastened away from the school, his heart burning furiously within him. He strode through the snow, wishing unseen what he had just witnessed – Susie, in the arms of that…that man! He snorted. Could he even dignify him with that word? He was so…so…effeminate! Jack huffed indignantly. That he should win such a beautiful, interesting, eccentric woman as Susie…

“Oh! Dr Maynard!”

The cry broke into his thoughts and he looked up, surprised. Before him, Susie’s brother had tumbled out onto the lake path from among the trees and stopped, apparently startled to see him.

“Maynard!”

This time the call came from behind, and half-turning, he found himself staring at the one person he did not wish to see.

“Denny,” he returned the greeting curtly, but Denny was not abashed; instead he hurried forward, looking relieved to see him.

“I thought you were elsewhere?” he asked, but pressed on, not waiting for an answer. “I am afraid you must come to the school, at once, if you please. There are two girls who appear to be unwell, and Madame is most concerned about them!”

“She’s found them already?”

Both men turned to stare at Mr Smith, who was looking troubled.

“They aren’t ill, not really. Just a little…over-excited.”

“What do you know of it?” demanded Jack, rather rudely, before collecting himself and adding, “I mean…for an outsider…”

“I…ah…Denny!” Smith seemed to be trying to pass some message on to his friend; a message which was not sinking in, for all the younger man pulled faces and waggled his eyebrows. Denny gazed at him in complete bewilderment.

“What do you mean?” he enquired in tones of puzzlement. “I have just come from the school!”

“But…” Smith was mugging frantically; Jack beheld him with great bemusement as he waggled his eyebrows once again.

“The girls are not ill,” he began again, giving up on his friend. “They are just…suffering ill effects!”

Denny frowned, and then Jack saw comprehension strike.

“Oh! But…these are not those girls!”

“What?”

“They are…other girls.”

“What?” demanded Jack, and Denny hastened to explain.

“The girls to whom Smith refers are not the girls of whom I speak,” he clarified helpfully. "They are other girls, and they do show signs of illness.”

“What?” asked Jack, thoroughly lost.

Smith’s eyes had grown wide, and his cheeks were pink in the torchlight.

“Oh!”

“What?”

“They aren’t…?”

“No!”

“What?”

“Oh!”

“Yes!”

“Let me be clear,” Jack tried again. “Do I, or do I not, have patients at the school?”

“Yes!” both men cried in mutual understanding.

“But only two of them,” put in Smith, carefully.

“And Madame wishes urgent assistance,” added Denny. “I fancy you should hurry, Dr Maynard.”

They were all but pushing him along the path; he hesitated, then gave in, pausing only as he rounded the bend and heard a shout of laughter, quickly suppressed. Sceptical, but driven by his sense of duty, he hurried on to the school, hoping that when he got there it would not all have been a waste of time.

*

“Oh, here you are!”

Sarah was standing, hands on hips, looking indignantly at the two men who appeared from the path to the school, looking slightly sheepish.

“Ah, Sarah,” Tristan said in mollifying tones. “Do not be angry!”

“Angry? With Nunzia and Dino disappearing to look after their drunken brother, Susie…running off with Nell, my own brother vanishing without a trace into the dark night, and Dr Maynard…” here she broke off, and laughed suddenly. “Why shouldn’t I be angry?” she demanded, but in humorous tones, and Tristan felt relieved. “Where have you been?” She glared at them balefully.

“Breaking into school,” replied Matty, just as Tristan said,

“Helping at the school.”

The two men looked at one another, and Tristan hastened to explain.

“There are two girls ill, and I…we…sought out Dr Maynard.”

“But whatever were you doing at the school?” demanded Sarah, baffled.

“Ah…”

Both men hesitated, before catching each other’s eye and bursting into laughter.

“What?” was the indignant question from Sarah, but Tristan swept an arm about her shoulders and led her, Matty following, in the direction of home.

“Alas, my dear Sarah,” he declared as they went, “I fear it would take much time to explain, and would be better done inside where it is warm. Come – come, Smith! Let us return home and there recount our doings of the night!”

This story archived at http://www.sallydennylibrary.co.uk/viewstory.php?sid=57