A story involving fairies, witches, music and Susie Smith. Those of you who don't know Susie, do please still read, as it will involve a lot of old faces as well as some new ones.
The title will be changed as soon as I've thought of a better one. The whole story is dedicated to Kathryn, who nagged for Susie to return to the CS to become the Miss Smith that is mentioned in Summer Term as Erica's form mistress :)
This is most emphatically NOT the future of T&M, for reasons which will become abundantly clear!
Ste Therese's House Characters:
Minor character(s), Nell Wilson, OC
Tea and Militancy, Adversarial Games
10 Jun 2013 Updated:
17 May 2014
1. Forebodings by Finn
2. Mrs Humphries by Finn
3. Maddy by Finn
4. A Rose by Finn
5. Tristan by Finn
6. Talk by Finn
7. Berthold by Finn
8. The Echo by Finn
9. Sense by Finn
10. Fathers by Finn
11. Ghosts by Finn
12. Dimensions by Finn
13. Dad by Finn
14. Full Moon by Finn
"I have a Foreboding."
The words were spoken by a tall woman with short blonde hair, artificially waved, who sat in the backwards facing window seat of the Basle train. Her companion, a boy of about seventeen, with an untidy mop of dark brown hair, sighed impatiently.
"Don't be silly," he said. "Forebodings are the mind's way of telling you to relax, so why don't you try?"
The woman hit him on the side of the head with the newspaper she held rolled in her fist, and the boy, as if quite familiar with the abuse, barely flinched.
"Well!" he said. "You're always worrying over nothing. Forget about it and read your paper, or something."
So-saying, he hid himself behind the cover of his own book, leaving the woman to frown over her foreboding in silence. She tried to follow the boy's example and bury herself in her newspaper, but the current affairs pages, usually so fascinating to her political mind, did not hold her attention, and she returned to her idle, yet persistent, anxiety.
"I wonder if the train is going to crash, or something," she said aloud, but she did not hear the boy's frustrated tut, for just at that moment a young woman walked past the door of their compartment and she leapt to her feet with a cry of astonishment.
The young woman heard and came back to the door, her pale eyes starting out in surprise.
"Auntie Susie! It can't be you!"
"My dear girl!" An enthusiastic embrace, which drew the attention of the cynical boy from his reading, and then Susie was holding Evelyn by the shoulders, casting a critical glance over her slight figure and tutting slightly.
"How are you, my dear?" she asked and then, without waiting for an answer, "You look tired."
Evelyn gave an uncertain laugh.
"I am tired," she said. "Truth to tell, I've not been well. That's why I'm here - Sarah and Tristan said I should take a break from work and come up to the mountains for the summer. I'm going to the Görnetz Platz."
"What a not-so curious coincidence," said Susie in amusement. "That's where we're going. Have you met Tom yet? Evelyn, Tom. Tom, this is Evelyn, one of my first pupils, back in…"
"Back in Tyrol days," finished Tom in sing-song fashion, but his manner had changed and he smiled in a disconcertingly flirtatious manner, and rose to his feet to give the young woman a little bow. "Hullo, Evelyn. How d'you do?"
"How do you do?" returned Evelyn politely. He held out a hand and she shook it, and as their hands met a certain expression, almost carnivorous, flickered into her eye, like a fish dipping up to the surface of a pool, but the expression was gone in a flash, before Tom could quite identify it. "And Tom is…?" she asked with unusual frankness.
"I'm her son," he said, and gestured gracefully for Evelyn to take his seat by the window. She acknowledged the gesture with a grave nod and sat down, and Tom took the seat beside her, while his mother resumed her seat opposite and leaned forward eagerly.
"What has been the matter, then?" she asked of the young girl. "I hope it's not serious? Though I suppose it must have been to drag you from your music."
Evelyn shrugged, and there was a certain evasiveness of manner as she replied.
"Oh, nothing much. I've not been sleeping well, and it's been bringing me down. I had a cold last winter that dragged on and on, and when I saw Sarah a month or so ago, she said I must come out to Switzerland if I didn't feel better soon. Did you know she's teaching again, at the Chalet School?"
"I didn't," said Susie, easily distracted by this news. "I'm afraid we rather fell out of touch."
"Cal's in her final year," said Evelyn, "and the boys have all left home, and Sarah got sick of being just a housewife and Ted said she should go back and teach again, if that's what she wanted to do. She will have to retire soon, though, I expect - she's not exactly young any more."
"None of us are," said Susie. Evelyn laughed suddenly.
"No need to sound so rueful," she said. "I suppose we all have to grow up, eventually."
Her eyes rested on Tom for a moment, and it seemed to the boy that he saw that flicker of hunger in her again and, though it passed over in a moment, he could still sense it. His eyebrows dipped briefly in a frown but Evelyn smiled, apparently unconscious of the expression that had flashed in her eyes.
"But you haven't told me what you are doing, coming to Switzerland," she said to Susie, though she kept her eyes on Tom. "Is it just a holiday?"
"Oh, no," said Susie, brightening again, her eyes suddenly brimming with the joke. "No, I wrote to Nell Wilson the other week and happened to mention that I was rather bored and had no projects lined up for the summer - which is unusual for me, as well you know - and she said in her reply that I was always welcome at the Chalet School, and I took her at her word and packed my trunk and came trotting out here. I rather think she means to offer me some teaching. Won't that be a lark? I haven't taught for years, and I do like it."
Her enthusiasm made Evelyn laugh.
"No! Really? You don't mean to take her up on it, do you? What will Miss Annersley say?"
"She will probably be very gracious and welcoming, and then she'll see Tom and wonder what on earth I mean bringing him with me," said Susie, grinning like a demon. Evelyn chuckled.
"And what do you mean by it?" she asked. "I'm sorry, Tom - but shouldn't you be in school?"
"Ah," said Tom, rather apologetically, and then he grinned too. He had a most engaging grin, and Evelyn smiled in easy response.
"That sounds like an interesting sort of 'Ah'," she said. "Will you tell me, or leave me to guess?"
"I was expelled," Tom said, briefly.
"Expelled? What for?"
"For being too damned handsome!" Tom was recovering his balance, and he ran a hand through his hair in mockery of the manner of movie stars and grinned a white-toothed smile. He was handsome, more so than his mother, whose beauty was as much charm as it was bone structure. Tom had certainly inherited her charisma, but his features, though far from perfect, were strong and maturing into an interesting and firm masculinity. His brown hair and dark eyes presented a Celtic contrast to his mother's Viking colouring, and Evelyn was moved to wonder about his parentage.
"I never knew you'd married," she said.
Susie smiled, and took out a cigarette case.
"I didn't," she said, and offered Evelyn a cigarette. Evelyn took one in an automatic, shocked gesture, her pale eyes bulging at Susie, and Tom laughed.
"You can legitimately call me a bastard, if you want to," he said, and mother and son were grinning as if at some private joke. Evelyn gaped and blushed.
"Oh, don't be embarrassed, Evelyn," said Susie, coming to the rescue. "You know I was never one to live within the rules. It happens to more women than you might think."
"I suppose so." Evelyn accepted a light from Susie, inhaled, and coughed. She took the cigarette from her mouth, coughed some more, and hastily stubbed it out.
"Sorry," she said, vaguely. "I forgot I don't smoke."
Susie and Tom looked at each other and laughed again. Their laughter, as with so much about them, was very alike, in its light tones and gay abandon, and Evelyn blushed away her pallor.
"Sorry," she mumbled again.
"Ignore us," said Susie, patting Evelyn's knee. "Now, tell me…how is Tristan?"
She spoke hesitantly for the first time since the conversation had started, but Evelyn noticed nothing, for she gasped and said,
"Oh, Susie, hadn't you heard? He's dead!"
Change of name!
i didn't mention in the original post that this is emphatically NOT a continuation of T&M - it just uses the same characters. I'm definitely not giving away the ending of T&M in this! The reasons why it isn't a continuation should hopefully become very apparent as the story progresses!
The woman who answered the door to Susie's knock was much older than Susie had expected. She had last seen Sarah eighteen years ago, before Tom was born, and her friend had been starting to go grey at the temples then, but now her hair was completely white and her face was grey and tired. She seemed thinner than before and her dark eyes were weary, though they lit up in astonishment as she recognised her guest.
"Susie!" she exclaimed in surprise, taking a step back.
"Sarah!" The tears welled up in spite of her efforts at self-control, and Susie stepped over the threshold and pulled Sarah into her arms. "Oh, Sarah, I'm so sorry - so sorry!"
"Thank you," said Sarah mechanically, patting Susie on the back gently. "Oh, Evelyn! There you are. Come in, dear. Susie, you come in too. And…ah…"
"This is Tom, Sarah," said Evelyn, from behind him, and stopped, clearly unsure whether to explain the relationship. Sarah did not notice the hesitation, however; she was staring at Tom with a startled expression, fascinated by his appearance.
"Oh, yes," said Susie, steadying herself and drawing Tom into the house. "This is Tom, my…my son."
"How do you do, Mrs Humphries," said Tom, stepping forward with his hand outstretched. "I'm very sorry for your loss."
"Well, I never," said Sarah quietly as she shook hands with Tom. She held onto his hand for a moment, then released it and looked quickly at Susie, who found herself blushing, an unusual experience for her.
"I meant to tell you," she said, "but so much happened and what with one thing and another…"
"Oh, indeed," said Sarah, displaying a remarkable lack of interest. "Come in, all of you. Come and sit down and have some tea. Have you just got off the train? Where did you find Evelyn?"
They went through to the salon, all polished oak floorboards and rose-coloured rugs, and as Susie and Tom took a seat on the old fashioned sofa and glanced about at the bowls of flowers and the silver framed photographs on the mantelpiece, Evelyn explained about their unexpected meeting on the train.
"Susie was very shocked to hear the news, so I brought them here straight away," she finished. "I hope you don't mind?"
"No," said Sarah, "not at all. I expect you'd like to know what happened."
"I would," said Susie, who had regained some control of herself and was able to speak normally. "I didn't think, not in a million years, that I'd arrive here to find this had happened. I felt quite faint on the train - Tom had to fetch me some sweet tea, didn't you, darling?"
Tom patted her knee, and she grasped his hand and held it tightly. For once, he allowed it to remain there and sat still, quietly attentive to Sarah.
"I'm sure it was a shock," said Sarah, without emotion. "It was to me as well. It was a month ago. He was supposed to come round for Sunday lunch, but when he hadn't arrived by two I thought he must have forgotten and we ate without him. I mean, you know as well as I do how he was about forgetting things. I was angry with him - angry! The potatoes had gone to crisps and the meat was overdone, and…it wasn't until his housekeeper got in from her day off and found him…found him in bed, as if he were asleep, only he wasn't, because he wasn't breathing."
Sarah broke off her narrative to pour some tea. Her voice had grown rather listless, quite unlike the crisp vigour of the younger Sarah. It brought fresh tears to Susie's eyes, to see how her old friend had been affected by her brother's death.
"Was he ill?" she asked as Sarah handed her a cup, and Sarah shrugged.
"He had pneumonia a while back, but he recovered from it quite well," she said. "No, I don't think he was ill, but he had been very distracted of late, as if he had something on his mind. He never said what, but I sensed…oh, something, I don't know. A secret. But people don't die of secrets. Dr Maynard says his heart just stopped, but he had never had any heart trouble. He worked too hard, of course. Hilda is terribly upset. She thinks she ought to have seen it coming, to have given him fewer responsibilities, more time off. But it's too late now. He wasn't so terribly old. He was going to be sixty this year. We were all planning a party for him…"
Her voice finally broke and she turned her face away, towards the wall, and gripped her hands tightly together. Evelyn, sitting next to her, put her hand over Sarah's clenched ones but Sarah snatched her hands away and Evelyn retreated, cowed, and shot a look of helplessness at Susie.
"I keep forgetting he's not here," she said. "I keep talking about him as if he's still alive. I don't know if I can stand to be here, really. It's too connected with him."
"We have to keep going," said Sarah, her voice now back under rigid control. For a moment she even sounded fierce, but then she relented. "You don't have to stay, Evelyn, if you don't want to. It might be good for your health, but if it makes you unhappy, you can go back to London."
"Oh, I'll stay," said Evelyn quickly, her eyes darting sideways at her aunt. There was an awkward, angular silence, during which Sarah gave Susie a searching look up and down, taking in the smart clothes and the fashionable appearance.
"I like your hair."
"Thank you." Susie patted her greying hair and sighed. "It seems rather frivolous now, what with…"
"Yes, well, we all have to have things to cheer us up," said Sarah frigidly, and the awkward silence fell again. They sipped their tea and tried not to look at each other.
Susie was a few seconds from speaking when a lanky whippet of a dog trotted into the salon. It came loping halfway across the room but at the sight of Evelyn it skittered to a halt and dropped, belly low to the ground, making a low, fearful whine deep within its throat. Sarah reached out a hand to calm it but it sprang up and bounded out of the room at full tilt, almost colliding with a leggy girl who was just coming through the door. They heard its claws rattling across the oak of the hallway, and Sarah sighed deeply.
"Who was that?" asked Susie.
"That was Arty," said Sarah. "Artemis - Tristan's dog. She's been with us ever since…"
"What have you done to her, Evelyn?" asked the girl in the doorway in a low, laughter-filled voice. "Ever since Christmas she's hated you."
"Rubbish," said Evelyn. "It's new people she doesn't like."
"No," insisted the girl, coming in and sitting next to Sarah, taking her hand between her own two and chafing it slightly. "She's been right off you for months now. Hallo, Mother. Who are these people?"
"These are Susie and Tom…Susie's an old friend, and Tom is her son. How old are you, Tom?"
"Seventeen this Sunday," said Tom, who had risen when the girl had come in and now bowed to her in dramatic fashion. "Tom Smith, at your service, miss."
The girl giggled and offered him her hand.
"Cal Humphries," she said, "and if you carry on treating me like a lady, I'll have to start behaving like a gentleman and call you out."
Tom grinned impishly and kissed the proffered hand.
"Sweet lady," he said, and was thrust back into his seat by his mother.
"Stop it," she said, for Sarah's eyes were fixed once more on Tom. But she did not seem offended; she was studying him with narrowed eyes and a small frown. Then she glanced at Susie again.
"Hm," was all she said, and Susie saw the flicker of suspicion in her eyes. She was about to speak, but Sarah got to her feet.
"I'm tired," she said. "Cal, you can entertain our visitors, can't you? Take them over to the school and show them round. I'll be in the garden."
And before Susie could even put down her teacup she had disappeared from the room. Cal put her own cup down and sighed through her teeth.
"It's hit her hard," she said. "I'm sorry. She won't even be gardening, you know - she'll just stand and pick a few flowers and then fall asleep in the deckchair. I wish there was something I could do."
Susie gave the girl a sympathetic grimace. She was a skinny creature, tall, quite unlike her mother, though she was very like her uncle, with short curls in an untidy tangle about her ears. Not even the tragedy of the last month had drained the humour from her, and she was warm-eyed beneath the worry. But she was pale and a small line was visible between her eyebrows, and she sighed in a way that aged her. Susie felt suddenly very sorry for her.
"You have to remember that everyone reacts in his or her own way," she said, and felt a sudden urge to give in to overwhelming tears. She clenched her teeth and drove them back, then put her teacup down and stood up.
"Let's leave her to it," she said. "Won't you show me this school of yours? I've been rather looking forward to seeing it. Nell Wilson has told me so much about it."
Susie didn't dream of Tristan that night - rather to her surprise, for she had spent so much of the day talking about him, when she wasn't crying over him. They had met Nell on the edge of the playing field and she had taken one look at her old friend and invited her into the suite she occasionally shared with Hilda Annersley, where they could talk about Tristan in peace. Cal melted tactfully away with Tom, and Hilda, Nell and Susie had talked, and laughed, and Susie had finally given vent to the tears that had been threatening all afternoon and had cried until she could barely see. Matron, another old ally, had come in and found her thus, and had immediately sent her for a lie down; a bed had been made up for her in the school, and apparently Nell had prepared Hilda for the shock of Tom, for his presence was accepted with barely a murmur by the headmistress, and she arranged for a separate room to be made up for him.
Hilda was pouring coffee when Nell returned, having seen Susie to her room.
"The poor thing," she said as Nell collapsed onto the sofa beside her and accepted a cup gratefully. "It has been rather a shock for everyone, of course, but they were always such good friends."
"Were they?" Nell gave a chuckle. "I seem to remember some prize arguments. There were times when they had barely a civil word to say to each other."
"That doesn't mean there was no feeling there," said Hilda quietly. "Quite the opposite, in fact." She took a sip of coffee and the china clinked gently as she replaced the cup in its saucer. "Nell," she said, glancing across at her partner, "am I right in thinking there's…history?"
Nell gave a chuckle, her warm eyes lighting up in reminiscence.
"Only a little bit," she said. "Susie and I shared a very pleasant winter back in our Tyrol days, when we were both new to the school. The heady days of youth! But d'you know, I don't think this would have been possible without her. She gave me the courage to try again after a…bad experience."
She put down her coffee cup as she spoke and reached out to tuck a loose strand of hair behind Hilda's ear, then leaned forward and kissed her gently. She could feel Hilda smiling as she kissed back, but the headmistress, with one eye to the window, broke away all too soon and leaned back, the same smile on her face.
"How interesting," she said, "though I didn't mean Susie and you, my dear. Let me try again; am I right in thinking there was history between Susie and Mr Denny?"
"Oh!" Nell forced herself to laugh the embarrassment away as her face grew unexpectedly hot. "Um. Well. Um."
"I shall take that as a yes," said Hilda. "Don't worry!" she added, raising her hands as Nell looked about to protest, "I won't ask any more than that."
"Good," said Nell, "because the old headmistress technique works quite as well on me as it does on the girls."
"Less of the 'old'," said Hilda. "No, the less I know about the misdeeds of my staff, the better. Anyway, I can hardly criticise, can I? Not with you to lead me from the straight and narrow."
Nell was about to make a suggestion regarding a departure from the straight and narrow that very evening, but Hilda forestalled her by setting down her cup and rising to her feet. "I suppose we had better get ready for dinner" she said. "Will young Tom be joining us, do you expect?"
"I'm sure he will," said Nell, "if we can find him. I'll send someone - and I'll have a tray sent in to Susie at the same time. She'll be glad of something later."
"Good," said Hilda, and departed with a smile to her room. Nell briefly contemplated following her, but in the end she turned to her own room, that was kept ready for her whenever she came up to the main school, and left Hilda to dress in peace.
When Susie awoke the next morning from a dreamless sleep, she felt empty and as weary as if she had not slept at all. The knowledge of Tristan's death pressed upon her consciousness the moment her eyes opened and it was with a stab of pain that she rolled over and contemplated a future without him. It was, she thought, trying to be practical, not likely to be very much different, for she had lived without him for the last eighteen years; but somehow the knowledge of his continued existence had made up for the quarrel that had seen them parted for ever, and now that he lay in a cold grave, she wondered how she would ever sleep warm again.
But eventually her body's mundane demands overcame her heart's implacable protest, and she got up and sought the bathroom and then her breakfast, and as she ate she resolved to keep up a brave face for her son, who was talking cheerfully to Nell (though goodness knew about what, for Nell's face was a complicated expression of amused and mildly scandalised - she must have a word with him) and who had never known the man she mourned so deeply and so privately.
After breakfast Susie went over to Sarah's, wondering vaguely whether there was something she could do to help her friend. Tom came too, eager for a chance to see Cal again, and though in deference to his mother's sadness he tried to suppress his energetic pleasure in their dramatic surroundings, Susie took a certain comfort in watching the vigour of youth, so resilient to the sorrow surrounding it, swinging along the path beneath the looming mountains.
Cal was in the front garden, trimming the hedge with a pair of shears, and she put them down and pushed back her shady hat as they came up, and smiled broadly at them.
"Hallo again," she said. "It's a pleasure to see you, Miss Smith." She meant it, too, Susie realised, as she shook her hand and turned to Tom. "And you too, I suppose," she said to him, and Susie wondered what had passed between them the previous afternoon.
"Is Sarah in?" she asked, and Cal gave a small snort.
"I don't think she's been out since it happened," she said, "except for the funeral. Yes, she's in. I expect she's out the back. Shall I fetch her? Come in, why don't you?"
"I'd rather enjoy your garden, if I may," said Susie. "Anyway, she might not want to see us. We'll wait here."
Cal shrugged amiably and ran off round the side of the house, her voice raised in a yell of, "Mother!". Susie stood admiring the roses that were planted in two lines bordering the path to the front door.
"They'll be lovely when they come into flower," she said to Tom, then she turned, hearing footsteps on the road beyond the hedge, and stared in astonishment. A woman was coming towards the house at a good pace, but it was not so much her speed as her appearance that had startled Susie. She was dressed all in black, but in such a motley selection of garments that Susie wondered if she had dressed herself in the dark that morning. Her black sweater was masculine and enormous, with a large hole in the collar and one cuff trailing almost off, and she wore it over tatty black slacks and a pair of shoes that were straight out of the 1920s, high-heeled and polished to a superb shine. Walking at such a rapid pace as she was, it was little wonder that she got her heel stuck in a crack in the road and fell, almost turning her ankle. She righted herself hurriedly.
"Fuck!" she exclaimed, and as she dusted herself down she became aware of the presence of Susie behind the hedge. "Oh. Morning. Is Mrs Humphries in?"
"Who are you?" asked Susie, cautiously, and the woman, taking this as an invitation, opened the gate and stepped through onto the front path. She straightened her horn-rimmed glasses and, as if suddenly remembering how to perform etiquette, put out a thin hand.
"My name is…" she paused suddenly and tilted her head to one side, subjecting Susie to a stare that made her feel as if she had been stripped right to her underthings. "Sylvia?" the woman finished, and thrust her hand towards Susie again. Susie took it, wondering why the woman was lying about her name - for lying she was, and not very well; her pale eyes were too guarded and she was fidgeting from foot to foot. But as soon as their hands touched the woman relaxed and suddenly lost interest in Susie. She turned back to the house and craned her neck, her fingers pulling at the plait of bright blonde hair that presented a startling contrast to her sober clothing.
"Is Mrs Humphries in?" she asked again, but before Susie could answer Sarah appeared around the side of the house. As soon as she saw the black-clad woman she sighed.
"You again," she said tiredly. "I've told you - I can't help you."
"But you must have looked through his things by now," said the woman, coming forward a couple of eager paces. "Are you sure there wasn't anything? No note at all?"
"I've told you," Sarah repeated, "there was nothing. My brother did not commit suicide, he died in his sleep. There was no note!"
"A piece of music, then," said the woman urgently. "A new composition. Did you look on the piano?"
"Strangely, I have had other things on my mind," said Sarah. "Now, will you please leave me alone?"
"He wouldn't have gone without leaving something for me!" insisted the woman, and Cal leapt in.
"Look here, Mother has told you - there wasn't anything for you. Can't you leave her alone?"
The woman turned her eyes on Cal and gave her the same searching look as she had given Susie.
"It's important," she said, then gave a frustrated sigh. "Look, if you find something - anything - a note, or, better, some music he wrote, just - oh, just send word to me! I can't tell you how important it is. He just wouldn't have gone like that. He shouldn't have gone that way at all. It's just not Tristan!"
"Right," said Sarah, flatly. "Now will you leave? Cal, see Miss Hunter out. Susie, come on round to the garden. I'm dead-heading pansies."
She turned on her heel and went back to her garden. Cal waved a hand at Miss Hunter.
"Come on," she said, "you heard Mum. Sorry, Miss Smith," she added in an undertone to Susie once she had chased the black-clad woman through the gate, "you haven't met Mad Maddy before, have you? She's a local character, but she can be a bit much. I suppose she wants money, or something like that, but it's driving Mum crazy."
"I can imagine," said Susie. "But what can she hope to find in the house? Surely it's been emptied since…?"
"Well," said Cal, "that's the queer thing. When his will was read, we found out he'd left instructions for his house to be kept exactly as it is for - oh, I can't remember how long. Several years, anyway. It's a bit morbid, I think. So I suppose she might find something in there, if Mother would let her in. But it's most likely to be some sort of confidence trick, don't you think? I don't remember Uncle Tristan talking about Mad Maddy much, and you'd think he'd have mentioned her in his will if he meant to leave anything for her. No, she's just trying it on." She waved mockingly as Mad Maddy turned back, partway up the road, and Maddy turned around quickly and walked on, away from the house. "Come on in, Miss Smith. I think Mum will like having some company."
Susie followed, though she turned back as they reached the corner to look at Mad Maddy one more time. But the woman had gone, and all she could see was a rabbit tail bobbing rapidly in the direction of the woods. Intrigued and bemused in equal measure, she turned back and followed Cal into the garden.
"Teach?" said Nell the following afternoon. "I suppose you can if you want to, but it's not what I had in mind."
"Then why invite me out here?" asked Susie, and Nell shrugged.
"I don't know," she said. "I thought you might like a change - inspire you with your art, something like that. But you can teach if you want. It'll be almost like old times to have you back at the Chalet School. Did you know that we're twenty five this year?"
"Oh, don't," said Susie with a sigh. "That makes me feel horribly old. Well, I don't suppose I can, really - teach, that is. It was a silly idea."
"Oh, I don't know," said Nell. "We need a junior art mistress, and I seem to remember your art lessons were always very popular."
"And what about Tom? Oh, but, Nell, wasn't Hilda welcoming to him? I rather thought she might be scandalised."
"Perhaps she was, a little, but she's a good hearted soul. I'm not sure what she'll tell the others, mind you. Even I'm a little shocked, and I know you through and through! Why didn't you tell me?"
"I don't know. Not because I was ashamed - I'm not, not at all. Tom's a boy any woman would be proud of, and quite equal to the challenge of having an unmarried mother. And other people make it easier - mostly they assume I'm a war widow. I used to challenge them at first, to see the shock on their faces, but the joke's worn a bit thin. No, I think I didn't tell you because I didn't want it getting about. I think I wanted you all at the Chalet School to remember me with pride, rather than as a woman fallen from grace."
"In this day and age?" she said.
"It's still important in places like this," said Susie. "The Chalet School was the place I came to be a different woman. I liked the calmer person that I was when I taught here, and I liked all of you people I worked with. You were always…better than me, somehow."
"Tosh!" said Nell, and Susie smiled.
"I know!" she said suddenly. "He can join the sixth form girls!"
"Susie! Use a little common sense! I'm not letting that boy anywhere near my girls!"
"And why not?"
"Because I trust him about as much as I trust you!" said Nell, and Susie opened her mouth to argue and shut it again in the face of the fairness of this statement.
"Well, what shall I do with him?" she said.
"Aren't you going to send him back to school?" asked Nell.
"Can't. He was expelled for being a relentless troublemaker," said Susie, and Nell snorted with amusement.
"Why doesn't that surprise me?" she said.
"All he wants to do is music," Susie explained. "He hasn't the patience for his other lessons. This year he won a scholarship to the Royal Academy of Music, and that was it, as far as normal school was concerned. I kept trying to tell him to keep at it, but it's so hard when you're on your own and don't have anyone to back you up. Sometimes, just occasionally, I've wished that his father was around - but anyway, he'll be at the Academy next year, so hopefully he'll stop messing around and start to work properly."
"What's he going to be studying?" asked Nell, and Susie gave a small, humourless laugh.
"Singing," she said and added, painfully, "Just like his dad."
The nagging ache inside her throbbed once more. Tristan would never hear Tom sing, and it was all her fault for being too proud. She sighed, and Nell made a sympathetic sort of a noise.
"I did wonder," she said, and Susie sighed again, faintly.
"Well, now you know," she said, and looked about her. "And on that note…where is Tom?"
His mother would not have been surprised to learn that Tom was in a sunny corner of the school garden surrounded, as usual, by girls. Cal was there, looking cynically amused, and so were the Maynard triplets, Len, Con and Margot, and Ailie Russell, who was spending the holiday with her cousins. Their laughter carried lightly on the still air into the woods beyond the boundary of the school grounds.
"What rot!" Margot was saying, though she was grinning hugely. "I don't believe it!"
"Is it true, Tom?" Ailie demanded. Tom affected an insulted manner.
"True? I've never spoken a truer word. And when we'd finished, they quacked like a pair of ducks. You've never heard anything like it in your life!"
"And was that what got you expelled?" asked Len, who had forgotten her habitual responsibility that afternoon and was laughing along with the rest. Tom shook his head.
"Oh no," he said. "That was…but I'd better not tell you."
A chorus of protest from the girls. Tom preened.
"No," he repeated. "It's a tale unfit for maidenly ears."
"Oh, balderdash!" cried Cal, her affectation of outrage spoiled only by the laughter that rang behind her words. "I'm a gentleman, even if this lot aren't. Whisper it - if you dare, that is."
"Who could resist such a challenge?" grinned Margot, and Tom laughed.
"Ladies, ladies! You must desist!"
"Oh, Tom! Tell us!"
As Tom sat on the bank, basking in the attention of his ladies, he spotted a familiar figure on the fringes of the woods, coming slowly in their direction.
"Is it me," he said, "or has Evelyn got beautiful since she came back here? I'm sure she wasn't that pretty on the train."
The girls all looked round and saw Evelyn, blonde curls loose over her shoulders and her skirt, unfashionably long, trailing in the grass behind her, strolling through the field that bordered the school grounds. She was stopping every so often to pick the wild flowers that scattered the borders of the woods, and it seemed to Tom that every time she bent to pluck one the movement showed off her figure to fresh advantage. He stared, now barely aware of the girls that were sitting about him, and he gave a startled jerk when Con spoke.
"She has, hasn't she?" she said, oblivious to the effect Evelyn had had on Tom. "With her hair like that, she looks like a Pre-Raphaelite princess."
"A princess in green silk," said Tom, his eyes returning to Evelyn. She must have felt his gaze, for she raised her head and, seeing the young people sitting together, abandoned her flower picking and came across to join them, the blooms tumbling from her hands as she crossed the field.
"Hallo," she said, with none of her usual bashfulness. "What are you people doing out here?"
"Tom's telling us stories," said Margot.
"Himself, mostly," said the youngest Maynard triplet, and Ailie exchanged grins with her.
"I'm telling them what a rogue I am, and how they should keep away from me," Tom said, but his voice had little of his usual insouciance. It trembled, and Cal turned puzzled eyes on him.
"Clearly you're trying very hard to get rid of them," laughed Evelyn, and as she looked at Tom her tongue darted out and wet her top lip. Cal, watching, felt faintly revolted, but Tom saw none of it; he smiled in bashful fashion and patted the bank beside him for Evelyn to sit down.
"Were you in the woods?" Cal asked, with some irritation.
"I was," said Evelyn, sitting down and bestowing a gracious smile upon her adopted sister.
"What have you been doing?"
"Oh, just wandering," said Evelyn.
"What, all day? You went out after breakfast!"
"I like wandering," said Evelyn, and her face had lost its humour. "I like the woods. They're so very…peaceful. I'll have to take you there, one day," she added, to Tom, smiling again. "You'll like them. You can hear music in them, if you listen carefully enough."
"I love music," said Tom, faintly. Evelyn smiled for slightly too long, then picked up the flowers she had laid down beside her.
"I picked these for Sarah," she said, "but I have far too many. Perhaps you people would like some? Here, Len, here are some primroses for you, and Con, you have these marguerites. Heartsease for Margot, and there's some daffodils for you, Ailie. And Tom. What can you have?"
"I don't need flowers," said Tom, with an effort, but Evelyn smiled and proffered him the bunch.
"Choose," she said. Tom reached out his hand, and Cal felt a chill run through her.
"What?" Tom turned, and it was as if she saw him through thick glass, he moved so slowly. Everyone was looking at her; quickly she sought a reason for her outcry, and took refuge in her usual teasing.
"Well, it's not very manly, is it?" she said, with a forced laugh. "Flowers, I mean. It's not as if you have a jacket, for a buttonhole, you know. Leave it, Tom."
The last words she spoke urgently and they seemed to penetrate, for he laughed and when he spoke he sounded almost like his old self.
"Quite right, quite right! Thanks, Evelyn, but I'll make do as I am."
"Well, now." Evelyn smiled but there was no affection in it, and she showed a little too much tooth as she turned on Cal. "No flower for Tom. But there must be a flower for Cal."
"I'm alright," muttered Cal, but Evelyn nodded her head.
"Here," she said, drawing a flower from the centre of the bunch. "You should have this."
Their eyes met, and Evelyn won. Cal reached out and took the flower, and gasped as a thorn pricked her thumb. She stuck it into her mouth and sucked the blood away.
"Where did you get a rose at this time of year?" she asked, faintly, when she took it out again. "Mother's aren't out yet, and I know she has some early flowerers."
Evelyn looked at her quite evenly.
"There's a place in the woods," she said. "Perhaps I will take you there, one day."
The words were almost the same as she had spoken to Tom, but the tone was quite different; there was a sharpness in it, a toothy edge which set the back of Cal's neck shivering. She set the double rose down on the grassy bank and pulled her cardigan closer round her.
"Perhaps," she said, but the gathering had lost its glamour for her. She got up.
"I think I'm going to go home," she said. "It's going to rain, anyway."
"Rot!" said Margot. "It's lovely weather!"
But Cal was running down the bank, the red of her cardigan bright in the sunlight, and Margot shrugged and turned back to the others.
"Oh, look," she said. "She's left her rose behind."
"Never mind," said Evelyn, picking up the rose from where it lay scarlet against the green of the grass. "I'll make sure she gets it." She took the rose and lifted it to the sun, twisting it between her fingers. "It's a very special rose indeed," she said, and smiled again.
Thank you for the comments.
Susie spent the next few days borrowing notes from the rooms of various junior mistresses and preparing and polishing a plan for junior English lessons. It is fair to say that her teaching skills were very rusty, and initially she found herself wishing that she had never suggested the idea to Nell, but by the end of the week she had begun to enjoy her work and never paused to consider what Tom was doing with his days. After all, it was very likely that he was in good company.
Indeed there was good company for him. Tom spent his time loafing around the Platz, sometimes with the Maynard girls and Ailie, but always with Cal at his side. In fact, it came to the point that he began to grow irritated by her constant presence, though she never got in his way or stopped him from doing anything - except, that is, for having the chance to spend time alone with Evelyn. Not that Evelyn was around much; she seemed to spend a lot of time wandering by herself, not wanting the company of others, and much to Tom's disappointment, she showed very little interest in him after that first day. Tom, well in the grip of his first crush, followed her with sorrowful eyes, and never noticed Cal's pale face and anxious brown eyes watching him just as intently as he watched Evelyn.
So the days passed, and on Sunday Susie and Tom were invited round to Sarah's house for lunch. Sarah seemed to have brightened a little since they had come out to the Platz, and her husband, Ted Humphries, now secretary to the Görnetz branch of the Sanatorium, was pleased to murmur in Susie's ear that he was sure that Susie's visits to the house had wrought at least some of that change.
"She's even talking of having a bit of music later," he told her, "and she's not wanted to hear music since Tristan died. I hope you'll sing for us, Susie. Have you kept your voice going?"
Susie was quick to acquiesce, and after the meal Sarah went to the piano and began the music with a piece of such relentless cheeriness that it surprised Susie, who had expected something a little more sober for Sarah's first musical foray since the funeral. But then Cal took over, proving herself to be a very adept musician, and after that Tom, who had spent much of the meal in dazzled silence (he had been sitting very close to Evelyn), brightened up and clamoured for a chance to show off his own music.
"Alright!" laughed Susie, "but no singing! No, I mean it!" she said as Tom groaned. "He was told to rest his voice for a few weeks," she explained to the others. "He's had a bad throat and the worst thing would be to damage it permanently just before you go to the Academy, wouldn't it? No, you accompany and I'll sing. I don't have to worry about ruining my voice."
She sang one of Schubert's lieder, one that Tristan had taught her many years ago. It had a slightly melancholic melody line and, when she saw how Sarah's eyes were looking suspiciously damp, she suddenly understood why Sarah had played such an unbearably happy piece herself. Quickly she whispered to Tom, and then she sang a song Tristan had written for her, a song they had kept to themselves, bright and joyous and quite unfamiliar to their audience, who sat rapt with attention. Susie smiled as she sang and felt her heart lift, as so often it did when she sang that song.
Then it happened. One moment she was in the salon of Sarah's house, the next she was somewhere else entirely. It was like stepping into an Alpine winter; she was surrounded by brilliant whiteness and the ground on which she stood was soft and gave slightly as she shifted her weight and turned around to see where she was. But there were no shapes, no shadows, only a very familiar figure standing a short distance away, dramatic against the white of their surroundings. Dressed in the same dark suit as when last she had seen him, in 1940, and with his brown hair tumbling down onto his collar, Tristan Denny turned round and jumped at the sight of her.
"Susie! What are you doing here?"
"What am I doing here?" Susie gaped at him. It must be a vision, she thought, as Tristan stared back at her in frank astonishment. Perhaps she had fainted; any minute now she would wake up back in Sarah's salon, and this remarkably real dream would end. But nothing happened, just a long, white, whirling moment, and then she took a breath of the cool air and stared at her dead lover. He seemed quite as amazed to see her as she was to see him.
"You shouldn't be here," he said.
"What do you mean, I shouldn't be here? You're my vision!"
She couldn't help laughing.
"Oh Tristan! Even after you're dead you're not sure what's going on!"
"Ah, yes. Dead." He frowned a little more, and when he spoke, his voice was rather more urgent than before. "Listen, Susie, there is not a lot of time. Where are you? What is happening around you?"
"Nothing. It's all white." She could not tell how close he was to her; there was no sense of space, no distance, their voices were neither dull nor echoing. All she had was a feeling of many things folded in upon one small piece of space, a busy, hectic sensation on her skin and in her eardrums. She thought briefly that if she listened hard enough she would hear voices, the wind and rain, hunting horns and the sound of metal on metal; and yet the air was still and there was dead silence except when they spoke.
Tristan shook his head impatiently.
"No," he said. "In the…world. What were you doing just now, before you arrived here?"
"I was at Sarah's - I was singing."
"'Late September'. You know - the one you wrote for me."
"I do remember," he said, with a sudden relief. "Good. So it is one of mine, but not the other. But…that does not explain how you got here. What happened?"
"I don't know," she said. "I was singing, and then everything went white, and I was here. I expect I fainted."
"Mm. Yes. I expect so." His attention had wandered from her; he was frowning in thought, and Susie felt the familiar surge of irritation with him, almost drowning out the helpless waves of love.
"Has Maddy told you yet?" he asked suddenly.
"Maddy! Has she explained yet, or is that to come?"
"Tristan, I don't understand!"
He was rolling his eyes and frustration swelled within her at his dismissive response to her confusion. She fought an urge to needle him, an urge she had given in to on far too many occasions, and took a step towards him, feeling her body dip slightly as the ground gave beneath her feet.
"Tristan, why all these questions?" she asked. "It's just a dream - a waking dream, if you like - and…all I want you to do is hold me before it ends!"
He looked up, the darker thoughts banished momentarily.
"I thought you had finished with all that?" he said. "Is that not what you said to me all those years ago?"
Susie flung up her hands.
"If you're going to be like that," she said, hot irritation throbbing in her veins, and he put out a hand to her.
"Seventeen years is a long time to repent," he said, but as she reached towards him he snatched his hand away. "No, don't touch me."
"If you do, your time on earth will not be long," he said, "and I would rather know you were still alive - out there."
"Don't!" His voice was suddenly tender, as it had been all those years ago, before they had started arguing. Susie swallowed hard against the tears that wanted to come, and stretched out her fingertips towards his hand.
"No," he began to say, but she shook her head.
"I'm not touching," she said. "I simply want to be…as close as I can get."
For a pale moment they stood, hands a fragment of an inch apart, and the silence lasted forever and was over in a second. The last thing she remembered was Tristan smiling that old, fond, familiar smile and bringing his hands together, lightly, the palms barely touching, and then she blinked and was back on the hard oak of Sarah's salon floor. She stumbled sideways slightly on the unfamiliar ground, and Tom stopped playing.
"I'm fine," she said, "I'm alright." They were all absolutely still, watching her, and she was unable to do anything except speak the truth. "I was just…thinking of Tristan."
The spell snapped and people began to move again. Ted shifted uncomfortably, Cal put her fingers on her mother's arm, Tom ran his fingers over the keyboard and averted his gaze, embarrassed. Only Evelyn remained still and Susie felt her gaze on her, watching her, pale, composed, almost calculating. It lasted for a moment and then suddenly it seemed that she had been talking to Sarah all along; and so the music party broke up.
As Susie and Tom took their leave and began to walk towards the holiday chalet they had taken for the term (Nell and Hilda having intimated, with endless politeness, that the presence of a boy in school was not a welcome distraction, especially in exam term), there came a small, skittering sound behind them. Susie turned, and there behind her in the road was Artemis, Tristan's whippet-like hunting dog, racing along the road after her. She charged up to Susie's feet and then sat expectantly, panting hard and with her tongue lolling out of her mouth. Susie bent and ruffled the fur behind her ears for a while, then waved a hand towards Sarah's house.
"Home!" she said. "Go home, Artemis!"
The dog wagged its stumpy tail in excitement and ran off, not in the direction of Sarah's house, but past them, along the path Susie and Tom were taking. She was a fast creature and was soon out of sight, but when they came to the door they found her sitting on the step, again with that expectant look. Susie unlocked the door and the dog bounded in, charged into the sitting room and collapsed joyfully on the hearth rug.
"What's wrong with her?" asked Tom, following his mother into the room.
"I don't know," said Susie. "Perhaps she's bored and wanted a change of scene. Well, humans do!" she added, as Tom snorted with laughter. "Why not dogs? But I'll take her back if she's still here this evening. After all, she can't stay here, can she?"
But when evening came the dog refused to go with her, lying on her belly and whining deep inside her chest, and so Susie let her stay and send Tom round to Sarah's house to explain. When he returned she sent him to bed and then went and sat on the sofa, Artemis flopping down happily at her feet, and relived the bizarre waking dream again and again, trying to make sense of it; but try as she might, she could not understand.
Thank you for the comments!
It was a long time before Susie slept that night. Meeting with Tristan had thrown her into confusion; even the memory felt more intensely real than she did now, curled up in bed with the quilt tucked round her, and yet it must have been a dream, for he couldn't possibly be as young as he had looked that afternoon - he was about to turn sixty, after all. But, she reflected, in her mind's eye she did still picture him as when she had last seen him twenty years ago, so if it had been a dream (and it must have been, he was dead and buried, she couldn't possibly have talked to him!) then perhaps it was not so surprising that the Tristan she had seen earlier had not aged quite as much as she herself had.
And yet her memory must be confused, for he had talked of Mad Maddy, and Maddy was more recent than the last encounter Susie had had with Tristan. How was she to explain that? After all, no-one had ever said that he had had any sort of friendship with Maddy - Cal had said almost the opposite, in fact. Was it her weary mind, mixing up recent happenings with past events? She was a rational woman, she refused to believe in dead souls speaking from the spirit world; and yet the urgency of his manner had infected her, and Maddy's bizarre hounding of Sarah and the peculiar behaviour of the dog were starting to trouble her rather more than she liked to admit. Could there be a message in this strange vision she had had? But if so, what? What could Tristan possibly have to say to her that he was trying to speak from beyond the grave?
At this point, her rational mind caught up with her, and she flung herself irritably onto her side and pulled the quilt up around her.
"Don't be ridiculous," she told herself. "You miss him, and you feel horribly guilty that you never made up that stupid quarrel before he died, and your brain is tormenting you with stupid visions that don't make sense. You're a silly idiot, and you should have been asleep hours ago."
She closed her eyes and concentrated on sleep, but as is so often the case, sleep when called for failed to come, and so she sat up and turned the lamp on, thinking to read a little instead. As she reached for her novel she heard Tom's door open and paused, hand hovering over the book, but then the bathroom door opened and closed and she relaxed, picked up her Agatha Christie, and began to read.
She heard the toilet flush, the water running into the washbasin, and then the bathroom door opened again and she heard Tom's feet padding along the landing. But his steps paused outside her room, and after a few moments hesitation she heard the handle to her door creak as it turned, and the door opened to reveal her tousle-haired son, barefooted and rumpled in his pyjamas.
"Mum?" he said. "Are you alright? I saw the light was on and I…"
"I'm alright," she said, laying down her book again. "Couldn't sleep, is all. What's up?"
"Nothing's up," he said, coming a few steps into the room and standing at the foot of the bed. He ran a finger over the bed knob and fidgeted slightly. Then he looked up, suddenly awkward.
"Do you want to…talk about it?" he said, and Susie smiled at him.
"Do you want to talk?" she countered, and patted the bed. Tom hesitated, teenage pride battling with filial affection, but affection won the day and he came and sat down on the end of the bed, curling up and tucking the end of the quilt around his feet. They sat in companionable silence for a while, and then Tom sighed.
"It's quiet here, isn't it?" he said, and Susie sighed in sympathy.
"Mm. No traffic, no people wandering along shouting to each other. D'you remember when we lived out the back of that pub? At half past ten all you could hear was, 'Night, John!' - 'John, night!' - 'John, are you off? Night!' - 'Night!' - 'John - John - John! Night, John!' - d'you remember?"
"Yeah," said Tom, with a laugh. "You sure as anything don't get that here. This place is as quiet as a graveyard. Quieter - you get drunks in graveyards, sometimes."
"And sometimes the church doors open and you can hear the organ," said Susie, irrelevantly, and Tom gave her the look that teenage boys reserve especially for their mothers.
"Anyway," he said, "I didn't mean that it was quiet in that sense. I meant that it's the sort of place where nothing happens, ever. I mean, Mum, you should hear the Maynard girls going on about the school Sale!"
"It's a different pace of life in this sort of place," said Susie, and Tom sighed.
"D'you think people get used to it?" he asked. "Or do you have to be born to it?"
"You'll get used to it," said Susie. "Oh, and while I have you here, no seducing Chalet School girls! I'm answerable for you to Nell Wilson, and if you don't know how terrifying she is, let me enlighten you - Beelzebub and all his horde of satanic minions have nothing on her sarcastic tongue."
"Ooh, I wouldn't want anyone to get sarcastic at you," said Tom. "How would you survive it?"
"Just you make sure you behave," said Susie, wagging a finger, and Tom rolled his eyes and made a face.
"As if any of them interest me," he said, but he said it quietly, without vigour.
Silence drifted between them again, though it was a settled silence. Tom was picking at the edge of the quilt, trying to pull a thread from the cover. Somewhere outside an owl hooted once, twice, and a slight breeze ruffled up the treetops, making them rustle faintly. Susie closed her eyes and wondered if she might be about to sleep.
"Will you tell me about him?" said Tom suddenly, and Susie opened her eyes again.
"Who?" she asked, though she was expecting the answer when Tom said,
"Your friend Tristan - you never told me his surname. You've mentioned him a few times but you've never really talked about him, and yet you're all upset now that he's dead. Who was he?"
"One of my…dearest friends," said Susie, with an effort. "Was, anyway. We went about together a good deal when we were younger, and I…I loved him very much. I met him in the Tyrol - he taught singing when I was junior mistress, and he taught me how to sing and we became friends and he's - he was - the kindest, sweetest, most lovely man you could ever hope to meet. The sweetest temperament. He was utterly mad, of course - he talked like something out of a fairy tale, and he wore the oddest suits, and he had hair down to his shoulders and he was crazy for music, but…I think you'd have liked him, if you'd met him. I'm so…so sorry you didn't meet him."
Her voice cracked on the last sentence and tears shivered in her eyes and Tom, sweet-natured despite his boyish disinclination towards embraces, crawled forward over the bed and put his arms around his mother. Though she was tempted to give in to tears, her son's presence brought some degree of self-control to Susie and she swallowed hard and blinked away the water in her eyes.
"Am I awfully sad?" she asked him, and he propped himself up on the headboard as he nodded.
"You don't laugh nearly as much as normal," he said. "You must have loved him very much - but why didn't you ever see him?"
"Oh, Tom." Susie leaned back too, side by side with her son, and stared at the white-plastered ceiling. "Things happen, and you don't always make the right decisions, and believe it or not, grown-ups can be utter idiots sometimes. I was an idiot - and I lost him."
"Was he an old flame?" Tom was teasing but it was too close to the mark; Susie sat up, pushed back her hair and gave her son a shove.
"That's enough," she said. "Bed, or you'll be fit for nothing in the morning. You're still jolly well getting lessons, even if you have got yourself expelled from school, so off you trot or you'll be sleeping through them."
Tom made a face, but when he got to the door he turned, laughing again.
"I'm right, aren't I?" he said, and Susie pointed firmly at the door.
"Alright, alright! I'm going. Night, Mum."
He turned to go out, then came back and skipped over, light as an elf, to kiss her swiftly before running out and closing the door quietly behind him. Susie, more amused than she was annoyed, chuckled quietly and lay back, still propped up on her pillows, and closed her eyes for a moment.
When she opened them again the dawn was breaking over the woods, rose-pink and fresh, and in the middle of the lawn sat a hare, its ears laid back, nose twitching for the first scent of danger. But Susie simply yawned, turned over and pulled the pillow over her head to shut off the dawn chorus, and so she never saw it at all.
Susie went through the next day expecting the unexpected and, though she refused to admit as much to herself, she was longing to fall into another dream and to see Tristan once more. Again and again she lived through the conversation she would have with him, how she would tell that she had missed him, would apologise for her stupidity, would tell him that, even after all this long time parted, she still loved him; and Monday passed in something of a daze as she waited and waited for an event that never happened. By evening she was drained by the anticipation and grew irritable, snapping at Tom and finding herself entirely incapable of keeping up a conversation with Nell, who had come round to dinner.
"What's the matter with you?" her old friend demanded over the chocolate torte, and Susie scowled and hunched her shoulders defensively.
"Nothing," she said. Moments later she realised how like a grumpy child she sounded and remembered guiltily how often she had done this to Tristan and how then, as now, she had been able to exert so little control over her rebellious emotions.
Despite the disappointment of Monday, she still retained a few hopes for Tuesday, but by Wednesday her rational mind had gained the upper hand and she had completely given up the idea of seeing Tristan again. Thursday brought the start of term and a welcome respite from grief, which she was by now convinced had triggered the vision in the first place, and she threw herself into school work and the business of being a school mistress. Hilda had placed her in charge of Upper IVb, and though she would not actively be teaching them she was determined to do her best by them as form mistress. She was rather taken aback by the size of the school when she met them that evening, however. When she had taught last, in the Tyrol days, it had been a small concern, but now there were hundreds of girls tumbling in through the doors. Nell, who had forgiven her for her inattention on Monday night, leaned over and murmured in her ear.
"Bit bigger than our last adventure together, isn't it? D'you think you can handle the pace?"
Susie scoffed to Nell's face, though privately she wasn't absolutely certain that she could.
Tom, who had rebelled against his mother's orders to stay at home and put in some reading in preparation for his own lessons, which were to start the following Monday, was also rather impressed by the scale of the place. He had come out into the cool May evening and could be seen loitering near the school gate, watching the school coaches disgorge themselves onto the school drive, the girls forming line like so many soldier ants and streaming in through the grand doorway in the manner of an invasion force. Cal and the Maynards were already inside, he knew, though Cal would not be staying; she had elected to become a day girl for the term, ostensibly to look after her mother, who was still dazed by Tristan's death.
Tom was glad, for he liked Cal in spite of her prickly manner and her boy-like habit of teasing almost to the point of cruelty. There had been a dust-up between her and Evelyn only the previous day; Cal had objected to Evelyn putting a vase of flowers in her room and had demanded that Evelyn take it away, saying that Evelyn could be as pathetically girly as she liked but that she, Cal, refused to bow to the stereotype that all women loved flowers, and maintaining that none of her brothers would have flowers put in their room for them. Tom had been present and had come down on Evelyn's side, for he thought Cal unnecessarily aggressive in her manner, and Sarah, when appealed to, had also taken Evelyn's part and had pointed out rather tiredly that she had always put fresh flowers in her boys' rooms when they had come home from school, and that Evelyn was only trying to be nice. Evelyn, looking wounded and upset, had agreed fervently with the last remark and when Cal was sarcastic in her response, Sarah had decided that the rose was to stay and that Cal should apologise to Evelyn for her rudeness. The apology was made grudgingly, though Evelyn, Tom thought with a smile, had been very gracious and sweet in her acceptance, just as she always was.
He sighed slightly as he watched the last of the girls disappear through the door into the yellow warmth beyond. Ordinarily the idea of living next door to a girls' school would have been a thing of great delight, and he would have amused himself in getting to know those girls that were brave enough to talk to a young man over the school fence, and in flirting a little and making them laugh. But now all he wanted was what he could not have. He knew how to flirt, he knew how to attract a girl and keep her attention, and he revelled in it, but how were his powers of persuasion suppose to act upon a woman of thirty, who was an experienced musician and had lived in the world, and who looked on him as a boy - if she even she looked on him at all? It was hopeless to try, and yet the thought of her would not let him alone; he even dreamed about her, love oppressing him to the point of angry restlessness, and over all of it was laid the knowledge that there was nothing he could do to help himself. He had seen boys in love before, unable to secure the object of their affections and pining away under the strain, and he had vowed he would never be struck the same way - and yet here he was, suffering along with them. He would have laughed at himself had it not been so serious.
"Big school, isn't it?"
Tom jumped at the sound of the voice and turned to see a young man, about his age, with a pointed chin and slicked back dark hair. He was leaning against a tree on the opposite side of the road, but as Tom turned he pushed himself upright and came sauntering across to lean on the fence beside him. His shirt sleeves were pushed up to reveal pale arms, leanly muscled, and he rested them on the fence with a cool abandon that seemed to mock Tom's inner confusion.
"Do you think they know how lucky they are?" asked the boy, still gazing at the school. His speech was accented, but lightly, and Tom assumed he must be a local. He shook his head vaguely.
"I don't know," he said. "Lucky how?"
"Getting a good education, mummy and daddy with lots of money, learning lots of languages." The boy nodded his head and smiled. "Oh, yes, they are lucky."
"I suppose so."
"You related to one of them?" asked the boy, and Tom shook his head.
"My mum teaches there," he said. "Well, she's just started teaching there, anyway. I don't think she means to stay."
Though that was always a possibility, he thought with a sudden jolt in the pit of his stomach. Grown ups were capricious, and his mother especially so, and there was no telling what she would decide to do if she enjoyed teaching here. Briefly he wondered what he would do, so far from civilisation, and then he wondered what might happen if he did not stay here; how would he manage without seeing Evelyn? And yet, came a second thought on the heels of the first, how would he manage, being so close to Evelyn, and not going mad? He sighed, and the boy grinned a pale-toothed smile and clapped him on the shoulder.
"That's a sorrowful sigh if ever I heard one," he said, and thrust a hand at Tom. "Berthold's my name. What's yours?"
"Tom," said Tom, taking Berthold's hand in what he hoped was a manly grip. The hand he took was dry and cold and softer that he had expected from the rough labourer's clothes Berthold wore, and he held it for slightly too long, but when he let go the other boy gave him another slap on the shoulder and laughed.
"Good to meet you!" he cried. "Good to meet you! We do not see many new faces up here - excepting all these girls, of course. Will you come and drink with me? There is a good inn near here - fine beer, good company. You will enjoy it - and we can talk about that sigh of yours."
Tom hesitated, but he had taken a liking to Berthold's honest face and cheerful manner, and so after a brief qualm about his neglected lessons he fell in beside the young Swiss quite happily.
"Where is it?" he asked as they strolled along the dry road away from the school. "I oughtn't to go too far - my mum will be on the warpath if I don't get home at a decent hour."
"What is a decent hour?" asked Berthold with another laugh, but went on without waiting for an answer. "It is not far - just on the edge of the woods, in fact. Oh, by the way," he added, "you shouldn't go too near the woods, you know - especially not at night."
"No?" Tom was fascinated. "Why not?"
"They're supposed to be dangerous," said Berthold, and grimaced. "I'm not sure how true that is, but there have been some odd types around - vagabonds or something of that sort, lurking in the woods, and people say it's not safe."
"I see," said Tom, then a sudden thought struck him. "Evelyn! I have a…a friend who wanders about in the woods by herself. I'd better tell her."
"Is that the girl that lives at Wald Villa?" asked Berthold. "I've seen her about. Don't worry - next time I see her I'll give her the advice, though I think she's lived here for a while."
"And the pub?"
"Oh, you needn't trouble about the pub. It's right on the edge, and the landlady is a decent sort and keeps good order, as well as serving the best beer this side of the Alps! Come on, Tom, the sooner we're there, the more time we'll have for drinking!"
Needless to say, Tom did not get home at a decent hour that night. Instead he sat for a good two hours with Berthold in a snug corner of the pub, which was little more than one irregularly-shaped room with a smoky fireplace taking up much of one wall and the bar, consisting of three barrels of beer and a variety of krugs for drinking, filling another. Despite its small size it was clearly a popular drinking spot, with the crowd of patrons spilling out into the garden in front of the building, sitting on the low wall that ran around it and chattering merrily under a moon which waned gibbous in the darkening sky. Berthold greeted several people by name, introducing Tom to all and sundry, and rather than the suspicious response Tom had anticipated from his experiences in English pubs, he found himself welcomed with the greatest warmth by the regular crowd. Somehow Berthold found them a small table in a corner away from the rest and there they sat, and drank excellent beer, and talked in friendly fashion about England, Switzerland, life in general and school in particular (Berthold was fond of learning though, sadly for him, no longer at school), and by the end of the evening Tom felt he had made a new friend. Berthold even gave him some unsolicited advice on girls.
"Don't get too close," he said. "Girls, they like to tease, and there's nothing more they like than to lead a man on. Don't let it happen to you, my friend!"
Susie wasn't too pleased when her son finally made an appearance, heralded by a repeated scratching noise as he tried to get his wavering key into the lock of the front door. But she was a woman of the world and had been far more drunk in her time than her staggering boy, and so she put him to bed with a glass of water and told him with energetic cruelty that he had jolly well better be down at breakfast for seven o'clock, or he would know trouble like he'd never known it before.
Sorry this wasn't posted last night! I'm getting far too busy at the moment to keep up :-S
Tom appeared at the kitchen door the next morning looking very sorry for himself, but his mother was ruthless in her lack of sympathy.
"Coffee," she said, slapping a cup down in front of him as he slumped, groaning, into a chair. "And when you've had your breakfast you can go outside and weed the garden for half an hour before Sarah gets here for your lessons. Yes, I do mean it," she added as Tom began a very subdued protest. "The fresh air will do you good, and you can spend a bit of time reflecting on how worried your dear mother feels when she comes home and finds her pride and joy is nowhere to be seen. Maybe that and your head between them will make you think twice before wandering off with strangers next time."
The punishment didn't stop there, and Tom found himself condemned to preparing almost all of the dinner for that evening, as well as dusting, sweeping and generally tidying up in between his lessons. Susie had arranged with Sarah and Nell that Tom might have a little general teaching from them both, to fill his empty days until the start of the new term at the Royal Academy, and in addition to that Tom was quite capable of occupying himself with music practice, so his mother hoped there would be enough to keep him busy while she was at the school. As was usual with her, she had come out to the Platz without the first thought about what she would do with her son and she was rather glad, and very grateful, to have the help of her friends in finding a practical solution.
As Tom settled into a routine of lessons, practice and long wandering walks, generally accompanied (without his mother's knowledge) by Berthold, who had a habit of turning up unexpectedly in various places and was always glad to stroll a little way with his new friend, Susie herself settled back into school life rather more quickly than she had expected. After a slightly chaotic time as an illustrator back in England, working on any project that came her way and never quite sure whether she would still have a job in a month's time, she found in herself a peculiar appreciation for the routine of school, with its set meals and regular cycle of register, homework, games and hobbies. Even though the school was larger and considerably more formal than it had been the last time she had taught there, some things had not changed since before the war and the familiar old faces of Nell, Hilda and Gwynneth Lloyd were enough to make the place feel like home.
The joy of not living in the school, Susie found, was that very often her evenings were free to do with as she pleased, and without requiring permission from the head. She took herself quite often to Sarah's house - not without invitation, for Sarah had issued one of those vague offers for her to, "come round whenever you like," and Susie had taken her at her word - for she was convinced that her old friend needed company, and much as she liked Ted, he hadn't loved Tristan as Sarah and she had. Several nights of the week found her there, sitting quietly with her old friend, and Sarah did not seem to mind her presence; in fact, one evening she suggested that they have some more music. Tom, always a willing companion on these visits to the Humphries household, had been allowed to show off his talents on the piano and on his clarinet, and Susie had sung a few folk songs, and afterwards Sarah had given a sigh and had observed, quietly, "Isn't music magical? I'd forgotten how much I'd missed it," and had smiled for the first time since Susie had arrived on the Platz.
Evelyn, who had sat through the music with an appreciative sort of face, could not be prevailed upon to play.
"I've hurt my wrist," she said, "and I don't want to strain it."
"No, you don't want to do that," said Tom, suddenly eager. "Like my voice - I'm not supposed to sing for a few weeks or I might damage it permanently."
"What voice do you sing?" asked Sarah suddenly, and Tom turned reluctantly from Evelyn.
"Tenor, Mrs Humphries," he said, and Sarah nodded thoughtfully.
"You don't have to keep calling me Mrs Humphries," she said. "Sarah will do - or Auntie Sarah, if you'd prefer."
Susie kept her face carefully straight as she looked searchingly at Sarah, trying to determine how much she knew. Her friend had been fairly inscrutable even in her younger days and there was not much to be seen in her face now. Did she suspect the truth? After all, she had known her brother when he was Tom's age, and Susie had only to glance at her son to see Tristan in every line of him.
But if she knew, Sarah said nothing, though she did smile when Tom said he would be happy to call her his aunt.
The second weekend of term, Nell took Susie to hear the echoes.
They strolled all the way from the school, slowly enough to save their breath for chatter. It had been a long time since they had seen each other last and there was a good deal for them to talk about, and though Susie had feared that initial awkwardness that so often springs up between old friends long parted, school matters kept them going for long enough to melt the ice that had settled upon their friendship and, gradually, the conversation turned onto other things: old friends, past times, and their days in the Tyrol, when they had both been younger and far more carefree.
"Do you remember the ice carnival in our first year?" said Susie. "Breaking bounds and skating, and the brandy Herr Anserl made himself?"
"I do remember," said Nell, grinning reminiscently. "You and I had the most blazing row, and I broke it off with you the next day."
"Oh, well!" Susie waved an irritable hand. "I choose to remember the good parts, thank you."
"I didn't hurt you too badly, did I?" asked Nell. "I was young and rather bruising then, and I had been made quite unhappy not long before - but it was never my intention to hurt."
"I think it was the most sensible decision of your life," said Susie, and she smiled. "And what with Con Stewart arriving so soon afterwards, I don't think I'd have stood a chance!"
"Not that that lasted," said Nell, her face still sober. Then she brightened. "But I'm happy now. You know that…Hilda and me, we're…"
"I didn't!" Susie stopped and seized her friend's arm in delight. "Oh, Nell, that's wonderful! Utterly charming! I'm so pleased for you."
"And I'm glad you hadn't noticed!" laughed Nell, returning Susie's hug gladly. "I do worry that we are too obvious, but honestly, what can one do, really?"
"Not a lot," concurred Susie. "You have to be happy. But don't be too surprised - for someone who's supposed to be observant, I never do spot these things."
"And after so many affairs yourself!" said Nell.
"Not that any of them worked out very well," said Susie. "I never was much good at love - too reckless, too insensitive, too late to appreciate what was good for me - always too late. I've behaved like an unmitigated idiot, and now…"
"Do you want to tell me what happened?" asked Nell after a few moments of silence. "Don't feel compelled, of course, but…if it would help?"
"There isn't a lot to tell," said Susie, bending and plucking a daisy from the grass at her feet. "You know Tristan and I were together, of course."
"I was there at the start," agreed Nell.
"It was always on and off," said Susie, "and I could never quite work out how to make it…well, work. Somehow something always got in the way, and we would start fighting, and then I'd tell him I never wanted to see him again, and he'd tell me to stop darkening his door, and then I'd go and stay with my brother in Paris and I'd swear I wouldn't come back, and a month later I'd be there in Tyrol, and it would all start again, and we'd be happy for a bit. But it never lasted. I suppose it was my fault," she said, picking dolefully at the petals of the daisy. "I wasn't always…very nice."
"Don't take it all on yourself," said Nell quickly. "He could be pretty infuriating at times, to all of us, not just to you. Don't you remember all the times he turned up late to things you'd arranged because he was so busy with this or that composition, and couldn't tear himself away?"
"Of course I do," said Susie, but she said it with a smile. "Oh, Nell, I tell you, I'd let him be late to every meal, every party, every gallery opening, even to our wedding if I could just have him back here, alive again."
"You say that," said Nell, "and I don't deny it would be wonderful to have him back, but do remember, Susie, there was a reason you ended it with him. Don't forget that."
"A bad reason," said Susie. "And I kept Tom from him, for all these years. I don't think I will ever forgive myself for doing that."
Nell had no answer, and so they walked on without speaking, and the silence drifted away from them as birds flitted chittering overhead and the breeze bustled through the treetops. It could have grown rather strained, but before things grew awkward the Auberge came into view, and Susie's thoughts were diverted along more present paths.
"Just a moment, Nell," she said. "I must just pop in here for a moment."
"It's only half past eleven, Susie!" said Nell. "Can't you bring a hip flask, or something, if you need sustenance this early on?"
But Susie had ducked into the inn and so failed to hear her friend, who folded her arms and stood waiting until Susie reappeared, a slightly puzzled expression on her face.
"I only wanted to tell them not to serve my son," she said. "You remember how he came home drunk that first night of term? I've been popping into all the drinking places around here, trying to stop it happening again, but they all deny ever seeing him. I can't think where on earth he went to drink, if it wasn't any of the inns."
"I smell a whiff of hypocrisy," said Nell with a twinkle in her eye, and Susie scowled.
"I don't mind him drinking," she said, "as long as he does it where I can see him, and not to excess. Oh, it's all very well for you to laugh!" she added as Nell began to chuckle. "I know I'm no saint - but that just gives me all the more reason to stop him doing as I did! Anyway, it's alright for you - you don't have children."
"No, no I don't," agreed Nell, her face clouding. "But I do understand responsibility."
"Oh, sorry!" Susie flapped her hands in apology. "I know - I didn't mean it to sound like a judgment, but…there's something about it, when they're your own. I'd do anything for my boy - I'd burn alive for him if it would keep him safe. I don't want him coming to the same harm I did when I got too drunk - and I know, I know, I can't stop him from making mistakes, but I want to, for as long as I can."
"Quite understandable," said Nell, and then, drily practical as ever, "Come on. Forget your mystery - if you can - and come and hear the echoes."
Susie followed Nell, her passion not diminished but at least quieted by her interest in the phenomenon Nell was about to reveal. They moved a slight distance from the auberge and then Nell gave a yodel, short and high, which to Susie's amazement resounded over and over until it seemed as if the ghost of some alpine herdsman were calling to her from out of the grave.
"Wonderful!" she gasped, as the echoes finally died away. "May I try?"
"Of course!" laughed Nell. "You're not one of the girls - you don't need my permission."
"You're the very model of a modern co-headmistress," said Susie. "Your presence makes me deferent."
"As if," snorted Nell, but Susie ignored her and sang a major triad and now the chord came dancing back at them, over and over, sprightly and full of life. Susie clapped her hands, delighted, and even that light sound rebounded and filled the air with a smatter of applause.
"Oh, Nell, it's magical!" Susie laughed.
"I thought you'd like it," said Nell, and dug into the bag she had slung over her shoulders. "Just one more, and then I think it's only fair we let the auberge people have some peace."
She drew out a tiny set of bells, such as morris dancers wear round their knees, and shook them several times. The jingling echo that came back to them sounded as if all the fairies in the land were riding through the woods, and Susie couldn't help a delighted squeak.
"I'd say, 'Do it again', but that would make me sound like a small child," she said.
"I shall appreciate the sentiment nonetheless," said Nell. "Now, how about a spot of elevenses? The auberge is used to catering for visitors and I'm sure we can get some coffee from them."
But all of a sudden Susie wasn't listening. In turning away from the echo she had caught sight of something dark moving about in the nearby trees; and then a head appeared from out of the gloom. It disappeared a moment later, but she was sure she had not been mistaken.
"You go ahead," she said to Nell. "I'll join you in a minute."
And ignoring Nell's reasonable question about where she was off to, Susie strolled off towards the bobbing dark shape that seemed so reluctant to emerge from the woods.
"Come out, come out, wherever you are," she sang quietly, and then she dove in amongst the trees, dodged round a pine trunk and came up face to face with the mysterious stranger.
"I thought it was you," she said. "Following me too, now?"
"Oh, hallo, Miss Smith," said Mad Maddy.
Sorry it's been so long - I've been away this weekend.
It didn't quite occur to Susie until she looked back on the conversation just how odd it was. Nell, to whom she recounted it, was dismissive.
"Any conversation with Mad Maddy is like that," she said. "Don't worry too much about trying to make sense of it, my dear."
But despite Nell's advice, Susie couldn't help trying, though her efforts rendered it no more intelligible in hindsight than it had been at the time.
"Now," Maddy had said, holding her hands up in a quick gesture of defence, "I don't want you to think I'm following you. I was just passing and I…heard you ringing those bells."
"Going to a party, were you?" Susie was looking down at Maddy's dress, which was in the height of fashion, with several petticoats forcing the skirt out in a stiff arc. It would have been delightful and delicate, had it not been entirely in a drab black, dress and petticoats alike, and had her slender feet not been encased in high buttoned boots, Victorian in style and possibly in age, and quite incongruous with the rest of her outfit.
Maddy, apparently quite unaware of her peculiar appearance, frowned slightly.
"What's a party?" she said.
"A gathering, where you dress up in smart clothes and eat and drink and talk with other people," Susie explained, for Maddy really did look confused; but at Susie's explanation she brightened.
"Ah, a wake," she said, then frowned again. "I try to avoid them where possible. The only wakes I've been to have been very dangerous ones."
"Have they?" said Susie. "I don't think I want to ask. Now, look, what's the real reason you're here? You're a hopeless liar, you know."
"Oh, I know," sighed Maddy. "I don't get much practice, you see. It's all very well for you people, with all your childhoods of telling Mother porkies, but I…"
Here she broke off and looked suddenly awkward, then flapped her hands quickly as if to shoo away that last statement.
"I mean," she said, "that I was a very truthful child. My mother could always spot a lie."
"It's a trick mothers have," said Susie, "and on that note, you're lying again. And also on that note," she added, "you aren't really called Sylvia at all, are you? You're Maddy."
"Yes." Aware that her edifice of fictions was crumbling about her, Maddy puffed out her cheeks and sighed again. "I'm sorry about lying," she said, and she did sound honestly sorry, "only you can't be too careful these days. And of course, you're new and I didn't know you, and you're so pretty I thought you might be one of them, but then I shook your hand and of course I knew you weren't."
"One of whom?"
"Oh, you know," said Maddy evasively. "One of Them."
"Well," said Susie, slightly surprised by the boldness of the statement but not in the least prepared to deny it, "as a matter of fact, I was in my younger days. I dallied around and tried things out, and I'm not ashamed of it, but I'm not any more, really. Why - is it so important?"
Now it was Maddy's turn to look confused.
"What?" she said. "How can you be one of Them once but not any more?"
"Quite simple," said Susie. "I've given women up. I have relationships with men only, now - well, with one man only, in fact."
Even if he is dead, she thought, with the all-too-familiar stinging sensation within her chest. Meanwhile, Maddy was having a revelation.
"Oh!" she said. "Oh! You mean you…what, with other women? Is that even natural? I've never heard of that before! How do you…I mean, how does that work?"
"What?" The personal question took Susie flat aback, and Maddy clapped her hands together in front of her lips in apologetic embarrassment.
"Sorry!" she cried. "Not the right question at all. You don't have to answer."
"Good, because I don't intend to!" said Susie. "Now, you can tell me what you meant. If you don't use 'one of them' in the normal way, in what sense do you use it?"
"Oh, well." Maddy was being evasive again, and though Susie was determined, and folded her arms and fixed her with a schoolmistress glare, it did not noticeably wilt the woman. "Them," she said. "Oh, do stop asking!" she added as Susie opened her mouth. "It's a big mistake to speak the name aloud. I thought you were one, but you're not, because I felt it when I shook your hand, so that's alright. Besides, they wouldn't come out of the woods looking as old as you do."
"Well, thank you very much!" exclaimed Susie, pride and indignation getting the better of her curiosity. "A little politeness wouldn't go amiss. You're quite right that you're no good at lying. Now, for once and for all, are you going to tell me what you were doing following me?"
"For once and for all, I wasn't following you." Maddy looked almost annoyed. "I heard the bells and I thought She was riding, so I came to see, but it was just you and Miss Wilson messing about with bells in front of the echo. Which is alright. I'll go now and leave you alone."
Susie caught at her wrist to detain her.
"Before you go," she said, "will you tell me why it is that you're hassling Sarah? You know she misses Tristan more than anything - it's not fair to go hounding her. What do you want - what's your connection with him?"
"Connection?" Maddy was looking suddenly nervous; she was glancing about her as if expecting to see other strange people emerging from behind trees. "Not here," she whispered. "I don't want to say anything near the woods. Ask me when we're not here - oh my dear, merciful Mother!" she added, staring over Susie's shoulder. "Who is that?"
Susie turned to follow her gaze and saw, to her surprise, Tom standing in front of the Auberge with Cal the faithful at his side.
"Tom!" she called to him. "That's my son, Tom - and you know Sarah's daughter, I suppose."
"When you say, 'that's my son, Tom,' what you really mean is, 'that's Tristan's son, Tom,' yes?" said Maddy, her eyes fixed on Tom. Susie gaped.
"How did you…?"
"He's all over him," said Maddy, vaguely. "But he never told me he had a son."
"He didn't know," said Susie. "I last saw him just after Tom was conceived, and I never told anyone here about him - Tom, I mean. Tristan never knew he was a father."
"Hm," said Maddy, as Tom and Cal came trotting over to where they stood. "You might be surprised." She did not elaborate, but she gazed at Tom with a peculiar intensity which Susie found disconcerting. "Well, this changes everything."
"Hallo, Mum," said Tom. "Cal brought me over to hear the echo, and lo and behold, here you are! What are you doing lurking about in the trees?"
"Not lurking," protested Susie, "just having a nice chat with…"
She looked around, but Maddy had vanished, melted into the gloom, leaving neither fluttering leaf nor snapping twig to mark her passing. Susie peered among the trees, baffled.
"But she was here a moment ago!" she said helplessly.
Tom laughed. "Are you sure?" he asked. "She doesn't seem very here now. Careful, Mum, or we'll start to think you're away with the fairies yourself!"
"No, she was definitely here," said Susie, still gazing into the dark depths of the trees and finding that she was starting to doubt herself. Then a shape moved in the distance and she breathed a sigh of relief.
"There she is!" she said.
But it was Evelyn who stepped out from among the trees.
"Oh, hullo," she said, as if she had walked into her front parlour to find unexpected visitors there. "What are you all doing here?"
"Come to see the echo," said Cal, promptly.
"To hear it, don't you mean?" said Evelyn, her sweet smile negating the pedantic correction. Cal scowled.
"And I'm going to the Auberge for coffee," said Susie. "Come and join us, Evelyn - Nell will be pleased to see you."
"Thanks, I will," said Evelyn, and went off with Susie without a backwards glance at Cal or Tom. The latter wilted and Cal, seeing this, tugged hurriedly at his arm.
"Come on, Tom," she said. "Let's go and hear the echo. I promise you'll love it."
"Mm," he said, gloomily, but allowed her to haul him over to hear the famed echo. When he heard her yodel turned into glittering music by the rocks, however, he brightened up and decided that he wanted to try it after all. A few tenor notes came resounding back from the echo, but as he opened his mouth to start singing some bars of Finzi, he felt a hand on his arm.
"No," said Mad Maddy's voice, close to his ear, her bony fingers clutching his biceps. "You mustn't. You're his son - you mustn't sing! Promise me! Don't sing until this is over. And tell your mother I said so!"
Tom was about to protest, but by the time he had turned his head she had vanished, leaving only the lingering sensation where her fingers had gripped his muscle. He looked about him wildly, then looked at Cal, who was gazing at him in some puzzlement.
"Whose son?" he said, all thoughts of the echo driven from his mind. "What did she mean?
"What did who mean?" asked Cal, and he could tell from her blank face that she was not dissembling.
"I…" Tom looked around him again, baffled, and shook his head. "Nothing. I thought someone…said something, but…no, I must be going mad. Ignore me."
Cal seemed quite prepared to comply with this last command and turned to sing a few more notes at the echo for the pleasure of hearing them charmed into fairy music. But though she asked him to, Tom refused to sing again, though he could not, if questioned, have said quite why.
Tom was, as has already been intimated, rather bored of his academic studies. Music was his one great interest and, unable to sing thanks to his recent infection, he found his lessons in science and foreign languages even more uninspiring than they would have been had he been allowed to follow them up with some music practice. It took only the quiet surroundings of the Swiss mountains, away from his schoolfriends and the excitements of London, to drive him into a mood of sincere and frank boredom and, despite the friendly efforts of Cal Humphries, the delights of mountain climbing and listening to echoes could not quite bring him to any great pitch of excitement.
It is understandable, therefore, that with his mind empty of other interests and concerns, Mad Maddy’s words bothered him a good deal. The combination of her furtive urgency, her sudden appearance and disappearance, completely eluding Cal, and the mysterious message she had delivered intrigued and puzzled him in equal measure. At first he was not keen to take it all seriously - after all, everyone said she was mad, and mad people were sometimes given to delivering significant messages that, on closer inspection, proved to be meaningless - but one part had been certain to pique his interest more than the rest, and his mind clung stubbornly to it. “You’re his son,” Maddy had said. But, his mind quite reasonably questioned, whose son?
His mother had never been able to give him a satisfactory answer to this question. It was her habit to live in the present and not to worry over, or indeed to regret, what was past, and she had tried to pass this carefree spirit on to her son. But despite his assumption of maturity and the great wisdom of seventeen years of age, Tom was still a boy, and still bore within him all the self-centredness of youth, that believes that every matter is of significance only to the young soul it concerns; and throughout his short life his father's absence had troubled him more than he cared to admit to his mother. And though lately he had been in the habit of suppressing his wonderings and his quiet anxiety that he, Tom, had riven mother from father, unintentional though the action had been, Mad Maddy’s ramblings had provoked a sympathetic response and the question reared its head once more.
On Monday afternoon, his lessons over for the day, Tom took himself off on a walk, and as he walked past the Humphries’ house he thought of Cal, of the Maynard girls, of Ailie Russell, of how they were blissfully untroubled by such doubts as his, and felt the familiar stab of jealousy, and then grew quite cross with himself that he, so keen to be as carefree and easy as his mother, he who delighted in his bohemian upbringing and artistic lifestyle, who called himself a bastard with such a ready tongue and was prepared to defend it with his fists if necessary, should still crave the security of knowing where he belonged. He shook his head and then, hands thrust firmly into his trouser pockets, strolled along the fringes of the woods, wondering vaguely if he might see Mad Maddy again. Rather to his surprise, the moment he thought of her he heard footsteps behind him, but when he turned around to look it was Berthold he saw, striding along and grinning his white-toothed smile.
"Tom!" he cried. "How now, you secret black and midnight lad? That's Shakespeare," he added, "only he said hags, but you're not a hag."
"No, no, I'm not," agreed Tom, a little taken aback but nonetheless amused to be addressed in such poetic fashion. "Just an ordinary me."
"Not so very ordinary," Berthold countered with a friendly grin. “But you’re not a witch, so you definitely can’t be a hag.”
“No,” agreed Tom, laughing, “I’m not a witch. For a start, I’m male.”
“Oh, but you don’t have to be a woman to be a witch,” said Berthold, eyes wide and serious. “Don’t you know your history, Tom-not-a-hag? Men were hanged as witches as well as women.”
“Is that so?” Tom was relieved to have company that might stop his mind windmilling about the question that was bothering him, and he fell companionably into step beside Berthold with a good deal of pleasure. “I didn’t know that. I was never any good at history.”
“Shame,” said Berthold. “It’s always worth knowing what happened in the past - even if it’s just so you don’t make the same mistake someone else did. But hey, I'll tell you who is a hag - the witch who lives on the alm up there."
"What witch?" asked Tom, following Berthold's gesture to the mountainside which rose away from the Görnetz Platz towards the Rösleinalpe. Berthold laughed.
"The English witch," he said. "The one called Maudlin."
"D'you mean Mad Maddy?" asked Tom, wondering faintly at the coincidence. "I was just thinking about her. Is she really a witch, or is she just a bit strange? I mean, witches don't exist, really, do they?"
"This one, she is definitely something a bit…odd," said Berthold, lowering his voice. "If anyone is a witch, it is her. There are stories…old Mother Giger, she swears that she gave her the evil eye and all her chickens died."
Tom shook his head.
"Superstitious nonsense," he said, then reached out a hand to his friend in case Berthold should be offended. "I mean, it's more likely to be a coincidence, don't you think, rather than actual witchcraft? I think we're beyond that in this day and age."
"As you like it," said Berthold, then laughed loudly. "That’s Shakespeare too," he said, and Tom couldn't help grinning.
"Berthold," he said, after a few moments of quiet strolling, "to change the subject completely - do your parents live round here?"
Berthold shook his head, his expression suddenly quite sad.
"No," he said. "My mother lives some way away, in another part of the mountains. My father…ah, well. We lost him when I was quite young. I never really knew him."
"Brothers or sisters?" asked Tom, and Berthold shook his head again.
"Only me," he said, and Tom stopped and touched his friend’s arm.
"Then you know," he said. Berthold nodded, and gripped Tom's arm in a passion of fellow feeling.
"I do," he said. They stood together for a moment, eyes shining in mutual recognition, and then Tom turned away and began striding along the path again, gaze intent upon the ground.
"Do you think about your dad much?" he asked quickly, before he lost his nerve.
"Often," said Berthold, following after him. "I wish I knew what kind of a man he was. My mother would never talk of him."
"Mine won't talk about mine," said Tom. "All I know is what she told me when I was small."
"What is that?" asked Berthold and Tom, in need of very little encouragement, told him what his mother had said, the evening when he had learned his father was still alive.
When he was a boy his mother had never told him who his father was, beyond saying that he had been a very brave and very kind man who was no longer around. This had led him quite naturally to the assumption that his father had died in the war, and he had gone about proudly telling his classmates at primary school that he was the son of a war hero who had gone west and left his mother a widow. When Susie had heard this story, from the mother of one of Tom's friends, she had at first been startled, and had then laughed.
"Well, in point of fact, he was a war hero," she had said, " only Tom's got the wrong war. His father won the Military Cross at Passchendaele - but he didn't fight in the Second War. Where did Tom pick that up? I suppose I'd better have a word with him."
That night she had called Tom over and had drawn him close to her, arm about him, smoothing his hair and kissing him on the forehead. Such embraces were not new, for his mother was an affectionate and physical person, and Tom loved it, though at eleven he was getting to the age where he preferred not to admit to it. Nonetheless, he sensed that she wanted to talk seriously, and so he snuggled against her and laid his head on her shoulder, waiting to hear what she had to say.
"Tom, darling," she began, "what's all this about your daddy being dead?"
Tom had opened his eyes wide and twisted to look up at her.
"Isn't he?" he had asked. "But you said he was!"
"Did I?" He could see his mother's surprise, but before he could explain she laughed and ruffled his hair up. "I don't think I ever said precisely that, did I?" she said. "He's not with us any longer, but that's…it's for other reasons."
Tom thought of all his friends who had both parents, and how they relished the attention they got from their fathers, and he thought about how he had watched them, and wondered, and envied. He couldn't imagine why a family would want to separate, until he remembered his friend Charles, whose father would get drunk on a Friday night and come home and hit his mother. He looked up at Susie.
"Did he hit you?" he asked. "Is that why he isn't here any more?"
"What? No! What's put that idea into your head? Your father was the gentlest of men and I…loved him very much."
"Then I don't understand," Tom had said. "If he's nice, and not dead, why isn't he here?"
His mother had been silent for some moments. Tom wondered whether she were trying to break it to him that his father hadn't loved them enough - hadn't loved his son enough - to stay. His little heart ached; but really, Susie was trying to think of what to say to explain Tristan's absence. In her usual, impulsive way, she had forgotten that she needed a better explanation than the one Tom had concocted for himself.
"Grown ups are very complicated creatures," she began, and her son groaned to hear the old excuse. "No, Tom, hear me out. You're young, but you're quite grown up in many ways, and I think you deserve the truth. Your father and I loved each other very much, once upon a time, and I would have married him if he had asked me, but he was…a little peculiar in some ways, and he didn't believe in marriage, or at least, not for himself. I used to live near him, in the Tyrol, but by the time we moved back to England I knew it was over between us. When I realised I was expecting you I thought of going to him - but I didn’t, in the end. After all,” she added, with a tight hug, “you are all the man I need in my life. We do alright together, don’t we?"
Tom nodded, filled with a sudden gratification. Then a realisation struck him, and he twisted round to his mother in surprise.
"So…if you didn't tell him, you weren't married when I was born?"
Susie's face was a complicated expression of regret and pity.
"No, darling," she said.
"You," said his mother, gathering him closely into her arms, "are a lovely lad, and if anyone tries to tell you that just because you were born on the wrong side of the bed sheets you are less than them, you have my permission both to ignore what they say and to sock them one in the jaw. I'd not have you any other way."
"But…" Tom's mind was still preoccupied. "What do I tell them at school?"
"You tell them your mother loves you very much, and that you’re the man of the house and quite big enough to manage without anyone else. And if they want to know more, tell them to keep their noses out - or you can tell them the truth, whichever you prefer. I’m not ashamed, and I hope you aren’t either?"
Tom wasn’t quite sure that he wasn’t ashamed, for he knew at least one rude word that was used to describe people like him. But by the end of the week he was beginning to feel a deep pride in his mother’s words that he was man enough to look after his mother by himself, and when he arrived at grammar school he had decided on his course and proudly declared himself to be a bastard; and had, through force of charm and, on occasion, his fists, beaten his classmates into submission and had eventually settled down much like any other schoolboy, thoughts of his father drifting to the back of his mind as music began to take over.
"So that's that," he said to Berthold at the end of his explanation. "But I suppose I still wanted to know, even when I thought I didn't."
"Then let us be a pair of detectives," said Berthold, and when Tom frowned, added, "There must be some clues. Let's see if we can't get a good idea what he was like."
They speculated for a few minutes, both rationally and rather wildly, and when they had calmed down from laughing over Berthold’s suggestion that Clement Atlee could be his father, (though how Berthold had heard of Susie’s interest in the Labour Party, Tom did not think to question), Tom found himself briefly entertaining the idea that someone - not Clement Atlee, but some politician or activist within the Labour Party, whose position might be compromised by having an illegitimate child - might be the man he was seeking. He said as much to Berthold, who listened carefully.
"Could be," he agreed. "But, Tom, listen - what has brought all this up? You said yourself you were quite happy not knowing who he was, so why the speculation? Not that I'm not enjoying it, but…"
Tom hesitated, but he knew his friend was sincere and wouldn't laugh at him, and so he told him about the strange experience he had had with Mad Maddy.
"So you see, it was funny, your mentioning her earlier," he added. "I was just thinking about her…"
"Dwelling on your visitation," said Berthold thoughtfully. He frowned. "Tom, I know she sounds convincing, but…she's not of very sound mind, you know."
"So I…shouldn't trust her?"
"I wouldn't. She's tricksy, that one."
"And," added Tom, with a sudden gloom, "she can't possibly have known who my father is, if you think about it. Why would Mum have told her and not me?"
"Precisely," said Berthold. "Now, listen - there's an evening on at the inn next Saturday - special beer being laid on, music and dancing. Do you want to come? Take your mind off things.”
“Hmm.” Tom was tempted, but hesitated. “I don’t know. Mum…”
“I’m sure you can get round her,” said Berthold, with a grin. “Or just sneak out. Oh, go on, Tom. It’ll be good for you. And - look. I know these woods as well as anyone - I have to, working as a forester. I know where the hag - Mad Maddy, that is - lives. Do you want me to drop in - for some legitimate reason, of course - and while I’m there, question her? See if I can’t get out of her what she means?”
“That would be great…if you could, that is…”
“I am as subtle as a mouse when I want to be,” said Berthold. “I will do my best for you.”
“You’re a real friend,” said Tom, and he meant it. Berthold slapped him on the back, then laughed.
“Come on,” he said. “You don’t need to be back yet, do you? Then let’s explore. Have you heard the echo yet?”
Thanks for the comments - sorry for the delay!
It was hot and oppressive that night, as if a clammy eiderdown had been thrust down over the Platz, and Tom and Susie both had trouble settling down to sleep. Tom was still as preoccupied as youth is with itself, and continued to worry over Mad Maddy's words, while Susie was suffering from more complicated emotions. Tiredness and heat and the loneliness of a Sunday without company conspired to remind her of all that she had lost by turning her back on her old friends, and she felt perversely angry with Tristan, for making her love him, for refusing to marry her, for filling her spare hours with grief that he was no longer there. Though she had grown immensely in wisdom and maturity since their earliest days together, when she had teased him into loving her long before she was ready to love him in return, she still had moments where irrational thoughts reigned, and like the hurt animal that lashes out at the nearest creature, she experienced a deep, simmering fury, not against her loss, but against the man who had made her so unhappy by dying before his time.
Susie was not the only one unable to sleep that night. Over in the Humphries household, Cal was sitting up in bed, the sheets bunched up about her knees. Prickles of cold alternated with bursts of sweat in a feverish battle over her skin and her breathing was quick and tense. Briefly she wondered if she might be ill, but as soon as she had thought it she knew it to be a false hope. She was no more ill than her mother, snoring soundly in the next room; unless the illness were in her mind, as she half-suspected. The nightmares, the cold sweats, the strange sensation that someone was looking over her shoulder - how could they be anything but the product of her imagination? And what else could be causing the vision that transfixed her now, that made her skin creep as if all the insects on the Platz were crawling over it?
The 'vision' sat upon a shelf of her bookcase, directly opposite the bed. Leaning drunkenly against the edge of its glass, petals splayed with indecent abandon, the double rose glowed faintly, a dull, pink, fleshy shimmer in the darkness. Cal was gazing at it with a fascinated repulsion, struggling feebly to draw herself away. There was evil in that rose - she could feel it in every painful shiver on her skin - and yet she knew, in the same way that she knew the ground was beneath her and the sky above, that she could not resist it. She had come up after dinner on the day Evelyn had been handing out flowers and had found it sitting there in a vase, and since that time she had not been able to settle to anything in the room, nor walk about safely by day, nor sleep soundly at night. The dreams that plagued her were not frightening, but they were as troubling as a shadow in a mirror, a sudden breath on the neck, the creak of a floorboard in an empty house; they haunted her because they were different, new, because she did not understand them.
Nor could she even remember, on waking in a drenched shudder of fear, what had alarmed her so. The images were so diffuse, so soft and transient, so prone to disintegrate when she touched them with the gentlest finger of memory, that she found herself laughing at them, and at herself for being so scared. But the laugh always rang hollow, and hollow too were her eyes in the daytime - Miss Wilmot had noticed, and had commented. And yet, how could she confess to the ghosts that followed her around, laying soft fingers on the side of her neck as she walked through the school corridors and mocking her with their absence the moment she turned to catch them? She had heard of paranoia, but only in the vaguest terms; now, with whispered voices just beyond her hearing and with sensations just out of reach, it came as no surprise that she was beginning to question her sanity.
She blinked, long and slow, to give the rose time to check its behaviour, and when she opened her eyes the glow had gone and the room was in perfect darkness once more; even the waning moonlight had faded, which was odd, for when she had gone to bed she had seen its thin oval hanging bright above, skirted by stars. Cal blinked again, more rapidly this time, and realised with a gradual focusing that the moon had not disappeared, but that her eyes had been dazzled by the light that had emanated from the rose, shutting down all other stimulus, and only now that it had turned itself off was vision beginning to creep back in around the edges. She sat still, alternately pressing her fingers into her eyes and then blinking to restore her sight, and finally she became able to make out the shapes surrounding her and, with a sigh of relief, she wrinkled up the sheets and kicked them to the bottom of the bed and lay back, feeling suddenly the tepid heat soak down into her. It reminded her of one of her dreams and she gasped slightly, pushing her arms and legs out to kick away the ghosts, and then, in a flash, tiredness, like the heat, rushed over her with the unstoppable force of a sea current and she yawned, felt her eyelids press together in a sudden release and, abruptly, she slept.
Anyone remember this? No? Don't worry, neither did I! But it only takes half an hour to re-read...
Susie lay flat on her back on the playing field. She had come out to watch the girls play cricket, with a fond memory of Tristan trying to teach her one summer holiday in Tyrol days, helped occasionally by Joey and Jack. Little progress had been made, partly because they had then been in the early stages of their relationship and she had been able to think of far more interesting things to do with Tristan than play cricket with him, and partly because she had been far more interested in Jack’s clumsy attempts to woo Joey than in the straightness of her bat. Now the summer sun was getting the better of her, and she found that she couldn’t remember the rules anyway, and so she had flopped down onto her back a little way from the other spectators and was staring up at the fluffy clouds that smattered the blue sky. Every artist likes to show off by painting beautiful clouds, and when she had started out she had been no exception, often adding them in even when the skies above her easel were perfectly clear; and she knew she was not the first artist to have thought up that trick! But these days she tended to look on them more as meteorological features than as an artistic challenge, and she amused herself by spotting shapes in them, a game she had played with Tom when he was a child; a game which she had played with Tristan, many years ago.
As she lay there she was listening to a tune, one which had wound itself quietly around her heart until it was as if she had always been singing it inside her. A gentle refrain, something she recognised as a tune Tristan had penned, way back, but which she could not finish, for she had forgotten the end of it. Tristan had always said that a song one knew or remembered imperfectly was far more likely to stick in the head than one well-known and sung all the way through, and this one was certainly proving him right! Determined to get it out of her head, she began to hum it aloud, hoping she would shortly remember the rest of it and thus fulfill Tristan’s hypothesis.
And then it happened again; it seemed as if the sun had gone behind a cloud, but it hadn’t - it had gone completely, for she was in that place again, white and shapeless, except that this time it was tinged with grey, softened at the edges, the crispness she remembered from her previous visit blurred and dulled. The very air felt thicker; her movement was slower, she took a step and the ground gave as before, but she strained to drag herself through the clogging atmosphere.
When she finally turned around she saw that Tristan was there, just as before. But he was paler, his face, his hair, the colours in his clothing were faded, and she could not hear him - he spoke, but the sense she had had the last time, of sound just out of hearing, was altered; now she could hear something like the muted roar of a distant waterfall, almost inaudible, and yet it seemed to deafen her, for she could not hear his words, only a muffled noise. She called to him, shouted, stamped her foot, but he shook his head, tilted it, strained to hear, and she almost howled with frustration.
She opened her eyes and the sunlight struck painfully at them, and she gasped and blinked and closed them. With a little more caution, she tried again, turning her head to avoid the glare, and glancing sideways and upwards she made out the face of Len Maynard from behind the white-hot afterglow that floated in her eyes.
‘I think you were asleep!’ said Len, smiling.
‘I think I was,’ said Susie, not wishing to contradict her, for the alternative made no sense. ‘I never did understand cricket,’ she said, sitting up and smiling shakily. ‘Who’s winning?’
‘Well, it’s a little too soon to tell,’ said Len, ‘but it’s not looking good for Lower V. Did you see that last over?’
As the eldest Maynard girl sat down beside her and began to explain the game, Susie glanced up and saw another tufty cloud sliding merrily across the sky, and she thought about how she would capture it with a few brush strokes. Easy enough, if one could mix shades of grey - for it was the grey that gave light to the white. Yes, clouds were easy; but how would one paint that place, that whiteness with no form, no shadow, no colour but the man that stood in it? As blank as a fresh sheet of paper, as flat, as formless. It reminded her of one of her cartoons, the main character rooted firmly in two dimensions, the background space undefined, for it needed no definition - yes, it was exactly like that.
But why would Tristan be somewhere without dimensions? Or rather, she corrected herself, why would she dream of him in this formless space - she, whose mind was so visual? It was a nonsense - she was not dreaming this, it was not how she visualised things. And anyway, she was so sure - so absolutely certain - that she had been awake.
Dimensionless space…was there such a thing?
She nodded and agreed with Len that the fourth over bowled by her sister Margot had been particularly fine, and resolved privately that the next thing to do, when she had an hour to herself, would be to take a walk in the woods. There was one person who seemed to know more than she was letting on about the strange circumstances surrounding Tristan’s death. She had to talk to Mad Maddy.
Sorry to have left this for so very long!
"Cal, my dear?"
Cal turned around to see her father standing in the doorway to her bedroom.
"Oh, Dad," she said. "What are you doing here?"
"Can I come in?" Ted asked, and Cal’s lips twitched.
"By all means you may," she said, pointedly, and he laughed and stepped over the threshold.
"Should have known better," he said. "You're not Miss Annersley's pupil for nothing."
"She doesn't put up with it from us, so why should I from you?" said Cal and she managed a smile for her father.
She watched as her father wandered about her bedroom, without any apparent purpose. The youngest of five children, she was used to his grey hair and moustache, his lined face and slightly stooped figure. He was in his sixties - he could have retired by now, and she wasn't entirely sure why he hadn't, unless it were the interminable boredom of living on the Görnetz Platz, of course.
Cal had never doubted his love for her, but there were three sons between her and her half-sister Robin, and Cal herself had always been a tomboyish sort of creature, so she and her father had never enjoyed the same cosy relationship that he had had with his elder daughter. They had teased each other and played all manner of games and tricks - she had always been one of the boys - but now that she was growing up, Cal was beginning to sense that her father was drawing away from her. It was certainly unusual for him to pay a visit in this manner; she wondered what it was that he wanted.
"What's the matter, dad?" she asked, and Ted put down the small glass ornament he had picked up and turned to her with a certain discomposure.
"I'm worried about you," he said, and Cal looked at him, surprised at his frankness.
"Why should you be worried about me?" she demanded, and Ted shrugged and resumed his pottering.
"Hard to put one's finger on, really," he said, "but you haven't been yourself since…"
He broke off, and with military abruptness turned and marched across the room and dropped into her armchair. Cal took a seat on the bed and looked at him, waiting.
"Is it your uncle?" he said, and he was so wide of the mark that Cal actually laughed.
"Oh, golly, I didn't mean that," she said, covering her mouth and swallowing her humour. "It’s not funny, of course, and I am jolly sad about Uncle Tristan and all that, but… No it's not that."
Ted leaned forward in the chair, his eyes full of anxious solemnity.
"Won't you tell me what it is?" he said. "We both know you’re worried about something - and you never know, one of us might be able to help."
Cal turned her head away, embarrassed.
"Oh, it's nothing," she said. "It's the summer. I haven't been able to sleep well in this heat, I'm getting tired and it's making me grumpy."
"Well it certainly is making you grumpy," said Ted. "You've barely had two civil words to say to Evelyn this week."
"Oh, it's not this again, is it?" snapped Cal, preparing to flounce away to the other side of the bed. "Why can't she just leave me alone?"
"What's happened?" asked Ted. "I know there’s quite an age difference, but you've always been good friends with Evelyn, haven't you?"
"This isn't Evelyn," said Cal, and wondered immediately why she had said it.
Ted looked at her, an expression of sympathy in his brown eyes.
"It's always difficult," he said, "when a member of the family goes away and then comes back again. You know how it was when we saw Robin last. Everything is always different, and when you're not there every day, you don't see those little changes as they take place gradually - they all come at you in one big rush, and it can be quite a shock."
He leaned forward, and patted his daughter’s knee.
"You'll come round," he said. "Not that I'm saying it's your fault, because it never is just one person. Evelyn will have to make some effort too - but don't forget that she's just lost the man who was the closest thing she had to a father. I know she lived here most of the time, but it was your Uncle Tristan whom she thought of as ‘Dad’. That's bound to have an effect. I'm sure that if you just sit down and talk to each other, calmly, you'll be able to work something out. There really isn't enough listening that goes on in this world," he said, a smile appearing from under his moustache. "It is a much under-appreciated skill."
Cal tried to look contrite, and she must have managed it, for Ted nodded in satisfaction and patted her knee again.
"Good girl," he said. "Do you know, I'm proud of you. You've been a great help to your mother in the last few weeks." And then, as Cal preened, "But you mustn't let all of this misery affect your work. Perhaps it's not good for you to be here. Perhaps you should go back to being a boarder, get away for this for a bit. I'm sure it's not helping your mood or your sleeping, and it would give you and Evelyn a chance to settle your differences without living on top of each other, as it were."
It was tempting. Cal wavered; and then she remembered Tom, stuck in that cottage in the middle of nowhere.
"Thanks, Dad, but no," she said. "I know you think I'm worrying about Mum, but I'd really rather be here. I mean, being at school won't stop me worrying, will it? So it's just as well if I stay here, then I can keep an eye on things, and I'll know when to worry and when not to worry."
Ted looked unconvinced, but Cal was not the youngest daughter for nothing - despite their teasing relationship, she was still able to wind her father round her little finger. Eventually, he nodded.
"Very well, if you think that will make you happiest," he said. "But look, Cal, don't get yourself so worked up again. If you're worried about something and you feel like you can't talk to your mother, I do wish you'd come and see me, rather than bottling it all up like this. I may be an old buffer, but I do know a thing or two about the world. I'm sure we can have the Evelyn situation sorted out very soon and we’ll all be back to normal."
"I'm sure we can," echoed Cal quietly, and Ted nodded.
“Now then,” he said, a sudden roguish smile appearing, “what about this young Tom Smith, eh?”
For a panicked moment Cal wondered if her father had grasped the extent of her friend’s crush on Evelyn-not-Evelyn, but her mouth dropped open as he added, “Serious, is it? Is your mother going to have to buy a new best hat?’
The look of outrage sent her father into squalls of laughter. Cal threw a cushion at him.
“He’s a friend! A friend, Dad! Nothing more, alright?’
‘Oh, yes, yes, of course.’ Ted got up and tapped the side of his nose. ‘Just a friend. Mum’s the word.’
A second cushion thudded into the door as he closed it swiftly behind him, and she heard his laughter from the other side and laughed as well.
As she got up and picked up the scattered pillows, she realised that she hadn’t thought about the rose on her bookshelf for a good five minutes.
It took Susie a while to find out where Mad Maddy actually lived. No-one at the school knew, and Sarah was distinctly unforthcoming. It was Cal who finally provided an answer - of sorts.
‘In the woods,’ she said and, when Susie rolled her eyes, added, ‘It’s quite hard to describe, actually! It’s the path that goes in just along from here, past Freudesheim, and then when you get right into the trees the path breaks into three. The path on the right is quite broad - you don’t want to take that one. The way to Maddy’s house is down the left hand one - the narrow one. I’d take a hat and a sturdy coat, if I were you - it’s pretty overgrown along that way.’
‘Thanks,’ said Susie, making a note. Then, intrigued, asked, ‘What about the third path?’
‘What third path?’
‘You said the path breaks into three.’
‘Did I?’ Cal shrugged. ‘I don’t know why I said that. There’s definitely only two - that I know of, at least.’
That selfsame day Susie took herself off along the road that led past Freudesheim and found the path into the woods with relative ease. She strolled cheerfully along it, and as the trees closed about her and cut off the afternoon sun, the easy swing in her step became oppressed with the gloom of it until it faltered almost entirely.
When she found the fork in the path she looked all about her, but she could only see what Cal had described - the broad road and the narrower path, almost obscured by the thick briars that hung across the gap between the trees. Thanking the stars and Cal that she had donned one of her thickest felt hats, Susie ducked under them and made her laborious way along the path to Maddy’s house.
Just as she was beginning to think that there would be no end to the twisting and turning, she found herself in a clearing, and she knew at once that she was in the right place. Before her stood a low dwelling, more of a hut than a house, with a heavy thatched roof sinking low over the plastered walls - and it never occurred to her to wonder how such a stereotypically English building had materialised in the middle of Switzerland. In front of the house was a small garden, consisting for the main part of herbs and row upon row of carrots. It did not look particularly well-tended, and most of the herbs were yellow and leggy. Susie felt almost sorry for them, though she was not particularly surprised - Maddy could barely look after herself, let alone plants as well. She looked up at the chimney and saw that, contrary to her hopes, there was no curl of smoke rising from within. It seemed worthwhile to knock anyway, but no answer came.
She waited for a good hour, but Maddy made no appearance, and so she was forced to admit defeat and begin the tiresome journey home.
That night she was quite irritable and snapped unnecessarily at Tom, which drove him out on a sulky walk well past his curfew. She let him, because this time it was her fault, blaming him for someone else’s absence - just the sort of stunt she had often pulled on Tristan. When would she ever grow out of her emotional temper?
Tom finally flounced in at about 10:30 and went straight to his room, and Susie made her own way to bed shortly afterwards. Once undressed, she leaned against her bedroom window-frame, combing her hair and looking down into the small garden, filled with self-pitying doubt - about herself, her parenting, her treatment both of her lover and of her son - all of which was cast aside in a moment, as she became aware of the peculiar scene unfolding below.
Artemis the dog was in the middle of the lawn, illuminated by the bright full moon, and it seemed as if the whippet were doing a dance; two steps forward, two steps back, two steps to the right, bend forward, nose to the ground. She watched as Artemis performed the routine three times, and then she saw what the dog was looking at. A brown hare, diminutive as a rabbit, with the moon’s silvery glow glinting off the fur of its back, emerged from the shrubbery and loped a couple of steps towards the dog.
Susie watched, heart in her mouth - an eternal city girl, she had always hated the sight of animals killing other animals, and she knew that it was already too late to stop the dog. But then something very curious happened. Instead of leaping to attack, as Susie had expected, Artemus flopped right down on her belly and stretched her nose as far as she could towards the hare. The hare, for its part, hopped slowly forward and performed exactly the same manoeuvre, stretching its nose out until it touched that of the dog. They lay like that for some moments, nuzzling gently, and then Artemis sat up, threw back her head and began to howl.
Susie, fearful of the neighbours, dashed down the stairs and out of the back door in an instant, and Artemis quieted as soon as she appeared. Arms around the dog, she looked about the garden, hoping to spot the hare, but it had vanished entirely.
Shivering slightly in her thin nightgown, she caught Artemis by the collar, and after hanging back for one brief moment, the dog came quite willingly back into the house.
Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters and settings are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. No money is being made from this work. No copyright infringement is intended.