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Mademoiselle sat under the canopy of leaves where she had set up her deckchair. Her eyes, previously slowly closing as she leafed through all the letters to read, popped open as she saw one from London, with the address similar to that of her first from the schools board. She frowned, worried, and opened it gingerly, fearful of the final decision for the school. What she saw was quite different. It was a letter from Thekla von Stift, that almost forgotten wreck that once darkened the doorway of the Chalet School. The letter was one of thanks, apologies and explanations, finishing with the line, "I know how wrong I was, and how I must still seem to you, but I felt that I had to let you know exactly just how much you have done for me, and how I repaid you in the most selfish and thoughtless way. I am now arguing my case against Carl Goodwin's, and, like you taught all the girls, praying for the Chalet School."

 

Jo Bettany was sitting on a rug under the glaring sun, her position marked by the familiar red parasol, which the girls knew to leave for their head-girl. She was reading a book, her eyes drooping wearily, but not enough to stop her enjoying it.

 

Grizel Cochrane was seated on the grass a little way away, writing a letter to Deira, one of her greatest friends. Every now and then, she would glance over to where Rosalie was sitting, her face hidden by the brim of a large sunhat. It was difficult to remember that they were not talking, and though she tried very hard, she could not bring herself to forgive the words against her.

 

Rosalie Dene herself was also holding a book, but her eyes were merely skimming the pages, her thoughts returning those of Grizel. She knew it had not been right to say it, but she was certain that for the past years Grizel had been hiding from the truth, and should now face her fears.

 

Frieda Mensch looking over at the two, jumped up, knowing what she was about to do and exactly how precariously dangerous it was. First, she approached Grizel, her heart filled with fear, but her hands steady. “Grizel.”

 

Grizel looked up from the letter, after realising that once again she had started doodling on the paper, and sighing at the thought of rewriting the letter. Frieda looked down at the sketch with some horror, for Grizel had drawn a hangman and was evidently tightening the noose. “What is it, Frieda? If you want help with work, go find someone else, because honestly my brain does not function at this time of the day.”

 

Frieda shook her flaxen head. “No…I wanted to tell you a story.”

 

“A story?” Grizel looked incredulous, “Oh please, I really haven’t the time.”

 

“But it is a very lovely one,” Frieda objected, “I think you would like it.”

 

Grizel looked searchingly into her serious blue eyes, and then nodded resignedly in consent.

 

Once there was a young girl, an orphan, who lived in a lovely orphanage with many friends. Throughout the year she was happy and grateful, loving her friends and enjoying life.

 At the age of four she had been found on the streets, her only companion a worn out teddy bear with buttons for eyes. The trauma of her parent’s death was still a tragic hollow in her eyes, and she had no-where to go: no home.

Another little girl, a six year old, was out walking with her nurse when she saw the orphan. She immediately went to her and tried to make friends, but the nurse dragged her away and forbid her to go near the street children. That night, the younger girl had slept in a darkened doorway of a spooky house, and for the next week did not move. Every day, the other girl would walk by with her nurse, wondering why the stranger was still there. One day, she told her mother of the street child and her mother went to see for herself. After investigating slightly, she realised what had happened to the girl, and she immediately had an inspiration. During the next three weeks, the widowed mother of the six year old founded an orphanage at her home, her first entry being the little girl off the streets. There were soon many children, ranging in their ages up to thirteen and fourteen. The orphan grew up healthily, but she always knew that she would be in dept to the elder girl. The other did not hold it against her, and as a rule they were good friends, but every day they knew that their friendship was being slowly severed.

Finally, they parted ways, the older going to a far away college and the younger to work as a serving maid in one of the nearby estates. Still, the younger knew that she was living on charity, and would have to do something to make everything even. The day came when she had earned enough money to leave the estate, and she travelled to the other side of England, to the shore where she would spend some years of her life. One day, she was painting the sea on a windy day, when far out to sea she could see a splashing figure. She wasted no time in squinting, merely pulling of her outer garments and diving in.

She saved a life that day, and when she took the person back to her hut, she realised it was none other than the girl who had taken compassion on her that first time, many years ago. She smiled at her, saying, “So now I have repaid the dept.” But the other merely looked confused. “You saved my life,” she orphan continued, “And now I have saved yours. I already feel less as if I were an object of charity.”

The older woman looked at her, long and hard. “You thought that I was waiting for you to repay me!” she realised aloud, before continuing, “But it was never like that. I was not responsible for saving you, I thought that we were only friends.”

“Friends we have been,” nodded the orphan, “But always I knew that if it was not for you, my life would be nothing. I have always owed that to you.”

Her hand was taken in a firm grasp. “If you thought that, I am thankful that you saved my life. But I am sorry if I ever gave you reason to think so.”

The orphan realised that the whole act of charity was in her own mind, and that it was a fantasy made up by only her. She found that those many years of helplessness were her own fault, and that friends were friends, no matter how they met.

Eventually the two returned to the orphanage, and took over when the mother retired. They taught every girl with equality, and often told their orphans a fairytale of how two girls had saved each other’s lives.

 

Grizel lifted her lowered eyes to Frieda’s, suddenly understanding everything for the first time. She whispered, “Where did you learn that story, Frieda?”

 

The younger girl merely smiled, replying, “I made it up just now.” Grizel stared at her, realising how remarkable her young friend was. Then she took both her hands, saying a fervent ‘Thank you!’ before half running over to where Rosalie was lying.

 

And the beauty of the whole thing, Frieda thought to herself, is that Joey will never know.

 




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