|I don’t think anyone stopped to think where I’d go during the summer holidays, when the school buildings were closed. To be honest, I didn’t myself … until everyone else started talking about going home to their families, and it hit me again that I haven’t got a home any more, and that I’m not part of a family any more. |
Then Mrs Russell, the good woman, Madame as they call her, said that I was to go and stay with her at Die Rosen. Are you sure you and Dr Jem won’t be minding having me there all summer, I asked her. Sure, I’d absolutely love to be spending the summer up there on the Sonnalpe with you all, but it’s not like I’m any kin to you, and you’ve a houseful there as it is.
Well, she just put her arm round me and said I wasn’t to think like that. Aren’t we all one big family at the Chalet School, she said. Robin’ll be there, and so will Miss Carrick and Miss Cochrane for part of the time, and they’re no more blood kin to her or the doctor than I am but she thinks of them as part of the family. She knows what it’s like to have no ma and no da, she said, for didn’t she lose hers when she was only 12, and out in India.
I’m having a grand time here. Sometimes Robin and I go to see Frau Mensch, or Frau von Ronschlar, or Signora di Bersetti, or sometimes we just walk about. Sometimes Madame and Jo take us out, and we take a picnic and stay out all day. One day they took us into Spartz. And one day didn’t they take us all the way into Innsbruck, and take us to see the Hofkirche and the Goldenes Dachl? I kept asking how long they’d been there and who built them, so Jo told us all about the history of Tyrol. I like to know the history of places. Madame said that maybe I could study history at university one day. I laughed, for who’d ever have thought of Bridget Mary Honora O’Ryan going to university, but she said that who’d ever have thought of Margaret Daphne Bettany – that’s what she was before she married Dr Jem - opening her own school, and that if it’s what I want then it’s what I should aim for.
And sometimes it’s nice just to stay here. Madame and Jo have got more books that you can imagine, and they let me borrow them. Andreas lets me help him wash the car, because I told him how Luigi used to do that, and Marie lets me watch her doing the mending, because I told her how Miss Honora wouldn’t let anyone but my ma mend her fine clothes. Sometimes Robin and I play with the babies, or we go out for walks with them and Rosa, and I think about my little brother and wonder how he’s getting on. My ma would’ve wanted us to stay together, but I know Luigi’s sister and her husband couldn’t take me, that they would’ve done if they could, and that they’ll be giving him the best life they could.
But the best thing about here is just being able to walk around, to feel the sun on my face and the breeze in my hair. The lake and the mountains remind me of home. Sure, they’re not the same, but they’re beautiful for all that … and doesn’t it make me feel good to be able to wander about the way I can here, as free as a bird? I still have nightmares, sometimes, that I’m in the St Cecilia Home for Orphans. I told Madame about them, and she said that it wouldn’t have been anything like as bad as I was imagining, that they wouldn’t have had iron bars on the walls and chopped off all my hair and made me wear a grey sack as a dress; but that I’m not to think about it anyway, because I’m not there. I’m here.
I’m here, in Austria, with the Russells. It’s not how I thought my life’d be, but, whilst I might not have my ma, my da, Luigi, my brother or even a proper home, I’ve got so much. It’s a beautiful day; and I’m free; and I’m happy.