- Text Size +

Story Notes:
Current - posted each month in 2011
'The Advent Calendar', which precedes this story, is now fully posted ...
Author's Chapter Notes:
Jo receives a letter from Con on New Year's Eve.

Dearest Mamma

I am so sorry about the mix-up with the calendar envelopes. I had a deadline at the end of November and was rushing to try and get half-a-dozen things done at the same time! I know I keep saying I’ll retire, but then more interesting stuff comes in to edit, and off I go again. You will be pleased to know that I am only working part time now, though: just on the things Guthrie thinks no one else is up to doing — and I don’t accept all of those; there are plenty of experienced editors in the office really, but I’m weaning Guthrie off me as much as I can.

It seems that my mistake wasn’t exactly disastrous, if Stephen is to be believed? I’m thankful for that, and hope you will get a year’s worth of pleasure from the calendar. It’s amazing what can be done with digital printing these days. Some of the photos are mine, from when we were actually in the places, others I’ve found or begged from other members of the family. Peggy gave me September’s, for instance, from some pictures she found among Auntie Mollie’s stuff when she was clearing out. Anyway, I had them all blown up to the same size, and printed with calendar pages beneath. I was tempted to put Bruno on the cover, but thought he didn’t really fit with the places, and then what about Rufus, who had first place in your heart! — so I’ve made a card of them and send it with every good wish for a Guid New Year, as they say hereabouts.

Donald and Miggie are very grateful for their cheques – Donald realised with some awe that this would be his last one, as he’ll count as a grown-up before next Christmas. He’s had conditional offers from various universities, but is still uncertain whether he wants to stay in Scotland, or come south, to do his law degree. Miggie is deciding on subjects for her Highers.

Malcolm is doing quite well with his new hip, though they think he may need a knee done soon, so I’m glad we didn’t attempt the drive south for Christmas. We’ll come in the better weather, by one means or another. He sends his love, as do the children – I’ll have to stop calling them that, soon, won’t I?

Your loving daughter,

Con


Joey closed the card, and looked again at the two photographs on the front. Yes, they were Rufus and Bruno – she’d thought at first it was a coincidental likeness. How clever of Con!

… Rufus always understood what his little mistress required of him, so he walked demurely out of his shelter and made no effort to express his delight except by low whines. Joey slipped her handkerchief through his collar, and the pair set off. Naturally what she should have done was to rouse her sister and let her arrange for the following of Elisaveta. But the sensible course never appealed to the younger Miss Bettany. Also, she was not sure how much Madge was supposed to know. Ternikai had been most impressive on the need for secrecy, and if it were all right, then it would never do for two or three people to know of the plan. Jo’s idea was to follow the fugitives till she knew where they were, and to find out if these two men had any right to carry off the Princess. If they had, well and good, she would come home at once. If not, then she would bring Elisaveta with her. Jo had rather vague ideas as to the responsibility of her sister in the matter, and she was resolved to save her any trouble that was possible.

The course the three had taken was easily seen for the heavy dews showed their tracks quite plainly. They had gone straight across the field, through the back gate, and on to the head of the valley. That meant that they were going over the Tiern Pass, and Joey guessed that they would be obliged to travel fairly slowly once they reached the foot of the Tiernjoch, for the path was a rough one, and Elisaveta was no climber. She herself was a good mountaineer for her age. She had climbed the Tiernjoch by herself as far as the narrow ledge, where accidents sometimes occurred, and she had been right to the summit with Herr Mensch, Frieda’s father, who was a great mountaineer, having tackled most of the Dolomite peaks, as well as climbing all round the great limestone mountains which surrounded the Tiern See. She had no fear, so long as they did not turn off to the high road and use a motor.

The dawn was filling the sky with rosy clouds by the time she reached the foot of the great Tiernjoch, which hung frowningly over the green valley. She had stopped once, to get a drink of milk and a roll at the little Gasthaus beyond Lauterbach, the tiny hamlet near the head of the valley. She had also bought two more rolls, and some Blaubeeren Torte, for she guessed it might be difficult to get anything later on in the day. More she did not dare do, for it would cause talk, and, besides she had no means of knowing how far her money had to go.

From the Gasthaus to the opening of the pass was a matter of five kilometers, and by the time she had got to the rocky path, which is the beginning of it, Joey felt somewhat tired. A little mountain stream fell over a miniature waterfall into a tiny pool, a little way away from the side of the road. Jo made for it, and lying on her face, drank thirstily. Rufus followed her example, and presently the two rose and went on, feeling much better.

‘Thank goodness,’ said Joey to the dog, ‘we aren’t likely to suffer from thirst. There are streams everywhere round here.’

They marched at the slow mountaineer’s pace which Herr Mensch had taught her, and which she knew she could keep up for sometime longer. They had gone a very little way along the pass when they got the first clue as to the track. Hanging from a little point of rock, and blowing idly about in the breeze, was a square of white material. Joey raced up to it eagerly and snatched it from its perch. She recognized it at once for one of the handkerchiefs Elisaveta had taken with her.

‘Sensible kid,’ said Jo approvingly. ‘Now, I know for certain that they’ve gone this way.’

She tucked the handkerchief into her pocket and went on light-heartedly. She was now in a region which she did not know at all. The rocks overhung the path, a thing for which she was thankful. It was long past noonday and the sun was hot. Joey argued that the two men would not dare to hurry the Princess too much. Cosimo would not want to have her ill on his hands – by this time Joey had firmly made up her mind that it was Cosimo who had taken the Princess! – and she was not strong. It was obvious, therefore, that they would rest. The only thing was that they would not dare to rest long on the pass, which was a highway into Germany, so she must carry on for as long as she could …


The calendar was all ready to be opened tomorrow. She had deliberately not looked at it again since Christmas Day, and she had determined not to turn the page until the first of the month, to allow each picture to please her anew; to work its magic, if it would, throughout the year, rather than risking mental indigestion by looking at too much at once, or, worse, anticlimax when a month later in the year was reached, and the picture brought nothing new to her mind.

She climbed into bed, with a glass of light wine and a mince pie by the bedside, to eat and drink at the stroke of midnight, and settled with a book until that time should strike on the village church clock.



Enter the security code shown below:
Note: You may submit either a rating or a review or both.