Isobel McKinnon sat on the train, staring idly out of the window to the flashing scenery beyond and toying with the two letters which sat on the table in front of her. Each was addressed in a neat hand, though the writing was as radically different as the content and tone had been. They were from her cousins, with whom she was going to live for at least the duration of the war, and from them and the family stories she had heard so much about before now, she had been able to guess something of their writers.
Her elder cousin, in whose house she would lodge for most of the time, came across as the more staid and reserved of the two, although there was more warmth and tender love in those pages than in that of the younger woman, who seemed fun and zany but also somehow less understanding and caring. Both, she was told, were forthright and honest, dependable and trustworthy, and both would look out for her as her mother – their aunt – had once done for them.
She turned the letters over again, fingering the crackly paper thoughtfully, trying to picture these two people in her mind. There had been a few pictures in the house, and her mother had done her best to describe the nieces she herself hadn't seen for many years now, as well as sitting down and helping Isobel to go through the letters and get the long families in order, but even with this reassurance and help behind her, she couldn't help feeling that she was thoroughly lost in it all.
Her attention was distracted by the arrival of the train into the next station, only one before her own stop, and the attendant bustle that this brought. She watched the long line of people stepping out of the carriages and mingling with the crowds, and also heard all of those getting into her own carriage. Her journey had been a long and exhausting one; her train had been stopped just outside of Oxford and then again at Cheltenham due to delays further down the line, and it felt like many hours since she had consumed the simple lunch provided for her.
A man sat down opposite her with an interested glance, but she refused to look at him, concentrating all of her energies on the platform outside. Every aspect of her journey had been drilled into her by her mother before she left, and she had also been careful to wear exactly what they had stipulated in the letter to her kindly host that she would be in; a simple blue frock, which brought out the forget-me-nots in her eyes, with the regulation brown school overcoat and matching beret, that perched on her delicate auburn hair and framed her sensitive, gentle face.
“Going far?” asked the gentleman. Now Isobel was forced to acknowledge him, though she did so languidly, without condescension or disinterest, but without anything positive either. She named her stop and he smiled. “You'll be going to a beautiful bit of the country, then. I'm Harold Edwards, by the way.”
He stuck out his hand and she shook it cautiously, giving her own name, then explaining apologetically that she would be best to get down her luggage, and be prepared to jump out as soon as they arrived at the next station to better fetch her suitcase with the necessary speed. He helped her to carry her small overnight case, and bag overflowing with books, knitting, and several musical scores, up the aisle, and left her standing by the door, the window down so that she could feel a fresh wind whip through her hair as they travelled.
Five minutes later saw the train slowing again, and she prepared to dismount. Once more was whirl and confusion as it came to a halt, only this time Isobel was plunged into it, clinging determinedly to her case, shoving a stray composition back into her bag and trying to fight her way through to the guard's compartment and claim her suitcase. Somehow she did manage it, but only at the expense of not being able to look around once for the lady supposed to be meeting her, so that the best she could do was to secrete herself discreetly at one corner of the station, luggage piled around her, and wait to be found.
It took some ten minutes for the crowds to clear and the train to move off, though much of this passed Isobel in a blur as she suddenly realised what had been wrong with the piece she had been humming on the train, and had jotted down while they were stopped outside Oxford. By the time she had ferreted both it and her fountain pen out of her bag, and changed a few notes with a flourish, the station was nearly deserted, but for a tall lady with ink black earphones who was hurrying over to her.
“You must be Isobel,” she beamed, politely ignoring Isobel shoving things haphazardly into her bag again. “I'm your cousin, Joey, and my sister Madge is waiting out in the car for you.”
Meekly, Isobel held out her hand to shake Joey's politely, expressing no surprise at being greeted not by Madge, as she had expected, but the younger of the cousins who had written to her. Then she saw the ink which spattered them from her previous editing, grinned ruefully, and did her best to look apologetic. Much to her surprise, Joey only laughed.
“Please don't say we have another authoress in the family! I think that I'm enough to drive Madge mad as it is. Here, let me take your suitcase, can you manage the other things? Excellent.”
And she swept away, leaving Isobel to trail behind her wondering at such a breezy tone. Had she been at home, her mother would have been sure to scold her over the state of her hands. It wasn't in Isobel to be shy, but all the same she felt it might be politic to pipe down for the foreseeable future – she had often heard her mother bemoan house guests, and she didn't want to upset her hosts so early on. Besides which, the composition would tug at her mind, so that even had she been more inclined to talk she couldn't have thought of anything really to say.
“I'm sorry for the confusion, but I just couldn't resist coming along to meet you,” explained Joey as they walked, glancing behind her to smile at the young girl, who she assumed must just be suffering an attack of shyness that would soon pass. “Rob – my adopted sister, Robin – said that she'd take the trips, as they were all over at the Round House anyway to greet you, so I was able to leave them and come along. You'll get to meet Rob soon, of course; as well as being one of the family, she's just been made a sub-pree at school, but don't worry, she's not the sort to stand on her dignity as it were.”
At this point in her speech, she broke off to approach a parked car, out of which stepped one of the most graceful ladies Isobel had ever seen. Not pretty in any conventional sense, age had brought to Madge Russell a beautiful maturity that made Isobel fall under her spell instantly; so intense was the music that swept over her as she looked at her cousin for the first time that she almost broke into song in front of them. Then Madge was sweeping her into a hug and a kiss, with a melodic laugh that was blissful to all who heard it.
“Welcome, my dear, how nice to finally meet you. I do hope that Joey hasn't been scaring you, she can get rather over-enthusiastic at times.” She stopped to help Joey put suitcase and trunk in the boot, then saw Isobel seated happily in the back while Joey settled herself in the front seat. “We got your telegram from Cheltenham; I'm so sorry that you were delayed.”
“You must be aching for dinner,” commented Joey.
“Well, Marie will have the meal waiting once we get back,” promised Madge, with the tiniest of sideways glances at her sister that still betrayed an awful lot. “Of course, Isobel, you must be worn out from travelling as well. If, after the meal, you'd rather have an early night, please do just say. You mustn't try and stand on your dignity with us, my dear – we all want you to think of the Round House as your home, now.”
“Thankyou,” smiled Isobel. If she was hoping to escape to bed as soon as possible, it wasn't so much for sleep as the chance to jot down the song Madge's lilting voice was making her fingers itch to write. “It is so dreadfully kind of you to put me up, Mrs Russell.”
“Nonsense, it is a pleasure,” promised Madge. They were out of the town, now, and driving through countryside, with the occasional cow looking up from its field to low at them as they passed. “After all that your mother has done for me, I wouldn't have wanted it any other way, especially not as we are so close to the school. Just so you know, it has been decided that you can start in Lower IV, so you'll be in the same form as Daisy.”
Any other girl must surely have been longing, after such dropped hints, to meet the mysterious Daisy and Robin, but Isobel only smiled perfunctorily. The decision that she must be sent out of London during the war had been greeted with the same serene acknowledgement that characterised every part of her life, as had the eventual news that she was to live with her cousin, and go to the school which had been started on the shores of the far off Austrian Tiernsee many years ago now, but which had been forced to move first to Guernsey and then to the Welsh borders because of the war.
“How are your family?” asked Madge at last, like Joey mistaking the girl's silence for shyness. “We hear news in letters, of course, but they can take so long to reach one nowadays.”
“Oh, they're all dandy,” promised Isobel. “Of course, Will is doing all sorts of secret things for the war, and Richie had to sign up, but they're both all right so far. Jackie's at university, but he says that he wants to go and fight as soon as he leaves next year, and Harry's – well – Harry.”
“At least you're used to a big family,” commented Joey. “With all of our crowd, you soon get used to a lot of noise, I'll say that for them if nothing else. Incidentally, what should we call you? Isobel seems so long for everyday – I hope that you don't mind going by Izzy, because that's what it'll be ten minutes into your first day at school!”
“I always have been Isobel,” commented that young lady. “Mama thought it rather unseemly for ladies to shorten their names.”
Even after everything she had heard of her cousin, Isobel couldn't help the thought that Mrs Maynard was decidedly odd!
It must be said that Joey was, herself, rather uncertain of her cousin, especially after such an introduction. As they were driving, she caught Isobel staring in a certain horrified fascination at Madge, and wondered all the more. There had been hints dropped in the letters from their aunt, of course, but only to say that she was hoping boarding school would straighten out her daughter a little and bring her out of her shell. This was so normal a request from parents that Madge and Joey had set it to one side with the comment that what school didn't bring out of Isobel, Daisy would be sure to.
Before long, they were drawing up outside a beautiful country house, through the sweeping driveway and to the front door. Fields surrounded it, so that it was almost impossible to tell where the garden ended, or indeed if there was a garden at all. Coming straight from her modest house in a leafier suburb of London, Isobel couldn't help marvelling at the sheer space of the open countryside. But she wasn't given long to stare; Madge fetched her luggage from the boot of the car and then started to wave her forwards, as she directed the tall, moustachioed man who had appeared as to where it was to go.
Meanwhile, Joey had swept up the stairs and let herself into the house with a melodic cry. Isobel hesitated, not sure whether to help or not, but Madge was following, and so she fell in with her new guardian, asking whether she shouldn't carry her luggage inside.
“Oh no,” said Madge breezily. “Andreas can manage perfectly well, don't worry dear. Anyway, judging by the noise, your arrival has been noted. Daisy has been dying to meet you all day, and it's only young Primula who's kept her out of scrapes so far, I'm sure.”
Even Isobel was shaken out of her reverie enough to look around her wide-eyed, astonished by the grandeur of the place. Whatever she had imagined – and she had had a particularly vivid letter from a person named as Cecilia Marya Humphries describing the local countryside and the house she would be staying in – this certainly exceeded all of her expectations, and she couldn't help feeling slightly overwhelmed.
All at once, she found herself in the hallway, facing a leggy young schoolgirl with untidy blonde hair and dark blue eyes positively sparkling with excitement. Next to her was a smaller girl, who looked identical but for the differences in height, and who smiled shyly and tried to hide behind her sister – as Isobel rightly surmised them to be.
“I'm Daisy Venables, and this is my younger sister Primula,” she started, while Madge smiled and followed Joey through one of the doors. “You're Isobel, I know. We have been so dying to meet you, not just Prim and I but Rob and the babies too. Peggy thinks you must be a princess, and the whole nursery has organised a bit of a surprise to welcome you to your new home. I promised Auntie Jo that we'd show you to your room, and then to the cloakroom so you can freshen up before tea. Travelling is awful with all the soft coal now, isn't it?”
Without waiting for any complaint, Daisy swept her up the grand staircase, even the banisters of which Isobel almost didn't dare to touch in case she should break something. In the wide curve of the stair was a bay window, with cushions on the sill to form a sort of seat. Noticing her curious look, Daisy grinned.
“It looks out over the drive, you see. Prim and Rob and I were watching out for you to come, we all sit there sometimes when we're expecting visitors. Of course, Rob and I aren't here all the time, but it is a jolly place to sit with some sewing, or a book, if one of Auntie Jo's friends is going to meet us here.”
“Do you stay at school sometimes, then?” asked Isobel. She was desperately trying to remember her mother's advice to set her music to one side, at least for the first couple of weeks until she'd got to know people and they'd got to know her.
“During winter, yes, but not at the moment. Rob and I live with Auntie Jo, you see, and bike to the school and back together. With Uncle Jack being away at sea, Auntie Jo likes to have some company, and it means we can help with the trips as well, so that Anna can have evenings off – she lives with Auntie Jo too, and helps with cleaning and cooking and things while Auntie Jo writes. We weren't sure what to do about you, but Auntie Madge has an old bike, and it's only ten minutes to the end of the lane, then you can meet us there and we can all bike together to school in the mornings. It will be jolly!”
All this time they had been walking down a long, well lit corridor, interspersed with vases and simple watercolour paintings, Isobel's eyes growing wider as she did her best to remember all the names of all the people and where each one lived and who they were. Clearly, when Joey had said in her letter that she hoped Isobel was good with lots of people, she hadn't been exaggerating! She was given little more time to think, however, for at that moment Daisy proudly flung open a door and ushered Isobel into what was one of the biggest rooms she'd ever seen, except for the dormitories in her own boarding school, where she was usually a day-girl. It seemed so grandiose, that her eyes seemed like saucers, and Daisy laughed.
“Yes, I know, splendiferous, isn't it? Welcome to your bedroom!”
Even to the silently watching Primula it was evident that Isobel was stunned; wordlessly she advanced forwards a few paces, expecting to hear that this was some sort of practical joke, as she knew students of a certain age liked to indulge in. All of her music, even her song for Madge, that was her usual escape from the world, had fled her mind, as she looked around, trying to take it in, trying to imagine herself living in such a room. Startled, she turned to look at them, but Daisy's smile was open and honest, and she found herself automatically trusting the younger girl.
The room itself was nearly as big as the entire downstairs of her house at home, with a four poster bed in the middle. Admittedly this had no curtains – she was told later by Madge that these had been taken down to use as blackout blinds – but it looked luxurious, despite the bare, barren sticks of wood reaching up towards the high, ornately decorated ceiling. In one corner was a simple washbasin, white porcelain with delicate blue sprays of flowers around the edges, and on this had been set a bar of soap, while a large jug sat on the shelf above it, evidently for filling it up in the evenings.
“Frauleins,” said a deep voice behind them, and the man from before came in, bearing Isobel's trunk, hand-case and bag, which she had left on the back seat of the car in a fit of thoughtlessness.
“Thankyou Andreas,” smiled Daisy, adding with a wave of her hand, “This is Fraulein Isobel who we've all been waiting for.”
“Gruss Gott, Fraulein Isobel,” smiled the man. He addressed a few more remarks to Daisy in his native German, which she returned with a fluency that made Isobel's eyes open even wider, though she said nothing.
Once Andreas had left them, and helped by Daisy while Primula looked on with ever increasing shyness, Isobel started to unpack her things. While she hung up the few simple dresses which she had brought with her, Daisy arranged her wash things artistically around the washbasin, and laid her folded nightgown across the bed. There was also a rather ragged teddy bear, which Primula spotted in the bottom of the suitcase and exclaimed over.
“Oh, that's Benjamin,” explained Isobel, not one whit abashed. She cuddled the grey teddy, which was missing an ear and had definitely seen better days, to her for a second, then smiled. “Mama made him for me when she was pregnant, and he comes everywhere with me now.”
“Why's his ear gone?” asked Primula.
“That was my brother Harry. We were having an argument and he bit Benjamin's ear off. Dad gave him such a walloping for it.” Isobel smiled fondly for a moment, then hastily extinguished the happiness from her eyes. It wouldn't do to think of home, and dad, just yet, and she didn't want people to ask questions. Instead, she tossed Benjamin onto the bed, where he lay lopsidedly against the pillows, and took out a few undergarments to put away in the large oak chest of drawers that dominated one wall.
“I had a teddy like that, but he got left behind in Australia,” sighed Primula wistfully. Daisy glanced at her quickly.
“Why don't you go and clean yourself up, then help Rob lay the table for dinner?” she suggested, and Primula skipped off. “We'd better go down too in a minute, but I just thought you might like the chance to ask me any questions about the school, or life here, while we're on our own.” Daisy sat down on a corner of the bed with an encouraging smile, and after a second's hesitation Isobel followed suit. “You see, when Prim and I first came, it was so overwhelming and I was positively bursting with things I wanted to know. Rob and Auntie Jo helped out a lot, and now I'm going to do the same for you.”
“Why?” Isobel blurted out, before she could stop herself.
“Because it's the decent thing, and because when you join the school, all new girls get a sheepdog to look after them and show them the ropes, and Miss Annersley, our Head, said that I could be yours when she was over for tea last week. Anyway, I want to be chummy, and I know we might not end up as friends, but we are sort of family.”
“Are we?” Isobel frowned slightly, her brows drawing in, and her tongue just sticking out of the corner of her mouth. Her nose twitched a little, and Daisy had to stifle a giggle. “Mama and I tried to work out the family tree, but it was terribly confusing.”
“Well, you're Auntie Madge's cousin, and she is my proper Aunt – Auntie Jo isn't really, but she said that if I didn't want to call her Jo just yet, Auntie was close enough – so I guess that we're cousins by marriage, maybe.” Daisy screwed up her own eyes for a second, thinking. “Really, Uncle Jem is my uncle, 'cause he's my mum's brother.”
Once, Mrs McKinnon had laughingly said that while her eldest son was destined for a career in the diplomatic services it was only because he had stolen all of the tact that her youngest child should have had, but even Isobel was sensible enough not to ask about Daisy's parents. An unmistakeable flash of pain had pierced her eyes as she spoke of her mother, and though Isobel wondered all the more, she moved conversation on quickly.
“Mrs Russell said that I'd be in the same form as you.”
“Yes, Lower IV. You'll get to meet my special friends tomorrow – it's Gwensi's house that the school is in, and Beth is nearby as well, so we organised a tea party for you to meet them before school starts. We're going to have it at Plas Howell, so you can look round the form room and common room and things too. Beth's form pree this year. We're not really a very big form, but there's another Isabel, though she'll go by Izzy to avoid confusion, and Jack le Pelley and Melanie Kerdec and a couple of new girls as well. I don't know if Nicole and Nancy will still be with us, or whether they'll have been moved up.”
“I'm not terribly good with names,” confessed Isobel with a tiny, worried frown. Daisy shrieked with laughter.
“I'm not going to test you on it all later, you goop! Don't worry, you'll know most folk in a couple of weeks, and if you can learn all the family before you start at school then we'll be impressed enough. Relax, my girl, we don't bite!”
With which reassurance she had to end, for there came the call for them to get ready for dinner, and in the general rush to show Isobel the cloakrooms and for both girls to wash hands and face as hastily as possible there was no time for further talk.
As the two girls rushed pell-mell through the door and arrived at the table breathless and panting, but passably neat all the same, Joey burst forth into a peal of golden laughter and even Madge smiled. Both had just been discussing how staid and quiet Isobel had seemed when they first picked her up, and although Madge said it was probably nerves at being in such a new environment, Joey had opined that even were it natural, school would soon knock it out of her. To therefore see her dashing in behind Daisy, still trying to dry her hands on her skirt, and flushed from running, was something of a shock to the system.
Isobel took her place with becoming modesty, turning darker red as she realised what an entrance she must have made, but by the time she had bent her head for the simple Grace she had cooled a little, and nothing more was said than for Joey to tease Daisy about becoming a bad influence already. As Daisy responded with the simple deduction that she must have caught this from her adopted aunt, she didn't seem to have been a whit disturbed, unlike Joey, who opened her mouth to reply but caught Madge's eye and subsided with a ladylike frostiness at such aspersions.
As well as the two adults, Daisy and herself and Primula, Isobel was also introduced to Peggy, Rix, Bride and David, who were allowed to sit at the table now; Robin was there too, and eventually cleared up the mysterious letter writer by explaining that it was she who was Marya Cecilia Humphries, but that she was known as Robin to all and sundry, even in school, and hoped that Isobel would continue the tradition. Smiling, she promised she would, completely enchanted by the girl's sad, dark eyes and angelic beauty.
“Do you like your bedroom?” asked Madge politely as she passed around the cold chicken salad which was making up part of their evening meal, with a cold game pie for mains and a delicious cake which Marie had made as a sweet in honour of Isobel joining them.
“It's beautiful,” murmured Isobel, not quite daring to express her full thoughts on the room. “Thankyou so much.”
“Nonsense,” said Madge robustly. “It was going spare anyway. Peggy, Bride and Sybil share a room, as do David, Rix and Jackie. All I ever use most of these bedrooms for is putting up Jem's colleagues on the odd nights that they stay. You must think of it as your own, dear; maybe we could find some pictures you like to put up, or something, and personalise it a little.”
Soon enough, conversation turned to school matters, which Joey was well abreast of, and Isobel was able to hide behind the general chatter. She was used to quiet meals eating alone with her mother, or occasionally a visitor to the house, and the bustle of Marie removing dirty dishes and bringing more water as it was required as well as the two or three conversations that all seemed to be happening at once made her feel rather out of it. Occasionally the babies, as Daisy laughingly referred to them to their great annoyance, would become too noisy, but a look from Madge, as well as the ministrations of Robin to all their needs, kept them relatively well behaved.
“Hilda said to me that they'd have to think about hiring more staff soon, if we keep growing like this,” commented Joey, waving a piece of chicken speared on her fork in an airy manner. “I know that the school's nowhere near as big as it was in its heyday, but all of the teachers are just so overworked already. When Sarah Denny got back last week she came over to see me, and you should have heard her on the subject of her timetable this year.”
“Well, perhaps one of us could start teaching again on one day a week,” said Madge. “Now that Ailie doesn't rely on me so much, I'm sure that I could do it.”
“Yes please, Auntie Madge, that would be wizard,” beamed Daisy eagerly, while Robin smiled hopefully.
“There wouldn't be any magic involved,” pointed out Jo. “Yes, I know you don't get fined at the moment, but you'll pick up bad habits and then Miss Annersley will be after my head on a stick. In any case, Madge, I'm sure it would be wonderful if you could go back. The trips still need me a bit too much, especially Margot, or I'd do it myself.”
For a moment her face darkened, and Isobel wondered why, but Madge spoke up.
“Yes, I think I could manage Senior Lit again if they needed me, and maybe even some of the Upper Middles if Hilda really was pushed.”
At this, Daisy's face fell, for she knew that she would be out of the fun – and she had heard many rumours in school that, when Madge had been Madame and Head of the school, her lessons had been fun – but she was wise enough not to say anything. Aside from all else, she thought, brightening a little, it would be excellent gossip to pass on to Gwensi and Beth when she saw them next.
“Do buck up,” she murmured as an aside to Isobel, whom she was sat next to. “Auntie Jo will want to leave soon and get the trips to bed, and I want to tell you more about the school first. It feels like we've hardly started!”
“You just be careful, young Daisy,” commented Jo, having overheard the end of this speech. “You're supposed to be Isobel's sheepdog, not her little devil.”
She had said it in a light tone, but she cast a curious look at her cousin all the same, still not quite sure what to make of the girl.
After the meal, Isobel was taken up to the nursery and introduced to Josette, Sybil and Jackie, the last of the Round House brood, and also the infamous triplets. When they had first received news of the latter – in a courteous letter from Madge that they had later found to be almost identically worded to the letter that her other aunt received – it had been something of a shock to them and, as her mother had said, it beat Auntie Katherine's twins into a cocked hat. Fondly, Isobel had imagined romantic notions of blonde haired blue eyed identical cherubs, for being the youngest in her family her contact with babies was limited to the horror of a toddler that belonged to their neighbour, and she was therefore rather surprised.
Len, the eldest by half an hour, had chestnut hair decidedly verging on the ginger, with wide blue eyes, and actually looked rather similar to the youngest of the triplets, Margot. But Con was as different as could possibly be imagined from them, although the spitting image of her mother, with her pale colouring, dark hair and large, tragic eyes. As for Josette, she was nothing if not her mother's daughter, and she came up to greet Isobel very prettily.
While she was there, Isobel suddenly became aware that Sybil and Rix had begun fighting, and Josette – who had rather taken to her – informed her that they didn't get along very well, and were always in trouble. Len and Con both came to play as well, but Margot hung back, building a house out of David's bricks for her dolls and paying little attention to the cuckoo in the nest, but for the occasional glance over at her sisters. They were quite as sociable as any self-respecting babe should be, even if this did mainly consist of trying to feed Isobel various toys of theirs.
“Come on,” said Daisy at last, evidently bored of children, though to Isobel they were a new and unexplored joy. “Let's go back to your room for a bit and I'll tell you about the school.”
With some slight reluctance, Isobel got up to follow, feeling it would be impolite to decline, but all the same she promised Josette that she should return on the morrow after breakfast to play with them for a bit. Following Daisy along the corridor, she had to stifle a yawn, and suddenly she realised how tired she was. Travelling, despite namely involving sitting down, had taken it out of her, and the large bed with soft, thick sheets seemed so much more appealing now. She lay down on the bed and absently stroked Benjamin's shedding fur, while Daisy sat at her feet and chattered eagerly.
“Did I tell you in my letters about remembering what day it is? Oh, good. Do you speak French or German? I didn't when I came, in fact that was what let us find Uncle Jem in the first place, through Auntie Jo, but that's a story for another day. It's terribly easy to learn, though, when you hear it around you all of the time. Gwen's still trying to learn French, she's getting quite good now and Megan her maid helps, but maybe we could all talk it tomorrow at the picnic for you. I don't know if German will still go on this term, so you might get let off that.”
After that, Isobel learnt about some of the mistresses, people like Miss Linton who was “a complete poppet”, and Miss Cochrane, “an absolute terror – unless you're good at music.” At this, Isobel suddenly remembered her newest tune, which she had managed to forget in all the excitement and rush around Daisy, and unconsciously began to hum it under her breath.
“Ah, I see you are,” laughed Daisy pleasantly. “Wait until Plato hears you, he'll go into spasms. Yes, I'm coming!”
This last was in response to a call from Joey, who was impatient to go home before blackout, and who had suddenly realised how late it was getting. In a short amount of time, Isobel was standing on the drive, waving the car off and laughing as Daisy suddenly leaned out of the back window and waved back with enthusiasm. Then they were out of sight, and Isobel was alone outside the large, imposing house. Whether it was the chill of the night air or the sudden fear that gripped her, Isobel wasn't sure, but she shivered violently.
“Come in and have some hot milk,” suggested Madge, who had been saying goodbye as well, and had noticed how crestfallen Isobel seemed. “While it's heating up, you can borrow the phone and telephone home quickly if you like.”
With a grateful smile, Isobel let herself be led inside and shown to the phone, where she spent a delightful five minutes talking to her mother and being cheered by the sound of the familiar voice, exactly as Madge had intended. Then she sat with her cousin while she obediently drank her hot milk, and they discussed school matters, which teachers she would have and where she thought she was in terms of lessons. But as soon as she could she excused herself to bed.
For a time she sat awake, jotting down the introduction of her song, and playing with a few chords of the one she had written on the train, but she was soon quite happy to snuggle down below the deliciously warm covers and drift contentedly into sleep. By the time the great Dr Russell arrived home from the Sanatorium where he worked and peeped in on her, he saw a happy, healthy girl sleeping contentedly with just the tiniest of snores.