|London was cold. Switzerland had been cold too, of course, but somehow there'd never seemed to be the same damp chill there. Primula, despite being wrapped up warmly for the journey, shivered as she stepped off the train on to the platform, and bid goodbye to those of her friends who'd also made the journey from Welsen in the Bernese Oberland, and looked eagerly along on the platform for the cousin who was almost like a brother to her. |
He saw her first. "Prim! Hi, Prim! Good to see you. Journey OK?"
Primula greeted him warmly, and then they both began to laugh as they saw the faces of the girls who hadn't been at the Chalet School before joining its finishing school branch and were clearly not quite sure what to think about quiet little Primula Venables being met at the station by an attractive young man. David, only slightly abashed, exchanged pre-Christmas greetings with the many girls with whom he was acquainted from the holidays they'd spent at the Round House with Peggy, Bride or Primula over the years, and chatted for several minutes with his childhood friend Natalie Mensch, now in her second year at Welsen, who was spending a few days with one of her English friends before flying to the US to join her family. Primula, meanwhile, explained who he was to those who looked as if they might have got the wrong idea.
"Auntie Nell not with you?" David asked, when everyone had finishing bidding each other good holidays, a merry Christmas and a happy new year, and begun to drift away.
Primula shook her head. "She's staying on for another few days, until the main school breaks up, so that she and Auntie Hilda can travel back to England together; and then they're both going somewhere for the holidays: she didn't say where. I don't know why we couldn't all have finished on the same day, but maybe they thought it'd be too many train tickets to book all at once. Auntie Mollie did suggest that Peggy and Bride come straight home if they wanted to, but Peggy started fussing about Maeve and the Wintertons having to get the train from London to Devon by themselves, and then Auntie Joey said that they were very welcome to stay with her in the meantime. She did ask me too, but I want to get to Daisy's. I haven't seen her since September."
David nodded. "She can't wait to see you, either. She sounded very excited when I spoke to her last night to make sure I'd definitely got the train times right. So how's life in Switzerland? Sybs and Josette have been raving about it: they sent Ailie a letter about it all and now apparently she's green with envy and keeps writing to Mum to say that it's not fair that Juniors aren't allowed to go. And what's finishing school like? Have they got you all walking around with books balanced on your head to learn good posture, and practising gliding down the stairs in an elegant way … ow!" She'd stood on his foot very heavily. "I thought they were meant to be turning you into young ladies?!"
"We don't do stuff like that, you idiot, as you very well know!" Primula retorted. "We have lectures and we write essays. And we go on excursions to Interlaken quite often. Switzerland's absolutely lovely: it's not Tyrol, of course, but it really is beautiful. And we go to concerts, which I don't suppose you ever do – when was the last time you went anywhere cultural? I don't suppose you're exactly a frequent visitor to whichever theatres they have in Winchester? How are the studies going, but the way?"
"Point taken," David laughed. "And it's hard graft, this year more so than ever, believe you me. I've got a fair bit of work to do during the holidays. That's why I've been staying with Whittaker – you know, my pal who lives in Surrey – since we broke up, so that we could do some swotting together for a couple of days, and why I'm going down to The Quadrant for the next few days: Rix has got some notes from his last year of school knocking around there, and he said he'd let me have them, and that he'd go through a few of the trickier bits with me. I want it out of the way before I go home: much as I love my little brothers, it's not easy to get much done with them around! Listen, it's cold, hanging around here. Do you want to get the next train to Devon, or do you want to go and get something to eat first?"
Primula considered. "I don't really want to wait until I get to Daisy's before I next eat! But I don't think I really need a big meal just now. Could we go and have some tea and cakes, do you think? I'm longing for a decent cup of tea: it's all coffee and hot chocolate in the Oberland."
"Tea and cakes it is, then!" David agreed.
A tea shop was found and tea and cakes obtained, and the conversation resumed. "Kevin and Kester are so sweet!" Primula said fondly. "But, yes, I can imagine that it's not easy to work with them around. And I'm sure Auntie Madge and Uncle Jem'll understand. You'll still be back in Armishire well before Christmas, anyway. But … do you think they mind about Daisy and Laurie and me not being there?"
David paused in between mouthfuls of cake. "Mmm – this is good stuff! No, of course I don't. Oh, I don't mean that they wouldn't have loved you to be there. We all would. It'd be smashing to have everyone together. Well, as long as it was only for a couple of days: we'd probably end up killing each other if it was for any longer than that! Not to mention the logistics of the catering and the accommodation! But we had all those years when Uncle Dick and Auntie Mollie and Maeve and Maurice were in India, and then Mum and Dad and co took off to Canada. Then Auntie Joey and Uncle Jack and their lot went there too, and now they're in Switzerland. And you and Daisy and Laurie are going to be in Devon. But that's life – people get scattered around. It won't be the first Christmas at The Round House that Daisy's missed, all that time she was working in London and couldn't always get Christmas off – and Rix and I'll be in the same boat in another few years, touch wood! And … well, we all know how important it is to you and Daisy to have Christmas in your own home."
Primula flushed. "I don't want you, or Auntie Madge and Uncle Jem, or Auntie Joey and Uncle Jack, or anyone else, to think that we didn't feel welcome when we were living at the Round House or Plas Gwyn," she said quickly. "But … well, it just wasn't quite the same. And I don't remember Australia, but Daisy does, and … well, I don't think she has very happy memories of when Daddy was alive, and then we were living with her old nurse. We've never really had a home of our own, until now."
"I understand," David said quietly. "It was a bit of a strange upbringing for all of us – not that we weren't happy, but still … so many kids under one roof, all the different cousins. But that was just the way it was. And then I always felt bad that you and Daisy got moved around so much."
Primula smiled wryly. "As you say, that was just the way it was. It started off with Daisy and Robin needing to be able to cycle to school together through the blackout: that was hardly anyone's fault. Except the Nazis', for causing the war! And we had a lot of good times, didn't we? I've got so many happy memories of living at the Round House and at Plas Gwyn, and I can remember when we were little kids at Die Rosen as well. But going home to Daisy's, for Christmas … this is something special. It's never felt quite like this before."
She smiled. "Laurie's been so good to me, you know. I was worried that I might be a gooseberry. Most men don't expect to have their new wife's younger sister moving in with them. Although, having said that, Robin moved in with Auntie Joey and Uncle Jack from the start, and your dad had Auntie Joey, Auntie Rob and Auntie Juliet living at Die Rosen with him and Auntie Madge when they were first married! But still, he might easily have felt that I'd be in the way. But he said that I must come and spend some time with them after their honeymoon, even though I was expecting to stay at Freudesheim until school started, and he said that he wanted me to feel that their house was my home.
"I'd even have understood it if Daisy hadn't wanted me there - certainly when they were only just back from their honeymoon, and even for their first Christmas together. Laurie's mum and dad are so kind as well: they said that I'd be welcome to go along too, if Daisy and Laurie wanted to go to them … but they wanted to spend their first Christmas together in their own home. Daisy did, especially." She laughed. "You should read some of the things she's been putting in her letters, about the dinner and the crackers and the tree and the decorations … can you imagine Dr Daisy Venables getting so excited about planning Christmas dinner?
"There's been so much upheaval and moving around over the years. I don't remember Australia, but Daisy does ... everything that happened, losing Daddy and our brothers, and our home, and then Nurse Rickards as well. Then travelling all the way to Austria, and finding Uncle Jem and the rest of you, and just getting settled in there before we had to leave again. And all that horrible business in Spartz. Then we'd barely got to Guernsey before Mummy got ill ... and Daisy and I were sent away, and then Uncle Jem had to come and tell us that she'd died. And then we had to leave Guernsey as well, and move to Armishire! And we were moving around between the Round House and Plas Gwyn, and then Daisy was off at university and then doing her training, and then I went to Canada ... oh dear, I'm making it sound like a right tale of woe, aren't I? Sorry! We do know how lucky we are, really we do. You've all been wonderful. Daisy often says that very few uncles would have been so supportive of a niece who wanted to be a doctor, rather than telling her in a patronising voice that nice girls become teachers or nurses or secretaries! I didn't mean to sound like I haven't been happy, over the years, because I have: I really have. But ... well, this time, I really feel like I'm going to my own home."
David nodded. "Don't worry. It makes perfect sense to me! And I'm sure it would to anyone else, as well. I'm really pleased for you, Prim. For you and for Daisy. Laurie's a good chap, and, as far as I can tell, Daisy's very happy, even if I think she does miss work sometimes. You'll be missed at the Round House, but you're going to have a terrific Christmas – and you've got a lovely home."
Primula smiled at him affectionately. "Yes, we have. And Laurie's a lovely man. I couldn't have asked for a better brother-in-law. And I certainly couldn't have asked for a better sister. Or a better cousin - you're a good chap as well, David Russell!" She glanced at her watch. "Oh dear, I didn't realise we'd been talking so long! We'd better drink up and eat up and get going if we're going to make the next train!" She took a rapid gulp of her tea. "And I don't know if Auntie Mollie's expecting you at any particular time, but, if not, you'd be welcome to call in at Daisy and Laurie's for ... well, probably for more tea and cakes! Laurie won't be home until this evening, but I know Daisy'd be pleased to see you."
David shook his head, smiling back at her. "Thank you very much for asking, but I'm not going to gatecrash the moment you get home for Christmas! That's your moment, and Daisy's. I might try to get there some time tomorrow, if it's possible, and it's OK with Daisy – but not today. Come on, let's pay up, and get going! Devon here we come."
"Home for Christmas," Primula said happily.
And, later that day, that was where she was. Daisy had been watching eagerly from the window, and, when she saw the taxi carrying her younger sister draw up outside, she rushed to open the door and was standing on the step as Primula came up the path.
"Welcome home, Prim," she said, wiping a tear from her eye. "Welcome home for Christmas."