Mollie Maynard was enjoying a rare afternoon of freedom, and she was making the most of it. The May sun was blazing down on the Tiern valley, and Mollie had bagged herself an outside table at the Kron Prinz Karl, near enough to the school in case she should be needed, but far enough away to allow her some peace and quiet. She sat beneath the huge umbrella that shaded the table, a jug of lemonade before her, and felt herself thoroughly content with the world.
She had been gazing up the valley towards the Mondscheinspitz, but she glanced back towards the lake path and caught sight of Sally Denny, red-faced with the heat, heading back towards the Villa Adalbert. She hailed her gladly, for she was fond of the young Italian mistress, though she did not know her especially well.
Miss Denny looked around, grinned, and waved, and then trotted over to greet the maths mistress. Mollie gestured at the seat beside her with her lemonade glass.
“Come and sit with me and have some lemonade. You look like you could do with it!” she added, as Sally came up, mopping her scarlet face with her handkerchief and panting in the afternoon sun.
“Couldn’t I just!” she exclaimed. “Isn’t it a scorcher? I thought a short walk would do me good, but it’s made me all hot and bothered instead!”
Mollie laughed, pouring her a glass. “You poor old thing! Have some of this, it’ll soon put you to rights.”
Sally accepted the glass gratefully, and flopped back into a chair, flapping her hat at her face.
“Is it always this hot in summer?” she demanded, and Mollie laughed at her indignant expression.
“Well, I’m no expert, but we certainly had some warm days last year,” she said, sipping from her own icy glass.
“It’s alright for you,” the Italian mistress grumbled, scowling at her companion. “You’re so light and slim, I doubt you feel the heat at all! Whereas I...” She gestured at her short, sturdy frame, and chuckled. “You’ve no notion of how I suffer! I tell you, I’ll be very glad when we’ve moved up to the cool air of the Sonnalpe.”
“Oh, of course,” Mollie said, “How is your brother now?”
“Better,” said Sally, a shadow passing over her face briefly. “Much better – for the present. But I shall be glad to get him up into the clearer air. He really has no idea about looking after himself, you know, so it shall be a great relief to have doctors on hand to be strict with him! I should never have left him alone in England for so long. If he’d had someone to look after him, perhaps he wouldn’t be as ill as he is now.”
“You can’t know that,” said Mollie, soothingly. “It might have been just as bad. You can’t blame yourself.”
“Oh I don’t, not really,” said Sally. “I know who to blame! I just wish I’d been more careful. Still,” she said decisively, “we’re here now, and that’s the main thing. Tell me about your holidays, my dear! I’m all agog to hear news of England – I’ve no idea when I shall be getting back myself, for as you know, I’m not exactly enamoured of the prospect of crossing the Channel!”
Mollie laughed, remembering Sally’s terror of the previous term, when the school had been flooded. A sea crossing was certainly not something the mistress would enjoy. They chattered about holidays, and England, and school, and the newly-formed guide company, and Mollie found herself delighting in the company of the straightforward and resourceful young woman, who clearly had a lot to bear, with her brother’s ill health, and who in spite of it all maintained a cheerful and lively outlook on life, finding joy and humour in the remotest of places. She was already able to laugh at her panic during the floods of the previous term, joking about her fears with such wit that before long they were both wiping away tears of laughter.
“Mind you,” she said when she had controlled her wild gurgles, "that’s something I’d rather not go through again, thank you. I really was terrified.”
“How long have you been afraid of water?” asked Mollie, suddenly curious.
“Oh,” she said, airily, “ages, my dear, ever since I was cast adrift in a little dinghy, aged seven, with no sail, no oars, no rudder and no way to get to shore. It took them three hours to get me back to land, and since that day, I have never voluntarily got into a boat unless there was absolutely no other way I could travel.” She shuddered. “Ugh! It was frightful! I can still remember it so vividly - it's like it was yesterday.”
“How on earth were you cast adrift?” cried Mollie, half-laughing again.
Sally’s face darkened.
“It was my brother,” she said, quietly. She was silent for a moment, the cloud still across her face, and then with an almost imperceptible effort she pulled herself together and smiled. Mollie, unable to imagine what had caused such a reaction, smiled uncertainly back, and was about to make a joke about Sally’s brother when that self-same fellow appeared around a bend in the lake path, a somewhat bemused expression on his face which cleared as he spied his sister sitting outside the hotel.
“There you are!” he exclaimed, sounding relieved. “I was beginning to wonder.”
“I am sorry, Mr Denny,” Mollie called out, “but I’m afraid I detained your sister with lemonade and gossip. I do hope you can forgive me!”
He bowed to her, smiling broadly. “How could I refuse forgiveness to such a charming maiden as yourself, Miss Maynard?” he said elegantly, and she giggled in spite of herself. “But I rather meant that I did not even know that Sarah was out walking to be so detained. How long have you been gone, my dear?” he questioned his sister.
“Oh, not quite an hour,” she replied, adding with a sudden snort of laughter, “I did say I would be gone as long when I put my head around your door to say I was going out!”
He looked at her blankly, confusion in his eyes. “You did?”
Miss Maynard struggled to keep herself from giggling along with his sister, who replied, “Yes - you remember, when you wished me a pleasant walk?”
Mr Denny frowned. “This I do not remember,” he complained.
“Mind like a sieve!” stated Sally, cheerfully, as she hopped up from her seat and hooked her arm through his. “Well, thank you for the lemonade and the chat, Mollie. We shall have to repeat this soon.”
“I should like that very much,” returned Mollie, and she watched as brother and sister went off, arm in arm.
They seem very close, she mused. I wonder if they have any other family, or if it’s just them?
However, she knew that such ponderings would get her nowhere, and judging by the sun she would soon be due back. She drained her glass, picked up her hat and wandered slowly back to the Chalet.