|"Oh NO! What did we do to deserve that?" came a wail from Kathy Ferrars, quickly stifled as she realised that there were some St Hilda's staff still in the room.|
To concerned inquiries from those around her what had upset her, she managed to mumble something about escorting Lower IV B, mentally apologising to them for taking their names in vain. For she really wasn't too upset about the form allocation, despite that form having a good collection of live wires, including Jack Lambert and a few of the stranded school's own touchy little firebrands for good measure.
She managed to make her excuses, escaping the staff room with enough of a nudge to Nancy that her friend followed her to her room a few moments later. Having had a look at the plans for the half term trip she had a good idea what Kathy wanted to talk to her about, so was unsurprised by the words that greeted her opening the bedroom door.
"That woman! Not only are we not alone as expected, we have to put up with HER, all the while dealing with some of the worst imps either school can give us! Surely that is beyond the call of duty, I call it most unfair..."
As Kathy continued to air her grievances, easy going Nancy settled down on the room's one chair and waited until there was enough of a gap in the diatribe to reply.
"She really isn't so terrible, you know. Just young and thinks herself more important than she is..."
"I'll say! The way she has been stirring the girls up about wanting to keep St Hilda's separate, and being so disgusting about trying to get Herr Laubach's rooms, I ..."
As the younger mistress continued to rant, Nancy waited patiently, knowing that her fiery companion would talk herself out eventually. Sure enough, Kathy wound down and they sat in silence for a few minutes before Nancy did the only sensible thing and brought Kathy into a silent hug. Muffled against her shoulder she heard her friend mutter something about "I suppose there really isn't anything we can do about it, is there?" and knew that the storm had pretty much passed.
"No, I don't think we can really, it would be very difficult to change things without coming out openly and saying we dislike the woman. At least it's a short trip, so we don't have to share a room with her, so she really won't cause us too much inconvenience. You know as well as I do that neither of us relaxes enough for it to be a true holiday on one of these trips anyway, there is always such a chance of drama in one form or another. See it as an extra pair of eyes to watch Lower IV - and she does know her own girls better than we do. It does make sense, dear, however much it might be annoying to us"
Muttering something about not knowing why some people had to be so sensible, Kathy agreed, and they decided to make the best of things, being friendly and welcoming as they could be to Miriam Ashley. The young mistress was still smarting over the loss of status she had since the joining of the schools, and was no more pleased than they really, for she had hoped secretly that St Hildas girls might be sent away all together. In fact she had petitioned the Heads for this plan and grumbled most strongly when it was politely refused.
The Heads and Miss Dene had not taken the allocations lightly, for Miss Ashley had managed the most unusual feat of alienating most of the senior staff, especially due to her tactless and hurtful behaviour at the time of Herr Laubach's death. Never before had Mlle, Miss Denny or Pegggy Burnett had any issues with other mistresses, but all three had discretely made it known that they did not want the young woman with them on their trips. The death of the retired Art Master had been a great shock to the whole staff, despite their knowing of his increasing frailty. Mlle and Sarah Denny were two of the 'foundation stones' and Peggy a former pupil of the school, and both Heads knew that they were among the staff who were struggling as it was to remain civil to the arrogant mistress in term time. It really wouldn't be fair to them to send her off in such a small group with any of them.
That only really left Miss Ferrars and Miss Wilmot as alternatives. As Miss Dene had said when discussing the matter with the Head's and Mlle Lachenais, Kathy and Nancy were among the friendliest of the staff, and Nancy, being older, had enough idea of dignity to keep the peace between the younger two.
So it was that the three mistresses set off for Neuchatel with most of Lower IV, and all in charge crossed their fingers that peace would hold, between both girls and staff. The journey down was uneventful, although Kathy noticed with some frustration that Miss Ashley encouraged the St Hilda's girls to sit near her, and made no effort to support the mixing of the two clans that Nancy and Kathy were trying to arrange. This silly feud between the younger girls of St Hilda's and those of the Chalet was awkward enough, without a member of staff encouraging things.
Nancy was less affected, for Miss Ashley was uninterested in her, dismissing her as too laid back to be much obstacle to her having her own way. Kathy was closer to her own age, and as such it felt more important to try to establish herself as higher in authority than the geography mistress. So Kathy had many niggling comments and semi contradictions of her orders to try to ignore. Miss Ashley's shame at her charges betraying their ignorance of some of the sights, despite having been taken a previous term, made her even more belligerent, including trying to catch some of the chalet school girls out in misbehaviour at every turn. Thankfully Jack and co seemed almost to sense this, for they were fledgling angels compared to their usual selves, and gave no valid cause for censure. The St Hilda's girls, picking up on their leader's behaviour were no help with this, for a few of them were more than happy to try to get the Chalet girls in trouble, meaning that Kathy was also spending a fair amount of time in distraction and having to keep the little groups much more separate than she would really like.
By the time they were heading over to eat lunch the young georgraphy mistress was close to boiling point, only her awareness of the children and natural professionalism stopping her from inserting a guidebook firmly up the other woman' nose. Nancy saw this and interrupted an explanation with a hurried suggestion that the ought to get on to the restaurant if they were to eat in time. Kathy thankfully agreed and they marched the girls in twos off to get their promised lunch of real swiss fondue.
Miriam Ashley had misjudged the apparently placid and easy going Miss Wilmot however; as many were wont to do until they knew her. The maths mistress was well aware of the shuffling for position that was going on, and also of the great restraint that Kathy was showing. With a memory of the last time she had had a swiss fondue, Nancy concocted her own little plan, and as soon as the girls were all settled, she ordered wine for the mistresses, and made it her business to keep Kathy's glass well away from being refilled too often, and Miss Ashley's one generously replenished whenever an inch showed below the top.
The girl wasn't greatly affected by the wine drunk, but where her undoing came was the combination with the food. As Nancy had expected, she hadn't had this type of fondue before, and was frankly greedy about trying as much as she could. Given that the cheese mixture had been well mixed with the famous Neuchatel white wine and finished with Kirsch cherry liqueur, the combination of rich food and alcohol led to the expected results.
The staff had expected that the rich food and fresh air might make the children drowsy, and that was certainly the case, for none of them objected to early bed that evening. However the addition of the wine made the effect much more in Miss Ashley's - and slightly in Kathy's case. Although Nancy felt most guilty for the fact that Kathy was slightly merrier than otherwise on a school trip, it did have the desired effect of allowing the earlier incidents of power play and tactlessness to fade into memory, which helped keep things smoother over the remaining hours of the expedition.
Sure enough, Miss Ashley's manner was a complete change that afternoon, even wanting to link arms chummily with the bemused Miss Ferrars and chatter about her old school and what the prefects there had got up to in her own schooldays, which were only a few years behind her. Nancy was a little worried about this, mindful of the need to keep the mistress' state hidden from the girls. Thankfully Miriam seemed to have enough memory of her location left to not be too obvious, and ceased to be a problem once Kathy had politely removed her grip from her arm and pointed her towards their next destination.
Nancy grinned, since it seemed that her plan had worked, and had managed ultimately to provide them with a much friendlier, much more relaxed companion mistress for the remainder of the trip. As expected; without their leader stirring them up, the girls from St Hildas became much more a part of the whole group, and the afternoon passed most amicably. They boarded the lake steamer and followed the round trip, all thoroughly enjoying themselves. The girls were somewhat surprised by Miss Ashley disappearing, to be found dozing a little in the cabin after a mutter excuse about getting out of the hot sun, but assumed her just to be tired out, and neither of the other mistresses allowed them to get close too often for fear they would break the peacefulness of her absence.
It was a little bit of a struggle to wake her, but once awake she gave a beautiful smile and was more than happy to take Nancy and Kathy's direction for the rest of the afternoon and the journey home. She only wandered off once, returning when called sharply by Miss Wilmot, and thankfully drifted off to sleep again on the train journey up again to the school.
Finally they were home, and the girls packed off to bed. All of the staff were surprised to find that Miss Ashley had thawed significantly and was much more sociable than usual that evening. Nancy, when pressed for a possible reason why merely smiled aggravatingly and suggested that it was the lake side air. Kathy wasn't any more forthcoming, although she had a shrewd idea of the cause. She would find out from Nancy later whether it was intentional or no, but for now was just glad to be back home without having tipped her annoying colleague in the water or lost any of the girls to random accidents.
As for Miriam Ashley, sadly she awoke the next day with a screeching headache and the amicable behaviour did not continue. Nancy considered letting the other staff into the secret of her sudden friendliness, but regretfully decided that the temptation for the staff to repeat the situation would be too great. Miss Ashley was enough of a pain without an induced alcohol habit, and also too arrogant to know her limits when supervising the girls. During the trip away Nancy had known well enough that she and Kathy could actually do better without the woman for supervision, so it had been worth the chance that she might less than alert, but back at full time work it wasn't worth the risk to the girls.
It wasn't until Miss Ashley was no longer involved with the school that Nancy felt it safe to tell her immediate friends, who roared with laughter, and were glad to have that mysterious one evening of friendliness and calmness explained. Thereafter it became one of those in-jokes that tend to develop far beyond the original story, and whenever there was an uptight member of staff at either the school or the san they would soon be described as
"Being in need of a good fondue"
A phrase which mystified most newcomers, but brought a smile to most of the old hands' faces even when the original story had long since passed into legend.
Author's Chapter Notes:
As a reminder, a school called St Hilda's had burnt down just before the beginning of term, and they are now staying at the chalet. Miss Ashley had been quite an important mistress at the school but is only quite young, not far out of school herself, and has been trying to avoid losing her power and desperate to get the visiting school away from being part of the larger one. This is half term.