Letitia Howard gazed around the room, bored. Sitting together on a sofa were her mother and Mrs Russell, having one of those tedious conversations women have about how to keep servants, or discipline children or whatever. It was only the memory of the lessons drummed into her during her year at finishing school that kept Letty from yawning, or kicking her heels against the chair she was sitting on, or any other childish expression of boredom she felt like displaying.
In fact, Letty felt extremely badly-done-to. She had made her come-out that summer, and it had been a success and then, at the height of July, the family had rushed off to Austria, to a lake where there was no-one interesting to talk to- Letty cut off this train of thought with a feeling of shame. "I mustn't think like that," she scolded herself severely. "Poor Daddy's dreadfully ill - we simply had to be here. But he will get better; he has to!" For Mr Howard had been diagnosed with TB, and sent to a sanatorium in the Alps, where a doctor called James Russell was doing wonderful things. Letty, for all her shallowness in other things, adored her father, a prominent barrister, and she had accompanied her parents willingly. But she still chafed a little at the sameness of every day.
They had been up on the Sonnalpe, the shelf above the Tiern See, where the sanatorium was located, for almost a month before meeting Dr Russell's wife, Madge, a charming woman of about thirty. Mrs Howard and Mrs Russell had struck up an immediate friendship. The Russells' nursery, which comprised, apparently, not only the two Russell children, David and Sybil, but several nieces and nephews, was beset by measles, and Mrs Howard, anxious for something to occupy her time, had been an invaluable aid to the younger woman. Letty, on the other hand, was left very much to her own devices, for the epidemic meant that Mrs Russell's sister, Josephine, couldn't return to the Sonnalpe, and was apparently teaching at her old school.
Thoughts of her father's illness and her own loneliness were equally unpleasant for Letty, and she was casting her mind about for a more agreeable topic when the salon door opened, and Dr Russell walked in, accompanied by another man. A young, good-looking man, Letty noticed with interest, sitting up a little straighter.
"Hello, Madge!" the stranger hailed Mrs Russell informally, and she rose, pleasure evident in her face.
"Jack! We didn't expect you back for another two days! Oh, Emma, Letty, this is Dr Jack Maynard, a colleague of my husband's. Mrs Howard and Letty, Jack. They're staying here for the time being." Greetings were exchanged, and the two doctors were pressed to join the ladies for tea. This, Dr Russell declined, as he patients to see, and Jack Maynard remained in his stead.
"How's Joey?" he asked after a few minutes' desultory conversation about the weather.
"Seething," answered Madge briefly, then laughed at Jack's confused expression. "I suppose Jem told you all about our quarantine?"
"Yes - jolly bad luck!"
"For Jo, yes - she was down at the school visiting, and now she's stuck there I'm afraid. Measles isn't anything to joke at, for Jo at any rate."
"True enough. I can well imagine her reaction to that though!"
"Well, she calmed down eventually," relented Madge. "Once she knew that the Robin wasn't in any danger. She's teaching, you know," she added, with a mischievous twinkle in her eye. Jack gaped at her.
"Teaching - Jo? What on earth was Thérèse Le Pâttre thinking? Jo isn't fit to teach a child of six!" He stopped abruptly, a tide of red surging up his collar as he remembered that he was speaking to that young lady's sister. "That it- er-" He trailed off weakly.
Letty tapped her fingernail irritably against the armrest of her chair. Here was the most interesting person she had seen for weeks, and all Mrs Russell could talk about was her wretched sister! As Jack Maynard turned to address a comment to her mother, Letty studied him more closely. He was about Mrs Russell's age, possibly a little younger, and was tall - she had noticed that when he came in. He wasn't precisely the best-looking man she had ever seen, but he had an open, humourous face, which, topped by a shock of fair hair, was very attractive.
She was startled out of her thoughts by their object, who was looking at her quizzically.
"Y-yes?" she answered, flustered.
"How are you finding Austria?"
"Very pleasant, Dr Maynard, though of course, under the circumstances-" She shrugged, worry darkening her eyes even as she thought of her father fighting for his life in the sanatorium that dominated the Sonnalpe shelf.
"Of course. I'm sorry." Jack smiled at her, his expression filled with sympathy, and Letty smiled back, sure that she had at last found someone to talk to.
Over the next two weeks, it seemed that she had indeed found a friend - or more - in Jack Maynard. He was frequently busy, of course, but he escorted her on several expeditions - a walk to the Dripping Rock, tea at the Kron Prinz Karl, even a trip to the little town of Spärtz. He was a welcome companion, and Letty found herself dreaming of a future together. Thus her disappointment when Mrs Howard announced that she had arranged for her to visit family staying in Vienna.
"But really, Mother, I'd much rather stay here," she argued with a winning smile, but to no avail.
"Nonsense, darling. I know you've been missing people your own age; it's terribly dull for you here. It'll be nice for you to see your cousins again, and Aunt Helen can take you about a little in Vienna." Mrs Howard proved adamant, and a week later saw Letty on a train east.
Letty did not return to the Tiern See for almost a month. She had enjoyed staying in Vienna and Aunt Helen had, as promised, 'taken her about'. The visit had, however, been slightly spoiled. Letty was still worried about her father, and moreover had quite made up her mind that she was in love with Jack Maynard. As the little train she was in trundled up from Innsbruck to Spärtz, she envisioned their reunion, and has half-disappointed to see, at the Bahnhof at Spärtz, only Mrs Howard, resplendant in her furs and a new hat.
"Hallo, darling," that lady briskly greeted her daughter. "How are you?"
"Very well, thanks," replied Letty, submitting her cheek for a kiss. "How's Daddy?"
"Doing well, I believe. The doctors are very hopeful. Is this all your luggage, dear? It seems a bit sparse." Mrs Howard looked around, as if expecting to see the missing luggage pop up out from the platform. Letty giggled and, tucking her hand through her mother's arm, walked towards the car awaiting them.
"Aunt Helen sent the rest on. It should be here in a day or two."
Mother and daughter chatted amicably, exchanging family news, as they were driven up to the Sonnalpe, to the chalet they had leased. They had almost arrived when the talk turned to local matters.
"Oh, and we finally met Madge's sister."
"What's she like?" asked Letty. They had heard a great deal about Madge Russell's much younger sister, and Letty had been quite curious.
"Not a bit like Madge! She's tall, and very slim with dark hair."
"That sounds an awful lot like Mrs Russell," Letty objected.
"Well, you'll see what I mean. She's a sweet girl, though a little harum-scarum, considering she's turned nineteen. But then, there's not a great deal in the way of society around here." Before Letty could turn the subject to the Russells, and thence to Jack Maynard, the car drove up to the chalet, and she was busy settling herself back into the dainty room that she occupied.
The following day it snowed, and Letty found herself immured in the chalet, until a few days later when it had frozen, and Hansi, the boy who saw to them, declared that it was safe to be out in without falling into drifts, as long as one was careful. Letty set out straight away for a walk, and was rewarded by coming across none other than Jack Maynard, who had also seized on the opportunity for some exercise.
"Dr Maynard!" she exclaimed, as she approached him.
"Miss Howard! I didn't realise you were back," he greeted her, and if this wasn't quite the meeting she had in mind, Letty didn't really care. He turned to escort her back to the chalet, but they had barely gone half-a-dozen yards before a shriek split the snow-blanketed silence, and a figure clad in a red jacket came spinning down the hillside to land, in an untidy heap, right in front of them. Letty gasped in astonishment, which was added to as she witnessed her companion's reaction. His lips set in a grim expression, he strode forward, and grabbed the infortunate person by the arm, and hauled her - Letty saw now that it was quite definitely a 'her' - up.
"Josephine Mary Bettany, what the devil do you think you're doing?" So this was Josephine Bettany! Letty moved closer, congratulating herself on never having occurred Jack's wrath in such a way. Josephine, however, seemed quite undeterred.
"Ow! Let go, you brute! You're hurting me." Jack let go, but so abruptly that she fell to the gound once again, and she sat there, glaring up at him. "You beast!"
"Serves you right," he said callously. Then, "What on earth are you wearing?" Letty followed his glance, and frowned in confusion. Strapped to the girl's boots were a what looked like planks of wood, of all things!
"Skis," answered Josephine, briefly. "Do help me up, Jack, there's a lamb!" He gave her a hand, and she hung onto him as she disentangled her feet from the skis.
"What are they, anyhow," asked Jack as he balanced her.
"Oars. I split them and-" she broke off, noticing Letty for the first time. "I say! Hallo!"
"Hello," replied Letty, rather faintly. She could see now what her mother meant about Josephine being quite different from her sister. She had a pointed face, flushed from exertion, and black eyes, that grinned out from behind an untidy fringe of straight, black hair. She was tall, as well, much taller than Letty herself, who was built on a more miniature scale.
"I'm Jo Bettany, by the way," the other girl continued. "You're Letty Howard, aren't you? I've heard all about you."
"I've heard about you, too," Letty said, determined not to be outdone. "You-" She was interrupted as Jack suddenly spoke.
"You're soaking!" This was directed at Jo, and she looked down at herself interestedly.
"Yes, I am rather. The snow's still quite wet, isn't it? - I thought after the frost last night it would have been hard as ice, but I suppose it needed longer." She finished this with a strangled yelp as Jack Maynard once again seized her by the arm and started hurrying her along the path. Letty stared after them, open-mouthed.
"I'm very sorry, Miss Howard," Jack called over his shoulder, "but this little idiot doesn't know the first thing about taking care of herself." Ignoring Jo's furious struggles, he continued, "I'll take her up to Die Rosen. I trust you'll be able to get back to your chalet." And with that, the pair disappeared round a corner, and Letty was left alone, indignation burning in her breast.
Josephine Bettany was an ill-mannered, childish, selfish girl, and Miss Letty was pleased to give this as her opinion when her mother asked why she was in such a temper. Letty explained, in savage tones, just why this was the case, and then stormed off to her room. Mrs Howard watched her only child go, a faint frown creasing her brow. She had seen the way Letty’s feelings were turning with regard to Jack Maynard, and though she had at first viewed this with a certain complacency, a few things Madge Russell had let slip suggested that only sadness lay in that direction for Letty. Her sister-in-law’s letter, announcing the family’s stay in Vienna, had been a godsend, and she had packed Letty off without a moment’s hesitation. But it seemed as if the month away had made no difference to Letty’s feelings, and Mrs Howard was afraid that her daughter would be terribly hurt.
As much as she wished to protect her daughter, Mrs Howard could not see the benefit to eschewing the company of the Die Rosen ladies, and accordingly, she and Letty set off the following afternoon in response to an invitation to tea. They found both Madge Russell and Jo Bettany in the salon, as well as Miss Carrick and a young child introduced as ‘the Robin’.
"You’ll be able to meet the whole crowd now that quarantine is over," smiled Madge Russell, as she offered a plate of biscuits to Letty.
"That must be quite a relief," offered Miss Carrick, and she, Mrs Russell and Mrs Howard starting discussing the worries of being responsible for children. Letty rolled her eyes, unable for once to resist the temptation. She wished she had though, when Jo Bettany jumped up and caught her hand.
"Come on, Miss Howard, let’s go and visit the nursery!" Good manners forbade her to refuse, and she followed Jo up the stairs, a rather mutinous expression on her face. "They can go on, can’t they," Jo laughed, as the two girls reached a white-panelled door. "I love my sister lots, of course, and Juliet-Miss Carrick-is a dear, but they can get excited about the dullest things. Come in, do!"
They were greeted by the shouts of what seemed to Letty’s horrified eyes to be about three hundred children but which, on closer examination, to be more like eight: David and Sybil Russell, the latter distinguished by copper curls and delicately perfect features; Daisy Venables and her small sister, Primula Mary, whom Jo explained were sort of ‘nieces-by-marriage’; and Rix, Peggy, Bride and Jacky Bettany. Seated on a stiff-backed chair by the window was Stacie Benson, a sixteen-year-old girl Letty had met on previous visits to Die Rosen.
Very soon, the whole party was engaged in a vigorous game of ‘Hide and Seek’, unconcernedly using the nursery and several bedrooms, and even Letty found to her amazement that she was enjoying herself. Half-an-hour later, it’s was Jo’s turn to ‘seek’, and Letty had been hiding behind a bureau in a room she half-suspected to belong to the hated Jo, when a knock sounded and the door swung open.
"Jo?" Letty stifled a gasp. It was Jack Maynard! There were steps from the corridor outside, and another voice spoke.
"Hullo, Jack! What are you doing here?"
"I just dashed over from the san. Look here, Jo, d’you fancy going for a walk this evening?" Jo’s voice was dubious as she answered.
"I don’t know – it’ll be dark soon enough. Anyway, I thought you were in a rage with me? Actually, come to think of it, I’m in rather a rage with you! What on earth did you mean by dragging me along like that? – and in front of a perfect stranger!"
"Well, if you wanted to catch cold-"
"Oh, rats! I haven’t been ill in ages! Don’t be such a fussbudget, Jack, I get enough of that from Madge and Jem."
"If you took proper care of yourself, no-one would have to worry. It’s only when you starting acting like a prize idiot that we have to look after you."
"In case you hadn’t noticed, I’m a not a child any more." Jo’s voice was getting heated.
"Believe me, I know." This response was in a much grimmer tone, and there was silence afterwards. Then, lightly,
"Madge says you’ve been squiring around Letty Howard." Letty’s ears perked up at this and she listened eagerly. Was Jack going to declare himself? The she heard a crack of laughter, and her heart sank right down to her feet.
"Hardly! I felt sorry for the poor kid, that’s all. She’s awfully worried about her father."
"He’s getting better though, I thought."
"Yes, we’re pretty sure we’ve stopped the disease. But then, he saw Sir James Talbot in London, and he caught it early on. Howard’s very lucky."
"I’m glad. It would have been awful for them if-" Her voice tailed off, and Letty's burning ears caught the sound of cloth brushing against cloth.
"Don't upset yourself about it, Jo, dear. Howard will be fine." There was more silence, then, Jack spoke again, briskly. "Anyway, what's going on up here?"
"Hide and seek. I'm seeking. Want to help?" Their voices diminished, and Letty ventured out from behind the bureau, her eyes stinging with unshed tears. What a silly fool she'd been; a silly, stupid fool! All the time she had thought Jack was really interested in her, he'd just felt sorry for her! This last hurt the most, for Letty was a proud creature, and the idea of being pitied was an anathema to her. She set her chin to a stubborn tilt, and walked stiffly downstairs, back to the salon where her mother was still chatting.
That evening, back at the chalet, Letty sat staring at the big ceramic stove in the corner of the room as her mother embroidered a handkerchief.
"I thought I was in love with Dr Maynard," she said suddenly, concentrating intently on the stove.
"Did you, dear," asked Mrs Howard, putting down the linen handkerchief.
"Yes. I'm not, though. I've decided."
Mrs Howard remained non-committal. "Mm?"
"Besides, I think he likes that dreadful Bettany girl. I don't know why. She's a bit of a kid, don't you think?"
"He's known her a long time," Mrs Howard said quietly. Letty remained silent, still staring at the stove.
"Daddy's going to be all right, isn't he?" Her mother smiled.
"Yes, darling, Dr Russell thinks he's going to be just fine. He'll have to be careful, of course, but there's no reason things shouldn't go on as normal once we go back to London." At this, Letty turned round.
"We're going back home?" There was a note of excitement in her voice, tinged with relief.
"Yes, by the end of the month, I should think." Mrs Howard picked up her embroidery again.
And indeed, the end of that month saw the Howard family on their way back to London, all three, for different reasons, glad to be leaving Austria and the Tiern See behind them.