|"Doris," Mrs Hill called. "Would you come upstairs, dear, so that we can check that we've got everything on this list before we start packing your trunk?"|
Silence. "Doris," she called again. Still no reply. Was her daughter ignoring her, she wondered. It wasn't like Doris to be rude: she'd always been such a pleasant, cheerful, well-mannered girl. And everyone said that: it wasn't just a mother's partiality misleading her, she thought fondly. But then it wasn't like Doris to be as withdrawn, almost sullen, as she'd been all through these very difficult summer holidays. All because of this wretched business with the school, which had come like a bolt from the blue and caused their usually happy household weeks of trouble, and doubtless had the same effect on plenty of other households as well. Sighing, she went downstairs and into the living room. There was no sign of Doris there, but the patio door was open and … ah, there she was, in a deckchair at the far end of the garden.
"Doris," she called again.
Doris looked up and came running over. "Sorry, Mum, were you calling me? I didn't hear."
"It's all right: I didn't realise you'd gone outside." She heaved an inward sigh of relief: at least Doris hadn't been deliberately refusing to answer. "I wanted you to come up to the spare room and go through the list of your school things with me." She saw her daughter's face fall, and, for the umpteenth time, wished to high heaven that this whole idea – and it was so bizarre that she could still hardly believe that it was happening - of moving most of the senior members of the Chalet School to some remote part of the Swiss Alps had never even been dreamt of. Doris had been so happy at the School in Armishire and on St Briavel's, ever since she was a little girl, and now it was all being spoilt due to circumstances beyond either her control or theirs.
"Oh, Doris." She put her hand gently on her daughter's shoulder. "Here, come inside and sit down with me." She led her to the comfortable settee in the living room. "Your dad and I hate seeing you so unhappy. Usually, by the end of the holidays, you're saying that it's great being at home but that you're ready to go back to school and get into the swing of things again, but this time it's as if you can hardly even bear to think about it."
"I'm usually ready to go back because I want to see my friends again," Doris burst out. "But I'm not going to be seeing them this time, am I? They'll all be on their way to the Bernese Oberland. Vi, Lesley, Mary-Lou, Verity-Ann, Hilary, Josette, Ruth, Christine, Catriona ... they'll all be in Switzerland, seeing all those new places and doing all those new things, together, and I'll be in Carnbach on my own. Well, apart from the little kids who are too young to go. And a load of new mistresses who won't know any of us or anything about the school. Vi and Mary-Lou and some of the others did say that they'd write, but it's hardly going to be the same thing, is it? I'm not going to be one of the Gang any more. And they'll be writing all about the thrilling things they're all doing, all of them, whilst I'm stuck in Carnbach. On my own. It's going to be horrible."
Mrs Hill sighed. "I'm so sorry it's turned out like this, Doris," she said quietly. "It's come as as much of shock to Dad and I as it has to you, believe me. Until that letter came, we had no idea that there were any plans afoot to move part of the Chalet School abroad. How could we possibly have seen that coming? You don't expect a school just to up sticks and move to another country. We've always been so pleased to read everything you've written about your friends and how well you all get on together. One of the reasons that we chose the school for you in the first place was that it took girls right through from Junior level to Sixth Form, so you wouldn't have to go through all the upheaval of getting used to somewhere else and making new friends. Dad and I are so very sorry that all this has happened; we really are."
She thought back to when Doris had first started at the Chalet School, all those years ago. The school had been recommended to the Hills by their sister-in-law, the former Kath, or Kit, Leslie, who'd taught there for a while during its early days in Tyrol. They'd looked at a number of other schools, not wanting to rush into making a decision about something so important, but they'd liked everything they'd seen and heard about the school and, until now, had never doubted that they'd made the right decision. Doris had always been very happy there, doing well academically and being part of a large group of friends. And then, all of a sudden, had come this decision about moving to Switzerland. When they'd received the letter telling them about it, they'd assumed that only a handful of girls would be going, and that life for Doris and her friends would be going on much as before. Unfortunately, from their point of view, the idea of sending girls abroad had proved to be far more popular than they'd ever have imagined.
"It's happened to everyone else as well, but they're all going to Switzerland," Doris muttered. "I'm the only one of our crowd who isn't." She was well aware of how petulant she sounded, but why did she have to be the only one of her close friends who wasn't allowed to go? It wasn't fair. It wasn't fair that any of this had had to happen at all. They'd all been quite happy as they were. It wasn't as if any of them had been harbouring burning desires to go off to school abroad. Why couldn't things just have carried on as they had been? But, seeing as it had happened, why did she have to be the one being left behind, when all her best friends were going? She'd heard over and over how she was too young to be going off abroad without Mum and Dad, and how maybe they'd think again in a few years' time when she was older and more mature – and had a bit more sense, as her father had rather tactlessly put it -, but she was the same age as her friends and they were being allowed to go. Why did she have to be the one whose parents thought fourteen was too young?
"Doris, you're a sensible girl, and you're not a baby – can't you at least try to understand?" Mrs Hill tried desperately to find the right words. She and her husband had talked long and hard about this, but they were both agreed that the right decision had been made and they weren't going to change their minds. If only it wasn't making Doris so unhappy. "I can't speak for other people, but Dad and I just wouldn't feel comfortable about having you so far away from us whilst you're still so young. Suppose you were ill, or had an accident? Look what happened with your friend Vi's sister, when she had appendicitis and had to have an emergency operation. Suppose something like that were to happen to you? We couldn't just jump in the car and run over to Switzerland, especially to some out of the way place up in the mountains, the way we could to Armishire or Carnbach. It's just too far away."
"Auntie Kath was at the school when it was in Tyrol," Doris said rebelliously. "And that's even further away."
"Auntie Kath went to Austria when she was a grown woman, not a young girl," Mrs Hill pointed out exasperatedly. "As we've already said, maybe, in a few years time, we'll think about it again, but not yet. And, since you've mentioned Tyrol, look what happened to the school when it was there! The world's an uncertain place, and Switzerland's a long way away. Oh, I'm not saying that Stalin's about to send his tanks rolling across the Bernese Oberland or anything, but, even so, you never know what might be around the corner."
She paused. "And there's the money as well, Doris. We're hardly poor people, but … well, there'd be all the extra travel costs, and they're having a new uniform as well, and they want girls who are going to Switzerland to have a lot of winter sports equipment. Then there'll be the cost of staying somewhere at half-term, because it'll be too far to come home. It's a lot of extra money, and we've got your brothers to think of as well. We might manage it for a couple of years, once you get to the Sixth Form, but we certainly can't manage it from now until you leave."
Doris reddened. She had been aware of the financial issues. And she wasn't sure herself that she wanted to be so far away from home. What if she did get ill, or have an accident? Or what if someone at home was ill? Imagine if Grannie was ill, and asking for her, and she was hundreds of miles away. But, oh, it was just so hard being separated from all her special friends!
"Oh Mum, I'm sorry!" Impulsively, she leaned over and hugged her mother. "I know all that. I didn't mean to sound like a spoilt brat. And I know that you and Dad only want what's best for me, honestly I do. It's just that – well, nearly everyone else is going, apart from the little kids."
"We honestly didn't think that they would be." Mrs Hill shook her head. "When we got that letter – we really did assume that most people would feel as we did. I understand that it's going to be wonderful for your friends to see Switzerland, and I very much hope that you'll see it too, one day – but sending your children hundreds of miles away, to a place you've never even seen ... it's a big thing. Of course, we knew that the school had started off in Austria, but that was years ago, before the war, and I understand that a lot of the British pupils who were there in your Auntie Kath's day had relatives being treated at the San there, so their families were nearby. It really didn't occur to us that all these changes would mean your being separated from your friends – and Dad and I really are so sorry about that, Doris. But we won't change our minds. It's too far, and it's too expensive. But not everyone of your age is going to Switzerland, surely?"
"Well, not everyone," Doris acknowledged. "There'll be Pru and Pris Dawbarn at Carnbach, and Primrose Trevoase, and Gwen Jones, and Beth Lane."
"Well, that's quite a few people, Doris!" Mrs Hill pointed out. "You're hardly going to be "on your own", as you keep putting it, are you?"
"Well, no," Doris admitted. "But none of them are my really close chums in the way that Vi and Mary-Lou and Lesley and Verity-Ann and the others are. And it's going to be hard on Gwen as well, because she and Christine and Catriona have always been a trio, and they're both going and she isn't. But then ... I suppose she and I'll be in the same boat. And I get on well with Beth and Primrose as well. And the Dawbarns are all right, when they aren't getting into trouble. And not all the staff are going. I think Teddy – Miss Edwards, I mean – will probably do quite a good job of being Head. It just won't be the same."
"That's life, I'm afraid," Mrs Hill said, taking her daughter's hand. "It doesn't always stay the same, even when we might reasonably expect it to. Sometimes things happen that are beyond our control, and all we can do is try to make the best of them. Try to be happy, Doris! I know you're upset, and I know you feel resentful, and Dad and I do understand that, but ... well, this is how it has to be. Will you try to make the best of it? Please? You'll only be making yourself even more unhappy if you don't."
"I suppose so." Doris heaved a deep sigh. "I wish none of this had ever happened. I wish I was going back to dear old Plas Howell, and I wish that all the rest of the Gang were going to be there, and I wish things were going to carry on they were before. But they're not, and ... I will, Mum. I'll do as you say. There's not really any point doing anything else, is there? When I get to Carnbach, I'll try to make the best of it.