"It is a wonderful opportunity," Hilda said, laying down the letter and leaning back against the sofa cushions.
Nell raised an eyebrow at her. "But?" she prompted.
"But I'm not sure I can leave the school right now," Hilda replied.
"Why not? I can take over - "
"You've been fretting for days about how shorthanded you'll be at St Mildred's this term," Hilda interrupted.
"We could get a sub," Nell suggested.
"Nell Wilson, you spent an entire morning making your case - most successfully, I might add - about how getting a sub would be more trouble than it was worth!"
"That was before this came up," Nell began to argue, then subsided at the look Hilda gave her. "No, you're right, of course, as you always are… but it is annoying. I'm supposed to be your Co-Head, I should be able to step in for you."
"You are my Co-Head, there's no supposition about it. You can't possibly take over this term, though."
Nell tilted her head, thinking. "Julie Berne could handle the Headship of St Mildred's, you know. If I teach all my classes, and split the rest of my time between the two schools, it might be possible."
"If you keep proposing novel ways to kill yourself with overwork, I won't go at all," Hilda said. "Besides, think what term it is! What will you do if the snowstorms come early? I don't want to be summoned back because you've walked over the edge of the Platz during a blizzard - and don't say you wouldn't risk it, because if you're trying to run both schools at once, you would and you know it."
Nell grimaced, but had to acknowledge the truth of Hilda's words. "Very well, I won't say anything more about my taking charge. But who will, then? Jeanne de Lachenais?"
They looked at each other, the same dubitative expression on both faces.
"I don't think she'd even agree to it… well, she might if we begged her to, but she wouldn't be happy about it, and it's not really what she's suited to," Hilda said.
"She's brilliant as head of the Staff Room, and I'm sure she's averted any number of problems before they even began to happen, but she'd hate dealing with the administrative side. We've both heard her say so hundreds of times. But if it's not her, then who else…" Nell's eyes suddenly twinkled wickedly. "You know, if we consider who's been longest in the school, it's probably Mr Denny."
"He'd be perfect if I wanted to return and find the school turned into a Greek Academy modelled on Plato's teachings," Hilda retorted. "Since I don't, perhaps you could make another suggestion?"
"Sarah Denny probably would have made an excellent Head if she were full-time Staff, you know," Nell said thoughtfully. "She's got such a lot of common sense."
"Which is more than can be said for you, my dear! I agree that, had circumstances been different, Sarah could well be Head, but they're not. Now do try to talk sense!"
"Consider me suitably chastised," Nell said with a grin, as Hilda shook her head at her. "I think it has to be between the Senior staff, so… Ruth Derwent, Rosalind Moore, or Nancy Wilmot."
"Ruth will have to cover my classes as well as her own, and give the lectures I'd promised you for St Mildred's; we can't ask more of her," Hilda pointed out.
"She'd murder us in our beds," Nell agreed. "As for Rosalind, she's already been doing her best to cut down on her administrative work by passing it on to Kathie - though to be fair, Kathie seems to enjoy it."
Hilda nodded. "Rosalind's an excellent teacher, but she doesn't really like being in charge. Now if we were having this discussion a few years from now, I could see Kathie being a strong candidate."
"Didn't you just tell me off for speculating? It's different when you do it, I suppose," Nell said blandly, then laughed at the face Hilda pulled at her. "For what it's worth, I agree; I can see Kathie as Headmistress material in a few years. But right now, we seem to have Nancy as the only remaining option."
Hilda leaned forward, frowning. "She could do it, I think… but isn't she rather young?"
"As opposed to how old and grey Madge was when she founded the School, or you when you became Head, do you mean?" Nell asked, chuckling. "I wasn't so terribly aged myself when I had to take the job, either - even if I was white-haired!"
"You're perfectly right," Hilda acknowledged. "She's the Head of Ste Therese, too, so she's used to having that responsibility. All things considered, I think she's the best choice."
"We're agreed then. It's only for a term, anyway, and I'll be on hand to give advice if she needs it."
Hilda nodded, then said thoughtfully, "It might even turn out to be a blessing in disguise that you can't take over." At her friend's quizzical look, she elaborated, "Before this, there's never really been any doubt about who should take over as Head when it was necessary. Since we became Co-Heads, though, everyone has assumed that we'll fill in for each other. But we're both going to retire someday, God willing, and this has shown me that there wasn't an obvious person to take charge."
"And it will give Nancy a chance to attempt it, in rather better circumstances than you or I had to take over in," Nell added. "I wonder what the girls will think of it?"
"I'll ask the triplets when I go to Joey - in fact, I think I'll just tell them that I'll be absent for a term, and see if they decide on the same person we did."
"Don't expect them to be thrilled at the idea of your going," Nell warned. "The School's going to miss you… and so am I," she added gruffly.
Hilda took Nell's hands in her own, twining their fingers together, and Nell leant against her shoulder.
"I'll miss you so much, too…" Hilda murmured. "Maybe I shouldn't go."
"Don't be an idiot," Nell said sternly. "You know you want to go, and it's just a term. You might even have a chance to visit us at some point! So don't be ridiculous."
"Ridiculous and an idiot? Why exactly was I going to miss you?" Hilda asked, mock offense in her tone, even as she cuddled closer to Nell.
"Considering how much you've scolded me this evening, I've no idea why I'm going to miss you," Nell answered, laughing.
"We've still got a few days' holiday left; we don't have to start missing each other - or not, as the case may be - this instant," Hilda pointed out.
Nell didn't answer in words; instead, she gave her a kiss that said far more than words ever could have.
Set just before "Challenge for the Chalet School". Written for the 'choice' challenge at fan-flashworks.