“Do you realise that after this year we’ll only have one more Christmas term at school?” Jo asked dolefully. “Only one more Christmas term together, the four of us. Only one more Nativity Play. Only one more go at snowball fights. Only one more chance at skating on the lake together. Just this year and next year, and then who knows where we’ll be the year after that? Scattered to the four corners of the globe, probably!”
Marie burst out laughing. “How you do exaggerate, Jo! We won’t have gone so very far at all. We won’t be together, it’s true, but we cannot remain schoolgirls for ever: we must grow up. As for where you’ll be, you will be in Belsornia with Elisaveta, will you not?”
Jo shook her head. “I can’t see it, somehow,” she said, voicing the doubts that were singing louder and louder in her mind. When she’d been fourteen and the idea had first been mooted, going to Belsornia as Elisaveta’s lady-in-waiting had seemed so thrilling ... and so far in the future. Now, with the prospect little more than a year and a half away, the idea of life at court, and a foreign court of whose ways she knew so little of that, and of being separated from Madge and Robin and her nieces and nephews, was beginning to fill her with more alarm than anticipation. Elisaveta would be desperately disappointed if she didn’t go, she admitted to herself guiltily, but the young Crown Princess had plenty of people around her in Belsornia and marriage might well be on the cards for her before much longer. Whereas she ... well, what was she going to do? Stay here in Tyrol, with her family and friends: that was all she could imagine herself doing. She wouldn’t be going to any of the four corners of the globe. She’d be staying right here, in the place that she’d come to know and love.
“Not now that Madge has got David, and Peggy and Rix. And she’ll have little Bridget too after Dick and Mollie’s next furlough; and there’s Robin too, and probably more babies to come,” she said, as much to convince herself as her friends. “I can’t see that I’ll be going anywhere. So, really, I suppose that I’ll still be spending Christmases here after all.”
“Then you and I shall still be together, at least,” Frieda said, squeezing her friend’s arm affectionately. “We might not be seeing each other every day any more, but I shall only be in Innsbruck, and as long as Gottfried remains at the San I will be coming to visit him and Gisela often. So I shall come to visit you at Die Rosen and you shall come to visit me, and we will go Christmas shopping in Innsbruck together! Maybe when Baby Natalie is older, we might all come to spend Christmas at Das Pferd and then we will be able to see each other even on Christmas Day.”
She smiled as she thought of her little niece, and of the news which Bernhilda had recently given her that there would be another addition to the family in the new year. Gottfried had married Bernhilda’s dear friend Gisela, and Bernhilda had married Wanda and Marie’s brother Kurt ... was there, somewhere amongst her brother’s friends, or amongst the other young men connected with her family, someone for her? She had no desire to wander to the four corners of the earth, or to wander away from the North Tyrol at all: this was where she belonged, where she had always belonged. Here was where she wanted to settle, and to raise a family of her own; and to carry on celebrating Christmas as she’d done as a child, when her dear Grossmutter had been with them and had rejoiced to see them all in traditional dress and told them stories of Christmases from long ago. She couldn’t imagine ever living anywhere else.
“And Simone and Marie will not be so far away,” she added, seeing that Simone looked a little jealous. “Marie will only be in Vienna, and Simone in Paris.”
“Maybe I will be in Tyrol too,” Simone said thoughtfully. “Not for a few years: first I go to the Sorbonne, where I must get my diploma universitaire, but after that I hope to find a teaching position and ... I do not know if it will be possible, but maybe I will be able to return here, to the school where I have been so happy, and where I will be able to be close to Cousine Therese.”
She owed so much to her cousin, who’d been so wonderful to both her and her sister Renée and without whom she wouldn’t be able to think of going to the Sorbonne at all. Simply “going home” to be supported by relatives, as Marie and Frieda would do and now it seemed that Joey would do too, was not an option for her, but she didn’t resent that: her family had done everything they could for her and Renée, and, once she had obtained her degree, it would be her turn to do something for them. She wasn’t sure how she’d like the life of a teacher, but how much easier it would be to teach at the school she knew so well, and where she’d be able to be close to her friends, than to go to a strange place amongst strange people. Marie and Frieda would both marry soon after leaving school, surely: neither had any thoughts of a life other than marriage and motherhood, and it was hard to imagine that either would lack for suitors. As for Joey, who knew? For her, however, what the next few years held was something very different, studying and then teaching, but if she were able to teach at the Chalet School then at least she would be in an environment that was familiar and in a place that she, like Jo, had over the years learned to hold very dear.
“Just Marie, then,” Frieda said with a smile. “You must find a way to stay in Tyrol, too, Marie, and then we may look forward to spending time together every Christmastide and Jo will be able to smile instead of looking as if the world were about to come to an end!”
Marie laughed, but she shook her head. “No: I am afraid not. I must go home once we leave school, and for me home is Wien. And then, I hope, I shall wed, and then I shall have a home to look after and, if God is good, after that I will have babies to look after too.”
“That needn’t have to be in Wien,” Jo pointed out. “Wanda’s in Salzburg, and Kurt and Bernie went to Lyon when they first got married and now they’re in Innsbruck. You’ll have to find someone who lives in Tyrol, Marie!”
Marie smiled, but it was unlikely that such a thing would happen and they all knew it. “It would be nice if we could all live close together, but I do not think it likely. Most of the people whom my family know live in Wien, and it is likely that most of the people I meet once I leave school will be in Wien.” She would not be leaving school for over eighteen months yet and she was determined to enjoy the five terms that remained to her, but already she’d begun to look forward, to a time when she would put her hair up and her skirts down and join the glittering social scene of the Austrian capital ... and, she hoped, meet a fine man with whom she would be as happy as her sister was with Friedel and her brother with Bernhilda. The thought of being parted from her friends saddened her, but, as she’d said to Jo earlier, they couldn’t remain schoolgirls for ever, and life no doubt held much in store for all of them. Still, if she were in Wien and they all in Tyrol, there was no reason why they should not still see each other. The journey was not so very long, and it was certainly not difficult.
“Wien is not so far away from the Tiernsee, or from Innsbruck,” she said simply. “We won’t be so far apart. There’s no need to be sad, Jo. We might only have one more Christmas term at school after this one, but ...” Her voice trailed off as a strange feeling seized her. It was as if she were experiencing some sort of ... how to explain it? It was more than a feeling. It was more like a premonition.
“Are you all right, old thing?” Jo was looking at her anxiously, as were the other two. She shook her head again. What had come over her? She didn’t know, but somehow she did know that this year and next year wouldn’t be the last time that the four of them would be together, in Tyrol, at this time of year. She didn’t know what lay ahead of them but suddenly, somehow, she was as certain of that as she’d ever been of anything.
“But that won’t be the end of it,” she said, her voice strong again now. “One day we’ll all be together in Tyrol again, when Christmas is coming, to throw snowballs and skate on the lake and anything else we want to do.” She laughed, as much at herself and her strange feelings as at anything else. It was hardly such an unlikely thing to imagine, was it? Anyone would think that she’d just been envisioning them all spending Christmas together in ... well, England, for example. “We’re bound to be, aren’t we? The three of you will all be living here anyway. I will be the only one who won’t, and I’ll only be in Wien. It’s not as if life is likely to take us very far. Is it?”