|Lucy didn't have to wait long to find out what the initials stood for, as a turn in the path quickly brought them to a beautifully decorated little station platform, and a huge sign with the words "Gornetz Platz Miniature Railway Society". |
She was amazed to see just how many people were already there, collected in little groups chatting to each other, obviously waiting for something. What that was became obvious as a little quarter size steam engine came puffing around the corner and stopped in front of the platform, to cheers and whistles from the spectators. Lucy grinned, for it was a beautiful sight, and clearly newly renovated. The clouds of steam hid the engine cab initially, only to clear to show two drivers, one a white haired man in his seventies, the other Jack Lambert, a train driver's cap set jauntily on her head, and a giant smile on her face.
"All aboard!!" came a ringing cry from the other end of the platform, and Lucy nearly dropped her bag in surprise to see that it came from the actor she had just been reading about, Felix Maybeard. He was grinning from ear to ear, dressed as a train guard and clearly enjoying every opportunity to blow his whistle and use his booming voice to make passengers jump. She didn't have time to think about it for long however, as Maeve hurried her into a carriage just behind the engine, and they set off.
The little engine puffed it's way along, an occasional whistle as the cane to corners. Lucy was soon struggling to hide her giggles, as the two drivers were clearly both wanting to be the one who pulled the cord for the whistle, and kept nearly scrapping over whose turn it was. Maeve rolled her eyes and called forward to the pair.
"Honestly Steve, you two could be juniors, I hope at least ONE of you is looking where we are going !"
The man turned round to her and grinned, making the point that the train was on tracks, so they didn't need to know where it was going.
"You still need to see whether there is anything in the way !" Maeve returned smartly, and matched the grimace her cousin gave her before he turned back to at least occasionally looking forwards.
Lucy watched as the little tracks twisted and turned to make their way through the trees and gradually away from all the areas she was familiar with. She could tell that in distance they hadn't really gone that far, and it would have been far faster to walk, but this method was a lot more fun. They finally wended their way up to another little station platform, more decorated than the little halts that they had stopped for along the way.
"Thank you" she said shyly to Jack and Steve, and they grinned at her and hoped she enjoyed the day, before starting their preparations to turn the engine around for the return journey.
Lucy had to run slightly to catch up with Maeve and Maurice, who were bickering amicably about the new development already. Lucy was still a little unsure which side she supported, but she was inclined to feel that the Platz residents overall were supporting the new business. There were crowds of people queueing to enter the games centre and 3D film, and the Auberge itself had people crowded on every available table outside.
Maeve and Maurice were constantly being stopped to talk to friends and neighbours. Seeing the girl beginning to get a little fidgety, Maeve suggested to Lucy that she go and explore. The crowds were quite overwhelming just in front of the Auberge, so Lucy made her way to a quieter area to work out what she wanted to do first. There seemed to be a long queue over by the fencing in front of the Auberge, so she decided to wait a bit before investigating "The Echo Experience", and she wasn't particularly interested in the 3D film or hang-gliding ride. Just to one side was a queue that was much less busy at the moment, so she made her way over to the museum.
Most of the exhibits were much like any other museum, with explanations of the geography and geology of the area, information about historical events and various interactive exhibits to entertain children. It was the second half of the museum that Lucy found more interesting, given her recent explorations of the Platz and the people she had learnt about in her walk among the gravestone.
There was a display described as "Change comes to the Gornetz Platz" showing a small group of doctors and nurses standing outside a building that looked vaguely familiar. It took her a while to realise that it was the part of the San that now made up the visitor's cafe and staff offices. The buildings that surrounded that now had obviously been added over the years, but this must have been the original San, and these people the ones who had started it. She looked hard at the photos, wondering which one was Dr Maynard's father. She knew that his father had started the San, from the visitor information displays in the San, and had seen pictures of "Dr Jack" but it took a while to find him in the picture. Finally she found him, half hidden at the back of the group. A tall woman beside him was grinning at the camera and had her arm around his waist, and Lucy recognised the author J M. Bettany - or she supposed it must have been Maynard really.
The text explained how the area had been a ski resort until various weather and practical supply issues had made it uneconomical to continue. There had been some very difficult times until the Sanatorium had been set up, and the area had become famous as a place for a rest cure. The building of new roads, jobs provided by the San and then the school had revitalised the area, and allowed many local people to stay in the area rather than having to migrate to the towns for work.
The wall display beside was covered with copies of newspaper cuttings about famous patients and the work done by the surgeons towards beating TB and other lung diseases. Lucy noticed an article about a Mrs Carew, and guessed that it must be some relative of Dame Carew, which maybe explained her support of the San now.
Next to this was a panel commemorating JM Bettany, and discussing how her books had introduced a whole generation of children to the Alps, and how the area still had tourist visits regularly throughout the year. Lucy looked at the smiling face and could see some of the people she knew, Con and Len Maynard particularly had a look of their mother about them. She could see that Dr Geoff had his mother's smile however, and it made her sad to realise that he must still have been quite young when he lost his mother and twin sister.
The next few displays were about local mountaineering groups. Some of the names seemed familiar, and Lucy had quite a strange feeling, looking at photos of these people she had just been visiting in the graveyard, and realising just how long ago all of these things had happened.
Another display about geology of the mountainside followed into a collection of pictures and newspaper clippings about the 1967 mudslide. To one side of this was a screen, and Lucy tapped on it, to see what it would show. A picture of a very old battered looking book came up, with the title "We will remember" on the front. Swiping across the screen 'opened' the book and Lucy saw page upon page of tributes to those lost in the mudslide.
'Nell, can't believe you are gone. Godspeed my friend"
"Aunty Grizel, Uncle Neil and Nigel, sleep well and we will always miss you."
"Missing you always Janice, we will never forget you. "
"Blinky, all love, Mother"
"Miss Wilson, you helped me so much over the years, wishing you a peaceful rest now and can't quite believe this has happened. Tom"
"For my twin Dick, his wife Mollie as like a sister as anyone could be, and little Daphne. For friends who felt like family, and children I remember being born, there are just no words."
"In Memory of Nell, will be missed forever"
"Too many to list, love to you all and hope you are all at peace"
"Mum, Dad and Daph, we won't forget. Peggy, Rix, Bride, Maeve and Maurice. Xxx"
Lucy realised with a jolt that the twins who had been so nice to her had obviously had a major loss in the mudslide, which brought the impact of the event home to her all the more. These weren't just names, they were people, parents, children and siblings. She brushed away a tear and spoke to herself fiercely, making herself move on to a different display. It wasn't as if she knew these people after all, but her own worries and emotions were so near the surface, it was too much just now to read these things.
The next few displays were more positive, showing the growth of the School and the beginning of the movement of famous actors and actresses to the area, making this a fashionable part of Switzerland to live in. Lucy smiled to see pictures of Felicity Maynard dancing, she really hadn't changed much at all, except in hair colour and a few laughter lines.
The last personal display was about the Pfeiffen family, who had started Pfeiffstar industries and Lucy saw that yet again there was a connection with the School, a picture of the family matriarch mentioning her many years working at the school. Here again was another familiar name, as Karen's daughter had been able to start her catering business with a grant from the Helena Wilson foundation. The text explained that this was a trust set up on the death of the Headmistress, with the proceeds of her estate, since the original recipient hadn't wanted any of it herself. The foundation had helped many young women manage to make their plans a reality, and the Pfeiffen family had since topped up the funds and a proportion of any ticket sales went towards this and other local causes.
The last few displays were about the Auberge itself, and Lucy saw that it had been a tourist spot for many decades, due to the echo created by the position among the mountains. There were pictures of the run down old building, and plans of the new development, along with pictures of the work being done. There were some pictures of an original regeneration back in the 1980s, although on a much smaller scale than the current development. She was pleased to recognise Steve Maynard in one of the pictures, a hard hat on and clearly directing something on the site, completely unaware of the camera.
She left the museum, blinking as she went back out into the bright day. It was getting close to lunchtime, so the queue for the Echo Experience had gone down a bit. She joined the end and paid her ticket price. The queue wound back and forth between wooden fences, with "Did you know?" notices, adverts for other attractions and safety warnings every few metres. Finally she got to the last turn and came to a desk with a set of small cubby holes behind it. She gave in a part of her ticket, and was given the choice of a cow bell, xylophone or mini banjo. Slightly bemused, she chose the little xylophone and moved on to the next stage.
Now she understood the need for the high fences, as the noise from so many people experimenting with the echos would have swiftly driven other visitors mad. She listened to children shouting, other's yodelling, and some fairy music played by the various musical instruments before it was her turn. She moved into position and tentatively hit the xylophone keys. The few notes came back amplified and converted to almost mystical tones, and she spent a merry few minutes experimenting before giving up her space to the next person.
She was starting to be hungry now, and decided to see what the meal options were. She had some sandwiches with her, but a drink and some hot food might be nice. She went in the door of the Auberge, and paused just inside the entrance, disorientated by how big the new complex was inside. It had been cleverly designed so that it seemed you were entering a small old fashioned inn, but once through the door the buildings attached to the old facade clearly went a fair distance back into the mountainside. There was a gift shop, cafe and restaurant all centred around a collection of central tables. She didn't have long to look, as all of a sudden Maeve appeared at her shoulder, and insisted on getting her some lunch.
"Our own grandchildren aren't here very often Lucy, let us treat you a little" she said, and steered the girl over to a little group in the corner. Lucy smiled shyly at the people there, not sure what to say. Next to Maurice was a middle aged couple with a daughter. Maurice was too busy complaining about how commercialised everything was to the adults to introduce her, but Lucy quickly gathered that this was another part of Maeve and Maurice's family.
"Now calm down Uncle Mo, it's not that bad"
"Not that bad? Have you seen the plastic toys and those garish magnets? It's madness, real madness..."
The woman was clearly trying to get a break in the conversation to say hello properly to Lucy, but unsuccessfully. Her daughter however seemed to be able to tune her great uncle out better, and stuck a hand out to shake, with a cheery
'Hello, I'm Peg, nice to meet you.'
"Lucy. I mean, I'm Lucy, nice to meet you too." Lucy replied in some confusion.
The girl had seemed to be younger than her, but now she was nearer she wasn't so sure. She was very fair, and Lucy could see similarities with Maeve and with the lady sitting next to her, who finally managed to make a break in the conversation and introduce herself.
"Hello Lucy, nice to meet you. I'm Mary, and this is my husband Peter. We're here to visit family and drop this terror off ready for school."
Maurice realised finally that he had been rude and added here the fact that Lucy was going to be going the school, and that they thought she probably would be in Peg's class.
"Oh really? That'll be good, our form is far too small at the moment, we really need some fresh faces!" Said Peg cheerily. "How old are you? 15 ? Same as me then ! Sure you'll be with us, you don't look like you'd be a dud."
Lucy wasn't quite sure what a dud was, but she guessed it was a compliment that Peg didn't think she was one. This was something she was to find time and time again in the Chalet school. So many of the girls were third or fourth generation in their family to be Chalet girls that they were surrounded by similar people and words, so the slang of their grandparents had held on within the school even while the outside world had moved on.
"Have you tried the echos?" Peg was chattering happily on, not noticable needing replies. "It's fun isn't it? We haven't been able to come up here in recent years as the building work has taken so long, but I remember coming up when I was a junior, it was great."
Maeve by now had returned with food and drinks, and the conversation moved on to the amount of people at the open day. Lucy sat quietly eating, listening to the family bickering and teasing, and then being told all sorts of unrememberable facts about her future school and form group. She could tell that Peg was a chatterbox, but she seemed friendly enough, and at least she would know one person at the school.
The rest of the day passed in a bit of a blur, as once Peg had taken her under her wing Lucy was taken round everything with a running commentary. They all went on for a walk on a very narrow path, the view slightly spoiled by rigid safety fences - although from the stories Maeve was telling about girls nearly ending up falling over it was perhaps a good thing!
It seemed barely any time at all before it was starting to get dark and the elders suggested it was time to go back. They reached the little station just as dusk was falling, and just managed to catch the last train back. The station was lit up by fairy lights, and the train had several wrapped around it too, so it was quite a magical feeling.
It wasn't Jack or Steve driving this time, but was clearly another member of the extended family, as Peg launched herself at the driver and convinced him to let them go in the cab on the way back. It was quite a squash but great fun.
Back on the Platz Lucy thanked them all politely and promised to meet up with Peg soon to look around the school. She made her way back home to find her mother far more rested and more herself than she had been for some time. She was very pleased with the little gift Lucy had bought her from the gift shop, and the pictures Lucy had taken. It reminded her of stories her grandmother had told her about being at school in the Alps in Austria, and they had a cosy evening talking about everything Lucy had learnt about the are.
It had been a lovely day, and one that Lucy would remember for a long time.
Author's Chapter Notes:
Sorry for such a delay, life really just ambushed me and though the first part of this has been written for ages the bunnies just haven't been willing to play till now. I've done quite a long update as it gets the story to a reasonable pausing point till I can get back to it properly and get Lucy into the school itself. Thank you for your patience with me taking ages !