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Beth was wearing her almost-nicest clothes and waiting for her Aunt Janie to arrive. Aunt Janie was going to take her to get her new school uniform – actually, Aunt Janie was going to be taking her to get her first real school uniform, for her brand new school.

 "How come I don't get one?" her younger sister Nancy had demanded. That was the worst thing about being the eldest girl - the others always wanted to have everything that she got.

"Because," Mummy had told her firmly, "Beth is going to be a Middle, and you and the others " - that was Beth's cousins - "won't be. When you're older, we'll see that you get one too." And that had been that. Nancy had grumbled that it was going to be years before she got her own uniform, so Beth had tried not to rub it in too much. But she couldn't help being a little excited.

And it was more than just that, anyway. Aunt Janie was taking her around to Auntie Jo, and Beth was going to get to meet Daisy Venables. Beth had heard all about Daisy Venables from Auntie Jo, but she hadn't got to meet her yet. Her mother had died very recently, and Daisy hadn't been up to meeting new people, but Auntie Jo had promised that when she was, Beth and her would certainly be friends. "I can't promise you'll be bosom buddies," she'd warned Beth, "But Daisy's a friendly girl, and at the very least she'll make sure you feel welcome at the Chalet School." That would almost be enough for Beth, all by itself. She’d certainly never been made to feel welcome at her old school. But, she thought wistfully, it would be nice to have a friend, too.

Aunt Janie pulled into the drive, tooting her horn. Beth was sure she did that just to irritate Mummy, but Mummy only ever just rolled her eyes and said, “Janie would.” Daddy usually laughed, though. Now Beth kissed her goodbye and excitedly skipped outside and waved at the car. Two figures waved back. One was Aunt Janie, of course, in the driver’s seat – the other was Maryah, who was Aunt Janie’s Mother’s Help.

Beth thought that Maryah was more or less the most wonderful person in the world - although she wouldn't admit it to anyone. The last thing she wanted was for her male cousins to find out and start teasing her! But she was so kind, and pretty, too, with her long chestnut hair tied back in a thick plait, that it was perhaps not suprising that Beth admired her; and besides, Maryah talked to her like she was almost an adult herself, and not just a kid like everyone else was.

Beth slid into the back seat of the car. “Are you coming to Auntie Jo’s too, Maryah?”

“No, I’m not. I was interested in this school of yours and Mrs Lucy offered to take me to see it – and Nan, but she couldn’t make it.”

“She’s starting a cold,” Aunt Janie explained. “I would not be popular if I let her spread that around staff before school had even started!”

“I imagine not,” Maryah said soberly. “I can imagine Matey – the Matron from my school, I mean – being awful if anything like that happened. I suppose the Matron at the Chalet School would be just the same.”

“I’ve heard she’s a tartar,” Aunt Janie said. “You’d better stay on the right side of her, Bethy!” She sounded like she was laughing, but Beth nodded. The Matrons in her school-stories were always very strict; probably they were like that in real life, too.

“I’m sure you’ll love it,” Maryah said warmly. “I wish I was going to school with you!” There was real yearning in her voice. After Aunt Janie had dropped her on the ground, promising to pick her up again before lunch, Beth climbed into the front seat and said so to Aunt Janie.

“She probably would still be at school if not for the war,” her aunt replied. “She’s sixteen – or does that sound frightfully grown-up?”

Beth thought about it. “I don’t know. We stay at school until we’re 18, don’t we? But some girls are already working before that. So – sixteen is quite grown-up. But that’s not that much older than I am now, Aunty.”

“Well, Maryah was at a school in Switzerland, but her family was living in France, not far from the German border. They were killed in air raid over France; she doesn’t have any more family in England. She remembered that her mother had had some family on Guernsey, and came here; but she couldn’t find them. Luckily your Aunt Elizabeth found her, and when she heard what had happened she thought she might like to help me out.”

Beth’s eyes were wide. She knew all about the war, of course, and Mummy let her listen to the bulletins on the radio sometimes. But this was the first time she’d really heard of anyone directly affected by it, and suddenly it felt a lot more real. “She’s happy with us, though, isn’t she? She always looks happy.”

“She’s very brave, Bethy. Even though she’s missing her family dreadfully, and even though she has to work rather than go to school like she wants to, she knows that she has to stay strong. She knows that best way to bear her troubles is to stand firm, and keep going, because she can’t live her life always thinking about the people who have left her.”

“It’s not fair. Aunt Janie – why do I get to go to school and be happy, and Maryah doesn’t? Why do – why do Nancy and I get to be healthy when Babs isn’t?”

Aunt Janie sighed. “I don’t know the answer to that. But – it seems to me – that when we have difficult times in our lives that we’re being tested, to make sure that we’re growing into the people that we ought to be.”

Beth was silent, thinking this over. “More people are going to die, aren’t they?”

“Yes, I’m afraid they are. But Britain and her allies are going to make sure that the war is over as quickly as possible. Then we’ll see peace again, darling.”

“And we should be strong too,” Beth found herself saying. “Even if we have problems, we should stand up to them, shouldn’t we?”

Aunt Janie was pulling in to Aunt Joey’s house. “That’s right, Bethy. And that’s a very grown-up thing to say.” She smiled. “But right now you don’t need to be grown-up – you get to meet a new friend, and get your school uniform. I don’t mean that you should forget what I’ve said, but you’ve had your hard times, Bethy. Now you get to have your happy times, starting over at a new school.”

Beth was a little shy, meeting Daisy when she’d heard so much about her, but Daisy didn’t know the meaning of the word, and she instantly seized upon her to demand what form she was likely to be in. “Although maybe we’ll see a lot of each other even if we aren’t in the same form,” she added. “The school’s going to be awfully small compared to what it was like in Austria, Auntie Madge says. Although Auntie Thérèse says it will grow again in no time!”

“Were you in Austria, too?” Beth asked eagerly. “What was it like?”

Daisy happily recounted her time in the Tyrol, although Beth noticed she didn’t say anything about her mother. Probably it would be too hard to talk about, and she knew better than to ask. And then she asked Beth if she’d lived anywhere except Guernsey, and by the time Auntie Jo and Auntie Janie stopped talking and remember that their nieces were there to be fitted, they had discovered that they had the same birthday and had both been studying James I in their last history classes – “So we’re bound to be in the same form,” Daisy said happily.

“You seem rather more chipper,” Auntie Janie told Beth as they left to pick up Maryah.

“Daisy says she’s going to invite me to Mrs Russell’s house next Wednesday before school starts,” the girl explained. “She’s so nice, Auntie! And she says she’ll be my sheepdog at school, if I want. I think – maybe she wants to be friends.”

“That’s wonderful, poppet,” Auntie Janie said quickly. “Mummy will be happy, too.”

They headed back to the school – my school, as Beth was now calling it – but Maryah wasn’t waiting for them yet. Auntie Janie consulted her watch. “We are a little early,” she admitted, “But I don’t want to wait around here any longer than I have to. Could you go and see if you can find her, Bethy? If you can’t find her quickly than just come back here.”

Beth obediently got out of the car and trotted up the driveway towards the house. One of the mistresses – Beth thought her name was Miss Linton – had shown her and Mummy around last week, but she wasn’t sure she’d remember her way just yet. Luckily – or perhaps unluckily – as soon as she opened the big front door she found herself confronted by a grown-up lady in a Matron’s uniform. “I- I’m looking for Maryah,” she explained before the lady had a chance to demand what she was doing there. “She came for a look around the school.”

“And you’ve come to collect her?” The lady favoured Beth with a smile. “Let’s look for her together, shall we? I’m Matron MacDonald.”

“Beth Chester,” Beth replied. Matron gave her a funny look, then, but she didn’t say anything. Maybe she looked like that at all new pupils.

“Where do you think your Maryah will be?” Matron asked. “Is there anything she’s particularly keen on?”

Beth wrinkled her brow in thought. “She likes languages,” she said eventually.

“Well, let’s try the language classrooms…” Matron’s voice trailed off as footsteps sounded on the wooden floor. Maryah appeared, her face dreamy, and she didn’t seem to notice Beth and Matron right away. But Matron saw her alright, and she gasped.

“Len?” Matron looked – well,. Beth’s cousin Bill would call it gobsmacked. Maryah looked confused, and then, staring at Matron, whispered, “Margot? I thought – I thought I was alone.”

Matron gave a shaky laugh. “Oh, Len! So did I – apart from Tante Simone. I started to think I’d never see you again – is Con here? Is-” she glanced at Beth and suddenly fell silent.

“Beth,” Maryah said, coming up to her. “I’m sorry, darling – you must be more confused than I am. This is my s-”

“Cousin, Ruhanna,” Matron interrupted her. “L- Maryah, I thought that you were – lost, in the war.” There was something odd in the way she spoke, as if she was trying to give Maryah a message without using any words. Maryah nodded, a little tearfully.

“If you’re here – you’re really here –oh, my lamb! I’ve needed you so much…”

In the end, it seemed that Matron was the family that Maryah had come to Guernsey to find. It was funny, then, that neither of them had known about the other, but none of the adults seemed to think so – just Beth. That weekend she heard Auntie Janie bemoaning the loss of her Mother’s Help, and on Monday she found that Maryah had started school, in the Upper Fifth. Beth saw her sometimes, and she was still as nice as ever – but she wasn’t as happy as Beth had thought she might be, now that she’d found her family and was going to school again.

For a while, Beth remember how they’d both seemed so confused, that day they’d met. It wasn’t one of those joyful long-lost reunions like she’d read about in books. And they’d called each other by the wrong names, or it had seemed like it.

In time, she forgot about that strange first meeting altogether.




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