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I was born on a January afternoon, high up on the Sonnalpe, in the house known as Die Rosen. On that day it was virtually cut off from the lakeside below by the snow and ice that had come as they always did to the Tiernsee region at that time of year; but not even the treacherous weather conditions and the absence of a proper road leading up the mountainside were going to stop my grandmother from being there to support her eldest daughter through the birth of her first child.

 

Summoned by a message brought to her by her niece Anna, a maid at the Chalet School which was one of the few places in the village of Briesau contactable by telephone in those days, she made her way up the slippery path with grim determination, to be at my mother’s side. Grandma would have gone through hell and high water to help one of her children or grandchildren, so I suppose that there was no way that she was going to let the Tyrolean winter hold her back.

 

She was a determined woman.  She still is. The villages surrounding the Tiernsee were dogged by poverty and my grandparents had sometimes struggled for sheer survival in the early years of their marriage, as their family grew almost year on year.  Like most of the other men in Briesau, Grandpa worked as a goatherd and consequently he, his wife and their children existed through the winter months with no real source of income, knowing that an early fall in the temperature and a late thaw could bring them to the brink of disaster.

 

Whilst most of their neighbours, in what was then and still remains today the most devoutly religious part of Austria, put their trust in the will of the Lord to keep them safe, Grandma took matters into her own hands.  Declaring that she wasn’t spending another winter uncertain from one day to the next how she was going to feed and clothe her children, she opened a guesthouse; and her housekeeping skills and excellent cooking soon won the new enterprise an excellent reputation and the recommendations that came with it. 

 

Grandpa was away for most of the summer months, leaving her to cope alone with both their young family and the guesthouse, but cope she did. And now they had some insurance against the winter weather, because, when the temperature dropped, people flocked to admire the scenery and to skate on the frozen Tiernsee, especially when the popular ice carnivals were being held.  But then the Great War came.  At its end, the Empire fell apart, and the economy fell apart with it.  With few natural resources, the area had little to attract investment - but its natural beauty did continue to attract tourists, and, one long, hot summer, the Bettany family came to stay.

 

A steady stream of visitors passed through Grandma’s guesthouse over the years, and, hard though she worked to make their time as her guests as pleasant and comfortable as possible, few of them drew her attention in any particular way. The Bettanys were different for three reasons.

 

For one thing, visitors from England were few and far between.  Most of those who came to the Tiernsee from beyond Austria’s new borders were either German or Italian: such English visitors as did come to the Alps tended to stay in the more fashionable resorts.  For another thing, they stayed at the guesthouse for the entire summer.  That was very rare indeed: visitors who had the time and money to take a holiday lasting an entire summer would, as a general rule, either take a house for the duration of their stay or else base themselves at a proper hotel.  Finally, they were a highly unusual combination – a brother and sister, not yet even twenty years old, and a second sister aged just seven.

 

It was common enough at the time for young Englishmen of a certain level of wealth and privilege to be travelling the Continent, but it certainly wasn’t the norm for them to be doing so in the company of their sisters. And it was very unusual, even in the “Roaring” Twenties, for a young unmarried lady of that same social class to be abroad without her mother or some other suitable female companion, and equally so for a young child to be so far from home without her parents, guardians, nanny or other adult of a rather more senior status than a brother and sister not even legally of age.  And so Grandma was intrigued. 

 

However, she learned before long that the three of them were orphans who had lost both their parents when the elder children had been only twelve years old and the youngest just a tiny baby.  Always instinctively maternal, from that moment on she took a special interest in them, and as a result the rest of the family did too.  That was how my Uncle Fritzl and my Uncle Hansi came to show them the empty chalet that they and the other local lads used as a secret hideout.  It belonged to Herr Braun, the owner-manager of the Kron Prinz Karl hotel.  He’d bought it before the war with some idea of converting it into additional hotel accommodation, but because of the effect on trade of the war and its aftermath he’d abandoned the idea, and the chalet had lain empty ever since.

 

The summer ended, as summers do; and the Bettanys went home, as guests do.  Maybe Grandma hoped that they might come back the following year: if she did, she was disappointed.  Then, five years later, completely out of the blue, she received a beautifully-worded but utterly bizarre letter, asking firstly whether or nor Herr Braun’s chalet were still vacant and secondly, if so, whether she had any idea if he might be willing to rent it to the elder Fraulein Bettany and a French friend of hers, in which for them to open a small private school.

 

Once Grandma had recovered from her initial surprise, she realised that the Bettanys must have suffered a very severe downturn in their financial fortunes. Even so, the notion of anyone opening an English school at the Tiernsee seemed to her to be very odd indeed. However, she replied to tell Fraulein Bettany that the chalet in question was indeed still vacant and to suggest that she contact Herr Braun and see what he had to say about the idea.  Clearly it met with his approval, because, not long afterwards, she received another letter from England. This one said that everything was arranged and asked her if, by any happy chance, she knew of a trustworthy person or two who – for suitable recompense, of course – would be willing and able to collect the keys from Herr Braun and see about getting the place cleaned up.

 

It being a quiet time at the guesthouse, Grandma, ably assisted by her eldest daughter, jumped at the chance to earn a little extra money. And so, in a manner of speaking, it was actually my family who opened the Chalet School. My grandmother and my mother.

 

At the time of Fraulein Bettany’s letter, my grandparents had four children of working age. The eldest was Uncle Fritzl, then came my mother, Marie, then Uncle Hansi, then Auntie Luise. My mother and Auntie Luise had both known from an early age that they would have to go into service when they left school. The same was true of their younger sisters, the eldest of whom was my Auntie Rosa. There was little other employment in that part of Tyrol for young girls like themselves.

There was no industry for miles around, there were no offices in the small lakeside villages, and the owners of what few shops there were ran them themselves with help from their own families.  A few brave souls went to seek work in Innsbruck, the nearest big city, but finding a job there generally then posed the problem of affording somewhere nearby to live.  What my mother aspired to most, she once told me, was to work at the Schloss Wertheim, the palatial home of the von und zu Wertheim family who employed a large staff and were renowned for treating them well.  Of course, jobs there were like gold dust.  As soon as one girl said she was leaving, another girl would recommend a sister, cousin or friend for the job before the day was out.

 

There were no other noble families in the area, and so most girls ended up working either for middle-class families, who would generally employ only one or two servants to carry out all the tasks that servants were expected to do, or at one of the Tiernsee’s several hotels, where conditions could be even harsher.  My mother’s girlhood friend, my Auntie Karen, my godmother who couldn’t be any closer to me if she were a blood aunt, worked for a time in the kitchens at the Kron Prinz Karl and was very unhappy there. The hours were long and the head chef was a bad-tempered bully. 

 

My mother had worked at a hotel that had closed its doors for the last time that winter, throwing its entire staff out of work, and Auntie Luise was working across the lake at Seespitz for a family who demanded much and showed her little consideration in return. So, when Fraulein Bettany, who’d never been less than kind and courteous to either of them, suggested that they both come to work at her new school, they could scarcely, so they’ve both told me, believe their luck.  The school grew rapidly almost from the moment it opened, and soon Auntie Karen went to work there with them.  Later, Cousin Anna, one of their many cousins, joined the domestic staff there as well.

 

Uncle Hansi worked at the school from even before it opened, as a general handyman.  His friends laughed at him for going to work at a girls’ school where his bosses were two women, but they weren’t laughing at him when the next winter came and he was still in work whilst most of them were struggling to earn a few schillings doing anything they could.  Even my Uncle Eigen, only ten years old when the school opened, sometimes helped out there in the early days, carrying messages and assisting with various odd jobs. 

 

And so my family played a big part in the Chalet School in the first few years of its existence.  Fraulein Bettany and her business partner, Fraulein Lepattre, treated them well by comparison with other employers around the Tiernsee and made sure that all their staff and pupils did the same.  My mother thought that Fraulein Bettany was wonderful.  She thinks that still. She’s never thought any differently.  That’s why my life’s turned out the way it has done.

 

Still, if it hadn’t been for Fraulein Bettany, both Fraulein Bettanys in fact, I’d never have been born. It was only because of them that my mother came to meet my father, Andreas Monier.  Like her, he’d grown up in a small Tyrolean village: unlike her, he’d lost both his parents before reaching the age of twenty and had moved to Innsbruck with the idea that he might find the streets of the city paved with gold. He didn’t, but he did find a job as a “manservant” for a well-to-do elderly gentleman. 

 

Like Uncle Hansi, he got teased about his work by those who said that it was no job for a real man, but it meant a year-round wage and a guaranteed roof over his head and so he took no notice of other people’s comments.  Besides, there was a history in his family of similar employment – his grandfather, before his marriage, had worked as a manservant for a very minor member of the nobility.  That was how our family had come to bear the French-sounding name “Monier”. My great- grandfather’s master, who’d very much fancied himself as a local leader of fashion, had got it into his head that he’d seem far more smart and sophisticated if he were thought to have a “French valet”, as he’d termed it; and so he’d insisted that his Austrian manservant adopt a French surname.  

 

My father’s elderly master passed away a year or so before my parents met, but my father was lucky enough to meet up with an English doctor who was looking for a servant.  He was too grateful to be in work again to wonder too much about what an English doctor might be doing in Innsbruck; but, as it turned out, Herr Doktor James Russell was not only a man of considerable private wealth but also a specialist in the field of tuberculosis, and had come to look round some of the Alpine sanatoriums with a view to opening one of his own. 

 

One day, the Herr Doktor was returning from visiting one of these sanatoriums when the train on which he was travelling was involved in an accident.  He wasn’t hurt, and he seemed less concerned about the accident itself than with telling my father about the attractive young lady - also English, and accompanied by her sister and two of the pupils of the school of which she was headmistress – whose assistance he’d sprung to after she’d helped a fellow passenger to escape from a burning carriage. After that, he suddenly seemed to take a great interest in the Tiernsee area; and, not long afterwards, he and my father travelled there, officially for the purpose of seeing whether there might be a suitable location for the proposed sanatorium anywhere nearby.

 

My father was delighted when they found out that they’d arrived during the week of a lively ice carnival, especially when the Herr Doktor told him that he could take the evening off to go out and enjoy the fun. The Herr Doktor went out to skate on the lake alone, and whom should he see there but the sister of the lady from the train accident. After that, he was so lost in his thoughts that he forgot to look where he was going, and when she, evidently not a very good skater, fell over in front of him, he had no time to swerve out of the way and he fell on top of her. 

 

And so he took her back to the school, where he met up with her elder sister again: she, of course, was Fraulein Madge Bettany. Within the space of a few months they were engaged to be married. On one occasion during those few months my father took a message from the doctor to Fraulein Bettany, she thanked him and suggested that he go to the kitchen and ask for a cup of coffee and a cake, and that was how my parents met.  In the kitchen at the Chalet School.  Not a very auspicious place for a first meeting, but they were taken with each other from the start, so my mother told me once.  I can remember exactly when she said that, because it’s so rare now that she ever talks about her life in Austria.

 

Herr Doktor Russell duly opened his sanatorium, up on the Sonnalpe above the lake, and set up home nearby in a house which he and Fraulein Bettany named Die Rosen.  When the two of them got married, my mother left the Chalet School to become their housekeeper.  I don’t think that she was given much choice in the matter, but, as it so happened, the arrangement suited everyone admirably. It meant that she and my father could work together, and that not only would they be able to marry whilst both continuing in their respective jobs, but that they would have a home of their own – well, a few rooms in the Russells’ house, but that was more than some young couples had – in which to begin their married life.

 

A year after Fraulein Bettany and Herr Doktor Russell had been married, my parents’ own wedding took place. They invited all the girls from the school to the reception.  How many of those girls later invited my parents to their own weddings, I wonder? One or two, perhaps.  Certainly no more. And, as a wedding gift, they presented my mother with a group photograph – of themselves.  Of all the stupid, useless, ridiculous things to give someone as a wedding present!  But my mother thought that it was wonderful.  Largely because Frau Doktor Russell had one exactly the same. 

 

Incidentally, when my mother moved to Die Rosen, Auntie Luise took over as head cook at the school. A year later she also left to be married.  Her husband, Uncle Johann, was the son and assistant of one of the local shopkeepers. Auntie Karen was put in charge of the kitchen and the domestic staff after that, and remained so for nearly twenty years.

 

Neither of the Russells attended my parents’ wedding, because their first child, a son called David, was born on the very same day.  Soon afterwards, my Auntie Rosa joined my parents up on the Sonnalpe, as David’s nursemaid.  I was born not the following January, but the January afterwards.  I don’t have many memories of the house in which I was born, but I do remember that it was big.  Maybe all houses seem big to a small child, and certainly it was nothing by comparison with somewhere like the Schloss Wertheim, but it was still large compared with most of the other houses I knew – which was a good job really, given how many different people lived in it. 

 

It wasn’t what you’d call a normal family home, for any of us – but, to me, mine was a happier and more “normal” family than those of any of the other various people who lived there, and so, in my early childhood, I never felt deprived in any way by being the child of the servants. Rather, I felt that I was the luckiest of the many children in the nursery.

 

Why did I feel lucky?  Well, I had a Mummy and a Daddy, both living with me, and as well as them I had a huge extended family of grandparents and aunts and uncles and cousins all living nearby.  I was the only person at Die Rosen who did.

 

As well as Herr and Frau Doktor Russell, and my mother and father and Auntie Rosa, there were a surprising number of other adults living there, all of them Britons far from home. There was Fraulein Joey: she was the Frau Doktor’s sister, although in many ways the Russells were more like a mother and father to her than a sister and brother-in-law.  I thought it was very sad when Mummy told me that Fraulein Joey’s parents had died when she’d been a little baby, so she didn’t even remember them.  During school holidays, the Herr Doktor’s sister, Frau Venables, a Matron at the school, also lived at Die Rosen. Her parents had died too, before she’d had chance to make up a quarrel that she’d had with them, and she’d lost her husband and her three little boys as well.

 

Then there was Fraulein Rosalie, the Herr Doktor’s secretary and a former pupil of the Chalet School. Her parents had sent her to the school when they’d gone to work abroad and had decided that they couldn’t take her with them, and then, shortly after their return to England, her mother had died.  Her father was still living, but he’d remarried and she didn’t think that her stepmother would want her to live with them, so it suited her to have a job in another country.  Herr Doktor Maynard, the second-in-command at the sanatorium – which everyone called “the San” for short – also lived with us for a while. 

 

Finally, there were Fraulein Juliet and Fraulein Grizel. They ran a subsidiary branch of the Chalet School, which was actually on the Sonnalpe rather than in Briesau. This branch was for “delicate” girls – although most of them appeared perfectly healthy to me – and, although the two of them didn’t actually live at Die Rosen, they spent most of their time there during the holidays.  Fraulein Juliet’s parents had both been killed in a car crash and she had no brothers or sisters. Fraulein Grizel’s mother had died when she was young, and she was on bad terms with both her father and his second wife and rarely saw either of them.

 

So those were the adults. Then there were all of us children. The eldest three, Biddy, Robin and Daisy, were all a lot older than I was and were at school most of the time. Daisy, the youngest of them, was the eldest of Frau Venables’ two daughters.  Although she was the Herr Doktor’s niece, she hadn’t met him until she was nine, after her father and brothers had died and Frau Venables had brought her and her little sister to Austria. I couldn’t imagine life without Daddy, or without my little brother when he arrived, and I always felt sad for Daisy and her sister Primula. Years later I learnt what their father had really been like, and by then they had no mother either.

I didn’t see that much of Daisy, but Biddy and Robin would usually come to church with us on those weekends when they were at Die Rosen, they being the only other Catholic members of the household, and so I got to know them quite well, Biddy in particular. She had lost not only her father but her mother as well, and then her stepfather too. She’d supposedly been “adopted” by the school Guide company, which was some sort of club that most of the older girls belonged to.  I never did understand how a schoolgirls’ club could be responsible for a child, and in the end I think she effectively became a ward of the Russells.  Certainly she always spent the holidays with us.  I suppose she had nowhere else to go.  I always looked up to Biddy.  Maybe it was because her mother had been a maid as well.

 

As for Robin, she had no parents living either.  Her mother had died when she was very little, and her father had then gone off to work in Leningrad and left her at the Chalet School with people she’d never met before. Later, he’d come to the Sonnalpe to work as Herr Doktor Russell’s secretary, but he’d died in a climbing accident soon afterwards.  Fraulein Joey always referred to Robin as her “adopted sister”, which sometimes seriously confused people. The actual relationship was that the Russells were Robin’s guardians.

 

Then there were “the nursery folk”. Me included – yes, for much of the day I spent my time in the nursery with the other children, despite being the child of the servants. I suppose that it wasn’t an ideal situation, but it meant that Mummy got through her work much quicker than she would have done had she been looking after me all day as well, and that not only suited the Frau Doktor but meant that Mummy and Daddy and I had more time to spend together in the evenings. Anyway, the nursemaid was my aunt, after all.  I’m not sure that the Herr Doktor was overly pleased about my being with the other children, but he never actually voiced any objections to the arrangement. There was only one person who did.

 

The eldest of the “nursery folk” were Peggy and Rix Bettany, the twin children of Frau Doktor Russell’s brother and his wife. Although they had a mummy and a daddy, they didn’t live with them.  Herr and Frau Bettany lived in a country called India, and apparently it was considered unhealthy for British children to live there. That was why the Bettany children lived with their aunt and uncle rather than with their parents.  It seemed very strange to me that anyone would want to live somewhere where their children couldn’t be with them, but that was the way it was. 

 

The twins were always referred to as “Peggy and Rix” rather than “Rix and Peggy”, which was odd because Rix was very much the boss of the pair.  In fact, he was the boss of the whole nursery; but I don’t suppose he was any bossier than most eldest children are, and we got all right once he accepted that my being younger and female didn’t mean that I was going to take orders from him. Peggy got on my nerves, though. She seemed to think that we girls should do everything that Rix said just because he was a boy; she was always fussing over her dolls and trying to fuss over we younger children as well; and if anyone asked her what she wanted to be when she grew up she just simpered and said that all she wanted to do was have a house and lots of children to look after.  The adults all thought that she was wonderful. I could never understand why.

 

Next came Primula Venables, Bride Bettany and David Russell, all fairly close in age to each other and around two years younger than the twins.  Bride was the twins’ younger sister, and Primula was Daisy’s.  Primula always seemed like the youngest of the three even though she wasn’t: she was very shy and quiet and she wasn’t allowed to do much because Herr Doktor Russell said that she was “delicate”.  She was very sweet, without being sickly sweet like Peggy was, but quite often you just tended to forget that she was there.

 

Bride was different: she was very much the leader of those three. I sometimes felt sorry for her, because people were always saying how pretty Peggy and Primula were and you could tell that they were thinking what a shame it was that Bride wasn’t pretty too, but I liked her and I couldn’t have cared less that she wasn’t pretty.  She was very bright and always thinking up new games for us to play; and she did her best to get on well with everyone. So did David. He was a nice boy, even if he did tend to let Rix tell him what to do more often than not; and he never seemed to resent the fact that there were so many other people in what was supposedly his family home.

 

Then, after a gap of around twenty months, came Jackie Bettany, Sybil Russell and me. Jackie and I were almost exactly the same age: his birthday was at the end of December and mine was at the beginning of January.  Sybil’s was in March.  So I was two months old when Sybil was born. And I was less than ten months old when Herr and Frau Bettany went back to India, leaving Jackie, then just a little baby like I was, and their other children behind them. Jackie was a quiet boy, the quietest of all of us except maybe for Primula.  Sybil, by contrast, was never quiet at all. From a very early age she always had more than enough to say for herself.  She was well aware that she was “the daughter of the house”.  The only daughter of the house. And that coloured most of what she had to say in those nursery days. And none of it was ever very nice. 

 

Maybe Sybil was the way she was because she was pretty and people were always telling her so.  Fraulein Joey, who never seemed to show any affection towards Sybil despite being her auntie, was always insisting that other people’s comments made Sybil conceited and that being conceited meant that she had a bad attitude towards everyone else. But no-one seemed to think that people making similar comments about any of the other girls caused a problem. And, personally, I didn’t think that it was that at all.  Sometimes I actually saw Sybil look upset when people commented on her looks – usually when they’d asked where her red hair came from and then remarked on how much Rix resembled the Frau Doktor and how much Primula resembled the Herr Doktor.

 

It seemed to me that the real problem was that she resented having to share her parents with so many other children.  It was understandable, I suppose. Neither of them spent much time in the nursery anyway – it was Auntie Rosa, rather than the Frau Doktor, who looked after us most of the time, and some days the Herr Doktor would be kept late at the San and we’d all have gone to bed before he even got home.  And, when Sybil and David did get to see their parents, Primula and the Bettany children were always there too.

 

Not that that excused the way Sybil behaved towards the rest of us – and, believe me, she could be very nasty indeed. She was constantly telling Primula and the Bettanys that they were “only cousins” whereas she and David “belonged”. It never seemed to occur to her to feel sorry for Primula because she had no father, or for the Bettanys because their parents were thousands of miles away. And she used to tell me that I and my little brother Jakob, who arrived when I was two, shouldn’t be in the nursery at all because we were the only the children of the servants and we should be in the servants’ quarters where we belonged.

 

I learnt soon enough that the best way to deal with Sybil was to ignore her.  Anyway, it wasn’t as if I wasn’t aware that being the servants’ children made Jakob and me different from the others.  Quite often, when the Russells had visitors, the other children would be taken to the Saal to see them and be shown off to them; but we never were, even if the visitors were just girls from the school. And, when we were in our own quarters, Mummy and Daddy were always cautioning us to be quiet in case we disturbed the others.  I say “quarters”, but really they were just three rooms at one side of the house – a bedroom for Mummy and Daddy, a bedroom for Jakob and me, and a bathroom.  Auntie Rosa slept in the nursery.

 

Still, I knew that it was Jakob and I who were the lucky ones. Sybil might have done a lot of talking about “belonging”, but I always felt that we “belonged” far more than she did.  We had a whole family in Briesau, after all, and we could count practically everyone else in Briesau as a family friend. And we got plenty of visitors- usually Grandma, or Auntie Luise, or Cousin Anna, or Auntie Karen - of our own.

 

And some days, especially when the weather was nice, we’d go down to Briesau, sometimes with Auntie Rosa, sometimes with Mummy and Daddy, and sometimes with all of them.  I loved going there. Everyone would rush to greet us, and they were always interested in Jakob and me even when the other children were with us.  As a special treat, we’d occasionally go over to the other side of the lake on one of the steamers, and usually we got away without having to pay because one of the men who operated the steamers was Uncle August, my grandfather’s brother.  How I loved living near the Tiernsee.  It never occurred to me that I’d ever live anywhere else.

 

I might not remember much about those early days at Die Rosen, and at the Russells’ house down by the lake where we sometimes stayed in the summer , but I do remember that I always felt happy and secure, and that I always knew that I was where I belonged.  And I remember so clearly not being able imagine what it must have been like for all those people at Die Rosen who weren’t as lucky as I was – who were separated from their families and living in a foreign country,

 

Sybil’s remarks about “belonging” might not have bothered me, but I knew that they bothered the Bettanys and that in particular they bothered Rix.  Being five years older than Sybil, and a boy, he couldn’t retaliate very far without being accused of bullying.  Sybil knew that very well and took full advantage of it.  So I was very pleased for Rix when it seemed that he and the rest of the Bettanys had finally got one up on her.  She and I can only have been about three at the time, but I remember the scene clearly.  One morning, Rix came bursting into the nursery, his face glowing with excitement. 

 

“You will never guess what!” he said exultantly.  Auntie Rosa was too busy fussing over Primula, who had a bit of a cold, to take much notice of what he was saying, but the rest of us looked up immediately from the game we were playing.

 

“What?” David asked obligingly.

 

“You’ll never guess!”

 

“Well just tell us, then,” Bride said.  “It’d better be something good!”

 

“Oh, it’s good all right,” he declared jubilantly. “We are going to India to see Mummy and Daddy!”

 

“Who’s going to India?” Sybil asked.  She usually tried to look as if she wasn’t even remotely interested in anything that Rix had to say, but this time I could tell that he’d really got her attention.

 

“Me, Peggy, Bride and Jackie.  With Auntie Jo. Not you. You’ll be staying here, playing games in the nursery whilst we’re off riding elephants and meeting maharajahs and everything else that we’ll probably get to do in India. Mummy and Daddy aren’t going to want to see you, are they?  You’re only a cousin.”

 

Sybil flushed angrily. She was obviously about to make some disparaging remark or other, but David gave her a black look and for once she kept quiet. However, unusually, David didn’t seem to be entirely convinced by what Rix was saying. “Are you sure about this?” he asked.  “Who told you?  I thought you weren’t supposed to go to India because you might get ill there.”

 

“Well … it was actually something I overheard,” Rix admitted. “By accident: I didn’t really mean to listen to what Auntie Madge and Auntie Jo were saying. But it’s definitely true.  It’s because of Dr Hunter.” 

 

Herr Doktor Hunter was a new doctor at the San.  None of us liked him.  Mummy said that it wasn’t nice to say that you didn’t like people, especially when they were important people like doctors; but I didn’t think that even the other doctors liked him, because I’d seen Herr Doktor Maynard glaring at him.  I couldn’t imagine what on earth he could have to do with the Bettanys going to India, but it all made more sense when Rix said that Dr Hunter had been upsetting Fraulein Joey and that she’d decided to go to India for a while to get away from him.

“Yes … but did she definitely say that she was taking us with her?” Bride asked doubtfully. She didn’t seem all that excited about the prospect of a visit to India – I suppose she didn’t really remember her parents - but Peggy was sitting with her hands clasped together and a look of delight on her face, and Rix was practically dancing for joy.  I was so pleased for them: I couldn’t imagine going through even a single day without seeing Mummy and Daddy, never mind being separated from them for years on end.  And I couldn’t help feeling sneakily glad that Sybil was looking well and truly put out about it all. 

 

“Well, not exactly,” Rix confessed.  “But I heard Auntie Madge saying that maybe Auntie Jo’d be better going on her own because the climate there wasn’t healthy for children. Then Auntie Jo said that she’d spoken to Uncle Jem about it and that he’d said that he thought it’d be all right, and that anyway she didn’t want to do all that travelling on her own. And Auntie Madge said that if Uncle Jem thought it’d be all right then she was sure it would be.  So there you are! We’re going to India!”

 

I’d never seen either Peggy or Rix so excited, and their excitement infected Jackie and the three of them talked about little else for the rest of the day.  Both David and Bride were clearly sceptical about the whole thing, but it looked as though they were about to be proved wrong when Fraulein Joey came to the nursery the next morning and said that she’d got some news for us all.  Peggy sat up straight, her face more alight than I’d ever seen it before, whilst Rix wriggled about so much that it was a wonder that he didn’t fall off his chair.

 

“I think you’re all going to be quite excited about what I’ve got to tell you, especially Peggy and Rix and Bride and Jackie,” she said.  “I’m going to India to stay with your Mummy and Daddy!  And, if there’s anything that you want me to tell them, or if you want to draw some pictures for me to take for them, then you’d better start thinking about it straight away, because we’re going to be setting off as soon as we can get everything arranged!”

 

“Who’s we?” Rix asked in bemusement.

 

“We?  Robin and me, of course.  You wouldn’t want me to be trekking halfway across the globe on my own now, would you?  Now you get thinking about those pictures! And remind me to take some snapshots of you all before we go.”

 

I saw Peggy’s eyes filling with tears, desperate disappointment spreading across Jackie’s face and sadness across Bride’s, David and Primula looking at them all with sympathy, and Sybil smirking.  I moved over to where Peggy was sitting and squeezed her hand.  I couldn’t think what else to do.

 

“I don’t understand,” Rix said.  “Won’t we be going with you?  Don’t you want to take us?  Or do Mummy and Daddy not want to see us?”  He looked close to tears himself, and it was only then that Fraulein Joey seemed to realise what he’d been thinking.

 

“Oh Rix!”  She tried to put her arms round him, but he pulled away, muttering something about “boys don’t hug” and rubbing his eyes vigorously, and she gave up and sat down on the arm of the chair that Peggy and I were sharing.  “We’d love to take you with us, of course we would, but it’s a very long journey, and you know that the climate in India isn’t healthy for you.  But I promise that we’ll tell you all about it when we get back, every little thing.

 

“Remember that it won’t be all that long before Daddy’ll be due for his furlough and then he and Mummy’ll be coming here to see you all, and that you can write to them as often as you like in the meantime.  And I’m sure that they’ll be very glad when I tell them in person how well you’re all getting on, and how happy you are here with David and Sybil and Primula.”

 

I suppose that sometimes it’s a good job that none of us know in advance what fate has in store for us.  How would the Bettany children have felt if they’d known then just how many years would have passed before they did see their parents again?

 

It was horrible in the nursery whilst Fraulein Joey and Robin were in India.  Sybil kept taunting Rix about his parents not wanting to see him, and the quarrels between the two of them were worse than ever.  David sometimes tried to intervene, but he rarely had much success in calming things down; and Peggy burst into tears at the slightest little thing.  However, by the time the travellers returned, we all had something absolutely thrilling to look forward to, so thrilling that I couldn’t quite believe that it was going to happen until it did.  Crown Princess Elisaveta of Belsornia, her fiancé, Raphael, Duke of Mirolani, and his aunt, Queen Roxalanne of Mirania, were coming to stay with us.

 

 It was like something out of a fairy story!  A real live queen and a real live princess coming to Die Rosen!  I’d never been so excited in my life.  I was really rather disappointed to find that they were actually quite normal and didn’t walk around wearing crowns and dripping from head to toe in jewellery all day, but I soon got over my disappointment in the excitement of their being there at all and the lovely summer that we all spent together.  Even Rix and Sybil put their differences aside as we all enjoyed ourselves in the glorious weather, picnicking on the mountainside and paddling in the lake.  Those were happy days.

 

Soon afterwards, the Russells, the Bettanys and the Venableses went to Belsornia for the Crown Princess’s wedding, at which Fraulein Joey was chief bridesmaid.  We weren’t invited, of course; but, much, as we would have loved to see a royal wedding, we’d never expected to be asked and so we weren’t disappointed.  And we had a wonderful time whilst all the others were away.  We went down to Briesau nearly every day, and Mummy and Daddy were able to spend much more time with Jakob and me than they were normally.

 

The rest of 1937 seemed to fly by: almost before we knew it, the year was drawing to its close.  On Christmas Eve I begged to be allowed to stay up to go to church with the adult members of the family. Eventually Mummy said that I could on condition that I had a sleep in the afternoon, which I readily agreed to – although I spent more time pretending to be asleep than actually being asleep.  So, in the evening, I went off to Mass with Mummy holding my right hand and Daddy holding my left hand, surrounded by my grandparents and my aunts and uncles, and all the other people from the village who’d known our family for years.  I was so happy, and so excited that I don’t know how I kept quiet during the service.

 

After church, we all went back to Wald Villa, where Grandma and Grandpa lived, to open our presents.  Then those of us who lived at Die Rosen had to go home, because Mummy had to be up early on Christmas Day to prepare Christmas dinner for the Russells and the others.  It was very cold out by then, and I was very tired, but I’d enjoyed myself so much that I didn’t care.  Then, on Christmas Day itself, we were able to go back to Wald Villa for a couple of hours.  Jakob and our little cousin Sabine, Auntie Luise and Uncle Johann’s new baby, slept for most of the time, so I was the centre of attention for once and I freely admit that I thoroughly enjoyed it, but most of us all I just enjoyed being there, spending part of the special day with the rest of our family.

 

And then it was January, and it was my birthday.  Auntie Rosa made a little party for me in the nursery.  We had a wonderful time. Even Sybil seemed to enjoy herself!  We played games and tucked into the delicious birthday cake that Auntie Karen had made for the occasion and carried carefully all the way up the mountainside, and the adults all stood around saying that they couldn’t believe how the time was flying and that they wondered what 1938 was going to bring to us all.

 




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