|"So, are we all agreed on the birthday cake, the school photo and the albums?" Rosalie Dene, pen poised over notebook, asked the assembled Chalet School teaching staff. |
Heads were nodded around the staffroom. "There seems to be particular enthusiasm for the birthday cake," Hilda Annersley remarked with a smile. "I must say that I'm a little disappointed with the quality of suggestions so far, though: I was expecting the girls to come with rather more good ideas than they have done. Honestly, if adopting a picturesque uniforms, opening a riding school and building a chalet for visiting Old Girls to stay in were deemed to be amongst the best suggestions, I shudder to think what sort of ideas were rejected! What else has been put forward for consideration, Nell?" She turned to her close friend and co-Head, who'd taken charge of the slips of paper containing the Chalet School pupils' ideas for ways to celebrate the imminent twenty-first anniversary of the school's founding.
Nell Wilson unfolded the next slip, and pulled a face which immediately had all her colleagues pealing with laughter. "Go on, what's this one?" Nancy Wilmot asked in a pained-sounding voice. "Hit us with it! An on-site cinema? Actually, that wouldn't be a bad idea, if any of us were the millionaires that some of the girls seem to think we are! Or maybe flying lessons? I'm afraid that's probably what I'd have suggested when I was in my mid-teens, so I suppose I can't really criticise the girls for their mad ideas!"
"No: it's something rather more … er, worthy than anything like that," Nell informed her. "Listen to this. Ask everyone for a subscription to begin to build our school chapels".
A groan went round the room. "Dear me: they're nothing if not ambitious," Sally Denny remarked, her eyes twinkling. "How much does whoever came up with that gem of an idea think that would cost? And can you imagine the girls' faces if we asked them to donate their pocket money towards building chapels? Especially when there's a perfectly good Anglican chapel at the San and there are perfectly good Catholic and Calvinist churches nearby!"
"You're right about it being worthy, Nell," Ruth Derwent added, a bemused look on her face. "Have some of them been reading those appalling Elsie books recently, by any chance? It sounds like the sort of thing Elsie Dinsmore would come up with, not something that you'd expect a real life schoolgirl to suggest."
"Me, when I was a girl, I would have proposed something that was more … well, fun," little Jeanne de Lachennais commented. "It is supposed to be a celebration of our dear Madame and Mademoiselle founding the school, after all."
"Well, I suggest that we file that little brainwave along with the suggestions about the stables and the guest chalet," Hilda pronounced. "Is that the last one, Nell, or are there any more?"
"One more." Nell unfolded the final slip of paper. "Ah – now this is a bit more like it! Bring back the tradition of having an annual holiday to celebrate Madame's birthday."
A ripple of approval of went round the room. "Now that is more like it!" Rosalie declared. "Maybe a bit cheeky of whichever little darling suggested it to ask for a day's holiday, but it's a brilliant idea. That'd be something we could all enjoy – and it would honour Madame at the same time. It's she and Mademoiselle whom we've got to thank for the School's existence, after all. I wonder who suggested it, though. There's nobody here now who'd remember the days when we used to have outings for Madame's birthday. The daughter of one of the Old Girls, maybe?"
"Ah – I can answer that." It was Biddy O'Ryan who spoke. "T'was one of my form. She asked me if it would be all right for her to make a suggestion, when she'd only been here a term, and sure I said that of course it would be. She's the niece of Juliet Carrick, you may remember, and it seems that Juliet had told her all about her own schooldays in Tyrol, and the idea of celebrating Madame's birthday caught her fancy – partly because Juliet had told her how good Madame had been to her, and partly, I'm suspecting, because Juliet had told her about the time they all went out for a picnic, got caught in a storm and had to spend the night in a goatherd's hut on the Mondscheinspitze."
"That does sound like fun," Kathie Ferrars laughed. "We didn't celebrate the Head's birthday at the school I went to, but we did have a Founders' Day service every year, to mark the anniversary of the founding of the school, and it was horribly boring! Spending the night on a mountain sounds far more like it."
"I'd infinitely prefer that we did not all spend the night in a hut on a mountain if we could possibly avoid it," Hilda said, straight-faced but with her eyes dancing with merriment, "but I do rather like the idea of bringing back that particular custom. We never started it up again after the School reopened in Guernsey. I suppose that going on outings in wartime wasn't really very practical, and then we just never thought of it again."
She looked round the room thoughtfully. "We don't really have a day that's just … well, just for fun, going back to what Jeanne said, do we? So much work goes into the Sale and the Nativity Play, and even Sports Day's taken very seriously by some of the girls. Also, Madge Russell's birthday falls on July 4th, which would fit in nicely with the end of exams. Yes, Matey," – as that lady looked as if she were about to say something – "I know that you don't think that the girls should be allowed to work too hard for exams, but the days of young women just going home after leaving school are over, and university entrance is becoming more and more competitive. We need to encourage them to put every effort into doing the best that they possibly can in the public exams, and to doing the same in school exams in preparation for that. That can be very stressful, as I well remember from my own school and university days, but the exams generally finish towards the end of June. A day of picnics or outings in early July would give everyone a chance to wind down and relax."
"I hadn't thought of that, but you're right, of course," Nell mused. "And I do agree with Rosalie that we should do something that would honour Madame, and we could explain that the day was intended to honour dear Mademoiselle Lepattre as well. Of course, we'd have to get Madame's approval, but I don't see that she would object." She laughed. "Provided that we didn't tell everyone which birthday she was celebrating, of course. It was all very well in the days when she was … I think she was twenty-five, the first birthday she spent as Head of the School."
"Goodness, was she only twenty-four when she set up the School?" Sharlie Andrews exclaimed. "That's not much older than I am now. I can't even begin to imagine setting up my own school! And wasn't she looking after Mrs Maynard at the time, as well?"
Anna Mieders nodded. "And, not long afterwards, she also became responsible for Juliet, whom Biddy has just mentioned, and for little Robin Humphries as well." She sighed. "I was not a happy person when I first came to the school. I was a young widow, as you know, and I had to help support my widowed mother and my little sister as well. So life was not easy for me, and I was very nervous, but I was made so welcome at our dear School, and it soon became like a second family to me. It is a very special place, and that is due to Madame and Mademoiselle, for it was they who were responsible for the School… what is the word?"
"Ethos," Hilda supplied. "Yes, Anna – quite so. We try to instil in all our girls the importance of being welcoming, of caring for others, of being polite and courteous always, of tolerance of other faiths and nationalities ... indeed, of generally being good people in every way. I know that those are values which we all share, but it was Madame and Mademoiselle who founded the school on those values, and who encouraged them to flourish. That's a wonderful suggestion from young Tessa. Five out of five for that one! Does anyone disagree?"
No-one did. And, from then onwards, joyous celebrations took place at the Chalet School every year on the Fourth of July, in honour of the Founding Mothers without whom the school would never existed and to whom every pupil and member of staff owed so much.