|On the second day of the holidays, the MacDonald clan, excluding the parents, went for one of their prim Winter walks. They strolled in single file along the lake-path, and started to climb the Sonnenscheinspitze mountain. As they reached a fork in the path, one way leading to the summit, the other round the back of the mountain, they stopped, indecisive.|
"I believe" said Matthew "that the back of the mountain is a more suitable walk for the attire in which we are clothed. You know what Mother would say if we came back with our garments smeared in a most unsavoury substance." (He meant mud, by the way.)
"Splendid, old chap!" said Peter. "We would find ourselves most refreshed, but not taxed."
"Oh, but boys" protested Ermintrude "surely the point of walking on a mountain is to attempt to reach the summit? It would be a novel tale to relate to Mother and Father, would it not?"
Everyone looked shocked.
"Ermintrude!" gasped Betsy. "Think what you are saying! Mother would surely not consent to allow us to roam up mountains as ladies! It is most unladylike! It is against everything which we have been brought up to believe!"
Jane, who had been having similar thoughts to her eldest sister, wavered, but Ermintrude held firm.
"No, surely that is not true, for Mother climbed many a mountain with the young ladies of the Chalet School. I am going. I know by now how to prevent my attire from being contaminated with any unsavoury dust which may otherwise choose to cling to me."
So Ermintrude set off alone, walking in the elegant gait (which included straight legs) which had been drummed into her ever since she took her first steps. It was not long before her legs began to ache and she looked around for a bench or some other suitable place to rest.
She spotted a hollow, created by two weeping willow trees which had grown entwined over the years and now shielded whoever was inside from the world with its thick blanket of leaves.
Approaching it, she was surprised to hear voices coming from it, many voices, raised in happy chatter. While the voices suggested many people, they all seemed to be having one conversation. A meeting, perhaps. Then a thought struck her. What if it was a criminal meeting? Or at least some sort of illicit activity? Ermintrude had been Head Girl at her school, the ridiculously posh Queen Anne's. She had been very effective, as she could sniff out trouble almost before it happened, and she had had a knack for making sure that the culprits were apprehended and given a suitable punishment. She could not bear the thought of wrongdoing going unpunished. She braced herself and strode in in her best 'you've-been-caught' way.
Everyone stopped and turned to stare curiously at her. It was a very mixed bag of people. There were both genders, various ages, different nationalities, but there was one very puzzling thing: most of them looked like her.
There were too many to describe individually, but most had blue eyes which she recognised instantly: they were identical to those of her mother and some of her siblings. They stared at her, she stared at them. Some were dark. Some were blonde. Many were red-headed. Some wore crisp white dresses. Others wore jeans. Some were pristine. Some were scruffy. Most were somewhere in between. But still, there were those eyes. Why did those strangers bear such a family resemblance to her when she had never seen them before?
The strangers ponderings were along the same lines as hers. This new intruder was the same, but different. Her chocolate brown eyes caught theirs as being familiar. She had inherited their colour from her father, but their shape from her mother. Her hair, like theirs, was curly, and, like them, she had a mixture of blonde and dark genes on both sides of the family, only where, for the party so happily seated around the hollow, this had resulted in everything from a lovely Titian chestnut to a rich gold threaded with red, in Ermintrude's case it had darkened from her babyhood tea-colour to a brown which was neither dark nor light, but midway between, although nearer the dark end of the spectrum than the light. Her lips were very small and shrewed, but a soft rose-red which was pleasant to look at.
Her clothes were outrageously outdated. She wore a purple dress which came down to her mid-calves, in a cut reminiscient of fashion in the First World War. Her dainty feet were clad in spats with Louis heels and her coat was a black ankle-length garment againin the style of seventy years ago. It was trimmed with white faux fur and she had a hat to match and a white faux fur muff. Her hair was loose about her shoulders, coming midway down her back, and, although this could not be seen under the hat, it was clipped back off her face with hair slides decorated with sprays of white and purple fabric roses.
Her eyes roved disapprovingly over their poses. They were all seated comfortably on the ground or on a branch, slouching around. One well-built young blonde man had his arm around the waist of a delicately pretty chestnut-haired, grey-eyed young woman, who was leaning against his shoulder. Ermintrude sniffed disdainfully. Then she sniffed again. And again. Her nose, set at an elegant angle, had caught the whiff of fish and chips.
Fish and chips. That holy combination. That meal that rots the stomach and the teeth with its high fat content. The common, badly-bred people's dinner, so their mother had told them whenever they had dared to ask for it. Only the most tempting odour that had ever reached Ermintrude's pretty little nose.
She looked around and spied many a package of the heavenly dinner dotted around the hollow. Then she spoke.
"May I...I mean, may I introduce myself. I am Ermintrude Mary Catherine MacDonald. Who are you?"
"The Mob." answered a young woman with those eyes and a curly red-gold bob.
"That is what Jo and Jack call us." said a young girl with an olive complexion and a thick Spanish accent to match it.
"Who are Jo and Jack?" asked Ermintrude.
"They are our parents." chipped in a young angelic looking girl whose thick black ringlets came to her thighs and whose square blue eyes literally sparkled.
"Why do you not call them 'Mother' and 'Father'?" asked Ermintrude, but then had a thought. "I say, are they Josephine and John or Joseph and Jaqueline?"
"Josephine and John." said a curly-haired beauty clad in jeans. "And most of us do call them Mamma and Papa - Mamma likes to do things differently - but some of us - not me - are adopted, but Mamma and Papa never pretend to be their real parents, so all their wards call them by their Christian names."
"Oh, I see." said Ermintrude, who plainly didn't. "And now suppose you tell me your names."
After collecting each name, one of the younger girls - introduced as Poppy - asked suddenly "How old are you?"
"Gosh!" said Poppy. "That's older than Roger! He's twenty-five. I'm five."
"Would you like a chip?" asked the chestnut-haired woman who was called Len.
"No-" Ermintrude broke off mid-word. "We are not really allowed them."
"Not allowed chips?!" cried everyone in unison.
"No. Mother says that they are for badly-bred children. She does not like them, but they smell so tempting."
"Go on!" said Margot. "She'll never know!"
And quite before she knew it, Ermintrude was eating chips with the Mob and complaining about the strict rules imposed on her and her siblings. She was happy to be with them and arranged to meet them in the same hollow the next day so that they might be introduced to the other six MacDonalds.
Then, she swanned home and bragged unashamedly to them about having eaten chips.