|“Oh, Kathy, I'm so glad you came back! I was quite resigned to not seeing you until next term!” Nancy Wilmot stretched out luxuriously on her friend's bed, quite regardless of the fact that she was crumpling the counterpane in a manner that would horrify Matron.|
“Case of having to! I was so bored at home I could have screamed. I was even longing for those wretched Middles, the ones I was in the process of sorting out when I collapsed. What was that all about, anyway? And surely you would have come to see me over the Christmas holidays, no?”
“Oh, the Seniors had got their goat somehow, not quite sure how, so they had decided to pay them back. Very unoriginal, I told them, and very unpraiseworthy. They will think twice before trying anything like that again!”
Kathy laughed. “I bet they will. Anyway, Christmas. Wouldn't you have come to me if I'd stayed home?”
“Not I, my lamb,” explained Nancy. “Well, no, that's a bit unfair, but you see, I couldn't go to England and not spend the time with my own parents, and they are right the other end of the country from your family. By the time I'd have been able to get to you, we'd have been due to pack up and come back here.”
“I suppose so,” said the younger woman. “But are you going to England these holidays?”
“No, it's a long way if you don't want to fly – and I never do – and it seems hardly worth it. I see my family in the summer, and that's usually enough for me. What about you? Are you going home?”
“Not this year. I love Auntie and Uncle, but really, I've seen enough of them for now, and I rather suspect they've had enough of me.”
“So what shall we do?” The “we” caught Kathy by surprise. She tended to feel her friendship with Nancy was a term-time thing, to be taken up again at the start of each term, and discarded at its end. That Nancy was actively recruiting her company for the holidays came as a not unwelcome surprise.
“I suppose we can't stay here?”
“We could, but I don't really want to if we can help it; Joey Maynard would be sure to invite us to spend Christmas Day with her family, and although that would be great fun, it would be extra work for them, and with Phil having been so ill, I don't want to add to their burdens.”
“How is Phil now?”
“Making progress, they think, but she's still very weak and that left leg of hers will never be the same again.”
“Oh, poor child. Such a horrible illness; you see all too many kids in England with calipers or crutches, and even in wheelchairs.”
“It is horrid. But this isn't deciding what to do about Christmas. I wondered about going to the Exelsior in Interlaken – they aren't too eye-watering, if we share a room, and their food is lovely. We could go down on Christmas Eve, and come back on Boxing Day.”
“Oh yes, let's! That would be lovely. Is it all right camping here the rest of the time, though?”
“Oh, it's fine. There will be several girls who don't go home, and although they do their best to get everybody fixed up with friends, there are always five or six who end up staying, so they don't close the school. We just let Matey know when we'll be there and when we won't, it's not a problem.”
And so, on Christmas Eve, the two women caught the mountain railway down to Interlaken, and then, feeling rather extravagant, a taxi to the Exelsior Hotel. Kathy was rather startled to see their room contained a double bed, rather than the twin beds she was expecting, but she thought they could probably manage with a bolster down the middle, as she had done with a cousin on one memorable holiday.
The two friends spent the afternoon wandering around the town, enjoying the shops in all their Christmas finery, and treated themselves to Kaffee and Kuchen in one of the many cafés in the town. Then they returned to the hotel and changed for dinner, Kathy feeling conscious of a desire to change under her nightie, as she used to at school. Nancy, however, had no such qualms and happily pottered about with nothing on, and even left the door open when she had a bath.
The women descended to the hotel dining-room in their pretty evening dresses, and were seated by the attentive waiter, who brought them menus and offers of drinks. Kathy, who had little experience of fine dining, was rather overwhelmed, and grateful for Nancy's wider experience in such matters.
“It all sounds so good!” she sighed, as she studied the menu.
“I should keep it fairly simple,” advised Nancy. “We choose our starter and our main course, and later on the waiter comes back to see if we want pudding or cheese or both or neither!”
Thus advised, Kathy chose a vegetable soup, to be followed by lake trout with seasonal vegetables. Nancy's choice was similar, except that she chose a clear soup. Just as their soups were being brought to the table, ¬she suddenly gasped and chuckled.
“Don't look now,” she said, “but I think other people have had the same idea we had!”
And, sure enough, on the other side of the dining-room, there were Hilda Annersley with her close friend Nell Wilson, now head of St Mildred's, the finishing branch of the Chalet School.
“I am in exalted company,” laughed Kathy. “All these headmistresses and acting headmistresses, and me merely a poor governess!”
Nancy laughed. “A very much ex acting headmistress, thankfully! Never, ever again, not if they begged me on bended knee!”
“Really not? You were doing a great job when I took ill, and from what I've heard, you did an even better one afterwards!”
“Case of having to. Oh Kathy, you wouldn't believe how ghastly it was – there was you, doubled up in agony and nobody yet knowing what was wrong, and those wretched children needing to be disciplined, and all I wanted to do was rush over to the sickroom and find out what was going on, and I couldn't! Worst couple of hours of my life!”
“Oh, come on Nancy, it wasn't that bad! I admit I had an outsize in tummy-aches and have never felt so sick, but it didn't last long. They had me on the operating table in nothing, flat, and really, I could have been back at school within a couple of weeks. I don't know why they insisted I take six whole weeks off, I was bored silly!”
“I know, love, but I did so worry about you until I was able to get up to the San and see you for myself. You know, I didn't know how much I loved you until then!”
Kathy was saved from having to reply by the waiter bringing them a glass of champagne each. “Compliments of the ladies over there,” he explained. There was also a note: “We won't tell if you won't! We hope you will be as happy as we are. Love, HA and NW.”
“How kind of them,” exclaimed Kathy, and raised her glass to the women across the room, who returned the compliment. “But what do they mean, as happy as they are?”
“They love each other. As I love you, and I hope you love me?”
“Oh Nancy!” said Kathy, and fell silent. But her hand slipped gently into Nancy's under the table.