|"I don't FEEL Seventy Five." |
Joey looked at her sister in surprise. Madge had been unusually quiet all week, so the sound of her voice at all was almost a shock. Not that Madge had ever been that talkative; but since losing Jem last year, she did tend to make the most of any visitors and catch up on the chance of a chat at every opportunity. Jem hadn't really talked that much, but it was obviously enough for the house to seem horribly quiet without him around.
This visit had been different. After a few attempts to start a chat had been met with little response, Joey had decided her sister needed some space and left her alone.
"Well you aren't - technically."
"You know what I mean. Two weeks is nothing, my birthday will be here before we know it."
Joey frowned slightly.
"You've never been worried about your age before, what's so different about this year?"
Madge didn't answer straight away, twirling her teaspoon absently as she tried to work out how to put her thoughts into words.
"It's ... Retirement age."
"A long way past it, technically - especially for a woman. You aren't retiring though, unless you had any great plans to start a career all of a sudden to retire from?"
Madge felt a surge of irritation, but then calmed it. Jo wasn't trying to be snide, she was just speaking without thought. She honestly didn't see any difference between her life and Madge's in that respect. The fact that she had kept up her writing 'career' despite a large family never crossed her mind as a thing for her sister to be jealous about. Madge had been perfectly satisfied with her life as wife and mother, overseeing the school where final decisions had to be made. Yet with change of attitudes in recent decades, Madge had started to feel a little touchy about the idea of a 'career' being something expected of a woman nowadays.
That wasn't the source of her angst today, however. The attitude that she didn't 'work', despite overseeing the Chalet School Limited company, and keeping an eye on the San, was an old one, shared not just by her sister, but her children and even her friends. Jem had always told her to ignore it, and reminded her she could be very proud of the business she had started from only two pupils and a couple of members of staff.
She did miss his reassurance and advice nowadays. Also someone to share the load with It was only the headmistresses of the respective branches of the school that really realised just how much work went on behind the scenes; how many decisions she was still involved with. Them and and perhaps David, who relied on her advice in management of the Armishire San more than he sometimes cared to admit.
"It just... Feels like a milestone, I suppose."
"Well it IS a special birthday. The children certainly seem to think so. I don't think we've had such a large gathering of the clans planned since the Coming of Age celebrations."
"True. Even Dick and Mollie are making the trek. I didn't expect that."
"Well I should hope so. It's his birthday too after all! I do know what you mean, though. I'd given up hope that they would ever visit again. They've settled so thoroughly in Canada, and Dick is so wary of air travel, I sometimes feel we don't have a brother any more. I've almost been waiting for the next contact to be news of his funeral."
"Don't. That isn't a joking matter Jo."
Madge knew even as she said it that Joey wasn't really joking at all. Jo Maynard was 6 months into her own widowhood, and her attitude to death had become almost brutal and blunt. It was if she had suddenly decided that if Jack could go like that, relatively young, anyone could. She was coming out of the darkest period, but still had a slight way of talking as though everyone around her was just marking time, counting down to their ultimate demise.
Even that wasn't like Joey, such a short response, almost curt. But Madge understood.
She had perhaps had more warning that she might lose Jem, since he was that little bit older,and been ill for several years before he finally passed, but it had still torn her apart at the time. Jack's heart attack had caught them all by surprise, and Jo had not really had much time yet to adjust to her life without him. If she had a somewhat harsh way of coping with it, she was at least functioning, keeping going day by day, and that was more than a lot of people in her situation could say.
"What has brought this on, all of a sudden?"
Madge looked at her sister blankly, before realising that Jo was talking about the original comment about her age.
"I think it was perhaps Hilda's news. I had been aware that Hilda felt she ought to pass on more responsibility, was planning to retire, but to get her letter of resignation made it real, somehow."
Joey nodded. She had felt it was a milestone too, although she was secretly pleased for Len, who had been running the school in all but name for the past few years.
"That makes sense. It has been a rather wholesale clear out of the old guard, hasn't it. Nancy, Nell and Hilda, not to mention Jeanne, Peggy and Ruth, all retiring in the same year."
"We knew it was likely to happen. We've kept so many of our original mistresses, which has always been a blessing, compared to how much turnover of staff other schools seem to have. It does mean quite a lot of change all at once though."
"I have some other news on similar lines, now you mention it. Had escaped my remaining brain cells till just now. Kathie Ferrars is going to retire too. Len passed it on unofficially to me, I'd been waiting to see whether you had heard."
"I'm not surprised, really, though sad to hear it. If Nancy had been well enough to stay in Switzerland, I think she would have continued to work, at least for a few more years. After all she can't be more than mid to late 50s can she?"
"52 I believe. I know she was early 20s when she joined us, and that was around the time of the Coming of Age, so 30 years ago now. That's quite an aging thought in itself!"
"So she is a lot younger than Nancy then. I did think there was an age difference, though didn't realise how much. Is she retiring completely then?"
"I think so. At least from teaching."
"It seems such a pity. I guessed she might need to leave, but wondered whether she would try to find work in England, ask for a transfer to the Carnbach branch, perhaps."
"She might, but the message I heard via Len was retirement."
"I don't blame her if they can afford to. It would be very hard to move at this stage. After all she's never been at the UK branch, and the two are very different beasts."
"Tell me something I don't know! I felt a complete stranger there last time I visited. I hadn't realised how much England had changed, and the school along with it."
"It's been a very gradual process, but I know what you mean. I used to have the same feeling whenever I came back home after visiting the Swiss branch."
Madge refrained from adding the thought they both shared. Somehow Carnbach didn't feel like the Chalet School. It was a good school, to be sure, but not a great one. The distance from the San meant the association with health care was gone, and the location wasn't one that had much of a catchment area. In recent years League tables and exam results had had to be a much bigger focus for all schools, and parents used them to make decisions. Carnbach had settled firmly into the middle of the rankings and stayed there.
It had been at real risk of closing a few years earlier. The recession had hit Wales hard, and Carnbach Grammer was getting far better results. It was cheaper for parents to move into catchment than pay independent school fees. There was only so much the school could trade upon being a feeder school for the famous Swiss branch, especially when the age of entry at the Gornetz Platz dropped to 6. Those with the funds for a boarding school could easily afford flights now, and the Swiss Branch Kindergarten & Junior school was achieving top status even by itself.
If Jem hadn't been so ill at the time, Madge would probably have made the decision to close Carnbach 5 years ago, and she knew Joey wouldn't have argued. The school didn't have the spirit of the original any more, and both of them felt it was only a matter of time. But it would have been too much, to arrange board meetings and reviews, decide upon redundancy deals etc. So the school had been left to drift, just about covering it's costs, but not creating any sort of cushion or funds for new investment.
"You might feel differently now, Jo. Nell Randolph took over as head as you know, and if results are anything to go by, she has done wonders."
Joey nodded acknowledgement, although both of them knew that results could take a school only so far. Still, Nell Randolph had begun a total reorganisation, and tracked down a lot of new staff, many of them old Chalet girls themselves. The latest league tables had caught them all by surprise, with a slight increase in position for a couple of years, followed by a 10 position jump. What was more promising was that requests for entry had crept up too, and the gradual drain of good staff had been slowed.
Returning to Kathie Ferrars, Joey avoided the subject of going to the school. She knew as part owner she ought to take more of an interest in Carnbach, but she struggled to do so. She just about managed to be enthusiastic still in Switzerland, but there she had so many members of her extended family either working or going to the school over the years. It was also easy to give a few hours of her time every now and again when it was next door.
"I don't blame Kathie for not wanting to start all over really. She's only ever worked at our school. It would be quite hard to come in somewhere else as a 'new' mistress."
"True. She'll be missed. If she had wanted the job, she would have been an obvious choice to replace Hilda."
Joey bristled slightly in automatic defense of her daughter, not liking the suggestion that Len was a second choice. Fairness and logic caught up with her however, and she acknowledged the truth of the comment. Kathie Ferrars had become such a part of the school, it seemed as if she had always been there. Most members of staff assumed she was another of the 'Old Girl' mistresses.
"True. But with Nancy still recovering, she'd never be happy far away from her. I know I'd be ... would have been... determined to stay nearby if it was Jack."
Madge gave her sister a quick look. She didn't acknowledge the change of tense, knowing all too well that feeling. She had at least had a few years of deterioration before the fact to get used to the idea. Jo had expected to have at least a few more years with Jack, even allowing for the age difference.
"Have they given you any idea where they will settle? Nancy has family left in England doesn't she? I know Kathie's family are no longer around."
"No, they haven't said anything so far. I don't get the impression Nancy is close to her sister."
"It seems such a pity they have to leave the Platz. I can understand why they do, but still it's hard."
"I don't think any of us want a repeat of last term though." Jo shuddered slightly.
Nancy Wilmot's stroke had been a huge shock to everyone at the Platz. The current make up of staff at the San just wasn't specialist or experienced enough to do more than stabilise her and arrange emergency transport. Despite being rushed down in an ambulance , it had been several hours before Nancy had been considered out of danger. It was too soon to say how well she might recover, but everyone could see that a location that was two hours from a stroke unit and under thick snow much of the year wasn't going to be suitable.
Madge gave Joey a sharp look. It had been a true 'Annus Horribilis' last year, to steal a quotation from the Queen. They had all become used to the idea that the doctors at the San could treat anything, but first Jack's heart attack then Nancy's stroke had been beyond the abilities of the staff there.
While the Armishire San had gone from strength to strength, the Swiss branch had become more focused on convalescence, and basic emergency care for climbing accidents. Daisy Rosoman had built a strong paediatric department, which worked well with the two schools being up there and so many families of patients and staff. Geoff Maynard was on the way to rebuilding the reputation in TB and lung diseases, but stroke or cardivascular care was still not going to be dealt with much there for some time, if at all.
The problem was that it was much harder now to get surgeons like Phil, Jack and Gottfried, who turned their hands to areas outside their main training at need. Even more so when you accounted for the need to be multilingual. Phil and Hilary had moved back to the UK some years before to be nearer their grandchildren, and Gottfried & Gisela had moved back to the Tyrol on retirement. In a painful type of irony, the only surgeon left who could have adequately dealt with Nancy or Jack would have been Jack Maynard himself.
It was happening all over. Medicine had become much more segmented, and the newer surgeons hadn't had the baptism of fire a war gave, or even had much training from those who had . David had explained that their insurers were stricter too. If they didn't have the required levels and certificates, they couldn't take on a patient outside of their speciality without a lot of risk.
Nancy's collapse had highlighted this, as there was really only a skeleton staff at the San until someone had run to Freudesheim and woken Geoff Maynard. Geoff had guessed the problem and done far more than most would, the stroke team who eventually saw Nancy praised his quick thinking.
The conversation passed on to more general topics, and the sisters finished their meal. Madge didn't mention her age again, and Jo left the topic well alone. She might be outwardly blunt about death, but the idea of her sister aging, that all of those she loved were getting that bit closer to leaving was something she really didn't want to think about.
This is in same world as the Hilda & Nell & Tom and Bride stories, but both of those are based on the book universes, rather than an alternate one, so it isn't needed to read those unless you want to as a reminder. Hilda & Nell are an established couple, as are Tom & Bride, Kathie & Nancy. This isn't specifically a slash drabble however, in fact the only romance that looks to be raising it's head so far is a straight one.
Author's Chapter Notes:
I'm posting this as one big chapter. It's a bit wordy, but hope it sets the scene. The basis of this drabble is that quite a few characters will pop in and out, with a core set of Madge Russell, Hilda Annerlsey & Nell Wilson. This does follow on from Hilda & Nell and A Chance meeting for Tom, but both of those are based on the book universes, rather than an alternate one, so it isn't needed to read those unless you want to as a reminder. This isn't specifically a slash drabble, though there are core slash partnerships. The only likely romances that might appear so far are straight ones. As said in the story details, this is set "nearly about now" so a little bit of artistic licence is needed in terms of losing a few decades of extra years in real time compared to Chalet school time. That is quite in the tradition of EBD though, so hopefully no one will mind too much !