Summary: Frank and Phoebe take in the daughter of one of Frank's patients, who spends the Easter term of 1945 at the Chalet School in the company of Bride and her friends. Part 7 of the Peters Universe.
Categories: Ste Therese's House Characters: Beth Chester, Bride Bettany, Daisy Venables, Frieda (Mensch) von Ahlen, Gwensi Howell, Jo (Bettany) Maynard, Minor character(s), OC, Primula Mary Venables, Tom Gay
School Period: Armishire
School Name: Chalet School
Genre: Domestic, Family, Friendship, Romance, School Story, War
Series: The Peters Universe
Chapters: 29 Completed: Yes
Word count: 49465 Read: 49198
Published: 18 Oct 2015 Updated: 18 Oct 2015
1. Dr Robertson's Diagnosis by Aquabird
2. The Children's Ward by Aquabird
3. Convincing Mrs Langley by Aquabird
4. An Unexpected Emergency by Aquabird
5. Arrival At Ty-Gwyn by Aquabird
6. Plans For Helen by Aquabird
7. Tea With The Chaletians by Aquabird
8. Introducing Meg by Aquabird
9. Future Plans by Aquabird
10. Joey's Invitation by Aquabird
11. The New Year Party by Aquabird
12. At Cairn Farm by Aquabird
13. First Impressions by Aquabird
14. The First Evening by Aquabird
15. Helen And Hockey by Aquabird
16. The Prefects In Council by Aquabird
17. Tea At Plas Gwyn by Aquabird
18. An Evening At Hobbies by Aquabird
19. The Match by Aquabird
20. Half-Term Begins by Aquabird
21. Helen Seeks Advice by Aquabird
22. Frieda Creates A Sensation by Aquabird
23. Daisy Pronounces by Aquabird
24. Ruth Goes Too Far by Aquabird
25. Retribution by Aquabird
26. The Sale by Aquabird
27. Mrs Langley's Announcement by Aquabird
28. Helen's Farewell by Aquabird
29. Victory In Europe by Aquabird
Dr Robertson's Diagnosis by Aquabird
The young GP leaned back in his chair and sighed wearily. It was the same old story; the patient sitting anxiously before him had put off and off coming to see him, not wanting to make a fuss, and now she was going to pay heavily for it.
‘I’m afraid it’s rheumatoid arthritis all right, Mrs Langley,’ he told her.
The woman sitting on the opposite side of the desk sighed in her turn and shook her head. ‘I feared it was something like that. But it was easy to ignore until this past month or so, when it suddenly became much worse.’
‘It’ll be this wretched cold weather that’s brought it out,’ said the doctor, gesturing at the window, through which a heavy fog was all that could be seen. ‘Winter is always a bad time of year for rheumatic sufferers.’
‘What do you suggest for it, Dr Robertson? I suppose it is…chronic?’
‘I’m afraid so. There is no cure for it, and it will gradually gain a stronger hold as the years pass. Until recently there was little we could do beyond issuing painkillers, which were very ineffective anyway. However, there is now a new treatment available which tackles the inflammation itself, and I would highly recommend you try it.’
‘What is it?’ she asked curiously.
‘It’s a course of injections which brings all the swelling down,’ explained Dr Robertson. ‘It was first pioneered in America, and it was brought over to Britain two years ago by a friend of mine from Guy’s who specialises in rheumatism. It won’t cure you, but it will greatly relieve your symptoms and slow down any permanent damage. I believe come peacetime it will become a standard treatment for RA, and much more widely available. As it is now, though, my friend is the only one trained and able to offer it.’
‘It sounds promising,’ said Mrs Langley approvingly. ‘Where is he based, Doctor? Somewhere in the city?’
‘Oh no, though it’s not all that far from here,’ said Dr Robertson. ‘He’s attached to a Sanatorium near the Welsh border in Armishire, up in the mountains. It’s run by Sir James Russell, the TB specialist, you know.’
‘The Welsh mountains?’ exclaimed Mrs Langley. ‘But I can’t possibly go, then. There’s no one to take care of my little girl, Helen. I thought I could have attended as an outpatient, if he was in Birmingham.’
Dr Robertson shook his head. ‘This treatment is a full regime which requires a hospital stay. Rest, controlled exercises, diet, and so on. You must be prepared to go into hospital for at least three months. As for your daughter, is she of school age?’
‘Yes, she’s twelve.’
‘Well, if you have no relatives or friends with whom she could stay, might I suggest you send her to boarding school for the duration of your treatment? One term would probably be sufficient. Plus it would get her out of Birmingham and away from any danger of bombing. Armishire is a safe area, so if you sent her to somewhere there, she would be out of harm’s way, and near at hand if you want to see her, too.’
Mrs Langley sat frowning for a few moments. ‘I’d have to think it over, Doctor. I should certainly like to try this treatment you suggest, but finding something suitable for Helen is more difficult.’
‘If you’d care to wait outside for a minute or two, I will telephone Dr Peters and outline your case to him,’ said Dr Robertson, ‘and if he is able to take you on, I shall ask him about any schools in the area that he could recommend for Helen.’
‘Thank you,’ said Mrs Langley, allowing herself to be ushered from the consulting room. After seeing her seated in the little waiting room outside, Dr Robertson returned to his desk and put through a call to the Sanatorium in Armishire.
Frank was at his desk in his office, buried in some case notes, when the phone at his elbow rang. Muttering a most uncharitable remark under his breath at having his flow of thought interrupted, he picked up the receiver.
‘Dr Peters, there’s a Dr Robertson from Birmingham on the line for you,’ purred the efficient tones of Miss Hiles, one of the San receptionists.
Frank’s eyebrows shot up in astonishment. Robertson was an old acquaintance from Guy’s, of course, but they had never had any sort of formal dealings, only a friendly correspondence consisting mainly of medical discussions.
‘I see. Put him through, please.’
A few clicks and far off noises, and then he heard the polished tones of his old classmate.
‘Is that you, Peters? It’s Terry Robertson.’
‘To what do I owe this pleasure, Robertson?’ asked Frank. ‘It’s been some months since I last heard from you.’
‘I know, I know,’ groaned Robertson. ‘It’s this damn war, I haven’t a minute to call my own for letter-writing these days.’
‘Oh I know, believe me, I know. Are you still in general practice up in Birmingham?’
‘And how! Look here, Peters, I have a request for you, and I hope you’ll take it on. I’ve a patient on my books that I’ve just diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. She’s not particularly old – forty if even that – but it’s had a hold on her for some time now, though the silly woman held off coming to me as long as she could, not wanting to make a fuss. You know the type.’
‘Only too well,’ sighed Frank. ‘They only end up creating even more of a fuss than they were dreading by leaving it so long. I suppose you want me to take a look at her?’
‘Got it in one. Well, it’s your field, isn’t it? Give her a good dose of that American treatment you’ve been raving about. Can you take her on?’
‘I expect so, we ought to have a bed available in the next few weeks, but I’d have to give her a proper overhaul before I could say for sure whether that treatment would do anything for her. It will depend very much on how severe it is, how much joint damage she’s sustained, and so on. And if it is suitable for her, it will mean a stay in the San here for three or four months.’
‘I know, I’ve told her that, but there’s a snag in that she has a child to consider, a girl of twelve or so. She’s a widow, and seems to be devoid of relations she could send the girl to while she’s in hospital. I suggested boarding school, even if it’s just for a term or two, but she isn’t too keen on the idea.’
‘Suggest the Chalet School to her,’ said Frank at once. ‘It’s owned by Jem Russell’s wife, Madge, and it’s very much connected to our place. A lot of the girls who go there do so because they’ve got relatives here receiving treatment – as I expect I’ve told you, we specialise particularly in TB, so many of our patients are in for the long term and like to have their girls nearby. It’s a very decent place, and it’s a fairly easy matter for the girls to come here for visits and so on. It’s based at Plas Howell, a huge old manor house about three miles from Howells Village, which is only about fifteen miles from here.’
‘That sounds ideal,’ said Robertson approvingly. ‘I’ll mention it to Mrs Langley and see what she thinks. I’d certainly like to have her seen to quickly, before the rheumatism gets a stronger hold on her.’
‘Of course. Send her over for an initial appointment so that I can size her condition up, and if she’s suitable, I’ll see what I can do about getting her in quickly for treatment.’
The Children's Ward by Aquabird
‘Well, Mrs Peters, it’s been a year,’ said Frank, rolling over lazily in bed and putting his arm around Phoebe, who had just stirred. She chuckled sleepily.
‘Hasn’t it flown in?’
‘Rather. An indication of how much we’re enjoying married life, perhaps?’
‘Well, I suppose that’s one way of looking at it. I was so excited when I woke up on our wedding day. I wasn’t even really nervous.’
‘I was,’ Frank said darkly, and she laughed. ‘Even the nerves I had for my finals at Guy’s were nothing compared to it. And speaking of Guy’s, I did tell you I have to briefly go up to the San this morning, didn’t I? I was hoping to have the whole day off to spend with you, but this patient is a referral from a chap I knew at Guy’s, and she’s coming down from Birmingham specially for this appointment. Well, she wants to have a look over the Chalet School, too, as she may end up sending her kid there if I can take her on as a patient, but her San appointment is the main reason for her coming.’
‘Yes, you told me,’ Phoebe said resignedly. ‘I know it can’t be avoided, and I don’t mind as long as that’s all you’re going in for. I know you, you’ll get there and end up doing a whole shift anyway!’
‘I won’t, I promise. I went to great lengths to get those play tickets, I’m not going to see them wasted! I’ll be back for lunch, honestly. We’ll have a nice cosy afternoon, then dinner in Armiford, then the play. Suit you?’
‘Yes, that sounds good. Could I come up to the San with you? I’ve made some more toys for the children’s ward and I’d like to hand them in.’
‘All right,’ said Frank agreeably. ‘I suppose if you’re there glowering at me from a distance I won’t become distracted and end up being shoehorned into doing an extra shift.’
‘I don’t “glower” at you!’ Phoebe said indignantly.
‘Don’t you believe it, my girl. For someone so small it’s remarkable how much you can resemble a fully-fledged lioness on occasion.’ Phoebe glared at him. ‘Yes, just like that! Go on! What a beauty! Hitler himself would run for the hills if he saw that look!’
Phoebe seized her pillow and whacked him with it. She was not strong enough to make much of an impact, but Frank was not averse to retaliating, and a fight ensued which only ended when Augustin, attracted by the laughter and thumping of pillows, came racing up from the kitchen, barged the bedroom door open, took a flying leap onto the bed and tried to lick Phoebe’s face, at which point she was forced to surrender.
Nine thirty saw them in the car and beginning the long toil up to the San through the mist which covered the Golden Valley that morning.
‘Should be quite a nice day if and when this lifts,’ remarked Frank, as they finally climbed high enough to leave the mist behind. ‘I hope it doesn’t ra – ’
‘Hush!’ Phoebe said sternly. ‘Or that jinx of yours will activate again and we’ll have to take a submarine to Armiford for dinner!’
Frank subsided with a chuckle.
When they reached the San, Frank escorted Phoebe up to the children’s ward, advised her to go along to the canteen when she had finished where he would meet her after his appointment, then strode off up to his office, nodding greetings to various people he passed.
Phoebe duly presented her basketful of toys to the nurse on duty in the children’s ward, and was delighted when those children that were able came crowding round to see and exclaim with joy at them.
‘Thank you,’ said a girl of about nine, whose legs were in irons. She had picked out a small toy dog from the pile and was hugging it to her chest with one arm while the other held her crutches.
‘You’re very welcome,’ said Phoebe with a smile. ‘Do you need help getting back to bed?’
The girl nodded and handed her the toy, then hobbled back to the chair beside her bed that she had been sitting in. Phoebe followed, helped her sit down, then handed her back the toy.
‘There you are!’ she said. ‘I hope you’ll be well soon.’
The little girl’s face clouded. ‘I had polio and it made my legs like this. The doctor said I’ll have irons on them for years, maybe forever!’
‘But you might not,’ Phoebe hastened to assure her. ‘When I was a little girl and became ill, I had to live in a wheelchair and was in awful pain, and they told me I’d never walk again. Now, as you see, I can walk, and with only a stick, not even crutches! They’re always making new discoveries and inventing new treatments for people who’re sick, and there’s no reason why it can’t happen for your illness too. You mustn’t give up hope.’
The small girl peered interestedly at Phoebe’s legs. ‘Did you have polio too?’
‘No, I have rheumatism,’ replied Phoebe. She spread her hands out. ‘See how my hands are swollen a little? They used to be much, much worse, and there were days where I couldn’t do anything at all, not even feed myself. My knees were like that too, which was why I couldn’t walk. But then last year I came here, and the doctors and nurses made me much better, and now I can do all sorts of things I hadn’t been able to for years.’
‘So you’re cured, but not really?’
‘Well, sort of,’ said Phoebe with a smile. ‘I don’t know if I’ll ever be fully cured, but I won’t stop hoping for it. Even if I’m not, though, even if this is as well as I’ll ever be, it’s still so much more than I or anyone else thought possible at one time. I’ll probably never run a marathon or climb a mountain, but so what? It doesn’t stop me enjoying my life as it is now. That’s the best way to stop any illness from taking over your whole life; by focusing on what you can do, not what you can’t.’
The little girl frowned. ‘I never really thought about that.’
‘Think it over,’ Phoebe said, getting up from the bed where she had sat down for a few moments – strictly against the rules, as she remembered too late. ‘I know it’s hard to try and be positive about things when you feel so miserable and envious of people who have never known what it is to be very ill, but the more you try, the easier you’ll find it, and the happier you’ll be. And the happier you are, the better your health is. It all comes full circle, really.’
The little girl looked puzzled at the last sentence, but said; ‘OK. Thank you.’
Phoebe smiled and nodded encouragingly, then left the ward and made her way to the canteen, where to her delight she found Nurse Wilkins having a well-earned tea break.
‘Oh, Nurse Wilkins!’ she exclaimed. ‘Are you back at last? Frank told me you’d broken your arm in that dreadful road accident in October, and I know he felt quite bereft not having you around.’
Nurse Wilkins raised her eyes in surprised pleasure. ‘Why, Mrs Peters, how nice to see you, and looking so bonny! Yes, I’m finally allowed back, though I’ve to go easy for a few weeks yet. No lifting patients or things like that. There’s nothing wrong with my arm now!’ she added in exasperation.
‘If it was one of your patients saying that, you’d tell them to stop moaning and do as the doctor says,’ Phoebe said, her eyes dancing wickedly, and Nurse Wilkins laughed.
‘Touché. What brings you here, anyway? Nothing wrong, I hope?’
‘Oh no, I just came up with Frank to give some toys in to the children’s ward. He’s supposed to be on leave today as it’s our first anniversary, but he’s got a patient – or a potential patient, I’m not really sure – coming down from Birmingham for an appointment, so he had to come in for that.’
Nurse Wilkins nodded. ‘She could be another one for the same treatment you had, depending on what he thinks. Has it really been a year already since you married? My, how quickly it’s gone!’
‘I know, we were saying that just this morning…’
Convincing Mrs Langley by Aquabird
While Phoebe settled down to enjoy a chat with Nurse Wilkins, Frank was doing battle with Mrs Langley, who had, since her interview with Dr Robertson, managed to convince herself that the rheumatism wasn’t that bad and there was no need for her to be incarcerated in the San for three months, separated from her little Helen. Frank, having been well warned by Dr Robertson that Helen was the main bone of contention, was at his most firm.
‘This is no trifling illness, Mrs Langley. No matter how well you may be feeling – or have convinced yourself you’re feeling – I can assure you it is there, and it is progressing. At the moment we’ve caught it in time to stop it affecting your mobility too drastically, but if you don’t have it treated in short order your daughter will end up pushing you around in a wheelchair.’
That brought Mrs Langley slap up against reality with a start. ‘Surely it doesn’t affect one as badly as that?’
‘Oh yes. A look round some of the patients on the wards here would show you exactly how badly it can affect one, it’s a very painful and debilitating illness once it gets a good hold.’
Mrs Langley sat silent for a few moments.
‘It’s not myself I’m worried for, Doctor,’ she said at last. ‘It’s Helen. I can’t leave her on her own in Birmingham, and I’ve no one to send her to. Dr Robertson said there was a school here she could go to, and I shall be going to look over it later today, but…’
‘I take it you mean the Chalet School?’ Frank asked, and she nodded. ‘You couldn’t do better, madam, it’s an excellent school, and is connected to the San here. It was begun and is still owned by Lady Russell, wife of Sir James who owns this place, and many of the girls have relatives being treated here. They’re well looked after and it’s a very good school academically as well, quite a few of them go on to university, including Oxford. I know some of them and they’re a very jolly set, they’d look after Helen all right and see that she isn’t, er, miserable.’ He was about to say ‘sat on too much’, but caught himself up hastily, knowing that it wasn’t a very encouraging expression to use to a parent as protective as Mrs Langley obviously was.
Sensing that she was beginning to come round to the idea at last, he pressed his advantage; ‘We ought to have a bed available in perhaps a fortnight or three weeks. I quite understand you’ll want to spend Christmas with Helen, so we could arrange to have you brought in after that, and Helen can quite easily stay with a family in the area until the Easter term starts in January. I can guarantee that by the Easter holidays you’ll be in much better shape than you are now, and Helen will have thoroughly enjoyed herself at the Chalet School.’
‘Well…’ began Mrs Langley uncertainly. Frank got up, a sudden idea occurring to him.
‘Let me show you around,’ he said. ‘You can see the San for yourself, and there’s someone I’d like you to meet whom I think can probably ease any doubts you have.’
He led her past some of the wards, giving her a nasty shock as she saw some of the more advanced rheumatic cases, and ended their tour at the canteen, where he found to his delight both Phoebe and Nurse Wilkins, still enjoying their tea and gossip.
‘There you are!’ said Phoebe, looking up and smiling as she saw Frank approaching with Mrs Langley in tow.
‘Phoebe, I’d like you to meet Mrs Langley,’ said Frank. ‘Mrs Langley, this is my wife Phoebe, and Nurse Wilkins, one of our nurses who’s very experienced with rheumatic cases.’
‘How do you do?’ The three women shook hands.
‘Last year Phoebe had the same course of treatment that I’m recommending for you, Mrs Langley,’ Frank said, giving Phoebe a meaningful look. ‘She was very ill before, and it has made a great difference to her condition.’
‘Oh yes,’ said Phoebe at once, cottoning on. ‘I was in the most awful pain and couldn’t walk or lift my arms or use my hands properly. Then Frank gave me those injections, and as you can see, I’m miles better, my pain is more or less gone and I can walk and everything. I would very much recommend it, if he thinks it will help you too. And Nurse Wilkins here will look after you very well, as she did for me.’
Nurse Wilkins nodded grimly, but said nothing. Frank went on;
‘She’s thinking of sending her daughter to the Chalet School for a term or so while she’s in here.’ And I’m having a hell of a job convincing her, he added in another meaningful glance and roll of the eyes at his wife, who chuckled to herself.
‘I’m sure your little girl would be very happy at the Chalet School,’ she told Mrs Langley, smiling. ‘Many of our acquaintance either have daughters there, or are Old Girls themselves, and they always speak so glowingly of it. How old is your daughter? Twelve? Well, I know two or three of the girls around that age to whom I’m sure we could introduce her before she goes, and who would look after her until she finds her feet.’
‘It’s very kind of you,’ said Mrs Langley, collecting her rather scattered wits, ‘but I think the doctor here wants me to come in for treatment even before the term starts, so…’
‘Oh, has she nowhere to stay if you do?’ Phoebe finished for her. ‘I’m sure we could put her up for the duration, couldn’t we, Frank? We live in the village nearest the school, so it would be quite an easy matter to take her over and see her safely into their hands when the term starts, it’s only a couple of miles away. And I’m sure she’d like to meet Peggy and Bride and Sybil and Primula, who are all about her age and very nice girls, and will be only too keen to tell her all about the school. You needn’t worry about her, Mrs Langley. I know it’s difficult to simply drop everything and go into hospital for several months, but we’ll see to things and ensure that your treatment is the only thing on your mind. You won’t regret it, I promise you.’ She wound up with her prettiest smile that made her dimples startlingly prominent, and Frank mentally took his hat off to her, for he could tell by the resigned look on Mrs Langley’s face that the battle was won at last.
‘I owe you one, old thing,’ he told Phoebe, once they were heading back to Ty-Gwyn, having dropped Mrs Langley off at Plas Howell for her interview with Misses Annersley and Wilson. ‘I thought I was going to be there all day trying to persuade her to part with her precious .daughter, but I rather think you clinched it with your torrent of praise.’
Phoebe laughed. ‘I could tell by the faces you were making at me behind her back that you wanted me to back you up, so I did what I could. Only don’t parade me in front of all your potential patients, please. I’m not an exhibit!’
‘Well, you are a magnificent advertisement for my talents,’ Frank said with a grin. ‘I take your point, though. It was only because you happened to be in the San, and she was digging her heels in so firmly, that I thought perhaps a testament from you might persuade her. It’s not often that I have to argue with people to be treated anyway, most of them are only too keen to try anything that might help.’
‘Oh, how well do I know that feeling!’ sighed Phoebe. Then she changed the subject. ‘I wonder what Helen’s like. I wasn’t sure what you’d think about my inviting her to stay with us until the term starts, but it was out before I could think about it.’
‘I suppose it was the only viable solution we could offer on the spur of the moment,’ Frank said. ‘It’s not as though we don’t have room for her, she can have Edmund’s room since he’s away. And I doubt Mrs Langley would ever agree to let the kid go to complete strangers anyway, whereas she’s at least met us. You’ll see to it that she meets some of the girls before she goes to the school, won’t you? Sybil and…who else did you suggest?’
‘Peggy and Bride, the two Bettany girls,’ replied Phoebe promptly. ‘I happen to know that the Bettanys will be at the Round House for Christmas this year, so they’ll be in the area. And then there’s little Primula Venables, too. Oh, and those Scottish twins who’re living with Jo at the moment, too; Flora and Fiona. They’re all about Helen’s age and ought to take her in tow all right. I’ll ask Madge to let them come to tea one day and they can make friends.’
‘Right. I’m sorry you’ve been saddled with the kid like this, but…’
‘It was my own suggestion!’ Phoebe laughed. ‘Anyway, it will make a nice change in routine to have her for a week or two. When do you expect her to come?’
‘Probably sometime around the New Year, say three weeks or so from now. They’ll want to spend Christmas together first, of course, and there isn’t likely to be a bed available before then anyway. You’ll probably have her for a couple of weeks. No doubt Madge or someone will let you know when term starts.’
‘No doubt,’ chuckled Phoebe. ‘It will be rather fun, won’t it?’
‘We’ve our own brand of fun to enjoy first,’ said Frank, pulling up outside Ty-Gwyn. ‘Fun of the first wedding anniversary variety. '
Phoebe laughed and took the arm he was offering, and they went inside to the warmth and Debby’s homemade soup for lunch.
An Unexpected Emergency by Aquabird
Helen was duly entered for the Chalet School for the coming Easter term, and Mrs Langley was scheduled to come to the San and begin her treatment in the week between Christmas and New Year. With Christmas now closing in fast, Frank and Phoebe gave little thought to the Langleys in the bustle of acquiring and making presents, buying cards and assisting Debby in hunting down as many goodies as they could find for their Christmas dinner. A basket containing a plump duck and vegetables was put onto the train at Birmingham by Auntie Elsie, and met at Armiford by a gleeful Debby. Phoebe was commissioned by Meg Jones to embroider a teacloth as a present for Mrs Crewe, and was duly paid in plums and butter, which formed the basis of the Christmas pudding. Frank paid a visit to Cairn Farm himself one Sunday afternoon and returned with a fir tree, much smaller than the one they had had the year before, but a respectable size nevertheless. A parcel containing presents for them all arrived from Edmund, who was in Belgium.
‘As you’ll no doubt have heard on the news, we’re at the German border,’ he wrote. ‘The weather’s dreadful. I wish we could push on and end it quickly, they’re still hanging on to the northern half of the Netherlands, and the word is that the people caught there are literally starving and freezing to death.’
‘I hope to goodness it’s all over by this time next year,’ Phoebe said to Frank, as they went to bed on Christmas Eve.
‘It’ll be over in Europe all right, and in the next few months too, I expect,’ Frank said confidently. ‘Cold weather might hold us up, but it won’t hold up the Russians, they’re accustomed to fighting in that sort of weather. They’ll be kicking Hitler’s front door in any day now. That ought to be the reprieve the Dutch need.’
‘I do hope so,’ said Phoebe with a shiver. ‘I feel so guilty that we have food when they don’t. And it’s only because we’re lucky enough to have the English Channel between us and Hitler!’
‘Even that wouldn’t have been enough if it weren’t for Edmund and the rest putting paid to their pretty plans to invade us,’ said Frank. ‘He told me later that theoretically we should never have won that campaign, as we were massively outnumbered and out-equipped by the Luftwaffe at that point.’
‘How did we win, then?’ Phoebe asked.
‘Better pilots and smart tactics, according to him.’
‘Well, he should know,’ said Phoebe. ‘I think he’s marvellous. They all are. I could never do what they are doing. I only hope that this time, all those who’ve risked their lives in the forces will be properly recognised and rewarded. Father was always very bitter that he and the rest came back from the trenches of the Great War to no jobs, no homes, no prospects, after spending four years of their lives in what he described as hell on earth. He never talked about what he saw there, but he did say it was a complete and utter waste of life.’
‘It was,’ said Frank shortly, and Phoebe, remembering that Captain Peters had been killed in that war, said no more.
They awoke the next morning to a leaden sky that promised snow before the day was up. Frank was not working, but he was on call, which made him feel restless.
‘I should have just put my name down for a shift and got it over with,’ he said, as they sat down to breakfast. ‘Being on call means I can’t have a drink, or even just properly relax. But I was too tempted by the thought of a lie-in for once.’
‘You call eight o’clock a lie-in?’ Phoebe asked in astonishment.
‘It is when you’re used to getting up at six, or even five on occasion,’ he pointed out.
‘Fair enough. I don’t usually wake until about half past seven these days, so eight o’clock isn’t really what I’d term a lie-in.’
‘Aren’t you the lucky one!’ said Frank dryly.
They went to church after breakfast, and then took Augustin for a walk. He was three months old now, and very handsome with his glossy red and white coat and long silky ears. The village children loved him, and always ran to pat him whenever they saw him going on his daily constitutional. Only Tibbles refused to be impressed by him, but then, as Frank remarked, Tibbles was unimpressed with everyone except Debby, of whom he, like everyone else, stood in wholesale awe.
After their walk, they sat down to their Christmas dinner. Soup, roast duck, carrots, garden peas, potatoes and plum pudding were made short work of, and then Frank leaned back in his chair and sighed with content.
‘How you learnt to cook like this, Debby, I don’t know, but every day I bless God for having you as our personal chef,’ he declared. Debby, who was eating with them today in honour of the occasion, laughed.
‘Tisn’t anything particularly fancy I’ve made, Dr Frank,’ she said. ‘Now, back when I cooked for Mr and Mrs Wychcote – Miss Phoebe’s grandparents as was – eh, the things I could make then!’
‘Even when you came to live with Father and I, before the war and the rationing started, you could make some wonderful things whenever we had to entertain,’ Phoebe said. ‘Meringues and honeycomb cakes and chocolate éclairs, and smoked salmon and – ’
‘Oh, don’t!’ groaned Frank. ‘I’m stuffed and yet now I’m craving all those things!’
Debby chuckled. ‘One day, Dr Frank, one day.’
‘It can’t come soon enough!’ grumbled Frank.
Dinner over, they went into the sitting room to listen to the King’s speech on the wireless and then exchange presents. Just as Debby was exclaiming over the fountain pen Edmund had sent for her, the phone rang, and Frank groaned.
‘That had better not be the San.’
‘Who else would it be?’ Phoebe said resignedly, as he got up and went into the hall to answer it.
‘Yes, Frank Peters here…Merry Christmas to you too, Miss Hiles.’
‘I knew it,’ Phoebe said gloomily to Debby, who nodded.
‘Yes…what about her? What? Yes, yes, I see…no, I think the simplest thing would be to bring her in at once, the bed meant for her fell vacant yesterday, we were only waiting for Christmas to be over anyway before bringing her in. Is Nurse Wilkins on duty? She is? Right, I want her and an ambulance down here at once, I’ll be waiting for it at the end of the street. Give me the number and I’ll ring the girl back myself and tell her.’
‘What on earth’s happened?’ Phoebe demanded, joining him in the hall as he replaced the receiver.
‘Mrs Langley,’ he replied grimly. ‘She’s had an attack, quite a bad one by the sounds of it. The girl, Helen, rang up the San in a panic and asked what to do. We’ll have to bring Mrs Langley in tonight and get it under control.’
‘Good heavens, in that?’ cried Phoebe, pointing out of the front window, where the first flakes of snow were beginning to fall in the darkness that was already looming. ‘You’ll be out all night! It must be two hours at least to Birmingham from here, in broad daylight and good weather! It’ll probably be nearly double that in these conditions!’
‘Can’t be helped, I’m afraid,’ Frank said gloomily. ‘Look, you make sure the room’s ready for the girl when we get back. We can’t leave her behind, so she’ll have to come in the ambulance with us. Now, I’d better get her on the line and give her some instructions before the ambulance gets here. Get my outdoor things ready while I’m phoning, would you?’
Phoebe obligingly went to look out his shoes, coat and hat while he rang up the number Miss Hiles had given him. It was promptly answered by a young girl whose voice shook, and Frank at once went into kindly doctor mode.
‘Is that Helen?’
‘Yes!’ exclaimed the girl. ‘Oh, is that the doctor, please?’
‘Yes, I’m Dr Peters from the San. We’re going to come and pick your mother up tonight in an ambulance and bring her in, it’s the best thing to do to get her pain under control quickly, and you’ll come to my house to stay until you go to school, as we’d already arranged with her.’
‘Thank goodness,’ said Helen in relief, and Frank felt a stab of pity for her. ‘I was so worried when she seemed to get worse and worse through the day, I didn’t know what to do.’
‘You did the right thing in phoning us,’ Frank said reassuringly. ‘Is your mother in bed, or on a sofa?’
‘Yes, I got her to bed after lunch.’
‘Splendid. Tell her to stay there, and give her some cool flannels to put on her swellings. We’ll be a good two or three hours on the way, so don’t panic if we don’t arrive before supper time, all right?’
‘All right,’ said Helen.
‘Good girl. Try and pack a couple of suitcases with some clothes for your mother and yourself; nighties and toothbrushes and hankies, things like that.’
‘What about my trunk with all my school things?’ Helen asked doubtfully. ‘I’ll have to bring that too, if Mummy’s going into hospital and not coming out again until Easter.’
‘Oh, gosh, of course. Well, we’ll just have to squeeze it in somehow. You could put your own things into it, anyway, then you’ll only need to pack one separate case with some things for your mother. However you fix it, just make sure you bring some things to wear, and that your mother has some nighties and washing things, and a dressing gown and slippers. We can sort anything else out later.’
‘OK,’ said Helen. ‘Thank you, Dr Peters.’
Frank hung up, and hurriedly got into the coat, hat and shoes Phoebe was holding out to him.
‘Do be careful,’ she said anxiously, as Debby handed him a hastily-wrapped packet of sandwiches and a flask of tea. ‘That snow looks like it means business, and it’s getting dark, too.’
‘I’ll be all right, the girls we’ve got for drivers are well used to driving in poor conditions,’ Frank said reassuringly, catching up his doctor’s bag. ‘I expect they’ll cover as much distance as they can while it’s still light enough to go above twenty. Even so, don’t expect anything much before midnight. I’ll probably have to stay the night in the San, anyway, but we’ll drop Helen off here first.’
‘All right. Take care.’
Frank hurried off to await the ambulance at the end of the street, and Phoebe and Debby were left to prepare Edmund’s old room and wait with what patience they could for the arrival of Helen.
Arrival At Ty-Gwyn by Aquabird
It was almost seven o’clock in the evening when the ambulance arrived at the Langleys’ home on the outskirts of Birmingham. Darkness had fallen long ago, of course, but the snow had ceased as they wound their way north through Worcester, which helped things considerably.
Frank rapped on the front door, and it was presently opened by a leggy girl of twelve, who had a curly crop of fair hair and anxious blue eyes that lit up when she saw them on the doorstep.
‘I’m so glad you’re here,’ she said, stepping back and holding the door open for them. ‘Mummy’s upstairs in her room. She slept for a bit after you phoned, but she’s awake again now. I think she’s still in a lot of pain.’
‘All right, we’ll take it from here,’ Frank said kindly. ‘You show us up to her, then get yourself ready to go.’
Helen obediently led them up the stairs and along to the big front bedroom, where they found a grey-faced Mrs Langley lying in bed, clearly in a lot of pain.
Frank wasted no time, for he was anxious to get back to Armishire before the snow began again and complicated matters. He administered an injection which reduced Mrs Langley to semi-consciousness, then bade Nurse Wilkins get her into a clean nightdress and dressing gown, while he himself went to send up the paramedics and busy himself with lugging the trunk, hockey stick and suitcase which Helen had packed to the ambulance. That young person had got into her coat and hat, and was almost dancing with anxiety and anticipation.
‘Is she very bad?’ she asked, as Frank wedged the luggage into the back of the ambulance.
‘Hard to say exactly how she is without a proper examination, but I’ve given her something that should ease the pain a bit for the journey,’ he replied cautiously. ‘She probably won’t be aware of much until we get her to the San. Now, here come the paramedics with the stretcher, so you hop in and make sure all the lights and things are turned off, then lock the front door and get in beside them.’
Ten minutes later they were on the road back to Armishire, Helen squeezed in front with the two paramedics, and a drowsing Mrs Langley in the back with Frank and Nurse Wilkins, who sat on the trunk and conversed gravely in low tones.
‘It’s a bad attack all right,’ Frank told the nurse. ‘It’s just as well we’ve come to get her, she’ll need to be carefully monitored for the next few days while we get it under control. If I’m honest, I wouldn’t have expected the pain to be as severe as it obviously is, given she’s still in the early stages of RA.’
‘Could be the stress of everything that’s made it worse?’ suggested Nurse Wilkins. ‘You know, getting ready for a long hospital stay, sending the girl off to school – and we know how protective she is of her, don’t we? – ’ at which Frank grinned ruefully, ‘ – and of course Christmas itself is always a busy time of year. Perhaps it’s all just been too much for her.’
‘You could be right,’ agreed Frank. ‘We’ll know more once we get her in and see properly what the extent of the damage is. And to be fair to young Helen, she does seem to have her head screwed on properly considering how protective her mother is. She at least had the brains to ring up the San before it got any worse.’
Fortunately, the snow held off long enough for them to reach Armishire once more, by which point it was well past eleven o’clock. At long last, when they were all feeling extremely cold, hungry and tired, they drew up outside Ty-Gwyn, and Helen was decanted with her trunk and hockey stick.
‘We can’t stop, we must get your mother to the San, but my wife is expecting you,’ Frank told her, pointing to Ty-Gwyn. ‘She and Debby will look after you all right. I expect I’ll see you tomorrow at some point.’
Before Helen could do more than whisper ‘OK’ in reply, the ambulance had sped away and she was left standing on the pavement. She watched it out of sight around a corner, then tucked her stick under one arm and took the handle of her trunk in the other, feeling unaccountably nervous. As she pushed Ty-Gwyn’s front gate open, it creaked loudly, the sound seeming to her to echo up and down the silent street. At once a volley of barks could be heard from the house ahead, and as she dragged her trunk up the path the front door was thrown open, and she found herself face-to-face with Phoebe and Debby, who was holding a barking Augustin firmly under one arm.
‘Here you are at last!’ exclaimed Phoebe, pulling her shawl well around herself before advancing out to draw the shivering Helen and her luggage into the house. ‘You poor thing, you’re freezing, and exhausted too, I don’t doubt. Come along inside before you catch your death of cold. Augustin, will you be quiet? You’ll rouse the whole village with that noise!’
She closed the front door behind them, ushered the guest into the sitting room where a fire was still burning in the grate, and helped her discard her wraps.
‘Does tha mind dogs?’ Debby enquired, and Helen looked at her blankly. Phoebe laughed.
‘She’s asking if you mind him.’ She pointed at Augustin. ‘Her accent can take a bit of getting used to.’
‘Wouldn’t change it for a King’s ransom,’ said Debby proudly, and Helen laughed.
‘I like dogs,’ she said, holding her hand out to Augustin, who sniffed it enthusiastically. ‘What did you say his name was?’
‘Augustin,’ replied Phoebe, as Debby put the gentleman down. He at once fawned around Helen’s ankles as she bent down to pat him. ‘He’ll settle down in a minute or two once he’s had a good sniff at you, don’t worry. Sit down and make yourself warm. I expect you’re hungry?’
‘A bit,’ Helen admitted, squatting down on the hearthrug so that she could warm herself by the fire. ‘I didn’t eat much, I was too busy seeing to Mummy and everything, but mostly I’m just so tired.’
‘Of course you are,’ Phoebe said kindly. ‘It’s an awful thing to deal with, I know, and on Christmas Day, too, but I’m sure you handled it splendidly. Debby will heat you up some soup, and then your bed is all ready for you.’
‘Please, when will I hear about Mummy?’ Helen asked anxiously.
‘Probably not until tomorrow when my husband returns,’ Phoebe replied. ‘But try not to worry, dear. He’ll see her safely settled at the San, and I expect they’ll give her something to make her sleep through until the morning. That will be the best thing for her after such a long journey.’
Helen said no more, and presently Debby brought in a tray containing soup and bread and a large glass of milk. Still sitting on the hearthrug, she made a good meal, though Phoebe could see her beginning to nod sleepily over her milk.
‘Thank you, I feel better now,’ she said at last, stifling a yawn as she held the tray out to Debby.
‘Time for bed, then,’ said Phoebe, getting up. ‘I’m quite ready for it myself even if you aren’t, it’s nearly midnight!’
She led Helen upstairs and showed her the spare room and the bathroom, and that young lady found that Debby had already brought her trunk up – thus securing her awe and admiration at the Yorkshirewoman’s strength – and placed it at the end of the bed. After seeing that the girl had everything she needed, Phoebe bade her goodnight.
‘I’m next door if you need anything, and Debby’s on your other side,’ she said. ‘Sleep well.’
‘Thank you,’ Helen said shyly, and Phoebe departed with a last smile.
Left alone, Helen padded across to the bathroom to wash and brush her teeth, then went back to her room, got into her pyjamas and hastily clambered into bed, for the temperature outside was well below freezing. She found a hot water bottle tucked between the sheets, and hugged it thankfully. As she turned onto her side and snuggled down, she wondered what news the morrow would bring. She was quite sharp enough to realise that her mother was more poorly than she had been letting on, and when she had been told that she was to go to boarding school for three months while her mother went into hospital for treatment, she had been badly frightened, though outwardly she had tried not to show it. All the same, she was dreading the thought of being parted from her for so long, especially at such an anxious time. The attack that day had scared her terribly, and she knew that she would not be entirely satisfied until she had seen with her own eyes her mother safely settled at the San and improving.
Plans For Helen by Aquabird
Frank arrived home at six thirty the next morning, exhausted and cold.
‘I’ve been working all night,’ he told Phoebe wearily, she having been woken up by his movements despite him tiptoeing in as quietly as he could. ‘It was the usual scenario: as soon as I’d settled Mrs Langley some other crisis occurred that I was hauled into, and then another, and another. The ambulance came back down about six to pick someone else up, so I bagged a lift with that. Still, at least it means I’ll have the morning off now.’
‘Don’t make such a row, Helen’s asleep in Edmund’s room next door,’ Phoebe whispered, sitting up and rubbing her eyes blearily. ‘How’s Mrs Langley?’
‘Well out of it. We got her in all right and I sedated her. She won’t be rousing until lunchtime at least, and hopefully by then the worst of her pain will be over. How’s Helen?’
‘Tired out, poor little soul. We gave her some soup and then went to bed as it was almost midnight. I expect she’ll sleep quite late.’
‘Let her, I daresay she was running about all day yesterday looking after things. She’d better have her sleep out. Now, let me have mine too, please.’
Phoebe chuckled and snuggled down again as he climbed into bed with a shiver and curled up against her for warmth.
Debby rose at seven and set about her usual morning routine, seeing to breakfast, feeding the animals and sweeping the hen yard. By the time Phoebe arrived downstairs at eight o’clock, toast and tea and scrambled eggs were ready.
‘Dr Frank back yet?’ Debby asked her mistress as she laid the teapot on the table. ‘Thought I heard him coming in.’
‘Yes, he got back a couple of hours ago, he’s been working all night,’ Phoebe replied. ‘I doubt he’ll get up until lunchtime, so you needn’t bother with breakfast for him, though he’s bound to want a good lunch to make up for it.’
‘Right. What about t’lass?’
‘Still asleep when I looked in on her on my way down. Frank said to let her have her sleep out, but I expect she’ll be awake soon.’
‘All right, I’ll keep some food back for her,’ said Debby. ‘What’ll you do with her today?’
‘I haven’t decided yet. If it weren’t for that snow I could have taken her out and shown her something of the village, but I can’t walk in that, and it’s too thick for my chair to get through, too.’
‘I can take her when I walk t’dog, if she wants to go,’ said Debby amiably. ‘T’will have to be shortly, though, he’s angling for it now, look.’
Phoebe glanced round at Augustin, who was sitting very properly at attention nearby. He thumped his tail hopefully on the floor as she looked at him, and she laughed.
‘I’ll see if she’s awake when I’ve finished,’ she said, turning back to her breakfast.
Helen was stirring when she went back upstairs to check on her, and sat up in bed in horror when she saw the time.
‘I didn’t mean to sleep so late,’ she said embarrassedly, scrambling out of bed. ‘Have I missed breakfast, please?’
‘Debby’s kept some back for you, don’t worry,’ Phoebe assured her. ‘Of course we didn’t expect you to be up early after going to bed so late last night. If you like to get washed and dressed now, it’ll be ready for you when you come down, and then Debby’s offered to take you with her when she walks Augustin, if you’d like to see something of the village.’
‘Yes please,’ said Helen. ‘I’ll be down as soon as I can.’
‘All right. Try not to make too much noise, my husband’s asleep next door.’
Helen paused in the action of rooting in her trunk for her washing things. ‘Did he say how Mummy was?’
‘Yes, he said they’d got her there safely and he’d given her a sedative, so she’ll have slept all night, and will probably sleep all morning, too. It’s the best thing for her, trust me.’
‘When can I see her?’ Helen asked. ‘Today?’
‘I doubt it,’ Phoebe said gently. ‘She probably won’t be allowed visitors for a day or two yet, until they’ve got her well over her pain and she’s settled in. As soon as she’s allowed a visitor, you’ll be her first, of course.’
Helen’s face fell, but she said no more, and went off to the bathroom to wash and dress. She made her way downstairs ten minutes later to find breakfast awaiting her in the dining room, and then Debby whisked her off on a walk with Augustin, leaving Phoebe to ponder what to do with her for the rest of the day.
‘I wonder if Madge would let the girls come to tea this afternoon?’ she mused, looking out of the window. ‘No more snow is forecast for now, and it’s a dry day.’
Going out to the hall, she rang up the Round House and soon got Madge Russell on the line.
‘Is that you, Madge? It’s Phoebe.’
‘Good morning, Phoebe,’ said Madge pleasantly. ‘Did you have a good Christmas?’
‘Yes, it was very quiet for us this year. Halfway through it the San phoned Frank to say that Mrs Langley had had an attack, so he went racing off to Birmingham in an ambulance to bring her in a few days earlier than planned. She’s in the San now, and we’ve got her little girl, Helen, with us here. And I wanted to ask if Sybil and the others could come to tea today to meet her.’
‘Oh yes, of course, Helen will be starting at the school next term, won’t she?’ said Madge heartily. ‘Certainly they can come, I’ll bring them over about four o’clock. Jem finishes at six tonight – or is supposed to – so he could pick us up and take us back, if you don’t mind having us that long.’
‘Of course not,’ said Phoebe. ‘I’m just not very sure what to do with the child for the next day or two, until she’s able to visit her mother. I can’t take her out while the streets are so cluttered with snow, I can’t walk a yard in it the way it is now.’
‘It should clear soon, I hope,’ said Madge. ‘To be replaced with rain, no doubt, but that’s not quite as bad.’
‘No,’ agreed Phoebe. ‘Still a trial, though.’
‘Well, never mind,’ said Madge soothingly.
Debby and Helen returned presently, and Helen’s face was rosy from the cold wind and brisk pace set by Debby’s large stride. The walk had shaken her out of her anxiety somewhat, and when she learnt of the plan for that afternoon, she cheered up even further. Truth be told, she had rather dreaded having to spend the remainder of the Christmas holidays in the company of grown-ups, and strangers at that, so to hear that there would at least be some girls to befriend was cheering news.
‘You’ll like them, they’re all around your age,’ said Phoebe, hanging up Helen’s coat and hat before leading her into the sitting room. ‘Peggy and Bride Bettany are sisters, Peggy’s nearly thirteen, and Bride is almost twelve. Then there’s Sybil Russell, who is their cousin and will be eleven in March, and Primula Venables, who’s eleven and is Sybil’s cousin from the other side of the family. I daresay at least one of them will be in your form, and they’ll be only too keen to tell you all about the school.’
‘Do they live near here?’ Helen asked, sitting down on the sofa and stroking Tibbles, who was asleep on it.
‘Sybil and Primula live about two miles away, at the Round House. The Bettanys lived there too until recently, while their parents were in India, but they’ve got their own home now down in Devonshire. They’re here for Christmas, though, with the rest of their family.’
With so much to occupy her thoughts, Helen found herself sitting back in her chair and passing the rest of the morning quite contentedly in wondering what the afternoon would bring.
Tea With The Chaletians by Aquabird
Frank joined them for lunch, and backed up Phoebe’s statement that Helen would not be able to visit her mother that day.
‘Sorry Helen, but it’s a no-go for a day or two,’ he told her kindly. ‘She’s completely worn out after that attack and the journey down here, and at the moment a visitor would only make it worse. I’ll be able to tell you more certainly when you can visit once I’ve seen her again this afternoon – she ought to be awake by then and feeling better – but it shouldn’t be all that long.’
‘Try not to fret, dear,’ said Phoebe, seeing Helen’s disappointed face. ‘The San staff will take the best care of her, and at least she’s not in any danger.’
‘Oh no, there’s nothing in that line to worry about,’ Frank agreed. ‘I know she looked pretty bad yesterday, but we’ve got all of that under control now. She just needs a good rest, that’s all, and then she’ll be sitting up and demanding to see you, no doubt.’
Helen brooded over her blackberry tart for a few minutes, then pulled herself together and cheered up. After all, her mother wasn’t dying, and two or three days wasn’t so dreadfully long. If in the long run it meant her mother would be in better health, well, she wasn’t going to make a fuss about it.
After lunch, Frank went off to the San again, leaving Phoebe and Helen to entertain themselves.
‘What would you like to do this afternoon?’ Phoebe asked her guest. ‘The girls are coming for tea about four o’clock, so there’s two or three hours to fill.’
‘Could I just read?’ Helen asked. ‘I’m still a bit tired after yesterday.’
‘Yes, of course. Do you have a book of your own, or do you want to borrow one of mine?’
‘I don’t think I’m supposed to read grown-up books,’ Helen said doubtfully, and Phoebe laughed.
‘Not all of mine are grown-up. See?’
She showed Helen the bookcase which held her collection, and Helen saw that the shelf she was pointing at contained several children’s classics, including The Secret Garden, A Little Princess and The Railway Children.
‘I didn’t know grown-ups still read books like these,’ she said in surprise.
‘Oh, those are my comfort reads,’ Phoebe said amiably, sitting down in her armchair and taking up her embroidery. ‘I read them so often when I was your age I know them practically cover to cover, and I could never part with them.’
‘Ohhh, and you have Josephine M. Bettany’s books, too, I love those!’ said Helen excitedly, looking at the gaily-jacketed collection. Picking out The Lost Staircase as one she had not yet read, she opened it, then gave vent to a positive howl of excitement as she saw the inscription inside. ‘I say, it’s autographed personally to you! Did you actually get to meet her? What was she like?’
Phoebe laughed. ‘Did I meet her? Look at this.’
She selected another of Jo’s books, opened it and showed the awed Helen the dedication inside: “For my dear friends Phoebe and Frank Peters”.
‘That’s her latest but one, it only came out in May,’ she informed Helen. ‘Honoured wasn’t the word for it when she told me she’d dedicated it to us.’
‘So you actually know her?’ Helen asked, enthralled.
‘Oh yes, she’s one of my dearest friends,’ said Phoebe, and The Lost Staircase lay forgotten as she told her of the events of the previous year, and the part Jo and her friends had played in them. Helen was awestruck.
‘It sounds like a tale from a book on its own,’ she said.
‘It certainly felt that way while it was happening,’ agreed Phoebe. ‘Sometimes I still can’t believe it happened even now. But it did, and you’ll meet Jo for yourself soon enough. She’s Lady Russell’s sister and was the first Chalet School pupil, and she’s still very involved with the school even now. She has all the new girls to tea each term, so you’ll certainly meet her then if you don’t before, but I’m sure you will, she usually pops in here for a visit at least once a week.’
Helen picked up the abandoned book at last, feeling very excited. How thrilling to be staying in the same village as such a wizard author as Josephine M. Bettany! And to be assured of actually meeting her, too! She thought of her copy of Cecily Holds the Fort, which was one of the books she had opted to take to school with her, and was thus currently in her trunk upstairs. Perhaps she too could get a personalised autograph for it. Then how she could swank about it when she went back to the High!
At ten to four she went upstairs to wash and tidy herself in readiness for the visitors, and as she was clattering back down, the front gate clicked, and a chatter of voices could be heard. Augustin flung himself at the front door, barking happily, and the next moment Debby was ushering a merry party of people into the sitting room.
‘Auntie Phoebe!’ Phoebe was hugged and kissed by all her brevet nieces and Madge, then she drew the suddenly shy Helen forward.
‘This is Helen Langley, who’s staying with us for a week or two. Her mother’s in the San, and she’ll be starting at the Chalet School next term. This is Lady Russell, Helen, she’s the school’s owner.’
Helen shook hands with the pretty, dark-haired woman who had escorted the party.
‘Welcome to Howells, Helen,’ she said kindly, in the sweet voice that so suited her appearance. ‘I do hope you’ll be happy here, your mother’s illness notwithstanding. I’ve brought some of our crowd along to meet you. This is my eldest girl, Sybil.’ She laid a hand on Sybil’s chestnut mop, and that young woman gave Helen a matey grin. ‘This is my niece Primula.’ She drew shy Primula Venables forward. ‘And these are Peggy and Bride, also my nieces.’ The two Bettanys gave the newcomer friendly smiles, and Bride spoke.
‘Auntie Madge says you’re twelve, so I expect you’ll be in form with one or other of us, Helen. We’ll give you a leg up where you need it, but honestly, the Chalet School is such a smashing place that you’ll settle in in no time.’
‘Really, Bride, is there any need to introduce Helen to your extensive slang vocabulary quite so early?’ groaned Madge, and Bride blushed.
‘Sorry, Auntie Madge.’
‘Well now, supposing you five have your own pow-wow while I have a chat with Auntie Phoebe. I’m sure you don’t want us hovering over your talk while you tell Helen all your pet names for the mistresses and so on.’
The girls laughed, and arranged themselves around the window seat at the other end of the room while Madge turned to engage Phoebe in conversation.
‘Are they awfully down on slang at the school?’ Helen asked curiously, beginning to overcome her shyness now that the introductions were over and the grown-ups were no longer involved.
‘Rather,’ said Sybil gloomily. ‘You’re fined if a mistress or pree catches you. Smashing is off-limits, of course – ’
‘So’s foul,’ added Bride.
‘ – beastly – ’
‘ – rotten – ’
‘And I got into an awful row last term for saying something was absolutely ripping,’ finished Sybil. ‘I heard Auntie Jo saying it, so I thought it was all right,’ she added in an injured tone. ‘But Bill heard me saying it and gave me such a row that you could have put what was left of me into a matchbox!’
Helen looked very blue as the others giggled. ‘I shall be penniless in that case. Mummy’s always saying I use too much slang.’
‘You’ll grow used to it after a few weeks,’ said Primula sensibly. ‘It’s only the first fortnight or so that’s really bad, when you’re still used to speaking the way you do in the hols, especially if there’s been brothers or boy cousins around, as we usually have.’
‘So who’s Bill?’ Helen asked.
‘Miss Wilson, one of the Heads,’ replied Peggy. ‘She teaches science and Senior geog., too. She’s a real sport, but awfully sarcastic. Miss Annersley, the other Head – we call her the Abbess – takes Scripture, and some Senior English. You’ll like her, everyone does.’
‘Who else will I have for lessons?’ Helen asked, taking mental notes of all this information for future reference.
‘Well, as you’re twelve I expect you’ll be in one of the Thirds, probably Upper with me,’ said Bride. ‘In that case you’ll have Miss Slater for maths. She’s all right. Miss Burnett takes us for history, she’s also a good sport. Mlle de Lachenais takes us for French, and Mlle de Berné for Latin, they’re good sorts – ’
‘They’re all good sorts,’ Peggy said. ‘We’re jolly lucky with the mistresses, I think.’
‘What games does the school go in for?’ Helen asked. ‘I know there’s hockey, ‘cos a stick and boots were on the inventory they sent. I was glad, as we played hockey at the High and I was a reserve on the Second Eleven, so I don’t want to go out of practice.’
‘Don’t worry, if you’re in any way decent at it Peggy will sit up and take notice of you all right,’ Bride assured her.
‘Peggy?’ Helen turned to look enquiringly at the owner of the name, who laughed and shook her head.
‘She means Peggy Burnett, the Games prefect,’ she explained. ‘We have netball, too, and tennis and cricket in the summer term. No lacrosse, worse luck. I’d love to have a shot at that.’
‘P’raps when the war’s over they’ll think about it,’ suggested Primula. ‘When there’s no rationing. You’d need a proper stick for lacrosse, and you know how hard it is to get things like that now.’
‘Same with uniforms,’ said Bride gloomily. ‘I’m having to wear all of Daisy’s cut-down things now as she’s the only one tall enough to match me, and they’re already more or less worn out by the time I get them.’
Helen suddenly looked panic-stricken. ‘I say, I forgot all about the uniform! I’ve got a lot of the other things already, blouses and shoes and that, I needed all of those for the High too, of course. But I haven’t got tunics or a blazer or anything in the right colours. Mummy was going to get it all for me before she went to the San, and now she won’t be able to! What shall I do?’
‘Keep your hat on, I’m sure Auntie Phoebe will get it all for you,’ said Sybil calmly. ‘In fact, she could probably make it all herself, she’s absolutely wizard at sewing and embroidery. Here, I’ll ask. Auntie Phoebe!’ She turned to call across the room.
Phoebe broke off her chat with Madge and looked over at the group of girls. ‘Yes, Sybil?’
‘Helen says she hasn’t got some of her things for school yet. Her tunics and things that’re in the brown and flame colours. Her mother was going to get them for her, but now she can’t, of course. You’ll see to it, won’t you?’
‘Oh yes, don’t worry about that, Helen,’ said Phoebe easily. ‘There’s still time yet to get anything you don’t have.’ She turned back to Madge as the girls resumed their discussion of the school, satisfied. ‘How does it work, Madge? Is there an inventory of things she’ll need?’
‘Yes, one would have been sent out with the letter confirming her place,’ replied Madge. ‘You’ll probably find that she already has quite a lot of things on it, but the rest has to come from coupons, or be handmade, or cut down from an older sister or cousin or friend’s old things, I’m afraid. In an ideal world, of course, she’d have a completely new outfit for a new school, but as it is we must just make do. Oh, but one thing we can help with is the blazer. What we’ve done the past couple of years is take in old blazers from the girls who’ve left, and they can be passed on to new girls to save them having to use coupons on them.’
‘Oh good, that will help a lot,’ said Phoebe, pleased. ‘Do I just write to the school and reserve one for her?’
‘Yes, and they’ll send it out with the tie and the badge for the beret.’
‘I’ll do that, then. I expect I can get the rest all right.’
‘Yes, you shouldn’t have too much trouble, there are one or two shops in Armiford that stock things in our colours because so many of the girls are local…’
After tea, card games were the order of the day until Jem arrived at half past six, bringing a message from Frank to the effect that Mrs Langley was sitting up, eating and looking much more like herself.
‘He said you should be able to visit her tomorrow, provided she has another good sleep tonight,’ he informed Helen. ‘She ought to be well enough by then to see you for a short while.’
‘I'm jolly glad it wasn't as long a wait as I thought it would be,’ said Helen, pleased. ‘Thank you for telling me, Sir James, it’s awfully decent of you.’
‘Not at all. I looked in on her myself for a minute, and she sent you her love. She’ll soon be well on the mend, don’t worry.’
He swept his family off home then, and Phoebe and Helen spent the remainder of the evening reading in a companionable silence.
‘Dr Peters is taking an awfully long time to come home,’ Helen observed after a while, looking up from her book at the clock on the mantelpiece, whose hands pointed at half past eight.
‘Oh, he won’t be in until midnight at least, quite probably longer,’ Phoebe replied. ‘The hours he works now are dreadful. It’s the same for all doctors at the moment, so many have been called up that there are awful shortages in the hospitals. Frank often works anything between twelve and sixteen hours a day, six days a week. He does have Sundays off, but usually all he does then is catch up on all the sleep he’s missed!’
‘I had no idea doctors worked so much,’ Helen said, wide-eyed.
‘Oh yes, it’s a very demanding job even in peacetime, but it’s especially bad now. It’s to be hoped the war will be over in the next few months, though, and then things should start getting back to normal. I sincerely hope so, anyway, because I don’t think Frank and the other doctors who’re left can keep it up much longer.’
Realising that she would have no further news of her mother that night, Helen went resignedly to bed at nine o’clock, and Phoebe and Debby followed an hour later. It was well after two o’clock in the morning before Frank arrived home, barely even waiting to discard his clothes before falling thankfully into bed.
‘The end of this blasted war can’t come soon enough!’ he thought, even as his eyes closed. ‘What wouldn’t I give for two days off together, and a good stiff drink…’
Introducing Meg by Aquabird
The next day, Wednesday, was Debby’s day off, and she duly took herself off to Armiford to spend it indulging in some shopping and drinks in the pub, leaving Phoebe and Helen to entertain themselves.
‘We’ll go to the San this afternoon to visit your mother, of course,’ Phoebe told her charge after breakfast. ‘The visiting hour is three to four, and there’s a bus that goes through the village at half past two which stops right at the gates, so that’s all right. Do you think you can manage my wheelchair all right? We’ll have to take it, unfortunately, because the drive is too long for me to walk up. It’s a nuisance, but it can’t be avoided.’
‘I’m sure I can manage,’ said Helen sturdily. ‘What’s the plan for this morning, please?’
‘We’d better have a look at the inventory for school and see what you still need, as I expect we’ll need to go into Armiford at some point for them,’ said Phoebe thoughtfully. ‘You did remember to bring it, didn’t you?’
‘Yes, Mummy pinned it inside the trunk when it came so that we shouldn’t lose it,’ said Helen, as they went up to her room. She hoisted the lid of her trunk open and showed Phoebe the inventory pinned inside the lid. Phoebe eyed the trunk’s contents in mild horror, for everything had been piled inside higgledy-piggledy. Helen followed her gaze and reddened.
‘I had to do a lot of the packing on the day we left, and, er…I suppose in all the rush I didn’t do it very tidily,’ she explained.
‘You’d better take it all out and start again,’ Phoebe said firmly. ‘Matron would have a fit if she saw it in that state.’
‘I don’t want to get into a row as soon as I get there,’ conceded Helen, taking everything out of the trunk and piling it on the bed.
‘Very wise of you. Now, let’s see this inventory. I’ll mark everything off as you put it back in the trunk, and then we’ll be able to see what’s still needed. We’ll start with shoes as they must go at the bottom, not on top of your good frocks as you had them.’
‘Sorry,’ said Helen, reddening again. ‘I’ll iron them, I promise.’
‘All right, you can do that tonight or tomorrow when Debby’s here to supervise you. Now, let’s start this. Hockey boots?’
‘Here.’ Helen put the boots into the bottom of the now-empty trunk.
They went through the full list, and by the end found that the only items still needed were tunics, a blazer, a beret, a jumper and a coat, all of which had to be brown.
‘That’s not as much as I feared,’ said Phoebe, considering the list. ‘The beret and coat will have to come out of your coupons, unfortunately, but at least you can go on wearing those even after you leave, so they won’t be such a waste.’
‘I’ve always wanted a beret,’ said Helen enthusiastically. ‘At the High we only had the most ghastly felt hats that didn’t suit anyone. Berets are much nicer.’
‘Yes, I expect it will suit you all right,’ agreed Phoebe. She turned back to the list. ‘Let’s see…I wonder if we could knit you a jumper to save buying one. I do have some brown wool already, as it happens, so it would be easy enough. If Debby and I both worked on it in spare moments, it could probably be done in time, we’re both very fast at knitting. And again, it’s something you can go on wearing after this term. As for your tunics, I can make those.’
Helen stared. ‘You can?’
‘Of course I can,’ said Phoebe calmly. ‘We’ll have to buy the material for them which will cost coupons, but yes, it should be an easy enough project, and it will save messing around with dressmakers who’ll take a month to do something I could do myself in a couple of days. As for your blazer, that and your tie and beret badge will be supplied by the school, so that’s everything accounted for.’
Having packed and shut the trunk, they went downstairs for lunch. As Phoebe heated up the soup which Debby had prepared and left out for them, there came a tap on the back door, and Meg Jones looked in.
‘Sorry to disturb, I was looking for Debby,’ she said.
‘Hello, Meg,’ said Phoebe pleasantly. ‘I’m afraid Debby’s not here, she’s gone to Armiford as it’s her day off. Do you want to leave a message for her?’
‘No, it’s all right, I’ve just brought over your butter for the week,’ said Meg, extracting the package from her coat pocket and handing it over. ‘Debby usually comes to fetch it herself on Thursdays, but we’ve had to make it early this week what with one thing and another, and as I’ve a free afternoon and felt like a walk to the village, I thought I’d drop it in on my way.’
‘It’s very kind of you,’ said Phoebe gratefully. ‘Would you like to stay to lunch? Debby’s left plenty of soup here, and you must be hungry after that walk.’
Meg hesitated. She had been very friendly with Debby for some time now, but she had not yet got over her reserve where Frank and Phoebe were concerned. Frank rather overawed her with his intelligence and doctor status, and she felt very ill-at-ease around Phoebe, afraid that she might inadvertently say or do something that would offend her. But, she reminded herself, she was going to marry into the family, and she knew how close Edmund was to Frank in particular. She would have to get to know them at some point, so why not start now?
‘You really don’t mind my staying?’ she asked.
‘Of course not,’ said Phoebe easily. Then she remembered Helen, who had been standing shyly to one side. ‘This is Helen Langley, by the way. Her mother’s just gone into the San, so she’s staying with us for a couple of weeks until she starts at the Chalet School. This is Meg Jones, Helen. She’s engaged to Frank’s cousin Edmund, who’s in Belgium with the RAF at the moment, but lives here when he’s at home.’
Meg nodded. ‘Debby mentioned you’d be having someone to stay for a bit. How do you do?’ She held her hand out to Helen, who shook it mutely, not knowing in the least what to make of this voluptuous young lady who had appeared so unexpectedly out of the blue.
‘I think this soup’s about ready,’ said Phoebe, who had turned back to the stove and was cautiously prodding at the bubbling soup with a spoon. ‘I’ll have to beg the assistance of one of you to lift this pot, though.’
‘Allow me,’ said Meg briskly, removing her coat and rolling up her sleeves before advancing on the stove.
‘Thank you. Helen, would you mind laying out some cutlery? It’s in the sideboard in the dining room.’
While Meg lifted the heavy copper saucepan with ease and poured out the soup into bowls, Helen obligingly laid the table, and five minutes later they were sitting down to eat.
‘How was Christmas at the farm, Meg?’ Phoebe asked after a minute or two of silence.
‘We had a good dinner considering how bad the rationing’s getting, but otherwise it was business as usual,’ replied Meg. ‘Eggs still have to be collected and cows milked even on Christmas Day. But Gwen loved the teacloth you embroidered, so thanks awfully for doing that for me.’
‘Not at all, I’m glad she liked it,’ said Phoebe, pleased.
‘How did you get so good at sewing?’ Helen asked with interest. ‘I can’t sew for toffee.’
‘Just practice, really,’ said Phoebe. ‘I had to find some sort of hobby to pass the time after I became ill and had to sit in a wheelchair all day, so my governess encouraged me to try sewing – artistic embroidery, I mean, not just knitting or plain sewing. I had proper lessons for a few years, and just taught myself a bit from books and things as well. I had to keep stopping and starting though, because the rheumatism kept making my hands swell up, but that’s more or less over these days, thank goodness. I think it’s a shame most girls nowadays don’t enjoy needlework. I was so pleased when Sybil Russell took an interest in it and asked me to teach her.’
‘Sybil did?’ Helen asked, startled, thinking back to the slangy, mischievous girl she had met the day before.
‘Oh yes, she’s got a real talent for it,’ said Phoebe. ‘When you go to the school, ask her to show you some of the work she’s done recently, it’s lovely.’
Helen finished her soup in thoughtful silence, and after the blackberry crumble which followed, Phoebe bade her get ready for her visit to the San.
‘Thanks awfully for feeding me, Phoebe,’ said Meg, pulling on her coat as Helen hurried upstairs.
‘It was nice to have you,’ said Phoebe, smiling. ‘I don’t often have visitors, so it was rather a novelty having two at once!’
Meg smiled back, hesitated, then said; ‘I don’t mean to be rude or anything, but…well, are you sure you’ll manage all right going up to the San on your own with just that kid?’
‘I hope so,’ said Phoebe. ‘I do have to take her, she’s desperate to see her mother – this is the first day she’s been allowed visitors since she arrived – and I can hardly let her go alone.’
‘No,’ agreed Meg. ‘But look, let me come with you. It’ll be easier if there’s two of us to manage it.’
‘But it’s your free afternoon,’ began Phoebe, but Meg waved her hand dismissively.
‘It was the walk over here I wanted more than anything. Let’s face it, the shops are more or less empty now, and I’ve no coupons to buy anything besides. You gave me lunch, so let me return the favour and give you a hand.’
After some more protesting on Phoebe’s part, she gave in. Secretly, she was glad to have another person with her to help manage her wheelchair, for she had inwardly doubted that Helen was strong enough to push her up the long drive to the San in it, whereas she had no qualms about Meg.
‘She could probably lift me entirely off my feet with one arm!’ she thought, enviously eyeing Meg’s arms and calves, strong and toned from years of farm work. ‘What wouldn’t I give for a body like that!’
Helen came back downstairs, now washed and tidied, and she and Phoebe got into coats and hats.
‘We ought to be nicely in time for the bus,’ said Phoebe, giving Augustin a goodbye pat as they left the house. ‘Now, to the San!’
Phoebe, Meg and Helen set off for the bus stop, Meg pushing Phoebe in her wheelchair. They turned into the main street of Howells, and were almost at the bus stop when…
‘Oh no,’ groaned Phoebe, as Dilys Hartley-the-teashop came hurtling along the pavement towards them like a steam train.
‘Perhaps it’s not us she’s after,’ Meg murmured hopefully.
‘I wouldn’t count on it,’ said Phoebe with resignation. ‘She hasn’t met Helen yet.’
‘Was that an ambulance outside Ty-Gwyn on Christmas Day, Mrs Peters?’ Mrs Hartley bayed at them as soon as she was within earshot.
‘No,’ Meg said quietly. ‘It was the Titanic.’
Phoebe and Helen spluttered, and Phoebe hastily tried to disguise hers as a sneeze before she said; ‘Frank was taking a patient to the San, Mrs Hartley, that’s all.’
‘Oh?’ said Mrs Hartley, gazing pointedly at Helen, who gazed back, still choking down her giggles.
‘There’s the bus!’ said Meg, spotting it approaching. Phoebe got out of her wheelchair at once, and it was folded up and they were climbing onto the bus before Mrs Hartley could resume her line of questioning.
‘Who was that?’ Helen asked, as the bus pulled away.
‘Dilys Hartley-the-teashop,’ replied Phoebe.
‘That’s how we call people down here,’ Meg explained. ‘She owns the teashop, so we call her Dilys Hartley-the-teashop.’
‘She’s the village gossip,’ supplemented Phoebe. ‘Anything that goes on, she knows about it almost instantly. Though how on earth she saw the ambulance arriving at half past eleven at night on Christmas Day, I don’t know!’
‘One of your neighbours will have seen it and told her, probably,’ said Meg darkly. ‘You’ve got Brenda Roberts living across the road from you, I’d put money on it being her.’
‘She is rather fond of peering through her net curtains, I must admit,’ agreed Phoebe. ‘Edmund used to wind her up by dancing past her window whenever he saw her looking out.’
‘Silly ass!’ said Meg affectionately.
When they finally reached the San and asked for Mrs Langley, Miss Hiles directed them up to a room on the second floor, where they found her sitting up in a chair. She was still very pale and fragile, but it was clear that she was in much better shape than she had been on Christmas Day.
After the initial greetings and enquiries as to wellbeing were over, Phoebe and Meg withdrew tactfully to the canteen to afford Helen and her mother some privacy.
‘So, have you made any plans yet for your wedding?’ Phoebe asked, as they sat down with cups of tea.
‘Well, there’s not much we can do until we fix a date,’ replied Meg. ‘We’ve seen Mr Wallace, of course, so we’ll be married in St Peter’s as we expected, but apart from that I can’t do much until we know when it will be. Edmund thinks the war will be over in the next few months, so I suppose it could be late next year or early the following one, depending on circumstances and whether we can find a house.’
‘You might be able to live with him at his base, if they allow it,’ said Phoebe, but Meg shook her head.
‘He said in his letter to me last week that he’s more or less made up his mind now to leave the RAF when the war ends,’ she said. ‘He’s thinking about trying to get into engineering, or possibly farming.’
‘This is news to me,’ said Phoebe in surprise. ‘I knew he was considering leaving, but I didn’t know he’d more or less decided on it.’
‘I think he’s only just made up his mind in the past week or so,’ said Meg. ‘He was sounding off in the same letter about some disagreement or other he’d had with one of his bosses, and going on about how he hates the hierarchy and nepotism and all that sort of thing. I’d noticed him starting to do that even before he was shot down, but it’s definitely become more pronounced since then.’
‘I suppose the experience has changed his attitude or outlook or something like that,’ said Phoebe thoughtfully. ‘He’ll have to be very careful, though; if he starts talking back to his superiors he’ll end up being court martialled, and that wouldn’t help his prospects in any career.’
‘I know, I’ve told him to just keep his head down, that it’ll probably only be another few months before he can leave if he likes,’ said Meg. ‘I don’t know what he’ll do then, though. Wouldn’t he need a degree to do engineering?’
‘I think so,’ said Phoebe. ‘And I think he’d need to have had a good showing in his School Cert. to get into university, which I’m not sure he has. I know he passed it, but I don’t know how well, or in what subjects. I expect he’d need maths and physics and possibly chemistry to do engineering, and…well, I’ve never had the impression that he’s very academic, certainly not at science.’
‘No,’ agreed Meg. ‘But he does know an awful lot about plane engines and things from the time he’s spent in the RAF.’
‘Well, he might be able to get an apprenticeship and work his way up that way, if he has natural talent,’ said Phoebe. ‘I don’t think apprentices are paid well, though.’
‘That’s not such a problem, he has money that he’s saved from his RAF salary as well as what his parents left him,’ said Meg. ‘We could probably get by on that until he’d properly got started on whatever he decides to do. I’m rather hoping he’ll decide on farming rather than engineering, though. I could be a lot more use to him then, running the dairy and poultry and stables just as I do now. And I’m sure David – my brother-in-law – could get him a job on Cairn Farm for a year or two first so that he could learn the ropes before we got our own place.’
‘Be sure to tell Edmund all that, then,’ said Phoebe. ‘Whatever he decides will affect you too, and he’ll need your support if your marriage is to be successful. If you’re more in favour of him choosing one career over another, you should at least make him aware of it and talk it over with him, even if it isn’t what he decides in the end.’
Meg nodded. ‘I’ll tell him. I’m going to write to him tonight, in fact.’
‘I’m glad. And here comes Helen.’ She smiled at Helen as that young woman entered the canteen. ‘Well, Helen, are you satisfied now you’ve seen your mother for yourself?’
Helen nodded. ‘I’m glad she looks so much better, and she said they’re going to start giving her the injection things next week. We only had half an hour before the nurse shooed me out, though.’
‘They won’t want your mother getting overtired, I expect,’ said Phoebe, finishing her tea and getting up. ‘Once she’s had a week or two of the injections she’ll have no trouble lasting the full hour, don’t worry. Anyway, I expect it will take us a bit of time to get back down the drive to catch the bus, and we mustn’t miss it, so we’d better start back now.’
As they left the San and set off down the drive towards the gates, Meg thought thankfully to herself that she was well on the way to getting over her reserve where Phoebe was concerned, at any rate. If anything, she looked like being a valuable source of support in the future.
Joey's Invitation by Aquabird
The next excitement for Helen was meeting Joey Maynard. She was sitting on the hearthrug in the sitting room the following afternoon, busily marking all her possessions with her name while Phoebe sat nearby, knitting industriously at what was eventually to be a brown jumper, when they heard the front gate click. Augustin ran to bark at the front door, and a golden voice cried;
‘Why, Augustin, don’t you know me yet? How handsome you’re growing!’
‘Joey!’ Phoebe called, looking up from her work. ‘In here.’
Jo appeared in the doorway, chuckling, and Helen looked up eagerly at this tall, slim person with black hair wound up in two earphones on either side of her head, and laughing black eyes.
‘Hello, Phoebe,’ she said cheerfully. ‘And this must be Helen that I’ve heard so much about. How do you do, Helen? I’m Jo Maynard.’
‘Also known as Josephine M. Bettany,’ Phoebe added with a chuckle. ‘She’s a fan of your books, Jo.’
‘Really? I’m delighted to hear it,’ said Jo, pleased.
Helen finally untied her tongue enough to say breathlessly; ‘I love your books! Please, would you mind awfully signing an autograph for me? I have Cecily Holds the Fort with me here, it’s my favourite of your books.’
‘Ah, my first success,’ said Jo, chuckling as she remembered its development process, and also its ill-fated predecessor. ‘Certainly I’ll autograph it for you.’
Helen shot off upstairs to fetch it, almost dancing with glee, and Jo turned to Phoebe with a laugh. ‘She seems a very nice girl, Phoebe.’
‘Yes, she is,’ agreed Phoebe.
‘Getting all her things ready for school?’ Jo looked round at the articles strewn over the sitting room floor.
‘Yes, I’ve set her to marking everything with her name. Once we have her ration book for the new year I can take her to Armiford and get her coat and beret, and some material to make her tunics with. And in the meantime I’m making her a jumper.’ She held up her knitting, and Jo nodded.
‘She’ll need one in this weather even with a blazer, Plas Howell can be on the cold side in some parts. One expects that in those old mansions, though. Anyway, what I called in for was to invite you all to a New Year party at Plas Gwyn. Jack and Jem will both be working, unfortunately, so Madge and I decided we’d spend it together with Dick and Mollie and their crowd, and invite a few friends, too. You people, and Frieda and Marie and Simone. And I’ve asked Gisela and Wanda, too, but their coming will depend on Gottfried bringing them, and he’s not sure yet if he’ll be needed at the San too that evening.’
‘That would be lovely, Jo,’ said Phoebe warmly. ‘Of course we’ll come. We shan’t be able to stay too long after midnight, though, as Frank will be working the next day.’
Jo nodded. ‘Of course. I doubt if anyone will stay much after that anyway, with so many small folk to consider. I’ll put Simone and Marie up for the night to save them walking home in the blackout on their own, if you and Frank don’t mind escorting Frieda and her boys.’
‘Of course not, we’d do that anyway.’
‘Splendid! You’ll bring your cello, won’t you? We’ll have some nice entertainment. Daisy’s got her violin, and Rob will play the piano, and I’ll sing. And you could even bring Frieda’s harp, couldn’t you?’
‘I expect so,’ agreed Phoebe. ‘It should fit in the boot of the car all right. Thank goodness it’s not a full-sized one, or it would be out of the question!’
Jo chuckled. ‘She did have a full-sized one back in Austria, but it was one of the many casualties of our flight from the Nazis. The little one she has now is the best she can get for the moment. I expect she’d struggle to fit a full-sized one in Cartref, anyway; her sitting room’s on the small side.’
‘Probably,’ agreed Phoebe. ‘At least she’s got something to keep her in practice until she can get a full-sized one again.’
Helen returned then with her copy of Cecily Holds the Fort, and Jo obligingly wrote a personalised autograph inside it for her, much to her joy.
‘The girls at the High will be green with envy when I tell them I’ve met Josephine M. Bettany!’ she said importantly, and Jo laughed.
‘I’m not as special as all that. And I do hope you’ll be happy at the Chalet School, too. I was its first pupil, and I was there for almost six marvellous years. What fun we had!’
‘I don’t know whether I’m looking forward to it or not,’ Helen said candidly, looking up at her with solemn blue eyes. ‘I’ve never been to boarding school before, and I don’t know how I shall like it.’
‘Oh, you’ll soon settle in,’ Jo assured her. ‘You’ll be coming up to our house to see the New Year in, and you’ll meet my wards then; Flora and Fiona McDonald. They’re from the Scottish Highlands, and I expect they’ll be in your form as they’re about your age, so it would be as well for you to get acquainted with them. And I hear you’ve already met Peggy and Bride, and Sybs and Primula, so you ought to have friends ready-made by the time you start.’
‘I liked them,’ mused Helen. ‘If all the girls are like that I don’t suppose it will be too bad.’
Phoebe giggled to herself at her solemn tone, and Jo looked amused.
‘Well, I’d better get off back home to find out what the small fry have been doing in my absence,’ she said, buttoning up her coat again. ‘I’ll see you both on Sunday. Any time after about six should be fine, Phoebe.’
Phoebe nodded. ‘I shall have to sleep in the afternoon if I’m to last until midnight, anyway, especially if you want me to play the cello for a bit as well.’
‘All right. See you both then.’ And Jo waved and departed.
‘Are we really going to her house on Sunday?’ Helen asked of Phoebe, thrilled.
‘Yes, she’s invited us to a New Year party,’ replied Phoebe. ‘It will be fun. And you’ll meet her children, too. She has triplet girls, and two little boys.’
‘Triplets?’ Helen demanded, agog.
‘Yes, Len, Con and Margot. They’re five now, and delightful little girls. There’s Steve and Charles, too. Steve will be two in March, and little Charles is only six months old.’
‘I’ve never met triplets before,’ said Helen. ‘How thrilling!’
Phoebe laughed. ‘I think that’s the usual reaction whenever anybody’s told about them. There are others who live there too; Primula’s older sister Daisy, and Robin who is Jo’s younger adopted sister, and the McDonald twins she told you about, so there will be plenty of people for you to meet. Now, we’d better clear all these things away before Debby brings the tea in, it’s gone four o’clock.’
As Helen helped to clear up all her possessions, she found herself looking forward very much to Sunday. A party was always good fun, and there would be more girls to meet. Staying at Howells wasn’t turning out so badly after all.
The New Year Party by Aquabird
Sunday, New Year’s Eve, seemed to pass very slowly for Helen. She asked and received permission to take Augustin out for a walk in the morning after church, and strolled along the muddy lanes which were rapidly losing the coat of snow that had adorned them over the past few days. A break in the hedge afforded her a good view of Plas Howell, a graceful Georgian mansion, standing on a high hill two or three miles away.
‘It’s gorgeous,’ she proclaimed to Augustin, who looked up at her enquiringly and wagged his tail. ‘It’s nothing like the High, that’s just an ugly square grey building. I call it rather luck going to school in a house like that, even if it is only for a term. I hope Mrs Maynard is right and I’ll soon settle into it.’
She returned to Ty-Gwyn in time for lunch, after which Phoebe advised her to have a nap so that she would be fresh for the party.
‘I shall have to sleep for a while myself, or I won’t last the evening,’ she said. ‘Being in company with a lot of people always tires me out. And Frank is going back to sleep as well, he’s still very tired from all the hours he’s worked this week, so you might as well rest yourself, too.’
Helen took her advice, and peace settled on Ty-Gwyn for the afternoon, as Debby also fell asleep in her rocking chair in the kitchen after washing up the lunch things, Tibbles curled up contentedly in her lap. Augustin, after wandering around wondering why no one was about, settled down in his bed in Frank and Phoebe’s room and fell asleep himself, uttering small growls and yaps as he had an exciting dream in which he chased Tibbles round and round the garden.
After tea, they began to get ready for the party. At half past six, as Helen was giving her curls a final touch-up with her comb, Frieda knocked on the front door, with an excited Louis and Gerard beside her.
‘Come in, Frieda,’ Phoebe called. ‘We’re just about ready. Hello Louis, Gerard.’
‘Tante Phoebe!’ Louis and Gerard ran to cluster round her, and she laughed.
‘You’ll have lots of fun tonight at the party, won’t you?’ she said, bending down to their level. ‘The triplets will be there, and Stephen and Charles, and Tessa, Wolfram and Josefa.’
‘And big girls,’ said Louis, eyeing Helen speculatively. Phoebe laughed again.
‘This is Helen, boys. Helen, this is Frieda von Ahlen, and her sons Louis and Gerard. They live next door.’
‘How do you do, Helen?’ said Frieda, smiling and shaking hands. ‘I hope you’re not finding things too strange, being away from home. And I hope your mother is improving.’
‘Yes, thank you,’ said Helen, thinking how pretty Frieda was with her long golden hair swung round her head in a heavy plait.
Frank and Debby, meanwhile, had gone to collect Frieda’s harp and wedge it carefully into the boot of the car.
‘Your cello, Phoebe, will have to across the knees of the unfortunate occupiers of the back seat,’ said Frank, dusting his hands off after successfully securing the harp. ‘Why you two couldn’t have contented yourselves with small instruments like violins or flutes instead of these monstrosities, I don’t know!’
‘You’re just jealous because you’re completely lacking in musical talent yourself,’ Phoebe retorted, getting into the front seat.
‘Yes, well, I make up for it in other areas, as you ought to know. Gerard had better come in front with us, Frieda, and that should give you a little more room in the back.’
Gerard climbed happily into Phoebe’s lap, and Frieda, Helen, Debby and Louis squeezed themselves into the back. Frank laid the cello across their knees, and thus laden, they set off for Plas Gwyn.
A merry party was congregated in the large drawing room. Marie and Simone were there, talking to Madge and Robin and three other women that Phoebe knew only vaguely; Mollie Bettany, Gisela Mensch and Wanda von Glück. She and Frieda were seized upon by them at once and drawn into their conversation. Dick Bettany was talking to Gottfried Mensch, and Frank went thankfully to join them, relieved that he would not be the only man present for the evening as he had been dreading. David Russell, Keferl von Glück and Rix and Jackie Bettany were in a corner, deep in a discussion about cricket and staunchly ignoring the group of girls opposite. It was into this group that Helen found herself drawn, comprised of Peggy and Bride, Sybil and Primula, and six more girls who were introduced to her as Daisy Venables, Natalie and Gisel Mensch, Maria Ileana von Glück, and Flora and Fiona McDonald. Debby took Louis and Gerard each by the hand and marched them off upstairs to the nursery, where Anna and Rosa were supervising the triplets, Steve and Charles, Josette and Ailie, Wolfram and Josefa, Tessa, Emmie von Glück, Maeve and Maurice Bettany, and Jacquetta, Gretchen and Toni Mensch. They were thankful to have Debby’s assistance, and the small fry settled down to listen to Debby telling the story of the fairies of Cottingley Glen.
Joey, resplendent in a jade green frock, was very much to the fore as hostess of the event, flitting from one group to the next, pressing refreshments upon them, and enjoying herself thoroughly. Helen, meanwhile, was being further informed by her new acquaintances on life at the Chalet School. She stood rather in awe of Daisy, whom she knew was Head Girl and who struck her as more or less grown up, and she was fascinated by the three Austrian girls and the McDonald twins, whose accents sounded so strange to her.
Presently, Peggy proposed they introduce Helen to the triplets and other small fry, and she was accordingly led up to the nursery, where the younger members of the party were capering about in pre-bed high spirits while Debby, Anna and Rosa kept a watchful eye on them. Helen, more or less forgetting each child’s name as she was introduced to them, was nevertheless enchanted by them, particularly the triplets, and was thrilled when she was allowed to hold baby Charles for a few moments before he and the rest were put to bed.
By the time the children were all settled and Debby, Anna and Rosa had joined the rest of the party down in the drawing room, Jo was announcing the musical entertainment. Helen was not musical at all, but even she could not fail to be thrilled by Jo’s golden voice, ably accompanied by Robin on the piano. Phoebe and Frieda played several duets they had learnt together on the cello and harp, and Daisy and Gisela took turns playing the former’s violin.
‘This is a smashing party!’ Helen said enthusiastically to the McDonald twins between acts.
‘It’s fun to be with so many people at once,’ said Flora, nodding her fair head. ‘On Erisay, where we lived before the war, we had no parties like this, as there were so few people.’
‘When we first came here, I was not sure I liked being amongst so many people,’ added Fiona thoughtfully. ‘But now I don’t think I would like to go back to it being just us and Shiena, and Archie and Kenneth.’
‘Our sister and brothers,’ Flora said, seeing Helen’s blank face. ‘They are all away fighting in the war.’
‘I do like your accents,’ said Helen. ‘There was a Scottish girl at my old High school, but she spoke differently from you two. She was from Edinburgh.’
‘We are Highlanders,’ said Flora proudly. ‘But the government took Erisay, our island, when the war came, so we had to move. We didn’t speak English there, only Gaelic.’
‘Really? Will you teach me some words?’ Helen asked eagerly, and the twins took up the task with enthusiasm, with some very peculiar-sounding results from Helen which reduced them all to helpless giggles.
‘It’s five to midnight!’ Joey called, looking at the clock. ‘Has everyone got a glass of something?’
She rushed around the drawing room seeing that everyone’s glass was filled, and when the clock struck midnight everyone called; ‘Happy New Year!’
‘And I pray that this year will finally see an end to the fighting,’ Phoebe murmured to Frank, who nodded soberly, his thoughts with Edmund, far away in Belgium seeing in the New Year with his squad.
At Cairn Farm by Aquabird
Helen’s blazer and tie and the badge for her beret arrived in the post a few days later, and with her new ration book in hand, Phoebe and Debby took her to Armiford to buy the remaining items of uniform she did not yet possess. Phoebe had consulted with Madge beforehand as to the best shops to go to, and a brown coat and beret were acquired with little trouble. Material for making the tunics, however, was not to be so easily found, and they had almost given up the search when Debby remembered a small draper’s shop in a side street that she had once come across during a day out, which proved to have what they were looking for.
‘This will do nicely,’ said Phoebe, tucking the material into the bag in her lap. ‘And that’s everything we need to get, I think.’
‘Just as well,’ said Debby, pushing Phoebe’s wheelchair down the high street at such a speed that that lady had to cling on for dear life to avoid toppling out of it, while Helen almost had to sprint to keep up. ‘We’ve got five minutes to catch t’bus or we’ll be stuck here for another two hours until the next one.’
However, they caught the bus by the skin of their teeth, so disaster was averted. When they reached home and had had tea, Phoebe had no sooner begun measuring Helen for her new tunics than Debby was ushering Meg in.
‘Hello, Meg,’ Phoebe said surprise.
‘I hope I’m not interrupting,’ Meg said, doubtfully eyeing the material and sewing articles spread on the floor at Phoebe’s feet while Helen stood in her underclothes with her arms outstretched. ‘I just came to ask if you would all like to come to high tea at the farm on Sunday. That is Frank’s day off, isn’t it?’
Phoebe nodded. ‘And I’m sure he’d certainly be game for high tea!’
‘What is high tea?’ Helen asked curiously.
‘It’s like a mixture of tea and supper, we have it about six or six thirty,’ explained Meg. ‘Most farms do it that way rather than messing about with two meals, as we don’t have that sort of free time.’
‘It sounds wizard,’ said Helen, thrilled at the idea of visiting a farm. ‘What do you have to eat, if it’s a mixture of tea and supper?’
‘Oh, tea of course, and ham and salad, and bread and cheese, and eggs,’ replied Meg. ‘Back before the rationing we’d have sausage rolls and fruit cake too, but those are a treat nowadays rather than a usual feature.’
‘It still sounds smashing,’ said Helen approvingly, and Meg and Phoebe laughed. Phoebe turned back to Meg.
‘Thanks for asking us, Meg, I’m sure we’ll really enjoy it. What time do you want us to come over?’
Meg considered. ‘Say about three? It should still be light then.’
‘Very well, I’ll tell Frank.’
Frank, when informed, was delighted at the prospect of high tea on his precious day off, and that Sunday afternoon they set off for Cairn Farm. Because of Phoebe’s wheelchair they had to take the longer route by road rather than going across the fields, but as it was a clear dry day nobody minded. Augustin accompanied them, delighted at having such a long walk, especially one with so many rabbit holes along the way for him to investigate.
‘Do him good to meet some dogs who’ll teach him a thing or two about good behaviour,’ remarked Debby, whose wrath had been incurred that morning when Augustin had knocked the dustbin over and spilt rubbish everywhere in his attempts to track down a most exciting smell inside it.
‘Now Debby, be fair, he’s generally quite well-behaved now that he’s more or less housetrained,’ said Phoebe reasonably. ‘He doesn’t even chase Tibbles now unless he asks for it.’
‘Which is at least once a day,’ Frank said darkly. ‘I wish he would stop sleeping on my chest, it gives me an awful turn waking up and finding him staring into my eyes!’
When they reached the farm, they were met by Meg and Mrs Crewe, who welcomed them into the farmhouse. Baby Owen, a well-grown specimen of almost a year, was sitting chuckling on a rug, and crawled over to them at once.
‘You’d never believe he’s been up half the night with his teeth, would you?’ said Mrs Crewe in mock disgust, scooping him up. ‘Bright as a button he’s been all day so far!’
‘He’s so bonny!’ said Phoebe, tickling him. He squealed and kicked in delight. ‘And you’d never guess he’s less than a year old at that size. He’s even bigger than Stephen Maynard was at that age, and I always thought he was a big baby.’
‘He had a good start; ten pounds three ounces when he was born,’ grimaced Mrs Crewe. ‘I couldn’t walk for a fortnight afterwards!’
Everyone laughed, and Meg said; ‘I’d better go and give the horses their feed before I sit down for the rest of the afternoon.’
‘Could I come and watch?’ Helen asked eagerly. ‘I’ve never seen a horse close up before.’
‘If you like,’ said Meg amiably, and Helen followed her out of the room in delight.
‘Not a shy one, is she?’ remarked Mrs Crewe, bouncing her son up and down on her knee.
‘It’ll be because she’s met Meg before, I expect,’ said Phoebe.
‘Our Meg’s a good girl,’ agreed Mrs Crewe. ‘I don’t know what I’d have done without her taking on the dairy and poultry and other jobs while I’ve been busy with Owen. Always had the lads after her, though; I’ve been worried about that. But she’s got that nice young Edmund keeping her on the right track now.’
Frank was about to remark that he wasn’t too sure about Edmund keeping Meg on the right track, per se, but thought better of it.
‘How’s he getting on, anyway?’ Mrs Crewe asked him. ‘In Belgium or something now, I hear?’
Frank nodded. ‘It seems the Jerries have mounted a huge counterattack over Christmas which has been keeping them pinned at the German border for the moment. If and when they repel that I expect they’ll be moving into Germany proper. It could be all over by the summer if we’re lucky.’
‘I’m glad he’s none the worse for going missing those few weeks,’ said Mrs Crewe. ‘Dreadful business, that. Meg’s saying he’s planning on leaving the RAF after the war, though?’
Frank, who had by now heard this news for himself from Edmund, nodded again. ‘He may not have been hurt when he went missing, but I think it’s made him very disillusioned with the military. He doesn’t agree with some of the decisions the higher-ups are making, and he can be an argumentative ass when he likes, which isn’t helping. He’ll probably be all the better for a change of career when this charade is over. After all, he’s known nothing else of the world since he left school, it’s no wonder he’s become disillusioned. It’ll do him good to try his hand at something else.’
‘Well, I’m sure we can make a job for him here for a bit, if farming is what he decides on,’ said Mrs Crewe. ‘And Meg will keep him right if he decides to get his own place, she’s been here since she was fourteen, and she knows how a farm ought to be run.’
‘It would be nice to have him local for a while after him being away for so long,’ agreed Frank.
Phoebe created a distraction at that moment by pointing out of the window with a giggle.
Everyone turned, and saw Meg solemnly leading a pretty grey pony round the yard, with a gleeful Helen sitting on its back, whooping with delight.
‘She obviously persuaded Meg to let her have a go on old Buttercup,’ said Mrs Crewe, chuckling.
‘It is safe for her, isn’t it?’ Phoebe asked doubtfully. ‘I don’t think she has any riding experience.’
‘Oh, she’ll not come to any harm just trotting round the yard,’ said Mrs Crewe comfortably. ‘There’s not a horse in the whole of Wales more placid than Buttercup, we taught some of our Land Girls how to ride on her.’
They went outside to better see Helen’s impromptu riding lesson, and Buttercup stood stolidly, whisking her tail and blinking her long lashes, as she was patted and stroked by the visitors.
‘Reminds me of the pony we had when I were a lass,’ said Debby reminiscently, scratching behind her ears. ‘Fine wee thing, he was. Used to ride him every day.’
‘You can ride too, can’t you?’ Phoebe said to Frank. ‘You said you learnt at Auntie Elsie’s.’
‘Yes, about twenty years ago,’ he said with a grin. ‘I doubt there’s much I’d remember of it now. Anyway, I’m probably too heavy for a little thing like this. She’d be a perfect size for you, though.’
‘I know. I wish I could ride her, she’s a lovely pony.’ She sighed regretfully as she stroked Buttercup’s mane.
High tea, which they had at six o’clock, was a great success, and Frank murmured to Phoebe that they should abolish afternoon tea and dinner themselves in favour of it.
‘Speak for yourself!’ she whispered back. ‘Besides, where on earth would we get a ham that size every night?’
Frank gloomily acknowledged that she had a point there.
‘It would be nice, though,’ he added wistfully, and Phoebe laughed.
‘That was a smashing day!’ Helen announced on the way home. ‘I’ve always wanted to ride a horse. And Meg says that at half-term she’ll bring one over and teach me to ride some more!’
‘Better clear it with your mother first,’ Frank remarked. ‘We don’t want to be held responsible if you end up breaking your neck in the process!’
‘I’m sure Meg knows what she’s doing,’ said Phoebe, seeing Helen’s look of alarm. ‘But you’re right that it’s probably best to check first. You can ask her tomorrow when you visit, Helen.’
‘All right,’ agreed Helen. ‘I don’t suppose I’ll see her again until half-term after that, since school starts on Thursday.’
‘Oh, we’ll take you up to see her on Wednesday as well, don’t worry,’ said Phoebe cheerfully. ‘And it’s not a long term, after all, as Easter is on the early side this year. The holidays will be here before you know it.’
‘I can’t wait,’ said Helen. ‘Even though I’m going to try and enjoy this term, too.’
‘I’m sure you will,’ said Phoebe with a laugh. ‘From all everyone says about it, the Chalet School is too marvellous for words!’
First Impressions by Aquabird
The first day of term had arrived at last, and after a final lunch at Ty-Gwyn, Helen solemnly pulled on her new brown coat and beret, tweaking the latter for a good five minutes until it was sitting at an angle that satisfied her. Then she turned to Phoebe, who was standing watching her with great amusement.
‘Thanks awfully for having me to stay, Mrs Peters,’ she said. ‘You’ve been very good to me, making my tunics and jumper and everything.’
‘Oh, it was nothing, dear, we’ve loved having you,’ said Phoebe, giving her a warm hug. ‘Have a good time, and we’ll see you at half-term.’
‘You enjoy yourself, Miss Helen, love,’ said Debby, presenting Helen with a bar of chocolate.
‘Thank you Debby, you’re a real sport,’ said Helen warmly, and Debby chuckled, wondering how many times now she had been afforded that particular accolade.
With a last wave, Helen went down the garden path and climbed into the car, where Frank was waiting at the wheel to drive her up to the school before going on to the San. They set off through the village, out the other side, and then up the long drive which led to Plas Howell.
‘Gosh, I didn’t realise it was so big close up,’ said Helen in awe, looking up at it. Frank chuckled.
‘It’d have to be, to house two hundred-odd girls, to say nothing of the staff,’ he said. ‘Here we are.’ He drew up outside the front steps and leapt out to haul her trunk from the boot and carry it into the entrance hall, Helen following, looking about her curiously.
Matron was standing in the entrance hall with Evan Evans and two helpers, directing them to take a large pile of trunks and cases up to the trunk room to be unpacked later. She looked round with a smile as Frank and Helen approached.
‘Ah, Dr Peters,’ she said.
‘New girl for you, Matron,’ said Frank. ‘This is Helen Langley, she was staying with us for a couple of weeks over Christmas. Her mother’s in the San.’
Matron nodded. ‘Miss Annersley told me. She said Phoebe would be pleased to deal with anything on Mrs Langley’s behalf while Helen’s here?’
‘Yes, she’ll see to anything that crops up,’ said Frank cheerfully. ‘Or I will, if it’s health-related.’
‘Splendid. If you’ll just put Helen’s trunk down with the rest there, the men will take it up shortly. Helen, if you’d like to say your goodbyes now, I’ll take you along to see Miss Annersley in the study.’
Helen nodded and turned to Frank, who put her trunk down and clapped her on the shoulder.
‘Have a good term, Helen,’ he said. ‘And try not to worry too much about your mother, she’s doing splendidly now that we’ve got her started on treatment. You’ll notice a real difference in her by half-term.’
Helen nodded again. ‘I know she’s doing well, so I’m not worrying too much. Give her my love and tell her I’ll be fine here, won’t you?’
‘I will.’ He slipped her a ten shilling note. ‘Here’s a little extra to top up your pocket money, I remember always being short of cash at school. Usually because I kept spending it on sweets.’
Helen laughed. ‘Thanks awfully, Dr Peters. Goodbye.’
‘So long.’ Frank waved and strolled back out the front doors, leaving Helen alone with Matron.
‘Come along,’ that lady said briskly, whisking the school’s latest addition along a corridor. Presently, Helen found herself being ushered into the library, a large room lined all round with bookshelves and with a Chinese carpet on the floor. Sitting at the desk by the window was Miss Annersley, one of the school’s two Heads, who looked up from the letter she was writing with a smile.
‘This is Helen Langley, Miss Annersley,’ said Matron.
‘Thank you, Matron,’ replied Miss Annersley, and the school’s beloved tyrant hurried off to see to the hundred and one jobs she always had on the first day of term. The Head held out a welcoming hand to Helen.
‘Welcome to the Chalet School, Helen,’ she said, in the low, lovely voice that was one of her greatest assets. ‘I hope you will be happy here, short though your time is to be with us.’
‘Th-thank you,’ stammered Helen nervously. Miss Annersley laughed and turned to search through her desk for some papers.
‘Now, let me see…ah yes. We’ve been through your entrance papers and you’re up to standard for Upper III. The girls there are all twelve and thirteen, so you should feel quite at home. I understand you’ve already met Bride Bettany?’
‘Yes, and some of the others,’ Helen said. ‘Peggy and Sybil and Primula, and Flora and Fiona.’
‘Splendid. Well, Bride and the twins are also in Upper III, and I’m sure they’ll keep you on track. I shall send for Bride now and she can take you along with her.’
She went to the door, caught a passing girl and sent her to fetch Bride, who arrived promptly and made a curtsey as soon as she entered, much to Helen’s astonishment.
‘You sent for me, Miss Annersley?’ she said. Then she grinned at Helen. ‘Hallo, Helen.’
‘I’d like you to take Helen along with you and keep an eye on her for a few days, Bride,’ said Miss Annersley. ‘She’ll be in Upper III with you people, and I’ve put her into Green dormitory with you, so see to it that she isn’t too lost, will you?’
‘Yes, of course, Miss Annersley,’ agreed Bride. She tucked an arm through Helen’s. ‘Come along, Helen. We’ll go along to the Splashery so you can change, and then I’ll introduce you to some of the others.’
She drew Helen out of the room after making another curtsey, and as soon as they were out of earshot that worthy demanded; ‘What’s the curtsey for?’
‘Tradition,’ Bride replied briefly, steering her charge along a veritable maze of corridors. ‘When the school was in Austria, the girls there always made a curtsey to the Head when they entered or left the study, and we’ve kept it up ever since.’
‘Oh,’ said Helen blankly. Bride ushered her into the Splashery shared by the two Third forms, found the new girl’s peg and locker, and bade her change out of coat and beret, and exchange outdoor shoes for house slippers. That done, Helen washed her face and hands and combed her hair into something resembling neatness, then followed Bride along yet more corridors, wondering how on earth she was ever going to find her way about.
‘This is our common room, where we spend our free time,’ Bride said, stopping outside a door. A wall of chatter blasted out as she opened it and led Helen inside.
The Junior common room was a large, long room with tables and chairs arranged in groups along the length of it. Shelves of books ran along the walls, and a large cupboard stood at one end. Groups of girls were standing or sitting about, exchanging gossip and holiday news, and Helen felt her cheeks growing hot as several of them turned to look at her with interest as she followed Bride across to her own particular gang, who were congregated around a large sagging sofa.
‘Where’ve you been, Bride?’ demanded a brown-haired, brown-eyed girl. Then she spotted Helen and her eyes lit up. ‘I say, a new girl! Hallo!’
‘Hallo,’ said Helen, grinning round shyly.
‘This is Helen Langley, everyone,’ Bride informed them. ‘She’ll be in Upper III with us, and she’s in Green dorm. Her mother’s in the San for a bit, so she’s been staying with Auntie Phoebe and Uncle Frank over the hols. This is my gang, Helen. Prim and the twins you’ve met, of course.’ Primula and the McDonald twins smiled at the newcomer. ‘That’s Julie Lucy, Nancy Chester, and those two are Nella and Vanna Ozanne. They’re all cousins.’ The four mentioned damsels nodded amiably at Helen. ‘As for the rest, these are Tom Gay, Rosalie Way, Elfie Woodward and Primrose Day.’
Helen was too well-trained to remark, but she opened her eyes widely at the last name, and Primrose chuckled ruefully.
‘It’s a howler, isn’t it?’ she said. ‘You’ve no idea the ragging I have to put up with.’ Helen laughed. ‘Come and squat here, there’s room for a little one. Shove up a bit, Tom. Have you been to school before, Helen?’
‘Not boarding school, just the local High – Bedhaven High in Birmingham where we live,’ Helen replied, taking the offered seat and feeling in her pocket for the chocolate Debby had given her, which she offered round. ‘I’ve read all about boarding school in books, though.’
‘It’s better than any book,’ Elfie assured her. ‘This place is wizard as schools go. What’s your choice of sport?’
‘Hockey,’ replied Helen. ‘I was a reserve for the Second Eleven at the High.’
‘Smashing!’ said Elfie with enthusiasm. ‘We could do with a hockey prodigy in the form.’
For the rest of the time until tea, Helen found herself discussing the finer points of hockey with Elfie, in whom she had found a kindred spirit, and answering more general questions about herself from the others. By the time the gong rang and the Gang closed up around her to escort her along to the Splashery, she was beginning to feel that boarding school was going to be rather fun after all.
The First Evening by Aquabird
After tea, the girls were sent dormitory by dormitory to unpack, and in due course Helen found herself hurrying up to the trunk room with Bride, Nancy, Primrose and six others, where Matron and the prefects were waiting for them. Helen was taken charge of by Nancy’s older sister Beth, who was standing by her trunk with a light wicker tray.
‘Hallo, new girl,’ she said cheerfully. ‘Helen, is it? I’m Beth Chester. Young Nancy over there,’ she waved her hand in Nancy’s direction, ‘is my kid sister whom I expect you’ve already met. Come along and let’s get cracking, it’s a fearful scrum getting everyone unpacked before supper. Let’s see your inventory. You have got everything marked with your name, haven’t you?’
‘Spent hours over it the week before last,’ replied Helen, and Beth laughed.
‘Good. Matron does not love those who turn up with unmarked possessions.’
She stood ticking each item off the inventory as Helen unpacked it, and then the two of them carried the full wicker tray down to Green dormitory and emptied it onto the bed.
‘Any of you others finished putting your things away yet?’ Beth called to the other inhabitants of the dormitory.
‘I am, just.’ Nancy, in the next cubicle, put her handkerchief sachet in her drawer, closed it and straightened up, and Beth gave her younger sister a grin.
‘Good work, Nancy. Take charge of Helen here, will you, and show her where to put everything. I must get back to the trunk room for the next lot of people.’
‘Right,’ said Nancy amiably, and Beth hurried off with the empty wicker tray.
‘How’s all this going to fit into just this little space?’ Helen asked, looking doubtfully at her pile of belongings.
‘I’ll show you,’ said Nancy with a grin. ‘Your brush and comb and photos go on your bureau here – the mirror lifts up like a lid like so – you put your wash bag on this hook, and your dressing gown on this other one here. Towels hang up here beside your bureau. Pyjamas go under the pillow, and your slippers go on this shelf. Hankies and so on in the top drawer, blouses in the second, undies in the third. See that cupboard on the other side of my cubey? There’s hangers in there marked with your name for your frocks and Sunday things, and a shelf for hats. Brollies go in that stand. And that’s it, except for your Wellingtons and games kit which go in your locker in the Splashery, we’ll go down there in a sec when the others are ready.’
‘Make sure you fold everything properly and leave your drawers spick and span,’ Bride advised from the cubicle on Helen’s other side. ‘Otherwise Matey will haul you out of class to tidy them.’
‘And you’ll get a ticking off from whoever’s taking the class you’ve had to miss, too,’ said Primrose from the opposite row of beds. ‘It’s simply ghastly.’
When all the required items had been put away in the dormitory, Helen and her new friends went down to the Splashery to put the remainder in their lockers, and the gong for supper rang just as they had finished.
‘Luck! We get first dibs on the sinks!’ said Bride gleefully, towing Helen over to one. They washed their faces and hands, and Bride produced a pocket comb which they ran through their hair before heading in a body for the dining room. Here, Helen found herself placed between Tom and Fiona McDonald, and she sat quietly, listening rather than talking as they made short work of the light supper provided. At the end of the meal, a bell rang from up on the High Table where the staff were sitting, and the girls fell silent and turned to look as Miss Annersley rose to her feet with a smile.
‘After you have cleared away we will have Prayers, and then bed for all Juniors and Middles,’ she said. ‘The Fifth and Sixth forms may have an extra hour. That is all for now. Stand for Grace, please.’
The girls stood solemnly while she said Grace, then set to clearing the tables with a rapidity that left Helen nearly gasping. However, she soon tumbled to the general procedure, and helped to pass up plates, cutlery and glasses to the prefect at the head of the table who was loading them onto a trolley.
‘You’re C of E, aren’t you?’ Bride enquired of Helen, when the room was cleared and the girls were forming into two lines by the door. Helen nodded. ‘Right! Into this line with us, we have Prayers with the Abbess in Hall. The Catholics have theirs with Bill in the gym.’
She marshalled Helen into line, and they marched smartly along to Hall, taking their places in the long forms that ran across it. Sitting between Bride and Tom, Helen looked around with interest at what had once been a large handsome drawing room, but was now unmistakeably a school hall. There was a dais at one end of the room, with a lectern in the middle and chairs for the mistresses and prefects on either side of it. She saw Honours boards and a big notice board mounted on one wall, and an enormous glass cabinet behind the dais which held the school’s cups and shields. A mistress, whose very pretty face was somewhat spoilt by the rather sullen expression she wore, was softly playing a piano at one side of the room.
‘That’s Cocky, Miss Cochrane,’ Bride whispered in Helen’s ear, seeing where she was looking. ‘She teaches music, and she hates it.’
Helen raised her eyebrows in surprise, but one of the mistresses, who had been pointed out to her during supper as Miss Slater, was glaring in their direction, and Bride subsided.
Miss Annersley came in then, and the girls stood to sing the beginning-of-term hymn. Then Daisy Venables, very conscious of her position as Head Girl, rose from her seat to read the Parable of the Talents. Prayers followed, and then a door at the top of the room opened and the Catholic girls and staff filed in to take their places. When everyone was settled, Miss Annersley leaned forward on the lectern and smiled at the rows of faces turned up to her.
‘Welcome back for another term, girls, and welcome also to our new girls. I hope this will be a happy and prosperous term for the school as a whole. We are sadly still at war, but there is real hope now that the end is nigh, and perhaps by Easter we shall know for certain. On the same topic, I would like to remind you all of the vow of our Peace League, which remains as relevant as ever. For the benefit of the new girls, Miss Wilson will explain what the League is, and its importance to the school.’ She smiled at that lady, who came forward to take her place.
‘As you new girls may or may not know, the Chalet School was begun in the Austrian Tyrol some years before the war,’ she said, in her clear voice. ‘At that time we had pupils of many different nationalities, including Germans, Austrians and Italians. When the school was forced to leave Austria following the Anschluss, the girls decided to create a Peace League, to promote peace and harmony regardless of what political turmoil may engulf their respective countries. Some of the girls who signed the vow at that time are now in occupied territory, and may be facing unimaginable horrors for upholding it. Yet it is through the League that some of our former girls have managed to escape from occupied Europe, or allowed others to do so. It is a great thing, our Peace League, and ever since that term it was formed, it has been open to all girls over thirteen, for it is a serious vow to undertake, and not one would we would ask of younger girls. I will read it aloud now, and any girl over thirteen who has not signed it and wishes to do so may come to me during the first week of term.’
She read the vow aloud, and it was followed by the prayer which Jo Maynard had written specially for the League. Then Miss Annersley came forward again.
‘I haven’t much more to say, girls,’ she said. ‘Remember that this term we have our Sale of Work in aid of the Sanatorium, and we expect you to have a good showing for that. And there will be various hockey and netball matches throughout the term which I know Peggy has planned for the teams.’ She smiled at Peggy Burnett, the Games Prefect, who blushed.
She dismissed them after that, and the Juniors and Middles streamed up the stairs to their dormitories.
‘What’s the Sale she was talking about?’ Helen asked of her dormitory mates as they were undressing.
‘Oh, we have one every Easter term, and the money we make for it goes to the San to keep one of the free beds there going,’ replied Nancy. ‘We have Hobbies club on Thursday evenings, where we do sewing, or painting, or making scrapbooks, or whatever else we like, and the things we make from it are what we sell at the Sale. Last year Tom made a simply smashing doll’s house – she’s wizard at carpentry – and Nella made furnishings for it, and we held a competition for it and made a mint of money.’
‘She said she’s going to make another one this year,’ said Bride. ‘I say we all dig in at it and make it a complete piece of cake! We don’t want to lose our crown of best stall, do we?’
They certainly did not, and they got into bed making all sorts of plans for their stall. Helen, snuggling down under her blankets, tried sleepily to decide on what she could make to sell, but before she had got very far she was sound asleep.
Helen And Hockey by Aquabird
After she had been at the Chalet School three days, Helen felt that she was beginning to find her feet. Life at the school was so busy, and the girls so pleasant and keen to include her, that she had no opportunity to feel homesick or mopey for her mother, as she had secretly feared. Instead of lying awake at night feeling upset, she was so tired out from all the new experiences that she more or less fell into bed and didn’t stir until the rising bell rang the next morning. She was also relieved to discover that as far as actual schoolwork was concerned she was quite capable of keeping up with Upper III, though as she was not a clever girl she had no expectations of catching up with Bride and Julie, who vied for top each week.
‘She looks like being a jolly decent addition to the form,’ Elfie remarked privately to Bride on the Sunday evening when they were alone for a few moments. ‘No airs and graces, and she doesn’t need that much in the way of nannying.’
‘I s’pose it’s because she’s been to a High and knows how school works,’ Bride said thoughtfully. ‘She’s not like Lavender Leigh was that first term, for instance. Remember how awful she was?’
‘Ghastly!’ said Elfie emphatically. ‘We shan’t have any trouble like that with Helen, thankfully. It’s a pity she’s only staying the one term.’
On Monday, however, the trouble began. After a gruelling morning of maths with Miss Slater – ‘It’s cruelty to dumb animals to timetable us for maths first thing on a Monday morning!’ grumbled Nancy – followed by geography with Miss Stephens, Helen was very keen for the games lesson that afternoon, and delighted when she was informed that they would be playing hockey as the weather was fine. She scrambled into her games kit, caught up her stick and followed Bride and the others out to the hockey pitch, where Miss Burn was waiting for them.
‘Welcome, Helen,’ she said, smiling at the new girl. ‘Have you played hockey before?’
‘Yes, Miss Burn,’ Helen replied promptly. ‘I was a reserve for one of the teams at my old school.’
‘You were? Excellent! Let’s hope you can show this crowd a thing or two, then. Let’s see now…’ She looked around at the rest of the Upper and Lower III who were trickling onto the pitch. Once they were all assembled, she divided them into four teams of eleven, and the remainder, which consisted mainly of girls like Primula who were not considered strong enough to play hockey, were sent off to the netball nets to practice passing and shooting.
Two of the hockey teams went off to the other field with Peggy Burnett, who had just arrived. Helen was amongst this group, and after being questioned by Peggy as to her experience in the different hockey positions, was allocated a blue sash and the right wing position. Her opposite was Ruth Wilson from Lower III, and she eyed her doubtfully as she surveyed the opposing team’s line-up, for Ruth was bigger than she was despite being a year younger. She also fancied herself a good hockey player, and gave Helen a dismissive look when she saw her. Helen saw it, and it immediately put her back up.
‘I’ll show her,’ she thought grimly, gripping her stick as Peggy blew her whistle to begin the game.
It was not long before the ball came rolling in Helen’s direction. She put out her stick, stopped it neatly, dodged around Ruth and passed it to Primrose.
‘Hah!’ she thought triumphantly, seeing the annoyed look on Ruth’s face.
‘Nicely done, Helen,’ commented Peggy, and Helen grinned.
The next time the ball came towards her, she darted forward to get it at the same time as Ruth, and there was a tremendous clashing of heads which sent Helen spinning.
‘Clumsy idiot!’ snapped Ruth, as Anne Webster dashed over to help Helen up. ‘You did that on purpose!’
‘I did not!’ retorted Helen, firing up at once.
‘That’s enough, you two,’ Peggy cut in. ‘It was an accident, nothing more. Have either of you hurt yourselves?’
‘I’m fine, thank you,’ said Helen, while Ruth murmured something that might have passed for ‘Fine’.
‘Then take up your positions and we’ll resume play. Tom, roll the ball in, please.’
Nothing further happened until the final minute of the match. The ball rolled towards Helen once more, and she hopped forward to catch it. Ruth stuck out her stick at the same time, accidentally-on-purpose hooking Helen around the ankle and sending her sprawling. Peggy, who had not seen Ruth’s action and thought that Helen had merely tripped, hurried forward to help her up and ask if she was all right before blowing her whistle to end the game, which was a victory for the blue team. Not that the euphoria lasted long for Helen; she had an uneasy feeling that she had just made an enemy in Ruth Wilson.
‘Just because I’m better at hockey than she is!’ she thought, sending a baleful glare in Ruth’s direction as they streamed off to the Splashery to change.
However, if Helen thought the matter ended there, Elfie had no such inhibitions, for she had seen the entirety of the final incident, and she rounded on Ruth as soon as they were in the Splashery.
‘You beast, Ruth! I saw you trip Helen up with your stick on purpose to stop her getting the ball!’
Everyone paused in the act of changing back into uniform to listen, and Ruth went red, though she kept her voice cool.
‘I didn’t,’ she said. ‘She fell. Rather a clumsy creature all round, isn’t she?’
Helen was so stunned at the sheer cheek of this that she was bereft of speech. Not so Bride, who promptly leapt into the breach.
‘Clumsy yourself, Ruth Wilson! It was just as much your fault you banged heads, and as for tripping her up on purpose, you deserve to be reported! You might have broken her ankle!’
‘Sneak!’ taunted Ruth.
‘No, reporting bullying behaviour,’ said Tom shortly. ‘Tripping someone up on purpose isn’t gentlemanly.’
‘Just as well we’re not gentlemen, then, isn’t it, my dear Tom?’ drawled Ruth. ‘We’re young ladies.’
‘Perhaps, but it’s neither gentlemanly nor ladylike to trip someone up and then pretend you didn’t!’ said Primrose heatedly. ‘Tom’s right, you’re a dishonourable bully!’
‘Ruth isn’t a bully!’ someone else cried.
Within moments, the two Thirds had taken sides. The entire Upper III had sided with Helen and her defendants, while most of Lower, with one or two exceptions which included Primula Venables, had sided with Ruth.
‘From now on we’re having nothing to do with you or your…your partners-in-crime!’ Bride declared to Ruth, struggling to find a suitable term for that young woman’s supporters.
‘And we’re having nothing to do with you or that silly little new girl!’ scoffed Ruth.
‘Little?’ exploded Helen, outraged. ‘Who do you think you are? I’m a form higher than you are and a better hockey player, you rotten cheating beast!’
Most unfortunately, Nemesis fell upon her at that moment in the form of Gwensi Howell, who, attracted by all the noise, had arrived just in time to hear her pearl of oratory.
‘Who was that speaking just now?’ she demanded sharply.
‘Me,’ Helen said sulkily. Gwensi eyed her with a look that made her squirm inside, then said icily;
‘Indeed? I suppose you have been told of the slang rules here, new girl – what’s your name? Helen? Well, pay a ha’penny to the fines box, and don’t use such language again. Now hurry up, all of you. The gong for tea will be ringing at any moment and half of you aren’t even changed yet!’
She swept out, leaving the Thirds to change in double-quick time, with Ruth and her supporters smirking smugly at Helen, who was boiling with rage at receiving such a public rebuke, deserved though she knew it was.
‘Never mind,’ said Bride soothingly, after she had escorted Helen to the box to pay her fine and they were sitting down in the common room to await the gong for tea. ‘That Ruth Wilson’s a rott – I mean, nasty person, and we’ll have nothing to do with her while she thinks it’s all right to pick on new girls. Or anyone, for that matter!’
The rest of the Gang vehemently voiced their approval, and thus the battle lines were drawn.
The Prefects In Council by Aquabird
Over the next few days, things were very tense between the two Third forms. They looked the other way when they passed members of the opposing faction in the corridors. They refused to speak to the enemy unless it was strictly necessary. Primula and the three or four others who had stood out against the majority of their form had a particularly bad time of it, having to endure plenty of sneering remarks from those they had ‘betrayed’.
‘It’s not your fault,’ she reassured Helen, when that young woman apologised to her for being the cause of all the fuss, having witnessed Ruth making one such remark to her. ‘We shouldn’t be allowing her to get away with that sort of behaviour. She might rule the rest of Lower III with her bullying, but we’ll show her she can’t rule us!’
Helen was feeling very bad about the whole affair now that she had calmed down. She had fully intended keeping her head down and simply getting on with things during her brief spell at boarding school. Now she had been dragged front and centre, and not in a positive way.
‘I wish the others would just let it go,’ she thought on the Thursday, when they were in the common room before tea. Squabbles between members of the two forms were frequent, and at that moment Primrose and Mary Jackson of Lower III were arguing so loudly that Daisy Venables, hearing the noise, came sweeping in amongst them to deliver a lecture she had never bettered.
‘Do you want to have a mistress supervising your free time as though you were a set of Kindergarten babies?’ she wound up.
Most assuredly they did not, and they retreated to opposite sides of the common room to join their respective allies while the indignant Daisy stalked out and made her way to the prefects’ room, where she found her compeers engaged in various pursuits.
‘What’s up, Daisy?’ asked Beth, seeing her friend’s expression as she sat down.
‘Those brats in the Thirds,’ said Daisy, opening a book, then closing it again and tossing it down on the table. ‘I think they must have taken leave of their senses! I’ve just had to tick off Primrose Day and Mary Jackson for the good of their souls for squabbling at the tops of their voices! They’re jolly lucky Bill or the Abbess didn’t hear them.’
‘Some sort of disagreement has happened, I’ve noticed,’ said Gillian Culver, looking up from the knitting with which she was wrestling. ‘I saw your young cousin Bride and her gang looking the other way very pointedly when Ruth Wilson and her gang passed them in the corridor yesterday. Little asses!’
‘If you ask me, that new girl in Upper III is mixed up in it,’ said Gwensi thoughtfully. She repeated what she had heard Helen saying in the Splashery on Monday, and the prefects raised their eyebrows at one another.
‘Well, I must say I thought the kid was decent enough when I met her in the hols,’ said Daisy in surprise. ‘Could you see who she was using such awful language to, Gwensi?’
‘I’m not certain, but I rather thought I heard Ruth Wilson’s voice speaking before her, so it may have been her,’ said Gwensi. ‘She did smirk like anything – as did a few others – when I ticked Helen off, and they were split into two big groups on either side of the Splashery.’
‘They may have been bickering over the hockey match, then,’ said Peggy Burnett, and she recounted how Ruth and Helen had argued over clashing heads. Daisy pursed up her lips.
‘That’s probably it, then,’ she said. ‘They’ve argued, and the others have joined in and taken sides. Young Bride and all her gang will have backed Helen up, they’ve really taken her in with them since she came here. That’s half of Upper III right away, and then there’s hangers on like Anne Webster and Lesley Pitt who’ve probably sided that way, too. And Ruth’s got a lot of influence over the Lowers, so they’ll have taken her side in the main.’
‘I must say my sympathies are with Helen,’ said Joanna Linders, shaking her fair head with its heavy braid. ‘That Ruth Wilson is an unpleasant sort of girl. She leads by intimidation, not popularity.’
Daisy nodded. ‘You’re quite right, Joanna. I’ve never liked her manner either. She has a handful of genuine followers – Mary Jackson, that silly little featherhead Iris Clancy, and that giggling ass Doris Miller – but the rest I think follow her more out of fear than anything else.’
‘So what shall we do about it?’ Gwensi asked.
‘There isn’t much we can do beyond telling them off if they’re squabbling, or deliberately rude to each other,’ said Daisy gloomily. ‘All the same, I’d like to do something. Sooner or later one of the mistresses will get to hear of it, and then there’ll be trouble for the little ninnies. Besides, I don’t want other forms catching on. If young Sybs and Blossom Willoughby and all that crowd get wind of things, that’ll drag the Seconds into it, and we’ve got quite enough on our plate without those beauties getting involved.’
‘What about Auntie Jo?’ suggested Beth. ‘The new girls’ tea will be happening this weekend, won’t it? Perhaps Auntie Jo could talk Helen into making it up with Ruth.’
‘It’s an idea,’ agreed Daisy. ‘And as it happens I’ll be the one taking them over to Plas Gwyn, so I’ll try and get Jo alone for a minute and ask if she’ll have a word with Helen. She may be more open to the idea of making it up with Ruth if it isn’t coming from someone in authority. In the meantime, be on the alert, everyone, and squash any bad behaviour you see between them. We don’t want the staff getting involved if we can help it, the term’s only a week old!’
She took up her book again while the others turned back to their own affairs, resolving to keep a close watch on the two Third forms for the time being.
Tea At Plas Gwyn by Aquabird
Saturday morning was taken up in the usual manner: mending, prep and writing home letters first, followed by Guides. Helen was not a Guide, having never given a thought to it before despite there being an active branch in her parish in Birmingham. At the urging of the Gang, however, she agreed to sit in on their meeting and see it properly, and was surprised and impressed in spite of herself.
‘Do you think it’s worth my joining even though I’m only here for a couple of months?’ she asked them over lunch.
‘Of course,’ said Julie. ‘You said there’s a branch at home, so it’d be easy enough for whoever the Captain is to transfer you over to that when you leave, and you can carry on with it there. Do join, Helen, it’s wizard, and you learn so many useful things.’
‘I’ll ask Miss Wilson about it,’ said Helen, resolving to do exactly that at the first opportunity.
After lunch, they had the afternoon free to do as they liked. The party of new girls and their chosen companions were to depart at half past two, and Helen had asked Bride to accompany her.
‘You’ve been a brick doing nanny for me the past week or so,’ she said. ‘You’ll come, won’t you?’
‘Rather!’ agreed Bride delightedly. ‘It’ll be smash – er, magnificent,’ she caught herself up hastily, having already lost threepence to the fines box that week for slang, ‘to see Auntie Jo again.’
The party set off down the drive at half past two, escorted by Daisy who was equally pleased at the prospect of seeing Jo again. She had not forgotten her meeting with the other prefects, however, and she took the opportunity to fall into step with Bride and Helen. After making some general enquiries as to how Helen was settling in, she turned the conversation to hockey.
‘Peggy was singing your praises after seeing your play on Monday, Helen,’ she said. ‘You could be in with a chance at a place on the Second Eleven if you keep it up.’
‘Oh, is that how it works here?’ Helen asked in surprise. ‘I thought you’d have tryouts, and I’ve been checking the noticeboard each day to see if there were any notices about when they’d be.’
Daisy shook her head. ‘Peggy looks on at the games lessons and picks out the people she wants from there. We think it’s a better way of seeing people’s play than a formal tryout, where someone might have an off-day and muck it up when they’re usually brilliant. I’m glad to hear you’re so keen, though I suppose it’s a bit early yet for her to have seen much of your play. You haven’t had hockey more than once yet, have you?’
‘Only on Monday last week,’ confirmed Bride. ‘We had netball on Thursday.’
‘Well, I suppose after another couple of lessons Peggy will know whether she wants Helen for the Second Eleven,’ said Daisy. ‘There are one or two other good players in the Thirds that she may decide upon. Young Elfie, for instance, or Ruth Wilson in Lower III.’
Her suspicions were confirmed when the two Third formers scowled momentarily at the mention of Ruth. However, there was no time for more just then, as the bus which ran past the bottom of Plas Howell’s drive came along at that moment, and they hurried to climb in. Off they went through the village, and disembarked at the end of the long lane which led to Plas Gwyn.
Jo was waiting for them at the door, and she welcomed them in warmly.
‘Come in, come in! Toss your coats and berets down on the settle there. We’ve a nice fire waiting for you in the drawing room, just right for a cold day.’
She ushered them into the drawing room, where the triplets were playing with dolls and storybooks. They dropped them and came up to greet the new girls prettily, though Margot regarded Helen with thoughtful blue eyes.
‘We’ve met you before,’ she proclaimed. ‘At the party.’
‘So you did, pet, but Helen’s still a new girl, so naturally she’s come to the new girls’ tea,’ said Jo, seeing that Helen had no reply to Margot’s calm assurance. ‘Now, what shall we play before tea? Sardines? Hide and seek?’
After some argument, they decided upon Sardines, and had a riotous game. Tea followed, and then Jo went upstairs to see to Steve and Charles, and called each new girl up in turn to talk to them. Daisy had contrived to get her alone for a minute or two and explain the situation with the two Third forms, and she looked with interest at Helen as she came into the bathroom where she was bathing Charles.
‘Come in, Helen! Come and tell me how you’re getting on at school.’
‘All right,’ said Helen. ‘Bride and the others have been awfully good at showing me everything. It’s not bad, and I’m not really homesick as I thought I might be.’
‘I’m glad to hear it. As I told you before, I was the school’s first pupil, and I always like to give a warm welcome to new girls, and extend a helping hand if they need it. If you ever find yourself in a difficulty, just ask one of the Heads if you can come to me and I’ll do my best to help.’
‘All right,’ agreed Helen.
‘You haven’t had any problems so far?’ Jo pressed cautiously.
‘Not really,’ said Helen, who far too much of a schoolgirl to dream of ‘telling tales’ about the feud between herself and Ruth which had so divided the two Thirds. ‘The work’s all right, and Bride and the others have taken me in with them so I’m not on my own. It’s a nice school, and I’m doing fine.’
From that stance she refused to budge, and Jo was forced to admit to Daisy that resolving the feud was going to be more complicated than they had thought.
‘She’s not taking me into her confidence about it, for now, at any rate,’ she told her niece-by-marriage, as the others were getting into coats and hats. ‘I’m afraid it could end up going to the staff after all.’
Daisy looked gloomy. ‘What a bunch of little idiots they are! If they’d only say they’re sorry, that would be the end of it.’
‘But we don’t know who’s in the wrong, or if they both are,’ Jo pointed out. ‘And I doubt Bride would be backing Helen up if she was the one in the wrong, Daisy. She and all that crowd are very fair-minded. If they thought for a moment Helen was partly to blame for whatever they’ve quarrelled over, I’m sure they’d be encouraging her to make it up themselves.’
‘True,’ Daisy admitted. ‘And if it is Ruth Wilson who’s at the bottom of it – and I’m convinced from the faces they pulled when I mentioned her that it is – then it’s a sticky one, because Ruth can be a nasty little piece of work when she likes. The problem we’ve always had with her is that we’ve never been able to catch her in the act. We do know it goes on, mainly through snatches of chat that we’ve heard from her form mates, but we can’t haul her over the coals on mere hearsay, only if someone comes to us directly and reports her, which of course babes like that won’t do because they think it’s sneaking rather than reporting. I don’t think it’s even direct bullying like name-calling that she goes in for, it’s more…her manner in general, I suppose.’
Jo nodded. ‘I know what you mean. As you say, it’s the sort of thing that’s impossible to pull her up for without direct evidence, which you’ll almost certainly never get. I’d leave the Helen and Ruth aspect of it for now, Daisy, and focus on trying to get the two forms in general back on cordial terms before the staff have to step in.’
‘Yes, but how?’ Daisy asked helplessly.
‘What they need is something to get them working together,’ said Jo thoughtfully. ‘You know, something along the lines of that tiresome Mystic M gang who harassed the school the term it joined up with St Scholastika’s, remember? It was dealing with them that united us properly.’
‘It’s an idea,’ said Daisy, cheering up slightly. ‘I’ll talk it over with the others, Jo, and see what we can come up with.’
‘Right. Now you’d better scoot or you’ll miss the bus, and I’ll receive a lecture from the Head about keeping you too late.’
Daisy laughed and ran to shepherd her charges along the lane to catch the bus.
When they arrived back at school, Helen drew Bride to one side.
‘I think your Auntie Jo’s heard about us and Ruth,’ she said. ‘She kept asking if I’d settled in all right and whether I was having any problems. I didn’t split, of course, but from the way she kept on I think she was definitely driving at something, and what else could it be? I haven’t had any other trouble here so far.’
Bride frowned. ‘I expect Daisy’s noticed and said something to her. And I s’pose we have been pretty rude. We’re lucky the staff haven’t dropped on us yet, especially with asses like Primrose having rows at the tops of their voices. And I know poor Primula’s having a bad time of it from that beast Ruth and her gang. But that’s the whole point of the thing!’ she added, growing indignant once more. ‘Ruth thinks she can get away with bullying people, and we’re showing her she jolly well can’t!’
‘Are we, though?’ Helen pointed out. ‘Just ignoring her and arguing with her sheep followers isn’t teaching her a lesson, it’s just going to get us all into a row eventually.’
Bride acknowledged this with a nod.
‘We’d better put a stop to completely cutting the whole form, at least,’ she said. ‘We’ll think of some other way to deal with Ruth. Let’s go and tell the others.’
The result of this conversation was that Upper III – rather reluctantly, in some cases – began to relax their hostile attitude to the majority of Lower III. They were helped along by an impromptu gym tournament that had been hurriedly organised by the prefects for that evening at Joanna’s suggestion. Those enterprising young ladies had made sure to well and truly mix up the two Third forms when making up the teams, and after two hours of races and obstacle courses, the atmosphere had lightened considerably, and the prefects congratulated themselves on having resolved the issue relatively painlessly, as far as they were concerned.
An Evening At Hobbies by Aquabird
While the majority of Upper and Lower III relaxed their hostilities to each other and became on more or less friendly terms again, things remained tense between the Gang and Ruth and the four or five other girls who had remained loyal to her. Ruth, indeed, was beginning to feel rather ashamed of herself now, but she was far too proud to admit that she had been wrong to trip Helen up, and she was resentful of the fact that most of Lower III had thankfully dropped her cause as soon as Upper III had begun to make friendly overtures again. As Joanna had said, she led Lower III by intimidation rather than popularity, and most of them had only taken her side because they preferred an easier life – a view reinforced when they saw the treatment that had been subsequently meted out to Primula and the two or three others who had stood out against them.
Things might perhaps have blown over eventually, had it not been for the undeniable fact that Helen was an extremely good hockey player for her age. After two more hockey lessons in which she had excelled, Peggy had placed her and Elfie into the Second Eleven, which was made up primarily of girls from the two Fourth forms. It was considered a great feat for a Third former to make the list, and Upper III were full of glee that not one but two of their number had made it onto the roster. Helen herself was thrilled to the core, and wrote a delighted letter to her mother glorying in her achievement.
‘I’m actually on the team, not just a reserve as I was at the High!’ she wrote. ‘Of course, it’s a smaller school than the High so there’s less people to choose from, but even so, from what the others have said it’s not very common for a Third former to get in, so I’m awfully bucked about it. I’m to play left inner, and Elfie’s playing left wing as Peggy said we work really well together. Our first match is against St David’s in two weeks’ time. It’s going to be simply wizard!’
Seeing Helen’s name included in the list, in pride of place on the noticeboard in Hall, had roused all of Ruth’s resentment of the new girl once again. Why, she had never even been considered for a reserve spot, and now some half-baked new girl had turned up and made it onto the team proper after less than half a term!
‘It’s just favouritism!’ she complained bitterly to her select followers. ‘Just because she’s chummed up with Bride Bettany who’s Madame’s niece! She turns up here thinking she’s some sort of hockey goddess, and she’s not!’
‘Wait until they play their first match,’ said Mary Jackson consolingly. ‘She’ll be well and truly shown up then, with people like Joan Sandys playing too. She’s really good!’
Meanwhile, the school at large had been hard at work during the Hobbies evenings making items for the Sale at the end of term. Helen, being as unartistic as she was unmusical, had plumped for knitting as one of the few things she could do to contribute to the stalls. She exclaimed in wonder at Tom’s dolls’ house, which was a bigger affair than last year’s, taking the shape of a tall narrow townhouse.
‘It’s simply smashing, Tom,’ she said, admiring it from every angle. ‘Do you furnish it, too?’
‘Nella’s doing the furniture,’ replied Tom, getting out a tin of enamel. ‘And Primrose is doing the curtains and bedding.’
‘I wish I could do something to help,’ said Helen sorrowfully. ‘But I can’t sew or paint or fretwork at all.’
‘You’ll be bringing us laurels at hockey, no doubt,’ said Tom cheerfully. ‘And as long as you’re doing something for the Sale, well, that’s what counts.’
She settled down to begin her enamelling, and Helen, after pausing to admire Bride’s stuffed toys and Primrose’s needlework, took up the scarf she had decided upon for her first project. The room rang with chatter and laughter as they worked, and she thought to herself that it was all very jolly. Hitherto she had never given much thought to charity work outside of the usual church collection, but the atmosphere at the Chalet School was beginning to rub off on her, and she found herself wishing that the High School had something like a Sale, too.
‘I s’pose it would be difficult to make time for a Hobbies Club, though, since it’s a day school,’ she thought. ‘Still, it’s worth suggesting when I go back. We could raise money for that orphanage down the road, for instance.’
An anguished exclamation from Vanna Ozanne brought her back to earth with a start.
Tom, who had enamelled one side of the house and then turned it round to do the other side, looked at Vanna in astonishment. She was pointing at the side already done, and as Tom turned the house round to see for herself she gave a cry of dismay. It was drying in quickly, and was turning bright red!
Everyone crowded round to look and exclaim for themselves.
‘That wasn’t the effect you were going for, Tom, was it?’ Elfie asked tentatively.
‘No jolly fear!’ said Tom with emphasis. She looked at the tin of enamel with annoyance. ‘It was supposed to be a sort of light brown colour. I don’t understand why it’s come out red, and such a bright shade, too!’
‘It’s practically telephone box red,’ observed Helen.
‘Or pillar box red,’ added Bride. ‘What are you going to do, Tom? Can you paint over it with something darker?’
‘I don’t think I can get any more,’ said Tom gloomily. ‘Not in time for the Sale, anyway. I had enough of a job getting a hold of this stuff.’
‘Perhaps another coat will darken it?’ suggested Fiona.
‘It’s possible, but not likely,’ said Tom. ‘I’ll be doing another coat anyway, so we’ll see how it looks after that. But I think we’re stuck with this bright red. Blow!’
At that moment the door opened and some of the Seniors came in to inspect the work and lend their juniors a hand. They all stopped dead at the sight of the house, which was so bright that it caught the eye instantly, and stared at it with wide eyes and dropped jaws.
‘B-but it’s – it’s s-s-scarlet!’ stammered Jacynth Hardy at last.
‘Isn’t it just!’ exclaimed Beth, coming forward to examine it closely. ‘Tom, have you taken leave of your senses?’
‘No,’ said Tom sadly. ‘It looked brown when it was freshly painted, but it’s drying in much brighter, as you can see.’
‘Never mind,’ said Daisy soothingly, sensing how disappointed Tom really was. ‘It’s still a wonderful piece of work, Tom, and I’m sure whichever children end up playing with it won’t care that it’s bright red. If anything they’ll probably like it even more for it being so unusual.’
‘And maybe it’ll fade over time until it’s more like the red you see in some of the houses in the village,’ added Bride. ‘A sort of warm, worn red.’
With such consoling remarks as these, Tom gradually came round to the house’s fate. By the time the Seniors departed she had got out the tin of black paint she had planned for the roof, and was beginning on that.
‘We might as well go the whole hog and make it look like a proper pillar box,’ she remarked.
‘What about the name?’ Primrose asked. ‘It’ll need something startling to match it.’
Bride grinned. ‘I’d say Jacynth’s given it the perfect one. Sacarlet!’
The others shouted with laughter and agreed at once, and thus the house was named.
A hockey match had been arranged for the Second Eleven against St David’s for two days later. Helen was tremendously excited at the prospect of playing, though she awoke in a cold sweat more than once the night before, sure that she had overslept and missed it. She was too nervous to eat at breakfast the next morning, despite dire warnings from the Gang about what would happen if Matron saw her plate.
‘She’ll think you’re sickening for something and haul you off to the sick room for one of her disgusting doses,’ Nancy told her. ‘And you definitely wouldn’t be allowed to play in that case.’
‘Besides, you need to eat something,’ Bride said reasonably. ‘Otherwise you’ll end up fainting on the pitch, and how embarrassing would that be!’
Helen unwillingly spooned up her porridge and choked it down, though every mouthful was an effort. After Grace had been said, the girls streamed off to mending, prep and writing home letters, followed by a Guides meeting. Helen had been enrolled as a Guide the previous week, and had set to work at once on learning Morse code for her Signaller badge, reasoning to herself that it would be a most useful skill to know while the war was still ongoing. It must be said, however, that she learnt very little that morning, and by the time they were heading upstairs to change for lunch, she could not have said anything about what she had studied.
After lunch, she and Elfie went along to their Splashery to change into games kit while the rest poured out onto the pitch to find good seats for the match.
‘I don’t think I’ve ever been so nervous!’ Helen said to Elfie as she laced up her boots.
‘Me neither,’ agreed Elfie. ‘Oh, I do hope we’ll have a good showing! Think how Ruth and her gang would crow if we made an ass of ourselves!’
‘We won’t,’ said Helen grimly, forgetting her nerves at the mention of her nemesis. ‘I’m going to score a goal just to stick it to her!’
‘Mind you play for the team, though,’ Elfie warned her. ‘If you score a goal, all well and good, but don’t waste opportunities if someone else is better placed to take a shot than you happen to be.’
‘I know, I know.’
They met up with the rest of the team and walked out onto the pitch to cheers from the school. Then Miss Burn and Daisy led the St David’s team out to more cheers, and everyone gathered in the centre to hear Miss Burn’s remarks.
‘All right, girls, let’s have a good clean game,’ she said. ‘Good luck to all of you. Toss for sides!’
St David’s won the toss, and the girls took up their positions. Helen cast a glance round at the spectators. As none of the other sports teams were playing today, the whole school had turned out to watch, including the Staff. She spotted the Gang sitting in a solid block near the centre line, whooping and clapping. Ruth Wilson and her followers were sitting almost directly opposite them, and they pulled faces at Helen when they saw her looking in their direction. Grizel Cochrane, who was sitting nearby, happened to catch the full beauty of the grimaces and rebuked them sharply. Helen chuckled to herself as they looked mutinous, then turned her attention to the game as Miss Burn blew her whistle.
For some time the ball remained in the middle of the field while the girls of both teams passed and tackled, unable to get it nearer to the enemy goal, but at last Joan Sandys, playing centre forward, broke free of the scrum and streaked up the pitch with the ball. She passed to Helen as the defence closed in on her, and Helen did such a neat little manoeuvre around the St David’s girl who ran up to tackle her that the school applauded its admiration. She passed it back to Joan, who tapped it into the St David’s net to score the first goal of the game. The Gang whooped its delight at Helen as she passed them to take up her position again, and she grinned at them.
The two teams were so well matched that it was almost half-time before St David’s managed to score an equaliser, and although the Chalet School girls clapped politely, they exchanged anxious looks. This was the first time St David’s had ever really given either of their hockey teams much trouble, and while a draw was a respectable result, they had no wish to see their record blemished now if they managed another lucky goal.
‘And yet it’s not that our team is poor,’ Nancy observed to Bride, as the teams went off the pitch for half-time. ‘They’re as well up to standard as any of our past Second teams.’
Bride nodded. ‘It’s St David’s who’ve really upped their game this year. Daisy says they’ve always been a much more lacrosse-orientated school, which probably explains why we’ve never had much trouble from them before when it comes to hockey.’
Hilary Burn was making a similar observation to St David’s games mistress, who was none other than Elsie Carr, a former Old Girl of the Chalet School and a great favourite in her day. A torn tendon had left her leg somewhat weakened and forced her out of the Wrens three years before, and she had taken up her post at St David’s. She was delighted to see old acquaintances again, and after answering enquiries from various Staff members and older girls who remembered her from the Tyrol days, she turned to Miss Burn with a laugh.
‘We’re giving you a run for your money this time, aren’t we?’
‘Just a bit!’ agreed Miss Burn. ‘I don’t know what you’ve done with this year’s crop, Elsie, but they’re certainly a vast improvement on anything you’ve sent us before.’
‘It was a change of hands at the top, if you really must know,’ said Elsie. ‘Our old Head was so keen on lacrosse – she played for her county back in her salad days – that hockey was always an afterthought. Now that she’s retired and we’ve got someone a bit younger and less, er, biased in, I’ve been able to give hockey as much attention as lacrosse. Today is the result.’
‘We’re not having it all our own way this time, that’s certain.’
‘Well, your own team are very solid,’ said Elsie. ‘Joan Sandys is exceptional as always, of course, and that leggy young thing you’ve got playing left inner’s worth watching, the way she did that neat little twist around our Pam was an eye-opener.’
‘Yes, she’s a young prodigy all right,’ agreed Miss Burn. ‘Came to us just this term from a High School up in Birmingham, in fact. Unfortunately she’s not a permanent fixture; she’s only here while her mother’s in the San, so in all likelihood we’ll lose her again after this term. A great pity, but there it is. She’s future Games Captain material, from all I’ve seen.’
‘I should say so,’ agreed Elsie.
The second half began with renewed determination on both sides to break the deadlock and pull ahead. The tackling became more ferocious, and twice Miss Burn was forced to pull people up for too much force. Then a big, strapping girl on the St David’s team got the ball, and gave it such a powerful hit that it rocketed into the Chalet School goal before they could do more than gasp.
‘Oh no,’ groaned Bride to Nancy and Julie. ‘It looks like they’re going to clinch it, it’s nearly time. And just look at that beast Ruth!’
Ruth was looking extremely smug as the girls got ready for the bully-off. Helen and Elfie saw it, and exchanged grim looks.
‘We score now, or never,’ Helen hissed, and Elfie nodded.
The whistle went, and St David’s centre forward took the ball at once. Helen charged at her like a tank, causing her to panic and pass to her right inner. It was intercepted by Elfie, who sprinted up at the pitch with it. The defenders ran to tackle her, and she passed to Helen, who had shaken herself free of her opponent and raced up the pitch to join her. She took it the remaining few yards into the shooting circle unopposed.
‘Shoot! Shoot!’ howled Upper III, leaping up and down in agitation.
Helen did so, and what a shot it was! It whizzed over the ground so fast that the goalkeeper barely had time to see it coming, much less put out her stick to stop it, before it crossed the line and struck the back of the net.
‘He-len! He-len! He-len!’ chanted the school in delight, as that young woman leapt around like a frog with joy.
The full-time whistle went a minute or two later, and the two captains shook hands while the school cheered lustily.
‘What a match!’ said Elfie exultantly, when they were back in the Splashery changing into afternoon frocks. ‘And what a goal, Helen! You saved us from losing our first ever match against St David’s!’
‘It was a peach, but you deserve half the credit for setting it up for me the way you did,’ Helen said generously. ‘Because you were keeping the defence busy, I had a clear shot. I probably wouldn’t’ve got it otherwise.’ Then human nature got the better of her. ‘But did you see Ruth’s face when I scored? It was the icing on the cake!’
‘Priceless!’ agreed Elfie. ‘Perhaps now she’ll shut up and accept that you are the best hockey player in either Third form. There, I’m ready. Let’s head in to tea, I’m famished!’
A good tea was awaiting them in the dining room, then they waved farewell to the St David’s team and streamed off to their various evening ploys. Helen and Elfie were the heroines of the hour in the Junior common room, congratulated and thumped on the back by everyone except Ruth, who sat in a corner still wrestling with that most bitter of emotions; jealousy.
Half-Term Begins by Aquabird
It was now the end of February, and the half-term weekend arrived almost before Helen realised it. After a farcical attempt at lessons on the Friday morning, they had lunch, and then separated for the weekend. Helen waved excitedly when she saw Frank’s car drawing up at the front door, and almost fell down the steps as she leapt forward to greet him and Phoebe.
‘Steady there,’ he said with a chuckle, catching her. ‘Good Lord, you’re taller than me now! How embarrassing!’
‘I think you must have grown a good inch or so since we last saw you,’ said Phoebe laughingly, as Helen bestowed a hug upon her. ‘Your mother won’t know you when she sees you!’
‘How is she?’ Helen asked eagerly. ‘Have you seen her recently?’
‘Yes, I’ve been going to visit her twice a week. She’s doing splendidly.’
‘You can see for yourself, we thought we’d take you straight up to see her,’ added Frank.
‘You will? Oh, how absolutely smashing!’ said Helen in delight, and he laughed.
‘They obviously haven’t cured you of the slang yet, I see. Well, hop in. We ought to be nicely in time for the visiting hour.’
‘Is the treatment working?’ Helen asked, scrambling into the back seat.
‘And how! She won’t know you, and you won’t know her! There’s still a good five or six weeks to go yet, of course, but yes, she’s turning out a treat, if I say so myself.’
‘Wizard! I can’t wait to tell her about the hockey match, and Tom’s dolls’ house for the Sale!’
‘Oh, is there going to be another one?’ Phoebe asked with interest. ‘I remember there was a splendid one last year, I couldn’t believe it had really been made by one of the girls, and one so young, too! It looked professional. And the one who made it – Tom, did you say? – looked exactly like a boy!’
‘She does,’ said Helen. ‘She’s more like a boy than a girl, really. She walks and talks and sits like a boy, and if someone’s a sport she calls them a gentleman. But she’s a real gentleman herself, and she’s absolutely wizard at carpentry…’
She chattered on without stopping all the way to the San, and Frank and Phoebe exchanged secret grins at her enthusiasm.
When they reached Mrs Langley’s room, Helen hurried inside eagerly, then stared with incredulous eyes. Her mother was sitting by the window with a book, but what a difference to how she had looked six weeks ago! Gone was the fragile air and pallid skin, and when she stood up to greet them it was clear that there had been a significant improvement to her knee pain.
‘Mummy!’ Helen leapt forward like a deer and flung her arms around her joyfully. ‘You look miles better!’
‘I feel it,’ said Mrs Langley, returning the hug before holding Helen away from her so that she could look her up and down. ‘Let me look at you, child. Good heavens, what a length you are now! And I must say that brown and flame uniform looks very nice.’
‘Yes, it’s awfully swish,’ agreed Helen, turning round to allow her to view the uniform from every angle. ‘But it’s lucky Mrs Peters made my tunics with some extra length on them, ‘cos I’ve practically grown into them already.’
‘You’re just that age, I think,’ said Phoebe with a smile. ‘Hopefully they’ll ease up on the clothes rationing before you grow any bigger and need another whole new outfit!’
‘I’m not as tall as Bride or Tom, though,’ said Helen. ‘Bride says that only Daisy’s things can fit her now, and Daisy’s nearly eighteen!’
‘Ah, Bride’s one of your friends, isn’t she?’ said Mrs Langley indulgently. ‘I was so glad to know you aren’t going about on your own.’
‘Oh no, as soon as I got there Miss Annersley sent for Bride to sheepdog me,’ said Helen easily. ‘They do that for all new girls – get an old one to show them around, I mean. It’s a good way of getting to know people, and it makes you feel less of an idiot having someone specific to ask questions, rather than having to go up to random people and ask. Bride’s a sport, and so are all her friends, they took me right in and I never felt like the odd one out at all. And Mummy, guess what? I played in a hockey match last weekend, and I scored the last goal to make it a draw! Isn’t that smashing? We’d have lost our first ever match against that school if I hadn’t!’
Frank and Phoebe made a discreet exit to allow them some time alone, and went along to Frank’s office to await the end of the visiting hour.
‘Mrs Langley’s still clingy, isn’t she?’ Frank observed, sitting down in his chair, leaning back and planting his feet most reprehensibly on his desk. ‘I don’t think she’ll ever be quite satisfied that Helen’s managing just fine at boarding school.’
‘I’m not surprised she’s clingy,’ Phoebe said, sitting down herself in a much more dignified manner. ‘She’s told me a good deal about herself since I started visiting her, and I feel awfully sorry for her. Helen is all she has now; her husband was in the Navy, and died two years ago when his ship was torpedoed somewhere off the coast of Africa. Helen apparently remembers almost nothing about him; she was only six when they last saw each other. She herself was evacuated at the beginning of the war, but was so miserable that she was eventually returned home. That’s why Mrs Langley was so reluctant to let her go to boarding school.’
‘Good thing she saw sense about that eventually,’ said Frank. ‘And I have to say she’s a perfectly pleasant patient when she isn’t fussing about how Helen’s getting on. I can understand her point of view better now, though. At least it’s only for a month or two. They’ll be back home and getting back to normal soon enough.’
‘I’m glad Helen seems to have settled in well at school,’ said Phoebe. ‘Bride’s a thoroughly nice girl, and so are her friends – those I’ve met, anyway, I understand she’s part of quite a large group – and I’m sure they’ve seen to it that Helen wasn’t too lost.’
‘Oh, most kids have some sort of survival instinct to keep them afloat when we throw them into the deep end known as boarding school,’ said Frank, thinking back to his own first traumatic weeks at Mandersworth Park at the tender age of eight.
‘Well, it’s not something we shall have to worry ourselves over,’ Phoebe said with a sigh.
Helen came looking for them at the end of the visiting hour, looking rather perplexed.
‘A man came in to see Mummy while I was there, and she introduced us,’ she informed them. ‘She said he’s a new friend. His name is Captain Hargreaves.’
‘Captain Hargreaves?’ Phoebe sat up in astonishment.
‘Yes,’ said Helen. ‘Do you know him?’
‘If he’s the same person I’m thinking of…’ She looked at Frank enquiringly.
‘It will be,’ he replied. He mouthed ‘Later’ at her, and she nodded.
‘So how do you know him?’ Helen asked curiously, not seeing this little by-play.
‘He and I were patients here at the same time, the summer before last,’ replied Phoebe. ‘He was just along the corridor from me.’
Frank opened his mouth to elaborate upon the tale of their acquaintance, a gleam of mischief in his eye, but Phoebe gave him such a fierce frown that he thought better of it.
‘He’s a very nice man,’ she continued, turning back to Helen. ‘He was a guest at our wedding, in fact. I’m sure he’ll be good company for your mother if he’s coming to visit her, they must be about the same age, and probably have some things in common.’
‘He seemed all right,’ Helen agreed cautiously. ‘I’m not really sure if I liked him or not.’
‘Well, give him a chance, you’ve only just met him!’ said Frank. ‘Anyway, have you said your goodbyes to your mother? Then let’s get back for tea.’
When they arrived at Ty-Gwyn, Helen went upstairs to unpack her overnight case and change for tea, and Phoebe pulled Frank into the study and shut the door behind them.
‘Well?’ she demanded eagerly.
‘I don’t know what you’re getting so excited about,’ he said. ‘He came up to see me a week or two ago for a routine appointment, and happened across me as I was drilling Mrs Langley in walking up and down the corridor. Nurse Wilkins arrived on the scene at the same moment with news of another crisis demanding my attention elsewhere, so Hargreaves gallantly offered to escort Mrs Langley back to her room. Presumably they got talking, and he liked her enough to come back and visit her properly. The fact that she’s quite good-looking probably helps, knowing him.’
‘Probably,’ agreed Phoebe. ‘He liked women, I know. He was always talking about the pretty nurses.’
‘Well, who knows what will come of it, if anything. But mind you don’t say anything about it either to Mrs Langley or Helen, or anyone else for that matter.’
‘Of course I won’t,’ said Phoebe. ‘But how nice it would be if something did come of it!’
‘If it does, I think I should hint to Jem that the San could earn a tidy profit on the side running a matchmaking service,’ said Frank, surveying his wedding ring with satisfaction.
Helen Seeks Advice by Aquabird
That evening after supper, Phoebe went next door to help Frieda put Louis and Gerard to bed. A small brother or sister was due for the two boys in four weeks’ time, and Frieda had been relying heavily on Phoebe and Debby’s help for the past two or three months in dealing with them on top of her own needs. She gratefully welcomed Phoebe when that lady arrived to march Louis upstairs and see him into bed while she herself saw to Gerard.
Meanwhile, Helen took the opportunity to seek some advice. Seeing Frank retire to the study, she gave him a minute or two to settle down, then peeped around the door.
‘Dr Peters?’ she asked tentatively.
‘Hello,’ he replied, looking up from the medical journal he was leafing through.
‘Do you mind if I ask your advice about something?’
‘Of course you can,’ said Frank in surprise. ‘Is it about your mother?’
‘No, it’s about something that’s going on at school.’
Frank raised his eyebrows, but gestured to the window seat beside the desk. ‘I can’t say I’m much of an authority on the workings of girls’ schools, but I’ll do my best. Take a pew and tell me about it.’
Helen curled up on the window seat and pondered how best to begin. Frank lit up a cigarette and waited patiently, wondering what was coming. Unless it was some problem with her schoolwork that he could explain, he didn’t feel at all sure he could help, and he wondered why she had come to him about it instead of Phoebe or Madge or Jo.
‘It’s about hockey,’ Helen said at last. ‘You see, the very first games lesson we had was hockey, and the girl playing my opposite for the match seemed to take a real dislike to me right from the start. She pulled a face as soon as she saw me, and when the match started we banged heads when we both went for the ball at the same time and she claimed I’d done it on purpose, and at the very end of the match she deliberately hooked my ankle with her stick and tripped me up.’
‘She sounds delightful,’ Frank said, and Helen laughed in spite of herself.
‘Anyway, I didn’t know what her problem was with me, but I was prepared to let it go. She’s not in my form, so I didn’t think I’d have anything much more to do with her and didn’t see the point in making a fuss. But you see, Bride and all her crew have been awfully decent to me right from when I first arrived, and Elfie had seen what Ruth had done, so she bearded her about it in the Splashery after the match.’
She went on to explain about the Third-wide feud, its resolution and the continuing enmity between the Gang and Ruth’s gang, and Frank chuckled to himself inwardly.
‘What it is to be twelve and feel like the world’s ending because you’ve fallen out with someone!’ he thought. Then, seeing that Helen was waiting for a response from him, he said aloud;
‘I don’t know that there’s much I can give you in the way of advice. I’m afraid there’s no such thing as universal popularity; there’s always going to be someone in life who doesn’t like you for whatever reason, and quite often there’s nothing you can do about it. You’ve at least ended the whole form feud which I quite agree was silly and would have ended up with you all getting yourselves into trouble with the staff. As for this girl Ruth, have you tried having it out with her?’
‘Well, I sort of did when we first rowed in the Splashery,’ said Helen. ‘She denied she’d done anything wrong.’
‘And you all started a feud over it. Well, if she refuses to admit that she tripped you up and is basically jealous of your hockey skills, which is what it sounds like, then there’s not much you can do about it, the onus is on her to change her attitude. Just keep your dealings with her to a minimum. After all, you’ve only another few weeks there, and then you’ll probably never see her again anyway, and if she’s not in your form it shouldn’t be that difficult to avoid her.’
‘It’s what I’d like to do,’ agreed Helen, ‘but you see, it seems I’m not the first person she’s taken a dislike to. Apparently it’s something she’s known for; Primula says the reason most of Lower III sided with Ruth instead of us in the feud is because they knew she’d take it out on them if they didn’t. And she was right, because she was one of the ones who did stand out against Ruth, and she was awfully nasty to her in return. I know, I overheard them. So Bride and the others are set on teaching her that she can’t get away with that sort of thing any more.’
‘That is not something you girls can teach someone,’ Frank said firmly. ‘Look what happened when you did try to take the law into your own hands; two whole forms got involved and a silly feud started that solved nothing and could have ended in you all getting into deep trouble. If this girl is actually intimidating people into following her by being nasty to them, then she needs to be reported and properly dealt with by the staff.’
‘But what’s the difference between reporting and sneaking?’ Helen asked.
‘Sneaking is for silly things, like telling a mistress if someone’s playing about in class, or left their desk untidy or something,’ Frank answered. ‘Reporting should be for really nasty malicious behaviour; name-calling, or threats, or hiding someone’s things, or generally making life miserable for someone in some way. All of those are forms of bullying, and need to be reported to someone in authority. If you or Primula or whoever else come across this Ruth girl doing anything like that to people, or if she does it to you, report it to Miss Annersley straight away. Don’t ignore it, or try and deal with it yourselves, because it’s very likely you’ll only make things worse.’
‘All right,’ said Helen cautiously. ‘I’ll bear that in mind.’
‘Good. Be sure to tell Bride and your other friends, too. She mustn't be allowed to get away with bullying people, as sooner or later it will be sure to blow up into something extremely serious.’
‘I will,’ said Helen, getting up. ‘Thanks, Dr Peters. I’m glad to have talked it over with someone who isn’t involved.’
‘Why did you come to me for advice instead of Phoebe, or Jo Maynard?’ he asked curiously. ‘They’re not involved, either.’
‘No, but they know everybody at the school, Lady Russell and the Heads and all that,’ Helen replied. ‘It’d be too much like telling the staff about it. And anyway, you’re a gentleman. Mummy says you always get the best advice from proper gentlemen.’
She went out, leaving Frank feeling both flattered and highly amused.
Frieda Creates A Sensation by Aquabird
The next day, Helen was thrilled to be told that Meg Jones was coming to Ty-Gwyn that afternoon with some items for Debby, and would ride over on one of the farm’s horses so that she could give Helen the riding lesson she had promised her during the Christmas holidays.
‘How smashing!’ Helen proclaimed.
‘I’ve learnt more slang since she came to stay with us than I did throughout my entire girlhood!’ Phoebe observed to Frank in an aside. He chuckled.
‘The fruits of having a governess educating you instead of a school?’ he said.
‘I’m afraid so,’ said Phoebe ruefully. ‘I missed out on all the fun in life.’
Meg duly arrived after lunch, riding a handsome horse that was pure black all over, save for a little white star on his forehead.
‘Oh, it’s Black Beauty!’ squealed Helen, rushing out into the meadow to pat him.
‘His name’s Lightning, he’s one of a pair that we use on the farm for pulling the carts,’ Meg explained. ‘His partner’s called Thunder, he’s at the farrier’s today, so I thought I’d bring Lightning over. He’s a placid old thing despite the name, so he’s a good choice for a novice rider.’
‘He’s beautiful,’ sighed Helen, stroking Lightning’s long thick mane.
‘He’s not bad,’ agreed Meg, giving him an affectionate clap on the flank. ‘Here, hold him a minute while I give Debby this parcel.’
Helen eagerly took the bridle as Meg went up to the house with the parcel. Cartref’s back door opened then, and Louis and Gerard dashed out to run down the garden and gawp over the gate at Lightning, followed more sedately by Frieda.
‘Das pferd, Mamma, das pferd!’ said Gerard excitedly, pointing.
‘Indeed, liebchen,’ smiled Frieda. ‘How are you, Helen? I hear you are to have a riding lesson today with Miss Jones.’
‘Yes, I’ve been looking forward to it for ages,’ said Helen eagerly.
‘I want to see!’ said Louis, sticking out his lip.
‘You may stay and watch if you promise to sit still and not to shout,’ said Frieda firmly. ‘You may startle the horse, and cause an accident.’
‘I promise!’ said Louis and Gerard together, looking not unlike a pair of cherubs as they gazed up at her solemnly with wide blue eyes. Frieda laughed.
‘Very well, then. You may both sit on that large rock outside the gate. You will be able to see everything from there, and it will shelter you from the wind.’
As Louis and Gerard settled themselves on the rock, Meg returned, accompanied by Phoebe and Debby. After Lightning had been patted and stroked to everyone’s hearts’ content, Meg steered Helen over to his left side and boosted her up onto his back.
‘Ohhh, I’m so high up!’ said Helen nervously, looking round from her vantage point. ‘He’s a lot bigger than the little pony I rode at the farm that time.’
‘Don’t panic, it’s the worst thing you can do,’ said Meg briskly, slotting her feet into the stirrups. ‘Take a minute to get used to it, then I’ll lead him up and down a bit…’
Frieda, Phoebe and Debby stood looking on with smiles, though Phoebe glanced at Frieda’s pale face with concern.
‘Did you not sleep well last night, Frieda?’ she asked in an undertone.
‘Not really,’ Frieda admitted. ‘I couldn’t settle. And then the boys had me up at seven as usual.’
‘Has the baby settled down now?’ Phoebe asked.
‘Then do go back to bed! You look as bad as I used to when I was ill, and that was never a pretty sight. Debby and I will keep an eye on the boys until suppertime, so you can have a good five or six hours. When do you go to Gisela’s?’
‘On Monday,’ replied Frieda. ‘Would you really take the boys for a few hours, Phoebe?’
‘Of course,’ said Phoebe obligingly. ‘We’ll see that they get their tea and keep out of mischief. And they’ll sleep tonight, I’m sure, with this excitement.’
‘I do hope so,’ said Frieda. ‘They’ve been very good on the whole, but I tire so eas – ’
She broke off and doubled over with a sharp cry, clutching herself.
‘Frieda!’ cried Phoebe in alarm, but Debby shushed her hastily.
‘Don’t frighten the bairns,’ she said in an undertone, nodding to Louis and Gerard, who, engrossed in watching the riding lesson, had not noticed what was going on behind them. Phoebe controlled herself, nodded, and went to Frieda’s side.
‘Is it the baby, Frieda?’ she asked in a low voice. ‘Is it coming?’
Frieda nodded wordlessly, still doubled over, and Debby went to her other side and put a strong supporting arm around her.
‘We’ve got to get her to bed straightaway,’ she said urgently to Phoebe. ‘If we can get her upstairs, that is.’
‘Let’s get her into the house first,’ said Phoebe, slinging an arm around Frieda herself, even though she knew she was too lacking in strength to be of any actual support. Between them they walked Frieda carefully up the garden to the house. Phoebe glanced anxiously over her shoulder to make sure Louis and Gerard were still oblivious to what was going on, and caught Meg’s eye. Meg took in the situation at a glance and raised her eyebrows, and Phoebe nodded pointedly at the two boys. Meg nodded in her turn and called them over to show them something to do with Lightning’s tack, well away from the garden gate. Phoebe sighed with relief, and they contrived to get Frieda into the house without suspicion.
‘Can we get her up the stairs?’ she wondered, looking at them doubtfully.
‘I can manage it,’ Frieda gasped for herself.
‘Then I’ll ring up Dr Prosser,’ said Phoebe, going to the telephone. ‘I hope to goodness he’s in!’
Debby was also hoping this. She looked very grim as she half-supported, half-carried Frieda up the stairs and into her bedroom, for she was worldly enough to know what dangers an early labour posed, and Frieda was certainly a good four weeks before her time.
‘Thank you, Debby,’ panted Frieda, sinking back thankfully on her bed. ‘How quickly it seems to be progressing this time! But the boys! What about my boys?’
‘Meg’s handling it, don’t worry, Frieda,’ said Phoebe, coming into the room. ‘She’ll keep them busy with the horse. And Dr Prosser’s on his way. He was in, mercifully.’
She and Debby helped Frieda to undress and get into bed properly, by which point Dr Prosser was ringing the doorbell. Debby hastened to answer it.
‘You’ll be all right now, Frieda,’ Phoebe said, squeezing her friend’s hand. ‘Don’t worry about anything but yourself and the baby.’
‘You’ve been very good to me, Phoebe,’ said Frieda gratefully. ‘You and Debby.’
‘I’m just glad I’m finally in a position to be of help to someone,’ answered Phoebe. ‘Now here comes Debby with the doctor.’
She rose to go as Dr Prosser came in, but Frieda clutched at her hand.
‘Stay with me, Phoebe,’ she pleaded. ‘You’ve seen this before, haven’t you?’
‘Yes, once,’ said Phoebe, resuming her seat by the bed. ‘I hope this goes as smoothly as that one did.’
Frank arrived home at teatime, feeling pleased that he had contrived to get away from the San early for once, and looking forward to a quiet evening at home. When he walked into Ty-Gwyn’s sitting room, however, he found not only Phoebe and Helen there having tea, but also Meg, Louis and Gerard.
‘Are we having a party?’ he enquired, sitting down and accepting the cup of tea Phoebe passed to him.
‘You could say that,’ she said. ‘What are you doing home so early?’
‘Of all the welcomes!’ he said, offended. ‘I slogged like anything today to be able to leave a bit earlier than usual, and all I get is ‘What are you doing home so early?’!’
‘Well, I was beginning to forget what you look like, you’re up there so often now,’ said Phoebe. ‘Having you home in time for supper, never mind tea, is a rare occurrence. Sandwich?’
‘Thanks.’ He took one and practically swallowed it whole. ‘So what’s all this in aid of? And why is there a gigantic black horse tethered next to the Anderson shelter out in the garden?’
‘That’s Lightning,’ said Helen. ‘He’s Meg’s. We didn’t know where else to put him while we had tea.’
‘He can’t reach your precious flowerbeds, don’t worry,’ added Phoebe.
Frank glanced at her. Despite the idle chatter he could hear a slight wobble in her voice, and on closer inspection he noted that she was pale and had been shedding tears at some point. He wondered what on earth had happened.
Tea over, he followed Phoebe out to the kitchen with some dishes and closed the door firmly behind them.
‘What’s going on?’ he demanded. ‘Why have you been crying?’
‘Oh dear, is it that obvious?’ Phoebe gave a cursory scrub at her face with her handkerchief, then looked back up at him.
‘It’s Frieda,’ she said abruptly. ‘She’s had her baby, a little girl. She was born about two hours ago.’
Frank’s mind immediately leapt to the most obvious conclusion. ‘She’s had it already? But it wasn’t due for another month or so, wasn’t it? It wasn’t…?’
Phoebe shook her head. ‘They’re both all right – for now.’
‘For now?’ he repeated, and Phoebe nodded, her lips trembling.
‘Oh Frank, it was an awful birth. Frieda was almost hysterical with the pain, I’ve never seen anything like it. Dr Prosser said the baby hadn’t turned or something, it was so frightening. I could tell by his face at one point that he was afraid they were both going to…to…’
‘So you were there?’ Frank demanded, and she nodded.
‘The pains started while she was standing with Debby and I in the garden watching Meg showing Helen how to ride. We managed to get her into the house and up to bed, and we stayed with her when the doctor came. We saw it all. Debby was splendid, she helped him no end and seemed to know all about it – far more than I did. But I was so scared, Frank. Frieda had asked me to stay and support her, so I had to be strong for her, but when it was all over and I saw how tiny and frail the baby was, I had to excuse myself and let myself go. Dr Prosser said she’ll have to be carefully monitored for the next few weeks, I think he’s really worried about whether she’ll…survive. He said she came too early.’
‘Well, we must take these things one step at a time,’ said Frank, putting his arms around her. She leaned against him thankfully. ‘She survived the birth, and that’s a major point in her favour. And Prosser knows his business as well as any doctor I’ve met, he’ll do everything humanely possible to make sure she gets the best start in life, and that Frieda gets back on her feet quickly. I take it she’s asleep now?’
Phoebe nodded again. ‘Debby’s sitting with her for now, and I said I’d see to everything else. I’ve rung up Gisela, and she said she’ll get Gottfried to come and pick the boys up as soon as he can get away from the San. It was so lucky they were too busy watching the riding lesson to notice Debby and I practically carrying Frieda up to the house, I dread to think how it would have complicated things if they’d seen us and made a fuss. Meg was a great help, she saw us and guessed what was going on, and she kept them occupied with the horse until it was over. Now we’re just trying to stop them asking any awkward questions before Gottfried comes.’
‘That’s the best plan,’ Frank agreed. ‘Keep Meg with you until he does arrive, she’ll help you keep them under control. I’ll go next door and see how Frieda is, and give Debby a chance to have some tea. And cheer up, darling. If Frieda and the baby survived what sounds like an extremely difficult birth, then there’s certainly hope that they’ll both pull through all right.’
He went out, leaving Phoebe to square her shoulders and return to her charges.
Daisy Pronounces by Aquabird
Everyone rallied around Frieda in the aftermath of the harrowing events of the weekend. Gottfried, arriving in great haste that evening, reassured himself that his sister was going on as well as could be expected, and swept his two young nephews off to his and Gisela’s home on the other side of the mountains. The following morning, Simone gave Tessa over to the tender mercies of Jo and Anna at Plas Gwyn, and arrived at Cartref with a suitcase, announcing her intention of staying to look after Frieda and the baby herself until they too could be removed to Gottfried and Gisela’s home. Phoebe relieved her whenever she could, and Debby insisted on cooking for them using extra supplies brought over daily by Meg, who had become quite as interested in the whole affair as any of them. Madge and Jo sent what baby linen and other paraphernalia they could spare, there was also the inevitable stream of enquiries, small gifts and well-wishes sent by the villagers at large, and Frieda felt quite overcome.
‘I had no idea I had so many friends and well-wishers,’ she observed to Simone and Phoebe five days later. She was sitting up in bed and looking more like herself now, but it was clear that it would be some time before she had fully recovered her strength.
‘Of course you do,’ said Simone calmly. ‘You don’t think we would leave you to deal with all of this on your own, do you? We’ll take care of you until you’re fit enough to go to Gisela’s. Has Dr Prosser said anything further about when he thinks you can go?’
‘He thinks perhaps I might go next week,’ replied Frieda. ‘He says I can be moved now if I need to be, and he is more satisfied with Gretchen, but he doesn’t want me to go until he has made quite certain that she is gaining in strength as she ought.’
‘I think she’s definitely a little stronger than she was when she was first born,’ said Phoebe decisively, bending to look at the tiny fair head nuzzled against Frieda. ‘How fair she is! She’ll be another one in your image, Frieda.’
‘Yes, I’m rather sorry that none of them have taken after Bruno in looks,’ said Frieda with a smile. ‘He is so dark, and I so fair, that one would think there would have been some variety between the three, but no. He will be so pleased to hear that it’s a girl, though. He did want a daughter after two sons.’
Meanwhile, Helen had returned to school for the second half of the term feeling refreshed for the break, and had found herself the subject of great envy at having been afforded a peep at Frieda’s new baby before anyone else. She rather enjoyed the attention at first, but soon tired of it and turned her thoughts to more important – in her view – matters; namely, the return hockey match against St David’s which was to take place in two weeks’ time. She and Elfie practised passing and tackling in every spare moment they were allowed, while the Gang and several other spectators from the Thirds watched with interest, hoping to pick up tips.
‘How’d you manage to keep such control of the ball, Helen?’ Nancy called at one such practice session. ‘You never seem to let it roll out of your reach when you’re dribbling it.’
‘Well, a lot of it has to do with the grip you have on your stick,’ Helen explained. She came over to the group, and they crowded round to look as she gave them a lucid explanation and demonstration. Miss Burn, catching sight of them through the window of the large storeroom which held the games equipment, was pleased to see so many people taking such an interest. Daisy, Beth and Gwensi, together as usual, were strolling past the edge of the hockey pitch and also looked their approval.
‘Pity she’s only staying for another few weeks,’ Gwensi remarked. ‘She’s a jolly fine player for her age, and not at all conceited about it – on the contrary, she seems only too keen to help the rest improve. She’d make a fine Games pree later on.’
‘I’m glad we managed to sort out that business with her and Ruth,’ said Beth. ‘At least, I haven’t seen any evidence of further problems between them since that gym tournament, have either of you?’
‘Well, the two forms are no longer feuding, but I’m by no means convinced that Helen and Ruth themselves – and their respective gangs – have called off their animosity to each other,’ said Daisy slowly. ‘I think there’s still some bad blood between them from what I’ve seen, though it doesn’t seem to have come to much more than dirty looks whenever they meet.’
‘Speak of the devil, there’s Ruth and her gang coming now,’ said Gwensi, spotting the said damsels coming out of a side door. ‘Let’s watch and see if they say anything to Helen.’
The three prefects hid around a corner of the main building of Plas Howell and peeped around it at the hockey pitch. Helen and Elfie were now demonstrating some passing techniques to their rapt audience, and the Triumvirate noticed Ruth making a remark to her followers with a most unpleasant look on her face, before they moved in a body towards the impromptu hockey lesson.
‘Oh dear,’ murmured Beth.
‘Hm,’ said Daisy, a frown crossing her face.
Ruth and her gang stopped near to where Helen and Elfie were standing. The Triumvirate were much too far away to hear what was said, of course, but they saw Helen swing her hockey stick up onto her shoulder in a challenging gesture as she answered them back. Elfie, too, looked very defensive, while Bride said something to back Helen up and the rest of the Gang bristled up indignantly.
‘Well, at least we know who started this altercation,’ observed Daisy. ‘I’ve had a feeling ever since I talked it over with Jo that Ruth was behind it all, but as I said then, it’s just so hard to catch her in the act of doing anything really wrong.’
‘I think we ought to make a proper effort to try, though,’ Gwensi said decisively. ‘Helen and Bride and the others may be perfectly capable of standing up to her – young Helen looks ready to decapitate Ruth, the way she’s swinging that stick about! – but there could be others in the future who aren’t, and she could end up making life very miserable for some poor shy kid who hasn’t the gumption to stand up to her. I think we ought to try and stamp down on this kind of behaviour once and for all, before she gets any further up the school. I dread to think of her doing this sort of thing as a Middle or Senior to young Juniors.’
‘You’re right,’ said Daisy grimly. ‘We’ll put the word out to the others that we’re to keep a close but subtle eye on her, and see if we can’t get some sort of solid evidence we can tackle her on. And if we do, she’ll be a sorry little wretch by the time we’re done with her!’
Ruth Goes Too Far by Aquabird
As the return match against St David’s loomed, the prefects, led by the Triumvirate, were keeping as close a watch as they could on Helen and Ruth, particularly the latter, much to her annoyance. She was finding it much more difficult now to make any sneering comments to such members of the Gang as she encountered without a prefect being in earshot. Furthermore, even her loyal followers had started to lose interest in the vendetta since Helen’s spectacular performance at the first hockey match against St David’s, and were only participating half-heartedly. All of this only served to fuel Ruth’s resentment even further.
Helen, meanwhile, had told the Gang about Frank’s advice regarding their nemesis, and they had looked at each other doubtfully.
‘I know he’s right about the sneaking and reporting thing, but…it’s just so difficult to go to a mistress and say someone’s bullying you,’ Nancy said. ‘It still feels like telling tales, even when deep down you know it isn’t.’
‘And besides, what would we tell them?’ Bride said gloomily. ‘Uncle Frank said things like name-calling, but she doesn’t call us names, really. She’s just so…well, generally unpleasant. We can hardly go to the Abbess and say Ruth looked at us nastily in the corridor, can we?’
‘It’s a pity Peggy didn’t see her trip me up that first day,’ Helen said with a sigh. ‘She’d have told her off good and proper then and there, and she’d probably have dropped it.’
‘I doubt it,’ said Julie. ‘When she gets her knife into someone, she doesn’t pull it out again easily.’
‘She’s a silly young ass,’ said Tom brusquely. ‘Why make such a fuss about Helen being a better hockey player, when Helen’s only here for a term? She’ll probably get her precious spot on the hockey team when Helen leaves anyway.’
‘She doesn’t deserve it after the way she’s behaved!’ said Primrose viciously. ‘Look how smug she was when it looked as though we were going to lose the match, just before Helen scored. She’s not a team player at all!’
‘I certainly shouldn’t want to play alongside her!’ agreed Elfie.
‘You’ll be next on her vendetta list, Elf,’ said Bride, half-laughing, half-serious. ‘There’s not much to choose between you and Helen, and you’re both miles better than Ruth. When Helen leaves, she’ll probably switch over to you.’
‘Humph, let her try!’ snorted Elfie.
The day of the match dawned at last, and the Second Eleven departed for St David’s in a hail of waves and shouts of good luck. That done, Bride and Primula had gone to seek out Daisy, whose birthday it was, to give her their presents and cards.
‘Do you think they’ll win?’ Primula asked of Bride as they walked down a corridor in the direction of the prefects’ room.
‘Of course they won’t,’ sneered an all-too-familiar voice, and they turned to see Ruth, alone for once, standing behind them. ‘That drip of a new girl may have got lucky once, but she’s nowhere near as good as she thinks she is!’
‘You seem jolly sure of yourself for someone who isn’t even good enough to make the team after three years here, unlike Helen who managed it in less than half a term!’ retorted Bride, and Ruth flushed furiously at being hit straight on her sorest point. ‘Who do you think you are passing judgement like that, the Games pree? You just don’t like that a new girl showed you up as the second-rate hockey player you are, and you’ve really shown your true colours this term, haven’t you? You’ve never been a particularly pleasant person, but you’ve been a proper little bully this term, especially to Helen and Primula.’
‘Oh, Prissy Prim who can’t say boo to a goose!’ mocked Ruth, sending a contemptuous look at Primula, whose fair face flushed angrily. ‘Can’t go outside without catching cold and having to go running to Matron! Can’t play hockey herself because she’s too much of a baby! Can’t – ’
She broke off as a hand fell on her shoulder, and to her utter dismay she found herself looking up into the grim face of none other than Daisy. The trio had been much too absorbed in their argument to notice her approach from the prefects’ room, and she had heard every word of Ruth’s speech. Of all the prefects Ruth would have preferred to have been caught in the act by, Daisy was the very last, given that she happened to be not only Head Girl, but also Primula’s sister.
Daisy herself, though she was absolutely furious at witnessing Primula being taunted in such a manner, was also feeling both relieved and triumphant that at last they could deal with Ruth once and for all. She allowed the silence to continue for several moments, then said in her iciest voice;
‘Go to the prefects’ room, the three of you.’
Bride and Primula exchanged uneasy looks as they led the way, with Daisy steering a crestfallen Ruth by the shoulder behind them. They entered the prefects’ room, where they found the rest of those young ladies sitting about in various attitudes of relaxation. They sprang to attention at once as the party entered, however, and took their places around the table as Ruth, Bride and Primula stood in a line at the bottom of it, looking at the floor and shuffling their feet.
‘Now,’ said Daisy grimly, taking her place at the head of the table and looking at her most judicial, ‘I want an explanation for that little scene. Ruth?’
There was a dead silence. Ruth was finding the toes of her house slippers absolutely fascinating, though she could feel the cold stares of the prefects, and the scornful ones of Bride and Primula. Even though she knew the game was up and that the best thing to do would be to make a clean breast of the whole affair, the resentment that she had harboured all term refused to let her. So she stood in sullen silence, studying the floor, and made no attempt to answer the Head Girl.
‘Very well,’ Daisy said at last. ‘You had your chance to give your account and refused to take it. Bride, let’s hear yours, please.’
‘We, er, were discussing the Second Eleven,’ Bride said haltingly. ‘We had, er, a disagreement over their chances of success in the match today, that’s all, Daisy.’
‘A disagreement like that does not account for the way I heard Ruth speaking to Primula,’ Daisy said coolly. ‘We weren’t born yesterday, Bride. We know perfectly well there’s been some sort of feud going on between you people, and if this is the sort of thing that’s been going on because of it, you may be sure we’ll be getting to the bottom of it one way or another, because taunting of that sort is bullying, plain and simple.’
Bride and Primula turned to glare at Ruth, willing her to own up and get the whole ordeal over with, but Ruth continued to remain obstinately silent.
‘I don’t suppose your disagreement happened to involve a certain member of the Second Eleven, by any chance?’ Gwensi enquired in her most cutting voice. ‘Helen Langley, for instance?’
Ruth’s head snapped up at once.
‘Oh, so it is Helen you’ve taken a dislike to, is it, Ruth?’ Peggy Burnett said, eyeing Ruth coldly. ‘I suppose all this spawned from that silly incident at the beginning of term when you banged heads with her?’
‘And tripped her up,’ said Primula cuttingly. She had suffered the most of any of the Gang at the hands of Ruth that term, and, remembering their discussion about sneaking and reporting, she decided to take a hand herself since Ruth evidently had no intention of biting the bullet. ‘And denied it afterwards. She’s never liked Helen, and since we all backed Helen up she’s feuded with us, too. She was absolutely beastly to those of us in Lower III who didn’t back her up.’
‘Well, Ruth?’ said Daisy grimly, turning to look at her. ‘Is this true?’
‘They’re hardly innocent themselves!’ Ruth burst out. ‘It takes two to make a feud!’
‘Maybe, but we didn’t corner you or any of your gang in a corridor and taunt them about things they can’t help!’ Bride shot back. ‘We didn’t walk up to you on the hockey pitch and start an argument about your skills! And you were absolutely rotten to Prim and the others in Lower III who wouldn’t be cowed by your intimidation!’
‘That’s enough!’ Daisy said sternly. ‘It’s quite clear that there’s been plenty of unsavoury behaviour going on in the Third this term, and I think it’s high time the Heads were told about it.’
The three Third formers looked at her in horror.
‘You’re reporting us?’ Bride stammered.
‘I’m reporting the affair itself, not you specifically,’ said Daisy, getting up. ‘It’s for the Heads to decide the outcome of this unpleasant little chapter in the Chalet School’s history. You can come with me now to see them.’
‘Oh, of course you’re going to report me!’ sneered Ruth. ‘Of course you’ll take their side, what with Primula being your sister!’
Daisy paused and eyed the Junior in thoughtful silence for a minute or two. In spite of herself Ruth wilted and wished she had held her tongue.
‘I see,’ the Head Girl said calmly, when she had judged the silence to have lasted long enough. ‘Yes, I think that sort of talk explains quite a lot. Now quick march. Beth and Gwensi, you’d better come as well. And you too, I think, Peggy. Unless any of you others think you have any other evidence to lay before the Heads regarding this affair?’
They shook their heads, and the three Juniors found themselves flanked by the four senior prefects and marching in the direction of the study, knowing that at any rate, things had certainly come to a head.
Retribution fell with a vengeance when at last the matter had been laid in full before the Heads. The prefects reported what they knew and had observed of the whole affair, and by degrees the rest of the story was wheedled and cajoled out of Ruth, Bride and Primula. Ruth was made to apologise to Primula personally for her behaviour towards her throughout the term, and then was marched off to the San by Matron to remain in Isolation until Helen and Elfie returned with a triumphant Second Eleven, having beaten St David’s by three goals to two. Their euphoria was short-lived when they too were summoned to the study to give their account of the feud, which they did with great reluctance.
‘Well, Helen, while you seem to be by and large the victim of the piece, you certainly did yourself no favours by refusing to report it and getting involved in a feud instead,’ said Miss Wilson dryly. ‘Why on earth you children refuse to treat bullying for what it is and report it, I don’t know! You would certainly save everyone a lot of bother if you would only report it before it escalates, instead of considering it sneaking and letting it carry on. I hope you’ve all learnt a good lesson in the difference from this unfortunate affair.’
Helen’s face was crimson by the end of this bracing speech, and she looked unhappily at the floor.
‘Now, we will send for Ruth and she shall apologise for her behaviour towards you,’ said Miss Annersley, taking pity on her. ‘Elfie, you may go.’
Elfie fled thankfully, and Helen wished heartily that she could have gone with her. She would far rather have been spared any further dealings with Ruth, but she was forced to remain until that young woman had been sent for and made the required apology, with much stammering and halting, under the stern gaze of the two Heads. Then Helen was at last allowed to go, while Ruth waited to hear her final sentence.
It was far from pleasant. She was given a long and serious talk on bullying and its many forms, and told that she had disgraced herself, her family and the school by leading such a sustained campaign against another girl, and a new one at that.
‘Helen is not a permanent pupil here, Ruth,’ said Miss Annersley gravely, studying the sullen girl before her. ‘Would you like her to return to her High School next term and tell the girls there how she was bullied by you during her time here? Do you think that would do the Chalet School any credit? We pride ourselves on our girls being kind, honest, just and responsible, yet you have shown none of these qualities towards Helen this term. You have let yourself down very badly with your conduct, used your strong character to intimidate others into going along with your vendetta, and been thoroughly nasty to those like Primula who wouldn’t. Even now you don’t seem to feel any true remorse for what you have done, only that you were caught.’
Ruth said nothing. She was feeling heartily ashamed of herself now, and wishing she had left Helen well alone during that fateful first games lesson. How different it all might have been if she had! She wouldn’t be standing here now feeling like a complete worm. She might even have been on sufficiently amiable terms with Helen after a bit to ask her for a few hockey tips. But she wasn’t, and now she was finding out her fate. She found herself condemned to remain in Isolation for the rest of the term, and deprived of all privileges for a similar period. As she had been greatly looking forward to the Sale the following weekend, and would now be forced to miss it, it was a bitter blow indeed. She was finally warned that any further reports of similar conduct to that which she had displayed that term would see her parents requested to remove her from the school.
‘Although that,’ Miss Annersley observed to her co-Head when Ruth had finally left the room under Matron’s guard, weeping copiously, ‘is a measure of last resort, and one which I hope we will not be forced to employ.’
‘I shouldn’t think we’ll have to,’ Miss Wilson replied. ‘Miss Ruth has certainly been given a lot to think about this evening, and I hope it will continue for a long time to come. I’m glad that her nasty little campaign doesn’t seem to have dampened Helen’s experiences here very much; I was at tea at Plas Gwyn last weekend, and Phoebe Peters was there and said Helen’s been full of enthusiasm in her letters to her mother.’
‘I’m very glad,’ said Miss Annersley. ‘It’s a pity we can’t keep her for the rest of her schooldays, but I hope that when she returns to her old school she will take with her the spirit of the Chalet School and all it stands for.’
‘Well, at least it’s over now,’ Bride observed to the Gang in the common room as they waited for the gong to ring for supper. ‘It’s been a nasty business, but if it teaches Ruth to drop that sneering intimidating attitude she has and stop bullying people, then at least something good has come of it. I wonder what punishment they’ll mete out to her.’
They soon found out. By the next morning it was all over the school that Ruth Wilson was in deep disgrace and was to be in Isolation for the rest of the term. There was nothing more wounding to that young woman’s pride than to have – as she put it to herself – utter babies in the Second forms such as Sybil Russell and Blossom Willoughby eyeing her with contempt as she did her prep at a single desk well away from the others, and departed on prim walks accompanied by a mistress or prefect instead of going on rambles with her form. It was a very humbled girl who rejoined Lower III properly for the summer term, and the rest of the form were heartily relieved to be freed from her unpleasant influence, for the present, at any rate.
The days were going in fast now. Easter was approaching, and from the Continent, more and more welcoming news was flooding in. The Western Allies had at last reached and crossed the Rhine, while in the east, the Russians were advancing towards Austria.
‘It’s a matter of weeks now, I should think,’ Frank observed to Phoebe one evening, as they sat listening to the news on the wireless.
‘I’m so glad,’ she said. ‘And yet even when the fighting’s over, so much has to be rebuilt. I suppose a lot of territory will change hands too, as it did after the last war. The world won’t ever be the same, will it?’
‘Definitely not. I wonder if that will be a good thing or a bad thing?’
Up at the school, preparations were well underway for that year’s Sale. After much discussion and vetoing of ideas, the prefects had decided upon a Robin Hood theme combined more generally with a medieval one. Daisy was chosen to portray the outlaw himself, with Beth as Maid Marian and Gwensi as the Sheriff of Nottingham. Joanna was Friar Tuck, and Peggy had agreed to be Little John. Gill Culver, with her red hair, was unanimously voted to be Will Scarlett, and Alixe McNab was Much the Miller’s Son, while Terry Prosser, daughter of Dr Prosser, was Guy of Gisborne. Gay Lambert was Alan-A-Dale, and Ursula Wallace, the elder of Mr Wallace’s two daughters, was blandly told that as she was the daughter of a vicar she could be the Bishop of Hereford, much to her indignation.
With so many materials either rationed or practically non-existent, the girls had mainly had to make do with anything they could lay their hands on for costumes and stalls. Using relics from previous Sales, tableaux and Nativity plays, they had contrived to find costumes for the main characters and build two stalls that were at least recognisable as Sherwood Forest and Nottingham Castle, but the rest you had to squint at to guess what they were, to quote Nancy Chester. Most of the girls had seized upon the robes worn by the angels and shepherds in the Nativity plays, and turned themselves by dint of adding various accessories of their own into either simple medieval peasants or nobles.
‘Well, I think I pass for a peasant, at least,’ Helen observed, surveying herself in her bureau mirror on the morning of the Sale. She had accessorised her plain green shepherd’s robes by tying her scarf around her hair and her dressing gown belt around her waist, and had also obtained leave during the previous weekend’s walk into the village to nip into Ty-Gwyn and borrow a spare shawl from Phoebe, which she now had wrapped around her shoulders.
‘You don’t look too dusty,’ agreed Bride, who was dressed as a noblewoman. ‘Everyone ready? Let’s head down, then.’
They went downstairs and into Hall, where the various stalls had been set up. Upper III had been allocated the book stall, and many of its members were already swarming around it like bees, arranging the books to show them to their best possible advantage and putting finishing touches to the stall, which they had decorated to look like the library of a medieval castle. Evan Evans had put up some makeshift shelves on the walls of the stall, though he had warned the girls not to load them very heavily with books as they were somewhat flimsy. They had therefore contented themselves with arranging a few on the shelves for general effect, and setting the rest out on the big mistress’s table purloined from the form room for the occasion. Tom had stained a piece of paper with tea and ripped it slightly to make it look like a roll of parchment, and Julie had contributed a bird’s feather she had found on a ramble to pose as a quill. They had written their stock list on the parchment, and Anne Webster, dressed as a scribe, was sitting at the desk with a serious expression, ready to tick off each book as it was purchased.
‘I think we’ve done jolly well, considering we had to scrabble about a bit to get the materials,’ observed Nella Ozanne, standing back to view the finished effect. ‘It looks quite effective, if I say it myself.’
The McDonald twins came panting up at that point to report that the first visitors were ascending the drive, and the girls scrambled to take their places. The doors to Hall opened and the Heads ushered in the first guests, and the room began to fill rapidly. When everyone had assembled, Jem and Madge, representing the San and the school respectively, each made a short speech explaining the purpose of the Sale, and then Madge declared it open. Everyone scattered at once to begin purchasing, and Helen found herself kept busy helping to take cash for the book stall.
‘Hello Helen, you seem to be doing a roaring trade over here,’ said a familiar voice after a while, and she looked up from arranging piles of change to see Phoebe, Debby and Meg smiling at her.
‘Oh, I’m so glad you could come!’ she exclaimed joyfully. ‘It’s nice to have someone here, since Mummy couldn’t be.’
‘Well, luckily it’s a dry day, or we couldn’t have come either,’ said Phoebe, getting out of her wheelchair to see the stall more clearly. ‘I mustn’t get soaked in the rain, and as Frank’s on duty at the San today we’ve had to come on foot. Or wheels, in my case. So this is your stall?’ She scanned their wares closely and picked out two books. ‘I’ll take this historical one, please, and this detective one.’
‘And I’ll have this affair, please,’ said Meg, flicking with interest through a romance novel that had been donated by Mrs Bates and had miraculously avoided, by dint of its unassuming cover and title, both confiscation by Matron and being read on the sly by the girls themselves.
Helen obligingly processed the transactions, and Phoebe, Debby and Meg, after some more admiring of the girls’ efforts, proceeded on to the toy stall, manned this year by Upper V.
‘We’re selling out quickly this year,’ observed Primrose, rearranging the remaining books more neatly. ‘And we weren’t even short on donations, either. If we sell everything we’ve got we ought to make a very decent sum.’
‘That would be super!’ said Bride enthusiastically.
‘Ah, hello. Is this Upper III’s stall?’ enquired a man’s voice, and the girls turned to see a tall soldierly man who walked with a limp eyeing the stall with interest.
‘Captain Hargreaves!’ exclaimed Helen in astonishment. ‘What are you doing here?’
‘I promised your mother I’d come on her behalf,’ he replied. ‘She really wanted to be able to come herself, but the docs vetoed it, they don’t want her having any setbacks when she’s so close to completing her treatment, so I said I’d stroll along myself and give her a full account of things. Let’s see that get-up you’re wearing, I mustn’t miss any crucial details out.’
Helen laughed and came out from behind the stall to allow him to view her costume more fully, and he pretended to take notes.
‘Green robes, brown scarf, grey shawl, and what on earth is that bright blue thing round your waist?’
‘My dressing gown belt,’ said Helen helpfully, twirling it. ‘I’m a medieval peasant, or supposed to be.’
‘I gathered that was the general idea, judging by that lanky creature I saw dressed as Robin Hood a few minutes ago. Who was that?’
The girls giggled appreciatively.
‘That’s my cousin Daisy, the Head Girl,’ Bride informed him. ‘She is known as Longshanks by the others in her form.’
‘I’m not surprised! So you youngsters have the book stall, eh? Got anything by Agatha Christie?’
‘We’ve one left, unless I’ve tallied wrongly,’ said Anne, scanning her ‘parchment’. ‘Lord Edgeware Dies.’
‘Here it is.’ Bride fished it out and handed it to Captain Hargreaves.
‘How much?’ he asked.
‘Four and six,’ Helen replied. He chuckled and handed them two half crowns.
‘Here you are, keep the change. Good cause and all that. I was in the San myself for a bit, so I can’t say I haven’t benefited.’
‘Oh yes, Mrs Peters told me you were there at the same time she was,’ said Helen idly.
‘That’s right, that was a couple of years ago now. I was having my leg seen to.’ A reminiscent grin crossed his face. ‘I wonder if she still remembers the Professor?’
The girls stared, and he laughed.
‘He was an inmate on the same corridor as us, and we, er, didn’t really get on with him.’
‘Well, she’s here if you want to speak to her,’ Helen said doubtfully. ‘There they are.’ She pointed at the toy stall where Phoebe, Debby and Meg were waiting in the queue to enter the dolls’ house competition. Captain Hargreaves turned to look, and did a double-take as he spotted Sacarlet behind them. It was so bright it was visible even from the other side of the crowded room.
‘What on earth is that bright red thing?’
‘My dolls’ house,’ Tom said ruefully. ‘It wasn’t meant to be red, the enamel came out the wrong colour.’
‘It’s still a super house, though,’ said Helen. ‘Tom’s simply smashing at carpentry, she built it from scratch, and some of the others helped to furnish it.’
‘I must go and inspect it more closely,’ said Captain Hargreaves, settling his book in the bag over his arm. ‘How much is it?’
‘It’s not actually for sale, there’s a competition for it to guess its name,’ Bride informed him. ‘You pay a shilling to enter, and you choose a name from a list.’
‘Ah, I see. I expect you make a tidy sum doing it that way, eh?’
‘Well, this is only the second year we’ve done it, but it did bring in heaps of money last year,’ said Tom modestly.
‘I hope you have the same success this year, then,’ said Captain Hargreaves. ‘I shall go and contribute to its coffers forthwith.’
He departed in the direction of the toy stall, and the girls stared after him.
‘I like him,’ pronounced Bride. ‘Who is he, Helen?’
‘A friend of Mummy’s, he’s been going to visit her at the San for a few weeks now – since before half-term,’ replied Helen. ‘I think they met there. He is rather a sport, he was the one who sent me that pot of plum jam I shared at tea last week.’
‘What’s wrong with his leg?’ Nancy queried.
‘He got shot when he was fighting out in Africa,’ said Helen. ‘He told me about it when I was up visiting Mummy at half term. I think Mummy likes him awfully.’
‘P’raps they’ll fall in love and get married eventually,’ suggested Vanna Ozanne sentimentally. Helen stared at her.
‘Do you know, I never even thought of that,’ she said in astonishment. ‘And I wouldn’t be surprised if they did!’
‘Gosh! How would you feel about a stepfather?’ asked Primrose. Helen considered.
‘I suppose it would be all right,’ she conceded. ‘I don’t remember my real father much, he went away to join the Navy when the war started, and the one time he got leave before he died was while I was evacuated, so I never got to see him, and now I don’t really remember what it was like to have a father. I suppose Captain Hargreaves would be rather a sport to have as a stepfather, though.’
She lapsed into a thoughtful silence, and the others could get very little in the way of conversation out of her for the rest of the afternoon. The possibility that her mother could remarry had never even occurred to her before. She had assumed that it would always be only the two of them, and she had been fairly content with that. Now that she was thinking it over, however, particularly in the context of her mother’s illness, she was beginning to realise that things were likely to become more difficult in the future if it did continue to be only the two of them. She knew that her mother’s rheumatism would never be fully cured, and the prospect of dealing with more attacks such as the one she had suffered on Christmas Day was not one that twelve year old Helen relished in the slightest. Besides which, while they had enough to live on, money was on the tight side, and Helen knew from conversations with Phoebe that medicine, particularly the kind of medicine that was now being used to treat rheumatism, was an expensive business. Having another income would therefore be extremely beneficial.
‘So I suppose it would be a good thing all round if they did get married,’ she thought, looking across to where Captain Hargreaves was in animated conversation with Phoebe, Debby and Meg. ‘He’d be able to help me take care of Mummy when she has those pains, and there’d be more money, too. And…well, Mummy has seemed a lot happier the past few weeks, and I suppose it’s because of him.’
Jem mounted the dais then and rang the bell for attention so that he could announce the winners of the raffles. A large cake made by Frau Meiders was won by Dr Prosser. A pretty shawl knitted by Mlle de Lachenais was won by Dilys Hartley-the-teashop. A set of dolls’ furniture made by Nella Ozanne was won by Mr Wallace. A scarf embroidered by Sybil was won by Meg, much to her surprise.
‘And now for the winner of the dolls’ house competition,’ announced Jem, unfolding the paper containing the result. ‘The winner is Captain Hargreaves, who correctly guessed that the house’s name is Sacarlet!’
Captain Hargreaves, looking completely astonished at his win, limped up to the dais to be congratulated as everyone cheered and clapped.
‘What’s he going to do with a bairn’s toy like that?’ Debby murmured to Phoebe.
‘Give it to Helen, unless I’m much mistaken,’ Phoebe replied. Debby’s lips pursed up in a soundless whistle.
‘Gone that far, has it?’
‘Well, Mrs Langley looks about ten years younger every time she talks about him, and you heard for yourself just now how much he thinks of her. I think there will be news from that quarter fairly soon, perhaps when she leaves the San.’
‘Good for them,’ said Debby.
Phoebe turned out to be quite right. After Sacarlet and its contents had been packed up for Captain Hargreaves to pick up later, he drew Helen aside.
‘Do you want it?’ he asked her.
‘Me?’ Helen gaped at him.
‘Well, I haven’t any daughters of my own to give it to,’ he pointed out.
‘Not yet,’ Helen said, raising her eyebrows. He met her gaze, and she smiled.
‘You don’t mind?’
‘No,’ said Helen. ‘You’re a good sort, and if you make her happy, I’m not going to fuss. And I’d love to have Sacarlet, it’d be a nice reminder of my term here.’
‘Then it’s a deal,’ said Captain Hargreaves, shaking her hand solemnly.
Mrs Langley's Announcement by Aquabird
And now the end of term had arrived at last. Most rules were in abeyance as the girls rushed about, packing trunks, clearing form rooms, returning library books and seeing to the many other little jobs that cropped up at the end of every term.
‘Well, Helen, it’s a wrench that you’re leaving, but I hope you’ve had a smashing time here,’ said Bride, as Helen exchanged addresses with the Gang on the last evening.
‘Oh, I have,’ said Helen fervently. ‘It’s a super school. But I’d be lying if I said I haven’t missed the High, too. And I’d rather be at a day school once Mummy comes out of the San, now that she’s got rheumatism. It’ll be easier for her to have me nearby if anything happens. I’ll miss you all, though. You’ve been so decent to me.’
‘Well, it’s not goodbye forever,’ Julie said. ‘You simply must come down and stay some hols, and keep in touch.’
‘I will,’ vowed Helen.
Most of the girls departed early the next morning to catch various trains from the station at Armiford, and Helen waited expectantly to be picked up. She knew that she would be returning to Ty-Gwyn for another ten days or so until her mother’s treatment had been completed, therefore she was expecting Frank’s car to arrive. To her great surprise, however, a large cart came up the drive instead, pulled by –
‘Ohhh, Thunder and Lightning!’ Helen squealed, leaping down the front steps to pat the two horses, completely alike but for the little white star on Lightning’s forehead, as the cart drew up. Meg and Phoebe, sitting on the driver’s box of the cart, grinned down at her.
‘Frank was called off to the San, so Meg sportingly agreed bring the cart,’ Phoebe explained, taking the reins from Meg, who leapt down to heft Helen’s trunk and hockey stick into the cart.
‘It’s wizard!’ said Helen, climbing up into the cart herself and sitting on her trunk as Meg resumed her seat on the box. ‘How is Mummy?’
‘She’s very well, and ought to be able to leave the San next week as expected,’ Phoebe replied. ‘We’ll take you up to see her this afternoon. And I’ve had any number of invitations for you to have tea at Plas Gwyn and the Round House while you’re still here, so you’ll have plenty to keep you occupied.’
‘Goody,’ said Helen, pleased. ‘I shall be able to see a bit more of Bride and Primula, at least.’
They trundled off back down the drive, and Helen turned for a last look back at Plas Howell, at the graceful pillars, worn stones and extensive, beautifully-kept grounds. For a minute or two she felt a sense of regret that she would not be returning, but as her thoughts returned to the High she cheered up. The Chalet School had been a fun and enlightening experience, but she knew in her heart of hearts that her loyalties still lay with the High School, and probably always would. And at least she could still keep in touch with the Gang, who had been so fundamental in making her time there enjoyable.
‘I’d have had a rotten time if they hadn’t taken me in,’ she thought, as the cart rolled along the main village street. ‘Ruth and her gang would have made my life an absolute misery if I’d been on my own, but even at her worst it never bothered me too much because the others were backing me up. I was awfully lucky there.’
When they arrived at Ty-Gwyn, it was to find Debby awaiting them with as huge a lunch as she could contrive. Helen barely waited to wash and change out of her uniform into an ordinary frock before she sat down eagerly to soup, chicken and salad, finishing up with bottled fruit and cream.
‘Oh, we didn’t get food like that at school,’ she sighed, leaning back in her chair with content when she had finished.
‘Neither do we, as a rule,’ said Phoebe with a laugh. ‘This is a treat, as it’s your first lunch of the holidays. You’d better sit quietly for an hour or so until you’ve recovered, and then we’ll have to get ready for the visit to the San.’
Helen agreed with this dictum and settled down in the sitting room with a book, Augustin lying on her feet and Tibbles curled up in her lap. Within minutes she had dozed off, and Phoebe and Debby exchanged smiles when the latter came in and saw her.
‘Not used to big meals, is she?’ Debby asked, and Phoebe chuckled and shook her head.
‘I expect she’s tired out as well from a full term at school. And she’s got the excitement of seeing her mother this afternoon, too, so I suppose it’s as well for her to have a sleep now.’
An hour later they caught the bus up to the San, arriving shortly after the visiting hour had begun. Helen hurried on ahead, eager to see her mother, and stopped short in the doorway of her mother’s room.
Mrs Langley and Captain Hargreaves were standing beside the window, kissing. Helen gaped at them, unsure whether to feel pleased, embarrassed or revolted at walking in on them at such a private moment. She was about to back out of the room again when they noticed her presence and broke apart, and she saw her mother smiling in a way she had never seen her smile before.
‘Helen, oh, my dear Helen!’ she said breathlessly, coming forward and pushing her hair back in a distracted manner. ‘What do you think?’
She held out her left hand, and Helen saw a very new diamond ring shining on her fourth finger.
‘So it’s happened?’ she asked, looking eagerly from one to the other.
‘Literally seconds before you walked in,’ said Captain Hargreaves, coming up and putting his arm around Mrs Langley. ‘Are you pleased?’
‘Oh yes!’ said Helen happily. ‘When is the wedding going to be?’
‘Good heavens, we’ve only been engaged a minute!’ said Mrs Langley, laughing. ‘But I suppose it will probably be sometime in the summer?’ She looked up enquiringly at Captain Hargreaves.
‘I don’t mind,’ he said. ‘As soon as I can get a job in Birmingham, it can be whenever you like.’
Phoebe and Debby arrived then, and in the flurry of congratulations and plunging into a discussion about wedding plans with Mrs Langley, Captain Hargreaves drew Helen aside.
‘You’re definitely quite happy?’ he asked anxiously.
‘Of course I am,’ said Helen in surprise. ‘But are you going to come and live with us in our house after you’re married, then?’
‘I don’t know yet. I know you’re slated to go back to your High School after Easter, and your mother’s keen not to change that, so we’ll certainly stay in the area you’re in now, if not that exact house. We may want something a bit bigger now that there will be three of us.’
‘I wouldn’t mind that,’ said Helen, seeing in her mind’s eye a much bigger bedroom than the one she currently inhabited, and a large garden that was full of hidey-holes and was not covered in debris from air raids. Captain Hargreaves, guessing in which sort of direction her mind was running, grinned.
‘Don’t build up your hopes too much on it happening immediately,’ he told her. ‘All those blasted air raids means there’s quite the housing shortage, so we may have to make do with the house you’re in just now, at least for a couple of years. The war will be over in the next few weeks – in Europe at any rate – but it will be some time after that before everyone’s back home and the rationing ends and more houses are built to replace the ones that were destroyed. I expect you’ll be a young woman, or nearly so, by the time the world’s regained some proper normality.’
‘Do you really think it will be over in a few weeks?’ Helen asked, wide-eyed.
‘For sure. The Russians are on the doorstep of Germany as we speak, and our own men are closing in on them from the other side. It just depends on how long Hitler tries to hold out, really. If he has any sense he’ll surrender before the Russians get to Berlin, but he hasn’t shown much sense so far.’
‘I’ll be so glad when it is over,’ said Helen. ‘I can’t remember what it was like when we weren’t at war.’
‘No, I suppose not,’ agreed Captain Hargreaves pityingly. ‘Never mind, kiddy. When it is all over, you’ll see how the world is a much better place when there’s peace.’
After dinner that evening, Phoebe and Helen sat together in the sitting room. Frank was once again detained at the San, so they were alone, and for some time there was a companionable silence, save for the concert which was playing on the wireless in the background.
‘You look very thoughtful, Helen,’ said Phoebe, glancing up from her embroidery to see Helen sitting on the hearthrug, hugging her knees and staring into the fire.
‘Oh, I was just thinking about how everything’s going to change,’ Helen said vaguely.
‘You mean with your mother remarrying?’
‘Aren’t you glad?’
‘Yes, and that’s what I’m thinking about. I’m quite surprised that I’m happy, really. I think if this had happened a year ago I wouldn’t have been.’
‘Why not?’ Phoebe asked in surprise.
‘Well, it’s been just Mummy and me for as long as I can remember, more or less. And I think I’d have hated sharing her with anyone else until just a few months ago. You see, now I know how ill she actually was, and that she’ll still need some sort of looking after even when her treatment’s finished, I know that I couldn’t have coped with all that sort of thing on my own. It was so horrible on Christmas Day when she had that attack and I didn’t know what to do.’
‘You dealt with it very well,’ Phoebe said gently. ‘But you’re quite right that you couldn’t have coped with that sort of thing on your own in the long term; why, it was a terrible strain on Debby having to look after me by herself, and she’s a strong grown woman. It’s definitely not the sort of thing a child should have to deal with alone. But now Captain Hargreaves will be on hand to look after her.’
‘I know, that’s why I’m glad. But it’s not just that. I didn’t realise until I went to the Chalet School just how much I’ve been…not babied, that doesn’t cover it…’
‘Sheltered?’ supplied Phoebe.
‘Yes, that’s it. Mummy was always there and did everything for me and worried about me all the time, and I never minded it. I suppose because I didn’t know any better. But then suddenly I didn’t have her to rely on any more, and I had to stand on my own feet and do things for myself. Now that I’m used to that, I don’t think I’d have liked to go back to having her always hovering and fussing over me. So that’s why I’m glad she’s going to marry Captain Hargreaves; because I think he’ll stop her from doing that.’
‘Yes, I see what you mean,’ said Phoebe thoughtfully. ‘I daresay he would be quite amenable to allowing you a fair bit of independence, provided you show you have the common sense to justify it.’
‘I hope so,’ said Helen. ‘I think he will, though. He’s a sport.’
Which was, Phoebe correctly deduced, high praise indeed.
Helen's Farewell by Aquabird
Over the next ten days or so, Helen rejoiced in having the freedom to do as she pleased after the regimented life at school. She roved around Howells at her leisure, took Augustin for long walks in the fields and woods surrounding the village, went once or twice to the Round House for tea, and generally enjoyed herself.
Easter came and went very quietly. Most of the village turned out to attend church, and much gossip and war news was swapped in the porch afterwards. The Red Army had now entered Austria, and the fall of Vienna was expected in short order. Marie, meeting Phoebe and Debby in the village the day after Easter Monday, was both pleased and anxious at the tidings.
‘I’m so glad that my country will soon now be freed of the evils of Nazism,’ she said. ‘But what will the Soviets do when they take it? I don’t think I could bear to see Austria turn communist.’
‘I don’t think they’ll be allowed to do that,’ Phoebe said comfortingly. ‘I’m sure Churchill and Roosevelt between them will make sure that Stalin isn’t given free rein to do as he likes in the territories he takes from Germany’s control.’
‘I wish I could be so sure,’ Marie said seriously. ‘Eugen says Stalin is a very dangerous man, and is determined that Russia will gain handsomely from all of this, one way or another. I’m not so sure that even Britain and America will be able to stop him.’
At the end of the week came the great day when Mrs Langley was to leave the San after three and a half months. Frank had agreed to drive her to the train station at Armiford, picking up Helen along the way. Captain Hargreaves would meet them there and escort the Langleys the rest of the way home so that he could, as he put it; ‘Take a dekko at where I’ll be moving to.’
‘I hope our house is still standing!’ Helen observed to Phoebe, hopping excitedly from one foot to the other as they waited for the car to arrive. ‘I’ve never been away from home for so long before. I’m longing to see all my old toys and books again, and it would be too awful if we got there only to find the Jerries had bombed the house to pieces!’
‘I doubt that very much,’ said Phoebe with a laugh. ‘For one thing, the authorities would have been sure to notify your mother, and for another, there haven’t been any air raids on this part of the country for some time now. I believe the only bombing still going on is in London, with those dreadful doodlebugs, and even those have stopped the past two or three weeks. Possibly our army have discovered where they’ve been launching them from and have put a stop to it.’
‘I hope so,’ said Helen. ‘I suppose we’re lucky not to be living in London.’
‘We are,’ agreed Phoebe, remembering her experiences of the Blitz with a shudder.
‘There’s the car!’ Helen dashed out of the sitting room and into the front garden, Augustin at her heels. Frank was helping Mrs Langley alight from the car, and she looked up at Ty-Gwyn with interest before Helen launched herself on her with a fierce hug. Phoebe and Debby followed more sedately, smiling.
‘It’s so good to see you out of hospital at last, Sara,’ Phoebe said. ‘Have you time for a cup of tea before your train?’
‘I don’t think so, unfortunately,’ replied Mrs Langley with regret. ‘The train’s due at eleven and we mustn’t miss it.’
Phoebe nodded. ‘I shan’t delay you, then. Are you sure you have everything, Helen?’
‘Yes, I think so,’ said Helen, checking her coat pockets and looking round at her trunk, which Frank was heaving into the car with some muttering under his breath about its weight. She flung her arms around Phoebe. ‘Thanks awfully for everything, Mrs Peters. Goodbye.’
‘Goodbye, dear,’ said Phoebe affectionately, returning the hug. ‘Have a safe journey home, and a good term back at the High School.’
Helen gave Debby a hug, then climbed into the back of the car as Frank and Mrs Langley got in at the front, and they drove off, waving. Augustin whined and pawed sadly at the front gate.
‘Never mind, boy,’ said Phoebe, rubbing between his ears. ‘Helen may be gone, but you still have us staid old people.’
Augustin followed her and Debby sadly back into the house, his tail down. He soon cheered up again when he spotted Phoebe’s mending basket sitting on the floor – an unusual occurrence, as she had learnt early on to keep it well out of his reach whenever it had any clothes in it. Within seconds he had filched a pair of her undies from it and raced off into the back garden with them, much to her horror. It took a full ten minutes for her and Debby to corner him and retrieve them, by which point they had been trailed all over the garden. Mr Mason, the elderly neighbour who lived on the other side of them from Frieda, was trimming his hedge, and watched their activities from over the top of it with more enjoyment than Phoebe liked.
‘Rotten old lecher,’ she complained to Debby, when at last they had retrieved the offending underwear and were safely back in the house, Augustin having been roundly scolded. ‘You’d think he would have come and helped us catch the little pest!’
‘You wouldn’t have wanted him handling your knickers though, would you?’ Debby pointed out dryly, and Phoebe shuddered at the thought. She recounted the tale to Frank when he returned from Armiford, and he roared with laughter.
‘Of all the things in your basket he had to pinch, it had to be a pair of your undies!’ he chuckled.
‘I’m glad you find it so funny, it was deeply embarrassing to me!’ Phoebe said in annoyance.
‘They weren’t your best ones, were they?’ Frank enquired. ‘I like those.’
Phoebe glared at him, then relented and laughed. ‘Idiot! Did you see the Langleys off all right?’
‘Yes, I saw them into Hargreaves’ hands and onto the train. They assured us that our wedding invitation will be arriving in the post as soon as they’ve fixed a date.’
‘Isn’t it nice that we had a hand in them getting together?’ Phoebe said contentedly. ‘Well, you did, at least.’
‘I didn’t do anything,’ said Frank dismissively. ‘I just happened to be the reason Hargreaves was at the San in the first place, that’s all. You did more, encouraging Mrs Langley the way you did.’
‘Well, all I did was encourage her not to shy away from him,’ Phoebe said. ‘I tried not to make it sound like I was matchmaking, even though I suppose I was, in a way. I’d hate to turn into someone like Jane Austen’s Emma Woodhouse!’
‘I doubt that very much,’ said Frank, chuckling. ‘But I’m sure a little gentle encouragement didn’t hurt, all the same.’
Victory In Europe by Aquabird
Throughout April, the general atmosphere became tense with excitement as tidings from abroad began to pour in almost daily. Even those completely ignorant of the military campaigns knew that the end was nigh, and those who did follow them did so with breathless anticipation. The shock death of President Roosevelt, occurring a week after Helen’s departure, was offset by news that the Russians had reached Vienna. Several days later came the horrifying particulars of conditions at Bergen-Belsen which had been liberated by British troops, tallying with the tales told by the Russians of the camps they had found in Poland. Then came the news that the final assault on Berlin had begun.
‘Any day now, I should think,’ Frank observed to Phoebe. ‘The German army has been all but wiped out by the sounds of it, there’s no way they can keep the Russians out of Berlin for long.’
‘I wonder what Hitler will do?’ Phoebe mused. ‘Go down fighting, or flee?’
‘He’ll never get out of Berlin,’ said Frank confidently. ‘His days are numbered all right; the only question is how it’ll happen. Somehow I can’t see him joining the front lines and dying at the head of his men. I think the Russians will lynch him.’
The following week brought yet more news; Mussolini, his mistress and several other high-ranking Italian fascists had been killed by partisans near Lake Como, and their corpses put on display in Milan. That same day, Frieda, who had been staying with Gisela and Gottfried for the past six weeks, returned to Cartref with her children, looking much better for the long rest. Baby Gretchen was making steady, if slow, progress, and when Dr Prosser called round to see them he pronounced himself satisfied with both of them. Like Marie, Frieda was both pleased and anxious at the news that Vienna had fallen to the Russians, and longing to know the fates of the people she had known and left behind in Innsbruck.
Then at last came the tidings everyone had been waiting for. The newspapers had been delivered as usual that morning, and Debby, on seeing the headlines, cast all etiquette aside and burst into the dining room, where Frank and Phoebe were having breakfast.
‘He’s dead! Hitler’s dead!’ she announced, waving the papers in excitement.
‘No!’ Frank and Phoebe dived for them and gazed eagerly at the headlines.
‘“…died fighting to the last breath against Bolshevism and for Germany”,’ quoted Phoebe, scanning the paper she was holding.
‘A likely story,’ snorted Frank. ‘Look who’s saying it; his Nazi successor. He’s hardly going to say the Fuhrer died cowering in a corner, which I bet is what really happened. And I’d be cautious about believing anything until it’s been confirmed by our own people. You know how the papers will say anything to sell a story.’
Debby scowled her agreement, remembering the article that had appeared in the Garnley Gazette the year before about her dinner with Artie Clough.
‘The fact that he’s actually dead must be true, though,’ Phoebe said. ‘Look, it says it was announced by Hitler’s successor on German radio last night. He’d never do that unless it was true – Hitler would have him executed for usurpation if it wasn’t!’
‘Perhaps, but until it’s officially announced by the BBC I’d take any particulars with a pinch of salt,’ said Frank darkly.
He went off to the San, leaving a very excited Phoebe and Debby behind him, not noticeably dampened by his warning.
‘Hitler’s dead, and that’s all that matters,’ Phoebe said. ‘It sounds so cold to say that, but when I think of everything he was responsible for, all the misery and suffering he caused, I just can’t feel anything but happiness that he’s rotting in hell.’
‘And good riddance, too!’ said Debby grimly. ‘I guess now t’big question is when they’re going to properly announce it’s all over.’
That fabled announcement came five days later. Rumours had been circulating all day that the Germans had at last surrendered, but so far the official channels had remained maddeningly silent on the issue. Then at last that evening, Frank, who was getting ready to depart for a night shift at the San, was putting on his hat and coat in the hall when a cry from Phoebe stopped him.
‘Frank! Debby! Come quickly!’
He dashed into the sitting room as Debby came running out of the kitchen, to find Phoebe standing beside the wireless, turning it up. The concert she had been listening to had been interrupted by the polished tones of John Snagge:
‘This is the BBC Home Service. We are interrupting programmes to make the following announcement. It is understood that in accordance with the arrangements between the three great powers, an official announcement will be broadcast by the Prime Minister at three o’clock tomorrow, Tuesday afternoon, 8th May. In view of this fact, tomorrow, Tuesday, will be treated as Victory in Europe Day, and will be regarded as a holiday. The day following, Wednesday 9th May, will also be a holiday. His Majesty the King will broadcast to the peoples of the British Empire and Commonwealth, tomorrow, Tuesday, at 9pm, British double Summer Time.’
Phoebe turned the wireless off, and there was a long moment of silence. Then as one the three of them flung their arms around each other with cries of joy.
‘It’s over, it’s really over at last,’ said Phoebe tremblingly. ‘All the fighting and bombing and murdering is finished, and Edmund will be coming home, and the rationing will end, and…oh dear, I’m so happy I can’t stand it!’ And tears began to pour down her face.
‘Mebbe this time it’s for keeps,’ Debby said, wiping her own tears away. ‘Never thought I’d live through two world wars, but I have, and I don’t want to see any more. T’world’s seen enough war in t’past forty years.’
‘It’s not completely over yet,’ Frank said. ‘The Japanese are still holding on, for one thing. And…well, so much has been devastated by the fighting that I think it will be some time yet before things return to anything like the way they were before the war, if they ever do. But I think the worst is definitely over now.’
‘I must tell Frieda,’ said Phoebe, reaching for her shawl. ‘She mayn’t have heard it, and if she has, I think someone should be with her for a while. Come with me, Debby.’
Debby nodded and went to doff her apron and change her slippers for outdoor shoes.
‘And I must go, patients don’t suddenly stop needing care just because a war’s over,’ said Frank, glancing hurriedly at the clock.
‘But you’ll have tomorrow off to celebrate with us,’ said Phoebe, squeezing his hands. ‘Oh, isn’t it wonderful?’
Frank laughed and kissed her, then hurried off to the San to spread the news to the people there, and Phoebe and Debby, accompanied by an excited Augustin, went next door to find Frieda in floods of tears, having also heard the news on the wireless.
‘I can’t believe it’s finally over,’ she wept, cuddling Augustin, who tried to lick the tears off her face. ‘It went on so long, and so much has been lost, that I just can’t take it in.’
‘Oh, but you must, Frieda,’ said Phoebe, putting her arm around her. ‘Only think; you shall have Bruno back for good soon. The boys will be so glad to have their papa home, and he won’t miss out on as much of Gretchen’s life as he did with theirs.’
They sat with Frieda for a while longer until, worn out from her crying, she elected to go to bed. Phoebe and Debby left Cartref to find that Brenda Roberts across the road and several other residents were bringing out long strings of bunting, and they went to help string them up between the lampposts. There was much talk and laughter as the work went on, and Augustin gambolled around happily, being petted and fussed over by everyone, much to his enjoyment.
‘What an atmosphere!’ Phoebe said gleefully to Debby, passing up some bunting for her to tie to the lamppost outside Ty-Gwyn. ‘Was the Armistice like this, too?’
Debby shook her head. ‘Not where we was. There was house parties, o’ course, but nothing like this. But mebbe it was different in London, right enough. High Marchwood never was the sort of place you’d get a lot of action.’
Phoebe laughed. ‘I suppose not. I bet London will be amazing tomorrow. It’s rather a pity we don’t live there now, we could have gone to the Palace and seen the King make his speech in person.’
‘You’d be lucky to see him, I reckon,’ Debby remarked. ‘The crowds’ll be bound to go right up The Mall tomorrow.’
‘Yes, that’s true. Anyway, judging by the atmosphere here tonight, I shouldn’t think Howells is likely to scamp on celebrations either.’
When the street was fully decorated, the residents retired into their homes to either start celebrating early with a few drinks or, in most cases, to go to bed and try to sleep. Phoebe did the latter, and spent the next two hours tossing and turning, listening to the rain which had begun to patter against the window. At last she fell asleep, only to be awakened at seven o’clock by Frank arriving back from the San.
‘What a night!’ he said, getting into bed. ‘The whole San was bouncing with excitement; I spent most of the night trying to calm people down so that they weren’t losing out on needed sleep. I don’t envy the chaps on duty this morning, they’re the ones who’ll have to deal with the reactions from everyone being awake all night.’
‘But something like this will – I hope – never happen again,’ said Phoebe, cuddling against him. ‘Let them have their fun. Some of the poor souls in there will certainly need it.’
‘That’s true.’ He put his arms around her and rested his chin in her hair. ‘It still doesn’t feel quite real, does it? I suppose it won’t really sink in until we see the full aftermath; the men coming home and all the restrictions lifted and things being rebuilt.’
‘But it’s a beginning,’ said Phoebe. She kissed his forehead, then sat up. ‘I’d better get up for breakfast before Debby starts thinking I’m ill again. You’ll come and join us when you’ve had your sleep, won’t you?’
‘Of course. You don’t think I’m planning to miss all the fun, do you?’ He settled down comfortably and soon dozed off, leaving Phoebe to get up, wash, dress and go down to breakfast. It was still raining lightly, and she made a face as she saw it through the hall window on her way down.
Debby had already been along to the main village to exchange news and find out the day’s proceedings from that veritable mine of information, Dilys Hartley-the-teashop.
‘Everyone’s doing a lot o’ baking this morning, and they’ll be putting it all out on tables in t’main street about lunchtime,’ she informed Phoebe. ‘That rain ought to’ve cleared up by then, I reckon. The Howell Arms’ll be doing food and drink as well. And the Vicar’ll have the wireless set up in St Peter’s for Mr Churchill’s speech at three, and there’ll be a bonfire tonight in one o’ the fields. Oh, and there’s a rumour that some o’ the planes from the RAF base near Armiford’ll be doing a flypast.’
‘Frank will enjoy this all right, with all that food around,’ observed Phoebe, and Debby laughed.
They spent the morning baking several sponge cakes using the precious bottled fruit and honey stores. By ten o’clock the rain had stopped, and by midday the sun was out and had dried the pavements, and the happy voices and laughter of the villagers could be heard as they began to set up for the celebrations. Phoebe took some strips of red, white and blue material and made them into a bow which she fastened to Augustin’s collar, much to his surprise.
‘What’s the plan?’ Frank appeared in the kitchen, yawning and heavy-eyed despite his sleep.
‘Food, food and more food,’ Phoebe replied, and he perked up at once. ‘And plenty of alcohol too, if that singing outside is anything to go by. We’re just going now to join them, if you’re ready.’
‘As long as I get some lunch, I’m ready,’ said Frank, eyeing the plates the two women were carrying with longing as he and Augustin followed them out of the house and along to the main street of Howells, where the party was just beginning.
The street was bedecked in Union Jack streamers, bunting and flags which fluttered in the light breeze that was blowing, while the sun shone down as though the rain of the morning had never been. Trestle tables had been commandeered from the village hall and set up on the pavements, and already the village women were setting out their contributions on them. The doors of the village hall, the church and the Howell Arms were wide open, and the latter was doing a roaring trade as people flitted in and out, dragging tables and chairs from inside onto the street so that they could sit in the sun and see the celebrations. Several men from the farms round about had set up an impromptu orchestra and were playing folk tunes, to which several people were dancing in the middle of the road. Dilys Hartley-the-teashop was in her element, rushing here, there and everywhere issuing instructions and setting things up. Phoebe and Debby were directed to a free space on one of the tables to put their cakes, which immediately attracted the attention of the village children who were running about, laughing and dancing to the music.
Within minutes Phoebe and Debby’s entire contribution to the feast had been demolished, and they laughed.
‘At least it was eaten,’ Phoebe said fondly.
‘I could get used to this,’ Frank said approvingly, as Mrs Prosser handed him a plate piled high with everything from sausages to a jacket potato. When Phoebe and Debby had also collected plates, they claimed a free table outside the Arms, and while Augustin settled underneath it to wait hopefully for titbits, Frank went inside to get some drinks for them. Debby, to their astonishment, requested beer, and proceeded to earn their immediate admiration when she put the full tankard away with no trouble.
‘I always had you down as a sherry type, Debby,’ Frank remarked through a bulging mouthful of bread, sausage, potato and cheese. He caught Phoebe’s stern gaze and gave a tremendous swallow before continuing. ‘Never thought you’d be a beer fan, it’s not really something you tend to see women drinking.’
‘I do like sherry, but it’s been hard to come by for a long time now,’ Debby replied. ‘T’was usually beer or nothing, and it’s not so bad when you get used to it. I like a beer or two on my day out.’
‘Why not?’ agreed Frank. ‘Whisky’s my own poison, but I can so rarely drink it because if I’m not actually on duty, I’m still on call!’
‘Well, that ought to change soon, I hope,’ said Phoebe, passing Augustin a sausage, much to Debby’s disapproval. ‘When all the army doctors are demobbed, that should take a lot of pressure off the hospitals.’
‘I hope so, but I’ve got a nasty feeling a lot of them will be packed off to the Far East instead,’ Frank said darkly. ‘The Japanese aren’t going to just hand us victory on a plate; Edmund’s heard some very nasty stories from some of the chaps who’ve been out there. I jolly well hope he won’t end up one of them.’
‘Don’t we all,’ said a voice behind them, and they turned to see Meg, Mrs Crewe and Baby Owen standing there.
‘David’s had to stay with the farm, but he hopes to be along for the bonfire later,’ explained Mrs Crewe, as they pulled up chairs and sat down with them at the table. ‘When’s Churchill’s speech?’
‘Three o’clock,’ said Frank, glancing up at the clock tower of the church. ‘They’ll ring the bell when it’s nearly time, I expect. They can do that now it’s all over.’
Sure enough, shortly before three o’clock the bells of St Peter’s pealed out for the first time in almost six years, and there was a scrum to enter the church where Mr Wallace was busily tuning the wireless. At three o’clock precisely, the familiar voice of Winston Churchill boomed out through the church.
‘Yesterday morning at 2:41am at General Eisenhower’s headquarters…’
There was a dead silence as the village of Howells listened to the Prime Minister’s short but impassioned speech, reminding the nation that while they might celebrate the end of the war in Europe, the Japanese still showed no signs of surrender. When it was over, Mr Wallace led them in a rendition of God Save The King, before everyone spilled back out onto the street to continue the party, with somewhat more raucousness now that many pints of alcohol had been consumed. Then there came a great throbbing of plane engines on the air, and several people dived instinctively for cover while the rest oohed and aahed at the sight of a fleet of Lancaster bombers flying overhead in formation, bringing – at that point unbeknownst to the villagers – prisoners of war home from the Continent. Meg gazed up at them with tears in her eyes, wondering if Edmund was amongst the triumphant pilots. She wondered what the future held for them both – and for everyone else.
At six o’clock the festivities moved into a nearby field, where a huge bonfire was speedily prepared and lit. A great marching of feet heralded the arrival of the massed ranks of the Chalet School, who had been enjoying their own festivities in the grounds of Plas Howell, but had now come down to enjoy the bonfire. With them were the Russells, Maynards, Bettanys, Frieda, Simone, Marie, Gisela and Wanda and all their children, they having enjoyed the celebrations at the school rather than with the village.
‘Some atmosphere, eh?’ Frank said to Phoebe, as they watched the flames leaping high into the darkening sky.
‘It’s incredible,’ agreed Phoebe. ‘It’s like every celebratory day of the year all rolled into one. It’s the sense of relief, I think, that’s so prevalent. And yet as Churchill said, it’s technically not over yet.’
‘No,’ said Frank. ‘But that doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy a much-needed day off from the whole thing.’
The singing and dancing went on until nine o’clock, when everyone returned to St Peter’s to hear the King’s speech to the Empire on the wireless. After that the Chalet School girls set off home and a good many others began to follow suit, Frank and Phoebe amongst them, with a tired and extremely well-fed Augustin ambling along behind them. Debby was having a good gossip and reminisce with old Grandma Learoyd, and Frank and Phoebe had wisely decided to leave them to it.
‘Gosh, who on earth has had fireworks stored all this time?’ Phoebe cried, as several were let off near the bonfire, filling the sky with bright colours for a few moments.
‘Well, as Edmund and Debby proved, you could get pretty much anything if you knew where to go and who to ask,’ Frank remarked.
‘Yes. We’d never have survived all this rationing without Debby especially. She’s worth her weight in gold, and more besides. I bet she’s enjoyed herself today.’
‘I hope she has, she’s jolly well earned it.’
They reached Ty-Gwyn, pushed open the gate and walked hand-in-hand up the path.
‘Things have certainly changed for both of us since the war first started, haven’t they?’ Phoebe mused. ‘I’m no longer poor and worried and completely helpless, and you…’
‘I’ve learnt to let go of that awful burning grief that drove me so,’ Frank said. ‘I have you to fill my life now, my beautiful English rose.’
He drew her into the shadow of Ty-Gwyn and kissed her passionately to the faint strains of The White Cliffs Of Dover from the direction of the bonfire.
‘This has been the most incredible day,’ Phoebe thought. ‘Whatever happens, whatever the future holds, I have this moment, and oh, thank God I do!’
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.