This is the book I never read
“Yes, Rosalie?” Hilda looked up from the pile of papers on her desk, hoping that she wasn’t about to be called to deal with some sort of major incident. She was exhausted: she’d worked late every night this week. It was exactly the sort of thing that she was always insisting that the girls never do, but it kept her mind occupied and that was what she needed at the moment.
What she kept telling everyone was that she was up to her eyes in work because of the forthcoming move to Switzerland and that, no, there was nothing that could be done by anyone else instead; but that wasn’t the truth. It was just a convenient cover story. The truth was that she didn’t want to allow herself time to think. She couldn‘t think. She mustn’t think.
“Is there a problem?” she asked.
Rosalie shook her head. “No problem whatsoever. Commander Christy’s here to see you, that’s all.”
“Commander Christy,” Hilda repeated faintly. I can’t see him. I cannot see him. There must be some excuse I can come up with, some reason to send him away. Maybe Rosalie could tell him that I’m out ... but he must know that I’m not, if she’s said that she’ll come and tell me that he’s here. Maybe I could ask her to stay, to stay with me so that I won’t have to be alone with him ... but how am I going to do that without it looking strange?
Pull yourself together, Hilda. You’ve seen him plenty of times before, and you’ve always got through it. Just remember that it’s not for much longer. It’s only for another few days. Then, very soon, you’ll be going to Switzerland, and he’ll be staying here. Dickie’s at Welsen, Cherry’s going to Carnbach and Gaynor’ll probably go there too, and you’ll never have to see him again. Then you can put all this madness behind you. You’ve just got to get through the next few minutes. Just a few minutes, that’s all. You can do that. You’re a grown woman, a mature, sensible, capable woman, the headmistress of the Chalet School. You’re not a silly little schoolgirl, so stop acting like one.
“Er, send him in, please, Rosalie, if you would. I assume that he’s just come about the final arrangements for the move: he and Carey will want us and all our things out of here as soon as possible once term’s over, I expect. I just hope it’s something quick. I’ve got a lot to do today.”
A few moments later and he was standing in front of her. Was that her own voice, asking him to take a seat? Asking him if he’d like a cup of tea – no, he wouldn’t, thank you, he was all right at the moment – and telling him that they’d begin their packing as soon as the girls had left and that they’d try to leave the place as clean and tidy as possible? And that if he should find any damage anywhere then he had only to ask and she was sure that the Russells wouldn’t hesitate to pay for it to be repaired? And was that also her voice asking after Carey and the baby? Yes, ask him, Hilda. Never let yourself forget, even for a moment, that he has a wife, and children, and that you are committing a terrible sin by allowing yourself even to think of him as anything other than the school’s temporary landlord, the father of one of your pupils and the stepfather of another, and another woman’s husband.
“Carey’s fine, thanks, Hilda. They both are, although I’m afraid that young Francis is going to be saddled with being called Blinkie for life – it definitely seems to have stuck, and I’m not sure that he’ll thank us for it when he’s older! And don’t worry yourself about the Big House. I’m sure everything’ll be fine. I didn’t come about the house. I came to see you.”
Of course you came to see me. Every time you come here, it’s to see me. There’s no real reason for you to come here at all, not now that the Russells are back from Canada. But you’re here all the time. Looking at me. For so long I tried to fool myself that I was imagining it. At first, I even tried to deny my own feelings. I couldn’t keep that up for long – how can you deny something within yourself that’s so strong? – but I could keep telling myself that it was just me, that I was just silly old maid acting like a schoolgirl with a crush, that the only reason you came here was on business, or to see Dickie and Cherry, or even because you missed the house. How could someone like you possibly feel anything for someone like me, I asked myself. I was just fooling myself. Flattering myself. But I couldn’t keep fooling myself about the way you kept looking at me. The way you’re looking at me now. And I can’t fool you, either, can I? You know. We both know. But we can’t say it. We can never say it.
“I just came to say goodbye, really. I know that you’re not going yet, but it won’t be long now and I know that everything’s always frantic at the end of term and I wasn’t sure if I’d get another chance to see you alone. We’ve been ... good friends, haven’t we, Hilda? I’d like to think so, anyway. I shall miss you when you’re gone.”
He hasn’t said anything improper. There’s no reason why a woman and man, even a married man, can’t be friends. He hasn’t said anything wrong.
He hasn’t said that he loves me.
No man has ever said that he loves me. And I have never told any man that I love him. I used to dream of the moment when it would happen. I used to dream of it when I was a little girl, reading books about handsome princes and beautiful princesses. I dreamed that I would fall in love with a handsome prince, and that he would fall in love with me too, and that we would ride away together and get married and live happily ever after, because that it what happens when two people fall in love. But this is a book I never read. Love should come as a young man to a wide-eyed girl waiting at a ball for someone to ask her dance, not as a married man with four children to a middle-aged headmistress sitting in her office behind a desk piled high with paperwork. This isn’t how it should have happened. This isn’t how it should be. Because it can’t be. It can never be.
I need to say something? What can I say? Something conventional. I teach English literature: I know a wealth of words and phrases. There must be one that I can use now. Think, Hilda, think. Say something appropriate. Say something that’s right.
“We shall miss you and Carey as well, Michael. It’s been very pleasant getting to know you both, and I know that Cherry enjoys the fact that you’re able to pop in and see her from time to time. I’m sure that you’ll be glad to have the Big House back, though. Just as we’re glad to be moving back to the Alps: it’s a shame that we can’t go back to Austria as we’d always hoped, but Switzerland will be the next best thing. It’s going to be a new start for all of us. We’re all going to be going back to where we ought to be.”
What else can we do? Where else can we go? What do I expect him to say? Do I expect him to ask me to tell Madge Russell that I’ve decided that I want to go to Carnbach instead of to the Oberland? So that he can try to find excuses to visit me there? So that we can carry on like this? How could we carry on like this? It would drive both of us insane. Sometimes I feel as if I’m going insane already.
Maybe it wouldn’t have to be like this. As soon as either of us says the words, everything will change. We won’t have to pretend any more. We could arrange assignations. I could say that I was going shopping, or to the cinema. He could tell Carey that he had to go to see his accountant, or his solicitor, or his bank manager. We could go for walks. We could go for meals, somewhere discreet where no-one we knew would see us. We could even... no, NO, I will NOT let myself soil my mind like that. Dear Lord, I cannot believe that I would even let such a thought cross my mind. Is this how far I have allowed myself to forget myself, lost in this madness?
He wouldn’t suggest it. He knows me too well. He knows that I could never let myself agree to anything like that. He wouldn’t want me to. He respects me. I know he does. What else, then? Do I expect him to say that he will ask Carey for a divorce? So that he can marry me instead? Divorce is becoming more and more acceptable these days. In any case, no-one in our new life together need know that he had divorced his previous wife. We could go away, to somewhere where no-one would know us. We could start afresh.
Is that what I expect him to say? That he will break the vow that he made, before God, to keep himself only unto Carey until death did them part? That a piece of paper can somehow tear asunder those whom God hath joined together? That he will break that poor woman’s heart, abandon her, abandon his children, bring grief and shame on them all? That we could ever know a moment’s happiness in the face of such unpardonable sin and misery? And when all our friends and relatives would despise and disown us?
Of course I don’t expect him to say it. I know that he will not say it. He is a decent man, a man of honour. I wouldn’t be feeling this way if he were not. He won’t say anything other than what is decent and honourable and right.
That is what he is doing now. “Well, yes, I can’t deny that it’ll be good to have the old place back. It’s been in my family for years, you know. And I’m sure it’ll work out very well for you all in Switzerland. Jack Maynard showed me some pictures of the place where you’ll be setting up shop - amazing scenery! And think of all that Swiss chocolate! You’ll do very well there, I’m sure. That’s what I came to say, really. I wanted to wish you all the best for the future, Hilda. All the very best.”
“And I you.” It’s all I can manage to say. I wish I could say so much more. I wish I could say “I love you.” It would be so easy to say it. Three words, that’s all. Three little words. But I can’t do it. Those words have to remain unsaid. This is the book I never read: these are the words I never said. And he knows – he knows that I won’t say them. And he won’t say them either: he can’t say them, any more than I can. He’s standing up now. He’s saying goodbye. And, somehow, I’m managing to say goodbye too. That’s it. It’s over. He’s gone. The door’s closing behind him.
But now it’s opening again. Oh dear Lord, has he come back? Is he going to try to change my mind? Please tell me that he isn’t. But no – it’s not him. It’s Rosalie. Dear, wonderful Rosalie, my right hand all through the war years and all through the years since then. I don’t know what I’d do without her.
“I just knocked on to see if you’d like some tea and biscuits now. I know that Michael Christy said that he didn’t want anything, but you ought to have something, Hilda: you’ve had nothing since breakfast. You’re working too hard, you know. Matey was only saying the other day that she thought you looked tired. Maybe you could take yourself off on a little break at the weekend, once the girls have all gone home. You could go and stay with Madge or Joey: you know that either of them’d love to have you. We can’t have you getting ill, Hilda! The school can’t do without you. Besides, I’m under instructions from Nell to keep an eye on you, and I’d never hear the end of it if she heard that you were overdoing it! She still worries about you, you know, even all this time after this accident. You mean a lot to her, you know.”
She smiled. “And to me. I love my father and my stepmother and the boys, but ... well, the school’s my home these days. We’re like a family, in a way, aren’t we?”
Like a family. More than a family – I’ve never been able to talk to any of my family the way that I can to Nell. Or even to Rosalie, or to Madge, or to Joey. We’ve all been through so much together ... so many of us, all those of us who left Austria together, everyone who supported me after the accident, everyone who’s here. I am wanted here. And I am needed. As a headmistress, and as a friend. There is so much for me to do here. Times are changing so quickly: there are so many more opportunities open to girls these days, so much to prepare them for. And my friends are here. People I care about, people who care about me. And once we’re in Switzerland then I’ll be with Nell again, Nell whom I love so deeply. Nell understands me - far more than Michael could ever have done, I think. I don’t think that any man could ever understand me the way that my women friends do, or I understand him as I understand them.
I will never marry now, I think. I cannot imagine it. But that doesn’t mean that my life will be empty. I have my work, and what work can be more rewarding than that of a teacher? And I have my friends, and has any woman ever been luckier in her friends than I have? This little interlude with Michael will probably be all that I ever know of the love that can exist between a woman and a man: I will never know any more of it than this. But that doesn’t mean that my life will be a life unfulfilled. I am a lucky woman. My life is full. I have more than I could ever have imagined. Far more than any of those princesses who rode off into the sunset with their handsome princes, in all the books which I read.
This is the path I’ll never tread
“You are sure, aren’t you, Rob? I mean, if this is what you want, then I’m happy for you, I really am. It’s just such a big decision, that’s all. I mean, it was a big enough decision for me deciding to marry Laurie, but you’re going to be entering a whole new way of life, and it’s such a ... a different way of life too.”
Robin burst out laughing. “Daisy Venables, if I didn’t know better I’d think that you’d been borrowing those awful Elsie books of Jo’s! Nothing strange goes on inside convents, you know! I won’t be doing anything weird and wonderful. In fact, I’ll be spending most of my time teaching, and there’s nothing strange or different about that. And I’m not going to be cut off from the outside world, am I? I know Canada’s a long way away but I’m hoping that you’ll all come over and visit me at some point. And in the meantime I’ll write. And you’d better write back - I’m looking forward to hearing all about your new life too!
“ It’ll be strange, having to remember to address letters to Daisy Rosomon after all these years that I’ve been writing to Daisy Venables. You’re going to be so happy, though, Daisy. He’s such a nice man – and I hope he knows how lucky he is to be getting you! We’re all of us going to be very happy in our new lives, I hope.”
Daisy took a deep breath. This was the opening that she’d been waiting for. “Rob ... I know you must have given this a lot of thought, and I don’t mean to sound negative about it, but ... well, I know that your faith means a lot to you, and I understand that, but ... oh, Rob, becoming a nun! Are you really sure that you never want to get married? I used to think that I’d never get married – I was always so focused on becoming a doctor – but as soon everything changed for me. And Jo always said that she never wanted to get married, but look how happy she is now. Are you really sure that you don’t want that for yourself, Rob? I want so much for you to be happy, and I just need to know that you’re sure. Can you really say for certain that you’re ready to give up on any idea of ever meeting that special someone and spending the rest of your life with him?”
The elder girl was silent for a moment, and Daisy prayed fervently that she hadn’t offended her. She cared so much about Robin: she thought of her almost as a sister. It was so difficult to talk about anything that involved religion, it was a subject that people so often took offence about, but she had to know that her friend hadn’t made this decision for the wrong reasons. And, unfortunately, what came next seemed to confirm exactly what she’d most feared.
“I haven’t exactly given up on it, Daisy: I’ve just never thought about it. I know that most girls vaguely imagine that they’ll meet Mr Right and get married some day, but I can honestly say that I never have. It’s not even as if I’ve ever been expected to, the way that most girls are – it’s always been made quite clear that everyone hoped I wouldn’t ever marry, because of my family medical history. And I’ve never really thought that I’d get married either. It’s just not something that’s ever been an issue.”
It was true. She’d been delighted when Madge had married Jem, when Joey had married Jack and when Daisy had announced her engagement to Laurie, and she’d been delighted for all the other friends she’d seen walk happily down the aisle over the years as well. She’d seen other girls at Oxford going off on dates with young men, and listened to them chatting excitedly about them before and afterwards. But she’d never seen herself like that. She’d never really wanted to: it had just never seemed like something that was for her. Maybe, deep within her, she’d always known that she was destined for the religious life. She certainly knew it now. She’d never been more sure of anything.
But Daisy didn’t seem convinced of it. She was frowning. And she was looking awkward, as if she had something to say but wasn’t quite sure how to put it. This was strange. She’d had plenty of negative reactions to the news of her decision, but she’d expected Daisy to understand. Daisy wasn’t the sort of silly person whose head was stuffed full of strange ideas about nuns and convents: Daisy was one of the most intelligent and broad-minded people she knew. But clearly something was troubling her about it – so what was it?
“Robin – Rob, listen to me. I know what Uncle Jem and Uncle Jack have always said, but ideas are changing. I’ve seen children with TB and healthy parents and I’ve seen parents with TB and healthy children and I’ve never seen anything to suggest that it’s a condition that runs in families. Honestly, Rob, I truly believe that there’s no reason why any children you might have shouldn’t be as healthy as anyone else’s. And ...” she paused, embarrassed, but made herself go on.
“And ... you know, Rob, if you were worried about having children, that wouldn’t necessarily mean that you couldn’t get married. Laurie and I, we want very much to have children, but we want a little time to ourselves first, and when we do start a family we certainly won’t be having eight, like Joey and Jack have done. Two or three, at most. But that doesn’t mean that we won’t ... well, what I’m trying to say is that ... oh look, Robin, I understand that this isn’t really something that you could discuss with Uncle Jem or Uncle Jack, but you can talk to me about anything. I suppose what I’m trying to say is that what happened to your mother doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t get married, if you wanted to. I mean, I know that what I’m talking about goes against the teachings of the Church and that you’d probably feel that you couldn’t do it for that reason, and you might feel that it wouldn’t be fair to ask a man to give up on any hope of children anyway, but ... ”
She stopped, and shook her head. “I’m not making a very good job of this, am I? Oh, Rob! I’m not trying to tell you what to do. I’m just trying to tell you that you’ve got options. I’m just worried that ...”
“That I’ve decided to become a nun because I think that I can’t ever become a wife,” Robin finished for her. “That’s what you’re getting at, isn’t it?”
Daisy nodded. “Please don’t be offended, Rob. It’s only because I care about you so much. It’s such a huge decision, and I just need to be sure in my own mind that you’re making it for the right reasons.”
“You idiot, Daisy!” Robin started to laugh. “Did you really think I was doing this just because I thought I wasn’t marriageable? I don’t know about the Elsie books: I think you must have been reading something set in the Middle Ages! I’m not saying that the love between a man and a woman isn’t important, Daisy. I’m just saying that it isn’t that important to[i]me[/i]. I love God. I couldn’t say this to many people, but I can say it to you, because you know me. I love God. God has been my rock all through my life. When my mother died. When Joey nearly died. When my father died. When I saw those hooligans attacking Herr Goldmann. When we had to get out of Austria. When we had to get out of Guernsey. It’s always been God whom I’ve turned to, Daisy, and He has never failed me. And I know that I want to spend my life serving Him. I love God. Call it a calling, call it a vocation, call it whatever you want, but what it is is love. It’s love – it’s just a different sort of love from the sort that most people look for, that’s all.”
She smiled. “Honestly, Daisy, can you imagine what the Reverend Mother would have said if I’d told her that I’d wanted to become a nun just because I’d always been told that I shouldn’t try to find myself a man? You didn’t really think that that was what I was thinking, did you?”
Daisy shook her head. Then she nodded. Then she shook her head again. “No. Not really. It wasn’t even as if I was surprised when you wrote to tell me what you’d decided. It seemed to fit, somehow. The idea of you as a nun ... it all seemed quite natural. I couldn’t imagine feeling like that about anyone else I knew, but I could with you. But then everyone was talking about how you shouldn’t live in England and how living in Canada was going to be so much better for your health, instead of talking about love and faith and all the other things you’ve just been talking about, and it just got me thinking, and ... well, I had to ask, Rob. I had to be sure.”
“And I had to be sure, too,” Robin said softly. “And I am, Daisy. I truly am. I couldn’t be more sure if I tried.”
And you’re sure too, Daisy. You’re sure about your Laurie, and I’m happy for you. Very soon, you’re going to be married, and you’ll be a wonderful wife, and hopefully one day you’ll get the chance to be a wonderful mother too. And you’ll be happy. As Jo is. As Madge is. As Gisela, and Wanda, and Bernhilda, and Marie, and Frieda, and Simone, and all the others are. But that way isn’t for me. Your path to love and happiness isn’t mine. This is the path I’ll never tread. I’ll go a different way instead. But I’ll be happy too. I will be happy too. Your path isn’t the only path along which lies love. It’s only one of many.
These are the dreams I’ll dream instead
“But why not, Anna?” Hurt and bewildered, Tom Evans scrambled to his feet. “You must have known I was going to ask you. I thought we had an understanding. We’ve been courting for months now, and I’m not the sort of fellow who’d mess a girl about. And I didn’t think you were the sort of girl who’d mess a fellow about. So why are you saying no?”
“I’m sorry.” I am. I’m so sorry, Tom. I wish I could say I’d marry you, truly I do. You’re such a nice man, and we get on so well. And if I can’t go back to the Tiernsee then I like the idea of being a farmer’s wife, here in the Armishire countryside where it’s quiet and peaceful and I can see the mountains. We’d do well together, you and I. We’d both work hard on the farm, and we’d have lots of happy rosy-cheeked children: I can see it now. But I can’t do it. Because I don’t love you. Not the way a woman should love a man she marries. Not the way Marie loves Andreas, or Fraulein Joey loves Herr Doktor Maynard, or Lady Russell loves Sir James. Not the way my mother loves my father. And so I have to say no. It wouldn’t be fair to either of us otherwise.
“This doesn’t make any sense.” Tom shook his head. “What aren’t you telling me, Anna? There isn’t anyone else, is there?”
“Of course there isn’t anyone else.” I sound indignant – what does he think I am? But it’s a reasonable enough question. He needs some explanation for why I’m turning him down. He’s right: we have been courting for months. I should have stopped it sooner. But it was too easy to carry on. Just as it would be too easy to say yes. But it would be wrong.
Most people would say that I was a fool to turn him down, even though I’m not in love with him. They’d say that this was the real world, not the pages of some silly romantic novel. Tom is a good man. Any girl would be lucky to get him; and it’s hardly as if I’ve got men queuing up. There is a war on, after all. If Tom were not a farmer, with no father living and no brothers to take his place on the farm, then he would be away in the Army or the Navy or the Air Force, as most of the other young men are. I hardly ever even see any young men. And, even if I did, they would no more come near me than they would a leper, because I am an enemy alien. But Tom is different. And I think he does genuinely care for me. And I care for him. But not enough. And I cannot settle for that. Maybe I am being foolish, but I cannot help the way I feel. I cannot settle for anything less than the real thing.
“Is it because you’re Austrian?” His face clears. “That’s it, isn’t it? You’re worried about what people might say, aren’t you? But just ignore them, Anna. What we do is none of anyone else’s business. So long as it doesn’t worry us, then what does it matter. And I know that you’re a Catholic and I’m not, but that doesn’t have to matter either, does it? Not these days. Didn’t you tell me that Mrs Maynard wasn’t a Catholic when she got married? No-one minded, did they? We can even bring up our children as Catholics, if that’s what’s bothering you. It’ll be all right. This isn’t Belfast or Glasgow or Liverpool: it doesn’t have to be a big problem. Or is it that you’re worried that your mam and dad haven’t met me? I know it must be strange for you, the idea of getting married without them being here, but there’s a war on: lots of people nowadays are getting married without having chance to meet the other family properly. We’ll go over to Austria as soon as the war’s over, and I can meet them then. I’m sure they wouldn’t mind, Anna. They’d want you to be happy, wouldn’t they?”
“Yes. Yes, they would.” And they’d like you, Tom. Except that you’re not Catholic, or Austrian, and we’ve just been through that, they’d like you. Of course they would. There’s nothing not to like. And they’d be delighted to know that I wasn’t going to be living in the sort of poverty that they’ve always lived in. But I wouldn’t be happy with you, because I’d always know that I’d settled for something that wasn’t quite right. I’d always have regrets, and I’d always feel guilty for cheating you. Maybe in time I’d grow to love you – isn’t there an old saying that love comes after marriage? – but I can’t take that chance. And I can’t tell you that. I can’t tell you that whatever there is between us isn’t enough for me. I can’t dismiss you like that: I can’t hurt you like that. I’m going to have to think of some excuse. What can I say? I don’t want to lie, but what can I say? In a way I wish that I did love someone else. At least that would be easy to explain. At least that would be easy to understand.
But maybe there is someone else. Several someone elses. Not in the way you mean, but I love Len and Con and Margot and little Stephen. I love Frau Doktor Maynard and Herr Doktor Maynard too. I have always loved Fraulein Joey, ever since we were both young girls in Tyrol, and I love the little ones like they’re my own. I’m the one who takes care of them, after all. I do more for them than their mother does: let’s face it. If I were to tell Tom that I couldn’t face the thought of leaving them, then I would not be lying. I would be saying something that were true. It would be terribly difficult for me to leave them.
That is what I shall tell him.
“It’s not that, though, Tom. It’s the children, and Dr and Mrs Maynard. I can’t just leave them. They need me. They’d never find anyone else, not with a war on, and I couldn’t bear to leave them. I’ve looked after all the children since they were babies: I couldn’t love them more if they were my own. I just can’t imagine not being with them. I’m really sorry, Tom. You’re right: I’ve messed you about. I didn’t mean to, but I have. And I’m very sorry about it, but the answer’s no. “
“I don’t believe this.” He looked at her, incredulity in his eyes. “Anna, have you heard yourself? What century are you living in? You think that because a girl looks after someone else’s children that she’s expected to give up any thoughts of a life of her own? We’ll have our own children, as many as you like, and you’ll love them far more than you could ever love someone else’s. Oh, I know you care about the Maynards. I like the triplets and young Stephen too: they’re good little kids. But you can still see them. I’m sure Dr and Mrs Maynard’d be happy for you to go round and visit any time you like, and they can come and visit us – children love farms. As for not being able to find someone else – well, it’s high time that people like that learned to look after their own kids, if you ask me. My mother never had any help looking after me and my sisters. And they take advantage of you, Anna, you know. You work far too hard.”
“They do not take advantage of me!” She was angry now. “Where would I be if it wasn’t for them, Tom Evans? What do you know about what it was like for me, when I had to leave my home? What do you know about having your country taken over by Nazis? I arrived in Guernsey with hardly anything but the clothes I stood up in, and they took me in and they gave me a job, and then they brought me to England with them when the Nazis were about to take Guernsey and anything might have happened to me if they’d found me there. And I’d known Fraulein Joey and Herr Doktor Maynard for years even before that. Long, long before I knew you. And I’ve looked after those children all their lives. I love them. And they love me. And I cannot just leave them.”
I mean it. I really do mean it. I cannot just leave them. I love them. And I do not love Tom, not in the right way. Maybe one day the right man will come along, and I will love him as a woman should love her husband, and then, then I will be able to leave. But I cannot do it now. And, because I cannot cheat myself, and I cannot cheat Tom, I will not say yes to him, to the prospect of having my own home and children, here in this beautiful part of the borderlands between England and Wales, with this good, kind man.
But that does not mean that I will not have a home, or that I will not have children, or that I will not have love. Because I have all of those things at Plas Gwyn. I am a very lucky woman, especially in these terrible times when so many people are having everyone and everything that they love taken from them. I won’t waste my time dreaming of a little farmhouse with roses round the door, and the happy family who would have lived inside it, because those dreams could never have been real. It wouldn’t have been like that. What I’ve had with Tom has been good, in its way, but it just hasn’t been real love. So I won’t dream those dreams. Instead, I’ll think of Len, and Con, and Margot, and Stephen, and Fraulein Joey and Herr Doktor Jack, and everything that I’ve got with them - when I might have been in a Nazi women’s labour camp, or worse.
“I won’t ask again, Anna. You’ve made it clear that you don’t want to marry me. And, if that’s how you feel, then I don’t think we should see each other again. There’s no point wasting both our time.
No, Tom, there isn’t. You are quite right. I tell him that. I say that I think I should leave now. He offers to walk me home, like the gentleman that he is, but I say no, I will be all right. And so I leave on my own, and I go back to Plas Gwyn, where the Maynards are waiting for me. The girls are not in bed yet. They run to greet me when I walk into the nursery. They throw their arms around me. They love me. And I know that Stephen does too. And I love them. I have so much here, and I will not give it up for anything less than real love, and if I don’t find real love then I won’t give it up at all. These are the dreams I’ll dream instead: this is the joy that’s seldom spread. Love comes in many forms. It doesn’t have to be romantic love. It just has to be real.
These are the tears ...
How beautiful the Bernese Oberland is. New Zealand is beautiful too, but the Alps are something special. Look at that view. It’s a beautiful clear morning, and I can see the Jungfrau. The Jung frau, the young woman. She is supposed to remind people of a bride. I am not a young woman any more, but I thought that I might soon be a bride. But I was wrong. How could I have got it so wrong? How could I have been so stupid?
I thought he loved me back. I really did. He was always popping into the shop, and most of the time he didn’t even buy anything: it was obvious that he’d only come to visit. And it seemed as if every time we went out he was there. That thrill of a door opening and him being there in front of me: it made me feel alive, more alive that I’d felt for years. And he’d come straight over, as soon as he saw us. It was so obvious that he felt it too, that thrill of a door opening and seeing the one you love there in front of you. And so I dared to hope. I thought that my time had come at last. That I was finally going to be one of two, part of a couple. That I was finally going to know that joy.
How could I have got it so wrong? It wasn’t me he wanted to see. It wasn’t me who gave him that thrill when he walked into the shop or into a bar or into a friend’s house. It was Deira. It’s Deira he loves. It’s Deira he’s going to marry.
You stupid, stupid woman, Grizel Cochrane. How could you think that any man could ever love you? Men don’t want women like you. You know that. You should have learned your lesson by now. You should have learned your lesson the first time this happened.
Because this has happened before. Oh, yes. They say that history repeats itself, and when Deira told me that she was going to marry Tony it was almost as if the clock had turned itself back nearly twenty years and Robin was running into the Chalet School Annexe to tell me that Joey was going to marry Jack. Yes, my Jack. Only he wasn’t my Jack, was he, as it turned out? He was Joey’s. Just as Tony was Deira’s. I couldn’t believe it: I remember stammering out something stupid about how Joey had always said that she’d never marry and that I couldn’t believe that even Jack would be able to change her mind. Not very subtle, that, was it? “Even” Jack. Luckily, Robin didn’t notice. She was too busy being excited that Jack was going to marry Joey.
I thought that Jack cared for me. Just like I did with Tony, I truly thought that he loved me back. We always got on so well. He even told Juliet once that we understood each other. No-one could know how much that meant to me. I waited and waited for him to tell me how he felt, to ask me to be his wife. But he didn’t want me, did he? He wanted Joey. Tony wanted Deira, and Jack wanted Joey.
How strange it is, then, that it should be Joey whom I’ve come to now. But whom else would I go to? She’s my oldest friend. She and Madge were the ones who were there for me, back in Taverton, when day in day out I’d go home to a father who didn’t care about me and a stepmother who never even tried to conceal the fact that she didn’t want me. They couldn’t wait to get rid of me, my father and stepmother, when the chance to send me away came up. But I didn’t care. I was glad to go with Madge and Joey. They cared about me. And I cared about them.
It’s not just Joey. There are so many other people here who matter to me, and who care about me even if Tony doesn’t. Hilda’s here, dear Hilda who lent me the money to go to New Zealand even though she knew that there was a chance that Deira and I would fail in our business and that I’d never be able to pay her back. And Rosalie’s here, Rosalie who’s been my friend for almost as long as Joey has. And so many others. And the children, as well – it’s been so many years and yet Joey’s elder children greeted me as if I were someone they saw every day, and I’m looking forward to getting to know the younger ones too. They call me “Auntie Grizel”. Maybe Hilary’s children and Biddy’s children will do the same.
Joey’s gone to so much effort. Look how nice she and Anna have made this room for me. I can rest here, and that’s what I need – to rest. I’ll pull myself together. I got over Jack, in time, and I’ll get over Tony as well. I’ll even learn to be happy for Deira, just as I’ve learned to be happy for Joey. I’m not going to let a man come between us. Because, at the end of the day, friendship is just as important as romance. Joey and Deira will both always be there for me, even if no man ever is.
It wasn’t a man who made me feel that I mattered when my father and his wife made me feel that I didn’t, was it? No: it was my grandmother, and it was Joey, and it was Madge. It wasn’t a man who made it possible for me to go to New Zealand to start again, was it? No: it was Deira, and it was Hilda. And it isn’t a man to whom I’ve turned now, when I most need someone, is it? No: it’s Joey. What good friends they’ve all been to me. I just hope that I’ve done something, somewhere along the way, to deserve it – that I’ve been even half as good a friend to them as they’ve been to me.
I’ve cried so many tears. Over Jack, and now over Tony. These are the tears ... the tears we shed. But, if we’re lucky, and I am, our friends will be there to help wipe our tears away. I might not have a husband, but I do have my friends. And, as long as I have them, I will always have love.
This is the fear
“Now remember what I say, or I must speak to Karen.” Angry and humiliated, Len walked away. She was sorry to hear that Reg Entwistle was missing in the storm, of course she was, but she couldn’t imagine that Miggi had seen fit to mention it to anyone else and so it seemed that even the maids were gossiping about her. Was there anyone on the Gornetz Platz who wasn’t gossiping about her? The younger girls certainly were: Ruey had heard some of them. Her own family seemed unable to talk about anything else. No doubt she was the talk of the staffroom as well, and probably the San on top of that. It seemed as if everywhere she went there were eyes boring into the back of her head, or people whispering and sniggering. It was just unbearable. No other girl in the entire history of the school had ever had to put up with this, not even Joan Baker who’d probably have loved to have had her name coupled with some man’s.
Len Maynard and Reg Entwistle. Reg Entwistle and Len Maynard. Will they or won’t they? Everyone was talking about it: everyone was talking about her. Not about her work or whether or not she was doing a good job as Head Girl or whether or not she would end up coming back to the Chalet School to teach, but about her and Reg bloody Entwistle. She wouldn’t be surprised to find that someone was running a book on it. Not that anyone’d be expecting to make very much money if they did, because they were all so sure that she’d say yes. “Reg’ll get what he wants,” – how many times had she heard that? She’d even heard it from Con. What Reg wants – yes, that was exactly what this was all about, wasn’t it? What Reg wanted.
And Reg wanted her. She had no idea why, but he did. And so he was determined that he was going to get her. She certainly hadn’t given him any encouragement. She’d never said a word to him that she wouldn’t have said to Phil Graves or Frank Peters or Eugen Courvoisier. But he didn’t care about that. All he cared about was getting what he wanted. He’d even gone to speak to her father about it, as if she were a painting or a statue about to be put up for auction and he wanted a “Sold” tag slapped on her. Her father, to be fair, had told him to wait until she’d left school but, oh no, Reg hadn’t been satisfied with that. He wanted her trapped, trapped before she had chance to get away.
And trapped was exactly how she felt. Oh, he’d played a clever game, Reg. Everyone was talking about him and her. Even her own mother was telling her that she was playing fast and loose with him. If she didn’t marry him now, it was highly likely that everyone would call her a flirt, and a tease, and even a jilt. The chances were that no other man on the Platz would ever come near her, and all the women would talk about her behind her back. Everyone would sympathise with Reg over how badly he’d be treated, poor, hard done by Reg, whereas she’d probably be stuck with a bad name that would last for ever. And she hadn’t even done anything!
You had to admire him. Not a word of love, not even a poem or a flower or a chocolate, and certainly not a word of encouragement from her, and yet he’d got her trapped like an animal caught in a snare. Was that was he was banking on? That, now that she was in this position, she’d feel unable to say no, too afraid of how everyone would react if she turned him down? This is the fear, this is the dread.
These are the contents of my head. But she wasn’t going to let him do it. Oh no. She’d been the dutiful one for too long. Len Maynard, the eldest of the long Maynard family. Well, that was a joke! She was the eldest by the grand margin of half an hour! And yet somehow that had always given everyone the excuse to dump all the responsibility on her. Well, they hadn’t really needed an excuse, because she’d just let them. She’d let everyone assume that she’d do it all, that they could always rely on her. And she’d done the same at school. Len Maynard, Head Girl. Good old Len! Just leave it to Len. Len’ll do it. Len always does anything that anyone else wants. Len never says no.
Len never stops to think about what Len wants. Len just worries about everyone else. And everyone else is quite happy to let Len worry about them. Len will always do exactly what everyone expects of her. And, right now, what everyone expects is that Len’s going to marry Reg Entwistle. Because Reg Entwistle’s made very sure that that’s what everyone expects. He’s almost got it seeming as if it’s some sort of obligation.
Well, everyone’s in for a shock. Because Len has had enough. This time, it’s gone too far. Looking after the kids for a few hours because Mamma’s “exhausted” (again), or trying to hush everything up after Margot’s half-killed Betty Landon, after losing her rag (again), or answering all Jack Lambert’s stupid questions ( for heaven’s sake, can the girl not use a library?) – that, Len can put up with. But this is something else. This is her entire future. And she’s not going to be pushed into something that she isn’t sure of. And she certainly isn’t going to marry a man who’d want to push her into something that she isn’t sure of.
This has gone far enough. This is the fear, this is the dread ... yes, she was afraid of what sort of reaction she’d get, but she was just going to have to cope with it, whatever it was. And she wanted what she had to do over and done with, as soon as possible. The sooner, the better.
As soon as she heard that Reg was safe, she asked to be allowed to see him. It was Uncle Jem who brought the news, and she could see him and Auntie Hilda exchanging a smile. They both thought that she was desperate to see Reg because she wanted to tell him that she’d marry him. They were the last two people on earth she’d expect to be engaging in gossip, but Reg had got even them talking about him and her!
She turned to her uncle. “You promise me that I shall see him as soon as possible?”
He nodded. “Word of honour. Now that’s settled, off you go.”
It wasn’t for another few hours that she was finally able to see him. He was at Freudesheim, upstairs in one of the bedrooms. Visiting a young man when he was in bed wasn’t really quite the thing to do, and telling that young man that you had absolutely no intention of marrying him when he was just recovering from an accident wasn’t really quite the thing to do either, but all of that was just hard luck. She wanted this sorted out, and she wanted it sorted out now.
He didn’t look too bad, as it so happened. Obviously tired and aching, but certainly not so ill that he wasn’t up to hearing what she had to say. Good. Here went, then.
She approached the bed. As she did so, he caught her hands. “Does this mean –”
“Does it mean what, Reg?” she demanded tartly. “Come on, out with it. You don’t seem to have had any problems talking to anyone else. The only person you don’t seem to have spoken to is me. You know – me, Len. Mary Helena Maynard. You don’t talk to me at all, do you? You just get everyone else talking about me. Well, I’ve come to tell you that I’ve had enough. Let me spell it out for you, Reg. I’m right, I take it, in thinking that, some time in the not too distant future, you’d like me to stop being Mary Helena Maynard and walk down the aisle of Our Lady of the Snows in a big frilly white dress to become Mrs Dr Reginald Entwistle? Oh, don’t bother answering. I dread to imagine what sort of pathetic proposal you’d come up with anyway. Let’s face it, you haven’t so much as managed to find the words to ask me if I’d like to go for a walk with you, never mind anything else!
“Listen to me, Reg, and listen hard. When, and if, I get married, it’s going to be to someone who treats me as an equal. Someone who comes to me and asks me if I’d like to start seeing him. Not someone who goes to my father, and certainly not someone who gets the entire Gornetz Platz talking about the two of us when I’ve never said a word to make him think that I’m even interested in him. I’m sorry if this isn’t what you wanted to hear, but I’ve got no intention of getting married yet, and even if I had then it certainly wouldn’t be to you, or to anyone else who could treat me in the way that you’ve done.
“I don’t love you, Reg, and I don’t think you really love me because if you did then you would never have tried to trap me like this. Do you know whom I’ve realised that I ought to love? I’ve realised that I ought to love myself. I’ve realised that I’m entitled to some respect. To some happiness. I’ve realised that I’m entitled to do what I want for once in my life.
“Yes, Reg, that’s right. I don’t want to marry you. I’ve got no intention of marrying you. And I haven’t got any intention of marrying anyone else either, certainly not just yet. I’m going to go to Oxford, and I’m going to get my degree and I’m going to enjoy myself. And I’m going to find myself. Because I can. Because I’m not tied to you, or to any other man. I’m free. And the person I need to learn to love isn’t you, Reg. It definitely isn’t you. The person I need to learn to love right now is me.”
And these are the years that we have spent
“Joey, what on earth are you doing? Come back to the path now: you’ll get covered in mud ... Joey! Come back! What are you playing at?” Juliet watched in utter bemusement as the Chalet School Head Girl suddenly scurried off into the bushes like Rufus the dog chasing after a rabbit.
“My stocking’s coming down,” came a muffled voice from the bushes. “Just sorting it out - can’t very well go hoiking it up in the path and showing my suspenders to all and sundry, can I? Shan’t be a tick.”
Juliet shook her head, trying not to laugh. Honestly, wouldn’t you think that Jo would have learnt to dress herself properly by now? Well, she had always said that she never wanted to grow up! But fancy running off into the bushes like that! And where had Marie and Frieda and Simone got to? They’d been there a few minutes ago. She hoped that they hadn’t somehow wandered off in a different direction. Ah, she could hear footsteps coming round the corner. That must be them now.
But it wasn’t.
“What on earth do [i]you[/i] want?” She snapped the words out, but her heart was thudding inside her. Oh no. It was bad enough that he should have turned up at the Tiernsee in the first place – him, the man she’d thought was the love of her life, the man she’d thought she was going to marry, him, him, and his sister, the woman she’d thought was her friend, her dear friend – but for him to approach her, to speak to her, to act as if there was no reason why he shouldn’t do either of those things, that was too much. Why couldn’t he have the decency to have turned back as soon as he saw her, or at the very least to look embarrassed? But then he didn’t think he had anything to be embarrassed about, did he? She was the one who was supposed to be ashamed.
She was the one who wasn’t good enough for the great O’Haras. Not good enough, not as a friend and certainly not as a wife. Donal O’Hara had dropped her like a hot brick the minute he’d found out about her parents. And the shock and the distress of that, together with all the old wounds it had opened up, wounds left by the way her mother and father had treated her, how they’d abandoned her like an unwanted bit of old clutter and how they’d died without her ever once being able to feel that they’d loved her, all those old feelings which she’d thought were finally buried, had made her ill, physically and mentally. She still hadn’t quite recovered from it all, everything that he’d done to her, and yet now here he was standing in front of her as if nothing had ever happened.
“Excuse me.” She had to get out of here. As soon as Joey came back ... but where was Joey? She seemed to have vanished. Oh, this was ridiculous. Well, she wasn’t waiting here, not with him standing there.
He didn’t move. He was blocking the path: she couldn’t get past him without walking into the bushes on either side, or pushing past in a very undignified manner and she had no intention of doing that. “Excuse me,” she repeated. “I’d like to pass, please.”
“But I’d like to talk to you.” He smiled at her, that oh-so-charming smile that had turned her legs to jelly the first time she’d seen it. “Please, Juliet.”
“It’s Miss Carrick to you,” she snapped. “And I can’t think of anything that you could possibly have to say to me. Unless it’s an apology, that is.”
“That’s exactly what it is. Please, Juliet. Just hear me out. I’m only asking for a few minutes of your time – you can spare me that, surely. I’m not going until you [i]do[/i]. Come on – there’s a bench not far from here, which we can sit on. Hear me out, please.”
She gave in. She didn’t know why she’d given in. Maybe it was because she thought that an apology would soothe some of the hurt she felt, soothe her pride even if it couldn’t soothe her heart. Stupid, really. As if “I’m sorry,” could make up for everything that she’d been through. As if “I’m sorry,” could mend a broken heart and take away all the pain that she’d suffered. She’d loved him so much. And she’d trusted him, both him and Kay. It had been so terribly hard for her to trust anyone, or to allow herself to care for anyone, after the way her parents had treated her. But Madge, and Joey, and Robin, and Grizel, and the other girls at the Chalet School had, gradually, helped her to start to feel like a real person, like a real human being with real emotions, who was allowed to love and trust and whom other people could love and trust in return. It had been so difficult to leave all that behind and go off to university, and she’d felt so sad and alone until she’d met Kay O’Hara. And then she’d met Donal, Kay’s twin, and she’d offered all the love inside her up to him. And he’d taken it; and he’d let her think that he felt the same way about her.
And then he’d thrown it all back in her face. Not because she’d done anything wrong, or because he’d met someone else, or simply because he’d decided that he didn’t love her after all. But because of what her parents had done. Which apparently meant that she wasn’t good enough for this scion of the great house of O’Hara, the son and heir of Sir Murtagh and Lady O’Hara, not fit for him even to lower himself to be in the same room as, never mind marry. And he hadn’t even made the decision himself. He’d done it because Kay had told him to!
He was pathetic. She was disgusted with herself for not having seen that to start with. She was disgusted with herself for having fallen in love with such a weak, feeble, pathetic ... he wasn’t even a man, he was a boy. She hated the fact that she still had any feelings for him – but she was going to get over those. Because she was strong. She’d had to be. She was strong, and he was weak. Not good enough for him? She was better than him, far, far better than he could ever be.
“I know I treated you badly. What I did was terrible. But I’ve had time to think about it now, Juliet. I’ve realised that none of it matters, what your parents did or didn’t do. I’m sorry. And I wanted to ask you ... could we just forget about it all and go back to where we were?”
“Forget about it?” She laughed. She actually laughed: he’d made her laugh. “Forget about it,” she repeated. “Is that what you think, Donal? That we can just forget about it? And go back to where we were? What makes you think that I would ever want to go anywhere with you? What makes you think that I would ever even want to speak to you again?”
“I spoke to your friend,” he muttered. “Miss Bettany. She said that you were upset. She said that she’d get you here this evening and ...”
“Oh, I get it now!” It all made sense now – Frieda and the others disappearing, Joey running off into the bushes. She’d have a few words to say to Miss Joey when she saw her, but she supposed that her friend had only been trying to help. Joey was like that; she wanted to help, even if her efforts were misguided sometimes. Joey had a good heart.
Whereas he ...
She laughed in his face. There, let him see what she thought of him, what sheer and utter contempt she held him in. For two pins she’d spit at him, but she wasn’t going to lower herself to behave like that: she was a lady, and if he and his sister thought otherwise then they were wrong, not that what they thought really mattered anyway. “You spoke to Jo? Let me get this straight – you’re asking me to forgive you because a schoolgirl told you to? After you finished with me, because your sister told you to?”
He flushed. “There’s no need to be like that, Juliet. I know you’re upset, and you’ve got good reason to be, but I’m telling you that I’m sorry. Please, Juliet. I’m sorry. I made a mistake.”
“No, Donal.” She shook her head. “I’m the one who made a mistake. By getting involved with you in the first place. Oh, Donal, what are you doing here anyway? Running round after Kay and Frank? Can’t you even go on holiday by yourself? Look at you - I mean, just look at you! I thought I loved you, you know. I really, truly thought that I loved you. Maybe that makes me an even bigger idiot than you are. I honestly thought that we were going to get married and live happily ever after.”
“But we are!” He seized her hand eagerly. “I mean, we can. That’s what I came here this evening to say, Juliet. I love you. And you’ve just said that you love me. So everything’s all right, isn’t it? We can put all the past behind us.” He dropped down on one knee in front of her. “Juliet Carrick, I love you. Will you marry me?”
“Get up, Donal,” she said wearily. “I said loved you – loved, in the past tense. And I said that I thought I loved you, not that I did. Because you’re not the person I fell in love with. The person I fell in love with didn’t exist. He was a decent, honourable man, not a pathetic, spineless little boy – I won’t even call you a cad, because at least a cad can make his own decisions! And whether I love you or not doesn’t really matter anyway, does it? Because I can’t trust you. And I can’t respect you. And I deserve better than that. I’m worth more than that.
“You see, Donal, I used to think that I wasn’t worth anything. I used to think that I didn’t deserve anything. My own parents didn’t want me. I wasn’t some petted little darling, destined to inherit the family title and carry on the family name, the way you’ve always been: I was just an unwanted nuisance. The first chance they got, they dumped me on my headmistress in India. But she didn’t want me either, so she made them take me back. But then they dumped me again.
“But this time, Donal, they dumped me on Madge Bettany. Poor Madge! She wasn’t like you and Kay: she didn’t have a rich daddy to indulge her every whim. And she wasn’t Mrs Russell then: she was just a young single woman struggling to support herself and her sister on the little her brother sent her and what money she could earn from the school. And I hadn’t even given her any reason to like me: I was an absolute nightmare when I first started at the Chalet School – you’ve no idea what a nightmare I was! But Madge is a lady, Donal. Not because she’s got influential parents or an old name or anything else that you’d understand by the word “lady”, but because she’s a good person – a good, decent person. And she took me in, and she cared for me, and she cared about me.
“And she taught me what matters. She taught me what sort of person I should try to be, and she taught me what matters in other people. And you haven’t got any of it, Donal. I thought you had, but I was mistaken. The only thing I’ve got to be ashamed of is making that mistake – is falling for someone so feeble and so weak and so shallow. But we all make mistakes, and so long as we’re strong enough to admit them and learn from them and not try to blame anyone else for them then we can move on.
“I hope you’ve learned something from this, Donal. I hope that you’ve learned that what matters about someone isn’t what their parents were, or what their parents did, but what they are, and what they do. And I also hope that you’ve learned to make your own decisions, rather than to let Kay make them for you. So maybe we’ve both learned something from this. Just as I’ve learned so much from the people I’ve learned to love since my parents abandoned me.” And these are the years that we have spent. And this is what they represent.
“But I will not marry you, Donal. Because, when I marry, [i]if[/i] I marry, it’ll be to a real man. It’ll be to someone whom I can respect. Someone I can trust, someone who understands about right and wrong. Someone honest and honourable and decent. And you’re not that sort of man, Donal. Maybe one day you will be. I hope so, anyway, for your sake. But you’re not now. And you’re not for me. Oh, I want love, but I don’t want your love. And I don’t want to waste my love on you. I want to love someone’s who’s worth it. If I can’t have that, then I’d rather stick to loving my friends, and knowing that they love me. Because love is precious, Donal. And, because it’s precious, it shouldn’t be wasted on a man who doesn’t deserve it. There’s a lot more to a woman’s life than men, Donal. And there’s certainly a lot more to a woman’s life than men like you.”
And this is how I feel
“Good idea!” Jack stood up. “Are you up for a walk, Hamilton? Con? Tell you what, you three help Anna finish clearing up and I’ll go and get Bruno; and then we’ll all set off.”
“No, no, no.” Joey glared at her husband. Honestly, men! “I didn’t mean us, Jack! I meant that it was a nice evening for two young people to be out for a walk, not an old married couple like you and me! Anyway, I need to talk to you about ... er, well, anyway, I need to talk to you. And Bruno doesn’t need to go out for a walk either: Rosli took him out earlier on. But there’s no reason why Con and Ian shouldn’t have a nice long walk. Go on, you two, off you go! Jack and I’ll help Anna: you get going. Bye, then! See you later!”
Con groaned to herself. Oh well, might as well get this over and done with. She’d get no peace until she had! Dear oh dear, her mother got more like Mrs Bennet from Pride and Prejudice every day. It was a good job Margot had decided to become a nun or she’d probably be trying to push her at one of the doctors from the San as well. And Ruey had better watch out or she’d be next in line.
Should she bother trying to make conversation? Might as well. It was distinctly boring wandering around in silence. Not that Ian ever had anything very interesting to say for himself. He didn’t seem to be very keen on anything other than finding new treatments for TB, and he seemed to think that women wouldn’t be able to understand those – or indeed very much else, other than darning socks and looking after babies -so on most of the occasions on which they’d met he’d said next to nothing, other than the odd comment about the weather.
“Nothing much ever changes around here, does it?” she remarked. “Same old, same old. I’ll be glad to get back to Oxford. I need to get my books back to the library there and get some new ones out. I’ve just finished War and Peace – have you read it?”
He looked completely taken aback, much to her amusement. He probably never read anything except medical textbooks and the international edition of the Times. “Er, no,” he stuttered. “It’s not really my sort of thing.”
It wouldn’t be. Oh dear, she shouldn’t be sending him up like this. He was a nice enough guy, really. He just couldn’t seem to see very far beyond the Gornetz Platz. He hadn’t been there that long, only a few years, but the Platz tended to suck people in like that. That was why she had absolutely no intention of ending up living there permanently. He was a solid lump of ... well, just a solid lump, to be honest. But then most of the doctors at the San were like that. With the possible exception of Eugen Courvoisier, who was rather too small and thin to be described as a solid lump of anything.
What else could she try talking about? There was, of course, always the option of giving up on the talking and instead falling into something and allowing him to rescue her, thus giving him the opening to say his piece and her the chance to say hers; but there never seemed to be a lake handy when you wanted one and the only thing she could see which someone might fall into had, she suspected, been deposited there by Bruno earlier in the day and she certainly wasn’t falling into that.
Oh dear. Oh well, she’d tried. It was his turn to say something now. Ah, and it looked as if he were about to. Here we go!
“I really like you, Con.”
Oh, for heaven’s sake! Was that the best he could come up with? All the richness and beauty of the English language at his command, and all he could manage was “I really like you”! Even Reg Entwistle could probably do better than that. Then again, maybe not.
“What I’m trying to say is ... I know that your summer vac’s nearly over and that you’ll be going back to Oxford soon, but I thought that you ... I mean, I thought that we ... what I’m trying to say is, Con, ....”
Doctors weren’t very good at romantic gestures – well, not unless you counted rescuing people from disasters and that wasn’t really hearts and flowers stuff. She’d gathered that. She’d heard the stories from her mother and her Auntie Madge and her various brevet aunts, and not one of them involved grand romantic gestures and very few of them involved even small romantic gestures. Laurie Rosomon had apparently managed to take Daisy for a nice meal on the evening on which he actually asked her to marry him, and Frank Peters had once bought Phoebe a box of chocolates on her birthday, but that was about it. She supposed she should consider herself lucky to get a moonlit stroll, but even that was only because her mother had suggested it – and in any case it didn’t really count because it wasn’t properly dark yet.
“What I’m saying, Con, is that I thought that you and I might consider ourselves to have ... well, an understanding. And that, when you finish university – or before then, if you like, you don’t have to finish your degree if you don’t want to – we could ... you know, get married. You don’t have to give me an answer now this minute if you don’t want to. I’ll understand if you want some time to think about it. I know that it’s a big decision, so if you can’t say yes just now then I’ll understand how you feel.”
And this is how I feel. Do you know how I feel? ‘Cause I don’t think you know how I feel.
You know what you think I feel. Even though we don’t know each other very well. Even though we haven’t spent much time together. We’ve hardly spent any time alone together. But that’s how it works, isn’t it? Along comes a man, preferably a doctor, and, hey presto, that’s it. You’re up the aisle, and then, a few weeks later, you’re up the ... well, let’s not go there, but that’s the general idea. Goodbye, career plans! Goodbye, travel plans! Goodbye to even taking an interest in anything outside the Gornetz Platz! Hello, English tea at Freudesheim! Hello, four kids in five years, preferably including at least one set of twins, the boys to become doctors at the San, the girls to go to the Chalet School and then marry more doctors! Hello, looking round a load of bits of tat at the Chalet School Sale and considering it to be one of the highlights of the year! Well, sorry, but there’s no way I’m letting myself in for that. No way on earth.
I’m sorry if I hurt Ian by saying no, but quite frankly, I’ll be doing him a favour. I’m not what he wants, any more than he’s what I want. He hasn’t got a clue who I really am, or what I really want, or what I really feel. Have you, Ian? You think that I’m just another good Chalet School girl. And you think that all that a good Chalet School girl wants is to marry a doctor. Just like its first headmistress, its first pupil, its first Head Girl and all the others who’ve followed in their footsteps have done. And you think that that’s the summit of all their ambitions, all their dreams and all their wants.
Well, you’re wrong. I don’t think you know what I feel. I don’t think you know what I feel. You don’t know what I feel.
“I don’t need any time to think, Ian. The answer’s no. I’m sorry, but that’s the way it is. I’m very flattered that you’ve asked me,” – no harm in being polite – “but I’m afraid that I just don’t want to get married. Certainly not just yet. And I don’t think I’d be very good at being a doctor’s wife, and living on the Gornetz Platz. There’s too much else that I want to do with my life. I want to write. I want to travel. I want to meet new people. I want to have new experiences. I don’t just want to do the same old thing day in day out. I want to live.”
“I see.” He looks disappointed, but not heartbroken. Well, that’s fair enough. I don’t want to break anyone’s heart. But his heart isn’t mine to break, any more than mine’s his to break. He doesn’t care about me, not the real me. He doesn’t really see me. He doesn’t really know me. He doesn’t know what I feel. He’s just doing what he’s supposed to do. He’s a doctor at the San, so he’s supposed to marry a Chalet School Old Girl. He’s just trying to follow the script. But I’m not. I won’t. I can’t.
He’s about to speak again. Now what? What’s he going to say now?
“But maybe in a couple of years’ time?” He looked hopeful. “When you’ve finished your degree, and done a bit of travelling, and worked for a while? Once you’ve got it out of your system, and you’re ready to settle down? Maybe then, Con? Would you think about it then?”
Got it out of my system? Is that what he thinks I’m going to do? Oh, I don’t plan on spending the rest of my life travelling the world. I’m realistic enough to know that I’ll have to settle down and get a job. And maybe I’ll end up getting married, one of these days. But not like this. Not to someone like Ian, and not to live somewhere like this. I want to live somewhere where I can do just that. Live.
She shook her head. “No, Ian. I won’t change my mind. Please don’t think that I will, because I won’t. I’m not the right girl for you, you know. You’ll find someone who is, and I hope you find her soon – I wish you every happiness, I really do - but it won’t be me. I don’t love you. And you don’t love me – you can’t, because I’m not the sort of person that you think I am. I’m not an old-fashioned Chalet School girl who thinks that the be all and end all of life is finding a husband. I can’t be a San doctor’s wife on the Gornetz Platz. And I could never love someone who wanted me to be like that. I couldn’t make him happy, I couldn’t be happy myself, and I couldn’t love him. What I love is life.”
What I love is life.