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Die Rosen, 5th March 193x


Dear Aunt Daphne and Aunt Josie,

I'm sending this letter to Aunt Daphne's address for both of you: I hope you won't mind that I'm not writing to you separately. Oh dear, I do feel so terribly guilty that I haven't written since before Christmas, and that was only a short note inside each of the cards, but I seem to have so little time for writing these days. That's no excuse, I know; but imagine a house with no fewer than eight little people aged four or under living in it!

Peggy and Rix, who are the eldest, of course, turned four in January. I'm grateful to be able to tell you that Peggy has quite recovered from that nasty bout of measles she had last year, but she was weak for some time afterwards and we still we keep a watchful eye on her. Rix, thankfully, gives us no concern as far as his health is concerned, but he's an imp of mischief and is into all sorts; and my own David, who is coming up to three, copies him in most things. Bride is three already, and so is Primula Venables, who has come on enormously since she came to Tyrol but remains delicate and also needs to be watched carefully. Then we have the three babies. Jackie had his first birthday at Christmas, and we have a nursery party planned for when Sybil has hers very shortly. Gretchen, the daughter of Marie and Andreas, was a year old in January. I did wonder whether the Moniers might decide that the time had come to leave us once they had a child of their own, but am glad to say that they did not.

Rosa, Marie's younger sister, remains with us too, as our nursemaid, but I am thinking of also engaging a Mam'sell. The older children are well past the baby stage now, and during the holidays we have Daisy Venables and Robin Humphries here too. Daisy has quite settled into school life now, and I understand that she is doing very well at her lessons. Margot, who thankfully is now restored to health following the bad illness that she had shortly after her arrival, has taken a position as one of the school matrons, so she, too, is only with us during the holidays. Of course, she has no need to work now, but she insisted that she would not feel right about being dependent upon Jem. Robin, too, is doing well at her lessons, and her health has improved considerably since last year, when we were all so worried about her. She still misses her father, of course, as do we all, but is a happy little soul generally.

Jem's secretary, Rosalie Dene – you remember the Denes from Taverton? – lives with us too, and Grizel Cochrane and Juliet Carrick spend much of their time here during the holidays. All three of them are very dear to us, and, of course, it's good for Jo to have the company of girls who are close to her in age. We are rather isolated up here - although Jem and I have been talking about trying to find a house down by the lakeside so that we may spend more time there, especially in the hot summer months - and I did fear that she would be very bored after leaving school; but, of course, she now has her writing to occupy her. "Cecily Holds The Fort" seems to have been very well-received, and she is now hard at work on her second book, about a Girl Guide patrol in the Alps.

I am so very proud to think of our Joey-Baba as a published author, and I also rejoice every day over the improvement in her health since we came to live in Tyrol. You wouldn't know her now from the delicate little mortal that she was when we left England, and she's so much stronger now than she was even when you saw her on our last visit. How long ago that seems now. She was just a child when we came here, and now she's … well, I hesitate to say "quite the young lady", because she's Joey still – I am constantly having to remind her to tidy her hair and wash the ink off her hands, especially when we have guests for dinner! – but she is a woman grown now.

I hope that you won't think me boastful when I say that the Chalet School continues to flourish. It saddens me sometimes that I can no longer be involved with it on a day-to-day basis and that there are many girls there now whom I don't really know; but we cannot have everything in life, and I am so very happy here with my family that I have no real cause to complain. I still take as much interest in it as I can, and I hope to begin taking some classes at the Annexe which we have up here for the more delicate children now that Sybil no longer has such need of me. Miss Hilda Annersley, who is the headmistress now, is doing an excellent job … but, oh, how it grieves me to see dear Therese Lepattre reduced to the life of an invalid. Her cousins, Mr and Mme Lecoutier, the parents of Jo's close friend Simone, have recently opened a pension here, and she lives with them. I visit her as often as I can, and take the children to see her, and sometimes she is well enough to visit us here, but there seems little hope that she can ever be much better than she is now.

On a happier note, the School is prospering, as I said, and Jem's work at the Sanatorium is going well too. I know that Jo thinks of it as a sad place, and of course to some extent it is, but I take comfort in the fact that Jem and his staff are able to cure many of those who come to them, and that their work is helping in the development of new treatments. Jem would blush if he knew that I was writing this, but he is really very well-known in his field now, and receives many visits from leading specialists – who generally stay with us here at Die Rosen – who, it is clear to me, regard him as being quite one of them.

I wish so much that you could meet him, my wonderful husband, and all the children too, and see the young woman that Joey has grown into, but I'm afraid that there seems very little prospect of our being able to visit home any time soon. I know that you were disappointed not to see Dick and his family during his furlough last year, but they were concerned about doing too much travelling with four young children and, of course, Mollie wanted to spend as much time as possible with her parents now that they are back in Ireland. From my own point of view, Jem feels himself unable to be away from the San for more than a few days at a time – even our honeymoon trip was only very short – and it would feel wrong for me to leave him for so long. Also, to travel with so many little ones would be quite an undertaking, even with both Jo and Rosa accompanying me.

I've just read this letter through, and I do hope that it doesn't sound too much like a litany of excuses for not visiting, and for not writing nearly as often as I should. We lead a busy and happy life, and are lucky to have made many good friends here, and I know that it must seem that Jo and I have grown a long way away from our old lives; but I think of you, our dear aunts, and our dear uncles and cousins, very often. I am always eager to receive your letters, and hope that circumstances may allow us to meet again one day soon.

You may wonder why it is that I am writing today, any other day. I happened to pick up my "Book of Saints and Heroes" this morning, and, glancing through it, I was reminded that today is St Piran's Day, the day of the patron saint of Cornwall and of tin miners. Reading that reminded so much of home that, I own, I found myself becoming a little tearful. How strange it is that I should have lived in three such different places in my life – first India, then Cornwall, and now Tyrol. I suppose that I think of Tyrol as home now, or at least home for now, but the Bettanys have deep roots in Cornwall and I don't forget that. Nor do I forget you, my dear family. Give my love to my uncles, and to all my cousins, and remember that I remain,

Your very loving niece,

Madge.



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