"Darlings, it's lovely to see you all!" The tall, beautiful woman with her long blond hair in an elegantly loose style and her makeup immaculate, breezed into the room shedding winter clothing as she came.
"Flixy! I thought you weren't going to get in until tomorrow!" Con leapt up from her place by the fire to hug her younger sister, followed by Charles.
"The photo shoot ended a day early, so I hopped on the earlier train. I'm longing for some skiing and some of Anna's home cooking. Where is everyone else?"
Con smoothed her dark hair, styled in a sleek short cut. "The UK contingent is all here. Len's helping Anna with some baking in the kitchen. Felix is off for a walk with Geoff, Rob and Ro, trying to wear off some of their excess energy before they explode. Phil and Claire are over visiting Mary Rosonom with Erica in tow, and Roger's staying there, of course. Cecilia's laying low and plotting insurrection against the government. Steve and Jeanette are in Cairo, Mike's in the Caribbean, Ruey and Allan and Rod are in New Zealand at Allan's parent's place, Margot's still in Brazil, naturally, and I arrived two days ago. Dad's at work, as usual, and Mother is off visiting Auntie Biddy for the afternoon."
"Treason, sedition, insurrection. You know, all the usual activities of a brilliantly clever fifteen year old," Con laughed. "It turns out the school is actually planning to update some of their policies and ideas, and has sent a questionaire to the parents for their input."
"It's about time," exclaimed Felicity. "It certainly hasn't changed much since you and I were first students. But what does Cece have to do with it?"
"From what I've pieced together from the various tirades and shouting episodes, the school board had decided that they needed to review and modernise some of their policies. At the same time, a group of prefects and seniors, led by Cecilia of all people, decided to push for the same thing, and in Cece's usual bullheaded style did it thoroughly - canvassing the other seniors, getting supporting information from recently graduated old girls and presenting a formal proposal to the staff."
Charles broke in with a wry smile as he stroked his neat goatee. "It's quite a well written proposal, actually, if rather blunt at times. I wish my undergraduates had as good a grasp on logical argument. Cecilia certainly can hone in on the heart of a problem and pull it out for everyone to see - she takes after you in that, sister dear."
Con's only response was to stick her tongue out at her brother.
"Sounds good so far," said Felicity. "What's the problem?"
"The problem is that Mamma rather thought that we'd all be on her side: the Chalet School as a bastion against all that is evil and modern and all that. Cece finally snapped after one too many complaints from mother and admitted her part in it. Mother didn't take it too well.
"Ah. Well, it should be a nice change from a holiday full of hints about nice young doctors and how wouldn't it be nice to have some grandchildren running around at Christmas. I was thinking of telling Mamma I'm going to be 'busy' soon - bet you ten pounds she's so happy she doesn't care about the lack of a husband."
Laughing, the two girls headed to the kitchen to see if Anna and Len needed help, while Charles gathered up the tea things.
It had to be admitted that Joey was less than happy about the whole grandchild situation. Of her twelve adult children and wards only two were married and there was no immediate signs of grandchildren in either case. By this point Madge and Jem had eight grandchildren and Dick and Mollie had eleven. Even Daisy, still at the Platz with Laurie, had her five children, Tony, Peter and Mary followed by James and Eleanor, and Primula, settled with her husband in Devonshire, had three small children running about.
Joey's protests to her sister over the school situation had been in vain: Madge hadn't been particularly thrilled with the proposed changes on a personal level, but realised that they were necessary if the school were to maintain its stellar reputation. More to the point, the Russells recieved a fair amount of income from the school, that income depended on continued enrollment, and the current fees were commensurate with a top notch school. Madge had also spent the past twenty years in England, travelling much more widely than Joey had, and had a better grasp on the state of society than was possible in a small, isolated British enclave in the Swiss Alps.
The English branch was dealing with similar issues, although, being less isolated and with a student body mainly composed of English girls, the problems had not become as severe and were more easily addressed. Over the past decade St Mildred's had become more detached from the main school, and had become an exclusive, expensive finishing school primarily serving the daughters of the wealthy elite with language and cultural training. Few merely upper middle class families felt a need to send their daughters to a continental finishing school rather than (or in addition to) university. Aside from attending the yearly pantomime, and occasional tennis matches, the finishing branch now had little contact with the main school.
Unlike Joey, Madge had learned something from her daughters' rebellions, even if it hadn't come easily. She had eventually realised that one of the reasons her daughters' respective marriages had failed was because Sybil and Josette had been so desperate to get away from their parents' control that they were willing to marry the first man who came along, without paying much attention to either love or compatability. Being forced to follow their mother to Australia, disrupting their own career plans and hopes, had engendered a deep and bitter resentment which had only now started to heal.
Joey hadn't caused that sort of rift with her children, and did genuinely want them to be happy in their lives. The Maynard offspring, however, had realised that their mother was unable to understand how much the world had changed from her own girlhood, and many of the details of their personal lives and their decision making were shared with each other, rather than their parents.
"So you've been plotting rebellion, then," said Felicity, looking at her younger sister with a sidelong glance as the older Maynard girls headed out for a walk in the sparkling winter air.
"Apparently," Cecilia sighed. "I wish Mamma would calm down. It's not really all that big a deal."
"Give her time," replied her sister. "When I went to Milan you would have thought civilisation was about to collapse, but she's relaxed since. Sort of."
"Or when Len broke off her engagement with Reg. Or when Margot decided not to take orders. Or when I went on TV," added Con. "She's still making snide remarks about settling down and having babies, though, and did you see that twinset she gave you for Christmas. Lime green is definitely not your colour."
"She thinks she's losing us," said Len with a sigh.
"What do you mean?"
"We've all gone off into a world where she can't follow. She doesn't understand, or can't accept that the world isn't the way it was when she left school and married. When she was twenty, you went home after school for a few years, and then you married the first man who asked and settled down to keep house and have babies. Maybe you went to university first and worked for a bit, if your family couldn't support you, but the husband and lots of babies were always the ultimate goal."
Con thought about this for a moment. "She also doesn't believe you when you say you don't really want to settle down with a husband and babies. After all, she was adamant about wanting to stay single right up until the ripe old age of, oh, twenty, and was married with three kids by about twenty-one. So not wanting kids is something you're supposed to grow out of, and quickly." Len laughed ruefully. "If I had followed her plans for me, I'd be seven years married, settled on the Platz darning Reg's socks and probably have my eldest daughter starting at the Chalet school."
"Have you heard from him at all recently?"
"Not directly, but a friend heard that he's engaged to a young woman at his hospital. She's about twenty-three and has been working as a nurse there."
"Likes them young, doesn't he?"
"Well, how about Ron then. He's what, four years younger than you, isn't he, Con?"
"Oh, Ron's long gone. Much to stuffy for my taste. There's this nice politial columnist, though, who's been hanging around a lot recently, Mark - handsome, polished, good tempered and a good sense of humour. He's got potential."
"So did the last six boyfriends," responded Len dryly.
"Okay then, when are you and Leonard going to settle down?"
"When we're ready to. We're happy where we are right now, and neither of us wants to rush things."
They walked in silence, enjoying the drifting snow and peaceful air for a while before the raucous sounds of the younger boys on their walk broke the quiet.
"I'm glad the weather is holding," said Len. "Remember last year when we had the week long blizzard and were all stuck inside? I thought I'd go stark raving mad!"
Con rolled her eyes. "And Mamma wonders why we don't want to all have lots and lots of children. I love you all dearly, but there are too many people in that house!"
Felicity grinned, "Let's get them. They're making so much noise they won't hear us sneaking up." The serious part of the conversation over, the girls concentrated on sneaking up on the boys, snowballs in hand, and the walk degenerated into a vigorous snow fight.
"So how's school going otherwise?" asked Con a few days later, as the girls washed up after dinner.
Cecilia shrugged. "Not too bad. The work is no harder than last year, but they're finally leaving me alone to do my own stuff without fussing at me. Being a prefect's better than I thought, even if it is getting me in trouble with Mamma."
"Carlotta's Head Girl this year, isn't she?"
"Right. She's a bit prim and properish at times, but not too stuffy if there are others around to shake her up, and she never loses her temper. Margie's Second Prefect, and she's a [i]lot[/i] more lively, even if she doesn't get into quite as much trouble these days. Lisa Morrison's Games Prefect. She's not the life of the party, but she's got good sense."
"How's Jean doing, Flixy?" Felicity sighed. "Okay, but not great. Jacob isn't sleeping well, and she's really tired all the time." Jean Morrison had gotten pregnant in her first term at university, and had returned to the Platz in disgrace to have her baby. Jacob was a sweet little boy and Lisa and her friends doted on him, but Jean was finding the work of caring for a baby very stressful.
"I'll stop by for a visit later today," said Con. "Goodness knows I've spent enough time looking after little ones to give her a hand."
Felicity changed the topic. "How do you like Ferry as head? And what's the new one, Smitts, like?
"I like Ferry. She's jolly, but she doesn't take any nonsense, and she's never nasty to you when you're called up on the carpet. She seems much younger than Auntie Hilda. It's strange not having Auntie Hilda there, though. She's always been there, since Mamma was at school. Smitty's a decent sort. She's very comfortable and the little ones love her, but she's got a really sharp sense of humour. She's teaching my senior algebra class."
"Who else is new since I last visited the school?" asked Con. "Oh, let me help you with those," this directed to Phil, who had entered with a pile of linens.
"Let's see, Miss Walther joined two years ago as a junior mistress - I don't see her much, but Ro has her as form mistress this year. Miss Lambert joined at the same time - she's teaching English to the fourths and fifths - Daphne has her this year. We got in a batch of new language people when Mlle Lachenais and old Sally-Go-Round-the-Moon left, too. Adrienne's teaching junior French, of course, and Fraulein Zinkel and Mademoiselle Pierre-Bonet you know - they're teaching German and intermediate French. Senorita Andreas is taking Italian and Spanish and Miss Anderson the Latin and Greek - you wouldn't know them.
"What other old girls are there on the staff now?" asked Len. "I have trouble keeping track sometimes."
"There's Miss Everett - she's teaching history. Miss Carter's from the English branch - she's the middle's geography mistress. Fraulein Hurrell in the library and Fraulein Harms and Miss Kennedy in the office,"
"Miss Unwin's my form mistress," added Phil, as she folded napkins. "She's really nice. And I have Fraulein Bertoni for science."
"Miss Landon and Miss Caird for PT of course," put in Cecilia."
"And Matron Henschell, Yollie, Willie, and Kathie Robertson from when we were there," finished up Con.
"It adds up when you think about it," said Len. "It's over a third of the staff, all told. No wonder the school has settled into a routine."
Cecilia poked her head around the corner into her sisters' room. "Con, do you have a moment to talk?"
"Sure, what is it?"
Cecilia came in and sat on the bed, accompanied by a dramatic sigh. "I need some help figuring out what to do about next year. I heard Mamma and Papa talking about it, and there's no way they're going to send me off on my own at sixteen. Mamma was saying that she thought I could come home to help at home for a year or two before uni and I'll go mad if I have to do that. I'd rather run off and mop floors for a living." The younger girl looked at her sister with an expression that was both defiant and forlorn. "Can you imaging having to sit here, helping Anna out with the housework and babysitting for the neighbours, with a school full of girls my age across the fence, doing all sorts of interesting things? Particularly when Mamma spends half her time hanging out with the prefects and mistresses, and has batches of girls over for all sorts of activities."
"Can't you stay for an extra year the way the three of us did? They basically gave us individually designed study programs until we were old enough to send off to university."
"No. The school decided not to keep girls once they had finished Upper Sixth, regardless of age. They said it wasn't fair to the staff to have to come up with that sort of individual program in addition to the usual teaching, coaching and supervision load. I think they only took you three for that extra year because of pressure from Mother."
"Come on, can you see me learning proper deportment and culture with that bunch of empty-headed socialites they have over there? Besides, we don't get free tuition for the finishing branch, and it's much too expensive for the family to afford."
"I'll think about it," said Con with a thoughful expression. "Worst comes to worst, you could always stay in the spare room with me and find some sort of job."
"Thanks!" Cecelia leapt up and gave her sister a hug before running off in a slightly more cheerful frame of mind.
"Papa, do you have a moment?"
Jack Maynard looked up at his two eldest children. "Certainly. Come in and find a seat." Len and Con came in the study where he was reviewing the financial records of the Sanatorium, and cleared paperwork off a couple of chairs. "What is it?"
"We want to talk to you about Cece," replied Len. "She's really worried about what she's going to be doing next year, and she's getting herself all worked up over it."
Jack looked thoughtful and concerned. "I'm worried about that too. We certainly can't send her off to University in England at barely sixteen, particularly when she's never been off the Platz for more than a brief vacation. Even if she could stay with one of you, she's still too young to be in that environment, with classes and residences full of eighteen and nineteen year olds. She's a bright girl, and she's got common sense, but she's still only fifteen."
"Sitting at home with nothing to do would be worse," replied Con. "You know Cece - she's the brightest of all of us, and she's as stubborn as any. She'll get bored and then she'll get rebellious, and do you really want all that intelligence and drive plotting escape? Remember the fuss when they tried to force her into Inter V for a year until she was old enough to be a senior?"
Jack suppressed a look of mild panic at the memory. "I was thinking that I could find her a job at the San - working in administration, or helping in the lab," he replied. "She'd have a job to occupy her time, and be making her own pocket money and clothing allowance."
"But she'd be living right next to the school, watching all her classmates and friends, not to mention Daphne, busy at school and sports and prefect duties and Christmas plays and all that," said Len. "And she wouldn't be allowed to take part. They're not going to let her substitute teach the way Mamma did after leaving, either. Not to mention that hanging out here for a year or two isn't going to help prepare her for life at university."
"But we've got an idea," said Con. "which will keep her occupied and interested, but still under some supervision, until she's old enough to be out on her own."