“Well, there’s nothing even remotely interesting in all that lot!” Eugen von und zu Wertheim remarked to his wife as he finished skimming through his share of the large pile of post that had been delivered to his Tyrolean castle earlier on what was promising to be a bright spring day. “How about yours? Did I see a letter with a British stamp on it in there?”
“It’s from Madge Russell,” Marie said. “Not good news, I’m afraid. Jem’s had an accident in the car. It’s nothing serious, but he won’t be up to travelling very far for the next couple of weeks so he’s having to pull out of the conference. It really is bad luck about the timing: if the conference had been a week later he’d probably have been all right to attend. What a shame! The main thing is that he isn’t too badly hurt, obviously; but I was really looking forward to seeing them both. Having the place taken over by sanatorium doctors for four days wouldn’t be nearly so bad if there were some old friends amongst them!”
Eugen looked at her anxiously. “You don’t really mind the Schloss being used as a conference centre, do you? I know that it’s an inconvenience, but I don’t know how we’d manage otherwise, the amount it costs to run a place this size these days.”
Marie shook her head. “You know I don’t mind. I’m just disappointed about the Russells; that’s all. Your American cousin coming up with the idea of using the place for conferences has been a godsend: we’d probably have had to sell up by now otherwise. And it’s not as if we have to cope with organising everything: Rudi Braun does a brilliant job of that. Really the only thing I need to sort out is the dinner dance on the night before they all leave, and holding that was my idea anyway.
She looked thoughtful for a moment. “Actually, I might also see if any of the wives who’re accompanying the delegates fancy a couple of shopping trips to Innsbruck, and maybe Salzburg too if we can get there and back in a day without having to set off too early. They’re not going to have much to do whilst their husbands are attending the lectures and whatever else they do at these things otherwise, and it’s not easy finding your way about here if you don’t know the area.
“It won’t be the same without Madge here though. I wonder who’ll take Jem’s place. Mind you, I don’t know any of the other doctors who’re at his San in Wales these days. I’m surprised that David hasn’t joined his father there by now: Jem must be well into his sixties and I don’t suppose he wants to carry on working for ever, and if David’s going to take over from him then you’d think he’d want to start learning the ropes there as soon as possible.”
“I suppose the bright lights of London hold a lot more attractions for a young single man than living out in the countryside does,” Eugen laughed. “He’ll move to the San some time over the next few years though, I suppose. And as for the conference, there will be some members of the Russell family here – well, sort of. I’m sure Rudi said that one of the doctors coming from the Gornetz Platz San – they’re sending two of the younger doctors seeing as Jack Maynard’s too busy to get away himself, and they’re both bringing their wives with them - is a Herr Doktor Rosomon. Now isn’t he the one who’s married to one of the Russells’ nieces? I tend to lose track of all Madge and Joey’s relations, but the name Rosomon definitely sounded familiar.”
Marie nodded eagerly. “He’ll be talking about Laurie Rosomon – who’s married to Daisy Venables, whose mother was Jem’s sister. Oh good: I didn’t know that they’d be coming. It’ll be nice to see Daisy again: she’s the most lovely cheerful, friendly girl! Well, I say “girl”: she must be … well, she’s eight or nine years younger than I am, so she must be about thirty-four. Oh I am pleased that she’ll be here. I’m sure she’ll enjoy seeing all the new shops that’ve opened up in Innsbruck and Salzburg over the last few years, and she’ll be able to tell me all the latest gossip from the Gornetz Platz!
“Now, I’d better reply to Madge’s letter, and then I really must decide on the final menu for this end-of-conference dinner. Do you know, I think I’m actually quite looking forward to it all!”
“How I let you sweet-talk me into agreeing to go to this party thing at the Schloss Wertheim I do not know!” Karen muttered to her husband, as she tidied up their sitting room at the end of a busy day at the hotel in Mayrhofen that the two of them had been running for the past six and a half years. “Ah, that’s where that went!” She retrieved a small wooden train from behind the curtains and put it firmly away in the cupboard reserved for their five-year-old twins’ toys. “The last time I was there I was doing the cooking, and I’d feel much more comfortable doing that again than sitting through an evening with a load of snooty doctors and their even snootier wives. And I thought you didn’t approve of all these private sanatoriums? You always say that it’s not right that so many of the best doctors and facilities are at places that most people needing treatment can’t afford to pay for.”
“It’s not right; but they do do a lot of important research and that’s what this conference is mostly going to be about,” Rudi said peaceably. “As for the dinner dance, the Countess said that she’d be very pleased if we could go seeing as I’m organising the conference; and she’s a very nice lady and I wouldn’t like to risk offending her by saying no - although if you really don’t want to go then I suppose we could say that we couldn’t get a babysitter for that evening.”
“I didn’t say that we shouldn’t go! It’d be a horrible shame to offend the Countess: she was lovely to me when I worked for her for those few days. And she and the Count came to our wedding.”
“And it’d also be a horrible shame for you not to get to wear that new dress now that you’ve got it,” Rudi teased. “Come and sit down: everywhere looks immaculate to me!” He stood up and put his hands on her shoulders, and guided her gently towards the settee. “And it’d be an even bigger shame for us to turn down the chance of going back to the Schloss Wertheim together, seeing as that’s where we found each other again.”
Karen smiled sentimentally. “That as well. Can you believe that it was seven years ago?” She sat down and snuggled up to him. “All right, I admit that I’m looking forward to seeing the place again: I know you’ve been there since then but I haven’t. And I suppose that the doctors and their wives can’t be that bad! Not that I see why their wives have to come to the conference with them at all – but then I suppose that most of them don’t work and that they’ve got people to help them look after their homes and families, so they thought they might as well come along and make a little holiday of it! What are they going to do all day, though?”
“I’ve made a list of interesting places within easy reach of the Schloss for anyone who fancies sightseeing, and the Countess has been talking about organising shopping trips to Innsbruck and maybe Salzburg. She said that she was going to discuss it with the lady who’s married to … oh, what’s he called? The doctor who’s just been appointed deputy head at the place where Gretchen works? I only added him to the list the other day when Gretchen rang and asked if it was all right to book an extra place at such a late date, but I’ve somehow managed to forget his name now!”
“Herr Doktor Mensch,” Karen said. “Married to the first ever head girl of the Chalet School! Now, he’s actually related to the Countess, you know. His sister – the elder of his two sisters, I mean, not his younger sister whose husband used to be a doctor at the Sonnalpe before the War but now works in a bank in Switzerland – is married to the Countess’s elder brother. And his wife’s sister used to work for the Maynards at one time, so Anna knows her quite well. And she – Frau Doktor Mensch, not her sister – was very friendly with the Countess’s elder sister at school, and so was Herr Doktor Mensch’s sister – the elder one again, not the younger one - …”
Rudi held up his hands in mock horror. “Aaagghh! Stop! I got lost about a third of the way through that! It never ceases to amaze me the way you and Anna can remember who all these people are and how they’re all related to each other. It sounds like they live in a little Chalet School world all of their own!”
“Actually, it was never really like that back in the days when Frau Doktor Mensch and her sister-in-law were pupils, when the School was in Briesau,” Karen said thoughtfully. “But now, on the Gornetz Platz – well, that genuinely is a world on its own. I don’t think some of the people there see anyone who isn’t connected with either the School or the San from one day to the next sometimes. It’s a strange sort of life when you think about it, really.”
“It does sound like a rather insular set-up,” Rudi agreed. “And, speaking of the Gornetz Platz San, two of the doctors from there are coming to the conference too. Herr Doktor Courvoisier and Herr Doktor Rosomon, they’re called – do you know them? And please don’t tell me that either of them are married to the Countess’s tenth cousin twelve times removed – both their wives are coming with them, by the way - or I’ll get even more confused than I am already!”
“It’s all right: they’re not,” Karen laughed. “Herr Doktor Courvoisier is married to Biddy O’Ryan, who used to stay with the Russells in the holidays sometimes – both her parents died when she was young - and who was a pupil at the School and later came back there for several years as a history teacher. You’ve heard me mention her: she’s the one who accidentally spilt oven blacking all over the kitchen floor the term before I left. It was a complete accident but Fraulein Annersley blamed me for it! And Herr Doktor Rosomon is married to another Chalet School Old Girl - Daisy Venables, whose uncle is Sir James Russell.”
Rudi raised his eyebrows. “Are any of the Gornetz Platz doctors not married to people connected with the Chalet School? I see what you mean about it being a world on its own! I hadn’t realised that this Herr Doktor Rosomon was related to the Russells, though.”
Karen nodded. “She’s a nice girl, Daisy, from what I remember. Very intelligent too – she’s a qualified doctor herself, and when she went to medical school it would’ve been just after the War when there were even fewer female doctors than there are now.”
“Really? Now that’s strange, because the letter from the Gornetz Platz San definitely said that they only wanted two places for the actual conference itself. At least, I thought it did. I’d better check.”
“Oh no, she doesn’t practise any more,” Karen said. “Which really is a terrible shame, because she must have been excellent at what she did: she won all sorts of awards from various medical institutions.”
“It is a shame,” Rudi agreed. “There are hardly any women amongst the conference delegates at all, which is ridiculous really. Apart from anything else, I’m sure plenty of women would actually prefer to see a female doctor. What happened – did she give it up to get married and have a family?”
Karen nodded. “The usual story. This is why Gretchen keeps insisting that she doesn’t want to get married: she says that after she’s worked so hard to get where she is she’s got no intention of giving it all up permanently and that she can’t imagine finding a man who’d accept that. I keep telling her that she should at least give some of the young men she meets a chance, but it doesn’t seem to be doing any good!
“As for Daisy Rosomon, though, I suppose that different women want different things. She made her choice, and maybe she’s very happy as she is. She’s got a home and a husband and three children, and, with being a Chalet School Old Girl and being related to the Maynards, living on the Gornetz Platz may well suit her down to the ground. I do very much hope that she’s happy, anyway.” She buried her face in her husband’s chest. “Like I am.”
He kissed the top of her head. “And like I am too.”
Dr Daisy Rosomon glanced through the paperwork that Laurie had been sent for the conference one more time, just to check if there was anything they might need to take that she hadn’t thought of. Most of it related to the conference itself, of course, or else to the best way of reaching the Schloss Wertheim by various different forms of transport; but tucked in amongst the rest of the papers was the formally-worded invitation to the dinner-dance to be held on the last night of the event, hosted by the owners of the Schloss themselves.
“The Count and Countess von und zu Wertheim would be delighted if Dr and Mrs Laurence Rosomon would join them …”
It wasn’t that she wasn’t used to invitations - and for that matter all sorts of other items of post - being addressed to “Dr and Mrs Rosomon”, even when the senders were people like Marie and Eugen von und zu Wertheim whom she’d known for years and who knew very well – if they hadn’t forgotten by now – that she was just as much a qualified doctor as her husband was; but seeing the words there on the elegant little card in black and white grated on her all the same.
Having said which, it wasn’t as if she practised medicine any more, was it? All those years of training, all the swotting for exams, all the long hours walking the wards; and then the sense that every minute of it had been worth it when she’d won that coveted position at the Encliffe Children’s Hospital, where she’d truly felt that she was doing some good in the world - and then she’d given up her career before she’d even turned twenty-five.
She even felt guilty about it sometimes. It was easier for women to qualify as doctors in Britain now that it had been when she’d left school: following the establishment of the National Health Service in 1948, all medical schools now admitted women as well as men, which hadn’t been the case in her day. But even now some of them still operated quota systems restricting the proportion of places offered to women, sometimes to as low as twenty per cent or so, and the usual justification given was that it wasn’t worth giving female students all that expensive training when sooner or later they’d just give up their work to marry and have babies. And she, who’d been the top student in her year, had turned out to be a prime example of exactly why such views were still so widely held.
It wasn’t that even for a moment she regretted marrying Laurie: he and their three children were the most important things in the world to her and always would be. And it wasn’t as if he’d talked her into giving up her career against her own wishes. They hadn’t really talked about it at all: it had just been taken for granted that that was what she’d do. Women didn’t work once they were married and had children, unless their financial situation dictated that they absolutely had to. Did they?
Primula had been delighted to give up her office job when she’d married Nick Garden. And Beth had hot-footed it away from Freudesheim almost as soon as she and Noel Atherton had set the date – and that was ironic, really, because the main reason that Beth had been at Freudesheim in the first place was that Joey Maynard was one of the few women in their world who did successfully manage to combine having a career with having a husband and children.
So often these days she found herself envying Joey, and she felt bad about that when Joey had always been such a good friend to her. When the conference at the Schloss Wertheim had first been mentioned, Joey had immediately suggested – although doubtless Anna and Rosli would be the ones taking most of the responsibility – that Tony, Peter and Mary stay with her and Jack for a fortnight, so that Daisy and Laurie could make a proper holiday of their visit to Tyrol.
She hadn’t been sure at first; but she’d come round to the idea, and Laurie had been keen on it from the start. They could think of it as a second honeymoon, he’d said, given that it would be their tenth wedding anniversary in a few months’ time. He’d even insisted that, after they left the Schloss Wertheim, they stay at a hotel rather than at Die Blumen - so that she could “have a proper rest”, as he’d put it. She hadn’t seemed quite herself lately and hopefully a holiday would do her good, he’d said. Well, in one respect that was certainly true – much as she was going to miss the children, she couldn’t wait to get away from the goldfish bowl that was the Gornetz Platz, even if it was just for a couple of weeks. Why had she ever thought that coming to live out here would be such a good idea?
Was this really how her life had been meant to turn out?
Coming to live on the Gornetz Platz had seemed like such a wonderful idea at first. Then again, going to live in Devon had seemed like such a wonderful idea at first. Their own little house in the country. She’d been so overcome with joy at the prospect of living there with Laurie, so determined to make it a happy home for the two of them and for the children that they’d hoped to have. He’d known that it meant a lot to her, having a home of her own, but even he hadn’t even come close to understanding just how much it meant to her.
No-one had - not even Primula, because Primula, thank God, had been too young to have any memories of their life in Australia – their father coming home night after night in a drunken rage; their mother’s anguish; the deaths, only a few weeks after Primula’s birth, of the three brothers who’d come between them in age; and then, finally, the death of their father and the guilt she’d felt that she hadn’t even wanted to cry, that all she’d felt had been a sense of relief that he wouldn’t be able to hurt Mummy any more. Then they’d gone to live with Nurse Rickards, who’d been so kind to them and who’d told her to call her Auntie Nellie, but who’d caught flu and died only a few months later.
And then, just when they’d just got settled in Tyrol and finally it had seemed that everything was going to be all right, they’d had to leave the country, the day after that terrifying riot in Spartz about which she’d had nightmares for years, and start yet again in Guernsey … from where, one day, she and Primula had sent away, and only allowed to return weeks later, to be told that now their mother was dead too. Uncle Jem had explained that Mummy had wanted them to remember her as she’d been before her final illness, but that hadn’t made up for not being able to say goodbye to her. And he’d said that he and Auntie Madge would always take care of them – and they had done, both in Guernsey and later in Armishire; and they’d seen the two of them through their education and made sure that neither of them ever wanted for anything … but they’d been shunted between the Russells and the Maynards and, kind though both families had been to them both, they’d never really been able to feel that they had a home of their own.
Until she and Laurie had found that lovely little house, in a little village where he was one of two partners in the local medical practice, and Primula could stay with them in the holidays. She’d been so wrapped up in the idea of it all, and in the plans for the wedding, that she couldn’t even recall giving that much thought to what giving up her work would mean. She’d just been thinking about the life that lay ahead, and it had seemed like it would be a sort of earthly heaven.
Only it hadn’t been. Used to the busy life of a junior doctor in a children’s hospital, she’d soon grown bored with her new life; and, much as she adored her sons, their arrival less than two years apart had made even leaving the house to go to the village shop seem like a military operation. And after a few years Laurie had started to say, more and more frequently, that maybe the life of a country G.P. wasn’t for him after all, and that he couldn’t help wondering where he’d be by now if he hadn’t given up his hospital position.
But his getting back into hospital work after being away from it for several years had seemed an impossibility – until just after Mary had been born, when Jack Maynard, presumably at the instigation of Joey to whom Daisy had once or twice mentioned Laurie’s oft-voiced regrets about moving from hospital medicine into general practice, had taken them both by surprise by writing to suggest that Laurie apply for a position that had fallen vacant at the San at the Gornetz Platz.
When Laurie had duly been offered the position, he’d jumped at the chance, and Daisy had been delighted at the prospect of moving to a new home where she’d be amongst so many people whom she already knew. Only she hadn’t realised just how stuffy and enclosed an environment the Gornetz Platz was. There was so little there – so few shops, no cinema nearby, not even a library apart from the one at the School. There weren’t even the sort of women’s groups or charitable committees that Auntie Madge was involved with. Life just seemed to revolve around two institutions – the San and the School. And especially the School. To hear people talk, you’d think that the highlights of the entire calendar were the School Nativity Play, the St Mildred’s pantomime, the School Sports Day and the School Sale. Which, given the lack of anything else much ever happening up there, they probably were.
And even thinking about schools, any sort of schools, upset her at the moment, because Tony was now seven, old enough to start at prep school in the summer, and with no English- speaking boys’ school nearby they’d made the painful decision to send him back to England during term-time. She felt tearful every time she thought about it; and in another year Peter would be going too. At least having the Chalet School nearby meant that Mary wouldn’t have to be sent away – although, now that Mary was nearly old enough to start going to the Chalet School kindergarten, the house was going to feel very empty during the day, and what she was going to do with her time then she didn’t know.
She wondered if any of the doctors attending the conference would be female. Probably not. Doubtless they’d all be men – all accompanied by loyal wives, trying to amuse themselves whilst their husbands attended lectures and discussions, and wondering what to wear for dinner. It was a shame that Auntie Madge wasn’t going to be there: she’d been to these sorts of things countless times before and could probably have told her exactly what to expect.
She wondered if whoever was coming from the Welsh San in Uncle Jem’s place would be anyone she knew.